Turkish immigration to North America, apart from large numbers of students, has remained relatively small. It has been supplemented, however, by a growing number of resident refugees or asylum seekers. Surrounded by instability and war in Cyprus, Armenia, Macedonia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the region of Kurdistan, Turkey has been the first stop for thousands of refugees hoping to immigrate to North America. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 117,575 Americans and 24,910 Canadians claimed Turkish descent. The actual number of Turks in both countries is considerably larger, as ethnic Turks have immigrated via Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Macedonia. The largest concentration of Turkish Americans are in New York City, and Rochester, New York; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit, Michigan. About 58 percent of Turkish Canadians live in Ontario, most in Toronto, and there is a sizable Turkish community in Montreal.
Turkey occupies 297,200 square miles in Asia Minor, stretching into continental Europe. It is bordered on the south and east by the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and on the north by the Black Sea. Bulgaria and Greece border Turkey on the west; Georgia and Armenia, on the north; Iran, on the east; and Iraq and Syria, on the south. In 2001, the population was estimated at 66,229,000. Turkey’s population is diverse, including 65 percent Turks, 19 percent Kurds, 7 percent Tatars, and 2 percent Arabs. More than 97 percent are Muslims, about two-thirds of these Sunni Muslims. The historic region of Asia Minor—roughly coterminus with modern Turkey—was the center of the ancient Hittite Empire (2000–1200 B.C.) and the core of the Christian Byzantine Empire (476–1453) and Muslim Ottoman Empire (1453–1918). Various Turkish tribes migrating from central Asia between the 11th and 15th centuries were converted to Islam and progressively conquered Byzantine territories. By 1453, the last Christian stronghold, Constantinople, was conquered. During the 16th century, the new Ottoman Empire expanded rapidly, conquering the Balkan Peninsula and Hungary. As late as 1689, the empire was still threatening Vienna and central Europe. The Ottoman Empire gradually declined during the 18th and 19th centuries as European countries rapidly embraced new technologies and industrialization. The combined force of nationalistic movements and European imperialism during the 19th century led to the empire’s loss of Greece, North Africa, Serbia, Egypt, Romania, Bosnia, and Bessarabia prior to World War I (1914–18), which the Turks entered on the side of the losing Central Powers. At the war’s end, Turkey lost its Arab lands (see Arab immigration; Lebanese immigration; Syrian immigration), but an abortive attempt by the Allied Powers to partition Asia Minor was beaten back by Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who helped establish a republic in 1923. By the mid-1930s Ataturk had instituted a parliamentary governmental system, secularized the courts and education, implemented a Latin alphabetical system, officially renamed the capital Istanbul, promoted women’s rights, and outlawed polygyny. Since World War II (1939–45), Turkey has been a strong Western ally, particularly during the cold war. It also supported the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War. During the later 20th century, Turkey was frequently at odds with Greece over the governance of Cyprus and with its Arab neighbors over the importation of Western secularism into the region.
Turks began to emigrate from the Ottoman Empire to North America in significant numbers around 1900, with numbers peaking between then and 1923. Most immigrants were from the Balkans and the eastern provinces, where the Armenian revolt was occurring. About 22,000 immigrated during this period, more than 93 percent of these immigrants being men, though many returned when the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923. It has been estimated that 86 percent of Turkish immigrants to the United States between 1899 and 1924 returned. During the 1920s, Turks speaking many languages, including Turkish, Kurdish, Albanian, and Arabic, settled in mostly industrial enclaves throughout the northern United States, with the largest settlement in Detroit. With the Kurdish revolt against the new secular state in the 1920s and 1930s, Turks and Kurds gradually evolved separate ethnic affiliations. From World War II until passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Turkish immigration was small, mostly confined to students. A significant portion of these were sponsored by the Turkish military in order to promote advanced technical training for their officers. Immigration to the United States steadily increased after 1965, averaging about 1,300 annually during the 1970s, 2,300 in the 1980s, and 3,800 in the 1990s, though many coming in the 1990s were refugees from other countries who had first come to Turkey. Nonrefugee immigration between 2000 and 2002 averaged about 3,000 per year.
The limited Turkish immigration to Canada prior to the early 1960s consisted primarily of students and professionals, especially doctors and engineers. As in the case of the United States, many of the students were sponsored by the Turkish government in order to gain greater technical skills within the military. Significant Turkish immigration to Canada began only after 1960, though this, too, remained relatively small. During the 1960s and early 1970s, most Turks came for educational and economic opportunities, but with a variety of conflicts in the 1970s and 1980s erupting in Cyprus, eastern Turkey, and Bulgaria, many left for political reasons. Many of these immigrants were unskilled and displaced workers, and others were refugees from the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Of the 16,405 Turkish immigrants in Canada in 2001, fewer than 700 came before 1961; 3,400 between 1981 and 1990; and 7,840 between 1991 and 2001. An undetermined number of more than 4,000 Cypriots who came between 1961 and 2001 were Turkish.