This article is concerned with what is distinctive about the border that has divided Turkey from Europe. It considers how this was historically predicated on the idea of some kind of fundamental civilisational difference between Europe and the Ottoman Empire; and then how, in the nineteenth century, this civilisational imagination became subsumed within the more ‘modern’ imaginaire of nationalism and imagined community. The article is particularly concerned with the idea of ‘imagined community’ in European thinking about culture and identity – an idea that came to be incorporated, with problematical consequences, into the agenda of the modern Turkish nation state in the twentieth century. What I am concerned with is how European discourses on culture and identity have worked to produce a border mentality, and through this a profound impasse in the relations between Turkey and Europe. The logic of ‘imagined community’ has overridden alternative cosmopolitan possibilities (which did, ironically, exist in the Ottoman Empire – only to be superseded there, too, when the national agenda came centrefield). The article concludes with some brief reflection on what would be necessary to move beyond the frozen binary division that presently separates the historically produced fictions of ‘Europe’ and ‘Turkey’.