Apple of China versus bird of India

Apple of China versus bird of India

Aylin Öney Tan - aylinoneytan@yahoo.com
Apple of China versus bird of India

Everybody in Turkey must have seen the scenes of the insanely surreal slaughter of oranges recently. The pictures of fierce looking guys almost exploding with raging anger, seriously stabbing oranges; or cutting an orange in half and squeezing it as if wanting to drain every droplet of the bloody juice out of it; or more straightforwardly simply biting into one; which were all gestures that expressed their disgust on the recent controversies that happened between Turkish politicians and the Dutch government. This sentence in a news story alone proves the absurdity of the situation, especially if one is alien to Turkish politics: “Members of the youth wing of the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] protested against the Netherlands by squeezing oranges and drinking the juice in the northwestern province of Kocaeli on March 12.”

I must say I’m impressed. I never knew that the “AK Youth” had such an insight in culinary history and monarchy in Europe. How orange made its way to the Netherlands and how its color became anonymous in the country, is still a mystery to the counterpart youth in most European countries. These guys proved that they have a high level of knowledge when it comes to the history of oranges. 

Although the colors of the Dutch national flag are red, white and blue, the country is awkwardly associated with the color orange. When there is a national football match, or when it is the Queen’s birthday, the Netherlands is thoroughly dyed in the brightest hue of orange, as if like they are making an orange revolution. The blame is to be put on William of Orange, or more correctly Willem van Oranje (the same guy that lent his name to the national anthem Wilhelmus), who is the ancestor of the current royal dynasty that has its roots in the House of Orange-Nassau (Huis van Oranje-Nassau).  He, as the Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, became a national hero as the leader of the Dutch revolution against the Spanish that lead to the independence of the nation in 1581. 

Yet there had been some missing links that could have initiated serious crisis at an international level, even to disastrous unfortunate misunderstandings that could have led to a world crisis. There have been sophisticated jokes sprouting here and there, according to the variety of oranges stabbed. Turkish diplomacy must have had hard time following this. One favorite variety of the fruit in Turkey is the Washington orange; another popular one is the Jaffa. Hilarious jokes fussed over the stabbed orange, with a variety ranging from pointing to either that there was an American interference, or as usual, an Israeli finger. Luckily the ridicule did not go as far as the new orange hued hairdo in the White House, or we would be in deep trouble. Actually there were some who confirmed that they would only consume local Finike oranges that have a geographical appellation, and not touch the questionable Washington or Jaffa oranges. Well, one has to tell them that they all originated from China, hence the botanical name Citrus sinensis. Actually, that one point has gone missing. Orange is named “appelsin” in the Netherlands, practically meaning the Chinese apple.

There was also rumor that the Dutch had started a counter-attack by roasting turkeys in return. Thank God it was only a joke. Otherwise India could easily be involved in the controversy and be seriously offended, since in the Netherlands, the bird turkey is named “kalkoen,” after Calicut (modern Kozhikode), a major trading city in the Kerala province of India. It was initially called “Calcoensche haan” (Calicut chicken), eventually turning into “kalkoen.” 

The same risk applies to the Turkish rage over oranges; one has to take caution in those cross-nation protests. Orange is called “portakal” in Turkish, naturally named after Portugal. It was the Portuguese that brought the sweet orange as an exotic Asian fruit to the Mediterranean, before oranges, there were bitter - almost inedible – that were previously brought into the Med-basin by Arab merchants. That is why it was called “naranj” in Arabic and Persian, from an older Sanskrit term “narunga.” A further step of the “narantsion” in Classical Greek, followed by “aurantium,” influenced by aurum, namely gold. From that derived the Italian “arancia,” and French and English orange. Countries like Greece and Turkey, or regions like Sicily preferred to stick to the Portuguese legacy. Of course if the Chinese were to follow the whole thing from the Dutch press, we could be in the deepest trouble by stabbing the Chinese apple, or the “appelsin.” 

Maybe in the future, history will write this as the orange revolution in Turkey, the start of the big uprising against Europe. One thing is for sure, the orange craze, or as the Dutch call it, the “Oranjegekte” has spread to Turkey, though in quite a different manner. 

Hard to grasp, but this is the reality of Turkish politics. After the whole thing was over, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he just could not understand what actually had happened, he felt that he was in an absurd movie; the whole thing was almost unreal. One Twitter comment from Turkey was beyond a comment, it said, “Good for you. We are already through the 14th season!”