Turkish secularists put an end on May 20 to the mammoth marches they have staged since late April in protest of the prospect of an Islamist president.
Yet, while the biggest demonstrations in Turkey's history undoubtedly captured the world's attention, an arguably more important part of the struggle for Turkey's soul is going on in the relative silence of Turkey's classrooms, laboratories and courts.
A geneticist at Istanbul University, Haluk Ertan, sums up the situation succinctly. "Turkey," he says, "is the headquarters of creationism in the Middle East."
"Not just the Middle East, the world", insists Tarkan Yavas, the dapper, youthful director of the Istanbul-based Foundation for Scientific Research (BAV). The 15-year-old institute had generated a prodigious amount of information, publishing hundreds of titles. The question is; can many of the works be considered scientific?
Headed by a charismatic preacher, Adnan Oktar, BAV's latest production is the 770-page "Atlas of Creation" which it sent free of charge to scientists and schools in Britain, Scandinavia, France and Turkey this February.
Page after page juxtaposes photographs of fossils and living species, claiming the similarities prove the fraudulence of claims that species adapt with time. The book goes on to blame evolutionary principles for Communism, Nazism and under an A3 photo of the Twin Towers in flames Islamic radicalism and the September 11 terrorist tragedy. "Darwinism is the only philosophy which values conflict", the text says.
The claims may sound outrageous, but it is part of a formidably effective propaganda machine. A survey in 2006 showed that only 25 percent of Turks fully accepted the principle of evolution. According to another poll in 2005, 50 percent of biology teachers questioned or rejected evolution.
"Darwinism is dying in Turkey, thanks to us", says BAV's Yavas, who vowed to keep pressing a creationist agenda until Turkish culture is cleansed of what he called atheist materialism. "Darwinism breeds immorality, and an immoral Turkey is of no use to the European Union at all."
Finishing the job looks likely to be difficult. A cult-like organization that jealously guards the secrets of its considerable wealth, and whose websites mix creationism with Islamic-tinged nationalism, Ottoman nostalgia and veneration of the Turkish army, BAV has been taken to court repeatedly over the last decade. On May 19, Turkey's Supreme Court opened the way for a new suit when it ruled that 2005 criminal charges brought against the group should not have been dropped because of time constraints.
Another Turkish court is pondering a case brought by 700 academics against the Ministry of Education last spring, calling for references to creationism present in school science syllabuses since 1985 to be taken out.
"There are compulsory religious classes for this sort of thing in Turkish schools already", says biologist Augur Genk, who began organizing academic protests after five schoolteachers in southern Turkey were removed from their posts in 2005 for teaching evolution.
Like BAV, which has organized hundreds of conferences on creationism over the past decade as well as a recent flurry of "creation museums," opponents of creationism are increasingly taking their arguments directly to the Turkish public.
The last few months have seen a series of scientific conferences held in central Anatolian towns. Meanwhile, a popular science magazine has devoted its last two issues to answering the claims made in BAV's "Atlas of Creation."
"When the creationist movement began to surface in the early 1990s, many scientists just laughed at it", says Nazi Somel, a former teacher who is writing a doctorate on the history of Turkish creationism. "It is good to see they are taking it seriously now."
She is confident this is a conflict that scientists, along with other supporters of evolution, will win. But while public figures tend to shy away from too close an association with Adnan Oktar's group, more reasonable-looking versions of creationism have powerful supporters in Turkey today.
Take intelligent design (ID), for instance, the notion that some cellular structures are too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been created. In December 2005, a US judge echoed most experts in calling it "a religious view, not a scientific theory" and blocked attempts to add it to a Pennsylvania school's curriculum. But when American and Turkish speakers met this May 12 for Turkey's second ever ID conference, they did so with the support of the Istanbul municipality. Such tolerance is unsurprising. Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas shares the political outlook of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said in mid May that "states are secular, individuals are not."
Turkish Education Minister Huseyin Celik, meanwhile, has given public support to the teaching of ID. "Evolutionary theory overlaps with atheism, intelligent design with religious belief", he told the privately-owned TV channel CNN-Turk last November. Given that polls show that only 1 percent of Turks are atheists, he went on, removing ID from the syllabus would be tantamount to censorship.
An organizer of the May 12 conference, author Mustafa Akyol, argues that ID can act as a vehicle to harmonize various aspects of evolution with creationism. In the eyes of Turkey's secularist modernizers, he argues, "science replaced religion as the new faith. Religious-minded Turks need to be convinced that science isn't a threat."
Ertan, the Istanbul University geneticist, believes it is impossible to blend science and creationism. What creationists want is for Turks to abandon reason and totally embrace superstition, he suggests. Such a stance, Ertan adds, is anti-modern, and would severely hinder efforts to promote prosperity.
"Of course science cannot answer all questions, but that doesn't mean you should throw its basic principles away", he says. "Without science, modern civilization is impossible."
Nicolas Birch specializes in Turkey, Iran and the Middle East.