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Turkification (Turkish: Türkleştirme) is a term used to describe a process of cultural change in which something or someone who is not a Turk becomes one, voluntarily or involuntarily. It can be used in contexts in connection with Anatolian, Balkan, Caucasian and Middle Eastern peoples from different ethnic origins, as for example: Albanians, Arabs, Armenian Muslims, Assyrians, Greeks, Vlachs, Jews, Roma, various Slavic peoples (such as Bosniaks and Pomaks), Iranian peoples (mainly Kurds and Zazas), as well as Lazs and even Turkic ethnicities (such as Azeris) from all the regions of Ottoman Empire. Another meaning of the term includes the earlier assimilative processes of the indigenous peoples in Anatolia. They occurred through religious conversion, cultural and language assimilation, and most importantly, to strengthen these notions, genetic contribution during the time of the Seljuk Empire.


Appearance of Turks in Anatolia

Anatolia was home to many different peoples in ancient times, including the Carians, Lydians, Lycians, Cappadocians, Cilicians, and scores of others. The presence of many Greeks, especially along the coast and 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.[1] Even by the eleventh century, when Turks first appeared, "Greek culture was little more than a veneer so far as the mass of the people were concerned."[2] Especially along the frontiers, the Byzantines persecuted local populations for Christian heretical beliefs, causing these areas to have little sympathy for Greek culture.[2] Byzantine authorities routinely conducted large-scale population transfers in an effort to impose religious uniformity and the Greek language. They 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.[3] Beginning in the eleventh century, war with Turks led to the deaths of many in the native population, while others were enslaved and removed.[4] As areas became depopulated, Turkic nomads moved in with their herds.[5]

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.[6] 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 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."[7] One mark of the progress of Turkification was that by the 1330s, place names in Anatolia had changed from Greek to 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, 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 or 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.

The imprecise meaning of Türk

The word Türk was a derogatory term until the late 19th century, referring to backwards Anatolian nomads or peasants. The Ottoman elite identified themselves as Sunni Muslims and Ottomans, never as Turks.[10][11] 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.[12] During Ottoman times, the millet system defined communities on a religious basis, and a residue of this remains in that Turkish villagers will commonly consider as Turks only those who profess the Sunni faith, and will consider Turkish-speaking Jews, Christians, or even Alevi Muslims to be non-Turks.[13] On the other hand, Kurdish-speaking or Arabic-speaking Sunnis of eastern Anatolia are often considered to be Turks.[14] 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.[13] 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 multi-cultural way, emphasizing that a Türk is anyone who is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey.[15] 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, Indo-European and Altaic languages, as well as the extinction of the local Anatolian languages. During the late Roman Period, prior to the Turkic invasion, the population of Anatolia had reached an estimated level of over 12 million people .[16][17][18] 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 the primary source of the present-day Turkish population.[19] DNA results suggests the lack of strong genetic relationship between the Mongols and the Turks despite the historical relationship of their languages.[20]

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 only weakly detectable.[21] Recent genetic research has suggested the local Anatolian origins of the Turkic Asian peoples might have been slight.[22] 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 relatively little genetic admixture, possible example of elite cultural dominance-driven linguistic replacement.[23] These observations also may be explained by Anatolia having the lowest migrant/resident ratio at the time of Turkic migrations. Analysis suggested that, genetically, Anatolians are more closely related also with Balkan populations than to the Central Asian populations.[24][25] Analogical results have been received in neighbouring Caucasus region by testing Armenian and Turkic speaking Azerbaijani populations, therefore representing language replacements, possibly via elite dominance involving primarily male migrants.[26] In conclusion, today the major DNA components in Anatolian population are shared with European and neighboring Near Eastern populations and contrast with only a minor share of haplogroups related to Central Asian, South Asian and African affinity, which supports the language replacement hypothesis in the region.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Mitchell, Stephen. 1993. Anatolia: land, men and gods in Asia Minor. Vol. 1, The Celts, and the impact of Roman rule. Clarendon Press. pp.172-176.
  2. ^ a b (Langer and Blake 1932: 481)
  3. ^ Charanis, Peter. 1961. "The Transfer of Population as a Policy in the Byzantine Empire." Comparative Studies in Society and History 3:140-154.
  4. ^ (Vryonis 1971: 172)
  5. ^ (Vryonis 1971: 184-194)
  6. ^ (Langer and Blake 1932: 479-480)
  7. ^ (Langer and Blake 1932: 481-483)
  8. ^ (Langer and Blake 1932: 485)
  9. ^ (Mango 2004:17-18)
  10. ^ (Kushner 1997: 219; Meeker 1971: 322)
  11. ^ Similarly, the Hellene was a derogatory term among Greeks in the same period, its renewed popularity in the 19th Century - like that of Türk - deriving from European ideas of nationalism
  12. ^ (Kushner 1997: 220-221)
  13. ^ a b (Meeker 1971: 322)
  14. ^ (Meeker 1971: 323)
  15. ^ (Kushner 1997: 230)
  16. ^ Late Medieval Balkan and Asia Minor Population.Josiah C. Russell.Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Oct., 1960), pp. 265-274
  17. ^ Estimating Population at Ancient Military Sites: The Use of Historical and Contemporary Analogy. P. Nick Kardulias. American Antiquity, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Apr., 1992), pp. 276-287
  18. ^ J.C. Russell, Late Ancient And Medieval Population, published as vol. 48 pt. 3 of the Transactions Of The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1958.
  19. ^ (2001) HLA alleles and haplotypes in the Turkish population: relatedness to Kurds, Armenians and other Mediterraneans Tissue Antigens 57 (4), 308–317
  20. ^ Tissue Antigens. Volume 61 Issue 4 Page 292-299, April 2003. Genetic affinities among Mongol ethnic groups and their relationship to Turks
  21. ^ Tissue Antigens Volume 60 Issue 2 Page 111-121, August(2002) Population genetic relationships between Mediterranean populations determined by HLA allele distribution and a historic perspective. Tissue Antigens 60 (2), 111–121
  22. ^ Y-chromosomal diversity in Europe is clinal and influenced primarily by geography, rather than by language.
  23. ^ The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 98, No. 18 (Aug. 28, 2001), pp. 10244-10249.
  24. ^ Alu insertion polymorphisms and an assessment of the genetic contribution of Central Asia to Anatolia with respect to the Balkans. Department of Biological Sciences, Middle East Technical University, 06531 Ankara, Turkey. American Journal of Physical Anthropoly 2008 May;136(1):11-8.
  25. ^ Alu insertion polymorphisms in the Balkans and the origins of the Aromuns. Annals of Human Genetics.Volume 68 Issue 2 Page 120-127, March 2004.
  26. ^ Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the neighbouring Caucasus: evidence from the Y-chromosome. Human genetics.ISSN 0340-6717 2003, vol. 112, no3, pp. 255-261.
  27. ^ Excavating Y-chromosome haplotype strata in Anatolia. Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, 300 Pasteur Drive, Stanford, CA 94305-5120, USA.


  • Langer, William L. and Robert P. Blake. 1932. “The Rise of the Ottoman Turks and its Historical Background.” The American Historical Review 37:468-505.
  • Kushner, David. 1997. “Self-Perception and Identity in Contemporary Turkey.” Journal of Contemporary History 32:219-233.
  • Mango, Andrew. 2004. The Turks Today. Overlook Press.
  • Meeker, M. E. 1971. “The Black Sea Turks: Some Aspects of Their Ethnic and Cultural Background.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 2:318-345.
  • Vryonis, Speros. 1971. The decline of medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the process of Islamization from the eleventh through the fifteenth century. University of California Press.


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