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ETHNONYMS: Türken (German), Türkler (Turkish)


Identification. Ethnically, the Turks are a cultural group united by a common language, but the term "Turk" has no clearly defined racial significance; it can be properly applied to those communities historically and linguistically connected to the nomadic people whom the Chinese identified as the "Tu-Kiu." Some scholars consider that the name "Hiungnu," which appears in Chinese sources of the second millennium b.c.e., refers to the Turks; however, it was probably a generic term that included both Turks and Mongols, and perhaps other peoples.

Today ethnic Turks constitute approximately 80 percent of the population of the Republic of Turkey. Turkish-speaking peoples can be found in Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and China. Turks are linked by their common history and language, which are strong and persistent; additionally they are linked by their religionIslam; with the exception of the Turkish tribe called the Yakut, who live in eastern Siberia and the Altai region, almost all Turks are Muslims.

Location. Turkey is located in southwestern Asia and fits roughly between 36° and 42° N and 25° and 45° E. It is bounded on the west by the Aegean Sea and Greece; on the north by Bulgaria and the Black Sea; on the northeast by Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; on the east by Iran, and on the south by Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea. The total area of the country is 780,580 square kilometers. The greater part of the country lies in Asia, specifically Asia Minor or Anatolia. About 8 percent of Turkeycalled Turkish Thraceis in Europe. Because of the mountainous terrain and the maritime influence, climates vary greatly. The country has three main temperate climates: Mediterranean on the south and southwestern coasts, Black Sea in the north, and steppe throughout most of Anatolia.

Demography. The population of Turkey in 1994 was estimated as 62,154,000. More than half the population lives in urban areas. Turkey has one of the highest rates of population increase in the world, as the result of a high birthrate, estimated in 1994 to be 25.98 births per thousand and an average death rate of 5.8 deaths per thousand. The current annual rate of growth is 2.02 percent. From 1923 to 1994, the population multiplied by approximately five. Large-scale migration to the cities since the middle of the century has led to overcrowding. In 1990, 65 percent of the population was urban. Istanbul is the cultural, industrial, and commercial center. Ankara is the capital. Other major cities are: Adana, Antalya, Bursa, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Izmir, Kayseri, Konya, and Samsun.

Linguistic Affiliation. Turkish is the language of more than 90 percent of the population of Turkey. Until recently, some scholars contended that Turkish is part of the Ural-Altaic Language Group. Philologists today, however, consider Turkish an Eastern Turkic language. Turkish is an agglutinating language; words are made by adding strings of suffixes to a root that does not change. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Turkish language is vowel harmony. The vowels in a Turkish word are either all back vowels (a, ι, o, u) or all front vowels (e, i, ö, ü). Turkish is totally unrelated to Arabic or Persian, but it has borrowed many words from these two languages. In 1928 the Arabic script that had been used to write Ottoman Turkish was abandoned in favor of a twentynine letter Latin script. After the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, attempts were made to purify the Turkish language by creating new words to replace many Arab, Persian, and some French words. These attempts met with only limited success, and borrowed words are still very common.

History and Cultural Relations

The origins of the Turkish peoples are among the nomadic and pastoral peoples who lived east of the Eurasian steppes from the borders of China across Turkestan. Their earliest appearance in history was in what would be today Outer Mongolia, south of Lake Baikal and north of the Gobi Desert. The Turks were once part of a group of Altaic peoples, which includes the Mongols, the Manchu, the Bulgars, probably the Huns, and others. The first group known to be called Turks emerged in the sixth century c.e. The Tu-Kiu founded an empire stretching from Mongolia and the northern frontier of China to the Black Sea. In the seventh century the Arab conquest of Persia carried Islam to the Turkish fringes of Central Asia. In the ninth century and later, many Turks were recruited as slaves for the ʿAbbāsid armies and converted to Islam. Some rose to important administrative positions. The larger portion of Turks, however, still being essentially nomadic in Central Asia east of the Aral Sea, did not accept Islam until the tenth century. Bands of Turks joined in the gradual war of attrition that was being waged by Muslim warriors along the frontiers with the declining Byzantine Empire. A tribe of Turks called the Oghuz (Oğuz) wrested control of Persia from the Ghaznavids and founded the Seljuk Turkish Empire in 1037. The Seljuks took control of Baghdad from the Buyids in 1055. The Seljuk Turkish victory in 1071 over the forces of the Byzantines at Manzikert, northwest of Lake Van, led to the migration of Turkoman tribes into Anatolia. Within a very short time, the Seljuks had penetrated as far as Nicaea (present-day İznik), only 80 kilometers from Constantinople. Although driven away from this city in 1097, their hold on eastern and central Asia Minor was firmly established. By the early twelfth century, most of the Anatolian plateau was a Seljuk principality, which came to be called Rum. The capital of Seljuk Rum was Konya, and in this city there developed a hybrid Islamic culture that combined elements of Arab Sunni Islam with Persian Shia Islam and Turkish mystical humanism. The invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century ended the dominance of the Seljuks in Anatolia.

The Ottoman principality of Sogut was one among ten successor-states that survived from the Seljuk Empire and the Mongol protectorate. In the 1290s the ruler of this principality was Osman, from whose name comes that of the dynasty: Osmanli in Turkish. Sogut was located on the Byzantine frontier, closest to Constantinople. As Osman's emirate expanded, it created both the territorial basis and the administrative organization for an empire. Osman's grandson, Murad I, crossed the Hellespont to extend the young empire into the Christian Balkan states. He applied the principle of toleration to allow non-Muslims to become full citizens and rise to the highest offices of state, and thus, at this very early stage, established the character of the vast multilingual and multiethnic Ottoman Empire. In 1453 Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, and the city's name was changed to Istanbul. In its first two centuries, most of the Ottoman Empire's energies had been directed toward Christian Europe; however, Selim I (r. 1512-1520), called "the Grim" by Westerners, turned his attention toward Asia. He transformed the Ottoman Empire from a Ghazi state on the western fringe of the Muslim world into the greatest empire since the early caliphate. Selim defeated the Safavids and moved fierce Kurdish tribes to eastern Anatolia to seal that border with the Persians. He defeated the Mamluks and took over their vast empire. The Ottomans became the rulers of Syria, Egypt and the Hejazthe heartland of Arab Islam. At its peak, the Ottoman Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to Algeria. The empire reached its cultural zenith under the son of Selim I, Süleyman I, "the Magnificent" (r. 1520-1566). His reign also marked an Ottoman cultural renaissance. A considerable poet in his own right, Süleyman encouraged the arts at his court. Like all great civilizations, the Ottoman absorbed and transformed various external cultural influences. The first sultans took from the Byzantines. Selim and Süleyman brought artisans from Tabriz, in western Persia, to beautify Istanbul. Under Süleyman, with the help of Sinan (the son of a Christian from Anatolia and one of the finest architects of all time), Istanbul became a city of true magnificence, at the point of confluence of Eastern and Western civilization. Immediately after Süleyman's death, the Ottoman Empire began to suffer a decline. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it lost several wars to the expanding Russian Empire. It did enjoy another period of cultural renaissance during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-1730), which is called the Tulip Period. Some reform of the government was accomplished at this time. Nevertheless, the empire lost territory around the Black Sea and in the Balkans during the last part of the eighteenth century and first half of the nineteenth. Russian ambitions were checked by Great Britain and France in the Crimean War (1854-1856), but the Russo-Turkish War liberated Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia from the control of the sultan. The Ottoman Empire was drawn into World War I, on the side of the Central Powers. With its defeat and the abdication of its last sultan, Mehmed VI, the empire finally collapsed. The Allies sought to divide Turkey among themselves after their victory, but the country saved itself by waging a war of liberation directed by the empire's most successful general, Mustafa Kemal (who would later take the surname "Atatürk"). Turkey made a remarkable recovery under Atatürk's leadership. He abolished the sultanate and the caliphate, and Turkey became a republic on 29 October 1923. It was declared a secular state, and religious toleration was guaranteed by the new constitution. Many other reforms were set in motion to modernize Turkey along Western lines. Turkey remained neutral during World War II, until it joined the Allies in February 1945. It joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952. Turkey suffered political instability that led to military takeovers in 1960, 1970, and 1980. In 1982 a new constitution was promulgated that provided the reestablishment of democratic government.


Although there are many large cities and towns in Turkey, Turkish Thrace and Anatolia are essentially rural. About 45 percent of the population lives in rural settlements. There are about 36,000 villages in Turkey. The houses in the villages vary from region to region. In Eastern Anatolia, the Aegean region, and in the Taurus Mountains, they are made of stone. In the Black Sea region, village houses are made of wood, and, on the Anatolian plateau, they are made of sun-dried bricks. A typical village house is two stories high and has a flat roof. The lower floor is used to shelter animals and for storage. Many villages in eastern Turkey lack running water, and some do not have electricity. The number of villagers who are migrating to urban areas continues to grow.


Industry and Trade. Modern industry dates from the beginning of the republic. The government has played an important role in the development of industry from that time and in the late twentieth century owned 47 percent of the industries. Manufacturing accounts for about 20 percent of the nation's gross national product but employs only about 10 percent of the labor force. Turkish industries include textiles, food processing, mining, steel, construction, lumber, and paper. Antimony, borate, copper, and chrome are mined in sufficient quantities to be exported. Tourism is a growing industry and has become an important source of national income. Turkey has close economic ties with Western Europe and applied for full membership in the European Economic Community in 1987. At the same time, it has sought trading partners in the Middle East. Turkey controls the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and has had disputes with Syria and Iraq in this regard. In 1993 it was estimated that there were 1,800,000 Turks working outside of Turkey, mostly in Germany.

Agriculture and Land Tenure. About 30 percent of Turkey's land area is considered arable. More than one-half of the land is devoted to cereals. Agriculture accounts for nearly one quarter of the gross national product and employs 48 percent of the population. The main cash crops include tobacco, cereals, cotton, olives, mohair, wool, silk, figs, grapes, nuts, citrus fruits, and sugar beets. Turkey is self-sufficient in food production, and it exports its surplus. Forests cover about 25 percent of the land and are protected by the state. Much of the wood that is harvested from these forests is used for fuel.

Division of Labor. The mechanization of agriculture has relieved the burden of women's agricultural chores, but the harvest continues to be a time of hard physical labor for all of the members of families who make their living from agriculture. Women continue to do much of the hoeing of vegetables and the digging for potatoes. Girls and young women are involved in the weaving of rugs.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Marriage and Domestic Unit. Marriage continues to be a very important institution in Turkey. From the time parents have their first children, thought is given to their eventual marriage. Some of the marriages that take place are "love matches," but most of them are still being "arranged." In villages, girls are still usually married at a young age. In rural areas, large transfers of wealth are often involved in the marriage arrangement. Turks often marry their first cousins and other close kin, under the incest laws of Islam, to keep control of wealth within the extended family; however, many marriages in Turkey today involve completely unrelated persons. Households in rural areas consist of a man, his wife, his adult sons and their wives, and his young children and grandchildren. In the city, households are usually smaller, being limited to the immediate family and paternal grandparents.

Socialization. Parents assume primary responsibility for raising children, and they are assisted by members of the extended family. The educational system of Turkey was modernized after the founding of the republic as part of an effort to Westernize the country. Today education is compulsory for children ages 6 to 14, and in 1991 it was estimated that 78 percent of this age group do attend school. Instruction is coeducational, and, in state schools, free. The literacy rate among persons 15 years of age and older was estimated in 1990 to be 81 percent. Religious instruction in state schools, having been prohibited when the republic was established and then later made optional, is now compulsory. There are not sufficient numbers of elementary or secondary schoolteachers or school buildings. Many schools have a morning and an afternoon session, and often the number of students in a class is greater than forty. Approximately 35 percent of high school graduates go on to higher education. In 1992 there were twenty-nine universities in Turkey.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Strong class prejudice does not seem to be a part of the structure of modern Turkish society, which does, however, show very marked social divisions. This apparent paradox is explained by the fact that although there are very real differences between various social groups, the Turks do not usually think of themselves in terms of class. Political parties are not organized along class lines. The ideology of the republic has avoided class distinctions, and there is increasing social mobility. There is an educated elite in Turkey, which is basically located in the cities. It has been the ruling element in the country in both Ottoman and republican times.

Political Organization. Atatürk established the ideological basis for the modern Republic of Turkey. It has a republican form of government and a democratic, multiparty system. His reforms included the disestablishment of the role of Islam in government and the adoption of the Swiss civil code. The voting franchise includes men and women aged 21 or older. Women were given the vote in national elections in 1934. The 1982 constitution provides for a democratic, parliamentary form of government. The president is elected for a seven-year term and is not eligible for reelection. The prime minister and his or her council of ministers hold executive power, although the president can veto legislation. Turkey is divided into seventy-three provinces (iller ; sing. il ), administered by governors (valiler ; sing. vali ).

Social Control. Turkey has long been familiar with military power. This is evident not only in the Seljuk, Ottoman, and republican governments, but in the prestige patterns of Anatolian village societies. Early nomadic existence on the Central Asian steppe, where boundaries were not stable, created within those Turkish tribes a closer reliance on military force than was generally the case in more settled communities. A strong militaristic attitude continues to permeate Turkish society. The military is respected and, generally, trusted. Conscription, which is fifteen months for males at the age of 20, is viewed as a necessary duty.

Although Turkey is a secular state and has adopted the Swiss civil code, civic morality is still governed to a large degree by the laws and traditions of Islam.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. More than 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and most of them are Sunnites. Estimates of the number of Shiites fall between 5 percent and 35 percent of the population. There are approximately 50,000 Christians and 20,000 Jews in Turkey today. Villagers, although they are for the most part Muslims, continue to believe in superstitions like the evil eye, which is the ancient belief in the power of certain persons to harm or damage someone else with merely a glance. Beliefs in the power of jinn and efrit, as well as other supernatural phenomena, also persist in rural Turkey.

Ceremonies. Most Turks celebrate the two most important Islamic holidays. Ramazan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; it is the holy month of fasting. Muslims celebrate the end of the fast with Çeker Bayrami (the Candy Holiday), during which visits of friends and relatives take place, and boxes of candy are taken as presents. Kadir Gecesi (the Night of Power) is the eve of the 26th of Ramazan. This is the night on which Mohammed was given the power of prophecy, and it is celebrated in the mosques by prayers and a nightlong service. Kurban Bayrami (the Festival of Sacrifice) comes during the month of Muharrem. If Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca, they must arrive there ten days before Kurban Bayrami. The pilgrimage ends when a sheep or a goat is sacrificed, and the meat is given to the poor. The sacrifice is performed whether the person goes to Mecca or stays at home. The Muslim calendar is based on twelve lunar months and is therefore ten or twelve days shorter than the solar year. This means that the months and the religious holidays fall a bit earlier each year. The Mevlevi dervishes, better known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes, are an order of Sufis that was established by the son of the great mystical thinker, Jalāl ad-Dīn ar-Rūmī, in the thirteenth century. Every year the Mevlevi dervishes have a ceremony in which they whirl for fifteen days before and on the anniversary day of Rūmï's death, which is 17 December.

Clothing. The Western style of clothing has been adopted by most Turks in large urban areas; however, in the rural regions men and women wear baggy pants. Village women enjoy wearing bright colors and flowered prints. The wearing of a turban or a fez by any man in Turkey was outlawed during Atatürk's administration. Many conservative Muslim women wear long coats and white head scarves. Wearing a veil is not against the law, but it is not a usual practice except in some areas of eastern Turkey. Nevertheless, women in villages anywhere will often make an effort to cover their faces in front of strange men, using a corner of their scarf or handkerchief.

Arts. Seljuk and Ottoman Turkish culture is richand well represented in museums like the ethnographic museums in Istanbul and Ankara. They include fine examples of calligraphy, rug weaving, ceramics, metalwork, and miniature painting. The weaving of carpets is an industry that dates among the Turks from Seljuk times. Much of the symbolism in the design of Turkish rugs and kilims is pre-Islamic and shares its origins with the Turkish people in Central Asia. Nevertheless, these rugs have become an important part of the prayer ritual in Islam. Turkish culture, since the establishment of the republic, has been dominated by nationalism. Writers, authors, and musicians have left the tradition of Islam. Turkish folk music and dancing are popular. The ministry of culture was established in 1971, and the government extensively supports a national network of the arts, encompassing theater, opera, ballet, music, and fine arts, as well as popular art forms.

Medicine. Medical services provided by the government are free to the poor. Although health services are improving, rural areas suffer shortages of physicians and facilities. In 1992 there were 126,611 beds in 928 hospitals and health centers in Turkey.

Death and Afterlife. Death in Quranic terms is the beginning of a new life, which will be eternal. Muslims believe that it is a phenomenon like the phenomenon of life and is created by Allah (God). When an individual dies, according to Islamic teachings, the dead person begins a long wait that lasts until the day of resurrection. The grave becomes a garden in the garden of heaven or a well in the well of hell, depending on the life that the deceased has led. When Turkish Muslims die, they are buried the next day at the noontime namaz, or call to prayer. There are several rituals that are performed, including washing the body and covering it in a white cotton cloth. Then the body is taken to a nearby mosque and the funeral namaz is performed, after which it is taken to the cemetery and placed in a grave. The body must be attended to as quickly as possible, and people must abstain from exorbitant expenses.


Davidson, Roderic H. (1981). Turkey: A Short History. Walkington, Beverly, Eng.: Eothen Press.

Halman, Talat, et al. (1983). Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes. Istanbul: Dost.

Kinross, Lord (1971). Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation. 5th ed. London: Wiedenfeld & Nicholson.

Kinross, Lord (1977). Ottoman Centuries. New York: Morrow.

Lewis, Bernard (1968). The Emergence of Modern Turkey. London: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, Geoffrey (1974). Modern Turkey. 4th ed. New York: Praeger.

Shaw, Stanford J., and Ezel Kural Shaw (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Stirling, Paul (1965). Turkish Village. New York: John Wiley & Sons.


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POPULATION: 61.2 million


RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)


Since the eleventh century, Turks have inhabited the area that is modern Turkey. The ancestors of today's Turks, known as the Seljuk Turks, won control of the region in ad 1071.

By the fifteenth century, Turkish culture and the Turkish language had spread throughout the area. Power peaked under the Ottoman Turks, who overtook the area in 1453. The Ottomans eventually built one of the great empires in world history. It stretched from the Middle East to northern Africa to southern and eastern Europe.

The power of the Ottoman Empire reached its height during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century. During his reign, the Empire took over large parts of southern and eastern Europe. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire suffered a gradual decline. After World War I (191418), the empire was dissolved. The territory of the empire was divided among the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Greece. The Turks wanted to re-establish their home-land, and were led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) in a successful nationalist uprising. Atatürk helped form a nonreligious, democratic republic in 1923. Over the next fifteen years, until his death in 1938, Atatürk built the modern Turkish nation. Since the end of World War II (193945), Turkey has had a series of civilian and military governments. A civilian government has led Turkey uninterrupted since 1984.


Turkey lies partly in Europe and partly in Asia. It has historically served as a bridge between the two continents. It is a relatively large country. It is bordered on the west by Greece, Bulgaria, and the Aegean Sea; on the east by Iran, Armenia, and Georgia; on the south by Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea; and on the north by the Black Sea. It is slightly larger than the state of Texas but has three times its population.

In 1994, Turkey had an estimated population of 61.2 million (up from 56.5 million in the 1990 census). Between 80 and 90 percent of the population is composed of ethnic Turks. Kurds form the country's largest ethnic minority. Other minorities include Arabs, Greeks, and Armenians. With more than 160 million people worldwide, many of them in Central Asia, the Turks are among the world's largest ethnic groups.


More than 90 percent of Turkey's population speaks Turkish. Words with Arabic and Persian origins are common. In addition, a number of modern words that had no Turkish equivalents were borrowed from European languages. These include words derived from English, such as otomobil (automobile), tren (train), and taksi (taxi).

Turkish words are formed by adding suffixes to a root that does not change. A root and its suffixes can form an entire sentence. The most famous example of this is the following:

Afyonkarahisarlilaturaadiklaimizdanmuym ustiniz.

It means:"Weren't you one of the people whom we tried without success to make resemble the citizens of Afyonkarahisar?"

There are two forms of "goodbye." Allahaismarladik is said by the person who is leaving. G üle güle is said by the person who stays behind. There are also two common words for "no": hayir, the more emphatic (and less polite), and yok, which literally means "there is none."


The Turks have a rich tradition of folktales. Some folktales can take as long as thirty hours to recite. The most popular involve the legendary Nasreddin Hoca, a comic figure who was a teacher in the thirteenth century. The following are typical Hoca stories:

One day, the Hoca was sitting in his garden under the shade of a walnut tree. Looking around his garden, he wondered why Allah (God) caused large, heavy watermelons to grow on spindly vines while little walnuts grew on tall trees. He mused that, if he had been the creator, he would have done just the reverse. Just then, a walnut fell from the tree, hitting him on the forehead, and the Hoca thanked Allah for arranging the world just as it was, grateful that he hadn't been struck by a watermelon instead.

When the Hoca lost his donkey, he prayed and thanked God. Asked why he was grateful for losing his donkey, he replied, "I'm fortunate that I wasn't riding him when he got lost, or I would be lost as well."


More than 99 percent of Turks are Muslims (followers of Islam), mostly of the Sunni sect. Shi'ite and Alawite Muslim populations live in the east and southeast of the country. There are a small number of Jews whose ancestors fled the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. There are also small numbers of Armenian, Syrian, and Greek Orthodox Christians.


Turkey observes the following secular (non-religious) holidays: New Year's Day (January 1); Children's Day, also known as National Sovereignty Day (April 23); Atatürk's birthday, also National Youth and Sports Day (May 19); Victory Day (August 30); Republic Day (October 2829); and the anniversary of Atatürk's death (November 10), a national day of mourning when all forms of entertainment are shut down and the nation observes a moment of silence at 9:05 pm, the time of Atatürk's death.

The Turks also observe a number of Islamic holidays. Recep Kandili commemorates the conception of the prophet Muhammad. Mirac Kandili marks Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to Heaven. Berat Kandili is a nighttime holiday similar to All Hallows' Eve in Christianity. Kadir Gecesi commemorates the night when the Koran (the sacred text of Islam) was revealed to Muhammad and he received his calling as the Messenger of God.


A number of popular traditional beliefs and superstitions surround childbirth. Magical formulas are used to ensure the birth of a son. Many people also believe a newborn child is especially vulnerable to evil spirits during the first forty days of life. All male Turkish Muslims are circumcised, either at the age of seven or later as part of an initiation into adulthood.

Wedding ceremonies are performed in the town or city hall. They are followed by private receptions with food, dancing, and music. Dowries (money or material goods paid to the groom's family) are paid by the bride's family in some rural areas.


The Turks are an exceptionally polite people, particularly to visitors. They use many courteous phrases in everyday conversation.

It is considered impolite to hug or kiss members of the opposite sex in public. A handshake that is too firm is also considered a sign of bad manners. On the other hand, it is acceptable and customary for men to publicly display physical affection toward each other. They often embrace and kiss when they greet each other, and walk down the street arm-in-arm or holding hands.


Turkey faces a housing shortage that is among its most serious social problems. Since the 1950s, people have built temporary shelters called gecekondus on the outskirts of major cities. The neighborhoods created by these dwellings have turned into permanent slums. They often lack running water, sewage systems, electricity, and pavement. By the 1980s, it was estimated that more than half the residents of some cities lived in gecekondus.

Between 30 and 40 percent of Turkey's population lives in rural areas, where housing types vary by region. Houses in the rural villages of the Black Sea region are made of wood. On the Anatolian plateau they are generally made of sun-dried brick. Village houses are generally two stories high with flat roofs. In the eastern part of the country, many lack running water and some have no electricity.


In spite of legal equality, women in Turkey often face discrimination. This is especially true in rural areas. Turkish women are not, however, forced to wear the veil (known as the chador ) as women are in other Muslim nations.

In urban areas, working women hold positions similar to those of their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The number of professional women has grown significantly in recent years.

In 1993, the American-educated economist Tansu Çiller became the country's first woman prime minister. She served as prime minister until 1995, when her coalition government fell apart.

Traditionally, Turkish marriages were arranged. In rural areas some still are. The extended family is important in rural areas, but less so in cities. In rural areas, women still marry at young ages. Financial arrangements between the two families are important in making marriage decisions.


Modern Western-style clothing has been worn in Turkey since the founding of the republic in the 1920s. In urban areas, both adults and teenagers look much the same as those in the cities of the West. In villages and certain tourist areas, one may still see the traditional salvar, baggy, loose-fitting trousers that are worn by both men and women.


The most famous dish of Turkish origin is the shish kebab, pieces of lamb grilled on a skewer. Today, the most popular national dish is the döner kebap, lamb roasted on a turning vertical spit, from which slices are cut as it cooks. A popular entry is köfte (diamond meat patties). A recipe follows.

Turkey is also famous for its appetizers, called meze, made from meat, fish, and vegetables. The most popular include böreks, rolled dough stuffed with white cheese and parsley; dolmasi, various types of vegetables stuffed with rice and meat; and imam bayildi, eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, onions, and tomatoes. The name imam bayildi, means "the imam swooned," suggesting that the dish was so delicious it made a religious leader (an imam) faint when he tried it.


In 1990, the adult literacy rate (ability to read and write) was 80 percent (90 percent for males aged fifteen and over, compared with only 70 percent for their female counterparts). Primary education has been available to almost all children between the ages of six and ten since the 1980s.

Education is not compulsory past middle school. Even to that level it is estimated that only 60 percent of children attend school. The quality of education in urban and rural areas varies significantly. Many rural communities do not have high schools. This sometimes makes it necessary for children to travel great distances if they want to continue their education.

There are several hundred institutions of higher learning in Turkey. Students are admitted to Turkey's public universities through a central placement system.


Whirling dervishes are devotees of a small religious sect who attempt to unite with God by dancing frantically to wild music. Their white-clad, rapidly turning figures in swirling skirts are known the world over. The Turks also have a centuries-old tradition of folk dancing. It varies from one region to the next, each with its own distinctive homemade costumes.

Turkish painting dates back to the court painters of the Ottoman Empire. The contemporary painter Rahmi Pehlivanli is known for his portraits of leading political and diplomatic figures and his landscapes of different regions of the country.

Several of Turkey's leading literary figures in modern times have been involved in political controversies. Many of their works have been censored or banned. Although Turkey's constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the government places restrictions on the media. The writings of Nazim Hikmet, a Marxist poet who died in the former Soviet Union in 1963, were banned for years but are now gaining recognition. The left-wing satirist Aziz Nesin, who published excerpts from Salman Rushdie's controversial Satanic Verses, was jailed for much of his life. He died in 1995.

Yasar Kemal, a leading novelist, has been harassed in recent years over the content of a newspaper article he authored. Turkey's most famous filmmaker, Yilmaz Güney, was imprisoned for most of his career, writing screenplays in prison and smuggling them out through friends, along with detailed instructions for their direction.

Traditional Turkish music is rich and complex. Traditional instruments include the ud and the saz (both of which resemble the lute), the darabuka (a drum), and the ney (sometimes spelled nay a flute).


The services sector, including a growing tourist industry, accounts for more than half of all jobs. Agriculture accounts for most of the rest. In rural areas, all family members participate in agricultural work. Industry employs less than 10 percent of the work force.


The most popular sport in Turkey is soccer. Matches are played on weekends between September and May. Like their counterparts in Europe and Latin America, Turkey's soccer fans are wildly enthusiastic. Celebrations can sometimes turn into riots.

Wrestling is another favorite sport in Turkey. A unique Turkish variety is greased wrestling, which makes it harder to hold on to one's opponent. Other popular sports include hunting and shooting, skiing (the oldest Turkish ski resort is on Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the Greek gods), and cirit, a traditional sport that involves throwing a javelin while mounted on horseback.


Among the traditional Turkish forms of relaxation, the best known is the steam bath, or hamam. Both men and women use the hamam, although separately. Wood-burning stoves are used as heat sources, with bathers absorbing heat by lying on raised slabs directly above the stoves.

The time-honored leisure-time haunt of Turkish men is the coffeehouse (kiraathane), where backgammon is often played and one can still find customers smoking hookahs (water pipes).


Turkey's most famous handicrafts are its carpets, which sport a dazzling array of designs. Tiles and ceramics have been produced in Turkey since the eleventh century and can still be seen adorning the walls of mosques and other buildings.

Another form of folk art is the traditional shadow-puppet theater called Karagöz. It dates back to the 1400s and was sometimes used as a vehicle for political satire. Today Karagöz is a dying art due to competition from modern forms of entertainment and a shortage of performers willing to go through the difficult training it requires.


Turkey's most pressing social problem is its very high rate of population growth. Over-population strains the country's resources (including its educational resources), results in unemployment, and decreases the amount of agricultural produce available for export. High inflation and widespread tax evasion are other ongoing problems.


Ahmad, Feroz. The Making of Modern Turkey. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Lye, Keith. Turkey. New York: F. Watts, 1987.

Rugman, Jonathan. Ataturk's Children: Turkey and the Kurds. New York: Cassell, 1996.


Embassy of Turkey, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Turkey. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Turks, term applied in its wider meaning to the Turkic-speaking peoples of Turkey, Russia, Central Asia, Xinjiang in China (Chinese Turkistan), Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, Iran, and Afghanistan. They total about 125 million, and they are distributed from E Siberia to the Balkans. The wide differences in physical appearance and culture among the Uigurs of China, the Uzbeks of central Asia, and the Osmanlis of Turkey (to cite random instances) make it impossible to speak of Turks as an ethnic or racial group. Although Islam is the religion of the majority of Turks, its importance came relatively late. The most significant unifying link among the Turks is the very close relation of their languages, which are marked by great regularity of pattern and clarity of structure. It is probable that many peoples who were unrelated to the original Turks adopted either wholly or in part their speech and their social organization. The Avars were probably Turkic; they and the Magyars certainly had adopted the Turkic tribal organization when they appeared in Europe, and many Magyar words are of Turkic origin.

Early Migrations and Empires

The name Turk was first used by the Chinese in the 6th cent. to designate a nomadic people who had established a large empire stretching from Mongolia to the Black Sea. This empire, which was divided into two independent parts, was forced to accept Chinese sovereignty in the 7th cent. The northern empire regained its independence in 682, and the oldest known Turkic inscriptions (see under Orkhon) are related to it. In succeeding centuries control of the area passed from the Oghuz Turks to the Uigurs and to the Kyrgyz, who were the last Turkic peoples to reside in Mongolia. They, like their predecessors, migrated to the south and west after they were expelled (924) by the Kitai. Other Turkic peoples, notably the Khazars, Cumans, and Pechenegs, played important roles in the medieval history of S Russia and SE Europe. The Turkish groups of the greatest import in the history of Europe and W Asia were, however, the Seljuks and the Osmanli or Ottoman Turks, both members of the Oghuz confederations. The Arab annexation of the area of ancient Sogdiana in the 7th cent. brought the Oghuz Turks into direct contact with the Abbasid caliphate and later with the Persian Empire. The Turks embraced the Sunni Muslim faith and began to migrate to the Middle East. At first they were used as mercenaries by the Abbasids, but soon the Turks became the actual rulers of the empire.

Seljuk Empire

At the beginning of the 11th cent. a great wave of Seljuk Turks, led by Tughril Beg, conquered Khwarazm and Iran. They entered Baghdad in 1055; Tughril Beg was proclaimed sultan. Under his successor, Alp Arslan, the Seljuks conquered Georgia, Armenia, and much of Asia Minor, overran Syria, and defeated (1071) the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV at Manzikert, opening Byzantium (except for a small area around Constantinople) to Seljuk and Turkmen occupation. This irruption was a major factor in bringing about the Crusades, during which a three-part struggle among Christians, Seljuks, and Egyptian Mamluks developed. Alp Arslan's son, Malikshah (reigned 1072–92), ably administered and developed his huge empire; he was a protector of Omar Khayyam, who reformed the calendar at his behest. At the start of the 12th cent. the Seljuk empire began to fragment, and various parts achieved virtual independence. The attacks of the Khwarazm shah led to the final downfall of the empire in 1157.

Successor States

Among the successor states were the Zangid sultanate of Syria, whose ruler Nur ad-Din was known for his victories over the Crusaders; the empire of Khwarazm, which at one time nearly attained the limits of the earlier Seljuk empire; and the sultanate of Rum or Iconium (see Konya), which comprised a large part of Asia Minor. All the Seljuk states were overrun in the 13th cent. by Jenghiz Khan and his successors, whose hordes comprised both Mongols and Turks and became generally known as Tatars. The Turko-Tatars now living in the nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States are largely descended from the Golden Horde of Batu Khan, as are the Uzbeks (see Uzbekistan), who ruled a vast empire in the 16th cent.

The Osmanlis

In Asia Minor the sultanate of Konya was taken over, after the Mongol wave had receded, by the emirate of Karamania (see Karaman), but the Osmanli Turks completed the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire. A minor tribe and the last of the Turkish invading peoples, the Osmanli had been assigned (13th cent.) to the border area of the Byzantine Empire by their Seljuk overlords. It was largely this position as guards of a constantly contested frontier that allowed them to develop their highly disciplined organization, which in turn enabled them in the 14th cent. to make themselves masters of the ruins of the Seljuk empire in Anatolia. Their first historic ruler Osman I, gave his name both to the nation and to the dynasty that ruled an empire extending, at one period, from Vienna to the Indian Ocean and from Tunis to the Caucasus (see Ottoman Empire). The people of modern Turkey, which was founded after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, are called Osmanli Turks. The original Osmanlis had merged at an early stage with the Seljuks, and their descendants mixed extensively with Muslim converts from the many dozens of nationalities that made up their empire.


See J. R. Krueger, ed., The Turkic Peoples (1963); K. H. Menges, The Turkic Languages and Peoples (1968); D. Hotham, The Turks (1972).

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Ethnic group living in Turkey; also used to refer to Turkic-language speakers in Central Asia.

Turks are an ethnolinguistic group living in a broad geographic expanse extending from southeastern Europe through Anatolia and the Caucasus Mountains and throughout Central Asia. Thus Turks include the Turks of Turkey, the Azeris of Azerbaijan, and the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tatars, Turkmen, and Uzbeks of Central Asia, as well as many smaller groups in Asia speaking Turkic languages. In a legal sense, however, Turks refers only to citizens of Turkey, even those (up to 20% of the population) who are not ethnically Turkish.

Nomadic Turks began infiltrating into Iran from Central Asia as early as the eighth century. Although the initial contacts generally were peaceful, by the tenth century large groups of Turks were invading Iran, and in the eleventh century they began invading Anatolia. First the Seljuk Turks and subsequently the Ottoman Turks established kingdoms in Anatolia. The Ottomans conquered the Byzantine imperial capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, and this city then became the center of the Ottoman Empire, which at its height in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries spanned three continents. Although the Ottoman Empire was multiethnic, Europeans often referred to its subjects as Turks and used "Ottoman Empire" synonymously with "Turkey."

During the nineteenth century, some Ottoman/Turkish intellectuals began to advocate panTuranism, a movement to unite all Turkic-language peoples under the Ottoman Empire. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the government rejected pan-Turanism as an official policy. Nevertheless, interest in the cultural, if not political, unity of Turkic peoples has been a strong current among intellectuals in Turkey and has been revitalized since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence in Central Asia of several new Turkic-speaking countries.

see also anatolia; istanbul; turkey; turkish language.


Yavuz, M. Hakan. "Turkish Identity Politics and Central Asia." In Islam and Central Asia: An Enduring Legacy or an Evolving Threat? edited by Roland Sagdeev and Susan Eisenhower. Washington, DC: Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 2000.

eric hooglund

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Turk archaic term for a member of the ruling Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire, or for a member of any of the ancient central Asian peoples who spoke Turkic languages, including the Seljuks and Ottomans; in extended usage, the name was applied to anyone regarded as showing the harshness or cruelty associated with the Turks by Western Europeans.

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Turk / tərk/ • n. 1. a native or national of Turkey, or a person of Turkish descent. 2. hist. a member of any of the ancient central Asian peoples who spoke Turkic languages, including the Seljuks and Ottomans. 3. archaic a member of the ruling Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire.

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Turkberk, berserk, Burke, cirque, dirk, Dunkirk, erk, irk, jerk, kirk, lurk, mirk, murk, outwork, perk, quirk, shirk, smirk, stirk, Turk, work •Selkirk • Falkirk • Atatürk •patchwork • handwork • waxwork •artwork, part-work •craftwork • headwork • legwork •metalwork • guesswork •fretwork, network •breastwork • daywork • spadework •framework • brainwork •casework, lacework •paintwork • beadwork • fieldwork •needlework • teamwork • piecework •brickwork • handiwork • bodywork •basketwork • donkeywork • telework •clockwork • knotwork • formwork •coursework • falsework •groundwork • housework •coachwork • roadwork • homework •stonework • woodwork • bookwork •footwork • brushwork • firework •ironwork • underwork • wickerwork •paperwork • openwork • camerawork •masterwork, plasterwork •earthwork

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