History of Turkey

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Early Neolithic settlements such as Catalhoyuk.

Modern History

The history of modern Turkey begins with the foundation of the republic on Oct. 29, 1923, from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire, with Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) as its first president. The government was formed from the Ankara-based revolutionary group, led by Atatürk, which had defeated Greece in what is now western Turkey. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed on July 24, 1923, and negotiated by Ismet Pasha (Inönü) on behalf of the Ankara government, established most of the modern boundaries of the country.

Atatürk's Reforms

On March 3, 1924, the National Assembly abolished the ministry of sacred law, all schools were placed under the ministry of education and a new constitution was approved on April 20, 1924. For the next 10 years, there was a steady process of secular westernization, guided by Mustafa Kemal. Some of the reforms:

  • Latin alphabet replaces Persian script. May 24, 1928 (?)
  • The wearing of a fez, a traditional Muslim hat, is outlawed.
  • All people are required to adopt family names. The family names are selected from a list of "approved" ethnically Turkish names and become heriditary. Mustafa Kemal himself is given the name Atatürk (Father Turk) and all others are banned from using this name.
  • The use of Persian words is discouraged. Instead, words from Central Asia (including countries north of Turkey) are imported and their use is encouraged, with spotty success. Many government documents from this period are unreadable by anybody because they use a language which nobody adopted.
  • Imams are now appointed by the government.

Politics in the era of Kemal

After the foundation of the Liberal Republican Party by Fethi Okyar, the fanatically religious groups joined to well-intentioned liberals and consecutively widespread bloody disorders took place especially in the eastern territory. The liberal party was dissolved on November 17, 1930 and no further attempt for a multiparty democracy was made until 1945. Turkey was admitted to the League of Nations in July 1932.

After Atatürk

Atatürk's successor after his death on November 10, 1938 was Ismet Inönü. When all its western neighbours were under Axis occupation during World War II, Turkey signed a peace treaty with Germany and officially remained neutral until near the end of war. In 1945 Turkey joined the UN, and in February 1945 it declared war on Germany and Japan. This was largely symbolic, as no Turkish troops engaged in battle. Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

By the influences of liberal intellectuals and religious fanatics the multiparty government returned by 1950 elections. However, the load of expensive imports, economical fluctuations, high inflation rates and consecutive social conflicts ended with army interventions on May 1960 and September 1980.

Turkey occupied the northern portion of Cyprus in 1974 to prevent a Greek takeover of the island; relations between the two countries remain strained. Periodic military offensives against Kurdish terrorists have dislocated part of the population in southeast Turkey and have drawn international condemnation.

After 1983 elections, first The Motherland Party and then several coalitions remained in control of the government.


After the 1991 elections, a government was formed by the center-right True Path Party (DYP) and the center-right Motherland Party (ANAP). The Gulf War dominated the political life of the country for the next few years. Turkey cut off an important oil pipeline from Iraq at American request, sacrificing large rights fees. When the war ended, a large number of Kurdish people sought refuge from Iraqi government reprisal in Southeastern Turkey, boosting the numbers of the Marxist, secessionist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). This radically increased the militarization of the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish army.

After the 1995 elections, a new goverment was formed by ANAP and DYP, which lasted until Tansu Ciller, the head of the DYP, resigned as Prime Minister in 1996. After this, she joined a goverment with the Welfare Party (RP), headed by Necmettin Erbakan. In 1998, the military sent a memorandum to Erbakan requesting that he resign, which he did. Shortly thereafter, the RP was banned and re-born under the name Virtue Party (FP). A new goverment was formed by ANAP, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the center-left Republican People's Party (CHP). Under this government, Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, was captured in Kenya. He was tried for treason and sentenced to death, but Turkey has since sent the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Following the 1999 elections, a government was formed by the DSP, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and ANAP.

Election Results
Party 1991 1995 1999
DSP 11%/7 seats 15%/76 seats 22%/136 seats
MHP 17%/62* seats 8%/0 seats 18%/129 seats
RP/FP** 17%/62* seats 21%/158 seats 15%/111 seats
ANAP 24%/115 seats 20%/132 seats 13%/86 seats
DYP 27%/178 seats 19%/135 seats 12%/85 seats
CHP 21%/88 seats 11%/49 seats 9%/0 seats

*In 1991, the Welfare Party (RP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) ran jointly in order to pass the 10% barrage. Their combined results are listed under each party.
**The Welfare party was banned in 1998 and re-formed under the name of the Virtue Party (FP). Their results are listed in the same row.