Shoes flung at Bush flying from shelves

2009-01-02 00:00

ISTANBUL — For the past 10 years, model 271 has been the bestseller of Ramazan Baydan’s Ducati line of shoes. It’s got all the attributes of a workhorse — affordable and durable, chunky, yet presentable. To these winning qualities, now add another one: throwable.

According to Baydan, it was a black pair of his shoes that Iraqi journalist Muntadher al-Zaidi threw at President George W. Bush at a press conference. Al-Zaidi now stands accused of “aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit”, an offence that carries a prison term of between five and 15 years.

“I have seen this shoe for 10 years. I know it very well,” says Baydan, from his small Istanbul factory.

“I have a sensitive relationship with this shoe. I designed it myself, so it’s like a father and a child. I was very happy when I saw it on the video,” he adds.

Baydan’s claims are hard to verify. Several other cobblers, from China to Lebanon, have claimed the now famous shoe as their own, and video footage of Al-Zaidi’s shoe toss fails to yield a clear image of the shoes.

Still, Baydan says that demand for the shoe — now renamed the “Bye Bye Bush” model, wholesale price $27 — has been booming. Orders are coming from Iraq, other parts of the Middle East, and even the United States and Europe.

The shoemaker says he is even preparing a new advertising campaign aimed, for now, at the Turkish market. It will feature the shoe held aloft on a stick, with the words “Bye Bye Bush, Hello Peace”, below it.

“This was the shoe that was thrown at Bush. People want to have it. Maybe they want to keep it as a kind of memento or souvenir,” he says.

Al-Zaidi’s hurl has certainly touched off a kind of shoe mania in the Middle East. Shoes are now becoming de rigueur at protests in Iraq and other countries. In Iran, some 70 people recently gathered to throw shoes at a caricature of Bush.

In late 2005, Istanbul suitmaker Recep Cesur made headlines and then reaped a harvest of increased sales after Saddam Hussein appeared in a Baghdad court wearing a pinstriped Cesur suit. Cesur’s sales skyrocketed in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, his suits now having Hussein’s perverse star power behind them.

Down in the Baydan shoe company’s workshop, about a dozen men are feverishly churning out pairs of model 271 in light brown leather for an order heading to Iraq.

The operation is a decidedly low-tech one, with ancient machines stamping out leather parts and most assembly being done by hand.

Baydan carefully inspects a finished pair of model 271, with a square toe and a thick polyurethane sole.

“It’s aesthetic, comfortable, and suited for young and older people,” he says, extolling the shoe’s virtues.

“The sole is light, but it wasn’t made for throwing,” adds Baydan, who has been working in the shoe business since the age of 11, when he came to Istanbul from a small mountain village in Turkey’s impoverished south-east region.

Since the shoe toss incident, Baydan says he has had little rest, between fielding calls from interested buyers and visits from curious journalists. Although he sympathises with the Iraqi shoe thrower, the Turkish cobbler says he is looking at his newfound success strictly in business terms.

“I’m a shoemaker. I’m not getting involved in politics,” he says, adding, “The politics are just opening up the way for business.”

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