Arabs vs Turks: Racial, Cultural and Social Differences – A Turkish Explains

Last Update:

In this article, as a Turkish, I explained racial, cultural and social differences between Arabs and Turkish people.

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.

Turkish people are not Arabs. Turks and Arabs are not the same race.

Most Turkish people are Muslims, but besides that, Turkish people belong to a different race, and Turkish people have different historical, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds from Arabs.

Turkish people are descendants of Central Asian Turkic people and indigenous people of Anatolia.

Arabs are Semitic people of the Middle East.

According to us, thinking English people are Ukrainians or mixing Canadian people with Mexicans is as wrong as thinking Turks are Arabs.

1. Turkey is a Turkic Country

Turkish people originated in Central Asia. Turkey is not an Arab country, and Turkey is a Turkic country.

Turkic countries are Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kırgızistan, and Uzbekistan.

Whereas Arabic countries are located in North Africa and the Middle East.

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. Central Asian heritage is believed to be higher because Central Asian Turkic people are also known to have European DNA. (Yet, there is limited genetic data on Central Asian countries.) Source Source 2

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.

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 the Turkish language shares common roots with Korean, Mongolian, Japanese, Finnish, and Hungarian.

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 want to know more, you can also read my article about Turkish Language origin.

3. Arabs are a minority 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 6 million Syrian refugees took shelter in Turkey. Most refugees are not Turkish citizens, and because of newly arrived refugees, it is estimated that now 8% of residents in Turkey are Arabs.

Furthermore, annually, 3 million Arab tourists visit Turkey each year.

If you wish to know more, you can check my article on the differences between Arabic and Turkish languages.

3. Turkey is not Considered an Arab Country by any Arab country

Arab League is an international organization formed by 22 Arab countries.

Turkey is not in the Arab League because neither Turkey nor any Arab country thinks Turkey is an Arabic country.

Turkey expressed its desire to be an observer in the Arab League like Armenia, Brazil, Eritrea, India, and Venezuela, but Arab countries denied it due to problematic diplomatic ties between Turkey and some Arab countries.

4. Arabs vs Turkish People (Major Cultural Differences)

Arab and Turkish were geographically 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.

4.1 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. 

Scientists in Istanbul Observatory circa 16th Century. Drawn with Turkish Miniature Art Style.

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, the Ottoman Empire also safeguarded knowledge of ancient ages (like philosophy) during the Dark Ages of Europe.

Turkish society was one of Europe’s first societies affected by revolution and reforms. Turkish human rights and constitutionalism started right after the French Revolution.

Opening of Ottoman (Turkish) Parliament 1877 from a London Newspaper Source Wikipedia

Tanzimat Reforms (between 1839 and 1876) was 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)

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

Meral Aksener is the head of the 2nd biggest opposition party in Turkey. Meral Aksener also served as Head of the Turkish Parliament and Interior Minister. You can see Meral Aksener with my sister’s family in the picture.

Then, during the constant Balkan Wars and World War 1, the reform process stalled because the Ottoman Empire lost nearly all its territory.

The reforms continued after the Turkish Independence War.

Some of the Major reforms by the Ataturk’s leadership between 1920-1930

  • Abolition of the Sultanate and the Caliphate institutions
  • Banning of religious clothing, the obligation to wear hats
  • The centralization of education and secular curriculum
  • All religious sects are banned. Mosques started to be operated under government control to prevent the misuse of religion by individuals
  • Abolition of all religious regulations and laws
  • Major codes were renewed, implementing the best Western Standards. The Penal Code was inspired by Italian, the Civil Code from Switzerland, and the Commercial Code from Germany.
  • The Time system, Weekend Holidays, and Measurement System became aligned with Europe.
  • The Latin alphabet was adopted.

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.

Long story short, besides ethnicity, Turkey is also very different in societal development compared to Arabic countries.

Turkish reforms and our development are yet to be achieved by Arab countries or other Muslim countries.

To learn more about Turkey’s process, you can read my article Why Turkey is considered a First World Nation.

4.2. Gender Equality

While most Arabic countries are talking about how women should dress in public, 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.

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.

The picture was taken on Sabiha Gokcen’s Balkan tour in 1938.

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 Arabs became Muslim.”

Turkish people were nomadic people. Even if they wanted to, Turkish nomads had no luxury of isolating their women.

Since ancient times, Turkish women have been working side by side with their families and have 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 used to define both the King and the 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?

5. 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.


Islamic Empire (The Caliphate) expansion between 622–750 AD

Turks converted to Islam after the 9th century when the Abbasid Dynasty took over the Islamic Empire and abandoned Arab Supremacy principles. 

For these reasons, unlike major Middle Eastern cultures like Egyptians, 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. 

6. Ottoman Empire vs Islamic Empire (Caliphate)

6.1 The Ottoman Empire was based on Turkic and Eastern Roman Tradition while the Islamic Empire was based on Islamic rules.

Islam religion is very different from 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.

The 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 from the Eastern Roman capital of Istanbul continued its traditions and also claimed to be East Roman Caesars.

6.2. In the Ottoman Empire, Religious Tolerance was a state policy, and Assimilation was not a State Policy.

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 those in European countries.

For these reasons, Balkan nations are still Christians despite the fact that the Ottoman Empire ruled the Balkans for nearly 600 years.

During its golden ages, the Ottoman Empire was the most tolerant place for all religions. 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, the Ottoman Empire was even more tolerant of Christian sects than its Catholic neighbors.

This is another reason Orthodox Christianity is still the dominant religion in the Balkans.

6.3 Legal Systems and Government Traditions

The Turkish government style is secular, with legal principles acquired from the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and other European countries.

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.

Turkey Travel Planning Guide

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Turkey?

100% YES! — With basic coverage averaging just $5-10 USD per day, enjoy peace of mind with a plan from SafetyWing, one of the biggest names in travel insurance.

💧Can you drink tap water in Turkey?

Rarely — You’ll want to buy a Water-To-Go Bottle, which filters your drinking water so you don’t get sick from drinking water in Turkey, and helps keep you hydrated while traveling Turkey. (Read more)

🚙💨 Is it safe to rent a car in Turkey?

Yes — Renting a car in Turkey is one of the best ways to explore the seven regions of Turkey! I always rent with Discover Cars, which checks both international companies and local Turkish companies, so you get the best rates. (Read more)

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Turkey accommodation?

For Turkish hotels and hostels, Booking is the best site. If you’re considering an Airbnb, don’t forget also to check VRBO, which is often cheaper than Airbnb!

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Turkey? For finding cheap Turkey flights, I recommend Skyscanner and Google Flights. (Read more about the best Turkish Airline Companies.)

🎫 Do I need a visa for Turkey?

Likely Not — U.S., Canadian, and most European Passport holders don’t need a visa for Turkey but check here to see if you do need a Turkey travel visa.

14 thoughts on “Arabs vs Turks: Racial, Cultural and Social Differences – A Turkish Explains”

  1. Really a great insight into Turkish culture and Heritage. I have travelled across most of Central Asian countries and your article has really helped me understand Turkey in a better way. Thanks

  2. Thanks Efe for the information. I developed interest on Turkish people when I met some investors from Turkey in my country, Kenya. I’ve always thought they are Arabs.

  3. Thank you very much for all those historical details. Turkey is definitely a great nation with a long history.

  4. 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?

    • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

  7. “Women’s equality part of Turkish culture”

    Dude, you must have somehow missed Erdogan’s reign, and his trying to turn back time. Youch……


Leave a Comment