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From Past to Present: History of Afghan Migration and Turk-Origin Migrants

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There has been an intense debate on the issue of Afghan immigrants, which has been on the agenda of Turkey recently. It is seen that Turkish society continues to support diametrically opposite views on this issue as well as in many other issues. It is seen that negative attitudes and reactions towards Afghan immigrants in the public are increasing day by day in parallel with the increase in the number of Afghan immigrants who entered Turkey illegally after the United States (USA) announced that it would withdraw from Afghanistan. Putting the political debates to one side, it is imperative that the issue of irregular migrants be evaluated from both a humanitarian and security perspective.

In fact, the inflow of immigrants experienced today is one of the important problems that Turkey has had to deal with occasionally since the first years of its foundation. Turkey, due to its geographical location, historical ties and democratic structure, is seen as both a center of attraction for immigrants from the Middle East and a transit route to European countries. According to the 2020 Global Trends Forced Displacement Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), Turkey has been the country hosting the highest number of refugees in the world for the last seven years. According to the latest data in the report, it is reported that a total of 3.7 million refugees live in Turkey, 92% of whom are Syrians.[1]

Afghanistan; It is a country that has consistently produced immigrants for centuries due to its geographical location, ethnic structure and constant internal disturbance. Studies show that Afghans have migrated to their neighbours Pakistan and Iran for centuries. The most important mass migration movement in the recent past of the country, whose historical identity is described with immigration, occurred when it was occupied by the Soviet Union. The mass migration wave that started with the Soviet invasion in 1979, continued until 1990 and millions of immigrants left Afghanistan took refuge in Pakistan and Iran. By 1990, it was calculated that the number of Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries exceeded six million. Although the correct number is not given in the sources, it is reported that many immigrants returned to their countries between 1990 and 1995 after the end of the Soviet occupation.[2]

The current population of Afghanistan, which has not been officially censused since 1974, is estimated to be 38 million.[3] Afghanistan, located on the historical Silk Road, has hosted many ethnic groups throughout history. According to 2011 data of the US Department of State, 42% of Afghanistan’s population is Pashtuns, 27% is Tajiks, 9% is Uzbeks, 9% is Hazaras, 4% is Aymaks, 3% is Turkmens, 2% Beluch and 4% is other (Kazakh, Kyrgyz etc.) ethnic groups. The number of Afghans of Turkish origin, who make up 16-18% of the total population, has exceeded 6 million.[4]

In fact, Turkey officially faced Afghan immigration for the first time in 1982. Due to the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, 4.163 people took refuge in Pakistan and immigrated to our country legally in 1982 and have been living as citizens of the Republic of Turkey for 39 years. The leaders of ethnic groups of Turkish lineages, consisting of Turkmen, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, who are relatives of some of the Turks living in Afghanistan, applied to immigrate to Turkey collectively in March 1981; but did not get any results. President Kenan Evren, who made his first overseas trip to Pakistan between November 22-27, 1981, visited the “Nasir Bagh” refugee camp near Peshawar with journalists and met with the former member of parliament of Afghanistan, Turkmen leader Abdulkerim Mahdum, who was among the refugees. As a result of the meeting, it was decided to accept these refugees into our country, and an official agreement was signed with Pakistan on this issue.[5]

Turkey aimed to help both refugees and Pakistan by accepting refugees of Turkish origin who were in difficult conditions in refugee camps. At the same time, it has been seen that Turkey aims to increase its reputation in the international arena and on Turks who live in abroad. Due to the existing settlement laws at that time were not sufficient, the “Draft Law on the Admission and Settlement of Turkish Noble Immigrants from Afghanistan to Pakistan” was accepted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) as the settlement law numbered 2641 on 19 March 1982 and published in the Government gazette. According to this law, which was enacted to be applied only once, it was obligatory to apply to the Turkish Embassy in Islamabad and authorities until 31 December 1982 in order to be accepted to Turkey. Thus, the upper limit of immigrants was determined as 4,500 people. Refugee applications were made on different dates, who wanted to benefit from the opportunities originating from this law; However, these applications were rejected.[6]

A total of 4163 immigrants, who were determined to be within the scope of the law numbered 2641, were transported from Karachi-Islamabad Airports to Adana Airport by planes allocated by the United Nations (UN) between 3-24 August 1982. Immigrants, who were first placed in temporary settlement areas, were transferred to the final settlement areas after the construction of permanent residences, taking into account the region and climatic conditions like in Afghanistan, as well as their professions and abilities, without destroying their family structure and kinship integrity. In this context, Turkmen (858 people) were settled in Tokat, Uzbeks (1905 people) in Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa and Hatay, Kyrgyz (1130 people) in Van and Kazakhs (270 people) in Kayseri.[7]

While the majority of the immigrants, whose numbers have increased over the years they have lived in Turkey, reside in the places allocated for them; it is seen that a small part of them immigrated again within Turkey, usually for economic reasons. It has been understood that the Kazakhs, who were settled in Kayseri and engaged in trade, left Kayseri in the first years. It has been reported that most of the immigrants who immigrated to Istanbul for economic reasons settled in the Zeytinburnu region and worked in the leather sector. It has been learned that a part of the Kyrgyz people, who were settled in Van Ulupamir Village and whose total number exceeds 5 thousand today, immigrated to Yozgat Yenifakılı, Ankara Çubuk, and Gölbaşı due to terrorism and unemployment. It has been determined that the Uzbeks who were settled in Ovakent and Ceylanpınar and whose number approached 10 thousand and the Turkmens who were settled in Tokat and whose population exceeded 4 thousand preserved their homogeneous structure. It is seen that the third-generation members of the immigrants of Turkish origin, who are seen to be almost completely integrated into Turkey, have received higher education to a large extent, and over time they have started to take important positions in the state staff like district governor, prosecutor, doctor, and officer.[8]

The immigration and resettlement of Afghan immigrants of Turkish origin, which Turkey planned on its own initiative and carried out in 1982, was successful due to limited number, taking measures, and cultural affinity. However, as of today, Turkey is in danger of huge immigration due to the political developments in Afghanistan. It is reported that with the announcement of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban took immediate action to restore its former power in the country and took control of six provincial centers as of August 11, 2021. The Taliban is a movement that aims to establish a government based on sharia in Afghanistan and is supported by the majority of Pashtuns in the country. In the country where more than 50 thousand people died due to the civil war that started in 1992, the ethnic groups that are members of the Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban between 1996-2001 and the people who do not want to live under the rule of the Taliban are leaving the country in panic. The total population of this group, mostly consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, is estimated to be 15-20 million.[9]

According to the data of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), by the end of 2020, the number of people who left their homes in Afghanistan due to the Taliban is approximately 5 million. According to the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DMT) indicators, which IOM tracks citizens who have left their homes in Afghanistan, 20-30 thousand Afghan citizens and 600-700 Afghan families flee abroad every week. According to Nick Bishop, IOM Afghanistan Emergency Officer, 1.5 million Afghans will have immigrated to Western countries by the end of 2021, if the accelerated immigration due to NATO’s withdrawal from the country continues in this way.[10]

As a result, Turkey, which is a transit country, due to its geographical location, for immigrants trying to go to European countries, is also a destination country for some immigrants. As long as Afghanistan’s neighbors Iran and Pakistan continue to behave badly towards Afghan immigrants and attitudes that facilitate their transition to Turkey, the number of irregular immigrants coming to Turkey will increase. The strict stance of the European Union (EU) on this issue and the Readmission Agreement signed with Turkey on 18 March 2016 have caused Turkey to bear the biggest burden on the irregular immigrant problem. Considering that the total number of refugees in Turkey is currently 3.7 million and the number of immigrants likely to arrive in the coming period, the situation to be faced will be better understood. Therefore, improving border security will not be enough to prevent the immigration movement, as is constantly being brought on the media. In order to solve the problem, without delay, a conference should be organized by the UN with the participation of the side countries to the Afghan immigration and the EU, and various measures should be taken in this context.


[1] “Global Trends in 2020”, UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/60b638e37/unhcr-global-trends-2020, (Date of Accession:12.08.2021).

[2] Stephen Castles-Mark J. Miller, Göçler Çağı-Modern Dünyada Uluslararası Göç Hareketleri, Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları, İstanbul 2008.

[3] “Afghanistan”, World Bank, https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/afghanistan, (Date of Accession: 11.08.2021).

[4] Wiebke Lamer-Erin Foster, “Afghan Ethnic Groups: A Brief Investigation”, Civil-Military Fusion Centre, 2011.

[5] Emrullah Öztürk, Türk Asıllı Afgan Mültecilerinin 12 Eylül Dönemi’nde İskân ve İstihdamı, (Unpublished Master Thesis), Ankara 2014, s. 71-83.

[6] Aynı yer.

[7] Ali Rıza Şimşek, Ulupamir Kırgızlarında Sosyo-kültürel Değişim (Unpublished Master Thesis), Erzurum 2019, s. 91-93.

[8] Aynı yer.

[9] “Afganistan Türkleri”, Türk Dünyası Birlik Platformu, https://www.turkdunyasibirlik.org/turk-dunyasi-topluluklari/afganistan-turkleri, (Date of Accession: 12.08.2021).

[10] “Taliban’ın Etkisi Arttıkça Afganlar Ülkeyi Terk Ediyor”, Dünya, https://www.dunya.com/dunya/talibanin-etkisi-arttikca-afganlar-ulkeyi-terk-ediyor-haberi-628936, (Date of Accession: 12.08.2021).

Dr. Ali Rıza ŞİMŞEK
1976 yılında Ankara’da doğan Dr. Ali Rıza Şimşek, Anadolu Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Bölümü’nden 1998 yılında mezun oldu. 2006 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi, Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Sosyoloji Anabilim Dalı’nda hazırladığı “Osmanlı Ordusunda 18 ve 19.Yüzyıllarda Yapılan Islahat Çalışmaları ve Bu Çalışmalarda Yabancı Uzmanların Rolü” başlıklı Yüksek Lisans çalışmasını tamamlayan Şimşek, 2012 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Anabilim Dalı doktora programına kabul edildi. Ancak şark hizmeti nedeniyle eğitimine devam edemedi. 27 yıl muvazzaf olarak Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri’nde (TSK) görev yapan Dr. Şimşek, bu sürecin 10 yılında Doğu ve Güneydoğu Anadolu bölgelerinde Takım, Bölük ve Tabur Komutanı olarak Terörle Mücadele Harekâtına katıldı. 2010 yılında NATO-ISAF bünyesinde Afganistan’da görev yapan Şimşek, 2019 senesinde Atatürk Üniversitesi Genel Sosyoloji ve Metodoloji Anabilim Dalında “Ulupamir Kırgızlarında Sosyo-kültürel Değişim” başlıklı teziyle doktorasını tamamladı. 2021 yılında kendi isteği üzerine Kd. Albay rütbesiyle TSK’dan emekli olan Dr. Şimşek, görev yaptığı süre boyunca 1 madalya, 6 Üstün Hizmet Ödülü ve 126 takdir belgesiyle taltif edilmiştir. Kuzey Kıbrıs Türk Cumhuriyeti’nde (KKTC) yaşayan Şimşek, Göç, Kültürel Değişim, Entegrasyon, Etnik Sosyoloji, Terör ve Kıbrıs konularında akademik çalışmalar yapmış ve bildiriler sunmuştur. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Dr. Şimşek, evli ve iki çocuk babasıdır.