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Turkey bridges Europe and Asia, spreading across the Anatolian peninsula. It borders with eight countries: Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is also flanked by three 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, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara.
Turkey 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 much more continental climate with 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. Most of the peaks are extinct volcanoes, the highest being Mount Ararat at 5,137 meters. 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 to the north along the Sea of Marmara. On August 17, 1999, for example, a magnitude 7.4 quake centered near Izmit killed over 17,000 people and injured another 44,000.
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.
Izmit Earthquake – Field reports, images and historical accounts of the 1999 earthquake in Izmit.
History and Government:
The Anatolian peninsula was successively occupied by the Hittites, Phrygians, Lycians and Lydians during the second millennium BC. Around 1200 BC, 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 BC, the area was conquered by the Persian Empire, which in turn was overthrown by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. This area eventually fell to the hands of the Roman Empire and, in 324, emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium, subsequently renamed Constantinople. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476, it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
On November 1, 1922, following its humiliating defeat during World War I, the sultanate was officially abolished. A year later, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk, became the first president of Turkey. He repudiated the Ottoman past and instead ushered in a period of modernization, reform and industrialization. He secularized the country by demoting Islam to the private sphere and banning veils and headscarves. He also instituted Turkish as the official language and replaced the Arabic script with a new Latin alphabet.
After Atatürk's death in 1938, the single-party system was replaced by a multiparty democracy. According to the current constitution, drafted in 1982, Turkey’s government is democratic, secular and parliamentary. The president and the prime minister hold the executive power while legislative power is in the hands of a 550-member parliament called the Grand National Assembly. The current president, Abdullah Gül, was elected in 2007 for a 7-year term. After many years of instability and economic uncertainty in the late twentieth century, Turkey is becoming one of the most stable democracies in the region and an economic power.
According to the CIA Fact Book, Turkey has a population of 77,804,122, which is increasing by 1.3% every year. This population lives for the most part in urban areas (70%). Some of the most crowded cities are Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir. The majority of the population is of Turkish ethnicity, though there is a large Kurdish community, estimated at about 18% of the population. Some other smaller ethnic groups include Armenians, Greeks, Arabs and Circassians.
Turkey’s health care system is centralized and run by the Ministry of Health. In 2003, however, actions were taken to increase the ratio of private to state health institutions and make health care available to a larger share of the population. As a consequence, health care quality has improved. There is still much room for enhancement. As of 2006, there was one doctor for every 700 people, one nurse for every 580 people, and one hospital bed for every 380 people.
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. In 2001, enrollment of children between the ages of 7 and 18 was close to 100%. According to a 2004 estimate, the literacy rate was 87.4% for the overall population (or 95.3% for men and 79.6% for women).
Higher education is reserved to those who excel at the LYS, a national entrance examination. There are around 820 higher education institutions, including universities, conservatories and professional schools. These institutions vary in quality. Some of the most renowned schools are Bilkent University, the Middle East Technical University, and Istanbul University.
Although Turkey is a secular state with no official religion, over 90% of the population is Muslim, adhering to Sunni Islam. The Shia Alevi and Sufi sects are also present. The remainder follows Christianity and Judaism and close to 3% of the population is atheist.
The role of religion has been a topic of growing controversy. Though Turkey is a strictly secular state, Islamic groups have increasingly challenged the governement.
Turkey’s cultural heritage is a blend of Turkic, Ottoman and Western traditions. Ottoman art especially flourished during the 16th and 17th century during the reign of Suleyman I, leading to an increased production of illuminated manuscripts, textiles and a variety of ceramics.
Many new schools of art were created after the dissolution of the Ottoman Sultanate. Ataturk sought to distance his country from earlier Islamic traditions by instead promoting Turkey’s ancient history and village life. Turkish art from this time was also heavily influenced by European traditions and aesthetics. Many European artists came to Turkey to teach their art and government grants allowed Turkish artists to study abroad.
As with many Middle Eastern countries, Turkey has a rich cultural history. Its coastline is scattered with ancient Greek and Roman cities. Turkey also carries the mark of the Ottoman Empire. Istanbul’s skyline, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, is dominated by beautiful mosques and schools built during the 16th century by Sinan, one of the greatest Ottoman architects. Some of his most famous mosques are the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.
The following is a list of famous sites in Turkey:
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.
Hattusha – UNESCO World Heritage page on Hattusha, former capital of the Hittite Empire.
Troy – Here is an educational website about the ancient city of Troy.
Blue Mosque – Watch this video of the Blue Mosque during the call to prayer.
Turkish music is at the crossroads between Middle Eastern, European and Central Asian musical traditions. During Ataturk’s period of reform, many forms of traditional music such as religious and classical music (called sanat) were disapproved of 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 very prominent in pop music. One well-known singer is Tarkan, who sang the chart-topping song “Şımarık” (translated as “Kiss Kiss”).
Music in Turkey – This National Geographic profile discusses the diversity and historic background of Turkish music. Included are links to Turkish musicians.
Turkish Music - This page discusses classical and traditional Turkish music. Included is information on instruments, musicians, and the history of Turkish music.
Whirling Dervishes – Learn more about the whirling dervishes and their spiritual influence, Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi.
Although soccer is the most popular sport in Turkey, many other sports are played such as basketball, volleyball, handball, scuba diving, and more recently motor sports. Turkey’s national sport is wrestling, a tradition from Ottoman times. All of these sports are supported by the state through funds for sports clubs and financial aid.