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Afro-Turks

There have been several posts in this blog discussing the interesting places where people of African descent reside (Our Neighbors to the North, Fleeting Glimpses, Early Black British, Seeking Home, Black Communities in Surprising Places). This post focuses on Afro-Turks. The geographic size and the duration of the Ottoman Empire, starting in the 13th century until just after WWI, meant that it had dominion over many people in many places. As various dynasties took control of the empire, many of the subjugated from the 14th century on were enslaved; Ottomans were also involved in the slave trade in Africa, particularly in the late 19th century.

The history site, Ottoman History Podcasts (researched and produced by graduate students at Georgetown University), has two interesting podcasts on various aspects of the history of Afro-Turks. The first is African Diaspora in Ottoman Izmir and the second is Narratives of Slavery in Late Ottoman Egypt. These two podcasts are excellent interviews and discussions of the history, politics, and practice of enslaving people with dark skin and how this played out in the Ottoman and Republic times and the repercussions today.

The National, the official newspaper of United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a very detailed and in-depth article on Afro-Turks and notes that over 10,000 Africans were brought annually into the Ottoman Empire for most of the 19th century. People were employed in a wide variety of domestic jobs, a few on farms. It is estimated the the number of descendants of these people is 10-20,000 but no one knows the accuracy of those numbers.

The BBC is another source of information. They produced a documentary called The Turks Who Lost Their Language, also about Afro-Turks of Izmir.

Ahmet Ali Çelikten 1883-1969
Two examples of 20th century Afro-Turks who have had notable careers and firsts are listed here. Ahmet Ali Çelikten, whose mother was enslaved in Bornu (Nigeria) and brought to Istanbul, was one of the few pilots of African descent from various countries to fly military planes in WWI.

Saìt Sökmen (1942-) is a choreographer, dancer, instructor, and talent agent. His history is not that of enslavement but of a Turkish father (merchant) living in Conakry, Guinea marrying a local woman. They moved to Iskenderun when violence flared in Guinea in the 1950s.

All the links above take the reader to really interesting articles containing a wealth of information about a group of people who deserve to be better known.

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