Burns Night at the British Embassy in Ankara: haggis and whisky are consumed to the dulcet tones of a bagpiper from Dundee, and the incomprehensible Glaswegian lady who attempts to teach Turks how to dance “Strip the Willow” is joyfully ignored by couples initiating their own versions. I thoroughly enjoyed these Caledonian-Turkish delights; but if I had been any younger than 24, and if the evening had been sponsored not by Her Majesty the Queen but, say, Glenfiddich, then under a new law the event would have been out of bounds for me, along with all young Turks, who make up 43 per cent of the population.
For proof that Turkey’s Islamist AKP government is now muscling in on civic and private life, look no further than the new alcohol laws, one of which bans anyone under 24 attending any public event sponsored by an alcoholic brand. As most galas, openings, business soirées and fund-raising events are sponsored by the drinks industry, the big brands will probably find some way round this legislation, and the bright young things of Istanbul certainly have no intention of observing it. Still, another new law bans the sale of alcohol (mainly beer and Turkey’s favourite spirit, raki) in containers of 35cl or less in shops that also sell dried fruit and nuts — in other words, any Turkish convenience store.
These laws, which apply to tourists as well as Turks, are unfair not only to consumers but to shopkeepers too, not to mention producers of Turkish wines, which have been rapidly improving. They also do nothing to address Turkey’s only real alcohol problem: beer-fuelled football hooliganism.
The logic of the new alcohol laws is obscure and reflects the Islamist mindset of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister. Erdogan once complained that he didn’t see why anyone should drink wine, asking: “Why can’t they just eat grapes?” The fiercely secularist founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, would surely have choked on his raki in disbelief.