About the Balkans, Anatolia, & the Levant


BALKAN is a Turkish word for “a chain of wooded mountains”. The Balkans are first and foremost a mountain range running between Serbia and Bulgaria, proceeding to cut Bulgaria in half horizontally. Bulgarians call it Stara Plannina “Old Mountains”.

Then there’s the Balkan Peninsula, encompassing  all the countries affected by the Balkan Mountains – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia,  Montenegro and Serbia.

Balkans, Anatol & Lev

There is a political meaning as well. “The Balkans” narrowly refers to the countries listed above, but often also includes Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, & sometimes Turkey.

For the purposes of this series I’m expanding the definition even more to include Hungary and Slovakia, although these countries certainly don’t consider themselves Balkan. Hungarian culture has had a profound influence on Slovakia, northern Croatia, Transylvanian Romania, and northern Serbia, as all were part of Hungary until the end of WW1. Croatian, Slovakian and Transylvanian dance can’t be properly understood without knowing Hungarian dance.

ANATOLIA VS TURKEY   What’s in a name?

Anatolia is an ancient Greek name for the peninsula now occupied by Turkey. Armenians, Kurds, Greeks, Laz, Celts, Roma, Assyrians, Arabs, Jews, Bulgars, Yuruk, Azeris, Georgians, and yes Turks live in various parts of the land. Few of them have ‘pure’ blood. Most speak Turkish as their first language and identify themselves as citizens of Turkey. So what’s the problem?

Well, its one thing to be a citizen of Turkey, yet another to be called a Turk. Most of the peoples mentioned above have a multi-thousand year history of living in Anatolia. Most of them were conquered by invading Turks 1000 to 500 years ago. Conquering did not mean extermination, however, and until just before WW1 Turks were likely in the minority in Anatolia.

Anatolia ethnic, 1910

Most of what we now consider Turkish culture is the result of the interaction of many ethnic groups over thousands of years. In folk dance, for instance, halay can refer to a dance of the Armenians, Kurds, or Turks. All of them danced a version of it, and the Turks were definitely not the first.

The Ottoman Empire was destroyed in WW1, and its remains were being distributed to the victors when a saviour appeared: Mustapha Kemal, aka Ataturk (Father Turk). He pushed out the invaders, took control of and secularized the government, adopted the Latin alphabet, abolished the fez & veil, promoted the rights of women, and suppressed all signs of ethnic identity except Turk.

In 1923 he named his newly independent country Turkey & decreed that all peoples inside its borders are now Turks, will speak only Turkish, go to Turkish schools, (& dance Turkish dances). Its as if the leaders of Great Britain decreed that all within its borders were Scots & banned all expressions of English, Irish & Welsh.

Because all dances within Turkish borders are officially considered to be Turkish, it’s very difficult to say which of them are ethnically Turkish. It seems extremely unfair to call a dance Turkish that is danced primarily by, say Kurds, when the Turks deny their very existence. So I’m going to call a dance Anatolian unless I can verify that is indeed a dance of ethnic Turks.

THE LEVANT is a French term for the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. It came from the Italian “levante”, meaning “rising”, implying the land of the East where the sun rises.

The Levant includes the countries of Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and sometimes Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq. I use the larger definition.


All of these countries have had a similar heritage for thousands of years. Around 6000BCE agriculture was invented in the Levant and spread to Europe. Around 1000BCE Greece & Phoenicia (Lebanon) were vying for control of the Mediterranean. Christianity spread from Israel. The Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires controlled virtually the entire area in succession, until 1912. All were headquartered in the same city; Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul.

-550 Greek & Phonecian

-323 Empire of Alexander

117 Roman Empire


1300-1700 Ottoman

1878-1923 Ottoman

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