Turkey is currently an applicant for membership in the European Union. At approximately 780,000 square kilometers in size, the Republic of Turkey straddles Europe and Asia, occupying the region once known as Anatolia.
Over the centuries Anatolia has been home to many different cultures, ranging from the Hatti, Hittites, Hurries, Troy, Phrygians, Urartians, Lycians-Carians-Lykians, Ionians, Persians, Hellens, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and, of course, the Turks.
Modern Turkey has a population of about 70,413,958 (as of a July 2006 estimate) of mostly Turkish and Kurdish peoples. Though there is no official religion, the vast majority of the population is Muslim, with much smaller percentages of Christians and Jews.
The history of modern Turkey effectively begins when the Turks, or Turkish people, formed their first unified empire in 552 in what we now refer to as Mongolia. Civil war split the empire into Gokturk and a Western Turkic Khaganate, and by 734 the empire had declined. After 1072, the Oguz, a Turkic people, began migrating into Anatolia, which later became a part of the Ottoman Empire, and is now the home of modern Turkey.
After the collapse of the empire its lands were dispersed. It was at this time that the Republic of Turkey was founded, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal who later became known as Ataturk, or father of the Turks. Modern Turkey effectively begins after the Turkish War of Independence, which resulted in the defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22). Most of Turkey's boundaries were established with signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
Ataturk, who lived from 1881-1938, introduced reforms based on "six arrows", or principles, which have been referred to as "Kemalism": republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, etatism, and secularism. These principles have been reflected in successive constitutions. Ataturk's legacy is one of westernization and modernization.
Over the next ten years there was a steady progress of westernization, with the abolishment of Islamic courts and Islamic canon law, which was replaced with a secular civil code modeled after Switzerland's, and a penal code modeled after the Italy's. Turkey was admitted to the League of Nations in 1932. In 1934 equality between the sexes and political rights for women was granted.
After his death in 1938, Ataturk was succeeded by Ismet Inonu. During the 1940's, democratic elections were introduced.
Turkey remained neutral throughout most of World War II, due to their peace treaty with Germany. In 1945 Turkey became a member of the United Nations and joined the Allies toward the end of World War II, not long before the war ended. In 1952 the country became a member of NATO.
In 1950 the Democratic Party (Adnan Menderes) defeated Ataturk's Republican People's Party. The early years of the Menderes government restrictions on Islam were relaxed and the economy flourished. Later, as the economy began to fail due to inflation and debt, and censorship laws were enacted.
In 1960 Menderes was overthrown by a military coup d'etat and Menderes was executed. A new liberal constitution was adopted for "Second Republic". In 1964, Turkey became an associate member of the European community. During the 60's and 70's the government was headed alternately by the leader of the True Path Party, Suleyman Demeril, and the Republican People's Party of Ismet Inonu and Bulent Ecevit.
A tumultuous period, it was followed by another coup d'etat in 1980 led by Chief of Staff General Kenan Evren, who created the National Security Council to stabilize and restore order. Within two years the government was returned to civilian control under the leadership of Turgut Ozal and his Motherland Party.
During this period the economy thrived, but in the early 90's instability returned and another coup ensued.
Since 1984, a separatist insurgency known as the PKK (Workers' Party of Kurdistan, or "Partia Karkarin Kurdistan") has been the primary focus of the Turkish military. In 1991 an Anti-Terror law was enacted, which resulted in the curbing of even non-violent debate regarding Kurds in the Republic of Turkey; many intellectuals and writers were imprisoned. Following this new law, there was a wave of murders and mysterious disappearances, and according to Human Rights Watch, both sides of the conflict were guilty of human rights violations. In 1999, with the capture of the leader of the insurgency, the majority of the remaining insurgents retreated to northern Iraq. However, in 2004 the group once again became active.
The role of Armenians within the Republic of Turkey has also at issue, and in 2005 Armenian editor and activist Hrant Dink was arrested and charged with "insult to the Turkish State".
It is clear from Dink's recent murder that freedom of expression in Turkey is still in jeopardy. Although the Turkish government and media have officially condemned the crime, it is still unclear what government will do in regard to repealing Article 301.
Hrant Dink's colleague Esli Erdogan is now on a "death list", with others writers. (It is assumed that Orhan Pamuk and Ismet Berken are also on this list.) Esli Erdogan expresses her grief and resolve in an open letter.