Between Nation and Diaspora: Afro-Turk Identity in the Age of Liberalism

White, Brittany, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Gratien, Christopher, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

In the mid-2000s, courtship with the European Union led to a temporary shift in Turkish national discourse regarding cultural diversity and embracing a multi-ethnic society. Ethnoreligious minorities in Turkey experienced greater freedom of cultural expression, allowing them to discuss and celebrate their unique heritages and histories. During this period, Afro-Turks living in the Aegean region mobilized and started to engage in public discourse regarding the legacy of African slavery in the Ottoman Empire. Frequently rendered as an “invisible,” “lost,” or “forgotten” African Diasporic population, Afro-Turks have worked to reconstruct their identity by reviving Ottoman-era cultural practices that had been suppressed in the early republican period. Previous scholarship has emphasized reviving Afro-Ottoman traditions as central to this movement. However, I argue that the Afro-Turks’ ability to delicately navigate the liberalist opening in the public discourse—and an ever-present nationalist sentiment that tends to silence “non-Turkish” identities and perspectives—has also played a critical role in allowing this minority group to participate in public discourse regarding their unique cultural heritage. This article situates the Afro-Turk experience in the larger discourse about race, Blackness, national identity, and belonging in the global African diaspora.

MA (Master of Arts)
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