The region only became part of modern Turkey in 1939, having been apportioned to the French Protectorate of Syria following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Following the brief-lived independent Hatay Republic of 1938 it was handed over to Turkey after a plebiscite. This move, calculated to buy Turkish support, or at least neutrality, in the imminent world war, was successful. It was Atatürk, in a move to “Turkify” the region, who dreamt up the name “Hatay”, supposedly based on that of a medieval Turkic tribe. The majority of people here speak Arabic as well as Turkish and there’s some backing for union with Syria though it for its part seems to have recognized de facto Turkish sovereignty. Relations between the two countries have improved significantly in recent years with new border crossings being opened and a relaxation in visa requirements.
Arab influence in the Hatay goes back to the seventh century AD, when Arab raiders began hacking at the edges of the collapsing Byzantine Empire. Although they were never able to secure long-lasting political control over the region, the Arabs were able to establish themselves as permanent settlers, remaining even when the Hatay passed into Ottoman hands. Prior to the arrival of the Arabs, the area had been held by the Romans and before that the Seleucids, who prized its position straddling trading routes into Syria.Read More