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Anti-Turkism, also known as Turkophobia or anti-Turkish sentiment, is hostility, intolerance, or racism against Turkish or Turkic people, Turkish culture, Turkic countries, or Turkey itself.[1][2]

The term refers to intolerance not only against the Turks of Turkey, but also against Turkic groups as a whole, including Azerbaijanis, Crimean Tatars, Turkmens, Bulgarian Turks, Macedonian Turks, Turkish Cypriots, Bosnian Turks, Meskhetian Turks, Turks of the Dodecanese, Uyghurs, Kosovan Turks, Croatian Turks, and Romanian Turks, Turks in Russia. It is also applied on groups who developed in part under the influence of Turkish culture and traditions while converting to Islam, especially during Ottoman times, such as Albanians, Bosniaks and other smaller ethnic groups around Balkans during the period of Ottoman rule.[3][4][5] It can also refer to racism against Turkish people living outside of Turkey following the Turkish diaspora.[6][7][8][9]

Early history[edit]

The roots of anti-Turkism can be traced back to the arrival of the Huns in Europe.[10] While the ethnic background of the Huns is a matter of dispute among historians, they are widely believed to have been of Turkic origin,[11] and their invasion inspired fear among Europeans.

In the Late Middle Ages, the fall of Constantinople and the Ottoman wars in Europe—part of European Christians' effort to stem the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor to Turkey—helped fuel the development of anti-Turkism. By the middle of the 15th century, special masses called missa contra Turcos (Latin for "mass against Turks") were held in various places in Europe[12][13] to spread the message that victory over the Ottomans was only possible with the help of God and that a Christian community was therefore necessary to withstand the cruelty of the Turks.[12][14][15]

16th century[edit]

Original prints from the 16th century at the Hungarian National Museum depict a Turkish warrior butchering infants.

As the Ottomans expanded their empire west, Western Europe came into more frequent contact with the Turks, often militarily.

During the Fourth Ottoman–Venetian War, the Ottomans conquered Cyprus.

In the 16th century, around 2,500 publications about the Turks—including more than 1,000 in German—were released in Europe, spreading the image of the "bloodthirsty Turk". From 1480 to 1610, twice as many books were published about the Turkish threat to Europe than about the discovery of the New World.Bishop Johann Faber of Vienna claimed, "There are no crueler and more audacious villains under the heavens than the Turks, who spare no age or sex and mercilessly cut down young and old alike and pluck unripe fruit from the wombs of mothers."[13]

During this time, the Ottoman Empire also invaded the Balkans and besieged Vienna, sparking widespread fear in Europe, and especially in Germany.[16] Martin Luther, the German leader of the Protestant Reformation, took advantage of these fears by asserting that the Turks were "the agents of the Devil who, along with the Antichrist located in the heart of the Catholic Church, Rome, would usher in the Last Days and the Apocalypse".[17]

Luther believed that the Ottoman invasion was God's punishment of Christians for allowing corruption in the Holy See and the Catholic Church.[18] In 1518, when he defended his 95 Theses, Luther claimed that God had sent the Turks to punish Christians just as he had sent war, plague, and earthquakes. (In response, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull in which he threatened Luther with excommunication and portrayed him as a troublemaker who advocated capitulation to the Turks.)[13] In his writings On War Against the Turk and Military Sermon Against the Turks, Luther was "consistent in his theological conception of the Turks as a manifestation of God's chastising rod". He and his followers also espoused the view that the Ottoman–Habsburg Wars were a conflict "between Christ and Antichrist" or "between God and the devil".[19]

Spurred by this argument, the Portuguese Empire, seeking to capture more land in East Africa and other parts of the world, used any encounter with the "Terrible Turk" as "a prime opportunity to establish credentials as champions of the faith on par with other Europeans".[20]

Stories of the "Wolf-Turk" reinforced the negative image. The Wolf-Turk was claimed to be a man-eating being, half animal and half human, with a wolf's head and tail. Military power and cruelty were the recurring attributes in each portrayal of the Turks.[13]

17th–18th centuries[edit]

According to some sympathetic Orientalist authors, negative accounts of Turkish customs and people written during the 17th and 18th centuries "served as an 'ideological weapon' during the Enlightenment's arguments about the nature of government",[21] creating an image of the Turks that was "inaccurate but accepted".[22] However, some contemporary reports documented brutality and corrupt governance against subjugated Christians, including a law that forced all Christian families to relinquish at least one child to the Janissaries in order to fulfill the Quranic requirement of jizya.[citation needed]

In Sweden, the Turks were portrayed as the archenemies of Christianity. A book by the parish priest Erland Dryselius of Jönköping, published in 1694, was titled Luna Turcica eller Turkeske måne, anwissjandes lika som uti en spegel det mahometiske vanskelige regementet, fördelter uti fyra qvarter eller böcker ("Turkish moon showing as in a mirror the dangerous Mohammedan rule, divided into four quarters or books"). In sermons, the Swedish clergy preached about the Turks' cruelty and bloodthirstiness, and how they systematically burned and plundered the areas they conquered. In a Swedish schoolbook published in 1795, Islam was described as "the false religion that had been fabricated by the great deceiver Muhammad, to which the Turks to this day universally confess".[13]

In 1718, James Puckle demonstrated two version of his new invention, the Puckle gun: a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock weapon fitted with a revolving cylinder, designed to prevent intruders from boarding a ship. The first version, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets. The second, intended for use against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets, designed by Kyle Tunis, which were believed to be more damaging and would, according to Puckle's patent, convince the Turks of the "benefits of Christian civilization".[23]

Voltaire and other European writers described the Turks as tyrants who destroyed Europe's heritage.[24] In his book Orientalism, Edward Said noted, "Until the end of the seventeenth century the 'Ottoman peril' lurked alongside Europe to represent for the whole of Christian civilization a constant danger, and in time European civilization incorporated that peril and its lore, its great events, figures, virtues, and vices, as something woven into the fabric of life."[25]

Even within the Ottoman Empire, the term "Turk" was sometimes used to denote the Yörük backwoodsmen, bumpkins, or illiterate peasants in Anatolia. "Etrak-i bi-idrak", an Ottoman play on words, meant "the ignorant Turk".[26]

Özay Mehmet wrote in his book Islamic Identity and Development: Studies of the Islamic Periphery:[27]

Modern history[edit]

Before the 1960s, Turkey had relatively low emigration.[28] However, after the adoption of a new constitution in 1961, Turkish citizens began to migrate elsewhere.[29] Gradually, Turks became a "prominent ethnic minority group" in some Western countries.[30][31] But from the beginning, they were subject to discrimination. At times, when host countries adopted more immigrant-friendly policies, "only the Turkish workers were excluded" from them.[32]

In various European languages, the word "Turk" has acquired a meaning similar to "barbarian" or "heathen",[13][33][34][35][36] or is used as a slur or curse.[13][37] As a result, the word also has some negative connotations in the United States.[38]



Armenia–Turkey relations have historically been hostile,[39] primarily because of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and Turkey's denial that it happened. According to a 2007 survey, 78% of Armenians see Turkey as a threat.[40] In 2017 surveys in Armenia 93% of respondents disapproved of Armenian women marrying Turks,[41] while 72% disapproved of doing business with Turks.[42]


Georgians look with a wary eye to Turkey’s growing Neo-Ottomanism and the rise in popularity of irredentist maps showing Turkey with borders expanded into the former Ottoman Empire, usually including Adjara.[43]



Turkish refugees from the Veliko Tarnovo district coming into Shumen (1877).
The Bulgarian Martyresses, by Konstantin Makovsky (1877). A painting from the April Uprising, it sparked outrage in the West against Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria.

Before 1878, Turks accounted for an estimated one-third of the population of Bulgaria.[44] In 1876, approximately 70% of the country's arable land belonged to Turks. This number declined from 1923–49, when an estimated 220,000 Turks moved from Bulgaria to Turkey, a migration encouraged by the Turkish government. Another wave of about 155,000 left Bulgaria from 1949–51, many of them forcibly expelled.[45][46]

In 1984, the government implemented Bulgarisation policies to limit the cultural and ethnic influence of Bulgarian Turks. Approximately 800,000 Turks were forced to adopt Bulgarian names. Furthermore, Turks were not allowed to attend Muslim ceremonies,[47] speak Turkish in public places, or wear traditional Turkish clothing.[48] This led, a few years later, to the biggest exodus in Europe since World War II: After the Bulgaria–Turkey border was opened in June 1989, approximately 350,000 Turks left Bulgaria on tourist visas in the span of three months.[49] Eventually, more than 150,000 Turks returned to Bulgaria—especially after the removal of Todor Zhivkov from power—but more than 200,000 chose to remain in Turkey permanently.[50]

Former Bulgarian prime minister, Boyko Borisov, has been accused of having anti-Turkish tendencies.[51] In December 2009, he backed a referendum, proposed by the nationalist party Attack (Bulgarian: Атака), on whether to allow daily Turkish-language news broadcasts on Bulgarian National Television, although he later withdrew his support.[52] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then the Turkish prime minister, "expressed his concern of rising anti-Turkish sentiments in Bulgaria"[53] to the Bulgarian prime minister. The Turkish Foreign Ministry also "expressed its concern over the rising heated rhetoric in Bulgaria".[54] According to a report by Ivan Dikov, "not just Атака but a large number of Bulgarians have resented the news in Turkish".[52]

Borisov also referred to Turks (and Romani) as "bad human material" in 2009.[55][56][57][58] The vice president of the Party of European Socialists, Jan Marinus Wiersma, said Borisov had "crossed the invisible line between right wing populism and extremism".[59]

Former Yugoslavia[edit]

After the Ottoman Empire fell in the early 20th century, many Turks fled as Muhacirs (refugees). Others intermarried or simply identified themselves as Yugoslavs or Albanians to avoid stigma and persecution.[60]

Historically, from the Ottoman conquest through the 19th century, many ethnically non-Turkish groups—especially the Slavic Muslims of the Balkans—were referred to in local languages as Turks. This usage is common in literature, including in the works of Ivan Mažuranić and Petar II Petrović-Njegoš. The religious ideology of Christoslavism, coined by Michael Sells, holds that "Slavs are Christian by nature and that any conversion from Christianity is a betrayal of the Slavic race".[61] Under this ideology, as seen in Croatian and Serbian nationalism, South Slavic Muslims are not regarded as part of their ethnic kin; by virtue of their Muslim faith, they become "Turks".[62]


A long series of events—the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman practices such as the Devşirme, the Greek genocide, the 1955 Istanbul pogrom, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the Aegean dispute—contributed to the rise of anti-Turkism in Greece.

Turks have lived in Western Thrace, an area of northeastern Greece, since the Ottoman conquest of the region in the 15th century. In 1922, Turks owned 84% of the land in Western Thrace. Today, however, estimates range from 20–40%, largely because of policies under which ethnic Greeks were encouraged to purchase Turkish land with soft loans granted by the state.[63][64]

The Turkish government estimates that the Turks of Western Thrace number between 120,000 and 130,000.[65][66] However, the Greeks claim that the Muslim population there includes people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds—primarily the Pomaks (a Slavic people) and the Muslim Roma—and that Sunni Muslims who identify ethnically as Turks are the minority. Thus, the Greek government refers to the Muslims of Western Thrace—whom Turkey sees as the "Turkish community"—as Greek Muslims or Hellenic Muslims, and does not recognise any specific Turkish minority.[65] Greek courts have outlawed the use of the word "Turkish" to describe the community. In 1987, the Supreme Court of Greece affirmed a 1986 decision in which the Union of Turkish Associations of Western Thrace was ordered closed for illegally using it.[67] The court held that the word "Turkish" referred specifically to citizens of Turkey and could not be used to describe citizens of Greece.[67]


The island of Cyprus became an independent state in 1960, with power shared between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots under the London–Zürich Agreements. But in December 1963, in events that became known as Bloody Christmas,[68] Turkish Cypriots were ousted from the republic and Greek Cypriots began a military campaign against them, leading to 11 years of ethnic clashes.[69] Turkish Cypriots bore the heavier cost in terms of casualties, and some 25,000—about a fifth of the population of Turkish Cypriots—were internally displaced.[70] They lived as refugees for at least ten years, until the 1974 Turkish invasion.[70] By the late 1960s, approximately 60,000 Turkish Cypriots had left their homes and moved into enclaves.[71] This resulted in an exodus of Turkish Cypriots, with the majority migrating to the United Kingdom and others to Turkey, North America, and Australia.[72]


The Solingen arson attack of 1993, in which neo-Nazis set fire to a Turkish family's home, was one of the most severe instances of xenophobic violence in modern Germany.

Turks are "the most prominent ethnic minority group in contemporary Germany",[73] and discrimination and violence against them are common.[74][75] In public discourse and popular jokes, they are often portrayed as "ludicrously different in their food tastes, dress, names, and even in their ability to develop survival techniques".[76]

The number of violent acts by right-wing extremists in Germany increased dramatically between 1990 and 1992.[77] On November 25, 1992, three Turkish residents were killed in a firebombing in Mölln, a town in northern Germany.[78][79] And on May 29, 1993, in an arson attack in Solingen, five members of a Turkish family that had resided in Germany for 23 years were burnt to death.[80] Several neighbours heard someone shout "Heil Hitler!" before dousing the front porch and door with gasoline and setting fire to the home.[81] Most Germans condemned these attacks, and many marched in candlelight processions.[82]

According to Greg Nees, "because Turks are both darker-skinned and Muslim, conservative Germans are largely against granting them citizenship".[83]


The Maltese have a colourful vocabulary stemming from their fight against the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. For example, the expression tghammed tork is used when the sun is visible during rainfall; it means "a Turk has been baptised", which was considered a rare event. The phrase twieled tork ("a Turk was born") is also used. Another expression is haqq ghat-torok ("curse on the Turks"), used when something goes wrong.[84]


Turks are the second-largest ethnic minority group in the Netherlands.[85] Although policies toward Turks in the Netherlands are more progressive than those in many other European countries, such as Germany,[86] Human Rights Watch criticized Dutch legislation that it said violated Turks' rights.[87] In a report on the Netherlands in 2008, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance wrote that the Turkish minority had been particularly affected by "stigmatisation of and discrimination against members of minority groups".[88] The report also noted that "the tone of Dutch political and public debate around integration and other issues relevant to ethnic minorities has experienced a dramatic deterioration".[88]

According to the European Network Against Racism, an international organisation supported by the European Commission, half of all Turks in the Netherlands report having experienced racial discrimination.[89] The network also noted "dramatic growth" of Islamophobia and antisemitism. In 2001, another international organisation, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, highlighted a negative trend in Dutch attitudes towards minorities, compared with average European Union results.[90] That analysis also noted that, compared to other Europeans, the Dutch were "more in favour of cultural assimilation of minorities" rather than "cultural enrichment by minority groups".

Russia and former Soviet Union[edit]

A World War I Russian propaganda poster depicting an imagined Turk running away from a Russian.

In the Soviet Union, the NKVD and the Red Army carried out ethnic cleansing during World War II through mass deportations of Turks.[91] In June 1945, Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet minister of foreign affairs, formally demanded that Turkey surrender three Armenian provinces (Kars, Ardahan, and Artvin), and Moscow was also preparing to support Armenian claims to several other provinces. War against Turkey seemed possible, and Joseph Stalin wanted to drive out Turks (especially in Meskheti, near the Turkish–Georgian border) who were likely to be hostile to Soviet intentions.[92] The campaign is relatively poorly documented, but Soviet sources suggest that 115,000 Turks were deported, mainly to Central Asia. Most of them settled in Uzbekistan,[93] but many others died along the way.[94]

In 1989, 103 people died and more than 1,000 were wounded in ethnic clashes between Turks and Uzbeks. Some 700 houses were destroyed, and more than 90,000 Meskhetian Turks were driven out of Uzbekistan.[95] Many Turks see these events as their "second deportation". Those who remained in Uzbekistan complained of ethnic discrimination.[96]

Although some Turks have since come back to Meskheti, the Georgians and Armenians who settled in their homes have vowed to take up arms against any who return. Many Georgians have also argued that the Meskhetian Turks should be sent to Turkey, "where they belong".[97]

More recently, some Turks in Russia, especially Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar, have faced human rights violations, including deprivation of citizenship and prohibitions on employment and owning property.[98] Since 2004, many Turks have left the Krasnodar region for the United States as refugees. They are still barred from full repatriation to Georgia.[99]

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