Erdoğan’s Muslim Cubans are Atatürk’s Turkic tribes: a thanksgiving story

Remember when Columbus arrived in Cuba and found native Muslims and a mosque? If you don’t, it is perhaps because you did not know they were Turks in the first place.

As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan re-discovers the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it is timely to recall that both men had an ‘inventive’ view of history, Nick Danforth wrote in 2014.

Claims of national greatness were a necessary step in building national pride and unity, Danforth said, but it helped in another aspect too:

Ataturk’s history was a crucial step toward Westernization. If Turks believed their people invented science, there was no shame in embracing Western technology. And if Turkish was humanity’s original language, there was no harm in borrowing a few French words.

Erdoğan’s revisionism, on the other hand, comes from “his brand of Islamic chauvinism” Danforth wrote, which rejects ‘Western’ or ‘Christian’ scientific tradition.

It is funny that the turkey, a bird native to North America, was probably named after the Turks (16th century Ottomans) in Europe as it symbolised “wealth, exoticism, and cultural sophistication”, Danforth wrote.

But four years after Danforth’s piece, what does Turkey, once the friend and ally of America, symbolise now?