Turkey: A Country Overview

Information on Turkey; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Turkey...


Turkey is a transcontinental country and shares borders with eight countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It borders the Black Sea to the north, the Aegean Sea to the west and the Mediterranean partially to the south. The Turkish Straits in the north separate Europe from Asia.

Turkey is the world's 37th largest country covering 783,562 square kilometres. The European area of Turkey is known as East Thrace and covers 23,764 square kilometres while the rest of the country lies in the Asian section known as Anatolia.

There are mountainous regions to the east of the country where the rivers Euphrates, Tigris and Aras have their source. Turkey's highest point is Mount Ararat standing at 5,165m.

Due to its location on a fault line, Turkey is susceptible to levels of seismic activity with relatively frequent earthquakes and less frequent volcanic eruptions. The last major earthquake in the country was in 1999.

Turkey is divided into seven census regions: Marmara, Aegean, Black Sea, Central Anatolia, Southeastern Anatolia and Mediterranean. Each region is sub-divided into administrative areas to form a total of 923 districts.


The Anatolia region of Turkey is known to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world with evidence of human existence dating back to an estimated 7,500-6,000BC. It has been estimated that the legendary city of Troy, located to the northwest of Anatolia, dates back to 3,000BC.

A tribe called the Hattians inhabited the area in around 2,300 BC. Subsequently an Indo-European civilisation called Hittites came to Anatolia and absorbed the Hattians forming the first major empire in the area from 2,000-1,300 BC. The Hittites themselves were colonised by the Assyrians and later the Phrygians.

In around 1,200 BC the coastal areas of Anatolia were settled by Aeolian and Ionian Greeks. They constructed cities and trading posts such as Epesus, Smyrna (Izmir) and Byzantium (Istanbul).

During the sixth and fifth centuries BC the Persian Empire conquered the area before it fell to Alexander the Great in 334 BC. Anatolia was divided into a number of smaller kingdoms, all of which came under Roman control by the middle of the first century BC. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine made Byzantium the capital of the new Roman Byzantium Empire.

The civilisation known as the Seljuks, who came from the Caspian and Aral Sea areas, began migrating to the area in the 10th century AD. Following the Battle of Manzikert, eastern Anatolia fell under the leadership of the Anatolian Seljuk Senate, a part of the large Seljuk Empire. In the 13th century the Seljuk Empire was defeated by the Mongols and in its wake, over the following 200 years, the Turkish principality governed by Osman I evolved into the Ottoman Empire.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, The Ottoman Empire pushed north towards central Europe through the Balkans, and to the south through Saudi Arabia. The Empire also competed against the Spanish, Italians and Maltese to control the Mediterranean sea, and against the Portuguese to control trading posts and maritime routes in the Indian Ocean.

Following two centuries of steady decline in influence, the Ottoman Empire entered WWI on the side of the central powers and was ultimately defeated. Allied forces occupied Constantinople and Smyrna (now Istanbul and Izmir) after the war. This gave rise to the Turkish national movement and the Turkish War of Independence was waged against Greece, Armenia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France to expel them from Anatolia. By 1922, the occupying forces had been expelled and the newly formed Turkish parliament officially ended Ottoman rule by abolishing the Sultinate.

The Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923 led to international recognition of the Republic of Turkey as a sovereign state. The republic was officially proclaimed in October 1923 and Ankara was established as its new capital city.

Mustafa Kemal became the Republic's first president and implemented a number of reforms aimed at increasing the new nation's secular stance. These included the 1934 Surname Law, which required all citizens of Turkey to adopt a surname.

Turkey remained neutral during WWII but ceremonially entered on the side of the Allies in 1945. It became a member of the United Nations in 1945 and a member of NATO in 1952, participating in the Korean War and firmly opposed to Soviet expansion.

The single party system was abolished in 1945, followed by a number of difficult decades punctuated with numerous military coups d'etat during the transition to a multi-party system. Since 1984, the Turkish government has been at odds with the PKK (Kurdistan Worker's Party) over the right to an autonomous Kurdistan and more rights for Kurds within Turkey. The armed struggle has so far claimed 40,000 lives and still continues today.

Politics and Government

Turkey is a democratic, constitutional, parliamentary republic that has developed a tradition of secularism since its foundation in 1923. Turkey is a unitary centralised state.

The state is headed by the President of the Republic whose role is largely ceremonial but has substantial reserve powers. Duties include overseeing implementation of the Turkish Constitution, summoning Parliament to meet when necessary, the appointment of the Prime Minister, presiding over the National Security Council and the calling of elections. The President is elected every five years, has to be over 40 years old and hold a bachelor's degree.

Executive power is wielded by the government of a Prime Minister and a Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister is usually the head of the majority party and is appointed by the President through a vote of confidence in Parliament. Ministers in the council do not have to be members of Parliament.

The Prime Minister is able (and obliged every four years) to dissolve parliament and force a new election.

Legislative power is vested in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The Grand National Assembly represents 81 provinces and is elected locally through proportional representation. To be represented in parliament a party must win ten percent of the national vote. Independent candidates are able to run but must gain ten percent of the vote in the province in which they are running.

The judiciary is independent of government. The Constitutional Court is responsible for the upholding of conformity to legislation. The Turkish Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country while the Court of Cassation is the supreme court of appeals.

There is no jury system in Turkey, with a judge or panel of judges rendering decisions and passing sentences after establishing facts.


Turkey has a largely developed economy and is the world's 15th largest in terms of GDP purchasing power parity and 17th largest in terms of nominal GDP.

Turkey has a rapidly growing private sector, though banking, industry and transport in the country is still state run.

The largest area of the economy is the service sector (64.7 percent) followed by the industrial sector (25.9 percent) and agriculture (9.4 percent). The main industries are textiles, machinery, automobiles, mining, petroleum, steel, electronics, foodstuffs, lumber and paper.

The official unemployment figure in Turkey was nine percent as of April 2011.

Turkey stands at number 65 in the global Ease of Doing Business Index as of 2011.


The eastern coastal areas of Turkey benefit from a temperate Mediterranean climate featuring hot dry summers and mild to cool wet winters. The oceanic climate of the northern Black Sea coast is characterised by hot wet summers and cold wet winters.

Mountain ranges close to the coast prevent the Mediterranean climate from extending into the interior of the country. In most cases the remainder of the country has a continental climate that sees severe temperature and seasonal differences. The summers are usually hot and dry with temperatures in excess of 30°C. Conversely; winter temperatures can drop as low as -30°C.

Rain occurs predominantly to the north along the Black Sea coastline. Rainfall is high in this area and snow is also not uncommon. The driest areas of the country are the Konya plain and the Malatya plain.


There are safety concerns in certain areas of the country and is advisable for those wishing to visit Turkey to check before travelling:

Since the 1920s women have enjoyed equal status with men in Turkey. However, there are still customs associated with the country's history of Shari'a law that travellers should be aware of.

  • If visiting mosques, clean, non-revealing, modest dress is required
  • Nudity is illegal on beaches. While not illegal, sunbathing topless is not common


Traditionally, Turkey has been a destination for many displaced Muslim people. This has continued over the last 20 years with refugees from wars in Bosnia, Chechnya, and Iraq re-settling in the area.

Today, migrants from Armenia, Pakistan, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran largely relocate to Turkey for economic reasons rather than displacement through fighting.

According to the 2005 United Nations World Population Policies report, Turkey has an immigrant population of 1.328 million people. It is likely that this number is now considerably higher.


Tourism in Turkey is an important part of the economy with over 28 million people visiting the country in 2010. The majority of the visitor numbers constitute holidaymakers from the UK, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and Japan. Tourism is largely focussed on beach resorts and historical sites, but has in recent years become a popular destination for culture and health tourism.

Attractions in Turkey include the ancient capital of Istanbul featuring beautiful palaces, mosques, bridges, hotels and bazaars. It is also home to Cevahir Mall, which is the largest shopping centre in Europe and the seventh largest in the world.

Other attractions include the sites of Ephesus (site of the Temple of Artemis), Troy, Pergamon and Pamukkale amongst others.

Turkey is home to ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites.