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 Language: Turkish

Capital: Ankara

Population: total: 70 million; majority Sunnite Muslim Turks; 10 million Kurds (mostly east and south-east); 70,000 Armenians; 30,000 Greeks; 24,000 Jews

Area: 788,695 sq km

Natural Features: Turkey divided into European and Asian part by the Bosphorus Straits and the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul; Thrace (European Turkey west of Istanbul) is 3% of country; Anatolian plateau (made of steppes and mountains) is 97%; 7000 km. of coastline (Black Sea, Sea of Marmara)

President: Ahmet Necdet Sezer

Type of Government: Parliamentary Democracy; Grand National Assembly elected by citizens over 19 yrs. old; President elected by Assembly for a non-renewable 7-yr. term (executive powers); Prime Minister has the real power, he chooses officials (usually the head of the party which has the majority of seats in Parliament); Turkey was one of first countries in world to give women the right to vote (1934)

Religion: majority Muslim (over 99%), mostly Sunnite

Currency: Turkish Lira (TRL)

Economy: Turkey is one of the few countries in the world that has a surplus of food, and is thus an exporter. Agriculture accounts for 40% of employment in the country. Wheat, cotton, fruit, vegetables, nuts, tobacco, sunflowers, and beets are plentiful. It is the largest producer of wool in Europe. However, manufactured products, such as automobiles and pharmaceutical products, form the essential part of its exports and of its economy. The most important industry – and largest exporter – is textiles and clothing, which is almost entirely in private hands. Its rate of exports has increased over 25% over the last several years – one of the highest rates in the world.

Unfortunately, the economy is held back by the large publich sector, whose companies are largely controlled and subsidized by the government. Turkey is the tenth largest trading partner with the EU and has been an official candidate for entry into the Union since 1999. Today, tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Turkish economy. Many Turks work in Europe, especially in Germany, and send part of their earnings back to their family in Turkey.

In recent years the economic situation has been marked by erratic economic growth and inflation has reached the high double-digit range, falling to 26% in 2003. In late 2000 and early 2001 a growing trade deficit and serious weaknesses in the banking sector plunged the economy into crisis, forcing Turkey to float the lira and pushing the country into recession. Strong financial support from the IMF and tighter fiscal policy resulted in better outcomes in 2002 and 2003.

Life Expectancy: (total population): 71.8 years

Infant Mortality Rate: 45.77

Education: 5 yrs. of primary school and junior high obligatory between the ages of 7 and 12; high school and tech schools are free and accessible to those who wish to pursue their studies; 29 public universities;
Literacy (female):78.7%; Literacy (male):94.3%; Average schooling: 5.3 years

Food: tea is national drink; grilled sheep and lamb are base of Turkish cuisine; iskender kebab (grilled chicken, lamb, or beef); yogurt; honey; grape leaves; borek (pastry with cheese or meat filling); kofte (grilled, spiced ground lamb); baklava; sweet pastries; nuts; dried fruit; olives; cucumbers; strict Muslims don’t drink any alcohol

The history of civilization in Turkey covers 10,000 years. Indo-European peoples inhabited Anatolia and Greeks, Persians, Celts, and Gauls all left their mark. The influence of Alexander the Great in Anatolia was important. He was the first to try to bring together the Oriental and Occidental cultures. Rome gained control in Anatolia around 133 BC. The Pax Romana maintained a relative peace and prosperity for about 3 centuries, creating the ideal conditions for the propagation of a new religion – Christianity.

In 324, Constantine unified the Empire and established religious freedom. He chose the site of Byzance to found the “New Rome,” which he called Constantinople. It became the only legitimate capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). Constantinople increased in wealth and power, and Italy, the Balkans, Anatolia, Egypt, and Northern Africa were conquered (or reconquered) in the 6th century.

The beginnings of Islam:

It was in 612 that the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed to dictate to him the words of the Koran. He transmitted the message of Allah to the directors of the Mecca and invited the people to abandon their other gods and to put themselves under the will of Allah. This provoked the anger of the city’s rich merchants, and he was forced to flee in 622 to Medina, where he organized a powerful religious community in the space of one decade. Fifty years later, the Islamic armies were already menacing Constantinople (669-678). They had conquered all of the territories from Egypt to Persia.

The Decline of the Byzantine Empire and the history of the Ottoman Empire:

The crusades were disastrous for the Byzantine emperors, whose “allies” sacked Christian Constantinople and brought about a fatal blow to the great city. Shortly afterwards, they had to face a more powerful menace – the Ottomans. Turkish tribes of the central Asian steppes, fleeing the Mongol invaders at the end of the 13th century took advantage of the field left them by the weakening Byzantine power and installed themselves in what is modern-day Turkey. They were known to be great warriors because of their excellent mastery of horses. Osman, a Turkish ruler installed near Bursa, founded a principality around 1288 which would become the Osmanli Empire, or the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish advanced quickly in the east and in the west. The great era of Ottoman power began with the reign of Mehmet the Conqueror (1451-1481). He conquered Constantinople, capital of Christianity in the East, in 1453. By the early 16th century, the Empire was expandly rapidly and extended into Europe, Asia, and Africa. Sullyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) ruled during this time period, which was the height of the Ottoman power. He built beautiful buildings in Istanbul, reconstructed Jerusalem, and reached the gates of Vienna in 1529.

By the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire was already in decline. Although it remained powerful, it lost some of its dynamism and remained behind Western Europe in terms of social, scientific, and military progress.

For centuries, religious and ethnic minorities were respected in the Ottoman Empire. But during the 19th century, the weakening of Ottoman power encouraged the build-up of nationalism across the countries of Europe. The Greeks, Serbians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, Armenians, and Arabs rebelled, claiming their right to independence. They often had the support of European powers.

Many reforms were started in the 19th century, modernizing the country without democratizing it. In the early 20th century, war broke out against the peoples the Empire had colonized. Then World War I came, and Turkey found itself on the losing side. The defeat caused the total collapse of the Empire. The Allies gave away the most prosperous provinces to Christian peoples and relegated the Muslim Turks to a small, semi-arid steppe region, without an opening on the sea.

During WWI, the Allies had promised Izmir to Greece, which they gave away in May 1919. This helped to catalyze the people into taking action. Mustafa Kemal, an Ottoman general, organized a resistance group four days later. The War of Turkish Independence lasted from 1920 to 1922. When the Turks won, Mustafa Kemal became a national hero. He abolished the Ottoman Empire and the new Turkish Republic renounced all of their claims to territories with a non-Turkish majority in 1923. Turks in Greece and Greeks in Turkey had to leave their homelands to join their respective states.


Mustafa Kemal aimed to completely transform Turkish society. After abolishing the Ottoman Empire, he founded the new state of Turkey in 1923 and adopted a Constitution in 1924. In 1925 he abolished polygamy and made it illegal to wear the fez, which to him, were signs of the old Ottoman Empire. He made laws that were inspired on the Western model. In 1928, religion and state were officially separated when Islam lost its role as a state religion. The Arab alphabet was replaced by the Latin alphabet in order to encourage literacy amongst the general population. Ataturk himself went to schools to teach the new alphabet. In 1930, Constantinople was renamed Istanbul and the names of other cities were Turkified. He gave women the right to vote and the right to run for Parliament in 1934, well before many Western governments accorded the same rights to their female citizens. The following year, he decided that Turks should choose a family name (up until that point, Muslims only had one name, the last name remaining optional). He was called Ataturk, or “Father of the Turks”, by the Parliament and became Kemal Ataturk. He remained at the head of government until his death in 1938.

He is still considered a national hero today. His image is omnipresent; his portrait is seen in schools, offices, shops. A statue of him is found in every park, and extracts from his speeches adorn all public buildings. He is considered the man which transformed Turkey into a modern and secular nation.

Modern History:

A real democracy was installed between 1946 and 1950. The Democratic Party, opposition party to Ataturk’s Republican Party, won the elections in 1950. One decade later, they had acquired so much power that they menaced the democratic system, and the army, directed by Ataturk to protect democracy, overthrew the regime. Another coup d’etat took place in 1970. In 1974, the attention of Turkey was turned towards Cyprus, where a minority of Turks lived under the domination of the Greek majority. A Greek from Cyprus overthrew the Cyprus president and proclaimed himself president, prompting the Turkish army to invade the island and divide it into two sectors, Greek and Turkish. The situation remains the same today.

In 1980 the country was virtually paralyzed because of political fighting and civil disorder. Inflation reached 130% and crime increased. The military intervened, restoring civil and financial order, but there were problems in keeping civil rights for the citizens. During the same decade, the economy increased greatly. Also during the same time period, the Kurd problem resurfaced. In effect, the important Kurd minority in the southeast of the country wished to form their own republic. The problem stemmed from the fact that the Kurds wished to read newspapers in their own language, watch Kurdish TV programs, and teach Kurdish to children in the schools. But they weren’t among the minorities who were given rights by the Lausanne treaty, which was the founding text of modern Turkey. Until recently, the government denied their existence and called them “Turks from the mountains.”

Turkey today is hoping to become a member of the European Union. Their candidature was accepted in 1999. One of the conditions of their entry is in respecting the civil rights of their citizens, so there might be some hope for improving the Kurd situation in the near future.