Turkish Cypriots

Turkish Cypriots
Kıbrıs Türkleri
Total population
Total unknown
(see also Turkish Cypriot diaspora)
Regions with significant populations
 Northern Cyprusest. 150,000[1]
 Turkey300,000 to over 650,000
(Higher estimate includes descendants of the early twentieth century muhacirs)[2][3][4][5][6][7]
 United Kingdom130,000 (TRNC nationals only - excludes British born and dual heritage children)[8][9][10]
300,000 to 400,000 (including descendants)[11][12][13][14][15][16]
 Australia30,000 (Turkish Cypriot immigrants in 1993[2])
est.40,000 to 120,000[6][7][15][17][18]
 Canada6,000 (Turkish Cypriot immigrants in 1993[2])
 United States6,000 (Turkish Cypriot immigrants in 1993[2])
 Palestine4,000 (Early twentieth century Turkish Cypriot brides only - excludes descendants) b[19][20]
 Cyprus (south)1,128 (2011 Cyprus census[21])
Other countries5,000 (2001 TRNC Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimate),[6] particularly in Western Europe, New Zealand, South Africa
Standard Turkish and Cypriot Turkish, English
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Turkic peoples

a This figure does not include Turkish settlers from Turkey.
b This figure only includes Turkish Cypriot women who were sold to Palestinians in the early twentieth century. The number of Turkish Cypriot descendants in Palestine is unknown.

Turkish Cypriots or Cypriot Turks (Turkish: Kıbrıs Türkleri or Kıbrıslı Türkler; Greek: Τουρκοκύπριοι) are mostly ethnic Turks originating from Cyprus. Following the Ottoman conquest of the island in 1571, about 30,000 Turkish settlers were given land once they arrived in Cyprus.[23][24] Additionally, many of the islanders converted to Islam during the early years of Ottoman rule.[25] Nonetheless, the influx of mainly Muslim settlers to Cyprus continued intermittently until the end of the Ottoman period.[26] Today, while Northern Cyprus is home to a significant part of the Turkish Cypriot population, the majority of Turkish Cypriots live abroad, forming the Turkish Cypriot diaspora. This diaspora came into existence after the Ottoman Empire transferred the control of the island to the British Empire, as many Turkish Cypriots emigrated primarily to Turkey and the United Kingdom for political and economic reasons. The emigration was exacerbated by the intercommunal violence in the 1950s and 1960s, as Turkish Cypriots had to live in enclaves in Cyprus.

The vernacular of Turkish spoken by Turkish Cypriots is Cypriot Turkish and officially Standard Turkish which has been strongly influenced by Cypriot Greek as well as English.


Pre-Ottoman Cyprus

Although there was no settled Muslim population in Cyprus prior to the Ottoman conquest of 1570-71, some Ottoman Turks were captured and carried off as prisoners to Cyprus in the year 1400 during Cypriot raids in the Asiatic and Egyptian coasts.[27] Some of these captives accepted or were forced to covert to Christianity and were baptized; however there were also some Turkish slaves who remained unbaptized.[28] By 1425 some of these slaves helped the Mamluke army to gain access to Limassol Castle.[29] Despite the release of some of the captives, after the payment of ransoms, most the baptized Turks continued to remain on the island. The medieval Cypriot historian Leontios Machairas recalled that the baptized Turks were not permitted to leave Nicosia when the Mamlukes approached the city after the battle of Khirokitia in 1426.[30] According to Professor Charles Fraser Beckingham "there must therefore have been some Cypriots, at least nominally Christian, who were of Turkish, Arab, or Egyptian origin."[27]

An early sixteenth century (ca.1521-25) map of Cyprus by the Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis .

By 1488 the Ottomans made their first attempt at conquering Cyprus when Sultan Bayezid II sent a fleet to conquer Famagusta. However, the attempt failed due to the timely intervention of a Venetian fleet.[31] Thereafter, the Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, was forced to relinquish her crown to the Republic of Venice in 1489. In the same year Ottoman ships were seen off the coast of Karpas and the Venetians began to strengthen the fortifications of the island.[32] Nonetheless, by 1500 coastal raids by Ottoman vessels resulted in the heavy loss of Venetian fleets forcing Venice to negotiate a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1503. However, by May 1539 Suleiman I decided to attack Limassol because the Venetians had been sheltering pirates who continuously attacked Ottoman ships. Limassol stayed under Ottoman control until a peace treaty was signed in 1540. Nonetheless, Cyprus continued to be a haven for pirates who interrupted the safe passage of Ottoman trade ships and Muslim pilgrims sailing to Mecca and Medina.[33] By 1569 pirates captured the Ottoman defterdar (treasurer) of Egypt and Selim II decided to safeguard the sea route from Constantinople to Alexandria by conquering the island and clearing the eastern Mediterranean of all enemies in 1570-71.[32]

Ottoman Cyprus

A miniature painting depicting the landing of Ottoman soldiers at Limassol Castle during the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus (1570-71).
The Ottoman Turks built Büyük Han in 1572. Today it has become a thriving center of Turkish Cypriot culture
The Bekir Pasha Aqueduct was built by the Ottoman governor Ebubekir Pasha in 1747. It is considered to be the most prominent water supply ever built in Cyprus.

The basis for the emergence of a sizeable and enduring Turkish community in Cyprus emerged when Ottoman troops landed on the island in mid-May 1570 and conquered it within a year from Venetian rule.[34] The post-conquest established a significant Muslim community which consisted of soldiers from the campaign who remained behind and further settlers who were brought from Anatolia as part of a traditional Ottoman population policy.[35] However, there were also new converts to Islam on the island during the early years of Ottoman rule.[25]

Genetic analysis of Y chromosomes (inherited from father to son) revealed that Turkish and Greek Cypriots have a high genetic affinity and share primarily a common pre-Ottoman paternal ancestry. Both Turkish and Greek Cypriots have a minor genetic relation with surrounding populations, mainly with Calabrians (southern Italy), Albanians (particularly for Greek Cypriots), Lebanese and Libyans (only for Turkish Cypriots). The genetic affinity between Calabrians and Cypriots could be a result of a common ancient Greek (Achaean) genetic contribution to both populations.[36]

In addition to documented settlement of Anatolian peasants and craftsmen, as well as the arrival of soldiers, decrees were also issued banishing Anatolian tribes, "undesirable" persons and members of various "troublesome" Muslim sects, principally those officially classified as "heretic".[37] This influx of mainly Muslim settlers to Cyprus continued intermittently until the end of the Ottoman period.[26]

By the second quarter of the nineteenth century approximately 30,000 Muslims were living in Cyprus, comprising about 35% of the total population. The fact that Turkish was the main language spoken by the Muslims of the island is a significant indicator that the majority of them were either Turkish-speaking Anatolians or otherwise from a Turkic background.[38] Throughout the Ottoman rule, the demographic ratio between Christian "Greeks" and Muslim "Turks" fluctuated constantly.[39] During 1745-1814, the Muslim Turkish Cypriots constituted the majority on the island against the Christian Greek Cypriots (TCs being max 75% of total island population) (Drummond, 1745: 150,000 vs. 50,000; Kyprianos, 1777: 47,000 vs. 37,000;[40][41] De Vezin, 1788-1792: 60,000 vs. 20,000; Kinneir 1814: 35,000 vs. 35,000)[42] However, by 1841, Turks made up 27% of the island's population.[43] One of the reason for this decline is because the Turkish community were obliged to serve in the Ottoman army for years, usually away from home, very often losing their lives in the endless wars of the Ottoman Empire.[44] Another reason for the declining population was because of the emigration trend of some 15,000 Turkish Cypriots to Anatolia in 1878, when the Ottoman Turks handed over the administration of the island to Britain.[45][46]

British Cyprus

A Cypriot woman, 1878.

By 1878, during the Congress of Berlin, under the terms of the Anglo-Ottoman Cyprus Convention, the Ottoman Turks had agreed to assign Cyprus to Britain to occupy and rule, though not to possess as sovereign territory.[47] According to the first British census of Cyprus, in 1881, 95% of the island's Muslims spoke Turkish as their mother tongue.[48] As of the 1920s, the percentage of Greek-speaking Muslims had dropped from 5%, in 1881, to just under 2% of the total Muslim population.[49] During the opening years of the twentieth century Ottomanism became an ever more popular identity held by the Cypriot Muslim intelligentsia, especially in the wake of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. Increasing numbers of Young Turks who had turned against Sultan Abdul Hamid II sought refuge in Cyprus. A rising class of disgruntled intellectuals in the island's main urban centres gradually began to warm to the ideas of positivism, freedom and modernization.[50] Spurred on by the rising calls for "enosis", the union with Greece, emanating from Greek Cypriots, an initially hesitant "Turkism" was also starting to appear in certain newspaper articles and to be heard in the political debates of the local intelligentsia of Cyprus.[51] In line with the changes introduced in the Ottoman Empire after 1908, the curricula of Cyprus's Muslim schools, such as the "Idadi", were also altered to incorporate more secular teachings with increasingly Turkish nationalist undertones. Many of these graduates in due course ended up as teachers in the growing number of urban and rural schools that had begun to proliferate across the island by the 1920s.[52]

Mehmet Remzi Okan with his wife and children in 1919 during the Turkish War of Independence. The family were Turkish Cypriots who owned the newspaper "Söz Gazetesi".

In 1914 the Ottoman Empire joined the First World War against the Allied Forces and Britain annexed the island. Cyprus's Muslim inhabitants were officially asked to choose between adopting either British nationality or retaining their Ottoman subject status; about 4,000–8,500 Muslims decided to leave the island and move to Turkey.[53][54] Following its defeat in World War I, the Ottoman Empire were faced with the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) whereby the Greek incursion into Anatolia aimed at claiming what Greece believed to be historically Greek territory.[55] For the Ottoman Turks of Cyprus, already fearing the aims of enosis-seeking Greek Cypriots, reports of atrocities committed by the Greeks against the Turkish populations in Anatolia, and the Greek Occupation of Smyrna, produced further fears for their own future. Greek forces were routed in 1922 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who, in 1923, proclaimed the new Republic of Turkey and renounced irredentist claims to former Ottoman territories beyond the Anatolian heartland. Muslims in Cyprus were thus excluded from the nation-building project, though many still heeded Atatürk's call to join in the establishment of the new nation-state, and opted for Turkish citizenship. Between 1881 and 1927 approximately 30,000 Turkish Cypriots emigrated to Turkey.[56][45]

The 1920s was to prove a critical decade in terms of stricter ethno-religious compartments; hence, Muslim Cypriots who remained on the island gradually embraced the ideology of Turkish nationalism due to the impact of the Kemalist Revolution.[57] At its core were the Kemalist values of secularism, modernization and westernization; reforms such as the introduction of the new Turkish alphabet, adoption of western dress and secularization, were adopted voluntarily by Muslim Turkish Cypriots, who had been prepared for such changes not just by the Tanzimat but also by several decades of British rule.[58] Many of those Cypriots who until then had still identified themselves primarily as Muslims began now to see themselves principally as Turks in Cyprus.[59]

By 1950, a Cypriot Enosis referendum in which 95.7% of Greek Cypriot voters supported a fight aimed at enosis, the union of Cyprus with Greece[60] were led by an armed organisation, in 1955, called EOKA by Georgios Grivas which aimed at bringing down British rule and uniting the island of Cyprus with Greece. Turkish Cypriots had always reacted immediately against the objective of enosis; thus, the 1950s saw many Turkish Cypriots who were forced to flee from their homes.[61] In 1958, Turkish Cypriots set up their own armed group called Turkish Resistance Organisation (TMT) and by early 1958, the first wave of armed conflict between the two communities began; a few hundred Turkish Cypriots left their villages and quarters in the mixed towns and never returned.[62]

Republic of Cyprus

An old Turkish Cypriot "mahalle" (quarter) in Paphos (1969).

By 16 August 1960 the island of Cyprus became an independent state, the Republic of Cyprus, with power sharing between the two communities under the 1960 Zurich agreements, with Britain, Greece and Turkey as Guarantor Powers. Archbishop Makarios III was elected as president by the Greek Cypriots and Dr. Fazıl Küçük was elected as vice-president by the Turkish Cypriots. However, in December 1963, in the events known as "Bloody Christmas",[63] when Makarios III attempted to modify the Constitution, Greek Cypriots initiated a military campaign against the Turkish Cypriots and began to attack Turkish inhabited villages; by early 1964, the Turkish Cypriots started to withdraw into armed enclaves where the Greek Cypriots blockaded them, resulting in some 25,000 Turkish Cypriots becoming refugees, or internally "displaced persons".[64][62] This resulted in the UN peacekeeping force, UNFICYP, being stationed on the island as well as an external migration trend of thousands more Turkish Cypriots to the United Kingdom, Turkey, North America and Australia.[65] With the rise to power of the Greek military junta, a decade later, in 1974, a group of right-wing Greek extremists, EOKA B, who supported the union of Cyprus with Greece staged a coup.[66] This action precipitated the Turkish invasion of Cyprus,[67] which led to the capture of the present-day territory of Northern Cyprus the following month, after a ceasefire collapsed. The Turkish invasion resulted in the occupation of some 37% of the island in the north.[64] After the Turkish invasion and the ensuing 1975 Vienna agreements, 60,000 Turkish Cypriots who lived in the south of the island fled to the north.[68] The 1974-1975 movement was strictly organised by the Provisional Turkish Administration who tried to preserve village communities intact.[62]

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

The northern areas of the island of Cyprus administered by Turkish Cypriots

In 1983 the Turkish Cypriots declared their own state in the north, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which remains internationally unrecognised, except by Turkey.[69] In 2004, a referendum for the unification of the island, the "Annan Plan", was accepted by 65% of Turkish Cypriots but rejected by 76% of Greek Cypriots.[70]