Photo: William Peruguni/Shutterstock

7 False Assumptions People Make About Turkey

by Julia Kitlinski-Hong Nov 28, 2016

1. It has Middle Eastern politics.

Unlike its neighbors Iran and Iraq, politics and religion in Turkey are kept strictly separate. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was responsible for creating a secular country when he became the first president of the current Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Recently, though, the country has been moving towards more conservative views with the current presidency, even though many Turks are against this movement. The Gezi Protests in 2013 were a major outcome of the growing discontentment for the current government, especially with young Turks.

2. The whole country is very unsafe.

With the recent bombings in major cities and a failed political coup, there is no denying that the landscape of Turkey is changing. That being said, it’s not fair, or correct, to group the entire country into one large generalization. It’s a huge nation.

The southeastern region of Turkey is one of the most volatile areas given its close proximity to Syria. On the other side of the country in the west, cities like Izmir are much safer, where there have not been any major incidents.

3. All Turkish women wear burkas.

Although Turkey’s population is 99 percent Muslim, this does not mean that all women cover themselves from head to toe. Some women wear burkas, some women wear headscarves, and some do not cover their heads at all. It is up to the individual woman and her religious beliefs.

In larger cities, women feel freer to wear whatever they want, but in smaller towns that tend to be more religious, there is more social pressure to dress more conservatively.

4. Turkish men can have many wives.

A major part of Ataturk’s creation of the Republic of Turkey was that he outlawed polygamy. If a man is caught with more than one wife, he is punished with two years in prison.

This stereotype often comes from media coverage of small villages where men marry multiple wives through religious ceremonies. These marriages are not seen as legal in the eye of the law, though, and can be penalized harshly if discovered.

5. Gender roles in Turkey are very traditional.

Due to the country being largely Muslim, Turks are often believed to continue to maintain rigid gender roles at home. While this may have been the case in the past, there are women who go on to become doctors, engineers and lawyers (fields that were male-dominated in the past).

While there are also women who are housewives, a woman’s career path in Turkey depends heavily on her education level and the environment that she was raised in — much like women in the United States and other western countries.

6. Turks have a meat-centric diet.

Turkey may be famous for its kebabs that come in many shapes and sizes, but kebabs aren’t the only food that defines Turkish cuisine. The various regions in Turkey all have their own special dishes that they are known for. In the Black Sea region, anchovies are a major staple in the diet. In the eastern city of Van, lavish breakfast spreads with bread, egg, cheese, olives and tomatoes are the norm.

Turkish cuisine also has a lot of vegetarian dishes like simple salads with tomatoes, cucumber and arugula, and cooked vegetables like eggplant with garlic and yogurt. Vegetarian dishes can easily replace a meat dish for a meal.

7. Turks speak Arabic.

The national language of Turkey is Turkish, not Arabic as some might think. The Turkish language is not at all related to Arabic, and in fact is part of the Altaic language family that includes Japanese and Korean.

The main minority language spoken in Turkey is Kurmanji, also known as Northern Kurdish. This language is spoken mostly in southeastern Turkey where a large population of Kurds live.

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