Prehistory of Anatolia and Eastern Thrace
Some of the barrows at Göbekli Tepe were built as early as 12,000 BC, almost ten thousand years before those at Stonehenge in England.
The Anatolian peninsula, which comprises most of present-day Turkey, is one of the oldest permanently settled areas in the world. Various ancient Anatolian populations lived in Anatolia from at least the Neolithic to the Hellenistic period. Many of these peoples spoke Anatolian languages, a branch of the large Indo-European language family. In fact, given the advanced age of the Hittite and Luwian Indo-European languages, some scholars have proposed Anatolia as the hypothetical centre from which the Indo-European languages emanated. The European part of Turkey, called Eastern Thrace, has also been inhabited for at least forty thousand years, demonstrably as early as the Neolithic period around 6000 BC.
Göbekli Tepe is the site of the oldest known man-made religious structure, a temple dating back to 10,000 BC, while Çatalhöyük is a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in southern Anatolia that existed from around 7500 to 5700 BC and is the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site discovered to date. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2012. The settlement of Troy began in the Neolithic period and lasted until the Iron Age.
The oldest inhabitants of Anatolia are the Hattians and Hurrians, non-Indo-European peoples who lived in central and eastern Anatolia respectively as early as 2300 BC. The Indo-European Hittites came to Anatolia and gradually absorbed the Hattians and Hurrians around 2000-1700 BC. The first large empire in the region was founded by the Hittites from the 18th to 13th centuries BC. As early as 1950 BC and until 612 BC, the Assyrians conquered and colonised parts of south-eastern Turkey. In the 9th century BC, Urartu reappears in Assyrian inscriptions as a powerful rival of northern Assyria.
After the collapse of the Hittite Empire around 1180 BC, the Phrygians, an Indo-European people, took power in Anatolia until their empire was destroyed by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC. From 714 BC, Urartu suffered the same fate and dissolved in 590 BC. The most powerful successor states of Phrygia were Lydia, Karya and Lycia.
Antiquity and the Byzantine period
The Library of Celsus in Ephesus was built by the Romans in 135 AD. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, built by King Croesus of Lydia in the 6th century BC, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
From 1200 BC, the Anatolian coast was heavily colonised by the Aeolian and Ionian Greeks. Many important cities were founded by these settlers, such as Miletus, Ephesus, Smyrna (today İzmir) and Byzantium (today Istanbul), the latter founded in 657 BC by Greek settlers from Megara. The first state called Armenia by neighbouring peoples was that of the Armenian Orontid dynasty, which included parts of eastern Turkey from the 6th century BC. In northwestern Turkey, the most important tribal group in Thrace was the group of the Odereans founded by Teres I.
All of present-day Turkey was conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC. The Greek-Persian wars began when the Greek cities on the Anatolian coast rebelled against Persian rule in 499 BC. The territory of Turkey then fell into the hands of Alexander the Great in 334 BC, which led to an increasing cultural homogeneity and Hellenisation of the region.
After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Anatolia was further divided into several small Hellenistic kingdoms, all of which became part of the Roman Republic in the middle of the first century BC. The process of Hellenisation, which began with Alexander’s conquest, accelerated under Roman rule, and by the first centuries AD the local languages and cultures were all part of the Roman Republic. AD, the local languages and cultures of Anatolia had disappeared and were largely replaced by the ancient Greek language and culture. From the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD, large parts of present-day Turkey were contested by the frequent Roman-Parthian wars between the Romans and the neighbouring Parthians.
In 324, Constantine I chose Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire, which he renamed New Rome. After the death of Theodosius I in 395 and the final division of the Roman Empire between his two sons, the city that later became known as Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The latter, which historians would later call the Byzantine Empire, dominated most of the territory of present-day Turkey until the late Middle Ages, although the eastern regions remained in the hands of the Sassanids until the first half of the 7th century AD. The frequent Byzantine-Sassanid wars, part of the centuries-long Roman-Persian wars between the Byzantines and the neighbouring Sassanids, took place in various parts of modern Turkey and shaped much of recent history, from the 4th century AD to the first half of the 7th century AD.
The Seljuks and the Ottoman Empire
The Mevlana Museum in Konya was built by the Seljuk Turks in 1274. Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum (Anatolia).
The House of Seljuks was a branch of the Kınık-Oğuz Turks who resided in the 9th century on the periphery of the Muslim world, in the Yabgu Khaganate of the Oğuz Confederacy, north of the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea. In the 10th century, the Seljuks began to migrate from their ancestral homeland to Persia, which became the administrative core of the great Seljuk Empire.
In the second half of the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks began to invade medieval Armenia and the eastern regions of Anatolia. In 1071, the Seljuks defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert, beginning the process of Turkification of the region; the Turkish language and Islam were introduced into Armenia and Anatolia and gradually spread throughout the region. The slow transition from a predominantly Christian and Greek-speaking Anatolia to a predominantly Muslim and Turkish-speaking Anatolia was underway. Parallel to the Turkification of the territory, the culturally Persianised Seljuks laid the foundation for a mainstream Turkish-Persian culture in Anatolia, which their later successors, the Ottomans, were to adopt.
In 1243, the Seljuk armies were defeated by the Mongols, which led to the slow disintegration of the Seljuk Empire’s power. One of the Turkish principalities ruled by Osman I would evolve into the Ottoman Empire over the next 200 years. In 1453, the Ottomans completed their conquest of the Byzantine Empire by capturing its capital, Constantinople.
In 1514, Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) succeeded in expanding the southern and eastern borders of the empire by defeating Shah Ismail I of the Safavid dynasty at the Battle of Chaldeiran. In 1517, Selim I extended Ottoman rule to Algeria and Egypt and created a naval presence in the Red Sea. Subsequently, a contest began between the Ottoman and Portuguese Empires for supremacy as a naval power in the Indian Ocean, with a series of naval battles in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean was perceived as a threat to the Ottoman monopoly on the old trade routes between East Asia and Western Europe. Despite the growing European presence, the Ottoman Empire’s trade with the East continued to flourish until the second half of the 18th century.
The power and prestige of the Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries, especially during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, who personally introduced significant legislative changes in the areas of society, education, taxation and criminal law. In its constant advance into Central Europe via the Balkans and the southern part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Empire was often at odds with the Holy Roman Empire. At sea, the Ottoman navy had to face several Holy Covenants, such as those of 1538, 1571, 1684 and 1717 (consisting mainly of Habsburg Spain, the Republic of Genoa, the Republic of Venice, the Knights of St John, the Papal States, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Duchy of Savoy), to gain control of the Mediterranean. In the East, the Ottomans frequently waged war with Safavid Persia between the 16th and 18th centuries over conflicts arising from territorial disputes or religious differences. Ottoman wars with Persia continued under the Zand, Afsharid and Qajar dynasties that succeeded the Safavids in Iran until the first half of the 19th century. From the 16th to the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire also fought numerous wars with the Tsarist Empire and the Russian Empire. Initially, they were about Ottoman territorial expansion and consolidation in south-eastern and eastern Europe, but from the second half of the 18th century, they were more about the survival of the Ottoman state, which began to lose its strategic territories on the northern coast of the Black Sea to the advancing Russians. Between the 18th and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman, Persian and Russian Empires were neighbouring rivals.
From the second half of the 18th century, the decline of the Ottoman Empire began. The Tanzimat reforms of the 19th century aimed to modernise the Ottoman state in line with advances in the West, but these efforts proved insufficient in most areas and failed to halt the Empire’s disintegration. As the empire’s size, military might and wealth gradually dwindled, especially after the economic crisis and the Ottoman defeat of 1875, which led to uprisings in the Balkan provinces that culminated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, many Muslims migrated from the Balkans to the heart of the empire in Anatolia, along with Circassians fleeing the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. The decline of the Ottoman Empire led to a rise in nationalist sentiments among the various subject peoples, resulting in an increase in ethnic tensions that sometimes degenerated into violence, such as the massacres of Armenians by the Hamidians.
The Young Turk revolution of 1908 restored the Ottoman constitution and parliament 30 years after their abolition by Sultan Abdülhamid II in 1878, but the Ottoman coup of 1913 effectively brought the country under the control of the Three Pashas. Sultans Mehmed V and Mehmed VI then became largely symbolic figureheads with no real political power.
The Ottoman Empire entered the First World War alongside the Central Powers and was eventually defeated. During the war, Armenians from the Empire were deported to Syria as part of the Armenian Genocide. As a result, an estimated 800,000 to 1,500,000 Armenians were killed. The Turkish government refuses to recognise the events as genocide and claims that the Armenians were only expelled from the eastern war zone. Large-scale massacres were also committed against other minority groups in the empire, such as the Assyrians and Greeks. After the Armistice of Mudros on 30 October 1918, the victorious Allied powers attempted to partition the Ottoman state through the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres.
The occupation of Istanbul and Izmir by the Allies after the First World War led to the establishment of the Turkish national movement. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, a military commander who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Gallipoli, the Turkish War of Independence was waged to overturn the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres.
On 18 September 1922, the occupying armies were expelled and the Ankara-based Turkish regime, which had declared itself the legitimate government of the country on 23 April 1920, began to formalise the legal transition from the old Ottoman system to the new republican political system. On 1 November 1922, the Turkish Parliament in Ankara formally abolished the Sultanate, ending 623 years of Ottoman monarchical rule. The Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 led to international recognition of the sovereignty of the newly established “Republic of Turkey” as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, and the republic was officially proclaimed on 29 October 1923 in Ankara, the country’s new capital. The Treaty of Lausanne provided for a population exchange between Greece and Turkey, with 1.1 million Greeks leaving Turkey for Greece and 380,000 Muslims being transferred from Greece to Turkey in return.
Mustafa Kemal became the first president of the republic and subsequently initiated many radical reforms with the aim of transforming the formerly multicommunal and religious Ottoman state system (constitutional monarchy) into a majority Turkish nation state (parliamentary republic) with a secular constitution. With the surname law of 1934, the Turkish parliament gave Mustafa Kemal the honorary name “Atatürk” (Father of the Turks).
Turkey remained neutral for most of World War II, but entered the final phase of the war on 23 February 1945 alongside the Allies. Greece’s post-war difficulties in suppressing a communist insurgency and the Soviet Union’s demands for military bases in the Straits of Turkey led the United States to promulgate the Truman Doctrine in 1947. This doctrine set out American intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece and led to large-scale American military and economic support. Both countries were included in the Marshall Plan and the OEEC to rebuild European economies in 1948 and later became founding members of the OECD in 1961.
After participating in the Korean War with UN troops, Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and became a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Mediterranean. After a decade of inter-communal violence in Cyprus and the coup d’état on 15 July 1974, organised by the paramilitary organisation EOKA B, which overthrew President Makarios and installed the pro-Enosis (union with Greece) Nikos Sampson as dictator, Turkey invaded Cyprus on 20 July 1974. Nine years later, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established, recognised only by Turkey.
The one-party era ended in 1945, followed by a tumultuous transition to multi-party democracy in the decades that followed, interrupted by military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, and a military memorandum in 1997. In 1984, the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, began a campaign of insurgency against the Turkish government. The Kurdish-Turkish conflict has so far claimed more than 40,000 lives. More than 3,000 Kurdish villages have been burned by Turkish security forces, hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been displaced and Kurdish political parties have been banned. Peace talks were initiated in 2012, but hostilities resumed in 2015 after the attack in Suruc. Since the liberalisation of the Turkish economy in the 1980s, the country has experienced stronger economic growth and greater political stability. In 2013, large-scale demonstrations broke out in many Turkish provinces, sparked by the plan to demolish Gezi Park, but turned into a general anti-government protest. On 15 and 16 July 2016, an unsuccessful coup attempt was made to overthrow the government.