Are Turks White Caucasian? Who is a Turk? 7 Things to Know

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

UK Census definitions are more clear about white definition. Turkish and Turkish Cypriots are explicitly regarded as white European in the UK. Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

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

Ataturk is the most loved Turk of all time and the founding Father of Turkish Republic. He was a blond man with blue eyes.

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.

Byzantine Empire 476 AD

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.

Map of Turkic Countries. Oghuz is the main Turkic ethnic group settled in Anatolia.

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.

Migrants arriving to Istanbul in 1912

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

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.

The evil eye is one of the symbols of Turkey, and it is a protection and good luck charm.

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.

Efe Genit

I am a father, a passionate traveler, and a Turkish lawyer. You can enjoy my guides and tips about Turkey that only Turkish locals would know.

20 thoughts on “Are Turks White Caucasian? Who is a Turk? 7 Things to Know

  1. I so enjoy reading your writing and I learn some thing about your people. I am a Chinese descendant and was born in South Vietnam. Hope to read more about your culture. Best.

  2. It¡¦s really a great and helpful piece of information. I¡¦m satisfied that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Black Turk is not a made-up term.

      Black Turks (Turkish: Kara Türkler or Siyah Türkler), a name for the conservative, Islamic, and typically less educated among the originally rural Anatolian population. Source

      Another one

  3. Amerika’da üniversiteye başvuracak bir Türk olarak, ırk sorusu kafamı çok karıştırıyor, “Avrupalı mıyım, asyalı mıyım?Yoksa biz Orta Doğulu muyuz?” diye düşünürken Kuzey Afrika bile gördüğüm oluyordu. İnternette araştırırken bu makaleyi bulduğum için çok mutluyum, kültürümüzü tüm yanlarıyla anlattığınız ve aynı zamanda bana da yardımcı olduğunuz için teşekkür ederim. 🙂

    As a Turk who is going to apply to colleges in US. I was confused what my race is. While I was thinking if I was an European, Asian or even Middle Eastern, I even saw North African for Turks. I am so glad that I found this article while I was looking upfor answers. Thanks for sharing our culture with all details and thanks for helping me out. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your kind encouragement. I was in the same place several years ago, I know how it feels. 🙂

    2. As a Turk who started to study in the states last year, I define myself as “Middle Eastern.” Turkey is the hub of the Middle East, and I find it pretty sensible to define myself as middle eastern instead of European, even though I was born and raised on the European side of Istanbul. However, when you fill out a formal document (taxation, school enrollment, scholarships, etc.), it is likely that “Middle Eastern” won’t be available as an option. Because of this, I usually select “Other” or “Caucasian.” I hope this helps:)

  4. Thank you for this article. As a result of watching Turkish dizis I have fallen in love with the country and the people. My dream is to visit some day but I’m 74 so that may not happen. A beautiful country with beautiful people.
    Thank you again

  5. As a Turk that is born in America, I believe I have a different understanding to this question. I think there are white Turks, especially people with Greek or Bulgarian ancestry. But I think classifying all Turks as white is quite dismissive of the problems that our community faces. We will always be considered outsiders by the European or White community. That’s why I have always aligned with the MENA definition especially with my experiences as a Turk that is racially ambiguous. I’ve been told I can be white passing, obviously Middle Eastern/Turkish, racially ambiguous, “exotic looking”, etc. My skin color is darker and of a different undertone of my white counterparts. I think this is a really interesting question, especially as someone that has been confronted with this question since I have been younger. Great article!

    1. There are many definitions of the white race and for most Europeans, the white race as defined by Americans is a stupid thing. European people tend to value more about your culture, nationality, language, and even the language dialects. The origin of the people is more visible in Europe. Yet, I think I can understand how Americans think. If you are an American, most of your origin is forgotten in time and your ancestors have probably migrated to the Americas decades or maybe centuries ago and you have only had the skin color identifying your heritage.

      Another thing to note is that the American definition of white encompasses all the territory that was once ruled by the Roman Empire. So if you are European and or your ancestors were Roman Empire citizens you are a member of Western civilization and you are white.

  6. I was so intrigued by your article!
    As a 77 year Scot-Irish woman, searching internet for why I filled out forms in grammar years as a Caucasian; and now, I have to check White, I wondered, who am I!!!!! I found your history and just kept being fascinated by it!!
    Keep up the true ancestry of our meshed lives!
    Soli Deo Gloria

  7. if Italians, Spanish, greeks were categorized as white, moreover most of French , then why not Turkish? this is a ridiculous question to me

    1. It is a question being asked and I wanted to shed light on it with official resources. Hope the article was helpful.

    2. I think you can’t separate whiteness from religion and culture. It is totally socially constructed, modern concept. As someone from Turkey, I doubt I could be classified as “white”, perhaps only white-passing. You may be educated secularly and have blue eyes, but still you would have a muslim background. The term “race” entered the literature in 17th century and, of course you can’t separate it from slavery and colonization.
      I feel there are some Turkish people wanting to belong to “white” race, but the category itself worked to oppress people. Instead of wanting to be part of this flawed categorical system, it is better not to participate, whenever possible.

  8. As a Turk living in Australia, I found your article very interesting. I was born in Izmir,but both my parents were born in Greece.I am often asked if I am Greek,because of this.My family migrated to Australia under the “White Australia Policy”, So im presuming Turks were considered white at the time.

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