Around the world: The Republic of Turkey


The country chosen for the latest instalment of our ‘Around the world’ series changed its identity after realising the benefits of timely rebranding. Turkey announced its desire to be known as ‘Türkiye’ just ahead of its elections. Why? According to recent reports, its current president, known for his aggressive style of administration, has his eyes on nationalist votes. This name change is supposed to be a step towards securing precisely that. Many of Turkey’s traditions are shifting, so leaning in for a closer look at this country is bound to provide a dynamic view. Are you ready?

The country and the fowl

First, let’s get something out of the way. Turkeys are not from Turkey. The birds are from the Americas, and how they got their name is unclear. Some say the reason is that they were shipped to stables across Europe through Turkey. However, others say it was because it resembled the guinea fowl native to Turkey. So let’s put the birds to rest and move on to the country.

Touring through Turkey

Turkey is a top-rated tourist destination with plenty to see. This country has something to offer everybody—thousands of shops in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, historical monuments from various empires throughout history, plentiful beaches, and mountains.

One major attraction is Cappadocia. This part of Turkey has incredible rock formations, cave dwellings, and magnificent views. You can enjoy these views from either hiking routes that twist their way through or the plethora of hot air balloons punctuating the sky.

The founder of Christmas

If you believe in Santa Claus, you’d better skip this paragraph. The man who gave rise to the legend of Santa was from Turkey. He was a very generous man who performed miracles—healing the sick, bringing the dead back to life, and so on.

Legend has it that upon hearing about an impoverished man who needed money to pay for his daughter’s dowries, Nicholas decided to help without drawing attention to himself. Late at night, he threw a bag of gold coins in through the window. The money was enough for the first daughter’s marriage. On another night, Nicholas repeated his feat, allowing the second daughter to be married. A confused and grateful father was determined to discover how the money came into his possession. So he stayed awake until he could ‘catch’ Nicholas in the act as he returned to provide for the third daughter.

According to Turkish legend, a lifetime of good deeds converted St Nicholas into Santa Claus as we know him today.

History of Turkey

Turkey has always been an extraordinary place due to its location. Various empires have controlled the land and left their imprints on it. During WWI, when the Ottoman Empire was flailing, multiple countries trying to win the war invaded Turkey. A highly renowned military commander, Mustafa Kemal led an independence movement.

The Father of Turks

Kemal became known as the Father of Turks or Atatürk as he established a country, its government, and the direction in which it would advance. He wanted science and progress to develop the country. He made women’s education compulsory, curbed the influence of religion on the state, and even gave the military the responsibility of ensuring that Turkey remained a secular state.

But following his death in 1938, the country plunged into decades of instability, with various forces vying for power amidst grievous disagreements about the nation’s future. Turkey seemed to prefer a strong leader over an entirely democratic governance model. This political vacuum was filled only by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in recent years. While initially proving to be precisely what Turkey needed, he gradually became increasingly religious and brutal. Turkey claims one of the world’s highest numbers of jailed journalists, thanks to Erdoğan’s style of governance. In addition, he worked towards removing many of Atatürk’s secular laws.

Fact file: Turkey

Are Turkey’s doors always open to refugees?

With one foot in Europe and the other in the Middle East, Turkey’s global location has tremendous geopolitical ramifications. The region has been a gateway to Europe for centuries, bringing millions of people (and turkeys) to the continent. More recently, Turkey has sheltered and provided for millions of Syrian refugees.

However, now more and more stories are coming to the fore about refugees fearing deportation and facing mistreatment. As with almost any other country, Turkey seems to have had enough. But unlike most other countries, if Turkey decides to close their doors to refugees, the world may have a massive crisis on its hands.

The taste of Turkey

Having always been a place through which many breezes were allowed to blow, Turkish cuisine has taken on some delectable influences from various cultures. Meals are typically family affairs and can go on for hours.

Meat and bread are very popular, and in parts of the country, a bowl of soup precedes every meal. The two most well-known aspects of Turkish cuisine are arguably doner and kebab. However, we do tend to think of them incorrectly as one item. Doner consists of slices of meat layered and pierced vertically with a rotating spike. At the same time, spiced and seasoned meat traditionally served on skewers is called kebab.

The desserts and sweets of Turkey include lokum or Turkish Delight, baklava, and Turkish ice cream. In addition, the Turkish enjoy their tea, with many drinking more than ten cups daily. Turkish coffee has also made its way into the hearts of people globally.

Strangely enough, Swedish meatballs are also said to be from Turkey. When in exile, King Charles XII discovered the recipe for koftë and took it back with him when he returned.

The bird language

A village in Northern Turkey called Kuskoy has a fascinating language. Set high in the mountains, the community’s people quickly realised that attempting to get each other’s attention over long distances by shouting was neither effective nor efficient. So they decided to whistle instead. Over a few hundred years, this whistling language has become so nuanced that it can communicate anything in any language (as long as the whistler understands it). Moreover, the nuances vary depending on the language one wishes to translate. For instance, whistling “good morning” would sound different to whistling the Turkish equivalent—“gunaydin”—even though it means the same thing. This type of whistling is far more complex than what you or I can muster. 

Of the 600-700 people that live in the village, all of them understand the incredible language. They use this extraordinary language to direct even their goats and sheep. Still, the number of speakers has begun to dwindle.  

Turkey is a nation that is trying to discover who they are. Tensions between Atatürk’s secular Turkey and Erdoğan’s more religious variant will continue for years to come. Hagia Sophia is possibly the best example of this constant state of flux. The establishment has been transformed from a church to a mosque to a museum and back to a mosque today. What will become of it in another several decades? No one knows. And yet, the land of Seljuk camel wrestling and the birth points of the Euphrates and the Tigris will endure. For the country’s ordinary people, there are few more cherished things in life than a cup of tea and warm hospitality.

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