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Minorities in Turkey

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Title: Minorities in Turkey  
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Subject: Education in Turkey, Bulgarians in Turkey, Ossetians in Turkey, Assyrians in Turkey, Ethnic groups in Turkey
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Minorities in Turkey

Ethnic groups in Turkey (World Factbook)[1]
Ethnic groups Percent

Minorities in Turkey form a substantial part of the country's population, with at least an estimated 20% of the populace belonging to an ethnic minority. While the Republic of Turkey, following the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, recognizes Armenians, Greeks and Jews as ethnic minorities, this legal status is not granted to Muslims, such as the Kurds, which constitute the largest minority by a wide margin (13-18%), nor any of the other minorities in the country.

Many of the minorities (including the Albanians, Bosnians, Crimean Tatars, and various peoples from the Caucasus, as well as some of the Turks themselves) are descendants of Muslims (muhajirs) who were expelled from the lands lost by the shrinking Ottoman Empire, but much as with European immigrants in the United States, they have assimilated into and intermarried with the majority Turkish population and have adopted the Turkish language and way of life.

Since the immigration to the big cities in the west of Turkey, interethnic marriage has become more common. A recent study estimates that there are 2,708,000 marriages between Turks and Kurds/Zaza.[2]


  • Tables 1
  • Ethnic minorities 2
    • Abdal 2.1
    • Albanians 2.2
    • Arabs 2.3
    • Armenians 2.4
    • Assyrians 2.5
    • Azerbaijanis 2.6
    • Bosniaks 2.7
    • Bulgarians 2.8
    • Circassians 2.9
    • Dagestani peoples 2.10
    • Dutch 2.11
    • Crimean Tatars 2.12
    • Franco-Levantines 2.13
    • Georgians 2.14
    • Greeks 2.15
    • Iranians 2.16
    • Jews 2.17
    • Kabarday 2.18
    • Karachay 2.19
    • Kazakhs 2.20
    • Kurds 2.21
    • Kyrgyzs 2.22
    • Laz 2.23
    • Nakh peoples 2.24
    • Ossetians 2.25
    • Poles 2.26
    • Roma 2.27
    • Zazas 2.28
  • Religious minorities 3
    • Atheists 3.1
    • Bahá'í 3.2
    • Christians 3.3
      • Orthodox Christians 3.3.1
      • Protestants 3.3.2
      • Roman Catholics 3.3.3
    • Jews 3.4
    • Muslims 3.5
      • Alawites 3.5.1
      • Alevis 3.5.2
      • Twelvers 3.5.3
    • Yazidi 3.6
  • References 4
  • See also 5


Distribution of nationalities in Anatolia[3]
Ottoman official statistics, 1910
Sanjak Turks Greeks Armenians Jews Others Total
Istanbul (Asiatic shore) 135,681 70,906 30,465 5,120 16,812 258,984
İzmit 184,960 78,564 50,935 2,180 1,435 318,074
Aidin (Izmir) 974,225 629,002 17,247 24,361 58,076 1,702,911
Bursa 1,346,387 274,530 87,932 2,788 6,125 1,717,762
Konya 1,143,335 85,320 9,426 720 15,356 1,254,157
Ankara 991,666 54,280 101,388 901 12,329 1,160,564
Trebizond 1,047,889 351,104 45,094 - - 1,444,087
Sivas 933,572 98,270 165,741 - - 1,197,583
Kastamon 1,086,420 18,160 3,061 - 1,980 1,109,621
Adana 212,454 88,010 81,250 107,240 488,954
Bigha 136,000 29,000 2,000 3,300 98 170,398
Ecumenical Patriarchate statistics, 1912
Distribution of nationalities in East Thrace, Ottoman Official Statistics, 1910[4]
Sanjak Turks Greeks Bulgarians Jews Others Total
Edirne 128,000 113,500 31,500 N/A 14,700 287,700
Kirk Kilisse 53,000 77,000 28,500 N/A 1,150 159,650
Tekirdağ 63,500 56,000 3,000 N/A 21,800 144,300
Gallipoli 31,500 70,500 2,000 N/A 3,200 107,200
Çatalca 18,000 48,500 - N/A 2,340 68,840
Istanbul 450,000 260,000 6,000 N/A 130,000 846,000
N/A 173,190
Ecumenical Patriarchate Statistics, 1912
N/A 337,600
Muslim and non-Muslim population in Turkey, 1914-2005 (in thousands)[5]
Year 1914 1927 1945 1965 1990 2005
Total 15,997 13,630 18,790 31,391 57,005 72,120
% non-Muslim

Ethnic minorities


Groups of nomadic and semi-nomadic itinerants found mainly in central and western Anatolia. They speak an argot of their own and follow the Alevi faith.[6]


According to the newspaper Milliyet, the number of people with Albanian ancestry in Turkey is estimated at 1.3 million, with 500,000 considering themselves to have an Albanian national consciousness and the remainder being assimilated.[7]


Arabs in Turkey number between 800,000 and 1 million, and they mostly live in provinces near the Syrian border, particularly the Hatay region, where they made up two thirds of the population in 1939.[8] Most of them are Sunni Muslims. However, there is a small group of Alawis, and another one of Arab Christians (mostly in Hatay Province) in communion with the Antiochian Orthodox Church.


Armenians are indigenous to eastern Anatolia, which is also known as the Armenian Highland. Although in 1880 the word Armenia was banned from being used in the press, schoolbooks, and governmental establishments and was subsequently replaced with words like Anatolia or Kurdistan, Armenians had maintained much of their culture and heritage.[9][10][11][12][13] The Armenian population of Turkey was greatly reduced following the Hamidian massacres and especially the Armenian Genocide, when over one and half million Armenians, virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolia, were massacred. Prior to the Genocide in 1914, the Armenian population of Turkey numbered at about 1,914,620.[14][15] The Armenian community of the Ottoman empire before the Armenian genocide had an estimated 2,300 churches and 700 schools (with 82,000 students).[16] This figure excludes churches and schools belonging to the Protestant and Catholic Armenian parishes since only those churches and schools under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and the Apostolic Church were counted.[16] After the Armenian genocide however, it is estimated that 200,000 Armenians remained in Turkey.[17] Today there are an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 Armenians in Turkey, not including the Hamshenis.[18][19]

Armenians under the Turkish Republican era were subjected to many policies which attempted to abolish Armenian cultural heritage such as the Turkification of last names, geographical name changes, confiscation of properties, change of animal names,[20] change of the names of Armenian historical figures (i.e. the name of the prominent Balyan family were concealed under an identity of a superficial Italian family called Baliani),[21][22] and the change and distortion of Armenian historical events.[23]

Armenians today are mostly concentrated around Istanbul. The Armenians support their own newspapers and schools. The majority belong to the Armenian Apostolic faith, with much smaller numbers of Armenian Catholics and Armenian Evangelicals. The community currently functions 34, 18 schools, and 2 hospitals.[16]


Assyrians were once a large ethnic minority in the Ottoman Empire, but following the early 20th century Assyrian Genocide, many were murdered or emigrated. Now, they live in small numbers in eastern Turkey and Istanbul.


It is hard to determine how many ethnic Azeris currently reside in Turkey because ethnicity is a rather fluid concept in this country.[24] and According to the Looklex Encyclopaedia, Azerbaijani people make up 800,000 of Turkey's population.[25] Up to 300,000 of Azeris who reside in Turkey are citizens of Azerbaijan.[26] In the Eastern Anatolia Region, Azeris are sometimes referred to as acem (see Ajam) or tat.[27] They currently are the largest ethnic group in the city of Iğdır[28] and second largest ethnic group in Kars.[29]


Today, the existence of Bosnians in the country are evident everywhere. In cities like İstanbul, Eskişehir, Ankara, İzmir or Adana, one can easily find districts, streets, shops or restaurants with names such as: Bosna, Yenibosna, Mostar or Novi Pazar. However, it is extremely difficult to estimate how many Bosnians live in this country. Some Bosnian researchers believe that the number of Bosnians in Turkey is about four million. Turkish politicians are aware of the large number of Bosnians living in Turkey, and referencing this in 2010, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said: “There are more Bosnians living in Turkey than in Bosnia.”[30]


People identifying as Bulgarian include a large number of the Pomak (Bulgarian Muslims) and a small number of Orthodox Bulgarians.[31][32][33][34][35] According to Ethnologue at present 300,000 Pomaks in European Turkey speak Bulgarian as mother tongue.[36] It is very hard to estimate the number of Pomaks along with the Turkified Pomaks who live in Turkey, as they have blended into the Turkish society and have been often linguistically and culturally dissimilated.[37] According to Milliyet and Turkish Daily News reports, the number of the Pomaks along with the Turkified Pomaks in the country is about 600,000.[7][37] According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bulgarian Orthodox Christian community in Turkey stands at 500 members.[38]


According to Milliyet, there are approximately 2.5 million Circassians in Turkey.[7] Among the Circassians in Turkey are also the closely related ethnic groups Abazins (10,000[39]) and Abkhazians (39,000[40]) counted. The Circassians are a Caucasian immigrant people, the vast majority of them have been assimilated and only 20% still speaks one of the Circassian languages. The Circassians in Turkey are almost exclusively Sunni Muslims of Hanafi madh'hab.

Dagestani peoples

Various ethnic groups from Dagestan. Dagestani peoples live in villages in the provinces like Balıkesir, Tokat and also scattered in other parts of the country. Majority among them are Nogays, Lezgins and Avars are other significant ethnic groups. Kumyks are also present.


Approximately 15,000 Dutch live in Turkey.[41]

Crimean Tatars

The official number of Crimean Tatars is 150,000 (in the center of Eskişehir) but the real population (along Turkey) can be a few million. They mostly live in Eskişehir Province [42] and Kazan-Ankara.


Levantines continue to live in Istanbul (mostly in the districts of Galata, Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı), İzmir (mostly in the districts of Karşıyaka, Bornova and Buca), and the lesser port city Mersin where they had been influential for creating and reviving a tradition of opera.[43] Famous people of the present-day Levantine community in Turkey include Maria Rita Epik, Franco-Levantine Caroline Giraud Koç and Italo-Levantine Giovanni Scognamillo.


There are approximately 1 million people of Georgian ancestry in Turkey according to the newspaper Milliyet.[7] Georgians in Turkey are mostly Catholics, they live in Istanbul.


The Greeks constitute a population of Greek and Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox Christians who mostly live in Istanbul, including its district Princes' Islands, as well as on the two islands of the western entrance to the Dardanelles: Imbros and Tenedos (Turkish: Gökçeada and Bozcaada).

They are the remnants of the estimated 200,000 Greeks who were permitted under the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne to remain in Turkey following the 1923 population exchange,[44] which involved the forcible resettlement of approximately 1.5 million Greeks from Anatolia and East Thrace and of half a million Turks from all of Greece except for Western Thrace. After years of persecution (e.g. the Varlık Vergisi and the Istanbul Pogrom), emigration of ethnic Greeks from the Istanbul region greatly accelerated, reducing the 119.822 [45]-strong Greek minority before the attack to about 7,000 by 1978.[46] The 2008 figures released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry places the current number of Turkish citizens of Greek descent at the 3,000–4,000 mark.[47] According to Milliyet there are 15,000 Greeks in Turkey,[7] while according to Human Rights Watch the Greek population in Turkey was estimated at 2,500 in 2006.[48] According to the same source, the Greek population in Turkey was collapsing as the community was by then far too small to sustain itself demographically, due to emigration, much higher death rates than birth rates and continuing discrimination.[48] In recent years however, most notably since the economic crisis in Greece, the trend has reversed. A few hundred to over a thousand Greeks now migrate to Turkey yearly for employment or educational purposes.[49][50]

Christian Greeks were forced to migrate. Muslim Greeks live in Turkey today. They live in cities of Trabzon and Rize.

Since 1924, the status of the Greek minority in Turkey has been ambiguous. Beginning in the 1930s, the government instituted repressive policies forcing many Greeks to emigrate. Examples are the labour battalions drafted among non-Muslims during World War II as well as the Fortune Tax levied mostly on non-Muslims during the same period. These resulted in financial ruination and death for many Greeks. The exodus was given greater impetus with the Istanbul Pogrom of September 1955 which led to thousands of Greeks fleeing the city, eventually reducing the Christian Greek population to about 7,000 by 1978 and to about 2,500 by 2006 before beginning to increase again after 2008.


Some 500,000[51] Iranians are reported to be residing in Turkey.


There have been Jewish communities in Asia Minor since at least the 5th century BC and many Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from Spain came to the Ottoman Empire (including regions part of modern Turkey) in the late 15th century. Despite emigration during the 20th century, modern-day Turkey continues to have a small Jewish population of about 20,000.[7]


Kabard villages in Turkey are concentrated on Uzunyayla plateau of Kayseri Province.


Karachay people live in villages concentrated in Konya and Eskişehir.


They are about 30,000 Kazakh people living in Zeytinburnu-Istanbul. It is known that there are Kazakh people in other parts of Turkey, for instance Manisa, Konya.


Percentage of Kurdish population in Turkey by region[52]

Ethnic Kurds are the largest minority in Turkey, composing around 20% of the population according to Milliyet, 18% of the total populace or ca. 14 million people according to the CIA Factbook, and as much as 23% by Kurdologist David McDowall.[1][53] Unlike the Turks, the Kurds speak an Iranian language. There are Kurds living all over Turkey, but most live to the east and southeast of the country, from where they originate.

In the 1930s, Turkish government policy aimed to forcibly assimilate and Turkify local Kurds. Today's presence of Kurds is a testimony that many have resisted these measures. Since 1984, Kurdish resistance movements included both peaceful political activities for basic civil rights for Kurds within Turkey, and violent armed rebellion for a separate Kurdish state.[54]


They are about 5000 people living in Van province, eastern Turkey. They were airlifted in 1982 from Pakistan where they had sought refugee after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979. Their original home was at the eastern end of the Wakhan Coridor, in the Pamirs, bordering on China. It is not known how many Kyrgyz still live in Van and how many have moved on to other parts of Turkey.


Most Laz people today live in Turkey, but the Laz minority group has no official status in Turkey. Their number today is estimated at 250,000.[55] The Laz are Sunni Muslims. Only a minority are bilingual in Turkish and their native Laz language which belongs to the South Caucasian group. The number of the Laz speakers is decreasing, and is now limited chiefly to the Rize and Artvin areas. The historical term Lazistan — formerly referring to a narrow tract of land along the Black Sea inhabited by the Laz as well as by several other ethnic groups — has been banned from official use and replaced with Doğu Karadeniz (which also includes Trabzon). During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, the Muslim population of Russia near the war zones was subjected to ethnic cleansing; many Lazes living in Batum fled to the Ottoman Empire, settling along the southern Black Sea coast to the east of Samsun.

Nakh peoples

Chechens and Ingush live in the provinces Istanbul, Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, Sivas and Muş.


Ossetians emigrated from North Ossetia since the second half of the 19th century, end of Caucasian War. Today, the majority of them live in Ankara and Istanbul. There are 24 Ossetian villages in central and eastern Anatolia. The Ossetians in Turkey are divided into three major groups, depending on their history of immigration and ensuing events: those living in Kars (Sarıkamış) and Erzurum, those in Sivas, Tokat and Yozgat and those in Muş and Bitlis.[56]


There are only 4,000 ethnic Poles in Turkey who have been assimilated into the main Turkish culture. The immigration did start during the Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Józef Bem was one of the first immigrants and Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski founded Polonezköy in 1842. Most Poles in Turkey live in Polonezköy, Istanbul.


The Roma in Turkey number approximately 700,000 according to Milliyet.[7] Sulukule is the oldest Roma settlement in Europe. The descendants of the Ottoman Roma today are known as Xoraxane Roma and are of the Islamic faith.[57]


The Zazas are an Iranian ethnical group like the Kurds and Ossetians. Their language Zazaki is a language spoken in eastern Anatolia between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. It belongs to the northwest-Iranian group of the Iranian language branch of the Indo-European language family. The Zaza language is related to Kurdish, Persian and Balōchi. An exact indication of the number of Zaza speakers is unknown. Internal Zaza sources estimate the total number of Zaza speakers at 3 to 6 million.

Religious minorities


In Turkey, Atheism is the biggest group after Islam. Nearly 1% of country's population defines itself as atheist.[58]


The house where the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh stayed in, Edirne

Turkish cities Edirne and İstanbul are in the holy places of this religion. Estimate Bahá'í population in Turkey is 10.000 (2008) [59]


Christianity has a long history in Anatolia which, nowadays part of the Republic of Turkey's territory, was the birthplace of numerous Christian Apostles and Saints, such as Apostle Paul of Tarsus, Timothy, St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Polycarp of Smyrna and many others. Two out of the five centers (Patriarchates) of the ancient Pentarchy were located in present-day Turkey: Constantinople (Istanbul) and Antioch (Antakya). All of the first seven Ecumenical Councils which are recognized by both the Western and Eastern churches were held in present-day Turkey. Of these, the Nicene Creed, declared with the First Council of Nicaea (İznik) in 325, is of utmost importance and has provided the essential definitions of present-day Christianity.

Today the Christian population of Turkey estimated more than 120,000, includes an estimated 70,000 ethnic Turkish Protestants.

Orthodox Christians

Aya Triada Greek Orthodox church in Beyoğlu, Istanbul

Orthodox Christianity forms a tiny minority in Turkey, comprising far less than one tenth of one percent of the entire population. The provinces of Istanbul and Hatay, which includes Antakya, are the main centres of Turkish Christianity, with comparatively dense Christian populations, though they are very small minorities. The main variant of Christianity present in Turkey is the Eastern Orthodox branch, focused mainly in the Greek Orthodox Church.


Protestants comprise far less than one tenth of one percent of the population of Turkey. Even so there is an Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey.[65][66] The constitution of Turkey recognizes freedom of religion for individuals. The Armenian Protestants own three Istanbul Churches from the 19th century.[66] On 4 November 2006, a Protestant place of worship was attacked with six Molotov cocktails.[67] Turkish media have criticized Christian missionary activity intensely.[68]

There is an ethnic Turkish Protestant Christian community most of them came from recent Muslim Turkish backgrounds, rather than from ethnic minoritie.[69][70][71][72]

Roman Catholics

The Church of St. Paul in Tharsus

There are around 35,000 Catholics,[73] constituting 0.05% of the population. The faithful follow the Latin, Byzantine, Armenian and Chaldean Rite. Most Latin Rite Catholics are Levantines of mainly Italian or French background, although a few are ethnic Turks (who are usually converts via marriage to Levantines or other non-Turkish Catholics). Byzantine, Armenian, and Chaldean rite Catholics are generally members of the Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian minority groups respectively. Turkey's Catholics are concentrated in Istanbul.

The Catholic community was shocked when Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary working in Turkey for 10 years, was shot twice at his church near the Black Sea.[74] He had written a letter to the Pope asking him to visit Turkey.[75] Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey in November 2006.[76] Relations had been rocky since Pope Benedict XVI had stated his opposition to Turkey joining the European Union.[77] The Council of Catholic Bishops met with the Turkish prime minister in 2004 to discuss restrictions and difficulties such as property issues.[78] More recently, Bishop Luigi Padovese, on June 6, 2010, the Vicar Apostolic of Turkey, was killed.


There have been Jewish communities in Asia Minor since at least the 5th century BC and many Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from Spain were welcomed to the Ottoman Empire (including regions part of modern Turkey) in the late 15th century. Despite emigration during the 20th century, modern-day Turkey continues to have a small Jewish population. There is a small Karaite Jewish population numbering around 100. Karaite Jews are not considered Jews by the Turkish Hakhambashi.



The exact number of Alawites in Turkey is unknown, but there were 185 000 Alawites in 1970.[79] As Muslims, they are not recorded separately from Sunnis in ID registration. In the 1965 census (the last Turkish census where informants were asked their mother tongue), 180,000 people in the three provinces declared their mother tongue as Arabic. However, Arabic-speaking Sunni and Christian people are also included in this figure.

Alawites traditionally speak the same dialect of Levantine Arabic with Syrian Alawites. Arabic is best preserved in rural communities and Samandağ. Younger people in Çukurova cities and (to a lesser extent) in İskenderun tend to speak Turkish. Turkish spoken by Alawites is distinguished by Alawites and non-Alawites alike with its particular accents and vocabulary. Knowledge of Arabic alphabet is confined to religious leaders and men who had worked or studied in Arab countries.


Alevi Density in Turkey

Alevis are the biggest religion minority in Turkey. Nearly 15%[80]-25% of all Turkish population is in this group. They are mainly Turk but there are significant Kurd and Zaza populations who are Alevi[81]


Twelver shia population of Turkey is nearly 3 million and most of them are Azeris. Half million of Caferis live in İstanbul. [82]


Turkey is a homeland of Yazidi with Syria and Iraq. In 1923, Yazidi population in Turkey was 18.000. However, most of them left the country and went to abroad in 80's and 90's. Now they are believed to be around several hundreds.


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See also

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