Currency unit

Turkish lira










N Cyprus



War - Mesopotamia

War - Kuwait

War - Greece

Iraq War







Turkey is the ethnic heart of what was the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are a people who converted to Islam and came to Anatolia from central Asia. Theirs is one of a family of languages found all over Eurasia, including Mongol, Hungarian and Finnish.

The Arab Khalifs used Turkish soldiers as mercenaries who then seized power. The same happened in Egypt when the Fatimite Khalifate was overthrown by its Turkish slaves. The Seljuk Turks were the first to enter history as a major power when they conquered the northern part of the Islamic world in the early Medieval period. The Ottomans occupied the former Greek-speaking territory of the Eastern Roman Empire - Anatolia or Rum - of which the capital, Byzantium, finally fell in 1453. But the Ottoman Empire also came to control areas occupied by other ethnic groups, including Arabia, North Africa and parts of south eastern Europe. Part of its prestige depended on the Sultan in Istanbul assuming the title Khalif (= Deputy or Successor; religious head of Islam). From the 17th century the empire gradually retreated from its peak as their military technology was surpassed by the Europeans, and a series of weaker sultans came to power (the Ibn Khaldun effect).

Modern Turkey
At the end of the first world war this wider Empire dissolved. The Arab provinces revolted and then came under the control of Britain and France. The Peace Conference tried to treat Turkey as an enemy and in the Treaty of Sevres awarded the area around Smyrna (Izmir) to Greece and eastern Anatolia to the proposed new states of Armenia and Kurdistan. The Greeks tried to conquer parts of western Anatolia and the Islands at a time when they believed the Turks to be disorganized and weak but in the war of 1921-22 were driven off the mainland. At that time there were many Greeks remaining within Turkish territory. In the aftermath a population transfer was arranged in which most of the remaining Turks in Greek territory were forced to migrate to Turkey and the Greeks in Anatolia to Greece.

Modern Turkey was defined in its present borders by Mustapha Kemal who gave himself the surname Ataturk (father of the Turks) and led the movement which overthrew the Sultan and then drove out the Greeks and reconquered the east. The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 recognized this new Turkish power and recognised the present frontiers, omitting mention of Armenia and Kurdistan.

The Khalifate was abolished. Ataturk moved the capital from Istanbul (Constantinople or Byzantium) to Ankara and decreed that Turkey should adopt western political, legal and social customs. In particular he ordered that the language be written in Roman characters instead of the Arabic alphabet and decreed a secular rather than an Islamic state. Although there is a cult of Ataturk's personality the bulk of the population do not necessarily wish to have the secular state he decreed. Islamic parties often win elections and are always suppressed by the military. The secularists find it frustrating that the people prefer to vote against secularism. Since this revolution Turkey has had an ambiguous cultural and political relation with the west: on the one hand the government and army leaders wish to have closer relations with western Europe; on the other, the people still feel affinity with their Islamic neighbors.

Kurds and Armenians
But Anatolia is also home to people speaking Kurdish and to Armenians. The whole eastern frontier is said to be like the old American West, and is under military control.

The Kurds have not been recognized as a legitimate group and attempts have been made to stop them using their language in public. As with some states further west, such as France, the Turks would like Turkey to be a monolingual nation and policy is formulated as though it is.

In 1915 many Armenians died when the Ottoman government ordered their relocation. The Armenians believe it was a government ordered massacre; the Turks believe the numbers who died has been exaggerated and that the deaths were a result of administrative inefficiency rather than intent. As in Northern Ireland the massacre has become a myth and an excuse for terrorist activity. The truth is hard to discover. (But it was not the first massacre - see Armenia)

Greece and Turkey remain hostile to each other, even though they are both members of NATO. A main source of dispute is Cyprus where a Turkish invasion in 1973 led to a de facto partition of the island into Greek and Turkish sectors which Greece still does not accept. Other disputes are about oil exploration in the Aegean Sea where Greece claims the waters round Greek Islands off Turkey's coastline.

There are more people speaking Turkic dialects (many of them mutually intelligible with Turkish, though written with other scripts) in former Soviet and Chinese Central Asia and in Iran and Afghanistan than live in Turkey itself. The recent changes in China and especially the Soviet Union are reviving the desire of some Turks for a pan-Turkic organization of some kind. Members would be: Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Chinese Turkestan (Xinjiang) as well as various smaller autonomous republics found in Russia.

The Turkish government has asked to join the European Union, but has not been encouraged. (In November 2002 Giscard d'Estaing, in charge of proposing a new European constitution said that Turkey could never join. He seemed to be referring to Turkey's mainly Muslim culture.) The official reasons are that human rights are not well respected in Turkey and the occupation of part of Cyprus is also a problem. As the Europeans have resisted the Turks' desire to join they have changed their outlook towards the east to the Turks in Central Asia to form the new Black Sea Economic Community. A "Turkic Commonwealth" with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan has been proposed.

The European failure to protect Muslims in Bosnia increased the tendency to look east. Could the country leave NATO as a result?

Turkey allowed its NATO air bases to be used to bomb Iraq during the 1992 Gulf War. What promises were made to the Turkish government about territory?

There seems to be a wish by some Turks to annex or control part of northern Iraq, especially the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul. There would be disadvantages to Turkey in doing this: there would be opposition from all Arabs, remembering the Ottoman Empire which they fought to escape from; Iran would also be afraid and might act; the Kurds would become a bigger minority within the enlarged Turkey. There would be a danger of general war between Turks and Arabs. Turkish military have already chased Kurdish guerrillas into Iraqi Kurdistan, with a major invasion in March 1995.

Since the break up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, Turkey is extending its influence into the Turkic-speaking republics of central Asia, especially Azerbaijan, as well as Albania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. The war in Bosnia raised a demand for Islamic solidarity.

The war with Iraq in 2003 involved Turkey because the US wished its forces to be allowed to use Turkish bases on the borders with Iraq. The moderately Islamic government has demanded a high price for this. It may be that they have demanded the right to occupy parts of Iraqi Kurdistan to prevent the Kurds there from controlling the oil. In the end the US troops were not permitted to use this route.

Turkey continues to threaten Iraqi Kurdistan

Turkish planes bombed sites in Iraq and troops have crossed into Iraq in December 2007.

















The founder of modern Turkey decreed that Turkey should imitate the European states. However, he was unable to create the conditions which lead to democracy and he set up what was a one party state, even if he ordered his colleagues to create an opposition party.

Thus modern Turkey, since 1945, has experienced military regimes alternating with civilian regimes, almost to a Latin American pattern. During the civilian regimes the military become discontented when politicians seem to favor Islam - Ataturk wanted a secular state.

In the last democratic period there was political violence between extreme right wing and extreme left wing groups under a generally social democratic government headed by Bulent Ecevit. This regime invaded northern Cyprus (1973) and set up a Turkish occupation there. That regime was brought to an end by a military takeover following widespread political killings between the left and the right but has since evolved towards partial democracy under the recent president Ozal (died 1993).

Woman prime minister 1993. Increasing violence 1995. (Islamic) Welfare Party growing in influence and won the largest number of seats in the last election. Rival conservative secular parties formed a weak coalition to keep the Islamists out., which was replaced July 1996 by a coalition of the Welfare Party (Islamist) and one of the conservative parties. Will it last? Will they move away from Europe diplomatically and towards the Middle East?

The Islamic government was dismissed by the president after the army made clear its opposition. A coalition led by the veteran Social Democrat Bulent Ecevit then took power. However, as he has aged and become inactive this coalition fell apart and lost most of its seats in the general election.

Once again, elections in November 2002 have produced an Islamic government, said to be moderate.

In 2007 the AK party government tried to get its candidate elected ceremonial president. The army objected. The government then called a general election and won a large majority. Will the army intervene if the candidate, suspected to be an Islamist is again presented? He was elected and so far (December 2007) the army has not acted. However, there are reports that the government has arrested some officers, and caused to retire others, who may have been planning to overthrow the government, as has happened so many times in the past.

There is said to be a semi-secret Gulem "movement" underlying the AK party with possible intention of restoring Islam, contrary to the constitution.







A developing economy comparable with the poorest of the European economies, Portugal.

Since the death of Turgut Ozal inflation has risen to Latin American levels (100%+) and a huge balance of payments deficit has occurred.

Recently (2005) it has been reported under control and the currency has been reformed with ten million old lira replaced by one new lira.

The rate of economic growth is said to be comparable to India and China.







Turkey is siphoning off the water of the Euphrates and Tigris for its own use. This is a cause of dispute with Iraq and Syria.

Its population is rising at a rate comparable with most of the poorer countries (that's why it needs more water).






Human Rights

Human rights have been criticized in Turkey. Arrests without trial have taken place. There have been political prisoners and torture in prisons is alleged to be still going on. (Amnesty International) The Kurds have been denied the right to use their language (until recently, even in private). Genocide. During the last military regime many political activists were arrested without trial. Trade unionists are alleged to be subject to arbitrary arrest.

Some politicians from the last civilian regime are still restricted from full political activity.

Climate effects

One degree
Increasingly arid, as with rest of southern Europe

Two degrees
Serious problems supporting the agricultural population, lack of water in major rivers.

Last revised 12/09/11


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