Afro-Turks are people of Zanj (Bantu) descent in Turkey. Like the Afro-Abkhazians, they trace their origin to the Ottoman slave trade.

Total population
up to 100,000
Regions with significant populations
Muğla, Izmir, Antalya
Languages
Turkish, Arabic, Cretan Greek, Romanian (in Romania)
Religion
majority Islam, minority Christianity

History

Beginning several centuries ago, a number of Africans, usually via Zanzibar as Zanj and from places such as Niger, Arabia, Libya, Kenya and Sudan, came to the Ottoman Empire settled by the Dalaman, Menderes and Gediz valleys, Manavgat, and Çukurova. African quarters of 19th-century İzmir, including Sabırtaşı, Dolapkuyu, Tamaşalık, İkiçeşmelik, and Ballıkuyu, are mentioned in contemporary records.

Some came from Crete following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. They settled on the Aegean coast, mainly around İzmir. Africans in Ayvalık declare that their ancestors from Crete spoke Greek when they came to Turkey and learned Turkish later. Afro-Turks living in İzmir celebrated the traditional spring festival Dana Bayramı (“Calf Festival”) until the 1960s. Dana Bayramı has currently been revived among the younger generation of Afro-Turks.

Ahmet Ali Celikten in a flight suit.

The Ottoman Army counted thousands of black African soldiers in its ranks. The army sent to the Balkans during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–18 included 24,000 men from Africa. One of the first black pilots in history, Ahmet Ali Çelikten, was an Ottoman war pilot during World War I.

Today

Areas with significant populations are in the Aegean Region, especially İzmir, Aydın, and Muğla. There are also people of African ancestry living in some villages and municipalities of Antalya and Adana provinces. Some of the descendants of the African settlers remain, mixed with the rest of the population in these areas, and many migrated to larger cities. These factors make it difficult to guess the number of Afro-Turks.

Notable Afro-Turks

Fercani Şener, footballer.

Arts

  • Esmeray, singer
  • Tuğçe Güder, adopted by Turkish parents, model and actress
  • Kuzgun Acar, sculptor
  • Mansur Ark, musician
  • Safiye Ayla, musician
  • Yasemin Esmergül, actress
  • Ahmet Kostarika, actor
  • Dursune Şirin, actress
  • İbrahim Şirin, classical Ottoman musician
  • Cenk Sökmen, musician
  • Melis Sökmen, actress, musician (Guinean grandmother)
  • Sait Sökmen, ballet dancer, choreographer (Guinean mother)
  • Sibel Sürel, ballerina
  • Ali Tınaz, actor, television presenter
  • Tuncay Vural, choreographer
  • Defne Joy Foster, actress, presenter (African American father)
  • Mert Güler, academician, yoga instructor, wellness trainer

Sports

  • Fercani Şener, footballer
  • Ömer Besim Koşalay, athlete, journalist
  • Vahap Özaltay, footballer
  • Hadi Türkmen, former vice-president of the Turkish Football Federation
  • Sadri Usuoğlu, football manager
  • Mustafa Yıldız known as “Arap Mustafa”, 1972 and 1981 Kırkpınar champion

Literature

  • Mustafa Olpak, writer and activist
  • Tarık Dursun K. (Kakınç), writer
  • Mine Söğüt, writer and columnist

Politics

  • Zenci Musa, Teşkilât-ı Mahsûsa member

Military

  • Ahmet Ali Çelikten, Ottoman aviator

About the author

Ujamaa Team

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