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Turkish History

Turkey’s most western city is Istanbul. This cities location is on the water and it made it a much coveted site as a commercial shipping port and military lookout. This city was also the capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, as it was known, and it became extremely desirable as a center of world trade, until Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and it became the imperial seat of the sultans. After the War of Independence the capital was moved to Ankara, but Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical and cultural heart of Turkey today.

Ankara first achieved prominence as a crossroads. Akuwash, the Hittite name for the city, was established over 3000 years ago at the intersection of 2 trade routes. The Phrygians moved in after the decline of the Hittite empire and then Alexander the Great arrived. Subsequently occupied by the Seleucids and the Galatians Ankara became part of the Roman Empire in 25 BC.

The Byzantines hung on to the city until 1071 AD when the Seljuk Turks rolled into town (renaming it Enguriye). The city's importance declined throughout the Ottoman period until Angora was just somewhere that goats were raised and everybody had nice jumpers.

Turkish history can thereafter be characterized by a constant struggle between the forces of absolutism and reform. In 1914, the country became embroiled in World War I – on the side of Germany. The following year saw one of the most ignominious episodes in Turkish history, when over a million Armenians were driven into the desert and murdered by Turkish troops. Although it is fiercely denied by the Turkish authorities, there is compelling evidence that this was an officially sponsored and systematic policy of genocide. After the war the Ottoman Empire collapsed and most of its possessions came under British or French control, with the support of the newly formed League of Nations.

In Turkey itself, the Ottoman Dynasty was overthrown in 1923, by a revolutionary movement led by Mustafa Kemal, better known as Atatürk (‘the father of the Turks’), who established a single-party republic with himself at the head. Ankara which became the capital has little over 30,000 people and today it has over 5.5 million.

The period after the War of Independence saw sweeping social reforms and economic modernization, including the abolition of the Islamic social infrastructure and the development of a manufacturing industry. Atatürk’s successor, Ismet Inönü, kept Turkey out of World War II (except for the last four months) and introduced multiparty politics.

In 1952 Turkey joined NATO and since the lifting of suspensions with the end of military rule, is once more a full and active member of the OECD and the Council of Europe, as well as being an associate member of the EU. Turkey wants full membership, but there is other member countries that have vetoed it, as Turkey has a poor human rights record, especially with regard to the treatment of the country’s Kurdish minority and the failure of repeated efforts to reach a political settlement in Cyprus. Turkey has been a key Western Ally and especially an American one in the region as it continues to provide diplomatic solutions to many of the problems in a troubled area of the world.


Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

He is better known as Atatürk (‘the father of the Turks’), who established a single-party republic with himself at the head. Ankara which became the capital has little over 30,000 people and today it has over 5.5 million. He is Turkey's most revered figure. You will see his face on flags and murals no matter where you travel in the country. He was a soldier and a general in Turkey's army before becoming president in 1923 and modernising the country.

Ataturk was at the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 as a commander of the 19th Division and was on hand to oppose an Anzac (Australian and New Zealand) landing in April. His excellent grasp of strategy and ability to inspire his troops with his reckless bravery in action proved crucial in thwarting the Allies.

In 1934 he won the respect of New Zealanders and Australians when he made the following tribute:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well".

Between 1924 - 1938 Ataturk introduced a series of reforms he considered vital to his people's salvation. Among these was the abolishment of Islamic Law and the introduction of a secualr legal code. He also discouraged the veiling of woman and encouraged western clothing. In 1934 he gave Turkish woman the vote and the right to hold office. If you are in Istanbul you should visit the Ataturk Museum to find out more about this fascinating man.




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