Turkey Flag




map_of_turkey_20101122_2062190203Turkey bridges Europe and Asia, spreading across the Anatolian peninsula.  It borders with eight countries: Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It is also flanked by three large seas, the Mediterranean to the south, the Black Sea to the north, and the Aegean Sea to the west and is divided by the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits and the Sea of Marmara.

Turkish climate can be divided up into several regions.  The coastal regions are characterized by cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers.  The interior of the country, called Central Anatolia, has a continental climate with four distinct seasons.  It is one of the largest regions and is typified by semi-arid plateaus.

Turkey has several prominent topographical features.  It has two high mountain ranges, the Pontus Mountains and the Taurus Mountains located in eastern Anatolia.  Many of the peaks are extinct volcanoes, the highest being Mount Ararat at 5,137 meters or 16,853 feet.  Turkey’s largest lake, Lake Van, is also situated in these ranges.

Turkey faces several environmental problems.  Like many of its neighbors, it suffers from water pollution, air pollution, and deforestation.  It is also prone to devastating earthquakes, especially in the north along the Sea of Marmara.  On August 17, 1999, for example, a magnitude 7.4 quake centered near Izmit, about 160 km (100 miles) southwest of Istanbul, killed over 17,000 people and injured another 44,000.

The capital city, Ankara, is located in the interior of the Peninsula along a hill-covered region near the center of Turkey.  Ankara has a continental climate, with cold, snowy winters due to its elevation and inland location, and hot, dry summers.  Rainfall occurs mostly during the spring and autumn.  Istanbul, on the other hand, is situated on the Bosporus Strait connecting the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea.  Istanbul has a borderline Mediterranean climate and a humid subtropical climate.  One of the most salient characteristics of the climate in parts of Istanbul is its persistently high humidity, which reaches 80 percent most mornings.  Because of these conditions, fog is very common, although more so in the northern parts of the city and away from the city center.

Geography Resources


Erdogan_TurkeyThe Anatolian Peninsula was successively occupied by the Hittites, Phrygians, Lycians, and Lydians during the second millennium BCE.  Around 1200 BCE, the coastal regions were occupied by the Aeolian and Ionian Greeks who founded several major cities including Ephesus, Smyrna, and Byzantium.

In the 6th century BCE, the Persian Empire conquered the area, which in turn was overthrown by Alexander the Great in 334 BCE.  This area eventually fell into the hands of the Roman Empire and, in 324 CE, Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and subsequently named the city Constantinople.  When the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476, it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which ruled the area under varying dynasties for nearly 1000 years.  With the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the capital’s name changed again to Istanbul.

The Ottoman Turks ruled most of the Anatolian Peninsula for the next several centuries.  Throughout this time, they engaged in frequent wars with the nearby Russian and Austria-Hungarian empires for territory in Eastern Europe and the area around the Black Sea.  In the Levant and Mesopotamia (present day Syria and Iraq), they also often fought in wars with the Persian Safavid dynasty.  As the Ottoman Empire began to decline in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British and French began to issue large loans to the Ottomans, pushing them into debt.  By the outbreak of World War I, the Ottoman Empire had already been severely weakened by crippling debt, war losses in Eastern Europe, and an insurrection led by Muhammad Ali of Egypt.  These events, along with the efforts of the British, French, and Russians to undermine the Ottomans, greatly contributed to its decline during the 19th century.

The Ottoman Empire was defeated during World War I.  A series of British and French incursions into Ottoman territory and an Arab rebellion against their Turkish rulers severely weakened what remained of the Empire.  With the subsequent defeat of the Entente powers in the war, the Anatolian Peninsula was brought under the administration of the British and French with its former territories given to the victorious powers under the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.  Many former Ottoman military commanders were outraged with this development, and they soon formed a government in Ankara and expelled the British and French using military force.  One commander, Mustafa Kemal, rose from this conflict as the clear choice for president of the newly formed Turkish Republic.

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On November 1, 1922, Mustafa Kemal and his Republican Party officially abolished the Ottoman sultanate.  A year later, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk, also abolished the former Islamic Caliphate and became the first president of Turkey.  He repudiated the Ottoman past and instead ushered in a period of modernization, reform, and industrialization.  He established a single-party democratic system which would solely promote his secular ideas and values for the country.  Within a few years, he had secularized the country by demoting Islam to the private sphere and banning veils, headscarves, and the Islamic law courts.  He also instituted Turkish as the official language and replaced the Arabic script with a new Latin based alphabet.  Many of his reforms and the largely secular nature of the state have continued to the present day.

After Atatürk’s death in 1938, the single-party system was replaced by a multiparty democracy.  The current constitution, drafted in 1982, dictates that Turkey’s government is to be democratic, secular, and parliamentary.  The president and the prime minister hold executive power while legislative power lies in the hands of a 550-member parliament, elected every four years, called the Grand National Assembly.

Turkey remained neutral throughout most of World War II, only siding with the allies in February 1945 as a precondition for admission into the newly forming United Nations.  Following the onset of the Cold War, Turkey became a critical ally of the United States in the Middle East.  Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952, hindered Soviet expansion into the Middle East, and helped prevent Soviet naval expansion through its control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.

Turkey experienced several military coups throughout the Cold War decades.  The years 1960, 1971, and 1980 saw military overthrows of top government officials and large scale arrests.  Despite these developments, Turkey largely remains the most democratic country in the Middle East and had until recently avoided the wave of protests and governmental overthrows brought on by the Arab Spring movement.

The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, was elected in August 2014 for a 7-year term after spending 11 years as the Prime Minister a more politically powerful office now held by Ahmet Davuto?lu. The prime minister is elected every four years.  After many years of instability and economic uncertainty in the late twentieth century, brought on in part from the 1991 Gulf War where Turkey lost significant shares of oil from Iraqi pipelines traveling through the country, Turkey is becoming a significant economic power.  Recently, large scale protests began in May 2013 against the heavy-handed tactics of the Turkish police in responding to minor demonstrations and increasingly religious reforms advocated by current President Erdo?an.

History & Government Resources


Turkey is currently involved in maritime disputes with Greece in the Aegean Sea.  The status of north Cyprus is also in question as Turkey remains the only nation that recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.  Greece is still working in the United Nations to establish a unified Cyprus, and several UN Security Council resolutions have condemned the current partition of the island.  Syria and Iraq protest Turkish hydrological projects to control the upper Euphrates water as this would limit their control of these rivers and the amount of water reaching each country.  Turkey has expressed concern over the status of Kurds in Iraq because of the border security and refugee problems caused by increased tensions in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Its borders with Syria and Iraq have been threatened by the encroaching Islamic State forces more recently. In 2009, Swiss mediators facilitated an accord reestablishing diplomatic ties between Armenia and Turkey, but neither side has ratified the agreement and the rapprochement effort has faltered.  Turkey holds at least 11,000 Iraqi refugees and over 316,000 Syrian refugees.  Turkey also has anywhere from 954,000 to 1.2 million internally displaced refugees as a result of fighting between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish military.


According to the CIA Fact Book, Turkey has a population of 81,619,392, which is increasing by 1.12% annually.  This population lives for the most part in urban areas (70%).  Some of the most populated cities are Istanbul, Ankara, and ?zmir.  The majority of the population is of Turkish ethnicity at 75% of the population, though there is a large Kurdish community, estimated at 18% of the population.  Some other smaller ethnic groups include Armenians, Greeks, Arabs, and Circassians which in total make up 7-12% of the population.

Population of Turkey

Turkish ethnicity 75%
Large Kurdish community 18%
Other smaller ethnic groups 7%

Turkey’s public health care system is administered by the Ministry of Health and funded through the country’s social security fund.  In 2003, however, the Justice and Development Party introduced a health reform program to increase the ratio of private to state health institutions and make health care available to a larger share of the population.  Most of these private insurance companies require paying a premium in addition to public contributions through social security.  As a consequence, health care quality has improved as more people are gaining access to less expensive healthcare options; however, there is still much room for improvement.  As of 2006, Turkey had roughly one doctor for every 700 people, compared to around one doctor for every 400 to 500 people in the United States and Europe, respectively.

Atatürk established the current Turkish education system in 1924 when he closed all religious schools and replaced them with secular schools.  He also made elementary school attendance compulsory and public schools free between the ages of 6 and 18.  In 2001, enrollment of children between the ages of 7 and 18 was close to 100%.  According to a 2011 estimate by the CIA World Factbook, the literacy rate was 94.1% for the population (97.9% for men and 90.3% for women).

Literacy Rate (Men)

Literacy Rate (Women)

Higher education is reserved to those who excel at the Undergraduate Placement Examination (LYS), a national entrance examination.  There are 820 higher education institutions, including universities, conservatories, and professional schools.  Some of the most prestigious schools are Bilkent University, the Middle East Technical University, and Istanbul University.

The situation involving the Kurds in Turkey remains unresolved.  At about 18% of the population, the Kurds typically do not adhere to the government’s policy of assimilation into Turkish identity.  They are primarily concentrated in the eastern and southern regions of Anatolia, and have been struggling to gain more autonomy in this area.  In the summer of 2012, the conflict with the PKK took a violent turn, in parallel with the Syrian civil war as President Bashar al-Assad ceded control of several Kurdish cities in Syria to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian affiliate of the PKK.  Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused the Assad government of arming the PYD.  Turkey is continuing to attempt to resolve this crisis along with the large numbers of recent refugees caused by the Syrian civil war.  As part of this, Turkey has requested aid packages from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


Although Turkey is a secular state with no official religion, over 98% of the population is Muslim, adhering to Sunni Islam.  The Shia Alevi and Sufi sects are also present while the remainder follows Christianity, Judaism, or is non-religious.  The Mevlevi order of Sufism is one of the most well known of these small sects due to its affiliation with the Whirling Dervishes.  These Sufis perform a fast, spinning dance in the attempt to reach spiritual ecstasy, and the practice has become a prominent tourist attraction.

The role of religion has been a topic of growing controversy.  Though Turkey is a strictly secular state, Islamic groups have increasingly challenged the government.  Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a majority of seats in the legislature for the third straight election in 2011.  The AKP, led by Erdo?an, has conservative and Islamic roots and has attempted in recent years to introduce more Islamic legislation like restrictions on alcohol and repealing restrictions on wearing the hijab.

Religion Resources



Turkey’s cultural heritage is a blend of Turkic, Ottoman, and Western traditions.  Sitting at the juncture of Europe and Asia, Turkey is an amalgamation of many identities. Ottoman art flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries during the reign of Suleyman I, which lead to an increased production of illuminated manuscripts, textiles, and a variety of ceramics.

Many new schools of art emerged after the dissolution of the Ottoman Sultanate in 1922.  Atatürk sought to distance his country from earlier Islamic traditions by instead promoting Turkey’s ancient history and village life.  European traditions and aesthetics also heavily influenced Turkish art at this time.  Many European artists came to Turkey to teach painting and sculpture, and government grants allowed Turkish artists to study abroad by subsidizing some of the cost.

Turkey also houses several prominent museums.  The Great Palace Mosaic Museum is located close to Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul, at the Arasta Bazaar.  The museum houses mosaics from the Byzantine period, unearthed at the site of the Great Palace of Constantinople.  Istanbul is also home to the Topkapi Palace.  This lavish palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign.  Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, Topkapi Palace was transformed by a government decree into a museum of the imperial era.  The palace includes many examples of Ottoman architecture and large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures and jewelry.

Art Resources


Turkey’s coastline is scattered with ancient Greek and Roman cities such as the ancient Greek city of Ephesus and the Roman city of Nicaea.  Both sites remain abandoned, but are a common destination for tourists and archaeologists.  The ruins of the ancient city of Troy are also located in Turkey and receive many visitors. Troy was made famous by Homer’s The Illiad.  Turkey also carries the mark of the Ottoman Empire, especially throughout its largest city.  Istanbul’s skyline, the capital of the former Ottoman Empire, is dominated by beautiful mosques and schools designed during the 16th century by Sinan, one of the greatest Ottoman architects.  Some of his largest and most decorated mosques include the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.  The former capital of the Hittite Empire, the ruins of Hattusha still stand today and display the power some of this city once held.  The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior, is an historic mosque in Istanbul built during the rule of Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I.

Sites Resources


Turkish music is at the crossroads between Middle Eastern, European, and Central Asian musical traditions.  During Atatürk’s period of reform, many forms of traditional music such as religious and classical music (called sanat) were discouraged by the new government in favor of European and folk music.  Since then, however, these traditions have been revived.  Mevlevi music accompanied by whirling dervishes has become increasingly popular.  Turkish musicians are also prominent in European pop music.  One well-known singer is Tarkan, who sang the chart-topping song “??mar?k” (translated as “Kiss Kiss”).

Music Resources


Although soccer is the most popular sport in Turkey, many other sports are enjoyed such as basketball, volleyball, handball, scuba diving, and, more recently, motor sports.  The Turkish national soccer team, nicknamed The Crescent-Stars, has qualified for three FIFA World Cup finals in 1950, 1954, and 2002.  They reached the semi-final round of the World Cup in 2002, but were defeated by Brazil.  However, in the following match for third place against South Korea, Hakan ?ükür scored a goal straight from the opening kick-off in 10.8 seconds, making the fastest goal in World Cup history.  After ultimately winning that match 3-2, Turkey claimed the 3rd place title in that World Cup competition.

Turkey’s national sport is oil wrestling, a tradition from Ottoman times.  This wrestling differs from traditional wrestling in several ways.  The participants typically wrestle outside in an open field and are covered from head to toe in olive oil.  Since pinning an opponent is much more difficult due to the oil, wrestlers are encouraged to maintain an effective hold on the other person’s kisbet, a type of pants made out of buffalo hide.  Matches used to last days until a clear victor was established, but recent matches have been set at 30 to 40 minutes to prevent overly long competitions.  Turkey first participated in the Olympics in 1908 and has since won a total of 87 medals, divided into 39 gold, 25 silver, and 24 bronze medals.  57 of these medals were in wrestling.  All of these sports are supported by the state through funds for sports clubs.

Sports Resources



This English-language publication promotes itself as the leading news source for Turkey and the region.

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Read Turkish? Check this news and entertainment site out for all the latest goings-on in Turkey.  Turkish version.

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Today’s Zaman

Another English news source on Turkey and the region, this site is similar in nature to Hurriyet, albeit in a slightly less polished format.

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Daily Sabah

With a stated commitment to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and liberty, Daily Sabah covers local, national, regional, and international events, and more, in an attractive and modern design.

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Library of Congress Country Study

A Turkish Legend

A podcast of the reading of a Turkish legend about “the beautiful girl whose wish was not fulfilled”

Middle East Policy Council Articles on Turkey