Turkey - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

Read about Turkey: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Turkey, officially the Republic of Turkey (Turkish Türkiye Cumhuriyeti), a nation in western Asia and southeastern Europe. The vast majority of Turkey is composed of the Asian territory of Anatolia, or Asia Minor, a large mountainous peninsula. The capital city, Ankara, is located there. The rest of Turkey, called Eastern (or Turkish) Thrace, occupies the far southeastern part of Europe. This region of rolling fertile hills is home to İstanbul, Turkey’s largest city. Asian Turkey and European Turkey are separated by three connected waterways of great strategic importance: the Sea of Marmara and the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (also called the Turkish Straits). Together, they form the only water route between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea.

Roughly rectangular in shape, Turkey occupies an area slightly larger than the state of Texas. Turkey borders the Aegean Sea and Greece on the west; Bulgaria on the northwest; the Black Sea on the north; Georgia, Armenia, and the autonomous Azerbaijani republic of Naxçivan on the northeast; Iran on the east; and Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea on the south. Turkey’s coastline is extensive and makes up about three-fourths of the country’s total boundary.

The landscapes of Turkey are varied, from fertile plains in the northwest and southeast to broad river valleys in the west to high barren plateaus and towering mountains in the east. In the rugged Asian interior, the climate fluctuates dramatically, with cold, snowy winters and hot, dry summers. Along the Mediterranean coastline the climate is less extreme, with warm summers and mild, moist winters.

Turkey’s unique geographic location between Europe and Asia has exposed the region to diverse influences and contributed to its historical and cultural evolution. Indeed, Turkey has served as bridge for the movement of peoples between Asia and Europe throughout human history. Turkey has drawn on these diverse influences to develop its own distinctive identity and a rich culture expressed in architecture, the fine arts, music, and literature. Diversity remains a hallmark of contemporary Turkey, in environment, people, and culture. Traditional beliefs and practices remain widespread, especially in rural areas. Turkey is also a democratic, rapidly modernizing society. The dominant religion is Islam, and most people speak Turkish, the national language.

For centuries Turkey’s economy was predominantly agricultural. Today, farming remains a key sector of the Turkish economy and accounts for about 30 percent of national employment. However, Turkey has experienced considerable growth in industry and services—including finance, transportation, and professional and government services—since the end of World War II (1939-1945), while the role of agriculture has declined. Manufactured goods, especially textiles and clothing, now dominate the country’s export sector. Rapid urbanization has accompanied this economic transformation. Today, 75 percent of Turkey’s people live in cities and towns, compared with just 21 percent in 1950. About 90 percent of the population lives in the Asian part of Turkey and about 10 percent lives in the European part.

The history of Turkey is long and eventful, with a succession of ethnically and culturally distinct peoples occupying the region since ancient times. Large cities first appeared in Anatolia during the reign of the Hittites, who invaded the region about 1900 BC. Other groups followed, including the Phrygians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Arabs. Nomadic Turkic tribes of Central Asia conquered Anatolia in the 11th century AD and founded the Seljuk dynasty. Their arrival placed the distinctive stamp of Turkish language and culture on the region’s population. The Seljuk dynasty ended in the 13th century after invading Mongols conquered Anatolia (See also Mongol Empire). The Ottoman Empire, founded in Anatolia in the late 13th century, endured for more than 600 years and expanded into one of the world’s most formidable empires. At the height of its power, Ottoman territory included much of the Middle East, large areas of Eastern Europe, and most of North Africa. The empire finally collapsed after World War I (1914-1918).

The modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) from Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, the Ottoman Empire’s predominantly Turkish-speaking areas. Atatürk served as president of the Republic of Turkey until his death in 1938. During his rule, he sought to assert Turkey’s identity as a strong, modern, European state. His principles of government, known as Kemalism, remain the guiding principles for all Turkish governments, although they have been reinterpreted by successive generations of political leaders. The most controversial of these principles is secularism. Strict Kemalists interpret secularism to mean that religion should remain outside of public life and that political parties should not promote religious causes. Those who advocate a more flexible interpretation of secularism maintain that religious groups and causes should not be excluded from the public realm.

Since the 1950s, the role of religion in politics has been a persistent and contentious issue in Turkey. The military, which sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the principles of Kemalism, has intervened in the political process on four occasions—in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997—because it feared that political parties posed a threat to the secular nature of the state.


The total area of Turkey is 785,347 sq km (303,224 sq mi). Anatolia, the eastern portion of Turkey, forms about 97 percent of the country’s area. Most of Anatolia is mountainous and arid, with the exception of the narrow plains along the Aegean, Black, and Mediterranean coasts. Eastern (or Turkish) Thrace in southwestern Europe makes up the remainder of the country. This area is characterized by rolling plains surrounded by low mountains.

Many of Turkey’s mountains are of volcanic origin. Earthquakes are frequent and occasionally severe, giving evidence that the region remains seismically active. Devastating earthquakes struck Turkey several times during the 20th century. In 1939 an earthquake struck the northeastern city of Erzincan and killed an estimated 30,000 people; a 1999 earthquake near the northwestern city of İzmit killed more than 15,000 people.

Natural Regions in Turkey

Turkey can be divided into seven geographic regions: Thrace and the borderlands of the Sea of Marmara; the Aegean and Mediterranean region; the Black Sea region; western Anatolia; the central Anatolian Plateau; the eastern highlands; and southeastern Anatolia.

Thrace and the borderlands of the Sea of Marmara in northeastern Turkey encompass a central plain of gently rolling hills with few changes in elevation. About one-quarter of this fertile, well-watered area is farmed. The eastern portion of this region is more mountainous, reaching its highest point of 2,543 m (8,343 ft) at Uludağ (ancient Mount Olympus of Mysia), a popular area for skiing.

The coastlands of the Aegean and Mediterranean region in the west and south are narrow and hilly. Near the Mediterranean coast, peaks of the Taurus Mountains reach 3,700 m (12,000 ft). Along the Aegean coast, a series of low ridges generally rise toward the east to an average elevation of 1,500 to 1,850 m (5,000 to 6,000 ft); a few peaks approach 3,050 m (10,000 ft). The broad, flat valleys between the ridges provide some of the most productive soils in Turkey.

To the north, the Anatolian coastlands of the Black Sea region rise directly from the water to the heights of the Kuzey Anadolu Dağları (Northern Anatolian Mountains). Western Anatolia, in the west central part of the country, consists of irregular ranges and interior valleys that separate the Aegean coast from the Anatolian Plateau, the largest geographic region in Turkey. Turks consider this centrally located plateau, which is actually composed of several interconnected basins, as the heartland of their nation. These basins are surrounded on all sides by mountains, which reach their highest point at the summit of Mount Erciyes (3,916 m/12,848 ft). The plateau itself has a general elevation of 900 to 1,500 m (3,000 to 5,000 ft) above sea level.

The eastern highlands region is the most mountainous and rugged portion of Turkey; Mount Ararat (Ağrı Dağı) is the highest peak in the country at 5,165 m (16,945 ft). Many Christians and Jews believe it to be the same Mount Ararat mentioned in the Bible as the place where Noah’s ark came to rest. The eastern highlands are the source for both the Tigris (Dicle) and Euphrates (Firāt)—two of southwestern Asia’s principal rivers. Southeastern Anatolia is a rolling plateau enclosed on the north, east, and west by mountains. A part of the so-called Fertile Crescent, this region has been an important agricultural center since antiquity. About 19 percent of southeastern Anatolia’s area is farmed.

Turkey’s Rivers and Lakes

Numerous rivers drain Turkey’s plateaus and mountains, in many cases cutting deep gorges on their way to the coast. The rivers are usually swift flowing and relatively short; none can be navigated by large ships. A number of rivers do not flow during the dry summer. Some rivers are, however, important sources of hydroelectric power and water for irrigation.

The Kızılırmak (1,150 km/715 mi long), which crosses the Anatolian Plateau in a broad arc before emptying into the Black Sea, is the longest river flowing entirely within Turkey. The Sakarya River, to the west of the Kızılırmak, also flows into the Black Sea. The chief Turkish rivers that drain into the Aegean Sea are the Gediz and Büyükmenderes (ancient Meander); the many loops and bends of the Büyükmenderes gave rise to the term meander in English. In south central Turkey the Ceyhan (ancient Jihun) and Seyhan (ancient Adana) rivers flow from the Taurus Mountains to the Mediterranean. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow southeast through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf, have their headwaters in the mountains of eastern Turkey.

The largest lake in Turkey is Van Gölü (Lake Van), located in eastern Anatolia. The waters of Van Gölü are saline, as are those of another large body of water, Lake Tuz, located near the center of the Anatolian Plateau. Freshwater lakes include Beyşehir, Eğridir, and Burdur—all located in the southwest.

Turkey’s Coastline

Turkey’s Black Sea coast is generally smooth and lacks natural harbors, although ports have been developed at Rize and Samsun. The coastal plain is narrow, extending only a few miles inland, and is periodically broken by spurs of mountain ranges that reach the water’s edge.

The Aegean coast has many bays, rocky peninsulas, offshore islands, and inlets that provide easy access to the interior. Along this coastline, the coastal plain is exceptionally narrow and broken by highland ridges that stretch like fingers into the sea as headlands.

Dominating the Mediterranean coast are the western and main ranges of the Taurus Mountains, which tower over the narrow plains along the Mediterranean Sea. Rivers and streams that flow into the sea have cut steep-sided, narrow valleys through the main Taurus range, providing natural passes through the mountains. The best known of these, the Cilician Gates (Gülek Boğazı), has been used since antiquity and is one of the easiest routes from the eastern Mediterranean into Anatolia. The pass connects the alluvial Adana Plain, one of the most highly developed agricultural areas in Turkey, with the interior regions. The Gulf of Alexandretta is the only deepwater bay on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Turkey’s Natural Resources

Turkey’s most important mineral resource is coal. However, since the early 1990s, Turkey’s total coal production has not been sufficient to meet domestic demand. There are also natural gas deposits in Eastern Thrace and petroleum fields in southeastern Anatolia; these energy resources can supply only a small fraction of domestic demand. Turkey is one of the largest producers of boron ore in the world, and has a number of other small but important mineral deposits. These include chromium near Guleman and Fethiye in the southwest, high-grade magnetite at Divriği in central Turkey, and antimony, asbestos, bauxite, iron, lead, mercury, pyrite, sulfur, and zinc in scattered areas. Copper and silver are also found in small quantities.

Compared to the rest of the Middle East, Turkey has considerable water resources, and these support a rich and diverse agricultural sector. Seasonal precipitation in the highlands of Turkey, much of which falls as snow, provides many permanent streams and also seeps into the ground to replenish underground aquifers. These aquifers are an important source of water for irrigation. In addition, hydroelectric resources are under intensive development and currently provide nearly one-third of Turkey’s electricity requirements.

Turkey’s Climate

The Mediterranean and Aegean shores of Turkey have a dry subtropical climate, similar to that of Greece and southern Italy. Summers are long and warm and winters are mild. İstanbul, located on the Bosporus, has an average temperature range in January of 3° to 9°C (37° to 48°F). In July the average range is 19° to 28°C (65° to 83°F). Precipitation averages 700 mm (27 in) annually and is heaviest between October and March.

The Anatolian Plateau in central Turkey has a continental climate with hotter summers and colder winters than those along the shore. Ankara, located on the plateau, has an average temperature range of -3° to 4°C (26° to 39°F) in January and 15° to 30°C (60° to 86°F) in July. The average annual precipitation is 410 mm (16 in).

The Anatolian Plateau receives only about half as much precipitation as coastal areas, almost all of which falls between October and April, much of it as snow. The eastern highlands experience even longer and colder winters. Southeastern Anatolia records the country’s hottest summer temperatures, averaging about 30°C (86°F) in July and August.

Plant and Animal Life in Turkey

Except in the more isolated highlands, the natural vegetation of Turkey has suffered centuries of destruction and change as a result of human habitation. Present vegetation types are often hybrids of indigenous types. Plant life varies according to region, depending on soil type, climate, and elevation.

Along the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts and parts of the Marmara region, the characteristic plant cover at low elevations is of the Mediterranean type. It includes stunted trees, bushes, and a variety of thorny, flowering, and bulbous plants. Trees include evergreen oak, pine, laurel, and myrtle. Evergreen scrub forests are found at higher elevations where precipitation is greater.

The forests of the Kuzey Anadolu Dağları (Northern Anatolian Mountains) in the northeast, where rainfall is heavy, are the densest and most commercially valuable in Turkey. Eastward from Sinop on the central Black Sea coast, where the Mediterranean type of vegetation ends, the forests are composed of deciduous hardwoods such as maple, walnut, oak, and hazelnut.

Grasslands and grain fields are abundant on the dry Anatolian Plateau, with sparse alpine forests restricted to higher slopes. Various types of grasses, including alpine species, are common. Trees and shrubs grow mainly along stream courses. On the lower slopes of mountains surrounding the plateau, trees such as juniper, carob, and oak are interspersed with grasslands and low bushes.

Asian animal species generally predominate in Turkey, although some European animal species are also found because the land has long served as a passage between the two continents. The lynx, wolf, bear, fox, and jackal are the major carnivorous types; the gazelle, deer, and wild boar are the principal herbivorous types. Many varieties of rodent are also found. Of Turkey’s larger animals, only boar remain abundant in forested areas. Wolf, fox, wildcat, hyena, jackal, deer, bear, marten, and mountain goat inhabit more remote areas. Domesticated animals in Turkey include the camel, Asian water buffalo, and Angora goat. Numerous local species of birds include the wild goose, partridge, and quail. In addition, several birds of prey—including the lesser spotted eagle, buzzard, hawk, kestrel, and falcon—follow a migratory route along the Bosporus. Trout are abundant in the mountain streams, and bonito, mackerel, and bluefish are plentiful in the Turkish Straits. Anchovies are caught in the Black Sea.

Environmental Issues in Turkey

Turkey’s most serious environmental problems stem from human impacts, especially industrialization, commercial agriculture, rapid urbanization, and tourism. One of the most important threats to Turkey’s environment is water pollution. The discharge of industrial wastes has polluted many rivers, and agricultural runoff has led to pollution of the Mediterranean Sea. Water pollution has also damaged marine life and habitats in the Black Sea. Turkey itself is not a major source of this pollution, but nearby countries dump various industrial wastes and toxic chemicals into the water. Environmental groups in Turkey cite Romania, Russia, and Ukraine as bearing special responsibility for Black Sea pollution. Oil spills from ships, especially those transporting petroleum, are another source of Black Sea pollution. As a result, various environmental groups advocate stricter limitations on the type of ships entering or exiting the Black Sea through its only outlet at İstanbul. Other groups have formed to oppose the building of underwater oil pipelines in the Black Sea.

Air pollution in a number of Turkish cities constitutes another significant environmental problem. For many years, the primary source of this pollution was the burning of coal, the main fuel for residential and industrial heating during winter. The capital, Ankara, gained a bad reputation for the black smog that hung over the city during the coldest months. Since the 1980s, however, Turkey has invested in the development of an extensive network of natural gas pipelines that serve all the major cities and most towns. Consequently, natural gas has replaced coal as the primary fuel source in most population centers, and urban air is cleaner than in the past.

The degradation and destruction of Turkey’s remaining forested areas is also an issue of concern. Forested areas are largely owned by the state, which controls tree harvests for lumber and replanting of cleared areas. The extent of forested land has actually increased slightly in recent decades. However, the lack of a uniform program for forest management has left many wooded areas neglected and in poor shape, especially in eastern Anatolia. In addition, the Turkish military burned extensive areas of forest in the southeast during the height of its campaign against Kurdish guerrillas in the early and mid-1990s. The government has also drawn criticism for selling wooded tracts along the Black and Mediterranean seacoasts to private developers, who clear the land to build luxury homes.

Turkey has a ministry of the environment that is responsible for regulating the various toxins that pollute the country’s air, soil, and water. However, it has limited enforcement powers because past governments have done little to promote legislation authorizing penalties for failure to comply with environmental regulations.


The population of Turkey is 76,805,524 (2009 estimate). The average population density is 100 persons per sq km (258 per sq mi). Urbanization has progressed rapidly in recent decades. In the mid-1970s, Turkey was still a predominantly rural society, with nearly 60 percent of its citizens living in the countryside. In 2005, 67 percent of the people lived in urban areas. The highest population concentrations are in İstanbul and in coastal regions.

Turkey’s Principal Cities

İstanbul is the largest city in Turkey, with a population of 11,174,257 (2007 estimate). It is the country’s primary cultural, financial, manufacturing, and tourism center, as well as its largest port. Ankara, the capital, has a population of 3,428,000 (2003 estimate). İzmir, population 2,409,000 (2000), is the country’s second largest port, as well as a major industrial and tourism center. Adana, population 395,388 (2007 estimate), is the main industrial center of the south, as well as the home of the İncirlik air base, an important North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) facility. Bursa, population 459,877 (2007 estimate), is an ancient city in western Anatolia that served as the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. The modern city is a manufacturing center.

Turkey has four other cities with populations exceeding 500,000. These are Gaziantep (217,505), Konya (546,739), Mersin (539,607), and Antalya (661,661). Each of these cities has grown rapidly in recent decades as migrants from rural areas have arrived seeking work in the proliferating factories. Other important cities are Kayseri (population 269,835), Diyarbakır (605,325), Eskişehir (482,793), Şanlıurfa (381,938), Samsun (363,180), and Malatya (381,081).

Ethnic Groups in Turkey

About 80 percent of the people of Turkey identify themselves as ethnic Turks. Before 1900, the population of Anatolia and Eastern Thrace was more ethnically diverse, with Turks making up about 55 percent of the total; another 30 percent were Armenians and Greeks. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several forced movements of populations resulted in the removal of most Armenians and Greeks from Anatolia. Replacing them were non-Turkish Muslims, including Albanians and Bosnians, who were forced to leave newly independent countries in the Balkan Peninsula. These countries were established out of former provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In the same period, thousands of Muslim Circassians from Russia’s Caucasus region also immigrated to Turkey to escape religious persecution in Russia. Most Balkan and Circassian Muslim immigrants were assimilated as Turks within one generation. Turkey has continued to welcome Muslim immigrants from former Ottoman areas in southeastern Europe and from Turkic-speaking regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia, taking in some 350,000 Muslim refugees between 1989 and 2000.

The Kurds are Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, comprising about 17 percent of the country’s total population. Their historical homeland encompasses 11 provinces in southeast Turkey, which borders the Kurdish-populated regions of Iran, Iraq, and Syria. More than half of all Kurds live in southeastern Turkey. The ancient city of Diyarbakır on the Tigris River, a major urban area in the southeast, has been a Kurdish cultural and political center since Ottoman times. In the late 1960s, many Kurds began migrating from southeastern Anatolia to İstanbul and the industrial cities of central and western Anatolia, as well as to Germany.

Ethnic conflict between Kurds and Turks increased after 1923 following the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, which implemented uniform national educational and social policies. The Kurds especially resented official efforts to discourage use of the Kurdish language and the banning of Kurdish political parties. In 1984 the Kurdistān Workers Party (PKK) launched an armed uprising against the Turkish government. The PKK’s aim was to create a separate Kurdish state. Its guerrilla war against the Turkish military continued in the rural regions of southeastern Anatolia for 15 years until it declared a ceasefire in 1999. The ceasefire lasted nearly five years. Fighting resumed in 2004 when the PKK said it was forced to renounce the ceasefire to respond to attacks by the Turkish military.

Arabs comprise the third largest ethnic group in Turkey. They are concentrated in the southern Mediterranean province of Hatay, with smaller communities in the adjacent provinces of Adana to the north and Gaziantep to the east, as well as in the two westernmost provinces of the southeast. Arabs constitute less than 2 percent of the country’s total population.

Several smaller ethnic groups also live in Turkey. The Laz are a non-Turkic Muslim community who live along the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Muslim Georgians live in northeastern Turkey in the mountainous region bordering the Republic of Georgia. Small communities of Armenians and Greeks still reside in İstanbul. Turkey’s small population of Ladino-speaking Jews are the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 during the Inquisition.

Languages spoken in Turkey

The official language of Turkey is Turkish (see Turkish Language). Turkish belongs to the Altaic superfamily of languages that are spoken in most of central and northern Asia. About 15 percent of the population speaks a different primary language, usually Kurdish or Arabic.

In a major language reform initiated in 1928, Turkey adopted a modified Latin alphabet in place of the Arabic script that had been used for centuries to write Turkish. The objective of this reform was to make literacy in Turkish easier to achieve, as the reformers believed that Arabic inadequately represented the sounds of Turkish vowels. Between 1932 and 1950, the official Turkish Language Society made a concerted effort to purge the Turkish language of loanwords from Arabic, Persian, and other foreign languages.

Religion in Turkey

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the Turkish constitution, and there is no official state religion. About 99 percent of Turkey’s people are identified as Muslim, or followers of Islam. However, Muslim identity in Turkey is complex because there are multiple interpretations of Islam. Secular Muslims, for example, insist that religion is strictly a private matter for each person. This secular view informs Turkish law, which forbids the wearing of religious garb except by authorized religious leaders in places of worship or during religious services. Nonsecular Muslims generally believe the state has a hostile attitude toward religious institutions and practices, and have called for official neutrality.

The vast majority of Turkey’s Muslims, or about 80 percent of the population, are followers of Sunni Islam, the larger of the two main branches of Islam. However, there is no uniform definition of the principles of Sunni Islam, and several interpretations of Sunni theology are practiced within Turkey. About 20 percent of Turkish Sunnis practice various types of Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism. Some Sufis adopt liberal, secular views on religion while others are quite conservative.

Alevi Muslims constitute another important Islamic group in Turkey. Alevis practice a distinct form of Shia Islam, the second main denomination of Islam. Alevis are distinguished from other Shia groups by having no authoritative religious texts, other than the Qur’an (Koran), which set forth their distinctive beliefs. The Alevi religion thus is based on oral traditions and its tenets are kept secret from non-Alevis. Alevis experienced periodic persecutions during the final centuries of Ottoman rule, leaving a legacy of suspicion toward government among Alevi communities. Most Alevis are ethnic Turks, although they also include significant numbers of Kurds and Arabs. Strict Sunnis consider Alevi theology as heretical, and religious riots that erupted in the late 1970s and early 1990s left many Alevis dead.

Turkey is home to a variety of other heterodox Islamic groups. They include Twelve Imam Shia Muslims; Yazidis, a sect that combines elements of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and paganism; and the Donme. The Donme descend from the followers of a 17th-century Jewish convert to Islam who established a religion that includes beliefs from Islam and Judaism.

Although Christians made up a substantial religious community during the Ottoman Empire, fewer than 100,000 Christians live in Turkey today, and their numbers continue to decline due to emigration. Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches maintain ecclesiastical offices in İstanbul. Emigration similarly has reduced Turkey’s once large Jewish population, which today numbers fewer than 20,000.

Education in Turkey

Before the early 19th century, Muslim and Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire operated schools in which children received religious instruction. Modern schools that trained students in math, science, and foreign languages were established by the government and by private groups beginning in the 1830s. The generation of leaders who later established the Republic of Turkey in 1923 attended modern schools prior to World War I (1914-1918). These schools served only a small elite group, however, and at the birth of the republic more than 90 percent of Turkey’s people were unable to read and write. Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk believed that the new nation would not become strong, modern, and prosperous unless the government provided a basic education to all citizens free of charge.

Primary and Secondary Education

The original public school system established under the Turkish republic included primary schools (grades one through five) and secondary schools (grades six through twelve). Attendance in primary schools was required for all boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 12, although in many places this was not enforced owing to a lack of facilities or to local resistance. Private schools were initially abolished, but some private schools were permitted to open after 1950. The secondary schools subsequently were subdivided into three-year middle schools and four-year high schools, called lycees. This system remained in effect until 1997, when the government redefined primary education as grades one through eight and made attendance obligatory for all eight years.

The broad extension of free primary and secondary education led to a significant increase in adult literacy in Turkey. In 2007 an estimated 88.7 percent of people over the age of 15 were defined as literate. However, school attendance beyond the primary level has never been compulsory, and many families, especially in small towns and rural areas of Anatolia, discourage their daughters from continuing in school after the age of 13 or 14. Consequently, the rate of literacy for adult females (81.2 percent) is lower than for adult males (96.2 percent). In addition, young women made up only 37 percent of high school students, according to 2000 figures.

Higher Education

The Republic of Turkey also established a public system of higher education. As in the primary and secondary system, private schools were at first banned, although since 1980 the government has authorized private colleges. In the early 2000s there were more than 800 institutions of higher education of all kinds in Turkey. These included one- and two-year institutes that gave certificates for specialized post-secondary training as well as four-year colleges and universities offering various post-graduate degree programs. In the largest cities of İstanbul and Ankara, there were several large universities, while other major cities had at least one college. The most important educational institutions include the University of İstanbul (founded as a seminary in 1453); the Aegean University (1955), at İzmir; the University of Ankara (1946); and the Middle East Technical University (1956), also at Ankara.

Entrance to all institutes of higher education is competitive and based on standardized entrance examinations. In 2006, 2,342,898 students were enrolled in all institutions of higher education in Turkey. About 58 percent of these students were men and 42 percent were women.

Social Structure of Turkey

During the long period of Ottoman rule, Turkey’s social structure was dominated by the Ottoman ruling family, high-ranking government officials, Islamic religious leaders, wealthy landlords, and military leaders. Rural farmers, who made up the great majority of the population, were at the bottom of the social scale and generally lived at a subsistence level.

Government reforms implemented after the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 significantly altered the nation’s social structure. The ruling Ottoman families were deposed and religious leaders and institutions lost much of their former power. Military leaders and government officials maintained high prestige, however, and large landowners effectively blocked most land reform proposals. At the same time, vigorous state economic planning stimulated the growth of manufacturing, initiating Turkey’s transformation from a primarily rural, agricultural society to a primarily urbanized, industrial one. In the process of this transformation, many more people became business owners, factory workers, and professionals, and new social groups formed.

In contemporary Turkey, education is one of the most important determinants of social status. In urban areas, the basic social division is between an educated class on one side and a less-educated working class on the other. But education makes considerable mobility possible. In the countryside, social divisions are based largely on the amount of arable (suitable for cultivation) land owned, and wealthy landowners still dominate many rural areas. Young people who migrate from rural communities to cities often find it difficult to move out of the working class unless they are able to obtain further education.

Way of Life in Turkey

The family is at the heart of daily life in Turkey, whether among Turks, Kurds, or Arabs. Members of extended families typically live near each other in urban neighborhoods, and most social interactions involve visits to the homes of relatives—parents, siblings, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. Boys and girls tend to grow up regarding their same-gender cousins as their closest friends. From early adolescence through adulthood, most people strive to behave in such a way so as not to bring shame to the family. Because of the strong emphasis on family life, young people generally seek to get married soon after finishing their education. In practice, this means that women, especially those in the working classes and rural areas, are expected to give greater priority to taking care of a husband and rearing children than to pursuing a career outside the home.

The importance of family life is also evident in the acquisition of consumer goods, which are purchased primarily to enhance family prestige rather than individual status. Thus, the most popular consumer goods are those that can benefit multiple family members, including appliances and electronic items such as radios, televisions, and computers, as opposed to goods used exclusively by one family member. The people of Turkey dress like Europeans and North Americans. Among middle- and upper-middle-class youth, status is attached to wearing internationally famous name-brand clothes and shoes.

The most popular sports in Turkey are soccer and wrestling. The third-place finish of Turkey’s national soccer team during the 2002 World Cup games was a source of great pride, and Turkey has won many international wrestling prizes. Major holidays include the Muslim religious feast of Şeker Bayrami (“sugar holiday”), which comes at the close of the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth lunar month; and Kurban Bayrami (“sacrifice holiday”), held during the 12th lunar month. Secular holidays include National Sovereignty Day (April 23, also Children’s Day), Atatürk’s Memorial and Youth Day (May 19), Victory Day (August 30), and Republic Day (October 29).

Social Issues in Turkey

Matters of religious expression and identity are controversial issues in Turkey. Although the Turkish government has promoted a secular (nonreligious) state, some pious Muslims have supported greater public expression of religion. For example, they would like public schools to offer religious education and they would like the ban lifted on women covering their head with religious headscarves in schools and government offices. Secularists fear these changes would mark the first steps toward a religious state. The divisions between secularists and pious Muslims once corresponded to a class division between the educated urban elite, which defended the secular state, and the poorer urban and rural populations, which preserved religious tradition. Economic reforms, however, have helped many devout Muslims improve their social and economic status. Thus, the conflict over religious expression has also moved up the social, political, and economic ladder into elite circles.

Cultural rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority constitutes another disruptive social issue. Some Turkish nationalists view the Kurds’ demands for Kurdish-language radio and television broadcasts, publications, and education as a threat to the country’s national integrity. These Turks have organized vigilante-like groups who have attacked Kurds and their property in cities with mixed Kurdish and Turkish populations. Groups who defend the rights of Kurds complain that the Turkish government does little to protect Kurds from such attacks and even may encourage them.


From the 14th through the 16th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was a major center for Islamic art (see Islamic Art and Architecture). The architecture, calligraphy, ceramics, and painting preserved from this period are among the classic examples of Islamic art. Modern Turkish art began to emerge in the 19th century as local artists began to experiment with, and adapt, methods and styles being developed in central and western Europe. The final five decades of Ottoman rule (1873-1923), although a time of serious economic and political decline, was also an age of great artistic achievement. During this period new literary journals popularized novels, plays, and poems; painters exhibited large works in the impressionist style in İstanbul’s new galleries; and musicians composed original works that blended European and traditional Turkish scales.

Artistic creativity declined in the years after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Until the mid-20th century, the Turkish government played a central role in defining art that it considered appropriate, especially with respect to visual art. The government encouraged artists to stress themes that reflected the official image of a modern and secular society. At the same time, government patronage of all forms of art opened new opportunities for people to pursue artistic careers. Since 1950, however, the government has not actively promoted particular art styles. Consequently, new creative energy has emerged in literature, the visual arts, and music.

Literature of Turkey

Until the mid-19th century, Turkish literature centered on the Ottoman court. This literature, which included poetry and some prose, represented a fusion of Persian, Arabic, and Turkish classical styles. Western influences were introduced in the 1860s by the Young Ottomans, a group of intellectuals who attempted to combine Western cultural forms with a simplified form of the Turkish language. This trend continued through the remainder of the 19th century and became more pronounced in the period immediately before World War I (1914-1918).

After the founding of the republic in 1923, Turkey produced an impressive number of poets, novelists, and playwrights. Orhan Veli is generally considered the father of modern Turkish poetry, which is characterized by a rebellion against rigidly prescribed forms and a preoccupation with immediate perception. Novelists and poets who have gained international acclaim and whose works have been translated into English include Halide Edip Adıvar, Nazım Hikmet, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, Yaşar Kemal, Nusret Aziz Nesin, Orhan Pamuk, Oktay Rifat, Ilhan Berk, and Bilge Karasu. Yaşar Kemal’s novels include the prizewinning Memed, My Hawk (1955; translated 1961) and Seagull (1976; translated 1981). Nazım Hikmet is one of Turkey’s most acclaimed political poets.

Visual Arts of Turkey

Painting, ceramics, and carpet design are among the most popular visual arts in contemporary Turkey. Painters whose work has won international recognition include Salih Acar, Ibrahim Balaban, Turan Erol, Leyla Gamsız, and Adnan Turani. In ceramics, the work of Mehmet Gursel, Faik Kırımlı, and Ahmet Şahin is notable. Artists such as carpet weaver Belkis Balpinar, calligrapher Feridun Özgören, and musician Niyazi Sayın consciously incorporate traditional methods and folk motifs in their work.

Turkey is renowned for its historic architecture, especially the magnificent mosques designed and constructed during the Ottoman period. The field of modern architecture, however, has not attracted significant creative talent. Modern buildings tend to imitate those of Europe in style and construction materials—cement and bricks for low-rise buildings; steel girders and glass for high-rise structures. The area of sculpture has seen little development, and public monuments continue to commemorate Atatürk or events from Turkey’s war of independence.

Music and Dance of Turkey

In music and dance, perhaps more than in other Turkish art forms, there is a division between elite and popular genres. Turkey’s cultural elite emphasizes Western classical music, with some acceptance of traditional Ottoman court music. Both Ankara and İstanbul are home to respected opera companies. The Presidential Symphony Orchestra gives concerts each year in Ankara and on tour. Ankara and İstanbul also each have music conservatories, including schools of ballet.

Western operas and symphonies are also performed on traditional Turkish instruments and accompanied by folk dancing. Often, folk music is a source of inspiration for longer Turkish symphonic works. Several Turkish composers, of whom the best known is Adnan Saygun, have won national and international acclaim for the fusing of Turkish folk themes with Western forms. The İstanbul Music Conservatory has taken steps to preserve authentic folk music by recording it in all parts of the country. Folk arts festivals held each year in İstanbul present a wide variety of Turkish music and dance.

The popular music of Turkey, called arabesque, is influenced by Arab popular music and folk Islam. The common themes of arabesque are love, betrayal, and unfairness in life. State broadcasting disapproves of arabesque, but the establishment of private radio and television stations after 1980 opened new opportunities for arabesque music to receive extensive airplay.

Theater and Film in Turkey

During the 1960s and 1970s, Turkey was one of the world’s largest producers of motion pictures. Production fell to fewer than 20 new features per year by the 1990s due to competition from television and foreign-made movies. The country’s internationally acclaimed film directors include Tomris Giritlioğlu,Yılmaz Güney, and Yesim Ustaoğlu. Erden Kıral’s film Mavi Surgun (The Blue Exile) was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994 as best foreign-made film. A highly regarded international film festival takes place in İstanbul during the early months of each year.

Libraries and Museums in Turkey

Museums are located in all of Turkey’s major cities and also at many popular tourist sites. Turkey’s most notable museums include the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, with exhibits of the ancient Hittite and Phrygian civilizations, and the Ethnographic Museum in İstanbul, which contains Greek and Roman artifacts. Many famous archaeological sites—including the great Greek and Roman cities of Ephesus and Pergamum—are open to public view. The Topkapı Palace Museum (Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi) in İstanbul, the country’s most popular tourist attraction, served as the official residence and administrative offices of Ottoman rulers from the late 15th century until 1853. It displays imperial treasures and religious relics from the golden age of the Ottoman Empire.

Among the many other historical sites in İstanbul that now are museums is Hagia Sophia, a 6th-century Christian church that was converted into a mosque in 1453 and into a museum in 1933; and the Dolmabahçe Palace. Libraries in Turkey that have specialized collections include the National Library, in Ankara, which houses important government documents from the early republican period; the Beyazıt State Library, in İstanbul, which is a repository for government documents from both Ottoman and republican periods; and the Süleymaniye Library, also in İstanbul, which has more than 64,000 handwritten manuscripts from the Ottoman era.



Turkey’s economy has experienced considerable industrialization and modernization since the establishment of the republic in 1923, and especially since the end of World War II (1939-1945). Turkey is among the most advanced of the developing nations, but it remains poorer than most European countries. Turkey is still strongly agricultural, and farming remains the occupation of about 30 percent of the population. However, Turkey’s economy is undergoing a structural transformation in which manufacturing, commercial agriculture, construction, and the service industries have expanded steadily while the role of traditional subsistence agriculture has declined.

Historically, the Turkish government has had extensive influence over the economy and has controlled a variety of key industries. In setting as a goal the creation of a modern European state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk emphasized the government’s responsibility for building the national economy. In practice, this meant the government made major investments in infrastructure, including dams, electricity grids, port facilities, railways, and roads. The government also developed strategically important industries, including steel and weapons production. During the 1920s, government intervention helped stimulate economic growth after a period of stagnation and decline. The economic problems of the time resulted directly from Turkey’s disastrous involvement in World War I on the losing side, a subsequent war of independence against occupation by the Allied victors, and massive population movements that accompanied these conflicts.

World War II interrupted Turkey’s drive for development and made it difficult to acquire the machinery and other goods needed for industrialization. After the war, the effort resumed with outside financial and technical assistance, notably from the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. With foreign aid, Turkey created a national highway network linking previously isolated regions and facilitating the movement of goods and people. Major investments were also made in electricity production, coal mining, and irrigation, and new textile, sugar, and cement factories opened. During the 1950s the economy expanded rapidly, although economic growth was uneven.

By the early 1950s, concerns about economic stability and growth had prompted some Turks to question the government’s active role in the economy. Two major views about the government’s appropriate role have emerged since then. Groups on the political right have maintained that government intervention should be limited to oversight of national economic policy and to promoting private investment. Groups on the left, however, have argued for a broad, proactive government role to protect the interests of the public and the nation. Differences between these two views narrowed after 1980 when a political consensus emerged that Turkey should join the European Community (EC), a predecessor of the European Union (EU). Political leaders supporting membership recognized that Turkey would first need to implement economic reforms to make Turkey’s economy more similar to the economies of other EU countries. Specifically, this meant privatization of major state-owned industries, including national monopolies in communications.

Following the adoption of economic reforms in the early 1980s that favored private business and exports, private enterprise expanded, and large private businesses developed in broadcasting, publishing, food processing, mining, steel, and textiles. Many of these businesses were export-oriented; by the early 1990s, Turkey had become an important exporter of manufactured products, notably textiles, steel, cement, and processed foods. Nevertheless, Turkey’s first application for EU membership in 1987 was rejected because privatization and other structural economic reforms were deemed incomplete. Further reforms followed.

By 1995 Turkey’s progress toward privatization was sufficiently impressive that the EU agreed to form a customs union with Turkey. As a condition for full membership, however, the EU also called for political reforms that would bring Turkey’s democratic practices up to the standards of other EU member states. In 1997 the EU presented Turkey with a list of specific political reforms that were required for Turkey to become an official EU membership candidate.

Turkey’s failure to gain quick EU acceptance produced disappointment within the country. At the same time, a period of political instability followed military intervention in the political process in 1997. These factors combined to depress Turkey’s economy, which was already hampered by budget deficits and decades of high double-digit annual inflation rates. Consequently, in 1999 Turkey applied for and received an economic stabilization loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Austerity measures demanded of Turkey by the IMF led to the loss of 1.5 million jobs within two years. A second IMF loan in 2001, a period in which Turkey experienced its worst economic performance in decades, brought Turkey’s total IMF debt to $31 billion, making it one of the largest recipients ever of IMF credit.

Turkey’s successful implementation of the IMF-backed austerity measures, including important progress in reducing inflation, prompted the IMF in late 2004 to extend more loans to the country. The new three-year deal allocated an additional $10 billion to fund the overhaul of Turkey’s tax collection system and further reforms in social security and banking. Turkey’s improving economy permitted the government to introduce a revalued currency, called the new Turkish lira (Yeni Türk Lirası, or YTL) in January 2005. The new currency dropped six zeroes from the old Turkish lira (TL) in a million-to-one conversion. Turkey’s government hoped the new currency would boost international trade, which frequently involved trillions of old lira, and would underscore Turkey’s seriousness in meeting the economic requirements of EU membership.

Turkey’s National Economic Output

Turkey’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 was $655.9 billion. Some 28 percent of the GDP was contributed by industry, 9 percent by agriculture, and 63 percent by government and private services.

Labor in Turkey

The domestic Turkish labor force included 24.2 million economically active persons in 2007. Of those, 30 percent were employed in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; 46 percent held jobs in service industries; and 25 percent worked in industry. In 1999 about 1.2 million Turkish citizens were employed abroad, especially in Germany, Saudi Arabia, and France; annual remittances from emigrant workers totaled about $4.6 million. The main labor organizations were the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, with about 1.7 million members, and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey.

Agriculture of Turkey

Since 1950, Turkey’s agricultural output has increased through the use of more machinery and fertilizer and more productive plant varieties. Turkey is one of a handful of countries in the world that produces an overall surplus of foods. The diversity of climates in Turkey allows many specialty crops to be grown, including tea, figs, and silk.

Cereals and livestock are raised on the Anatolian Plateau. In this region most farmers own some of the land they cultivate, and large landholdings are the exception. Cereals—including wheat, barley, and maize—and livestock together account for about two-thirds of Turkey’s total agricultural output. In areas where irrigation is possible, a broader range of crops is grown, including cotton, sugar beets, grapes, and other fruits. The livestock industry is of special significance in the mountainous eastern provinces. Sheep are the main livestock, and Turkey produces more wool than any other country in Europe. Cattle provide milk, meat, and hides, and are used as draft animals. Goats, horses, donkeys, water buffalo, and camels are also raised. The long silky hair of Angora goats, called mohair, is used to make a soft yarn.

In the more fertile coastal areas, especially in the Aegean and Mediterranean region, large landholdings worked with hired labor are common. In these areas, important export crops such as cotton and tobacco are raised, as well as olives, grapes, figs, and many other varieties of fruits. Cotton is also widely grown on the Adana Plain. The intensively cultivated Black Sea coastlands produce tobacco, tea, hazelnuts, sugar beets, potatoes, and other vegetables and fruits.

Forestry and Fishing in Turkey

Although 13 percent of Turkey’s area is classified as forested, lumbering is relatively unimportant. Only about one-third of the forested area has commercial value. The remainder produces shrub and brush useful primarily as a fuel. Nearly all of Turkey’s forests are owned and managed by the government. In 2007, 17.7 million cubic meters (624 million cubic feet) of timber was cut. About one-eighth was sawed into lumber; most of the rest was used as fuel.

The fish catch in 2007 was 662,121 metric tons; most of the fish came from the Mediterranean and Black seas. Anchovies generally make up the bulk of the catch, which is relatively small. Sardines, mullet, mackerel, and whiting are also caught.

Mining in Turkey

Turkey maintains an important place in world mineral production. The country is among the world’s leaders in the production of chromium ore and boron. Large deposits of iron ore are worked in the country’s northeastern area. Fossil fuel extraction in southeastern Turkey is used primarily to meet domestic demands; in 2004 Turkey produced 16.5 million barrels of petroleum, 560 million cubic meters (19.8 billion cubic feet) of natural gas, and 48.2 million metric tons of coal. Most of the coal was low-grade lignite, which is mined in many areas, although some amounts of higher-grade coal were extracted. Other mineral products included copper, bauxite, manganese, antimony, lead, zinc, and sulfur. Northwestern Anatolia is the world’s top producer of meerschaum, a fine white clay used for making tobacco pipes.

Manufacturing in Turkey

Turkey’s leading manufactured products in the early 2000s included textiles, automobiles, iron and steel, cement, processed food, paper, tobacco products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, leather products, glassware, and refined petroleum and petroleum products. The major food-processing industry is the production of sugar from sugar beets. İstanbul, İzmir, Adana, and Bursa were the most important manufacturing centers.

Energy in Turkey

In 2006 Turkey produced 167.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. Thermal plants burning fossil fuels produced 74 percent of the electricity, and 26 percent came from hydroelectric facilities, including a large plant on the Euphrates River near Elâzığ. Turkey is in the process of building a massive hydroelectric project called the Southeast Anatolia Project, or GAP (the acronym for its Turkish name). The project, involving construction of 22 dams and 19 power plants along the Euphrates, is scheduled for completion in 2005. The centerpiece of GAP, the Atatürk Dam, was completed in 1990.

Currency and Banking of Turkey

The monetary unit of Turkey is the new Turkish lira (YTL), divided into 100 new kurus. The devalued YTL was introduced on January 1, 2005, and replaced the old Turkish lira (TL, to remain legal tender until the end of 2005). Due to chronically high inflation rates since the 1970s, the TL had experienced a severe depreciation in value, with one million TL equal to approximately U.S. $0.75 cents in late 2004. The devaluation of the YTL, which followed Turkey’s success in reducing inflation, dropped six zeroes from the old TL in a million-to-one conversion. The devaluation required Turkey to begin minting a new kurus, as the old kurus had been dropped years ago due to inflation. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, founded in 1930, is the bank of issue. The country also has many state banks concerned with economic development, such as the Agriculture Bank of the Republic of Turkey, founded in 1863, and several commercial banks. Turkey’s principal stock exchange is in İstanbul.

Turkey’s Foreign Trade

Foreign trade is an increasingly important part of Turkey’s economy. Until recent decades, agricultural products were the most important exports, followed by minerals and other raw materials. Industrialization in Turkey, especially since the end of World War II, has provided a new source of exports.

The cost of Turkey’s annual imports is usually much higher than earnings from exports; in 2007 imports totaled $168.5 billion and exports $106.9 billion. The principal exports were textiles, iron and steel, cement, dried fruits, leather garments, and tobacco. Chief imports were machinery, crude petroleum, transportation vehicles, and chemical products. Considerable income is derived from tourism in Turkey; in 2007 some 22.2 million foreigners spent an estimated $18.5 billion in the country.

Turkey’s chief trading partners for exports, in order of importance, are Germany (accounting for one-quarter of all purchases), Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, and France. Principal sources of imports, in order of importance, are Germany, Italy, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Russia.

Transportation in Turkey

Turkey has 8,697 km (5,404 mi) of railroad track, all of which is operated by the Turkish Republic State Railways. The country also is served by 426,906 km (265,267 mi) of roads. In 2004 there were 75 passenger cars in use for every 1,000 residents. The leading ports of Turkey are İstanbul and İzmir; other important ports include Trabzon, Giresun, Samsun, and Zonguldak, on the Black Sea, and İskenderun and Mersin (İçel) in the south. The national airline, Turkish Airlines, provides domestic and foreign service; major international airports serve İstanbul, Ankara, Adana, Antalya, and İzmir.

Communications in Turkey

Turkey had about 30 major daily newspapers in the early 2000s, in addition to many dailies with small circulations. Larger dailies include Bugün, Cumhuriyet, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Sabah, Yeni Günaydin, and Zaman—all published in İstanbul. The country is also served by many weekly and monthly publications. The government runs four national radio networks and five television channels; there are also many privately owned radio and television stations. In 2000 there were 562 licensed radio receivers and 443 licensed television sets in use for every 1,000 residents. Telephone lines numbered 263 per 1,000 people in 2005.



The Turkish Republic was proclaimed on October 29, 1923, after a nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was victorious in the Turkish War of Independence. The war was fought against the Allied powers, who had defeated the Ottoman Empire in World War I (1914-1918), and Greece, which sought to annex large portions of Anatolia. Atatürk envisioned Turkey as a modern, secular European state, and his principles of government, called Kemalism, remain central to political life in Turkey. Kemalism emphasized, among other things, the separation of religion and politics, a leading role for the state in the economy, the promotion of a national identity, and the importance of building modern institutions.

Under Atatürk, Turkey acquired a highly centralized government that closely controlled economic and social life. By law, there was only one political party, the Republican People’s Party (Turkish acronym, CHP). Atatürk introduced sweeping reforms to modernize Turkey. Laws forbade men from wearing the fez, a traditional hat associated with Ottoman backwardness. Religious courts were abolished in 1924, and Islam lost its status as the state religion in 1928. Under Atatürk, Turkey adopted the Western Gregorian calendar in place of the Muslim lunar calendar, and a modified Latin alphabet took the place of Arabic letters, which had previously been used to write Turkish. Atatürk also introduced universal public education in Turkey. Women gained the right to inherit property, the right to divorce, and in 1934 the right to vote and serve in parliament.

The era of multiparty democracy began in 1946, when the newly founded Democratic Party won 62 seats in parliament, joining the ruling CHP. In 1950, the Democratic Party won the national elections. However, increasing interparty tensions created a crisis, and a military junta seized power; the junta governed from 1960 to 1961. A new constitution was adopted in 1961, and general elections followed. No clear majority emerged, and a series of coalition governments ruled the country. The military intervened in the political process in 1970 and again in 1980, each time amid government paralysis and social agitation.

The military remained in power for three years after the 1980 coup d’état, during which time it imposed martial law, dissolved political parties, and banned labor strikes. The military government also drew up a new constitution, which was approved by a national referendum in 1982. The constitution established a popularly elected unicameral (single-chamber) national assembly with full legislative powers, a prime minister and a cabinet responsible to the national assembly, and a constitutional court to review the constitutionality of legislation. It provided for a president, with extensive executive powers and the right to veto legislation, to be elected by the assembly for a term of seven years. The constitution also authorized the military, through the National Security Council, to advise the government and to impose emergency rule whenever it perceived a serious threat to the political system.

Turkey has been under civilian rule since 1983. However, the military intervened in the political process in February 1997 and ordered the government to implement an 18-point list of measures to reinforce the secular establishment. Since then, Turkey’s civilian governments have been wary of further military intervention, and this concern has constrained governmental policy.

Turkey’s Central Government

Legislative power rests in the National Assembly, a 550-member unicameral body. Members are elected by popular vote to five-year terms under a system of proportional representation. Political parties must receive at least 10 percent of the vote to gain representation in the assembly. Extremist parties are banned, as are parties promoting religious causes. All citizens aged 18 or older are entitled to vote.

The constitution divides executive power between the prime minister and the president. The head of government is the prime minister, who represents the majority party or coalition in parliament. The prime minister selects a cabinet, called the Council of Ministers, and is responsible for carrying out government policy. The president, as head of state, is chosen by parliament for a seven-year term. The president’s executive powers are substantial. They include the authority to dissolve parliament, to approve the prime minister, to veto legislation or to propose legislative changes, to ask the constitutional court to rule on the constitutionality of legislation, and to submit constitutional amendments to the people in popular referenda.

Turkey’s Local Government

For administrative purposes, Turkey is divided into 81 provinces, called vilayets. Each province is governed by a provincial governor, who is appointed by the central government and is responsible to the minister of the interior. The provinces are divided into counties, which are in turn divided into districts. There are also locally elected assemblies at the province, county, district levels.

Turkey’s Judiciary

The old Ottoman laws that were based on Islamic religious law, the Sharia, were gradually abolished in modern Turkey. The religious courts were suppressed in 1924, and the constitution announced that year guaranteed independence to Turkey’s remaining courts.

The judicial system consists of courts of justices of the peace, with jurisdiction over some criminal and civil matters; courts of first instance, with wider powers; central criminal courts, which hear serious criminal cases; commercial courts; and a court of cassation, the highest court, which serves as a court of appeal.

The 1982 constitution provided for a constitutional court to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by parliament; judges to the court are appointed by the president. Turkey’s legal codes are largely adapted from European codes, especially the Swiss civil, the Italian penal, and the German commercial codes.

Political Parties of Turkey

Turkey has had multiparty competitive elections since 1946, although following the 1960 and 1980 military coups, existing political parties were banned and their leaders barred from political activities for various periods of times. Since 1960, three types of political parties have dominated the political landscape in Turkey: Kemalist parties; nationalist and ethnic parties; and religious parties.

The Kemalist parties, which accept the principles of Kemalism, can be divided into two groups: center-right and center-left. The center-right parties tend to interpret the principles of Kemalism in a flexible spirit. Thus, they support limits on the government’s role in the economy, favor private capital, and are tolerant of some religious expression in public life. The main center-right Kemalist parties are Motherland (ANAP) and True Path (DYP). The founder of ANAP was Turgut Özal, who served as prime minister from 1983 to 1989 and as president of Turkey from 1989 to 1993. DYP is similar to ANAP in its basic philosophy and appeal. The DYP’s leader, Tansu Çiller, became Turkey’s first female prime minister in 1993. Both ANAP and DYP lost all of their parliamentary seats in the 2002 elections.

Center-left Kemalist political parties generally support a strong role for the state in economic affairs and a doctrinaire interpretation of secularism that is hostile to groups suspected of supporting religious causes. However, these parties also back Turkey’s membership in the European Union (EU), and they have accepted greater privatization of state-owned industries as an inevitable price for becoming part of Europe. One of the leading parties is the Democratic Left (DSP), led by veteran politician Bülent Ecevit, who was prime minister from 1999 to 2002. Ecevit previously served as prime minister in coalition governments during the 1970s. In the 2002 elections, however, Ecevit’s party received less than 10 percent of the total vote and consequently lost all its seats in parliament. Other center-left Kemalist parties include the Republican People’s Party, which was formed in 1992 and claims to be the successor of the old Atatürk party of the same name, and the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP).

The nationalist and ethnic parties generally do not contest Kemalist principles, but neither do they incorporate them into their party platforms. The Nationalist Action Party (MHP), for example, is concerned primarily with defending Turkey’s territorial integrity. Thus, it is hostile to Kurdish efforts to assert a unique identity, which it interprets as a form of separatism. The MHP also opposes Turkey’s membership in the EU, which it believes will limit national sovereignty. Prior to the 1999 elections, neither the MHP nor its predecessors had attracted more than a small fraction of the vote in national elections. In 1999, however, it emerged from the elections as the second-largest party in parliament after the DSP. Three years later, in the 2002 elections, it did not receive enough votes to qualify for even one parliamentary seat.

None of Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish parties identify themselves explicitly as such—apart from the banned Kurdistān Workers Party (PKK). The PKK changed its name to the Kurdistān Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) in 2002. In 2003 it became the Kongra-Gel (KGK), although the Western media continues to refer to it as the PKK. The Kurdish parties support such causes as abolition of the death penalty, rescinding the law on broadcasting and publishing in prohibited languages (including Kurdish), freeing political prisoners, and Turkey’s membership in the EU. The Kurdish parties have experienced frequent forced dissolution by order of the constitutional court, and they subsequently reform under new names. The main such party currently is the Democratic Society Party, formed in 2005.

The religious parties do not explicitly challenge Kemalism, although they are philosophically opposed to the principle of secularism. The parties advocate the right of religiously inclined people to participate openly in politics and society. A well-known religious politician, Necmettin Erbakan, has been active since the early 1970s and served as a junior partner in a government led by Ecevit in 1974. In the early 1990s, Erbaken developed the Refah Party (RP) into an effective political organization that won major municipal elections, including the positions of mayor of Ankara and İstanbul. In 1995 the RP won the largest number of seats in parliament, and the following year the DYP reluctantly agreed to form a coalition with Refah. Erbakan became prime minister, the first openly Islamic prime minister in the history of the republic.

The military was hostile to the RP government; in February 1997 it submitted a list of demands to Erbakan that it expected the government to implement to preserve the secular character of the state. Erbakan tried to appease the military but found it increasingly difficult to do so. In June 1997 Erbakan resigned rather than accept further military demands. Subsequently, the constitutional court ordered the dissolution of RP. By the early 2000s, two religious parties had claimed the mantle of RP. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is led by Tayyip Erdoğan, the former mayor of İstanbul. Erbakan is leader of the new Saadat party. Erdoğan is credited with organizing the electoral campaign that led to the AKP winning an absolute majority of seats in parliament in the 2002 elections. However, Erdoğan was barred from becoming prime minister due to a constitutional court ruling that he had violated the ban on separation of religion and state by reciting a religious poem at a public meeting. The AKP passed special legislation to lift the ban in early 2003, and, after winning a special by-election, he became prime minister in March 2003.

Health and Welfare in Turkey

Turkey has a national health insurance program administered by the ministry of health. Medical services are free in government hospitals and clinics. However, these facilities are generally concentrated in urban areas, while rural areas, especially in eastern Anatolia, have relatively few hospitals and clinics. Private health care is readily available in large cities. People who can afford to do so tend to consult physicians in private practice and seek treatment in private hospitals.

Turkey does not have a national social security system to cover retirement, unemployment compensation, or payments for disabling conditions that prevent working. A retirement system covers civil servants, career military personnel, and workers in state-owned enterprises. Some private companies have also established pension plans for their workers. All such schemes together, however, cover less than half of the country’s total labor force.

Defense in Turkey

In 2006 Turkey’s armed forces included 514,850 people. In 2002 about 36,000 troops were deployed in the Turkish-controlled section of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island also occupied by Greece. All male citizens from the ages of 20 to 32 are required to serve from 1 to 16 months in the armed forces.

International Organizations

Turkey is a member of the United Nations (UN) and its various affiliated organizations. It is also a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Economic Cooperation Organization, and the European Parliament. Turkey entered a customs union with the EU in 1995 and is in the process of meeting specific economic and political criteria set by the EU so that it may become a full member of that body.


The first major civilization in Anatolia, or Asia Minor, was that of the Hittites, about 1900 to 1200 BC, which originated in the central plateau. It was conquered by invaders known as the Sea Peoples, who swept over Asia Minor and Syria shortly after 1200 BC. The destruction of the western Anatolian city of Troy, an event celebrated in ancient Greek legends, probably occurred during these invasions.

One group of the Sea Peoples, the Phrygians, established a kingdom that became the dominant Anatolian power in the 9th and 8th centuries BC (see Phrygia). During this period the Greeks founded Miletus, Ephesus, and Priene and a number of other cities in Ionia, an area along the Aegean coast. About 700 BC the Phrygian kingdom was overrun and destroyed by the Cimmerians, a nomadic people who thereafter lived in western Asia Minor. In the 7th century BC the Lydians also appeared near the Aegean coast, where they founded a kingdom, the capital of which was Sardis. It was overthrown by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 546 BC.

From the mid-6th century to 333 BC most of Asia Minor, including Anatolia, belonged to the Persian Empire, although the Greek cities frequently enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy. In the 4th century BC Persian power declined, and after 333 BC it was supplanted by the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great. In the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Asia Minor was gradually conquered by the Romans.

After the division of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, Asia Minor became part of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire, the capital of which was Constantinople (present-day İstanbul), or Byzantium, located on the European side of the Bosporus, just across from the west coast of Anatolia. During the 11th century Asia Minor was invaded by nomadic Seljuk Turks. In 1071 they routed the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert; during the 12th century they ravaged much of eastern and central Anatolia. Although at this time the primary objective of the Seljuks was not to attack the Byzantines but to eliminate the threat of heterodox Shia Islam posed by the Fatimids of Egypt, some members of the Seljuk dynasty saw an opportunity to win a realm of their own. They established the sultanate of Rūm (with its capital at Konya), which ruled central Anatolia in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Most of the nomads who had made the initial Seljuk victories possible were soon pushed to the west of Anatolia, where frontier colonies were maintained against the last Byzantine defenses. Although the sultanate of Rūm imitated the Seljuk Empire of Baghdād, the presence within its boundaries of large numbers of Christians and its superimposition of Islam on top of a living Christian tradition produced a milieu considerably different from that of other Islamic states. It provided the basis for the unique Ottoman systems of government and society that began to emerge in the 14th century.

In the mid-13th century the Seljuks of Baghdād and Konya were overwhelmed by the Mongol invasion led by Hulagu, a descendant of Genghis Khan, that culminated in the capture and sack of Baghdād in 1258. In Anatolia, the Turkish nomads used the resulting anarchy to form a series of principalities, nominally under the suzerainty of Rūm, which in turn was dominated by the Mongols. These principalities maintained themselves through their raids against one another and against the last Byzantine nobles, who held out in western Anatolia.

Rise of the Ottomans

The Ottomans emerged in history as leaders of those Turks who fought the Byzantines in northwestern Anatolia. The location enabled Osman, founder of the Ottoman dynasty, to take the fullest advantage of Byzantine weakness and secure booty by raids into Christian territory. This situation lured into his service thousands of Turkish nomads and also many Arabs and Iranians fleeing from the Mongols. Osman’s conquests in Anatolia were crowned with the capture in 1326 of the provincial capital Bursa by his son Orhan, which gave the Ottomans control over the Byzantine administrative, financial, and military systems in the area. Thus began the Ottoman tradition to expand by force only at the expense of the declining Christian states to the west, but not against the Turkmen principalities to the east. The peaceful acquisition of Turkmen lands by purchase, marriage, and the sowing of dissension within the ruling dynasties was, however, acceptable, and the Ottomans thus took over large territories in western Anatolia.

European Raids

Ottoman expansion into Europe began late in Orhan’s reign. Ottoman soldiers were hired as mercenaries by leading Byzantines, including John VI Cantacuzene, who was thus able to secure himself the Byzantine throne in 1347. In return, Ottoman soldiers were allowed to raid Byzantine territories in Thrace and Macedonia, and the emperor’s daughter was given to Orhan in marriage. The Ottoman raiders soon began to camp in the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula and to mount continuous raids on the remaining Byzantine possessions in Europe.

The transformation of the Ottoman principality into a vast empire, covering southeastern Europe, Anatolia, and the Arab world, was accomplished in three major campaigns between the 14th and 16th centuries. The early Ottoman Empire, stretching from the Danube to the Euphrates, was created by Murad I and Bayazid I. Murad concentrated mainly on Europe in a series of campaigns that extended as far as the Danube, culminating in the Battle of Kosovo (1389), in which an allied Serbian, Bosnian, and Bulgarian army was routed. Murad himself was killed, but his son Bayazid completed the victory. During the next decade Bayazid broke with tradition and conquered most of the Anatolian Turkmen principalities, thus bringing the early empire to its peak.

Defeat and Restoration

Bayazid’s conquest, however, greatly weakened the basic supports of the Ottoman state. The Muslim elements and the Turkish notables, who had helped the Ottomans achieve their victories in Europe, opposed this subjugation of Turks and Muslims. They refused to participate in the campaign into Anatolia, which as a consequence was carried out largely by Christians in Bayazid’s service. At the same time, the emergence of the Ottomans as a major power in Anatolia threatened the rear flanks of Tamerlane, the Turkic conqueror who had recently taken over much of Iran and Central Asia. Tamerlane briefly invaded Anatolia in 1402, defeating and capturing Bayazid, who died a prisoner the following year.

Muhammad I, Bayazid’s youngest son, restored the Ottoman Empire by defeating and killing his brothers, one after another, and, from 1402 to 1413, by fighting off Christian and Turkmen vassals in Europe and Anatolia. His son, Murad II, reasserted Ottoman dominion in Europe as far as the Danube by defeating the various Christian princes of Serbia and Bulgaria and replacing them with direct Ottoman administration. This policy was continued during the reign of Muhammad II, who defeated the last remaining Christian princes south of the Danube. His conquests culminated in the capture of Constantinople (present-day İstanbul) in 1453 and the subjugation of Anatolia as far as the Euphrates.

Bayazid II ended the policy of conquests in order to consolidate the lands that had been occupied during previous reigns. Unlike him, Selim I used the territorial and administrative base of power left to him to defeat and destroy the Mamluk Empire in 1517 and to conquer Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Arabia, which he achieved in a single campaign, thus incorporating into the Ottoman Empire the heartland of the old Islamic caliphates. Süleyman I the Magnificent completed the Ottoman expansion by moving across the Danube to conquer Hungary and besiege Vienna in 1529. In the east he conquered the remainder of Anatolia and the old Abbasid and Seljuk center in Iraq.

Ottoman State and Society

The Ottoman Empire reached its peak during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, and the social, administrative, and governmental institutions that had been evolving since the 14th century were formalized in a series of codes that remained the basis of Ottoman law until the end of the empire. As revealed in these codes, the society was divided into a ruling class of Ottomans and a subject class of rayas, or the sultan’s “protected flock.”

The basic attribute of the ruler’s authority was the right to exploit the wealth of the empire. The sultan divided this wealth into administrative and financial units and assigned them to his agents, along with the authority to collect the accruing revenues. These agents were considered slaves of the sultan, but because slaves in Middle Eastern society acquired the social status of their master, they actually constituted the ruling class of Ottoman society. Their authority, however, was limited to functions involved with exploiting the empire’s wealth and with expanding and defending the state organized to accomplish this.

To carry out these functions, the ruling class organized itself into four basic institutions: the Imperial Institution, including the Inner, or Palace, Service, which cared for the sultans, and the Outer Service, which made sure that the system worked; the Military Institution, which kept order through various military corps, of which the most important were the Janissaries and the cavalry; the Scribal Institution, which supported the sultan and his ruling class by assessing and collecting taxes that exploited the wealth of the empire; and the Religious, or Cultural, Institution, which gave religious leadership to the sultan’s Muslim subjects and was in charge of education and justice. The ruling class was made up of two rival elements: (1) Muslim Turks, Arabs, and Iranians, who together constituted the Turkish aristocracy that dominated the Ottoman system during the 14th and 15th centuries, and (2) Christian prisoners and slaves, recruited, converted, and educated through the famous devshirme system. Beginning in the mid-16th century, the latter group took over and dominated the ruling class.

All other social functions were left to the subject class to carry out as they wished, primarily through religiously oriented communities called millets, and through economic and social guilds. The Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Gregorian, and Muslim millets, later joined by Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Bulgarian Orthodox millets, were allowed religious and cultural autonomy.

Decline and Traditional Reform

The decline of the Ottoman Empire began late in the reign of Süleyman I and continued until the end of World War I in 1918. Official reaction to this decline came in phases—that of Traditional Reform (1566-1807), when efforts were made to restore the old institutions, and that of Modern Reform (1807-1918), when the old ways were abandoned and new ones, imported from the West, were adopted.

Nature of the Decline

Until the mid-16th century, the sultans had controlled and used both the old Turkish aristocracy and the devshirme Christian converts and their descendants by carefully balancing and playing them off against each other. During Süleyman’s reign, however, the devshirme achieved control, drove the Turkish aristocracy out of the ruling class, and then began to exploit the state for their own advantage. At the same time, the empire began to suffer from overpopulation, resulting from the peace and security that had been established. A high birth rate eventually resulted in both urban and rural unemployment, due to the limited availability of land and to highly restrictive economic policies enforced by the urban guilds. Without jobs, the oppressed masses formed robber bands that infested town and country alike.

With incompetent, dishonest, and inefficient government by the ruling class, lands fell out of cultivation, the empire suffered from endemic famine and disease, and entire districts—sometimes entire provinces—fell under the control of provincial notables. The subject class suffered a good deal but was protected from the worst effects of the anarchy by the millets and guilds, which formed a substratum of society, taking over the functions of government when needed. At the same time, Europe was developing nation-states that were far more powerful than those that had faced the Ottoman Empire in earlier centuries.

Ottoman reaction to the decline was tempered for several reasons: First, Europe was so involved in its own affairs that for at least a century it was unaware of the Ottoman situation and made no effort to take advantage of it. Second, most members of the ruling class benefited from the chaos, for it enabled them to retain huge profits for themselves. Finally, the Ottomans in their isolation were unaware of the changes that had made Europe far more powerful than before. They assumed that the Islamic world was still more advanced than Christian Europe. Under these conditions, the ruling class saw no need for change or reform.

After a time, however, Europe began to realize the extent of internal Ottoman decay and to take advantage of it. In 1571 the Holy League fleet, led by John of Austria, moved into the eastern Mediterranean and destroyed the Ottoman fleet in the Battle of Lepanto. The victory was counteracted by the building of an entirely new fleet, and the Ottomans resumed their naval control in the Mediterranean for another half century. Nonetheless, the impression began to spread in Europe that the Ottomans were not invincible. War with Austria followed (1593-1606), leading the sultan to recognize the Holy Roman emperor as an equal and to give up his insistence on annual Austrian payments of tribute—a fact that further opened Europe’s eyes to Ottoman decline.

Reforms and Losses

Only when powerful foreign attacks threatened the empire, on which its privileges and wealth depended, did the ruling class accept some sort of reform. In 1623, Shah Abbas I of Iran conquered Baghdād and eastern Iraq and stirred up a series of Turkmen revolts in eastern Anatolia. In response, Sultan Murad IV restored honesty and efficiency to the ruling class and the army. By ruthlessly executing thousands found guilty of violating Islamic law and tradition, he began the so-called Traditional Reforms. The reforms were successful enough for the Ottoman army to drive the Iranians out of Iraq and to conquer the Caucasus in 1638. Murad’s successor, however, allowed the previous decay to resume. A war with Venice, which culminated in a Venetian naval attack on the Dardanelles, then led to the rise of the Köprülü dynasty of grand viziers, which once again restored the old institutions with the same methods used by Murad IV.

Eradication of the decay and restoration of Ottoman power stimulated the last Köprülü grand vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha, to make a new attempt to conquer Vienna in 1683. After a short siege, however, the Ottoman army completely fell apart, making it possible for a new European Holy League to conquer integral parts of the empire. The losses of Hungary and Transylvania to Austria; Dalmatia, the Pelopónnisos (Peloponnesus), and important Aegean islands to Venice; Podolia and the southern Ukraine to Poland; and Azov and the lands north of the Black Sea to Russia were confirmed in the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699).

Some Gains and More Losses

Even at this time, however, the Ottoman Empire had enough internal strength to pull itself together, correct the worst abuses, and, by adopting modern European weapons and tactics, even regain some of its losses. In 1711 the Ottomans defeated a campaign mounted by Tsar Peter the Great, forcing him to return the territories lost at Karlowitz, but a war with Venice and Austria (1714-1717) led to the loss of Belgrade and northern Serbia. This stimulated a new reform era called the Tulip Period (1715-1730), in which the Ottoman army was reorganized and modernized in order to spare the empire further losses. This effort was continued during the reign (1730-1754) of Mahmud I, when the French artillery officer Claude de Bonneval, called Humbaracı Ahmed Pasha, created a new European-style artillery corps. As a result, in the war that broke out with Russia and Austria (1736-1739), the Ottomans were able to regain most of their previous losses in northern Serbia and the northern shores of the Black Sea. A period of peace with Europe followed, largely because of European involvement in other wars; this lull, however, once again convinced the ruling class that the danger was past, and the old abuses and decay soon returned. Consequently, in two disastrous wars between 1768 and 1792 (see Russo-Turkish Wars), the Ottoman army crumbled, major new territorial losses were suffered, and the empire itself seemed near total collapse.

Era of Modern Reform

During the 19th century, the continuous danger of foreign conquest was aggravated by the rise of nationalism. One after another, the non-Turkish peoples of the empire sought and obtained independence. Greece was the first country to do so, gaining autonomy in 1829 and independence in 1830. This was followed by revolts of the Serbs, Bulgars, and Albanians, as well as of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia. Ottoman survival was due less to the empire’s own strength than to European disagreement over how to divide the spoils—a part of history often referred to as the Eastern Question.

The Tanzimat

The Ottoman ruling class responded to these crises with a concentrated effort at reform; it replaced the old ways with new ones imported from the West in a reform movement (1839-1876) known as the Tanzimat (Turkish for “reorganization”). Planned and begun under Mahmud II, and culminating in the highly autocratic reign (1876-1909) of Abd al-Hamid II, the Tanzimat modernized the Ottoman Empire by extending the scope of government into all aspects of life, overshadowing the autonomous millets and guilds that previously had monopolized most governmental functions. A modern administration and army were created along Western lines, with highly centralized bureaucracies. Secular systems of education and justice were created to provide personnel for the new administration. Large-scale programs of public works modernized the physical structure of the empire, with new cities, roads, railroads, and telegraph lines. New agricultural methods also contributed to Ottoman revitalization. Another response was the suppression of minorities. This policy resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians from 1894 to 1923. (The Turkish government disputes that the Ottoman policy toward the Armenians was genocidal, arguing that most of the Armenian deaths resulted from armed conflict, disease, and famine during the chaos of World War I.)

European Sabotage

Severe economic, financial, political, and diplomatic problems emerged, however, to undermine the Tanzimat reforms. The newly industrialized European states preferred to keep the Ottoman Empire as a source of cheap raw materials and a market for their manufactured goods. Using the Capitulations—treaties by which, since the 16th century, the sultans had allowed Europeans to live and work in the empire according to their own laws and under their own consuls—the Europeans were able to prevent the Ottomans from restricting foreign imports and thus kept them from protecting their own nascent industries. Because the Ottomans depended largely on foreign industrialists for capital and know-how, the Europeans could also undermine and destroy what industrial efforts were made. The empire borrowed so heavily from European banks that by the last years of the Tanzimat, more than half of its total revenues were consumed by interest charges. Moreover, the new and modern bureaucracy soon began to use its authority to misrule the subjects.

A group of intellectuals and liberals known as the Young Ottomans for a Constitution then began to demand a limit to the power of the ruling class and the bureaucracy and a parliament to enforce the rights of the people. Severely suppressed by the Tanzimat leaders, the Young Ottomans fled abroad, publishing their demands in books and pamphlets that were sent into the empire through the foreign post offices, which, protected by the Capitulations, were free of Ottoman government control. At the same time, the newly independent Balkan states began large-scale agitation to gain control of Macedonia, where the population was almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. In Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria, societies were organized that sought to enforce their claims by terrorist campaigns, severely straining the ability of the Ottoman state to keep order. Finally, the deaths of the principal Tanzimat leaders about 1870 left the autocratic structure of government they had created in the hands of dishonest politicians, who resumed the corruption and misrule that had prompted the Tanzimat in the first place.

Coup and Constitution

At this point a new international crisis, threats of a war with Russia and Austria, and the constitutionalist aspirations of a group of reformers led to the overthrow of Sultan Abd al-Aziz. After a very short reign, Murad V was succeeded by Sultan Abd al-Hamid II. He promulgated a constitution and accepted a representative parliament, which convened in 1877, but was soon suspended because of war with Russia. In cooperation with Britain, Abd al-Hamid managed to solve the international crisis at the Congress of Berlin (1878). He then moved to restore the Tanzimat reforms, which by the end of the century had created a relatively modern and prosperous state.

In the face of continued European dangers, however, Abd al-Hamid suspended the parliament and installed a highly autocratic government in 1878. Governmental power was taken from the bureaucracy and centered in the palace, and all opposition was suppressed. Abd al-Hamid restored financial stability and advanced the economy, but the political repression ultimately led to the rise of a new liberal opposition movement, the Young Turks, who forced him to restore the constitution and parliament in what is known as the Young Turk Revolution (1908). The success of the new constitutional regime was immediately undermined, however, by a series of disasters: Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria annexed Eastern Rumelia, and terrorism in Macedonia and eastern Anatolia resumed with renewed fury.

Abd al-Hamid and those around him in the palace blamed these disasters on the new constitutional regime and attempted a counterrevolution in April 1909. Parliament was dissolved and many members arrested, but the army in Macedonia, dominated by Young Turks, marched back to İstanbul, defeated the counterrevolution, and dethroned the sultan. Subsequent Ottoman sultans reigned but did not rule.

The Young Turk Years

The early years of the Young Turk era (1908-1918) were the most democratic period of Ottoman history. The constitution and parliament were restored, and parties were formed to contest for leadership. The strongest among them was the Union and Progress party, founded and supported by the Young Turks, but many others also flourished.

The Young Turk reforms, which reached all areas of life, culminated in the secularization of the Muslim schools and courts and the introduction of women’s rights during World War I (1914-1918). The modern state apparatus of the Tanzimat was democratized, industry and agriculture were developed, and modern budgetary techniques were introduced. However, the First Balkan War (see Balkan Wars) in 1912 led to a revolt within the Committee of Union and Progress and an attempt to take over the government by a triumvirate led by Enver Pasha. The triumvirate’s domination was assured when it took advantage of dissension among the victorious Balkan states to regain Edirne (Adrianople) in the Second Balkan War in 1913.

World War I

At first, the triumvirate tried to avoid involvement in World War I, but German offers to help regain lost provinces, British confiscation of Turkish warships being constructed in England, and manipulation by Enver Pasha led to an alliance with the Central Powers and Turkish entry into the war in 1914. The Turkish armed forces performed well during the Gallipoli campaign and drove back and captured an entire British expeditionary force at Al Kūt in Iraq. A campaign across the Sinai Peninsula with the aim of capturing the Suez Canal and Egypt was unsuccessful, however, and led to the British organization of an Arab revolt in the Arabian Peninsula. With Arab help, a British force from Egypt then invaded Syria and had reached southern Anatolia by the time the war ended. A campaign led by Enver Pasha into the Caucasus at the start of the war was defeated less by the Russians than by poor organization and revolts in the eastern provinces. Thereafter the Russians invaded eastern and central Anatolia at will in 1915 and 1916, until their campaign was brought to an end in 1917 by the Russian Revolution. The destructive effects of these foreign invasions were compounded by internal revolts, famine, starvation, and disease. Some 6 million people of all religions, one-quarter of the entire population, died or were killed, and the economy was devastated.

Occupation and War of Independence

In the wake of surrender, the Turkish government was placed under the authority of the Allied occupation powers led by the British. The Paris Peace Conference prepared to impose a settlement by which not only the Balkan and Arab provinces would be ceded, but areas occupied by predominantly Turkish populations in eastern and southern Anatolia would be placed under foreign or minority control. A large Greek army captured İzmir in 1922 and invaded southwestern Anatolia, but massacres of the Turkish population led the Allies to withdraw their support from the Greeks.

In reaction to the proposed peace settlement and to the Greek invasion, the Turkish nationalist movement rose in Anatolia under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. During the Turkish War of Independence (1918-1923), Atatürk successfully resisted the Allied terms; drove out the Greeks and the British, French, and Italian occupation forces; and imposed a settlement, embodied in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), by which the Turkish areas of eastern Thrace and Anatolia were left to form their own state. Following this victory, a Turkish republic was proclaimed, with its capital in Ankara, and the İstanbul government of the sultan simply ceased to exist in 1923.

The Turkish Republic

Led by Atatürk during its first 15 years, the Turkish republic was founded on six basic principles incorporated into the constitution: republicanism (based on the premise that sovereignty belongs to the people); Turkish nationalism (emphasizing the glories of the Turkish past and the need for the Turks to build their own state according to modern principles and without foreign intervention); populism (the idea that the people ruled through the Grand National Assembly, with all economic and social interests represented); secularism (dictating complete separation between the Muslim religious establishment and the state); statism (meaning state intervention in major sectors of the economy and its control of the rest, so as to assure rapid economic development); and revolutionism (dictating that all these changes be instituted at once and in full so that Turkish society could develop as rapidly as possible). The Atatürk years were ones of substantial economic progress and general development. Turkey avoided tendencies toward revenge, joining in close diplomatic relations with its former Balkan territories and at the same time emphasizing its secularist policy by avoiding alliances with its Muslim neighbors to the east.

From Neutrality to Western Alliance

Atatürk was succeeded as president by his close associate İsmet İnönü, who continued his internal policies. Remembering the terrible experience of World War I, İnönü kept Turkey neutral during almost all of World War II; not until February 1945 did Turkey declare war on Germany and Japan. Following the war, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) attempted to include Turkey within its sphere of influence, demanding control of Turkey’s eastern provinces and the straits. In response, Turkey accepted large-scale aid offered by U.S. President Harry S. Truman and entered a close military and economic alliance with the United States; in 1952 it became a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Along with this new association with the democratic West, İnönü democratized the regime and allowed the introduction of opposition parties. This led to the triumph in 1950 of the Democratic Party (Turkish acronym, DP), advocating more private and individual enterprise than had been permitted by the statist policies of Atatürk’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), which now went into opposition.

Led by President Celâl Bayar, along with Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and Foreign Minister Fuat Köprülü, the DP controlled the Turkish government from 1950 to 1960. The Turkish economy expanded rapidly during this time as a result of the new economic liberalism and the large-scale foreign assistance, principally from the United States, that followed Turkey’s entry into the Western alliance. Ultimately, however, too rapid economic growth and poor management led to severe economic and social strains and increasing political discontent voiced by the CHP, which the Democrats began to repress. In 1960 an army coup finally overthrew the government, hanged Menderes and a few associates on charges of corruption the next year, and installed a new constitution based on modern economic and social principles, with provisions to prevent the kind of repression the Democrats had inflicted.

Slide Toward Chaos

After the second constitution was adopted in 1961, Turkey was governed by a series of ever-weaker governments. The rapid economic development of the 1950s, combined with liberal legislation freeing workers and others to unite, engendered a series of organizations that assumed power and authority formerly held by the government, the legislature, and the political parties. At the same time, an increasingly active leftist movement spawned violent extremist groups, which engaged in terrorist acts to achieve their ends. These in turn led to the formation of right-wing terrorist bands, leaving the country polarized and both sides fomenting violence. The labor organizations that sprang up after 1950 coalesced into two major labor confederations, Turkish Labor (Turk IŞ), representing the rightist and more moderate groups, and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, incorporating the Communist and other leftist groups. By the mid-1960s the influence of these organizations spread to all areas of Turkish life.

Political affairs also were polarized in two major parties, the CHP, which under the leadership of Bülent Ecevit tended to incorporate social-democratic ideas, and the Justice Party (AP), led by Süleyman Demirel, which more or less represented the old Atatürk traditions. Several minor Communist and Socialist parties represented the various extremes of the left, whereas the National Action Party (MHP) spoke for Turkish nationalists and the National Salvation Party (MSP) advocated a return to an Islam-oriented state. Both of these parties favored active social and economic programs, making it difficult to classify them as right wing in the ordinary sense of the term. The proportional representation provisions of the 1961 constitution made it difficult for any party to gain the majority needed to enact effective legislation. Action, therefore, was taken to the streets.

Foreign Affairs

Through all the governmental chaos of this era, Turkey remained faithful to its alliance with the West, providing military bases for NATO and U.S. forces facing the USSR. This alliance was subjected to considerable strain in 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern part of Cyprus in response to a Greek-engineered coup on the island. The United States subsequently suspended military and economic aid, and Turkey responded by temporarily closing all U.S. bases in the country. Turkish troops remained in northern Cyprus, and Turkey continued to support a separate Turkish Cypriot government, defying the United States and the United Nations (UN).

The Congress of the United States ultimately resumed its assistance, leading the Turks to reopen the bases, but the incident left them suspicious of the U.S. presence, a situation encouraged and amplified by the vocal leftist groups and abetted by Communist propaganda. Islamic groups also began to oppose the U.S. presence, preferring that Turkey abandon its secularist traditions in foreign affairs and draw closer to the Muslim Arab countries that were benefiting from their newfound oil wealth and the resulting political power.

Army Coup of 1980

The government (1979-1980) of Süleyman Demirel chose to retain Turkey’s close alliance with the West in the hope of developing the private sector of the economy with foreign assistance. The CHP reacted by advocating socialist control of the basic means of production and the establishment of new alliances with developing nations and the Communist bloc. Extremists on both the left and the right turned to political assassinations and other forms of violent acts. On September 12, 1980, the army took over the government and suspended the constitution. The new rulers imposed martial law, banned political activity, restricted the press, and jailed thousands of suspected terrorists.

The military governed through the National Security Council; the council’s head, General Kenan Evren, was chief of state, and Admiral Bülent Ulusu became prime minister. A major step toward civilian rule was taken in 1982, when a new constitution was enacted, under which Evren became president of the republic. Parliamentary elections in 1983 resulted in an upset victory for the conservative Motherland Party (the military had favored a more right-wing group), and party leader Turgut Özal became prime minister.

Return to Civilian Rule

In 1989 Turgut Özal was chosen as Turkey’s first civilian head of state since 1960, and Yıldırım Akbulut replaced him as prime minister. Mesut Yılmaz replaced Akbulut in 1991 and was himself replaced later that year by Süleyman Demirel, leader of the True Path Party.

In 1993 Özal died and Demirel replaced him as the country’s president. Economics Minister Tansu Çiller replaced Demirel as leader of the True Path Party (Turkish acronym, DYP) and became the country’s first female prime minister. Turkey’s economy suffered because of government deficits, a weak currency, and continued economic losses incurred by the UN trade embargo of Iraq. In 1994 Çiller announced an economic austerity package, including price and tax increases and privatization of state assets, in an attempt to boost Turkey’s faltering economy.

Kurdish Conflict

The Kurds, a seminomadic people who have inhabited a region including parts of present-day Iran, Iraq, and Turkey since the 2400s BC, were promised an independent state as part of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres between Turkey and the World War I Allies. That part of the treaty was never ratified, however. For several decades, the Turkish government discouraged Kurdish nationalism and culture, leading to a wave of uprisings. In 1984 separatist forces among the Turkish Kurds began intensive raids in southeastern Turkey against the Turkish government. These forces were led by the Kurdistān Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist group considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Turkey supported the international effort to oust Iraq from Kuwait, although no Turkish troops fought in the ensuing Persian Gulf War (1991). After the war, in the wake of an unsuccessful uprising by Iraqi Kurds, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees crossed the border into Turkey. Many were kept near the border under the watch of troops from countries that defeated Iraq in the war. In 1992 fighting escalated between Turkey and the PKK. In the mid-1990s, as Kurdish forces continued their attacks on locations such as coastal resorts and points in central İstanbul, the government responded with added troops and air attacks on suspected Kurdish strongholds. Meanwhile, thousands of Turkish Kurds sought refuge in the border region of northern Iraq, which had come under the control of the two main Iraqi Kurdish groups and was being monitored by the allied forces that fought in the Persian Gulf War.

In 1995, 35,000 Turkish troops moved across the border into northern Iraq in an effort to prevent PKK rebels from mounting cross-border raids into Turkey. The troops took control of the 290-km (180-mi) border and moved about 40 km (about 20 mi) inside Iraq to surround several Turkish Kurdish guerrilla strongholds in the region. Turkish officials claimed they would only withdraw from the region upon the creation of a security border zone. However, Turkey withdrew its troops six weeks later. Turkey made periodic cross-border raids in the years that followed.

In February 1999 Turkish military units, assisted by U.S. intelligence agencies, captured PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in Nairobi, Kenya. Öcalan was imprisoned on a Turkish island and was tried on charges of treason. In June 1999 he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. In the months following the arrest, terrorist bombings believed to have been conducted by the PKK in retaliation for Öcalan’s capture occurred in several Turkish cities. By mid-1999 the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government had left at least 30,000 people dead or homeless.

At the start of his trial, Öcalan expressed regret for all the bloodshed and called for peaceful negotiations between the Turkish government and the PKK. In August 1999 he called for a ceasefire. Six months later, in February 2000, the PKK announced that it was ending its armed struggle against the Turkish government. The organization said it would reconstitute itself as a political party and would use democratic means to improve conditions for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. However, in May 2004 the PKK renounced the ceasefire, saying it was coming under attack by the Turkish military and had to defend itself.

Rise of Fundamentalism

In 1995 parliamentary elections, the Welfare Party (Refah), an Islamic party led by Necmettin Erbakan, received the most votes in the elections but not enough to rule alone. Tansu Çiller’s DYP and Turkey’s other main secular parties refused to form a coalition government with the Welfare Party. In 1996 Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz of the Motherland Party (ANAP) formed a coalition government, but it soon broke down. Yılmaz announced his resignation, and the DYP was forced to form a coalition government with the Welfare Party, with Necmettin Erbakan and Çiller alternating one-year terms as prime minister. When Erbakan was declared prime minister in mid-1996, he became the first Islamist leader of Turkey since the country was founded in 1923.

During the coalition’s first year, Çiller suffered from a series of financial scandals, while Erbakan’s attempts to adopt Islamic policies in Turkey were heavily criticized, especially by the Turkish military, traditional defenders of Atatürk’s secular state. Erbakan resigned in June 1997 under intense pressure from Turkey’s top military leaders, and President Demirel designated Yılmaz prime minister.

Yılmaz formed a coalition government consisting of ANAP, a social democratic party called the Democratic Left Party (DSP), and a center-right party called the Democratic Turkey Party (DTP). In January 1998 the Turkish constitutional court outlawed the Welfare Party on the grounds that it threatened the secular nature of the Turkish state. Erbakan and several others were barred from politics for five years. Most other former members of the Welfare Party regrouped to form Virtue, another Islamic-oriented party, which retained Welfare’s position as the largest party in parliament.

Candidacy for the EU

In December 1997 the European Union (EU) denied Turkey’s application for full membership due to factors such as Turkey’s continued military presence in northern Cyprus, the conflict between the government and the Kurdish population, and the country’s questionable record on human rights issues. (Turkey had applied for full membership to the European Community, the EU’s predecessor, in 1987.) Meanwhile Turkey’s crackdown on Islam continued, as more than 200 mayors and other officials with ties to Virtue underwent investigation by the constitutional court. In December 1999 the EU formally accepted Turkey as a candidate for membership. However, the EU’s announcement in October 2002 of an ambitious expansion plan in which ten additional countries would be offered membership in 2004 did not include Turkey, and no timetable was established for Turkey’s possible admittance to the EU. An EU report noted that Turkey had yet to meet the criteria for membership.

The Ecevit Government

In November 1998 a parliamentary vote of no confidence toppled the government of Yılmaz, who was implicated in a corruption scandal. Former prime minister and DSP leader Bülent Ecevit formed an interim government, which remained in power until national elections were held in April 1999. The DSP won the election, but strong showings by the rightist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and Virtue made another coalition government inevitable. The following month Ecevit announced the formation of a coalition comprising the DSP, its former rival the MHP, and ANAP.

In August 1999 a powerful earthquake centered near the northwestern city of İzmit struck Turkey, killing at least 15,000 people, injuring more than 30,000, and leaving tens of thousands more missing and presumed dead. Government-led relief efforts were slow to get underway, prompting criticism of the government. Many Turks also criticized building contractors, whom they blamed for using shoddy construction materials and practices that contributed to the collapse of many buildings.

In May 2000 parliament elected Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the chief justice of the constitutional court, to the post of president. Observers described Sezer as a staunch advocate of democratic rights.

Justice and Development Party Comes to Power

In November 2002 national elections, amid a difficult economic downturn, Turkish voters rejected Ecevit’s coalition government and gave overwhelming support to the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP, founded in 2001 from the moderate wing of a banned Islamist party, won 363 seats in the 550-seat parliament. The only other party to win seats in the parliament was the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Because AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was constitutionally barred from running for a seat in parliament due to a 1998 criminal conviction for inciting religious hatred, Abdullah Gül, Erdoğan’s close ally in the AKP, became prime minister. After the November elections the AKP successfully backed legislation to amend the constitution to allow Erdoğan to run for office. In March 2003 Erdoğan assumed a seat in parliament after winning a special by-election in the southeastern province of Siirt, and he replaced Gül as prime minister. Erdoğan pledged to support secularism, Turkey’s bid to join the EU, and an economic austerity program backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

By late 2004, Turkey’s success in meeting austerity measures required by the IMF, including initiatives that successfully reduced the nation’s stubbornly high double-digit annual inflation rates, prompted the IMF to extend an additional package of loans to Turkey for further tax, banking, and social security reforms. The improving economy allowed Turkey to introduce a new currency, the new Turkish lira (Yeni Türk Lirası, or YTL) on January 1, 2005. The YTL replaced the old Turkish lira (TL). One YTL is equivalent to 1 million TL. The new currency was expected to boost foreign investment and further stabilize Turkey’s economy as it pushes for future EU membership. Turkey previously boasted the world’s largest bank note, the 20,000,000 lira note, worth only about U.S.$15 in late 2004.

The ruling Islamist party received a greater-than-expected share of the vote in 2007 parliamentary elections, winning 341 of the 550 seats. The victory gave Erdoğan a mandate for change but not the two-thirds majority required for amending the Turkish constitution. The government continued to press for the economic and political reforms required for EU entry, but secular opponents feared that it harbored a hidden religious agenda. In August 2007 parliament elected Gül as president, succeeding Sezer. Gül pledged loyalty to Turkey’s secular tradition, but his selection appeared to displease the military, which has overthrown four governments since 1960 to ensure the separation of religion and politics.

Renewed Fighting with the PKK

Following the end of a ceasefire by a Kurdish rebel group known as the Kurdistān Workers Party (PKK) in 2004, clashes between Turkey’s military and the PKK became more intense and more frequent. The PKK established bases in northern Iraq and conducted cross-border raids into Turkey that resulted in heavy casualties for Turkish forces. Turkey responded with air attacks on suspected rebel bases in Iraq, and in February 2008 with a ground attack that lasted eight days. The fighting reportedly resulted in hundreds of deaths on both sides.

Iraq’s cabinet called for an immediate withdrawal of Turkish forces, condemning the incursion as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. The United States was also drawn into the fray, with U.S. secretary of defense Robert M. Gates demanding the withdrawal of Turkish forces. Turkish ground forces withdrew on March 1, the day after Gates’s warning, but Turkish air attacks on the rebels continued.

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