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The Role of Structural Violence and The Denial of Basic Human Needs in Shaping and Maintaining The Modern Turkish Identity

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For a brief period of time I lived with three other men all of whom fellow George Mason students. One was an Azeri Turk from Baku, one a Turkish national from Adana, and the other a Turkish national from Istanbul. All three of whom were very proud of their Turkish heritage often condemning what they saw as the fictional Armenian genocide narrative while insulting historical enemies of the Turks such as the Greeks and Kurds. The individual from Istanbul had a close friend who lived in Belgium and worked for an up-and-coming DNA testing company called GenePlaza. This friend in Belgium said that the company was offering free K29 admixture results in order to gain popularity with the general public. Out of pure curiosity we all agreed to get our DNA tested. Our results were interesting to say the least the individual from Azerbaijan was of 100% Armenian ancestry, the individual from Istanbul was largely of Greek, Sephardi Jewish, and Bulgarian admixture, and the individual from Adana was 50% Georgian, 30% Armenian, and 20% Assyrian admixture. I came back with 22% Bashkir Turkic admixture ironically making me the only Turk in the house we lived in. The results of the tests caused immediate confusion and panic amongst my housemates who immediately inquired with their families about their lineage. To their surprise they found that they could not trace their family trees beyond the 15th century AD, in the case of my Azeri housemate he could not trace his paternal lineage beyond that of the 17th century. To find the answers to this bizarre genetic question we studied the historical context of how these populations became to be known as Turks through conflict. What we found is that the process to create what is now Turkish identity was and to some extent is a series of conflicts steeped in the denial of basic human needs and structural violence against these ‘Turkified’ communities.

Our first discovery we made through this journey through history was that Asia Minor, today Turkey is not the ancestral homeland of Turks rather that is the Atlai Mountains in the southeast of Russia. The indigenous people of Asia Minor are the peoples to whom my housemates shared ancestry with Greeks, Georgians, Assyrians and Armenians who are all primarily of Orthodox Christian faith unlike modern Turks like my housemates (Yunusbayev et al., 2015). Turks did not enter Asia Minor until the 10th century AD when a Muslim Turkish tribe known as the Seljuks invaded what was then the Byzantine Empire (Canby et al., 2016). The ethnic Turks though having dominion over the native populations were a minority and thus to have both political and demographic hegemony over Asia Minor they employed the use of social, economic and political systems that negatively correlated with associations related to what is considered non-Turkish and positively correlated with associations related to what is considered Turkish. Correlations that associated positively for Turkish identity in this regard were practicing Islam, speaking Turkish and engaging in Turkish cultural practices (Speros, 1971). If an individual were to leave his or her inherited identity and become a Turk then they would be socially rewarded with more rights and privileges such as not being required to pay the disbeliever or jizyah tax (Abdel-Haleem, 2010). These systems were further expanded upon when the Osmanli or as its known in Europe Ottoman clan took power in Asia Minor through the institutionalization of the Millet System. The Millet System separated each of the various ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire by ‘millahs’ or nations where each nation was given certain rights, privileges and obligations based off their cultural, ethnic and religious composition (Masters, 2009).

The Millet System provides the best example of how structural violence played a role in the Turkification of indigenous populations in Asia Minor. Structural violence can best be defined as “an unnecessary barrier causing one to not reach their potential”, (Galtung, 1969). The most famous example from the Millet System being the practice of Devshirme, where Christian families who would not convert to Islam were required to send their eldest son to a “Devlet” this Devlet would educate the son about Turkish culture and Islam if the son did not decide to reject his inherited identity and become Turkish then he would be forced to serve as a Janissary in the Ottoman army. Janissaries were almost always put in situations where they were in the most brutal combat and had restrictions that Turkish soldiers did not have for example they were unable to own property, take up another profession or to get married until they retired which usually was when they reached 45 years of age (Perry, 1979). From a first look Devshirme appears to only inhibit Christian men from reaching their potential however this niche within the Millet System, however the system also restricted the potential of Muslim Turkish women as well. By forcing Christian men to spend the majority of their life in the military their access to Muslim Turkish women and vice versa within the Ottoman Empire was greatly reduced. Ottoman law prevented any martial unions between non-Muslim men and Turkish Muslim women and those women who engaged in said forbidden actions were not only punished by the law but in the eyes of the community forfeited their Turkish identity. Interestingly though I contain more Turkic alleles than my housemates because these alleles appeared to be maternal in origin both my great, great etc. grandmother and myself would be non-Turks (Altınbaş, 2014). This aspect of the Millet System may seem bygone due to its Medieval origins however the Turkish Armed Forces controlled region of Northern Cyprus did not remove this aspect from the Northern Cypriot Constitution until 2009 (Constitution of Republic of Cyprus, 2009) further proof of how the Millet System maintains the Turkish identity through structural violence even to this day.Burton defines an individual’s basic human needs as “identity, recognition, role defense and personal development”, (Burton, 1990). To create Turks out of the indigenous populations of Asia Minor the Millet System had to deny all of these needs to vary degrees from the non-Turkified populations. After the First World War the Ottoman Empire was in a state of decay and indigenous Christian populations such as the Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians took the initiative to push for their own sovereignty. In order to prevent the break up of Asia Minor into separate ethno-states the Turkish military forcibly expelled individuals of these identities into places like Syria and Iran in what became to be known as the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian genocides.

Expulsion enough was not the only option for every native Christian in order to not be displaced from their homes many individuals adopted Islam and thus in the eyes of the Turkish government became Turks (Schaller et al., 2008). Demographers refer to these individuals as ‘hidden Greeks’ or ‘hidden Armenians’ and it is estimated from a German study that 10% of the Turkish population can trace their ancestry from these individuals (Hellenthat et al., 2014). This act as a result of the enforcement of the Millet System denied millions of people their basic human need to identity in order to create and maintain the Turkish identity. Identity was not the only one of Burton’s basic human needs that were violated by the Millet System recognition of these identities were also the subject of conflict. In order for an individual of a population under the Millet System to have any rights they had to have their ‘millah’ or nation recognized by the system to begin with. Kurds have never had a recognized millah largely due to their historic nomadic lifestyle and thus the conflict for the recognition of Kurdish identity in Asia Minor continues to this day. Kurds today claim that under Articles 141 and 142 of the Turkish Penal Code, which is “protect the economic institutions and social foundations of the nation” (Turkey, 1960) has been used to suppress Kurdish identity. The Turkish Penal Code has also been used to violate what Burton would call the role defense of Kurds (Avruch, 1998) in that traditional Kurdish cultural practices are forbidden in Turkish schools whereas traditional Turkish cultural practices are mandated contributing to the Turkification of the Kurdish community in Turkey (Letsch, 2017). Finally what can be called the post-Ottoman Millet System violates the personal development of minorities in Asia Minor through their noticeable lack of federal funding for development. For example from 1968-2001 only 2.4% of the Turkish national investment has been into development in southeastern Anatolia where the majority of Turkey’s minorities reside (Ünver, 2001). This lack of investment into development in this region prevents the personal development of individuals in this region whereas the same cannot be said for more Turkified regions. In sum in order to create what Ross would call the ‘symbolic landscape’ of the Turkish nation the Millet System has imposed elements of structural violence upon populations indigenous to Asia Minor and has denied them their basic human needs. Though officially the Millet System ended will the fall of the Ottoman Empire its lasting effects can be seen in the forced Turkification of post-Ottoman Christian populations after World War One and the forced Turkification of Kurds in Turkey today. Since these further revelations were made following the K29 admixture results my then housemates have grown a change in opinion of the populations they used to dislike in the case of my Azeri former housemate he has gone so far as to chose to live in an Armenian community in Los Angeles when he moved to California. It appears that one cannot judge a book by its cover even when that book happens to be yourself.

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The Role of Structural Violence and the Denial of Basic Human Needs in Shaping and Maintaining the Modern Turkish Identity. (2019, August 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 31, 2021, from
“The Role of Structural Violence and the Denial of Basic Human Needs in Shaping and Maintaining the Modern Turkish Identity.” GradesFixer, 08 Aug. 2019,
The Role of Structural Violence and the Denial of Basic Human Needs in Shaping and Maintaining the Modern Turkish Identity. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 31 Jul. 2021].
The Role of Structural Violence and the Denial of Basic Human Needs in Shaping and Maintaining the Modern Turkish Identity [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Aug 08 [cited 2021 Jul 31]. Available from:
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