Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish Americans and Their Socio-Economical Comparison

The United States of America is generally defined as the land of immigration or immigrants. In America, the theme of immigration is somehow understood differently than it is in Europe. The main reason behind this is the fact that the immigrants are the ones that built today’s American nation. The earlier immigrant waves starting from 1820s gained speed after 1840s and then reached their peak in the first decade of the 20th century.

The U.S. is thus a country that considers immigration and immigrants as its foundation. The number of immigrants entering the country between 1820 and 2010 exceeds 68 million. Nearly 14 million immigrants entered the U.S. from 2000 to 2010.

Moreover, in the latest census, approximately 80 percent of the American population indicated that they had roots in other countries. Compared to European countries, in which a greater proportion of the total population consists of natives, this ratio puts forward something far different.

As Turkish immigration to the U.S. is not a particularly well-studied subject, there is no definite indisputable opinion on the number of Turks living in the U.S. According to statistics provided by the census in 2000, there are 117,000 people within the borders of the U.S. who define themselves as being Turkish offspring, while some Turkish associations state this figure to actually be approaching 500,000.

Armenian immigration to the U.S. had its main origin in the regions where Armenian people were originally living, such as the territory of today’s Armenia (south Caucasus), Libya, and Iran. The immigration of these Armenians predominantly took place after the First World War.

During the Second World War, many Armenians in eastern and southern Europe who had to leave their home or were driven away by warfare, fled to the U.S. The newly-enacted U.S. law that allowed easier entry for persons displaced during wartime and provided them with legal eligibility for U.S. citizenship led to an influx of Armenian immigrants. The three immigration waves later experienced were caused by wars and political instability in the countries from which the Armenians were fleeing.

The last immigration wave to the U.S. consisted of Armenians fleeing the U.S.S.R., a number that increased when the U.S.S.R. was dissolved and the Republic of Armenia was established in 1991.

Greek immigration history

Economic chaos in Greece forced or encouraged many Greek youngsters to emigrate to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century. Similar to the Turkish and Armenian immigrants who came to the country, the Greek immigrants also generally consisted of the uneducated and poor, hoping to save some money and then return to their homeland to invest it and thus open doors to a new life. Greeks, who came with this first wave, were settled in western cities such as New York, Chicago and Baltimore. Some of these returned to Greece with the beginning of Balkan War, however, they came back once more after the war finished – this time, many were accompanied by their wives. This played a major role in the settlement of Greek culture in America.

Greek immigration decreased as America closed its doors to immigrants for a while, but picked up again after the devastation of the Greek economy due to the Second World War and the Greek Civil War. Around 230,000 Greeks immigrated to America between 1946 and 1980.

The reason why the Armenian Americans show a naturalization rate of above 90 percent, in contrast to the Turks’ 63 percent, may lie in the fact that the Turkish immigrant community mainly consists of young people who have not yet produced a new generation of offspring. Re-expatriation (returning home) rates need to be studied here, which are not yet available for this study.

Comparison of education, wealth and employment data

If you compare the education level of Turks, Greeks and Armenians living in the U.S., the Turks can be identified as the most educated group. 42 percent of all Turkish immigrants have a university degree and 23 percent of them hold a Master’s degree or above. Only 21 percent of Turkish immigrants have no high school or other equivalent degree. The second most educated group is the Armenians, with 27 percent of them holding a university degree and only 21 percent without degrees. The Greeks are the least educated group among the three ethnicities. Some 40 percent have only completed education below the High School level and only 20 percent have a university degree.

Depending on religious definitions and varying population data, the United States is home to the largest or second largest (after Israel) Jewish community in the world. The population of American adherents of Judaism was estimated to be approximately 5,128,000, or 1.7 percent of the total population, in 2007. This figure included those who identify themselves as culturally, but not necessarily religiously, Jewish. The population figure was estimated to be 6,489,000 (2.2 percent) in 2008. In contrast, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the Israeli Jewish population to be 5,664,000 in 2009 (75.4 percent of the total Israeli population).12

Jews in the U.S. settled largely in and near the major cities. The Ashkenazi Jews, who are now the vast majority of American Jews, settled first in the cities of the Northeast and Midwest, but in recent decades increasingly in the South and West. Nearly one quarter of the world’s Jews live within the metropolitan areas of New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami (‘The Largest Jewish Communities’, adherents.com, Retrieved Nov. 8, 2008). New York city has the largest Jewish population in the U.S.

Organizations and the lobbying of Armenians, Jews, Greeks and Turks in the U.S.

In contrast to Europe, where immigrants in general have integrated themselves into economic life but have retained their ethnic identity, the self-perception of immigrants in the U.S. is different. All immigrants share the ideal of being part of the United States in the first place, and only after that do they display an identity centered on their ethnicity. Among the four immigration groups dealt with in this study, the Jews, the Armenians and the Greeks have tended to adopt ÒU.S. identityÓ first and foremost, and only after have considered themselves members of their specific ethnic community. For the Turks, being the most recent immigrant community to arrive in the U.S. among these four compared ethnicities, this is not necessarily the case, even though a similar trend in this direction can be observed. This group, while feeling American, has a strong sense of being Turkish, too, as can often be experienced in (Turkish) national celebrations, the waving of Turkish flags, the following of Turkish media, and their regular visits to the homeland (a rate of once every year is not unthinkable). Many Turkish immigrants still consider themselves to be part of the Turkish nation.

Usually, immigrants are too busy building a new life in a new land to get involved with each other or pursue common goals, but in the case of the four groups examined, this feature varies, which is arguably tied to both the heritage of each and the current political situation in their former homelands.

For example, Jewish groups have started a dialogue with the Turkish-Americans which is in accordance with the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey. The Turkish-American groups, therefore, receive the support of the Jewish lobbyists on issues like the Greco-Turkish conflict in Cyprus the and Turkish-Armenian conflict dating back to World War I (during the time of the Ottoman Empire).

Comparison of Turkish lobbying activity in the U.S. with the Armenian, Jewish and Greek lobby groups:

As pointed out earlier, the lobby activities of the Jews tends to aim to support the interests of Israel. The same can also be said for the Greeks and Greece, the Greek-Cypriots and South Cyprus, and the Armenians and Armenia.

This is done without the expectation of any financial compensation from the home country. In this regard, the Turkish groups in the U.S. may be different. It is noticeable that Turkish groups have high expectations from the Turkish government, as Turkish groups’ own funds fall short of the investments needed for the Turkish lobby work. The Turkish lobby groups in the U.S. expect Turkey to make available grants for which these groups can apply, and stay within the confines of the U.S. law that sets standards and parameters for such activity. These groups spend their own financial resources, but the funds collected fall far short of expectations and/or lobbying needs.

So far, the Jewish lobby groups have been supportive to the Turkish interests in the U.S., especially by adopting a Turkish friendly position in the issue of the Turkish-Armenian conflict. This friendship is rooted in the long history of Turkish support for the Jews since the 15th Century, when the Jewish people found shelter, peace, and prosperity in the Ottoman Empire after having been expelled from Spain in 1492. A similar process happened again during the Second World War, when many fleed the territories controlled by Nazi Germany.

The Israel lobby consists of both Christian-American and Jewish-American secular and religious groups. At times called the “Zionist lobby” or sometimes the “Jewish lobby” the Israel lobby is a diverse coalition of those who, as individuals and as groups, seek to influence the foreign policy of the United States in support of Zionism, Israel or the specific policies of its government.

The Armenian lobby work in the U.S. started after the First World War, and one of its main goals is to place its characterization of the Turkish-Armenian conflict during that war into the political consciousness of the U.S. It is assumed – as Armenians are secretive about their archives, which have been closed to public for almost one hundred years – that the Armenian lobby’s work is funded by $300 million and concentrates on California, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.

The Greek lobby deals a lot with Turkish-Greek relations, as in the Aegean continental shelf dispute, the Cyprus conflict, and pretty much any other issue where Turkish interests are concerned. Both Greece and Turkey are NATO-members and both were geo-strategically important countries during the Cold War. Therefore, the lobbying activities of these two groups should expect to receive some sort of attention in U.S. politics. For many years, military and financial assistance was of upmost interest for the lobby groups of the two countries. Despite the increase in the importance of Turkey for U.S. foreign policy, the Greek lobby has been partially successful in hindering U.S. loans and/or grants to Turkey.

Especially after 1974, there has also been wide-scale cooperation between Greek and Armenian lobby groups in the U.S. The influence of this strategic alliance has been increasingly countered by the Jewish support that the Turkish lobby work in the U.S. has traditionally received. (Note: This situation may have changed somewhat since the ÒAid RaidÓ on May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandoes attacked the Mavi Marmara ship that was carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza, killing nine civilian peace activists on board at point blank range. The Israeli lobby then manipulated the U.N. report to partially justify this crime against humanity. Turkey’s repeated calls for an apology and compensation to the victims’ families fell on deaf ears in Israel. The stalemate that followed is outside the scope of this study and may be dealt with elsewhere.17 )

The Turkish Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives reached 155 members recently. Though there are many positive developments, the efforts of the Turkish lobby in the U.S. may still be considered to be in their infancy. The Turkish lobby has a lot of potential, energy, and motivation, but it also has a lot of distance to cover before it reaches maturity.

About Acar Şensoy

EU Project Consultant