History buffs will be intrigued when they visit Turkey – a country located in the crossroads of many civilizations. The history of the Turks covers a time frame of more than 4,000 years. The Turks first lived in Central Asia around 2000 BC. Later, some of them left Central Asia and spread around, establishing many states and empires independent from each other within a vast area of Asia and Europe. These empires included The Great Hun Empire (established during the 3rd Century B.C.), the Göktürk Empire (552- 740), the Uygur Empire (741- 840), the Avar Empire (6-9 Century A.D.), the Hazar Empire (5-10 Century A.D), the Great Seljuk Empire (1040- 1157), and many others.
The Turks started to settle in Anatolia (the current geographic location of Turkey) in the early 11th century by way of continual migrations and incursions. The Malazgirt victory in 1071 against the Byzantines literally opened up the gates of Anatolia to the Turks. It is following this date that the Turks fully conquered the whole of Anatolia and established the Anatolian Seljuk State there (1080-1308). This was the first Turkish State in Anatolia and was sometimes called, after its capital city of many years, the Konya Sultanate.
The Seljuk State rapidly declined with the Mongol invasion of Anatolia which started in 1243. During the period of the decline of the Anatolian Seljuk state and after its disappearance, many Turcoman principalities were established in Anatolia towards the end of the thirteenth century. One of these was the Ottoman (in Turkish Osmanli) Beylik (similar to a Principality) named after its founder, a Turkish ruler named Osman in 1299 in the environs of Söğüt in Eskişehir in the northwestern corner of the peninsula. The Ottoman Beylik rapidly expanded throughout the fourteenth century and thus arose the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over a vast territory on three continents and lasted for 623 years until the end of the First World War.
The Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, during the reign of Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481), and the Byzantine Empire fell, which also marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the New Age. During the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, who assumed the title of “The Conqueror,” the Ottoman state entered into an era of rapid development which would last until the end of the sixteenth century. At its height, the Ottomans ruled over what is today Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania in the Balkans, over all the islands in the Eastern Mediterranean, and over what is today the Middle East. The borders of the Empire extended from the Crimea in the North to Yemen and Sudan in the South and from Iran and the Caspian Sea in the East to Vienna in the Northwest and Spain in the Southwest.
The Ottoman Empire entered the First World War in 1914 on the side of the allied powers and emerged defeated from the war in 1918, compelled to sign the Mondros Armistice on October 30, 1918. Under the terms of this Armistice, the territories of the Ottoman Empire were occupied by Britain, France, Russia, and Greece. This was the actual end of the Ottoman Empire.
Since then, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal—later given the last name Ataturk or “Father of Turks” – the modern state of Turkey was formed. He created a new political and legal system based on the principles of parliamentary democracy, human rights, national sovereignty and division of powers, private ownership and secularism, and the separation of religion and state affairs. A new, secular education system was established, the Arabic alphabet was changed into the Latin alphabet, and new civil and criminal codes were adapted from European models. Turkish women received equal rights under the law such as the right to vote and be elected to public office, which put Turkey ahead of many Western nations in terms of women’s rights. It was a revolution, unparalleled at its time and even today, to bring a predominantly Muslim nation in line with Western civilization and universal values.
With Turkey neutral during World War II, Turkey joined NATO in 1952. As a result, Turkey received military aid from USA (along with security against Soviet expansionism). In 1974, as a result of a coup in Cyprus designed to unite that country with Greece, Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was created. Since the liberalization of the Turkish economy during the 1980s, the country has enjoyed stronger economic growth and greater political stability. Turkey applied for membership of the European Union in 2005 – with negotiations still in progress. Meanwhile, tourism figures show that portions of Europe are independently engaging with Turkey. The number of tourists who visited Turkey reached an all-time high of nearly 40 million in 2018 (representing tourism revenues of $24 billion that year), with a sizeable number of such visitors coming from Germany and Russia.