Lost Languages of Anatolia

18 of languages according to UNESCO estimates, are rapidly disappearing, whereas 3 have already become extinct.

A number of Ancient Anatolian peoples have vanished into history despite having left behind various traces, some of which were discovered either through epigraphic finds or through Hellenistic, Roman, Assyrian, and Persian sources. Unfortunately enough, not all of the societies that lived across Anatolia from early 2nd millennium BC onwards were recorded in writing or were able to attain a written culture. Only a portion of the civilizations that transitioned into a written culture, such as Phrygians, Lycians, Lydians, Carians, and the Sidetic peoples, used unique systems of writing. The language of certain societies of ancient Anatolia, on the other hand, still remain undeciphered due to their dissimilarity to the language family systems known to date.

Including various dialects, nearly 7000 languages are currently used in the world; close to 2000 of these languages; however, are endangered. While 36 different languages exist in daily life in Turkey, 18 of these, according to UNESCO estimates, are rapidly disappearing, whereas 3 have already become extinct. Ubykh, Mlahsô, and Cappadocian Greek are no longer spoken. Hervetin is severely endangered, whereas Romani, West Armenian, Hamshen, Laz, Pontic Greek, Abaza, Suret, Kirmanjki (Zaza) are among the languages that face the danger of becoming extinct.

Each language lost takes away a piece from the history of humanity. The land of Anatolia derives its wealth from its ethnic and linguistic diversity. It is thus in our power to protect and preserve the richness multilingualism has to offer as we follow the traces of the people and languages that have been handed down to us across a vast terrain nourished by a blend of cultures and civilizations! 



Most children speak the language, but it is often restricted to the home to be spoken only with family.(Abkhaz, Adyghe, Circassian, and Zaza)

Definitely endangered

Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home. (Hemshin, Laz, Pontic Greek, Abaza, West Armenian, Romani, and Suret)

Severely endangered

Language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves. (Ladino, Syriac, Gagauz)

Critically endangered

The youngest speakers are grandparents and older generations, but even they have limited proficiency of the language.



No speakers of the language are left. The language is only available through written sources. (Propokion, Mlahso, Ibykh, Ubykh, Mlahsô, and Cappadocian Greek).

Severely endangered


Alternate Names: Judaeo Spanish, Sephardic, Judezmo

Number of Speakers: While research suggests that Ladino is spoken by approximately 100,000 to 200,000 people around the world today, the exact number remains unknown. Based on the data reported in 1976, Ladino was spoken by eight thousand people, living mostly in İstanbul and İzmir. Today; however, it is predominantly spoken by people of 50 years of age or older and has almost become extinct among younger generations.

Regions: Besides Israel, Istanbul, İzmir, and Bursa in Turkey; Athens and Thessaloniki in Greece; Bulgaria, North African countries, and South America with minor differences in dialect. 

Spoken in: Turkey, Israel

Critically endangered


Alternate Names: Turoyo        

Number of Speakers: Syriac is spoken by a 50 thousand locals living in the Midyat county of Mardin and Northern Syria, as well as immigrants in Germany and Switzerland. According to Sevan Nişanyan, there are only about one thousand speakers of this language in Turkey.

Regions: Syriacs living in the Midyat-İdil-Dargeçit-Nusaybin region speak Turoyo. Syriacs living in the triangle of Mardin Merkez-Ömerli-Savur speak Arabic and cannot understand each other. 

Spoken in: Turkey, European countries in which Syriacs live.

Definitely endangered

Suret, similar to Syriac

Alternate Names: Eastern Syriac, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Urmian dialect

Number of SpeakersWhile the exact number of speakers remains unknown, the language is spoken by members of the Assyrian Church of the East. They are comprised of Protestants affiliated with the Nestorian and Chaldean Churches, who have severed their ties with these denominations in the past. As this contemporary language was first put into writing in Nestorian alphabet in 1840 in Urmia, northwestern Iran, through the help of American missionaries, it is also known in the academic world as Urmian or the Urmian dialect.

Regions:  No one speaks Suret in Turkey anymore; the majority of the speakers have migrated to other countries.

Spoken in: Northern and Western Iraq

Definitely endangered 

Western Armenian

Alternate Names: Armenian of Turkey or Istanbul Armenian

Number of Speakers: Spoken across the entire Central, Eastern and Southeastern Anatolian regions until 1915, the language is currently spoken primarily in the Armenian diaspora due to the Armenian Deportation of 1915-17 and immigration to foreign countries. Of the more than 60 thousand Armenians living in Turkey, only 18 % speak Armenian as their native language.

Regions: Istanbul and the Armenian diaspora across the world, immigrants in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic of Azerbaijan under Armenian occupation to a lesser extent.  

Spoken in: Turkey and the Armenian diaspora

Definitely endangered

Pontic Greek

Alternate Names: Pontic, Romeika

Number of Speakers: Spoken by 200 thousand (2001) people settled in Western Thrace and Macedonia during the 1923 Population Exchange.  While the number of speakers remains uncertain, 4,535 people reported Pontic Greek as their native language in the 1965 census.

Regions: Until the Turkish-Greek Population Exchange of 1923, the language was spoken among the Greeks living between İnebolu and Batum. In addition to the Muslims living across the nearly 50 villages of Trabzon, it is still spoken among the Orthodox populations sent to Greece during the Population Exchange.

Spoken in: Turkey, Greece

Severely endangered


Alternate Names: Chaldean

Number of Speakers: Spoken by nearly a thousand people in Turkey in the 1960s, Hértevin was discovered by German linguist Otto Jastrow in 1970 and was published for the first time in 1988. Due to oppression and security concerns, the last of the Chaldean families living in Hertevin Village migrated to Mersin and then to various European countries in the early 1980s. Currently, only four of the village locals can speak this language.

Regions: Some historical records indicate that apart from Hertevin, villages such as Koçlu in central Siirt, Yürekveren (Binof) in Kurtalan, Bağgöze (Benkof) in Eruh, Taşdibek (Piroz), as well as Pervari, and Borem and Arganis, whose current names remain unknown, were former Chaldean settlements.

Spoken in: Turkey and European countries (Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands) in which Chaldeans live.

Definitely endangered

Romani (Romany)

Alternate Names: Romany, Rom, Gypsy language

Number of Speakers:  Although the exact number remains unknown, the Romani population across the world is estimated at 15-20 million. Romani is spoken in all countries with gypsy populations, but the language varies considerably by region. Many Romanis no longer remember their native tongue and have embraced the language of the country in which they live.

Regions: The entire European and Balkan region extending from Spain to the Ukraine.

Spoken in: All countries with Romani population, including Turkey.



Alternate Names: West Syriac

Number of Speakers worldwide:  In 1994, Prof. Otto Jastrow published his book Der neuaramaische Dialekt von Mlaẖso (Provinz Diyarbekir) on the Mlahsô language, which became extinct after İbrahim Hanna, who immigrated to Syria in 1995, passed away in 1998.

Regions: Once spoken in the village of Mlaẖso, in Lice County in Diyarbakır and tens of villages in its environs, the residents of which all immigrated to Syria.

Spoken in: Turkey



Alternate Names: Ubyx

Number of Speakers: Ubykh was spoken among the elderly in Hacıosman village (‘Lakaşhüe’ in Ubykh meaning ‘the walking white rabbit’) in Manyas, where a part of the Ubykh people settled after sent into exile during the Tsarist Russian occupation of the Caucasus in 1864. Elders of other villages could understand but no longer spoke Ubykh. The language was reported extinct following the death of the last native speaker Tevfik Esenç in 1992. Nearly four thousand words created by the 82 consonants and 3 vowels of the language no longer exist today.

Regions: Caucasia

Spoken in: Turkey


Cappadocian Greek

Alternate Names: Propokion, Anatolian Greek

Number of Speakers: Unknown. Greeks living in Cappadocia were settled in Central and Northern Greece during the Population Exchange of 1920. The former speakers rapidly adopted Modern Greek and the language was presumed extinct since the 1960s until Mark Janse and Dimitris Papazachariou discovered native speakers of this language in the northern and central parts of Greece in 2005.

Regions: Cappadocia, village of Sille in Konya, village of Faraşa (Pharasa) in Kayseri, and neighboring villages prior to population exchange.

Spoken in: Turkey, Greece

Critically endangered


Alternate Names: Gagauz (South Balkan)

Number of Speakers: Nearly 300,000 Gagauzians, most of who live in the Autonomous Region of Gagauzia in Moldova. In addition, 5,000 Gagauzians live in the Varna region of Bulgaria, as well as an uncertain number of them living in Romania, Greece, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus. Gagauzians also resided across 11 villages near the town of Havsa, Edirne until 1921; however, as the population exchange was based not on ethnicity or language, but on religion, this minority currently resides in the city of Orestiada and its surrounding villages just beyond the Evros River.

Regions: Eastern Europe, Caucasus

Spoken in: Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Bulgaria

Definitely endangered


Alternate Names: Tapanta

Number of Speakers: Spoken by the Abazins, this close relative of Abkhaz is still alive among the 40,000 people living in Northern Caucasia. A significant portion (75%) of the Abazins were exiled to the Ottoman lands during the 1864 deportation. After the great exile, the remaining 10,000, who stayed in their homeland of Karachay-Cherkessia, have currently reached a population of 40,000.

Regions: Caucasia, Anatolia

Spoken in: Karachay-Cherkessia Republic of the Russian Federation, Turkey



Alternate Names: Abxaz

Number of Speakers:  It is spoken mainly in Abkhazia as official language, by 150 thousands of people. According to the Federation of Abkhaz Associations, it is also spoken by 500-700 thousand Abkhazians living in various regions of Turkey.

Regions: Caucasus, Anatolia (Kocaeli, Sakarya, Düzce and Bolu provinces)

Spoken in: Abkhazia, Turkey, Syria, Germany, the Netherlands, U.S.A., the Russian Federation, and Adzharia



Alternate Names: West Circassian

Number of Speakers: Prior to the migration to Turkey in 184, Adyghe was spoken by nearly two million people. It is still actively spoken by the majority of Circassians in the diaspora, most notably in Turkey. It is the official language of the Republic of Adygea in the Russian Federation. The total number of Adygheans in the Russian Federation was 131,769 in 2002.

Regions: Caucasia

Spoken in: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Libya, Tunisia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, Switzerland, USA, Canada, and Australia.



Alternate Names: West Circassian, East Circassian, Cherkess

Number of Speakers:  Circassian is the language or the union of dialects spoken by the diasporic Circassians that currently live across Turkey, Jordan, Syrian, and Israel following their deportation from Northern Caucasus and Caucasia into the Ottoman lands. Each officially recognized as a distinct language, two forms of the language exist as East and West Circassian. It is most closely related to Ubykh, which became extinct in 1992 and distantly affiliated with Abaza and Abkhaz. According to the figures of 2010, there are 117,489 speakers of West Circassian and 515,672 speak East Circassian in Russia. Based on the data obtained from the research conducted by the USCWM foundation in 2008, 910 thousand Circassians live in Turkey.

Regions: North Caucasus

Spoken in: Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Israel

Definitely endangered


Alternate Names: Homshetsi, Homshetsi lizu

Number of Speakers:  Also recognized as the North and East subcategory of West Armenian, Hemshin is spoken most notably in the Laz villages of Artvin’s Hope county , in Borçka county, and in the Western Marmara region by some immigrants. It is also spoken particularly by the Hemshin sent into exile following the Armenian Deportation and currently livin  in Gagra, Georgia and in Stravropol Krai (oblast) of the Russian Federation. Approximately several hundred thousand people speak this language worldwide of which 40 thousand live in Turkey.

Regions: Eastern Black Sea Region, Caucuses

Spoken in: Turkey, Russia, Georgia, and Armenia.

Definitely endangered


Diğer isimleri: Lazuri nena

Number of Speakers: Based on estimates worldwide, Laz is spoken by 300,000 people, a larger part of which live in Turkey and the range of native speakers extend from the Pazar county of Rize on the Eastern Black Sea shoreline to the village of Sarp Turkey shares with Georgia. It is also spoken in some villages in the Marmara region established by immigrants after the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War.  In addition, research suggests that it is spoken by the remaining Laz Batumi in Georgia, as well as the ones deported to Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Greece, not to mention the ones living in European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden where they sought asylum due to economic reasons.

Regions: Eastern Black Sea, South Caucasus

Spoken in: Turkey, Georgia, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden



Alternate Names: Zâzâ language, Dimli, Zazaki, Kırmanjki, Kirdki

Number of Speakers: Zaza language is primarily spoken in the triangle of Tunceli, Palu (Elazığ), Bingöl, Siverek, Erzincan and Varto and in the villages around Mutki to the west of Bitlis. While the exact numbers remain obscure, the number of speakers is estimated at 4 to 6 million. Apart from the ones living in Turkey, there is a considerable Zaza-speaking population currently living in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Switzerland and Sweden. 

Regions: Eastern Anatolia

Spoken in: Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Switzerland, and Sweden.