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Turkey History and Culture

Turkey today is a stable, secular, pro-Western democracy, and sees its future within Europe. But even its recent past is turbulent. Disastrous defeats in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and WW1 (1914-18) led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the declaration by Kemal Ataturk of a secular Turkish Republic, and the traumatic ‘exchange of populations’, when more than one million ethnic Greeks left Constantinople, Izmir and other towns and villages for Greece, while around half a million Turkish Muslims returned to Turkey from Greece.
Ataturk is the revered father of modern Turkey, and he and his successors were determined modernisers.

Turkey remained neutral during WW2, but in the postwar years the army intervened several times to overthrow elected governments of which it disapproved. In 1974, Turkey and Greece came close to war over Cyprus, and the ‘Cyprus issue’ is the biggest obstacle to Turkey joining the EU.

Since the 1960s, Kurdish separatists seeking an independent state in southeast Turkey have clashed with security forces. These events are just part of a history that stretches back more than 5000 years.

Asia Minor cradled the Hittite kingdom which rose around 2200 BC; ancient Troy; and the Greek city-states which rose along the coasts during the first millennium BC.Their struggle with the Persian Empire ended with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great. Alexander’s empire broke up after his death, and by the 2nd century BC the region was conquered by Rome. Relics such as the Temple of Diana at Ephesus and the Roman theatres at Aspendos and Side are among the great sights of present-day Turkey.

In 330AD, Emperor Constantine 1 moved the Roman capital to Byzantium, strategically located on the Bosphorus, renamed it Constantinople (after himself), and imposed Christianity on the Empire.

The Seljuk Turks trickled into Anatolia (eastern Turkey) in the 11th century AD and were followed by the Ottoman (or Osmanli) Turks, named after their leader, Osman. In 1453 Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmet II. His successors expanded the Ottoman Empire further, and at its apogee, they held sway over an empire that stretched from the Balkans to the Red Sea and the Nile.


Muslim, mostly Sunni, with a very small Christian minority. Turkey is a secular state which in theory guarantees complete freedom of worship to non-Muslims.

Social conventions:

Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting. Hospitality is very important and visitors should respect Islamic customs. Informal wear is acceptable, but beachwear should be confined to the beach or poolside. Smoking is widely acceptable but prohibited in cinemas, theatres, buses, coaches and dolmuşes (collective taxis).

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