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Turkey

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Continent:Europe National flag
National flag: Turkey
Capital city:Ankara
Area:779,452 km2 ( 36. )
Population:69,660,559 Person ( 17. )
People density:89 Person / km2
GDP per capita:2,350 $ / Person ( 71. )
GDP:163,702,313,650 $
Official language:turkish

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Turkey is a country with a multiple identity, poised uneasily between East and West – though, despite the tourist brochure cliché, it is less a bridge between the two than a battleground, a buffer zone whose various parts have been invaded and settled from every direction since the beginning of recorded history. The country is now keen to be accepted on equal terms by the West: long the only NATO member in the Middle East region and a major recipient of US military aid, it is now also vigorously pursuing EU membership as a means of assuring future prosperity and democracy. But despite Turkish involvement with Europe dating back to the twelfth century, it is by no stretch of the imagination a thoroughly Western nation, and the contradictions – and fascinations – persist.

Turkey is a vast country – France would fit within its boundaries with plenty of room to spare – incorporating characteristics of Middle Eastern and Aegean, as well as Balkan and trans-Caucasian, countries. Mosques coexist with Orthodox churches; Roman theatres and temples crumble alongside ancient Hittite cities; and dervish ceremonies or gypsy festivals are as much a part of the social landscape as classical music concerts or delirious sports fans. The one constant in all this – and one of the things that makes Turkey such a rewarding place to travel – is the Turkish people, whose reputation for friendliness and hospitality is richly deserved; indeed you risk causing offence by refusing to partake of it, and any transaction can be the springboard for further acquaintance. Close to the bigger resorts or tourist attractions, much of this is undoubtedly mercenary, but in most of the country the warmth and generosity is genuine – all the more amazing when recent Turkish history has demonstrated that outsiders usually only bring trouble in their wake.

Politically, modern Turkey was a bold experiment, founded on the remaining Anatolian kernel of the Ottoman Empire, once among the world’s largest, and longest-lasting, imperial states. The country arose from defeat after World War I, almost entirely the creation of a single man of demonic energy and vision – Kemal Atatürk. The Turkish War of Independence, fought against those victorious Allies intending to pursue imperialistic designs on Ottoman territory, has (with slightly stretched analogy – Turkey was never a colony) often been seen as the prototype for all Third World "wars of liberation". It led to an explicitly secular Republic, though one in which almost all of the inhabitants are at least nominally Muslim (predominantly Sunni).

Turkey’s heritage as home to the caliphate and numerous dervish orders, plus contemporary Islamist movements, still often deflects its moral compass south and east rather than northwest. Turks, except for a small minority in the southeast, are not Arabs, and loathe being mistaken for them; despite a heavy lacing of Persian and Arabic words, the Turkish language alone, unrelated to any neighbouring one except Azeri, is sufficient to set its speakers apart. The population is, however, in spite of official efforts to enforce uniformity, remarkably heterogeneous ethnically. When the Ottoman Empire imploded early in the twentieth century, large numbers of Muslim Slavs, Kurds, Greeks, Albanians, Crimean Tatars, Azeris, Daghestanlis, Abkhazians and Circassians – to name only the most numerous non-Turkic groups – streamed into Anatolia, the safest refuge in an age of anti-Ottoman Nationalism. This process has continued in recent years from formerly Soviet or Eastern Bloc territories (including even a few Christian Turks or Gaugaz from Moldavia), so that the diversity of the people endures, constituting one of the surprises of travel in Turkey.

There are equally large disparities in levels of development and income. Istanbul boasts clubs as expensive and exclusive as any in New York or London, while town-centre shops are full of imported luxury goods, yet in the chronically backward eastern interior you’ll encounter standards and modes of living scarcely changed from a century ago. Following a severe crash in early 2001, the Turkish economy languishes on the ropes and the country is heavily in debt, threatening the modernization process begun during the late nineteenth century. It’s make-or-break time for a country aspiring to full EU membership: has Westernization struck deep roots in the culture, or does it extend no further than a mobile-phone- and credit-card-equipped urban élite?

Turkey has been continuously inhabited and fought over for close on ten millennia, as the layer-cake arrangement of many archeological sites and the numerous fortified heights testify. The juxtaposed ancient monuments mirror the bewildering succession of states – Hittite, Urartian, Phrygian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Armeno-Georgian – that held sway here before the twelfth century. There is also, of course, an overwhelming number of graceful Islamic monuments dating from the eleventh century onwards, as well as magnificent city bazaars, still holding their own despite the encroachments of chain stores and shopping malls. The country’s modern architecture is less pleasing, the consequence both of government policy since 1950 and of returned overseas workers eager to invest their earnings in real estate – an ugliness manifest at the coastal resorts, where the beaches are rarely as good as the tourist-board hype. Indeed it’s inland Turkey – Asiatic expanses of mountain, steppe, lake, even cloud forest – that may leave a more vivid memory, especially when accented by some crumbling kervansaray, mosque or castle.

Conventionally, the geographical boundaries of Europe are the Ural Mountains in the east, the Atlantic Coast in the north and west, and the Mediterranean in the south. However, within these rough parameters Europe is massively diverse. The environment changes radically within very short distances, with bleak mountain ranges never far from broad, fertile plains, and deep, ancient forests close to scattered lake systems or river gorges. Politically and ethnically, too, it is an extraordinary patchwork: Slavic peoples are scattered through central Europe from Poland in the north to Serbia and Bulgaria in the south; the Finnish and Estonian languages bear no resemblance to the tongues of their Baltic and Scandinavian neighbours, but more to that of Hungary, over 1000km south; meanwhile Romansch, akin to ancient Latin, is spoken in the valleys of southeastern Switzerland, while the Basques of the western Pyrenees have a language unrelated to any others known. These differences have become more political of late with the rise of nationalism that coincided with the fall of Communism, and borders are even now being redrawn, not always peacefully, and usually along lines of language, race or religion.

[ Buy on Amazon: Rough Guide to Turkey ]

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Map of country Turkey

Map of country  Turkey

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