Turanism asserts a common Inner Asian identity with racial overtones. Born in the 1800s, it was Hungary and Turkey’s answer to pan-Slavic and German nationalism. Turanism assigns racial identity to the (now debunked) Ural-Altaic language family, as Aryanism did Indo-European. At best it promotes exploring cultural and linguistic ties between varied peoples, at worst genocide and hate. Though long fallen from grace, Turanist thought still lives in the far-right corners of Turkish and Hungarian politics.
Turanism was born in Europe’s nationalist zeitgeist. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, old empires and principalities were redrawn along ethnic and linguistic lines. Prussia and Russia emphasised pan-Germanic and Slavic heritage respectively and the discovery of the Indo-European language family led to a supposed ‘Aryan race’. Hungarian, however, is not an Indo-European tongue; its speakers descend from the Eurasian Magyars. Slavic nationalism threatened Hungary’s hold on Eastern Europe and promoted worrying ties with rival Russia. As ethnic kinship came to supersede religious ties, Hungary needed new friends.
Herman Vambarry, Hungarian orientalist and the Ottoman Sultan’s former advisor, drew on the work of Finnish linguists to propose Hungarians and Turks shared a ‘Turanian’ origin – a master race heritage of their own – and therefore Hungary should look east, not west, in its alliances. The notion gained steam after 1918 when the western powers stripped Hungary of 72% of its territory and far-right thought took hold. Turanians comprise of not only Magyars and Turks, but all others supposedly descended from Central Asian conquerors. These include:
- Turks (both Turkish and Central Asian)
- Bulgarians (considered ‘Slavicised Turanians’)
- Indigenous Siberians
Turkey had its national awakening in the end days of the Ottoman Empire. Reformers stressed ethnic identity over religious: Turks were distinct from, even superior to, the Arabs, Kurds, Greeks and Armenians which they ruled.
Though pan-Turkism promoted solidarity with the Tartars and Central Asian Turks under Russian rule, Turanism went further. For Hungarian and Turkish nationalists, it provided a uniting ideology to counter the European powers, particularly Russia.
Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire fought on the same side in WW1, as did Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland and Japan in WW2. Both the Young Turks, who took over in 1908 and perpetrated the Armenian genocide, and Hungary’s Arrow Cross, who murdered 10,000 Jews and Roma in WW2, were committed Turanists.
Japanese Turanists advocated cooperation with Hungary and the takeover of Manchuria and eastern Russia. The High Command disbanded Turanist societies after 1941 however, to pursue a pan-Asian stance instead.
Turanists believe their race is superior. Like the Nazis, they twist science and history to suit their needs. 20th century Turanists claimed:
- Ancient Rome, Egypt, Greece and Sumeria were Turanian
- Prophet Muhammad was a Turk, not an Arab
- Native Americans are Turkic descended
- A Turanian Empire once stretched across Inner Asia and should be recreated
‘Turan’ is the old Persian term for Central Asia. In Iranian literature, the Turanians were fearsome warriors and the nemeses of Persian heroes. They were likely Iranic Scythians, however, not the Turks who migrated later.
After WW2, Turanism died out in Finland and Communist Hungary. Modern Turanism, however, is an ideological staple of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish ultranationalist group, and far-right Jobbik, Hungary’s second-largest party.
Sources: American Political Science Review, Armenian Genocide.org, The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, Hurriyet Daily News, Jobbik.com