Turkish Identity in the Age of Expansion

Turkey’s economy has enjoyed historic growth over the past decade, a benefit of the ambitious market reforms enacted by the ruling AKP government. As a result, Turkey’s society has been thrust into the global marketplace virtually overnight, where big-name brands and international companies vie for the favor of a young consumer class eager to spend their hard earned liras.

Such change is a natural progression of growing economies. For Turkey, the transition to a modernized market comes at the expense of some of its most cherished societal institutions. For centuries, Turkey’s bazaars have been the major retail centers for everything from imported goods to local fabrics and spices. A boom in mall construction threatens to usurp the role that bazaars have played for generations in providing the population with local goods in a friendly social setting. And while the economic benefit of new malls may be self-evident, the social benefits are a little murkier. The question is whether developers can bridge the gap between Turkey’s venerable past and its promising future.

Such questions are currently being answered by the positive responses of young Turks who frequent the country’s gleaming new malls. Demand for new malls remains high, and analysts predict that by the end of 2013, there will be 15% more mall space in Turkey for every 1,000 inhabitant than in the EU. Young Turks understand the push and pull of cultures as they seek to maintain their historical identity in an economy that offers an entirely new array of products from throughout the world. For now, however, their optimism for the future is reflected in the shopping bags they tote from the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M and Zara. If these youth could vote with their wallets, there is little doubt as to the final outcome.