It was 2007 and I was in Cappadocia (central Anatolia) with my parents. It was spring and hot, we had taken a walk through a valley and ended up in a small village, Ibrahimpasa. We went to the cafe on the town square for a drink. My dad, not yet a regular Turkey visitor at the time, sat down on the small terrace, sighed, wiped the sweat off his forehead and said: ‘I’ll have a beer.’
Five minutes later, we were having hot tea and cold water. Of course, beer wasn’t available there. That’s very normal in Turkey: in the great majority of restaurants and sidewalk cafes, alcohol is not served. Not in the small towns in Anatolia, and also not in Istanbul. (You know that too, Hugh 😉 And a Spanish journalist who is surprised about not being able to order wine in a lunch restaurant in Istanbul reveals more about his lack of knowledge of the local customs than about the extent of Islamization of the city.)
In general, people in Turkey drink tea. I remember sitting outside at a cafe in Kadiköy, Istanbul, where alcohol was available and I was having a beer, but young and modern people around me were having tea. On a sunny weekend afternoon. Turkey just doesn’t have a drinking culture. When you want to have alcohol with your lunch or dinner, you need to ask if that’s possible when you enter the restaurant. If not, you’ll need to go somewhere else.
Red or white?
That’s totally different to the situation in the country I come from, the Netherlands, as in any other European country. There, drinking is almost automatic. Alcohol is available in practically every restaurant, also for lunch. When you sit down in an outdoor cafe in summer in the afternoon or evening, beer or wine is what you have. When I visit friends in my home country, the question is usually not which drink I would like, but ‘Red or white?’ – white, please. When I visit my parents, I can count on dad having put a bottle of white wine in the fridge beforehand.
Now Turkey is in an uproar because the AKP government has changed the laws concerning alcohol. Part of the package is that retailers cannot sell alcohol anymore between 10pm and 6am (cafes, hotels and restaurants still can) and that alcohol cannot be sold anymore within a hundred meters of a mosque or a school. Alcohol ban! some people shout.
Sorry, but that’s not an alcohol ban. Even stronger: with the time limitation, in practice nothing much changes from the current situation. Supermarkets are usually already closed around that time, and you would have to search for any small specialized alcohol sales point (Tekel) that’s still open.
Some hotels, bars and restaurants will probably be affected by the 100 metre rule, but there is also a good chance there will be exceptions for tourist areas. Not only to support businesses, but also to support the incumbent AKP local government in many tourist areas. You see, there are local elections scheduled for the beginning of 2014. Both the new alcohol law (AKP voters are against drinking) and the expected exceptions to it will serve the AKP, the party that loves power more than God.
For many people, even foreign observers, this alcohol law is the proof that the AKP is actually ‘Islamizing’ Turkey. I find that intriguing. I think Turkey, or the land we call Turkey now, was already Islamized centuries ago. Just as the part of the world where I come from was Christianized centuries ago. I know of course that what people mean when they say ‘Islamizing’ is that the AKP wants to impose its Islamic values on society. But my point is: Islamic values are already ruling this society, just as Christian values are ruling the Netherlands.
The criteria are: does the AKP limit other people’s choice to drink? They do when it comes to the hundred metre rule. Not selling alcohol around schools though, is actually not the worst idea ever. Not around mosques? Now on that particular point, the new law directly touches religion, is definitely inspired by Islam and should be cancelled.
Still, I think alcohol has become only more available since the AKP has been in power. Look at the very conservative city where I live, Diyarbakir. Within walking distance from my house in Baglar (I tell you, that’s not a modern part of town) there are two ultra modern shopping malls where I can buy all the alcohol I (think I) need. No way was it like that ten years ago. Thanks to AKP’s friends in the construction business, shopping malls with Migros and Carrefour (two of the big markets that sell alcohol) are still expanding all over the country.
Not a healthy product
The other details of the law aren’t necessarily ‘Islamizing’. I for sure support harsh punishment for driving under the influence of alcohol. That advertising alcohol will be restricted is bad news for the alcohol producers but not such a strange policy. Don’t forget (as I sometimes tend to do) that alcohol is not a healthy product.
Which doesn’t mean that I think it makes any sense whatsoever to introduce stricter alcohol laws in Turkey. PM Erdogan and some AKP MP’s say many EU countries have similar laws and Russia tries to limit alcohol use too – which made me laugh out loud, because the social problems caused by alcohol in the EU and definitely in Russia are uncomparable to the situation in Turkey.
Like I said, these lands were Islamized centuries ago. The alcohol consumption in Turkey is very low. Turkey has no alcohol problem and people don’t need a man-made law to not touch alcoholic drinks. It’s true what PM Erdogan said some weeks ago: the yoghurt drink ayran is Turkey’s national drink. He said it himself, so why on earth restrict alcohol? Well, that’s where the previously mentioned local elections come in.
If Erdogan was really concerned about the people’s health and the welfare of the family and of Turkey’s youth – the reasons he claims to have for the new alcohol rules – I have some ideas.
Please, please urgently draft (and implement!) a serious policy against domestic violence, sexual abuse and underage marriage. Launch a campaign to inform the public about the dangers of smoking, and especially of smoking in the presence of children. Reduce the places where you can buy cigarettes, raise the prices a lot and implement rules that ban children from buying tobacco products. (There are new tabacco rules to come, let’s see what they contain.)
And who is going to tell people in this country about the biggest health risk every single Turks inflicts upon himself? I’m talking about sugar. Putting three or four sugar cubes in ten to twenty cups of tea a day (thats 210 to 560 cubes a week!), and accustoming children to that from a very young age, is very hazardous to your health.
But don’t expect too much from the AKP in these fields. You don’t want to estrange the voters from you, do you?