About Turkish World
Turkey is at the heart of the Turkish world. Turks make up more than 65% (54 million) of the population of Turkey, and another three Turkic ethnic groups – Crimean Tatars, Azerbaijani, and Yuruk – account for another 10%.
Today, there are people speaking various Turkic languages in more than twenty surrounding countries. Most of the members of these Turkish communities in Europe, West Asia, and the Arab World are descendants of people who emigrated from Andalusian Turkey during more than 600 years of Ottoman rule (1300-1922).
Sizable communities of Turkish people live in Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Georgia, to the north, is home to four small Turkish people groups. Two distinct groups of Tatars, together numbering 20 million Muslims, are Russia’s second largest ethnicity and live all across the country. Additional Muslim Turkish groups speaking 15 different Turkic languages are scattered across Russia. To the east, about 26 million Azeri Turks live in Iran and Azerbaijan. To the south, roughly 7 million Turks live in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
These Turkish peoples live in a wide variety of economic, social, and geographic conditions. Outside of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, they all live as minorities. Millions of Turks also live in diaspora, forming the largest ethnic minority group in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Yugoslavia in 1992, hundreds of Turks moved to Turkey, fleeing persecution and harassment from Europeans resentful of hundreds of years of Ottoman rule.
Some Turkish areas are experiencing economic prosperity and growth. Yet by far the majority of Turks are poor and struggling to provide a viable future for their children.
In Europe and Russia, Turks are living as often tiny minorities in predominantly secular, Christian countries. Their common identity as Muslims helps preserve their sense of heritage and helps hold their communities together in the face of the overwhelming majority of non-Muslims around them. In Southern Europe, an unusually high percentage of Turkish-heritage people say they have no religion.
When President Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Empire and declared Turkey a modern secular republic in 1923, he reflected an ongoing trend toward secularism across the Turkish world. Nearly a hundred years later, Turkish President Erdoğan has been attempting to create a revival in Islamic identity.
Millions of Turks are becoming increasingly devout. Though conservative Islam is making a comeback in Turkey, analysts believe that more than 75% of the people of Turkey are still secular.
Secular Muslims also dominate many of the Turkish communities in Europe, Asia, and the Arab World. For these Muslims, being Turkish is often more about culture and ethnic identity than about religion. The majority of Turkish Muslims are Sunni, though there are sizable groups of Shia Muslims. Despite the influence of secularism, many Turkic Muslims throughout the region practice forms of folk Islam.
In the waning years of the Ottoman Empire (1914-22), horrific genocides of Syriacs, Assyrians, Greeks, Armenians, and Chaldeans by Turks and Kurds slaughtered half of the Christians. The 1923 population exchange with Greece expelled 1.2 million more. The Christian population of 4.4 million (25%) in 1912 plummeted to 700,000 in 1924, to 200,000-300,000 (0.2%) today. Remnants of five Orthodox denominations remain.
Mission groups have been active in Turkey since the 1970s. The fruit of this ministry is an Evangelical church of about 6,000. Though the Bible and a growing amount of Christian literature is available in Turkey and online, resources are scarce among Turkic peoples in the surrounding nations. Only the New Testament has been completed in the primary Tatar languages in Russia, for example.
Since Muslim Turks in western and eastern Europe, Russia, and the Middle East are often almost forgotten minorities, little is being done to reach out to them, though there are small, but long-standing ministries among them in Europe.