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About Turkey

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Turkey has one foot in Europe and one foot in Asia. It was the first Muslim former-Ottoman land to establish a republic and achieve democracy, and the first to look Westward, to Europe and North America, for cultural models. This probably explains why it has so many contradictions – secular, but Muslim, conservative, but innovative; epicurean, but austere; traditional, but modernizing; open to the world, but staunchly patriotic. The wonder is that, rather than clashing, these disparate forces exert a fascinating appeal.
There is so much for travelers to bite into here: sun-drenched coastal resorts, eye-popping scenery, more classical ruins than Greece or Italy, vibrant nightlife, plus plush hotels, atmospheric pensions and excellent restaurants – all affordably priced. And if you’re a sweet tooth, you’ve reached paradise.



Turkey, officially the Republic of Turkey, is a Eurasian country located mainly in the Anatolian peninsula in Southwestern Asia, with a small portion of its territory located in the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe. Turkey borders eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia, Armenia and the Nakhichevan exclave of Azerbaijan to the northeast; Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the southeast. In addition, it borders the Black Sea to the north; the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara to the west; and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.


The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. The Anatolian plateau can be boiling hot (although less humid than the coast) in summer and freezing in winter. The Black Sea coast is mild and wet in summer, chilly and wet in winter. Mountainous eastern Turkey is icy cold and snowy in winter, and only pleasantly warm in high summer.
Spring (later April to May) and autumn (late September to October) are the best times to visit; the weather is warm and dry, and there are few tourists. In the high season (July to mid-September) it can be suffocating hot and clammy, and major tourist destinations are crowded and overpriced.



Turkey is 98% Muslim, overwhelmingly Sunni, with small groups of Shiites and larger groups of Alevis mainly in the east. The religious practices of Sunnis and Alevis differ markedly.
Turkey espouses a more relaxed version of Islam than many other countries in the Middle East; for instance, many men drink alcohol. But almost no one touches pork, and many women still wear headscarves.
Istanbul still has a tiny Jewish community. There is also a small but rapidly declining community of Assyrian Orthodox Christians in the southeast.



Turkish is the official language and everybody understands it. It’s been written in the Latin script since Ataturk rejected Arabic in 1928. In southwest Anatolia most Kurds speak Turkish, but in remote places you’ll hear Kurmanci and Zazaki, the two Kurdish dialects spoken in Turkey. South of Gaziantep you’ll also certainly hear Arabic being spoken alongside Turkish.

Population and Ethnic Composition


The population of Turkey is 70,413,958 (2006 estimate). The average population density is 91 persons per sq km (237 per sq mi). Urbanization has progressed rapidly in recent decades. In the mid-1970s, Turkey was still a predominantly rural society, with nearly 60 percent of its citizens living in the countryside. In 2003, 66 percent of the people lived in urban areas. The highest population concentrations are in İstanbul and in coastal regions.About 80 percent of the people of Turkey identify themselves as ethnic Turks.
Before 1900, the population of Anatolia and Eastern Thrace was more ethnically diverse, with Turks making up about 55 percent of the total; another 30 percent were Armenians and Greeks. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several forced movements of populations resulted in the removal of most Armenians and Greeks from Anatolia. Replacing them were non-Turkish Muslims, including Albanians and Bosnians, who were forced to leave newly independent countries in the Balkan Peninsula.



Turkey's political system is based on a separation of powers. Prime Minister of Turkey is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Its current constitution - called Anayasa or Main Law - was adopted on November 7, 1982 after a period of military rule, and enshrines the principle of secularism.

Administrative Division


Turkey is subdivided into 81 provinces (iller in Turkish). Each province is divided into sub provinces (ilçeler). The province usually bears the same name as the provincial capital, also called the central sub province; exceptions are Hatay (capital: Antakya), Kocaeli (capital: İzmit) and Sakarya (capital: Adapazarı). Major provinces include: Istanbul 11 million, Ankara 4 million, İzmir 3.5 million, Bursa 2.1 million, Konya Province 2.2 million, Adana Province 1.8 million.

Time Zone


Turkey is in the Eastern European Time Zone. Eastern European Standard Time (EET) is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2).Summer (Daylight-Saving) Time is observed in Turkey, where the time is shifted forward by 1 hour; 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3).

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


The new Turkish lira (TRY) was introduced in January 2005. Notes are in denominations of one, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 new Turkish lira. The new Turkish lira is divided into 100 new kurus.
ATMs readily dispense Turkish lira to Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Maestro and Eurocard holders.
US dollars and euros are the easiest currency to change, although many banks and exchange offices will change other major currencies, such as UK pound and Japanese yen. You may find it difficult to exchange Australian and Canadian dollars except at banks and offices in major cities.
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted by hotels, restaurants, carpet shops and so on, although they are not accepted by pensions and local restaurants outside the main tourist areas.

Capital City


Ankara is the capital of Turkey and the country's second largest city after Istanbul. The city has a population (as of 2005) of 4,319,167 (Province 5,153,000), and a mean elevation of 850 m. It was formerly known as Angora or Engürü, and in Roman times as Ancyra, and in classical and Hellenistic periods as Ánkyra.
It is also the capital of Ankara Province.
Centrally located in Anatolia, Ankara is an important commercial and industrial city. It is the center of the Turkish Government, and houses all foreign embassies. It is an important crossroads of trade, strategically located at the center of Turkey's highway and rail network, and serves as the marketing center for the surrounding agricultural area. The city was famous for its long-haired goat and its wool (Angora wool), a unique breed of cat (Ankara cat), white rabbits, pear, honey, and the region's muscat grapes.
Ankara is situated upon a steep and rocky hill, which rises 500 ft. above the plain on the left bank of the Enguri Su, a tributary of the Sakarya (Sangarius) river. The city is located 39°52'30" North, 32°52' East (39.875, 32.8333). The city, which is one of the driest places in Turkey and surrounded by a barren featureless steppe vegetation, with various Hittite, Phrygian, Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman archeological sites. It has a harsh dry continental climate with cold snowy winters and hot dry summers. Rainfall occurs mostly during spring and autumn.
The hill is crowned by the ruins of the old castle, which add to the picturesqueness of the view; little else is preserved of the old town, which was not well built. Many of its houses were constructed of sun-dried mud bricks along narrow streets. There are, however, many finely preserved remains of Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture, the most remarkable being the temple of Augustus, on the walls of which is the famous Monumentum Ancyranum.



Airports and Public Transportation


Turkey’s most important airport is Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, 25 km west of the city centre. The cheapest fares are almost always to Istanbul, and to reach other Turkish cities, even Ankara, you usually have to transit in Istanbul. Other international airports are Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman and Izmir.
Turkish buses go just about everywhere you could possibly want to g. A town’s otogar (bus station) is often on the outskirts, but the bigger bus companies have free servis (shuttle minibuses) to ferry you into the centre and back.

Traditional Cuisine


Not without a reason is Turkish food regarded as one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Kebabs are, of course, the mainstay of restaurant meals, which come in great variety: from durum doner kebap – lamb packed on a revolving spit, sliced off and rolled up in pide bread - to Iskender kebap, which is the same but topped with tomato sauce and browned butter and with yogurt on the side.
For a quick cheap fill you can hardly do better than a Turkish pizza, a freshly cooked pide topped with cheese, egg or meat. Alternatively, lahmacun is a paper-thin Arabic pizza topped with chopped onion, lamb and tomato sauce. One of the best snacks is simit, a small ring of bread decorated with sesame seeds.
For vegetarians, a meal of meze can be an excellent way to ensure a varied diet.
For dessert, try firin sutlac(backed rice pudding), asure (‘Noah’s Ark’ pudding made from up to 40 different ingredients), baklava (honey-soaked flaky pastry stuffed with walnuts or pistachio), kadayif (shredded wheat with nuts or pistachios) and dondurma (ice cream).
The national hot drink is cay (tea). It is served in tiny tulip-shaped glasses with copious quantities of sugar. If you’re offered a tiny cup of traditional Turkish kahve (coffee) order it sade (no sugar), orta (medium sweet) or cok sekerli (very sweet).
The Turkish liquir of choice is raki, a fiery aniseed drink like the Greek ouzo or Arab arak.
Ayran is a yogurt drink, made by whipping yogurt with water and salt.

Brief History


The region comprising modern Turkey is one of the oldest continually inhabited regions in the world, because of its strategic location at the intersection of Asia and Europe. The earliest Neolithic settlements such as Çatalhöyük (Pottery Neolithic), Çayönü (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A to pottery Neolithic), Nevali Cori (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B), Hacilar (Pottery Neolithic), Göbekli Tepe (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) and Mersin are considered as the earliest human settlements in the world. The settlement of Troy starts in the Neolithic and continues forward into the Iron Age. Through recorded history, Anatolians have spoken Indo-European, Semitic languages, as well as many languages of uncertain affiliation. In fact, given the antiquity of the Indo-European Hittite and Luwian languages, some scholars have proposed Anatolia as the hypothetical center from which the Indo-European languages have radiated. Other authors have proposed an Anatolian origin for the Etruscans of ancient Italy
The first major empire in the area was that of the Hittites, from the 18th through the 13th century BC. Subsequently, the Phrygians, an Indo-European people, achieved ascendancy until their kingdom was destroyed by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC. The most powerful of Phrygia's successor states was Lydia, Caria and Lycia. The Lydians and Lycians spoke languages that were fundamentally Indo-European, but both languages had acquired non-Indo-European elements prior to the Hittite and Hellenic periods.
Coastal Anatolia (Ionia) meanwhile was settled by Greeks. The entire area was overrun by the Persians during the 6th and 5th centuries and fell to Alexander the Great in 334 BC. Anatolia was subsequently divided into a number of small Hellenistic kingdoms (including Bithynia, Cappadocia, Pergamum, and Pontus), all of which had succumbed to Rome by the mid-1st century BC. In AD 324 the Roman emperor Constantine I chose Constantinople, now Istanbul, as the capital of the Roman Empire. It subsequently became the capital of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.
The House of Seljuk was a branch of the Kinik Oghuz Turks who in the 9th century lived on the periphery of the Muslim world, north of the Caspian and Aral sea in their Yabghu Khaganate of the Oghuz confederacy. In the 10th century the Seljuks migrated from their ancestral homelands into the eastern Anatolian regions which had been an area of settlement for Oğuz Turkic tribes since the end of first millennium. The gradual conquest of Anatolia from the Byzantines by Turkic peoples, under the Seljuks with the Battle of Manzikert and the rise of the Seljuk Empire in the 11th century was finalized by the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Mass conversions to Islam by native Anatolians and peoples of the newly acquired lands helped creating a Muslim identity rather than a Turkic identity in the Empire

The Ottoman Empire interacted with both Eastern and Western cultures throughout its 631-year history. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was among the world's most powerful political entities, often locking horns with the powers of eastern Europe in its steady advance through the Balkans and the southern part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Following years of decline, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I in through Ottoman-German Alliance in 1914, in which it was ultimately defeated. After the war, the victorious Allied Powers sought the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire through the Treaty of Sèvres.
In that period occurred the Armenian Genocide which caused the disappearance of the Armenian population from Anatolia ( some sources agree it caused 1,5 millions of victims, although it has been denied by Turkish historians.
On 19 May 1919 this prompted the beginning of establishment of the Turkish national movement under the leadership Mustafa Kemal Pasha, a military commander who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Gallipoli. Turkish national movement sought to revoke the terms of the treaty signed by the Sultan in Istanbul. This involved mobilizing every available part of Turkish society in what would become the Turkish War of Independence. By 18 September 1922 the occupying armies were repelled and the country saw the birth of a Turkish state. On 1 November 1922 the Turkish Grand National Assembly formally abolished the office of the Sultan, ending 631 years of Ottoman rule. The Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the newly formed "Republic of Turkey".
In the coming years Ataturk’s reforms changed the landscape of the country, Kemal Pasha became the Republic's first President and instituted with the aim of modernizing the new Republic from the remnants of its Ottoman past. According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish Grand Assembly presented Mustafa Kemal with the honorific name "Atatürk" (meaning Father of the Turks) in 1934.
Turkey entered World War II on the Allied side in the latter stages of the war as a ceremonial gesture and became a charter member of the United Nations. Difficulties faced by Greece after World War II in quelling a communist rebellion and demands by the Soviet Union for military bases in the Turkish Straits prompted the United States to declare the Truman Doctrine in 1947. The doctrine enunciated American intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece and resulted in large scale U.S. military and economic support.
Turkey experienced a series of coups: Coup of 60, Coup by Memorandum, Coup of 80 and the Postmodern Coup D'etat. The period of the 70s and 80s was marked by political instability and rapid, but at times erratic economic growth. A series of economic shocks led to new elections in 2002, bringing into power the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by the former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In October 2005, the European Union opened accession negotiations with Ankara and thus Turkey is a candidate country to join the European Union as a full member, having been an associate member since 1963.