POPULATION: 61.2 million
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)
Since the eleventh century, Turks have inhabited the area that is modern Turkey. The ancestors of today's Turks, known as the Seljuk Turks, won control of the region in AD 1071.
By the fifteenth century, Turkish culture and the Turkish language had spread throughout the area. Power peaked under the Ottoman Turks, who overtook the area in 1453. The Ottomans eventually built one of the great empires in world history. It stretched from the Middle East to northern Africa to southern and eastern Europe.
The power of the Ottoman Empire reached its height during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century. During his reign, the Empire took over large parts of southern and eastern Europe. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire suffered a gradual decline. After World War I (1914–18), the empire was dissolved. The territory of the empire was divided among the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Greece. The Turks wanted to re-establish their home-land, and were led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk) in a successful nationalist uprising. Atatürk helped form a nonreligious, democratic republic in 1923. Over the next fifteen years, until his death in 1938, Atatürk built the modern Turkish nation. Since the end of World War II (1939–45), Turkey has had a series of civilian and military governments. A civilian government has led Turkey uninterrupted since 1984.
Turkey lies partly in Europe and partly in Asia. It has historically served as a bridge between the two continents. It is a relatively large country. It is bordered on the west by Greece, Bulgaria, and the Aegean Sea; on the east by Iran, Armenia, and Georgia; on the south by Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea; and on the north by the Black Sea. It is slightly larger than the state of Texas but has three times its population.
In 1994, Turkey had an estimated population of 61.2 million (up from 56.5 million in the 1990 census). Between 80 and 90 percent of the population is composed of ethnic Turks. Kurds form the country's largest ethnic minority. Other minorities include Arabs, Greeks, and Armenians. With more than 160 million people worldwide, many of them in Central Asia, the Turks are among the world's largest ethnic groups.
More than 90 percent of Turkey's population speaks Turkish. Words with Arabic and Persian origins are common. In addition, a number of modern words that had no Turkish equivalents were borrowed from European languages. These include words derived from English, such as otomobil (automobile), tren (train), and taksi (taxi).
Turkish words are formed by adding suffixes to a root that does not change. A root and its suffixes can form an entire sentence. The most famous example of this is the following:
Afyonkarahisarlilaturaadiklaimizdanmuym ustiniz .
It means:"Weren't you one of the people whom we tried without success to make resemble the citizens of Afyonkarahisar?"
There are two forms of "goodbye." Allahaismarladik is said by the person who is leaving. G üle güle is said by the person who stays behind. There are also two common words for "no": hayir , the more emphatic (and less polite), and yok , which literally means "there is none."
The Turks have a rich tradition of folktales. Some folktales can take as long as thirty hours to recite. The most popular involve the legendary Nasreddin Hoca, a comic figure who was a teacher in the thirteenth century. The following are typical Hoca stories:
One day, the Hoca was sitting in his garden under the shade of a walnut tree. Looking around his garden, he wondered why Allah (God) caused large, heavy watermelons to grow on spindly vines while little walnuts grew on tall trees. He mused that, if he had been the creator, he would have done just the reverse. Just then, a walnut fell from the tree, hitting him on the forehead, and the Hoca thanked Allah for arranging the world just as it was, grateful that he hadn't been struck by a watermelon instead.
When the Hoca lost his donkey, he prayed and thanked God. Asked why he was grateful for losing his donkey, he replied, "I'm fortunate that I wasn't riding him when he got lost, or I would be lost as well."
More than 99 percent of Turks are Muslims (followers of Islam), mostly of the Sunni sect. Shi'ite and Alawite Muslim populations live in the east and southeast of the country. There are a small number of Jews whose ancestors fled the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. There are also small numbers of Armenian, Syrian, and Greek Orthodox Christians.
Turkey observes the following secular (non-religious) holidays: New Year's Day (January 1); Children's Day, also known as National Sovereignty Day (April 23); Atatürk's birthday, also National Youth and Sports Day (May 19); Victory Day (August 30); Republic Day (October 28–29); and the anniversary of Atatürk's death (November 10), a national day of mourning when all forms of entertainment are shut down and the nation observes a moment of silence at 9:05 PM , the time of Atatürk's death.
The Turks also observe a number of Islamic holidays. Recep Kandili commemorates the conception of the prophet Muhammad. Mirac Kandili marks Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to Heaven. Berat Kandili is a nighttime holiday similar to All Hallows' Eve in Christianity. Kadir Gecesi commemorates the night when the Koran (the sacred text of Islam) was revealed to Muhammad and he received his calling as the Messenger of God.
A number of popular traditional beliefs and superstitions surround childbirth. Magical formulas are used to ensure the birth of a son. Many people also believe a newborn child is especially vulnerable to evil spirits during the first forty days of life. All male Turkish Muslims are circumcised, either at the age of seven or later as part of an initiation into adulthood.
Wedding ceremonies are performed in the town or city hall. They are followed by private receptions with food, dancing, and music. Dowries (money or material goods paid to the groom's family) are paid by the bride's family in some rural areas.
The Turks are an exceptionally polite people, particularly to visitors. They use many courteous phrases in everyday conversation.
It is considered impolite to hug or kiss members of the opposite sex in public. A handshake that is too firm is also considered a sign of bad manners. On the other hand, it is acceptable and customary for men to publicly display physical affection toward each other. They often embrace and kiss when they greet each other, and walk down the street arm-in-arm or holding hands.
Turkey faces a housing shortage that is among its most serious social problems. Since the 1950s, people have built temporary shelters called gecekondus on the outskirts of major cities. The neighborhoods created by these dwellings have turned into permanent slums. They often lack running water, sewage systems, electricity, and pavement. By the 1980s, it was estimated that more than half the residents of some cities lived in gecekondus.
Between 30 and 40 percent of Turkey's population lives in rural areas, where housing types vary by region. Houses in the rural villages of the Black Sea region are made of wood. On the Anatolian plateau they are generally made of sun-dried brick. Village houses are generally two stories high with flat roofs. In the eastern part of the country, many lack running water and some have no electricity.
In spite of legal equality, women in Turkey often face discrimination. This is especially true in rural areas. Turkish women are not, however, forced to wear the veil (known as the chador ) as women are in other Muslim nations.
In urban areas, working women hold positions similar to those of their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The number of professional women has grown significantly in recent years.
In 1993, the American-educated economist Tansu Çiller became the country's first woman prime minister. She served as prime minister until 1995, when her coalition government fell apart.
Traditionally, Turkish marriages were arranged. In rural areas some still are. The extended family is important in rural areas, but less so in cities. In rural areas, women still marry at young ages. Financial arrangements between the two families are important in making marriage decisions.
Modern Western-style clothing has been worn in Turkey since the founding of the republic in the 1920s. In urban areas, both adults and teenagers look much the same as those in the cities of the West. In villages and certain tourist areas, one may still see the traditional salvar, baggy, loose-fitting trousers that are worn by both men and women.
The most famous dish of Turkish origin is the shish kebab, pieces of lamb grilled on a skewer. Today, the most popular national dish is the döner kebap , lamb roasted on a turning vertical spit, from which slices are cut as it cooks. A popular entry is köfte (diamond meat patties). A recipe follows.
Turkey is also famous for its appetizers, called meze, made from meat, fish, and vegetables. The most popular include böreks , rolled dough stuffed with white cheese and parsley; dolmasi , various types of vegetables stuffed with rice and meat; and imam bayildi , eggplant stuffed with ground lamb, onions, and tomatoes. The name imam bayildi , means "the imam swooned," suggesting that the dish was so delicious it made a religious leader (an imam) faint when he tried it.
In 1990, the adult literacy rate (ability to read and write) was 80 percent (90 percent for males aged fifteen and over, compared with only 70 percent for their female counterparts). Primary education has been available to almost all children between the ages of six and ten since the 1980s.
Education is not compulsory past middle school. Even to that level it is estimated that only 60 percent of children attend school. The quality of education in urban and rural areas varies significantly. Many rural communities do not have high schools. This sometimes makes it necessary for children to travel great distances if they want to continue their education.
There are several hundred institutions of higher learning in Turkey. Students are admitted to Turkey's public universities through a central placement system.
Whirling dervishes are devotees of a small religious sect who attempt to unite with God by dancing frantically to wild music. Their white-clad, rapidly turning figures in swirling skirts are known the world over. The Turks also have a centuries-old tradition of folk dancing. It varies from one region to the next, each with its own distinctive homemade costumes.
Turkish painting dates back to the court painters of the Ottoman Empire. The contemporary painter Rahmi Pehlivanli is known for his portraits of leading political and diplomatic figures and his landscapes of different regions of the country.
Several of Turkey's leading literary figures in modern times have been involved in political controversies. Many of their works have been censored or banned. Although Turkey's constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the government places restrictions on the media. The writings of Nazim Hikmet, a Marxist poet who died in the former Soviet Union in 1963, were banned for years but are now gaining recognition. The left-wing satirist Aziz Nesin, who published excerpts from Salman Rushdie's controversial Satanic Verses , was jailed for much of his life. He died in 1995.
Yasar Kemal, a leading novelist, has been harassed in recent years over the content of a newspaper article he authored. Turkey's most famous filmmaker, Yilmaz Güney, was imprisoned for most of his career, writing screenplays in prison and smuggling them out through friends, along with detailed instructions for their direction.
Traditional Turkish music is rich and complex. Traditional instruments include the ud and the saz (both of which resemble the lute), the darabuka (a drum), and the ney (sometimes spelled nay —a flute).
The services sector, including a growing tourist industry, accounts for more than half of all jobs. Agriculture accounts for most of the rest. In rural areas, all family members participate in agricultural work. Industry employs less than 10 percent of the work force.
The most popular sport in Turkey is soccer. Matches are played on weekends between September and May. Like their counterparts in Europe and Latin America, Turkey's soccer fans are wildly enthusiastic. Celebrations can sometimes turn into riots.
Wrestling is another favorite sport in Turkey. A unique Turkish variety is greased wrestling, which makes it harder to hold on to one's opponent. Other popular sports include hunting and shooting, skiing (the oldest Turkish ski resort is on Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the Greek gods), and cirit , a traditional sport that involves throwing a javelin while mounted on horseback.
Among the traditional Turkish forms of relaxation, the best known is the steam bath, or hamam. Both men and women use the hamam , although separately. Wood-burning stoves are used as heat sources, with bathers absorbing heat by lying on raised slabs directly above the stoves.
The time-honored leisure-time haunt of Turkish men is the coffeehouse (kiraathane) , where backgammon is often played and one can still find customers smoking hookahs (water pipes).
Turkey's most famous handicrafts are its carpets, which sport a dazzling array of designs. Tiles and ceramics have been produced in Turkey since the eleventh century and can still be seen adorning the walls of mosques and other buildings.
Another form of folk art is the traditional shadow-puppet theater called Karagöz . It dates back to the 1400s and was sometimes used as a vehicle for political satire. Today Karagöz is a dying art due to competition from modern forms of entertainment and a shortage of performers willing to go through the difficult training it requires.
Turkey's most pressing social problem is its very high rate of population growth. Over-population strains the country's resources (including its educational resources), results in unemployment, and decreases the amount of agricultural produce available for export. High inflation and widespread tax evasion are other ongoing problems.
Ahmad, Feroz. The Making of Modern Turkey. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Lye, Keith. Turkey. New York: F. Watts, 1987.
Rugman, Jonathan. Ataturk's Children: Turkey and the Kurds. New York: Cassell, 1996.