Turkey always takes pride in itself for having cultural richness and of being home to an ethnically diverse population, mostly due to opening its doors to people who had to leave their homeland for different reasons.
Today, a considerable amount of the country's population have their origins in different regions notably the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus, most have fled from their homelands due to wars. Among them, there is the lesser known African community, recognized as "Afro-Turks," they have two mayoral candidates running in the western İzmir province for the March 31 local elections to represent their identity.
The way of African candidates' positioning themselves in the political spectrum is significantly diverging. Forty-seven-year-old Mesut Mercan from the Dinka tribe of Sudan, defines himself as a "Turkish nationalist," and will compete as a candidate for the center-right Democrat Party (DP) in the Selçuk district of İzmir in the upcoming elections. "We came here 400 years ago and now have a big family. I want to serve my homeland, which we have been living in for four centuries, just as my ancestors did," he said.
Stressing that he aims to better promote African culture in Selçuk and develop socio-cultural relations with African countries, Mercan also has many municipal projects in the fields of environment, transportation, infrastructure etc. He is also dubbed in the local media as Selçuk's Obama, referring to the 44th U.S. President Barack Obama.
According to Turkish experts' studies, there are about 20,000 to 25,000 Afro-Turks in Turkey, who were brought from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Libya and Egypt mostly during the 16th century for various reasons such as agricultural work and military service. They have mainly assimilated into the Turkish-Muslim community, but a couple of villages with predominant African-Turkish populations still exist in the valleys of the Büyük Menderes (Meander) River and the Küçük Menderes (Cayster) River. Smaller numbers of Afro-Turks also live in the southern provinces of Adana and Antalya. They have their own traditions, such as the traditional spring festival called Dana Bayramı (Calf Festival), which they were celebrating until the 1960s. It has currently been revived among the younger generations.
Another Afro-Turk, Yalçın Yanık, dubbed as the "Mandela of İzmir," will compete as an independent candidate for İzmir Metropolitan Municipality and is positioning himself on the left side of the political spectrum. Recently giving an interview to Turkish Gazete Duvar website, Yanık criticized the municipal mindset of political parties, accusing them of working like "business organizations."
"I am different from other candidates. First of all, I am a worker, revolutionary and communist. I became a candidate to be a voice of the oppressed. I think there is no difference between other bourgeois parties," he said.
Yanık, as a leftist politician, also criticized the stance of Republican People's Party (CHP), which is deemed as center-left, saying that he would not vote for CHP even if Vladimir Lenin had been nominated for the party. "Because there is a party program to be followed, he [Lenin] would not have a chance to implement his own policies," he added, implying that the policies of CHP do not suit leftist ideals.