On ‘ayran’ and ‘bayram’
The current “ruling class” of Turkey, like many of their predecessors, is trying hard to make the country one they aspire to see. Is there anything wrong in that? If political teams are not contesting for the administration of the country to make it a “better Turkey” according to their perception, why do we have multiparty democracy? If that’s the case why does prominent pianist and composer Fazıl Say claim that a section of the Turkish society is complaining that their lifestyle is under threat?
Moments after Parliament adopted the new law introducing scorching bans on alcohol consumption, with some midnight raid of change proposals, I wrote on the social media that it was sad to see advancing existential threats posed to a secular and democratic Turkey. In a perfectly right self defense but unreflective of the grave situation Turkey is being pushed into, a colleague holding a senior executive position in the allegiant media struck back: “There are similar bans in the Christian world but zealot secularists complain of bans in Turkey.”
Well, my colleague is perfectly right that there are similar and sometimes stringent regulations against alcohol in European countries or in the United States. In many countries alcoholic products are off shelves from early evening until morning hours. In many countries public places, parks and even at bus stops, metro or bus stops smoking and drinking alcoholic stuff is strictly prohibited. In those countries there is no worry in the public that their governments were trying to take them back or introducing Mahmut the IV (the ottoman sultan who prohibited alcohol as well as coffee and cigarette consumption, but failed) bans.
The problem, therefore, cannot be with the perception of the Turkish people but with the Turkish government that created such phobias in Turkey. Well, excluding official occasions or friendly gatherings I rarely take sips, even that not more than few times a year. Yet, when I drink I do not drink in hiding or concealing what I drink, I do it publicly. I never pretended, for example, to be drinking lemonade or the “national drink” ayran, while secretly consuming vodka, gin or such “beverages.” Therefore, my opposition to the existing and incoming alcohol bans is not personal. Indeed, it is not the bans but rather the motive behind the introducing of such bans that is alarming the majority of Turks.
It is the professed aim of the current prime minister and his team to nourish a “vengeful and conservative” new generation, rather than “braggarts drinking day and night.” The Turkish society, unfortunately, is getting more and more religious-conservative anyhow. Erecting a mosque at every corner and then legislating a law banning sale of alcoholic products at shops within 100 meters of mosques can help no divine cause but the spread of “my lifestyle is under threat” phobia in the country.
As long as there is company of friends, some nice discussion subjects and a good atmosphere, it does not make much difference for Turks whether the prime minister considers something alcoholic or ayran or yoghurt diluted with water, as the national drink of the country. Did Arabs invent it first, or was it the Greeks or some other people of the former Ottoman Empire, who cares? Rakı, arak or uzo and the milkish color it gets after adding into it some water is great. With no intention, for a change, of humiliating the ever-angry premier, I remembered a joke recently made by a former parliament speaker and veteran politician. “Water is our national drink,” he said, “When we add into it some yogurt it becomes ayran; when we add some raki, it becomes a bayram [festival].”