Turkey: Asia or Europe, both or none?

i’m personally quite ambivalent about this question, so i would like to see some other opinions.

given a stand, i think i will still consider Turkey as Asian, despite the governments’ efforts to integrate Turkey into Europe. i think the main reason is that the Turks are Muslim, which I think poses problems for their integration into Europe. not that i have anything against them, but there has been endless debates about the real reason why they are not admitted into EU – them being non-Christian. and i think there is reason to believe that this may have a hidden truth.

yes, some Balkan peoples are Muslim, but they were converted by the Turks under Ottoman rule, and only fairly recently as compared to, say, the Nordic peoples’ conversion to Christianity. hence i do not thing the Balkan peoples should be compared with Turkey as equals.

Turkey, however, has usually been considered-geographically, at least-to be part of Europe. Doesn’t matter if they’re Muslim or not.


Since Istanbul (not Constantinople now) is one Eurpean soil, I suppose its both. geographically, It lies on both Asia and the European Subcontinent.

True, but then, wouldn’t it be like Russia-which is part of both as well?

And no one says Russia shouldn’t be considered a part of Europe.

There’s no such thing as the European Subcontinent, but the boundary between Europe and Asia does indeed pass through Turkey with the Istanbul metropolitan area lying on both sides of the Bosporus.

I am not aware of the “endless debates about the real reason why they are not admitted into EU – them being non-Christian”, Sempaltvs. I am aware of the frequently repeated claim that Turkey’s human rights record is the reason the EU is reluctant to admit it.

Suggesting that having a majority Muslim population means that a country cannot be considered European, or is in any way a factor about admitting it to an economic-political organisation is ridiculous, and many people will be offended by it.

I suggest you back up your claim with some evidence.

I think that Turkey is both but it wants desperately to be European. however I think that it still has a very asian outlook on life. Russia, for instance, is more “European” that Turkey.

Being European would give it an advantage in being a conduit for trade between Europe and Asia (well you kow the countries that I mean).

It’s quite impossible to simply designate Turkey as just “Asian” and “Europe”.

Geographically Turkey is European… just as Crete is geographically Asian.

Historically (since the start of historical records), Turkey is Asian, --Asia Minor, with a few Greek exceptions.

Linguistically Turkey is Asian, Turkish being part of the Altaic family.

Culturally they are Asian (or at least non-European).

Why is Turkey not in EU then? My point of view is that they are out because the EU is not prepared to expand its borders beyond what is commonly considered as Asia. With the exception of Greece and Slovenia, no southeast European countries have expressed any interest in EU and vice versa.

How can you classify any place as “Europe” or “Asia” ??? Geographically it’s one continent, and culturally there’s a huge overlap.

Basically, most EU members have a hang up about having a Muslim member state, even a secular one that’s a NATO member. And it’s a big country - the French, Germans, Italians don’t want that many people suddenly becoming part of their silly little club.

IMO, they’re probably best off without each other.

Yeah, but so are Hungarian and Finnish, aren’t they? Hungary and Finland are “European”.

Yes and no.

Yes because Finnish and Hungarian and Turkish are Ural-Altaic languages.

No because Finnish and Hungarian belong to the Uralic branch (Finno-Ugric, to be precise); and Turkish is specifically Altaic.

It’s like saying that English and Pashto are similar because they are Indo European.

Huh? Bulgaria, whose people are mostly Turks who migrated into Europe, will join in 2007. Croatia is hoping to join before the decade is out. Cyprus, which I would consider Asian, has been accepted to join in 2004. Both Brussels and the countries of SE Europe want expansion in that area.


Eh? I’m afraid you lost me here - Could you restate that?

As others have pointed out it is actually both, just as Russia is. Thrace = European, Anatolia ( Asia Minor ) + Asian.

Disagree - It is not really quantifiable. Those ‘few Greek exceptions’ consisted of the entire western seaboard and extending inland quite a bit, even in the earliest periods. And Anatolia was reliably a part of the Roman state and its Byzantine successor as a contiguous whole for well over 1,000 years.

So was Avar and Bulgar ( short-lived in the Balkans, I’ll grant :wink: ). Further the Pontic steppe, which everybody seems to consider European today, was consistently Turkic for over a millenia as well ( Khazars, Petchenegs, Cumans ). There are also Turkic minority groups in European Russia today, like the Mordva. Altaic linguistic groups may have never been dominant in Europe, but they’ve certainly been enough of a presense from an early enough period, that I wouldn’t label them as definitively “Asian”.

This is a more interesting argument and gets into critiques of such things as Edward Said’s notions of “orientalism”. But I would tend to say that while I think there is definitely room for debate here, I would argue that Turkey actually represents a synthesis ( or perhaps hodgepodge ), depending on how you define your terms.

On another plane, I might argue that a separation into “European” and “Asian”, especially when we are talking about areas like the Near East ( including North Africa ), other than on purely arbitrary geographic grounds, is a flawed concept that ignores an awful lot of cultural and historical overlap. So I guess I agree with this…

…if perhaps for slightly different reasons :).

Close, but not quite. The original Bulgars were turkic, yes. But the majority of the population that became Bulgarian were Slavs. The Turkic Bulgars, like the nordic Varangian Rus, were a ruling class who were gradually absorbed into the mass of the there Slavic subject populations.

  • Tamerlane

Urkkk. Anatolia = Asian.

  • Tamerlane

Another fine Tamerlane post that is par for the course: erudite, well-informed, adding considerable depth and richness to the discussion, and as always, interesting to read. Plus the obligatory minor error put in there just so Jomo can jump in and correct it.

The Mordvin are a Finnic-speaking population in the middle Volga region, neighbors of the European Turkic groups the Tatars, the Bashkirs, and the Chuvash. Further north are the Permian Finnic peoples like the Komi and the Mari. Just east of the Urals from the Permian Finns (making them Asiatic) are the Ob-Ugric peoples the Khanty and Mansi, whose languages are in the Ugric branch of the Uralic family, making them the closest linguistic relatives of Hungarian. Further east from the Khanty-Mansi region of Northwest Asia are the Samoyedic peoples, speaking another branch of Uralic, and one that is definitely Asiatic. (I love a rare chance to write “Northwest Asia”!)

The early Magyars, long before they migrated to the present location of Hungary, seem to have originated from that central Urals area, where the republic of Bashkortostan (or Bashkiria) is now; the present-day Bashkirs now speak a Turkic language very closely related to Tatar (their neighbor). Bashkiria spreads on both sides of the Urals so is, like Turkey and Russia, in both “Europe” and Asia.

But around AD 500 their ancestors there seem to have been a Uralic-speaking people; as late as the 1200s it still went by the name Magna Hungaria. A monk named Friar Julian traveled there and reportedly found people still speaking a Magyar dialect; unfortunately, just as he made his discovery the Mongols invaded and his research was cut short.

The nearby Volga-Kama area, which has been Tatar (Qypchaq Turkic) since the Mongol-established Altan Ordu (Golden Horde) in the late 13th century, had been Bulghar since the 800s or earlier. Here, “Bulghar” refers not to Balkan Slavs but to a branch of Turkic-speaking peoples; their form of Turkic, called r-Turkic because it uses r where other Turkic languages use z, is now represented only by Chuvash. But the Volga Bulghar kingdom was thriving in the 9th century when the Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan (whom we met in the film The 13th Warrior) visited there, and he also was the first author to record the existence of the Magyars, who entered Pannonia (present-day Hungary) some years later.

The Magyars, during their years on the Pontic Steppe, had become associated with some Turkic tribes in the tribal confederation known as On Ogur (Ten Arrows). Seven of the tribes were Magyar, and the other three were Turkic. From the Turks, the early Magyars took into their language a lot of loanwords, including many terms relating to agriculture. The Turks who taught the Magyars their culture were evidently speakers of the r-Turkic branch; compare Turkish yaz- ‘write’ and Hungarian ír ‘write’. Turkish öküz ‘ox’ and Hungarian ökör ‘ox’.

In fact, the Magyars were simply assumed to have been Turks, until comparative linguistics established that their language belonged to the Uralic family, related to Finnish and Estonian. In the 1760s, a Hungarian Jesuit scholar named János Sajnovits traveled to Lapland in Norway for some astronomical observations and, listening to the local Sami (Lappish) people, noted similarities between their language and his. A systematic comparison of the two established that they were related, so Sajnovits is the discoverer of the Uralic language family. But when he published his findings, the Hungarians at first rejected his conclusions, because they preferred to be connected to the proud, conquering race of Turks rather than a primitive little tribe beyond the Arctic Circle.

The Székely ethnic group, inhabiting Transylvania, came over with the Magyars from the steppes and settled there; although they speak Hungarian and are assimilated into Hungarian culture, they have always been considered a different ethnic group. They are thought to be descended from a Turkish tribe that was allied with the Magyars back in the steppe days. Until the 19th century, they still wrote with the runic characters used for Old Turkic in the 7th-century Orkhon Inscriptions in Mongolia, the record of one of the earliest Turkish kingdoms.

So, you see, the Hungarians are of a strongly Asiatic background but yet are now considered as European as anyone else. But not the Turks, whose presence in Europe predates even the Magyars. Why? Probably religious bigotry. The prejudice against Muslims is deeply ingrained in the European Christian (or post-Christian) psyche, and it’s still often repeated that “those people” are “not like us” (the eternal refrain of the bigot).

Excellent post Jomo Mojo and thanks for catching my error :slight_smile: - I was of course thinking of the Chuvash, as they are forever imprinted on my brain as being geographically associated with the Mari and Mordva ( the Komi are a new one for me ). I also was unaware of the Bashkir/Magyar connection. Ah, I just love new tidbits of minuitia :D.

It is worth noting, that as Jomo Mojo has so nicely illustrated, the “steppe conveyor belt” and the nearer edges of the forest belt bordering it, often consisted of a linguistic hodepodge of groups, often associated in political confederations of varying cohesion, without necessarily being closely related in language ( though they generally shared some cultural elements ). Not only Uralic and Turkic, but Germanic ( remnants of the old Ostrogoths for one, of whom I’ve heard bits of their language seem to have lingered in the Crimea region into near-modern times ), Slavic of course, and Indo-Iranian. Speaking of which…

Jomo Mojo, do you know of any modern Indo-Iranian speaking peoples still extent in that general region today? Fragments of the old Alans, perhaps?

  • Tamerlane


  1. The Ossetic people of the Caucasus speak dialects of an Iranian language. It is thought to be descended from the language of the ancient Scythians, from the branch of the Sarmatians known as the Alani which you asked about. North Ossetia is in Russia (bordering Georgia), on the southern edge of the Pontic Steppe area we were just speaking of. The Ossetic dialects are named Iron and Digor. Digor is spoken in northwestern Ossetia and Iron in northeastern and southern Ossetia.

  2. The Tat people of Azerbaijan speak another branch of Iranian. The “Mountain Jews” of Azerbaijan spoke the Tati language, and today the Judeo-Tati dialect lives on in Israel, according to Ethnologue.

An interesting speculation about Alan survival is that soldiers of the Iazyges tribe of the Alani were recruited into a Roman legion circa AD 175. They were transferred to Britain, where they were garrisoned in the western part of Britain where the King Arthur legends later arose. Supposedly the Alan commander of this Roman legion was named Artorius. (Artorius was also the name of the Romano-Celtic warlord who fought the Saxons in the 6th century and formed the basis for Arthurian legend.) The legend of the lake that produced Excalibur and was the scene of Arthur’s death resembles a legend of Ossetia. Who knows? Well, it’s fun to speculate.

To answer your question a bit further, Tamerlane, I just came across this in Mircea Eliade’s book Shamanism (p. 395-396)

So not only Turks can be European; once there were even European Iranians!

Welp, everton, the suggestion is by no means “ridiculous” - indeed it is well-accepted that the Muslim character of Turkey is at least one of the factors behind the EU’s refusal to start even negotiations with Turkey. The Turks certainly believe anti-Muslim sentiment is the reason.

So, the Turks believe it. That begs two questions: is their belief correct? If it isn’t, what can the EU do to combat this incorrect belief?

If the belief is incorrect, the EU should start negotiations. From an editorial in this week’s Economist:


Welp, everton, the suggestion is by no means “ridiculous” - indeed it is well-accepted that the Muslim character of Turkey is at least one of the factors behind the EU’s refusal to start even negotiations with Turkey. The Turks certainly believe anti-Muslim sentiment is the reason.

So, the Turks believe it. That begs two questions: is their belief correct? If it isn’t, what can the EU do to combat this incorrect belief?

If the belief is incorrect, the EU should start negotiations. From an editorial in this week’s Economist:


So where is the discussion about the Turkish government’s poor fiscal discipline also affecting EU decisionmaking? The Turkish lira is still inflating in terms of percent per day, a huge way away from anything the EU could consider absorbing. Certainly it’s easier to blame racism and religious intolerance, etc. than to balance the budget.