By Suzan Fraser.
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 mustaches, similar to that worn by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have become increasingly popular among government ministers from his Islamic-rooted 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.
“These days, when Turkey is fighting terror organizations — and in the aftermath of the coup — the mustaches provide a strong and stern image,” said Mesut Sen, professor of Turkish studies at Istanbul’s Marmara University.
Historically, men in Turkey have worn mustaches not only to assert their manhood but express their political leanings. Traditionally, nationalists wear their mustaches long and downward-pointing — like the crescent moon on the Turkish flag — while leftists tend to grow theirs bushy and Stalin-esque.
Erdogan wears a bristly and tidily-trimmed moustache that is popular among conservative and religious Turks. Some religious men also 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 mustaches similar to his. Senior AKP officials continued to grow mustaches, sometimes coupled with beards, after the failed coup attempt in July.
One government minister, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said some ministers grew facial hair because Erdogan urged them to. He declined to give further details.
The trend is not limited to the Cabinet. The chief of Turkey’s intelligence agency, who was the source of controversy over his alleged failure to warn Erdogan about the coup attempt, first grew a mustache and then a full beard. Erdogan’s closest bodyguard, who used to be clean shaven, now sports a mustache, too.