Turks/Turkic people
Total population
c. 150-200 million[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Turkey Turkey 80,694,485 [3]
Germany Germany c. 4,000,000 [4]
Cyprus Cyprus c. 500,000 [5]
Bulgaria Bulgaria 800,000



Islam, atheism

Related ethnic groups

Turkic peoples, Greeks, Arabs

The Turks (Turkish: Türkler) or the Turkish people are a nation and a Turkic ethnic group from the modern-day Republic of Turkey, specifially native to Anatolia. Throughout their history, the Turks established one of the world's largest empires, the Ottoman Empire - spanning from West Asia, North Africa to the Balkans in Europe. They established a distinct form of politics, military principles, fixed economies and a caste system. They also heralded a golen age of arts in Islamic history, becoming major role players in the development of Islamic culture.

Because of the vast territory that the Ottomans had conquered, large communities of Turks and those of Turkish-speaking ancestry can also be found in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire.


Throughout its history, the term "Turk" has been used for a wide range of different peoples. One local definition concludes a Turk as anybody who is a native speaker of of the Turkish language, or contains any type of descent or cultural connection to Turkey or the former Ottoman Empire. However, throughout history the term has also come refer to any speaker of a Turkic language (which isn't limited to only Turkish), or the "Turkic peoples" and this group covers beyond Turkey, encompassing ethnic groups from Central Asia, southern Russia and western China. Central Asia is often known as "Turkestan" which means "land of the Turks". The origins of the term "Turk" were found from the Old Turkic languages which used the term Turuk. This literally translates into words such as "strong". This referred to a nomadic group of people known as the Göktürks. The Orkhon inscriptions is an ancient monument located in Mongolia, which does mention the terms Turk and Turuk.


Early History & AncestryEdit

The people of Turkey almost share a unique blend of ancestries, that makes them heavily distinct from their Central Asian counterparts, to the point where they contain almost no ancestrial similarities with those of Central Asia. The Turks who inhabit the modern-day nation of Turkey and former Ottoman territory are of Caucasian descent, mostly native Anatolian and later Arab and Greek ancestry. In the 1200s, a group of Western Turkic speakers known as the Oghuz settled in the region, intermingling with the Caucasians, Greeks and Arabs that had already settled in the area. 

The Mighty Ottoman EmpireEdit

Group by group, Turkic tribes started to adopt Islam as their religion. Islamization also began interactions with the Byanztine Empire. The Seljuqs declined in power after the Mongols invaded and destroyed the kingdom, as revenge for a Muslim attack on Buddhists. After the Seljuqs declined, Osman Bey (Ottoman Turkish: سلطان عثمانغازى), a tribe leader from Anatolia started a new state which would eventually succeed the both the Seljuq and 

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent

Byzantine Empires as the Middle East's most powerful state - the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922). In 1302, Bey's armies started to sweep Byzantine forces out of power. In 1326, Bey's forces sieged Bursa, which had been a strategic point for the push to Constantinople. He became the first sultan of the new Ottoman state.[6] The Ottomans reached the height of their power under Sultan Mehmed II (Ottoman Turkish: محمد ثانى). In 1453, the Ottomans brought a definate end to the Byzantine Empire by sieging the city of Constantinople, which allowed the Ottomans to advance. Sultan Mehmed II also conquered Asia.[7] The expansion into Persian and Arab territory in the Middle East occured under the reign of Sultan Suleiman (1494-1566), the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman had ancestry to Muhammad and became the longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman also invaded eastern and southern Europe taking over the Slavic nations such as Serbia and Bulgaria which transformed the Ottoman Empire into a collective state. The Ottomans also conquered the lands that the Byzantines had once ruled such as Greece.[8] The European forces could not take on the ever-growing Ottoman military and naval machine. Ivan IV, the czar of Russia expanded territory into the region of Crimea, which was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks burned Moscow in 1571. But Ivan IV sent ruthless retaliations, since he himself, was a ruthless czar which posed a challenge to the Turks. The Russians also emerged to be an Ottoman rival. Most battles between the Turks and Russians ended up in Russian victories. The Russo-Turkish wars were a series of military conflicts between the Ottoman and Russian armies. After defeating the Turks, the Russians helped free the Greek and other Slavic states from the Ottomans. After centuries of being the main power, the Ottoman Empire finally collapsed in 1922 due to ethnic nationalism within the empire. Mehmed VI became the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire. As the Russia and China grew into military superpowers, they played a crucial role in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that was partially caused by the long-enmity between Russians and Turks.

Turkic People During the Cold WarEdit

During the Cold War, Turkey joined Greece in acting as a beacon of western democracy against the Soviet sphere of influence. Turkey became a subject of foreign aid from the United States in order to combat communism. 


Modern TurkishEdit

The Turkish language belongs to the Turkic branch of the Altaic family of languages. Turkish contains the most speakers of the Turkic languages, numbering around 63,000,000. This particular dialect of Turkish is a descendant of the Oghuz dialect. It was the official language of the Ottoman Empire, and its territories.

Turkish today is the national language of Turkey, and an official language in Cyprus, co-official with Greek. It also has communities of speakers in Bulgaria, Germany, Iraq, Romania, Macedonia and Kosovo. 

Ottoman TurkishEdit

The spoken Turkish in the Ottoman Empire contains large differences from modern-day Turkish, to where the two are mutually unintelligable. Known today by linguistic historians as "Ottoman Turkish" (Ottoman Turkish: لسان عثمانى‎, Lisân-ı Osmânî) contained heavy influence and loanwords from Arabic and Persian, outnumbering native Turkish words. Ottoman Turkish was also spoken by the upper class. The lower class spoke what was referred to as "raw Turkish" (Turkish: kaba Türkçe), which contains native words and less Arabic and Persian loanwords. This forms the ancestor of Modern Turkish.

Writing systemEdit

Turkish today is written in the Latin script. However for the majority of its history up until 1922, Turkish was written in an Arabic-based alphabet, known by linguists today as Ottoman Turkish Alphabet (Ottoman Turkish: الفبا, elifbâ). This type of alphabet is no longer used in modern-day Turkey, and only by Islamic historians and scholars as well as its use in religious poems. 


Most of the Turkic peoples are adherents to Islam, which was was a result of the presence of Arab and Persian missionaries. The Turks became the third largest group to adopt Islam, and became a catalyst in its influence. Atheism was rampant in the Soviet Union. The Soviet influence still remains an element of the Central Asian republics. Because of this, there are large groups of non-religious people in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, such Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov (Uzbek: Ислом Каримов), who is an atheist. The Turks make up most of the Muslim minorities in Russia, China and Mongolia. There is also a minority who belong to a form of folk Islam known as Alevism. In Russia, there is a minority among the Tatar and Yakut people that are followers of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Turkey, eastern (mostly Greek) Christianity had a significant historical existance in the city of Antakya in Turkey, which most Christian sources referred to as "Antioch". The city of Antakya in Turkey still contains a remaining population of Turkish and Arab Christians.[9] Judaism is still practiced by a small amount, however much of Judaism's existance lies in the history of the Khazars.


Turkish architecture is influenced by Byzantine Greek and Arab. The arrival of Christianity in Turkey by Greek missionaries introduced the use of domes and arches. When Islam arrived and became Turkey's predominant religion, the use of half-circle domes and arches continued to build Islamic mosques. Many former Byzantine and Roman churches, which were Greek churches, were converted to mosques and features known as minarets were installed, which were towers that are used to call people to prayer. Mosques include a main open space that is the prayer hall, a minbar which is the pulpit of where the preacher speaks and a
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

mihrab which is a niche in the wall used to guide Muslims to pray towards Mecca. Mosques and other Islamic buildings in Turkey are also well-known for containing blue half-circle domes and circo-triangular-topped minarets in a distinct type of Islamic architecture, such as the Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya, Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, Latin: Sancta Sophia) which was a once a Greek Orthodox Church, which was converted to a mosque by the Ottomans and later into a museum by the Turkish government. A functioning mosque would be the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii) right across from the Hagia Sophia which
Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace

contains six minarets and eight small domes that served as an example of the perfected blend of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture. The Mosque of Muhammad Ali (Arabic: مسجد محمد علي, Turkish: Mehmet Ali Paşa Camii) in the Egyptian city of Cairo is also a standing landmark of Turkish architecture, which as built during the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, an exiled Ottoman dynasty that ruled Egypt and Sudan named after Muhammad Ali Pasha. The Topkapı Palace (Turkish: Topkapı Sarayı, Ottoman Turkish: طوپقپو سرايى) became home to the sultans of the Ottoman Empire for almost four centuries and is a famous world UNESCO site. The palace contained courtyards, mosques, and other features. It also contains exhibits of valuable artifacts and belongings from the Ottoman Empire, such as jewelry, procleins and historical weapons. 


Due to the size of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish cuisine has influenced the cuisines of many Slavic countries such as Serbia and Bulgaria, and Arab countries as well.  Most of the Turkish


 culinary traditions are passed on from the Ottomans. It is a Mediterranean cuisine that is generally popular in Europe and Asia. The staple meats in Turkish cooking include lamb, beef, chicken and fish. Vegetables and crops include egg plants, green peppers, onions, garlic, lentils, beans and tomatoes and grains include rice and wheat. Turkish cuisine is renowned worldwide for its use in nuts, as flavorings. Popular nuts include pistachios, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Spices include parsley, cumin, black peppers, paprika, mint, red pepper, oregano, allspice and thyme. Before the meals, Turkish people eat soups. Common soups in Turkey include lahana which is cabbage soup, tavuk which is chicken soup, and pazi which is a fish soup. Tutmaç is a dish that contains noodles and lentils. Mercimek is an entirely lentil soup. İşkembe soup and paçaIskembe çorbası are both special delicate soups that are not typically eaten, but during the winter


months. Pilaf is a rice dish cooked in broth and butter, which is also eaten during special holidays, popular with Persian and Arab people as well. Turkish people also specialized in making an array of breads, confections and sweet pastries. Basmati, which is of South Asian influence, is also a butter-cooked rice served wit most meals. Baklava is a sweet pastry filled and layered with filo and chopped nuts. Lahmacun is a flat-bread pastry that is topped with minced meat and onions. The Turks are also known for their famous confection known the lokum, which originated from the Ottoman sultans, it is known in western nations as "Turkish delight".

Notable Turks or People of Turkish OriginEdit

Osman I

Osman I
Also known as "Osman Bay", a war leader from Anatolia who conquered Turkey who was the founder and first Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which became named after him (the term "Ottoman" is a transliteration of "Osman" or "Othman"). This empire would emerge as a world empire and power up until the sultanate's ending in 1922

Mehmed II

Mehmed II
Also known as Mehmed the Conquerer, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who led the conquests of Constantinople (Istanbul), and expanded the empire's territories to as far as Southeast Europe. He is considered a national hero in modern-day Turkey.


Sultan SUlaiman
Also known as Suleiman the Magnificent, the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, he personally led Ottoman armies in conquering the strongholds of Belgrade, Rhodes, as well as most of Hungary. He instituted major legislative changes relating to society, education, taxation, and criminal law. His canonical law (or the Kanuns) fixed the form of the empire for centuries after his death. He was a distinguished poet and goldsmith and became a great patron of culture, overseeing the "Golden" age of the Ottoman Empire in its artistic, literary and architectural development.

Selim III

Selim III
Ottoman sultan who was well-known for his beliefs in political reform, he profited by the respite to abolish the military tenure of fiefs; he introduced salutary reforms into the administration, especially in the fiscal department, sought by well-considered plans to extend the spread of education, and engaged foreign officers as instructors, by whom a small corps of new troops called nizam-i-jedid were collected and drilled.

Safiye Ali

A Turkish doctor who treated soldiers during the Turkish War of Independance, the Balkans War and World War I. She is the first Turkish women to become a medical doctor, and opened her office in Istanbul in 1922 after studying in Germany in 1916. 

Namik Kemal

Ottoman Turkish, journalist. writer, intellectual, reformer, journalist, playwright, and political activist who was influential in the formation of the Young Ottomans and their struggle for governmental reform in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century, which would lead to the First Constitutional Era in the Empire in 1876.

Halide Edip Adivar

A Turkish politician and feminist who fought for the rights of Turkish women. She was best known for her novels criticizing the low social status of Turkish women and what she saw as the lack of interest of most women in changing their situation During the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) she was granted the ranks of first corporal and then sergeant in the nationalist army. She traveled to the fronts, worked in the headquarters of İsmet Pasha, Commander of the Western Front. After being accused of treason in 1926, she escaped to Europe and the United States.

Mimar Kemaleddin


A renowned Turkish architect of the very late period of the Ottoman architecture and the early years of the newly established Republic. "Mimar" is the Turkish word for architect. He was among the pioneers of the First Turkish National Architectural Movement.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

A Turkish army officer, reformist statesman, and the first President of Turkey. He is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey. His surname, Atatürk (meaning "Father of the Turks"), was granted to him in 1934 and forbidden to any other person by the Turkish parliament

Elif Şafak

A Turkish author, columnist, speaker and academic. She has been described as a cosmopolitanism, feminist, and novelist. Her books have been published in more than 40 countries, and she was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2010. Her writing draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, reflecting a deep interest in history, philosophy, Sufism, oral culture, and cultural politics.

Ömer Aşık

Omer Asik
A Turkish professional basketball player who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans of the National Basketball Association (American NBA). He gained recognition playing for the Turkish national team at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, and as the starting center, he helped Turkey win the silver medal. In July 2010. 
Cenk Uygur

A Turkish-American columnist, political commentator and activist. Uygur is the main host and co-founder of the American liberal/progressive political and social internet commentary program, The Young Turks (TYT) and the co-founder of the associated TYT Network. He appeared on MSNBC as a political commentator in 2010, later hosting a weeknight commentary show on the channel for nearly six months until being replaced by Al Sharpton. Though despite being a liberal, he had conservative views as a young man.

Works CitedEdit

  1. Brigitte Moser, Michael Wilhelm Weithmann, Landeskunde Türkei: Geschichte, Gesellschaft und Kultur, Buske Publishing, 2008, p.173
  2. Deutsches Orient-Institut, Orient, Vol. 41, Alfred Röper Publushing, 2000, p.611
  5. Ilican, Murat Erdal (2011), "Cypriots, Turkish", in Cole, Jeffrey, Ethnic Groups of Europe: An Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1598843028.