Istanbul — The Turks are trying all kinds of energy-saving measures to keep from freezing these days. The trouble is that the country has virtually run out of its stock of fuel oil and petroleum products. Turkey depends largely on oil for heating and running its industries.
"We are living in a dark age," complained a front-page headline in the mass-circulation daily, Hurriyet, in a reference to power cuts.
As this was written, winter weather had pushed temperatures below zero in most parts of the country, with snow blanketing all except the southern coastal areas.
When British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington arrived in Ankara recently for talks with Turkish leaders on the Afghanistan situation, he received an especially warm reception from his British colleagues. The reason: He brought along 30 heaters for the British Embassy, which the British Ambassador had urgently requested.
A Western ambassador whose residence had little heat and who "coult not take a proper bath" decided to move to a hotel. But the trouble is that some hotels in Ankara and Istanbul also are running out of fuel -- so a warm bath is not always obtainable even there.
A wealthy Istanbul businessman moved with his family into a luxury hotel suite, expecting to have a nice, warm room. Four days later, the hotel heater went off, and the family found itself no better off than at home.
Some families are joining forces and sharing apartments that are still heated , usually thanks to a stove or fuel oil obtained on the black market for five times the normal price.
"I live alone in my old house," an elderly woman said."My daughter, my son-in-law, and my two grandchildren moved in a couple of weeks ago because I have some good old stoves. It's funny, but the lack of fuel has reunited us."
Increasing numbers of families are doing the same. Other thousands are just sitting in cold houses, wearing heavy woolen clothes and coats. Few other venture out to their offices find it warm enough inside to take off their coats.
Some of the more venturesome have installed coal or wood stoves, but since they do not have chimneys, they have to use stovepipes running out through the windows. Hurriyet printed pictures of modern apartments with unattractive stovepipes projecting out of windows.
"This is how we enter the 1980s," the paper lamented.
The Istanbul City Councl held an emergency meeting to discuss the fuel shortage. The members had to sit with their coats on, of course, because the hall was heatless, and at one point the lights went off, too.
The fuel crisis is felt in all fields of activity. The government is embattled. Transportation is deeply affected. Bus and truck services are irregular. Ferryboat services in Istanbul between the Asian and European coasts have slowed down. People queue up for ferries, buses, shared taxis, and for any fuel -- coal, wood, oil, or gas.
Schools and hospitals also have been adversely affected. Because of the fuel shortage, electric power cuts of four or five hours a day are common.Some factories have had to close down; others have curtailed their production. One immediate result is more unemployment in a country where 20 percent of the working population normally is jobless.
All this hardship stems from Turkey's grave financial situation. Turkey now needs $250 million in cash to import oil. And the treasury simply does not have enough hard currency to make such purchases on a monthly basis. Even usually friendly nations, such as Libya, Iraq, and Iran, are asking Turkey for payments in cash, although in the past this country has managed to get some oil on credit terms.
Turkish officials now pin their hopes on the possibility of obtaining 6 million tons of oil from Saudi Arabia this year. Turkey hopes to get it for $15 a barrel, far below the present market price, plus a $1 billion loan from the Saudis. This request now is under consideration in Saudi Arabia.
Meantime, for the Turks, this is bound to be remembered as a long, cold winter.