Turkification (Turkish: Türkleştirme) is the transformation of entities, or cultures into the various historical Turkic states and cultures, such as the Ottoman Empire. As the Turkic states developed and grew, there were many instances of this cultural shift, voluntary and involuntary.

Peoples of the local population succumbed to the dual process of Turkification and Islamization include Anatolian, Balkan, Caucasian and Middle Eastern peoples from different ethnic origins, such as Albanians, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Greeks, Jews, Romani, South Slavic peoples and East Slavic Ukrainians, 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 nearly half 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 "becoming Muslim or Turk". For example: "Είχε τουρκέψει κάτω από βία, τον καιρό της άτυχης εκείνης επανάστασης του 1770, τούρκεμα κανονικό με "σουνέτι" (περιτομή) από Τούρκο παπά (Χότζα)", i.e. "He had been turkified by force, at the time of the unfortunate revolution of 1770. A real turkification, with circumcision by a Turkish priest (Hoja)".[4] 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)[5][6][7]

In Serbian and other South Slavic languages the verb is turčiti (imperfective) or poturčiti (perfective);[8] 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.

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 Anatolia

Main article: Turkic migration
"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 Hittites, Persians, Luwians, Hurrians, Mongols, Greeks, Cimmerians, Galatians, Colchians, Iberians, Carians, Lydians, Lycians, Phrygians, Arameans, Assyrians, Corduenes, Cappadocians, Cilicians, Jewish people, 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]


Main article: Devşirme

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 devşirme was abolished.

Late Ottoman era

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 (Pomaks), 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 Anatolian Greeks numbered around 1.5 million people, most of them had fled to Greece 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]

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

Modern Turkey

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[31][32]

When the modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, nationalism and secularism were two of the founding principles.[33] 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."[34] 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."[35]

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

Turkification in Golden Horde

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 Türk

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.[83] 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.[84]

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.[85]

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.[85] On the other hand, Kurdish-speaking or Arabic-speaking Sunnis of eastern Anatolia are often considered to be Turks.[86]

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.[87] 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 Balkans

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.[88][89][90] 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, has been the subject of several studies. These studies conclude that local Anatolian groups are nearly half the source of the present-day Turkish population.[91] DNA results suggests the lack of strong genetic relationship between the Mongols and the Turkic people despite the historical relationship of their languages.[92]

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. Because modern day Turkish people descent from Oghuz branch of Turkic people which is the most populated and ethnically mixed Turkic group even before Oghuzes came to Anatolia from Central Asia and Persia.[93] Recent genetic research has suggested the local Anatolian origins of the Turkic Asian peoples might have been slight.[94] 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.[95] Analysis suggested that, 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[96][97] Analogical results have been received in neighbouring Caucasus region by testing Armenian and Turkic speaking Azerbaijani populations, therefore representing language replacements and intermarriages.[98] In conclusion, today the DNA components in 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.[99]

A 2011 study concluded "that the profile of Anatolian populations today is the product of both mass westward migrations of Central Asians and Siberians, together with assimilation , engendered shifts in language and culture among the diverse" indigenous inhabitants (p. 32).[100] Results of a 2012 genetic study by Hodoğlugil and Mahley showed the admixture of Turkish people, which share genetic features with European and Middle Eastern people, with a Central Asian (34%-66%) component.This concludes modern Turkey population descent from half Turkic and half local Anatolian people.[101]

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