AFP: Alcohol ban final nail in coffin for ancient Turkey hotel

Alcohol ban final nail in coffin for ancient Turkey hotel

By Fulya Ozerkan (AFP) – 1 day ago 

Ankara — A 400-year-old Turkish hotel that has long been a favourite of movie stars and VIPs from around the world has been forced to close its doors... because of a government ban on alcohol.

The Okuz Mehmet Pasa Caravanserail, a stunning Ottoman-era inn in the Aegean seaside resort of Kusadasi, simply cannot afford to keep running, its manager Ali Acundas told AFP.

"We have already made losses over the past years due to changing economic circumstances," Acundas said.

"But the latest ban on alcohol sales dealt a fatal blow to our business that we cannot survive."

Turkey's ruling Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) introduced controversial legislation last May restricting consumption and advertising of alcohol in the predominantly Muslim but traditionally secular country.

Establishments in Turkey such as hotels and restaurants with licences to sell alcohol are not usually affected by the ban.

But Acundas said the Okuz Mehmet Pasa -- a spectacular stone building which dates back to 1618 -- was hit by new restrictions introduced this month by a foundation which oversees historic monuments in Turkey.

All establishments under the General Directorate of Foundations, a body linked to the prime minister's office, must abide by the ban.

Acundas said this made it impossible to operate as a hotel and restaurant for foreigners.

"We cannot advise a French guest to give up on sipping wine and instead drink fruit juice," he said.

The ancient hotel has played host to a variety of movie stars and political dignitaries in the past, media reports said.

"Former US president Jimmy Carter, former Greek prime minister George Papandreou, as well as foreign diplomats and NATO commanders were among our guests," said Acundas.

The 26-room hotel, which once employed around 30 staff, is now having to get rid of the final six, he said.

'Creeping religious conservatism'

But Acundus said he hoped there would still be a future for the hotel at some stage.

"What we are currently facing today is temporary. I am sure mistakes will be fixed. There will be definitely be a way out," he said.

The hotel is an original turreted caravansary built during the Ottoman era and still preserves the traditional characteristics -- two floors, two entrances and a spacious courtyard.

Caravansary were roadside inns where travellers could rest after long journeys and played a key role in the flow of trade.

The AKP's alcohol restrictions, believed to be the toughest in the history of modern Turkey, were one of the major concerns raised by anti-government protesters during mass street demonstrations in June.

Critics say it is an ominous sign of creeping religious conservatism promoted by Erdogan's AKP and argue that the legislation intrudes on private life.

But Erdogan, a devout Muslim who does not drink or smoke, has defended the law and urged people to drink ayran, a non-alcoholic beverage made from yoghurt

He has described it as the "national drink" of Turkey rather than beer, or the aniseed-flavoured raki.

After ruling the country for more than a decade, Erdogan is accused by opponents of forcing Islamic values through an authoritarian and conservative agenda -- charges he vehemently rejects.

In September, the Turkish premier introduced a package of reforms, using lifting a long-standing ban on headscarf, raising the ire of secularists.

In 2004, the AKP attempted to ban adultery but had to back down amid criticism from opposition parties and the European Union, which the country has long sought to join.

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