Turkey 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
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.
Interactive Map of
Turkey – This
interactive map allows the user to select various popular tourist attractions
and historical sites in Turkey and learn more about them.
Earthquake – Field reports, images, and historical accounts of the 1999
earthquake in Izmit
History and Government:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
president, Abdullah Gül, was elected in 2007 for a 7-year term. However,
most of the political power lies in the office of the Prime Minister, elected
every four years and currently held by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 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 Prime
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.
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.
People and Language:
to the CIA Fact Book, Turkey has a population of 80,694,485, which is
increasing by 1.3% annually. This population lives for the most part in
urban areas (70%). Some of the most populated cities are Istanbul,
Ankara, and İzmir. 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% of the
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.
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 2004 estimate by the CIA World
Factbook, the literacy rate was 87.4% for the population (95.3% for men and
79.6% for women).
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.
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
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 atheist. 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.
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 Erdoğan, 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.
Turkey’s cultural heritage is a blend of
Turkic, Ottoman, and Western traditions. 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, Turkey, at 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.
As do many Middle Eastern countries, Turkey enjoys a rich cultural
history. Its 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 site for tourists and
archeologists. The ruins of the ancient
city of Troy are also located in Turkey.
Troy was made famous by Homer’s The Illiad, and the site is a
popular tourist attraction. 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.
Ephesus – Ancient
Greek site located on Turkey’s western coast. During the 1st
century BC, it was one of the largest cities in the world.
Hagia Sofia – This website presents
computer reconstruction of the Byzantine church erected in 532 by emperor
Justinian. It was the largest cathedral in the world for several
centuries and served as a model for Christian and Muslim architects. Hagia Sofia still stands today, and houses a
museum dedicated to preserving the heritage of Turkey’s Islamic past.
Hattusha – UNESCO World Heritage
page on Hattusha, former capital of the Hittite Empire
Troy –An educational website about
the ancient city of Troy
– A video of the Blue Mosque during the call to prayer
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 “Şımarık” (translated as “Kiss Kiss”).
in Turkey – This National Geographic profile discusses the diversity and
historic background of Turkish music. Included are links to Turkish musicians.
Music - This page discusses classical and traditional Turkish music. Included is information on instruments, musicians,
and the history of Turkish music.
Dervishes – Learn more about the whirling dervishes and their spiritual
influence, Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi.
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 Şükür scored a goal straight from the opening kick-off in 10.8 seconds,
making the fastest goal in World Cup history.
Turkey went on to claim third place in that match, winning 3-2.
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.