Demographics of Turkey

From Academic Kids

Modern Turkey spans bustling cosmopolitan centers, pastoral farming villages, barren wastelands, peaceful Aegean coastlines, and steep mountain regions. More than half of Turkey's population lives in urban areas that juxtapose typically Western lifestyles with traditional-style mosques and markets.

Turkey has been officially secular since 1924, although 99% of the population is Muslim. Most Turkish Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, but a significant number are Alevi Muslims. The appeal of political Islam and the Kurdish insurgency continue to fuel public debate on several aspects of Turkish society, including the role of religion, the necessity for human rights protections, and the expectation of security.


Some facts

Missing image
Demographics of Turkey, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

Population: 65,666,677 (July 2000 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 29% (male 9,722,217; female 9,375,920)
15-64 years: 65% (male 21,671,638; female 20,966,110)
65 years and over: 6% (male 1,811,599; female 2,119,193) (2000 est.)

Population growth rate: 1.27% (2000 est.)

Birth rate: 18.65 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate: 5.96 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.85 male(s)/female
total population: 1.02 male(s)/female (2000 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 48.9 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 70.97 years
male: 68.63 years
female: 73.41 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate: 2.16 children born/woman (2000 est.)

noun: Turk(s)
adjective: Turkish

Ethnic groups: Turkish 89-92%, Kurdish 7-9% (note that these figures are not official)

Religions: Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (Christian and Jews)

Languages: Turkish (official), Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Greek, and several others.

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 82.3%
male: 91.7%
female: 72.4% (1995 est.)

Ethnic & religious minorities in Turkey

The question of ethnic groups living in Turkey is a highly debated and difficult issue. Figures published in several different references prove this difficulty by varying greatly.

The Oghuz tribes, which used to constitute the majority of the reigning fraction of Turkic people in Anatolia, gained dominance in the region not by their high populations but their superiority in warfare. So, initially Turkic people lived as a minority in many regions that they first captured. Anatolia, which was formerly a part of the Byzantine Empire, was (and still is) especially an ethnically very mixed region. It is, therefore, impossible to speak about a pure Turkish race in the tangled ethnic mix of Anatolia.

Moreover, many non-Turkic minorities have accepted the Turkish as their national identity and Turkish language as their native language in the past centuries. In Turkey, it is not surprising to notice blond and blue-eyed individuals within the dominant black-haired, Mediterranean-looking mass.

In this context, the genuinely Turkic people are individuals named as Central Asian Turks (including Tatars), most of whom have possibly come to the region by Mongol invasion long after the initial Oghuz tribes conquered and melted in the local population.

Proving the difficulty of classifying ethnicities living in Turkey, there are as many classifications as the number of scientific attempts to make these classifications. Turkey is not a unique example for that and many European countries (e.g. France, Germany) bear a great ethnic diversity. So, the immense diversity observed in the published figures for the percentages of Turkish people living in Turkey (ranging from 80 to 97%) totally depends on the method used to classify the ethnicities. Complicating the matter even more is the fact that the last official and country-wide classification of ethnical identities of Turkey was performed in 1965 and many of the figures published after that time are very loose estimates.

It is necessary to take into account all these difficulties and be cautious while evaluating the ethnic groups. A possible list of ethnic groups living in Turkey could be as follows (based on the classification of P.A. Andrews (1), however this book is more like a review and depends on other people's publications):

  1. Turks: Kirghiz, Karapapaks, Turkmens, Kazakhs, Kumuks, Yoruks, Uzbeks, Tatars, Azeris, Balkars, Uighurs, Karachays.
  2. Kurds
  3. Zazas
  4. Arabs
  5. Georgians
  6. Laz
  7. Hamshenis
  8. Groups originally from the Balkans (Bulgarians, Albanians, Serbians, Croatians, Romanians and Bosniaks): These people migrated to Anatolia during the Ottoman Era and have accepted Turkish-Muslim identity.
  9. Circassians
  10. "Minorities": Greeks, Jews, Armenians.
  11. Others: It is well known that very small groups of people from Germany, Poland, Estonia, Sudan and Somalia are also living within the territory of Turkey.

Recent trends in situation of minorities

Modern Turkey was founded by Kemal Ataturk as a secular and thus non-religious state, without a state religion, nor discrimination of ethnic or religious minorities. Nevertheless there are many reports from very authoritative sources (Human Rights Watch, European Parliament, European Commission, national parliaments in EU member states, Amnesty International etc.) on persistent yet declining discriminations:

  • Turkish imams get salaries from the state, whereas Turkish non-Islamic clerics are not paid at all;
  • Imams can be trained freely at the numerous religious schools troughout the country; minority religions can not re-open schools for training of their local clerics due to legislation and international treaties dating back to the end of Turkish War of Independence;
  • The Turkish state sends out paid imams, working under authority from the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) to other EU countries on demand from local populations;
  • The so-called genocide of Armenians, Greeks, Syrians, and Assyrians during the 1915-1918 period and after is massively denied according to the offical documents of Ottoman Empire; (Turkish point is that as a period of civil war it should be left to historians to review.)
  • Turkey has recently recognised a series of Languages such as "Zazaca", Arabic and Kurdish as a minority language together with several other smaller ethnic group languages. A few private schools teaching Kurdish have recently opened; Kurdish language TV broadcasts a few hours a week on government-owned stations while the private national channels show no interest;
  • Non-Muslim minority numbers are said to be falling rapidly, mainly as a result of aging, migration (to Israel, Greece and United States) and an overall Islamic influence on society fueled by bordering countries such as Iran.

See also


  1. UE Commission, 'Issues arising from Turkey's EU membership', 2004,, 2004.
  2. UE Commission, 'Recommendation of the European Commission on Turkey's progress towards ascession', 2004,
  3. AI report on Turkey, 2003,
  4. Human Rights Watch overview, 2003,
  5. # Human Rights Watch Bachgrounder,
  6. Andrews, Peter A. Ethnic groups in the Republic of Turkey. Wiesbaden: Reichert Publications,émographie de la Turquie

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