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Turkification, or Turkicization (Turkish: Türkleştirme), is a cultural and language shift whereby populations or states adopted a historical Turkic culture, such as in the Ottoman Empire. As the Turkic states developed and grew, there were many instances of this cultural shift. An early form of Turkification occurred in the time of the Seljuk Empire among the local population of Anatolia, involving intermarriages, religious conversion, linguistic shift and interethnic relationships, which today is reflected in the genetic makeup of the modern Turkish people.[1][2][3][4][5]Diverse peoples were affected by Turkification including Anatolian, Balkan, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern peoples with different ethnic origins, such as Albanians, Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Georgians, Greeks, Jews, Romani, Slavs, Kurds living in Anatolia, as well as Lazs from all the regions of the Ottoman Empire.[1][6][3][4][5]

Janissaries in the Ottoman army were largely of Christian origin.[7][8]


Prior to the 20th century the region underwent Ottomanization. These terms started being used interchangeably after the rise of Turkish nationalism in the 20th century.[9]

The term has been used in the Greek language since the 1300s or late-Byzantine era as "εκτουρκισμός", or "τούρκεμα". It literally means "becoming Turk". Apart from persons, it may refer also to cities that were conquered by Turks or churches that were converted to mosques. It is more frequently used in the form of the verb "τουρκεύω" (turkify, become Muslim or Turk)[10][11][12][need quotation to verify]


By 750 the Turkification of Kashgar by the Qarluq Turks was underway. The Qarluqs were ancestors of the Karakhanids, who also Islamized the population.[13] The language of Khwarezm, a Central Asian oasis region, eventually died out as a result of Turkification.[14]

Arrival of Turks in Anatolia[edit]

Illustration of the registration of Christian boys for the devşirme. Ottoman miniature painting, 1558.[15])

Anatolia was home to many different peoples in ancient times who were either natives or settlers and invaders. These different people included the Armenians, Anatolian peoples, Persians,[16] Hurrians, Greeks, Cimmerians, Galatians, Colchians, Iberians, Arameans, Assyrians, Corduenes, and scores of others. The presence of many Greeks, the process of Hellenization, and the similarity of some of the native languages of Anatolia to Greek (cf. Phrygian), gradually caused many of these peoples to abandon their own languages in favor of the eastern Mediterranean lingua franca, Koine Greek, a process reinforced by Romanization. By the 5th century the native people of Asia Minor were entirely Greek in their language and Christian in religion.[17] These Greek Christian inhabitants of Asia Minor are known as Byzantine Greeks, and they formed the bulk of the Byzantine Empire's Greek-speaking population for one thousand years, from the 5th century until the fall of the Byzantine state in the 15th century. In the northeast along the Black Sea these peoples eventually formed their own state known as the Empire of Trebizond, which gave rise to the modern Pontic Greek population. In the east, near the borderlands with the Persian Empire, other native languages remained, specifically Armenian, Assyrian Aramaic, and Kurdish.[18] Byzantine authorities routinely conducted large-scale population transfers in an effort to impose religious uniformity and quell rebellions. After the subordination of the First Bulgarian Empire in 1018, for instance, much of its army was resettled in Eastern Anatolia. The Byzantines were particularly keen to assimilate the large Armenian population. To that end, in the eleventh century, the Armenian nobility were removed from their lands and resettled throughout western Anatolia with prominent families subsumed into the Byzantine nobility, leading to numerous Byzantine generals and emperors of Armenian extraction. These resettlements spread the Armenian-speaking community deep into Asia Minor, but an unintended consequence was the loss of local military leadership along the eastern Byzantine frontier, opening the path for the inroads of Turkish invaders.[19] Beginning in the eleventh century, war between the Turks and Byzantines led to the deaths of many in Asia Minor, while others were enslaved and removed.[20] As areas became depopulated, Turkic nomads moved in with their herds.[21]

Number of pastoralists of Turkic origin in Anatolia[edit]

The number of nomads of Turkic origin that migrated to Anatolia is a matter of discussion. According to Ibn Sa'id al-Maghribi, there were 200,000 Turkmen tents in Denizli and its surrounding areas, 30,000 in Bolu and its environment, and about 100,000 in Kastamonu and its environment.[22][23] According to a Latin source at the end of the 12th century there were 100,000 nomadic tents in the regions of Denizli and Isparta.[24]

According to Ottoman tax archives, in modern-day Anatolia, in Anatolia Eyalet, Karaman Eyalet, Dulkadir Eyalet and Rûm Eyalet provinces there were about 872,610 households in the 1520s and 1530s; 160,564 of those households were nomadic, and the remainder were sedentary. Of four provinces, province of Anatolia had the largest nomadic population with 77,268 households. (note: province of Anatolia does not include entire Anatolia, it includes Western Anatolia and some parts of Northwestern Anatolia only) Between 1570 and 1580, 220,217 households of the total 1,360,474 households in the four provinces were nomadic which means, at least 20% of Anatolia was still nomadic in the 16th century. The province of Anatolia, which had the largest nomadic population with 77,268, saw an increase in its nomadic population. 116,219 households in those years in province of Anatolia were nomadic.[25]


Devşirme[a] (literally "collecting" in Turkish), also known as the blood tax, was chiefly the annual practice by which the Ottoman Empire sent military to press second or third sons of their Christian subjects (Rum millet) in the villages of the Balkans into military training as janissaries.[26] They were then converted to Islam[27] with the primary objective of selecting and training the ablest children for the military or civil service of the Empire, notably into the Janissaries.[28] Started by Murad I as a means to counteract the growing power of the Turkish nobility, the practice itself violated Islamic law.[29] Yet by 1648, the practice was slowly drawing to an end. An attempt to re-institute it in 1703 was resisted by its Ottoman members who coveted its military and civilian posts. Finally in the early part of Ahmet III's reign, the practice of devshirme was abolished.

Late Ottoman era[edit]

The late Ottoman government sought to create "a core identity with a single Turkish religion, language, history, tradition, culture and set of customs", replacing earlier Ottoman traditions that had not sought to assimilate different religions or ethnic groups. The Ottoman Empire had an ethnically diverse population that included Turks, Arabs, Albanians, Bosniaks, Greeks, Persians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Armenians, Kurds, Zazas, Circassians, Assyrians, Jews and Laz people. Turkish nationalists claimed that only Turks were loyal to the state. Ideological support for Turkification was not widespread in the Ottoman Empire.[30]

One of its main supporters was sociologist and political activist Ziya Gökalp who believed that a modern state must become homogeneous in terms of culture, religion, and national identity.[31] This conception of national identity was augmented by his belief in the primacy of Turkishness, as a unifying virtue. As part of this belief, it was necessary to purge from the territories of the state those national groups who could threaten the integrity of a modern Turkish nation state.[32][33] The 18th article of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876 declared Turkish the sole official language,[34] and that only Turkish speaking people could be employed in the government.[35]

Djemal Pasha, Nusret Bey, and Cerkez Hasan inspecting Armenian orphans of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish orphanages held Armenian orphans in order to Turkify them.[36]

After the Young Turks assumed power in 1909, the policy of Turkification received several new layers and it was sought to impose Turkish in the administration, the courts and education in the areas where the Arabic speaking population was the majority. Another aim was to loosen ties between the Empire's Turk and ethnically non-Turkish populations through efforts to purify the Turkish language of Arabic influences. In this nationalist vision of Turkish identity, language was supreme and religion relegated to a subordinate role. Arabs responded by asserting the superiority of Arabic language, describing Turkish as a "mongrel" language that had borrowed heavily from the Persian and Arabic languages. Through the policy of Turkification, the Young Turk government suppressed Arabic language. Turkish teachers were hired to replace Arabic teachers at schools. The Ottoman postal service was administrated in Turkish.[37]

Those who supported Turkification were accused of harming Islam. Rashid Rida was an advocate who supported Arabic against Turkish.[37] Even before the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, the Syrian Reformer Tahrir al-Jazairi had convinced Midhat Pasha to adopt Arabic as the official language of instruction at state schools. The language of instruction was only changed to Turkish in 1885 under Sultan Abdulhamid.[38] Though writers like Ernest Dawn have noted that the foundations of Second Constitutional Era "Arabism" predate 1908, the prevailing view still holds that Arab nationalism emerged as a response to the Ottoman Empire's Turkification policies.[39][40] One historian of Arab nationalism wrote that: "the Unionists introduced a grave provocation by opposing the Arab language and adopting a policy of Turkification", but not all scholars agree about the contribution of Turkification policies to Arab nationalism.[39]

European critics who accused the CUP of depriving non-Turks of their rights through Turkification saw Turk, Ottoman and Muslim as synonymous, and believed Young Turk "Ottomanism" posed a threat to Ottoman Christians. The British ambassador Gerard Lowther said it was like "pounding non-Turkish elements in a Turkish mortar", while another contemporary European source complained that the CUP plan would reduce "the various races and regions of the empire to one dead level of Turkish uniformity." Rifa'at 'Ali Abou-El-Haj has written that "some Ottoman cultural elements and Islamic elements were abandoned in favor of Turkism, a more potent device based on ethnic identity and dependent on a language based nationalism".[39]

The Young Turk government launched a series of initiatives that included forced assimilation. Ümit Üngör writes that "Muslim Kurds and Sephardi Jews were considered slightly more 'Turkifiable' than others", noting that many of these nationalist era "social engineering" policies perpetuated persecution "with little regard for proclaimed and real loyalties." These policies culminated in Armenian and Assyrian genocides.[41]

During World War I, the Ottoman government established orphanages throughout the empire which included Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish children. Armenian orphans were given Arabic and Turkish names.[42] By October 1918, with the Ottoman army retreating from Lebanon, a Father Sarlout sent the Turkish and Kurdish orphans to Damascus, while keeping the Armenian orphans in Antoura. He began the process of reversing the Turkification process by having the Armenian orphans recall their original names.[43] It is believed by various scholars, that at least two million Turks have at least one Armenian grandparent.[44]

Around 1.5 million Ottoman Greeks remained in the Ottoman Empire after losses of 550,000 during WWI. Almost all, 1,250,000, except for those in Constantinople, had fled before or were forced to go to Greece in 1923 in the population exchanges mandated by the League of Nations after the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922).[45] The lingual Turkification of Greek-speakers in 19th-century Anatolia is well documented. According to Speros Vryonis the Karamanlides are the result of partial Turkification that occurred earlier, during the Ottoman period.[46] Fewer than 300,000 Armenians remained of 1.8 million before the war; fewer than 100,000 of 400,000 Assyrians.

Modern Turkey[edit]

Armenian boys who were orphaned due to the Armenian Genocide were conscripted into the Turkish army by Kazim Karabekir to fight against Armenia during the Turkish-Armenian War of 1920[47][48]

When the modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, nationalism and secularism were two of the founding principles.[49] Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leader of the early years of the Republic, aimed to create a nation state (Turkish: Ulus) from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of National Education in 2008 defines the "Turkish People" as "those who protect and promote the moral, spiritual, cultural and humanistic values of the Turkish Nation."[50] One of the goals of the establishment of the new Turkish state was to ensure "the domination of Turkish ethnic identity in every aspect of social life from the language that people speak in the streets to the language to be taught at schools, from the education to the industrial life, from the trade to the cadres of state officials, from the civil law to the settlement of citizens to particular regions."[51]

The process of unification through Turkification continued within modern Turkey with such policies as:

  • According to Art. 12 of the Turkish Constitution of 1924, citizens who could not speak and read Turkish were not allowed to become members of parliament.[52]
  • A law from December 1925 demanded that clothes worn by employees in all companies must be of Turkish production.[53]
  • On the 18 March 1926 a Civil Servants Law came into effect, which allowed only Turks to become civil servants and explicitly excluded Armenians and Greeks to become such.[54]
  • On the 28 Mai 1927 it was decided that the business correspondence must be in Turkish language and foreign assurance companies must employ Turks except for the director and the deputy director.[53]
  • Citizen, speak Turkish! (Turkish: Vatandaş Türkçe konuş!) – An initiative created by law students but sponsored by the Turkish government which aimed to put pressure on non-Turkish speakers to speak Turkish in public in the 1930s.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61] In some municipalities, fines were given to those speaking in any language other than Turkish.[58][62][63][64][65][66]
  • The Law 2007 of 11 June 1932 reserved a wide number of professions like lawyer, construction worker, artisan, hairdresser, messenger etc. to Turkish citizens and forbade foreigners also to open shops in rural areas. Most affected by the Law were the Greek.[67] [68]
  • 1934 Resettlement Law (also known as the Law no. 2510) – A policy adopted by the Turkish government which set forth the basic principles of immigration.[69] The law, however, is regarded in academia as a policy of forceful assimilation of non-Turkish minorities through a forced and collective resettlement.[70]
  • Surname Law – The surname law forbade certain surnames that contained connotations of foreign cultures, nations, tribes, and religions.[57][61][71][72] As a result, many ethnic Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds were forced to adopt last names of Turkish rendition.[71] Names ending with "yan, of, ef , viç, is, dis , poulos, aki, zade, shvili, madumu, veled, bin" (names that denote Armenian, Russian, Greek, Albanian, Arabic, Georgian, Kurdish, and other origins) could not be registered, they had to be replaced by "-oğlu."[73]
  • From 1932 on, it was implemented by the Diyanet that the Adhan and the Salah shall be called in Turkish. Imams who delivered the Adhan in Arabic were prosecuted according to the article 526 of the Turkish Criminal Code for "being opposed to the command of officials maintaining public order and safety".[74] 1941 a new paragraph was added to Article 526 of the Turkish Criminal Code and from then on Imams who refused to deliver the Adhan in Turkish could be imprisoned for up to 3 months or be fined with between 10 and 300 Turkish Lira.[75] After the Democrat Party won the elections in 1950, on 17 June 1950 it was decided that the prayers could be given in Arabic again.[76]
  • Varlık Vergisi ("Wealth tax" or "Capital tax") – A Turkish tax levied on the wealthy citizens of Turkey in 1942, with the stated aim of raising funds for the country's defense in case of an eventual entry into World War II. Those who suffered most severely were non-Muslims like the Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Levantines, who controlled a large portion of the economy;[77] the Armenians who were most heavily taxed.[78] According to Klaus Kreiser for President Inönü the aim of the tax was to evict the foreigners who control the Turkish economy and move the economy to the Turks[79]
  • Article 16 of the Population Law from 1972 prohibited to give newborns names that were contrary to the national culture.[80]
  • Animal name changes in Turkey – An initiative by the Turkish government to remove any reference to Armenia and Kurdistan in the Latin names of animals.[81][82][83][84][85][86][87][88]
  • Confiscated Armenian properties in Turkey – An initiative by the Ottoman and Turkish governments which involved seizure of the assets, properties and land of the Armenian community of Turkey.[89] The policy is considered a nationalization and Turkification of the country's economy by eliminating ownership of non-Turkish minorities which in this case would be of the Armenian community.[90]
  • Geographical name changes in Turkey – An initiative by the Turkish government to replace non-Turkish geographical and topographic names within the Turkish Republic or the Ottoman Empire, with Turkish names,[91][92][93] as part of a policy of Turkification.[94][95][96] The main proponent of the initiative has been a Turkish homogenization social-engineering campaign which aimed to assimilate or obliterate geographical or topographical names that were deemed foreign and divisive against Turkish unity. The names that were considered foreign were usually of Armenian, Greek, Laz, Slavic, Kurdish, Assyrian, or Arabic origin.[91][93][95][96][97] For example, words such as Armenia were banned in 1880 from use in the press, schoolbooks, and governmental establishments and was subsequently replaced with words like Anatolia or Kurdistan.[98][99][100][101][102] Assyrians have increased their protest regarding the forced Turkification of historically Aramaic-named cities and localities and they see this process as continuing the cultural genocide of their identity and history (as part of the wider erasure of Assyrian, Kurdish and Armenian cultures).[103][104].[69]
  • Article 301 (Turkish Penal Code) – An article of the Turkish Penal Code which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions. It took effect on June 1, 2005, and was introduced as part of a package of penal-law reform in the process preceding the opening of negotiations for Turkish membership of the European Union (EU), in order to bring Turkey up to the Union standards.[105][106]
  • The conscription of the 20 Classes working battalions in the years 1941-1942. Only non-Muslims, mainly Jews, Greeks and Armenians were conscripted to work under difficult conditions.[107][108][109][110]
  • Turkification was also prevalent in the educational system of Turkey. Measures were adopted making Turkish classes mandatory in minority schools and making use of the Turkish language mandatory in economic institutions.[111]

Turkification of the Golden Horde[edit]

A process of turkification was imposed on Iranian locals by the Mongol conquerors of Central Asia, and as a result, both communities used the Turkic language as their lingua franca.

The Turkic peoples have also influenced neighboring peoples and assimilated into them. Examples of this practice include the Qaratays (a Tatarized former group of the Moksha people), the Besermyans (a partially Tatarized subgroup of the Udmurt people), the Urums (Turkic speaking Greeks), and the Koibals (a Khakassized former group of the Samoyedic peoples).

Imprecise meaning of Türk[edit]

During the 19th century, the word Türk was a derogatory term used to refer to Anatolian villagers. The Ottoman elite identified themselves as Ottomans, not as Turks.[112] In the late 19th century, as European ideas of nationalism were adopted by the Ottoman elite, and as it became clear that the Turkish-speakers of Anatolia were the most loyal supporters of Ottoman rule, the term Türk took on a much more positive connotation.[113]

During Ottoman times, the millet system defined communities on a religious basis, and a residue remains today in that Turkish villagers will commonly consider as Turks only those who profess the Sunni faith, and they consider Turkish-speaking Jews, Christians, or even Alevis to be non-Turks.[114]

The imprecision of the appellation Türk can also be seen with other ethnic names, such as Kürt, which is often applied by western Anatolians to anyone east of Adana, even those who speak only Turkish.[114] On the other hand, Kurdish-speaking or Arabic-speaking Sunnis of eastern Anatolia are often considered to be Turks.[115]

Thus, the category Türk, like other ethnic categories popularly used in Turkey, does not have a uniform usage. In recent years, centrist Turkish politicians have attempted to redefine this category in a more multicultural way, emphasizing that a Türk is anyone who is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey.[116] Now, article 66 of the Turkish Constitution defines a "Turk" as anyone who is "bound to the Turkish state through the bond of citizenship".

Genetic testing of language replacement hypothesis in Anatolia, Caucasus and Balkans[edit]

The region of the Anatolia represents an extremely important area with respect to ancient population migration and expansion, and the spread of the Caucasian, Indo-European and Turkic languages. During the late Roman Period, prior to the Turkic conquest, the population of Anatolia had reached an estimated level of approximately 4 million people.[117][118][119] Several studies examined the extent to which gene flow from Central Asia has contributed to the current gene pool of the Turkish people, and the role of the 11th century invasion by Turkic peoples. A 2002 study concluded that Turks do not significantly differ from other Mediterranean populations, indicating that while the Asian Turks carried out an invasion with cultural significance (language and religion), the genetic significance is lesser detectable.[120] A genetic research from 2001 has suggested the local Anatolian origins of the Turkic Asian peoples might have been slight.[121] In 2003, DNA results suggested there was no strong genetic relationship between the Mongols and the Turks people despite the historical relationship of their languages.[122]

In 2014, however, the largest autosomal study on Turkish genetics (on 16 individuals) concluded the weight of East Asian (presumably Central Asian) migration legacy of the Turkish people is estimated at 21.7%.[4] The authors conclude on the basis of previous studies that "South Asian contribution to Turkey's population was significantly higher than East/Central Asian contributions, suggesting that the genetic variation of medieval Central Asian populations may be more closely related to South Asian populations, or that there was continued low level migration from South Asia into Anatolia." They note that these weights are not direct estimates of the migration rates as the original donor populations are not known, and the exact kinship between current East Asians and the medieval Oghuz Turks is uncertain. For instance, genetic pools of Central Asian Turkic peoples is particularly diverse and modern Oghuz Turkmens living in Central Asia are with higher West Eurasian genetic component than East Eurasian on average .[123][124][125]

These findings are consistent with a model in which the Turkic languages, originating in the Altai-Sayan region of Central Asia and northwestern Mongolia, were imposed on the indigenous peoples with genetic admixture, shows both ethnic mixing and linguistic replacement.[126] Genetically, Anatolian Turks were more closely related also with Balkan populations than to the Central Asian populations in early history. After eleven decades of Turkic migration to Anatolia including Oghuz and Kipchak Turkic people from Central Asia, Persia, Caucassia and Crimea, today's population is genetically in between Central Asia and indigenous historic Anatolia.[127][128] Similar results come from neighbouring Caucasus region by testing Armenian and Turkic speaking Azerbaijani populations, therefore representing language replacements and intermarriages.[129] As of 2004, the haplogroups in Turkey are shared with European and neighboring Near Eastern populations and haplogroups related to Central Asian, South Asian and African affinity, which supports both the mass migration, and language replacement hypothesis on the region and ethnic mixing.[130]

A 2011 haplogroup study concluded "that the profile of Anatolian populations today is the product not of mass westward migrations of Central Asians and Siberians, or of small-scale migrations into an emptied subcontinent, but instead of small-scale, irregular punctuated migration events that engendered large-scale shifts in language and culture among the diverse" indigenous inhabitants (p. 32).[131] A haplogroup study of Greek Cypriots in 2017 claimed without providing evidence that "the modern Turks are a hybrid population, comprising the original Anatolian stock, Turkic people, as well as other ethnicities from regions of the former Ottoman Empire".[5] Results of a 2012 genetic study by Hodoğlugil and Mahley showed the admixture of Turkish people, which is primarily European (French, Italian, Sardinian) and Middle Eastern (Druze, Palestinian), with a Central Asian (Uyghur, Kyrgyz, Hazara) component of only 9%-15% of their genepool.[132]

A Y-DNA study from 2017 stated that Turks are a hybrid population comprising the Anatolian populations, Turkics and the other ethnicities from regions of the former Ottoman Empire[133]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]