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Turkish Culture and Heritage/question the importance of family and heritage


In Turkey, when a person asks where they are from, or where is there family from, are they asking whether they are from a particular place ie suburb, city or Province or is it more of a question about family and origins? If so, is it customary and why is this important?


The question "nerelisiniz?" where are you from normally means your family and origin (or your country if in an international group). It rarely means where do you live now.

For example, a young person born in Sivas who comes to Istanbul for university and then gets a job in the city will still say they are from Sivas even though they have been in Istanbul for over 10 years. Even more striking is someone born in Istanbul to a family from Sivas: they are still likely to reply from Sivas.

There is a related question "memleketiniz nerede?" which makes it even more clear. Your memleket is the place your family comes from, not where you happen to live now.

Why does this matter to Turks? Well, they have a strong concept of hemşirem - someone from the same place as me. Just think about if you were an American in Turkey and you met another American, you would feel you had something in common and would want to help each other out, maybe with information about where to stay or if they were ill you might go with them to the hospital. Well, the same is true for Turks, but not just abroad. If the other person comes from the same "memleket" as you then they are a "hemşirem" and you feel a special tie to them and want to help them. e.g. Turks may help a hemşirem to find a job, or be more likely to lend them some money etc.

This group aspect of society often leads people who come from the same village or town in Anatolia to live in the same area of a big city when they move there for work. The support network is ready! For the same reason in big cities there are often associations such as the Tokatlılar Derneği where those from Tokat get together for social activities and for charitable help.

There was a famous song, that Turks often quote, that express the longing for their memleket, even if they have been born and brought up in a big city. It goes something like: there is a village far away, whether I go there or not, it is still my village.  

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I am one of the joint owners of Greenhouse bookstore in Kadikoy, Istanbul, and have lived in Turkey since 1994. I am British, but also have Turkish citizenship. I assisted in editing "Culture Smart Turkey" by Charlotte McPherson, published by Kuperard, and am currently writing a book about Turkish history and culture for children.

I prepare a weekly book review for one of Turkey's top English language newspapers. Check the Arts and Culture pages on

BSc in Actuarial Science. I hold a UK and Turkish actuarial registration, and lecture in a masters programme on Actuarial Science at Bahcesehir University, Istanbul

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