The Fate of the Afro-Turks: Nothing Left But the Colour

The Fate of the Afro-Turks: Nothing Left But the Colour
Bonn, Germany

Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere (Translated from the German by Michael Lawton)

The Afro-Turks, whose ancestors came to the Ottoman Empire as slaves in the nineteenth century, are still struggling for recognition. Now, though, their desire to assimilate into the wider society has become greater than their desire to maintain their own identity.

A banner with the text “Sixth Spring Festival” hangs across the street near the park in Cirpi, a small village about 20 kilometres away from Bayindir, a regional centre south-east of Izmir. Such festivals have become common in Anatolia, with hundreds of them occurring between March and May every year.

But in Cirpi, it’s something special. The Sixth Spring Festival is really the Sixth Festival of the Calf, the traditional celebration of the Afro-Turks, which they’ve been celebrating since the nineteenth century in and around Izmir, formerly known as Smyrna.
In 1924, the Turkish republic banned the celebration, and it was not until 2007 that the event could be re-established by the Association of Afro-Turks. The first five annual festivals were modest affairs, but the sixth turned into a big event with 400 participants. They’ve not yet slaughtered a calf though…

…Alev Karakartal, is an Afro-Turk woman who now lives in Istanbul. Speaking at a conference there in early June 2012, she described the strategy with which many Afro-Turks confront discrimination. “By entering into mixed marriages,” she said, “Afro-Turks try to have lighter-skinned children, so that eventually their colour will disappear altogether.” But Olpak responds, “We have nothing else left aside from the colour. There’s nothing left culturally any more.”
When Karakartal, who is herself of mixed descent, asked her parents about her origins, the answer was always, “We are Turks and Muslims,” and that roots weren’t important…

Read the entire article here.

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