From Grolier's The New Book of Knowledge

Click on the map above to see a larger map.

Facts and Figures

OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti).

CAPITAL: Ankara.

Southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia.

301,381 sq mi (780,576 sq.km).

66,000,000 (estimate).



Republic. Head of state: president. Head of government: prime minister (appointed by the president).

: National Assembly.


Chief minerals: chromium, manganese, coal, copper, iron, sulphur, petroleum. Chief agricultural products: wheat, corn, barley, rice, cotton, tobacco, nuts, citrus fruits, olives, livestock (chiefly sheep and goats). Industries and products: textiles and clothing, iron and steel, processed foods and other agricultural products, handicrafts (rugs, carpets).

Turkish lira (1 lira = 100 kurus).

The People
Religion and Festivals
Way of Life

The Land
Rivers and Lakes

The Economy
Mining and Transportation

Major Cities


Byzantine Empire
The Ottoman Empire
Breakup of the Empire
Republic of Turkey
Recent Events

The nation of Turkey is situated on two continents — Asia and Europe. Because of its location, it has played an important role in both Asian and European history. For some 600 years Turkey was the center of the great Ottoman Empire. At the height of its power, the empire stretched from east central Europe to Southwest Asia and North Africa. The modern Republic of Turkey, which was founded in 1923, retains only a part of the once vast Ottoman Empire. But it is still a country of considerable size, about as large in area as Utah, Arizona, and Nevada combined.

Back to Top

The People

The region that is now Turkey has been inhabited by various peoples since ancient times. It was the birthplace of the Hittites, one of the earliest civilizations. Later, Greeks from Europe, Arabs, and other peoples from Asia settled in parts of the region. The Turks, who came from Central Asia, arrived in the 11th century and eventually became the dominant people of the region. Today, Turks make up the vast majority of the population. The Kurds, a non-Turkish people, most of whom live in the southeastern part of the country, are the largest minority group.

Back to Top

Language and Religion. Turkish, the official language of the country, is of Asian origin. At one time the Arabic alphabet was used to write Turkish, but a modified Roman alphabet is now used. Almost all the people are Muslims, and mosques (Muslim houses of worship) are found throughout the country. Many of the mosques represent notable examples of Islamic architecture.

Back to Top

Way of Life. In appearance and dress most Turks resemble Europeans. Their way of life combines both European and Asian traditions.

Turkish food, arts and crafts, and folktales reflect Asian influence. Turkish food often is cooked over charcoal pits. Favorite Turkish foods are shish kebab — small pieces of meat (mutton or beef) and onions roasted on a spit — and yogurt. The Turks first learned to make coffee in Yemen during the 16th century, when they conquered the Arabian Peninsula. They took coffee back to Turkey and later introduced it to Europe.

Since the Muslim religion frowns on the making of pictures of living beings, Turkish artists for centuries have concentrated on geometric designs. Turkish art is famous for its colorful designs in wood carvings, metalwork, carpets, ceramics, tiles, and buildings.

Turkish music and sports show a strong European influence, but they have retained their national character. Today soccer and wrestling are the most popular sports.

Back to Top

Education. After World War I, religious schools were replaced by state schools patterned after the European system. Primary, secondary, and college education are free. Primary education is compulsory for children age 7 to 12. There are high schools in all the larger towns and cities. Technical schools, teacher-training schools, and colleges provide further education. Turkey has a number of universities. The largest is the University of Istanbul, founded in the 15th century.

Back to Top

The Land

About 9,000 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) of Turkey's total area lie in Europe. Asian Turkey and European Turkey are separated by the strait of Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles. These narrow strips of water link the Black Sea in the north to the Aegean Sea in the south. They form one of the world's most strategic waterways.

Asian Turkey, called Anatolia (Anadolu in Turkish), is often referred to as Asia Minor. It is a region of mountains and highlands. Two major mountain ranges cross it in an east-west direction. In the north the Northern Anatolian Mountains (the Pontic mountain system) follow the Black Sea coast. In the south the Taurus Mountains follow the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. These two mountain ranges meet in the eastern Anatolian highland. Earthquakes are frequent in this region. A severe one occurred in 1976. Mount Ararat, an extinct volcano that is the country's highest peak, is located there, near the border with Iran and Armenia. South of the eastern highland, low hills and plains join the plains of Syria and Iraq.

A large central plateau lies between the Northern Anatolian Mountains and the Taurus Mountains. Several salt lakes, the largest of which is Lake Van, are found in this region. The plateau, called the Anatolian plateau, is enclosed by mountains on the north, south, and east. In the west the plateau gives way to a low fertile plain, one of the best agricultural areas in the country.

Turkey has a long coastline. The western coast is indented and has many excellent natural harbors. The narrow northern coastal plain along the Black Sea has few such harbors.

European Turkey, or Thrace, is all that remains of what was once a vast Turkish empire in Europe. Thrace, an area of low plains and hills, has a rugged coastline. Low mountains extend from the Bulgarian border along the Black Sea coast.

Back to Top

Rivers and Lakes. The Kizil Irmak and the Sakarya rivers flow through Asian Turkey into the Black Sea. A shorter, curving river, flowing into the Aegean Sea, is called Menderes, from the ancient Greek word meaning "to meander." The Seyhan, Ceyhan, and Orontes rivers in the south are used for irrigation.

Lake Van and Lake Tuz in Asian Turkey are the largest lakes. Many smaller salt lakes lie west of Lake Tuz in the Taurus range.

Back to Top

Climate. The climate of European Turkey and coastal Asian Turkey is mild, with cool, rainy winters and warm, dry summers. Winter temperatures seldom fall below freezing, and frost and snow are rare. Summer temperatures average 75°F (24°C). The western coast gets about 25 inches (600 millimeters) of rain annually. In the east, rainfall is much greater.

The Anatolian plateau has cold winters, with more than 100 days of frost every year. Summer days are hot, but the nights are cool. Annual rainfall is between 10 and 17 inches (250 and 430 millimeters). April and May are usually the wettest months in this area.

The eastern part of Asian Turkey has one of the most extreme climates in the world. Winter temperatures of -40°F (-40°C) often have been recorded. Snowfall is very heavy. Summers are hot, with daytime temperatures rising to over 100°F (38°C).

Back to Top

The Economy

Agriculture. About half of the work force is engaged in agriculture. Wheat, grown mainly on the Anatolian plateau, is the major crop. Other important cereals are corn, barley, and rice. The chief export crops are cotton, grown on the Mediterranean coast, and tobacco, grown on the coasts of the Aegean and Black seas. Other commercial crops include figs, raisins, olives, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, and citrus fruits.

Large parts of the country, especially in the Anatolian plateau, are used only as grazing land. The raising of sheep and goats is an important part of the economy. Sheep are a major source of meat in Turkey. Goat's milk is used to make white, cured cheese. Sheep wool is used in the textile industry, and goat hair is made into mohair.

Back to Top

Manufacturing. Although it employs only about 12 percent of the labor force, Turkish industry, encouraged by government investment, has grown rapidly in recent years. Exports of industrial goods (including processed agricultural products) now exceed agricultural exports in value. Textiles and clothing are the most important manufactured products, followed by iron and steel and processed foods and other agricultural products.

Back to Top

Mining and Transportation. Copper and iron ore have been mined in Turkey since ancient times. Chromium and manganese (used for hardening steel), coal, sulphur, and some petroleum are also produced. Turkey's petroleum deposits supply only a fraction of its needs; the rest must be imported. One Turkish mineral specialty is meerschaum, used in making a kind of smoking pipe. Other mineral resources remain to be more fully developed.

Railroads are state-owned. There are connections with all parts of Europe and the Middle East. All of Turkey's importantcities are linked by rail. Many all-weather roads have been built in recent years. Because of Turkey's long coastline, travel along the coast by regular steamship is also very popular. Air transportation is growing in importance. A Turkish airline connects all large towns, and international flights stop at both Istanbul and Ankara.

Back to Top Major Cities

Istanbul is situated on either side of the Bosporus, in both Europe and Asia. It is the largest city in Turkey. For nearly 400 years Istanbul was the capital of Turkey. Although no longer the capital, it has remained the country's major port and most important commercial center.

Once called Byzantium, Istanbul became the capital of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) in A.D. 330. The name "Byzantium" later was changed to Constantinople in honor of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. The Turks conquered the city in 1453 and changed the name to Istanbul.

Ankara is the capital of Turkey and the nation's second largest city. Once known as Angora, the city is situated in the central part of the Anatolian plateau. The older part of the town was an ancient trading center. The newer town was built by Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the Turkish republic's first president. Outside the new town is a magnificent monument marking Atatürk's burial place.

Izmir (Smyrna) is located on the Aegean Sea. It is the second most important port in Turkey, exporting mainly agricultural products, such as tobacco and cotton.

Adana, the center of the cotton industry, is located on the Seyhan River in the southern part of Asian Turkey.

Back to Top


Turkey is a republic, governed under a constitution approved in 1982, which replaced the previous constitution of 1961. The adoption of a new constitution followed a two-year period in which the country was governed by the National Security Council, a five-member body of military officers.

The constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, consisting of a president, a prime minister who heads the Cabinet, and a legislature, the National Assembly. The National Assembly is elected by the people for a 5-year term.

The president, who is elected by the National Assembly for seven years, is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces and has wide executive powers. The president appoints the prime minister from among the members of the National Assembly. The prime minister leads the Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, and heads the day-to-day activities of the government.

Turkey is divided into 80 provinces. Each has a governor appointed by the president and an elected council.

Back to Top


About 3,000 years ago the country now known as Turkey was divided into several kingdoms. The most important of these was the Hittite Kingdom. Another kingdom was ruled from the city of Troy. Around 1200 B.C. many Greeks began to migrate to Turkey. They settled along the coasts and established their own states there. These ancient Greeks conquered the people of Troy during the Trojan War, one of the most famous wars in history.

Subsequently, both Asian and European Turkey were conquered by the Persians, who in turn were driven out by the Macedonian Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. After the death of Alexander several small kingdoms rose and fell in Turkey. They all were conquered eventually by the Roman general Pompey (106-48 B.C.) in 63 B.C. The Romans divided Turkey into several provinces and built many cities.

Back to Top

Byzantine Empire. In A.D. 330 the Roman emperor Constantine chose Byzantium as his eastern capital. Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, became the most important city in the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire. For some 200 years, from the 9th to the 11th century, the Byzantine Empire was a great world power. The Christian religion and much of the ancient Greek civilization survived here and were passed on to other parts of Europe and Asia.

During the 1000's, the first Turkish tribes, called Seljuks, came from western Central Asia and settled in what is now central and eastern Turkey. The Seljuks were followers of the Islamic religion. They attacked the Byzantine Empire and set up a Muslim state in Asian Turkey. The Seljuks in turn were weakened by the Christian Crusaders on their way to capture Palestine from its Muslim rulers. Later, Mongol invaders from Central Asia destroyed the little remaining power of the Seljuks. But the Seljuk settlements and states survived.

Back to Top

The Ottoman Empire. Another group of Turkish tribes from Central Asia arrived in the 1200's. They were called Ottomans, after their legendary first leader, Osman, or Othman (1259-1326). The Ottomans, or Ottoman Turks, conquered what remained of the Seljuk states. In 1326 they reached the Sea of Marmara. By 1360 the Ottomans had conquered much of what is now European Turkey. Constantinople held out until 1453, when it, too, fell to the Ottoman Turks.

The Ottoman Empire reached its height during the 1500's. Under Sultan Suleiman I (1496-1566), known as the Magnificent, the empire extended across southeastern Europe and through parts of southern Russia, to Southwest Asia and North Africa.

Under succeeding sultans the empire began to slowly decline. By the late 1800's and early 1900's, it had lost most of its European territories, including what are today Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and other parts of the Balkans. Egypt and other northern African states also became virtually independent.

Many Turks believed that changes in Turkish laws and customs were necessary to halt further decline. Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, known as Abdul the Damned, promised reforms but did not keep his word. In 1908 he was overthrown by a group of reforming politicians called Young Turks. They introduced political and social reforms and established a constitutional monarchy under Sultan Mohammed V.

Back to Top

Breakup of the Empire. It was too late, however, to stem the decline. The final breakup of the empire came after World War I (1914-18). As one of the defeated powers, the empire was forced to give up its remaining non-Turkish lands. The chief victorious powers, France and Britain, occupied Istanbul for a time, and in 1919, Greek troops invaded Turkey's Aegean coast.

Back to Top

Republic of Turkey. With the Ottoman government helpless, a Turkish general, Mustafa Kemal, organized a temporary government whose forces expelled the Greeks in 1922. The last sultan, Mohammed VI, was deposed, and in 1923, Kemal established a Turkish republic, with its capital in Ankara. Kemal became its first president. Adopting the surname Atatürk ("Father of the Turks"), he introduced many reforms that helped transform Turkey into a modern nation.

After Atatürk's death in 1938, his Republican People's Party was led by Ismet Inönü, who served as president until 1950. From 1950 to 1960, Turkey was governed by the Democratic Party, with Celal Bayar as president and Adnan Menderes as prime minister. In 1960 the government was overthrown by the military under General Cemal Gürsel. A civilian government was restored in 1961, with Gürsel as president and Inönü as prime minister.

In 1965, Süleyman Demirel, head of the Justice Party, became prime minister. He governed until 1971, when he was forced to resign by the military. Following elections in 1973, Bülent Ecevit, leader of the Republican People's Party, became prime minister.

In 1974, following a military coup in Cyprus, Turkish forces occupied part of the island nation, which is home to both Greeks and Turks. In 1980, after a series of weak governments proved unable to cope with the nation's problems, General Kenan Evren took over the government. He became president under a new constitution in 1982, serving until 1989, when Turgut Ozal was elected president. Ozal was succeeded after his death in 1993 by Süleyman Demirel. Tansu Ciller became Turkey's first woman prime minister in 1993.

Back to Top

Recent Events. In the 1995 elections, the Welfare Party — an Islamic party — won the largest number of seats. Its leader, Necmettin Erbakan, took office the following year, becoming Turkey's first Islamic prime minister since independence. But tensions mounted between Islamic fundamentalists and members of the military, who objected to Erbakan's pro-Muslim policies. Erbakan was forced to resign, and Mesut Yilmaz succeeded him briefly. In 1998 the Welfare Party was banned. In 1999, after a year of political instability, a new coalition government, headed by former prime minister Bülent Ecevit, took power. Other major events of 1999 included the capture and sentencing to death of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who had led violent rebellions against the Turkish army since 1985. Also, two devastating earthquakes claimed the lives of more than 15,000 people.

In May 2000 Ahmet Necdet Sezer succeeded Demirel as president. He backed democratic reforms that would help Turkey gain entry into the European Union.

Alexander Melamid
Author, Turkey

Copyright © 2003 Grolier Incorporated. All Rights Reserved.