|Why are Turks so
disliked in the West?
Could it have anything to do with there being nary a positive thing
being said about Turkey in the Western media (with the possible exception of the
Whenever there is the rare positive possibility regarding Turks, the
Orthodox folks begin their nutty campaigns to undermine the effort.... such as when
Greek-Americans sabotaged a major movie planned on
the life of Atatürk. ("Greek-Americans and Armenian-Americans ... fear that such a portrayal
might lead to a warming of popular feeling toward Turkey" -- The New
York Times.) When one enters Oriental rug stores, many owned by Armenians,
you will rarely find any carpet labeled "Turkish." The droves of settled Greeks
in America who have gone into the restaurant business have let every preparation of
Turkish/Greek origin be known as Greek... such as "baklava," a Turkish word.
(which most likely indicates its Turkish origin.)
Turk-haters have conspired to feed off on the negative
image of Turkey everywhere. NBC-TV, for
example, purposely devalued the representation of Turkish athletes in their coverage of
the Olympics. America's non-commercial Public Broadcasting System (PBS), which should
ideally be above external influences, is a champion of the Armenian cause.
It's not the purpose of this web site to deeply get into
the unfairness of Western media when it comes to the representation of Turks and Turkey.
However, it is important to understand how negatively Turks are still viewed today, and
the deep-rooted reasons why Americans and other Westerners automatically accept the
anti-Turkish "side" of stories that the Orthodox folks spin. As Pauline
Kael said in her examination of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS... "Who
wants to defend Turks?"
Even to this day, examples of ignorance regarding the portrayal
of Turks in the American media are not difficult to find. Here is how New Yorker
magazine cartoonist S. Gross depicted the Turkish representative at the United
Nations, as recently as 1996.
Dear New Yorker:
In S. Gross’ cartoon
(Oct. 21/28 issue at page 18), “You can’t say the U.N. isn’t trying,” the
Turkish delegate is depicted in supposedly traditional garb, wearing a fez and
cloak. Outside of tourist shops, the fez has not been worn in Turkey since the
proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Prior to that, it had been the
official headgear of the once-proud Ottoman Empire. As the Ottoman Empire decayed in
the late 19th century, many considered the fez an embarrassment, culminating in it
being outlawed by Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first President. Nevertheless, the fez
remains somewhat in vogue in former Ottoman lands in North Africa. In addition, the
cloak the delegate apparently wears is also not traditionally Turkish, but more
consistent with North Africa.
November 5, 1996, The Turkish
media outlets in the United States have gotten their acts together as far as
outdated Turk depictions, but the rest of the world might be far behind. Here's one
from Le Monde in Paris, from Dec. 19 2004. The description stated:
"At Brussels Turkey proves to be difficult candidate for union."
joining the EU unless you straighten out Cyprus!
Leave it to good old France to maintain the outdated depictions. Granted, there is a
bit of leeway in cartooning, and I guess it wouldn't be impossible for a cartoonist
to depict "France" as a man in a striped shirt and beret, carrying a
baguette. (But would putting the Frenchman in 19th century garb be appropriate?) As
a side note, look at the way the "Turk" is looking away, as if guilty.
Never mind that the Greek Cypriots recently voted down the U.N. Plan for
reunification that the Turkish Cypriots had voted for. Never mind, farther back,
that the Greek Cypriots were guilty of massacres, necessitating the 1960 Treaty of
Guarantee, enabling the mother countries to protect their respective minorities.
Never mind the Turks exercised their legal right in 1974 to intervene, to protect
the Turkish Cypriots from getting exterminated, as the coup leader for
"enosis" admitted he would have
later done. Honor, truth and right simply don't matter for "Christian"
European nations.... the Turks must always be the guilty party, no matter what.
France wasn't alone; other recent "European
Union" themed cartoons with Ottoman Turk depictions were featured in Brazil,
Republic, and a country where one would hope the cartoonist should know
(These were part of a 2004 "Don Quichotte" International Cartoon Contest,
"Turkey facing Europe.")
I don't know the author... but in this
apparent academic paper, the following
excerpts beautifully describe the roots of Turk-Treatment in the Western media.
The relationship between West ("Occident") and East
("Orient") is another example of a relationship of power and domination....
Hence, the representation of Turkish people in western literature and cinema is
not different from Middle Eastern stereotype. First of all they are attributed negative
physical characteristics such as ugliness, dirtiness and moral characteristics so that
they are always lustful, fanatical, irrational, cruel, scheming, unreliable, defeated.
Their only reason for existence is to pose challenge to the western hero. For this reason,
if they have any energy it only provides problems to the hero since the characteristics of
this energy are evil. Their countries are passive background to the stories in which all
the important and good things are done by Western heroes like James Bond. If they have a
problem they are not able to solve it, because a western hero is necessary to solve the
problem or at least to show them the way to the solution.  In Western literature we
can easily find various examples in which Turks are presented in association with negative
connotations such as cruelty, religious fanaticism, espionage, dirtiness, drug addiction
etc. For example, Simon Shephard writes about the image of the Turk during the Renaissance
period as follows:
Turks, Tartars, even Persians constituted the infidel powers which neighboured
and threatened European Christiandom. The word "Turk" was mainly used in two
ways, as a generic name for an Islamic State with its own characteristic institutions of
Government and military; and as a description of behaviour or character- the Turks 'being
of nature cruel and heartless'(...) The idea of cruelty was probably produced by the
Turks' distant foreigness combined with an absence from their lives of comprehensible
Christian ethics, but more importantly by their military threat. 
This trend in Early English Stage covers Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlane the
Great (1590) and the Jew of Malta (1592), Thomas Kyd's the Tragedy of Soliman and Perseda
(1599), Fulke Greville's the Tragedy of Mustapha (1609), John Mason's the Turk (1610),
Robert Daborne's Christian turn'd Turke (1612), Thomas Goffe's the Raging Turke or Bajazet
the Second (1631), Ladowick Carlell's the Famous Tragedy of Osmand the Great Turk (1657),
Nevile Payne's the Siege of Constantinople (1675), Elkonah Settle's Ibrahim the
Illustrious Bassa (1677), and Mary Pix's Ibrahim the Thirteenth Emperor of the Turks
In these plays, one of the important Turkish stereotypes is a Turkish tyrant who
seperates two lovers by falling in love with the girl (a naive Turkish beauty) who he has
kept in his possession through force. But because of the faithfulness to her lover who is
a Christian Westerner, she is either rewarded by God with a happy reunion, or she chooses
death instead of the Turkish Pasha's love.  While she analyses the general
characteristics of Elizabethan plays Rana Kabbani writes that "Shakespeare
whitewashes Othello by making him a servant of the Venetian State, a soldier fighting for
a Christian power, and most importantly, a killer of Turks..."  At the 19th
century, due to the cencorship of British Victorian society, eroticism was transferred
either into the world of underground pornography or to "exotic" lands such as
Ottoman Territories. Indeed, some European writers chose Eastern settings and characters
to satisfy their reader's sexual interests. Kamil Aydin writes as follows :
In fiction, the Lustful Turk (first published in 1828) is an outstanding example
of a convention that consists largely of a series of letters written by its heroine, Emily
Barlow, to her friend Sylvia Carey. When the heroine sails from England for India in June
1814 , their ship is attacked by Turks and afterwards they are taken to the sumptuous
harem. In this epistolary novel, readers quickly encounter bizzare sexual scenes and
stories associated with the lechereous and cruel character of the Turkish Dey.All the
erotic fantasies are narrated through Emily as she talks to the other enslaved girls in
the harem, eg. one of the captives in the harem is a Greek girl named , Adrianti, who
tells the tragic story of how her father and brother were slaughtered before her eyes by
the Turks. 
Similarly Lord Byron employed a Ottoman territory for a horror story and started
to write a story about a vampire taking Izmir as the setting.  In his Turkish Tales,
Leile, Zuleika and Gulnare are presented as beautiful, hopeless victims of a Turkish
governor.  At the decline era of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish image took another
form "which is sometimes demeaning, sometimes critically mocking and caricaturised by
Victorian figures such as Bayle St. John, Thackeray, C.Dickens and so on."  In
his Rowing Englishmen, Charles Dickens writes that, "Oh no! We should have been off
anywhere but in Turkey." 
This tradition has not changed in the 20th century. For instance, Paul Bowles
claims that "if a nation [Turks] wishes, however mistakenly to westernise itself,
first let it give up hashish."  Ernest Hemingway clearly states his uneasiness
with Istanbul since it is very dirty and he adds that "[minarets] look like dirty,
white candles sticking up for no apparent reason." 
Films have also produced and disseminated particular negative images of Turks.
For example, in Lawrence Of Arabia (David Lean) the moviemakers present Turks as corrupt,
evil, barbarian, ugly, sodomite peoples by using the point of view of a British army
officer. Similarly, in Pascali's Island (James Dearden) Ben Kingsley plays an ugly, bold,
bisexual Turkish spy who becomes tragically involved with Charles Dancer's tricksy
archaeologist and Helen Mirren's Austrian painter in the middle. Due to his fanatical
jealousy and denunciation, the lovers (English archaeologist and Austrian painter) are
killed by the cruel, ugly, fat, bribee Turkish Pasha of the island. In Johnny Guitar
(Nicholas Ray,1954), the name of one of the bank robbers is Turkey. 
In this context, we need to add that stereotypes about western people are
regarded as structurally central in relation with the stereotypes of Turks because
stereotypes of Turks are partially defined in terms of or in opposition to western people.
 For this reason, the dirty, lustful Turk attains at least some of its meaning and
force from its opposition to the clean, rational, honest etc. characteristics of western
horror propaganda has quite a tradition:
Around 1576, Jacopo Ligozzi created a cruel miniature
entitled Mufti -11 Papa Delli Turchi (a mufti depicted
as the pope of Turkey) with a mostro, thus insinuating
that Turkish religious leaders were masters of "monsters"
Anti-Turkish propaganda and
discrimination is not only one of the oldest examples of psychological warfare, its
duration surpasses by far even the leyenda negra which swept Spain, reaching a new
peak in recent years due to concerted action by Erivan and Athens.
It is: a cocktail of inferiority complex, envy and ignorance; the fame of the Turkish
soldier, fantasies of Turkish love life and history of Turkish civilisation. All that
created an atmosphere which had already culminated half a millennium ago in pictures
like that of the Mufti, (The "pope" of the Turks") and his tool, a
mostro ( monster) - the Turkish nation. An answer is long overdue.
Source: Eric Feigl, A MYTH OF ERROR (Not "Terror"!)
the years of the Armenian "Genocide," editorial cartoons in the
Western press never failed to depict the Turks as having committed atrocities...
in keeping with the slanted bias of
the Western press.
Turcophobic Odds and Ends
The second definition in American English
dictionaries of "Turk" connotes "savage,"
"tyrannical," and/or "cruel."
Say that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk,
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him – thus!
"Othello," William Shakespeare
The Italians have an exclamative that
expresses fright (at times comical fright): mamma, li turchi! -- Mamma, the
Turks (are here, or on the way). Not very nice, is it? And the word
"Turk" here means a generic "Muslim," which makes it
worse; the phrase originates from the fears stirred everywhere in Italy by
centuries of Arab raids, with local inhabitants killed or kidnapped, their
women raped, thir houses and churches plundered and destroyed. (Source
Rare FAVORABLE Depiction of a Turk!
This page is far from comprehensive... it's
hard enough putting this site together without making a serious study of how Turks
are represented in the Western media. (Besides, that is not the purpose of this
site, as mentioned.) This is why there are only a few examples, encountered
arbitrarily, for the most part. Believe me, if I were to put my mind to providing a
series of negative or ignorant Turkish portrayals in America's media, past and
present, there would be no end to this page.
Instead, I wanted to focus on the very rare
portrayal of a Turk in the American media who came across as a "hero."
Let me take you back to the days of the 1970s,
where images like this other "hero" of the time were presented:
I believe this fellow was known
as the Winchester Man... kind of a take on the Marlboro Man (although he was a bit
of a pretty boy to come across as the rugged, macho type, don't you think?) That's
Farrah Fawcett at left, by the way, before she made it big.
Many years ago, cigarette
smokers were looked upon as "cool"... these days, smokers are the outcasts
of American society.
Well, there was another
"cool" smoker in those days.
|MEET THE TURK!
Yes, "The Turk." Camel cigarettes
(one of the few American products that has the word "Turkish" in their
packaging... referring to the Turkish tobacco) embarked on its MEET THE TURK campaign.
"The Turk" was cast in a "James Bond" sort of role, involved in all
kinds of exciting adventures and prancing about in a world of sophisticated glamour.
Beautiful women would always be by his side (although I don't remember if he ever had as
many at once as the Winchester man, above)... in one of the few depictions of the
Turkish male as a worthy lover (I wish I made notes years back... but I came across
several books written by Western travelers — one was from the 19th Century — amazed at
what great lovers Turks can be. Probably the "Lustfulness"... which of course is
meant in a derogatorily lecherous sense... of the "Lustful Turk" stereotype does
point to some enviable truth, in terms of virility).
At any rate, the Turk from Camel's "Meet the
Turk" campaign was the rare example of a Turk in American media who had a really
favorable image. In fact, I can think of no other examples where a Turk was represented in
such a "positive" way.
What happened to The Turk? I'm not exactly sure, but
The Turk was nowhere to be seen, following an apology from a Camel company representative,
concerned that they might have offended some ethnic groups. You can bet the ethnic groups
that complained weren't Turkish!
There was a cop show on television called TURKS a few
years ago that had nothing to do with Turkey... the program was about a family of police
officers who happened to have "Turk" as a last name. (No doubt the idea was that
"Turk" connoted toughness.) I remember reading reports about complaints received
from our Orthodox friends... Heaven forbid Turks should come across positively in the
media, even in such a pathetically small light.
Camel, by the way, is not the first American tobacco
company that showcased a Turkish flavor in their advertising campaigns. Many years ago
(perhaps at its peak in the 1930s?), Murad dressed up their ads with typical images
meant to depict Turks... such as the harem girl pictured here. (At any rate, the
"harem" aspect is probably the first thought that would have come into people's
minds.) Years ago, I was in a restaurant in New York City that had a huge, nearly
wall-sized print of an old "Murad" ad... depicting a fierce Turkish warrior on
horseback, swinging his ever-present sword. (It was beautifully dynamic, and I loved it. I
wish I could have had that barbarian on my wall.)
More on Meet the Turk
and other cigarette ads with Turkish
themes. The first link informs us the campaign lasted from 1974-1980, and that:
The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was
looking for a Camel Filters advertising campaign that targeted the independent individual,
or at least people who thought they were independent. "Meet the Turk"; he is a
man who does the unusual, "he searches for what most men do not even know
exists." This campaign opened on the West Coast about the same time Turkey decided to invade Cyprus. Untimely? You bet.
Billboards in the San Francisco Bay Area were being defaced to read, "Meet the
Jerk" or "Meet the Tur_." Did this negative reaction bother the Turk? Yes
it did, but only from a distance. You see, the Turk was from Manhattan. Meet George Kozul,
a part-time model by day, and a full-time telephone repairman by night. George's father
was Yugoslavian, and his mother of Italian ancestry. At the time of the campaign, George
hadn't been any closer to Istanbul than Coney Island.
Epilogue, the Camel Campaign.
"The Turk" was not
the only Camel mascot who was yanked, thanks to pressure from special interest
groups. JOE CAMEL bit the dust, after advocates criticized the cartoon character for
influencing children to take up smoking. (Notice how Joe Camel could dress up like
The Turk, in James Bond fashion.) It was at that point Camel shelved the idea of
having their product represented by any symbol... they now concentrate on generic,
adventurous scenes. Sometimes the Turkish flavor creeps up in their ads, as in the
example below.... where few Turks would probably object to the outdated
representation provided by the Fez.
Not Done Yet...
IN AMERICAN AND WESTERN CINEMA
3) TURKS IN
Lustful and Terrible