Make your own free website on


History Of Turkey

The history of Turkey is so long and eventful that one could fill several volumes with it and still leave things out. It is a history that goes back several millennia.

At first Asia Minor was a region through which nomadic tribes passed on their way between Europe and Asia. These migrations often lasted several decades, and the people encamped on the way to help them survive periods of cold or famine. Sometimes a tribe would grow tired of wandering and settle down permanently.

The earliest signs of civilisation here go back to the sixth millennium BC, when Anatolia, Egypt and Mesopotamia appear to have formed a single cultural unit. Not without reason has it been claimed that Asia Minor was the cradle of human civilisation.

It is generally accepted that the coasts of Asia Minor were fully settled by 2500 BC, when an Indo-Europeafl people called the Hittites came south across the Caucasus from Russia. They came in several waves,and colonised the central plateau of Anatolia. A Hittite empire was founded under Labarnas, which first began to flourish in about 1500 BC.The Hittite capital of Hattusa was about 200km east of Ankara on the site known today as Bogazkale.

A number of Hittite tablets were discovered both at Bogazkaie and at Kultepe near Kayseri. But it was not until relatively recently that experts first managed to read them, having at last found a means of deciphering the hieroglyphic script. Thus they were able to explain some of the secrets that surround this mysterious civilisation.

The Hittites reached their greatest period of expansion during the thirteenth century BC, when they overcame the Achaeans in the west and even managed to subjugate the Egyptians under Rameses II. For 80 years.they were the undisputed rulers of the whole of the Near East.

It is difficult to appreciate the suddenness of their demise in about 1200 BC, when Asia Minor was overrun by Asiatic tribes. They conquered the Hittite capital at Hattusa, and went on to take Troy, which by now had become an important city-state.

There are no records of the period that followed these wars until the eighth century BC, when an empire was created in eastern Anatolia in the area around Lake Van. The Assyrians to the south called it Urartu, while in the Bible it is known as Ararat. By 600 BC it too had disappeared from the scene, though it left a valuable archaeological legacy, including fortifications and cave remains, strange stone statues and a number of written records.

Asia Minor was soon carved Lip into a patchwork of different peoples and races. Power was divided among the Phrygians, the Cimmerians, the Scythians, the Lydians, the Assyrians, the Persians and the Greeks. it was the period when the Greeks flourished in Asia Minor, founding great cities such as Miletus and Ephesus.

However, nothing could stop the inexorable advance of the Persians. Under Cyrus II they overthrew Croesus,the rich king of the Lydians, and in 513 BC Darius I crossed the Bosporus into Europe. The Greek cities along the coast of Asia Minor resisted fiercely, and for decades fought the Persians in the bitterest of struggles. But the war came to an end with the fall of Miletus in 494 BC.

The outcome in Europe was different: in 490 BC the Greeks beat the Persians in the battle of Marathon, and in 480 BC achieved an even greater victory by wiping out the Persian fleet in the bay of Salamis. But in spite of these defeats the Persians retained power in Asia Minor.

The situation remained much the same until 334 BC, when Alexander the Great crossed into Asia Minor with 35,000 soldiers, re-conquered Ephesus and Miletus, and went on to capture all the great cities of the Persian empire. It was Alexander who began the Hellenisation of Asia Minor. He first cut the famous Gordian knot at Gordium, and in 333 BC beat Darius Ill at lssus near the present-day town of Antakya in southern Turkey. He was eventually able to make Babylon the capital of his empire.

After Alexander's death his empire was divided among his successors. In 278 BC the Celts crossed the Bosporus and settled in Anatolia. They called themselves the Galatians the name which is given to them in the Bible. But the wars did not end there. Rulers came and went, and one race after another gained ascendancy, so that by the time of Christ, Asia Minor was a melting pot of different peoples and races.

For a while Pergamum expanded its influence. But in 201 BC the Romans arrived. They began to conquer Asia Minor, creating the Roman province of Asia. These new masters showed no mercy towards the Greeks and other inhabitants, and there was a series of bloody rebellions; in 88 BC 80,000 Romans were killed. Almost all the important Roman generals achieved their first victories in Asia Minor, including Pompey, Lucullus, Crassus and Julius Caesar.

In AD 47 the apostle Paul began his missionary journeys through Asia Minor. In Ephesus he waged a war of words against the cult of Diana; he preached fiery sermons in the temple, which stands to this day. He is also supposed to have founded a small Christian community in the valley of Göreme. At Ephesus he was imprisoned on a pointed rock which is still to be seen between the city ruins and the sea.

During the first century AD, Asia Minor became increasingly important as the breadbasket of the Roman empire. Then on 11 May AD 330, Emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium (on the site of present-day Istanbul), which was renamed Constantinople.

Peace did not, however, last for much longer. The Visigoths were moving down into the Balkans from the north, while to the east the Persians were advancing across the plateau of Anatolia. In AD 476, while the Romans were fully occupied in warding off the Persians and the Huns on the eastern front, the city of Rome was captured by Germanic invaders. Thus ended the history of the western Roman empire.

Meanwhile the Byzantine empire continued to flourish, reaching a climax under Justiniafl I (AD 527-65). It was during this period that Hagia Sophia was built. But the Persians continued to make war, and took over Antioch (Antakya) in the south. In 548 the Slays advanced towards Constantinople, and had to be bought off by Justinian at considerable cost.

In 622 the Persians were beaten back from Constantinople, and were finally routed near Nineveh. The Byzantine empire flourished again. The advancing Arabs were kept at bay, and around AD 800 Constantinople went through a period of cultural and economic expansion.

The Arabs made repeated attacks on Constantinople, which at the time was the best-fortified city in the known world. It repelled all these attacks and remained a bulwark of Christendom against the Moslem invasion of Europe. The Arabs did, however, conquer large areas of Anatolia. And it was during this period that a number of Armenian Christians fled into the strange mountains around Goreme and Urgup to escape the ravages of fanatical Moslems.

The first Turks had begun to move into Asia Minor about 200 years earlier. These were a group known as the Seljuks who originally came from central Asia. From AD 400-600 they remained in the area of Turkestan and Afghanistan. But then they began a great westward migration, the reason for which has yet to be explained. The Seljuks were a bloodthirsty race and were well known as outstanding warriors. It is no coincidence that Arab princes recruited their bodyguards from among their Turkish prisoners of war.

In 1071 the Seljuks under Alp Arslan routed the Byzantine army in the trackless wilderness around Manzikert (present-day Malarzgirt), not far from Lake Van. This opened up the route to the west, and the Seljuks advanced across Anatolia. They conquered Erzurum, Sebastea (Sivas), lconium (Konya) and Trebizond (Trabzon). They even captured the former Greek (now Byzantine) cities along the Aegean coast, and built a fortification near Chalcedon (now Kadýköy) opposite Constantinople. Throughout Asia Minor Christianity gave way to Islam.

While the Seljuks prepared to attack Constantinople, the Mongols began to invade Anatolia from the east. In 1243 they routed the Seljuks at Konya, and took over what had by now become a centre of Islam. The Seljuk empire fell apart into thirty petty principalities under general Mongol domination. It was also during this period that a famous singer and religious philosopher called JeIâl ed-Din Rümi founded the order of the whirling dervishes'.

One of these petty principalities was centred around Bursa and was ruled by the Ottoman dynasty. The Ottomans gradually increased their sphere of influence until Osman I (1290-1326) gained sovereignty over the whole of western Asia Minor. The Ottomans captured one Byzantine fort after another, and what they could not get by force they established a claim to by clever marriages of convenience.

In 1354, Suleyman crossed the Dardanelles near Troy, and began to advance into Europe. Constantinople was soon surrounded, and the Ottomans moved their capital from Bursa to Edirne (Adrianople). They were now fighting on two fronts. In Europe they overcame the Serbs at kosovo, where their leader Sultan Murad I fell on the battlefield together with thousands of Christians and Moslems. In the east the Ottomans advanced on Ankara, capturing it from the Mongols in 1402.

For decades they continued to batter Constantinople. One only has to look at the city’s massive walls today to understand why the Turks took so long to capture this eastern bulwark of Christendom. It was another 50 years before they finally succeeded. In the meantime Constantinople was gradually sapped of its strength, lacking a hinterland from which it could renew its forces. On 29 May 1453 it finally fell to the Turks.

The ruler at the time was Sultan Mehmed II The Conqueror’. He brought all his forces together and besieged the city for 2 months. Emperor Constantine Xl stood on the battlements himself and wielded his sword to defend them. But he was felled by a poisoned arrow from the Turkish lines. His death weakened the morale of his troops. The Turks climbed up over the walls, opened the gates from inside, and butchered everyone in sight with their scimitars. They ransacked and plundered the city, destroying many priceless treasures. After a few days Mehmed II gathered his troops and began to rebuild the city.

The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Byzantine empire. The city was renamed Istanbul, and soon became the capital of the Ottoman empire. To this day it remains the religious centre of Islam in Turkey. As a visible sign of the victory of Islam over Christianity, Hagia Sophia was turned from a church into a mosque. All the Christian paintings were whitewashed over, and four great tablets were hung in the inner chamber bearing the names of the prophet Mohammed and his successors.

The Turks finally managed to free Asia Minor from Mongol control. Selim 1(1512-20) drove them right out of the Near East, and also forced the Arabs to retreat. Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia came under Turkish domination. Suleyman II ‘The Great’ (1520-66) extended the empire north-westwards. He overran Belgrade, advanced through Hungary and by 1529 was encamped near Vienna. He was the most powerful Ottoman ruler, with an empire stretching from Vienna to Baghdad and from the Adriatic to the Black Sea.

All this was achieved at the cost of many thousands of lives. Thousands more languished in Turkish dungeons; and even the rulers themselves paid with their lives, for none of them died natural deaths. If they did not die in battle, they were poisoned, strangled or stabbed. These crimes were instigated by close colleagues, often by the rulers’ own favourite concubines. Even the rulers sons were often secretly killed to make way for more favoured heirs. No wonder the sultans later hid their crown princes in a monastery on the so-called Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara, to protect them from potential assassins until the time came for them to take over the reins of power. All this political intrigue in the Topkapi (sultan’s palace) weakened the empire from the inside. Quite apart from that, the peoples they had conquered allied themselves with the French,the English, the Hapsburgs in Austria and the powerful city-state of Venice.

In 1683 the Turks made a final sweep through Europe, and for 2 months laid siege to Vienna. The Viennese were about to capitulate when relief forces arrived led by Charles of Lorraine a John Sobieski of Poland. The Turks put up a fierce struggle, but the anger of the Christian cavalry proved too much for them. In the terrible carnage which followed the imperial armies held their ground and the Turks were quickly dispersed. They fled in haste, leaving behind hundreds of sacks of coffee. This is supposed to have been what started coffee drinking in Europel

In 1697 Prince Eugene’s troops inflicted a severe blow on the Turks at Zenta. After that the Balkan peoples rose up against their Turkish oppressors, who were being gradually squeezed out of south-eastern Europe. In 1787 the Russians declared war on them, and in 1792 forced them to sign the Treaty of Jassy. In 1798 the young Napoleon Bonaparte attacked the Turks in Egypt. In the meantime murder and intrigue continued in the Topkapi.

The sultans and their rivals spared no one, least of all each other, in their struggles for power. Patricide and fratricide were the order of the day. In 1807 Chief Sultan Selim Ill was hanged on the orders of Mustafa IV, which sparked off rebellions throughout the empire. Only a year later Mustata himself was overthrown.Under Mahmud II there was a brief period of internal reform in which the army was reorganised under the leadership of German officers such as Helmut von Moltke. But the carnage continued.

In 1811 Sultan Mehmed All got rid of the rebellious Mameluke princes at a party in Cairo. Rulers who avoided drinnking poison risked being stabbed to death. The sultans also had problems controlling the janizaries the Ottomans elite troops so much so that they abolished them in 1826.

In the meantime the empire was falling apart. Enemies stood ready to attack on all borders the Russians in the north, the Serbs and Greeks in the west. The Turkish Mediterranean fleet was wiped out by the combined forces of Britain, France and Russia. The Syrians invaded from the south and captured Konya. The British reached the Dardanelles and the Russians cut off Istanbul. In 1895 there was a plan to divide up Turkey, which was only prevented by German intervention.

1900 saw the rise of the so-called Young Turk reformers, who opposed the regime of the sultans. Their intention was to create a new Turkish state free of corruption and despotism. Some bloody conflicts ensued; the Young Turks suffered vigorous persecution, but retaliated with a concerted guerrilla campaign. In Adana, for example, they beheaded a whole series of government officials. People in Europe talked of the sick man of the Bosporus’.

In 1914 the outbreak of World War I put an end to the Young Turk reforms. Turkey fought on the side of Germany, and at first enjoyed considerable success. The British and the French suffered crushing defeats in the Dardanelles and around Gallipoli (Gelibolu). But the Russians proved more successful; they came in through Armenia and captured Trabzon (Trebizond), Erzurum and Bitlis in the east.

The turning point came in 1916, when the Arabs declared their independence and prepared to attack Turkey. In 1917, with the help of the British, they captured Baghdad and began to advance northwards through Mesopotamia. Colonel T. E. Lawrence joined the Arab nomads and led them in fighting the Turks in the desert.

1918 saw the death of the Turkish leader Mehmed V. He was succeeded by his brother Mehmed VI, who reigned 4 years and was the last of the Turkish sultans. By autumn the Palestinian front had collapsed; on 30 October the sultan requested a ceasefire and opened up the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. The Allied warships advanced on Istanbul and anchored in the Golden Horn, as if to set the seal on their victory.

But this was not the end of the war. Istanbul remained under Allied control; the Arab territories were occupied by the British and French; the Italians landed at Antalya and took over southwest Anatolia; the Greeks occupied Bursa and lzmir (Smyrna).

Rebels in Anatolia began a nationalist campaign against the foreign occupying forces and the Turkish government in Istanbul. The Grand Vizier sent out General Mustafa Kemal to quell this resistance, but the general changed sides and proclaimed himself the nationalist leader. He convened conferences at Erzurum and Sivas to discuss Turkish sovereignty. Then in 1920 an alternative government was elected by a nationalist assembly at Ankara, which rejected the humiliating conditions imposed on the Turks by the Treaty of Sèvres.

The sultan in Istanbul condemned Kemal to death as a traitor, but Kemal began his own negotiations with the occupying forces. In 1921 the Italians withdrew from Anatolia, the French from Cicilia and the Russians from Batumi.

Only the Greeks refused to negotiate, having plans for a new Hellenistic empire. This resulted in war. The Greeks advanced into Anatolia, but in 1922 were repulsed by the nationalists at the River Sakarya. The nationalists pushed them back towards the coast and eventually captured Bursa and lzmir, driving the Greeks out of Asia Minor altogether. In November 1922 the Turkish nationalists delivered the decisive blow to the sultan’s regime, and M.ustafa Kemal announced the end of the sultanate. The nationalists surrounded the Topkapi; Meh med VI fled to the harbour through a secret subterranean passage, and managed to escape on a British ship.

Kemal made Ankara his capital and negotiated with the Allies for peace; the Treaty of Lausanne reversed the harsh requirements imposed by the Treaty ot Sèvres. In 1923 Turkey was declared a republic and the Allies withdrew altogether. In 1924 all the remaining members of the Ottoman dynasty were forced into exile. Mustafa Kemal-Pasa became the country’s first president and adopted the name Atatürk or Father of the Turks’.

His comrade-at-arms met Inönü became the first prime minister.In 1927 AtatUrk was re-elected president, and .embarked on a programme of sweeping reforms designed to bring Turkey into line with twentieth-century Europe. He introduced the Gregorian calendar and the 7-day week, with Sunday as the statutory rest day. He banned polygamy, granting women the vote and professional equality with men. He reformed the legal system, modelling it on the Italian, Swiss and German codes of law. The fez was replaced by the more practical European hat. Since 1928 Turkish has been written in Roman instead of in Arabic characters. All Turks are now obliged to adopt a surname and to send their children to scholl.

The Turkish capital of Ankara was previously only a small town on the arid steppes of central Anatolia. But thanks to Atatürk it has now become a large modern city full of skyscrapers and parks laid out with lakes and fountains.

Islam is no longer the state religion a reform that understandably met with much opposition all over the country. The religious leaders have never forgiven Atatürk for disestablishing Islam. Istanbul was the main centre of Moslem resistance; the ‘whirling dervishes’ also tried to prevent reform by committing acts of terrorism and stirring up discontent among the people. But Ataturk was not to be deterred.

In 1925 and 1930 the Kurds in the eastern mountains staged a rebellion. On each occasion Atatürk retaliated with a bloody purge a vicious act of revenge, designed to deter any further opposition to his regime.

From 1930 onwards Atatürk entered into pacts of friendship with other countries, including Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria, Percia, Iraq and Afghanistan. His successor Ismet Inönü continued this policy by making pacts with Britain (1939),France (1941) and Germany.

Atatürk died on 10 November 1938 aged 57. Turkey had lost a national hero. Mustafa Kemal-Pasa had had a mausoleum built for himself on a hill overlooking Ankara, and this became the scene of some considerable drama. For weeks men and women filed past him in tears to pay their last respects. Nomads came from all over the country from the Black Sea coast and the saltmarshes of Konya to the lonely eastern fastnesses around Lake Van. They revered him like a god, and yet few understood the reforms he had made. Turkey is still full of reminders of AtatUrk, the most important figure in modern Turkish history. He is represented in massive portraits, statues and illuminated pictures in cities all over Turkey.

Turkey remained neutral during most of World War It, and did not declare war on Germany until 25 February 1945. By this time it was of little significance, since both Germany and Japan were well on the road to defeat. Turkey’s reason for declaring war was to make its position stronger in relation to Russia, which was trying to gain a foothold in the Turkish straits. Turkey sought the protection of the western powers, and was one of the first countries to join the NATO pact.

In 1950 President lmet lnönü was replaced by Celal Bayar, who was re-elected for a third term in 1957. 1960 was a year of internal political crisis. On 28 April students demonstrated in the streets, and there were some bloody clashes with the police.Martial law was declared in the two university cities of Ankara and Istanbul.

On 27 May 1960 the army took over. They ousted the civilian government and placed their commander-in-chief General Cemal GÜRSEL in charge. Over 6,000 officers were arrested, together with the President Celal Bayar, Prime Minister Mendeces and his Cabinet.

At a mass trial in 1961, fifteen people were condemned to death and thirty-one to life imprisonment. Celal BAYAR, the once celebrated president, was committed to gaol for life, but was pardoned a year later. Prime Minister Menderes was hanged together with his foreign minister Zorlu and his finance minister Polatkan. The other twelve death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

In 1961 a new constitution was declared, and Turkey became a parliamentary republic.The internal political situation improved for some years.

In 1971 things became difficult again when some American soldiers were abducted by terrorists and the Israeli ambassador was kidnapped and murdered. In 1972 the army placed guards on all public buildings such as post offices, ministries, banks, airports, stations etc. Regimes came and went in close succession. The country has since returned to parliamentary democracy, albeit with the support of the military.

But tourists will notice little of the country’s present political unrest, except perhaps the army presence in the streets. The army has become extremely vigilant in its eagerness to nip any rebellion in the bud.