Thursday, August 19, 2004

Country of the week.

When I started thinking about getting one of these out, after several weeks of no CotW columns, I was thinking about countries more on the forefront of peoples minds, like Greece or Venezuela. But instead I’m going to choose another one. This one is related to Greece, in that their histories have been inter-twined for thousands of years.

Turkey is a country resting in the fuzzy borderline of two continents. It is often called Asia-minor, in reference to it’s location east of the major western civilizations and that it’s mostly surrounded by water except on the Asia side. It is also a part of Europe economically and socially, and even politically as of late. One could argue that Turkey is the crossroads of civilization, not the middle east.

Turkey’s history starts about 9,000 years ago, when an early civilization, only discovered recently, inhabited the south central part of the country. It’s not certain how long it lasted, but was most likely ended by invading tribes from Europe. Later, around 2000 BC the Hittites were the dominant culture of Asia Minor, known before the Turks got there as Anatolia. After the Hittites, Anatolia entered another age where there were numerous competing tribes throughout the region.

I’m going to simplify this now, for brevity. From the end of the Hittite era, the cultures of Anatolia didn’t worry too much about unity, preferring the city-state, which was most notable on the western coast where Greeks and Greek culture began to settle and build cities. About 500 BC the Persians rose from the east and defeated the Lydians, one of the largest civilizations of Anatolia, and then went into Greece. The Greeks didn’t like this much and began to push back, in notable battles like Marathon and the Peloponnesian war. The Greeks didn’t care much for unity either, and were continually defeated until Alexander the Great united the city-states and drove the Persians back to the east. Alexander’s rule didn’t last long, and the entirety of the Greek empire lasted about 20 years. Greek culture in Anatolia lasted much longer.

On interesting event after that, but before the Romans, was that Celts came in, defeated a few tribes, and settled in northern-mid Anatolia. To this day red hair and other Celtic features can be seen in many Turkish people.

The Roman era was good for the people of Anatolia. The Romans extracted taxes, but generally left the region alone. However, their rule had an astounding affect on the Greeks, who developed a passion for finding meaning in things, art became wilder and imported gods became plentiful. It was this environment that led to the rapid expansion of Christianity throughout the region after Paul’s journeys.

When the Roman empire split up, the western part dissolved into semi-anarchy, but the eastern part continued to flourish, and was centered in Constantinople. The Byzantine empire was a Greek speaking, Christian culture. The empire lasted until the turn of the millennium, but only just. By then it had been beaten back to just Constantinople by invading cultures, the Persians, the Slavs, and the more recent Arab Muslims. The weight of bureaucratic government, with its crippling taxes and heavy church-centered authority didn’t help either. (Constantinople actually didn’t get taken until the 15th century).

The Turks entered the region about 900 AD, originating in a region near Manchuria it is said. As they moved across Asia they converted to Islam. One of these tribes became the Ottomans, started by the sultan Osman, subjugated Constantinople, and took over the whole region. The Ottoman Empire lasted from the end of Constantinople until WWI, over 400 years. The glory years were definitely early on, with Mehmet the second and later Suleyman the Magnificent who in the mid 16th century captured Egypt, North Africa and Hungary. From then on the empire was in decline. It took 300 years of Russian military pressure and European economic pressure, but the weight of the empire, the bureaucracy and immorality of the ruling class and their inability to keep up with Europe technologically led to their downfall. They lasted that long because the Europeans kept them alive in order to control the straits of Bosporus and impede the Russians from invading.

The empire finally expired during WWI, when they joined up with Germany to take on the world. The empire didn’t survive, but a military leader named Mustafa Kemal, who after the war somehow put an army together and drove the French and Russians out. Somehow he was able to negotiate a new treaty and the modern nation of Turkey was born. Kemal was given the name Ataturk by the people, and he started incredible reform and westernization. Turkey had a constitution, used the Roman alphabet, institutions were secularized, used the Christian calendar, adopted the Swiss Legal code, women had rights.

One interesting low point here was the part of the new treaty that “Exchanged populations” with Greece, where millions of Greeks were forced from Anatolia and thousands of Turks from Greece. We set the stage for ethnic cleansings of the 20th century here I think.

The next several decades were of a democratic nation trying to grasp democracy. Each elected leader established what was a dictatorship in order to make reforms, all the while promising full democracy. The Democratic Party of the 60s attempted to create a one-party dictatorship, which was foiled with a coup by the army.

Until the late 80s, there were three coups and three constitutions. The last of which, under Turgut Ozal set the nation on a relatively smooth course ever since. Since then a radical Islamic party has tried to pry the nation away from it’s secular style government, but has not succeeded yet. The pressure is on to join the European Union, but the Earthquake in 1999 set the government back aways. Their inept handling of that event has caused much of the population to not trust that they can take care of the Turkish people.

Other national issues are the Kurds, who compose 20% of the population, mostly in the east. They have made their voices heard mostly through terrorism, and the Turkish government has been pretty heavy handed right back.

Turkey joined the UN in 1945 and NATO in 1952 (if you are a big MASH fan you may remember episodes where Turkish soldiers were brought to the unit for medical treatment).

The country is about as big as Texas, with about 69 million people.

The government is parliamentary republic, with a president who is elected by the National Assembly for 7 years, and a Prime Minister. The National Assembly has 550 members who are directly elected by the population. They have a court system as well.

The economy consists of modern industry, commerce, services and agriculture. Their largest exports are traditionally textiles and clothes. The currently is the Turkish Lira, which is about 1.5 million to the dollar. Inflation is out of control.

Their main international issues are Euro inclusion, Kurdish problems and the Cyprus conflict, which pits them protecting Turkish Cypriots against the southern Greek Cypriots. Relations with Greece are smoothing, especially since Greece helped them out a lot in the earthquake, but an election last year solidified the division of the island.

Their economic situation seems to be improving and the current prime minister, Erdogan, has instituted reforms, like it’s no longer a crime to admit you are a Kurd, that kind of thing.

<>Other news:
A Turk won gold lifting 380 pounds at the Olympics. They have 3 golds and one bronze medal. All of them are for weight lifting.
Turkey is being asked for observers to make sure the Afghan elections are fair.

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