Islamic finance and Web3 take stage at Istanbul Blockchain Week

Being one flight away from both Dubai and London, Istanbul is the “financial capital” of Turkey and a popular destination for events and organizations. Its convenient location also helps organizers customize their events to align with the specific needs of Eastern or Western cultures — which felt like the case at Istanbul Blockchain Week 2023.

IBW 2023 saw thousands of local and international enthusiasts join the conversation on crypto, blockchain and Web3 on Aug. 22 and 23 at the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti. Tailored to reflect the various discussions across the Web3 ecosystem, the event’s agenda was filled with keynotes about artificial intelligence (AI), regulation, Web3 gaming and blockchain use cases from the real world.

Aside from the hot topics to capture the global audience, IBW 2023 also featured region-specific talks, such as on Islamic finance and a Shariah-compliant Web3 economy. The explosive growth of crypto and Web3 in the United Arab Emirates, especially in Dubai, combined with the UAE’s interest in the Turkish market created a convenient time frame for organizer EAK Digital to hold this year’s event, just nine months after IBW 2022.

Having the event in August in Istanbul was a strategic decision, according to Erhan Korhaliller, founder and CEO of EAK Digital. He explained that it’s far too hot to have any events in summer in Dubai, so they presented Istanbul as a neighboring international hub for major players from the UAE — and their tactic paid off:

“We have over 25 booths this year. A hackathon with a $50,000 prize. […] Having the government representatives and big banks with us here during a bear market is very important.”

Aside from the agenda for the main stage, the event hall was packed with blockchain and crypto enthusiasts from various backgrounds networking, holding roundtable discussions and workshops, getting themselves scanned for the metaverse, or simply chatting and taking selfies with Desi, the conversational AI robot from SingularityNET and Yaya Labs.

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While AI, central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and Web3-friendly fan tokens featured prominently in the main hall, nonfungible tokens (NFTs) were notably missing. Last year, there was a whole day and an exhibition dedicated to NFTs.

“As organizers, we should be flexible and adaptive to what the market is telling us,” explained Korhaliller. “NFT trading is like 99% down. The interest clearly is not here, and therefore, we’re not doing an NFT Day this year.”

Islamic finance hackathon

Similar to last year, the main stage was divided into several events to hold speeches, workshops and the IstanHack hackathon simultaneously.

As keynote speakers presented their arguments around crucial elements of Islamic finance, a crowded cast of young developers coded against time to create working solutions that aligned with the overall mission of the event — promoting ethical finance and sustainable development for people dissatisfied with traditional banking.

Islamic finance has a target market of 1.9 billion people, most of whom are unsatisfied with traditional finance services due to the involvement of interest. “Interest is forbidden in Islam,” explained Tansel Kaya, an IstanHack juror and founder of Mindstone Blockchain Labs. He told Cointelegraph that more than just the big prize, “the hackathon served as an eye-opener for the young talent looking to develop something beyond your run-of-the-mill DeFi yield products.”

AI takes the stage

AI was a hot topic, both on and off stage, during Istanbul Blockchain Week, with participating companies demonstrating their take on how Web3 and AI can be in sync. During his speech titled “The Future of Decentralised Generative AI on Blockchain,” SingularityNET chief marketing officer Loic Claveau noted that for the first time in history, people have the ability to own their data.

“AI is very data-intensive,” he said, adding, “It needs to run a ton of data to be able to work as you use something like ChatGPT. It is a Big Tech monopoly. […] All the big behemoths of the tech world, they run and they do it.”

According to Claveua, AI developers who work with a relatively smaller team have two options at this point: Working for Big Tech or selling their next big ideas to Big Tech. “That’s the way to move forward in your career and get into the very interesting projects.”

Crypto adoption: Slowly but surely

Cointelegraph Turkey was one of the media partners of the event as well. “Here in Istanbul, we are still experiencing the impact of a prolonged bear market, just like the rest of the world,” commented Eray Dengiz, CEO of Cointelegraph Turkey and Kriptomeda.

He underscored the importance of the active participation from the Turkish banking ecosystem, with major Turkish banks such as Garanti BBVA, Akbank and Yapi Kredi attending a panel for CBDCs.

A first-timer to a crypto event held in Turkey was Addy Crezee, founder of NFT ticketing platform Ozaru and the former CEO of Cointelegraph’s own global event, BlockShow. Crezee moderated a panel about crypto finance at IBW 2023.

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“Obviously, finance is the biggest topic here in Turkey,” he told Cointelegraph. “When you come out of the plane, you see all the ads from all the different exchanges. I was impressed.”

Highlighting the overall progress the crypto ecosystem has achieved in terms of adoption and reaching more people in less than a decade, Crezee summarized:

“I remember attending crypto events, mainly about Bitcoin, in 2014 or 2015. There were less than a hundred people. Today, when an event attracts less than a thousand people, it’s considered pretty small.”

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