Are There Any Turks in Turkey?

I’ve wanted to write this piece for a long time, but there’s a set of information that would make it more complete which I have not been able to find (more on this later). So, after putting it off for more than a year, I decided to give it a go anyway.

To start, I played a game with myself by listing how many different nationalities living in Turkey today I could name. I came up with this list: Albanians (Arnawoot), Alevis, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Bosnians (Boshnaks/Bosniaks), Bulgarians, Circassians (Adyghe and Kabardian as I subsequently learned), Greeks (including Pontic Greeks), Jews, Kurds, Laz, Macedonians, Turkmens, Zaza (Kurds) and miscellaneous Eastern European stock converted to Islam by the Ottomans who settled in post-Ottoman Turkey, often in the homes left vacant by Armenians who were murdered or exiled. I’m not even including the more ancient peoples who dwelt as Armenians’ neighbors to the west and have since disappeared, nor the various nations represented by their business-based diasporas.

Of course, I missed some: Abazins, Abkhazians, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Gagauzes, Georgians, Ossetians, Pomaks, Romani/Roma/Gypsy, Karakalpaks, Tahtaci, and one source described “minorities of West European … the Levantines (or Levanter, mostly of French, Genoese and Venetian descent) … present in the country (particularly in Istanbul and İzmir) since the medieval period.” These two lists are what I could find in what I can only describe as a “stingy” environment. There are probably many more. Obviously, Ankara wants the world to believe that everyone living in Turkey is a Turk. This is a very clever bit of wordplay, since the Republic of Turkey’s constitution defines the country’s residents in that way. Ankara certainly doesn’t want awareness, neither worldwide nor among its own citizens, of the large number of nationalities that pan-Turkist and Ataturkist policies aim to subsume and render “Turkish” over time. In fact, the last census they gathered information about something as simple as languages spoken, not national identity, was in 1965.

The CIA seems hell bent on assisting Ankara. Its “World Factbook” gives these statistics for Turkey’s demographic diversity: “Turkish 70-75 percent, Kurdish 19 percent, other minorities 7-12 percent (2016 est.)” That is not only terse, but extremely misleading. Even so, it tells us that roughly one-third of the population is NOT Turkish. Let’s proceed from here, assuming that that two-thirds is, indeed Turkish. This is where the demographic time bomb that terrifies Ankara is ticking away in plain view.

There are many articles out there about how Turkey’s population, like much of the rest of the world, is getting older. They also address the brain drain of the country’s most talented youth departing for Europe or America, especially since the abortive 2016 coup that enabled Erdoğan to consolidate his power to the point of “choking” the young generation, further prompting them to leave. But this is NOT the biggest fear of Turkey’s current leaders.

Take a look at the accompanying map of Turkey and its provinces. The red, yellow, and light green colors indicate where net fertility (basically, birth rates) are highest. You’ll notice they are in the predominantly Kurdish-populated parts of the country. The more heavily “Turkish” parts of the country have lower birth rates, often BELOW replacement levels. “Replacement level” is defined as the average number of children that must be born to a woman to maintain a constant population. In developed countries, this figure is 2.1. But it can be as high as 3.4 in some developing countries because of higher mortality rates. So let’s say Turkey is somewhere in between, 2.7. You can see the western and northern parts of the country are well below this level. What this means is that in a few generations, “Turks” could well become a minority population in Turkey.

But even the “Turkishness” of today’s Turks is really suspect, ambiguous and ultimately meaningless. Really, how many Turks arrived from the Altai Mountains and Central Asia into Anatolia and the Armenian Highlands? This is the information I lack referenced above. I have not been able to find or compile a table that indicates years of arrival of successive waves of Turkic invaders, how many they were and the population of the territories concerned in that year. With those numbers, we could really tell what proportion of the overall number of Turks today can really be seen as Turks. The rest would be Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and everyone else who lived there before the invaders came.

Ask your “Turkish” contacts. What are they REALLY when it comes to their roots? It might trigger some reflection, soul-searching and reassessment of their identity. Or, in the case of the large number of racists to be found among Turks, it will give you the mischievous pleasure of driving them to great irritation.

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

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