Turkish historian Hayrullah Yigitbasi: We are all Attila's grandchildren

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hayrullah Yigitbasi is a historian, lecturer and a passionate researcher of Hungarian-Turkish relations. He organizes the Hungarian day in Rodostó and he is convinced of the authenticity of folk memory.

How did you come into contact with our country?

I travelled to Hungary for the first time in 1997; since then, my attachment to the country and the people of the land have grown ever stronger. I made Turkology research in Hungary. I'm a general Turkish historian, which means I'm researching the pre-Islamic period, which is an integral part of Hungarian history as well. Namely, we lived at the same area, and the two people were in close contact at that time; the Ottoman times were not the first time we met. Hungarians had a very prominent place in the history of the world in the Middle Ages. I felt the need to learn Hungarian and research Hungarian sources. In general, all Turkish people are interested in Hungary; the love of the Hungarian people is an integral part of the Turkish tradition for thousands of years. But even in accordance with the Hungarian tradition we are brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. The Turks, in one thing are very grateful to Hungarians: You started Turkology research, and the world's first Turkology Department was established at ELTE University in Budapest, which is still continues researching the subject.

You speak excellent Hungarian.

I was very afraid of the Hungarian language the first time. For example, I spent two and a half years of my life to learn Arabic, I spent two years to learn English. Then I started learning the Hungarian language, I was shocked to realize how easy it was to me to learn this language; roughly, after about six months, I was semi-fluent, and I made a Hungarian language exam. All of my initial fears have gone: I noticed that Hungarian has the same logic and grammar like the Turkish language, and we have many common words, which are not originating from the Ottoman period but are part of the deep structure of the language. I had the feeling that Hungarian was a dialect of the Turkish language. But you should know that the Hungarian language carries the characteristics of the western-Turkish structure, while the Turkish carries its eastern characteristics.

According to the good old tradition, a major war is going on in Hungary, among those supporting the Finno-Ugric and those advocating the Turkish origin of our language. What is your take on this issue?

The Finno-Ugric theory is the officially accepted theory of the Hungarian government and has already entrenched in common thinking since about 150 years, but the Altaic origin is a two thousand years old tradition. I feel the Finno-Ugric theory beginning to lose its significance, and the Altaic seems to grow ever stronger. The view of Finno-Ugric theory may change first, among academics and later, among the population. We, Turks have no right to take sides in this academic debate. My job is to compare Hungarian and Turkish linguistic structures and come to some kind of conclusion. But Turkish society too has something to say about the identity of Hungarians.

Turkish society is very open towards Hungarians, but how do you see the attitude of Hungarians?

I have been regularly travelling to Hungary since eight years, I feel Hungary is my second home. I've received only love, respect and support. To show my gratitude I want to get involved more intensely in the development of bilateral relations between the two nations and peoples, as the two are not the same: the nation is a current formation, made up by people; we have to work on the relationship between the two people – we have already achieved many results in this area. The relationship between nations is different, it is a three-dimensional event, it has past, present and future; concerning people we talk about present and future expectations.

Could you tell us specific examples of Hungarian-Turkish relations?

Turkish sources reveal that in the 1890s 3600 Hungarian companies worked in the Turkish state and military machine. At that time, for a Hungarian it was a excellent career choice to work in Turkey. This course lasted roughly until the Second World War. The First World War was a catastrophe for both countries, after that a war of independence erupted in Turkey, which lasted for three years: there was collaboration between Hungry and Turkey during the development of the modern Turkish Republic as well. The founder of the Turkish state, Pasha Mustafa Kemal sent home the German and U.S. experts after five years and replaced them with Hungarians that spiritually closer to the Turks. Hungarians played an important role in Turkey's modernization. This was the time when Lajos Fekete and famous Hungarian composer Béla Bartók came to Turkey and became the founder of Turkish classical music.

A sensitive issue, the Turkish presence in Hungary, which we interpret differently: some people think the Turkish presence was a culturally creative time, but according to the opinion of the majority, the Turkish invasion caused irreparable damage to Hungary.

The expansion of the Turkish empire in Europe had several reasons, which range from religious to economic ones. Because of the differences in culture and religion, Hungarians felt it was an occupation, but the pressure came from the west that planned to drive the Turks out of Europe and push them back to Asia, they fought over this issue for centuries. The wars with the Kingdom of Hungary until the battle of Mohács took the characteristics of a crusade. In Europe, always the Hungarians that started the war. The Turkish military most feared the Hungarians and often retreated; they laughed at the Serbs, the French, and the German, but they feared the Hungarians and therefore, they revered them. I've read in several historical documents that to go and fight in Hungary meant to test yourself. Hungarian-Turkish relations during the occupation have several aspects not known by Hungarians. For example, Hungarians don't known how effective was the Turkish support to Rákóczi. The Sultan received Rákóczi in Edirne and he was very impressed by him. He received him with royal honor and called him the King of Hungary, because he wanted to see the Prince of Transylvania as a King of Hungary. In Turkish history nothing new about the fact that Hungarians served in the environment of the Sultan, and in the Turkish army. This is a less known aspect of Turkish-Hungarian history.

You really believe that during the Turkish rule in Hungary there was a sense of brotherhood between the Turkish military and the oppressed Hungarians hiding in swamps for fear of being captured.

I talk about the Turkish point of view: Hungarians view their own history, as they wish, we can't say how to think of your history. The Turkish world made up by 250 million people. In the Turkish folklore, which includes the Khazaks, Turkmens and the Turks in Macedonia the legend of brotherhood with Hungarians is still alive. Until the 1930s Turkish history called Hungarians Turks. Interestingly, in the thirties the Finno-Ugric theory started gaining ground in official Turkish history. Today, Turkish high school textbooks teach the Finno-Ugric theory too. In Turkey about 50 percents of scholars support the Finno-Ugric theory. The reason is that many Turkish students who studied in Hungary, familiarized themselves with the Finno-Ugric theory, and when returned they endorsed this theory. It is noteworthy that even this couldn't erase the idea of common origin of the two people from the Turkish people's mind. As a counterexample, the concept of Turan originates from Hungarians epitomizing the spirit of Central Asia. Hungarians had initiating role in the development of Turkology, Hungarians have always been at the forefront of this discipline: In the U.S. there are thirty Ottoman, Turkology, and Altaic university departments researching these field and seventeen of them headed by Hungarians! I repeat, everyone is entitled to formulate his own identity. Legends often hold true over time.

Is there any way to bring the Finno-Ugric and the Altaic theories closer together?

Regarding the Finno-Ugric theory, I am of the opinion that first, it was invented then a few people made a theory out of it by establishing it on a few hundred common words. I believe that at least three thousand Turkish words are in the Hungarian language, and the grammar is almost the same as that of Turkish. Turkish people think that there is a nation in the west who are Attila's grandchildren, who converted to the Christian faith. If a Turkish person reads the story of Árpád he immediately recognizes his kinship with Hungarians. There is a tendency in every nation to look for its own kind. You too have come thousands of miles to meet with your brothers and sisters lived in the Carpathian basin. History is not one hundred percent objective science, and it needs to be subjective too because it's about people.

(MNO – – translated by


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