Global Dimensions of Temperance and Prohibition in 1920s Turkey

Friday, January 4, 2019: 4:10 PM
Hancock Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Emine Onhan Evered, Michigan State University
In September 1920, following months of contentious debate in the renegade parliament of what later became the Republic of Turkey (1923-), MPs approved a law that prohibited the production, sale, importation, and consumption of alcohol. This history provides not only a crucial foundation for grasping today’s anti-alcoholism and Islamism under PM Erdogan; it also must be understood as an episode integral to the global dynamics of temperance and prohibitionism that impacted many states of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Voted for by the narrowest of margins in the deeply divided legislative body, the ban endured until 1924. Lasting only four years—far shorter than America’s “noble experiment”, the edict emerged in a politically volatile context; following World War I (1914-1918) and the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922), and during the final years of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923). Though Anatolia’s people were predominantly Muslim and largely acknowledged Islamic proscriptions, not all complied. Not only Islamists advocated enactment, however, as other factors played significant roles. Arising during Istanbul’s Allied occupation (1918-1923) and an ongoing invasion, nationalists exerted intense pressure; they viewed alcohol in terms of foreign influence and ethno-religious minorities. In line with global trends, progressive and secular reformers reframed temperance according to medical science. Turkish prohibitionists also positioned themselves alongside those in the West, often mischaracterizing the politics and impacts of America’s example. Leaders of the Anti-Saloon League and other organizations likewise identified Turkey as a curious site of allies and inspiration. Though Turkey’s prohibition was short-lived, actual and rhetorical connections it shared with the United States’ experience reveal the international dimensions and limitations of efforts in both countries.
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