If the life of the Turkish economic crisis, like that of T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock, could be measured out with coffee spoons, it came to an end Tuesday as martial-law authorities lifted the ban on the import of coffee, which was imposed in 1978 when the country's most severe economic crisis in modern times set in.
Although the ban was imposed because Turkey was short of cash, it remained in effect, despite a considerable improvement in the economy last year, as a symbol of national sacrifice to coffee-loving Turks.
On his missions abroad to raise economic credits, Turgut Ozal, Turkey's economic planner, often cited the sacrifice of coffee as a symbol of the discipline Turkey had imposed to beat its fiscal crisis. The government's decision to resume coffee imports apparently is meant to signal to Turks that things are looking up. Coffee is not indigenous to Turkey and must be imported.
Kemal Canturk, the minister of trade, who announced the lifting of the ban, said that "1981 has been a successful year for our economy." After two consecutive years of drops, the gross national product had risen by 4.4 percent, surpassing the target set for the year.
Exports in the first 11 months of last year grew by 65 percent to $4.05 billion and will surpass $4.5 billion for the year. Imports in 1981 will total $8.8 billion compared to $7.66 billion in 1980, he said.
Canturk said that the import target for 1982 is $10 billion. Some of this will go toward the purchase of about 10,000 tons of coffee, the estimated annual requirement.
"Our creditors may not want it but we have decided to drink coffee again," wrote a newspaper several days ago.
This three-year period was not the first in which Turks had to go without their beloved coffee, whose grounds form a basis for fortune telling. Coffee appeared in Turkey in 1543 and soon became so popular that it created resentment among conservatives and was prohibited. It was allowed again in 1592 and forbidden a second time in 1633, less because the government considered coffee noxious than because coffee houses were haunts of vice and potential sedition.
Opium and similar drugs, while disapproved of as harmful in excess, never incurred the same ban.