Ayşegül Kayagil: The Making of Racial and Ethnic Boundaries

The Making of Racial and Ethnic Boundaries in Turkey: The Case of Afro-Turks

Aysegül Kayagil

Aysegül Kayagil

After the abolition of slavery in the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 19th century, some of the freed slaves of African origin remained in Anatolia. They were taken to the state “guesthouses” in several cities throughout the Empire. The most significant of these guesthouses was the one in İzmir, which contributed to the growth of the black population who later inter-married in this region of contemporary Turkey. Noe, they have almost no social visibility, be it in the mainstream media, or in scholarly research. On the rare occasions where black Turks appear in the media, they are generally presented as cute, exotic figures and given names such as “chocolate colored Turks”. In recent years, black Turks have had a growing voice as a result of increasing self-organization. More importantly, as the interviews for my preliminary research suggest, this initiated a new identity formation practice among black Turks who became acquainted with the Association. For instance, they now identify as Afro-Turks rather than as “Arabs”, the latter being a common adjective used to identify people of African origin, both by black Turks themselves and the rest of Turkish society. Based on qualitative research methods, this project aims to look at how black Turks construct their ethnic, racial and symbolic boundaries after the formation of the Association of Afro-Turks in 2006.

Ayşegül Kayagil studied Sociology at the Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey) in 2004. She wrote her MA thesis titled “The Construction of Cultural Boundaries in Turkey” at Koç University (Istanbul, Turkey). She is currently a PhD candidate at the New School for Social Research. Her research interests revolve around cultural sociology, Turkish modernity, ethnography, race and ethnicity.


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