· culture · 7 min read

Common Misconceptions About Turkey (10 Myths)

Unveiling the truth behind common misconceptions about Turkey

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Although Turkey is one of the most visited countries in the world, Westerners have a lot of common misconceptions about Turkey.

These beliefs make people wary of visiting the country. People who let these common misconceptions stop them from visiting Turkey miss out on the beauty and history of the nation. A quick search would tell them that these myths are just that: myths.

So, what are the common misconceptions about Turkey, and what’s the truth?

10 Common Myths About Turkey

1. Turkey Is Dangerous

The most common misconception about Turkey is that the country is dangerous. Western media has painted the country as a terrible place to visit with daily acts of terror, which isn’t the case.

For the most part, Turkey is a peaceful place to visit. Most crime is related to domestic violence and spousal disputes, which means that tourists only have to worry about tourist and taxi scams.

The only dangerous part of Turkey is near the Syrian border. Tourists and locals avoid the country’s southern border due to the violent disputes that can cross into Turkey.

Luckily, this danger is contained. Tourists are heavily warned against visiting the southern part of the country, with most organizations focusing their tourism in the north of the country.

As long as you watch your bag and don’t get in unmetered taxis, you’ll be safe following any Turkish itinerary in the north.

2. Istanbul Is The Capital City

Although Istanbul is the best-known city in Turkey, it isn’t the country’s capital. Istanbul was the capital of Turkey until 1923, back when it was still called Constantinople. 

After the Turkish war for independence, the capital was moved to Ankara. 

Much like Toronto in Canada, many people assume that Istanbul is the country’s capital since it is the most populous city in the country. This common misconception leads to more people visiting Istanbul than Ankara each year.

Ankara should not be missed. It holds monuments of great historical significance to Turkey, like the tomb of Ataturk - the man who helped change the capital of Turkey.

3. Turkey Is Named For the Bird

That bird you get for Thanksgiving did not give the country its name.

Turkey means “land of the Turks,” which referred to the people who lived in the Anatolia region. This was long before the discovery of the New World and the bird we now call the turkey.

The bird actually gets its name from the country in another misconception. There was a bird in Turkey, a brown guinea fowl, that the Europeans named after the country where they were introduced to it. When they found the modern turkey in the New World, they assumed it was the same bird and named it the “turkey.” 

Although the country gave the bird its name, they actually have no connection. Ironically, the Turkish people call the same bird the “Hindi” because of the misconception that North America was actually Eastern Asia.

4. The Country Is a Desert

Many people assume that Turkey is a desert country filled with sand and camels.

In reality, there are no deserts in Turkey. The land is incredibly lush, filled with sprawling grass fields covered in ancient ruins.

You won’t find any native camels in the country either. All of the camels in Turkey have been imported for tourists who expect a camel ride in the desert in Turkey.

Perhaps the photos of Cappadocia and the brown columns of the Fairy Chimneys beneath hot air balloons aided the confusion. 

Likely, the misconception came from the idea that all Middle Eastern countries are deserts.

5. Turkey is an Arabic Nation

There is a double misconception in the idea that Turkey is a desert because the country isn’t actually Arabic.

Although 98.6% of the population is Muslim, Turkey is a secular nation with no religious requirements for its citizens.

This is why, while you’ll find mosques and calls to prayer throughout Turkey, you’ll also find alcohol and nightclubs.

Some smaller towns participate in Ramadan across the area, including changing store hours and not selling alcohol. Most major cities aren’t impacted by religious holidays or Islamic dietary requirements.

6. Turkey Is Very Conservative

The misconception that Turkey is a very conservative country comes from the assumption that it’s an Arabic country. People believe that the country enforces specific dress and behavior based on Islamic beliefs, which many Westerners would consider strict or conservative.

Actually, Turkey is a very liberal nation. There are few cultural rules that foreigners need to follow to respect the nation’s beliefs.

Although the country allows alcohol, just as in most places, getting overly drunk is frowned upon.

Turkish women have a lot of freedom and are not controlled by their husbands. The nation’s gender dynamics may seem more conservative than in Western society, but the country is viewed as very liberal in the Islamic belief system.

You will find some conservative pockets of the country, especially in small towns, where people will not understand unmarried couples sharing rooms or women dressing in revealing clothing.

In major cities, no one will question you sharing a room with your boyfriend, which is considered unusual for such a predominantly-Muslim country.

7. All Women Wear Burkas

People assume that Turkey is conservative and that women must wear burkas - including visitors. That is not the case.

Women in Turkey are free to choose how they would like to dress. Under their Islamic beliefs, they do not wear revealing clothing, but many wear Western clothes.

Turkish women often opt to cover their heads as a sign of respect. Female tourists do not have to do the same unless they are visiting a mosque.

Many female tourists assume that they will need to dress in a burka or wear a headdress at all times to fit in. Actually, they only need to wear modest, loose clothing to show respect for the citizen’s different religious beliefs.

8. People Wear Fezzes Daily

The belief that modern people in Turkey wear the Fez seems to come from outdated movies.

The Fez was a historic piece of dress from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century as part of a military uniform. It was a reaction to the European army’s outfits and strategies, which the Turks took inspiration from. They needed a unique moniker to set them apart, which led to the creation of the Fez.

Nowadays, you’ll see the Fez in tourist districts for visitors to purchase or photograph.

In reality, Turkish people do not wear the Fez in their day-to-day life. They wear modern clothing that would not attract tourists the way that the Fez does, which is why it has continued to be worn in tourist districts.

9. Turkish Men Practice Polygamy

It is a common misconception that Turkish men marry multiple wives as part of their Islamic faith. This idea probably came from Western society’s ignorance of the Muslim belief system.

In reality, Turkish men practice monogamy, meaning that they marry one wife, like Western society.

The fear created by Western media about Muslims has led to a number of these claims that are not based in reality but impact peoples’ views. 

10. Turkey Isn’t Modern 

There is a common misconception that Turkey isn’t a modern country. This belief probably connects to the idea that it is mostly desert and camels, with people still wearing 19th century Fez around the country. Or the belief that Muslim people are not as advanced as the West.

Turkey is a modern country with all of the advances in most European countries. Istanbul has an incredible metro system that makes the city very accessible. Most places in the country have internet access, with hotspots at cafes like in any other country.

Although Turkey has its own unique sense of history and culture, you will find the trappings of modern life throughout the country.

Closing Thoughts

Most of the common misconceptions about Turkey originate from one myth: that Turkey is an Arabic nation. This spawns beliefs that the country is not modern, is dangerous, and requires strict dress codes for women.

Once you look past these misconceptions and see their faulty roots, you’ll be able to see the reality of Turkey. The array of historical sites and the country’s rich culture will overpower these ignorant myths and inspire you to book a visit to Turkey.