Never in my life have I experienced a culture with quite so much national pride than the people of Turkiye have. Americans are proud, but not like Turks. Italians are proud, but not like Turks. Japanese are proud, but not like Turks. The funny thing is, I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I was, and in many cases remain, clueless.
Throughout my elementary, high, and collegiate education, I can’t think of a single Turk we studied about in history class who made any significant contribution to the progress of humanity or society in any field: not science, mathematics, humanities, literature, or anything…. seriously. Nothing.
Why then, are Turks such a proud people? Their patriotism is evident in their speech and mannerisms. The nation’s flag – a white crescent moon and star on a field of bright red – can be seen literally everywhere I turn (the number triples on national holidays). This jingoism is even illustrated in the way they grow their facial hair.
When I ask my kids, they invariably mention names of famous Turks who made a difference in their lives, and here in Turkiye. Not a single name is anyone I’d heard of prior to the discussion, yet they’ve certainly studied famous Germans, French, Brits, and Americans. Most of my students know Washington, Lincoln, Edison, Einstein, Darwin, and Pasteur. But American students don’t know about Ataturk, Fazil, Chelebi, or Rumi. These were, undoubtedly great men within the microcosm of Turkish history. Like the Monroe Doctrine did for the United States during the 19th century, Turkiye has developed in a way that only promotes, appeals to, and advances their own interests.
When asked which Turks have contributed to humanity’s greater progress, the names my students mention all end up being Persians, Arabs, or Mongolians (they think Genghis Khan was of Turkish origin – not that any of us think even he did anything worth mentioning). Ethnically, the Turkish people are descendants from the Urals in central Asia. Which brings me to my next point… They are the most aggressive people I’ve ever come across. They are so aggressive that boys and men say hello by tapping their temples together – an act resembling two rams with horns locked in combat. It’s funny to watch at first, until you consider the implications of such aggressive tendencies.
I’m not saying the Turks are a bad people. Many of my friends here – on an individual, one-on-one basis – are very caring and generous. They love to enjoy the little things in life: laughter, friendship, and the traditional cup of cay tea (about 12 times a day). However, as a whole, I found their civilization aggressive (unnecessarily), uneducated, naive, and filthy. I kept asking myself what these people have to be so damn proud of. So, I tried to craft a list (in descending order of importance)…
- Money – This one is debatable because while the first coins used for trade were minted in Sardis (the capital of the kingdom of Lydia) near the end of the 7th century B.C., Asia Minor was – at that time – predominately settled by the Greeks.
- Vaccinations – The invention of the smallpox vaccination is usually attributed to Edward Jenner in 1796. However, in 1717 Lady Mary Wortley Montague, wife of the British ambassador to the court of the Ottoman Empire, wrote about the practice in Turkey of deliberately stimulating a mild form of smallpox through inoculation, which conferred immunity. Edward Jenner later cultivated a serum in cattle which eventually led to the worldwide eradication of smallpox.
- Women’s Suffrage – In 1934, Turkish women were granted the right to elect and be elected – the first women in the world given the right to an equal vote in politics.
- Islam – In much the same way that Spanish exploration and imperialism helped spread Christianity across South and Central America, 600 years of the Ottoman Empire aided the expansion of Muslims across Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe between the 14th and early 20th centuries.
- Cuisine – While Turkish food isn’t really that tasty, nor anything special to write home about (even though I did), the Turks are responsible for creating kebabs, baklava, lokum (Turkish delight), and yogurt. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that other nations and cultures around the Middle East boast their own versions of kebabs and baklava including Greece, Iran, and Tunisia. Yogurt, on the other hand, is undeniably an invention of Turkiye.
- Turkish Baths – The hamam, as it’s known here, is a variant of a Roman bath that’s been around for centuries. The patron enters a steam room to detox before being laid out on a marble slab to be scrubbed, massaged, and beaten by a teenage waif (either male or female depending on the hamam).
- Tulips – introduced from Anatolia in the 16th century by a Dutch ambassador, tulips started a European craze. Bulbs brought to Vienna from Istanbul in the 1500s were so intensely popular that 1634 became the year of “tulipmania” (they’ve got nothing on the Beatles though).
- Seven Churches of the Apocalypse – Listed in the Book of Revelation, these seven churches were all located in the area known at that time as Anatolia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
- Volitan – The proposed design for a solar paneled boat that utilizes both sun and wind power won honorable mention at the 2007 International Design Awards.
Those don’t really compare to the advancements made in other countries around the globe (but the women’s suffrage and vaccinations are pretty freakin’ cool). I mean, the volitan is hardly the steam engine and yogurt is hardly the light bulb. Unfortunately, the Turks haven’t added much value to the world in recent years. Will they get their proverbial act together? With what I’ve seen of their students and education system, the Magic 8 Ball I had as a kid would say: Outlook Not So Good.
Until Next Time…