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The Republic of Turkey

(Official name: Turkiye Cumhuriyeti)


By Matthew Soper
Geography of Turkey
November 1999



The Republic of Turkey lies between 36-42 degrees north latitude and between 26-45 degrees east longitude.  To the west it is bordered by Bulgaria and Greece.  Georgia, Armenia, and Iran border it on the east.  To the south it is bordered by Syria and Iraq.  The Black Sea (on the north), the Mediterranean Sea (on the south) and the Aegean Sea (on the west) also surround Turkey.  Turkey, with an area of 301,382 square miles, is just a little larger than Texas.  It's 80 provinces lie in the continents of both Asia and Europe.



Turkey is divided into seven regions.  The Marmara region has the highest population density, but is the smallest in size.  The most important peak in the area, Uludag or Mt. Olympus (2,543 meters), is a tourist area that offers snow skiing.  The largest and highest region is the Eastern Anatolian region.  There are many inactive volcanoes in this region, including Mount Agri (Ararat) which is 5,165 meters high and is the highest point in Turkey.  Generally speaking, central Turkey is a high plateau called the Anatolian Plateau.  It has both hot springs and salt lakes.  The high mountains nearly surround the plateau.      The climate is very diversified due to the variety of landscapes.  There are three climate zones.  The Black Sea Zone, due to mountain ranges which run parallel to the coasts, generally has a temperate and wet climate all year round.  The Mediterranean Zone experiences mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.  The Continental Zone, which includes the Anatolian plateau, has extremes of very hot, dry summers and cold, harsh winters with limited rainfall.  The average temperature of the capital city, Ankara, is 32 degrees Fahrenheit in January and 72 degrees in July.    The capital city averages 14 inches of precipitation annually.     Internally, Turkey's Anatolia and Thrace regions are separated by three straits known as the Sea of Marmara (11,230 sq. km), the Bosporous and the Dardanelles.  Throughout history,  Turkey’s control over these straits has allowed the country to regulate the movement of ships between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.     Turkey has 9,423 of inland lakes.  Some of these lakes are salt lakes while others are fresh water lakes that are used for irrigation purposes.  Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey.      Turkey has several major rivers that provide irrigation and drinking water.  The two major rivers are the Firat (Euphrates) and the Dicle (Tigris) which provide fresh water to Turkey as well as many of the countries of the Middle East.  On the Euphrates River, the Ataturk Dam, the Keban Dam, and the Karakaya Dam have a capacity of over 21,500 thousands of megawatts of hydroelectric power.     The land of Turkey is 30% arable, 4% permanent crops, 12% meadows and pastures, 26% forest and woodlands and 28% other uses. Because of the widely differing climates, Turkey is one of only a few countries in the world that is self-sufficient in basic foods.  Fresh fruits and vegetables can be grown all year round in parts of Turkey.  Better uses of machinery and fertilizer, as well as better plant varieties, have increased Turkey's yield of many major crops.  Turkey's main crops include cereal grains such as barley, rice, wheat and maize.  Over 29.7 metric tons were produced in 1997.  In addition, 20.8 million tons of vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, and onions were produced in the same year. Over 5 million tons of root crops like sugar beets and potatoes (uh,oh - look out Idaho) are grown annually. Over 10 million tons of fruits such as grapes, olives, apples, citrus fruits and nuts are harvested each year.  In addition, 673,000 oilseeds, such as cotton,  were grown in 1997.  Cotton and tobacco are two of the main export crops.  The warm area by the Agean Sea is particularly suited to growing figs and other fruits.  Specialty crops, such as tea, hazelnuts, and poppies are also grown in parts of Turkey.     Even though 12% of Turkey's area is forested, lumbering in not very important because most of the trees have no commercial value.  The trees are primarily cut for fuel.     Since Turkey is surrounded on many sides by water, fishing is a major industry.  Most of the fish come from the Black and the Mediterranean Seas and include such species as anchovies, mackerel, sardines, mullet and whiting.     Another important industry in Turkey is raising livestock.  The grasses of the high plateaus provide food for cattle, sheep and goats.  Turkey is a major producer of mohair, the fleece of the Angora goat.  The fleece from different types of sheep and goats are used to make Turkish rugs. Depending on the area where the animals are raised, influences the price a person must pay for the rugs.


About 70% of the estimated 63,528,225 people (population estimate from 1997) in Turkey live in the cities or towns.  The rest live on farms or in small villages.  Since the 1940's manufacturing has begun to play a more important role in the national income than agriculture.  Still, over half of the countries workers are farmers as they have been for centuries.  Istanbul is the largest metropolitan city in Turkey with its capital, Ankara, having about 2/3 less people than Istanbul.     About 80% of the people in Turkey are Turkish.  19% are Kurdish and the other 1% are mainly Arabs, Greeks and Americans.  The people are mostly Muslims and they speak Turkish.  In the eastern mountain villages, a group of people called the Kurds, have kept their own language and customs.       While times and customs have changed for many as the modern ways have taken over, many rural people still live much as they have for hundreds of years.  Tourism has boosted the sale of local handicrafts and carpets.  In the Kapadokya region, the land of volcanic pinnacles and underground cities, people still use the caverns that once were homes to people who were protecting themselves from Arab raids.  Long ago these underground cities provided a defense system, but now they provide storage areas and in some cases, an income from tours to tourists.


Turkey has an extensive transportation system of railroads, highways and airlines.  There are over 5312 miles of railroad tracks which are run by the Republic State Railways.  There are over 237,135 miles of roads.  In 1996, for every 1000 residents, there were 55 automobiles.  Busses still offer a convenient means of transportation for many people traveling across the country.  The Turkish Airlines offers both domestic and foreign service. Coastal  shipping allows for connections between both the major and lesser seaports of Turkey.  Istanbul and Izmir are the leading ports.  Ships provide a means of transportation for people as well as a way to transport goods.     In the early 1990's, Turkey had about 30 major daily newspapers, all published in Istanbul.  Many smaller daily papers, as well as weekly and monthly papers are published.  There are four national radio networks and five television channels, all run by the government.  There are some privately owned ones as well.  In 1995, for every 1000 residents, there were 189 licensed television sets and 164 licensed radios.  In 1996, there were 224 telephone lines for every 1000 people.


The history of Turkey can be traced back to the Hittites who were ruling the most powerful civilization in the Middle East some time about 1500 B.C..  This area, Anatolia, is now the main area of Turkey.  In 546 B.C. the Persian Empire conquered Anatolia.  This Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.  The Roman Emperor, Constantine established the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire at Byzantine in 324  A.D.  He renamed it Constantinople.  The Turks captured Constantinople in 1453.  The city was renamed Istanbul and it became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.  The Ottoman Empire, at its height, went up into Hungary, included the northern coast of Africa, and reached to the Persian Gulf. Between 1566 and 1918, the Ottoman Empire began to lose power and influence as well as land.  In 1829, Greece became the first Ottoman territory to gain its independence.  Between 1894 and 1923, man ethnic Armenians were killed or persecuted by the Ottoman government.  In 1908 the Young Turks movement lead a revolt aimed at the government.  The Ottoman Empire allied with German during World War I.  Turkey was one of the countries defeated during the war and, as a result, lost a lot of its land to Britain and France.  Turkey became a republic on October 29, 1923 with Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Ataturk) as its first president.  He took the name Ataturk which means Father of the Turks.  This was to be a time of economic change and social progress.     During the 1920's and 1930's, the government did away with such Islamic traditions as Muslim schools, the wearing of the veil by women, the Arabic alphabet, the wearing of the fez by men, the Islamic legal system, and the religious and civil office of the caliph.  It also outlawed polygamy. Women could hold a public office and were given the right to vote in 1934. Ataturk was the president of Turkey until his death in 1938. Ismet Inonu became the next president.  He kept Turkey out of World War II until February of 1945.  Turkey joined the United Nations in that same year.     Because the Soviet Union was demanding control of territory in eastern Turkey, the United States began giving Turkey economic and military aid in 1947 to guard against Communist expansion.  Turkey allowed the United States to build and operate military bases in Turkey.     In 1960, the Turkish army gained power and hanged the prime minister.  They revised the constitution and civilian rule was again established the following year.     In 1993, Tansu Ciller became the first female prime minister of Turkey.  In 1993, the Turkish Grand National Assembly, which consists of 550 deputies elected by the voters to five year terms, elected Demirel Suleymanis to become the 9th President of the Republic of Turkey.  He is the present president of Turkey.  The current Prime Minister, since 1997, is Mesut Yilmaz.  The prime minister is appointed by the president.  The Turkish form of government is a Presidential republic.  The President serves for a seven year term.     There are many different political parties in Turkey.  The largest party in parliament  is the Islamic Party called Virtue.  This party is made up primarily of the Welfare Party which was outlawed by the constitutional court in January of 1998 because they were threatening the secular nature of the Turkish state.     Turkey is divided into 80 provinces.   Each one has a governor who is appointed by the president and a council of elected people.  The provinces are divided into countries, districts, municipalities, and villages.     Turkey maintains an active armed forces.  In 1996, there were 525,000 people in their army.  All male citizens between the ages of 20 and 32 are required to serve in the army for 1 to 16 months.


   The government of Turkey has a large influence over the economy.  It owns several important industries.  In the mid-1990's, the economy was so bad that the inflation rate was as high as 150%.  The government's answer was to increase the price of goods produced or sold by government enterprises.                    In addition to the agricultural and fishing industries, there is much mining and manufacturing in Turkey.  The country is among the world's leaders in the production of chromium ore.  Their major exports are textiles, iron and steel, dried fruits, leather garments, tobacco and petroleum products.  In turn, their major imports are machinery, crude petroleum, transportation vehicles, and chemical products.  Their major trading partners are Germany, United States, Italy, France, Saudi Arabia and Great Britain.     The Turkish currency is the Turkish lira.  In June of 1999, it took 400,000 Turkish lira to equal $.96 in American money.


   As in most countries, the western culture is invading the traditional food, dress, and recreation of Turkey.  In the larger cities of Turkey a person can find major food chains like McDonalds, Subway, Pizza Hut and Burger King.  Bottled water and Coca Cola are popular drinks in Turkey. I don't know about Mountain Dew, Mr. Carter, but if you've waded through this much of my report, I'll buy you one.     Traditional foods are still popular.  Some of these include:  eggplant, five different types of olives (often served for breakfast along with cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and lots of different breads), strong cheeses, lamb, shish kebabs, meat balls, peppers stuffed with rice, and baklava (a pastry made from pastry, honey and chopped nuts).  They enjoy tea, Turkish coffee and a liquor called raki which is made from raisins.     About 98% of the people in Turkey are Muslims.  Muslims are followers of the Islamic religion.  The other 2% are mostly Catholic, Jewish, and Christians.      I found no record of any Christmas customs in Turkey, perhaps because they are Muslims.  They did celebrate Ramadan, a Muslim month long fast.  At the end of the fast, there is a three day celebration where the children are given gifts, money, and candy.  In fact, this time is called Seker Bayrami or the Candy Holiday.      Backgammon is a popular game in Turkey.  Greased wrestling is a favorite event at festivals.  Soccer is enjoyed by many and is one of the most popular sports.  Turkish people also enjoy operas, stage plays and concerts which can be viewed at some of the ancient ruins of Greek and Roman theaters that are scattered all over Turkey. (See photo below.)


   Turkey is a country living on shaky ground between two continents with a vast amount of history and culture.  It is a contradiction of old and new ways that draw people to it.  It is a mosaic of geography and people which makes Turkey the country it is today.



Bonechi, Casa Editrice, Cappadocia, Florence, Italy; Centro Stampa

Editoriale Bonechi,1996.

Cimrin, Huseyin, Ephesus, Selcuk, Izmir; Secil Ofset, 1999.


Dagitim, Rehber, Turkey, Istanbul, Turkey; Basim Yayin Dagitim, 1997.


Explore Turkey, General Information,

Turkey, Encarta, 1998 ed: Microsoft Computer CD.

Turkey, World Almanac, 1999 ed: 851-852.

Turkey, World Book Encyclopedia, 1998 ed: 502-512.

Turkey, Young Students Encyclopedia, 1973 ed: 2856.

Whalen, JoAnn, Turkey, interview.



The map of Turkey was from Encarta, 1998 ed: Microsoft Computer CD.

The Grande Theatre picture was from p.32 of the book, Ephesus by Huseyin

Cimrin, Selcuk, Izmir; Secil Ofset, 1999.

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