Who Lives in Istanbul? (Demographics and beyond)

Probably, you have heard Istanbul is a very crowded city. You know there are lots of people who are currently living or just traveling in Istanbul and also they have different ethnic origins. But do you exactly know who lives in Istanbul?

To answer the main question, this article will approach the word “who” from not only ethnicity but also from, gender, age, marital status, education, and migration because ethnicity is not something merely contribute to the demographics of a city.

Over many years, Anatolia, the lands of Turkey, has been a host to a lot of people who come from different lands. Today Istanbul city stands like a little version of Anatolia. Therefore it incorporates people from different origins with some historical and other survival reasons to live in Istanbul city.

Because Istanbul city offers opportunities to people, it has become famous for being the most crowded city in Turkey. Now the estimated population of Istanbul city is 15 million. It is so crowded that it has a high degree of density.

According to the statistics, Its density is 2,829 people per square kilometer. Approximately 35 % of the population of Istanbul city lives on the Asian side which is called Anatolia, and approximately 65 % of the population lives on the European side which is called Thrace. In all the lands of Istanbul city on Asia and Anatolia, the most densely populated district in 2019 is the Asian side, Uskudar.

If we look at the gender, age, marital status demographics, we see various data because the population has very different socioeconomic statuses. There is almost an equality between the numbers of male and female residents because 50.1 % of the population is male and 49.9 % is female.

When we consider the age statistics we can easily see that the dominant age group is middle age because 37.30 % of the population consists of young people while 52.53 % of the Istanbul population consists of middle-aged people. Also, 10.17 % of the population consists of old people.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute data the rate of married people is above the others. 61.74 % of the population is married and 29.7 % is single. In addition to this, the rate of people who are divorced is almost equal to the rate of people who are widow since 4.77 % of the population is registered as divorced and 4.43 % of the population as a widow.

Today, communities that seek for development make great investments in education because they are aware that the progress of a community is dependent on economic, social, and politic circumstances. Since education plays a critical role in the growth of these two important factors, it has an indirect but important effect on the development of a community.

Let me ask the question prepossessing your minds. So, what is the education level of people who live in such a great city? Have they attended the compulsory education or not ? You can easily find all of the answers below.

The rate of educated people who have attended the compulsory education constitutes the biggest part of the population. This group corresponds to 62.54 % of the overall population. 22.52% of the population has attended higher education. In the remaining level group corresponding to 14.94 %, some people are literate but have not attended the compulsory education and some people whose education level is not documented.

Istanbul city is the fifth-largest city in the world with a growing at a rate of 3.45%, making it one of the fastest-growing metropolitans in the world. In addition to this, The statistics show Istanbul is home to the largest immigration population with 166,044 people in each year. Hence, Istanbul city is referred to as a metropolis because it incorporates people from all four corners of the earth. There is one main reason for this majority: Location which smooths the way for trade and transportation between two continents.

Istanbul, joining the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, is located in the meeting point of the continents Europe and Asia. Therefore, Istanbul Straits, passing through Europe and Asia continents, separates Asia and Europe as well as Istanbul City. Thanks to this valuable location, for over 2500 years, Istanbul has been a host to different communities that came from different lands, various ethnic origins and had miscellaneous cultures.

Today, the estimated population of Istanbul city is 15 million. Some of these residents are in Istanbul because their ancestors once lived in the area. Some are in Istanbul because of the irresistible attraction of the city which arises from its prosperous business opportunities and gorgeous nature.

Romans, Kurds, Rums, Armenians, Arabs, Caucasians, Circassians, Turks, Laz people, Arabs, Jewish people are some basic examples of people who happen to come to Istanbul throughout history.

Although all of these ethnic groups meet in Istanbul, they all have a different story about coming to Istanbul. These stories have a close relationship with the history of these various ethnic origins because multiculturalism of a city is not something apart from history.


It is believed that the Asian side of Istanbul was a host to Greek colonists led by King Byzas around 3000 BC. They founded a colony and named it as Byzantium, the Greek name for a city on the Bosphorus. Resources indicate that the reason for King Byzas to come this land was a suggestion from an oracle of Delphi who told him to settle across from the “land of the blind ones.” Byzas concluded, earlier settlers must have been “blind” to not to notice this location at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait. This proved an auspicious decision by Byzas, as history has shown Istanbul’s location important far beyond what these early Greek settlers might have conceived.

Today, Rums, descendants of Greeks, have a smaller population in Istanbul than in the past. Turkish government decreased the numbers of Rum people because of its political interests. Before the diminishment, the population of Rum people was around 70,000 in 1970 but today it is around 2500. Rums in Istanbul, who are mostly connected to the Orthodox Church, speak Greek with a dialect peculiar to İstanbul. Most of them used to live around Fener and Balat.

If you are interested in the lives of Rums in Istanbul, you can always find some Rum people to have a conversation around the Fener Greek Orthodox Church and Fener Greek High School Museum.


When a stranger look at the silhouette of Istanbul, which is graced with minarets, it might be difficult for him to believe Istanbul was once the heart of the Christian Roman Empire. However, if you start wandering around the streets and look carefully, you can easily notice the remains of the Christian Roman Empire. How did it happen?

After King Byzas founded the colony of Byzantium, around early 100’ BC, Roman Empire conquered Byzantium. In 306 AD, Emperor Constantine the Great entitled Byzantium as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. After that time, the city earned a reputation as Constantinople.

Now, It is not certain how many Roman descendants live in Istanbul because of the mixed ancestry. One known fact is that not only Along with the Roman imperial court but also the Senate and the supreme courts moved to Constantinople from old Rome along with lots of citizens. Nevertheless, the magnificent and historic remains of the Christian Roman Empire can be seen in some places such as Haghia Sophia, Constantinople’s cathedral for more than a millennium, Basilica Cistern, an underground cavern to store drinking water and St. Esprit Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul.


Eventually, in 1453, the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmet II officially conquered Constantinople and renamed the city like Istanbul. Then it was made the capital city of the Ottoman Empire. Since then, the Turks have been living in Istanbul. Even though it changes every day, the approximate number of Turks living in Istanbul is more than 13 million. Even though they outnumber any ethnic origin, Istanbul city incorporates the features of all ethnic origins throughout its lands. Thanks to this variety, people can experience the breathtaking beauty of cultural richness.

Armenians – Jewish People – Syriacs

After the conquest, Sultan Mehmed brought back Rums, Armenians, Syriacs, Jewish people and Catholic residents who had fled, as well as Jewish, Christian and Muslim people for a mixed population. Therefore today, Istanbul is a host to approximately 19.000 Jewish people. Armenians in Istanbul are not only one of the largest ethnic minorities of Istanbul but also a major part of the Turkish Armenian community. The estimated population of Armenians is up to 70,0 00 in Istanbul city. Besides Armenians, there are 17,000 Syriacs in Istanbul city.

Although history is an undeniable factor for various ethnic origins to live in Istanbul, this is not the only reason. According to the historiographers, the unique location of Istanbul was always a determinant condition for people in the past and today communities still consider this condition. Thus they choose to move in Istanbul with reasons that stem from educational, financial, climatic and cultural conditions.

Kurdish people

A great number of Kurdish people are one of those who choose to live in Istanbul for educational and financial reasons. Would you be surprised if you heard that The Kurdish community is the most significant ethnic minority in the city? They have a population of up to 3 million in Istanbul. This is the largest Kurdish population in the world.


Arabs who are in Istanbul city has some other reasons then history to be there. These reasons proceed from some advantages in cultural, climatic, financial conditions. One important reason is the climatic condition. When you compare the weather in Istanbul with the Middle East, you can easily understand that Istanbul attracts Arabs because They can get out in summer and enjoy the relatively cooler climates of Istanbul. Good menu alternatives which include their cuisine. Shopping alternatives which have lower costs are also effective reasons for Arabs to live in Istanbul city.

Arabs love Istanbul city so much that the city is called as the capital of Free Arabs in contrast to Arabs in Middle East cities. As a result, today 0.13 % of the population, which corresponds to around 19.500 people, is occupied by Arabs in Istanbul city.

Laz People

Lastly, according to the statistics, there are lots of Laz people living in Istanbul city. However, because of mixed ancestry, the population of Laz people in Istanbul is not certain. In addition to this, it is a known fact that there are also some Circassians in Istanbul occupying 0.46 % of the Istanbul population. If we compare this portion with the overall population of Istanbul, we see roughly 70.000 Circassians are living in Istanbul.


Apart from the people who come to Istanbul because of educational, financial, cultural reasons, there are some people who come to Istanbul because of vital issues. Syrians constitute the last community who migrated to Istanbul in mass.

The opposition in Syria that started in 2011 led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Unfortunately, the doom of survivors was not brighter because this opposition obliged more than 5 million people to flee. While some refugees tried to reach Europe via the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, most of them took shelter in Turkey. Therefore, now Turkey is a host for the largest number of refugees which corresponds to 3.6 million, Istanbul city, not surprisingly, is a host for 563,015 Syrian people.

53% of the Syrian population in Istanbul is male and 47% of the population is female. When we look at the Syrians’ age demographics, we can easily see that 46.1 % of the population is between the ages 0-18 which accepted as a young population. On the other hand, 53.9 % of the population is above 18.

In a nutshell, 15 million people live in Istanbul and all of these people have different ages, marital, financial, educational statuses and different ethnic origins. Despite all of these differences, they have one thing in common. They choose to live in Istanbul because of the historical value of the city, educational, financial opportunities and climatic, cultural picturesqueness. Thanks to these qualities, doubtlessly, there will always be a great number of people who want to live in Istanbul city in the future as it has been until now.

Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I love Istanbul. I have been to 10 different countries. Istanbul is in the top 3 cities. I like to play soccer too :)

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