Turkish immigrants

Although Turkey has a moderately large population, the numbers of Turks who have immigrated to the United States have never been great, and by the early twenty-first century, the Turkish American population remained small. The community is made of immigrants and their descendants who came during the time of the former Ottoman Empire as well as people who came after the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923. Most of the immigrants settled in large cities, seeking better economic opportunities.

The first wave of Turkish immigration to the United States occurred between 1860 and 1920. During that period, 400,000 people from the Ottoman Empire were recorded as entering the country. However, only 10 to 15 percent of them identified themselves as ethnic Turks. Most were Greeks, Armenian immigrantsArmenians, Christian Arabs, Jews, and Slavs from Macedonia and other parts of the Balkan Peninsula. The total number of Muslim immigrants;Ottoman subjectsMuslims among these first newcomers was estimated at 15,000-20,000, approximately 85-90 percent of whom were men. Most Turkish immigrants from the Ottoman Empire came to the United States intending eventually to return to their homeland, and it has been estimated that about 84 percent of them actually did go back to Turkey.Turkish immigrantsOttoman EmpireTurkish immigrants[cat]IMMIGRANT GROUPS;Turkish immigrants[cat]SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Turkish
[cat]EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS;Turkish immigrantsOttoman Empire

Turkish immigration slowed considerably during World War I, in which the Ottoman Empire fought on the side of the Central Powers. During the 1920’s, as Turkey was undergoing a political revolution under the leadership of Atatürk, Mustafa KemalMustafa Kemal Atatürk, restrictive quotas added to U.S. immigration law continued to keep Turkish immigration figures down.

Turkish immigration resumed during the 1950’s, The immigrants who came during this period were different from their predecessors in having a sense of national belonging. Unlike subjects of the old Ottoman Empire, they consciously identified themselves as Turks because of Atatürk’s nationalist movement to promote Turkish ethnicity in the new republic. Again, most of the Turkish immigrants were male, but unlike the early immigrants, these newcomers included professionals, particularly engineers and physicians. The Turkish Republic offered attractive employment incentives to Turks educated overseas to return to their homeland, and some of the immigrants did return.

The next wave of Turkish immigrants started coming during the 1970’s. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s, most Turks who immigrated to the United States had come for educational and economic opportunities. During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, a set of political conflicts evolving in Cyprus, eastern Turkey, and Bulgaria motivated Turks to leave their homeland.

The Turkish Republic’s policy was to build a secular state and a society with new identity for its citizens that merged modernity with Turkish ethnicity, while rejecting the religious culture and Ottoman past. Consequently Turks who immigrated to America during the late twentieth century arrived with a new attitude, fostered by a mixture of national solidarity and openness to modern life. Unlike their predecessors, they managed to establish Turkish American communities by adapting their values and sense of Turkishness to the society and economy of the United States.

Passage of the [a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965;and Turkish immigrants[Turkish immigrants]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the national quotas of the 1920’s, opening the way for increased numbers of Turks to come to the United States. During the 1970’s, about 1,300 Turks immigrated each year. By the 1990’s, that figure had risen to 3,800 immigrants a year. During the early years of the twenty-first century, the annual average leveled off to about 3,000 immigrants per year. During the early twenty-first century, the largest concentrations of ethnic Turks were living in New York City, Rochester, New York, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, Michigan;Turkish immigrantsDetroit, Michigan.Turkish immigrants

Further Reading

  • Ahmed, Frank. Turks in America: The Ottoman Turk’s Immigrant Experience. Greenwich, Conn.: Columbia International, 1993.
  • Balgamis, A. Deniz, and Kemal H. Karpat. Turkish Migration to the United States: From Ottoman Times to the Present. Madison: Center for Turkish Studies at the University of Wisconsin, 2008.
  • DiCarlo, Lisa. Migrating to America: Transnational Social Networks and Regional Identity Among Turkish Migrants. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008.
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Economic opportunities


European immigrants

Greek immigrants

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Immigration waves

Muslim immigrants

Return migration