Mous­tache a badge of loy­alty

De­vo­tion to Turkey’s Er­do­gan un­der scru­tiny be­fore vote on ex­pand­ing pres­i­den­tial power

Toronto Star - - NEWS - SUZAN FRASER

ANKARA, TURKEY— The prime min­is­ter has one. So does the cul­ture min­is­ter. Even the pre­vi­ously clean-shaven min­is­ters of econ­omy and for­eign af­fairs re­cently be­gan sport­ing theirs.

Neatly trimmed mous­taches, sim­i­lar to that worn by Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, have be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar among gov­ern­ment min­is­ters from his Is­lami­c­rooted Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party, or AKP, ahead of a cru­cial referendum Sun­day on ex­pand­ing the pres­i­dent’s pow­ers.

Some an­a­lysts say that’s no fluke in a coun­try where fa­cial hair has a his­tory of po­lit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, and where min­is­ters’ loy­alty to Er­do­gan is be­ing closely scru­ti­nized fol­low­ing a failed coup at­tempt last year.

“When Turkey is fight­ing ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tions — and in the af­ter­math of the coup — the mous­taches pro­vide a strong and stern im­age,” said Me­sut Sen, Turk­ish stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Mar­mara Univer­sity.

His­tor­i­cally, men in Turkey have worn mous­taches not only to as­sert man­hood but ex­press po­lit­i­cal lean­ings. Tra­di­tion­ally, na­tion­al­ists’ mous­taches are long and down­ward­point­ing — like the cres­cent moon on the Turk­ish flag — while left­ists’ grow theirs bushy and Stalin-es­que.

Er­do­gan wears a bristly and tidily trimmed mous­tache pop­u­lar among con­ser­va­tive and re­li­gious Turks. Some re­li­gious men grow beards.

A year ago, more than half of the cab­i­net mem­bers were clean-shaven. Now only three of Turkey’s 27 min­is­ters — in­clud­ing the only woman — don’t have fa­cial hair.

The trend ap­pears to have be­gun with a cab­i­net reshuf­fle last year, trig­ger­ing spec­u­la­tion that min­is­ters were try­ing to please the pow­er­ful pres­i­dent by grow­ing mous­taches sim­i­lar to his.

Se­nior AKP of­fi­cials con­tin­ued to grow mous­taches, some­times cou­pled with beards, af­ter the failed coup at­tempt in July. The trend is not lim­ited to the cab­i­net. The chief of Turkey’s in­tel­li­gence agency, the source of con­tro­versy over his al­leged fail­ure to warn Er­do­gan about the coup at­tempt, first grew a mous­tache and then a full beard.

Er­do­gan’s clos­est body­guard, who used to be clean shaven, now sports a mous­tache, too. In Is­tan­bul’s Kas­mi­pasa neigh­bour­hood, where Er­do­gan was born, bar­ber Ah­met Guler said he be­lieves AKP mem­bers are grow­ing mous­taches to re­sem­ble the pres­i­dent — the party’s founder and long­time leader. “Be­cause oth­er­wise it draws at­ten­tion: ‘Look, he doesn’t have one. A Mus­lim or a man should have a mous­tache,’ ” said Guler, 57.

Fa­cial hair re­mains an im­por­tant ref­er­ence point in Turk­ish so­ci­ety and pol­i­tics but that’s start­ing to change, said Barin Kayaoglu, an ex­pert on Turk­ish cul­ture and his­tory. He noted that many young Turks are grow­ing “hip­ster” beards, which cut across all ide­olo­gies.

“Turk­ish cul­ture sees fa­cial hair as an ex­pres­sion of mas­culin­ity but that as­so­ci­a­tion is no longer as pow­er­ful as it used to be,” Kayaoglu said.

Ac­cord­ing to Hur­riyet news­pa­per, Econ­omy Min­is­ter Ni­hat Zey­bekci, who had shaved off his mous­tache, re­grew it re­cently af­ter Er­do­gan re­marked, half-jok­ingly, that some min­is­ters didn’t lis­ten to him.

The pa­per also re­ported that dur­ing a Fe­bru­ary meet­ing be­tween Er­do­gan and a group of AKP leg­is­la­tors, sev­eral par­tic­i­pants had barely vis­i­ble mous­taches, sug­gest­ing that the mous­taches were grown in haste.

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Even mem­bers of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s se­cu­rity de­tail have grown mous­taches like his.

Er­do­gan’s stache is bristly, mostly white and tidily trimmed.

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