Erdoğan bites a piece of ‘red apple’

Turks are developing their concept of the promised land

One might have recently noticed that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is quite often using the slogan “Hedefimiz Kızıl Elma”, which means “The Red Apple is Our Goal”. Realnoe Vremya’s permanent author Bulat Nogmanov talks about the specifics of this complex model of Turkish nationalism in his column.

“We are moving towards it”

We can start answering the question how the Turkish administration reads this expression with saying that the red apple in Turkish mythology symbolises an unattainable ideal that moves away from you the closer you get to it, hence it becomes more attractive.

Moreover, the red apple is a multifaceted concept that depending on circumstances symbolises Turkish nationalism, any goals and tasks that are important for the Turkish state that must be achieved, the territory that must be seized, the idea of creation of the state, the union of the Turkic world, even global supremacy at times.

What’s the historical underpinning of the red apple concept and what does this concept meant for contemporary Turkey?

The slogan “The Red Apple is Our Goal” has been cultivated in the collective consciousness of a Turkish layman in about the last two years. People became interested in the “apple” when Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the main hero of Payitaht Abdulhamid popular historical TV series, mentioned it on TV screens. The second mention was before the beginning of Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin when a journalist asked one of the Turkish soldiers: “What is your goal?”, and he replied: “The red apple”. During those days, Erdoğan said when talking about the operation in Afrin: “Yes, we have one ‘red apple’, and we are moving towards it”. Explaining those words to the public at that moment, the Turkish president’s Press Secretary Ibrahim Kalın claimed that the “red apple” was the achievement of the goal where all citizens of the Turkish Republic would live in peace, harmony, well-being and independence.

The Republic of Turkey Directorate of Communications published The Red Apple clip in August 2020 by the 949th anniversary of the victory in the Battle of Manzikert where the chain of events including the victory in the Battle of Manzikert, the conquest of Istanbul, conquests of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, the attempted coup on 15 July 2016 as well as references to Hagia Sophia, which recently became a mosque, was colourfully shown.

Historical context

There isn’t accurate data on when exactly the concept of the red apple appeared. However, there is a beautiful legend linked with Ergenekon ancient Turkic epic according to which the red apple symbolises the escape from Ergenekon and finding the lost home.

In Turkic culture, the red colour is associated with gold, a high value and wealth, while the apple symbolises the mystic fruit, which is a source of well-being, affluence and health. However, there is a version that the red apple is a kind of red ball symbolising the relationships between the sun and the moon. This ball named muncuk was hung on the flagpole and indicated the victory, rule or goal that had to be achieved. Moreover, before the campaign against the Khazars, Oghuz Turks meant the red apple was the golden ball above the tent on the Khazar khan they got.

In Turkic state traditions, the red apple meant the idea of taking control over other ethnicities and states by Turks.

Both the epic of Oghuz and Orkhon inscriptions mention it. Ancient Turks believed that the khagan had to rule not only Turks but also the whole world. All conquests were made during that period with this conviction. Turks assumed that the Creator entrusted Turks with ruling the world. This conviction within the red apple concept can also be tracked in state traditions of the Huns, Celestial Turks as well as Selçuks.

During the Ottoman period, the red apple became a symbol of Jihad that the empire led against western countries. The legend about the red apple was especially spread among janissaries and was used to keep their fighting spirit up. After Mehmed Fatih conquered Istanbul, those European cities the Ottoman Empire wanted to possess were named the red apple. Ottoman compositions of the 16th century indicate it where the conquest of Belgrad or the siege of Vienna were described as long-awaited gaining the red apple by Suleyman the Magnificent.

In the early 20th century, after the Italo-Turkish and Balkan Wars, the symbolism of the red apple was seized by Turkish nationalists who united under then Party of Union and Progress. The party’s key ideologist Ziya Gökalp united the idea of the red apple with Turan’s ideals, gave it a new meaning, though only his collection of verses was named The Red Apple. For Gökalp himself, the red apple was just the name of the ideal that wasn’t connected with a certain place, however, for some writers of that period, it was firmly associated with Turan’s territories.

After the establishment of the republic, a lot of nationalists or so to speak pro-Turkic creative circles of Turkey made attempts at reviving the concept of the red apple and through the prism of verses and works of such authors as Ömer Seyfettin, Nihal Atsız, Ragip Sevki Yesim and others, it kept gaining new meanings.

As a counter version, we should mention that western scientists have other theories about the origin of the “red apple”. According to one of them, the “red apple” has Byzantine roots. So before Istanbul was conquered, a monument to Emperor Justinian on the horse with a big golden ball in his hand was placed in front of Hagia Sophia cathedral, The emperor won the victory thanks to the cross was fixed on the ball. Here many readers perhaps will allude to the picture of Russian tsars on the throne with the sceptre and orb in their hands. In 1317, the ball somehow fell from Justinian’s hands, the church patriarchate immediately considered this as the end of the Byzantine Empire. However, the cherished ball was put back in place. The situation repeated a century later, and it was again considered as the hint of the soon death of the empire, and more than 30 years later, Turks indeed conquered Istanbul. The monument to Justinian was demolished.

The version is interesting, of course, and it can be certainly put in line with the story about the Eden apple that became a reason why Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise or the bone of contention when unlucky Paris gave the golden apple to the wrong goddess or linked with Japanese mythology and Susanoo-no-Mikoto’s adventures and so on.

Contemporary meanings

From this brief review, we see that the concept of the red apple has acquired new meanings and senses through Turkic history. It is topical today too when Turkey’s management is often using the rhetoric of Ottoman padishahs when addressing its citizens with a Turkic-Islam focus. In this regard, we can single out a few interesting observations:

  • in the concept of the red apple, we can draw a parallel between the Turkic-Islam focus of the concept itself and the strategic coalition of the Nationalist Movement Party (МНР) and the Justice and Development Party (AKP). If the first one meets the needs of the nationalist part of society, the second does the expectations of its religious and conservative strata. From this perspective, the rhetoric of the ruling coalition quite organically builds in the contemporary Turkish reality;
  • the Turkish activity in the Near East, in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, in the Caucasus, North and Central Africa in the last years also organically coincides with the idea of Turkic dominance in the world or with some of its part at least at this moment;
  • We should remind you that the initial meaning of the idea of the red apple was some escape from Ergenekon, salvation and finding the home. In this context, the concept of the red apply can be considered as some protection of inner values from external threats and as liberation from external dependence. And the discovery of big gas fields in the Black Sea, which can help liberate Turkey from the Russian gas dependence, can comfortably be tied with it. We should remind you that around 68% of the gas supplied to this country is of Russian descent.
By Bulat Nogmanov

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