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Turkey: Country Profile



Official country name: Republic of Turkey
Area: 301,383 sq miles (780,580 sq km)
Population: 74.3 million (2006 est.)
Median age: 28.6
Ethnic Groups: Turks, 80 percent; Kurds, 20 percent
GDP and GDP per capita: $403.5 billion and $5,433

Government and Politics:

Turkey is a secular democracy governed by an authoritarian constitution largely written by the military and ratified by popular referendum in 1982. The Turkish armed forces are trusted as “guardians of the nation.” They seized power in 1960, 1971 and 1980, each time returning to their barracks once order was restored. Turkey’s 550-seat Meclis, or parliament, is elected every five years. Parliament elects the president to a seven-year term. The president names the prime minister and cabinet, but the president’s role is largely symbolic.


Turkey is more than 99 percent Sunni Muslim, with a fractional minority of Christian and Jews. Secular by law, Turkey forbids the wearing of Islamic veils by students in government schools and universities, and by civil servants in government buildings. The ban was upheld in a November 2005 decision by the European Court of Human Rights.


Turkey’s economy was heavily centralized until the 1980s, when liberal reforms took hold. The economy has grown robustly since, at about 6 percent a year, except for the 2001 financial crisis, when then-Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer clashed over corruption in the banking system and the speed of reform. Inflation went from 25 percent in 2003 to 8 percent in 2007. About 60 percent of the economy is service-driven. Industry, agriculture and construction account for much of the rest. Turkey wants to be part of the European Union, but negotiations are stalled.


Turkey’s 390,000-strong military is the single-most powerful institution in the nation, even if it doesn’t always exercise its power as such. The military will seize power when it considers Turkey’s secular identity threatened, or when it deems the civilian government incapable of keeping economic and social order. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 and a leading buyer of U.S. weaponry ( $3.3 billion worth between 1998 and 2005), including 240 F-16 fighter jets. Half of Turkey’s armed forces are deployed against an ongoing insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the southeast of the country.

Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media:

Reports of torture and abuse of prisoners were rife in the 1990s. They’ve decreased since, although Turkish police and armed forces continue to use disproportionate force against Kurdish civilians in the southeastern part of the country. According to Reporters Without Borders, “At least 65 people, including many journalists and writers, have been prosecuted [a law that] provides for between six months and three years in prison for ‘anyone who openly denigrates the government, judicial institutions or military or police structures.’”


Turkey’s history as the Asia Minor annex to Greek civilization traces its genesis back to such native sons as Homer and Herodotus, and such semi-mythical events as the Trojan War and the fall of Troy. Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) became the seat of Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, for a millennium after the fall of Rome in the 5th century. Ottoman Turks ruled their empire for 400 years until after World War I, when Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, founded modern Turkey on western-oriented principles. The country has since alternated between relatively free, democratic governments and military-led coups.

Current Issues:

Turkey has occupied northern Cyprus since 1974 and has been battling an insurgency by minority Kurds in the southeastern part of the country since the 1980s. Turkey allows the United States to use Turkish territory and airspace for support operations in the Iraq War, but that relationship is increasingly strained. The Turkish parliament in late 2007 authorized armed incursions into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish militants there, a move the United States strongly opposes. Turkey is also struggling with a surge of ultra-nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism.
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