Afro-Turks speak of life in Anatolia
As protests sweep the U.S. and much of Europe in the wake of the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Afro-Turks, a little-known community in Turkey, speak of their lives as the descendants of Africans who arrived in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.
Afro-Turk families settled in the Aegean province of Aydın, where their ancestors were brought from Sudan about two centuries ago, say they are happy in their tight-knit community in Aydın.
The descendants of African slaves brought for agricultural work in the 1800’s have later made Anatolia their homeland, having lived in the Söke and Germencik districts of the province up to this day.
Although many elsewhere in Turkey, a country that is home to several ethnic minorities, are oblivious to the fact that Afro-Turks have lived in Anatolia for over centuries, Afro-Turks’ cuisines, lifestyles, folk songs and dialects are very Aegean.
Hasan Biberci, whose nickname is “Arap Hasan” and lives in Burunköy village, believes he is Anatolian at heart, without discounting his roots in Africa. However, the word “Arap,” meaning Arab in Turkish, shows how misinformed Turks are about Africans in the country, and the word has been criticized to be used in a derogatory manner throughout history.
But Biberci, who is 61 years old, says, “White and black children live together like brothers and sisters as a result of interracial marriages.”
“I have a white grandson. He looks like his mother. We are from Aydın, more local than an Aydın resident. We are Aegean and this is my land now,” he says, adding that his children are married to white people.
Stressing he never felt marginalized in his hometown due to his skin color, he believes in “the need to be a good person first.”
“You shouldn’t expect the same from someone else without being good. We have also very good relations with our neighbors. They love us and we love them too,” Biberci says.
Saying that they watched Floyd’s murder and the consequential Black Lives Matter protests on television, Biberci said he feels sorry for the death of Floyd. He said he was “thankful” that “similar events” were not commonplace in Turkey.
“We see racist attacks in America from televisions. I wish these were not happening. We’re all human. Thank God there is no such thing here,” he said.
His 52-year old wife, Ulviye Biberci, a typical Aegean woman donning a white headscarf and dressed in shalvar trousers, said she has had good relations with her neighbors.
“We live with whatever was passed down from our mothers and grandfathers. Even our cuisine is Aegean,” she said.
Noting that what happened in the U.S. upset her very much, Biberci says that she could not make sense of the incidents and that “such events never happened in Aydın.”
“Allah created us all equally. Nobody has any advantage over anyone. There is no black and white, human is human,” she says, stressing that both her son and daughter are married to white people.
“Everyone’s religion and language may be different. Everyone struggles for where they live, and we struggle for Turkey,” she noted.
Kani Pelvan, who was an imam in the village, says he never witnessed any discrimination during his lifetime.
It is believed that people of African origin were brought from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya and Egypt to Ottoman lands since 1510 to serve as servants in the imperial palace.
African descents were later relocated to İzmir, Aydın, Muğla, Antalya and Cyprus and were given statuses as “agricultural workers” between 1650-1700, according to historians.