Already known the world over for its baths, coffee and sweet Turkish delights, Turkey is on the road to adding another item to its roster of specialities: the moustache.
Lip whiskers remain highly sought-after in Turkey and the Middle East to the point that many are seeking out moustache transplants at the hands of Turkish cosmetic surgeons.
Adding meaning to moustache
Moustaches have long been considered a serious matter in Turkey, with a popular saying stating that "a man without a moustache is like a house without a balcony". The shape of the specimen even holds political meaning.
"The bushy style, like Stalin's, is more the prerogative of the left or of Kurds," said anthropologist Benoit Fliche from the French Institute of Anatolian Studies in Istanbul.
"When neater, like that of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it becomes religious and conservative."
"And when it shoots down on both sides of the mouth like fangs, it's a mark of the extreme right," he added. Although the bewhiskered look is winning over fewer Turks from the big cities -- who are drawn more towards Western fashion -- a moustache and beard remain a must for men from Arab countries or the Turkic republics of Central Asia, who journey over to Istanbul to satisfy their need for hair.
In Istanbul alone, around 250 clinics or private practices are locked in fierce competition to sell their services, with promotions galore.
The majority are linked to travel agencies and offer package deals that include the operation, a hotel stay and airport pick-up.
Hair tourism is thus in full swing, fuelled by a constant uptick in the number of foreigners visiting Turkey, with estimates suggesting more than 35 million people flocked there last year. "Every week, we welcome 50 to 60 patients for a hair transplant and five to six for a moustache transplant, Istanbul Hair Centre surgeon Meral Tala said.AFP