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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Turkey

Ethnicity

Nearly 75% of the people of Turkey are ethnically Turkish. The origin of this ethnicity comes from Central Asia and there are various related groups, most notably the people that currently live in Central Asia (Turkmens, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyzs) and the Azerbaijanis. Of the remaining quarter of Turkey's population, most are Kurds, which are today a distinct ethnic group of people, which has resulted from the combination of a number of different ethnic groups from the region.

Language

Turkish is the only official national language in Turkey and, like the ethnicity, is related to the languages of Central Asia and Azerbaijan. Turkish is the most widely spoken Turkic language, which includes many Central Asian languages, including Kazakh and Uzbek. However, Turkish is more closely related to Turkmen and Azerbaijani.

Kurdish is also widely spoken in areas primarily comprised of ethnic Kurds, although many ethnic Kurds speak Turkish as a second language or are actually native Turkish speakers. Kurdish is a language related to the Iranian languages, including Farsi. While Turkish is the primary language of communication from ethnic group to ethnic group within Turkey, English is the most important second language in the country when dealing with foreigners and nearly everyone speaks at least a minimal amount of English. In cities like Istanbul many people are completely fluent in English and carpet salesmen throughout the country can speak enough of a dozen languages to sell a carpet, but may not have the linguistic skills to have a simple conversation about anything else.

Religion

Today there is no official religion in Turkey and there is a distinct separation of Mosque and State. Despite this, nearly every Turkish citizen is a Muslim, including both the Turks and the Kurds.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Turkey is very divided in how Islam is practiced with some people (especially in the east) being very conservative, while in Istanbul and the western part of the country many people are very liberal; in fact many Turks proudly claim they are the most liberal Muslim country (something that only a couple former Soviet countries can legitimately argue with).

This page was last updated: May, 2014