A fresh wave of deaths from spirits has swept through Turkey amid skyrocketing liquor prices, courtesy of exorbitant taxes levied by the government, coupled with new restrictions to curb the proliferation of home brewing.

More than 50 people have died since last week after drinking counterfeit liquor or homemade spirits with dubious ingredients, according to officials and media reports. About 50 others remain in hospital, while the police are busy raiding illicit liquor manufacturers amid rising calls on the government to lower the taxes.

Restrictions designed to curb alcohol consumption have been a hallmark of the 18-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), part of a broader drive to impose the party’s conservative Islamic worldview on Turkish society, where many embrace a secular lifestyle. Raki — the anise-flavored national drink — has been the prime victim of huge tax hikes over the years. Die-hard raki lovers, however, have refused to back down, turning to making their favorite booze at home from ethyl alcohol, which is used also in the production of cleaning materials. The home brewing of beer and wine has similarly proliferated, as has the production of counterfeit alcohol.

In a move to hamper home brewing, the government banned the online sale of ethyl alcohol Oct. 1. The amended regulations also tightened government control over the licensing and operations of ethyl alcohol manufacturers. Market talk has it that further measures are likely to follow to deter home brewing.


Written by Mustafa Sönmez