Country Profile: Turkey

Straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey’s strategically important location has given it major influence in the region.


Official name: Republic of Turkey (Turkiye Cumhuriyet)
Capital: Ankara
Government type: Republican parliamentary democracy
Population: 77.8 million (National census, 2010)
Area: 779,452 sq km
Languages: Turkish (official), Kurdish, Zaza, Arabic, Armenian, Greek
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 66.5 years male, 71.7 years female (UN)
Monetary unit: Turkish lira
Literacy: Total population: 87%; Male: 95%; Female: 80%
GDP per capita: $9,100


The modern secular republic was founded in 1923 from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal, later named Ataturk (Father of the Turks), whose memory is still widely revered. Ataturk led the nationalist movement to victory over occupying powers, which dismembered the empire after its defeat in World War I.

As president of Turkey, Ataturk implemented a series of reforms, including secularisation and industrialisation, intended to modernise the country. Under his leadership, the country adopted wide-ranging social, legal, and political reforms. The country has since alternated between relatively free, democratic governments and military-led coups.

After a period of one-party rule, an experiment with multi-party politics led to the 1950 election victory of the opposition Democratic Party and the peaceful transfer of power. Since then, Turkish political parties have multiplied, but democracy has been fractured by periods of instability and intermittent military coups.

Turkey’s 550-seat ‘Meclis’, or parliament, is elected every five years. Parliament elects the president to a five-year term. The president names the prime minister and cabinet, but the president’s role is largely symbolic.


Turkey is a secular democracy governed by a constitution largely written by the military and ratified by popular referendum in 1982.

The Turkish armed forces, “guardians of the nation”, seized power and ousted governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980, when it thought the country’s secular values were threatened, or when it deemed the civilian government incapable of keeping economic and social order.

But recent constitutional changes, introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) through a referendum, have curbed the political influence of the military somewhat.

Concerns over the potential for conflict between a secular establishment backed by the military and a society rooted in Islam had resurfaced with the landslide election victory of the Islamist-based AKP in 2002.

Critics remain suspicious about the Islamist roots of AK party leaders, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, although the party has cast itself to conform with Turkey’s secular constitution.

In recent years there have been several allegations that members of the military have been involved in plots to overthrow the government.

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952. Half of Turkey’s armed forces are deployed against an ongoing uprising by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the southeast of the country.

The Turkish parliament in late 2007 authorised armed incursions into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish rebels.


Turkey is more than 99 per cent Muslim, mostly Sunni, but Alevis are estimated to comprise 15 to 25 per cent of the population. Turkey also has fractional Christian and Jewish minorities.

Secular by law, Turkey forbids the wearing of 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 had been the “sick man of Europe” for decades, beset by hyperinflation, but now Turkish politicians are dispensing advice to their peers in the ailing economies of the eurozone.

The AKP, in power since 2002, has overseen a period of unprecedented prosperity since inheriting a struggling economy after a financial crisis in 2000-2001.

Turkey’s economy was heavily centralised until the 1980s, when liberal reforms took hold. The economy has grown robustly since, at about six per cent a year, except for during 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 per cent in 2003 to eight per cent in 2007. About 60 per cent of the economy is service-driven. Industry, agriculture and construction account for much of the rest.

Current Issues

Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and in 1952 it became a member of NATO. On May 2011, Turkey announced its bid for a new term at the UN Security Council (UNSC), declaring its candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the influential body for 2015-2016.

In October 2008, for the first time since 1961 and with a historic vote from 151 members, Turkey was elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

According to the Turkish newspaper, Zaman, Turkey decided to seek a new term at the UNSC soon after its 2009-2010 term expired because it hoped to offer significant contributions to global peace and security at a time when the Middle East and the Mediterranean region were undergoing major changes.

In 1964, Turkey became an associate member of the European Community. Over the past decade, it has undertaken many reforms to strengthen its democracy and economy; it began accession membership talks with the European Union in 2005.

The Cyprus issue has affected Turkish-Greek relations, as well as Turkey’s EU prospects. Turkey sent troops to the island in 1974 to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority after a Greek-based coup, and has held the island’s northern third ever since, keeping at least 30,000 troops stationed there.

Turkey cannot join the EU without a deal on Cyprus because the Greek-Cypriot republic, an EU member since 2004, has a veto. A Cyprus settlement is essential if Turkey is to have any hope of progress towards the EU.

Turkey has also been battling an uprising by minority Kurds in the southeastern part of the country since the 1980s.

After the capture of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) group’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999, the rebels largely withdrew from Turkey, mainly to northern Iraq.

Clashes between Turks and Kurds intensified when the constitutional court voted unanimously on 2009 to ban the biggest Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), on the grounds that it had become “a focal point for terrorism”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies