Yörük - Orientation

Identification. The Yörük are an ethnic-tribal grouping found widely throughout Turkey but primarily along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. The Yörük are not linguistically distinct from most of the rural populations among whom they live. They speak the Western Turkish dialect of Anatolia. The term "Yörük," an ethnic designation encompassing perhaps as many as eighty-eight tribal entities, is first encountered in Ottoman accounts dating to the twelfth century, and is generally thought to be derived from the verb yürümek, "to walk." Regardless of the merits of this etymology, which is contested by some Turkish historians, it is fitting for a nomadic people moving seasonally with their flocks of sheep and goats. It should be noted that in some usages "Yörük" is synonymous with "nomad" and consequently encompasses a number of ethnic groups, most notably the Tahtacilar and the Turkmen tribes of Anatolia, from whom the Yörük have always considered themselves distinct.

Location. Historically, Yörük tribes followed the Ottoman conquests of the Balkans, Greece, Cyprus, and Crete. Today they are found almost exclusively in villages along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal plains and the adjacent Taurus mountain range, in the southeast (where pastoralism remains important), and in scattered communities around Konya, in central Anatolia. As a nomadic people, they traditionally followed a transhumant pattern, which involved camping during the winter months along the coast ( kishlak ), and moving upland into high pastures in the Taurus range during the summer ( yayla ). Yayla pastures are snowbound during winter and kishlak grazing too desiccated during summer. Thus, by seasonal nomadism, they keep their herds on good grazing throughout the year, utilizing very distinct ecological zones. Those who still practice animal husbandry, mainly in Gaziantep and Maraş provinces, use trucks and tractors to move animals between pastures.

Demography. It is difficult to estimate accurately the numbers of those claiming Yörük descent in Turkey; no census has recorded such information, and estimates vary widely. The most recent estimate (1925) is 300,000. The Yörük constitute about 0.5 percent of the Turkish population. On the basis of field surveys, the Yörük population is increasing at an annual rate of around 2.6 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Yörük speak the standard Anatolian dialect of Western Turkish. Turkish is one of many Ural Altaic languages: the Turkic Group of closely related modern languages—spoken by over 110 million people—includes Western Turkish, Azeri, Turkmen, Kazakh, Tartar, and Uzbek. Mongolian is much more distantly related via common descent from a "proto-Turkic" common ancestral language. Korean, Japanese, Yukagir, and (some would say) Finnish and Hungarian are even more distantly related.

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