Ok, it’s long and complicated and I am helping pinch-hit for Brooke on this overview… meaning, forgive any inaccuracies or nonsense that are all mine (Brad’s). The story of Turkey is amazing, and it’s a remarkably dynamic region with an ancient history — so I cannot wait to see Turkey for the first time and to learn more (always!)
Area 783,562 square kilometers (302,535 sq mi).
Population – Population Density 75,837,020 (estimate 2014) – 96.78 per sq km.
Capital Ankara. Population: 4.588 million (estimate 2014).
Currency Turkish Lira (TRY) = 100 kurus. Lira notes are in denominations of TRY200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5. Coins are in denominations of YKR1, 5, 10, 25, and 50.
$1 USD = 2.9 Turkish Lira
Turkey is a Eurasian country. Asian Turkey, which includes 97 percent of the country, is separated from European Turkey by the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles. European Turkey comprises 3 percent of the country. The territory of Turkey is more than 1,600 kilometres (1,000 mi) long and 800 km (500 mi) wide, with a roughly rectangular shape.
Government Republican Parliamentary Democracy.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected by parliament in 2014.
Turkish is the official and most widely spoken language. Minority languages include Kurdish, Arabic, and Circassian.
Muslim 99.8% (mostly Sunni), other 0.2% (mostly Christians and Jews)
History of Turkey:
The history of what is now modern “Turkey” goes back thousands of years. It sits right at the cradle of civilization, so naturally it has a very, very long history dating back to prehistoric times. Also, given its geographic location linking Europe, Asia, Africa and with Istanbul resting right on the Bosphorous Strait linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean at the confluence of so many historic empires, it is a place that has been invaded, conquered, rebuilt, and constantly reinventing itself like a phoenix. The city of Istanbul itself has been a focal point of some of the world’s most significant empires and has been known as Istanbul, Constantinople, New Rome, Byzantium, and many others. It is ancient, it is vibrant, it is complex and it is amazing.
Since it’s hard for me to remember all of the major periods of rule over Asia Minor (or “Anatolia”), I’ll try to bullet out some major eras, but first, here is my best attempt a summarizing its history in one sentence:
Settlers first lived in the region 4,000 years ago and the area that is now Turkey was first ruled by Persia, then the Greeks, then the Roman Empire that broke out into the Byzantine Empire with its capital of Constantinople, then the Ottoman Empire which lost in WWI but, after an uprising from western rule, Ataturk created modern day Turkey. Whew!
Ok, here is more detail of each era (that I likely messed up):
- Prehistoric period: Settlers lived in the region over 4,000 years ago.
- Bronze, Iron Age: Many civilizations ruled the area, including the Hittite Empire.
- Classic Asia Minor / Persian Empire: The Persian Empire (around the 5th century BC) was the dominant regional power, with many states that had some degree of autonomy including Armenia (Bills.com has an office with super talented software engineers in Yerevan, so this is interesting to see the long history of the Armenians). The culture and language stemmed from the Anatolian society. This lasted through to the famous, and hugely impactful, Greco-Persian war.
- Hellenistic (Alexander the Great & Greek Rule): Alexander the Great took control of the region from the Persian Empire in 334 BC, and ruled a vast empire, that lasted up until his “Seleucid Regions” ran into the Roman Empire and was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC. Through this several hundred year period, the people spoke Greek and were part of the regions great “hellenization” or adoption of Greek culture.
- Roman Rule and Byzantium: Rome ruled Asia Minor in a very “hands off” (according to Wikipedia, so it must be right) manner. The Roman Empire was vast and very powerful, but corrupt and Rome itself was in decline. Famously, in the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine established a government outpost in “Constantinople” and in 313 issued the Edict of Milan, allowing Christianity across the Roman Empire. He then chose Constantinople (“Byzantium”) to be the new capital of the Roman Empire. He also split the Roman Empire into two parts, with two sons taking over each part, and the Eastern part (Romania) with Constantinople as its capital, became known as the Byzantine Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire went through a long slow decline, and was subjected to constant wars with the neighboring Sassanids that opened the way for Muslim conquest of the region.
- Seljuk and Ottoman Empires: The “Turkic” people were possibly of Mongolian origin, and made their way across Asia and into Eastern Europe and adopted the Muslim religion as they made their way south and east. The Seljuk Empire was established around 1,000 AD.
- Turkish and Ottoman Empires: The Ottoman Empire was a powerful and massive dynasty that began in the early 14th century and completed their conquest of the Byzantine Empire by taking Constantinople in 1453. Over the next several hundred years, the Ottoman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople, extended across much of the Arabian Peninsula, into Europe, all of Asia Minor, parts of Africa, Syria, Iraq, Iran and was a regional dominant power.
- World War I: The Ottoman Empire had been in a long slow decline, losing regional power and seeing its borders shrink, and chose sides in World War I with the wrong side. When Germany and its allies fell and World War I concluded, the Ottoman Empire was officially extinguished and forced to sign the Mondros Armistace of 1918. The territories once ruled by the great Ottoman Empire were divided between occupation by Russia, Greece, France and Britain.
- Modern day Turkey: Mustafa Kemal, a military leader, resisted outside occupation and led a resistance effort that ultimately led to Turkey’s establishment and independence in a treaty signed in 1923 (in Lausanne, an awesome city where we visited the Siemons when they lived in Switzerland). Turkey has been a parliamentary democracy since, with a government based on European models. Today, Turkey sits in a very volatile area and struggles to manage its own growth and stability, striving to enter the EU, and survive in an unstable region.
Here’s a chart of the historic empires:
I’ve never met someone from Turkey who isn’t bright, driven, intensely passionate and really, really interesting… so I cannot wait to get off the plane in Istanbul!