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Christian Turks

Photo: Young girls playing the Konya Welcome in the Mandıra village of Larissa, Greece, show that not only Karamanlı language but also Anatolian culture was transferred to Greece with the exchange.


There were some Turks who converted to Christianity in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Turks, who converted to Christianity under the influence of the Russians, became subject to the Orthodox sect.

Christianity is one of the universal and great religions that Turks have come into contact with since a certain period of their religious history. The contact of Turks with Christianity dates back to ancient times.

Barthold states that Manichaeism certainly began to spread in Central Asia before Christianity, and that this was in III AD. He thinks it can be dated to the 19th century. Information about the existence of Christianity in Central Asia is IV. century, it does not go back more (Barthold, 1975: 19).

The contacts of the Turks with Christianity were mostly with the eastern churches. In this context, Orthodoxy takes the first place. However, when it comes to Central Asia, not the Byzantine church, but the Nestorians, who were followed closely by the Byzantine Church  during the Sassanid period,  first took refuge in Iran; later it entered into the Turks (Güngör, 2002, C.3: 275).

Like the transition of Nestorianism to Iran and its spread to other countries, its entry into Central Asia was largely through trade routes. Starting from Asia Minor, the international Silk Road, passing through the major cities of Transoxiana such as Baykent, Bukhara and Samarkand, while providing economic development on the one hand, brought many religions and cultures with it on the other hand, causing the Turks in the region to come into contact with these spiritual elements.( Togan, 1981, C.1: 94).

Christianity, which entered Transoxiana, spread rapidly, benefiting from the years-long struggles between Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, and soon became a dominant religion in the environment.

Nestorianism managed to penetrate among the Karluks, Kyrgyz, Uyghurs, Naymans, Kereites and Cumans. Nestorian Christians, in Central Asia, used Uyghur Turkish besides Syriac, especially they wrote their books in Syriac alphabet and translated many books from Syriac into Turkish. They also used Persian. They used the Turkish Calendar with Twelve Animals on the dates used on the tombstones (İnan, 1991.C.2:312).

Orthodoxy and other Christian denominations succeeded in penetrating and even forming permanent communities among the Turks in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans, Anatolia, Russia and Siberia.

Christianity reached the Balkans from early times and  showed a significant spread in Thrace in IV. century. The Pechenegs, Kipchaks and Uzs who turned to the West, came into contact with Zoroastrianism, Manichaean religion and Islam after the traditional Turkish religion. They were exposed to Christian propaganda from the beginning of the century.

In the Balkans and Anatolia, Gagauz, Karamanids are Orthodox Christians. These communities succeeded in preserving their language, Turkish. The people of Karaman had to immigrate to Greece in accordance with the “contract on the exchange of Turkish and Greek people and the protocol attached to it” signed in 1923. Thousands of books, inscriptions and tombstones written in Turkish with the Greek alphabet have survived from them (Güngör, 2002, C.3:278).

Chuvashes converted to Orthodox Christianity in XVIII. and XIX. centuries. Khakass are Catholic Orthodox. Yakuts are Christians. In Iraq, especially in Kirkuk, there is a Catholic Turkmen community as well as Muslim Turkmen. The population of this Turkmen Catholic community, who speaks Turkish, worships in Turkish and sings their hymns in Turkish, is around thirty thousand (Hacaloğlu, 1995:150).

The biggest reason why the Turks came under the influence of Christianity was that they had a close trade relationship with the Byzantine Empire at that time.

It is possible to collect the Turks, who are generally Christian, in three groups;

a) Turks who converted to Christianity in individuals or in small groups,
b) Those who radically changed their culture along with their religion,
c) Those who are Christian but preserve many features of their language and culture (Turan, 1994: 106).

——Orthodox Christian Turks——

• Gagauz. Moldova
• Urums. Ukraine
• Rumeys. Ukraine
• Karamanlides. Greece
• Chuvashs. Chuvashia. Russia
• Khakas. khakas. Russia
• Gorno Altai. Altai. Russia
• Yakuts. Saha. Russia
• Dolgans. Dolgan Neneth. Russia
• Tophas. Tuva-Buryat. Russia
• Tatars of Kryashen, Russia


The Gagauz (Gagauz: Gagauzlar) are a Turkic people living mostly in southern Moldova (Gagauzia, Taraclia District, Basarabeasca District) and southwestern Ukraine (Budjak). Gagauz are mostly Eastern Orthodox Christians.

total population approx. 300,000

Regions with significant populations

  • Moldova (see Gagauzia) 126,010
  • Ukraine 31,923
  • Turkey 15,000
  • Russia 13,690


Greco Tatars living on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov in Ukraine are divided into two, namely Urums and Rumeys. The Urums, a little-known Turkish community, describe themselves as “We are not Greek or Hellenic, we are Greco Tatars. Helen is different, Greco Tatar is different”.

Urums live today in the Ukrainian cities of Former Crimea, Balıklava, Kerch, Kefe, Yalta and Gözleve, the center of Donetsk province and the cities of Mariupol, Zaparoje, Dniyepropetrovsk and 27 towns connected to these cities (Starobeshova, Starolaspa, Mangush, Granitnaya, Staroignatovka, Mirna, Staromolinovka, Komar, Ulaklı, Bagatiri) and live in the villages as well.

In addition, they settled dispersedly in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia of Georgia, the region on the Russian Federation side of the Sea of ​​Azov, in various cities of Armenia, in Kuban. The most important feature of this Christian community is that they live in accordance with the Turkish language and customs.

The social life of the Urums living in Crimea is also similar to the Turkish cultural characteristics. Marriage, wedding, birth, funeral, etc. traditions, evil eye, etc. Their beliefs from the Shamanist tradition, such as the games played by children, their food, clothes and other characteristic features are similar. In addition to all these, it is observed that the names they give to the tools they use are Turkish.

In the official census conducted in 1989, it is reported that approximately 60,000 Urums live on the territory of Ukraine.

Urums, who are one of two different communities and speak Turkish, are descendants of Kipchak and Oghuz Turks.

Rumeys, Ukraine

The Rumeys, on the other hand, are a mosaic of peoples ethnically and genetically including peoples such as Turkish, Greek, Genoese and Latin. However, it was revealed by Russian researchers that this community was of Turkish origin.


Karamanlides are a community that has settled down to our proverbs, but little is known about their main characteristics. They speak Turkish, so they are considered Turkophone. Religiously, they occupy a place among the social layers as Orthodox Christian Greeks. They are known to have existed in Anatolia for hundreds of years; They lived mostly in peace with their neighbors. In the history books, especially after the Seljuk period, they are mentioned in the period of the Principalities and the Interregnum.

The term Karamanlı, in its narrow sense, includes those who lived in the Karaman region. It is known that they settled in the steppes around Niğde, Konya and Maraş, including the region where Karaman province is located today. The people of Karaman immigrated to Greece as a result of the exchange carried out within the framework of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1924.

The languages ​​of the Karamanids were a mixture of Ottoman, Ancient Greek and Greek. They used the Greek alphabet in writing. It is still possible to come across idioms and verses written in Greek but read in Turkish on the historical tombstones in the region.

Karamanlides are one of the communities that have created a cultural language in the environment they live in. Karamanlı manuscripts written between the 15th and 18th centuries and almost all Karamanlı books published after 1718 are Orthodox religious books, as can be found in other religious cultures. Among the Karaman language books published in the 19th century and the number of them exceeding five hundred, there are also historical, novel and story books as well as religious works.

The Karamanlides, or simply Karamanlis, are a Greek Orthodox, Turkish-speaking people native to the Karaman and Cappadocia regions of Anatolia. Today, a majority of the population live in Greece, though there is a sizeable diaspora in Western Europe and North America. Many Karamanlides were forced to leave their homes during the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Early estimates placed the number of Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians expelled from central and southern Anatolia at around 100,000. However, Stevan K. Pavlowitch says that the Karamanlides were numbered at around 400,000 at the time of the exchange.


The Chuvash people are a Turkic ethnic group, a branch of Oghurs, native to an area stretching from the Volga-Ural region to Siberia. Most of them live in Chuvashia and the surrounding areas, although Chuvash communities may be found throughout the Russian Federation. They speak Chuvash, a unique Turkic language that diverged from other languages ​​in the family more than a millennium ago.

Total Population 1.5 million

Regions with significant populations

  • Russia 1,435,872
  • Kazakhstan 22.305
  • Ukraine 10,593
  • Uzbekistan 10,074

Khakas. Russia

The Khakas or Khakass, are a Turkic indigenous people of Siberia, who live in the republic of Khakassia, Russia. They speak the Khakas language.

The origin of the Khakas people is disputed. Some scholars see them as descendants of the Yenisei Kirghiz, while others believe that, at the behest of the medieval Mongol Khans, the Yenisei Kirghiz migrated to Central Asia. It is believed that the Khakas people and Fuyu Kyrgyz are closer to the ancient Yenisei Kirghiz, all of whom speak or spoke Siberian Turkic (Northeastern Turkic), rather than the Kyrgyz people of modern Kyrgyzstan, who speak Kipchak Turkic (Northwestern Turkic).

Total Population 80,000 (est.)

Regions with significant populations

  • Russia (primarily Khakassia)
  • Russia Khakassia 72,959
  • Ukraine 162
  • China (Heilongjiang) About 1,500

Gorno Altai. Altai. Russia

Altai Republic

The Altai Republic also known as Gorno-Altai Republic, and colloquially, and primarily referred to in Russian to distinguish from the neighboring Altai Krai as the Gorniy Altai, is a republic of Russia located in southern Siberia. It is part of the Siberian Federal District, and covers an area of ​​92,600 square kilometers (35,800 sq mi); with a population of 200 thousand residents. It is the least-populous republic of Russia and federal subject in the Siberian Federal District. Gorno-Altaysk is the capital and the largest town of the republic.

The Altai Republic is one of Russia’s ethnic republics, primarily representing the indigenous Altai people, a Turkic ethnic group that form 35% of the Republic’s population, while ethnic Russians form a majority at 57%, and with minority populations of Kazakhs, other Central Asian ethnicities, and Germans. The official languages ​​of the Altai Republic are Russian and Altai. Kazakh is official in areas of compact settlement of its speakers.

Population (2010 Census)

  • Total 206,168
  • Estimate (2018) 218,063 (+5.8%)


The Yakuts, or the Sakha, are a Turkic ethnic group who mainly live in the Republic of Sakha in the Russian Federation, with some extending to the Amur, Magadan, Sakhalin regions, and the Taymyr and Evenk Districts of the Krasnoyarsk region. The Yakut language belongs to the Siberian branch of the Turkic languages. The Russian word ruby ​​was taken from Evenk yokō. The Yakuts call themselves Sakha, or Urangai Sakha in some old chronicles.

Total Population 500,000

Regions with significant populations

  • Russia 478,085 (2010 census)
  • Kazakhstan 415 (2009 census)
  • Ukraine 304 (2001 census)
  • Latvia 37 (2021 statistics)

Dolgans. Dolgan Neneth. Russia

Dolgans are an ethnic group who mostly inhabit Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. They are descended from several groups, particularly Evenks, one of the indigenous peoples of the Russian North. They adopted a Turkish language sometime after the 18th century. The 2010 Census counted 7,885 Dolgans. This number includes 5,517 in former Taymyr Autonomous Okrug. There are 26 Dolgans in Ukraine, four of whom speak Dolgan (2001 Ukrainian Census).

Dolgans speak the Dolgan language, which is closely related to the Yakut language.

Total Population 7,911

Regions with significant populations Russia 7,885

Tophas. Tuva-Buryat. Russia

The Tuvans  are a Turkic indigenous people of Siberia who live in Russia (Tuva), Mongolia, and China. They speak Tuvan, a Siberian Turkic language. They are also respected in Mongolia as one of the Uriankhai peoples.

Tuvans have historically been cattle-herding nomads, tending to herds of goats, sheep, camels, reindeer, cattle and yaks for the past thousands of years. They have traditionally lived in yurts covered by felt or chums, layered with birch bark or hide that they relocate seasonally as they move to newer pastures. Traditionally, the Tuvans were divided into nine regions called khoshuun, namely the Tozhu, Salchak, Oyunnar, Khemchik, Khaasuut, Shalyk, Nibazy, Daavan and Choodu, and Beezi. The first four were ruled by Uriankhai Mongol princes, while the rest were administered by Borjigin Mongol princes.

Total Population 300,000

Regions with significant populations

Tuva 263,934

Russia (excluding Tuva) c. 25,000

Mongolia 5,169

  1. 3,900 (as Mongolian)

Ukraine 43

Tatars of Kryashen, Russia

Kryashen Tatars are a branch of Idil-Ural Tatars. They are very similar to Kazan Tatars in terms of language and ethnicity.

They were baptized during the Christianization efforts in the 18th century. Their biggest feature is that they converted to Christianity while they were Muslims. In the 20th century, less than half of them converted to Islam again. According to the 1926 census, their number was around 100,000.

When the Russians occupied the Kazan khanate, the Tatars, who did not want to accept Christianity, were driven 40 kilometers away from the khanate. Muslim Tatars kept the Tatars of the Kryashen between them in order to have a border with the Russians. When the Kryashen problem arose in 1917, the Kryashen Schools were given limited cultural autonomy. The formation of the Kryashen villages began in those years. Although they live in villages outside Kazan today, they have a church in Kazan.

It is known that the Russian writer Turgenev came from the Tatars of Kryashen.



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