Why is Turkey considered European? Explained With Unknown Facts


I remember the time when I was a Rotary exchange student in Denmark. I was 19 years old at the time, and the year was 2001.

It was a decade after Eastern European countries like Poland, Ukraine, and Estonia became independent countries when the Soviet Union collapsed.

We were a group of teenagers from all around Europe. In one of the Rotary meetings, an elder Danish asked which of us was coming from Eastern Europe.

I raised my finger, and I remembered the confusion. Yes, Turkey was in the East of Europe but was Turkey really in Europe or a European country? Let me explain.

Turkey is a transcontinental country with parts that are considered in Europe and Asia. Turkey also shares borders with European countries with Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Middle Eastern (Asian) countries Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

The unique location of Turkey and being a bridge between geographies always confused foreigners that try to classify Turkey.

Honestly, our geography also puzzles Turkish people. Yet, geography is not the solution to Turkey being European.

Turkey is considered a European country because Turkey has been a major European power since the Middle Ages. Turkey is culturally, economically, and historically tied to Europe on many levels.

I will give specific details in my post. If you do not agree with me, I think I can convince you or at least change your perception of Turkish Culture and its influence in Europe.

Map of Member States of Council Europe. The countries in blue color are regarded as European countries.

Why is Turkey considered European?

Europeanness should be determined by how much of a culture and the values of a nation are embedded in European cultural identity.

Turkey is not one of the countries that Europeans taught how to be civilized. Turkey is a part of European civilization.

Turkey is not one of the countries influenced by European culture. Turkey is a contributor to European culture and has always been one of the shaping forces.

Turkey is also a founding member of major European institutions, and Turkish society embraces European legal, democratic, and liberal principles.

It is also argued that Turkey is not a European country on the basis of geography and religion. Yet, as far as I am aware, Europeanness is not defined by Christianity.

If you wish to know why Turkey is classified as a first-world country and a Western country, please read my article on this. In this article, I will write more about why Turkey is part of European culture.

1. Turkey is a European Democracy

Today, you may criticize Turkey’s democracy and other practices. Today’s brightest American and European democracies have also lived their dark times and learned from their mistakes.

Please look at the trajectory of Turkish democracy, not Turkey’s today. Even today, Turkish democracy may be the worst in Europe but one of the best when compared with the rest of the world.

Remember, just 80 years ago, when Europe was living through its darkest moments during World War 2, Turkey was the beacon of hope in Europe. 

In the 1940s, Turkey was one of the most democratic countries in Europe, with equal voting rights for women, a secular Republic, and a liberal economy.

At that time, Turkey faced existential threats from Germany in the west and Communist Soviets in the East, yet Turkey did not abandon its core values.

In those times, Turkey provided a safe haven for all regardless of their religion and provided an example of what Europe should be.

Many Turkish institutions benefited from the expertise of these refugees, like my law school, Istanbul University, and Law School.

Professor Andreas Bertalan Schwarz, a jew of German origin, is still respected for his deed for the teachings regarding civil law among Turkish legal scholars.

Can you see the banner “Are British Women Worth Less Than Turkish Women?”? – From a protest for equal pay in the UK circa the 1960s. Source

Turkish Women earned their legal rights earlier than major European countries. To learn more, please read Turkish Women – How and Why They Are Different?

2. Turkey is a Member of European and Western International Organizations

Even when half of Europe was experiencing communism, Turkey was an equal member of the democratic Western World.

Turkey is a regional power in Europe and the Mediterranean and has been part of the Western Alliance since its foundation.

In addition, Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe, OECD, and G20, a member candidate to the European Union, and one of the oldest members of NATO.

Turkey is in accession negotiation with the EU and is in Customs Union with EU countries.

The Council of Europe was an international organization in 1949 after World War II to uphold human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe.

Turkey is one of the 12 founding states of the Council of Europe. Today, all European countries are members of this organization.

Only European countries that are not accepted to the Council of Europe are Belarus and the Vatican. Belarus is not accepted as a member because its human rights record is not complying with European standards.

The Vatican is not a member because it is a theocracy and not a democracy.

Now let me get more specific about Turkish Culture and European Culture.

3. Between 1500 and1850 Turkey was a major power in Europe.

Turkey is one of the oldest countries in Europe and one of the sources of European civilization. Between those dates, Turkey was one of the most advanced countries in Europe.

The Ottoman Empire was an Empire controlled by Turks and the Turkish Dynasty of Osman. The Turkish Empire controlled Southeast Europe and parts of North Africa and the Middle East for centuries.

4. Turkish is one of the main contributors to European Culture

European countries are a diverse set of countries like Estonia, Spain, Ukraine, the UK, Germany, and also Turkey is one of them. 

What makes them European is not where they have territory but their shared culture and history.

Madame de Pompadour, a member of the French court and the chief mistress of Louis XV, is portrayed as a Turkish lady by Charles André van Loo.

Turquerie was the name of the fashion trend in Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries, imitating aspects of Ottoman art and culture. Europe was fascinated by Turkish culture.

Besides fashion, many well-known artists in Europe are known to be influenced by Turkish art and music.

Even Elizabeth I was a fan of Turquerie fashion. Source

Man In Oriental Costume (“The Noble Slav”) by Rembrandt was drawn in 1632. As seen in the picture, European emulation of Ottoman dress was used to portray a dignified, elite appearance.

Rembrandt is one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and one of the most important Dutch painters of all time.

Rembrandt also was influenced by Ottoman culture and thought Turkish fashion symbolized greatness and honor.

You probably heard this music thousands of times but never knew it was inspired by Turkish culture.

Turkish March (Rondo Alla Turca) was a masterpiece composed by Mozart, inspired by Turkish music. Rondo Alla Turca was composed in 1783. 

Mozart had many works inspired by Turkish culture, his opera  Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), also known as Turkish opera, tells a comic story of a Turkish noble.

In the opera, the Turkish noble seems sinister in the beginning but is demonstrated as noble and generous in the end.

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 is also often referred to by the nickname “Turkish” Concerto. The music composition contains slow parts interrupted by Turkish music.

There are countless European art masterpieces inspired by Turkish culture and arts. Yet, the last example I will give is from Beethoven.

Beethoven’s Turkish March

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the most-played composition of all time and the official European Union anthem, is also partially inspired by Turkish music.

Turkey also played a major role in European history. If I were to write them all, It would be a book of European history.

Moreover, I just wanted to give some major facts and some cool facts about Turkish and European history.

Turkish Fashion reflects Turkish culture. You can check Turkish Fashion Brands to understand Turkish Culture. Click here to read 17 Famous Turkish Fashion Brands That You Can Shop Online.

You can find this book on Amazon.

5. Turks helped to save Britain from Spanish Invasion

Lately, It became evident that Turks played a major role in defeating the Spanish Armada and preventing the Spanish invasion of England.

I learned this after reading the Guardian‘s article “Why we must thank the Turks, not Drake, for defeating the Armada.”

Elizabeth I was one of the followers of Turquerie fashion, and she is known to wear Turkish accessories.

Elizabeth I and Turkish Sultan Murad 3 were Pen Pals, constantly writing to each other and exchanging views.

The main English ally was the Turks against the Catholic World, but this fruitful alliance is not emphasized as other deeds of Elizabeth I.

It is known that Elizabeth I, thinks Islam and Protestanism are similar and should unite against Catholic World.

In the era of Elizabeth I, Turks and English coordinated many of their European strategies.

During crises, the Turkish Navy was dispatched to attack Spanish positions in Spain and Italy. For these reasons, the Spanish could not direct all their efforts to invading England.

The Ottoman Navy and its galleys were the most effective and biggest naval force in the Mediterranean.

Spanish ocean-faring large ships lacked the maneuverability of the Turkish fleet and were ineffective in inland seas.

For these reasons, the Turkish Navy was the main naval power controlling the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Barbaros Hayreddin, the Turkish Navy’s grand admiral, holds Poseidon’s trident.

Ever heard of the fictional Spanish pirate Barbarossa? He is Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha, the grand admiral of the Turkish navy, who is characterized as one of the ultimate villains in Spanish culture.

6. France and Ottoman Alliance lasted for centuries

At the beginning of the 16th century, the House of Habsburg was a massive force that controlled Central Europe, Spain, and parts of Italy. 

Francis I, and France were threatened by the House of Habsburg in 1526 and sent a delegation to Istanbul asking for assistance from the Ottoman Empire.

From that year on, Turkey and France supported each other in European affairs, and they formed a political bloc that would balance other Central European powers.

After this alliance, French culture also started influencing Turkey. This political union has also affected both cultures. For this example, 5% of the Turkish language is loanwords from French.

The debt of cultural sharing is extensive. Turkish language, even though the Ottoman Empire controlled Arabic territories and shared the same religion with Arabs, has fewer common words with the Arabic Language.

And most Arabic loanwords are religious terms, whereas French loanwords influence every aspect of Turkish culture.

If you think the Turkish language is Arabic, you are very wrong. Please check my article on Turkish and Arabic Languages.

The Franco-Ottoman alliance that began in 1590 continued for more than two and a half centuries until Napoleon attacked Ottoman Egypt between 1798–1801.

Francis I (left) and Suleiman the Magnificent (right) formed a Franco-Ottoman alliance. The painting was painted by Titian circa 1530 to illustrate the friendship between France and Turkey

7. Turkish Military Tactics Ended Feudalism in Europe

Turkish military tactics and cannons breached the walls of Istanbul, which were considered unreachable.

The employment of cannons and other siege tactics changed the political landscape of Europe.

The castles were more easily breachable with this new technology. As a result, bigger countries were formed in Europe, and the Feudal Ages ended in Europe.

Suggested Reading: Why and When did Istanbul Become Constantinople? A Local Answers

8. Turks Intervened in Europe in desperate times

The Turkish Empire provided sanctuary to desperate people and also to European Kings fleeing from their rival forces.

World War II was not the first time Turkey saved European Jews.

In 1492, Turkey dispatched its flotilla to save and provide sanctuary to Spanish Jews when they faced Spanish Inquisition.

During the Irish Great Famine, Turks were there. The Turkish Ottoman Empire donated 2000 Pounds, but Turks also sneaked their supply ships to Drogheda harbor by breaking the English blockade. Source

For this reason, the crescent is one of the most used symbols in the Irish city of Drogheda.

A copy of the letter sent by Irish nobles to Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid I for his aid to Ireland during the Great Famine in 1847, in Dublin, Ireland ( Ahmet Gürhan Kartal – Anadolu Agency )

9. Turks preserved the Orthodoxy Sect of Christianity

Turks saved Orthodoxy Christianity in Eastern Europe by fending Catholic powers from the Balkans. Turks also preserved the Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul.

Today, the Serbian, Greeks, Bulgarians, Hungarians, and many other European communities are still Orthodox Christians because of Turkish rule over Southeast Europe.

Turkey, unlike other European powers, continued Roman Empire traditions and tolerance of other beliefs. For this reason, assimilation was not the state policy of the Ottoman Empire.

Source Swedish Government Twitter

10. Even IKEA’s Swedish Meatballs are Turkish

Turkish is embedded in European culture so much that Turkish cultural roots in European culture are hidden in plain sight.

Charles XII of Sweden sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire between 1709 – 1714.

By the time he left, he left with great knowledge of Turkish culture and many Turkish soldiers. Those soldiers later did not return to Turkey and were called Askersson (the word asker in Turkish means soldier).

Charles XII is known to start popularizing the Turkish habit of drinking coffee.

Apparently, another thing he imported to Sweden was the Turkish meatball recipe. Recently, the Swedish government admitted IKEA’s meatballs are Turkish meatballs, despite the objections of IKEA. Source Source 2

About the geography of Turkey, please read “Is Turkey in Europe or Asia? Major Things to Know

11. Turkey as the Ultimate Villain of Europe

As a major European power with a different religion and different language, Turkey was something to be feared in the European mind. It was a significant other in Europe.

Turkish fear is still strongly embedded in some European cultures. “Mamma li turchi” in Italian and `Türkengefahr in German are some of the popular expressions relating Turkish people to fear.

In 1480 and 1610, the Turkish sieges of Vienna created so much fear in European nations that twice as many books were printed on the Turkish threat to Europe than the discovery of the New World. Source

This subconscious rejection and fear, I believe, is the major barrier that Europeans not accepting the Turkish people as European.

Yet Turkish culture is everywhere in European culture, from crescent-shaped croissants to yogurt. 

Not many countries in Europe shaped the destiny and culture of Europe, like Turkey.

Turkish people have strong stereotypes, especially in Europe. Learn more about Turkish physical and cultural characteristics as well as Turkish history by reading Are Turks White Caucasian? Who is a Turk?

12. Geographical Location of Turkey

Turkey is a transcontinental country located in both Asia and Europe. According to the classical definition of Europe, 97% of Turkish territory lies in Asia, and 3% of its territory in Turkey is in Europe.

The European part of Turkey is called the Thrace region, and Turkish European territory is nearly the same size as the country of Belgium.

The Turkish population living in the European side of Turkey is more than Belgium’s total population, which is around 12 million.

Yet, in reality, Europe is not a continent. Europe is a peninsula of Asia. Europe being a separate continent is an artificial term. You can best understand this artificial reality in Istanbul.

Istanbul is a city located in Asia and Europe, yet there is no difference between both sides of Istanbul.

Antalya, one of the major tourist destinations of Turkey, is considered to be in Asia.

Still, south of Antalya, further away from Europe, Cyprus is considered in Europe, but the Turkish coast is considered in Asia.

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Efe Genit

I am a father, a passionate traveler, and a Turkish lawyer. You can enjoy my guides and tips about Turkey that only Turkish locals would know.

5 thoughts on “Why is Turkey considered European? Explained With Unknown Facts

  1. Thanks for the insight.I am a political science graduate….I studied a lot about Turkey.I now live in Turkey and will learn as much as I can.

  2. A real eyeopener, how much Turkey did for the Europeans – maybe it’s time to accept and understand the Turks better, this article helps a lot.

  3. they are two turkeys the western turkey which is more European than you have the Anatolian turkey which is completely different culturally and the way they behave
    the European site has nothing to do with the east Turks
    so when you talking about Turkey its a matter of how you see it

    1. Yet, the Anatolian population is very low compared to Western Turkey and coastal cities’ populations. More than a third of Turkey’s population lives in Istanbul alone, not counting other Western cities.

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