Turkish Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
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Turkish Americans

Donald Altschiller


Turkish Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Republic of Turkey, a country that straddles the border between Europe and Asia. On its western, European side, Turkey adjoins Greece and Bulgaria; on the eastern, Asian side, it shares borders with Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Black Sea lies to the north and the Mediterranean to the west and southwest. Its location on two continents has been a crucial factor in the country's variegated history and culture. Modern Turkey embraces bustling cosmopolitan centers, pastoral farming communities, barren wastelands, placid Aegean islands, and steep mountain ranges. The country's area of almost 300,000 square miles (777,000 square kilometers) includes about 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers) of European Turkey, known as Thrace, and approximately 290,000 square miles (750,000 square kilometers) of Asian Turkey, known as Anatolia or Asia Minor. The whole of Turkey is slightly smaller than the combined area of Texas and Louisiana.

In July 2012 Turkey's population was estimated at 79.7 million people by the CIA Factbook, with an annual growth rate of 1.2 percent. Almost 99.8 percent of the population is Muslim, mostly Sunni. Turkey is a secular state, however, and Jews and Christians may freely practice their religious faiths. Kurds, who are also mainly Muslims, are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, making up 18 percent of the population. Other minorities include Greeks, Armenians, and Roma. In 2005 Turkey and seven other European countries signed onto the Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative (committing to work toward social and socioeconomic equality of the Roma population). Subsequently, Turkey officially counted 500,000 Roma among its residents, though others estimate the number at closer to 2.5 million. After an economic crisis in 2001, Turkey's economy has shown unusual strength and growth, weathering the global economic downturn in 2008. While Turkey has an increasingly diverse economy, 25 percent of the population still works in agriculture.

Although they have disagreed on the number, historians estimate that 25,000 to 50,000 Muslim Turks came to the United States between 1890 and 1924, most of them male peasants from both the European and Asian areas of Turkey: from Thrace because the edges of the Ottoman Empire were breaking down, and from Anatolia because U.S. missionaries were active among the Armenians there. Most of these immigrated to Detroit, Boston, and smaller towns in Massachusetts, such as Lowell and Salem, where they worked in factories and lived in neighborhoods close to other immigrants from the Ottoman Empire, including Armenians, Jews, and Greeks. Turkish Sephardic Jews founded congregations in Seattle and New York. According to Talat Sai Halman in the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (1980), the majority of this first wave of immigrants, up to 86 percent, returned to Turkey after it gained independence in 1923. From the 1980s through the beginning of the twenty-first century, about 4,000 Turkish immigrants arrived each year. This last wave was much more diverse, containing more women, both religious and secular people, and both working class and professionals.

The 2010 U.S. Census tallied 177,841 Turkish Americans; however, according to a 2004 article by Ilhan Kaya in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs (“Turkish-American Immigration History and Identity Formations”), former Turkish ambassador to the United States Mehmet Ezen estimated that 350,000 to 500,000 people of Turkish descent lived in the United States at that time. Although there are Turkish Americans in every state, the highest concentrations are in the large urban areas of New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, Virginia, and Texas.


Early History The Turks, who have inhabited the Anatolian Peninsula since the eleventh century, are relative newcomers to a land that has seen many successive civilizations. Beginning around 2000 BCE, pre-Hittites, Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans lived in or ruled the region. After the collapse of Roman Empire in the West in about 450 CE, Anatolia became the heartland of the Byzantine Empire (a Greek continuation of Roman rule in the eastern Mediterranean), with its capital in Byzantium (renamed Constantinople, for Constantine the Great, in the fourth century) and its state religion Christianity.

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Turkish American writer Elif Batuman at the Melbourne Writers Festival in Australia. Turkish American writer Elif Batuman at the Melbourne Writers Festival in Australia. BEOWULF SHEEHAN / ZUMAPRESS / NEWSCOM

Originally nomadic peoples from the steppes of Central Asia, Turkish tribes began moving west toward Europe around the first century CE. In the middle of the fifth century, the first group, the Huns, reached Western Europe. Others established kingdoms in Turkestan and Persia before the tenth century, by which time they had converted to Islam from Zoroastrianism or other polytheistic tribal religions. Later that century a new Turkish dynasty, the Seljuqs, came to power in Turkestan and then in Persia. From there they began to make incursions into Anatolia in the early eleventh century. In 1071 the Seljuqs crushed the Byzantine army at Manzikert in eastern Anatolia, capturing the emperor himself. This important battle marked the effective end of Byzantine power in eastern Anatolia, and the beginning of Turkish dominance.

The main branch of the Seljuqs continued to rule in Persia and Mesopotamia (present-day Iran and Iraq), while another branch, known as the Seljuqs of Rum (Rome), quickly penetrated the entire Anatolian Peninsula. Of the original population, who were Christian Greek and Armenian speakers, some fled to Constantinople or the West and a few remained Christian under the generally tolerant rule of the Muslim Turkish tribes. Over the centuries, however, most converted to Islam and began to speak Turkish, melding with the dominant Turks, whom they had originally outnumbered.

During the 1100s the Seljuqs struggled with Byzantines and later with the Christian Crusaders from Europe for control of western Anatolia, especially along the Aegean coast, from which these assailants had been fighting to drive the Turkish tribes for more than two hundred years. The strongly centralized Seljuq state reached the peak of its power in the early thirteenth century; shortly thereafter, local internal revolts, combined with the Mongol invasions from the east, began to erode its authority. By the early fourteenth century, Seljuq rule had collapsed completely.

Of ten local emirates, or kingdoms, that arose in Turkish Anatolia in the ensuing power vacuum, one quickly came to preeminence: that of Osman, who ruled in northwestern Anatolia and founded the Osmanli, or Ottoman, dynasty. Osman's son, Orhan, expanded his father's dominions in Anatolia and in the 1350s undertook the first Ottoman conquests in Europe, wrestling several towns in eastern Thrace from the Byzantines and crushing the Bulgars and Serbs in battle. His successors, Murad and Bayezid, continued the string of Asian and European conquests. By the early 1400s the territory of the once-mighty Byzantine Empire had been reduced to a small island of land around Constantinople surrounded by Ottoman territory.

As Ottoman power had increased, so had the pomp of those who wielded it. Murad, for example, had taken the title of sultan (meaning “authority” or “power”) rather than the less majestic bey or emir, which were military ranks. Ottoman capitals also became increasingly grand. Muhammad (or Mehmed) II undertook a massive building program in Constantinople, constructing houses, baths, bazaars, inns, fountains, gardens, a huge mosque, and an imperial palace. He also encouraged the original inhabitants who had fled to return—Jews, Greeks, and Armenians, many of whom were craftsmen, scholars, or artists—and made trade agreements with Venetian and Florentine merchants. Now commonly referred to as Istanbul, the city became a hub of culture and commerce.

Sultan Muhammad II's eldest son and successor, Bayezid II, ruled from 1481 to 1512, during the height of the Roman Catholic Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal. Although Jews had lived in Anatolia continuously since at least the fourth century BCE, Bayezid II's welcome to the Jews expelled by Spain's King Ferdinand brought thousands into a safe haven in the Ottoman Empire. In “History of the Turkish Jews” (on the Sephardi Center website), Naim Güleryüz, curator of the Jewish Museum of Turkey, wrote that in 1477 there were 1,647 Jewish households in Istanbul—11 percent of the city's total population—while by 1527 there were 8,070 Jewish households.

The Ottoman Empire reached its peak under Muhammad's great-grandson, Suleiman, who took power in 1520. By the time of his death in 1566, the empire had reached its apogee, with the Ottomans Page 439  |  Top of Articlecontrolling areas of northern Africa, southern Europe, and western Asia. Over the next century the Ottomans ultimately maintained hegemony over the lands Suleiman had conquered but were vulnerable to local rebellions and unable to keep pace with European political, scientific, and social developments. By the end of the seventeenth century, the empire had stagnated, and over the course of the following two centuries, it lost large tracts of land to the Russians, Austrians, and Persians, among other foreign adversaries. By the late nineteenth century, after a decisive defeat to the Russian Empire in the Russo-Turkic War of 1877 to 1878, the Ottoman Empire was on the brink of dissolution.

Modern Era In 1908 a nationalist group known as the Young Turks revolted and took control of the empire. They joined World War I on the side of Germany and the Central Powers in 1914. Within the empire the war proved particularly tragic for the Armenian people who, influenced culturally and politically by both the Ottomans and the Russians, had formed diaspora communities in the Russian, Persian, and Ottoman empires. The Young Turks initiated a policy of mass deportation and extermination of the Armenian people living within the Ottoman Empire. Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what is known as the first genocide of the twentieth century.

After World War I Mustafa Kemal, a military hero who became known as Atatürk (Father of the Turks), organized the Turkish army, drove the Greeks from Turkey, and founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923, marking the end of the Ottoman Empire. After assuming the office of president (which he held from 1923 until his death in 1938), Atatürk began a series of revolutionary reforms that transformed Turkey into a modern nation. In a symbolic break with the Ottoman past, he moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara and replaced religious law with civil, criminal, and commercial laws based on those of Switzerland. Atatürk also encouraged Turks to imitate European dress and customs. Among other language reforms, he changed the Islamic call to prayer from Arabic to Turkish. According to Naim Turfan in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, Atatürk believed that Islam was the most rational and natural religion and

Hundreds of people, including many Turkish Americans and members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, protest in Zuccotti Park, New York City, in solidarity with demonstrators in Istanbul who were trying to stop a popular park from being demolished to Hundreds of people, including many Turkish Americans and members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, protest in Zuccotti Park, New York City, in solidarity with demonstrators in Istanbul who were trying to stop a popular park from being demolished to make way for a shopping center. June, 2013. SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES

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that a secular Turkish government would be the best vehicle for the advancement of the voluntary adherence of individual Muslim believers.

Turkey remained neutral for the better part of World War II, officially joining the Allies in 1945 in what was largely recognized as a diplomatic manoeuver. Emerging from a one-party system under Atatürk's Republican People's Party, by the mid-1940s Turkey's government evolved into a parliamentary democracy which, despite interference from the military in the early 1970s, maintained its independence from the powerful army throughout the 1980s.

The country began to experience political turmoil in the early 1990s as various Islamist parties gained strength and threatened Turkey's avowed commitment to secular government. In 1996 one of these, the Welfare Party, became the largest party and created a coalition government under Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. By the end of the decade, the military demanded that Erbakan resign and dissolve his party, and he agreed. While this peaceful coup said much about Turkey's political stability, in the early part of the twenty-first century some fifty quarrelsome political parties were registered in Turkey, and the nation continued to struggle to maintain its secularity. Abdullah Gül, who had been associated with Islamist parties, was elected President in 2007. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in power since 2003, was reelected for the third time in 2011 and has been considered the most influential Turkish leader of the twenty-first century. Turkey formally applied to be part of the European Union in 2005; as of 2012, the application was still pending.


Precise statistics on Turkish American immigration prior to 1890 are difficult to obtain. According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Statistical Yearbook for 2001, the number of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire was minuscule from 1820 through 1860, averaging less than twenty people per year. Between 1895 and 1924, these immigration records stated, between 18,000 and 22,000 Turks arrived in the United States. One of the difficulties in arriving at an accurate count is that between 1820 and 1920, some 300,000 immigrants entering the United States had passports from the Ottoman Empire, the majority of them Armenian, Greek, and other ethnic minorities. Although most of the individuals from this wave (80 to 86 percent) returned to Turkey following the establishment of the republic in 1923, they were among the first large groups of Muslim immigrants to the United States and their contributions were just beginning to be unearthed in 2000.

The early Turkish immigrants were almost entirely male. In the culture of Anatolian Turkey, men did not feel comfortable bringing their wives and families until they were able to plant secure economic roots in the United States. According to Frank Ahmed, author of Turks in America (1986), the Salem Evening News wrote extensively about the sizable Turkish community on the North Shore of Boston, including those in the towns of Peabody, Salem, and Lynn. Many Turkish immigrants worked in Massachusetts, in the leather factories of Lynn and Salem and the wire factories of Worcester. Others obtained work in factories in New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Forced to work long hours with low pay in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, some Turkish workers were involved in strikes against management, who generally viewed the Turks as “good workers,” according to Ahmed.

Before 1920 as many as 2,000 Turks arrived in Peabody, worked in the growing leather tanning industry, and then left after 1923. In 1918 in Cleveland, Ohio, where almost one thousand Turkish laborers lived, some founded an Islamic association and purchased burial plots, yet by 1950 all but a dozen or so had moved back to Turkey or elsewhere. In 1910 a large Turkish community lived in Detroit, where the Ford motor plant offered well-paid factory work and where earlier Armenian and Greek immigrants from the Ottoman Empire had paved the way. In 1919 one of the first U.S. mosques was built there. Historian John Grabowski noted in Prospects and Challenges (2005) that the settlement patterns of Turks from the Balkans and Turks from Anatolia differed somewhat. The Anatolians predominated in Massachusetts and Detroit, while in the Ohio and the Pennsylvania industrial belt, Balkan Turks were more common.

Early Turkish immigrants often settled into rooming houses. Frequently, a Turk would rent the house and sublease rooms to his fellow countrymen. Although the accommodations were spare, the newly arriving immigrants managed, to a degree, to replicate village life at home. They ate Turkish food (pilaf, lamb, and vegetable dishes) and slept on mattresses without a bedstead.

Despite being hardworking and industrious, many Turks did not escape the prejudice frequently directed at newcomers. Occasionally, they were called “Ali Hassans” or “Abdul Hamids,” and some newspapers ridiculed the “terrible Turks” and Islam. Among the Turks, however, there was much tolerance for Turkish minorities, especially Turkish Jews, who were fully accepted and respected by their recently arriving compatriots.

Because of the precarious situation in Turkey and their concern for their families, most Turks stayed for a decade or less and had returned to their Anatolian villages before the Great Depression. A small number of Turks stayed in the United States, learned English, and married American women. As a result, the diminished Turkish American community became more close-knit. Social life revolved around coffee houses and benevolent societies. In Peabody coffee houses on Walnut Street became a congregating place for the

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Turks living in the area. It was here that community members exchanged news about their villages while sipping Turkish coffee and eating sweet pastries.

Unlike the earlier wave of immigrants, the post–World War II generation was highly educated and included almost four thousand engineers and physicians. These numbers would undoubtedly have been higher, but strict U.S. immigration regulations, enforced from the mid-1920s until 1965, established an annual quota of 100 Turkish immigrants. Again, many of these professionals returned to Turkey after living in the United States for a brief period.

The third wave of Turkish immigration began in the 1980s and continued into the twenty-first century. It has been much more diverse in terms of education and occupations and has included men, women, and families. The number of Turkish immigrants has risen to more than two thousand per year. Many opened small businesses in the United States and created Turkish American organizations, thus developing Turkish enclaves, particularly in New York City. Others came for educational purposes.

All three waves have brought Turks to large urban centers. The immigrants often follow relatives or people from the same hometown to the same U.S. location, which is called hemşerilik in Turkish. The greatest number have settled in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Rochester. Other concentrations of Turkish Americans may be found along the East Coast in Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. The U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey reported that in 2010, Turkish Americans were living in thirty-six states, among them Arizona (2,477), Georgia (4,126), Pennsylvania (6,319), Texas (9,221), and Washington (5,149).


Like Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese, Turkish belongs to the Altaic language family. More than 100 million people living in Turkey and Central Asia speak Turkic languages. During the Ottoman era Turkish was written in Arabic script, from right to left. Ottoman Turkish borrowed heavily from other languages, and its varying forms of Arabic script made it difficult to use. Atatürk eliminated Arabic script, substituting the Latin alphabet with some letter modifications to distinguish certain Turkish sounds. Many Arabic and Persian loan words were removed, while words from European languages were phoneticized. The alphabet consists of twenty-nine letters—twenty-one consonants and eight vowels—six of which do not occur in English. Turkish does not use gendered words and makes no distinction between he, she, and it. Historians believe that the language reforms were generally a positive development. Literacy is now Page 442  |  Top of Articlemore commonplace, and the language gap between economic classes has been reduced. The Turks are very expressive and often use body language to communicate.

There are several Turkish American organizations and community centers in the United States that teach the Turkish language to the children of Turkish Americans. Despite this effort, relatively few second- and third-generation Turkish Americans speak Turkish, a trend that will greatly affect the future of this community.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Common expressions among Turks and Turkish Americans include: merhaba (MEHR-hah-bah)—“hello”; günaydın (gew-nahy-DUHN)—“good morning”; ıyi akşamlar (EE ahk-shahm-LAHR)—“good evening”; Nasılsınız? (NAHS-suhl-suh-nuhz)—“How are you?”; İyiyim (ee-YEE-yihm)—“I am fine”; teşekkür ederim (tesh-ek-KEWR eh-dehr-eem)—“thank you”; Saatler olsun! (sa-at-LER OLsun)—“May it last for hours!” (said after a bath, shave, or haircut); Geçmiş olsun! (GESH-meesh OLsun)—“May it be in the past!” (said in cases of illness).


Most Turkish Americans practice Sunni Islam, but in a particularly Turkish way, influenced by Sufism and Turkish nationalism. When Atatürk led independent Turkey into secular statehood in 1923, religious law was replaced with civil law, leaving religious preference and practice up to the individual. Turkish Islam is marked by moderation, compatibility with modernity, diversity, and democracy. Turks who immigrated to the United States between 1940 and 1980 were largely secular and did not form their own religious organizations, often worshiping in Arab, Pakistani, or other South Asian mosques.

The larger wave of immigration after 1980 brought more diversity and also a desire to establish Turkish religious organizations. In 1980 Turkish Americans founded the United American Muslim Association (UAMA) in Brooklyn, New York, to teach Islam and to build or rent mosques for prayer. By 2012 the UAMA listed more than twenty associated mosques in New York, Connecticut, California, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Its headquarters, Fatih Camii, remain in Brooklyn, and its website is in Turkish with an English translation option.

Turkish mosques are distinctive in several ways: they display the Turkish flag, their prayers and sermons are often in Turkish, and they are often named for mosques in Turkey, which are in turn named for Ottoman Sultans such as Fatih, Suleymaniye, Selimiye, or Osman Gazi. Ilhan Kaya's 2003 dissertation for Florida State University, “Shifting Turkish American Identity Formations in the United States,” found that Turkish American mosques have retained some practices of mosques in Turkey, such as using rose perfume and curtaining off the women's prayer space. Kaya also reported a substantial Suleymancilar movement (followers of the Sufi master Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan) in the United States. The Suleymanci religious communities raise money for mosques and religious education. Another important Turkish American religious movement follows Fethullah Gülen, a Sunni Muslim who came to the United States in 1999 and as of 2012 lived in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Gülen's followers, though religiously conservative in the Turkish context, are committed to interfaith dialogue and service to the common good.


Turkish culture is a unique blend of European, Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern influences. Turkish cuisine, customs, applied arts, and fine arts reflect a rich diversity as well as robust adaptability.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more than half of Turkish people in the United States were first-generation Americans: the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated in 2010 that of the nearly 180,000 Turkish Americans, 98,000 were born in Turkey. In his 2009 study “Identity across Generations” (Middle East Journal 63, no. 4), a look at first- and second-generation Turkish Americans, Ilhan Kaya found that most lived in urban neighborhoods near other Turks, and though acclimating to American culture, first-generation immigrants still felt out of the mainstream—for instance, only using English when they had to and relying on community networks for jobs and housing.

Harassment and fear of harassment after the September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon pushed Muslim Turkish American communities to separate themselves from Arab Muslims and identify more closely with Western culture; some Turkish Americans changed their names, some women stopped wearing the hijab (head scarf), and some male students shaved their beards in an effort to blend in more. At the same time the aftermath of September 11 included a breaking of the isolation of Turkish American communities as they wanted others to get to know them. Turkish American mosques and organizations coordinated interfaith dialogues and conferences to teach others about their faith and culture. After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in November 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported on an initiative called “Young Peace Builders” that paired Brooklyn Jewish and Turkish American teenagers in helping at a soup kitchen, among other activities, in an effort to foster understanding between the two communities and to benefit the larger society.

Cuisine Turkish food is widely regarded as one of the world's major cuisines. It is noted for its careful preparation and rich ingredients. A typical Turkish Page 443  |  Top of Articlemeal begins with soup or meze (hors d'oeuvres), followed in succession by the main course (usually red meat, chicken, or fish), vegetables cooked in olive oil, dessert, and fresh fruit. Turkish coffee, served in small cups, completes the feast.

Favorite soups include wedding soup, which combines chicken and beef broth, eggs, lemon, and vegetables; lentil soup, which uses beef broth, flour, butter, and paprika; and tarhana soup, which is made with a dried preparation of flour, yogurt, tomato, and red pepper flakes. Although soup is usually served at the beginning of a meal, tripe soup—featuring a sauce of vinegar and garlic—is served after a complete dinner and is usually accompanied by alcoholic drinks.

Among the best-known Turkish appetizers are borek, a pastry roll filled with cheese or ground meat; and dolma, made from stuffed grape leaves, green pepper or eggplant. The meze tray features salads and purees and may also include eggplant, caviar, lamb or veal, fried vegetables with yogurt sauce, and a wide variety of seafood.

Seafood prepared as a main course may be grilled, fried, or stewed. Kofte (meatballs) are another specialty, served grilled, fried, or stewed with vegetables. A sauce of buttermilk, made of yogurt and water, accompanies meat dishes. Fresh vegetables, cooked in olive oil and served either hot or cold, are essential to Turkish cuisine. Eggplant, peppers, green beans, and peas are the primary vegetables. Rice pilaf, which sometimes contains currants and pine nuts, is served as a side dish. Rakl, a drink similar to anisette, is often consumed as an alternative to wine.

The final touch to a meal is a tray of fresh fruits, often a combination of peaches, apples, pears, raisins, figs, oranges, or melons. Typical Turkish desserts include baklava, a flaky pastry dipped in syrup; bulbul yuvasi, thin pastry leaves with walnut filling and lemon peel syrup; sekerpare, sweet cookies; and lokma, Turkish fritters. Puddings are also popular, including muhallebi, or milk pudding, and sutlac, rice pudding.

Döner kebab, meat (usually beef, lamb, or veal) cooked on a vertical spit then sliced thinly and served on flatbread, is more widely known in the United States in its Greek version, the gyro. Popular around the world, döner kebab houses proliferate in the large urban areas were Turks have settled, including Boston, New York, Seattle, Chicago, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

At the beginning or end of a meal, diners often say “afiyet olsun,” which means “may what you eat bring you well-being.” “Elinize saglik,” or “bless your hands,” expresses praise to the chef.

Traditional Dress Along with his many other reforms, Atatürk succeeded in making Western-style dress, at least among men, widespread in Turkey. Consequently, Turkish Americans dress no differently than most other Americans. Atatürk also outlawed the traditional fez, a brimless, cone-shaped red hat, and made brimmed felt hats mandatory, because they prevented men from touching their foreheads to the ground in prayer. Traditional dress for women requires that they be covered from head to foot. Most Turkish garments are made from wool. The kepenek, a heavy, hooded mantle shaped from a single piece of felt, sheltered herders from the rain and cold and served as a blanket or a tent. Turkish Americans only wear traditional costume for parades or other heritage festivals.

Music The distinctive styles of Turkish music, influenced by Arabic, Byzantine, Persian, and Roma motifs, falls into two broad categories: traditional (classic) music and folk music. In the days of the Ottoman Empire, the sultan supported traditional music, or court music, which incorporates a wide array of musical instruments, most commonly Turkish varieties of lutes, woodwinds, flutes, violins, and zithers. Turkish village (folk) music comprises dance tunes, folk songs, and lullabies unique to each regions. The most commonly used folk music instruments include the davul (bass drum), shawm (a traditional woodwind, predecessor of the oboe), saz or baglama sazi (long-necked lute), kemence (Black Sea fiddle), darbukka (vase drum), gayda (reed or back pipe), and kaval (flute).

Turkish popular music in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries included fasıl, a Roma-influenced nightclub version of traditional classic music, and arabesk, which combines Turkish folk songs, Arabic music, and other styles. Turkish Sephardic Jews, Sufis, and Janissaries contributed to the musical richness and diversity. Sufi music is mostly associated with followers of both the Mevlevi (whirling dervishes) and Bektashi orders of Sufism. Janissary music is a military music that also influenced some European composers.

Turkish musicians popular in the United States include Esref Inceoglu, who sings traditional and contemporary music.

Holidays Turkey observes both civil and religious holidays. Whereas dates for civil holidays are determined by the Western (Gregorian) calendar, religious holidays are set by the Muslim lunar calendar, resulting in observances occurring on different days each year. Government offices are closed for all holidays and frequently for a day or two before or after as well.

Many Turkish Americans celebrate New Year's Day on January 1 and both National Sovereignty and Children's Day on April 23. This holiday commemorates the founding of the Grand National Assembly in 1923. At the same time, Atatürk proclaimed it a day to honor children, making it a unique international holiday. Atatürk's birthday is honored on May 19 (officially known as Atatürk Memorial and Youth and Sports Day), and his death is memorialized on November 10. In Turkey this day is marked by a national moment of

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Women in Turkey achieved the right to vote in 1930, one of the many reforms enacted during the presidency of Atatürk. His attitude toward women was considered feminist for his time. While it is not uncommon for Turkish American women to have professional occupations, traditional deference to men is still strong among Turkish American women in the early twenty-first century. In an article for the Huffington Post (“All Women Need to Lean in, Including Women of Turkey,” March 29, 2013), Senay Ataselim-Yilmaz, chief operating officer of Turkish Philanthropy Funds, wrote about Turkey's contradictory attitudes about gender equality, as well as about her own experience as a Turkish American woman. Even though she had been a feminist from an early age, she said, “I recognized that I am still affected by the culture I was raised in. All of us do. I hold myself back out of respect. I listen more than I speak. I give up my seat at the table when a senior man shows up.” She urged Turkish women to bring about cultural and institutional change by taking on leadership roles: “Women of Turkey should acknowledge the cultural barriers that restrict her behavior and should not let that restrain her standing in the society.”

silence throughout the nation at precisely 9:05 a.m., the time of Atatürk's death. Victory Day (August 30) celebrates the Ottoman victory over the Greeks in 1922, and Turkish Independence Day (October 29) recognizes the proclamation of the republic by Atatürk in 1923. A unique American tradition, begun on April 24, 1984, is Turkish American Day, during which Turkish Americans march down New York's Fifth Avenue. In May 2005 Patterson, New Jersey, also began holding an annual Turkish Day and Festival, when thousands of Turkish Americans hold a parade and attend concerts of traditional and popular Turkish music.


In Turkey family life centers on the male head of the household, as he is the one who traditionally provides for his family. Children are expected to obey their parents, even after reaching adulthood, and must also show respect for all persons older than themselves, including older siblings. Parental authority in Turkey is so great that parents often arrange for the marriages of their children. The extended family is of extreme importance in Turkey; family members often work in the same business, and in the United States, the Turkish American family remains close-knit.

Gender Roles Among Turkish Americans men participate in community affairs and women are expected to manage the household. Very few Turkish women immigrated to the United States before World War II, and even into the twenty-first century, many were first-generation Americans. These women were deeply interested in and affected by debates in Turkey around such issues as whether women should wear headscarves at work and school. Turkish American women differ on this issue: some wear the headscarf and others do not. An area of gender separation that has been more generally retained in the United States is the gathering of men at Turkish coffee houses to drink coffee and tea and watch sports. Although no signs prohibit women, Turkish women would never enter.

Education Turkish American parents have made great efforts to nurture their children's Turkish, American, and Muslim identities. In a 2012 study of the children of first-generation, college-educated Turkish American parents, Zeynap Isik-Ercan found that children enjoyed many social as well as academic benefits from mentoring relationships with other Turkish Americans in Sunday schools where they studied Turkish language and history. At least two Turkish communities have started private elementary schools, open to anyone, at which Turkish and Muslim culture are taught and shared: Amity School in Brooklyn and Pioneer Academy of Science in Clifton, New Jersey. The Fatih Mosque in Brooklyn provides summer camps and religious and cultural education for children.

According to the American Community Survey's 2010 estimates, 51 percent of Turkish Americans over the age of twenty-five had at least a bachelor's degree (59 percent of males and 48 percent of females), and 26 percent had a graduate degree.


Early Turkish immigrants to the United States were predominantly from Turkey's rural community. They settled in large, industrial cities and found employment as unskilled laborers. The majority came to earn money so that they could improve their economic situation and that of their families in Turkey. After the 1950s people of a skilled and highly educated class immigrated to the United States, the majority of whom were medical doctors, engineers, and scientists. Since 1980 the Turkish immigrants have included unskilled and semiskilled workers as well as students and professionals. In 2012 Turkish Americans were visible in virtually every field, according to the American Community Survey. Although the majority were professionals and enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle, the community also included blue-collar restaurant workers, gas station attendants, hair stylists, construction workers, and grocery clerks.


The many political factions in Turkey are reflected in the Turkish American community. All Turkish Americans, however, are united in their concern for Turkey and take great pride in their ethnic heritage. Many Turks living in the United States refuse to abandon their Turkish citizenship.

Before the 1970s Turkish Americans were not often involved in American politics. The Turkish Page 445  |  Top of Articleinvasion of Cyprus in 1974, however, in which the U.S. government supported Greece, mobilized many in the community. The small Turkish American population was not able to counter the influence of the much larger and more powerful Greek American organizations, however.

Turkish Americans proudly point to Turkey's membership in NATO and its military and political support of the U.S. government during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. After September 11, 2001, Turkish Americans became more politically visible and active. As the United States entered the war in Iraq, Turkey became much more important in American foreign affairs, and Turkish Americans paid very close attention to the development of the political relationship between the two countries.

In 2002 Tarkan Öcal became the first Turkish American to run for public office, contending for a seat in the Florida State Senate. Jak Karako ran for a seat in the New York State Senate in 2005. In 2006 Osman Bengür ran in Maryland for U.S. Congress, and Rıfat Sivişoğlu ran for county office in DuPage, Illinois, in 2008. All Democrats, none of these candidates won their elections. Few ran in the following election cycles, but Turkish Americans began contributing more heavily to political campaigns.

In 2007 Adam Schiff, a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, introduced the Armenian Genocide resolution recognizing the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1915. This created a political sore point for Turkish Americans, who characterize the events as ethnic clashes between the Armenian and Turkish communities. As of 2013 the bill had not passed, but it evoked very strong reactions and prompted a greater tendency in Turkish Americans to vote Republican. In 2013 Turkish Americans circulated a petition to President Obama calling on him to also recognize the 1992 Khojaly Massacre during the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–94), in which Armenian and Russian forces occupied the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly and killed at least 613 civilians, including 106 women, 63 children, and 70 elders.

In 2009, as the Turkish American community pursued further grassroots political involvement, the Turkish Coalition of America began leading Congressional delegations to Turkey, and by 2013 the group had led sixteen delegations, with more than 155 members participating. In April 2012 several Turkish American umbrella groups—the Federation of Turkish American Associations, the Turkish Coalition of America, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, and the Washington-based Turkish American Community Centers—began the Thirty-second Annual Turkish-American National Convention with a seminar titled “Grassroots Day,” which urged Turks to participate actively in U.S. politics.


Arts Tunç Yalman (1925–2006) was an Istanbul-born actor, translator, and writer and the artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Business Muhtar A. Kent (1952–) has been the CEO of Coca-Cola Company since 2008. Born in New York, where his father was the Turkish consul-general, Kent found his first position at Coca-Cola through a newspaper ad in 1978.

Literature Journalist and essayist Elif Batuman (1977–) was born in New York City. She taught at Stanford University, publishing her work in the New Yorker and Harper's Magazine. Her book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them was published in 2010.

An area of gender separation that has been more generally retained in the United States is the gathering of men at Turkish coffee houses to drink coffee and tea and watch sports. Although no signs prohibit women, Turkish women would never enter.

Alev Lytle Croutier (1945–) is the most-often-read Turkish American woman novelist. She was born in İzmir, Turkey, and came to the United States in 1983 to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. She made documentary films in Turkey, Japan, Europe, and the United States and wrote screenplays, including that of Tell Me a Riddle (1980), based on Tillie Olsen's 1956 novella. She is the author of the nonfiction best-sellers Harem: The World Behind the Veil (1989) and Taking the Waters: Spirit, Art, and Sensuality (1992) as well as the novels The Palace of Tears (2000), Seven Houses (2002), and Leyla: The Black Tulip (2003), a novel for young readers.

Selma Ekrem (1902–1986) was the granddaughter of a prominent exiled Ottoman playwright and grew up among other exiles. She came to the United States at the age of twenty-one in 1923 and lived in Connecticut and Massachusetts until her death in 1986. Her book Unveiled: The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl (circa 1930; republished in 2005) is the earliest Turkish American work that records a first-generation immigrant's recollection of her past life in Ottoman Turkey.

Poet, translator, and cultural historian Talat Sait Halman (1931–) is one of the best-known Turkish American writers. Born in Istanbul, he received an MA from Columbia University in political science, international relations, and international law. In 1971 he returned to Turkey to serve as minister of culture. Halman published two poetry collections in English, Shadows of Love (1979) and A Last Lullaby (1990), and several books of Turkish-language poetry. He has also translated major Turkish literary works into English Page 446  |  Top of Articleand has written and lectured extensively in the United States about Turkish cultural history.

Medicine Mehmet Cengiz Oz (1960–), born in Cleveland, Ohio, is a popular television health advice personality known as “Dr. Oz.” Oz is vice-chairman of surgery and director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Columbia University and the founder of the Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Music Founder and chief executive officer of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun (1924–) is an influential force in the music business. The son of a Turkish ambassador to the United States, he attended St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. The young Ahmet always loved jazz, especially the music of black performers. He and his brother Nesuhi promoted jazz concerts in Washington, D.C., at locales ranging from the Jewish Community Center to the National Press Club and the Turkish embassy. Duke Ellington and Lester Young attended some of these informal jazz sessions. Ertegun invested $10,000 with a record collector friend and started Atlantic Records. Four decades later it had become a conglomerate worth $600 million. Ertegun has been dubbed the “Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Mogul in the World.”

Arif Mardin (1932–) is one of the major popular music producers and arrangers in United States. His clients include Aretha Franklin, the Bee Gees, Carly Simon, Roberta Flack, and Bette Midler. Born into a prominent Istanbul family, he received a scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he obtained a BA in music in 1958. After briefly meeting Ahmet Ertegun at the Newport Jazz Festival, he joined Atlantic Records and is currently its vice president.

Born in Istanbul, musician and singer Ahu Gural moved in 2010 to New York, where she performs pop, jazz, arias from the famous operas, and classical Turkish music.

Science and Mathematics Feza Gürsoy (1921–1993) was the J. Willard Gibbs Professor Emeritus of Physics at Yale University. He contributed major studies on the group structure of elementary particles and the symmetries of interactions. Gürsoy helped bridge the gap between physicists and mathematicians at Yale. He won the prestigious Oppenheimer Prize (1977) and the Wigner Medal (1986).


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Turk of America

Founded 2002, the first Turkish American nationwide business magazine aims to report news about the Turkish community in the United States. It is published in print and online.

One Bridge Plaza North
Suite 275
Fort Lee, New Jersey 07024
Phone: (201) 250 4376
URL: www.turkofamerica.com


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American Turkish Friendship Association (ATFA)

This organization is dedicated to addressing the social, cultural, and educational needs of Turkish Americans.

A. Tarik Ilhan, Executive Director
3949 University Drive
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
Phone: (703) 267-5751
Fax: (703) 267-5785
Email: info@atfa.us
URL: www.atfa.us

American Turkish Society (ATS)

Founded in 1949, the ATS has a membership of 400 American and Turkish diplomats, banks, corporations, businessmen, and educators. It promotes economic and commercial relations as well as cultural understanding between the people of the United States and Turkey.

Selen Ucak, Executive Director
3 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza
New York, New York 10017
Phone: (212) 583-7614
Fax: (212) 583-7615
Email: info@americanturkishsociety.org
URL: www.americanturkishsociety.org

Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA)

The ATAA, founded in 1979, has approximately 10,500 members. It coordinates the activities of regional associations whose purpose is to present an objective view of Turkey and Turkish Americans and to enhance understanding between these two groups.

1526 18th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 483-9090
Fax: (202) 483-9092
Email: assembly@ataa.org
URL: www.ataa.org

Turkish Coalition of America

An organization founded in 2007 that fosters understanding between the United States and Turkey and works to build the next generation of Turkish American leaders through scholarships and internships.

G. Lincoln McCurdy, Executive Director
1510 H Street NW
Suite 900
Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 370-1399
Fax: (202) 370-1398
URL: www.tc-america.org

Turkish Women's League of America (TWLA)

Founded in 1958, the TWLA unites Americans of Turkish origin to promote equality and justice for women. The organization encourages cultural and recreational activities to foster relations between the people of Turkey, the United States, and other countries, including the new Turkish republics of the former Soviet Union.

Page 447  |  Top of Article

Sermin Özçilingir, President
821 United Nations Plaza, Second Floor
New York, New York 10017
Phone: (212) 682-8525
Fax: (212) 215-5310
Email: atkbnewyork@gmail.com
URL: http://atkb.org/


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Ahmed, Frank. Turks in America: The Ottoman Turk's Immigrant Experience. Greenwich, CT: Columbia International, 1986.

Akcapar, Sebnem Koser. “Turkish Associations in the United States: Towards Building a Transnational Identity.” Turkish Studies 10, no. 2 (2009): 165–93.

Balgamis, A. D., and Kemal H. Karpat. Turkish Migration to the United States: From Ottoman Times to the Present. Madison: Center for Turkish Studies, University of Wisconsin, 2008.

Grabowski, John J. Prospects and Challenges: The Study of Early Turkish Immigration to the United States. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Periodicals Consortium, Rutgers University, 2005.

Hostler, Charles Warren. The Turks of Central Asia. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.

Kaya, Ilhan. “Religion as a Site of Boundary Construction: Islam and the Integration of Turkish Americans in the United States.” Alternatives: Turkish Journal of International Relations 6, nos. ½ (Spring/Summer 2007): 139–55.

———. “Turkish-American Immigration History and Identity Formations.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 24, no. 2 (October 2004): 295–308.

Senyurekli, A. R., and C. Menjivar. “Turkish Immigrants' Hopes and Fears around Return Migration.” International Migration 50, no. 1 (2012): 3–19.

Spencer, William. The Land and People of Turkey. New York: J. P. Lippincott, 1990.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300182