The Story of the Karamanlides: Orthodox, Turkish-Speaking People Native to Anatolia

KaramanlidesStarting as far back as 1071, Turks began their settlements in Anatolia and shortly after, dominated the vast majority of the region, excluding the Marmara Sea and some areas surrounding the sea.

At that time, the indigenous population of Anatolia spoke and wrote in Greek and were Greek Orthodox. The Turks referred to all orthodox Christian communities in the Ottoman as the “Roman community,” and labeled the people “Rum” meaning Roman, a term which is used until this day.

Among orthodox Christian communities there were some groups of individuals that spoke Turkish but wrote it in the Greek alphabet. They mainly lived in Anatolian cities such as Karaman, Konya, Mersin, Silifke, Niğde, Nevşehir, Kayseri, Yozgat and Ankara.

Mentioned as far back as the 17th century by Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi, as people who boasted an authentic Turkish accent but who used Greek and Latin words as well.

There are two theories of the origins of these communities. The first theory says that these people known as the Karamanlides are religiously converted Turkish soldiers (Turcopoles) that Byzantine emperors settled in Anatolia. The second theory states that Karamanlides are the direct descendants of Byzantine Greeks.

The Karamanlides were known to have religious affiliations to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is documented that during the Ottoman era, hymns and prayers of the Karamanlides were chanted in Karamanlides Turkish at local churches in the neighborhoods.

The vast majority of the population of these neighborhoods were Greek speaking and referred to non-Muslims as “foreigners (giaour) with a hat.” On the other hand, the Muslim population called the Karamanlı Greeks “Ellik,” meaning “foreigners of the land.”

These ethnical Greeks who once lived in large numbers along the shores of the Marmara Sea, that connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, which separates Turkey’s Asian and European parts, saw much tragedy in and around their communities. From 1919 until 1922 their prosperity and peaceful way of life came to a bitter end following the Greek Genocide at the hands of the Ottomans, neo-Turks and Kemalists, when their fate was sealed following negotiations at Lausanne resulting in the Exchange of Populations between Greece and Turkey. But the story does not end there.

The Karamanlides were an exception throughout the Greek communities of Anatolia who all supported Greece during these dark years where nearly 400,000 ethnic Greeks were murdered. However, the Karamanlides community was largely in support of the Turks.

Moreover, not only did the Karamanlidi Greeks side with the Turks in the 1920s and were in opposition of the Greek forces, some of them even demanded to establish a separate Orthodox church from the Greek Orthodox Church. Then in 1922, 72 orthodox spiritual leaders gathered in Kayseri with the support of the government in Ankara and announced the foundation of the Turkish Orthodox Church.

However, following the Lausanne Exchange of Populations almost 200,000 Karamanlides Greeks were forced to repatriate to Greece, in spite of the fact that they only spoke Turkish. Some of them managed to stay behind and live in Turkey until this day, while the vast majority lives in Greece, followed by a notable diaspora in Western Europe and North America

It wasn’t an easy transition for the Karamanlidi Greeks as they could not communicate in Greek and had many conflicts with the local Greeks who called them “Tourkiki sporon” (Turkish seed).

Following this alienation, they went on to establish villages and neighborhoods named after places they came from in Anatolia, adding “nea” (new) in front of them. Always considering Anatolia their homeland, the communities continued to preserve their language and culture without mixing with local Greeks.