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Turkey Lurches Towards Prohibition


“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” asks Sir Toby Belch of the puritanical teetotal steward, Malvolio, in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’.

It seems that if you are virtuous puritanical teetotal Turkish Prime Minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, there shall indeed be no more. Ale, that is – or any other alcoholic beverage on sale in the Republic of Turkey before too long. Despite strong objections from the opposition, the Turkish Parliament’s General Assembly has adopted a highly controversial bill proposed by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tightening restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcohol.

According to the bill, passed early in the morning on May 24th after all-night parliamentary debates, retailers will no longer be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Advertising campaigns by alcohol companies will be completely banned, such as promotions, sponsored activities and festivals. The only exception will be the international fairs aimed at international marketing of the alcoholic beverages.

In TV series, films and music videos, images that show the consumption of alcohol will be prohibited. Images of alcohol will be blurred out, the same way as cigarettes are being blurred at the moment.

Alcoholic beverages will not be allowed to be purchased from vending machines. Bottles and cans must not be visible through shop windows and cannot be sold to be consumed outside the facility.

Additionally, all liquor bottles sold will have to display warning signs about the harms of alcohol, similar to those found on cigarette packages.

Violators of the advertising ban will be punished with financial penalties ranging from 5000 to 200,000 Turkish liras.

Student dormitories, health institutions, sports clubs, all sorts of education institutions and gas stations will be banned from selling alcohol. Already acquired licenses to sell alcohol will remain intact, but to acquire new ones facilities are required to be located outside a 100 metre perimeter of educational and religious centers.

Those who want to get licenses to sell alcohol from the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority (TAPDK) will be conditioned to get the license to open up a business from the municipality and then a tourism document from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Before granting a license the municipalities will get the opinion of the authorized law enforcement forces.

The alcohol limit for drivers has also been decreased from 1 to 0,5 promil. Drivers found exceeding this limit will be penalized with a fine of 700 liras and their driving license will be seized for a period of six months. Smoking while driving is also prohibited.

The AKP government has been levying heavy taxes on alcohol since it came to power more than a decade ago. As a result, while the consumer price index has risen 132 percent since 2003, the increase on alcoholic beverages has been a huge 346 percent.
Prime Minister Erdogan has even suggested that rakı, the popular strong aniseed flavoured spirit affectionately know as ‘Aslan Süt’ (“Lion’s Milk”), should be replaced by ‘Ayran’, a salty yoghurt based beverage, as the Turkish national drink.

“This is a religious and ideological imposition,” Musa Çam, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said. “This is not a struggle against the ills of alcohol but an attempt to re-design the society according to their beliefs and lifestyle,” he added.

BDP deputy Murat Bozlak also demonstrated his disapproval of the bill, saying “Nobody has the right to impose the monotype lifestyle on the society.”

As a pious Muslim, Prime Minister Erdogan believes that alcohol consumption on earth is a sin, as stated in the Koran, but in Paradise he believes he shall taste of the rivers of delicious wine, one of the heavenly rewards promised for true believers.

Last month, renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say was found guilty of blasphemously insulting Islamic religious values and handed a suspended 10-month prison sentence for tweeting several lines attributed to the Sufi poet Omar Khayyam speaking to God:

“You say you will give two houris to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse? You say its rivers will flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house?”

Erdogan refused to give his opinion on the verdict.

“Şerefe!” is the Turkish equivilant of “Cheers!”, as drinkers clink glasses to toast one another.

It means: “To Honour!”

Whatever happened to it?

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at his website – 

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at

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