Turkey (TR)

Capital

Ankara

Population

79.5 million

Government

Autocratic democratic republic headed by President

Head of state

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

National Day

October 29th

Turkey's Ambassador to the UK

H.E. Mr Abdurrahman Bilgic

Embassy of Turkey, 43 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PA

UK's Ambassador o Turkey

H.E. Sir Dominick Chilcott KCMG

British Embassy Ankara, Şehit Ersan Caddesi 46/A, Çankaya, Ankara, Turkey

Turkey is unique in the Middle East because of its geography and culture, in that it is both in Asia and Europe. Although much of the Middle East has been linked by trade routes for centuries, Turkey maintains its status as a prominent nation of global crossroads, given it borders the Middle East, the eastern Mediterranean, the Caucuses and the Balkans and has a coastline of approximately 4,000 miles that includes strategically crucial waterways such as the Turkish straits.

Rome and Byzantium

Rich in classical tradition, the area comprising modern Turkey has remained geopolitically crucial for millennia. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great crossed the Hellespont into Turkey with his army to begin his conquest of Asia Minor and then eventually all of the mighty Persian Empire.

In 188 BC, Rome annexed the entirety of Asia Minor and in 334 AD, the Emperor Constantine celebrated the building of a new city, Constantinople, which eventually became the capital for the Roman Empire of the East and, subsequent to the fall of Rome in the West, the heart of the Byzantium Empire for the next 1,000 years. Eventually, in 1453, Constantinople, and other remnants of Byzantium, were conquered by the Ottomans under Mehmed II after an epic battle.

Constaninople (modern day Istanbul) was a key centre in development of early Christianity and Istanbul today remains the home of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the widely-regarded spiritual leader for 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Ottomans and Ataturk

Following the fall of the Christian Byzantine Empire in the Middle Ages, the Ottoman Empire expanded rapidly throughout Europe and the Middle East, remaining a global player and massively influencing the culture and economy of the region until the 20th century. Equally influential to the region was the fall of the Ottoman Empire, to both Turkey and the region.

Turkey grew into a secular republic after the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the last Sultan was sent into exile. The visionary ideology of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk began to shape Turkey into a fundamentally secular and modern democratic country, whilst the Empire’s former territories were partitioned under the Treaties of Sèvres, the effects of which can still be attributed to difficulties in the Middle East today.

With such a multifaceted and important history, the debate within the country on how exactly the Turkey of the 21st century conducts and defines itself rages on. For many Turks, the visionary secularism of Ataturk is an immovable feature of Turkish government, setting it apart from its Middle Eastern neighbours.

Islam and Erdoğan

But for others, Sunni Islam is an equally inseparable part of the Turkish identity, which deserves to be reflected in its government and foreign policy. The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leans strongly with the latter opinion, enacting cultural, judicial and parliamentary reforms that many have labelled as increasingly authoritarian. His government has been criticised for its crackdowns on media outlets that have been critical with him and other actions such as the current attempt to close down the left wing Kurdish peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP.

Asia or Europe?

Interwoven in a complex dialogue over Turkey are other considerations: is Turkey more of a European or Asian state? For years, under successive governments, Turkey has tried to join the EU. It first applied in 1987 to join what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). Turkey is in a customs union with the EU but negotiations for full EU membership continue.

The Turkish identity will continue to differ from citizen to citizen and in such a strategic location, these debates will continue to have important consequences for policymakers globally. The relationship between the British and European governments with Turkey has and will continue to play a vital role in the security and economy of both regions.

Also, how can the country best secure itself with so many turbulent regions just beyond its borders? In 2020, Turkey's incursions into northern Syria to combat Kurdish militants brought it military into direct conflict with Syria's. The Syrian civil war has also put enormous pressure on Turkey. It currently hosts an estimated 3.7 million Syrian refugees. President Erdoğan has repeatedly threatened Europe to expect more refugees in his frequent disputes with EU nations.

S-400 missiles and estrangement from the US

Erdoğan's controversial purchase of the S-400 missile ground-to-air system from Russia in 2017 did not endear him to the White House, particularly as the system is designed to down the F-35 jets Ankara was hoping to purchase from the US. So far, Washington has refused to sell Turkey its F-35s in response to the S-400 decision. The issue continues to cause tensions between Turkey and other NATO members, particularly the US. 

Turkey's central strategic position, straddling both European and Asian continents, guarantee Turkey's critical role to the stability of both. 

Northern Cyprus 

In July 1974, Turkey invaded north Cyprus. This followed a coup by both Cypriot and Greek military to install a government that would bring about "enosis", the political union of Cyprus and Greece. Enosis was always opposed by the Turkish Cypriots, who live mainly in northern Cyprus and who now number an estimated 150,000. Turkish Cypriots favoured "Taksim", the division of Cyprus into Greek and Turkish states, which happened de facto following the invasion.

Turkey's invasion led to the creation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and a border separating a large area of North Cyprus from the rest of the island, a border that even runs through the Cypriot capital of Nicosia. Repeated attempts by the international community to resolve the Cyprus issue have failed.

As recently as September 2021, Turkey called for international recognition of the TRNC as a sovereign state but this status has yet to be afforded to it by any other nation except for Turkey. The 6 districts making up the TRNC rely heavily on Turkey for security and finance. The UN describes northern Cyprus under the TRNC as territory under Turkish occupation.  

Key dates

334 BC
Alexander the Great begins his conquest of Asia Minor, then part of the Persian Empire
191 BC
ROMAN INFLUENCE BEGINS: Roman routs Syrian invaders at Battle of Magnesia (Modern day Manisa in Turkey's Aegean region)
133 BC
King Attalus III dies without issue and bequeaths his Kingdom of Pergamon in west Turkey to Rome
63 BC
Pompey the Great finally defeats the Kingdom of Pontus and brings Asia Minor
330 AD
Constantine the Great dedicates the he foundation of Constantinople. The previous name for the ancient city on the site was Byzantium, and in 1930 it was renamed again-Istanbul
330 - 495
Rome becomes 2 empires for long periods, the western empire based in Rome and Constantinople serves as capital for the eastern empire
495
The fall of Rome in the west; an empire in the east, firstly known as Byzantium, continues, excluding the odd conquest here and there, until 1453
1244. or 1245
RISE OF THE OTTOMANS: Osman I is born in western Turkey to the Turkic Kayi tribe. He founds the dynasty of the Ottomans, an anglicisation of his own name, and starts to conquer territory in what is now Turkey, particularly at the cost of the Byzantines
1453
Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquers Constantinope and extinguishes the Byzantine Empire, completing the Ottoman conquest of Turkey
1400s - 1500s
Ottomans expand into Asia, Africa and Europe
1441 - 1470
The Ottomans gradually conquer present day Bosnia and Herzegovina, sowing the seeds for World War 1 in 1914
1683
Ottoman advance into Europe ends with defeat by European armies led by Polish King John Sobieski III
1870s
There is series of violent uprisings against Ottoman rule. The Russians attack the Ottomans and drive them back to Constantinople
1878
TREATY OF VIENNA: Western powers award custodianship of Ottoman territories. Austro-Hungary gets Bosnia Herzegovina and the empire troops occupy the province
1900s
DECLINE OF OTTOMAN EMPIRE: Attempts to reform the Ottoman Empire, "the Porte", louder under later sultans and it becomes known as "The Sick Man of Europe"
1908
The Young Turk Revolution establishes constitutional rule
Oct' 1908
FIRST BALKAN CRISIS: Austro-Hungary unilaterally announces formal annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is still officially Ottoman territory, infuriates western powers, and lights a fuse to World War 1
July 1914
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent of Austro-Hungary, is assassinated by Serb nationalists opposed to Austrian occupation of Bosnia. World War 1 starts a month later
1915 - 1916
De-facto Ottoman leader Talaat Pasha orders the deportation of 100s of 1000s of Armenians from east Anatolia. Up to 1.2 million died in death marches and systematic massacres. Debates rages to this day as whether the tragedy constitutes genocide
1918 - 1922
Western allies defeat and break up the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish National Movement wins war of independence against foreign occupation and rule of the Sultan
1922
END OF OTTOMAN EMPIRE: The last sultan, Mehmed VI, abdicates as new Turkish Republic emerges
1923
KEMEL ATATURK: The Grand National Assembly declares Turkey a republic and Kemel Ataturk its first president
1928
Turkey becomes secular but retains Islam as state religion
1938
President Kemel Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, dies and is replaced by Ismet Ionu
Feb' 1945
Neutral for almost the entirety of World War II, Ankara declares war on Germany and Japan. It does not take part in fighting
1945
Turkey joins the United Nations
1950
First free elections won by opposition Democratic Party
1952
Turkey abandons traditional neutrality and joins Nato
1960
COUP 1: Army coup against the ruling Democratic Party
1963
Turkey signs an association agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC)
1967
COUP IN ATHENS: A military junta seizes power in Greece and later abolishes the monarchy. The coup has later implications for Cyprus
July 1974
A coup by Greek Junta and Cypriot military in Cyprus, deposes President Makarious III with irredentist nationality Nikos Sampson who calls for "enosis" unity with Greece
July 1974
Turkish troops invade northern Cyprus 5 days after military coup to prevent "enosis". Turkish Cypriots oppose enosis, preferring "Takism"- partition between Greece and Turkey
1980
COUP 2: Military coup follows political deadlock and protests. Martial law is imposed
1983
General elections won by Turgut Ozal's Motherland Party.
1984
KURDISH WAR: Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) launches separatist insurgency in the southeast of Turkey
1987
Turkey applies for full membership of the EEC, the European Economic Community
1992
20,000 Turkish troops enter Kurdish safe havens in Iraq in anti-PKK operation
1996
RISE OF POLITICAL ISLAM: Centre-right coalition fails. Welfare party heads first pro-Islamic government since 1922
1997
Coalition resigns after campaign b the military and a year later, the Welfare Party is banned
1999
PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan is captured in Turkey and initially sentenced to death. He was sent to a maximum security prison on Irali island in the Sea of Marmara where he remains the only prisoner
Jan' 2002
Turkish women are given equal rights as men
Aug' 2002
Turkey abolishes the death penalty and commutes Ocalan's death sentence to life imprisonment
NOV' 2002
RISE OF THE JUSTICE AND DEVELOPMENT PARTY (AK): The Islamist AK wins landslide election victory. AK promises to keep to secular principles of the 1928 Ataturk constitution
March 2003
ERDOGAN COMES TO POWER: AK Party Leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan wins seat in parliament and within days replaces Abdullah Gul as prime minister
June - July 2003
Hoping for future EU membership, Parliament passes laws facilitating more freedom speech, Kurdish language rights and curbing the power of the military
Nov' 2003
The car-bombing of several Istanbul targets kills dozens of people and injures 100s more
Jan' 2005
New Turkish lira is introduced replacing old lira which were denominated in the millions
Sept' 2006
The PPK declares unilateral peace fire
April 2007
Big protests of secularist supporters in Ankara demanding that prime minister Erdogan not to run in presidential elections because of his Islamist background
2007
AK party wins parliamentary elections. Former PM Abdullah Gul is president
Feb' 2008
1000s protest at decision to allow women to wear Islamic headscarf to university
2009
Turkey and Armenia agree to normalise relations, although the issue of the Armenian massacres should be describes as genocide remains a deeply contentious issue for Turkey
2013
Huge anti- government demonstrations spread across the country in protest over plans to develop over one of Istanbul's few green spaces
Dec' 2013
FETULLAH GULEN CRISIS: A power struggle with influential US-based former AK party cleric Fetullah Gulen leads to arrest of pro-government figures and consequent dismissal of police chiefs
AUG' 2014
ERDOGAN PRESIDENCY: Prime Minister Erdogan wins first direct election for the Turkish presidency
MARCH 2015
The so-called "Sledgehammer" coup plot trial collapses when a court clears 236 military officers of conspiracy to remove ex-PM Erdogan from power in 2003
June 2015
The pro-Kurdish leftwing People's Democratic Party (HDP) enters parliament at elections, depriving AK of a majority and scuppering Mr Erdogan's planned referendum on executive presidential powers
Nov' 2015
Turkey signs deal with the EU agreeing to restrict flow of refugees into Europe in return for $3.17 billion and concession on stalled accession talks
Feb' 2016
A bomb attack on a military convoy in Ankara kills 38 people. Responsibility is claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks - or TAK-- a hardline breakaway group of the PKK
June 2016
A gun and suicide attack on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul claims the lives of 42 people. The IS group is believed to be responsible
July 2016
ATTEMPTED COUP: Turkish authorities detain 1000s of soldiers and judges on suspicion of involvement in an attempted coup.16 TV stations and other media outlets are closed President Erdogan claims the coup was inspired by exiled AK opponent Fethullah Gulen
Jan' 2017
Gunman kills 39 people celebrating New Year in an Istanbul nightclub. IS claims responsibility
April 2017
President Erdogan wins referendum result to extend his powers
Late 2017
S-400 MISSILE CONTROVERSY: President Erdogan upsets western allies by purchasing Russia's S400 surface to air missile system.The US imposes a number of sanctions on Turkey
Jan 2018
Turkey launches military operation in north-western Syria, seizing large areas from Kurdish control
July 2018
President Erdogan fires 18,000 officials , including 9,000 police officers, for their alleged links to exiled AK opponent Fethullal Gulen
July 2019
Turkey receives its first installment of Russia's S400 missile system. The US decides not to sell Turkey - a fellow Nato member - its F-35 jets
Oct' 2019
Turkey attacks US Kurdish allies in northern Syria following US troop withdrawal from the area
Feb' - Mar' 2020
SYRIAN CIVIL WAR INVOLVEMENT: armed conflict between Turkish and Syrian forces in northern Syria, staring with a battle Idlib in which 20 people died ,mainly soldiers from both sides
Late Feb' - March 20
SYRIA: In 1 week, Turkish forces "neutralise" Syrian fighting capacity including 151 tanks, 8 helicopters and 3 jets
Early Mar' 2020
REFUGEE THREAT: Not for the first time, Erdogan warns Europe to expect "millions" of refugeesThe threat draws accusations from EU countries that the Turkish president s attempting to bully them into supporting his Syrian incursions
March 2020
Turkey and Russia announce a ceasefire in Syria's north-west region of Idlib
Sept' 2020
HDP CRACKDOWN: Turkish government steps up its crackdown on the left wing Kurdish HDP party, accusing it of supporting OPKK violence. A number of HDP politicians are arrested
June 2020
HDP CRACKDOWN: Turkish government steps up its crackdown on the left wing Kurdish HDP party, accusing it of supporting PKK violence. 2 HDP MPs are stripped off their diplomatic immunity and are arrested
Sept' 2020
HDP: Turkish authorities carry out further arrests of HDP politicians
Jan' 2021
STUDENT PROTESTS: Mr Erdogan sparks 6 months of student protests by issuing a presidential decree appointing AK sympathiser Melih Bulu Rector of Istanbul's prestigious Bogazici University
March 2021
HDP: The State Prosecutor for turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals demands the closure of the HPD, Turkey's 3rd biggest party, for alleged support of PKK
April 2021
WIKIPEDIA BAN: Turkey bans access to online Wikipedia material; the Istanbul municipality also bans Wiki founder Jimmy Wales from attending expo '
June 2021
HDP: Turkey's Constitutional Court accepts indictments against HDP and later grants the party more time to prepare its defence
July 2021
STUDENT PROTESTS: Mr Erdogan issues a further decree dismissing Melih Bulu from his post at Bogazici University which had sparked student protests. Many academic staff had also refused to work with Mr Bulu
Sept' 2021
AFGHAN CRISIS: President Erdogan says Turkey will not be able to take in any more Aghan refugees in the wake of the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan. Turkey already hosts 300,000 Afghan refugees plus 3.7 million Syrian refugees