Alcohol at Empire’s End: Prohibition Politics in Post-WWI Ottoman Empire

By Emine Ö. Evered
Submitted to Session P5247 (Alcohol and Drinking in the Ottoman Empire, 2018 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The varied intersections of war and worldwide temperance activism in the early 20th century provide unique contexts for analysis at both national and international scales. Though categorized commonly as part of an “Islamic world”—and thus omitted from many would-be global histories of alcohol, the Ottoman Empire included many sites and situations meriting inclusion. In 1910, when Germany’s emperor declared that, “the nation which drinks the least alcohol will be the winner,” he uttered prophetically the reasoning of many states that implemented diverse anti-alcohol policies during WWI. Though Ottoman leaders pronounced firmer proscriptions and other policies during the war for its military, it often relied on religious and moral arguments when offering justification. Following WWI, added rationale emerged from both state and society. Among leaders in the defeated and internationally isolated Ottoman Empire, legal prohibition appeared as a progressive means to appease the United States and build bridges while negotiations over post-war settlements took place. This interest in enhanced Ottoman-American relations was mutual; Anti-Saloon League leaders and other organizations also looked to Turkey. Oftentimes, their gaze included the Ottoman region not only as a curious site of alcoholic prohibitions; they also sought global allies and inspiration. Though initiatives to bring prohibition before the Ottoman parliament ceased entirely once the legislative body was forced to close, momentum behind this cause carried into the renegade parliament of the nascent Turkish republic. Proposed, debated, and passed in 1920, the republic’s prohibition only lasted until 1924, when the costs of the experiment were more evident and once Kemalists consolidated their authority.
In this paper, I examine the dynamic politics of alcohol and anti-alcoholism within the late Ottoman context; a time that witnessed intense internal and external pressures and shifting perspectives. In doing so, my research delves further into the socio-political issues and ideas that enabled a union of religionists and progressive physicians who would induce the republic’s short-lived prohibition. By exploring this transitional period, we can discern that the ban was not just the product of an odd internal coalition between conservatives and socio-medical reformers; it shared profound connections to ongoing temperance narratives and activism observable at the global scale, particularly in the US. Scrutinizing these linkages evident in temperance rhetoric and relationships, the often isolated histories of national experiences become more nuanced and less insular. For this paper, I utilized Ottoman and republican archival documents, contemporary newspapers and periodicals, and temperance literature.