Silence in the souk: Turkey muzzles outdoor vendors

The cries of sellers hawking their wares in the markets of Istanbul are threatened by a new law banning vendors from shouting their sales pitch.

Alexander Christie-Miller
Ali Yakasar, a fruit and vegetable vendor in Istanbul.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The smells, colors, and crush of people in the bazaars of Istanbul draw tourists and locals alike, but this year one element is under threat: the cries of the sellers.

On Jan. 1, a new law banning vendors from crying their wares came into force in Turkey’s largest city.

“It’s the business of a bazaar to shout, to tell your prices, and to show your products are beautiful,” says Ali Yakasar, who has worked at a vegetable stall in Üsküdar on the city’s Asian side since he was 8 years old.

“As sellers, we keep our spirits up by shouting. It makes us happy, and it makes our customers happy.”

Penalties vary between different municipalities, but in Üsküdar, stallholders like Mr. Yakasar now face a fine of 55 Turkish lira ($31) if caught by the police who patrol the market. On the third offense they may be banned from selling altogether.

Authorities have remained tight-lipped on the reasons behind the ban, but it is part of a broader raft of legislation intended to bring order to the city’s often chaotic markets. Some vendors believe that the effort to tame the bazaars is part of Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union.

But for the time being, although authorities allow for some rule bending, stallholders are keeping their voices down and wrestling with determining when talking becomes shouting.

“We shouldn’t shout too loud, but at least at a medium level,” says vendor Ibrahim Avinc. “We need to introduce ourselves to our customers.”

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