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The People of Turkey

Asia Minor forms a bridge between Asia and Europe, and throughout history the land had been settled by numerous different races and cultures Phrygians, Hittites, Celts, Huns, Greeks, Arabs, Romans, Persians and Turks, to name only a few. They.took over the land, and either preserved their own culture or mingled with the people around them. The result was a melting pot of different peoples and cultures, and the racial differences are still apparent as one travels through Turkey from west to east.

Of the present population of 51 million, 91 per cent are Turks, 7 per cent Kurds, 1.3 per cent Arabs and 0.3 per cent Greeks. The remainder is made up of small pockets of Circassians, Armenians, Jews and Georgians. The majority religion is Islam; 1 per cent of the population are Christians and 0.2 per cent are Jews.

The Armenians

The majority of Armenians are Christians. They suffered considerable persecution from the Seljuks and the Ottomans, who attempted to exterminate them. But since the founding of a Turkish republic, the Armenians have remained unmolested. Of the 4,700 Armenians remaining, the majority live in Istanbul, while the rest live in and around Adana and lskenderun.

The Greeks

The Greeks are no longer as powerful in Turkey as they once were. At the end of World War I, when the Turks were in considerable disarray, the Greeks attempted to take over the country. But the Turkish nationalists gathered under the leadership of Kemar Atatürk and drove the Greeks out of Asia Minor. Ever since then relations between the two countries have been dogged by a simmering hostility that has occasionally flared up into war over the disputed territory of Cyprus. There are Greeks still living in Istanbul and along the Aegean coast, constituting a small national minority.

The Kurds

The large Kurdish minority live in the far east of Turkey. Their villages are to be found on the undulating steppes of eastern Anatolia, in the basin around Lake Van and in the mountains along the Russian, Iranian and Iraqi borders. Some of the Kurds live out beyond these borders.

The Kurds have managed to hold on to their traditional way of life. They strongly resisted numerous attempts by Kemal Atatürk to assimilate them into Turkish society. The Turkish government troops had enormous problems trying to break their re~istance in the trackless wastes of the east. There were a number of bloody skirmishes, and some horrific acts of retribution.

Atatürk in desperation banished them from their homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were uprooted and forced to resettle in western Anatolia. But even this did not break their resolve. The rebellious Kurds sought the support of the Soviet Union in their attempts to turn their homeland into an autonomous Kurdish state outside the Turkish republic.

This move was blocked in 1961 by a further resettlement programme. Nowadays the Kurds are being accused of underground terrorist activities including bomb attacks and kidnappings, which they are allegedly using to undermine the Turkish state.

Visitors usually find the Kurds a rather sombre people, who are somewhat shy of strangers and they react very strongly against impoliteness. Stabbings are still fairly frequent because the vendetta is still part of their way of life. The Kurds are very poor. Many still pursue a nomadic existence. It happens sometimes that tourists camping or caravanning in the uninhabited region around Lake Van are robbed by a band of Kurds.

But visitors who are received by the Kurds are treated with enormous hospitality. A handshake or an invitation to cay (tea) is a sure sign of their willingness to be friendly. This is usually followed by an invitation to a yogurt meal in which everyone eats out of the same pot. Visitors must overcome any squeamishness, since refusal to eat is a terrible insult to the host.

In the winter, many of the nomadic Kurds move with their herds of sheep, cattle and camels to winter quarters on the coast or on the plateau. Then in the spring they take down their black tents and simple wooden huts, and wander off into the mountains again. Their routes take them past salt lakes such as the Tuz Gölü where they collect salt to sell in the towns.

The Turks

Several million Turks are still semi-nOmadic. In the summer whole families move up into the mountains where they live in primitive tents. Even city dwellers think it important to have a summerresidence in the country. The government makes strenuous efforts to settle the nomads and semi- nomads. They have built permanent settlements for them around Ankara, in the Taurus Mountains and along the Black Sea coast. These consist of whole villages of small concrete huts.

The Muhacirs

This interesting minority originally consisted of Moslem refugees from the Balkans, who in the eighteenth century sought refuge in Asia Minor as the Ottoman empire disintegrated. In the nineteenth century they were joined by Tartars expelled by the Russians from the Crimean peninsula and the steppes between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. These in turn were joined by Circassians and Cossacks, who similarly sought refuge in Turkey.

The Turks resettled them mostly in areas that were largely uninhabited, such as the steppes of Anatolia, the plains of Pamphylia and Cicilia, and the European province of Thrace. The Muhacirs have proved to be skilful farmers and have thus benefit-ted the Turkish economy.


The general level of education is improving. Out of 51 million inhabitants, the literacy rate is moving towards 86 per cent.

Of the foreign languages spoken, English and German are the most frequent. English is taught as the first foreign language, while German is spoken by many Turks who have worked in Germany as Gastarbeiter (guest workers’). French is the third foreign language.

The Main Centres of Population

The biggest city is Istanbul, with a population of 51/2 million. This is followed by Ankara, with 2,880,000 inhabitants. Other centres of population include lzmir (1,800,000), Adana (1 ,200,000), Kay-sen (500,000), Bursa (850,000), Eskisehir (400,000), and Konya (900,000).