Genealogical Characteristics of Turkey
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Although Turkey is a Muslim country, Islam ceased to be the official religion of Turkey in 1928 and Turkey is now a secular state. Freedom of religion is ensured in the constitution. The population of Turkey is now mostly Muslim Turks. The only significant minority are the Muslim Kurds who constitute about 17% of the total population. Two-thirds of the Muslims in Turkey belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. The other third are Shiites.
Historically Turkey had several significant minorities, particularly the Armenians, Greeks and Kurds. In the 1870s, the area of modern Turkey had about 800,000, or 7%, Christians (chiefly Armenians and Greeks). In the 1920s population exchanges with Greece and the expulsion and massacre of Armenians changed the composition of the population. There are almost no Greeks left in Turkey and Armenians are few.
Turkish is a non-Semitic language unrelated to Arabic. Until 1928 it was written mostly in a modified Arabic alphabet. The Roman alphabet with several diacritic marks was introduced in 1928 and is now accepted as the official alphabet of the language. Records of the Ottoman Empire were generally written in Turkish in the old Arabic script. In older documents the sijâqat form of the script was used; it is extremely challenging to read. A few records are written in Arabic. There are almost no historical document written in Kurdish. The records of various Christian minorities are in Armenian, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, or Syriac, each with its own distinctive writing system.
Naming customs in Turkey present a problem for family history research. Until the twentieth century, most Turks had no surnames. They followed the Islamic custom of using one name, given at birth, relying on a patronymic or a word indicating some special attribute for more precise identification. In most registers only given names and patronymic are given. In 1934, the new regime issued an edict requiring that all Turks take family names.