Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents


Peoples from the Caucasus

Three small but distinct ethnic groups (aside from the more numerous Armenians) have their origins in the Caucasus Mountains: the Circassians, the Georgians (including the Abkhaz), and the Laz. Approximately 70,000 Circassian Muslim immigrants, most originally from Russia, gradually settled, beginning in the late eighteenth century, in the Adana region, where they and their descendants continue to live as farmers and farm laborers.

The Muslim Georgians and Laz are concentrated in the northeastern provinces. The Laz, who are primarily Black Sea fisherfolk, live in villages near the coastal city of Rize. The term Georgian actually refers to several different peoples who speak similar but mutually unintelligible languages. One distinct group of Georgians are the Abkhaz, who are primarily cultivators and herders. Most Georgians live in Artvin Province, particularly east of the Çoruh River and along the border with Georgia.


The Dönme are descendants of the Jewish followers of a self-proclaimed messiah, Sabbatai Sebi (or Zevi, 1626-76), who was forced by the sultan to convert to Islam in 1666. Their doctrine includes Jewish and Islamic elements. They consider themselves Muslims and officially are recognized as such. Their name is the Turkish word for convert , but it carries overtones of turncoat as well.

The Dönme have been successful in business and in the professions, but historically they have not been part of the social elite because neither Jews nor Muslims fully accept them. Experience with prejudice inclines some Dönme to hide their identity to avoid discrimination and also has encouraged the Dönme to become a tightly knit, generally endogamous group. Since the early 1980s, however, overt discrimination has lessened, and intermarriage between Dönme and other Muslims has grown common.

Data as of January 1995