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NATURE AND ORIGIN OF ANTI-TURKISH PREJUDICES
The image of the Turks in the Occident
"Who are the Turks ?" Here is the answer of an American student who had seen the film "Midnight Express": "It is this rude people who cruelly punished an American seized to for drug trafficking". And that of a high-school boy: "They wear long dressing gowns, speak Arabic and have lots of wives".  What to say about these answers, other than that they reveal ignorance and prejudices Turks are victims of, and regrettably very widely spread in the Occident. These clichés, hard to struggle against, refer to a complex and conflicting past. Indeed, Turks are maybe the only people maintaining so ambiguous relationship with the West, and more particularly with Europe. In the course of centuries, this relationship formed a dispute made of envy and resentment, of fascination and terror, all on a basis of prejudice where every bit of a logical approach to the problem fails. Love, hatred, exclusion, affection, fear etc. got involved inextricably during centuries, giving today a situation that remains very opaque.
This opaqueness explains, maybe, the rarity of studies about the image of Turks in the collective memory of Westerners. Nevertheless in this file we tried, without aspiring to be exhaustive on the subject, to show existence nowadays of clichés about Turks and to understand, the phenomena that presided over development of these prejudices.
At first we shall cite some historic landmarks showing how the image of Turks evolved in Europe. Then we shall illustrate the continuance of these clichés through the analysis of a concrete case, that of the film "Midnight Express" which is, all by itself, a concentrated summary of all the prejudices against Turks. Finally, we shall look into reactions of Turks to these clichés and shall also see how certain events hindered efforts of Turks to have better press in the West.
The ancestors of modern Turks were not Indo-Europeans but instead Altaics, a nomadic and pastoral people, native to the steppes of Central Asia. Mentioned in the Chinese annals from the first millenium before Christ, one can find them massively enrolled as hirelings in Arab kingdoms from the 8th century. (They will give birth, for example, to the famous Mameluke dynasty in Egypt). By successive waves, they leave their dry regions for fertile plains of the South where they founded several empires, among them those of the Ghaznavids in Afghanistan (10th century), Seljuks (11th century), Ottomans (13th century), or Great Moguls (16th century). Today, one finds Turks on vast areas from the plains of Siberia to the mountains of the Balkans, in Chinese Turkestan, in the north of India, in the Caucasus, in Iran, in Iraq and, of course, in Turkey. They represent a population of about 150 million persons (68 million of which in Turkey).
In the 9th century the threat of Turkish advances already lay heavily on the imagination of peoples of the Near and Middle East (Moslems, Jews and Christians). The theologian Abou Isa Muhammad, a native of the Transoxus (corresponding to current Uzbekistan, at that time directly threatened by the Turks), cites in one of his writings that Mahomet, The Prophet would have predicted that Antichrist would be seen in Khorassan (currently a territory of Iran) followed by the "tribes which have flat faces". 
Turkish People quickly became the subject of a rich literature in the Near and Middle East because of the threat they represented for these regions. This literature is profoundly marked by fear of the invasions of these "peoples of the North" and some do not hesitate to see in Turks the mythical peoples of Gog and Magog, evoked in the holy texts (the Bible: Ezekial, XXXVIII; the New Testament: Apocalypse, XX , 8; the Koran: XVIII , 94).The Arabic historian and encyclopedist Tabari (died 923) established ancestry of Turkish people this way. In a hadith , he makes the following comments:
"Noah engendered three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and each of them engendered three others. Shem engendered the Arabs, the Persians and the Byzantines, from where all the good comes. Japheth engendered the Turks, the Slavs, and Gog and Magog, from where comes nothing good. Ham engendered the Copts, the Sudanese and the Berbers". 
Bit by bit, Turks (who are converted gradually to Islam during their settling in the Middle East) will eventually dominate a big part of the Arabian-Moslem world where their image, at first negative, will be modified and become that of the conquering people, the "Sword of Islam" in the first rank against Christians regimes. By way of the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades, the Occident will in its turn discover Turks who founded in the 13th century one of the biggest and prestigious empires of history, that of the Ottomans.
Petro Tafur, a Catalan who was the last one to leave us testimony of Constantinople before it was taken over by the Ottomans, reports the phrase which ran around in the agonized city during the winter of 1437-1438: "The Turks will certainly take the vengeance of Troy".  It is indeed as descendants of Trojans that Turks are perceived at first in the West. This vision will be so strong that Turks will consider themselves invested with the mission to avenge Troy. Some will go much further and will assimilate Turks as heirs of the Romans.  These beliefs, which increase as Ottoman conquests go into Europe, reveal in fact a fascination of Occidentals for Turks, fascination mingled with admiration and fear. This vision is nevertheless going to change gradually and radically.
It is very easy to place the time when even the greatest Occidental authors began to give free rein to their aversion for Turks. This era corresponds in fact to the end of Ottoman military domination of a greater part of Europe. There is, then, a very interesting phenomenon to be observed: Turk are respected when one is afraid of their power but, as soon as they show the least signs of weakness, they are mocked and disdained. From the 17th century, when Ottoman decline begins, we observe anti-Turkish outbursts from the most famous authors. It is notably the case for Diderot who says, speaking about the Ottoman Empire:
"Let us not go live there, my friend! Ô the evil country! There is a big wild animal that devours all the other wild animals around it; and they, like the first one, devour all those that approach them, and so closer and closer; it is a country where everything is devourer and devoured." 
During 18th century the qualifiers "despotic" and "tyrannical" are usually applied to the administration of the Ottoman Empire. Philosophers of the "Age of Enlightenment" will indeed use Turks to denounce Occidental arbitrary regimes. With Montesquieu, for example, "Turks" becomes the scapegoat charged with the sins of the West. Turkish sultans are considered by turns as bloodthirsty brutes or totally degenerated and incapable. The most widespread opinion in Europe at that time indeed considers as evident that the Ottoman regime was able to survive during centuries thanks only to the power of its army and to the cruelty of pressures applied to dominated populations. The situation of subject Christian peoples begins to interest particularly Europe which lives a romantic period from the end of the 18th to the middle of 19th centuries. Nevertheless everyone knows that, far from being Islamized or turkified by force, peoples under Ottoman administration lived in relative autonomy and could freely practice their religions and languages. As in classic Moslem empires, Ottomans had, in fact, shown no assimilative tendency and, in particular, no spirit of proselytism. Ottoman regime had often been more favorable to "poor people" than the despots and Christian kings who had preceded or surrounded them in the Europe of that period. In the long term this allowed the survival through the centuries of ethnic identities in the Balkans. However at that time only passions expressed themselves and Europe became enthusiastic for subject Christian peoples, especially Greeks who, under influence of ideas of the French Revolution and encouragements of Occidentals, will gradually want to become emancipated from Ottoman custody.
Also in the 18th century, Voltaire did not hide his hatred and racism for Turks whom he qualified as "tyrants of the women and enemies of arts" . In a violent poem dedicated to Prince Eugène (who defeated the Ottomans in 1716) he writes:
"Chase the Moslems
It is necessary "to chase away from Europe these barbaric usurpers" , Voltaire will also say. Indeed he blames Turks for being destroyers of the antique patrimony of the "Christian Empire of East". He went even further and wrote:
"I do not love a people who were only a destroyer and who are the enemy of arts" ; and also: "I restrict myself to wish very fervently that the Turkish barbarians be chased away immediately out of the country of Xenophon, Socrates, Plato, Sophocles and Euripides. If we wanted, it could be done soon; but seven crusades of superstition had been undertaken and a crusade of honor will never take place".  "We know almost no city built by them; they let decay the most beautiful establishments of the Antiquity, they reign over ruins" .
One can find similar striking quotations among the papers of other famous authors of the 18th century. Turks are perceived, henceforth, as the usurpers of the classic inheritance that Europe claimed. The existence of a brillant Ottoman art is totally denied: Turks are considered as being incapable of having a culture deserving this name. This vision of Turks spreads quickly, especially due to stories of romantic travelers. In Europe, politico-economic considerations will henceforth be added to the excitement about fights for independence of Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire (in which romanticism had a determining role in arousing the national consciousness) and this will give birth to the famous "Eastern Question". Concerning particularly Greek people, who begin their liberation war in 1821 with the massacre by thousand of Turkish civilians in Morea, it must be admitted that, although atrocities were committed by both camps, Occidental opinion reacted only to massacres of Greeks, especially those of Chio (which will become the theme of a painting by Delacroix). No single word of protest arose at that time to regret massacres of Turks.
So, bit-by-bit, by successive touches, a pitiful image of Turks and the Ottoman Empire built up in the West, an image made of resentment, prejudices, contempt and fears, maintained and exploited in Europe for a long time. We cite for example a most striking definition of Turks, given in a textbook of geography intended for wide public use at the very beginning of the 19th century:
"The Turks are generally tall, strong and robust. They are an idle, cruel and ignorant people. They like to smoke." 
Or in still another book dealing with geography:
"The Indolent Turkish does not know the excitement of our societies; it rests softly on the pillows of his sofa, smokes tobacco of Syria, warms up with the Mocha coffee, watches dancing slaves, some grains of opium transport him to heavens accompanied by immortal beauties." 
One can suggest without risk of any mistake, that such a concentration of prejudices and hatred toward a single people (a people who had dominated a very big part of central and eastern Europe for centuries) is an exceptional and unique fact in History. Nevertheless, the degradation of the image of Turks continued before, during and after the First World War.
In 1918, at the end of the war, rare were those who were not convinced that the last hour had arrived for the Turks, who had had the misfortune of siding with the central empires. An important lampoon literature, essentially inspired by Greek and Armenian interests , was born. It grants an important place to the hatred of Turks and to racism expressed in a most raw way. The degradation of the image of Turks in the West in a sense reached its ultimate phase in this time of after-war. Here are a few examples of what one could read during this period:
"The Occidental mentality, which naturally tends to consider and to understand things according to the data of its own environment, when speaking about Turks and Turkey imagines that it speaks about a special race, about a human family consisting of individuals having an origin, a language, a history, customs, common traditions, in brief, that it speaks about a homogeneous nation having a homeland which would be Turkey. Well, it’s not true at all, it has never been that and it can never be." 
"The heavy losses of wars and massacres, the abduction of the sturdiest women and, what is worse, ’collecting’ children , the most abominable of all the taxes, reduced considerably the Greek population, ennobling the Turkish type which, horrible that it was at the time of the conquest of Constantinople, gradually lost the tartar-Mongolian primitive type by the inmixing of Greek blood in order to get completely closer to the Aryan type." 
"From the point of view of the human civilization, it is a terrible blow that the Turks gave to the Occidental culture. With these exterminations, one attends the elimination of the superior and noble element by the lower and degenerate element." 
"...The Turks heartily enjoyed themselves with the most despicable pleasures; they wallow in the prostitution, the pederasty, the debauchery and the incest, give themselves to all sorts of sadistic monstrousness." 
This set of texts, hundreds of racists pamphlets and articles constitute a corpus, unique of its kind, death sentence of a whole nation in its entirety, without nuance, with an incredible and rarely equaled violence of intent. It’s easy to understand that the impact of these papers on the imagination of Occidentals of the time was immense. Impact whose effects Turks still undergo today. One can understand also why the reconstruction of the Turkish national identity was slow, hard and very painful. Aftereffects of the traumatism of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and of the image conjured up by Europe still have consequences nowadays on the search for identity of Turks, lost between East and West.
Occidental collective memory was so terribly marked by these centuries of prejudices and hatred. And nobody can see better than a Turk that these resentments are still perceptible nowadays, in particular in the imagination of Europeans. Isn’t the film "Midnight Express" with its considerable success in the West, the best illustration of persistence of this negative image of the Turks?
Turks facing their image in the West
Disappearance of the Ottoman Empire, and the shock provoked by the occupation of Anatolia by allied troops, considerably traumatized the Turks, so much that they totally turned in upon territory which they had managed to keep due to the national war for independence (1920-22). Since then, it would not be risky to assert that Turks suffer a psychosis of new divisions and territorial losses (this, for example, explains partially the intransigence of the government of Ankara in the treatment of Kurdish separatism and terrorism today). The birth of the Republic and the Kemalist revolution, in the 1920’s, have, besides, strengthened this withdrawn attitude, because they were voluntary, violent and rough breaks, with the Ottoman past, judged retrograde. Nevertheless, in spite of this change and of the will Turks showed to become integrated into the Occidental world, the image of Turks remained negative in Europe. It can be understood thenceforth why the psychology of Turkey became that of Europeans, misunderstood and maltreated.
At the end of the first World War, Turks will not try hard to change the prejudices conveyed by Europe, too busy reconstructing their destroyed country, and for themselves, their hard shaken national identity. For a long time, they will stay withdrawn. Their only concern will be with their conflicting relations with their threatening neighbors, as the USSR or Bulgaria, and vindictive neighbours as Greece or Syria. It is, moreover, the Soviet threat that will persuade Turks to take their place in the Occidental camp, by joining NATO. Although this did not change things much fundamentally, this choice of Turkey will gain for it the image of a sure and faithful ally, protecting the southeastern side of Europe.
In the fifties, we see the first departures of Turks’ emigrating Europe, and, in particular, Germany, which at the time is badly in need of manpower. They are essentially simple and modest Anatolian farmers who ventured. They did not know the language of their host country, and lived in the hope of a fast return home, after saving enough money. Their poor intellectual and cultural knowledge, the perception of their uprooting, which had to remain temporary, difficulties of daily life, shock of their exile, and peculiar contingencies of Turkish, but also German culture, (unlike in France, there is in Germany no principle of integration of foreigners), made it impossible for these immigrants to ever become integrated in the host country. By common reflex, they stayed grouped together, without opening to the world. This situation, naturally, had the effect only of increasing negative opinions toward the Turks. They, moreover, were still not even conscious that they had such a bad press. Anyway, for the greater part of them, they did not know well enough their own culture and their history to face possible criticisms that were addressed to them. In time, they nevertheless created a new image of themselves, that of the nice Turk, a little bit boorish, but brave and plodding, not jibing at doing often thankless tasks, (For example, see in this regard, Wallraf Günter, Tête de Turc, La Découverte, Paris, 1986). The good savage in a word. Nevertheless, these hardly eased prejudices which persist still with the average German. For years, this situation only kept up the complexes of Turks toward Europeans. And the role played in this sense by the film "Midnight Express" was not unimportant. While this film was a reference for many Occidentals, any discussion on it was avoided by Turks, who remained unable to express their anger, their indignation, or simply their sorrow. Moreover, if they ventured to give an inkling of explanation by speaking about the weight of the history in current prejudices, one reminded them immediately that their country was far from being a model of democracy. It indeed turned out that the three coups d’état that Turkey faced (in 1960, 1971, 1980), but also the intervention of Ankara in Cyprus in 1974, strongly damaged the image of Turks, even though most of these historic facts find a legitimacy in the events and context of their time.
However, from the 80s, one notices in Turkey as well as in the Turkish Diaspora, awareness, and a will to do something to change their bad and unfair image in the world.
As happened in all countries of Western Europe, the dreams of immigrants (whether they be from the Maghreb, Africa, Turkey, Greece, or elsewhere) to return rapidly to their homelands, quickly turned into an illusion. Settling down in host countries is then not temporary any more but becomes permanent. The immigrants founded families, and new generations conscious of their previous history, but better integrated than their parents appeared in European societies. In the case of Turks, these rising generations, the second, even the third, contributed strongly to modify the image of their country in the West. As students, doctors, lawyers, engineers or deputies, Turks could in fact more easily defend themselves against criticisms and racists prejudices. Nevertheless, this positive evolution does not hide the hard reality experienced by the greater part of Turkish youth in Germany, which indeed had to deal with the same difficulties as the young "beurs" (Arabs) in France. Nevertheless, the community’s withdrawn attitude gave way henceforth to "a culture and identity" visibility, even though most of the young people do not know Turkish culture and history better than their elders. Henceforth, in Germany or in the United States, the Diaspora got organized and lobbies began to form, and even to practice some political influence.
Concerning Turkey, it is essentially the explosion of mass tourism (10 million tourists should go this year to Turkey) since 1985 that contributed to regaining prestige for Turks abroad. As it is, above all, Europeans, and especially Germans (several hundred thousand a year, exceeding one million at the beginning of the 90s), who go every year to Turkey, it’s evident that a lot of clichés or false ideas on Turks were shaken in Europe. Some could realize, for example, elementary things such as the existence of Turks with blue or green eyes, or with fair or red hair! For economic reasons, but also for the question of image, Turkish authorities led campaigns of advertisement, or financed cultural events in Europe, to promote Turkish culture in the World.
Other factors, less important than the former, also contributed to improve, to a certain extent, the image of Turks in Europe. The fact that Turkey applied to enter the European Union, in 1987, or that a woman, Tansu Çiller, was appointed to the post of Prime Minister, indeed defused some apprehensions entertained towards Turks.
Regrettably, today, recurring subjects such as human rights, the Kurdish question, or the ascent of Islam, broke into the capital of sympathy Turkey had begun to enjoy in Europe. These problems exist well and truly, even though they are far from having the gravity that Europeans attach to them. It is necessary however to admit that there is in the West a number of interest groups, which exploit and take advantage of Turkish gaps, to darken more Turkey’s image. We cannot ignore these anti-Turkish lobbies in explaining the new deficit of image of Turks in the West.
According to the expression of André Fontaine, it remains even nowadays "a deficit of image which represents a deficit of affection" towards Turkey. As we have seen, the weight of history, or rather the teaching of history where Turks are presented as a military threat against Christian Europe; transmission through a film of a Hollywood image of Turkey (more Arabic or Indian than Turkish); and the general attitude of Occidental public opinion (which compares the Turkish government to antidemocratic regimes in Islamic countries), are just a few elements out of so many that nourished popular fantasies and prejudices in the West towards Turks.
Another factor, more determining, is the subjective analysis by Occidental mass media of political problems relative to Turkey. For example, the Kurdish question, which is often presented in a one-sided way, without mentioning the murderous violence of PKK (the Party of Workersof Kurdistan, originally Marxist-Leninist, which ended up eventually taking an ultra-nationalist and xenophobic tone). This organization wishes to found an independent socialist Kurdish State in the southeast of Turkey. The implication of this movement in drug traffic and arms trade is given evidence by European police.  This terrorist organization is moreover firmly condemned by several Occidental authorities. The terrorism of the PKK, which can be similar to that of the groups ETA (Basque) or IRA (Irish), is supported by neighboringcountries of Turkey (Iran, Syria, Greece), and poisons democratic functioning of the regime. Nevertheless, while the Corsican or Basque separatists are qualified as "terrorists", and are being fought against as such, activists of the PKK curiously become "fighting heroes of liberty" in some European papers leading a "just fight" for "the national independence of the Kurds" (sic!).
Also, while the Parliament of Strasbourg voted for heavy penalties because of how Turkey dealt with the Kurdish question, Russia, which commited a genocide crushing the Chechen rebellion in blood, was admitted to the Council of Europe.
Viewing these facts, it is not surprising that Turks have the feeling of being victims of a certain Occidental "hypocrisy", which, moreover, plays into the hands of Islamist movements which are opposed to Turkey’s integration into Europe and which exploit skillfully the frustration of the population towards the treatment Europeans reserve for them. The terrorism of PKK, besides, made vulnerable the diplomatic action of Ankara against criticisms concerning disregard of human rights. At this level, an interaction between the defense of the Kurdish cause and the defense of human rights is noticeable: those that militate for the first are often also those that take part in the second. In France, as in Germany, it is essentially leftist movements, socialist and communist parties, trade unions, such as CGT (french trade union), or even extreme leftist organizations, which constitute the anti-Turkish front. At this level, a question arises: Isn’t the theme of human rights highlighted by these organizations to compromise Turkish authorities, and to give a victims’ image to the PKK separatists, legitimizing thus their fight, and which is even more serious, their methods?
We should also mention another factor, playing a determining role in the perception that Occidentals have of Turks: the influence of powerful Greek and Armenian lobbies. This lobbying is too often concealed, although it explains to a large extent the persistence of a negative image of Turks in the West. Greek and Armenian communities, because of severe historic disputes with Turks, often convey a distorted and subjective vision. It is not rare for an American or for a European to have a Greek or an Armenian among his friends. Greeks took, for a long time, advantage of the nervousness of Turks to slander them more on the international scene. And their discourse had always an impact, because of the favorably a priori which Occidental public opinions nourish in their respect. An important Greek Diaspora in the United States (more than a million people), active and very influential, quite often plays an important role to such an extent that it has perturbed on several occasions Turkish American relations. Armenian communities, as those of France or of the United States, also have a capital of sympathy in Occidental public opinions. Greeks and Armenians had, and still have, a key role (the influence of which one often tends to underestimate) in the vision of Occidentals about Turks.
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