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 possibly 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 savior 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.

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