The Turks of Europe and America

By Prof. Faruk Sen - Germany
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The history of Turkish immigration to Europe just reached its 45th anniversary mark. The overall number of Turkish immigrants worldwide is only surpassed by the 25 million Chinese, the 20 million Indians, and the Jews (exact numbers are not available) who have left their home countries.
Therefore Turkish immigration is ranked 4th in the world and can be considered to make up one of the most important immigration waves worldwide. Compared to the immigration population of Chinese and Indians, which has been increasing since the 18th and 19th centuries and the Jewish migration, which had its starting point in Europe in 1492, the Turkish population outside Turkey has increased considerably in the last 45 years.

Whereas the Turkish immigrants in the USA, Canada and Australia have managed to achieve overall success, the ones who immigrated to Europe were labelled as “guest workers”. This peculiar perception was and is one of the main reasons for the problems that Turkish immigrants are facing in Europe.

In recent years, the public perception of Turkish immigrants in Europe has been changing in so far that it has been accepted that this group will stay and settle in their new countries. Therefore the problems that were connected with the idea that Turks were temporary visitors are decreasing in intensity. With a population of 4 million, the Turks are the largest immigration community within the European Union that has its origin outside the EU. A study which has been issued by the Center for Studies on Turkey and which was published in TurkofAmerica underlines a fact: Compared with the Armenians, Greeks and Jews living in the USA, the achievements of the American Turks are clearly visible. Now, Turkish immigrants are successfully taking part in the political, economic, cultural and sports life of their new countries and have no problems adopting a new citizenship.

If you talk about the Turkish Americans, it is not unusual to have persons in mind who have no problem displaying their new American identity but managed to preserve their Turkish origin at the same time. Examples can be found at the “Turkish Day Parade” that is held every year in New York. At the corresponding ball, the US national anthem is followed by the Turkish one and all the people attending enjoy the performances of Turkish entertainers like Muslum Gurses or Izzet Altinmese afterwards. On the next day, those people can be seen marching in the Turkish Day Parade, many women dressed in the stars and crescents of the Turkish flag.

In contrast, for Turks living in France or Germany, it is quite uncommon to sing the national anthem of the country they are living in at similar events. While still sticking to the Turkish national anthem only, any dress in the Turkish national colours would be considered a novelty at any “Turkish Day” held in Europe. Such an outfit is considered to be a sign of nationalism by the European public, and nationalism is viewed negatively.

Today, Americans of Turkish origin – estimates speak of 400,000 – can be found in every economic sector. It is no longer true that the Turkish Americans only have white collar jobs. The very opposite development can be observed in France and Germany. At first the Turks arrived as simple workers in these countries. Coming from rural areas, these people have quickly adapted themselves to the life in an industrialized society. Many of those have moved upwards in society and can be found in the middle and upper classes now. In Europe, not only is the number of Turkish academicians increasing, but also in sports and arts Turkish people have found their place and are visible to the public. In America this is different. In Europe the situation has grown out of the preceding development that many Turks – and especially Turkish women – managed to achieve success despite the rather bad image they have in these countries. Today, 24% of all European Turk entrepreneurs and 42% of all university students of Turkish origin are female. Even in the Center for Studies for Turkey, which is based in Europe and which can look back on a 21-year old history, 60% of all employees are young female Turkish academicians.

In general it can be claimed that the overall number of Turks in Europe, North America, Australia and even the Far East is steadily increasing. Meanwhile, the Turks that have moved to such places in order to start up a business of their own are being followed by the ones that have a religious mission. This is even true for countries far away as Thailand or Indonesia.

If we examine the Turks of the world, it becomes apparent that the European Turks still hold a Turkish identity as their main identity, but the Turks of North America and Australia have already developed a dual identity consisting of a Turkish one and the one of their host country. The saddest part of the story is nevertheless the fact that it is difficult for Turks to find points in common. This might be a heritage of the multi-cultural and multi-voiced Ottoman society.

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07