ISTANBUL – Cracking down on alcohol consumption in Istanbul, the Turkish government is taking measures to close bars and nightclubs and shrink the city’s nightlife.
“I fully stand alongside (Premier Recep Tayyip) Erdogan for his efforts to rid us of these evils,” resident Nazan Mehmet told OnIslam.net on Thursday, November 22.
The Justice and Development Party-led Istanbul municipality has taken several measures to shrink the city’s nightlife, which attracts millions of tourists every year.
“Entertainment and tourism are equally important for our economy, but it should not be linked with bars, night clubs and other obscene activities,” Nazan, a student of International Department at Istanbul University said.
“Those who believe that tourists visit Turkey just because of these activities they are mistaken.
“Turkey has a lot to show to the tourists. It does not need support of noisy bars, and shameless night clubs. They are ruining the image of our great nation.”
Istanbul mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan says residents have been disturbed by the city’s nightlife.
“Local and foreign visitors have been forgetting the residents trying to sleep in the neighborhood,” Demircan said.
He, however, denied that the measures to close bars and nightclubs were part of a government crackdown on alcohols.
“Alcohol is not the issue here. The media has created the perception that alcohol is being banned. That is not the case,” he said.
“We are trying to create a peaceful culture, art and entertainment venue.”
Approximately 99 percent of Turkey’s population are Muslim, mostly Sunnis.
But the move has invoked the ire of some Turks, who accuse the government of inserting religion in state operations.
“The Islamic-minded government is silently killing the historical secular image of Turkey by inserting religion in state operations,” Cana Everen, an Istanbul-based political analyst, told OnIslam.net.
She cited several amendments in the Turkish constitution raging from education system, permission for hijab in educational institutions, growth of Islamic schools to Islamic banking.
“Things have been brewing slowly but gradually.”
Cana opines that the AK party-led Istanbul municipality has been implying some unconventional tactics to shrink the city’s traditional nightlife.
“There is an ostensible difference in night life activities if you compare the pre and post Ak party eras,” she said.
“Various nightclubs and bars across Teksim Square have been demolished in the name of reconstruction and refurbishment of the area.”
She argues that though affectees were compensated, it was almost impossible for them to re-establish such roaring businesses at other non-tourist places.
Cana also cited another government tactic to fight alcohol, including the removal of benches around the historic Galata Tower in June, which was the second most popular place for alcohol gatherings.
These benches installed outside scores of bars used to be packed by alcohol drinkers from evenings to till late nights, especially on weekends.
“They have done this in the name of planting flowers,” Cana said.
Police have also surrounded the area with lines of tape in an attempt to keep people from gathering around the base of the tower.
“The motive behind this step is very clear. That is to force the bars owners to either close down their businesses or get ready to bear the losses,” she said.
In September, the government announced hikes in taxes on alcohol consumption, which Cana sees as another step to discourage the use and sale of alcohol in the country.
“Erdogan and his colleagues are very sharp and smart. They know if they do this all openly and blatantly, they will not only have to face resistance from the secular parties, but it will further hurt their efforts to seek EU membership,” Cana said.
“That’s why, they are doing this silently.”
The AK party first came into power in 2002 elections, and since then it has won two consecutive elections with a thumping majority.
The party is riding on a wave of popularity that it has earned due to success of its economic policies, turning Turkey from one of the weakest economies in Europe into becoming the 15th largest economy in the world.
But many Turks have voiced support for the crackdown.
“I don’t know whether it was a step to force the bar owners to run away, but what, for sure, I know is that this (action) has brought peace to residents,” Mustafa, an automobile engineer who resides in the neighborhood of Galata Tower, told OnIslam.net.
He said the municipality had taken the step on the complaints of local residents and shop owners against late night noise and restlessness outside the bars.
“Opponents of this action say that they have the right to drink and have fun, but what about our right to sleep?” he asked.
“What about the rights of ill people residing there? What about the rights of children who have to go to schools next morning?
“What was happening here cannot be dubbed as having fun. It was nothing but a total disturbance,” he said.
Ahmet Sultan, who owns a small supermarket at Galata Tower, is also supportive.
“Fights between drunken people had become an order of the day here, which had ruined peace and tranquility in the area,” he said.
“There were not only fights, but various other anti-social activities- from sexual relations to mugging.
“I want to ask the so-called intellectuals, who have been opposing this action that what would be their reaction if this all would happen in front of their houses?” Ahmet asked.
Mutafa Yafuz, a retired employee, agrees.
“These bars and night clubs have ruined turkey’s image in the name of so-called secularism,” he said.
“It’s time to get rid of these evils and this image.”