From the Ottoman Empire until today, Turkey is a country that hosts the many different cultures. One of them, perhaps the lesser known, is the Afro-Turks.
Since the 19th century, Black Turks or Afro-Turks, who came to the Ottoman Empire through slave trade, for work or for military service, are the grandchildren and children of the natives of Africa.
Origin of Afro-Turks comes from a wide variety of African countries such as Niger, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kenya, Sudan and so on. Some of them came from Crete following the population exchange between Turkey and Greece in 1923. Some of the African descendants returned to their country, rest of them settled into regions of the Aegean and Mediterranean in order to engage in agriculture.
Afro-Turks are a community that is totally assimilated from their origin and accepted Turkish culture. For that reason, they arrange the traditions like weddings and engagements according to Turkish tradition. The people, who are living in the village, speak with the Aegean accent and use Turkish names such as, Ayşe, Fatma, Sıla, Şakir, Esat, Durmuş, Adil, Ahmet and so on. They frequently chose province of Izmir, Muğla and Aydın. These people, who behave warm, friendly and hospitable, live in villages such as, Hasköy, Torbalı, Bayındır and Ödemiş, which are the district of Izmir. However, number of these citizens is not exactly known. The education level of Afro-Turk citizens, living in the villages, is the elementary and intermediate level. For those living in the city, the level of education and welfare is higher.
The Afro-Turks don’t come across great alienation in the villages. On the other hand, they face negative discourse more in the city. Especially, being called “Arab” disturbs them. They do not want to be defined as Arabs in society and define themselves as “African- Origin” Turks. Even the head of the Afro-Turkish Association, Şakir Doğuluer, claims that even a white couple’s children may be born black and in such a case, the ancestor of the one of the couples may be Afro-Turk. The number of Afro-Turks, marrying with white people is also increasing day by day. Therefore, skin colour of AfroTurks, which is their heritage, is progressively whitening.
African Turks work in variety of business fields. However, those who live in the villages need more employment opportunity in the business world. The Afro-Turk community does not have any political demands from the Turkish Government. They solely want to be more visible in the media and society, to claim their place in Turkish history and to provide more employment opportunity for their citizens… For that reason, they are carrying out international and national projects with Şakir Doğuluer who is the Head of the Association of Culture, Solidarity and Cooperation of the Africans. Especially, they are working together with the Afro-German Association. They are trying to introduce their own culture and history to as many people as possible. In this regard, every year in May, they start to celebrate their own spring festival named “Calf Festival / Dana Bayramı” with the support of Mustafa Olpak who is former head of association and writer. Within the context of this event organized in İzmir, wide range of panels and cortege marches are performed. They wear African traditional clothes and perform their march with their own cultural music. This festival, which lasts 2 days and is celebrated enthusiastically, is no longer sacrificed an animal as it was in the past years. Put it in a nutshell, the African wind is blowing in May every year in İzmir…
About Melike Çetin
Melike Çetin is a street photographer and story-teller whose work focuses on documentary and street life. She was born in 1996 in Istanbul. She studied Public Relations and Information. She started photography in 2012. She started her photography career as the asistant of photojournalist Nihat Karadağ. Her articles and photos have been published on national photography magazines and sites. She also had group exhibition “Sokaklarda/In The Streets” in Galata Photography House. She mainly focuses on daily life of people and cultural diversity in her projects. She lives in Istanbul, Turkey.