No 3-4, 18.04.2000


By Sabirzyan BADRETDIN

Not a single nation or ethnic group in the world can credibly claim that it has never been a target for ethnic or religious prejudices. The Turkic peoples are certainly no exception. What are the origins of hostility towards the Turkic peoples?

The roots of turkophobia go back centuries. Some stem from specific historical events, such as the Russo-Turkish wars, the Tatar-Mongol invasion of Russian principalities, the wars between Russia and the Tatar khanates, the conflicts between the Ottoman empire and its colonial vassals, etc. These historical events are usually preserved in the collective consciousness of the nations who were historical adversaries of the Turkic peoples. On an individual level, these events become transformed into personal prejudices towards the contemporary descendants of the earlier Turks. When an Armenian terrorist kills a Turkish diplomat and justifies his crime by what happened seven decades ago, before he was even born, he unwittingly exposes the complex interaction of historical, political, social and psychological factors that form the basis of turkophobia.

Another source of turkophobia is religious prejudice. Since most Turkic nations are Islamic, all the negative stereotypes of fundamentalist Islamic intolerance and violence are inevitably projected onto the Turkic peoples, despite the fact that most individual Turks are either secular or adhere to peaceful and inoffensive interpretations of Islam. The EU’s recent rejection of Turkey is a vivid example of such prejudice.

One more factor that contributes to turkophobia is the geographical location of the Turkic lands. Most Turkic lands are located at the so-called "fault lines" of civilizations. According to Samuel P. Huntington’s theory of clashing civilizations, international conflicts are most likely to arise between nations that share common borders but belong to different religious civilizations. There are seven or eight civilizations in the world: Western, Sinic (Confusian), Hindu, Christian Orthodox, Islamic, Japanese, Latin America and, perhaps, African. Among these, Islam is the only one that shares its "borders" with most other civilizations. Many Turkic nations happen to be located at the fault lines dividing these supranational entities. Even in the absence of conflicts, these cultural, religious and political hostilities take their toll on the image of Turkic peoples held by the world.

Yet another source of turkophobia is the government-sponsored propaganda within the states that either border on Turkic countries or have Turkic minorities in their midst. Very often this propaganda is vague and indirect but its detrimental effect is, nevertheless, very damaging. For example, Greek Cypriot politicians frequently resort to anti-Turkish rhetoric in order to deflect the public’s attention from domestic problems or to win elections on a wave of popular prejudice.

In the former Soviet Union turkophobia in the form of Tatar-bashing was especially evident during World War II. Stalin unjustly accused the whole Crimean Tatar nation of collaboration with the Nazis and exiled it from its native Crimea. He also introduced special medals and orders commemorating Dmitry Donskoy and other Russian military chiefs famous for successfully fighting against the Tatar-Mongol invaders in the 14th-15th centuries. Stalin’s frequent invocation of the Tatar yoke as a metaphorical analogy to Hitler’s invasion of Russia resulted in an outburst of tatarophobia, directed against the modern Kazan Tatars, despite the fact that the latter had little in common with the Mongols of the Middle Ages.

Stereotypes of modern popular culture are another rich source of virulent turkophobia. As an example, let’s take "Midnight Express," a profoundly disturbing film about an American who was busted for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey and had to spend five years in the squalor and terror of a Turkish prison. The film was released in 1978 and for two decades reenforced the negative image of Turkey in the US. Russian popular folklore also supplies many examples of turkophobia. A popular Russian proverb, "An uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar" (which originally referred to the Tatar-Mongols but is frequently used to taunt modern Tatars) was recently changed to "An uninvited guest is *better* than a Tatar".

The struggle against ethnic prejudice aimed at the Turkic peoples may succeed only when its specific origins are taken into consideration. For example, the public must be educated about past historic events, the religious practices and beliefs of the Turkic peoples, and the present state of cultural and intellectual life in the Turkic nations. Combating prejudices in a thoughtful, logical and methodical way through education and outreach may be the most promising strategy in the battle against intolerance.

E-mail: irek@moris.ru