Istanbul

The Political Signifance of the Turkish Moustache

Article published on Nov. 26, 2015
Article published on Nov. 26, 2015

There is one thing that seems to never go out of style in Turkish men fashion: facial hair. But here, the moustache is not just a fashion accessory! The symbolism of a particular moustache style is powerful to an extent that an unknowing foreigner would never guess. With a moustache, men can express their political preferences. An interesting phenomenon worth taking a look at!

Power of the Moustache

While facial hair in Western countries has become a major trend in the past years (think of the phenomenon ‘hipster beard’), in Turkey a good moustache has been popular for decades! In bigger cities you are likely to see more shaved faces, but in the country side some hair below the nose is still a must. In Turkey, men are said to wear moustaches to appear stronger and express their manliness. It seems to be a natural phenomenon, as the animal kingdom has similar practices: animals that want to appear stronger, put up their feathers or fur. A moustache stands for power and honor, but more importantly, it has a political significance! To a reasonable degree, the shape of a men’s moustache can show you whether you are dealing with a nationalist or a leftist. When did the shape of your moustache start to indicate your political preferences? And which styles mean what exactly?

The Birth of a Tradition

The political significance of the moustache in Turkey dates back to the nineteenth century. The Tanzimat, a period of Ottoman time intended to modernize Turkey, can be identified as the start of the tradition. Supporters and opponents of these reforms wore different styles of facial haircuts to show which side they belonged to. Supporters would grow their beard and moustache, while opponents would shave their faces. With this, a tradition was born.

Ülkücü

The MHP moustache, called “ülkücü” in Turkish, is typically worn by nationalists. The end of the moustache extend downwards, like the sides of a horseshoe. According to some, it stands for milliyetçi (nationalist), as the moustache’s shape resembles the letter M. Others claim it has the shape of a crescent moon and therefore this style specifically expresses nationalism. After all, these man are wearing a part of the Turkish flag on their faces. In the 70’s moustache shapes were even used to define targets for killings. Between 1976 and 1980 reigned a period of chaos and political violence in Turkey. Ülkücü wearers typically belonged to the nationalist organization ‘The Grey Wolves’, a fascist group with close links to the MHP. Members of this organization used to engage in street killings, murdering left-wing intellectuals and liberal activists. Their victims were recognizable by the absence of the Ülkücü moustache.  

Leftist Style

Left-wingers usually prefer thick, walrus-like moustaches that solely cover the upper lip. This style is inspired by late Soviet leader Stalin, a left communist. Among Kurds, this style is particularly popular.

Almond Moustache

A conservative religious moustache is clipped, does not cover the upper lip and does not droop down the sides. In Turkish the style is called ‘badem bıyık (almond moustache). Current president Erdoğan has such a moustache, as well as former president Abdullah Gül. On the other hand, a clean shaved face used to stand for no particular political affiliation. That is also why in many public functions it used to be required to shave your face completely. With a clean face, it is impossible to show your political preferences and you will have a neutral appearance. These days, men are allowed to grow moustaches, sideburns and beards.

Moustache Business, Booming Business

As mentioned before, in the Middle East, the moustache stands for power and honor. No wonder that men from the Arab world, where moustaches are seen to convey wisdom and maturity, flock to Istanbul for moustache implants! There are over 250 beard implant surgeons in Istanbul and their number is still increasing. Companies are responding to the demand in clever ways. It is even possible to buy a ‘tourist package’: while dad is getting the moustache of his dreams, the rest of the family enjoys the sun in Turkey! Moustache business is truly booming business! Traditionally, a luxurious moustache was a symbol of high social status, but the moustache still didn’t lose its popularity in most of the Arab world.

Only Hipster Beards Accepted

In Turkey however, the moustache is getting less and less popular. During the Ottoman empire and in the first decades or the Turkish Republic, hair practices were an important mean to define your allegiances to the state. Today it is mainly Turkish middle-aged men who wear a moustache. Among young people, the amount of moustache wearers is significantly decreasing. Young Turks find the moustache old-fashioned, perhaps because it reminds them of the Ottoman period. For them, Ottoman equals old and outdated and that is not what they want to stand for. They want to show they are Western and modern, so wearing a moustache does not go with that. So for now, only hipster beards accepted!