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Outline of Turks and Turkish States

Turks who first appear in history in the 7th century B.C. at the foot of the Köğmen Mountains, are a society whose language is of the Ural-Altaic linguistic group. Throughout history the Turks have established numerous states in various geographical regions on the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. Since they possessed a pioneering spirit they brought their culture to the places to which they had migrated and were also affected by the cultures of these regions. According to Chinese records, Turkish political history in Asia commenced with the Huns.



Turks and the First Turkish States

Turks who first appear in history in the 7th century B.C. at the foot of the Köğmen Mountains, are a society whose language is of the Ural-Altaic linguistic group. Throughout history the Turks have established numerous states in various geographical regions on the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. Since they possessed a pioneering spirit they brought their culture to the places to which they had migrated and were also affected by the cultures of these regions. According to Chinese records, Turkish political history in Asia commenced with the Huns. Up


The Hun State, which first appeared in the 3rd century B.C became a significant and powerful state during the reign of its founder, Mete Khan. Having a defined and special strategy, Mete Khan defeated the Mongols and then the Yuechis and after, having taken the western gates and trade routes of China under his control, gained significant economic power. When Mete Khan died, the Great Hun Empire was at its peak due to its military organization, domestic and foreign policies, religion, army, war strategies and arts. Up

Sculpture of Kül Tegin


The Inscription on the west side of the 2nd Tonyukuk Monument

After the collapse of the Asian Hun State, a new state called the Göktürk Empire was founded at the foot of the Altay mountains. The Göktürks who were the first to employ the word "Turk" in their official state name, chose Ötüken, the former capital of the empire as a base and established Khanates. Later they spread out and became an Empire. They professed that a khanate could not be ruled by means of war and bravery alone and that wisdom was very important. Bilge Khan and Kül Tegin are noted as the wisest and most heroic figures among Turkish statesmen in history. It was because of this that both the Khans and Tonyukuk, another Göktürk Khan, immortalized their accomplishments with inscriptions. These inscriptions are the first written texts of the Turkish language. Up


The Uigur Turks, who were the native tribes of the Orhun and Selenge valleys, established the third great Turkish State in 741. They later were dispersed by an attack of the Kyrgyz Turks in the north-western part of the capital.Up



The Western Turks and the "Sword of the God of War"

The West Huns, descendents of the Asia Huns who lived in the Turkistan region and around Lake Aral, left their homeland due to the pressure exerted by the Uars and migrated west of the Volga. After Başbuğu (commander-in-chief) Balamir defeated the East Goths and attacked the West Goths, the Visigoths fled westward with the Hun soldiers in pursuit. This is how the "Tribal Migration", that changed the ethnic composition of Europe, all the way to Spain which caused turmoil in the Northern Districts of the Roman Empire, began.

In 434, Atilla assumed control of the West Hun Empire which is the first known Turkish State established in Europe. During Atilla’s reign, the barbarian tribes of Europe were defeated, even Byzantium and Rome submitted and the borders of the West Hun empire expanded from the shores of the Rhine river to those of the Volga river. The Christian world even believed that the God of War, Aries, had given his sword to Atilla. With this sword the authority to conquer and rule the world was given to Atilla.

Atilla who died in 453 went down in history as the most famous and skillful commander of all time. This great commander became a legend-like figure and tales of his achievements spread throughout Europe. Atilla became the subject of books, poems, novels, paintings, operas and sculptures. With Atilla’s death, the incursion of Turks in Europe subsided.

The West Huns were pioneers in opening up the way to Europe for the Turks, who not only took their culture and civilization to Europe but also protected those civilizations that were threatened by barbarian tribes in Europe. This resulted in a migration from Asia to Europe that would last for 900 years.Up


A second Turkish tribe that was respected and feared in Europe was the Avars who followed the West Huns.

The Avars, who left their homeland in Central Asia and escaped towards the West when the Göktürk State was founded in 552, played an important role in European history. They first came to Caucasia and the north of the Black Sea, and fought against and defeated the Turkish tribes such as the Sabirs and Onogurs. They went all the way to the banks of the Danube River. They frequently went to the Balkans. They founded a civilization that spanned from present day Yugoslavia to Germany. They reigned over the Slavs in the Danube area and the Bulgarians living on the shores of the Black Sea. During the reign of their commander Bayan Kağan Khan, the borders of the Avar Empire stretched from the Dnieper River to the Elbe River and from the North Sea to the Adriatic coast. They laid siege to İstanbul in 626 with the Bulgarian Turks. The first Turks in history to lay siege to İstanbul were the Avars. The constant attacks of the French Emperor Charlamagne which began in 791 and lasted 15 years, diminished the power of the Avars. They wished to settle in the plateau between the Danube and the Tizsa rivers. The French attacks continued and the Avar group dispersed in the Balkans. In 805, they lost their national identity. Up


After the Avar existence in Europe came to an end, a new Turkish State called the Khazars came into being. The Khazars, who were considered the continuation of the Göktürks, appeared after the Avars defeated the Sabir State in the east of Europe. Between the 7th and 8th centuries they founded a strong state that spanned from the Volga to the Dnieper, and from Çolman to Kiev. The Khazars established a period of peace in East Europe during the 7th-9th centuries. The Khazar State was extremely tolerant regarding the religious beliefs of the people living under its domination, and it is considered one of the first and few states that showed religious tolerance. The Caspian Sea (Khazar Sea as it is called in Turkish) is named after this state, in which the most widespread language was Turkish. The Khazars were attacked by the Pechenegs from the eastern steppes and could not stop their spread to the west. They were not able to withstand the attacks of the Russian forces on the Khazar cities for long. The Russian army captured most of the Khazar lands during the reign of the last Khazar Khan Yusuf. The Khazars political existence as a state came to an end in 968.Up


Another Turkish tribe that appeared in eastern and southeastern Europe and in the Balkans in the 10th century was the Pechenegs. The Pechenegs, who were not able to withstand the pressure of the Khazar-Oghuz alliance crossed the Volga and reached Hungary. They settled in these lands and the Hungarians, who lived there, were compelled to leave. They spread out on the steppes from the Don River to the west of the Dnieper. In the 11th century they descended down the Dnieper to present-day Bessarabia. When in 1091 they joined forces with the Emir of İzmir Caka Bey, to take İstanbul, they suffered the most bitter defeat in their history in the battle with the Byzantine-Cuman forces on the shores of the Maritza river. In accordance with their traditions, many chose to die in battle. The Byzantines executed all the Pechenegs they had captured. Thus, the political life of the Pechenegs ceased. The surviving Pechenegs went to Hungary. Those that were captured by the Byzantines remained in Macedonia. With the end of the Pechenegs, the first stage of the advance of the Turks into Europe came to an end. The Turks would not be seen in Europe for another 200 years.Up

Turkish History in the Islamic Period

After the decline of the Uigur State in 840, the Karakhanid State was founded by the Karluks. The reign of the Karakhanids is considered to be a turning point in Turkish history, because Islam was adopted as the official religion during the reign of Satuk Buğra Khan, the Karakhanid leader. The foundations of a historical development referred to as Turkish-Islamic culture and civilization were laid in this period.

During the rule of the Karakhanids, there was another Turkish State, the Ghaznavid State (936-1187), the capital city of which was Ghazi in Afghanistan. Mahmud of Ghazna who was the first to use the title of "Sultan" islamized and laid the foundation for today's Pakistan. The Ghaznavids had to retreat to India after the Dandanakan War with the Seljuks in 1040 and finally came under the sovereignty of the Seljuks.Up

The Alaeddin Caravanserai, by Alaeddin Keykubat I, 1229 (one of the best examples of Seljuk architecture).


Another great Turkish State was the Seljuk State (1040-1157) founded by Selçuk Bey who was a member of the Kınık tribe of the Oghuz Turks. The borders of the state spanned from the Marmara Sea to Lake Balkhash in Central Asia and from the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea to the borders of India and Yemen. The Seljuks entered into a struggle of hegemony with the two Turkish States, the Karakhanids and the Ghaznavids, and succeeded in establishing Turkish unity. Tuğrul Bey, the Sultan of the Seljuks, entered Baghdad, the Abbasid Caliphate capital and ended the domination of the Buwayhids, a Persi Shiite dynasty, in 1055. Therefore, the Caliph bestowed upon Tuğrul Bey the title of "Ruler of the World". During the reign of Sultan Alparslan, the successor and son of Tuğrul Bey, the territories of the country expanded significantly. Sultan Alparslan defeated the Byzantine army which was led by Romanus Diogenes at Manzikert (Malazgirt) in 1071. This victory literally opened up the gates of Anatolia to the Turks. During the reign of Sultan Malik Shah, the Seljuk State experienced its most successful period. The Nizamiye Madrasahs which laid the foundations for the architecture of western universities were constructed in this period.

After Sultan Malik Shah died, the country was divided into small states. The Syrian Seljuks (1092-1117), Iraq and Khorasan Seljuks (1092-1194), Kirman Seljuks (1092-1187) and the Anatolian Seljuks (1092-1194) were among the small states. Moreover, the Khorezm Shah State (1097-1231) was established by Mohammed Khorezm Shah, the son of Anushtegin, the palace servant of Sultan Malik Shah, on the territories of the Great Seljuk State where Lake Aral intersected the Ceyhun River in the southern region.

The most important state established on the lands of the Great Seljuk State was definitely the Anatolian Seljuk State. The center of the state founded by Suleiman ibn Qutulmish was Nicaea (İznik). During the reign of his son, Kılıç Arslan I, the First Crusade began. İznik was seized by the Crusaders and given to the Byzantines, and therefore the Anatolian Seljuk capital was moved to Konya. His son Sultan Mesud I repelled the Byzantine army headed for Konya and defeated the Crusaders near the Ceyhan River. Sultan Kılıç Arslan II, the successor of Mesud I defeated the Byzantine army under the leadership of the Emperor Manuel Comnenus I, at Myriokephalon near Denizli. Following this victory, the influence of the Byzantine Empire over Anatolia was completely lost. The most brilliant period of Turkish history was experienced during the reign of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I. However, the death of the Sultan by poisoning created chaos in the country. The rebellion of the Babais was followed by the Mongol invasion and Anatolia was occupied and destroyed by the Mongols following the Kösedağ War between the Seljuks and Mongols in 1243. Along with the weakening of Mongol rule towards the end of the 13th century, Turkoman groups who settled on the frontiers during the Seljuk period, founded many beyliks (principalities) of varying size in Anatolia. The Karaman, Germiyan, Eşref, Hamid, Alaiye, Menteşe, Candar, Pervane, Sahib Ata, Karesi, Saruhan, Aydın, İnanç and Osmanoğulları were among the Turkoman beyliks founded in Anatolia during this period. In this period, which is called the Beyliks Period, all of Anatolia came under Turkish rule and a new period of welfare began in the country which had been previously exposed to a great extent to Mongol destruction.

In Egypt, the army commander İzzeddin Aybeg was declared the Sultan, after the death of Es-Salih Necmeddin, the last Ayyubid ruler and thus the Turkish Kölemen (Mameluke) State (1250-1382) was founded. The Mameluke State has an important place in Turkish history, because during the reign of Sultan Aybeg, the Mansure Victory occurred which made the Seventh Crusade ineffective. During the reign of Seyfeddin Kotuz, the Mongol- Armenian-Crusaders alliance which tried to invade Egypt suffered a crushing defeat and the Mongols were not able to capture Syria. The Mameluke Sultans were bestowed the title of "Hadımü'l- Harameyn" (the Servant of Mecca and Medina), because of their distinguished service to Islam, and acquired justified fame in the Islamic World. The Mameluke State was defeated by the Ottoman State. Up

Tamerlane State

One of the most important states of the 14th century was the Tamerlane State (1370-1507). It was founded by Tamerlane, who was a provincial governor in one of the Çağatay khanates. Tamerlane expanded the borders of the state from the Volga River to the Ganges River in India, and from the Tanrı Mountains to İzmir and Damascus in a short period of 35 years. The Empire disintegrated after the death of Tamerlane just as rapidly as it had been established. Only Hüseyin Baykara from the Tamerlane dynasty could manage to hold out in Khorasai Herat, the capital city, which became one of the most significant cultural centers in Turkish history. Ali şir Nevai, the Turkish poet and statesman, was educated there.

The Turkoman group of the Karakoyunlu, founded the Karakoyunlu State (1370-1507) between Irbil and Nakhichevan. This state was formed by the Yıva, Yazır, Döğer and Avşar tribes and the Oghuz Turks. Kara Yusuf, the ruler of the Karakoyunlu State, had to take refuge in the Ottoman state during the reign of Yıldırım Beyazid as a result of the pressure exerted by Tamerlane. This was considered to be a reason for the Battle of Ankara. Kara Yusuf, who managed to recover after this war reestablished his state after 1406 and captured Mardin, Erzincan, Baghdad, Azerbaijan, Tabriz, Kazvin, and Sultaniye. After his death, the country was dragged into chaos. Although Cihan Shah managed to reunite the state, he was defeated by Akkoyunlu Uzun Hasan at Mardin and the country fell under the hegemony of the Akkoyunlu State.

The Akkoyunlu State (1350-1502) was founded by Turkoman tribes who settled around Diyarbakır-Malatya during the collapse of Mongol rule. The real founder of the state is known to be Kara Yülük Osman Bey. The most powerful period of the Akkoyunlu State was during the reign of Uzun Hasan. During his reign, the borders of the state extended from the Caspian Sea to Syria, and from Azerbaijan to Baghdad. However, his defeat in the Otlukbeli Battle in 1473 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror was a heavy blow for him. This defeat helped in the collapse of the Akkoyunlu State and paved the way for the founding of the Safavid State (1501-1736) by Shah İsmail who managed with religious enthusiasm to get the Turkoman groups of Ustaçlı, Rumlu, Musullu, Tekeli, Bayburtlu, Karadağlı, Dulkadırlı, Karamanlı, Varsak and Avşar on his side.

Shah İsmail, who established political unity in Iran, expanded his territories. The religious fervor of the Shiite sect played a role in his conquests. However, his activities in Anatolia and also his attempts to annex Anatolia, provoked the reaction of the Ottoman Yavuz Sultan Selim (Selim the Grim). Shah İsmail's army was seriously defeated at the Battle of Çaldıran in 1514. Still, all his successors continued fighting against the Ottomans. However, they were defeated in almost all the battles they fought. The Safavid State ended in the Nadir Shah period.

Zahiruddin Babür, a member of the Tamerlane dynasty, entered India and founded the Turkish-Indian (Babür) Empire (1526- 1858). He became famous for his work written in Turkish called, "Vekayi Babürname". After his death, during the reigns of his sons, Humayun and Ekber, this state developed even further and a large portion of the Indian subcontinent was united under one rule. The period of Hürrem, who had assumed the name of Shah Cihan (Shah of the World) upon ascending the throne, was the most brilliant period of the empire in terms of politics and art. The Taj Mahal at Agra, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful architectural monuments in the world, was constructed during his reign. Architects were also sent from the Ottoman State in order to construct the monument. Domestic turmoil which began during the reign of Alemgir I continued until the reign of Shah Bahadır II. The British, who suppressed a revolt in the country in 1857, annexed India to Britain and Queen Victoria was officially declared the Empress of India. Up

Piri Reis’s Map, 1500. Piri Reis was the first to chart the details of BEŞİK Bay and the ÇANAKKALE Straits.

The Ottoman State (1299-1923)

Timeline of Ottoman Empire (Click on to enlarge)The Ottoman Empire was founded by a member of the Kayı Tribe of the Gülhan branch, of the Oghuz Turks. Osman Bey came to power as a result of an Oghuz beylik coalition and married the daughter of one of the Ani chiefs, thus gaining more power and prestige. The Ottomans who succeeded in uniting the Turkish Beyliks in Anatolia in a short period of time, crossed over to Rumelia. Süleyman Bey, the son of Orhan Ghazi, went to Thrace in 1353 with an army of five thousand men to capture the region to the north of İstanbul. One of the important events in Turkish history was Süleyman Pasha’s entrance into Europe by way of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Ottomans advanced speedily in Rumelia. Sultan Murad Khan I, who became sultan after the death of Orhan Ghazi was the true conqueror of the Balkans. The Ottoman armies started to advance towards the west through Thrace and Bulgaria in the 1350’s. In 1362 Edirne was taken and the capital was moved from Bursa to this city. In 1363 Filibe and Zağra and the Maritza Valley were taken. Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror), conquered İstanbul in 1453. The Byzantine Empire fell and what is qualified as the Middle Ages ceased with the New Age beginning at this point in time.

The Ottomans fought against the Serbs, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Venetians, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Britain, the Vatican, Poland, Spain and also France and Russia from time to time in the west; and in the east and in the southeast against the Akkoyunlus, Tamerlanes, Mamelukes, Safavids and the Karamanids, which were Turkish states. They formed a world empire that would continue to exist on three continents until the 19th century. Sultan Selim I (Selim the Grim) conquered Egypt and the "Caliphate" passed from the Abbasids to the Ottoman dynasty. During the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566), the Ottoman State had a developed state organization, powerful army and was in excellent financial condition. The borders of the Empire extended from the Crimea in the north to Yemen and Sudan in the south, and from Iran and the Caspian Sea in the east to Vienna in the northwest and Spain in the southwest.

However, in the 16th century the Ottoman Empire lost its economic and military superiority in comparison to Europe. The nationalist movements that started in the 19th century and the rebellions of the Balkan nations provoked by the European States and Russia followed one another. The Christians abandoning the empire founded independent states. The reform efforts of the Ottomans throughout the 19th century were of no use. The most significant characteristic of the First Constitutional Period in 1876, which coincided with the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876- 1909), was that it provided a constitution based on a Western model for the first time. The constitution was prepared by a group of intellectuals called the "Young Turks" who forced Sultan Abdülhamid to accept this constitution and thus the Ottoman State was transformed into a constitutional state. However, Sultan Abdülhamid disbanded Parliament in 1877 and terminated constitutional rule, using the Ottoman-Russian War of 1877-1879 as a pretext. The Committee of Union and Progress which began activities as an opposition organization founded by the Young Turks, first forced the Sultan to repromulgate the Constitution in 1908 and later seized power after the rebellion of March 31. This led to new problems and adventures for the Empire. The defeats experienced in the Tripoli War (1911-1912) against the Italians and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) led the country to a single-party autocracy of the Union and Progress. The First World War (1914 - 1918) in which the empire sided with Germany brought about the end of the Empire. After the armistice signed at the conclusion of the war, the Russians, British, and Greeks began their invasion of Ottoman lands.Up

Ottoman Culture and Civilization

The Ottoman Empire, who ruled three continents for 600 years, left a rich cultural heritage. Furthermore, it contributed significantly to the history of civilization by embracing the cultural, artistic, and scientific heritages of the previous Turkish and non-Turkish states. The Ottoman Empire created rare monuments illustrating architectural design and engineering. Stone and wood carvings, the art of tile-making, ornamentation, miniature painting, calligraphy and bookbinding also led to the creation of masterpieces during this period. Above all, the Ottoman Empire was influential for hundreds of years in world politics. The citizens of the empire of various religions, languages and nationalities were treated justly and with tolerance. The Empire allowed the nations within its borders to preserve their languages and cultures by granting them religious freedom, in contrast to the policies and applications of many other western imperial powers as England, France of the time.Up

Dolmabahçe Palace (Chamber of Sehzades).

The National War of Independence (1919-1923): Turkish Republic - Turkey

After the Armistice, the victors’ aim was to cut-up the Ottoman lands and share them between themselves. Consequently, several defense fronts and resistance organizations were founded in Anatolia and Thrace. The Turkish people needed to unite their efforts to attain their freedom and this could only be achieved under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal. The National War of Independence, which would last for four years, began when Mustafa Kemal landed in Samsun on May 19, 1919 as the Inspector of the 9th Army. The circular issued in Amasya on June 22, 1919 was a national call and a declaration for salvation. It was followed by the Erzurum and Sivas Congresses. The Turkish people ardently relayed to the world their determination to attain national independence.

The Entente Powers officially occupied İstanbul and disbanded Parliament on March 16th. Some members were arrested. Those that were not arrested fled to Ankara and joined the struggle for National Independence. With the circular issued on the 19th of March Mustafa Kemal announced that the disbanding of Parliament marked the end of the 600 year-old reign of the Ottoman State and that the Turkish Grand National Assembly would convene on the 23rd of April 1920 in Ankara. He added that only that Assembly possessed the right to represent the people after the said date.

The Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) began its activities on April 23, 1920 in Ankara. Mustafa Kemal was elected the President of the Assembly. The fight for national independence would be conducted by this Assembly. After the Assembly designated Mustafa Kemal Commander in Chief, the imperialist forces were attacked on all fronts. The last connections between Ankara and İstanbul ended with the signing of the Treaty of Sevres on 12 August 1920. The agreement included very harsh stipulations for the Turks. According to the agreement, the Turks could be sovereign on only a small part of Anatolia and their state would be under the financial and military control of the foreign states.

Mustafa Kemal and the government in Ankara did not accept the Treaty of Sevres. First the struggle, led by Kazım Karabekir in Eastern Anatolia against the Armenians, who wished to establish an independent state there, was won and the Gümrü Agreement was signed on December 2, 1920. This was the first international agreement which was signed by the TGNA. On the Western front, the Greek Army which occupied İzmir on May 15, 1919 and started to advance in the Aegean region, was stopped by the First and Second İnönü Battles which took place between January- April 1921. The Greek Army suffered a crushing defeat during the Sakarya Battle between August-September 1921. France withdrew from Adana and its environs in accordance with the Ankara Agreement signed in October 1921. After that, all the forces and resources of the country were combined for a great attack to be launched on the Western front. The Greek forces were defeated during the Great Attack and the Commander-Chief-Battle which took place between August-September 1922 and İzmir was liberated on September 9, 1922. This military success would accelerate the establishment of the new Republic of Turkey. The Mudanya Armistice was signed between the Ankara Government and the Entente States on October 11th 1922, and it was decided that a conference would be held in Lausanne some time later to discuss the conditions for a permanent peace treaty. However, when the Entente States also invited the İstanbul Government to send its delegation to this conference along with the Ankara Government, the TGNA declared that the Caliphate was separate from the Sultanate and that the sultanate was abolished on the 1st of November 1922. Mehmed IV (Vahideddin), the last Ottoman Sultan, secretly fled the country aboard a British ship on November 17, 1922.

Lausanne Peace Treaty (July 24, 1923). The war was won at the fronts and now it was time to win the diplomatic war. The Lausanne negotiations, at which the Ankara Government participated as the sole representative, commenced on November 21, 1922. The negotiations, at which İsmet İnönü presided over the Turkish delegation as the Minister of Foreign affairs, were suspended in February 1923 due to disagreements concerning the future of capitulations. The negotiations, resumed in April 1923 upon İsmet Pasha’s note. The Peace Treaty composed of 143 articles, 17 annexes, protocols and explanations ended the War of Independence. The TGNA Government was officially recognized, Turkey’s national borders were set, capitulations were lifted, the Ottoman debt was to be paid in instalments, and the social, economic independence and sovereignty of Turkey were accepted. The Treaty which was signed in Lausanne, Switzerland on July 24 1923 was approved by the TGNA on the 23rd of August 1923 to give birth to The Republic of Turkey.Up



Turks and Turkish Empires


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