So began the search for Turkish whiteness. It would veer between science and science-fiction, excavating skulls, searching for historical documents, analysing blood types, and studying ancient languages. At one point, the effort to establish Turks as the cradle of world civilisation led some Turkish archaeologists to even investigate the mythical sunken continent of “Mu”. They hoped that “Mu” would establish what they believed to be the Turkish origins of Mayan civilisation. Turkish scholars in various disciplines – history, anthropology, archaeology – wanted to show that the West (and the entire world) owed its civilisation to ancient Turks. Both the Turkish people and Western publics had to be convinced. In order to prevail over Western prejudices, the Turkish government overhauled the educational system using the West’s own weapon of science. They invited Western scholars to Turkey, and sent students for training abroad to leading, mostly European, universities. Turkish modernisers believed that importing science and modernity from the West was really just reclaiming what was originally Turkish (…) As it did in many countries, eugenics helped to shape Turkish nationalism. Eugenics was a pseudo-science that sought through manipulation of human evolution to encourage the reproduction of superior races and inhibit the growth of inferior races. The movement reached its epitome, and its catastrophic results, during the Nazi regime in Germany. Some of the Turkish scholars wanted to base claims to ancient Turkish civilisation on the supposedly scientific basis of eugenics’ biology. However, the eugenic canon of the first half of the 20th century assigned white superiority to Europeans, and relegated Turks to a class of inferior races. Turkish nationalists longed to change this, through scientific research. Eugenics reached its peak of influence in North America and Europe, but prominent Turkish eugenicists also expressed their public support. Sadi Irmak (1904-90) was the most prominent. After an education in medicine and biology in Berlin, Irmak started popularising eugenics when he became professor of physiology at the University of Istanbul in 1933. Unlike an aloof academic, Irmak prolifically used popular media, such as newspaper articles, public talks and books, to popularise eugenic knowledge. Never hiding his fascination with Nazi policies of sterilisation and extermination, Irmak saw the Holocaust as an extension of rational government against racial mixture. In the 1970s, he served for a brief period as Turkey’s prime minister.
Murat Ergin in Turkey’s hard white turn (Aeon)