Alcohol in Turkey: some chafe at new rules


Bloggers debate whether the government promotes public health or attempts religiously-motivated social engineering.

By Alexander Christie-Miller for Southeast European Times in Istanbul – 21/01/11


A bartender serves alcoholic beverages in an Istanbul bar. [Reuters]

Stricter alcohol regulations that came into force in Turkey this week have reignited a long and bitter debate about whether the country's mildly Islamist government seeks to undermine liberal freedoms.

The new regulations forbid alcohol from appearing in commercials or the names of brands being used in sports clubs. There are also tight restrictions on the sale and consumption at public events.

The government has defended the new measures on public health grounds. Bloggers and commentators are debating whether the new rules are an attempt at social engineering, or merely sober good sense.

An anonymous writer who identifies himself as a 36-year-old architect disputes the government's assertion that Turkey has an alcohol problem, and believes the statistics suggest rising alcohol consumption stems from a growth in tourism.

"We are not an alcoholic people," he writes, "unlike some European countries and Russia."

He argues society's values exert more pressure on people than laws. "This shows that there is no worrying situation in our country concerning the availability and visibility of alcohol," he concludes.

Burak Bekdil contends the new regulations don't ban alcohol consumption outright but they swamp it in enough red tape to deter many would-be drinkers and vendors. To him, the rules are without a doubt a religiously-inspired attempt to phase out a sin.

"The trouble about alcohol is not about pious Muslims avoiding it themselves for religious reasons but about forcing others to do so -- which, ironically, is not a Quranic teaching. Religiously, this is a self-tasked duty. Politically, it is despotism."

He rejects comparisons with restrictions in Western countries where he claims they are even more ridiculous, as the reasons and the motives are different.

For Mustafa Karaalioglu, however, the discussion about whether certain lifestyles in Turkey are under threat is a "fake debate".

"There is no ban on the use of alcoholic beverages in Turkey, and there will not be one," he writes. "The latest legislation proposed by the government and passed in parliament brings no ban against the use of alcohol; it is even softer than general practice in other parts of the world."

He points to Istanbul's status as European Capital of Culture 2010 as evidence of the country's tolerance of diversity.

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Ahmet Yilmaz is similarly dismissive of the whole debate.

"Does it bother you that there will be a decrease in the consumption of alcohol, and thus less accidents and deaths?"

Alcoholism is to be taken seriously, he writes, and people should not get worked up about rules that will affect producers and not people who consume alcohol sensibly.

"Should we not look positively upon a development that will free young people from such a bad habit?"

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