I am a Turkish who was born and raised in Izmir, in Western Turkey. Until I went to London for a postgraduate law degree, I had never thought of my race and whiteness as defined in the UK and US.
You can be from any different ethnic background in Turkey, but you are a Turk if you speak Turkish and define yourself as a Turk.
According to my personal experience, Turkish people’s language accent is more important than their skin color or ethnic background in Turkey.
For this reason, the race question very commonly asked in the UK confused me because the race definition based on origins, ethnic background, and skin color was new to me.
I searched everywhere for these definitions to learn who is considered white in the UK and US, and now I believe I can shed some light on the issue. I
Turkish people are part of the white (Caucasian) race. In the US, Turkish people are considered white because they are one of the original people of Europe, the Middle East. In the UK, Turkey is accepted as a European country, and Turkish people are explicitly accepted as “other white background” like Polish, Greeks, Cypriots.
As a lawyer, I researched official Census definitions of every country. In this blog, you can find official census definitions of Turkish people as defined by the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand Governments.
I will also give some information about Turkish People’s History, How Turkey defines race and what white Turkish people mean in Turkey.
If you are interested to learn the Turkish language, this is the book that most of my friends use. You can check the book on Amazon.
White Race Definition in US and Turkish Race
The US Census Bureau defines the white race as “A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.” The Census Bureau definition is the widely accepted definition of race and ethnicity in the US. Source
Turkey is a Middle Eastern and a European Country. For this reason, Turkish people are considered White in the US.
White is a term used interchangeably with Caucasians in the US. Literally, Turkish people are also Caucasian because some of the Turkish territories lie within the Caucasus region.
Another interesting trend in the US is lobbying of Arabs and Iranians to be identified differently from the White race. Source
To please this request, the U.S. Census Bureau may offer another racial category for people, regardless of race, who claim ancestry from a limited set of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
If this proposal is accepted, Turkish people will continue to be considered White because the U.S. Census Bureau’s MENA description does not include the original peoples of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Armenia. Source
White Race Definition in the UK and Turkish Race
In the UK, the white definition does not apply to Middle Easterners and North African people as in the US.
Kurdish, Iranians, and Arabs are categorized separately as “Any other ethnic group.”
How are Turkish People categorized in other countries?
In Canada, Turkish people are categorized separately from White Race. Turkish People is a specific sub-category of the West Central Asian and Middle Eastern origins. All Turkic Nations are also included in this category. Source
In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics classifies Turkish people in the other Northern African and Middle Eastern category. Source
New Zealand does not have a white race category. There are 6 categories, European, Māori, Pacific peoples, Asian, MELAA (Middle Eastern / Latin American / African). Turkish is considered in the MELAA (Middle Eastern / Latin American / African) category. Source
Suggested Reading: What Do Turkish People Look Like? With Pictures and History
Who is a Turk? Turkish Race and Ethnic Roots
Turks are mostly white people with Mediterranean looks. Turkish People are descendants of Anatolian, Central Asian (mostly Turkic), Mediterranean, Balkans, Caucasus people mixed with many different ethnicities. Turkish genetic models are similar to Southern Europeans, most similar to the South Italian population. source
Turks also have Central Asian ancestry, but how much this ancestry influenced the Modern Turkish population is not certain. The Central Asian origin of modern Turkish people is believed to be around 10-20%. Yet, this influence may be more significant because the indigenous Central Asian Turkic population is known to carry European ancestry.
Turkish People’s Central Asian ancestry relies mostly on the Oghuz faction of Turkic People. Oghuz arrived and settled in Turkey around the 11th century.
The Turkic language spoken by the Oghuz people is the base of the modern Turkish language spoken in Turkey. For this reason, linguistically, Turkish people are Central Asians.
The Turkish Language is a Turkic language shared by most Central Asian countries. Check my article to learn about the Turkish Language and its origins.
Most Turkish people see themselves as descendants of Central Asians, and I believe Turkish Anatolian roots are underrated.
A recent study published by the Royal Society examined the genetics of Turkish villages in Southwest Turkey. The research concluded that Turkish people living in modern times are ancestors of native Anatolians and there was no genetic discontinuity in the region for at least 2000 years.
Furthermore, the same study also found %15 percent East Eurasian DNA in the modern group, which was not present in Byzantine times.
Short History of Turkish People
We, Turkish People, love the term the melting pot to describe our culture and heritage. Our culture and ethnic roots are diverse. The melting pot symbolizes that all the elements (ethnicities) melted in a pot (Turkey) to produce one unique Turkish identity.
Turkish people use the term Anatolia to describe the motherland of Turkey. Asia Minor is the synonym of Anatolia.
First, there were the native people of Anatolia. They were highly civilized cultures. Lidyans, Hittites, Phrygians, Troyans, Phoenicians, Galatian Celts and Greeks, Jews, and even Norse settled Anatolia.
Then the Romans came, all Turkey became a part of the Roman Empire. Many centuries later, the East Roman Empire (Byzantine) was formed when the Roman Empire split into two. From that moment on, Istanbul (Constantinople) ruled all Eastern Mediterranean for centuries.
Check my article if you want to learn about how Istanbul became the name of Constantinople.
Then the Turkish people arrived. Turkish people coming from Central Asia were primarily from the Oghuz Turkic ethnic group. Oghuz Turks settled in Turkey, and soon Byzantine Empire was replaced by Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.
The Turkish adapted Byzantine Empire traditions formed Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Empire ruled vast parts of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa until World War 1.
All these centuries, the heart of many civilizations was Anatolia and Istanbul. Also, genetic exchanges were common with ethnic groups living under the same Empire.
After Balkan Wars and World War 1, Ottoman Empire collapsed. Ottoman Empire lost most of their European territory, and new administrations expelled Muslims regardless of their ethnic origin.
In those times, religion was the main factor of nationality, and you were Turk if you were Muslim. Therefore, you should go to Turkey.
In that period, 10 million ethnic Turks, Albanians, Bulgarians, Cretans, Bosniaks, Greeks, Circassians, Crimean Tatars, Pomaks, and Serbs migrated to modern-day Turkey.
This last migration was the final touch of the Turkish genetic mix. Today, nearly every Turkish citizen had a descendant who came with the last migration wave. Source.
Some of my ancestors also came to Turkey with this migration wave. One of my grandfathers is of Bulgarian origin, and my other grandfather is of Cretan origin.
Turkish Race defined by The Turkish Republic
As I said in the short history of Turkish, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Turkish population was fragmented with different ethnic backgrounds and languages.
Two factors united all Turkish people under the same destiny, the Turkish Independence War and our founding father, Kemal Ataturk.
“Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene” – “How happy is the one who says I am a Turk” was the motto of that period. If you accept yourself as a Turk and speak the language, you are a Turk regardless of your ethnic background.
The newly founded Turkish Republic’s motto worked, and many indigenous people of different backgrounds embraced Turkish identity and did not pass their native languages to their descendants like my grandfathers.
I believe for this reason language and accent is a more important indicator in Turkey than ethnic background.
Turkish People have diverse ethnic backgrounds, but they choose to unite to form a unique national identity, something different from its roots as if you melt them all into a pot to make a stew.
Turkish culture is a fusion of Mediterranean, Balkan, Anatolian, and Central Asia, reflecting thousands of years of tradition.
For example, the evil eye, one of the best souvenirs that you can buy in Turkey, is a tradition older than 3.000 years.
European (Mediterranean and Balkan) and Central Asian elements are more dominant in Turkish culture.
Arabic, Persian, and Middle Eastern elements are also present in Turkish culture, yet the Middle Eastern cultural influence of the Middle Eastern in Turkey may be exaggerated.
The common point of both Arabic and Turkish culture is Islam. Even on religion, we do not agree with Arabs.
According to Arabs, Turkish people are light Muslims at best.
According to Turkish people, Arabs are practicing Islam conservatively, backwardly, not the way it should be.
Moreover, most Arabic and Islamic influences like the Arabic Alphabet were reformed and replaced with Western standards in the first years of the Turkish Republic.
If you wish to know some interesting facts about Turkey, you can read my article about Why Turkey is a First World Country.
Meaning of “White Turks” and “Black Turks” in Turkey
White & Black Turk is a term used frequently in contemporary culture in Turkey. This definition is not related to ethnicity or skin color. It is more related to the lifestyle and beliefs of individuals.
White Turks can be described as progressive, liberal, and secular Turks who embraced Western lifestyles. White Turks are also used to describe Turks living in coastal and urban areas with high purchasing power.
Black Turk is a term used to describe conservative, religious, and less educated rural Turkish rural population.
Recently in a new term, “Grey Turks” emerged in the media to describe a third group. The new term describes well-educated religious Turks, who are also aligned with western values and lifestyles.
I am writing my personal thoughts and knowledge on a sensitive topic, and English is not my native language. I apologize if the above writing was not accurate enough.