Turkish winemaker’s problems could drive anyone to drink

assyrian-entrepreneur-discouraged-by-obstacles-in-wine-production-2010-08-04_l1.jpgORAL ÇALIŞLAR
ISTANBUL – Radikal
A Syriac Christian in southeast Turkey has run into bureaucratic obstacles in his efforts to start a wine factory that he believes have been put in his way because alcohol is forbidden by Islam.

“They would not sell me iron and cement; the tractor driver did not come,” Yuhanna Aktaş wrote in a letter to daily Radikal. “I could not find a food engineer for months and could only find a chemist from Diyarbakır. Because [they say producing wine] is a sin.”
The Syriac Christian and Turkish citizen living in the Midyat district of the southeastern province of Mardin has built a wine factory but said he has been unable to secure a water supply and a road for the facility.

Syriac families living in the region commonly produce wines, but it is hard for consumers to find them since they are not usually sold in shops.

AktaÅŸ, a former jewelry maker, said in his letter that he had prepared a proposal to build a factory to produce homemade Syriac wines, a practice significant for Christians both culturally and religiously. He submitted his proposal to the Agriculture Ministry and obtained permission from the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Agency, or TAPDK, to build the facility two years ago. He was granted permission, but, he said, his troubles only began there.

A few days after he received permission, Aktaş said, his house was raided by the police at night. He claimed his home’s front door was broken and he was beaten by police officers in front of his children. His bedroom and all the drawers in the house were searched for wine, he said, adding that the public prosecutor came to his house after the incident.

“I filed a complaint against these police officers but the court only gave a symbolic fine to one of them,” Aktaş said, adding that he was tried on charges of illegally producing wine at home due to the wines found in the cellar of his house. He said he told the court that some of these wines belonged to his friends and the rest were produced for use in church ceremonies.

“But they did not take the testimony of these friends and they also did not take into consideration that these wines are produced for religious rituals,” Aktaş said, adding that the court fined him and his partner 180,000 Turkish Liras.

They appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals, AktaÅŸ said, noting that the homes of other Syriacs in the region are still being raided based on claims of illegal wine production.

Though he applied to many institutions, AktaÅŸ said, he was unable to bring water, telephone lines and roads to his factory building. He said he paid 100,000 liras to build a temporary road to the factory and to hook up the electricity. The factory is completed, equipped with machines from Italy and built using traditional Syriac architectural styles, but cannot produce wine.

AktaÅŸ said some local landowners have threatened to cut his electricity by removing electric poles carrying power to the factory that are located on their land.

Mardin Gov. Hasan Duruer said if AktaÅŸ had built his factory within the borders of the Organized Industrial Zone, he would have been able to get the infrastructural work completed in time.

“Citizens build factories anywhere they want and then ask for infrastructure. This is not possible. They will have to do the electricity, water and road construction [themselves] as well,” said Duruer.

Responding to the governor’s claims, Aktaş said he built the factory in an area that was rented to him by the Finance Ministry for 49 years. “I did not build that factory arbitrarily,” he said