As a Turkish, I can say there is no easy answer to this. Yet, one thing is certain.
If you speak Turkish fluently and classify yourself as Turkish, you are Turkish in the eyes of Turkish society. No questions will be asked, even if you have green hair and red eyes.
It is not openly admitted, but Turkish identity is more of cultural and historical identity rather than an ethnic identity.
For example, both my grandparents are European migrants. My father’s father is from the Greek island of Crete, and my mother’s father is from Bulgaria. They both came to Turkey between 1900-1920.
My father’s grandmother had a significant Central Asian Turkic ancestry, and my other grandma was a local of Western Turkey. Yet, they were all regarded as pure Turkish regardless of their ancestral origins.
Ataturk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic, summarized being Turkish by four words “Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene” the phrase roughly translates as “Congratulate anyone who declares themselves as Turk.”
Turkish people also declare themselves as descendants of the Turkic people of Central Asia. Yet, Turkey also identifies itself as a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities.
We, the Turkish people, are children of many empires that once united many ethnicities.
The East Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Turkic Empires were superpowers of their time, and these empires merged many identities into one cultural and ethnic identity.
In a way, these empires resembled the United States, and if you are a citizen, you are an equal brother/sister sharing the same destiny, regardless of your ethnic background.
Istanbul was the most important city during ancient and modern times. Even Vikings migrated to Turkey and became part of the Turkish population.
Lately, a Viking settlement was founded on the outskirts of Istanbul. The Vikings arrived in Turkey during the Byzantine (East Roman Empire) times and served various Byzantine Emperors. Source
This diversity also reflects our looks. Let me try to tell you how Turkish People look.
Physical characteristics of Turkish People
Modern-day Turkish people are primarily descendants of indigenous Anatolian and Turkic people with a touch of many different ethnic backgrounds.
The most common physical characteristics of Turkish people are:
- Brown hair (light or dark)
- Light or dark brown eyes,
- White or light brown skin
Less common Turkish people’s physical characteristic
- Blonde or red hair
- Blue, green, or gray eyes
- Darker brown skin
Turkish people’s eye shapes vary from European looking to big, slanted, or almond-shaped Asian-looking eyes.
Almond-shaped eyes are taken as a feature that demonstrates Central Asian Turkic ancestry.
The height of Turkish people does not differ much from that of Europeans. On average Turkish women can vary from 1.55 to 1.70 cm, and Turkish men range from 1.70 to 1.85 cm long.
Suggested Reading: What do German people look like? (a German Explains)
The stereotype of Turkish People
In Europe, Turks are stereotyped as Middle Eastern, dark figures with Islamic clothes.
This stereotype is a legacy of Ottoman Empire times when Turkey was seen as a nemesis and an Islamic European power rivaling European powers like Austria German Empire, Russia, and Spain.
In some European languages, the word Turk has been used as a synonym for something to fear for centuries.
As a result of this stereotyping, many Turks traveling to Europe are asked why they do not like a Turk.
I experienced this firsthand during my master’s study in London. Many Europeans were surprised by the looks of the Turkish people and asked if we were really Turkish.
Turkish people are legally accepted as a part of the White Race in UK and USA census offices. If you wish to learn more, please check my article “Are Turks White Caucasian? Who is a Turk?”.
Turkish Women also defy the common stereotypes. To learn more, please read my article Why and How are Turkish Women Different?
Do Turks look like Europeans? or Middle Eastern?
In the West, most believe that Turkish people are related to Arabs or Persian.
Yet, Turkish people look more like Europeans. Nearly all Turks would not have physical features that would make them stand out like a stranger in the Balkans or Southern Europe.
In Southern regions of Europe, you could not differentiate a Turkish from the indigenous population.
Another reason for that is a majority of Turkish people are migrants from the Balkans.
Between ⅓ and ¼ of the Turkish population are second or third-generation migrants from the European Balkan Region. Source
Yet, Turkish facial and physical features are mostly different from Northern Europeans.
Some Turkish people also resemble Central Asians and sometimes Middle Eastern people. Turkish people living closer to Syria have more Middle Eastern looks.
Most of the time, it would be easier to spot a Turk in Arab countries than in European countries. Today the Arab minority consists of 1-1,5 % of the Turkish population.
Genetic researchers believe that the Turkish population is best described within the context of the Southern European/Mediterranean gene pool. Source
Another DNA survey discovered that Turkish people are descendants of Anatolian people with around 15-22% Central Asian ancestry (DNA).
Turkey is considered European not on the basis of ethnicity but also culturally. Read my article to learn Why is Turkey considered a European Country?
Portraits of Turkish People
Turkic People vs Turkish People – Are Turkish People Asian?
Turkic is an Asian ethnicity different from other Asian groups like Mongols, Chinese, and Indians.
Turkish people certainly have Asian DNA, and Turkish people always uphold their Turkic and Central Asian heritage.
Yet, according to genetic research, Turkish people have the least Asian ancestry among Turkic people. Source
In any case, Turkish People are Turkic People. The most important bond between Turkish people and Turkic people is the language.
Turkish and Azerbaijani are the most spoken Turkic languages and are mutually intelligible.
Turkic People formed many countries. Major Turkic groups are;
|Turkic Group||Population||Country (that majority lives in)|
|Turkish||75,700,000||Turkey, Northern Cyprus|
|Azerbaijanis||31,300,000||Azerbaijan, Dagestan (Russian Federation)|
|Uyghurs||11,900,000||Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (China)|
|Tatars||6,200,000||Tatarstan (Russian Federation)|
Read my article to learn the origins of the Turkish language and the Turkish people’s Turkic roots.
Are Turkish People Middle Eastern?
Some Turkish people look Middle Eastern, and Turkish people can be considered Middle Eastern. Since the Roman Empire, Istanbul has ruled the Middle East and Turkey for centuries.
Turkey is located on both the Asian and European continents. Turkey’s Asia part is in the Middle East, but Turkey is not a typical Middle Eastern country.
Turkish institutions, law, and societal rules are European, and the Turkish Language is from Central Asia.
I have been to Europe and the Middle East and have always felt closer to Europe. The Middle East resembles Turkey in some ways, but it is even chaotic for warm-blooded Mediterranean men.
Turkish people and Arabs are different races with different ethnic, linguistic, and cultural origins, you can read more about the differences between Arabs and Turks in my article.
Suggested reading: Is Turkey in the Middle East?
Is Turkey a First World Country?
Turkey is a first-world country with a functioning democracy and a capitalist economy with a high standard of living.
Turkey has been a US ally and NATO member since 1952.
Turkey has been a part of the modern liberal world and a founding member of many institutions like the OECD, the European Council, and the G20.
Suggested Reading: Is Turkey a First World Country?
Do Turkish People Drink Alcohol?
According to OECD, Turkish people drink 1-2 liters of alcohol per capita every year.
Turkish people consume less alcohol than English, Americans, and Mexicans do. However, alcohol consumption is way higher compared to Islamic countries like Indonesia.
Turkish and Turkic people have consumed alcohol since ancient times when they were nomads.
The earliest Turkish alcoholic drink is “Kımız” (Kumis in English), which is a milk wine. This fermented milk contains %1-%3 alcohol.
Suggested Reading: Do Turkish People Drink Alcoholic Beverages?
You may also like to read
- Are Turks White Caucasian? Who is a Turk?
- Why and How are Turkish Women Different?
- Why is Turkey considered a European Country?
- Is Turkish a Language? Origins of the Turkish Language
- Are Turkish People Arabs? 9 Major Things to Know
- Is Turkey in the Middle East?
- Is Turkey a First World Country?
- Do Turkish People Drink Alcoholic Beverages?