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anthropology'dan alınmıştır

Anthropology in the Early Modern Turkish Republic


This paper contains an analysis of the role of anthropology science in the Turkish Nation-state establishment process. The analysis includes how anthropology teaching and anthropology studies developed in Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the scope of anthropology in Turkey and the importance of anthropology in Atatürk’s point of view.

Key Words: Physical Anthropology, Atatürk, Eugene Pittard, Brachycephalic, Dolichocephalic, Şevket Aziz Kansu


Nation-states are the main component of the current international system. It can be said that the term of nation-state firstly occurred after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and following events such as Napoleon Wars (1803-1815) ensured that the notion of nation-state spread throughout Europe. The nation-state establishment was a long and complicated process. During the 19th century in order to create their national values and national identity,  nation-state governments referred to historical archaeology, linguistics, and anthropology very often. Historical archaeology reshaped history books’ contents and linguistic decided the official language and official dialect of the nation. Anthropology was more critical than linguistic and history. In the 19th century, Anthropology was the main tool for proving the superiority of one race over the others. Beginning of the 20th century, many states on the European Continent completed their nation-state establishment process. But bygone empires such as the Ottoman Empire were the exclusions of this generalization. Ottoman Empire was quite a heterogeneous empire that contains many ethnicities, religions and different religious sects. Because of these reasons, creating a nation-state with common ethnic and cultural values was impossible in Ottoman lands. Due to being in the defeated triad of World War I, the Ottoman Empire signed the Serves Treaty in 1920 but this treaty never entered into force. Because the Parliament, which was established in Ankara in 1920 with the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, did not ratify the Serves Treaty. They started the National Campaign which called‘Milli Mücadele’ in Turkish[1]. Mustafa Kemal and his colleagues successfully managed their campaign and in 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne was signed to replace the Serves Treaty. With the Lausanne Treaty borders of the modern Republic of Turkey were settled. Afterward, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk started the reformation series that was called  ‘Atatürk İnkılapları’ in Turkish. This reformation era aimed to establish a new secular modern Turkish state.

Atatürk’s Reformation Era

Behind the Turkish-Nation state establishment, there was an idea reminiscent of enlightenment era philosophy. Atatürk, leader of this process, was a strong positivist person. His national sovereignty understanding was mostly inspired by Rousseau, and indeed he expressed that as well. Turkey, in the 1920s mostly put the 3rd French Republic’s enlightened, secular ideas on the agenda.[2] To fulfill these secular goals, important reformations were held in the 1920s.

Firstly in 1922 abolition of the sultanate[3] and the following years (1924) abolition of the caliphate carried out. After abolishing the last Ottoman institutions in Turkey, Atatürk adopted the primordial history insight.[4] This was also the attempt of -after the abolishing sultanate and caliphate- basing the Turkish nation phenomenon to pre-Islam history. At this point, Atatürk started to give importance to pre-history, archeology, and anthropology. Hereinafter myths in history books such as Prophet Noah’s flood myth was re-written according to archaeological findings instead of religious sources. Atatürk’s biggest initiative for the Turkish national history researches was the establishment of the Turkish History Foundation in 1931.

Atatürk’s other significant reform area was the Turkish language. In 1928 new Latin alphabet reform was prepared and ratified in the Turkish General Assembly. Afterward, a huge literacy campaign started and the new Turkish alphabet claimed as a solution against illiteracy.[5] In order to teach a new alphabet and raise the standards of literacy and numeracy, the People’s Schools (Millet Mektebi in Turkish) opened all around the country. For the project of modernization and removal of foreign words from the Turkish language in 1932, the Turkish Language Association was established. Another important requirement for the sustainability of the new reforms was to establish national modern high education institutions. Atatürk aimed to establish a university which is will defend Turkish revolution principles and take the support of political authority.[6] For, his reason, Atatürk invited Albert Malche from Switzerland for the examination of Istanbul Darülfünun.[7] Since the beginning of the reformation era, Istanbul Darülfünun was not a big supporter of the Atatürk’s reforms. Rather than, Darülfünun was against these reforms. For instance, in 1928 Darülfünun protested the alphabet reform. They did not want any modernization in Darülfünun, they wanted to continue their traditional way of teaching. But it was unacceptable for Ankara, so this institution had to change. After Albert Malche’s report to the Atatürk, in 1933 with the new law, Istanbul Darülfünnun was abolished and instead new modern Istanbul University was officially established with, new administrative and academic cadres. During the University reforms, Atatürk started to look for an alternative institution to Darülfünun in Ankara. In 1935 Ankara Language, History and Geography Faculty was opened. Inside this faculty, Chinese, Indian history and philology, ancient Anatolian history and philology (mostly about Hittites) and ancient Greek history, philology professorships were established. This faculty played a significant role in researching pre-Turkish history.

The main feature of the 1930s cultural revolutions was to place science and religion separately. The strong secular point of view which became the attitude of the government in the area of law during the 1920s, as well applied in the 1930s and the same secular view appeared in the area of science. History researches were shifted to the Darwinist line. In 1932, in the first Turkish History Congress, Şevket Aziz Kansu[8] mentioned ‘Human beings on the earth are a result of evolution and this evolution chain indicates that both human beings and animals share a common lineage.[9]

Anthropological Developments in the 1920s and 1930s

Anthropology science was one of the first research areas in the early Republican era of Turkey. Anthropology science was introduced to Turkey with the name of physical anthropology.[10] First Anthropology studies started in the 1920s at the Istanbul Faculty of Medicine. Turkey Anthropology Research Center (Türkiye Antropoloji Tetkikat Merkezi in Turkish) was established in 1925 in Istanbul just 2 years later the foundation of the Republic. Undoubtedly, one of the important scholars in Anthropological developments in Turkey was Şevket Aziz Kansu. Kansu divided the development of Anthropology studies in Turkey into two periods. The first period was between 1925-1929 and distinguished with the activities of the Turkish Anthropology Research Center which was a center for research and publication. During this period, they were collecting skulls from different graveyards of Istanbul and measuring their skulls. Also, they made comparative researches on the process of Armenian, Greek, Turkish and Jewish children’s growing up.[11] In the beginning, anthropology researches were carried out by medical doctors independent of Ankara. In the second stage which was in the 1930s, anthropology studies were under Ankara’s management.

Anthropology science in Turkey was officially established in the Istanbul University Faculty of Science. Despite between 1930-1933 anthropology conferences were organized by medicine faculties, the first anthropology department was officially established at Istanbul University in the year 1933. The curriculum of the Istanbul University Anthropology department mainly based on studies about race differences. Subject names such as ‘Description and History of Races’, ‘Asian Races, European Races, African Races, American and Oceanian Races’, ‘Anthropological and Race Principles of General Turkish History’ which could be seen in the curriculum at that time period, indicates that approach in anthropology discipline was the physical anthropology oriented. These subjects naturally mentioned the importance of races similar to the studies in Europe during those times. Atatürk also believed in the importance of the races. Physical Anthropology’s findings paved the way for the Atatürk’s 1930 cultural revolutions. According to the Turkey Anthropology Research Center, on Anatolian soils, the battle was won against the Great Powers and the Turkish nation revealed themselves who was in the development process then. If so there should be exclusive features of the Turks and the Turkish race should also have a privileged place among the world nations as well. The role of anthropology was proving of these exclusive features of Turks for the newly established Turkish nation-state.[12]

In 1930s Swiss anthropologist, Eugene Pittard joined Turkey’s circles of science. Eugene Pittard was one of the important contributors to anthropology researches in Turkey. Eugene Pittard knew Turkey very well individually because since 1911 he was doing his studies on Anatolia. He had been in Turkey during the alphabet reform and he mentioned this revolution and praised Atatürk and his 1930s reformations in his studies, also Atatürk read very carefully Eugene Pittard’s book ‘Race and History: An Ethnological Introduction to History’.[13] This book was one of the classics of physical anthropology. Atatürk was quite interested in Eugene Pittard’s studies and researches about Turkey and followed him very closely. Even Atatürk personally attended to Eugene Pittard’s conferences. For the new republic, researching ethnic roots of the Anatolian people was a very important step for the nation-state building and rewriting of the history,  that’s why Eugene Pittard’s studies and researches in Turkey were followed closely by the government even personally by Atatürk. After every excavation, Atatürk personally requested a report about excavation from Eugene Pittard. Researches and excavations were about Hittites, Seljuks, Ottomans… Shortly, researches which was done about the aforementioned civilizations which were established on Anatolian soil were very precious to prove the ethnic roots of Anatolian people. Atatürk mostly interested in Hittites because Hittites were one of the first civilized societies in the Anatolia. Even though some gaps in history, the continuity of Hittites to the current Turkish nation could be built up. Thus filling the gaps became a mission of Turkish archaeologists.’ten alınmıştır.

Racial Roots of Turkey and Large Anthropological Survey

Atatürk started to be acquainted with the roots of the Turkish people and that pushed Atatürk to the race question. For this query, Atatürk chooses his adopted daughter Afet İnan. He directed her to anthropology studies. Atatürk sent Afet İnan first to the city of  Geneva, next to Eugene Pittard for anthropology education. Afet İnan decided her thesis subject according to the consultation with Atatürk. She decided to study on a challenging topic. Until that day, the science world did not give a precise discussion on whether Turks are brachycephalic[14] or dolichocephalic.[15] Since 19th-century different sources were dictating those archetypes with different measurements. (Differences between brachycephalic and dolichocephalic skulls showed in Photo1.1)

Race classification of the Arthur de Gobineau[16], that he did in the 19th-century, was still quite influential in the 20th-century anthropology discipline. According to his classification, there were three main types of Races on the earth. The white race aka Aryan Race symbolizes all noble features of mankind, leadership, and power. Alpine race or yellow race symbolizes stability and efficiency. And The black race is full of desire and artistic motives according to his studies.[17] Generally, the brachycephalic skull was associated with Alpine race and the dolichocephalic skull was associated with the Aryan race. According to Gobineau, the Germanic Race was the best representative of the Aryan race. In the 20th century, Turks mentioned as members of the Alpine race in almost all history books. In order to change this subrace perception about Turks, physical anthropology studies in Turkey gained more momentum. The skull measurements of Anatolian people were used to claim the civilization level of the Turks. For this reason in 1937 with the direction of Atatürk, preparations for the world’s biggest anthropological survey started. Afet İnan also would be using that survey as a source of her thesis. According to the results of the survey %75 of the Turkish people had a brachycephalic skull.[18] However After World War I, Physical Anthropology gained importance and the general attitude towards the dolichocephalic Aryan race thesis. The approach of ‘civilizations have a close connection with the brachycephalic skull’ idea that was set against the Nazi Anthropology in Europe, made the brachycephalic equal to the civilization. With the finding of a larger number of brachycephalic skulls in Ofnet Cave in Germany, it became evident that in the neolithic period there was a Homo Alpinus invasion to Europe. Eugene Pittard divides the late Mesolithic period of Euroasia into two sides such as Europe and Asia. On the Europe continental, there were a nomadic hunter small tribes and on the Asian side, there were people who cultivated crops and, tamed animals. They were living as small communities. If these Asian Homo Alpinus peoples hadn’t come to Europe, then European people wouldn’t be different than Native Melanesians.[19] Afet İnan based her doctoral thesis argument to her advisor Eugene Pittard’s records that claimed civilization transferred to Europe by brachycephalics. The actual origin of this brachycephalics was Central Asia. According to Eugene Pittard and Afet İnan, if these neolithic brachycephalics came from Central Asia they can’t be associated with the Alpinus race. After these brachycephalics were claimed as Turks thus the theory that the Turks belonged to the yellow race completely was refuted.


In the first half of the 20th-century anthropology discipline around the world developed on four sub-branches. These were Physical Anthropology, Prehistoric Anthropology, Linguistics, and Cultural Anthropology.1930s Turkey mainly focused on three of them. Republic preferred to neglect cultural anthropology because cultural anthropology was conflicting with the Republic’s social engineering. Physical anthropology had a distance towards the cultural identity, It was trying to identify people with their bone and skull measurement. The debates on the origin of the race during the first years of the Republic were not based on cultural differences. People were not separated ethnically as Turk, Kurdish, Circassian or Laz instead they were separated with their physical attributes like being brachycephalic or dolichocephalic. Being a brachycephalic Kurdish or Circassian was more acceptable than being a dolichocephalic Turk during that time. These skull measurements did not mean anything in the social sphere and this kind of classification was not showing superiority or inferiority of one race over others. But these anthropological data were very important for the newly established Turkish state. These were the codes of the nation and way to answer the debates on the Turkish race’s origin in Europe.  The Republic of Turkey was established with positivist ideas. To create new national identity anthropology was the main source of the Turkish government. The reason for that, the anthropological findings were based on science, archeology, and biology. Secondly, race-based anthropology was quite popular in Europe during the interwar period, then the newly founded Turkish Republic had to catch Europe fort his area and prove the remarkable features of the Turkish race.



1-) (Date of Acess: 06.03.2020)

2-) (Date of Acess: 10.03.2020)

3-) Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. What Is Anthropology? London: PlutoPress, 2017.


5-) Kyllingstad, J. R. (2014). Measuring the Master Race: Physical Anthropology in Norway, 1890-1945. Open Book Publishers.

6-) Maksudyan, Nazan. Türklüğü ölçmek: Bilimkurgusal Antropoloji Ve Türk milliyetçiliğinin ırkçı çehresi ; 1925-1939. Beyoğlu, İstanbul: Metis, 2016.

7-) Neyzi, O., Saka, H. N., & Kurtoğlu, S. (2013). Anthropometric studies on the Turkish population-a historical review. Journal of clinical research in pediatric endocrinology, 5(1), 1.

8 – )Yerasimos Stefaos, ‘Tek Parti Dönemi,’ Geçiş Sürecinde Türkiye, der.İ.C. Schick, E.A. Tonak, İstanbul: Belge Press, 1990:76-111.

9-) Toprak, Zafer. Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji. Beylikdüzü, İstanbul: Doğan Kitap, 2015.

[1] Known as Turco-Greek War too.

[2]  Zafer Toprak, Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji (Beylikdüzü, İstanbul: Doğan Kitap, 2015), p.70)

[3] This was also solved international protocol problems as well. After the victory of the Turkish Military Campaign, Istanbul Government, which was still represented by the Ottoman sultan, and Ankara government both were invited to Lausanne Peace talks. In order to prevent administrative dualities, the Ankara government abolished the sultanate and declared them the Turkish Grand National Assembly as an only administrative representative of Turkey.

[4] Primordial history insight starts the history from existing of the universe.

[5] Stefaos Yerasimos, ‘Tek Parti Dönemi,’ Geçiş Sürecinde Türkiye, der.İ.C. Schick, E.A. Tonak, İstanbul: Belge Press, 1990:76-111.


[7] The old name of the current Istanbul University. Word ‘Darülfünun’ means Sciences House or Sciences Gate

[8] Şevket Aziz Kansu is a medical doctor. He is one of the students who sent to Europe for higher education by the Turkish Republic. In 1929 he got his doctoral degree in the area of Anthropology from Sorbonne University Paris, Kansu became a professor in 1934 and he was the first rectorate of Ankara University.

[9] Ibid. Toprak. Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji. P, 285.

[10] Physical Anthropology, branch of anthropology concerned with the origin, evolution, and diversity of people. Physical anthropologists work broadly on three major sets of problems: human and nonhuman primate evolution, human variation and its significance, and the biological bases of human behaviour.

[11] Ibid. Toprak, Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji. P, 89.

[12] Ibid. Toprak, Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji. P, 76.

[13] The original French name of book ‘Eugène Pittard, Les Race et l’Histoire: une introduction ethnologique à l’histoire’ Paris: La renaissance du livre 1924.

[14] Brachycephalic means having a head nearly as broad from side to side as from front to back, esp one with a cephalic index over 80

[15] Dolichocephalic means having a head relatively longer than being broad, esp one with a cephalic index under 75

[16] Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau, French diplomat, writer, ethnologist, and social thinker whose theory of racial determinism had an enormous influence upon the subsequent development of racist theories and practices in western Europe.

[17] Nazan Maksudyan, Türklüğü ölçmek: Bilimkurgusal Antropoloji Ve Türk milliyetçiliğinin ırkçı çehresi ; 1925-1939 (Beyoğlu, İstanbul: Metis, 2007), p.16)

[18] Ibid. Toprak, Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji. P, 117.

[19] Ibid. Toprak, Darwin’den Dersim’e Cumhuriyet ve Antropoloji.PP, 466-467-468.