Turkey should have two time zones. The ‘Central European Time’ it shares with the likes of Finland, Romania and Greece is normal enough for Istanbul at Turkey’s far West. But the further East you go the more absurd it becomes.
We’re in Goreme, approximately the East/West median, and this mid-autumn day the sun set around 4pm. We’re doing our best to scrounge up daylight by starting our day earlier, but there remains something depressing about the sun going down when you should be enjoying afternoon tea. The situation is more absurd in the far West, where crossing the border into Iran puts you forward an hour and a half, or more during daylight savings.
Before the advent of Greenwich Mean Time in the nineteenth century, individual cities set their local time based on when the sun was highest in the sky. Local Boston time was twenty-three minutes ahead of New York, for example. As travel became easier and more common, it made sense to coordinate, and the current system of twenty-four time zones was implemented. Inevitably timing in many places became less in sync with sunshine. You can see how this pattern plays out over most of the world in the excellent map below. The US is an especially good example.
But you can also see time zone variations that extend well beyond the necessities of a globalised system, and these generally occur to encourage national unity:
- We’ve talked before about the seeming obliviousness of Beijing bureaucrats insisting that the mass that is China all be as its clock.
- India, Iran, and Venezuela deviate by half or three quarter hours to set a single time zone for their whole state.
One of my favourite scholars on nationalism, Benedict Andersen, wouldn’t be surprised by this. He cites the development of clocks as one of the single most significant features in forming modern nations, and the sense of a collective shared experience. That’s explicitly what Hugo Chavez was going for when he changed things up for Venezuela.
Alternatively countries may change their time zones to better align with other states.
- Argentina’s late time lines it up with Brazil’s eastern metropolises, underscoring their importance for trade.
- Spain switched its time in WWII to align with Nazi Germany, and never got around to switching it back.
- Western Samoa recently changed their day to bolster trade and cultural ties with Australia and New Zealand.
I’d say Turkey’s single time zone can be explained by both political influences. First, since Ataturk there’s been a strong nationalist imperative. Synchronizing watches to Turkishness aligns with this. Second, the same nationalist project has also been about Turkey as a modern, Western looking state, seen currently in Turkey’s quest for EU membership. Only a fraction of Turkey is geographically in Europe, but all its citizens set their clocks to a plausibly European time.