Is Turkey in Europe or the Middle East?

map of turkey and surrounding region
map of region around turkey
Is Turkey in Europe, is it in the Middle East, or is it in Central Asia?

Turkey is a Mix of Europe and Asia

“Is Turkey in Europe or the Middle East?”

That was just one of many questions we had during our process of moving to Turkey. Our family had never even been to Turkey before we moved here. You can probably imagine how many preconceived notions we had before we moved. We had been hoping to move somewhere internationally for a while. Over the years we had been to a number of different countries, but never Turkey. There was just something about it, though. I still can’t really explain it. In comparison to other countries in the region, it was so similar in some ways, and so unique in other ways. The uniqueness was a major attractor for us.

It may be timely at this point to make a bit of a disclaimer. I am the farthest thing from an authority on the countries and regions I’m describing in this post. I have a cursory understanding of some very basic facts about the peoples and places I reference. Truth be told, I’m writing this (the whole blog) because I am fascinated by this whole region, Turkey included, and I want to learn more about it from firsthand experience and exposure. In my last post I started sharing a bit about my perspective doing travel writing as an expat rather than as a tourist.

“Is Turkey in Europe?”

If you didn’t have some familiarity with Istanbul, you might easily mistake parts of the city for Europe. You would be at least half-right, so “afferin! (“well done!”). Turkey is a country that spans two continents – Europe and Asia. Istanbul is the only city in the world that does the same. The city is separated by the Bosphorus Strait; to the west, you are in Europe while to the east, you are in Asia. It is funny to say that the European side feels like Europe. No matter what, by definition, the European side must feel like Europe, since it is in Europe. It’s not quite the same as a “French Quarter” (New Orleans), or a “Little Italy” (NYC), or “Persian Square” (LA).

In some parts of Istanbul, there is a decidedly European feel. The streets and sights feel European. The worldview and culture is a little more like Europe than the rest of the country. I am eager to explore the distance between these two points.

“Is Turkey in the Middle East?”

Everywhere you look, there are signs that we are in a whole new world – mosques and various styles of head coverings abound. The call to prayer goes off regularly throughout the day. To our American sensibilities, we might think we were in the Middle East. Surely there are some similarities to the Middle East, but this is decidedly not that.

“Is Turkey in Central Asia?”

old broken down playground equipment in Istanbul
This playground in Istanbul has nothing to do with Central Asia, but I wanted to share it anyway because of how inviting it is 🙂

The final comparison I have heard is that Turkey is a sort of extension of Central Asia. By Central Asia, what is traditionally meant is the 5 “-stans.” Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

To be honest, I have the least knowledge about Central Asia. It is interesting to me because of how removed it is from my life and my understanding of the world. One of my iTalki tutors is from a Central Asian country and has told me that there are many similarities between both the cultures and languages in this region as compared with Turkey. I will share more about how language learning factors in for me in a future post. Suffice it to say that I am really enjoying the moments where I can have simple conversations about Turkey, Turkish, and other Turkic languages and cultures in Turkish. In the future, I would love to learn bits of these other languages too, if for no other reason than to make my understanding of Turkish a bit more 3-dimensional and to communicate with people from other parts of this region of the world.

I won’t be traveling to into Central Asia any time soon, but I do hope that eventually I’ll be able to travel to as many of these countries as I can. I am eager to explore the similarities and differences of the various cultures and languages as they compare with what we know here in Turkey.

A Land of Overlaps

Is Turkey in Europe? Yes, but only 3% of it is in Europe. Is Turkey in the Middle East? Kind of. It borders the Middle East, anyway. Is Turkey in Central Asia? Not exactly.

Clearly, there are lots of good reasons why people might so easily confuse Turkey with a neighboring land. And for someone like me who has traveled a bit but not extensively, it is an exciting challenge and adventure to set up life in a new land, on the edge of the unknown, exploring whatever there is to find along the Silk Road.

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