Sometimes many of my international friends ask me if Turks are Arabs. Their assumption lies in the fact that most Turkish people are Muslims and Turkish people share some common history with Arabs.
Although, it is legitimate for foreigners to ask this question. We, the Turkish people, can be offended by foreigners mixing us with Arabs.
According to us, thinking English people are Ukrainians or mixing Canadian people with Mexicans is wrong as thinking Turks are Arabs.
Yes, most Turkish people are Muslims, but besides that, Turks belong to a different race, and there are many major differences between Turks and Arabs.
Turkish people are not Arabs. Turks and Arabs are not the same race.
Turkish people are descendants of Central Asian Turkic people and indigenous people of Anatolia.
Arabs are Semitic people of the Middle East.
Arabs and Turks have different languages, cultural and ethnic roots, and historical backgrounds.
If you are interested in learning the Turkish language, this is the book that most of my friends use. You can check the book on Amazon.
Turkey is a Turkic Country
Turkey is not an Arab country, Turkey is a Turkic country. The other Turkic countries are Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kırgızistan, and Uzbekistan.
Turkic countries are located in Central Asia, whereas Arabic countries are located in North Africa and the Middle East.
Turkish people originated in Central Asia.
Early Turkish people were nomadic, and the Oghuz faction of Turkic people migrated to Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) around 1000 AD and settled here, mixing with local indigenous people.
Thus, the ancestors of the Turkish people are the Oghuz faction of Turkic People and the indigenous people of Anatolia.
For these reasons, Turkish genetical structure is most similar to South Europeans like Greek and South Italians, but Turkish people also have varying degrees of Central Asian DNA added to the mix.
It is estimated that Turks carry 15% of Central Asian DNA, but this percentage can be more because Central Asian Turkic people are also known to have European DNA, but there is limited genetic data on Central Asian countries. Source Source 2
The Turkish Language is a Turkic Language
The Turkish language is a Turkic Language and has common ancestry with many Turkic Countries.
It is also theorized that Turkish shares common roots with Korean, Mongolian, Japanese, Finnish, and Hungarian.
If you want to know more, you can also read my article about Turkish Language origin.
On the other hand, Arabic is spoken widely around North Africa and the Middle East and is closer to Hebrew, Maltese and Ethiopian Languages.
Turkish and Arabic have different roots, and they are not mutually intelligible. In fact, Arabic is closer to European languages when compared to Turkish.
If you wish to know more, you can check my article on the differences between Arabic and Turkish languages.
Arabs in Turkey
1-1,5 % of the Turkish population has Arabic ancestry. Most of them live near the Iraq and Syria border, which are Arab countries.
Recently Arabic residents in Turkey increased due to the Syrian Civil War.
More than 4 million Syrian refugees took shelter in Turkey. These refugees are not Turkish citizens, and because of newly arrived refugees, it is estimated that now 5% of residents in Turkey are Arabs.
Furthermore, annually, 3 million Arab tourists visit Turkey each year.
Arab League and Turkey
Arab League is an international organization formed by 22 Arab countries. Countries with observer status in the Arab League are Armenia, Brazil, Eritrea, India, and Venezuela.
Turkey is not in the Arab League because it is not an Arabic country.
Turkey expressed its desire to be an observer in the Arab League, but Arab countries denied it due to problematic diplomatic ties between Turkey and some Arab countries.
Major Cultural Differences between Arabs And Turkish People
Arab and Turkish were geographically so close, yet they have different backgrounds.
Yes, there are some instances in which Turks share some cultural elements with Arabic culture, but the true difference lies in the history of these nations.
You will understand how they are different if you tell me some major differences and the reasons behind our history and culture.
Turkish Culture is unique but embraces Western Values
Turkey is seen as a miracle of founding father Ataturk. I am not here to underestimate what he has accomplished, and Ataturk is one of the world leaders that I respect the most.
Yet, as Ataturk always states, Turkish people should be acknowledged for the modern society we form today.
Turkish reforms started long before Ataturk, and Ataturk’s reforms may not be successful in any other society.
Turkish society is the only Muslim society able to achieve extensive modernization by embracing the western governance style.
Turkish society was always part of Europe, and the Ottoman was a major European power for 600 years until World War 1.
As Turkish people transferred Eastern knowledge like gunpowder and compass to Europe, Ottoman Empire also safeguarded knowledge of ancient ages (like philosophy) during the dark ages of Europe.
Turkish society was one of the first one of first societies affected by revolution and reforms in Europe. Turkish human rights and constitutionalism started right after the French Revolution.
Tanzimat Reforms (between 1839 and 1876) is a major human rights reform process in Turkey after the French Declaration of Human Rights (1789).
Through Tanzimat reforms, the Ottoman Sultan mainly issued two edicts to modernize the Ottoman Empire. These edicts;
- guaranteed life and property rights (1839)
- instituted tax regulations (1839)
- outlawed execution without trial (1839)
- equality of Muslim and non-Muslim Ottoman subjects (1839)
- Secularization of the government started (even though it was opposed by non-muslim and Muslim religious leaders) (1839)
- First Parliament of Turkey (1876)
- First Constitution (1876)
Then the reform process stalled because the Ottoman Empire lost nearly all its territory during the constant Balkan Wars and World War 1. The reforms continued after the Turkish Independence War.
Some of the Major reforms between 1920-1930
- Abolition of Sultanate and Caliphate
- Banning of religious clothing, obligation to wear hats
- The centralization of education and secular curriculum
- All religious sects are banned. Mosques operated under government control to prevent the misuse of religion by individuals.
- Abolition of all religious regulations. Major codes were renewed, implementing the best Western Standards. Penal Code was inspired by Italian, the Civil Code from Switzerland, Commercial Code from Germany.
- The Time system, Weekend Holidays, and Measurement System became aligned with Europe.
- The Latin alphabet is adapted.
Turkey has its ups and downs, but it is one of the oldest countries in the world with liberal traditions and values.
Turkey is a European Union candidate, one of the oldest NATO members, a founding member of the European Council, and a part of the Western World.
To learn more about Turkey’s process, you can read my article Why Turkey is considered a First World Nation.
Long story short, Turkish reforms and our development is yet to be achieved by Arab countries or other Muslim countries.
Besides ethnicity, Turkey is also very different in societal development compared to Arabic countries.
Turkish culture has always been part of and a major contributor to European culture. You can see many Turkish remarks in everyday European life as well as the establishment of major European organizations. You can read to learn Why is Turkey considered European? Explained With Unknown Facts
Turkey was one of the first countries to accept Women’s Suffrage and gave equal voting rights to women in 1930.
Western European countries like France (1944), and Italy (1945), Belgium (1948) followed the Turkish example a decade later.
This may be surprising, but gender equality was not an issue in ancient Turkish traditions.
As one of my high school teachers used to say, “Turkish gender equality suffered after Turks converted to Islam and Arabic gender equality got better after they became Muslim.”
Turkish people were nomadic people. Even if they wanted to, they had no luxury of isolating their women. Turkish women were working and always had social roles in Turkish Culture.
Turkish gender equality is also reflected in the Turkish language. Turkish grammar does not have gender-based nouns like Arabic or Western languages.
Turkish also does not have a specific language structure for women like Japanese.
In Turkish, the Sultan title is both used to define King and Queen. The Queen is another administrative figure in Turkish culture that is not seen in Arabic.
Turkish women are free to be politicians and any other profession. In fact, half of Turkey’s university students, lawyers, and university teachers are women.
For more about gender equality and women in Turkish society in Turkey, click to read: Turkish Women – How and Why They Are Different?
Sabiha Gokcen airport is named after the first female fighter pilot in history. She flew around 8,000 hours and participated in 32 different military operations.
Turks preserved their identity when they converted to Islam
Let me tell you very briefly how Arabs and Turks first met and how Turks converted to Islam.
Islam was not just a religion in its early days, it was also an empire. The Islamic empire was ruled by the Caliphs, who were also spiritual leaders of Islam.
In those ancient times, Turkic people had a Shamanic Faith (Tengrism), and they were mostly nomadic people living in Central Asia. The Turkish word for god is still Tanrı, which comes from Tengrism.
The Islamic Empire embraced the Arabic superiority principle and assimilated the populations in the regions where they reigned.
Yet, Turks resisted changing their identity, and Turkic countries clashed with Islamic Empire for centuries.
Turks converted to Islam after the 9th century when Abbasid Dynasty took over Islamic Empire and abandoned Arab Supremacy principles.
For these reasons, unlike major Middle Eastern cultures like Egyptians or other middle eastern cultures, Turkish people preserved their culture when Turks converted to Islam and did not get assimilated into Arab identity.
Also, Turks did not live under the Islamic Empire founded by Arabs. Instead, the Turks formed their own empires.
Ottoman Empire vs Islamic Empire (Caliphate)
Islam religion is very different than other world religions in one aspect. Islam’s religion sets forth the rules about how a country should be ruled, and Islam presents a legal system called Sharia.
The Caliphate, the Islamic Empire, was a government ruled by Islamic principles.
Ottoman Empire was ruled by a Muslim Dynasty, and Ottoman Sultans gained the title of Caliphate when they conquered Egypt in 1571. Yet, the Ottoman Empire was not the continuation of the Islamic Empire.
Ottoman Empire administrative and cultural traditions reflected East Roman Empire (Byzantine) and ancient Turkish government traditions.
In fact, Ottoman Sultans holding Istanbul and continuing its traditions also claimed to be East Roman Caesars.
Assimilation was not a state policy of the Ottoman Empire like the East Roman Empire but unlike the Islamic Empire. Islamic Empire aimed to convert the religion of the people where they conquered.
Ottoman granted religious autonomy; the only major difference between non-muslims and Muslims was their taxing structure.
Non-muslims were required to pay slightly more taxes, but non-muslims were free to establish their own cultural and religious institutes.
Religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire were treated better than European countries.
For these reasons, Balkan nations are still Christians despite the fact that the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans for nearly 600 years.
Many Jews fled to the Ottoman Empire, escaping Inquisitions between the 15th and 16th centuries.
In 1492, Sultan Beyazid II dispatched his Navy to the sanctuary for Jews expelled by Spain and Portugal with the Alhambra Decree.
The majority of Turkish Jews living in Turkey are descendants of these Jewish refugees who came to Turkey in the Medieval Times.
Additionally, Ottoman Empire was even more tolerant of Christian sects than its Catholic neighbors, this is another reason Orthodox Christianity still lives.
Long story short, the Turkish government style was always secular, like the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire.
This historical background enabled the Turkish people to form the Turkish Republic as a secular government.
Also, for these reasons, Turkish religious practices evolved differently than Arabs.
This is another reason Turks are perceived as light Muslims by Arabs, and most Turks believe that Arabs have a different understanding of Islam religion.
You may also like to read
- Origins of the Turkish Language – A Native Speaker Explains
- Turkish and Arabic Languages: 10 Things to Know
- Why Turkey is considered a First World Nation?
- Why is Turkey considered European? Explained With Unknown Facts
- Turkish Women – How and Why They Are Different?
- What Do Turkish People Look Like? With Pictures and History
- Are Turks White Caucasian? Who is a Turk? 7 Things to Know
Thursday 5th of January 2023
"Women's equality part of Turkish culture"
Dude, you must have somehow missed Erdogan's reign, and his trying to turn back time. Youch......
Wednesday 15th of February 2023
Does Trump represent all of America?
Sibel Meydan Johnson
Thursday 8th of September 2022
Hi Efe, I myself try to educate people about the misconception of Turk and Arab. Now that I found your site, I just forwarded, I tweeted it, and with your permission would like to use it as a reference to continue educated people with this misconception. Love your paper…
Wednesday 21st of September 2022
Thank you:) I am really happy that you like it :))
Monday 29th of August 2022
I am in my 60’s and finally reading “The Source” by James A. Michener. What a fascinating narrative and sumptuous history of religion and man in and around Jerusalem and Makor. I am third generation Canadian with British and European roots. I also studied History of Religion in high school and am so grateful for an excellent teacher who broadened all our minds about the 5 core religions - Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Sikhism. Thank you for clarifying the differences as my knowledge of the Middle East and of Turkey and Turkic countries is sorely lacking. .
Wednesday 21st of September 2022
Thank you for your kind comment.
Sunday 28th of August 2022
I am visiting Turkey for the first time and your article has clarified a couple of gray areas. Thanks
Sunday 21st of August 2022
Is it safe for an American to visit Turkey? If Turkey is a democratic society, why does the press present it as authoritarian? Can Christians and Jews practice their faith, without fear?
Wednesday 21st of September 2022
All democracies experience drawback periods and become better democracies with the lessons learned. Turkey is not a perfect democracy, but it is an authoritarian regime either. If you compare European democracies and Asian authoritarian regimes, Turkey is definitely way closer to European democracies and cannot be classified same with authoritarian regimes.