Turkish Americans

Turkish Americans
Amerikalı Türkler
Total population

(206,911 (2014 ACS)a[][1]500,000 (est.)[2][3][4][5][6]

0.06%0.16% of the US population)
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups
Cypriot Americans Iranian Americans Greek Americans Turkmen Americans Uzbek Americans Armenian Americans

^ a: Government immigration figures on the number of Turks in the US are not fully reliable because a considerable number of Turks were born in the Balkans and the USSR.[7]

Turkish Americans (Turkish: Amerikalı Türkler) are Americans of Turkish descent or origin.


A group of immigrants, most wearing fezzes, surrounding a large vessel which is decorated with the star and crescent symbol of the Ottoman Empire (19021913)
A Turkish immigrant in New York (1912)
A Turkish immigrant leather worker, Yakub Ahmed, celebrates becoming a naturalized American citizen in the 1920s

Ottoman Turkish migration

The earliest known Turkish settlers in the United States arrived in 1586 when Sir Francis Drake brought at least two hundred Muslims, identified as Turks and Moors, to the newly established English colony of Roanoke on the coast of present-day North Carolina.[8] Only a short time before reaching Roanoke, Drake's fleet of some thirty ships had liberated these Muslims from Spanish colonial forces in the Caribbean where they had been condemned to hard labor as galley slaves.[9] Historical records indicate that Drake had promised to return the liberated galley slaves, and the English government did ultimately repatriate about one hundred of them to the Ottoman realms.[9]

Significant waves of Turkish immigration to the United States began during the period between 1820 and 1920.[10] About 300,000 people immigrated from the Ottoman Empire to the United States, although only 50,000 of these immigrants were Muslim Turks whilst the rest were mainly Arabs, Azeri, Armenians, Greeks, Jews and other Muslim groups under the Ottoman rule.[11] Most ethnic Turks feared that they would not be accepted in a Christian country because of their religion and often adopted and registered under a Christian name at the port of entry in order to gain easy access to the United States;[12][13] moreover, many declared themselves as "Syrians" or even "Armenians" in order to avoid discrimination.[14] The majority of Turks entered the United States via the ports of Providence, Rhode Island; Portland, Maine; and Ellis Island. French shipping agents, the missionary American college in Harput, French and German schools, and word of mouth from former migrants were major sources of information about the "New World" for those who wished to emigrate.[15]

The largest number of ethnic Turks appear to have entered the United States prior to World War I, roughly between 1900 and 1914, when American immigration policies were quite liberal. Many of these Turks came from Harput, Akçadağ, Antep and Macedonia and embarked for the United States from Beirut, Mersin, Izmir, Trabzon and Salonica.[14] However, the flow of immigration to the United States was interrupted by the Immigration Act of 1917, which limited entries into the United States based on literacy, and by World War I.[16] Nonetheless, a large number of Turks from the Balkan provinces of Albania, Kosovo, Western Thrace, and Bulgaria emigrated and settled in the United States;[14] they were listed as "Albanians", "Bulgarians" and "Serbians" according to their country of origin, even though many of them were ethnically Turkish and identified themselves as such.[14] Furthermore, many immigrant families who were ethnic Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Macedonians or Serbians included children of Turkish origin who lost their parents after Macedonia was partitioned between Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece following the Balkan War of 1912–13.[14] These Turkish children had been sheltered, baptized and adopted, and then used as field laborers; when the adopting families emigrated to the United States they listed these children as family members, although most of these Turkish children still remembered their origin.[14]

Early Turkish migrants were mainly male-dominated economic migrants who were farmers and shepherds from the lower socioeconomic classes; their main concern was to save enough money and return home.[16] The majority of these migrants lived in urban areas and worked in the industrial sector, taking difficult and lower-paying jobs in leather factories, tanneries, the iron and steel sector, and the wire, railroad, and automobile industries, especially in New England, New York, Detroit, and Chicago.[16] The Turkish community generally relied on each other in finding jobs and a place to stay, many staying in boarding houses. There was also cooperation between ethnic Turks and other Ottomans such as the Greeks, Jews, and Armenians, although ethnic conflicts were also common and carried to some parts of the United States, such as in Peabody, Massachusetts, where there was tension between Greeks, Armenians, and Turks.[16] Unlike the other Ottoman ethnic groups, most of the early Turkish migrants returned to their homeland. The rate of return migration was exceptionally high after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.[16][11] The founder of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, sent ships from Turkey, such as "Gülcemal", to the United States to take these men back to Turkey without any charge. Educated Turks were offered jobs in the newly created Republic, while unskilled workers were encouraged to return, as the male population was depleted due to World War I and the Turkish War of Independence.[17] Those who stayed in the United States lived in isolation as they knew little or no English and preferred to live amongst themselves. However, their descendants mostly became assimilated into American culture and today vaguely have a notion of their ancestry.[11]

Mainland Turkish migration

Turkish Americans holding the flags of the United States and Turkey
A Turkish American at the annual "Turkish Parade" in New York City

From World War I to 1965 the number of Turkish immigrants arriving in the United States was quite low, as a result of restrictive immigration laws such as the Immigration Act of 1924. Approximately 100 Turkish immigrants per year entered the United States between 1930 and 1950.[5] However, the number of Turkish immigrants to the United States increased to 2,000 to 3,000 per year after 1965 due to the liberalization of US immigration laws.[17] As of the late 1940s, but especially in the 1960s and 1970s, Turkish immigration to the United States changed its nature from one of unskilled to skilled migration; a wave of professionals such as doctors, engineers, academicians, and graduate students came to the United States. In the 1960s, 10,000 people entered the United States from Turkey, followed by another 13,000 in the 1970s.[17] As opposed to the male-dominated first flows of Ottoman Turkish migrants, these immigrants were highly educated, return migration was minimal, migrants included many young women and accompanying families, and Turkish nationalism and secularism was much more common.[11] The general profile of Turkish men and women immigrating to the United States depicted someone young, college-educated with a good knowledge of English, and with a career in medicine, engineering, or another profession in science or the arts.[18]

Since the 1980s, the flow of Turkish immigrants to the United States has included an increasing number of students and professionals as well as migrants who provide unskilled and semi-skilled labor.[13] Thus, in recent years, the highly skilled and educated profile of the Turkish American community has changed with the arrival of unskilled or semi-skilled Turkish labor workers.[19] The unskilled or semi-skilled immigrants usually work in restaurants, gas stations, hair salons, construction sites, and grocery stores, although some of them have obtained American citizenship or green cards and have opened their own ethnic businesses.[19] Some recent immigrants have also arrived via cargo ships and then left them illegally, whilst others overstay their visas. Thus, it is difficult to estimate the number of undocumented Turkish immigrants in the United States who overstay their visas or arrive illegally.[19] Moreover, with the introduction of the Diversity Immigrant Visa more Turkish immigrants, from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, have arrived in the United States, with the quota for Turkey being 2,000 per year.[11]

Turkish Cypriot migration

Turkish Cypriot Americans in New York City supporting for the recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

The Turkish Cypriots first arrived in the United States between 1820 and 1860 due to religious or political persecution.[20] About 2,000 Turkish Cypriots had arrived in the United States between 1878-1923 when the Ottoman Empire handed over the administration of the island of Cyprus to Britain.[21] Turkish Cypriot immigration to the United States continued between the 1960s till 1974 as a result of the Cyprus conflict.[22] According to the 1980 United States Census 1,756 people stated Turkish Cypriot ancestry. However, a further 2,067 people of Cypriot ancestry did not specify whether they were of Turkish or Greek Cypriot origin.[23] On 2 October 2012, the first "Turkish Cypriot Day" was celebrated at the US Congress.[24]

Meskhetian Turkish migration

Exiled first from Georgia in 1944, and then Uzbekistan in 1989, approximately 13,000 Meskhetian Turks who arrived in Krasnodar, Russia, as Soviet citizens were refused recognition by Krasnodar authorities.[25] The regional government denied Meskhetian Turks the right to register their residences in the territory, effectively making them stateless and resulting in the absence of basic civil and human rights, including the right to employment, social and medical benefits, property ownership, higher education, and legal marriage.[25] In mid-2006, over 10,000 Meskhetian Turks had resettled from the Krasnodar region to the United States. Out of approximately 21,000 applications, nearly 15,000 individuals in total were eligible for refugee status and likely to immigrate during the life of the resettlement program.[26]



According to the 2000 United States Census 117,575 Americans claimed Turkish descent.[27] However, the actual number of Americans of Turkish descent is believed to be considerably larger as a significant number of ethnic Turks have migrated not just from Turkey but also from the Balkans (such as Bulgaria and Macedonia), Cyprus, and the former Soviet Union.[7] Hence, the Turkish American community is currently estimated to number about 500,000.[4][2]

With regards to the 2010 United States Census, the U.S government was determined to get an accurate count of the American population by reaching segments, such as the Turkish community, that are considered "hard to count", a good portion of which falls under the category of foreign-born immigrants.[3] The Assembly of Turkish American Associations and the US Census Bureau formed a partnership to spearhead a national campaign to count people of Turkish origin with an organisation entitled "Census 2010 SayTurk" (which has a double meaning in Turkish, "Say" means "to count" and "to respect") to identify the estimated 500,000 Turks now living in the United States.[3]


Turkish Americans live in all fifty states, although the largest concentrations are found in New York City, and Rochester, New York; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit, Michigan. The largest concentrations of Turkish Americans are found scattered throughout New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other suburban areas. They generally reside in specific cities and neighborhoods including Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, Sunnyside in Queens, and in the cities of Paterson and Clifton in New Jersey.[28]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, Americans of Turkish origin mostly live in the State of New York followed by, California, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.[29]

The top US communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Turkish ancestry in 2000 are:[30]
Community Place type % Turkish
Islandia, NY village 2.5
Edgewater Park, NJ township 1.9
Fairview, NJ borough 1.7
Goldens Bridge, NY populated place 1.6
Point Lookout, NY populated place 1.4
Marshville, NC town 1.4
Boonton, NJ town 1.3
Bellerose Terrace, NY populated place 1.3
Cliffside Park, NJ borough 1.3
Franksville, WI populated place 1.3
Ridgefield, NJ borough 1.3
Chester, OH township 1.3
Bay Harbor Islands, FL town 1.2
Herricks, NY populated place 1.2
Barry, IL city 1.2
Cloverdale, IN town 1.2
Highland Beach, FL town 1.2
Friendship Village, MD populated place 1.2
New Egypt, NJ populated place 1.1
Delran, NJ township 1.1
Trumbull County, OH township 1.1
Summit, IL village 1.1
Haledon, NJ borough 1.0


Orchestra in a Turkish nightclub on Allen Street. The girl plays a tambourine between dances (1942).


Turkish is by far the most widely spoken of all Turkic languages, amounting to 40% of the total.[31] Despite this, Turkish is not one of the languages taught in the public schools in the United States, even though there is a sizeable Turkish community in the country. According to the 2005 ACS (American Community Survey), there were 164,945 people with Turkish ancestry in the U.S., this number increasing to 189,640 in 2008.[32][33] According to the 2000 Census,[34] the Turkish language is spoken in 59,407 households within the entire U.S. population, and in 12,409 households in NYC alone by highly bilingual families with Turkish ancestry. These data show that many speakers with Turkish origins continue speaking the language at home despite the fact that they are highly bilingual. The number of English-proficient households using Turkish as a home-language outweighs that of families who have switched completely to English. In this sense, the Turkish American community efforts and the schools that serve the Turkish community in the U.S. are responsible for the retaining of the Turkish language and slowing of assimilation. A detailed study has documented the efforts of language and culture-disseminating schools of the Turkish American community and is available as a doctoral dissertation,[35] a book,[36] book chapters,[37] and journal articles.[38]

The Islamic Center of Washington was originally conceived in 1944 when the Turkish ambassador Münir Ertegün died and there was no mosque to hold his funeral.[39]


Although Islam had little public importance among the secular Turkish Americans who arrived in the United States during the 1940s to the 1970s, more recent Turkish immigrants have tended to be more religious.[40] Since the 1980s, the wave of Turkish immigrants has been quite diverse and have included a broad mixture of secular and religious people.[41] Thus, due to the diversification of Turkish Americans since the 1980s, religion has become a more important identity marker within the community. Especially after the 1980s, religious organizations, Islamic cultural centers, and mosques were founded to serve the needs of Turkish people.[40]

Various groups are active in the United States. Followers of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen (known as "Hizmet" or "Gülenciler") formed a local cultural organization, the "American Turkish Friendship Association" (ATFA), in 2003, and an intercultural organization, called the "Rumi Forum", in 1999, which invites speakers to inform the public about Islam and Turkey. The Gülen community has also established mosques and interethnic private schools in New York, Connecticut, and Virginia, several colleges like the Virginia International University in Fairfax County, Va., and over a hundred charter schools throughout the United States.[40] Followers of Süleyman Hilmi Tunahan, otherwise known as "Süleymancılar", also formed many mosques and cultural centers along the East Coast. Apart from these two groups, the Diyanet appoints official Turkish imams to the United States. The most prominent of these is the Turkish American Community Center of the Washington metropolitan area located in Lanham, MD., on 15 acres of land, which was bought by the Turkish Foundation of Religious Affairs.[40] Some international sufi orders are also active. An example is the Jerrahi Order of America following the Jerrahi-Halveti order of dervishes in Spring Valley, New York.

Organizations and associations

Until the 1950s Turkish Americans had only a few organizations, the agendas of which were mainly cultural rather than political. They organized celebrations that would bring immigrant Turks together in a place during religious and national holidays.[42] Turkish early migrants founded the first Muslim housing cooperatives and associations between 1909 and 1914.[43] After World War I, the "Turkish Aid Society" ("Turk Teavün Cemiyeti") in New York City and the "Red Crescent" ("Hilali Ahmer"), were collecting money not only for funeral services and other community affairs but also to help the Turkish War of Independence.[43] In 1933, Turkish Americans established the "Cultural Alliance of New York" and the "Turkish Orphans’ Association", gathering to collect money for orphans in Turkey who had lost their parents in the Turkish War of Independence.[43][44] As Turkish immigration increased after the 1950s Turkish Americans gained more economic status and formed new organizations. Thus, Turkish American organizations and associations are growing throughout the United States as their number increases. Most of these organizations put emphasis on preserving the Turkish identity.[45]

Two umbrella organizations, the Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA) and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), have been working to bring different Turkish American organizations together for which they receive financial and political support from the Turkish government.[45] The New York based FTAA, which started in 1956 with two associations, namely the "Turkish Cypriot Aid Society" and the "Turkish Hars Society", hosts over 40 member associations, with the majority of these groups located in the northeast region of the United States.[44] The FTAA is located in the Turkish House in the vicinity of the United Nations. The Turkish House, which was bought by the Turkish government in 1977 as the main office for the consulategeneral, also serves as a center for cultural activities: there is a Saturday school for Turkish American children,[35] and it also houses the "Turkish Women's League of America".[46] The Washington, D.C. based ATAA, which was established in 1979, shares many of the goals of the FTAA but has clearer political aims. It has over 60 component associations in the United States, Canada, and Turkey and has some 8,000 members all over the United States.[46] The Association also publishes a biweekly newspaper, "The Turkish Times", and regularly informs its members on developments requiring community action.[44] These organizations aim to unite and improve support for the Turkish community in the United States and to defend Turkish interests against groups with conflicting interests.[42] Today, both the FTAA and the ATAA organize cultural events such as concerts, art-gallery exhibits, and parades, as well as lobby for Turkey.[42]


The Turkish Ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C.

During the 1970s Turkish Americans began to mobilize politically in order to influence American policies in favor of their homeland as a result of the Cyprus conflict, the American military embargo targeting Turkey, accusations of genocide from the members of the Greek American and Armenian American diaspora, and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia's targeting of Turkish diplomats in the United States and elsewhere.[47] Thus, this became a turning point for the changing nature of Turkish American associations from those that organized cultural events to those with a more political agenda coincided with the hostile efforts of other ethnic groups, namely the Greek and Armenian lobby.[47] As well as promoting the Turkish culture, Turkish American organizations promote Turkey's position in international affairs and generally support the positions taken by the Turkish government.[48] They have been lobbying for Turkey's entry into the European Union and have also defended the Turkish involvement in Cyprus.[48] Turkish Americans have also expressed concerns about the Greek lobby in the United States undermining the typically good Turkish-American relations.[48][49] In recent years, Turkish Americans have established more influence in the US Congress. In 2005, second-generation Turkish American Oz Bengur was the first candidate (Democrat from Maryland’s 3rd district) of Turkish origin to run for Congress in US history.[50]


Turkish American festivals are major public events in which the community present themselves to the wider public. The Federation of Turkish American Associations (FTAA) organizes the "Turkish Cultural Month Festival" starting on 23 April each year, the date when the first Turkish parliament opened in 1920, and ending on 19 May, the date when the Turkish liberation movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk started in 1919.[51] Furthermore, the annual "Turkish Day Parade", which began as a demonstration in 1981 in reaction to Armenian militant attacks on Turkish diplomats, has evolved into a weeklong celebration and has since continued to increase in scope and length.[52]


Radio and TV

Newspapers and periodicals

Notable individuals

Founders of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegün (left) with his brother Nesuhi Ertegün (right)

Numerous Turkish Americans have made notable contributions to American society, particularly in the fields of education, medicine, music, the arts, science, and business.

In Business, Muhtar Kent is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, a position he has held since April 2009.[57]

Many prominent Turkish Americans have made lasting contributions to the American music industry. Ahmet Ertegün founded Atlantic Records, one of the most successful American independent music labels, in 1947.[58] He was also a prime mover in starting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. In a music career marked by numerous lifetime achievement awards, he was inducted into the hall in 1987. In 1956, his older brother, Nesuhi Ertegün, joined Atlantic Records as vice-president of the company, attracting many of the most inventive jazz musicians of the era.[58][59] By 1963, arranger, composer and record producer Arif Mardin joined the Ertegün brothers at Atlantic Records. Mardin was the winner of 12 Grammys, including two for best producer, nonclassical (in 1976 and 2003).[60] He retired from Atlantic Records in May 2001 and began a new corporate relationship as senior vice president and co-general manager of the EMI label Manhattan Records. Mardin was considered one of the most successful and significant behind-the-scenes figures in popular music in the last half-century. His son, Joe Mardin is also a record producer and arranger.[60]

Within academia, Feza Gürsey was a Professor of Physics at Yale University and won the prestigious Oppenheimer Prize and Wigner Medal.[61] Another influential Turkish American was Muzafer Sherif who was one of the founders of social psychology which helped develop social judgment theory and realistic conflict theory.[61] Dr. Mehmet Oz is regarded as one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons. He has made frequent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In the fall of 2009, Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Sony Pictures launched a daily talk show featuring Oz, called The Dr. Oz Show.[62] "The Dr. Oz Show" has been an enormous success with an average of about 3.5 million viewers.[62] His eldest child, Daphne Oz, is an author and television host.[62]

In 2015 Aziz Sancar was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his mechanistic studies of DNA repair.[63]

Turkish Americans have also contributed to the arts. Tunç Yalman is the articistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater whilst Osman Karakaş received the 1991 National Press Award for best news photography.[61] Burhan Doğançay was amongst the most acclaimed Turkish-born contemporary artists.[64] Until his death, he was Turkey's most expensive living artist and his works are included in the permanent collections of almost one hundred museums around the world.[65][66]

See also


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