Anatolia (Asian Turkey) and nearby areas are where wine-making began some 9000 years ago. Domestication of the grapevine may have begun up to 5000 years ago.
The peoples of the Byzantine Empire enjoyed their wines and developed careful cultivation methods for their grapes.
With the fall of the empire (1923) and founding of the European-style Turkish Republic, many citizens of Greek heritage moved to Greece, but in the early years of the secular republic, government policies toward the production and use of alcoholic beverages were liberal and not restrictive.
Restrictions on Alcoholic Beverages
Following the landslide election victory of the conservative Justice & Development Party (AKP) in 2002, the official government policy toward alcoholic beverages began to change. Heavy taxes were placed on alcoholic beverages: between 2002 and 2009, the tax on beer rose 737%; in the following year, another 45%. A bottle of rakı which cost TL9.15 in 2002 cost TL51 ten years later in 2012. Similar high taxes were placed on wine and spirits.
On 9 September 2013, a law came into effect further restricting the sale of alcohol: shops were prohibited from selling alcohol between the hours of 22:00 (10 pm) and 06:00 (6 am)(although restaurants may serve them during those hours). Shops may no longer display signs avertising the sale of alcoholic beverages, and sale of alcoholic beverages within 100 meters of schools or places of worship was forbidden.
The government justifies the taxes and sales restrictions in the name of protecting the public from the dangers of alcoholism.
The Critics’ View
Critics of the government’s policy point out that only about 8% of Turks use alcohol, and Turkey’s per-capita annual consumption rate for alcoholic beverages is very low: 2.87 liters, compared to 9.43 liters for the USA, 10.75 for Greece, 13.66 for France, and 16.27 liters for Hungary.
They say that Turkey does not have an “alcohol problem” and is unlikely to have one.
Retailers of alcoholic beverages point to economic burdens: many of them must pay for new signage without reference to alcoholic beverages (beverage companies, particularly brewers, traditionally paid for signage for many of their sales outlets). Some shops may have to change locationsbecause they are located near schools, mosques or churches—or a school or mosque may be built near them, forcing them to move.
Retailers also complain that the high taxes have already resulted in the development of illegal, underground alcoholic beverage manufaturing (“bootlegging”); that these illegal, non-standard products may be dangerous to the health of the public; and that the unregulated—and untaxed—sale of illegal beverages robs both the retailers and the government of legitimate revenue.
Alcoholic Beverages and You
As a visitor to Turkey, the debate over alcoholic beverages may affect you.
Be sensitive to the fact that most Turks (and most Muslims) do not use alcoholic beverages at all, and in fact the use of alcohol is seen by some as the equivalent of using illegal drugs. However, most Turks realize that followers of other religions may use alcoholic beverages, and it is not taboo for them.
Most Turks are tolerant of the habits and customs of others, and so should you be: do not assume that “a drink” means an alcoholic beverage, and do not assume that any new Turkish friends use alcohol.
A bottle of wine is not necessarily a good hospitality gift. Flowers are better.