Diversity of Istanbul

Oh, well let me tell you a little story about Istanbul – the city that just keeps on growing! In the early years of the republic, Ankara was chosen as Turkey’s capital to distance itself from its Ottoman past, leaving poor Istanbul feeling overlooked and neglected. But don’t worry, Istanbul got its revenge in the 1950s by undergoing some serious cosmetic surgery, with new public squares, boulevards, and avenues being built left, right, and center. Who needs historical buildings when you can have shiny new ones, am I right?

In 1960, Istanbul’s population was 1,8 million. In 1980, it was up to 4,7.

And if that wasn’t enough, Istanbul decided to up the ante in the 1970s by welcoming everyone and their grandma to the city, resulting in a population explosion of epic proportions. But don’t believe everything you read, because according to the official government numbers, Istanbul only has a measly 14 million inhabitants. Yeah, right! If you ask any self-respecting Istanbulite, they’ll tell you it’s more like 20 million. And who are we to argue with the people?

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Oh wow, Istanbul is truly a melting pot of cultures and diversity, thanks to the mass migration that brought almost all of Turkey to this great city. It’s like a real-life version of “It’s a Small World After All”! With so much variety, complexity, and multi-layeredness, it’s no wonder that Istanbul is both a dream and a nightmare for its inhabitants. But let’s not forget, Istanbul may be part of Turkish land, but it’s not necessarily full of Turks. Who are Turks, anyway? That’s a million-dollar question!

According to a possible list of ethnic groups living in Turkey, we have the Turkic-speaking peoples, like the Turks, Azeris, Tatars, Karachays, Karakalpaks, Uzbeks, Crimean Tatars, and Uyghurs. Then we have the Indo-European-speaking peoples, such as the Kurds, Zaza-Dimli Kurds, Bosniaks, Albanians, Pomaks, Armenians, Hamshenis, Gorani, and Greeks. And let’s not forget the Semitic-speaking peoples, like the Arabs, Assyrians/Syriacs, and Jews. Last but not least, the Caucasian-speaking peoples, including the Circassians, Georgians, Laz, and Chechens. So, if you’re looking for a diverse and confusing mix of people, look no further than Istanbul! It’s like the United Nations, but with more kebabs and baklava.

Well, according to the CIA World Factbook from 2012, Turkey’s population is 70-75% ethnic Turks, with Kurds making up 18%, and other minorities accounting for 7-12%. A 2008 report prepared by academics from three Turkish universities in eastern Anatolia estimated that there are approximately 55 million ethnic Turks, 12.6 million Kurds, 2.5 million Circassians, 2 million Bosniaks, 500,000-1.3 million Albanians, 1 million Georgians, 870,000 Arabs, 600,000 Pomaks, 80,000 Laz, 60,000 Armenians, 25,000 Assyrians/Syriacs, 20,000 Jews, and 15,000 Greeks living in Turkey. But let’s face it, those numbers are probably a little bit ‘optimistic’…

And don’t even get me started on the religious demographics. With 42.3% of the population defining themselves as “a believer who does not fulfill religious obligations,” and 10.3% identifying as “someone who does not believe in religious obligations” (aka non-believers), it’s safe to say that Istanbul is one exciting city lately! Who needs organized religion when you have the vibrant energy of a bustling metropolis like Istanbul?