Turkey (Turkish: Türkiye) is a Mediterranean country located in West Asia’s Anatolian area, with a tiny portion in Southeastern Europe. It is divided from Asia by the Turkish Straits (Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, and Dardanelles). Turkey is bounded on the north by the Black Sea, on the west by the Aegean Sea, and on the southwest by the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered on the west by Bulgaria and Greece, on the northeast by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and on the southeast by Syria, Iraq, and Iran. While the majority of the nation is physically located in Asia, the majority of Turkish people believe themselves to be Europeans.
Turkey offers travelers a plethora of destination options: from Istanbul’s dome-and-minaret-filled skyline to Roman ruins along the western and southern coasts, from Lycia’s heavily indented coastline against a mountainous backdrop to Pamphylia’s wide and sunny beaches, to the East’s cold and snowy mountains, from Bodrum’s crazy “foam parties” to Middle Eastern-flavored cities.
Tourism in Turkey has grown rapidly over the past two decades and is an important part of the economy. In 2013, 37.8 million foreign visitors came to Turkey, making it the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world, contributing $27.9 billion to Turkey’s revenues. In 2012, 15% of tourists came from Germany, 11% from Russia, 8% from the United Kingdom, 5% from Bulgaria, 4% from Georgia, the Netherlands and Iran, 3% from France, 2% from the United States and Syria, and 40% from other countries.
In Turkey you can find 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Turkey is home to two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.
Turkey’s land mass of over 750,000 square kilometres is slightly larger than the state of Texas and more than three times the size of the United Kingdom. However, in terms of topographical diversity and especially in terms of plant diversity, Turkey has the characteristics of a small continent. For example, Turkey is home to about 10,000 plant species (compared to about 13,000 in the whole of Europe), of which one in three is endemic to the country. In fact, there are more plant species in Istanbul province (2,000) than in the whole of the UK. Turkey’s rich archaeological heritage is known to many, but the country is also home to many equally valuable ecosystems, including moorlands, heathlands, grasslands and coastal plains. Turkey has many forests (about a quarter of the country), but more importantly, about half of the country is a semi-natural landscape that has not been completely altered by humans.
At the risk of sounding like a cliché from a tourist brochure, Turkey is actually a strange mix of the West and the East – you could swear you were in a Balkan country or Greece if you were in the northwestern and western parts of the country (except that the Byzantine-style churches are replaced by Byzantine-style mosques), which are in fact partly inhabited by people from the Balkans who migrated during the turmoil before, during and after the First World War, while the south-eastern parts of the country have little or no cultural differences with Turkey’s southern and eastern neighbours. In the north-east of the country, influences from the Caucasus are added. It is easy to say that Turkey is the most oriental of all western nations, or, depending on your perspective, the most occidental of all eastern nations.
Perhaps one commonality across the country is Islam, the faith of the majority of the population. However, the interpretation of this faith varies greatly across the country: Many people in the northwest and on the western coasts are quite liberal when it comes to religion, while people in central steppes are much more conservative. The rest of the country is somewhere in between, with the coastal regions being relatively liberal, while the inland regions tend to be relatively conservative. The largest religious minority in the country are the Alevis, who make up to 20% of the population and represent a form of Islam closer to the Shia version of Islam and whose rituals borrow heavily from the shamanistic ceremonies of the ancient Turks. Other religious minorities – the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, the Jews, the Syriac Oriental Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, the latter of whom have settled in Turkey mainly in the past 500 years migrating from Western European territories – used to be numerous all over the country, but today are mostly confined to the major cities of Istanbul and Izmir, or to parts of south-eastern Anatolia in the case of the Syriac Oriental Orthodox. Despite the large Muslim majority, Turkey remains officially a secular country, without a declared state religion.
According to the address-based population registration system, Turkey had 74.7 million inhabitants in 2011, almost three quarters of whom live in cities. Estimates for 2011 indicate that the population is growing by 1.35 per cent each year. The average density of population in Turkey is 97 people per square kilometre. The 15-64 age group accounts for 67.4 per cent of the total population, the 0-14 age group for 25.3 per cent, and people aged 65 and over for 7.3 per cent. In 1927, when the first official census was conducted in the Republic of Turkey, the population was 13.6 million. The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul, is also the most populous city in Europe and the third largest city in Europe in terms of size.
Article 66 of the Turkish Constitution defines a ‘Turk’ as ‘any person who is linked to the Turkish state by the bond of citizenship’; therefore, the legal use of the term ‘Turk’ as a citizen of Turkey differs from the ethnic definition. However, the majority of the Turkish population is of Turkish origin. It is estimated at 70-75%. There are no reliable data on the ethnic composition of the population, as the Turkish census figures do not include statistics on ethnicity. Officially recognised in the Treaty of Lausanne are the 3 “non-Muslim” minority groups of Armenians, Greeks and Jews. The Kurds, a distinct ethnic group, are the largest non-Turkish ethnic group, accounting for about 18-25% of the population. Kurds are concentrated in the east and southeast of the country in the region also known as Turkish Kurdistan. Kurds constitute a majority in the provinces of Tunceli, Bingöl, Muş, Iğdır, Elâzığ, Ağrı, Batman, Şırnak, Bitlis, Van, Mardin, Siirt and Hakkari, a near majority in the province of Şanlıurfa (47%) and a large minority in the province of Kars (20%). In addition, due to internal migration, there are Kurdish communities in all major cities in central and western Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, where an estimated 3 million Kurds live, which makes the city of Istanbul one of the most populated Kurdish cities in the world. Minorities other than Kurds account for about 7-12% of the population. Minorities other than the 3 officially recognised minorities have no minority rights. The word “minority” remains a controversial subject in Turkey, although the Turkish government is frequently criticised because of its treatment of minorities. Although minorities are not recognised, the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Company (TRT) broadcasts television and radio programmes in minority languages. In addition, some classes in minority languages may be selected in elementary schools.
An estimated 2.5% of the population are international migrants. The largest number of refugees in the world are located in Turkey, including 2.2 million refugees from Syria (as of September 2015).
As a secular state with no official state religion, the Turkish constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and conscience. The role of religion has been controversial over the years since the formation of Islamist parties. For decades the wearing of the hijab was banned in schools and government buildings because it was considered a symbol of political Islam. However, the ban was lifted in universities in 2011, government buildings in 2013 and schools in 2014. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) continue the explicit political programme of Islamisation of education to raise a “pious generation” against secular opposition, resulting in the loss of jobs and schools for many non-religious citizens of Turkey.
The dominant religion in Turkey is Islam, having 99.8% of the population declared as Muslim, with the largest sect being the Hanafite schools of Sunni Islam. There are also Sufi Muslims. Approximately 2% are non-denominational Muslims. The highest religious authority of Islam, the Religious Authority (Turkish: Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı), is responsible for interpreting the laws of the Hanafi school and regulating the operation of the 80,000 registered mosques and the employment of local and provincial imams. Some have also complained (see quote) that under the Islamist government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the former role of the Diyanet – to maintain control over the religious sphere of Islam in Turkey – has been “largely reversed”. The Diyanet, now largely expanded, promotes a certain type of conservative (Sunni Hanafite) Islam in Turkey by issuing fatwas prohibiting activities such as “feeding dogs at home, celebrating the Western New Year, lottery and tattoo” and projects abroad this “Turkish Islam”.
Academics estimate the Alevis population at between 15 and 20 million, while the Alevis Federation – Bektaşi – says it is around 25 million.Under the Sunni Islamist government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, growing discrimination and persecution of the Alevi minority began.
According to the WIN-Gallup International project on the World Index of Religion and Atheism, Turkey is the country with the most irreligious Muslims in the Islamic world, with 73% of the Muslim population. According to an in-depth study by PEW Global, only 15% of Muslims in Turkey say at least one of the five prayers at home or in a mosque, while another PEW report suggests that only 7-13% of Turks believe that religion should directly or indirectly influence laws.
The percentage of Christians in Turkey rose from 19% (or perhaps even 25% of the 16 million inhabitants) in 1914 to 7% in 1927, as a result of events that significantly impacted on the country’s population structure, particularly the Armenian genocide, the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, and Christian emigration, which actually began at the end of 19th century as well as ongoing in the first quarter in the 20th century. The property tax on non-Muslims in 1942, the emigration of some Turkish Jews to Israel after 1948 and the ongoing Cyprus conflict which damaged relations between Turks and Greeks (culminating in the Istanbul pogrom which took place on 6-7 September 1955) were other significant events that contributed to the decrease of the non-Muslim community in Turkey.
Nowadays, the number of people belonging to various Christian denominations is over 120,000, which represents less than 0.2% of the Turkish population, including approximately 80,000 Eastern Orthodox, approximately 35,000 Roman Catholics, around 18,000 Greeks from Antioch, around 5,000 Greek Orthodox as well as a smaller number of Protestants. There are currently 236 churches open for worship in Turkey. The Eastern Orthodox Church has been based in Istanbul since the 4th century.
There are about 26,000 people who are Jewish, the vast majority of whom are Sephardic. Jewish communities existed throughout Asia Minor from at least the 5th century BC, including many Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal have been absorbed by the Ottomans during the second half of the 15th century. Despite emigration in the 20th century, there remains a small Jewish population in present-day Turkey.
Agnosticism and atheism
According to a Eurobarometer poll in 2010, 94% of Turks believe in God, while only 1% do not believe in God. This indicates that 5% of the population is agnostic and the remaining 1% is clearly atheist. However, according to another poll by KONDA, the percentage of atheists is 2.9%.
A recent poll suggested that 4.5 million people were not religious in 2013. The same data suggests that 85% of the non-religious are under the age of 35.
Turkey has the 17th largest GDP in the world in PPP and the 18th largest nominal GDP.
The customs union between the EU and Turkey in 1995 led to extensive tariff liberalisation and is one of the main pillars of Turkey’s external trade policy. Turkey’s exports amounted to $143.5 billion in 2011 and $163 billion in 2012. However, higher imports, which amounted to 229 billion dollars in 2012, threatened the balance of trade (main import partners in 2012: Russia 11.3%, Germany 9%, China 9%, United States 6%, Italy 5.6%).
Turkey has a formidable automobile industry, which produced more than 1.3 million motor vehicles in 2015, placing it 14th in the world. Turkish shipbuilding exports amounted to $1.2 billion in 2011. The main export markets are Malta, the Marshall Islands, Panama and the United Kingdom. Turkish shipyards have 15 floating docks of various sizes and a dry dock. Tuzla, Yalova and İzmit have become dynamic shipbuilding centres. In 2011, there were 70 active shipyards in Turkey, with another 56 under construction. Turkish shipyards are very well known for the production of chemical tankers and oil tankers up to 10,000 dwt as well as their mega yachts.
Turkish brands such as Beko and Vestel are among the largest manufacturers of consumer electronics and home appliances in Europe and invest significant resources in research and development of new technologies in these sectors.
Other key sectors of the Turkish economy include banking, construction, consumer electronics, electronics, textiles, oil refining, petrochemicals, food, mining, steel and machinery. In 2010, the agricultural sector accounted for 9% of GDP, while the industrial sector accounted for 26% and the service sector for 65%. In 2004, it was estimated that 46% of total disposable income was received by the richest 20% of the population, while the poorest 20% received only 6%. The employment rate for women in Turkey was 30 per cent in 2012, the lowest of all OECD countries.
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) totalled $8.3 billion in 2012, a figure expected to rise to $15 billion in 2013. Fitch Group upgraded Turkey’s credit rating to investment grade in 2012 after an 18-year gap, followed by a rating upgrade by Moody’s in May 2013 when it raised Turkey’s sovereign bond rating to the lowest investment grade, Baa3. In September 2016, Moody’s downgraded Turkey’s sovereign debt to investment grade. The debt of private banks in Turkey was TL 6.6 billion in 2002 and had increased to TL 385 billion by the end of 2015.