Fate of the Afro-Turks: Nothing left but colour

Afro-Turks during the Sixth festival of the Calf (photo: Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere)

 The Afro-Turks, whose ancestors came to the Ottoman Empire as slaves in the nineteenth century, are still struggling for recognition. Now, though, their desire to assimilate into the wider society has become greater than their desire to maintain their own identity. By Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere.

The Association of Afro-Turks was founded in 2006 by Mustafa Olpak in Ayvalik, in the North Aegean region. His family came to Turkey from Crete in 1924 as part of an exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. Because they were Muslims, they were categorised as Turks. Olpak himself suffered bullying at school and dropped out for a year as a result, but he finished his education in the end.

He had been married to a "white" Turk for 25 years when her family suddenly announced, "The Arab isn't going to get any of the inheritance." Black people are often called Arabs in Turkish. Olpak divorced his wife. It wasn't the only racist comment or example of discrimination which he'd experienced in his life.

Alev Karakartal, is an Afro-Turk woman who now lives in Istanbul. Speaking at a conference there in early June 2012, she described the strategy with which many Afro-Turks confront discrimination. "By entering into mixed marriages," she said, "Afro-Turks try to have lighter-skinned children, so that eventually their colour will disappear altogether." But Olpak responds, "We have nothing else left aside from the colour. There's nothing left culturally any more."

When Karakartal, who is herself of mixed descent, asked her parents about her origins, the answer was always, "We are Turks and Muslims," and that roots weren't important.

"Our ancestors didn't come voluntarily to Anatolia," she notes. "They were sold as slaves, exploited, abused and excluded." But it's not just the families themselves who remain silent. Olpak points out. "Nobody speaks about us, otherwise, if they were to tell our story, they would find themselves in conflict with the official version of history. One would have to speak about slavery."  Read full story at Quantara

Video of the Sixth Festival of the Calf in the Turkish city of Bayindir in 2012, with a special performance of a Congo and Sierra Leonean music group. The festival is the traditional celebration of the Afro-Turks.

Afro-Turk Festival: Afro-Turks celebrate festival in Turkey's Izmir



Updated Dec 22th, 2022


  1. It's so sad when these people are so ashamed to be black that they have to mix with whites so their children are lighter

  2. LOL Congolese people are everywhere : on the first video, the dancer hold a DRC flag.
    I like the way the Afro-turks come and join him to celebrate.

    Nevertheless, it is sad to see they want to melt in the mass to avoid the drama of being a discriminate minority. This is unfortunately one of the "strategy" black folks use in many parts of the world when they cannot stand their situations anymore.

  3. So children can be just seen as white. People do all over world but its sad.

  4. It is understandable why these people are mixing in order to make life easier for their children. That goes on a lot in Latino socities where they practice the doctrine of MeJorar La Raza, which means to marry white to improve your race.

    1. WTF!! I hate to have to agree with Anonymous' comment, but it is true, sadly.

      To Chico-Rei and Sanza:

      I think you guys know why some black people around the world are ashamed of being black; I think every person no matter what color who comes on this site knows why that is. I will be honest. Sometimes I wish I was white, but this is a fleeting thought that dissolves just as soon as it enters my head. At least I know why that is, which drives me to stay away from as much negative stereotypes as I possibly can. I'm proud of who I am. I'm an American who happens to be black, and at the end of the day I wouldn't change anything except for maybe my nose I think it's a little big.

      Do you think children will be ashamed to be black if their favorite super hero was black or favorite actors and things like that? The answer is simple, we do not have enough black people doing positive sh$%t in the world, it's simply not enough. Let’s take a look at the movie industry and compare the amount of movies being produced with a black guy either being a rapper, thug/gangster, drug-dealer, basketball player, and/or a guy that dresses up like a freaking grandmother speaking improper English vs. the amounts of film being produced with a black person being a top-notched lawyer, a secret-agent, and/or a guy that dresses up in a bat suit. Now look at which of these films make the most money and have the most influence, the ratio is freaking staggering. We don't have any influence or at least not enough to project enough of a positive influence to shift international opinion. When I was in Hungary (Euro-Trip Vacation) I met this lady and I stayed with her for a couple of days and she told me that before meeting me that she didn't have a problem with black people she just simply never felt attracted to them, and I changed her mind. I say all that to say this, there is a perception about black people world-wide and for the most part it's not good. I mean yes there’re positives but goddamnit it’s not enough. Until we can slowly and gradually change that perception (world-wide) then we will still have people wondering the same shit. Why is she ashamed to be black?

    2. I understand fully why some black people want their children to be lighter and why some latinos deny their blackness, but these people need to wake the hell up and learn their history.

      I'm black and grew up in a white family and white neighbourhood but never once did I want to be white. The reason why my white family told me to be proud of who I am, how can you say to a child God loves everyone the same and then say you have bad hair because you're black or your skin is too dark didn't God make that dark skin, this is where people go wrong.

      I also feel in love with history first European because that was all I had but then I found African history and then I realised there was alot to be proud of. Now I walk around with a proudness that scares the hell out of white people, during slavery white people professed one thing the most don't let the slaves read and the reason why is because the more you read the more you realise white people played a trick on us, they say Africa the dark contient but what were European doing before Greece and Rome???

      I agree with Rebel American there aren't enough black heroes and when Africa is shown all you see is poverty so people don't want to be associated with being black or Africa and I had the same experience in with a woman from Romania in Spain she said she had never been attracted to black guys until she met me because of all the negative sterotypes she'd seen she introduced me to to her friend who actually said ugh... negro but then I kissed my skin and said I love being black and said ugh.. blanca which means white girl she was shocked because no one had ever said that to her before and now when I see her she always comes over and talks to me

  5. I think this fascinating. I'm in a country-Azerbaijan (a neighbor and turkish relative of Turkey) and there have been times when some Azerbaijanis will say to me (Men garayam)-which means I'M BLACK. And i normally just laugh it off. But to see this...wow..have my eyes opened.

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