When the Turkish parliament passed last year strict new regulations on where and when alcohol can be sold, among the changes was a stipulation that shops, bars and restaurants selling alcohol could no longer have signs advertising that they sell, well, alcohol.
After an almost year-long grace period, the time has now come for Turkey's groceries and beer shops to take down any mention of booze from their signs. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
After June 11, shops and restaurants will be banned from displaying the signs of alcoholic beverage companies, removing another possible source of revenue. Many alcohol companies make deals with shops to pay for signboard costs in exchange for their advertisement. Alcohol advertising was banned in Turkey last year, and shops are now also required to hide alcoholic drinks from their windows.
“It’s alcoholic drink firms that have renewed our shop signs. Without logos, even tourists won’t want to enter the shops. Before, they would come and do their shopping here when they saw famous brands on the signs,” said Yusuf Deniz, a retailer who has been working in Istanbul for 22 years.
The latest measure affects around 250,000 retailers across Turkey. They were initially given a September 2013 deadline to complete the signboard transition, but this period was prolonged following difficulties in implementation.
To get around the regulation, many shop owners are planning to only remove the alcoholic brand logos and will keep the colors and lines that remind customers of them.
It goes without saying that the Gezi Park protests, which started a year ago and rocked Istanbul and other cities for several weeks, were a watershed moment for Turkey. A profound tipping point, there's very little in Turkish political and social life that has not somehow been influenced by the Gezi events. At the same time, Gezi's legacy is still evolving, its impact seen on developments that are both encouraging and dispiriting.
This mix of positive and negative changes can be seen regarding the fate of Gezi Park itself. At the most basic level, the effort to save the Istanbul park from being turned into a shopping mall -- which is what led to the protests in the first place -- was a success, with Gezi today still serving as a rare green space in the heart of Istanbul. On the other hand, as evidenced by the ongoing construction of the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the protests have done very little to slow down the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government's appetite for environmentally costly state-sponsored megaprojects that are greenlighted with little oversight or input from the public.
And while the protests were instrumental in mobilizing a new class of political activists and in raising awareness about a host of issues that had previously been ignored (for more take a look at this very good piece by the Guardian's Constanze Letsch), that energy has yet to be directed into an organized political effort that can successfully challenge the AKP.
As a story in today's New York Times makes clear, among the many things Ukraine lost when Russia recently annexed Crimea was the historic Massandra winery, which was first set up by Czar Nicholas II in 1894. From the NYT:
Agriculture is a crucial sector that the Kremlin hopes to rejuvenate to make Crimea an economic success story under Russian tutelage. The new administration hopes to exploit the wine industry not least to draw more tourists, blaming Ukraine for neglecting both when it ran Crimea.
“Thank God it has not been completely ruined within these 23 years,” said Yelena Yurchenko, Crimea’s minister of tourism and resorts, speaking of viniculture. “Of course it would be in better shape if there had been investments in this field.”
Actually, while much of Crimea was bemoaning empty hotel rooms and a scant number of tourists, the bedrock of the economy, the team at Massandra was in a buoyant mood. Wines flew off the shelves at their three local stores last month, on track to double the sales volume from last year, they said.
The winery attributed the increase to many first-time Russian visitors’ eagerly snapping up potable souvenirs. The czar’s former winery now caters more to those day-to-day visitors than to the elite, producing 10 million bottles a year. Winemaking in Crimea dates back more than 3,500 years, but the intense Black Sea sunshine means it is most known for sweet wines and sherry.
Thanks to the rich soil of its steppes, Ukraine has long been known as "Europe's Breadbasket." But it appears that the recent turmoil affecting the country may impact this year's Ukrainian wheat harvest, which is expected to be down ten percent from last year. Reports the Kyiv Post:
Political turmoil, currency fluctuations and loss of territory will prevent major Ukrainian grain producers from enjoying another banner year. Analysts expect the grain harvest this year to reach 54-56 million tons, 12 percent down from last year’s record of 63 million tons.
Statistics do not include forecasted Crimean yield figures because Russia has annexed the peninsula.
Indeed, losing a large swath of fertile territory can certainly have an impact on a country's agricultural output. Being next door to a threatening and belligerent neighbor can also make things tough, as the Registan blog points out in a very interesting post on how the Ukraine crisis is affecting that country's agricultural sector:
Turks are used to seeing their mercurial Prime Minister make a scene -- some of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's voters even like him all the better for it. After all, this is the man who was crowned "The Conqueror of Davos" in 2009 after he stormed off the stage he was sharing at the World Economic Forum with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Of course, that took place abroad, with Erdogan teaching the world a lesson about messing with not just his but Turkey's honor. Lately, though, Erdogan has been displaying his temper and defending his honor domestically, in a way that is bringing him less accolades than his Davos outburst and which may ultimately cost him politically.
On May 10 Erdogan caused quite a stir when, while listening to a harshly critical speech being given by the head of Turkey's bar association, he heckled the speaker and then stormed out of the hall where the event was taking place. More disturbingly, while visiting yesterday the town of Soma, site of this week's tragic mining accident in western Turkey, Erdogan and his entourage appeared to physically lash out against locals who were part of a large group of people protesting the PM. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
A man from the mining disaster-struck town of Soma said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slapped him "involuntarily" during a scuffle on May 14, after the footage of the incident is revealed and condemned by opposition parties on May 15.
Yesterday's tragic mining accident in western Turkey, which left at least 245 workers dead and more than 100 still trapped, has again put a spotlight on the country's spotty workplace safety record and the halting steps to improve it.
As the Hurriyet Daily News reports, Turkey's mining industry has one of the world's highest fatality rates:
More than 3,000 people have been killed in mining accidents across Turkey since 1941, mostly due to fires, landslide or explosions.
A report from 2010 stated that the number of deaths in mine accidents in Turkey outnumbers those in the world’s biggest coal producers, the Unites States and China, in terms of fatalities per ton.
Figures show the country is much more dangerous than any country for a miner, even than China, which has the largest number of coal-mining fatalities in any country.
Although the number of miners killed in accidents is far higher in China, the number of deaths per ton of coal production in China was seven times lower than Turkey in 2008, according to a mining sector overview report published by the Economy Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) in 2010.
“While the number of deaths per million ton of coal production is 7.22 in Turkey, it stood at 1.27 in China and 0.02 in the United States in the same year,” the report said, citing official data obtained from the country’s related agencies.
The recent news that a Syrian woman in Istanbul was arrested for allegedly trying to sell her three-month-old baby was perhaps shocking, but it was also a reminder that while Turkey has managed to house a large number of Syrian refugees in what are considered to be exemplary camps, the majority of these refugees are now living in Turkish urban areas, with many of them facing desperate conditions.
The numbers tell this story quite clearly. While Turkey is now home to more than 900,000 Syrian refugees, only 220,000 of them live in the camps, which are located near the border with Syria. The rest have made their way to Turkish cities, from border towns like Gaziantep and Kilis to larger urban centers such as Istanbul.
This development and the challenges it poses for Turkey and Turkish policymakers are highlighted in a new report released yesterday by The Brookings Institution. From the report, entitled, "Syrian Refugees and Turkey’s Challenges: Beyond the Limits of Hospitality:"
There is general recognition that the government has done a commendable job in providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the refugees in the camps. However, the situation for those refugees outside the camps is more complicated.
As noted in a recent post on this blog, Russia's moves regarding Crimea left Turkey facing something of a conundrum, unable to protest too much because of its crucial trade and energy ties with Moscow.
As the crisis in Ukraine continues, Turkey's dilemma regarding how to respond to developments there has only deepened, posing an even stickier challenge for Turkish-Russian relations -- something which Eurasianet's Dorian Jones covered in an article today.
In an analysis that was also released today, Ian Lesser, director of the German Marshall Fund's Brussels office, takes a further look at how the conflict over the future of Ukraine is testing Turkish foreign policy. Writes Lesser:
For those who follow Turkey closely, that Freedom House moved the country from "Partly Free" into the "Not Free" category in its annual Freedom of the Press report was not particularly surprising. Still, the report provides an interesting look into just how Turkey's record on press freedom has become so tarnished (despite the government's insistence that it's doing better on this issue than some countries that aren't on the "Not Free" list).
To get a better sense of the report, the methodology behind it and just what the Turkey has done to earn its new ranking, I reached out to Karin Karlekar, the Freedom of the Press index's project director. Our resulting email interview is below:
In your report, Turkey had the biggest drop in press freedom in Europe and one of the largest globally. Why was that?
Like the rest of Syria's neighbors, Turkey has found itself dealing with severe problems and worries resulting from the bloody conflict next door. From taking in a massive number of refugees to figuring out how to deal with the violent spillover from the Syrian conflict, Ankara faces a series of difficult policy choices.
A year ago, the International Crisis Group took a look at the challenges the crisis in Syria posed for Turkey, suggesting:
Turkey must stop betting its reputation on a quick resolution of the Syria crisis, and make some long-term changes of emphasis. In order to talk to all parties from a position of greater moral authority, it should avoid projecting the image of being a Sunni Muslim hegemon. It should also re-secure its border and ask Syrian opposition fighters to move to Syria. Publicly adopting a profile of a balanced regional power, rather than a Sunni Muslim one, would likewise do much to reduce any possibility that the sectarian polarisation that is crippling Syria will jump the border to Turkey, in particular to Hatay province.
This week, ICG released a followup report, one that find Ankara still dangerously vulnerable to what's happening in Syria. From the report: