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Turkey, officially the Republic of Turkey (Turkish Turkiye Cumhuriyeti), a nation in western Asia and southeastern Europe. The vast majority of Turkey is composed of the Asian territory of Anatolia, or Asia Minor, a large mountainous peninsula. The capital city, Ankara, is located there. The rest of Turkey, called Eastern (or Turkish) Thrace, occupies the far southeastern part of Europe. This region of rolling fertile hills is home to Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. Asian Turkey and European Turkey are separated by three connected waterways of great strategic importance: the Sea of Marmara and the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles (also called the Turkish Straits). Together, they form the only water route between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea.
Roughly rectangular in shape, Turkey occupies an area slightly larger than the state of Texas. Turkey borders the Aegean Sea and Greece on the west; Bulgaria on the northwest; the Black Sea on the north; Georgia, Armenia, and the autonomous Azerbaijani republic of Naxcivan on the northeast; Iran on the east; and Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea on the south. Turkey’s coastline is extensive and makes up about three-fourths of the country’s total boundary.
The landscapes of Turkey are varied, from fertile plains in the northwest and southeast to broad river valleys in the west to high barren plateaus and towering mountains in the east. In the rugged Asian interior, the climate fluctuates dramatically, with cold, snowy winters and hot, dry summers. Along the Mediterranean coastline the climate is less extreme, with warm summers and mild, moist winters.
Turkey’s unique geographic location between Europe and Asia has exposed the region to diverse influences and contributed to its historical and cultural evolution. Indeed, Turkey has served as bridge for the movement of peoples between Asia and Europe throughout human history. Turkey has drawn on these diverse influences to develop its own distinctive identity and a rich culture expressed in architecture, the fine arts, music, and literature. Diversity remains a hallmark of contemporary Turkey, in environment, people, and culture. Traditional beliefs and practices remain widespread, especially in rural areas. Turkey is also a democratic, rapidly modernizing society. The dominant religion is Islam, and most people speak Turkish, the national language.
For centuries Turkey’s economy was predominantly agricultural. Today, farming remains a key sector of the Turkish economy and accounts for about 30 percent of national employment. However, Turkey has experienced considerable growth in industry and services—including finance, transportation, and professional and government services—since the end of World War II (1939-1945), while the role of agriculture has declined. Manufactured goods, especially textiles and clothing, now dominate the country’s export sector. Rapid urbanization has accompanied this economic transformation. Today, 75 percent of Turkey’s people live in cities and towns, compared with just 21 percent in 1950. About 90 percent of the population lives in the Asian part of Turkey and about 10 percent lives in the European part.
The history of Turkey is long and eventful, with a succession of ethnically and culturally distinct peoples occupying the region since ancient times. Large cities first appeared in Anatolia during the reign of the Hittites, who invaded the region about 1900 bc. Other groups followed, including the Phrygians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, and Arabs. Nomadic Turkic tribes of Central Asia conquered Anatolia in the 11th century ad and founded the Seljuk dynasty. Their arrival placed the distinctive stamp of Turkish language and culture on the region’s population. The Seljuk dynasty ended in the 13th century after invading Mongols conquered Anatolia. The Ottoman Empire, founded in Anatolia in the late 13th century, endured for more than 600 years and expanded into one of the world’s most formidable empires. At the height of its power, Ottoman territory included much of the Middle East, large areas of Eastern Europe, and most of North Africa. The empire finally collapsed after World War I (1914-1918).
The modern Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) from Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, the Ottoman Empire’s predominantly Turkish-speaking areas. Ataturk served as president of the Republic of Turkey until his death in 1938. During his rule, he sought to assert Turkey’s identity as a strong, modern, European state. His principles of government, known as Kemalism, remain the guiding principles for all Turkish governments, although they have been reinterpreted by successive generations of political leaders. The most controversial of these principles is secularism. Strict Kemalists interpret secularism to mean that religion should remain outside of public life and that political parties should not promote religious causes. Those who advocate a more flexible interpretation of secularism maintain that religious groups and causes should not be excluded from the public realm.
Since the 1950s, the role of religion in politics has been a persistent and contentious issue in Turkey. The military, which sees itself as the ultimate guardian of the principles of Kemalism, has intervened in the political process on four occasions—in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997—because it feared that political parties posed a threat to the secular nature of the state.
For younger readers
Baralt, Luis A. Turkey. Children's Press, 1997. For readers in grades 6 and up.
Orr, Tamra. Turkey. Scholastic, 2003. For readers in grades 6 to 9.
Ruggiero, Adriane. Ottoman Empire. Benchmark, 2002. For readers in grades 6 to 9.
Sheehan, Sean. Turkey. 2nd ed. Benchmark, 2004. For middle school readers.
Barkey, Henri J., and Graham E. Fuller. Turkey's Kurdish Question. Rowman, 1998. Succinct account of the history and current situation of Turkey's Kurdish population.
Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. Holt, 2000. An exploration of the victories of the Ottoman Empire.
Kinzer, Stephen. Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001. The complexities and contradictions of modern-day Turkey, from a New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul.
Kramer, Heinz. A Changing Turkey: The Challenges to Europe and the United States. Brookings Institution Press, 1999. An analysis of Turkey's strategic importance.
Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2001. Charts the history of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the development of modern Turkey.
Lloyd, Seton. Ancient Turkey: A Traveller's History. University of California Press, 1999. An archaeologist surveys Turkey's ancient cultures.
Mango, Andrew. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. Overlook, 2000. A biography of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish Republic's controversial founder.
Pope, Nicole, and Hugh Pope. Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey. Overlook, 1998, 2000. Two journalists survey Turkey's history from the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Settle, Mary Lee. Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place. Prentice, 1991. Historical travelogue.
Stoneman, Richard. A Traveller's History of Turkey. 3rd ed. Interlink, 1998. Lively overview of the country, focusing on historical details.
Zurcher, Erik J. Turkey: A Modern History. Rev. ed. St. Martin's, 1997. Very comprehensive, detailed volume of Turkey's history.
Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. Holt, 1999. An account that merges history, travel writing, and meditation.
Kinross, Lord. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. William Morrow, 1988. Readable, engaging history of the Empire.
Kunt, Metin, and Christine Woodhead, eds. Suleyman the Magnificent and His Age: The Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern World. Longman, 1995. An account of the Ottoman Empire as ruled by the 16th-century sultan whose reign invites comparison to that of his western contemporary, Henry VIII.
McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. Addison-Wesley, 1997. A broad history of the Ottoman Empire and its people.
Pierce, Leslie P. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford University Press, 1993. The role of women under Ottoman rule. Part of a series called Studies in Middle Eastern History.
Sugar, Peter F. Southeastern Europe Under Ottoman Rule, 1354-1804. University of Washington Press, 1997. The experience in the Balkans during centuries of Ottoman sovereignty.
Hooglund, Eric, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Editor of Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies. Author of Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution and Land and Revolution in Iran, 1960-1980.
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