In the great Koroltag, the brotherhood of the Turkic peoples is celebrated

A cloud of dust in the distance betrays a group of horsemen galloping across the great galactic plain. Applause and cheers can be heard from the canvas-covered semi-circular amphitheater, where thousands of visitors welcome the magnificent procession of nomadic warriors on horseback. The knights in traditional costume represent the 27 Turkic peoples living throughout Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and each bearing their own flag. They drive through a gate of wooden pillars, between which is a stretched piece of cloth with a savage image of Attila the Hun.

It is national legend making at its best. In the amphitheater are distinguished guests, such as the speaker of the Hungarian parliament and other prominent members of the ruling party Fidesz, ministers from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Yildirim begins his speech “Atila’s Descendants”. “This event is an opportunity for people of Turkish descent to meet and learn each other’s language and to cooperate in the political, cultural and scientific fields. As the President of the Turkish Council, I am happy to see that.”

In the great Kurúltaj, the brotherhood between the Turkic peoples and the nomadic culture of their ancestors is celebrated. The festival is in part a historical costume, a pseudo-scientific conference, and an expression of Hungarian and Turkish nationalism. There are archers and hawks, concerts of Mongolian throat singers, lectures on archaeological and genetic research into Hungarian origins, and stalls selling swords, clothing and traditional foods, from Hungarian sausage to Turkish döner. Beer and tea flow freely.

Etelközi Bata Nimród (72), a brave retiree from Budapest, comes to Great Kurúltaj for the fifth time. “It feels like a pilgrimage every time,” he says. With his long gray hair, beard, and walking stick decorated with runes, Nimrod looks like a priest. “It is about loneliness, the shared love of nomadic culture, and the appreciation of the ancient brotherhood between Hungarians and Turks. Many people here become friends within five minutes. The last edition watched the shamanic wedding of a Turkish couple.”

Great Eurasian Steppe

The festival is based on the idea that all Turkic peoples originated in the great Eurasian steppe, a vast grassland stretching from Eastern Europe to Western China. Although Turks, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Uyghurs, Tatars, and Azeris are all Turkic peoples, who may once have shared a common language, they differ in many ways after centuries of disparate pasts. Since the Turkic steppe peoples did not leave any written records, historical research is difficult. This leaves plenty of room for myth-making.

In the Romantic past, the Huns are descended from the Huns, the nomadic warriors who terrorized the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Turns out these ideas were very much alive at the festival. The 14th edition attracted tens of thousands of visitors in mid-August: mostly nationalist Hungarians, but also thousands of Turks from Germany and other European countries, and many people from Central Asia. The festival grows every year, especially after it has been embraced by the Hungarian government. It is organized by the Hungarian Turanian Society, which is supported by Turkey.

The festival is an expression of Hungarian and Turkish nationalism

“This is the largest gathering of Turkic peoples in Europe,” says anthropologist Andras Zulte Biro, president of the association and the great man behind the festival. He wears his long black hair in a ponytail, a blue silk coat with silver knights and riding boots. Research shows that Hungarians are closely related to the Turks. Hungarian has many similarities with the languages ​​of Central Asia. And the Hungarians have more Asian DNA than the Turks from Anatolia, because they mixed with the Armenians and other peoples. So you can say that we are more Turks than Turks.”

The return of turanism

The popularity of the great Kurúltaj illustrates the remarkable revival of Turanism in Hungary and elsewhere in the Turkic world. This political and cultural movement can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when romantic nationalism and scientific racism were in vogue. Turanism attaches great importance to the common descent of Hungarians and Turks in the Caucasus and Central Asia. They strive to cooperate, advance their common interests, and defend themselves against the great powers of Europe.

The return of Turanism is in keeping with the national climate prevailing in Budapest, Ankara, and elsewhere. As his relations with Western countries deteriorated, Orbán sought allies in the east, such as Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan. Urban called this the “Oriental Opening”. In 2013, Hungary became an observer member of the Turkish Council. In Turanism, Orbán found a ready-made ideology that he could use to strengthen relations with the Turkish world. It fit seamlessly into his nationalist and anti-Western course.

However, it leads to contradictory situations in Great Kurúltaj, where veiled Turkish women roam around half-drunk Hungarian nationalists. How does that fit with Orban’s controversial speech last month, in which he sharply criticized the mixing of European and other races? “we [Hongaren] We are not mixed, and we do not want to be,” Orban said. He added that countries where Europeans and non-Europeans mix “are no longer countries.” European politicians spoke of pure fascism.


“You could call us a racist,” says Ladu Elemér, a tall Hungarian with a white shirt, scorched face and short beard. But our nationalism is not what the media portrays it. It’s not about excluding people, it’s about being aware of your national identity. For centuries the Ottomans fought and died for our culture. Now the Europeans let the Muslims in. Orban’s speech sparked hysteria in Europe. But he spoke of our weakness. Our culture is in decline.”

Elmir comes from Transylvania, a region in Romania with a Hungarian minority. He sees rot all around him. His grandfather fought as a Hungarian soldier in both world wars. Hungary came out on top as the biggest loser, losing two-thirds of its territory. Millions of Hungarians lived in another country overnight. But the relationship with the old homeland remained. Like many Hungarians in Romania, Elémer watches almost exclusively Hungarian state television. His son hardly speaks Romanian.

There are archers and falconers, parties for Mongolian throat singers and other artists

“The Hungarian population in Transylvania has been shrinking for hundreds of years because people are not having enough children,” Elmer says. “Who will replace us? The peoples who make the children: Romanians and Gypsies. As a result, we lost that place and that culture. When the Turks come here, they are welcome as friends. But I don’t want them to change my culture and the rules in my country. Now the Europeans say: “You can change Everything, we don’t need our culture. Come here and work for us, we are old and want to enjoy our retirement. But that’s not how it works.”

Although Turanism strives to unite all peoples with roots in the steppe, the question of who belongs to them has always been moot. The centuries of war between the Ottomans and the Hungarians were not forgotten. According to the famous Turkish sociologist Ziya Kokalp, who popularized Turanism in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, these ideas were intended for the Turkic peoples. Other steppe peoples are very different, such as the Finns and Hungarians.

Religion as a source of identity

Kokalp’s ideas are the basis of the Turkish Republic. They had a great influence on the reforms made by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the War of Independence. He envisioned a secular, nationalist state based on the Western model, but inherited a state in which religion was the main source of identity. Turanism brought a solution. It became an important building block in the formation of modern Turkish identity, based not on Islam, but on a legendary national history and strong ethnic identity.

Through education, books, films, and television series, such as the nomadic hero Tarkan, many Turanian theories have become popular in Turkey. So were the darker aspects of Turranism that the state used to deny Kurdish identity and legitimize the oppression of minorities. In books with titles such as The Kurds: a Turkish clan from Turkestan The Kurds were allegedly “mountain Turks” and spoke a Turkish dialect. Many of these ideas are still widely held.

“In the seventies, I read a lot of books, especially historical novels, also about Tarkan,” says Ahmet Aytak, a Turkish journalist and writer from Belgium with a drawn face, glasses and a Bedouin hat. He sits with his wife and son in the shade of a round tent used by nomads in Central Asia. “The first writers who impressed me were Dia Kokalb and Hussain Nihal Atsiz. They set me on the path of Turanism.”

Actions for Uyghurs

Aytac was invited to the Great Kurúltaj, as President of the Euro-Turkish Association. He organizes small activities in the European Parliament in Brussels, for example when it comes to Uyghurs. Belgium is a safer place for political activity than Turkey. In the late 1970s, Aytak was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his alleged involvement in left-right political violence that has pushed Turkey to the brink of civil war. Aytac was a member of Gray Wolves, the notorious youth movement of the nationalist MHP.

In prison he developed into a writer who published articles in Turkish newspapers and wrote several books. “I was tortured in prison by gray wolves because I wanted to get away from the movement,” says Aytak. But I was related to an ex-Minister of State so they couldn’t break me. The Gray Wolves were in an intellectual crisis. We were inundated with the free books that Islamists sent us. Many began targeting religious communities. But I understood their intentions and went to investigate myself. ”

After his early release in 1988, Aytac left for Belgium. He often visited Turkey until he was accused of insulting Erdogan several years ago. As an Islamist, Erdogan was not fond of Turanism for a long time. His politics is based more on his identity as a Muslim than on his being a Turk. That changed when he formed an alliance with the MHP after the failed coup in 2016 and began promoting a strong Islamist nationalism. Now he always makes the Gray Wolves trap him in political events. But the same goes for the many Turkish visitors of the great Koroltag, and they are not always behind the chief.

“Erdogan is using Turanism only for the benefit,” said Sinan Ogan, a Turkish parliamentarian from a region near Azerbaijan who left the MHP in protest of the alliance with Erdogan. It is in a square belonging to the Turkish municipality of Bursa, where the city is promoted as the center of the Turkish world. Young Turks are genuinely interested in ideology. He has lived under Erdogan’s Islamist rule for twenty years and sees that he has brought nothing but millions of Arab refugees. Young people are looking for an alternative and they end up with Turranism.”

According to Ogan, the ideology has also been on the rise among young people in Central Asia and Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Not only because tens of thousands of young Central Asians have studied in Turkey, but also because these ideas are now easier to spread through all modern means of communication. “People want to feel like they belong,” Ogan says. “If they belong to the Turkic world, they feel stronger.”

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