The Structure of Religious Mosaic in Turkey(1), by Abdurrahman Kaymak

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Minorities who differ from the majority with their ethnicity, denomination and native language remain uncertified in the eyes of the law. The number of individuals belonging to various minority groups in Turkey is a little unknown, since the state does not ask citizen about their ethnicity, religion or other origin in censuses. Up to 1965, censuses included a question about native language, but after 1965 the State Institute of Statistics stopped disclosing this information because of discrimination.  Thus, the only official information on minorities in Turkey relates to the number of individuals who declared their native language in 1965. This information is out of date and probably inaccurate because some individuals might not have disclosed their mother tongue, and because mother tongue is more an indicator of the language spoken in the family than the ethnic origin of the individual. 

The list of ethnic and linguistic minorities in below is not detailed. It includes the main minority groups, regardlessof self-identifing as “minorities” or owning non-conclusive information about these groups. The quantitative estimates below should be read with cautious; they are mostly provided by the minorities themselves and these information is not supported by academic resources.



Generally referred as Circassians, this group consists of various peoples of Caucasian origin: Abkhazians, Chechens, Circassians, Daghistanis, Ossetians  and various Turkic groups. ‘Caucasia’ is the original homeland of these groups, whose ancestors immigrated from Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Each group has its own language. The mother tongues of Abkhazians, Chechens, Circassians and Daghistanis belong to the Iberian-Caucasian language family, whereas Osse-tians speak an Indo-European language and Turkic groups speak Turkic languages. Ninety percent of Caucasians in Turkey are Circassian, while the majority of the remaining 10 percent is Abkhaz. All Caucasians are Muslim. Chechens and Daghistanis belong to the Şafi denomination of Islam, whereas the rest are Hanefi. Caucasians live in 15 provinces in northwest, central and southern Turkey. According to the Federation of Caucasian Associations, the number of individuals who self-identify as Caucasian is 3 million in Turkey.   With the opening of the border with Georgia in 1988, after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the global rise in identity politics, a differentiation has emerged within Caucasians. On the contrary of other groups, Circassians and Abkhaz aspire to return to their historical homelands, where they had left behind a small minority. With the development of relationships between these two groups and their homelands across the border, non-Circassian and non-Abkhaz ethnic groups started to form their own associations.


Kurds are the largest ethnic and linguistic minority in Turkey. The estimated numbers claimed by various sources range from 10 to 23 percent of the population. According to the 1965 national census, those who declared Kurdish as their mother tongue or second language constituted around 7.5 per cent of the population. However, it is possible that this given percentage  does not reflect overall Kurd population today. Kurds speak Kurdish, which is divided into Kurmanci, Zaza and other minor dialects. The majority are Sunni Muslims, while a significant number are Alevis. Although, Kurds constitute the remarkable majority in eastern and south-eastern of Turkey, large numbers of Kurds have immigrated to urban areas in western Turkey. Initially, from late 1950s, the Kurdish immigration was voluntary and economic. With the out break of armed conflict in 1984 between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK terrorist group), more than 1 million Kurds were evicted from rural and urban areas in eastern and south-eastern Turkey.  They displaced and settled in urban centres and  towns in western and southern Turkey, and many of them fled to Europe.


The Laz are the people of Caucasian origin sharing similar roots with the Migrels who live between Abkhazia and Georgia today. There are two main groups of Laz in Turkey. The first group lives in the eastern half of the Black Sea region, in Rize and Artvin provinces. The second group are the descendants of immigrants who escaped the war between the Ottoman and Russian Empires in the late nineteenth century and settled in Adapazarı, Sapanca, Yalova and Bursa, in western and eastern parts of the Black Sea and Marmara regions, respectively. 

Both of these groups were originally Orthodox Christians who converted to Sunni Islam during the fifteenth century. They speak Lazuri, a south Caucasian language coming from Georgian and Abkhazian languages. According to the 1965 census, the number of individuals who declared themselves as Laz was 250,000. Their number today is estimated  between 750,000 and 1.5 million. The majority of Laz have immigrated to urban cities in western Turkey in the last 20 years.                                


While the general perception about Romans is that they live mainly in Eastern Thrace near the Bulgarian and Greek borders of Turkey, in fact they live all across the country in any particular region.  Various groups are included under the general heading of Roman/Gypsy, such as ‘Roman’ who live predominantly in Eastern Thrace,‘Teber/Abdal’ who live across Anatolia and ‘Poşa’ who live in north-east Anatolia, Çankırı, Kastamonu and Sinop. While there are various Roman languages such as ‘Romani’ (an Indo-European language spoken by the Romans) and ‘Abdoltili’ (an Altaic language spoken by the Teber), the mother tongue for the majority of Romans has become Turkish. A recent study shows that there are about 2 million Romans in Turkey.  According to the researchers, there are just 70 Roma neighbourhoods in Istanbul, the true  population of Romans may be as high as 5 million, because most of Romans lives in overcrowded households and many of them do not have identity cards. Originally, they are Rum Orthodox Romans and number of Rum Orthodox Romans is not certain.                                                            


Various other ethnic minorities living in small and undetermined numbers around the country are Arabs (Alevi, Sunni and Christian), Bulgarians, Bosnians, Pomacs and Albanians.                                                     

İt will continue…

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