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Turkey History
Turkey History - TravelPuppy.com
Originally colonized by a variety of different peoples – Hittites, Urartians, Phyrgians and Lydians – Turkey, or Asia Minor as it was called during much of the pre-modern period, was, for over 1000 years, the heartland of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. Founded by Constantine the Great in AD 330, Constantinople survived the collapse of the Western Empire in the fifth century. It was the capital from which the brilliant and inscrutable Emperor Justinian (527-565) launched his ambitious projects to reunite the old Roman Empire, the western provinces of which had been occupied by Germanic people from northern Europe. The Byzantine Empire, from the death of Justinian until its ultimate fall in 1453, was engaged in a long retreat in the face of several enemies, mainly the forces of Islam. However, the Byzantines took advantage of the success of the First Crusade (1096-1100), whose armies re-took many Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine, although, as later events were to prove, the interests of the Byzantines and of the Christian Crusader states in Palestine were not always the same.

The Byzantine State never completely recovered and on many occasions during the next three centuries, a final defeat was only prevented by the disunity of its enemies and particularly by the massive walls of the city of Constantinople. The conquest of Constantinople in 1204 – the only time the fortifications were breached – was followed by one of the most savage and rapacious sackings in the history of the world. The treasures of Byzantium were beyond count or value and many priceless works of art were removed to Europe (mainly to Venice) during this time.

The Byzantines set up a rival capital at Nicea, until Constantinople was retaken in 1261. By this time, however, the empire had in actual fact lost control of most of its territories and, by the 14th century, Byzantine control of Asia Minor was little more than a blank theory. From the 11th century onwards, the Asiatic area of Turkey known as Anatolia had also been affected by upheavals and conquests from the east. Consecutive invasions from Central Asia led to the Islamic Turkification of the region, the real power fast becoming the Ottomans’ – a name derived from their 14th-century leader, Osman Gazi, who scored an important victory against the Byzantines at the Battle of Baphaeon in 1301.

The Ottomans gradually extended their territorial control from Turkey itself, constructing the Ottoman Empire, which at its zenith in the mid-16th century – a period associated with the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent – covered southeast Europe (including the Balkans and Hungary), North Africa (as far as Morocco), the Crimea and Georgia, the Levant, Syria, Iraq and most of the Arabian peninsula. The most well-known conquest, from a symbolic and strategic point of view, was that of Constantinople itself in 1453; with its fall, the Roman Empire, in a strictly legalistic sense, finally came to an end. The territorial ambitions of the Ottomans regarding control of the Mediterranean and Central Europe brought the empire into disagreement with the major European powers of the day, particularly the Hapsburgs.

The Venetians, and later, the Russians, were almost constant enemies of the Ottomans during the late-17th and 18th centuries, during which time the empire sank into decline. In the late-18th century, attempts were made by some rulers to reform the empire but to little effect. The diplomatic history of Central Europe in the early modern period is highly complex and the Ottoman Empire became increasingly a pawn and victim of the various power struggles. Its disintegration and the forces of nationalism unleashed as a consequence caused schisms and conflicts that linger to this day throughout southern Europe and the Middle East. Turkey was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’ during this period.

Turkish history can thereafter be characterised a struggle between the forces of absolutism and reform. In 1914, the country became embroiled in World War I on the side of Germany. The following year saw one of the most ignominious episodes in Turkish history when an estimated one million Armenians - a long-settled national minority - were expelled from their homes and driven into the eastern deserts where they died of starvation or were killed. Although it is fiercely denied to this day by the Turkish authorities, there is compelling evidence that this was an officially sponsored and systematic policy, and was tantamount to genocide. After Turkey ended the war on the losing side, most of the remaining Ottoman possessions came under British and French control with the support of the newly-formed League of Nations (forerunner of the United Nations). Defeated and discredited, the Ottoman dynasty was overthrown in 1923 by a revolutionary movement led by Mustafa Kemal - better known as Ataturk - who established a single-party republic and laid the foundations of modern Turkey.

The period after the War of Independence saw comprehensive social reforms and economic modernisation, including the abolition of the Islamic social infrastructure and the development of a manufacturing industry. Atatürk’s successor, Ismet Inönü, kept Turkey out of World War II (except for the last four months) and introduced multi-party politics. The first elections were held in 1950. There have since been two prolonged periods of military rule, the second ending with elections in 1983, won by Turgut Özal and the Motherland Party. Martial law, on the other hand, remained in force in many provinces until 1987.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952
and, since the lifting of suspensions with the end of military rule, is once more a full and active member of the OECD and the Council of Europe, as well as being an associate member of the EU. Turkey has been pursuing full EU membership since the early-1980s, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The government elected in November 2002 is keen to join, and opened negotiations almost immediately after its accession (see below), but there are a number of major problems: the structure of the Turkish economy; a historically poor human rights record, especially with regard to the treatment of the country’s Kurdish minority; and the status of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, especially since the southern part of the island is one of the 2004 entrants (see Cyprus).

Important as relations with Europe are, Turkish foreign policy has major interests somewhere else. The fall down of the Soviet Union has given the country a key political and economic role in Central Asia, where Turkey has historic cultural and linguistic links with several countries. Turkey was the first country to recognise the independence of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan and has provided unswerving diplomatic support for the Azeris in their subsequent war against Armenia. Turkey has also required closer political and economic links with the ‘Stans’ – the five Central Asian ex-republics of the former Soviet Union, mainly populated by people from Turkic ethnic groups. Several of these view Turkey as a suitable model to pursue in the course of their own development.

Moreover, Turkey has a key strategic position on the northern edge of the ever-turbulent Middle East; in particular, it has a shared border with Iraq and has provided indispensable bases for UN and American military operations in the region. The government accumulated benefits in the form of financial assistance and had a free hand in dealing with the insurgency of the Kurdish Workers Party – best known by its own acronym, PKK. The party was engaged in an armed struggle to secure civil and political rights for the Kurdish ethnic minority concentrated in the eastern part of the country. The PKK, now known as Kadak, has been steadily recovering its strength after a series of major blows at the end of the 1990s. The most important of these was the capture and imprisonment in 1999 of PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan, following his expulsion from long-term exile in Syria. The government compounded its success when the PKK declared a ceasefire shortly afterwards. The Kurdish diaspora is spread across several countries, mainly Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The northern part of Iraq is now in effect an independent Kurdish-controlled region. The Turkish government is very uneasy about this, believing that the PKK/Kadak has exploited the enclave to recover and reorganise. The Turkish government has therefore pressurised the Americans to limit Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and offered several thousand troops to assist the overstretched coalition forces in Iraq.

Turkish domestic politics since the beginning of the 1990s have been dominated by the emergence of Islamic parties. At national elections in October 1991, the Islamist Refah (Welfare) was returned as the largest party, though lacking an overall majority. This caused some concern both inside and outside the country. Ever since, the Islamists have been engaged in a fierce political struggle with the traditional parties and the military establishment which (in the form of the powerful National Security Council) sees itself as the guarantor of Ataturk’s secular legacy. The main political parties - Dogru Yol Partisi (DYP, True Path), Anavatan Partisi (AP, Motherland) and Demokratik Sol Partisi (DSP, Democratic Left) - were the subject of widespread disillusion among the electorate for their inertia, corruption and petty rivalries. Refah, by contrast, was notable for its relative probity and administrative competence. It drew substantial support from both the urban and rural poor.

In spite of their intense hostility, mostly personality-based, the traditional parties joined in coalition to exclude Refah. Administrations led by the centre-right DYP – including a two-year spell under Tansu Ciller Turkey’s first woman premier – governed Turkey until the end of 1995. Refah again won the national elections. This time, it was able to take office but its lack of an overall majority and the hostility of the National Security Council steadily undermined its position over the following months. After a year, the Refah government fell; the party itself was ultimately banned.

Over the next three years, Turkey had 5 different governments, with all the main secular parties at the helm at one time or another. After elections in 1999, the Democratic Left Party, led by veteran Bulent Ecevit, returned to power, at the head of a relatively stable coalition. In May 2000, Suleyman Demirel’s presidential term of office came to an end. His replacement was a former constitutional court judge, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who took office in May 2000.

The Islamists reorganised, starting a new party called Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party) to substitute Refah. By espousing a more moderate policy programme and adopting positions (on EU membership, for example) backed by the Turkish establishment, AKP avoided a ban. By the time of the latest national elections in November 2002, AKP was satisfactorily popular to secure an absolute majority in the national assembly – the first for 15 years, and just short in number of the two-thirds needed to effect constitutional changes. True Path, Motherland and the DSP did not win a single seat between them. Under premier Recep Erdogan, the AKP government has been careful to keep the National Security Council on side.