I recently read an article with that exact headline and I got worried! Is a minority attempting to use legislation to limit the rights of a majority in Istanbul? That sounds crazy to me, especially regarding booze. I am curious what you think.
An Istanbul Drinker
We here at Carpetblog saw that article too and it worried us for a couple reasons. First, is Eurasianet (which we typically love, so no hate!) so tone-deaf that using the term "apartheid" in a headline for a story about restrictions on drinking in a Muslim country sounded like a good idea? Good clickbait but that's a regrettable word choice.
It also concerns us because the article falls into traps set by the typical secular vs. religious debate framework and fails to break any new or important ground on an interesting topic with broader implications. Eurasianet is usually better than that.
And, it concerns us because people's panties get more twisted about their inability to drink Efes anytime, anywhere than the lack of transparency and ongoing erosion of rule of law in Turkey.
Yabancilar and hysterical secularists tend to point to a couple examples that "prove" alcohol is getting harder to consume in Istanbul. The media (not just Eurasianet) tend to repeat these examples to bolster the case that the Islamists have arrived in Beyoğlu, ignoring how the claims fit into the larger -- and much more complicated -- narrative of what's happening in Turkey right now. An argument could be made that restrictions on alcohol consumption in Turkey are increasing (such as increased taxes) but, in our view, none of these commonly cited cases fully support it.
We shall address these claims. They include:
The Outdoor Seating Fatwa: The outdoor seating ban has made social life in Beyoğlu grim. We hate it with the white-hot passion of 1000 suns. But is it really designed to curb drinking? We have never been convinced it is, in whole. If it is, then why is it so unevenly applied? In our observation, it applies to both teahouses (see: Kartal Sokak) and bars/restaurants alike. Why is outdoor seating -- with alcohol -- allowed in Talımhane, Karaköy, Nevizade (where it was never banned) and on Galata Meydan? Why does it affect Beyoğlu and not other AKP-run municipalities, like Sultanahmet/Fatih, which are much more conservative? To us, it seems like more of an arbitrary and non-transparent application of a "law" or someone's poorly thought out reponse to a real problem (illegal tables blocking sidewalks) than an attack on outdoor drinking, which frankly, is a lot more troubling.
The Efes Festival Skirmish: No question, this epic battle was over serving beer at the Efes-sponsored One Love music festival last month at Santralistanbul on the Bilgi campus in Fatih. We were at a concert a week later at the same venue at which no beer -- except the alkoholsuz variety, the only possible way Efes could be made worse -- was served. It looks like the conservative residents of Fatih who object to beer drinking so close to the holy Eyüp mosque the week before Ramazan scored the point, right?
Fifty meters from the entrance to the concert venue, you could buy as much beer as you wanted at Bilgi University's campus bars, including one set up outside solely devoted to dispensing beer. So, is drinking not allowed in Fatih now or does the ban only apply to concerts at Santral? Is Bilgi shutting down all its bars or is it exempt? Why or why not? What about drinking in Sultanahmet, which is also part of Fatih and is close to holy Eyüp? Who or what is making these decisions and according to what authority?
Instead of looking into the issue further, the Eurasianet story repeated yawn-inducing CHP boilerplate and Pasha Erdoğan's typically incendiary quotes about the corruption of youth, but didn't actually talk to anyone who sells booze in Fatih to see if they face new restrictions, such as -- just a non-journalist thinking out loud here -- Bilgi University. It sounds to us like the same issue: the arbitrary application of some "law" or someone's poorly thought out solution to a problem. Or, it could be an ad-hoc response designed to placate a mob and provoke media hysteria. Either way, it succeeded and is much more troubling than the issue of "can I drink beer at a concert?"
The Routing of the Tower Drinkers: A few months ago, the nightly crowd of young drinkers got booted from the area around the base of the Galata Tower. Frankly, we were not opposed to this. In the mornings the area reeks of piss and vomit and fights are frequent. Hurriyet Daily News framed the debate-- as it is contractually obligated -- as a battle between conservative yobs who are offended by public drinking and sexing (Sorry about that! Won't happen again!) and freedom-loving intellectuals, rather than regular people who are pissed off by drunks making a lot of noise below their bedrooms at night. The area around the tower is now cordoned off with police tape so no one can sit there -- day or night, tourists or young drinkers alike. Outrage! Another sign of "alcohol apartheid."
Except the drinkers have moved 20 meters east and number twice as many because there's a lot more room for them. Now, hundreds of young people sit on the steps of Galata Meydan every night, drinking beer, cracking sunflower seeds and smoking cloves. No one seems to care. Is it an alcohol crackdown or flawed implementation of a response to an actual problem? It's easier just to say "booze crackdown!" than to look closer at the problem, which to us, is no-brainer but didn't actually get solved.
The Midnight Sign Genocide: This article about the city removing signs from restaurants and bars in the middle of the night is mystifying in ways only an article in Hurriyet Daily News can be: torturous use of language, zero sources and factually impossible claims. We live near Galipdede and Galata -- two of the areas mentioned where the sign massacre took place -- and not only are there no bars and very few restaurants beyond tourist-oriented büfes on Galipdede, plenty of ugly signs remain.
Has anyone in the English-language (or Turkish for that matter) press spoken to a proprietor whose sign got taken down? What, exactly, was the nature of the anticipated mayhem cited by HDN that forced city officials to take signs down in the middle of the night? Could there be another explanation for signs being removed besides "alcohol apartheid?" Thank god Eurasianet found a media studies teacher at Bilgi to illuminate the issue:
"'In Beyoğlu, they [authorities] don’t say [anything] directly, but the right to drink alcohol in public places is diminishing, and that is an entertainment area,' said Gokhan Tan, a media studies teacher at Istanbul Bilgi University."
The neighborhood, as far as we can tell, is still lousy with fucking ugly signage and you can still drink in as many places as before, including right there on Galata Meydan in at least two different restaurants (as well as on the steps). If there is a jihad planned against Pizza Corner and the new Best Coffee Cafe on Galata Meydan for violation of good taste, however, we would very much like to join it.
Many cities in North America and Europe regulate alcohol consumption -- when, where, to whom and what booze is consumed or sold -- as a matter of course, mostly to maintain quality of life. It's really not that big of a deal. But in Turkey, clumsy implementation, a lack of transparency and a slippery interpretation of rule of law result in a tendency to reduce every policy debate to the simplistic "secularists vs AKP" dynamic despite plenty of evidence there *might* be something more at work. The spazzy local media has little incentive to look into the issues more deeply but that doesn't excuse the foreigners.
While we are troubled about the direction Turkey and Istanbul have taken over the past year or two, we are not one who sees an Islamist under every rock. What concerns us more are the steps taken back toward paternalistic authoritarianism, crony capitalism and one non-transparent set of laws that applies to regular people and another that applies to the elite. This has nothing to do with Islamism and tends to get obscured by stupid debates over whether or not you can drink beer in Beyoğlu.