Turkey Table of Contents

Monastery constructed in the tenth centuryTURKEY IS A NEW COUNTRY in an old land. The modern Turkish state--beginning with the creation of the Republic of Turkey in the years immediately after World War I--drew on a national consciousness that had developed only in the late nineteenth century. But the history of nomadic Turkish tribes can be traced with certainty to the sixth century A.D., when they wandered the steppes of central Asia. Asia Minor, which the Turks invaded in the eleventh century, has a recorded history that dates back to the Hittites, who flourished there in the second millennium B.C. Archaeological evidence of far older cultures has been found in the region, however.

The term Turkey , although sometimes used to signify the Ottoman Empire, was not assigned to a specific political entity or geographic area until the republic was founded in 1923. The conquering Turks called Asia Minor, the large peninsular territory they had wrested from the Byzantine Empire, by its Greek name, Anatolé (sunrise; figuratively, the East), or Anatolia. The term Anatolia is also used when events described affected both that region and Turkish Thrace ("Turkey-in-Europe") because of the two areas' closely linked political, social, and cultural development.

Anatolia is a bridge connecting the Middle East and Europe, and it shares in the history of both those parts of the world. Despite the diversity of its peoples and their cultures, and the constantly shifting borders of its ethnic map, Anatolia has a history characterized by remarkable continuity. Wave after wave of conquerors and settlers have imposed their language and other unique features of their culture on it, but they also have invariably assimilated the customs of the peoples who preceded them.

The history of Turkey encompasses, first, the history of Anatolia before the coming of the Turks and of the civilizations--Hittite, Thracian, Hellenistic, and Byzantine--of which the Turkish nation is the heir by assimilation or example. Second, it includes the history of the Turkish peoples, including the Seljuks, who brought Islam and the Turkish language to Anatolia. Third, it is the history of the Ottoman Empire, a vast, cosmopolitan, pan-Islamic state that developed from a small Turkish amirate in Anatolia and that for centuries was a world power.

Finally, Turkey's history is that of the republic established in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938), called Atatürk--the "Father Turk." The creation of the new republic in the heartland of the old Islamic empire was achieved in the face of internal traditionalist opposition and foreign intervention. Atatürk's goal was to build on the ruins of Ottoman Turkey a new country and society patterned directly on Western Europe. He equated Westernization with the introduction of technology, the modernization of administration, and the evolution of democratic institutions.

The Turkish horsemen who stormed into Anatolia in the eleventh century were called gazis (warriors of the faith), but they followed their tribal leaders to win booty and to take land as well as to spread Islam. The Ottoman Empire, built on the conquests of the gazis , was Islamic but not specifically Turkish. Engendered in reaction to this Ottoman universalism, early Turkish nationalism was often pan-Turanian, envisioning a common destiny for all Turkic-speaking peoples. By contrast, Atatürk narrowed the focus of his nationalism to the Turks of Turkey. Under his influence, twentieth-century Turkish historiography bypassed the Islamic Ottoman period to link the Turkish nation with ancient Anatolia in such a way that the Hittites, for instance, were recognized as proto-Turks from whom modern Turks can trace descent. Although contemporary Turkey is relatively homogeneous linguistically, it is estimated that perhaps 75 percent of the country's genetic pool is non-Turkish in origin.

Atatürk's ideological legacy--known as Kemalism--consists of the "Six Arrows": republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, etatism (see Glossary), and secularism. These principles have been embodied in successive constitutions, and appeals for both reforms and retrenchment have been made in their name.

In the late 1940s, Atatürk's long-time lieutenant and successor, Ismet Inönü (earlier known as Ismet Pasha), introduced democratic elections and opened the political system to multiparty activity. In 1950 the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi--CHP)--Atatürk's party--was badly defeated at the polls by the new Democrat Party, headed by Adnan Menderes. The Menderes government attempted to redirect the economy, allowing for greater private initiative, and was more tolerant of traditional religious and social attitudes in the countryside. In their role as guardians of Kemalism, military leaders became convinced in 1960 that the Menderes government had departed dangerously from the principles of the republic's founder, and overthrew it in a military coup. After a brief interval of military rule, a new, liberal constitution was adopted for the so-called Second Republic, and the government returned to civilian hands.

The 1960s witnessed coalition governments led, until 1965, by the CHP under Inönü. A new grouping--the right-wing Justice Party organized under Süleyman Demirel and recognized as the successor to the outlawed Democrat Party--came to power in that year. In opposition, the new leader of the CHP, Bülent Ecevit, introduced a platform that shifted Atatürk's party leftward. Political factionalism became so extreme as to prejudice public order and the smooth functioning of the government and economy.

In 1971 the leaders of the armed forces demanded appointment of a government "above parties" charged with restoring law and order. A succession of nonparty governments came to power, but, unable to gain adequate parliamentary support, each quickly fell during a period of political instability that lasted until 1974. Demirel and Ecevit alternated in office as head of government during the remainder of the 1970s, a period marked by the rise of political extremism and religious revivalism, terrorist activities, and rapid economic changes accompanied by high inflation and severe unemployment. The apparent inability of parliamentary government to deal with the situation prompted another military coup in 1980, led by Chief of Staff General Kenan Evren. The new regime's National Security Council acted to restore order and stabilize the economy. It also moved deliberately toward reinstating civilian rule. A constitution for the Third Republic, promulgated in 1982, increased the executive authority of the president and provided for Evren's appointment to a seven-year term in that office. General elections to the new National Assembly held the following year enabled Turgut Özal to form a one-party majority government that promised to bring stability to the political process.

In two subsequent parliamentary elections, in 1987 and 1991, Turkey demonstrated a commitment to pluralist politics and a peaceful transfer of power. The 1991 election ended the eight-year rule of Özal's Motherland Party and brought to power the True Path Party, headed by Süleyman Demirel. Upon the death of Özal in 1993, Demirel ascended to the presidency, and Tansu Çiller became Turkey's first woman prime minister.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress