How do Turks treat black people

Scratches in the Turkish image of history

Even as a child, Mustafa Olpak wanted to know why his skin was so dark that the children in his hometown Ayvalik mocked him as an Arab. For years he had asked his grandfather, who always sat silently in a corner and stared out of the window, in vain, up to one day in the last year of his life:

"'Grandfather, where are you from? Why are we so different?' I asked him again. Then he got up, went into the next room, took out a map of the world and spread it out on the table. 'Show Grandfather where you come from 'I said. Then his finger pointed, trembling, at Africa. "

Olpak, 54 years old and a stonemason by trade, wrote the incredible story of his grandfather in two volumes: "Köle" is the name of the first book, in English "slave". Because his grandfather and grandmother, whom he met in captivity, once came as slaves from Kenya via Crete to Turkey. Crete, part of the Ottoman Empire 130 years ago, was on the route of slave ships. Wealthy landowners like to buy a serf for the kitchen or garden. The fact that the sultan had officially banned the slave trade in the empire in 1857 could do little to help. After the independence of Crete and the expulsion of the Turks living there, Mustafa Olpak's grandfather was also washed up on the Turkish Aegean coast. He was a free man, but destitute, and therefore had to continue his life as a servant and assistant to rich people.

Olpak's family biography scratches the official image of the Ottoman Empire. The Istanbul historian Hakan Erdem was also one of the few who dared to tackle this unrepentant chapter:

"It is often contested, but there were slaves and slave owners in the Ottoman Empire. However, there was one special feature: The Ottomans had an open slave system, which means that the slaves were allowed to have contact with the outside world, they were allowed to marry and were also rare Imprisoned for life. So it came about that many Africans were integrated into society at some point. "

Both the historian Erdem and Mustafa Olpak had to endure furious attacks from ultra-nationalists. Because in the Turkish view of history, unlike the "imperialist Europeans", the Ottomans were not exploiters. And even today many Turks do not want to admit that there is racism among them too.

When the English Football Association opened proceedings against Newcastle's Turkish midfielder Emre Belözoglu at the beginning of the year for allegedly insulting dark-skinned teammates as "monkeys", the national team's fans were outraged. The Turkish mass newspaper "Hürriyet", convinced of Belözoglu's innocence, posted a preconceived letter of protest on its website. But blacks in Turkey also complain of discrimination in everyday life. John, a refugee from Nigeria who has lived in Istanbul for four months, shares his experience with the police:

"They just don't like black people. They treat us like the last one. We are constantly stopped and checked. If we don't have ID, they take us to the police headquarters, and some of them have simply been held there for weeks."

Mustafa Olpak has now founded an "Association of Turks of African descent". He suspects that 2,000 descendants of slaves still live in Turkey today. And since Olpert's family biography, more and more people have dared to tell of their own fate. A documentary about Olpak and the harrowing life story of his grandparents was even shown on state television recently, but only at two in the morning. At the end of the film, the stonemason Mustafa Olpak says, not without pride:

"The first generation of my family suffered, the second denied it, and the third is researching it. My parents and grandparents could not determine their own lives. I think it is a success of the freedom in which I live today, that, against all odds, I was able to write down everything about my origins. "

Mustafa Olpak would soon like to travel to Kenya, the land of his forefathers, about whom he had not known for a long time.