In ancient times, Turkey was known as Asia Minor or Anatolia. Among the many inhabitants were the Hittites (c.1800–c.1200 BC ), the first people to use iron; the Greeks, who, according to legend, destroyed Troy (or Ilium) about 1200 BC and who colonized the Aegean coast from about 1000 BC on; the Phrygians (c.1200–c.600 BC ); the Lydians (c.700–546 BC ), the first people to mint coins; the Persians (546–333 BC ); and the Romans, beginning in the 2d century BC . Roman Emperor Constantine I (the Great) changed the name of the city of Byzantium to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and made it his capital in AD 330; a division between the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, with their respective capitals at Rome and Constantinople, became official in 395. Constantinople, seat of the Byzantine Empire, became the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which officially separated from Roman Catholicism in 1054, when the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other.
The Turks are a Ural-Altaic people who emerged from the plains between the Ural Mountains in Europe and the Altay Mountains in Asia. The forerunners of the inhabitants of present-day Turkey, known as the Seljuk Turks (named after the Turkish conqueror Seljuk, fl.10th century), defeated the Byzantines in the battle of Malazgirt (1071) and established themselves in Anatolia. They attained a highly developed Muslim culture in their great capital at Konya, in central Turkey. The Turkish conquest of Syria, including Palestine, led to the Crusades (1096–1270), a series of intermittent and inconclusive wars. Various Latin (Roman Catholic) and Greek (Eastern Orthodox) states were formed in parts of the Turkish Empire, but none lasted. The sack of the Christian city of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204, followed by the establishment of the Latin Empire there (1204–61), shocked Europe and tended to discredit the Crusading movement.
Seljuk power was shattered when the Mongols, another Ural-Altaic people, swept across Asia Minor in 1243. As the Mongols withdrew, Turkish power revived and expanded under the Ottoman Turks, a group of frontier warriors whose first chief was Osman I (called Ottoman in the West, r.1300?–1326). In 1453, the Ottomans under Mehmet II (the Conqueror) occupied Constantinople and made it their capital. In 1516, they conquered Syria; in 1517, Egypt. In 1529, they were at the gates of Vienna, at which point the European expansion of Turkish power was stopped. The Turkish fleet was decisively defeated in a battle near Lepanto (now Navpaktos) in Greece in 1571. At its peak, generally identified with the reign of Sultan Süleyman I (the Magnificent, r.1520–66), the Ottoman Empire encompassed an estimated 28 million inhabitants of Asia Minor, much of the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa as far west as modern Algeria, the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Crimea. During the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, as a result of the rise of nationalism and encroachment by the European powers, it gradually shrank in size, the independence of the remainder being maintained only by shrewd balance-of-power diplomacy.
The process of modernization began with the Imperial Rescript of 1839, promulgated by Sultan Abdul Mejid (r.1839–61), and by a body of reforms known as the Tanzimat, which to some extent curbed the absolute powers of the sultan-caliph. (The Turkish sultans had added the title "caliph" following the conquest of Egypt in 1517.) The Illustrious Rescript of 1856 was largely dictated by Britain, France, and Austria as part of the negotiations leading to the settlement of the Crimean War (1853–56), a clash between the Russian and Ottoman Empires; it ensured equal rights for non-Muslims, provided for prison reform and the codification of Turkish law, and opened Turkey to European skills and capital. A constitution was introduced in 1876 by Sultan Abdul Hamid II (r.1876–1909) but was suspended in the following year. Thereafter, an absolute monarchy prevailed until the Young Turk revolution of 1908, at which time the constitution of 1876 was reinstated. In 1913, leaders of the Committee for Union and Progress (the organizational vehicle of the Young Turks) took effective control of the government under Sultan Mehmet V (r.1909–18). The principal leaders were Talat and Enver Pasha, who, at the outbreak of World War I, threw what little remained of Ottoman strength behind the Central Powers, which had sided with Turkey in its fruitless attempt to retain its last major European possessions in the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. Although the Turks were unable to make any headway against British forces defending the Suez Canal, they did offer a heroic defense at Gallipoli (the Gelibolu Peninsula) and the Dardanelles, in a prolonged battle between Turkish and British-French forces that lasted from February 1915 to January 1916 and took the lives of about 100,000 soldiers on each side. In 1917, however, Turkish resistance collapsed, and the British pushed Turkey out of Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Arabia. An armistice was concluded on 30 October 1918, and Enver Pasha and his colleagues fled the country.
On the basis of a series of earlier Allied agreements, the Ottoman Empire was to be stripped of all non-Turkish areas, and much of what remained—Asia Minor—was to be divided among the United Kingdom, France, Greece, and Italy. A substantial portion was actually occupied. In 1919, with Allied assistance, the Greeks invaded Anatolia through Izmir, but a Turkish nationalist resistance movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later called Atatürk), who had commanded a division at Gallipoli, finally defeated them in 1922. The sultan, being virtually captive in Istanbul, was disgraced in Turkish eyes by his identification with Allied policy. After much maneuvering, a rival nationalist government under Mustafa Kemal was established in Ankara and gained national and international recognition. On 1 November 1922, the sultanate was abolished by Mustafa Kemal's provisional government. The following year, the Ankara government negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne with the Allies, which recognized Turkish sovereignty over Asia Minor and a small area in Thrace. There was a massive exchange of Greek and Turkish populations. On 29 October 1923, a republic was proclaimed, with Ankara as its capital, and on 3 March 1924, the caliphate was abolished and all members of the dynasty banished.Before and during the war, Armenians sought to establish their independence and were brutally repressed by the Turks. Over a million people are said to have died being driven from their homes; many survived in exile.
During the next few years, a series of social, legal, and political reforms were accomplished that, taken collectively, became known as the Atatürk Reforms. They included the substitution of secular law for religious law, the writing of a republican constitution based on popular sovereignty, suppression of religious education in Turkish schools, introduction of a Roman alphabet to replace the Arabic script, and the legal upgrading of the position of women. With minor exceptions, political power resided in a single party, the Republican People's Party, and to a very substantial extent in Mustafa Kemal personally until his death in 1938. His chief of staff, Ismet Inönü (Pasha), became president and established a two-party system of government with the formation of the opposition Democrat Party (DP) in 1946.
Although pro-Allied, Turkey remained neutral during most of World War II, but early in 1945 it declared war on the Axis and became a charter member of the UN. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine pledged US support to Turkey in the face of mounting Soviet pressure. This move was followed by large-scale military and economic assistance from the US. Turkey thus became firmly committed to the Western alliances—NATO and the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO (Baghdad Pact).
The DP came to power in 1950. Under Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, the government stressed rapid industrialization and economic expansion at the cost of individual liberties. Restrictive press laws were passed in 1954 and 1956, and by 1960 the Menderes government had curtailed judicial independence, university autonomy, and the rights of opposition parties. On 27 May 1960, after student demonstrations (joined by War College cadets and some army officers) were harshly suppressed, Prime Minister Menderes, President Celâl Bayar, and other government leaders were arrested by a newly formed Committee of National Unity. Gen. Cemal Gürsel became acting president and prime minister. Menderes was found guilty of violating the constitution and was hanged in 1961. A new constitution was popularly ratified in 1961, and elections were held in October. Gen. Gürsel was elected president by the New Grand National Assembly, and Inönü became prime minister of a coalition government.
The opposition Justice Party (JP) won 52.3% of the vote in the 1965 elections and formed a new government under Süleyman Demirel. Four years later, the JP was returned to power, and Prime Minister Demirel began a new four-year term. But Turkey's four top military commanders forced the resignation of Demirel's government in 1971 and called for a "strong and credible government" that would restore economic and political stability and suppress student disorders, which had steadily grown more frequent and more violent since 1968. Martial law had been imposed from June to September 1970, and a new "above party" government under Nihat Erim reimposed martial law in 11 provinces (including Ankara and Istanbul) from 1971 to 1973.
Political stability proved no easier to achieve: a succession of weak coalition governments, headed alternately by Demirel and Republican leader Bülent Ecevit, held office between 1973 and 1980. Ecevit's government was in power during the Greco-Turkish war on Cyprus in July–August 1974. Relations with Greece, strained by a dispute over mineral rights on the Aegean continental shelf, reached the breaking point on 15 July, when Cypriot President Makarios was overthrown in a Greek-led military coup. Fearing the island would be united with Greece, Turkish forces invaded on 20 July. A UN cease-fire came into effect two days later, but after peace talks at Geneva broke down, Turkish troops consolidated their hold over the northern third of the island by 16 August. As the result of this action, the United States embargoed shipments of arms to Turkey until 1978; as of 1994, an estimated 25,000 or more Turkish troops remained on Cyprus to support the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which only Turkey recognizes. In 1997, Turkish and Greek representative met with a UN mediator in an attempt to resolve the issue. No results were reported.
During the late 1970s, escalating acts of violence by political groups of the extreme left and right, coupled with economic decline, threatened the stability of Turkey's fragile democracy. By April 1980, 47,000 people had been arrested, and martial law had spread to 20 of Turkey's 67 provinces; at midyear, more than 5,000 persons had been killed (including former Prime Minister Nihat Erim), and the factional strife was claiming an average of 20 victims each day. With the legislature deadlocked, the military intervened in the political process for the third time in 20 years. A five-man military National Security Council (NSC), headed by Gen. Kenan Evren, took power in a bloodless coup on 12 September 1980. The NSC suspended the 1961 constitution, banned all political parties and activities, and arrested thousands of suspected terrorists. With the entire country under martial law, factional violence was drastically reduced. By April 1982, 40,000 alleged "political extremists" had been arrested; 23,000 had been tried and convicted in martial law courts, some 6,000 of them for "ideological offenses." Under an NSC edict forbidding Turkey's former political leaders from speaking out on political matters, former Prime Minister Ecevit was twice arrested and imprisoned during 1981–82. In protest against the treatment of Ecevit, the EEC froze payment of $650 million in loans and grants previously pledged to Turkey.
In a national referendum on 7 November 1982, Turkish voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution (prepared by a constituent assembly chosen by the NSC) under which Gen. Evren became president of the republic for a seven-year term; campaigning against ratification had been illegal under martial law. Parliamentary elections were held in November 1983, although martial law remained in effect. Following the elections, Turgut Özal, leader of the victorious Motherland Party, was installed as prime minister. Martial law was lifted in most provinces over the next two years, but emergency rule remained in effect; legislation was passed to broaden police powers, freedom of expression remained limited, and trials of alleged extremists continued. Human-rights groups complained of torture, suspicious deaths, overcrowding, and substandard conditions in Turkish jails; the government denied any improprieties. Özal's Motherland Party retained its parliamentary majority in November 1987 elections, and he was reelected for a second five-year term. In 1989, Özal was elected president. His Motherland Party continued in power but with declining popularity as shown in 1989 municipal elections. Özal's ambition was to tie Turkey closely to Europe but, despite improvements in Turkey's human rights record, its application for full membership in the European Union was deferred indefinitely. Özal also sought to give Turkey a leading role with the Turkic republics of former Soviet Central Asia. He continued Turkey's long-standing policy of quiet contacts with Israel while seeking better ties with the Arab states. During the Gulf War, he joined the embargo against Iraq, closed Iraq's oil pipelines, provided facilities for allied air raids and later supported protective measures for Iraqi Kurds. In compensation, Turkey received increased aid worth $300 million.
In October 1991 elections, the Motherland Party lost its parliamentary majority to the True Path and Social Democratic Party in coalition. True Path leader Demirel was named prime minister. He succeeded to the presidency in May 1993 following the death of Özal. Tansu Ciller, True Path chairperson, became Turkey's first female prime minister in July. In 1994, Ciller faced three major tasks: dealing with the problems of high inflation (about 70%) and unemployment as she continued Özal's free market policies of export-led growth (7–8%), reducing government regulations and privatization; pacifying the rebellious Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey where large numbers of troops have been tied down in a conflict that has taken thousands of lives and millions in treasure; and responding to the rising challenge to Turkey's secular nationalism from politically militant Islamic groups.
These problems continued, and in some cases escalated, and the Ciller government also faced scandals and a weakened resolve due to its fragile coalition majority.
Problems with Kurdish separatists, long-standing disagreements with Greece, and an unstable political environment plagued Turkey throughout 1995 and 1996.
The battle between the Turkish government and members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that began in 1984 continued in late 1994 and the first half of 1995. The PKK sought the establishment of a separate Kurdish state. In fighting from 1984 until February 1995, more than 14,000 people had died. The battle spilled beyond Turkey's borders on 20 March 1995, as 35,000 troops backed by tanks and jets pursued rebels into northern Iraq. In the biggest military operation in the history of the Turkish republic, the troops hunted for suspected PKK bases. The PKK maintained the area was home only to Iraqi Kurds, not the PKK. Turkey said it was targeting 2,400 guerrillas who had been mounting cross-border raids and that it would not pull out until a buffer zone or other plan was set up to keep the PKK from moving back into the area. Western leaders condemned the incursion, and the eventual Turkish pullout was seen as a reaction to that negative pressure. Meanwhile, Turkey promised reforms to improve the lives of the 11 million Kurds living there. It said it would lift restrictions on broadcasts in Kurdish and allow Kurds to establish their own schools after the PKK was crushed. The battle would continue until 27 April, when Turkey declared that its mission to wipe out PKK base camps, arms depots, and supply routes in northern Iraq was a success. It said it would go back into Iraq if it again became necessary to strike at the rebels. Turkey said its next task would be to secure the border.
At the same time territorial conflicts with Greece erupted. On 1 June 1995, the Greek parliament ratified the international Law of the Sea treaty, drawing protests from Turkish leaders who saw the move as an attempt by Greece to extend its territorial waters. Almost eight weeks later the two nations narrowly avoided confrontation over a cluster of uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea. Though on 31 January Greek prime minister Constantine Simitis withdrew forces from the area, tensions remained high through April, when a Greek coast guard patrol boat fired on Turkish fishermen suspected of smuggling illegal migrants to the Greek islet of Strongili. Meanwhile in May tensions between Greek and Turkish soldiers on Cyprus escalated, culminating in the fatal shooting of a Greek soldier early in June.
The Kurdish and Greek issues were complicated by political instability within Turkey through the spring of 1996. On 20 September 1995, Prime Minister Tansu Ciller resigned when her coalition fell apart over budgetary matters. When Ciller lost a vote of confidence on 15 October, her own party, the True Path, called for national elections on 24 December. Turkey's president Suleyman Demirel asked Ciller to form a new interim government, a coalition destroyed almost two months later by the triumph of the Islamic Welfare Party in the December elections. In an effort to block Islamic fundamentalists from gaining power, Ciller made overtures to her longtime rivals in the conservative Motherland Party. When negotiations failed, President Demirel in early January invited Islamic Welfare Party leader Necmettin Erbakan to form a government. This effort was unsuccessful, as was the early February attempt by Motherland Party head Mesut Yilmuz. The stalemate ended early in March when Ciller and Yilmuz agreed on a government that left the Islamic Welfare Party out. The following month, in retaliation, Islamic representatives in parliament successfully moved to investigate allegations of corruption against Ciller. As a result of infighting, the center-right coalition fell apart in early June, allowing Erbakan to become modern Turkey's first conservative Islamic prime minister. The instability, as well as Erbakan's anti-West, antisecular slogans, caused Turkey's economy to lapse and slowed foreign investment significantly.
Beginning in early 1997, Turkey's military leaders began to speak openly of their displeasure with the Islamist turn the country had taken under Erbakan's government—even intimating that if the government did not return to secular policies instituted by Ataturk nearly a century earlier, it would overthrow the government militarily. Erbakan had angered the military, which considers itself the defenders of the country's secularism, by proposing mandatory Islamic education and by making political overtures to Libya and Iran. Pressure from the military increased in late spring and early summer, and Turkey's neighbors in Europe and allies in the United States also expressed concern over the direction the NATO member was taking. The crisis was resolved in July 1997, when the Welfare Party's coalition fell apart, and its leader, Erbakan, resigned his post. After the resignation, Mesut Yilmaz, leader of the Motherland Party, was asked by President Demirel to form a government. Erbakan, upon resigning, said he did so with the full intention of returning to office one day and predicted his ultraconservative welfare party would win more than 21% in the next elections, then scheduled for 2000.
Ciller came under heavy scrutiny again in early 1997 in a renewed round of allegations concerning her financial affairs. Opponents in parliament and within her own party accused her and her husband of enriching themselves during her term as prime minister. The parliamentary investigations came as Ciller was defending herself against charges that her government and previous administrations condoned death squads. The scandal came to light in November 1996 after an automobile accident that killed a senior police official. Also in the car was a convicted drug smuggler wanted by Interpol and a high-ranking member of parliament.
By November 1998, Yilmaz's government fell victim to another corruption scandal and Ecevit returned as interim prime minister. Within two months of returning to power, Ecevit scored a major victory for his government through the capture of Kurdish terrorist leader Abdulah Ocalan in Nairobi, Kenya. Ocalan had taken refuge in the Greek embassy in Nairobi and was apprehended while on the way to the airport (and an African country willing to provide him with asylum). Ocalan's capture brought relations with Greece to a new low as Ecevit accused Greece of being a state sponsor of terrorism.
In the wake of the terrorist leader's arrest, Ecevit called for early elections to be held in April 1999. The balloting resulted in a plurality for Ecevit's DSP (Democratic Left Party) which captured 136 out of 550 seats (22.3% of the vote) in the parliament. The MHP came second with 129 (18.1%), the Virtue Party (successor to the outlawed Welfare Party) dropped to 111 seats (15.5%), while the Motherland Party received 86 seats (13.3%). Ecevit formed a coalition with MHP and Motherland thus strengthening his position with the secularist military and isolating the Islamists.
Ecevit continued to make progress in foreign affairs throughout 1999 and into 2000. Relations in Greece saw marked improvement following a major earthquake that killed 20,000 Turkish citizens in August 1999. Greece was among the first nations to send aid—an act of humanitarian assistance warmly received by the Turkish government and public. When Greece suffered a smaller earthquake the following month, Turkey returned the favor. A dialogue on cooperation between the two countries in areas of mutual interest subsequently resulted in accords in the areas of trade and the fight against terrorism. Many international observers placed emphasis on the warm personal relationship between Turkish foreign minister Ismail Cem and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou. Finally, at the December 2000 EU summit in Helsinki, the EU member-states placed Turkey's name on the list of candidates for entry. Although most observers ruled out Turkish membership for at least 10-15 years, the decision was a symbolic victory for Turkey as it symbolized the efforts of most Turks to identify with the West.
In October 2001, the Turkish parliament voted for 34 changes to the constitution, as a way of improving Turkey's chances of joining the EU. Among the reforms were the abolition of the death penalty except in times of war and for acts of terrorism, ending torture in prisons, and allowances for the use of the Kurdish language in broadcasting and education. However, in May 2002, parliament approved a law increasing government control over the media, including the Internet. At an EU summit held in Copenhagen in December 2002, Turkey was not included in a list of 10 countries to be included in an expanded EU. US president George W. Bush had pressed for early accession talks on Turkey, but EU members stated the country needed more time to demonstrate progress on improving human rights, the economy, and on reducing the influence of the military on Turkish politics. Talks on Turkey's application were deferred until December 2004. The situation on EU enlargement was made more difficult for Turkey as Cyprus was included in the group of 15 prospective new members: the EU is hoping for the reunification of Cyprus prior to its accession, but will accept the Greek Cypriot government as a member if reunification is not achieved.
Ahmet Necdet Sezer was elected president on 5 May 2000. He was the first president in modern Turkish history to be neither an active politician nor a military commander. He is seen as a secularist. Early parliamentary elections were held on 3 November 2002, after eight ministers, including foreign minister Ismail Cem, resigned in July, protesting Prime Minister Ecevit's refusal to leave office despite a dire economic and political climate. Ecevit's health was poor, Turkey was in its most severe recession since World War II, the domestic political situation was volatile, and a US-led war with Iraq was looming, one that would depend upon Turkish cooperation. In the November elections, the newly formed Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AK) won a landslide victory, allowing it to rule without a coalition and amend the constitution by taking 363 of 550 seats in parliament. The AK pledged to adhere to the secular principles of the constitution. Abdullah Gül was named prime minister, largely because the party's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was barred from the National Assembly due to a 1998 criminal conviction for inciting religious hatred, after he recited a religious poem deemed to be seditious. In February 2003, parliament amended the constitution, allowing Erdogan to be eligible as a candidate in parliamentary byelections in March, which would pave the way for him to become prime minister.
During 2002 and into 2003, the international community, led by the United States, placed pressure on Iraq to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). On 8 November 2002, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to call on Iraq to disarm itself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and weapons capabilities, to allow for the return of IAEA and UN weapons inspectors (they had been expelled in 1998), and to comply with all previous UN resolutions regarding the country since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Weapons inspectors returned to Iraq, and a rift in the international community emerged as to whether "serious consequences" should result if Iraq was found to be in material breach of UN Resolution 1441. ("Serious consequences" were read as war). In December 2002, Erdogan stated the AK-led government was ready to support a military strike against Iraq. He stated that Turkey was concerned that the territorial integrity of Iraq be preserved after a war, that the economic effects of such a conflict should be taken into consideration, but that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq could not be tolerated. Turkey is also concerned about the possible effects of war on its Kurdish population: if the 3.5 million Kurds in northern Iraq organize following a defeat of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces, Turkey fears they may want to form an independent Kurdish state, and to potentially unite with the 12 million Kurds in southeastern Turkey.
In February 2003, the United States was negotiating a deal with Turkey for the use of its military bases in the event of an attack on Iraq, and in exchange, promised to prevent the Kurds from imposing a federation-style form of government in Iraq, ensuring their continued autonomy. The United States also agreed to allow Turkish troops to cross into Iraq to observe the disarmament of Kurds once fighting had stopped. The Turkish parliament was to vote on allowing as many as 62,000 US troops and 320 military aircraft to use Turkish bases in the event of war, in exchange for $26 billion in aid. As of February 2003, 95% of the Turkish population was against a war with Iraq.
For years, foreign companies have been involved in plans for a hydro-electric dam, the Ilisu Dam project, to supply Turkey with irrigation and electricity. In November 2001, British contractor Balfour Beatty pulled out of the project, as did the Swiss bank UBS in March 2002, due to claims that the dam would have an adverse social and environmental impact on the region.
In January 2003, France, Germany, and Belgium blocked an agreement in NATO to have the 19-member alliance come to the defense of Turkey in the event of an attack from Iraq. The three countries stated providing military aid to Turkey at that time would be counterproductive to UN-led weapons inspections in peacefully disarming Iraq. Tensions were high within the alliance. The issue was resolved in February, with NATO stating it would stand behind Turkey. NATO-deployed Patriot missiles and AWACS surveillance aircraft arrived in Turkey in late February.