How Turks Have Been Viewed Through Iran’s History

Harut Sassounian
Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian


During the past one thousand years, the relationship between the two neighboring Islamic states of Persia and the Ottoman Empire vacillated between peaceful coexistence and outright war. The populations of these two states were not only of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, but were also divided in their Islamic faith — the Persians were Shia, while the Turks were Sunni. The divisions between Iran and Turkey continue to this day.

Many readers are familiar with the anti-Turkish references in the works of Western writers, particularly after successive episodes of Armenian massacres leading to the 1915 Genocide, such as the damning words of French writer Victor Hugo, “The Turks have passed by here, all is in ruins and mourning.”

Yet, little is known about references in Persian literature regarding Turks. Roubina Ohanian, an Armenian native of Iran, now residing in Glendale, California, has filled that void with her book, “The Interpretation of the Name and Word Turk in Iranian Literature.” Ohanian has meticulously researched and translated from Farsi into Armenian dozens of lines from several notable Persian poets from the Middle Ages who had penned their highly negative impressions of Turks, revealing that Iranian antipathy toward Turks has long roots.

The Persian references regarding Turks come from such well-known poets as Ferdowsi in the 10th Century and Hafez in the 14th Century. Turkic tribes first invaded Persia in the 11th Century, followed by the Seljuks. In the 13th Century, Iran was conquered by the Mongols and then by Turkmen tribes who were finally defeated in 1592 AD. Many wars ensued between Persia and the Ottoman Empire in subsequent centuries.

Ohanian has presented in her book quotations from 13 Persian poets and writers. While Armenians have their own tragic memories of oppressive Turkish rule, it is interesting to learn of the similarly negative experiences of other nations that came in contact with Turks.
Here are several lines from Persian Middle Age poets translated by Ohanian from Farsi to Armenian which I have translated to English:

Ferdowsi (925 – 1020 AD):

“No one has learned wisdom from Turks,

No one will obey a Turk.”

Asadi Tusi (11th Century):

“No one ever saw any loyalty from a Turk;

From Iranians they have seen nothing but loyalty.”

 Khawaja Abdullah Ansari (1006 – 1088 AD):

“It would be surprising that a Turk would understand love,

As it would be surprising that a Turk does not rob and steal.”

Nizami (1140 – 1203 AD):

“Even the King did not know,

No such thing as a loyal Turk.”

Anvari (12th Century):

“As you have not started your journey with your gentle horse,

Don’t leave, the road is full of bloodthirsty Turks.”

Khaghani (1120 – 1190 AD):

“Drinking blood with a friend is an old tradition,

Turks are blood drinkers and don’t recognize their friends.”

Saati (1184 – 1283 AD):

“At that time you sent me a student,

A Turk; there was no one worse than him.”

Many of these Persian descriptions of Turks would be viewed today as racist as they unfairly label all Turks with the same stereotype. All nationalities have some good and bad among them. The real problem, however, is the violent policies of the Turkish state that brutally oppressed minorities and conquered nations, resulting in mass crimes and genocide against Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Cypriots, Greeks and Iranians!

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  1. Հայկազ Պետրոսեան said:

    Ամենայն ճշգրտութեամբ լի ուսումնասիրութիւն է: Ինձ զարմացնում է մէկ բան, թէ ինչպէս հայերը ապրելով հինգ հարիւր տարի Օսմանեան տիրապետութեան ներքոյ, վերջապէս չը կարողացան հանգել այդ ճշմարտութեան և հաւատարմութեամբ գլուխ ծռեցին և արժանացրեցին իրենց թուրքի եաթաղանին:

  2. David Dilanchian said:


  3. edward demian said:

    There’s sp much history in eastern Europe that mirrors that of the middle east.

    • alex said:

      the Persians have over 3000 years of civilization, literature, art, science, etc… Large Armenian population has been living in Iran and flourished unlike their third world, poor, impoverished fellow Armenians in the Caucasus. So, help yourself and stop burying your deep into your butt and wake up to reality. Even in Glendale, all the rich and successful Armenians are the Persian Armenians vs. all the Soviet-Yerevan gangster thugs.

  4. Jda said:

    I dissent.

    I have heard this sort of thing before, from a European perspective, there are such accounts for almost 1000 years. European accounts for centuries document
    Immense cruelty by Turkish/ ottoman forces.
    I imagine the history as unbearably cruel if viewed from a Christian perspective. My perspective. Just as Turks and others view the Mongols. No debate.

    But today, what is the point of trotting out these quotes?

    Is it to prove that Turks are genetically cruel? No thanks, their genes are our genes.

    Is it to prove their culture is inherently cruel?
    Maybe so, maybe not.

    But how do these quotes help us? If a well meaning Turk read these, he would think we are racists.

    If we want to educate open minded Turks, we should not attack them.

    Our ranks have a few who underestimate them. Big mistake. They are as smart as we fancy ourselves.

  5. nilufar said:

    I ‘m actually from iran and i don’t find turks any hostile . while there can be good people and bad people all around the world , I think the reason why those poets of iran mentioned turks as such is that the only encounter with them was through turkish warriors in fights between iranian and turkish governments in periods of history and also the research was not even fair not mentioning that the word Turk itself means beautiful in old persian language as in one of Hafez’s(one of the greatest persian poems ever) most famous poetries .