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22 Mar 2011 / 10:10

Albanians, Leeks and are Bulgarian Turks Emotionally Cold?

Altin Raxhimi
Istanbul

I have been researching relations between Turkey and the Balkans of late, ahead of my trip to Turkey this week. It’s been fun, well mostly, to discover what the average Turk might think of Albanians, Bosnians and Bulgarians.

Ahmet Dursun, a Turkish restaurateur, civil activist and sometime novelist in Tirana, recites an old proverb about Albanians: Arnavutlar kiz al, kiz verma.

That roughly translates as; while one would wish for an Albanian woman (wife) in the house, one would not give away (in marriage) a girl to an Albanian house. It seems Albanians had a reputation of treating their women badly, and those women tended to be obedient and hard-working.

Such stereotypes are commonplace all over the world. One Bosnian Croat woman asked me in the late nineties: “How do you (men) treat women in Albania?” I asked what she meant. She said: “Like, do you beat them?” How to answer such a question without sounding defensive? “Hmm. Not systematically, I guess,” was my rather startled reply.

If I knew it back then, I might have retaliated with another Turkish saying about Bosnian women. Fatih Gulebakan, a Turkish developer in Tirana, tells me they have a reputation for stubbornness. They most certainly wear the pants in the family, rather than the macho and often moustachioed man my sources tell me.

“My grandmother was [Bosnian],” Gulebakan says. “I can prove that [Bosnian women are stubborn.” But being strong-willed is not such a bad thing, after all.

In contrast, Albanians are widely regarded as an unpredictable and angry bunch. There are specific phrases to describe Albanian rage, including arnavut inadi, which describes a person flipping out unpredictably and dangerously.

This often escalates to arnavut damari, the pulsating forehead vein that often accompanies total and unpredictable rage.

Bosnian and Albanian bureks, or pastries, are labelled as such in Turkey: arnavut burek and bosnak burek. The bosnak borek of Turkey is a spiralled treat, something you could see in Bosnia and Kosovo these days too.

The arnavut borek, I am told, has a leek filling. “I don't know whether it's true but in Turkey, Arnavut's (Albanians) are known for their great affection for leeks :),” Sevin Turan, a journalist for Hurryiet and food writer wrote, tongue in cheek, in a recent email to me.

A love of leeks is a stereotype that does not go down too well among Albanians. We don’t. At least, not anymore.

Towards the later stages of communism, when we were living on rationed food, the leek was the only vegetable available freely, just because we did not buy it. We despised it and continue to.

When Albania plunged into anarchy after millions Albanians invested in pyramid investment schemes evaporated in 1997, protesters were holding leeks in front of government officials to remind them that they were responsible for plunging the country into the poverty of communism.

There are proverbs in Turkey about other groups as well. The Turks or Muslims of Bulgaria are known in Turkey as stingy and cold.

So, a friend from Istanbul tells me a story about a Bulgarian Turk who has fallen deeply in love with a woman from Turkey.

His friends made fun of him. "Nah, that is not possible. You are a Bulgarian Turk. How can you have emotions?"

A funnier one is about Cretan Turks.

Muslim Cretans, who moved to Turkey when that island passed to Greece, brought to the parts of south-western Turkey they settled in a cuisine based on wild herbs.

Tijen İnaltong, a food writer who writes the popular Zen in the kitchen blog, listed 150 wild herbs Cretan Turks cook with in a recent book.

So, the joke goes that if you are worried a cow is going to the wrong field and might wipe out the grass, you shouldn't. You should be more worried about whether the Cretan Turk, or the Cretan Muslim Greek, happens to be in that meadow.

Let me know if you’ve heard any other commonplace sayings and stereotypes. Meanwhile, I’ll be hoping to avoid leeks and rage.

Altin Raxhimi is in Turkey working on a Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence Alumni Initiative project: Turkey and the Balkans. He will post regular updates throughout the trip.

Fellow Bio

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Altin Raxhimi

Altin Raxhimi from Tirana, Albania, is an experienced journalist currently working freelance from Albania for a host of English-language publications, including BIRN, www.reportingproject.net, Inter-Press Service and The Chicago Tribune

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Turkey and the Balkans

The re-emergence of Turkey as a growing economic, political and religious power in the Balkans is the subject of the latest Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence Alumni Initiative project.

Meet the Journalists

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Altin Raxhimi

Altin Raxhimi from Tirana, Albania, is an experienced journalist currently working freelance from Albania for a host of English-language publications, including BIRN, www.reportingproject.net, Inter-Press Service and The Chicago Tribune

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Lavdim Hamidi

Lavdim Hamidi was born in 1982 in Trnovac and is currently living and working in Kosovo. He is an experienced economics reporter and works for the daily newspaper, Zeri

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Gjergj Erebara

Gjergj Erebara was born in 1979 in Tirana, Albania. He has been specialized in economic reporting and currently works as journalist in “Shqip” daily published in Tirana and BalkanInsight.com publication.

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Aleksandra Stankovic

Aleksandra Stankovic was born in 1973 in Pirot, Serbia. She graduated in 1997 in Arabic language and literature from the Faculty of philology at Belgrade University

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Yana Buhrer Tavanier

Yana Buhrer Tavanier is a freelance journalist and a human rights activist based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Previously she was editor of weekly Capital, and worked as a journalist for Tema magazine and daily Dnevnik.

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22 Mar 2011 / 10:10

Albanians, Leeks and are Bulgarian Turks Emotionally Cold?

Altin Raxhimi

I have been researching relations between Turkey and the Balkans of late, ahead of my trip to Turkey this week. It’s been fun, well mostly, to discover what the average Turk might think of Albanians, Bosnians and Bulgarians.

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