At the etymological root of the name Anatolia lies a new organization introduced in the 7th century by the Byzantine Empire upon an administrative unit comprising the region stretching from the Euphrates river to the shores of the Aegean Sea: Anatolikon, the land where the sun rises. This region was previously known as Asia Minor. A name that calls to mind a continent unto itself- a miniature continent... Thus, it should come as no surprise when conservative historian Mükrimin Halil Yinanç refers to this region as “the continent of Anatolia”; and he also once uses the term “the Anatolian Empire”. The Hakimiyet-i Milliye, the newspaper that could be considered the semi-official publication of the National Struggle that began in the aftermath of World War I, had no reservations in 1920 about voicing the slogan, “Anatolia belongs to Anatolians!”. The journal Anadolu, published in 1924-25, regarded it as strange that the newly founded state should be called “The Republic of Turkey”, and instead proposed the name The Republic of Anatolia. Many years later, the humanist Azra Erhat said, “I feel like writing, How happy are those who can call themselves Anatolians.” Were these alternatives to slogans such as, “Turkey belongs to Turks,” and “How happy are those who can call themselves Turks” –or were they just variations of the same ‘intention’? In any case, they were expressions of a passionate claim on Anatolia as one’s homeland, and even further, the admiration felt towards Anatolia as a world in itself. There is no doubt that the name Anatolia is encapsulated within an aura of attraction that at times intersects with familiar forms of nationalism, and at times cannot be contained within the cage of nationalism.


Anatolia also seems to yearn to be a continent with its geographical appearance: Numerous climates coexist, a great variety of geological forms parade before us. Anatolia is a rectangle positioned with geometrical perfection in the navel of the Eurocentric world map.


“The cradle of civilisations” is one of its titles which has become a cliché... This is truly an exceptional region in terms of the ancient history and continuity of its human settlements. The oldest agricultural settlement in the history of humankind was discovered in Çayönü (Diyarbakır), and the largest settlement of the prehistorical world was in Çatalhöyük (Konya). Anatolia has been through a lot, and it has seen both glory and downfall. In its historical narrative that begins within an intense interaction with Mesopotamia, it has played host to Persian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman cultures.


We see that the political history of Anatolia oscillates between unification and fragmentation. The geographical compartmentalization that gives it a continental character also allows disintegrations. We know that the Hittite state, in 2000 BC, succeeded in realizing the first political unification of Anatolia. Whereas in the Seljuk-Ottoman interval of political rule that lasted from the 11th to the 14th century, 26 different dynasties reigned in the region.


The country of migration, the hybrid country


Another of the Anatolian imprints of identity: this is a country of migration. It readily announces this in the way that it sits like a huge bridge between Asia and Europe. Its fertility and its ‘strategic’ significance make the land itself a target; at the same time, it is a berzah, a point of passage. It has hosted great tribes; it has been the final destination of their flight. It is also a witness of mass exile. In the 1st century BC a Grecofication process began; then, with the Battle of Manzikert the Muslim and Turkish migration gained momentum. The aftershocks of the trauma it suffered with a tremendous wave of both immigration and collapse at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries have not settled completely even today. The Christian residents of Anatolia, who at the end of the 19th century still formed approximately a quarter of its population, were marginalized in the following 20 years. Autochthonous Christians, which included Greeks that spoke and prayed to their heavenly Father in Turkish, were forced to immigrate, escaped, or were subjected to a population exchange with Muslims living in Greece –who, in turn, didn’t speak Turkish! The most sorrowful of all, the Armenian population was subjected to a devastating genocide in 1915. Muslim communities in the Caucasus and the Balkans immigrated en masse to Anatolia. They had come to Anatolia seeking shelter, in claiming it as their home; they adopted the policy of it being purified of non-Muslims with either a sentiment of revenge, or a concern over ‘security’. Ethno-nationalism that flourished across the Old Ottoman territories, with a stricken alarmism of having missed the train leading to the age of the nation-state, saw homogenization as the sine qua non principle of securely closing the gap caused by this delay. Nation-states founded in Anatolia and in its immediate periphery, the Caucasus, Balkans and Mesopotamia, embarked upon homogenizing their population with the fanaticism of an adolescent.


Even the remains suffice to show us the scope of the plurality that Anatolia once played host to. In his 1989 work[1] that counts among the main reference books in the field, ethnologist Peter Alford Andrews reveals that the phrase, “There are seventy-two nations in Turkey” is not a vacuous metaphor. He differentiates 47 large and small ethno-religious communities across Anatolia.


But this also means a tremendous hybridization. In his impressions of the tour of Anatolia he carried out in 1913, the Hungarian Turkologist Béla Horvath writes the following: “The typical Turk of our times is considerably different from the slanted eyed type of Asian Turk that tends to resemble a Mongolian or a Tartar,” and added: “A new mixture has emerged from the increasingly mixed races (Greeks, Armenians, Lydians, Frygians, Persians) of Anatolia that has been conquered and Islamicized by the Turks; this type has a curved, eagle-like nose, black hair, dark eyes, and an open and innocent facial expression...”[2]




It is not only about racial hybridization. Anatolia is also a bed of religious syncretisms and heterodoxies. This is also partly the reason that there have been so many people who lived in a state of constant hiding and immigration. The ancient conflict between the sedentary and the nomadic of course also plays a part. From the first Christians that sought shelter in the cave-churches of Cappadocia to the Turkoman Alevi nomads and Kurdish tribes that resisted sedentary life and sustained their existence in the nooks and crannies beyond the reach of central authority and the Islamic orthodoxy, we can speak of some kind of a tradition. A tradition that led to explosions such as the Babai Revolt in 1240, and the Celali revolts of the 16th and 17th centuries.


One factor that enabled the plurality of Anatolia was the fact that it was a region of small-scale production sufficient to sustain a living. This structure that did not allow central forces to swallow up the economic surplus and to easily extend its reach to every corner of the country and resisted centralization from its own reclusive corner was both the seat of conservatism and also served as a reassurance for unique human forms of existence. The agreement of the 1950s humanist and conservative writers over an imagined continuity between the Anatolian villager of their time and the “Eti villager” (The word Eti was an invented word as a counterpart for the word Hittite in Turkish) was not only due to a form nationalist romanticism but also had an economic-political basis. Yet since capitalism has gone into fourth gear in the last two decades, this dream might find it hard to survive.


The Seljuk romanticism shared in this instant by a small number of conservative and humanist writers of the early Republican period is based on the illusion that during that period the pluralist structure of Anatolia was – albeit, under a Turkish-Islamic stamp – ‘given its due.’ These writers yearn for the cultural richness and pluralism that blossomed during the period when the Seljuk rule weakened and Anatolia was divided and decentralized amongst a number of centres of administration. 


The national myth and the delayed motherland


 “Galloping from Far Asia and jutting out / into the Mediterranean like a mare’s head / This country is ours!” (translated by Fuat Engin) This is one of Nazım Hikmet’s most ‘popular’ lines. It constructs a powerful image that redeems the national myth and clichés about Anatolia: the cliché of Anatolia as a bridge between Asia and Europe... And also ‘the myth of Anatolia as the final phase of the eternal historical march of the Turks’...


Behind this myth lies Turkish nationalism’s anxiety of being behind schedule. As with all the nationalisms that blossomed around the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, an additional problem of Turkish nationalism that suffered from the alarmism of ‘being late for history’ was the further delay it experienced in defining its homeland. An abstract sense of homeland had been awakened, however ideas related to its concrete version oscillated between geostrategic estimates based on the map of the Ottoman Empire that was being gnawed and nibbled at by the day and the dream represented by Ziya Gökalp’s lines: “The Homeland for Turks is neither Turkey nor Turkestan / The Homeland is a great and eternal country: Turan”. Anatolia, in fact, emerged as a remainder-homeland. The great majority of the founding elite of the Republic of Turkey were from the Balkans; once they realized, especially in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, that it would no longer be possible to hold on to this territory that for centuries had been the apple of the Empire’s eye, they chose to make their emotional investments in the ‘remaining’ lands, that is, Anatolia. Once this decision took place, both the measurement –mapping, surveys, censuses etc.- and the organization –forced immigrations and banishment- of the suitability of Anatolia for a nation-state to be formed on the basis of the Muslim-Turkish population gained momentum.


In order to suppress the trauma of the loss of empire, Turkish nationalism, itself in a period of construction, sanctified the emergence of Anatolia and Thrace as the new/tangible homeland as an act of purgation. In İsmail Habip Sevük’s world of imagery, a passionate writer of the early Republican period, the redundancies had been pared off, allowing the homeland to arise like a diamond.


A form of jewellery making was indeed required now. Work had to be done; Anatolia had to be processed as a homeland, rendered picturesque and romanticised. On the other hand, the historical narrative of official nationalism posed an obstacle that made it difficult to concentrate on Anatolia: The Turkish Thesis of History. This ‘theory’, by assuming the eternal Turkish civilisation born in Central Asia to be the source of the entire cultural heritage of humanity and the cradle of all civilisation rendered every single work of civilisation across the world Turkish, and left Anatolia devoid of its ‘special’ status. This particular form of historiography did not concentrate on the ‘reality’ of Anatolia as a special habitat, and in a sense, made use of Anatolia as a halting place of the global-historical civilisation odyssey of Turkishness. The codification of the ancient civilisation of Anatolia as proto-Turkish was part of the same instrumental view and interest. Names such as Etibank, Sümerbank given to important state banks established during that period were by no means a sign of a real interest towards the ancient civilisations of Anatolia; to the contrary, as exemplified by the supposed Turk(ish)ification of the universal name of Hittite into “Eti”, such attempts were a sign of an effort to ascribe an eternal Turkishness to Anatolia. (Saffet-Arın Engin, one of the authors of the Turkish Thesis of History, would write his book titled the Summerian Turks as late as 1968.)


We can follow the war to Turkify the territory through names as well. The nationalist-bureaucratic authority, which considered naming everything from “dried riverbeds” to far away “locations” as an expression of dominance, has managed to change approximately one third of place names in Anatolia!


In addition to this movement that ‘levelled out’ the homeland to accommodate Turkishness, there were two currents of thought that sought to romanticize Anatolia. Two separate Anatoliaisms... The first group is the Blue Anatoliaists. This group worked on the thesis that the great cultural heritage ascribed to Ancient Greece was in actual fact developed in Ionia; and glorified the historical territory of Ionia as the ‘spirit’ of Anatolia. Their humanist zeal led them to glorify and single out Ionia as the source of all civilisation; and in fact, this had an aspect of adapting to Anatolia the mindset of the Turkish Thesis of History. The other current, nationalist-conservative Anatoliaism, ascribes a metaphysical status to Anatolia, as the land where Turkishness blended with Islam and adopted the yield of other autochthonous civilisations to ‘create itself’. Nationalist-conservative Anatoliaists looked at Anatolia with this type of exaltation, and were drawn towards descriptions of the country that ‘standard’ nationalism did not have much time for. However, they share the optics of official nationalism in that they only see the Turk –and additionally, Islam- wherever they look. Just like Remzi Oğuz Arık who managed to see pure Turkishness even in Mardin, the symbol of multiculturalism: “Look to the right: Turk; look to the left: Turk; look down: Turk; look up: Turk.”


This strain of vulgarity continues to the present day. A relatively innocent case in example: After remaining in ruins for numerous years, the Saint Peter’s Armenian Church in Gaziantep was finally renovated through “multiculturalist” benevolence -and was subsequently put to use as the “Ömer Ersoy Cultural Centre” (having been given the name of an industrialist)...


Terra incognita


For the urban elite of the new Turkey, Anatolia was terra incognita, unknown lands... The Hungarian Turkologist Horvath records in his travel notes of 1913 that we quoted above that Turks living in Istanbul did not know anything at all about conditions in Anatolia, and that their common impression of them was negative. Those he called the “gentle Turks”, who were accustomed to the comfortable conditions of Istanbul, failed to find the same comfort in Anatolia. In 1922, Yahya Kemal asked himself how the modest view of Istanbul may appear to American travellers whose eyes were accustomed to ninety-storey skyscrapers. His response is clear: “No doubt, as the marketplace of an Anatolian village appears to us!” The mission of discovering Anatolia always scanned these unknown lands with this Orientalist (and Occidentalist) gaze.


In the 1938-1944 interval, the single party regime sent out a reconnaissance team made up of painters to Anatolia. Within the framework of the “Journeys to the Country” project, painters were dispatched to Anatolia in order to “see the uncharted and local charms of the provinces, and take them up in their work.” Later, during the era of realism in the 1950s and 1960s, people went after images that the poet Cemal Süreya in a 1967 article called “the primitive and unadulterated landscapes of Anatolia.” An Orientalist gaze that imagined the “locals” as noble savages was not missing in this aesthetics that aimed its gaze towards the wilderness and the folklore of poverty.


Nationalist enthusiasts of Anatolia had spoken of the “victimization and innocence of Anatolia”. The history of the lamentable paradox between the hidden inner treasures of Anatolia and its backwardness extends to its adoption as homeland. Its neglectedness is an image that clings to Anatolia as strongly as its mystery. This land was always described, both during and after the National Struggle, as “squirrel-coloured”, deprived and lowly, dilapidated, ruinous, forlorn, abandoned...


Looking at this site of ruin, official nationalism made sure it also settled its account with the Old Regime: The Ottomans had sent the ‘core’-Turkish people after conquests, and had completely neglected and abused the homeland. The same claim serves to explain the non-Turkishness of architectural footprints traced across the derelict canvas of Anatolia: In a 1955 article, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu explained the fact that almost all the beautiful buildings in “all the smiling provinces of Anatolia” were Greek and Armenian structures by stating that “the most profitable jobs of this land” were left to the Greeks and Armenians while Turks were being killed on the battlefronts.


A sense of being maltreated and unappreciated, and still a strong “feeling of Anatolia” independent of ethno-nationalist implications –or sometimes: an Anatolian pathos. With the meaning it assumes when it is codified apparently in contrast with the big cities, but primarily with Istanbul, Anatolia is the lost countryside: The lost treasure. It is romanticised as the fountain of “purification” that will disperse the decadence that has enveloped the big city. It is sanctified as the human landscape of “our people”; solemn, dignified, stoic, long-suffering. As in the adopted version of the American term deep America, here we find the “deep Turkey”: Anatolia. It mostly allows for a conservative provincial epic, yet alongside it, although not as much as in the 1960s or 1970s, also for leftist populism.


The global shopwindow and the ruined province


The first local automobile brand, launched in 1966, was named Anadol, no doubt with more than a whiff of Anatolian romanticism. Anadol was the product of an import substituting industrialization that could only be considered satisfactory in the poor domestic market, and the “domestic product” pride suitable to the zeitgeist. However, in the last ten to fifteen years, the image of Anatolia has been determined by provincial capital that has accumulated wealth by doing business with the global market and has succeeded in becoming a powerful faction of the national bourgeoisie. To use their flashy name: “The Anatolian tigers”. We see thriving and prosperous images reflected from the homes of the Anatolian tigers. Shopping centres, shop window-spaces where global brands take centre-stage, comfortable residential towers, luxurious cars, four-wheel drives, and a lively flow of traffic dazzle the onlooker. Scenes of prosperity in refined neighbourhoods announce that what Istanbul has now Kayseri, Gaziantep and Konya have too.


On the other hand, there are complaints of a cultural provincialization. These complaints are about, for instance, the closing, one after the other, of long-established movie houses, the contraction of public spaces of entertainment and communal living... And also about urban culture being completely consigned to the “market” and the rent economy... Another topic of complaints is uniformization. The politically conservative short story writer Mustafa Kutlu once wrote: “If you come across a thing you saw in Balıkesir in Niğde too; and if the landscape you saw in Konya appears before you in Zonguldak, it means that things have turned sour.” “Towns where not even the market is erected, where the notables have died, the tradesmen have dispersed, the mansions have collapsed have each become ‘dead towns’. (...) Clearly they no longer have a marketplace, a saddle maker, a blacksmith, or streets lined on both sides with mulberry, poplar and oak trees. Yet they have probably acquired one or a few boulevards, a town square, a monument, multi-storey business centres, regional newspapers, governmental and municipal halls, wedding halls, and artificial football pitches.”


There are also the vast landscapes that do not make it on to the scenes furnished by the “Anatolian tigers”, and are increasingly left outside the frame of the lens.  As wealth is generously spent away on tarting up provincial centres, what remains in the sidelines and becomes invisible... The hidden corners of Anatolia... “Squirrel-coloured” indeed, truly grizzled, desolate, derelict... A number of recent films have delicately and compassionately turned their gaze towards this aspect of the provinces. Filmmakers looked at territories of destitution, far-flung landscapes, and into lives considered futile, and saw, in addition to “neglect” and barrenness, serenity, warmth and plainness.


And that is precisely where the painting is looking at...



[1] Peter Alford Andrews, Türkiye’de Etnik Gruplar, Tümzamanlar Yayıncılık, trans. by Mustafa Küpüşoğlu

[2] Béla Horvath, Anadolu 1913, Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, trans. by Tarık Demirkan


English translation: Nazim Dikbas, Ziya Dikbas