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History of Turkey

The Republic of Turkey ranges from the Balkans to the Middle East and from the Caucasus to the eastern Mediterranean. The country is often called the bridge between Europe and Asia as it melds the southeastern part of Europe called Trakya and Asian Anatolia and the Armenian Highland. While the majority of the population is Turkish, Kurdish people make up the largest minority within the country.

Seljuk Turks ruled the region in the 11th century before being absorbed into the Byzantine empire. In the 13th century the Mongols held sway until the Ottoman empire started uniting the Turkish municipalities and eventually conquered Constantinople, nowadays Istanbul, in 1453. After losing World War I as an ally to Germany, the Ottoman empire dissolved and became partitioned in spheres of influence of the Allied powers. Being an important leader during the Turkish War of Independence against the foreign occupation, Mustafa Kemal founded the Republic of Turkey in October 1923 and became the first president. Thereby he gained the name Atatürk, meaning ‘Father of the Turks’. In the same year the Treaty of Lausanne established clear borders for the new nation. Kemal’s Republican People’s Party abolished Islam as national religion in 1928, making Turkey a secular state. Kemal’s party would rule for 20 years in a single party system until his death. In 1945 Turkey became a Charter member of the UN and in 1950 it joined the Council of Europe. During a military coup in 1960, the government was overthrown and a new constitution was established, forming the Second Republic of Turkey. After holding elections in 1960 the military withdrew from the political sphere. In 1984 the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) campaigned for Kurdish autonomy which led to the largest conflict in the Middle East with 15 000 people, mostly Kurdish civilians, being killed. The conflict has not been resolved to this day.

Turkey has aligned itself with western powers, joining NATO in 1952 and entering accession talks with the EU. However, tensions remain between Greece and Turkey about the status of Cyprus and the oil fields close by.

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