URAL MANÇO: Contributions

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The emigrants that started leaving Turkey for Western Europe in the early 1960s are victims of a lack of knowledge, although they account for a quarter of the non-EU nationals living in the European Union. A certain number of facts define the socio-economic, demographic and cultural structures of the population of Turkish immigrant descent in Europe. 

Not counting the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants whose very clandestinity places them outside the statistics, there are currently more than three million immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and naturalized citizens and political refugees from Turkey in Western Europe. This is the largest non-European immigrant group in the Union. Although its members are found in practically every Member State, Germany alone harbours two-thirds of the community.

General features

While the socio-economic and cultural problems experienced by the various Muslim immigrant groups in Europe are quite similar, the Turkish immigrants differ from other Muslim immigrants, primarily from North Africa and from the Balkans, by the following factors: a later phenomenon (Turkey signed its first labour export agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany in October 1961; this agreement was followed by similar agreements with the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria in 1964, France in 1965, and Sweden in 1967); rural origins; geographical concentration, family-based structure; preservation of the native language; lack of economic qualifications; and the creation of community organizations.

  • Economic exclusion; 

  • cultural marginality, which is asserted notably by the persistence of ethnic family traditions, such as the code of honour and finding a spouse from one's parents' village; 

  • the widespread lack of mastery of the host country's language; 

  • and the clustering in underprivileged neighbourhoods that are highly ethnically structured (shops, cafes, associations, mosques, etc.),

these are structural factors that reflect the development of strong community ties seen within this population. The severe problems of socio-economic integration with which Turkish immigrants and their descendants are faced are well known. The young people have high academic failure rates and are often relegated to vocational education. Most of those who have jobs are unskilled workers, while the community's unemployment rate is well above that affecting the 'indigenous' European population.

Population increase and geographic concentration

The largest number of Turkish immigrant workers is to be found in Germany, of course, followed by the Benelux countries, France, Austria, and Switzerland. Germany took in an influx of men alone between 1961 and 1973. This was followed by the massive arrival of their families up until about 1981. Elsewhere in Europe the purely male migration took place from 1965 to 1974. Family reunifications were likewise spread over the period up until and including the first half of the '80s. As a result, Europe's Turkish population consists of a majority of families, with almost total male/female parity (for example, 45.3% of Germany's Turkish population are women; the rates are 46.4% in the Netherlands and 48.8% in Belgium). The Turkish diaspora in Europe is growing steadily. For Western Europe as a whole it rose from 1,988 million in 1985 to 3,034 million in 1996 (2,944 million in the EU countries). This is a 52.6% increase over one decade.

There are two explanations for this growth. First of all, despite the limits set by the host countries, immigration from Turkey is continuing through marriage. Indeed, many young people continue to respect the custom of wedding someone from their parents' native village, and in many cases the spouses even belong to the same family. Inter-ethnic marriages are rarer among the Turks than among other immigrant groups from the Muslim world (the spouses in half of the 13,659 marriages registered by the Turkish consular authorities in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria in 1996 were both Turkish nationals). Secondly, the Turkish community in Europe has a birth rate of about 2.6% per year in the mid-90's (this is higher than the 2.3% birth rate in Turkey). This high birth rate gives rise to another demographic consequence, namely, it is a young population, a third of which is under 18 years of age. More than 80% of these young people have been born and schooled in Europe.

The immigrants consist almost exclusively of rural folk, most of whom had never lived in a town for any extended period of time prior to emigrating. What is more, these people had never co-existed with a European culture or language before emigrating since, unlike the other countries of emigration in the Muslim world, Turkey was never colonised. In the host countries these peasants-turned-workers tend to settle in clusters according to their localities of origin. To the extent possible, people from the same village or the members of a family will settle close to each other.

So, one quarter of the Turkish immigrants over 18 who live in Belgium was born in Afyon Province (Western Anatolia). There is a similar concentration of Turks from notably Karaman Province (Central Anatolia) in the Netherlands. The Turks living in Sweden come primarily from Kulu (Konya Province, Central Anatolia), while 60% of Denmark's Turkish immigrants come from the Kurdish areas of South-east Anatolia. Family ties (akrabalık) and regional ties (hemserilik) are still just as strong. The community lifestyle and resulting social control are still largely intact among Turkish immigrants. The traditional family hierarchy is reproduced as well to a great extent, notably through marriages in the native villages. These alliances can be interpreted as a partial but constant renewal of the first generation of immigrants.

The geographic concentration and concomitant Germanic cast of Europe's Turkish immigrants are noteworthy. We have already pointed out that two-thirds of the Turkish colony is in Germany. Europe's German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland - 9/10 of Switzerland's Turks live in the German-speaking cantons) harbour 74% of these immigrants. In comparison with Turks nearly 70% of the 2.5 million North African immigrants from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia who have settled in Europe live in French-speaking countries (France, French-speaking part of Belgium, and Switzerland).

What is more, 35% of the 2.014 million Turks living in Germany are settled in North Rhineland-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen). Close to 1/4 (23.1%) of Europe's Turkish immigrants thus live in this German state. However, the prize goes to Berlin which, with its 136,400 Turks, hosts all by itself close to 5% of the Turkish immigrants in Europe. This pattern of concentration is seen in other countries as well. Thus, 64% of the Turkish population in the UK live in Greater London, half of Sweden's Turks are in Stockholm, while half of Denmark's Turks live in Copenhagen. Close to one-third (32%) of Austria's Turkish immigrants live in Vienna and a quarter of France's Turks live in and around Paris. As for Belgium, close to one-fourth of the country's Turkish immigrants live in five of the Brussels-Capital Region's 19 boroughs. Finally, 21% of the Turks who have settled in Switzerland live in the canton of Zurich.

Turkish population in the main European host countries in 1996

Host  country

Population of Turkish origin in thousands


2,014.3 (66.4%)


261 (8.6%)


260.1 (8.6%)


142.2 (4.7%)


119.0 (3.9%)


79.4 (2.6%)

United Kingdom

58.2 (1.9%)


35.7 (1.2%)


35.7 (1.2%)


15.0 (0.5%)


10.0 (0.3%)

Total (Western Europe)

3,034.5 (100%)

Schooling and social issues

Turkish immigrants' children everywhere in Europe grapple with major educational problems and the majority are 'stuck' in vocational education, even though the level of instruction is tending to rise across the board and their educational performance is improving slowly. Only 6.4% of the 18/25-year-olds of Turkish descent in Germany in 1996 were students. In Belgium this rate was even lower (4.4%), according to the 1991 census. In contrast, more than 30% of the 18/25-year-olds in these two countries are in higher education. Even in Turkey, 17.6% of the 20/25-year-olds were enrolled in higher education in 1996.

A constant in all of the host countries is that the national or regional language is not mastered sufficiently by a large enough proportion of the population. However, the situation seems to be changing in the second and third generations, where the young people often speak Turkish less well than the languages of the countries in which they were born. However, the overwhelming majority of families continue to speak Turkish at home. The immigrants from Turkey come from a country that is characterised by a certain linguistic homogeneity, despite its many minorities. So, young Turks have little difficulty understanding the press, radio and television broadcasts, films, and songs of their 'home country'.

The Turkish language's resiliency is due in part to the simplicity of its syntax. What is more, Turkish is written in Latin characters, unlike Arabic, for example, and does not suffer from a radical dichotomy between a spoken language of the people and scholarly written language. The persistence of Turkish is helped by an abundance of written and audio-visual media. Using a dish antenna, it is possible to pick up 12 Turkish TV stations, 8 of them private, as well as FM radio stations. Moreover, Turkey's main public television network, TRT-INT, and a private station, Euroshow, have been broadcast by the cable in parts of Germany and the Benelux for several years. Three major national dailies began to be distributed in Europe in the early '70s and six national dailies are currently available in Europe's major cities.

The direct consequence of poor schooling is the lack of vocational qualifications. Europe's Turks suffer greatly from this. The majority of Europe's working Turks have precarious low-paying unskilled jobs. They are over-represented in metal engineering, industrial and office cleaning, building, public works, and the garment industry. In most cases the children follow in their parents' footsteps. The number of young people of Turkish immigrant stock who have taken degrees in higher education is still rather small. These socio-professional characteristics marginalise the Turkish community on the labour market. In 1996, the unemployment rate among the EU's Turks was 25.9% compared with an 11% unemployment rate for the entire population.

From migrant workers to businessmen

The difficulty of getting work has encouraged some immigrants to set up their own businesses. The Turks' geographic concentration, their community lifestyle, in which a Turkish shopkeeper is always preferred over other shopkeepers, and the low cost of family labour have allowed some businesses to flourish. However, these originally modest undertakings are attracting a non-exclusively Turkish clientele more and more. The development of a class of businessmen in Europe increases the complexity of the Turkish immigrant population's social stratification while giving it a new dynamism. Henceforward, a Turkish population plagued by socio-economic marginalisation co-exists with a small class of businessmen that has the wind in its sails.

The percentage of self-employed people and employers among the working Turkish immigrant population rose from 3% in 1985 to 5.2% in 1996. No fewer than 57,900 self-employed persons and heads of companies of Turkish origin were working in Europe - 42,000 in Germany, 4,700 in the Netherlands, 3,500 in France, and 2,000 in Austria - in 1996. The total investments of these entrepreneurs in Germany stood at DM 8.9 billion and their total turnover was DM 36 billion. They employed an estimated 186,000 people. More than a dozen organizations of Turkish immigrant employers have been created in Western Europe since 1990.

Identities and associative organizations

Islam is by far the most important mark of belonging and identity in the Turkish immigrant community, even though many other such ties exist. Turkish immigrants' attachment to the many facets of their native culture is not weakened by living in Europe. This population has recreated in Europe all of the social, political, religious, and ethnic cleavages of Turkey by setting up a true web of immigrant associations, from local associations and local mosques to Europe-wide federations. The largest and best organized of these federations are of an Islamic bent.

These organizations have become large networks catering to specific clienteles, to whom they offer social, cultural, religious, educational, and commercial services across Europe. For instance, the Cologne-based federation İslam Toplumu-Milli Görüş/Islamische Gemeinschaft-Milli Görüş (Islamic Community - Denominational Vision) is believed to have an audience of some 300,000 and nearly 800 local chapters throughout Europe (1996). The federation's members and their families, who likewise benefit from the federation's services, thus allegedly account for a tenth of Europe's Turkish population!

The creation of community organizations by Europe's Turkish immigrants has many purposes. Rather than being prompted by 'tradition' or the will to preserve what is considered their cultural roots, the creation of such organizations, be they local or continental, seems to be proof of acceding to 'modernity'. Had they not left their Anatolian villages, these immigrants would probably never have been active in creating such socio-political organizations now heading towards bureaucratisation, whether Islamic or not. This is the first time that these peasants-turned-migrants find themselves in the position of social actors by contributing to the existence of such associative movements. Moreover, these associations are always founded as non-profit associations in line with the host country's laws. In their local activities they comply with the principles of participatory management that are required by the various national laws.

Turkish immigrant organizations play an undeniable role in the formation of identities and opinions, as well as in setting up the more or less stringent social control that reigns in this community. These associations seem at first glance to limit the process of the emancipation of its components, especially young people and women. Actually, in a considerable number of cases they prevent isolation, excessive marginality, and juvenile delinquency. They channel social discontent and the fear of cultural assimilation towards ideological or religious certainties, thereby meeting the search for identity and a positive self-image, the need for appreciation and recognition that is expressed by this population. The Turkish population throughout Europe thus appears to be a socio-economically weakened group that seeks to give substance to a certain retreat within the community.


Turkish immigrants seem to have developed a community logic that shares several features with the minority integration model that reigns in the English-speaking world, regardless of the host country's immigration policies and prevailing philosophy of integration. With regard to Turkish immigrants, talking about community life is tantamount to talking about dense community ties confined to the island-like space of a working-class neighbourhood. Europe's Turkish immigrants appear to cultivate their difference. They are in the process of weaving a unique cross-border diaspora identity in terms of its magnitude and demographic weight.

The idea is to maintain and expand formal group ties through federations of associations and extensive cultural, political, commercial, and familial ties with the country of origin. At the same time, Turkish nationals abroad are encouraged by a very active diplomatic corps and religious and media structures to acquire the nationality of their country of residence and create Turkish economic interest groups and electorates in Europe. The long-term aim is to create an economic and intellectual elite capable of playing the role of an ethnic lobby along the lines of the North American model so as to influence relations between Turkey and the European Union, which Turkey has been applying to join since the '60s.

Ural Manço



        Cahiers d'Etudes sur la Mediterranée orientale et le Monde Turco-iranien (1992), special issue on Turkish immigration in Germany and France, Paris: Centre d'Etude des Relations internationales, n°13.

        Cahiers d'Etudes sur la Mediterranée orientale et le Monde Turco-iranien (1996), special issue on Turkish migrant women in Europe, Paris: Centre d'Etude des Relations internationales, n°21.

        Les Annales de l'Autre Islam (1995), special issue on Turkish diaspora in the World, Paris: Institut national des Langues et des Civilisations orientales, n°3.

* This paper has not been published  as yet. Ural Manço is a sociologist, researcher at the Centre d'Etudes Sociologiques, Facultes Universitaires Saint-Louis, Brussels, Belgium.

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