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Turkey - History


From prehistoric man to the Republic of Turkey, Kingdoms of Caria, Lydia, Lycian Union and Troy, from Homer to Saint Paul, from Alexander to Justinian, Süleyman the Magnificent, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Anatolia is also the land in which Turkish civilization acquired some of its strongest roots like the Ottoman Empire and its most prestigious works of art and literature. Thus, this long history of civilizations has deeply influenced the social and cultural fabric of modern Turkey. Archeologists is able to trace Anatolia's past as far back as to the Paleolithic periods. Traces of human settlements is found in shelters and caves like the Karain Cave near Antalya in Southwestern Turkey, occupied by nomadic tribes during 10000 and 7000 BC.

A big part of Turkey's territory is located on Anatolia where some of mankind's oldest settlements were built as early as 10000 BC. Actually, Anatolia's rich geography and varied climate have been favorable to the development of numerous civilizations and great empires throughout the history. Few other regions in the world have witnessed such a rich succession of civilizations.

The Earliest Times

The Mediterranean region was inhabited as early as 7500 BC, during the Paleolithic times (Old Stone Age). By 7000 BC a Neolithic (New Stone Age) city had grown up at what's now called Catalhoyuk, 60 km. southeast of Konya.

Hatti and Hittites

The old Bronze Age (2600-1900 BC) was the time when Anatolian man first developed cities of substantial size. An indigenous people now named the Proto- Hittites, or the Hattians, built cities at Kanesh (or Nesa-today's Kultepe) and Alacahoyuk. The first known ruler of Kanesh was King Zipani (about 2300 BC) according to the Akkadian texts.

Hellenistic Era

Many important civilizations inhabited Anatolia at the Hellenistic Era. The Ionians were the first Greek people of Anatolia that migrated to West Anatolia fleeing from the Dorian invaders. Lydia emerged as a Neo-Hittite state after the collapse of the Hittite Empire in the Western Anatolia region with Sardis their capital. Lycians were the Greek colonists that inhabited the southwest Anatolia and was composed of 12 city-states and administered by democracy.

Alexander the Great of Macedonia and Cyrus of Persia

The end of the Hellenistic Era was the storm-like entrance of teh Persians into Anatolia from the East. Ruled by Cyrus, Persians conquered everything and everybody in the whole Anatolia. Ironically, Persians were also conquered by Alexander the Great who also stormed out of Macedonia and swept into Anatolia, from the west this time.

The Roman Period

The Romans took Anatolia almost by default. The various Anatolian kings couldn’t refrain from picking away at Roman holdings and causing other sorts of irritation, so finally the legions marched in and took over. Defeating Antiochus III, King of Seleucia, at Magnesia (Manisa, near Izmir) in 190 BC, the Romans were content for the time being to leave ‘Asia’ (Anatolia) in the hands of the kings of Pergamum. But the last king, dying without an heir, bequeathed his kingdom to Rome (133 BC). In 129 BC, the Romans established the Province of Asia, with its capital at Ephesus.

The Birth of Christianity at Anatolia

Christianity began in Roman Palestine (Judea), but its foremost proponent, St Paul, came from Tarsus in Cilicia, in what is now Southern Turkey. Paul took advantage of the excellent Roman road system to spread Jesus’s teachings. When the Romans drove the Jews out of Judea in 70 AD, Christian members of this Diaspora may have made their way to the numerous small Christian congregations in the Roman province of Asia (Anatolia).

Byzantine Empire

Byzantine term is used since the 19th century to describe the Eastern Roman Empire centered in Istanbul (Constantinople) built after the divergence of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire was also known as the Greek Empire because contrary to the Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire was mostly influenced by Greek language and culture.

The Birth of Islam

Five years after the death of Justinian, Muhammed was born in Mecca. In 612, while meditating, he heard the voice of God command him to ‘recite’ . Muhammed was to become the Messenger of God, communicating His holy word to men. The written record of these recitations, collected after Muhammed’s death into a book by his family and followers, is the Kuran.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans built a small principality around Bursa after the Byzantine weakness leaving a power vacuum. Small Turkish tribes, each led by a warlord, took over parts of the Aegean and Marmara coasts. The Turks who moved into Bithynia, around Bursa, were followers of a man named Ertugrul. His son, Osman, founded (in about 1288) a principality which was to grow into the Osmanli ( Ottoman) Empire.

Turkish Republic

After the defeat of the Ottoman Period, Anatolia lived a period of chaos where the Allies were conquering most parts of Anatolia and the Greeks conquering the Aegean Region. War of Independence, led by an idealist young Turkish General, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was the step towards building a new modern nation.

Ever since independence in 1831, the Greeks had entertained the Megali Idea ( ‘Great Plan’) of a new Greek empire encompassing all the lands which once had Greek influence-the refounding of Byzantium, in a way. During World War I, the Allies had offered Greece the Ottoman city of Izmir. King Constantine declined for various reasons, even though his prime minister, Venizelos, wanted to accept. After the war, however, Alexander became king, Venizelos became prime minister again and Britain encouraged the Greeks to go ahead. On 15 May 1919, they did.

The Turks, depressed and hopeless over the occupation of their country and the powerlessness of the sultan, couldn’t take this: a former subject people capturing an Ottoman city, and pushing inland with great speed and ferocity. Even before the Greek invasion, an Ottoman general named Mustafa Kemal had decided that a new government must take over the destiny of the Turks from the powerless sultan. He began organizing resistance on 19 May 1919. The Greek invasion was just the shock needed to galvanize the people and lead them to his way of thinking.

The Turkish War of Independence lasted from 1920 to 1922. In September 1921 the Greeks very nearly reached Ankara, the nationalist headquarters, but in desperate fighting the Turks held them off. A year later, the Turks began their counter-offensive attack and drove the Greeks back to Izmir, where their Anatolian adventure begun, by 9 September 1922. Victory in the bitterly-fought war made Mustafa Kemal even more a national hero. He was now fully in command of the fate of the Turks. The sultanate was abolished and after it, the Ottoman Empire. A Turkish republic was born, based in Anatolia and eastern Thrace. The treaties of World War I, which had taken everything the Turks had, were renegotiated. Venizelos even came to terms with Mustafa Kemal, signing a treaty in 1930.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's Reforms

Mustafa Kemal undertook the job of completely redesigning a society. After the republic was declared in 1923, a constitution was adopted (1924); polygamy was abolished and the fez, mark of Ottoman backwardness, was prohibited (1925); new, western-style law codes were instituted, and civil (not religious) marriage was required (1926); Islam was removed as the state religion, and the Arabic alphabet was replaced by a modified Latin one (1928). In 1930, Constantinople officially became Istanbul and other city names were officially Turkified ( Angora = Ankara, Smyrna Izmir, Adrianople Edirne, etc). Women obtained the right to vote and serve in parliament in 1934 (even before Switzerland).

In 1935, Mustafa Kemal sponsored one of the most curious laws of modern times. Up to this time, Muslims had only one, given name. Family names were purely optional. So he decided that all Turks should choose a family name, and they did. He himself chose Atatürk, or ‘Father Turk’, and officially became Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Ataturk lived and directed the country’s destiny until 10 November 1938. He saw World War II coming and was anxious that Turkey stay out of it. His friend and successor as president of the republic, Ismet Inönü, succeeded in preserving a precarious neutrality. Ankara became a hotbed of Allied-Axis spying, but the Turks stayed out of the conflict.

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