Africans of Ana­to­lia call Turkey home, yet want to find roots

Afro-Turks whose an­ces­tors came to Ana­to­lia as work­ers dur­ing the Ot­toman era yearn to know more about their roots but, still con­sider them­selves at home in Turkey

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

THE GRAND­CHIL­DREN of black im­mi­grants who came to Ana­to­lia for var­i­ous rea­sons such as agri­cul­tural work and mil­i­tary ser­vice from African coun­tries in the 1500s con­tinue their lives in some re­gions of the city such as the Hasköy vil­lage of Bayındır district in İzmir prov­ince.

African de­scen­dants, who have been rec­og­nized as “Afro-Turks liv­ing in İzmir” in time, pre­fer names like Ayşe, Hat­ice, Şakir, Mehmet and Ali like a typ­i­cal Turk­ish fam­ily.

When we en­ter the homes of African de­scen­dants liv­ing in İzmir, who are now “one of us,” the first thing that catches our eye is their cloth­ing. African women smile and wel­come their guests wear­ing head­scarves and shal­war. When the con­ver­sa­tion be­gins, their lips are filled with ex­pres­sions in a Turk­ish-Aegean di­alect.

In the kitchens of Afro-Turks, women cook dishes unique to Ana­to­lia.

At the hum­ble din­ing ta­ble, foods con­sist­ing of “pişi” (a type of pas­try), cheese and wa­ter­melon, a fa­vorite fruit in Turkey de­pict the love of th­ese peo­ple for Turkey, and they dis­cuss their strug­gle for ed­u­ca­tion amid poor liv­ing con­di­tions.

Although many Afro-Turks do not know when, where or why their an­ces­tors came to Ana­to­lia, they con­sider them­selves “Turks” and pro­vide an­swers to ques­tions about their col­ored skin in slight re­proach.

Afro-Turks are not only adding color to the neigh­bor­hood where they live but also to ur­ban city life. Mesure Doğan, who is il­lit­er­ate but knows all the streets of the his­tor­i­cal Ke­mer­altı Bazaar “inch by inch,” holds onto life with “the strug­gle to make a liv­ing,” while Yalçın Yanık, who tries to earn his liveli­hood by stitch­ing to­gether pieces of leather, with “the hap­pi­ness of be­ing the cen­ter of at­ten­tion,” finds com­fort in his fel­low traders.


Güngör Delibaş, whose fam­ily is orig­i­nally from Su­dan, said she left her fam­ily for the love of her life in Turkey decades ago.

Ex­press­ing that she re­cently lost her hus­band to ill­ness, Delibaş said: “I am orig­i­nally from Su­dan. My fam­ily did not send me to school. I fell in love with my neigh­bor’s son, and then I ran away. I could not go back to the vil­lage for years be­cause of fear, but I did not give up on my love,” Delibaş said. “Love does not care about beauty, wealth, or skin color. Ours was true love. Not ev­ery­one can find such love. My mother has not for­given me for run­ning away and she has not spo­ken to me for 45 years. I was happy, my mother was not.”


Hat­ice Doğuşer said she has no idea where her an­ces­tors came from but stressed that she spent her child­hood by work­ing in the cot­ton fields. “I could not go to school and say, ‘I will be­come this.’ I wish ev­ery­thing was fine, but I knew they would not be. The vil­lagers did not alien­ate me. When I go out of the vil­lage, there are peo­ple who call me ‘Arab,’ and I get an­gry at them,” Doğuşer said.

Sabriye Sı­naic also high­lighted that she con­sid­ers her­self a Turk, and that her son-in-law is also from İzmir. “My son also started a fam­ily with a white girl. My grand­chil­dren are a mixed race. Ev­ery­one gets mar­ried to whomever they want,” Sı­naiç said, adding that they are pleased with their lives in İzmir while ex­press­ing that she is also cu­ri­ous about their rel­a­tives in Africa. “If I had the chance, I would like to see the land my an­ces­tors came from. Turkey will al­ways be my home­land be­cause I love it very much.”

Serkan Doğu­luer noted that he has gen­er­ally earned a liv­ing through farm­ing. “Be­ing an Afro-Turk is both en­joy­able and dif­fi­cult,” he said. “Some­times, peo­ple do not be­lieve that we are Turks. There are those who ask to see my iden­tity card, take pho­tos and speak English. In the past, I have ex­pe­ri­enced job-re­lated prob­lems as well.”


Mesure Doğan, 70, who is il­lit­er­ate and makes a liv­ing on sell­ing prod­ucts such as slip­pers and fab­rics bought from the his­tor­i­cal Ke­mer­altı Bazaar, said she lost her fa­ther at a young age. “I got mar­ried, had no chil­dren and my hus­band died. Now, I only have God and my sib­lings here. I sell what I buy from Ke­mer­altı in the small vil­lages. Some­times in Ke­mer­altı, peo­ple call me ‘Arab.’”

Yalçın Yanık, 58, a leather-maker in Bas­mane, said his an­ces­tors came to the re­gion as slaves, adding how­ever, that “I have not seen any dis­crim­i­na­tion in Turkey. I have not ex­pe­ri­enced any dif­fi­culty in ur­ban life as an African. To the con­trary, the in­ter­est has been more in­tense,” he added.

Şakir Doğu­luer, the leader of the African Cul­ture and Sol­i­dar­ity Foun­da­tion, said they try to learn more about the cul­ture of their an­ces­tors.


Doğu­luer stated that his an­ces­tors are re­ported to have come to Ana­to­lia as agri­cul­tural work­ers or sol­diers. “We think that there are around 20,000 to 25,000 Afro-Turks in Turkey. Since we are warm-hearted, we have no prob­lem where we live. There are many peo­ple in İzmir that like us. We were born and raised here,” Doğu­luer said, adding: “My fa­ther did mil­i­tary ser­vice for this coun­try. Some of our an­ces­tors fought in the war in Çanakkale. This is our coun­try, we are also in this coun­try. Our traces in the past have dis­ap­peared. I wish we could find our roots, but it is very dif­fi­cult.”


Dr. Umut Cafer Karadoğan, a pro­fes­sor of Sinop Univer­sity’s Depart­ment of His­tory who has stud­ied Afro-Turks, said peo­ple of African ori­gin were brought from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Su­dan, Libya and Egypt to Ot­toman lands since 1510 to serve as ser­vants in the palace.

In­form­ing that African de­scents were “freed” be­cause of the lack of “slave” sta­tus in Is­lam and as­sert­ing that some of them were placed in İzmir, Ay­dın, Muğla, An­talya and North­ern Cyprus and given the sta­tus of agri­cul­tural worker, Karadoğan said dur­ing the Pe­riod of Stag­na­tion, es­pe­cially be­tween 1650-1700, they were brought up as sol­diers.

Umut Cafer Karadoğan noted that or­phaned chil­dren of African ori­gin were also adopted.

Point­ing out that African de­scents be­gan to act as they wished upon the de­vel­op­ment of the con­cept of cit­i­zen­ship af­ter the Tanz­i­mat pe­riod, Karadoğan said, “African de­scents are also hav­ing in­ter­ra­cial mar­riages, and their col­ors are grad­u­ally whiten­ing. Yet, they still do not know their iden­tity.”

Head of the African Cul­ture and Sol­i­dar­ity Foun­da­tion akir Doğluer, (L) says his an­ces­tors are re­ported to have come to Ana­to­lia as agri­cul­tural work­ers or sol­diers.

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