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Turkification, or Turkicization (Turkish: Türkleştirme), is a cultural 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.

Diverse people were effected by Turkification including Anatolian, Balkan, Caucasian and Middle Eastern peoples from different ethnic origins, such as Albanians, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Georgians, Greeks, Jews, Romani, Slavs, Iranic peoples such as Kurds, as well as Lazs from all the regions of the Ottoman Empire and Iran.

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 predominant indigenous Anatolian genetic makeup of the modern Turkish people.[1][2][3]



The term is used in the Greek language since the 1300s or late-Byzantine era as "εκτουρκισμός", or "τούρκεμα". It literally means "becomingTurk". 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)[4][5][6]

In Serbian and other South Slavic languages the verb is turčiti (imperfective) or poturčiti (perfective);[7] however, this verb does not imply adopting the Turkish language. Rather, it usually signifies the conversion of Slavic people to Islam during Ottoman rule of the Balkans. The verb in Romanian is "TURCÍ", meaning "adopting the language, customs and (especially) the religion of the Turks; to become Turkish".[8]

Andrew Mango describes the diversity of phenotypes amongst the Turkish people as follows:[9]

The Turkish nation took shape in the centuries of Seljuk and Ottoman power. The nomadic Turkish conquerors did not displace the original local inhabitants: Hellenized Anatolians (or simply Greeks), Armenians, people of Caucasian origins, Kurds, Assyrians and—in the Balkans—Slavs, Albanians and others. They intermarried with them, while many local people converted to Islam and 'turned Turk'. They were joined by Muslims from the lands north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus, by Persian craftsmen and Arab scholars, and by European adventurers and converts, known in the West as renegades. As a result, the Turks today exhibit a wide variety of ethnic types. Some have delicate Far Eastern, others heavy local Anatolian features, some, who are descended from Slavs, Albanians or Circassians, have light complexions, others are dark-skinned, many look Mediterranean, others Central Asian, many appear Persian. A numerically small, but commercially and intellectually important, group is descended from converts from Judaism. One can hear Turks describe some of their fellow countrymen as 'hatchet-nosed Lazes' (a people on the Black Sea coast), 'dark Arabs' (a term which includes descendants of black slaves), or even 'fellahs'. But they are all Turks.


Arrival of Turks in AnatoliaEdit

"Devshirme" (book illustration from Topkapı Palace Museum)

Anatolia was home to many different peoples in ancient times who were either natives or settlers and invaders. These different people included the Armenians, Hittites, Persians, Luwians, Hurrians, Greeks, Cimmerians, Galatians, Colchians, Iberians, Carians, Lydians, Lycians, Phrygians, Arameans, Assyrians, Corduenes, Cappadocians, Cilicians, Jews, Truvans and scores of others. The presence of many Greeks, and the process of Hellenization, gradually caused many of these peoples to abandon their own languages in favor of Greek, especially in cities and along the western and southern coasts, a process reinforced by Romanization. Nevertheless, in the north and east, especially in rural areas, many of the native languages continued to survive, including both many extinct and a few extant languages such as Armenian and Assyrian Aramaic.[10] Byzantine authorities routinely conducted large-scale population transfers in an effort to impose religious uniformity and the Greek language. 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. An unintended consequence of this resettlement was the loss of local military leadership along the eastern frontier, opening the path for the inroads of Turkish invaders.[11] Beginning in the eleventh century, war with Turks led to the deaths of many in the native population, while others were enslaved and removed.[12] As areas became depopulated, Turkic nomads moved in with their herds.[13]

Once an area had been conquered, and hostilities had ceased, agricultural villagers may have felt little inconvenience with the arrival of these pastoralists, since they occupied different ecological zones within the same territory.[14] Turkic pastoralists remained only a small minority, however, and the gradual Turkification of Anatolia was due less to in-migration than to the conversion of many Christians to Islam, and their adoption of the Turkish language. The reasons for this conversion were first, the weak hold Greek culture had on much of the population, and second, the desire by the conquered population to "retain its property or else to avoid being at a disadvantage in other ways."[15] One mark of the progress of Turkification was that by the 1330s, place names in Anatolia had changed from Greek to Turkish.[16]


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.[17] They were then converted to Islam[18] with the primary objective of selecting and training the ablest children for the military or civil service of the Empire, notably into the Janissaries.[19] Started by Murad I as a means to counteract the growing power of the Turkish nobility, the practice itself violated Islamic law.[20] 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 eraEdit

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.[21]

During the 19th century and early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was composed of ethnically diverse populations such as Turks, Persians, Arabs, Albanians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Muslim Bulgarians, Armenians, Kurds, Zazas, Circassians, Assyrians, Jews and Laz people.

With the rise of Turkish nationalism, an ideal among some Turkish nationalists was to form a modern homogenized nation state.[22] One of its main supporters was sociologist and political activist Ziya Gokalp who believed that a modern state must become homogeneous in terms of culture, religion, and national identity.[23] 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.[24][25] As a result of this policy, the Young Turk government launched a series of initiatives which marginalized, isolated, incarcerated, altered borders, deported, forcefully assimilated, exchanged populations, massacred and conducted genocide against its non-Turkish minority populations.[26] These policies resulted in the Armenian Genocide, Greek Genocide and Assyrian Genocide. The remaining Ottoman Greeks numbered around 1.5 million people after loses 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).[27] The remaining Greeks were relocated with the population exchange between Greece and Turkey.

This has been considered as ultimately completing a "Turkified" state.[28]

The lingual Turkification of Greek-speakers in 19th-century Anatolia is well documented. Speros Vryonis, providing some relevant accounts, believes that the Karamanlides are the result of partial turkification that occurred earlier, during the Ottoman period.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31] It is believed by various scholars, that at least two million Turks have at least one Armenian grandparent.[32]

It has also been discovered through the Turkish genealogy database that at least two million of those who identify as Turks are in reality ethnically Armenian, most of whom are descended from survivors of the Armenian Genocide.[33][34][33]

Modern TurkeyEdit

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[35][36]

When the modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, nationalism and secularism were two of the founding principles.[37] 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. Kemalist ideology defines the "Turkish People" as "those who protect and promote the moral, spiritual, cultural and humanistic values of the Turkish Nation."[38] 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."[39]

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

  • 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.[40][41][42][43][44][45][46] In some municipalities, fines were given to those speaking in any language other than Turkish.[43][47][48][49][50][51]
  • Vocational restrictions Law (Turkey) Punitive Turkish nationalist exclusivist measures, such as a 1932 parliamentary law, barred Greek citizens living in Turkey from a series of 30 trades and professions from tailoring and carpentry to medicine, law and real estate.[52]
  • Surname law – The surname law forbade certain surnames that contained connotations of foreign cultures, nations, tribes, and religions.[42][46][53][54] As a result, many ethnic Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds were forced to adopt last names of Turkish rendition.[53] 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."[55]
  • 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.[56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63]
  • 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.[64] 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.[65]
  • 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,[66][67][68] as part of a policy of Turkification.[69][70][71] 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, Bulgarian, Kurdish, Assyrian, or Arabic origin.[66][68][70][71][72] 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.[73][74][75][76][77] 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).[78][79]
  • 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.[80] The law, however, is regarded in academia as a policy of forceful assimilation of non-Turkish minorities through a forced and collective resettlement.[81]
  • 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.[82][83]
  • Varlik 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;[84] the Armenians who were most heavily taxed.[85] It is argued[by whom?] that a major reason for the tax was to nationalize the Turkish economy by reducing minority populations' influence and control over the country's trade, finance, and industries.
  • 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.[86]

Turkification in Golden HordeEdit

A process of turkification of Mongol conquerors and Iranian locals in Central Asia, as Turkic language used both by conquerors and locals as lingua franca.

The Turkic peoples have influenced and assimilated neighboring peoples also elsewhere. Examples include the Qaratays (a Tatarized former group of the Moksha people), the Besermyans (a partially Tatarized subgroup of the Udmurt people), and the Koibals (a Khakassized former group of the Samoyedic peoples).

Imprecise meaning of TürkEdit

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.[87] 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.[88]

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.[89]

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.[89] On the other hand, Kurdish-speaking or Arabic-speaking Sunnis of eastern Anatolia are often considered to be Turks.[90]

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.[91] 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 BalkansEdit

The region of the Anatolia represents an extremely important area with respect to ancient population migration and expansion, and the spread of the Caucasian, Semitic, Indo-European and Turkic languages, as well as the extinction of the local Anatolian 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.[92][93][94] 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 2001 study concluded that local Anatolian groups are nearly half the source of the present-day Turkish population.[95] 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.[96]

Anatolians 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.[97] genetic research from 2001 has suggested the local Anatolian origins of the Turkic Asian peoples might have been slight.[98] 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.[99] Genetically, Anatolians 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 Oguz and Kipchak Turkic people from Central Asia, Persia, Caucassia and Crimea, today's population is genetically in between Central Asia and indigenous historic Anatolia.[100][101] Similar results come from neighbouring Caucasus region by testing Armenian and Turkic speaking Azerbaijani populations, therefore representing language replacements and intermarriages.[102] As of 2004, the DNA components in the Anatolian population 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.[103]

A 2011 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).[104] Results of a 2012 genetic study by Hodoğlugil and Mahley showed the admixture of Turkish people, which were primarily European and Middle Eastern, with a small Central Asian (9%-15%) component.[105]

See alsoEdit


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