In Turkey, the ravages of smuggled raki

By Sevin Rey-Sahin

Published on March 19, 2022 at 05:00, updated yesterday at 19:18

Riza makes raki in his kitchen from 96-degree medical alcohol he obtains from the internet, in Sungurlu, Turkey, February 19, 2022.

In the steamed-up kitchen of her apartment in Sungurlu, central Turkey, Sema, leaning over her saucepan, stirs her plate of dried beans. Behind her, her husband, Riza, is busy with a strange building made of various containers. A translucent liquid passes through a kettle, then a plastic bottle filled with charcoal granules and lands in another flask. “I filter the alcohol to remove heavy metals, it’s healthier that way”explains the fifties, a hand on the hip.

In this overheated room, Riza concocts her raki using 96-degree medical alcohol, purchased through a contact found on the Internet. Once his ethanol is diluted, he pours a few drops of anise aroma into it. “Here, it’s ready in ten minutes. If I want whiskey, I just have to put malt”, he specifies. According to his glass alcoholometer, his cocktail reaches 50 degrees of alcohol content. “I have to add water, otherwise it’s too strong. We all became chemists in this country. How else would you like to drink? »

Product inaccessible

Riza spends her time calculating the price of things. Turkish inflation reaches 36%, according to official figures, and reduces its purchasing power from year to year. To supplement her pension of 192 euros, or half a Turkish minimum wage, Riza continues to cultivate her wheat fields in a village away from Sungurlu. Two hours from Ankara, the capital, this city of 50,000 inhabitants resembles all Anatolian provincial towns, with its modern two- or three-storey buildings in pastel colors and satellite dishes that overflow balconies.

“Today, when we drink a glass, we offer four to the State. Ali Seker, MP from the opposition CHP party

In winter, the snow covers the small hills around, in summer, the sun burns the fields. This year, drought has halved yields, while gasoline and fertilizer prices have risen by the same amount. “I switched to organic unintentionally because I couldn’t afford the fertilizers”, he says. And, for his alcohol, the farmer switched to “homemade” production because of the multiple tax increases decided by the Islamic-conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

When Riza first ordered ethanol three years ago, a bottle of raki cost 7 euros. After another 46% increase in January 2022, it is now worth three times as much. In total, since 2010, the overall increase in taxes on a liter of raki is 863%. Under cover of the fight against alcoholism, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power in Turkey for twenty years, has made alcohol an inaccessible product for the majority of Turks.

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