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Bridging West Asia and Southeastern Europe, Turkey borders Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Syria and Iraq. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, its core territories transitioned to the modern Republic of Turkey, alternating periods of military coup d'etats with multi-party democracy as it attempted to balance secular state institutions and constitutional norms with the demands of popular Islamic political movements. Attacks on and harassment of human rights defenders are a major ongoing problem in Turkey, as is the treatment of the country's Kurdish minority, the prevalence of early marriage, sexual exploitation of children and child labour.
The Republic of Turkey was once the centre of the Ottoman Empire. It borders eight countries: Bulgaria to the north-west, Greece to the west, Georgia to the north-east; Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Iraq and Syria to the south-east. The Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus are to the south; the Aegean Sea and Archipelago are to the west; and the Black Sea is to the north. Sandwiched between two continents, Europe and Asia, Turkey's culture is a mix of Eastern and Western traditions. The country's strategically important location, including its control over the entrance to the Black Sea, has made it a major influence in the region. The capital of Turkey is Ankara.
Population and Language
Turkey is home to 74,816,000 people. The majority of the population, around seventy or seventy five percent, are ethnically Turkish. Historically, there were significant Greek and Armenian populations, but the events and conflicts of the twentieth century saw these much reduced. Currently, the largest minority ethnic group are Kurds, at around an estimated twenty percent of the population. Kurds are not a recognised as a minority group by the Turkish state and receive only very limited cultural and language recognition. Their treatment by the Turkish government has been a source of frequent criticisms. Other minorities include Arabs, Georgians, Circassians and Roma.
The country's official language is Turkish, which is the primary language of most of the population. Kurdish is spoken in the areas with a large Kurd population, but its use is restricted by the state.
Turkey is explicitly secular in its constitution and institutions, with no official religion and with the relationship between the state and faith being a major source of political contention. Islam, however, is by the far most prolific religion, with nearly the entire population being either practising Muslims or from a Muslim family background. The dominant sect is Sunnism, but there also exists a substantial Shi’a population and a number of Sufi groups. Additionally, there is a small Christian population, alongside a smaller number of Jews and other faiths.
History and Politics
Turkey was formerly the core province of the Ottoman Empire, one of the great powers of the early modern world. After a century of decline and defeat in the First World War, however, the empire was fractured and lost substantial territories. A new nationalist movement was formed, however, in the old Ottoman core territories and after a war of independence was able to negotiate the establishment of them modern Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the leading figure in this movement, was elected as the republics first president and oversaw the dissolution of many of the remaining Ottoman institutions and practices. In its place, he envisioned a strictly secular society that would rapidly modernise to compete with the Western states, while abolishing many of the older religious practices that had dominated Ottoman politics. Ataturk failed to establish a multi-party democracy, however, and it has been argued that he laid the groundwork for some of the authoritarian tendencies that would affect Turkey ever since.
After the Second World War, Turkey established itself as a growing presence in the region. Building relations with the United States gave it access to international venues, including membership of NATO while ensuring protection and economic support against potential threats from the USSR and it’s allies. Moves towards a more open democracy began in 1945, but Turkey was to suffer numerous military coups in the twentieth century - often justified by the perpetrators as “defending” the secular nature of the Turkish state from religiously inclined or populist political movements. Tensions with neighbouring Greece remained high, due to long time legacy of hostility and significant ethnic violence during the earlier part of the century. When the government of neighbouring Cyprus, which was home to a substantial ethnic Turkish population, was overthrown in favour of a pro-Greek militia, Turkey invaded and established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - a state recognised only by Turkey itself. The situation in Cyrpus remains a major international issue. During the 1980s, Turkey became involved in a long running conflict with Kurdish separatists which led to significant atrocities by both sides and the loss of many lives. A peace process is currently under-way.
Concerns over the potential for conflict between a secular establishment backed by the military and a traditional society deeply rooted in Islam resurfaced with the landslide election victory of the Islamist-based Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. Several years of economic prosperity have gone some way to assuaging concerns, but a 2013 attempt to force through planning in a major urban centre sparked widespread popular protests across the country and acted as a focus for growing discontent. The harsh response by the government has also been a cause for concern internationally, with aggressive use of riot police to clear protesters. In recent years, Turkey has been suggested as a possible candidate for entry into the European Union. While several legal reforms, including the toughening of sentences for “honour killings” in 2005, have seemingly been directed towards this end, there is still no guarantee of success.
Turkey is currently a parliamentary representative democracy. The modern secular constitution was established in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and sets out the main principles of government. The President of the Republic is elected by the parliament as the head of state and has a largely ceremonial role. The current incumbent, since 2007, is Abdullah Gül - Turkey's first head of state with a background in political Islam and thus very controversial in a country with such strong secularist principles. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and the government, while legislative power is vested in the parliament, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
Primary sources of Turkish law are the constitution, laws, law amending ordinances, international treaties, regulations, by-laws in a hierarchical structure.
Turkey has the world's 15th largest GDP and is one of the world's fastest growing economies. Though historically prone to inflation, the currency has largely stabilised and the country now enjoys significant tourism, service and manufacturing industries. Turkey’s historical, cultural and linguistic ties with much of central Asia has also made it a key player in the pipelines and energy markets.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Human rights defenders in Turkey have been subjected to harassment, surveillance, violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, judicial harassment including criminal prosecution, violent attacks, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, torture and killings. The authorities and right-wing groups are believed to be responsible for the majority of the acts of persecution against defenders.Human rights defenders in Turkey work in defence of a variety of rights including women's rights, minority rights, labour rights, language rights, freedom of expression and the right to due process. The situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the rights of the Kurdish minority are two pressing issues for human rights defenders in Turkey.
Anti-terrorist legislation and legal restrictions on freedom of expression, in particular Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, have been interpreted narrowly and used to prosecute defenders. Peaceful demonstrations organised by human rights organisations have been prohibited or violently dispersed. Government initiatives to monitor human rights violations and bring those responsible to justice, including the establishment of Provincial Human Rights Boards and the Human Rights Advisory Boards, have proved ineffective.
Turkey ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on 4 April 1995, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict on 4 May 2004 and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography on 19 Aug 2002. Children are the country’s largest demographic group. The current estimated total of 27 million people under 19 years of age represents 36 per cent of the total population.
Main issues of concern for children include sexual exploitation, child labour and child marriage.
- The Republic of Turkey reserves the right to interpret and apply the provisions of articles 17, 29 and 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child according to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and those of the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923.
- Frontline Defenders Turkey Country Profile
- UNICEF Turkey Country Profile
- World Bank Turkey Country Profile
- Hauser Global Law School Program, Globalex, A Guide to the Turkish Public Law Order and Legal Research
- Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations Turkey Country Profile
- Population: 75,705,100 (UNDP)
- Population under 18: 23,107,000 (UNICEF)
- Number of internet users: 35,000,000 (44.4% of the population) (Internet World Stats)
- Human Development Index ranking: 90 (UNDP)
- Happy Planet Index ranking: 44 (Happy Planet Country Page Turkey)