The origins of the Turkish flag

The flag of Turkey is the national flag and the national flag of the Republic of Turkey . It consists of a waning moon and five-pointed star, both in white on a red background. The flag is called Ay-Yildiz (literally, “star moon”), or a-sancak (the “Red Banner”) in Turkish .

The flag has a very complex origin. It is first virtually identical to the flag of the Ottoman Empire, with changes to the shape of the moon and the number of branches of the star from eight to five. The current flag was adopted in 1844, before its proportions are standard with the Law on Turkish Flag in 1936.

A historical moment in 1914 – Ottoman empire is declaring war against the allies

A historical moment in 1914 – Ottoman empire is declaring war against the allies

The star and crescent, now seen as symbols of Islam, have long been used in Asia Minor and some Turkic peoples before the arrival of Islam.

The Ottomans used different arrangements for different uses, such as using the green flag for the Islamic institutions and using red for secular institutions. In 1844 the eight-pointed star was replaced with a five-pointed flag and then reached its current form.

Ottoman Empire used a similar flag to modern Turkish flag in 1914

Ottoman Empire used a similar flag to modern Turkish flag in 1914

The origin of the crescent and star as symbols date time Babylon and the ancient Egypt. It has been suggested that the Turkish tribes during their migrations from Central Asia to Turkey around 800 AD, have adopted this symbol of local tribes and states in the area of the Middle East today, which adopted in turn these symbols.

Turkish flag at Gallipoli

The origin of the flag is subject to many legends in the country, and some contradict the history of the Ottoman flag. Here are some of the theories:

The Turkish flag’s Pre-Islamic origins

The crescent moon and star were holy symbols to the pre-Islamic Turkish tribes, while red is the colour cardinal to the south.

The Islamic legend

A crescent and a star appeared to Mehmed II the night of the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Crescent represents “God” and the star represents “Muhammed”

Roman succession – The New Rome

The crescent and star were used as symbols of Byzantium for centuries. The moon represented the Greek goddess Artemis, and star represented the Virgin Mary (which could be the inspiration behind the Islamic legend).

After conquering Constantinople, Turks adapted the symbol. The conquering king Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II called himself “the new Caesar” after conquering Istanbul in 1453. Ottoman Turks also kept many Roman administrative processes as they were after taking over Anatolia. 

The star and the crescent moon, however, were also symbols of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

Most popular theory; crescent and star’s reflection on the pool of blood.

This version has widely taught in public schools in Turkey. It was most likely supported in effort to raise a much more nationalist youth during cold war. According to this story; after the Turkish victory at the Battle of Manzikert,  the Seljuk Commander Alp Arslan saw the reflection of the crescent and a star on a pool of blood of Turkish warriors while he was reviewing the battlefield. Another version of this story takes place after the Turkish victory at the Battle of Mohács in Hungary.