What Is an Anatolian Tiger?

Anatolian Tigers are a colloquial term that refers to a number of cities in central Turkey whose industrial prowess since the 1980s has resulted in impressive growth rates for the region and nation. Anatolian Tigers include prominent cities such as Gaziantep, Kayseri, and Konya, which have most of the firms among Turkey's 500 biggest companies. The term also refers to the many successful entrepreneurs from these cities, as well as to the emerging Turkish middle class.

Key Takeaways

  • Anatolian Tigers are a groups of cities, along with associated businesses and entrepreneurs, noted for their economic development in the past few decades.
  • Anatolian Tigers represent the latest wave of broadening of development in Turkey beyond the traditional imperial capital of Istanbul and the larger coastal cities.
  • Beyond their economic success, many of the Anatolian Tigers are enmeshed in ongoing social and political trends in Turkey that may present challenges to investment and development.

Understanding Anatolian Tigers

The successful Turkish cities that comprise the Anatolian Tigers can be traced back to the economic liberalization programs that were initiated in Turkey after 1980. With little or no state investment or subsidies, these cities flourished as the economic reforms unleashed a wave of entrepreneurship. Since 1980, Turkey's overall economic growth has been powered by the Anatolian tigers. The nation's exports grew from about $2.9 billion in 1980 to $157 billion in 2017, while per capita GDP in dollar terms quadrupled from $2,526 in 1980 to over $10,000 over the same period. 

In addition to growth in manufacturing and exports, the Anatolian Tigers have helped drive urbanization and a resulting increase in the importance of the service sector in Turkey’s economy from 26% of GDP in 1960 to 64% in 2013. A 2015 report for the World Bank described Turkey’s Anatolian Tigers as a model for successful industrialization and urbanization in emerging market economies. The report emphasized economic liberalization, investment in connective infrastructure, and large scale public and private investment in urban housing. 

Aside from their economic characteristics, the definition of Anatolian Tigers generally excludes companies who have their headquarters in the largest cities of Turkey, such as İstanbul, Ankara, İzmir, and Adana, as well as companies constituted with public capital.

There are variations of the term, such "Turkey's Tigers" or "Turkish Tigers," as used by the PBS without excluding the most commonly used form of "Anatolian Tigers" have also been pronounced.

Other Characteristics of Anatolian Tigers

Beyond their economic similarities, international (and other) media have made reference to different political connotations within the term. Some have associated Anatolian Tigers with Islamic values or even extended the term under such definitions as "Islamic capital" or "green capital". However, political choices and the voting trends of the cities may differ widely between each other.

A 2005 study by the European Stability Initiative that was focused on Kayseri uses the term "Islamic Calvinists" to define Anatolian Tiger entrepreneurs and their values. However, these qualities have made Anatolian Tiger companies traditionally less accessible to foreign investors. The family-run enterprises that typify the Anatolian Tiger model tend not to be interested in selling stakes to strategic investors, but are open to the idea of joint ventures with foreign companies, according to this study. But, given that many of these companies continue to be led by the entrepreneurs that built them from the ground up, they also tend to require significantly more persuasion concerning how a foreign partner can help move things forward.

Despite their long term economic success, many of the Anatolian Tigers have been hit hard in by some of Turkey’s civil turmoil in recent years. Tens of thousands were arrested and hundreds of companies worth tens of billions of dollars were seized by the government during its crackdown on the Gulenist movement following the 2016 attempted coup. Economic development and foreign direct investment in the region has faced a renewed challenge in the wake of the crisis and ensuing purges