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Turkey Hit by Valentine Day Frenzy

February 11, 1999

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Shop windows in Turkey are adorned with red hearts and gold cupids these days and restaurants are urging lovers to book early to guarantee a table for a big romantic night out.

Predominantly Muslim Turkey is in a frenzy over St. Valentine’s Day, a mainly Christian tradition honoring one of Christianity’s earliest saints.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for me to remind my wife of how much I love her,” said Suat Bumin, a civil servant. “I’ll buy her a bouquet of flowers.”

Over the past few years, Turkish couples in big cities have taken to celebrating Feb. 14 by exchanging anonymous romantic notes, gifts and flowers. The day is called “Lovers Day” and few see it as a Christian tradition.

“We Turks adore such rituals, especially if it about romantic love, which we cherish,” said Dilek Cindoglu, a sociologist at Bilkent University.

Once an exporter of flowers to Europe for Valentine’s Day, Turkey is now importing exotic blooms for the occasion, the Hurriyet newspaper reported. Turks were expected to spend a staggering $9 million on flowers, it said.

Even the Ankara municipality, which is run by the Islamic party, has jumped on the bandwagon, with city buses advertising a Valentine’s Day gift fair. The Islamic movement has in the past strongly opposed the growing appeal of Christian festivities.

“St. Valentines presents a huge commercial potential that no one can ignore,” said sociology professor Coskun San of Ankara University.

Newspapers have been advertising rates for Valentine’s Day messages and many restaurants, which are offering special romantic menus, are already booked up. Some have even organized a singles’ night.

St. Valentine was a third century priest and martyr in Rome who was put to death because he performed marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers, who were supposed to remain single.

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