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Historical Background of Turkey


Snapshot of Spatial Distribution of Ancient Cultures  of Turkey


The history of the geographical area occupied by the modern state of Turkey and the history of the peoples who occupy that state are quite different. Linking the two is the history of the Ottoman Empire. That empire was a vast, pan-Islamic state that expanded, beginning in the fourteenth century, from a small Turkish emirate located within the boundaries of the present-day Republic of Turkey to include holdings across North Africa, southeastern Europe, and most of the Middle East.

Prehistory and Early History of Turkey

The land mass covered by the Asian part of the Republic of Turkey, east of the Sea of Marmara, is known as Anatolia. The region was inhabited by an advanced Neolithic culture as early as the seventh millennium B.C., and metal instruments were in use by 2500 B.C. Late in the third millennium B.C., the warrior Hittites invaded Anatolia and established an empire that made significant economic and administrative advancements. In about 1200 B.C., the Phrygians overthrew the Hittites in western Anatolia, where a Phrygian kingdom then ruled until the seventh century B.C. That kingdom was succeeded by a Lydian kingdom, which in turn was conquered by the Persians in 546 B.C. Meanwhile, beginning in about 1050 B.C. Ionian Greeks began founding cities along the Aegean coast of Anatolia, and in the eighth century B.C. peoples such as the Armenians and others moved into eastern Anatolia. In the late fourth century B.C., Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered all of Anatolia. One of the city states that Alexander founded, Pergamum, became a unique center of wealth and culture. In 133 B.C., Pergamum became the center of a Roman province and remained a cultural center for several centuries. In 330 A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine established the capital of the Greek-speaking half of his empire at Byzantium, on the Sea of Marmara. The city was renamed Constantinople, and the eastern half of the Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine Empire. With its center in Anatolia, the Byzantine Empire remained a powerful entity until the eleventh century. The Patriarchiate of Constantinople, established in the fourth century, represented the Greek-speaking Roman Empire in the Christian church.

Turkish tribes began to migrate westward from China and Central Asia in the seventh century A.D. In 1071 Seljuk Turkish forces defeated a Byzantine army at Manzikert and then occupied all of Anatolia. In the next few centuries, several Seljuk states were established. Gazi warriors, tribal horsemen charged with defending the Seljuk frontier, pushed relentlessly westward, and Seljuk governments eventually followed. In 1097 the Christian world responded to this movement with the first in a series of religiously inspired military crusades, which reclaimed part of Anatolia. However, in the next two centuries what was left of the Byzantine Empire fragmented. In the fourteenth century, a new power, the Osmanli Dynasty, came to dominate Anatolia.

The Ottoman Empire (Ottomans-Osmanlilar)

Troops of the Osmanli Dynasty, which gave its name to the Ottoman Empire, moved rapidly into southeastern Europe, defeating Serbian forces at the battle of Kosovo in 1389. Although they were temporarily halted when the Mongol forces of Timur occupied part of Anatolia in the early fifteenth century, in 1453 Ottoman forces captured Constantinople, the last outpost of the Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans renamed Constantinople Istanbul and made it the capital of a new empire and the seat of Sunni Islam as well as Greek Orthodoxy. Under Süleyman the Magnificent (ruled 1520–66), the empire expanded across North Africa to Morocco, farther into southeastern Europe, and across the Middle Eastern regions and Mesopotamia. However, after Süleyman’s death the empire began showing signs of decay. The Ottoman navy lost the key Battle of Lepanto to Spanish and Portuguese forces in 1571, and succession struggles shook Istanbul.

Under the leadership of the Köprülü family, the empire made its final push into Europe in the seventeenth century. The siege of Vienna, which was lifted in 1683, marked the farthest extent of Ottoman penetration into Europe. In the years that followed, a multinational European force drove Ottoman troops southward and eastward, forcing the empire to cede substantial territory in Europe in the Treaty of Karlowicz (1699). In the early eighteenth century, Russian Tsar Peter I initiated a long-lasting goal of Russian foreign policy, to gain access to warm-water ports at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. During the next two centuries, Russia fought several wars to diminish Ottoman power. In 1774 the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kaynarja gained Russian ships access to Ottoman waterways. By the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire had become known as "the sick man of Europe." The decay of its vast holdings and the nationalist forces that were unleashed in the empire were central issues for all European governments.

In 1832 the European powers forced the Ottoman government to recognize Greek independence after a decade-long Greek guerrilla war. However, Europe also recognized the need to avoid the complete destruction of the empire. In the Crimean War of 1854–56, France and Britain sided with the Ottoman Empire against Russia, which lost the war and ceded some of its power in southeastern Europe. In 1878 the Treaty of Berlin established the independent states of Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia from former Ottoman territory. In the same period, Britain took possession of Cyprus and Egypt, and France occupied Algeria and Tunisia, further diminishing Ottoman holdings.

Internal conditions also deteriorated in the nineteenth century. Under pressure from the West, between 1839 and 1876 the Ottoman government undertook a series of reforms, collectively known as Tanzimat. Dissatisfaction with reforms stimulated the Young Ottoman movement, which sought Western-style reforms, including secular government and closer relations with Europe. However, in the late 1870s Sultan Abdül Hamid II stifled the reform movement and established a repressive regime. Meanwhile, the empire’s financial and geopolitical positions worsened.

In the early 1900s, reformist groups remained active under the repression of Abdül Hamid II. In 1907 the Committee of Union and Progress, better known as the Young Turks, united under military officer Mustafa Kemal, who later took the name Atatürk, "father of the Turks." Between 1909 and 1912, European powers took advantage of a weak Ottoman government to occupy or liberate most of the empire’s remaining territory in southeastern Europe. In 1912 the First Balkan War deprived the empire of territory in Macedonia and Thrace. In 1913 these losses led to the overthrow of the government by Enver Pasha, who headed a dictatorial regime of Young Turks during the ensuing war period. The empire regained some European territory during the Second Balkan War of 1913.

When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Enver Pasha’s alliance with Germany caused Britain, France, and Russia to declare war on the Ottoman Empire. In early 1915, collaboration of Armenians (though Ottoman citizens) with Russians, French, and British, led mass deportation of the Armenian population to other Ottoman territories. Atatürk defeated a British amphibious landing at Gallipoli on the Dardanelles later that year. However, in 1916 a successful British campaign cut through the empire’s Arab territory, capturing Damascus in 1918. After the empire had suffered numerous defeats, a provisional Ottoman government sued for peace with the Allies.

The Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti)

After World War I, the provisional government retained control over very little of the former empire. Atatürk led strong nationalist forces seeking to retain Anatolia. In 1921 the nationalists elected Atatürk president of a new government, the Grand National Assembly. In 1922 Atatürk’s army repulsed an invading Greek force seeking to expand Greece’s postwar allotment of Ottoman territory. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, negotiated between the Atatürk government and the Allies, defined control of the Bosporus and the territorial extent of the new Republic of Turkey.

Atatürk’s reform program, which became known as Kemalism, aimed at establishing a secular, Europe-oriented state. European name forms and dress styles were encouraged, and the Latin alphabet was adopted. All links between Islam and the state were cut. In 1924 a new constitution guaranteed basic civil rights and prescribed a parliamentary form of government in which the Grand National Assembly would elect the president. Only one party, Atatürk’s Republican People’s Party, existed, giving the president control of all phases of government. In the 1920s and 1930s, Turkey’s foreign policy cautiously sought relations with as many countries as possible. In 1936 Atatürk was able to negotiate a resumption of Turkish control of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.

World War II found Turkey still in a weakened state. Despite German pressure, the government of Atatürk’s successor, Ismet Inönü, maintained neutrality throughout the conflict. In early 1945, Turkey declared war on Germany to ensure it status as one of the charter members of the United Nations. During the Cold War era that followed World War II, Turkey’s foreign policy was pro-Western. The Truman Doctrine, which guaranteed the security of postwar Turkey and Greece, resulted in large-scale U.S. military and economic aid to Turkey. However, Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which it joined in 1952, was complicated by disputes with fellow member Greece over Cyprus and other regional issues. In the 1960s, Turkey and Greece nearly went to war twice over their conflicting views on Cyprus, and in 1974 armed conflict resulted in the partition of the island. Turkey also joined a number of other Western alliances and organizations in the 1950s and the 1960s.

In the liberalized postwar atmosphere, party politics became a source of instability and democracy in Turkey. During the 1950s, tensions between the main parties increased as the Democrat Party government of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes became more authoritarian, and the economy suffered inflation and heavy debt. In 1960 Menderes responded to protests by declaring martial law and suspending all political activity. The army, which considered itself the guardian of Atatürk’s principles, then replaced Menderes with an interim military government. In the four years following the legislative elections of 1961, the government was an unstable coalition. When the Justice Party, successor to the Democrat Party, gained a majority of seats in the elections of 1965, Süleyman Demirel formed a one-party government. In the late 1960s, the far-right Republican Peasants’ Nation Party (later the Nationalist Action Party) began instigating political violence stimulated by economic conditions and resentment of Turkey’s pro-Western foreign policy. As the strongest parties continued to lack a parliamentary majority, Turkey suffered a series of weak coalition governments throughout the 1970s, and religious sectarianism gained political influence.

After political and sectarian violence shook Turkey in 1978–79, the Turkish military took power in 1980 to prevent further deterioration. Economic conditions improved significantly in the early 1980s. Civil order was restored at the expense of measures that curtailed human rights. In response to international pressure, a new constitution was ratified in 1982. In the 1980s, the government of General Kenan Evren, leader of the 1980 coup, provided stability as power continued to shift among political parties and coalitions. Evren’s former minister of state, Turgut Özal, succeeded him in 1989. The pattern of coalition governments continued in the 1990s. When she became Turkey’s first female prime minister in 1993, Tansu Çiller initiated an ambitious privatization program that achieved mixed success. Meanwhile, in the mid-1990s the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalated terrorist attacks aimed at gaining Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey, and the Çiller government dropped plans to expand the cultural rights of Turkey’s Kurds.

In 1996 a premiership shared between Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz of the conservative Motherland Party failed quickly. When the Yılmaz government resigned, a new coalition government, including the Islamic fundamentalist Welfare Party, took power under Necmettin Erbakan. Alarmed by the increasing social and political power of Islamic institutions, the military forced the resignation of the Erbakan government in 1997. Social tension rose as new regulations secularized public dress and education, and several political leaders were accused of corruption. In 1998 the Welfare Party was dissolved by order of the Constitutional Court for undermining the secular government. The capture of the leader of PKK, a terrorist organisation, in 1999 was a major event in Turkey’s efforts to subdue Kurdish terrorist activities in southeastern Turkey. In the late 1990s, relations with Greece began a long-term process of improvement. Tensions with Greece had remained high throughout the 1980s and 1990s, stimulated by issues such as oil drilling rights and air space in the Aegean Sea. In 1996 a dispute over islets in the Aegean, the so-called Imia-Kardak crisis, nearly led to armed conflict between Greece and Turkey.

Following the elections of 1999, Bülent Ecevit formed a new coalition government, which by 2000 had restored some stability. In 1999 and 2000, a series of trials were brought against members of the Welfare Party and other Islamic activists. The stability and economic reforms of 2000 ended with a severe economic crisis and a series of cabinet changes in 2001. In 2002 and 2004, parliament passed human rights laws aimed at promoting Turkey’s membership in the European Union (EU). In the 2002 parliamentary elections, the secular Islamist Justice and Development Party, indirect successor to the Welfare Party, won a substantial majority of seats in a major shift of parliamentary power. Party leader Tayyip Erdoğan, who became prime minister in 2003, was able to bring his Islamic party into the mainstream of political, economic, and social reform, thus quieting the bitter disputes between advocates of Kemalist secular policy and advocates of an Islamic state. Local elections in 2004 confirmed Erdoğan’s popularity. In June 2004, the PKK declared an end to its unilateral five-year cessation of terrorist activity, and the People’s Defense Forces, the military arm of the PKK, launched numerous attacks in Turkey during the following year. In October 2005, Turkey and the EU began accession negotiations for Turkey’s eventual EU membership, a goal supported by Greece. Talks were expected to last 10 years or more because the EU required a wide variety of reforms in Turkey.









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