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History & Background

The Republic of Turkey is an independent country in the Middle East located in southwestern Asia Minor and southeastern Europe surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black seas. It is known locally as Turkiye Cumhuriyeti; the shortened form of this name is Turkiye. Neighboring counties are Greece to the west; Bulgaria to the northwest; Georgia, Armenia and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria on the south. The majority of these boundaries were established after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Throughout history, Turkey has been the center of trade and migration route because of her long shoreline and her strategic location as a bridge between continents.

Turkey lies within one of the most active earthquake regions in the world, the Alpine-Himalayan mountain belt, and severe earthquakes, especially in northern Turkey, are not uncommon. There are many active fault lines. In the 1900s seven major quakes occurred along the North Anatolian fault. The Marmara earthquake occurred on August 17, 1999, and was one of the most severe earthquakes in Turkish history. The quake measured 7.4 on the Richter scale and was one the most devastating disasters of the century.

Approximately 3 percent of Turkey is located in Thrace on the European continent. The remaining 97 percent, called Anatolia, is located on the European continent. In 1941, the First Geographic Congress divided Turkey's total area of 780,580 square kilometers into seven geographical provinces: the Marmara Region, the Aegean Region, the Mediterranean Region, the Central Anatolia Region, the Black Sea Region, the Eastern Anatolia Region, and the Southeastern Anatolia Region. Four of the regions (the Marmara Region, the Aegean Region, the Mediterranean Region, and the Black Sea Region) are named for the seas that are adjacent to them; the Marmara Sea is an internal sea entirely surrounded by land and connected to the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea through straits. The other three regions were named in for their location in the central plateau, the Anatolia.

In 2000, the population of Turkey was approximately 65.7 million. Approximately 30 percent of the population is under age fifteen. Almost half of this number live in costal areas. Approximately 80 percent of the population is Turkish, and 20 percent is Kurdish. The annual population growth rate was estimated at 1.27 percent at the turn of the century with 29 percent of the population fourteen years of age or younger, 65 percent were between fifteen and sixty-four years of ages, and 6 percent were aged sixty-five and older. In 2000, Turkey's literacy rate was 82.3 percent. More males were literate (91.7 percent) than females (72.4 percent). Some 45.8 percent of the labor force works in agricultural areas, 33.7 percent in service areas, and 20.5 percent in industrial areas.

About 99.8 percent of all Turks are Muslims; most of these are Sunni. The small non-Muslim population is comprised of Christian and Jews. Turkish is the official language, but Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, and Greek are also spoken. English is taught in the compulsory primary school, so its use is becoming more widespread.

Anatolia, the western portion of Turkey, is one of the oldest continually inhabited regions of the world. The earliest major empire in the area was the Hittites who controlled the territory from 18th through the 13th centuries BC. An Indo-European people, the Phrygians, invaded the land and controlled the region until the Cimmerians conquered them in the 7th century BC. The state of Lycia was formed when this people defeated the Cimmerians. During these years, Greeks were settling along the west coast of Anatolia and using the ports to transport goods produced in the region. Persians, coming from the east, invaded the area and controlled Anatolia for the next two centuries until Alexander the Great conquered them in 334 BC. Subsequently the land was divided into a number of Greek kingdoms.

The Romans invaded the region and by the middle of the first century B.C. controlled all of Anatolia. In 324 Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the ancient city of Byzance and renamed it Constantinople; this move divided the empire into two segments: the East and the West. Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

In 1055 the Seljoukites, a group of Central Asiatic Turks, conquered Baghdad and established a Middle Eastern and Anatolian empire. This empire was broken up by Mongol invasions, but small Turkish states remained on the periphery of Anatolia. One of these emerged as the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and renamed the capital city Istanbul. A series of sultans waged war on many fronts and extended the territory controlled by the Ottomans. At the peak of their powering the 16th century, the Ottomans controlled most of the eastern Mediterranean and were one of the biggest empires in history.

As the Ottoman Empire began to collapse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European powers began fighting for control of the territory. In 1908 a group of young Turks led a successful revolution to regain control of the empire and introduced many civil and social reforms. The Ottomans were drawn into World War I as an ally of Germany. At the end of the war the empire was formally dissolved the empire and its territory dramatically reduced.

Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal, a war hero later know as Atatürk or father of Turkey, organized a resistance force and took the offensive against the Allies in Anatolia. Following a series of impressive victories, he led the nation to full independence. In November 1922, the National Assembly became the government in Turkey. In October 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed and Kemal was unanimously elected President of the Republic. The constitution was ratified in 1924. Kemal moved the capital to Ankara and worked to transform Turkey into a modern westernized nation. He created a new political and legal system, abolished the sultanate and caliphate, made both government and education secular, gave equal rights to women, changed the Arabic script to a Roman alphabet and number system, and advanced Turkey's industry, agriculture, arts, and sciences.

These reforms introduced by Atatürk before his death in 1938 are still the ideological foundation of modern Turkey. Until 1950, the political party established in 1923, the Republican People's Party, dominated all elections. From 1950-1960, the Democratic Party governed Turkey. In 1960 a military coup ousted the government; a new constitution was written, and a civilian government was reinstated in 1961. For the remainder of the twentieth century, there were many political upheavals and changes. The current constitution was ratified in November 1982. Throughout all the changes, the ruling government has remained committed to the basic principles established when the republic was formed in 1923.

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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceTurkey - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education