|Regions with significant populations|
The Turks in Libya, also commonly referred to as Libyan Turks, Turco-Libyans, and Turkish-Libyans (Arabic: أتراك ليبيا; Turkish: Libya Türkleri; Italian: Turco-libici) are the ethnic Turks who live in Libya. According to the last census which allowed citizens to declare their ethnicity, the Turkish minority formed the third largest ethnic group in the country, after the Arabs and Berbers, and they mainly live in Misrata, Tripoli, Zawiya, Benghazi and Derna.
During Ottoman rule in Libya (1551–1912), Turkish settlers began to migrate to the region from across the empire. A significant number of Turks intermarried with the native population, and the male offspring of these marriages were referred to as Kouloughlis (Turkish: kuloğlu) due to their mixed heritage. However, in general, intermarriage was discouraged, in order to preserve the "Turkishness" of the community. Consequently, the terms "Turks" and "Kouloughlis" have traditionally been used to distinguish between those of full and partial Turkish ancestry. The Turkish community has traditionally dominated the political life of Libya.
After the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Turks continued to migrate to Libya from the newly established modern states, particularly from the Republic of Turkey, but also from other regions with significant Turkish settlements such as Cyprus, and Egypt.
When the Libyan Civil War erupted in 2011, Misrata became “the bastion of resistance” and Turco-Libyans figured prominently in the war. In 2014 a former Gaddafi officer reported to the New York Times that the civil war was now an "ethnic struggle" between Arab tribes (like the Zintanis) against those of Turkish ancestry (like the Misuratis), as well as against the Berbers and Circassians.
When the Ottoman Empire conquered Libya in 1551 the Turks began migrating to the region mostly from Anatolia, including merchants and families. In addition, many Turkish soldiers married Libyan women and their children were known as the "Kouloughlis" (also referred to as the "Cologhla", "Qulaughli" and "Cologhli").
Today there are still Libyans who regard their ethnicity as Turkish, or acknowledge their descent from Turkish soldiers who settled in the area during the Ottoman rule. Indeed, many families in Libya can trace their origins through their surnames. It is very common for families to have surnames that belong to the region of Turkey that their ancestors migrated from; for example, Tokatlı, Eskişehirli, Muğlalı, and İzmirli are very common surnames.
After Libya fell to the Italians in 1911, most Turks still remained in the region. According to the census conducted by the Italian colonialists in 1936 the Turkish community formed 5% of Libya's population, of which 30,000 lived along the Tripolitanian coast.
The last census which allowed the Turkish minority to declare their ethnicity showed the following:
|Administrative division||Turks (1936 census)||% of Libya's total population|
|Province of Misurata||24,820||11.6%|
|Province of Tripoli||5,848||1.7%|
|Province of Derna||730||1.8%|
|Province of Benghazi||323||0.3%|
Initially, modern Turkish labour migration has traditionally been to European countries within the context of bilateral agreements; however, a significant wave of migration also occurred in oil-rich nations like Libya and Saudi Arabia.
During Abd al-Salam Jallud's visit to Turkey in January 1975, a ‘breakthrough collaboration agreement’ was signed which involved sending 10,000 skilled Turkish workers to Libya, in order to expand the country's oil-rich economy. This agreement also included a Libyan commitment to supply crude oil to Turkey ‘at preferential rates’ and to establish a Turkish–Libyan Bank. By August 1975, Libya announced its desire ‘to absorb up to 100,000 Turkish workers annually’.
The Libyan–Turkish economic ties increased significantly with the number of Turkish construction companies operating in Libya in 1978–81 rising from 2 to 60, and by 1984, to 150. Moreover, in 1984, the number of Turkish "guest workers" in Libya increased to 120,000.
There is a significant Turkish community living in the north-west of Libya. For example, many Turks settled in Misrata during the reign of Abdul Hamid II in the nineteenth century.
In 1971 the population of Turks with roots from the island of Crete alone numbered 100,000. In 2014, Ali Hammuda, who served as the Minister of Foundations and Religious Affairs of Libya, claimed that the Turkish minority forms 15% of Libya's total population. More recent estimates in 2019 suggest that the total Turkish population in Libya is around 1.4 million, or that more than one in four Libyans (i.e. 25% of the country's population) have Turkish ancestry.
The city of Misrata is considered to be the "main center of the Turkish-origin community in Libya"; in total, the Turks form approximately two-thirds (est.270,000) of Misrata's 400,000 inhabitants. There is also a thriving Turkish population in Tripoli. Turkish communities have also been formed in more remote areas of the country, such as the Turkish neighborhood of Hay al-Atrak, in the town of Awbari.
There is a significant Libyan-Turkish community living in Turkey where they are still referred to as "Libyan Turks".
As a result of four centuries of Ottoman rule in Libya, the Turks left some of their cultural imprints in the region, particularly their language, food, and costumes. In addition, some of the mosques and castles they built remain intact.
In cities where there are significant Turkish communities, the Turkish language has traditionally thrived; however, today Turkish is more prevalent with the elderly whilst the younger generations speak Arabic. Even so, many words of Turkish origin have entered Libyan Arabic, especially in the old city of Tripoli.
The Ottoman Turks brought with them the teaching of the Hanafi School of Islam during the Ottoman rule of Libya which still survives among the Turkish descended families today. Examples of Ottoman-Turkish mosques include:
Ahmed Pasha Karamanli Mosque
Almeno un libico su quattro in Libia ha origini turche...
Throughout North Africa, from Oran to Tunis, one encounters everywhere, in the town as in the country, the distinct traits which mark the seven races which make up the native population: the Moors, the Berbers, the Arabs, the Negreos, the Jews, the Turks and the Kouloughlis… descendants of Turks and Arab women.
La Turchia peraltro può vantare in Livia una numerosa comunità dei "Koroglu" (i libici di discendenza turca) che conterrebbe ben 1,4 milioni di individui, concentrati soprattutto a Misurata, la "città-Stato" situata circa 180 chilometri a est di Tripoli: praticamente meno un libico su quattro in Libia ha origini turche.
... Misurata (centro principale della comunità di origine turca in Libia e città-chiave nella determinazione dei nuovi equilibri di potere nel Paese)
Chi conosce appena la situazione demografica di quella parte di Libia sa che Misurata con i suoi 270.000 abitanti (su 400.000) di origine turca e tuttora turcofoni non perderà mai il sostegno di Ankara e non cesserà un attimo di resistere, con o senza Sarraj.