Turkish-born professor: Many Turks believe the bizarre narrative that they’re descended from Central Asia

Axel Çorlu, an academic born in Smyrni (Σμύρνη, Turkish: İzmir), created controversy on Twitter in a thread where he denounced the Turkish government’s decision to convert Chora church into a mosque and questioned Turkish citizens connections to Central Asia.

The academic that also speaks fluent Greek explained that the narrative of modern Turkish identity prevents them from identifying with the land they live on because Turkish citizens believe they are descended from Central Asian Turks, rather than Turkified natives of Anatolia.

It is estimated that millions in Turkey today are Turkfied Greeks, Armenians and other Anatolian people who were Islamified and Turkified by the ruling Turkish elite. For this reason, Turkish citizens in their thousands are returning to their Greek, Armenian and Anatolian roots.

On Chora and its conversion to a mosque, beyond the technical issues about preservation, a point I have been insistently making on the creation of the modern Turkish identity and the narrative that feeds it have to be taken into consideration. This narrative prevents Turkish people from being able to identify fully with the lands they live on, and promotes a “conquest” mentality that excludes everything that existed there before the arrival of the Seljuks,” said Dr. Çorlu.

“This bizarre narrative is so strong that many Turkish people believe they are descendants of Turkic peoples from Central Asia, even though historians have long pointed out the population imbalance between agricultural civilizations and nomadic peoples (i.e. multiple waves of nomadic migration occurred over millennia, but settled people outnumber them by a vast margin) and that the number of Turkic peoples entering Anatolia was definitely less than 10% of its population, and more likely to be even a smaller fraction. This is important to teach to people not because identity should be based on race, or dna, but because they process it this way,” said the Turkish-born professor.

“Unless this primitive, wrong-headed, and just wrong approach to Turkish identity is made to unravel, it is not possible for the majority of the Turkish people to truly, fully embrace their legacy, the legacy of their lands. When we have more people talking about being descendants of the Byzantines, Hellenistic synthesis, and the many native peoples of the land rather than claiming direct descent from Central Asia, we will have the beginning of a more inclusive, thorough construction of identity that prevents atrocities like this,” he said.

“And to make it clear again, I am never suggesting that connecting dna to identity is a healthy way of doing things. But this is how most people process it, and their perspective does change when they receive results. So it is one way of unraveling the Central Asian mythos. The healthier way would be through education and a thorough discussion of how artificially modern Turkish identity was created, of course. Until we achieve this, this never-ending hunger for conquest will not end,” the professor in Byzantine and Ottoman Studies continued.

“When many Turkish people look at the Hagia Sophia or Chora, they see something that belonged to the “other,” something that their ancestors vanquished and conquered to create space for their existence. If they saw them, felt them as part of their own souls, their own identities, and realized that the Ottomans themselves were in many ways a continuation of the Byzantines, who were the continuation of older syntheses of the land, how different their approach to their own legacy would be. Nothing changes attitudes like “ownership,” the academic added.

“Friends, colleagues, acquaintances, interested people; thank you for such enthusiasm, I’m greatly encouraged. Just wanted to say that obviously there are many aspects I cannot squeeze into a thread. A proper article that explains my logic and covers other issues is on its way,” Çorlu concluded.