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Central Asia had long been the home of various nomadic tribes based on the practice of animal herding and horses. Humans had inhabited the region ever since the prehistoric period. The centuries before the Genghis Khan's conquests, various Turkic and Mongol-Tungusic tribes inhabited the steppes of Mongolia. These various ethnic groups alternatively ruled each other during this time, one group would gain power and subdue the others until another group formed to topple the previously superior power. So it is no coincidence that some of the most successful conquerors and invaders came from this region of the world. The land lends itself to breed a people who were used to harsh living conditions, mobility and war — elements that make for an ideal military force.

In the post-Soviet era, Turkey is not the only nation that has a Turkish population. While the Ottomans formed the greatest and most influential Turkic empire, the break up of the former Soviet Union spawned many independent nations whose people have a Turkic origin. These include the republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Additionally, there are still many Turkish people who live in Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine, such as the Chechens, as well as various Turkic peoples in China's frontier provinces, most notably the Uyghurs.

Wayfarers AllEdit

Although the land we call Turkey was named after these horse-riding nomads, they weren't the first inhabitants of that country, for while most Turkic-speaking nations to a certain extent share the same language as their cousins in Hungary and Turkey, the populations of these lands are far more cosmopolitan and varied in descent, owing to a rich and eventful past — which for some could be ominous and bloody.

To begin, human habitation of Anatolia — Turkey proper — seems to date back to the earliest days of the Neolithic period. Spectacular prehistoric remains, predating those of Egypt such as Nevali Cori, Çatal Hüyük and Göbekli Tepe suggest that a human culture with a significant degree of sophistication first began appearing in Anatolia around the 9th millenium BCE (around the time the Göbekli Tepe complex was first erected). The great monuments of this era suggest that human society in Turkey consisted of pastoralists in transition from foraging to sedentary agriculture around this time. Soon to arrive would be metalworking methods, with copper first being worked as 5500BCE, and bronze or alloying by the 3rd millenium BCE.


Bas-relief of Assyrian spearmen, armed in hoplite fashion.

Needless to say, Anatolia's rich resources, particularly its mineral wealth, would soon attract invaders from all corners of the Old World — a theme that would continue to play out in its history well until the Early Modern Era. The first civilisations of note here were the Akkadian and Assyrian empires (who were successors to the former), who managed to spread their influence into what is present-day southeastern Turkey and Armenia.

When Akkad splintered into Assyria and Babylonia, and Assyria began to weaken, it gave an opportunity for the rise of two new native civilisations: the Mitanni and the Hatti — known to us today as the Hittites. Of these two, the Hittites were an important power in the 14th and 13th centuries BCE, and their expansion towards the Red Sea eradicated Mitanni, and brought them into conflict with Egypt (who had previously allied with the Mitanni against Hatti) leading to numerous skirmishes and battles of which the Battle of Kadesh, the world's largest chariot clash, was the most important.

Men of Iron and StoneEdit

The Battle Of Kadesh was a result from growing tension between the superpowers of the ancient near east, which then were competing over the smaller states of the Levant. Although the battle ended in a draw, Egypt gave up its colonies in Syria and signed the world's first known peace treaty with the Hittites (a copy of which hangs on the walls of the United Nations headquarters), and then established an alliance against a now resurgent Assyria. Hatti and Egypt two coexisted peacefully for seventy years, but by then Hatti had been weakened by Assyria and was sacked by the "Sea Peoples" a mysterious and loose coalition of raiders looting and pillaging their way across the Mediterranean. Thereafter, Hatti never recovered and continued to decline until the official fall of the kingdom around 1160BCE After the kingdom had fallen, most of its former territories were annexed by Assyria, with some Hittite city-states remaining independent until the 8th century BCE.

Into this new vacuum now strode in several new civilisations: the Lydians, who were former Hittite subjects in Western Anatolia, the Medes, who were one of the many Iranic-speaking tribes migrating from Central Asia westwards into the Middle East and Europe. and the Greeks. The Medes, along with their cousins the Persians, were once tributaries of the Assyrians but in 612 BCE, the city of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, was destroyed in a fierce assault by the Medes under Cyaxares, and Babylonians under Nabopolassar, with Scythian and Cimmerian intervention. By 605 BCE, the once great Neo-Assyrian empire was no more, and a huge power vacuum was formed of which the Medes were quick to take advantagen and so they carved a vast empire stretching across almost the entire Iranian plateau. The smaller polities of eastern Asia Minor were soon subjugated by the Medes.

Medes and Persians

Depiction of Medes and Persians united at the eastern stairs of the Apadāna (Columned hall) in Pārsa, known by the Greeks as Persepolis.

In 553BCE, Kūruš II (most commonly known as Cyrus the Great), petty king of Persia, led a revolt against the Medes and through shrewd military leadership and sound sociopolitical policies he became overlord of both Persia and all of the former Median empire. This rapid change in the status quo after the fall of Assyria made war against the remaining powers inevitable. The famous Croesus of the Lydian Empire in Asia Minor was the first to strike, taking the frontier city of Pteria and enslaving its inhabitants. Cyrus would arm his men along the way and counterattack the Lydians, and by 546 BCE, the Lydian capital at Sardis was taken, and their empire inducted into the new Achaemenid imperium.

As the Achaemenid Empire grew to encompass the northern Middle East and south-eastern Europe, they weren't the only ones with ideas of conquering more land in their heads. Although the Greeks long had a presence on the western coast of Anatolia, between 750BCE to 500BCE the Greek city-states, overpopulated and clashing with one another, began to establish colonies all around the Southern Mediterranean to the Black Sea, as well as intensify migration to the Ionian coast of Anatolia. There, many of the Greek cities soon came under Lydian and then Median suzerainty, before falling in with the rest of the Median empire under the rule of the Achaemenids. Even so, the Ionians were highly restive and stubbornly independent, and frequently rebelled against their Persian overlords — it is thought that the Persians invaded Greece to prevent the stronger Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta, from helping the Ionians to rebel. Eventually, the Ionian Greeks — as well as the rest of Asia Minor, was subsumed into Alexander's Macedonian Empire, intensifying the rate of Hellenisation, which only continued unabated when the region was seized by the Romans from the Pontids, Pergamenes, and Seleucid rulers of the area. By the Middle Ages, the whole of Anatolia was completely Hellenic and Christian in culture.

The Turks Embrace IslamEdit

Even so, it wasn't the fate of the Greeks, Romans or even native Anatolians to lay the foundations of modern Turkey: that task fell to a group of horse-riding nomads in Central Asia called the Turks, who had long been the bane of many sedentary civilisations. They lived as pastoralists, affiliated in loose political groups that often broke apart and feuded with one another before reforming into other groups.


A Turkic horse archer, as depicted in a late medaieval Muslim miniature, possibly of Persian provenance

One of the first politically organized groups were the Hsiung-nu (the Chinese name for a tribe called the Hunnu) had for a time been dominant in the region. They throughout this time, posed a constant threat to ancient China, and were the cause for China to build the Great Wall. In fact, one of the splinter groups from this nation that had moved north and westward would eventually arrive at the gates of the Romans in the 4th century to be known to the western world as the Huns. The Huns were soon followed by various others, most notably the Bulgars, Hungarians, and Khazars, but of these, the most prominent of them all would be the Oghuz, who settled in present-day Azerbaijan and who would provide the warriors and rulers who would eventually found the Ottoman empire as well as the modern-day state of Turkey.

When Islam began making inroads into the heart of the continent, it began to assimilate the fierce horse-riding tribes who haunted the steppes, eventually converting many of them to Islam and recruiting them as mercenaries and then civil servants, much as in the same way the Romans towards the end of their empire tried to employ the Goths in the same fashion — with more or less similar results. In Iran, increasing dependence on this class in the Samanid empire would soon result in the decline of the same and the rise of the Turkic-born but Persian-influenced Ghaznavid Empire, centred around Ghazna in Iran and later ruled from Lahore in present-day Pakistan.

Ahmet ibn Daud "Alp Arslan" founder of the Selcuk Empire

The first independent Islamic Turkic empire was the Kara Khanid empire in the 9th century. Centred around Kashgar in present-day western China near the border with Kirghistan, it would annex Samanid possessions in Central Asia, before it fell apart, and was divided again by the Mongols and the Khwarezmid and Selcuk sultans.

Next in line were the Selcuks. Originally in the service of the Kara Khanids, Selcuk warriors defeated in battle against the Turco-Iranian Ghaznavids in 1025 would eventually return back with a vengeance, taking the whole of Iran from the Ghaznavids (who would hold out in India until cut down by the Ghorids, another noble family descended from Turkic tribesmen), and would go on to expand their influence into Anatolia, Palestine and Iraq as vassals to the Abbasid caliph who then ruled in Baghdad. While the Selcuk made great contributions to Persian culture by perpetuating the cultural preservation policies of the Samanids, they however are better known for their depredations of the Byzantine empire, which eventually resulted in the Crusades. Nonetheless, Persian culture not only thrived and survived, but was even dispersed far and wide throughout the Islamic world: until the late modern period, the Persian language occupied a niche in Turkic society not dissimilar to that of the French language in early modern Europe.


Döner Kümbet, an example of Persianate Selcuk architecture (1275CE)

Not all of the Turks raided the Byzantine settlements however. Some hired themselves out in service of the various individual rival Byzantine Princes and Lords fightings against each other, as well as, defending against subsequent Turkish raiders. However the effect was the same, as the only credible military presence in the region was largely Turkish. In fact one of these groups that had helped the Byzantines would go on to establish a rival Seljuk state in Central Anatolia under Suleyman Shah, known as the Sultanate of Rum.

Meanwhile, other Turkic clans were also carving out fiefdoms for themselves throughout the Caliph's lands and beyond, often ruling as so-called mamluks, or "slaves" of Baghdad. As with the Selcuks, they too were subservient but only formally so. The Tulunids were the first independent dynasty in Islamic Egypt, ruling from 868 to 905. The Abbasids ousted them and transferred custodianship of Egypt to another group of Turkic Saracens, the Ikhshidids, who would rule for roughly three decades before being deposed by the Fatimid sultanate. Another group of Turkic-descended mamluks would arise in Egypt again, under the Bahrids in 1250. This whole process repeated itself again in 1382 when the Burji mamluks arose under their emir Barquq. Turkic rule also extended into India under a series of Turkic dynasties from the 13th to the 16th centuries, before a descendant of Genghis Khan, Zahir ud-din Muhammad Babur, would then invade and establish a new dynasty, the so-called "Mongol" or Mughal empire in India.

The OsmanogluEdit

By the 1300s, the Selcuk colonies of the Middle East had all but disintegrated into several small petty kingdoms throughout the Middle East and Turkey. There then emerged in the sultanate of Rum, or the so-called "Roman sultanate" in central Turkey, a ruling family known as the Osmanoglu, later known as the Ottomans to Westerners.


A "modern" depiction of Osman I Ertoghrul, the scion of the Ottoman Empire

Under their scion Osman I Etogrul, the Osmanoglu would unite the territories of the other petty rulers of the Rum sultanate under their rule. By 1453, this state had captured Byzantium, ending almost a thousand years of Christian rule in Asia Minor, and the conquerors even staked their claim to the throne of Rome itself. The Middle East soon was next, with the local populations welcoming the Ottomans as liberators from hated mamluk rulers. Ottoman forces reached Egypt in 1517, whose ruler, Mutawakkil III, was deported to Constantinople (now renamed Istanbul) where he surrendered the title of caliph to the Ottoman Turks.

For 60 years, the empire was greatly expanded under the rule of Sultan Selim I and his son Sultan Suleyman (called "The Lawmaker" in Islam and "The Magnificent" in Europe), but were soon succeeded by weaker rulers who rendered the empire powerless and a pawn between the British, Russians and French in the 19th century, before being utterly demolished after the Great War.

Selim was a ruthless ruler (he earned the epithet "Yavuz" or "the Grim") and general, qualities badly needed by the empire. However, the threat posed by another Turkic-born dynasty, Safavid Iran, was ever so great great. Unlike the Mamluks in the Middle East, the Ottomans initially did not see them as enemies. In fact, many Ottomans and members of the Janissaries corps were attracted to the religious ideals of the Safavids and that was a problem that Selim solved by using brutal force. He ordered his forces to hunt down any Safavid supporters in Anatolia, killing thousands upon thousands of his own people. The two empires confronted militarily many times during the reign of Selim, but each engagement ended inconclusively. It could be said thus that both sides did succeed in their endeavours: Iran to halt Ottoman encroachment, and the Ottomans to stamp out any possibility of Persian intrigue in its own military. Besides the Safavids, the Mamluks in the Middle East were posing a serious threat to Selim's empire. When he raised an army in 1516, it was not known if he was going to attack the Safavids in the north like for a second time or the Mameluke Empire in the south. However, the Mamluks, with their poor system of government and revolts in Egypt, were definitely the weaker opponent and so the great sultan marched his army south. Battle was joined at Marj Dabiq in Syria on 24 August 1516. The Ottomans had an easy victory and the remnants of the Mamluks were soon defeated in Egypt.


Suleyman the Magnificent

Suleyman succeeded his father in 1520. In his time, Suleyman was considered to be the most significant ruler in the world. He expanded the Ottoman Empire far into the east and the west. Working on the foundation that his father has built, Suleyman went to work on his own campaigns of conquest. His campaigns lasted for a long time. During the years between the 1520's and the 1530's, the Ottoman Empire successfully conquered Hungary by making it an Ottoman province, before being stopped short of invading by the Habsburg Austrians. But Suleyman's troubles with the gâvurs (a perjorative term in Ottoman times for Christians) were only just beginning. Since the Ottomans traded extensively with countries in Asia (China, India, etc.), they were seen as a serious problem by the Portuguese, who set out to destroy all Muslim trade. In 1552, the Portuguese routed the Ottoman fleet and gained control over the Persian Gulf. Although the Ottomans did manage to defend the Red Sea, they would never recover from this blow as Portuguese trade prospered while the opposite happened to the Ottomans.

Despite these setbacks, Suleyman still wanted to wage war: his priority now was the Safavid Empire that his father never destroyed, as it still posed a serious threat. To ensure that Europeans (especially Austrians) would not invade his empire while the bulk of his army is in Iran, he made peace with Austria in 1553 and immediately marched upon Iran. Unlike his father, he did not attack from the north where the Safavids had full preparations for invasion but rather from the south where there were little defenses. By the end of 1553, Baghdad was in Ottoman hands and Bersa came into Ottoman rule not long after.

However, the longest lasting of the sultan's contribution was in the codification of laws (thus giving him the title "Lawgiver"). The system was based on the foundation built by Sultan Mehmed II ("The Conqueror") and recorded a huge body of law that included the workings of the state and emphasised the power of the sultan and government over people and property. He thus grudgingly earned his title "The Magnificent" from his European adversaries since he had built a large and prosperous (or magnificent) empire. Aside from this, just the mere news of his army marching would make the enemy tremble (especially for the Austrians and the Italians). His reign was also a total success, since the Ottoman Empire was greater than ever in both size and prosperity.


Suleymanli Cemi (Blue Mosque)

However, after the death of Suleyman the empire began to lose its forward momentum. Its glorious conquests ceased and its long decline began. This was due to the reign of Selim II, the successor of Suleyman. Unlike his father and grandfather, Selim II seemed to be more interested in alcohol and sex more than ruling the empire. Suleyman did not intend to pass the throne to Selim, but rather Mustafa, his eldest son or Bayezid, his second son — Selim II never participated in this apprenticeship, starting a precedent that would doom the top-heavy empire.

The Sick Man of EuropeEdit

Although by theory the Sultanate passed to the eldest child of the family, this was not always the case. In fact, the Ottomans did not pass their throne to the eldest or most senior person but rather believed that all the members of the royal family were eligible. This meant that sultans would execute or (much later, just) incarcerate all of his brothers and nephews to prevent them from competing for the throne. This is why some sultans were succeeded by their brothers in later times. In some cases, the throne could then be possessed by an individual who had been a prisoner for the better part of his life (meaning that the individual would have little knowledge of how the world was now changing), leading to incompetent or sometimes "mad" rulers and corruption in the bureaucracy. And if a Sultan was seen as incompetent, others would conspire to overthrow him.


Topkapi palace, onetime residence of the Ottoman sultans (and sometimes prison for a few of them too)

Further, the business of government was actually borne by a sprawling bureaucracy. Headed by the Grand Vizier, the Ottoman bureaucracy was controlled by a whole bunch of complex and rigid set of rules (of which some even applied to the sultan). As the sultans became more and more disinterested in governing due to the fact that most sultans were selected from members who were locked in isolated conditions for most of their lives, the more powerful the Vizier and the bureaucracy became. This led to mighty power struggles within the bureaucracy, constant shifts in power, and corruption in government. Power also shifted onto the military, in the form of the Janissaries, who were the warrior caste and military administration for the empire. In earlier times, one's position in the military was determined entirely by merit. By the mid-seventieth century, this had became hereditary, eroding Ottoman military might. One man, Muhammad Koprülü, tried to reverse all this by using his authorities as the Grand Vizier to restore the empire to the old ways, calling for expansion into Europe again, but this never happened in his lifetime. Koprülü's new expansionist policies came into being shortly after his death, and the Ottomans marched onto Austria only to be defeated at Vienna in 1683 by an alliance of European nations armed with heavy artillery, something that the Ottomans did not use actively in their military conquests. After its defeat, the Ottoman Empire started losing its grip over existing territories in Europe. Hungary and Transylvania were ceded to Austria in 1699, leaving only Macedonia and the Balkans under Ottoman control, and even these territories began to destabilise after the Ottoman defeat in 1683.

By the end of the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire was well on its way on becoming from the most powerful empire in the Mediterranean in the 16th century to a petty nation with internal corruption and economic instability written all over it in the late 18th century. Nevertheless art, culture and architecture continued to flourish. Like the many Islamic cultures before them, the Ottomans made it their duty to dignify their civilisation. Traditional religious architecture already enriched by the experiments of the 15th and 16th centuries, continued to flourish, as did the development of Ottoman textile weaving and painting. Ottoman silversmiths were often esteemed to be among the most skilled throughout Europe. The 18th century also saw the introduction of "Islamic Baroque", a unique offshoot of Baroque art and architecture that first arose in Europe, as well as that of the theatre culture of Europe. This was not a one-way, street however: of all Ottoman exports, the most indelible mark the Ottomans left on contemporary culture to this day was in food and drink: coffee. Almost every Starbucks outlet owes its origins to the humble Ottoman kahvehane which was the direct descendent of the Arab maqha. This cross-pollination would further enrich the artistic and cultural legacy of the Ottomans, which has been handed down to us to up to this very day.


17th century Yenceri or Janissary corps, in parade uniform

Politically, however, the Ottoman Empire was a mess. It was now preoccupied with maintaining its existing territory while inconclusive wars with Europe, overpopulation, famine and unemployment broke out, and the Ottoman economy, hitherto based on the overland Silk Road, went downhill once the gâvurs learnt to sail to America and Asia. Failure to industrialise its economy meant that Ottoman products could not compete with the cheaper and better products of the Europeans. Since a large percentage of the empire depended on cottage industry for a living, this made the empire ever so weaker. Internal corruption also played a part in preventing modernisation - for instance, during attempts at military reforms, or the so-called Nizam-e-Cedit, the Janissaries arose up in anger at the abolition of their privileges in the 19th century. The revolt was put down only with the extermination of the last few remaining rebels. The 19th century revolutions did nothing to better conditions. Aroused by nationalist sentiment, the ethnic minorities of Ottoman Europe rose up in revolt. Most notable was the insurgency movement in Hellas, which reached boiling point by 1821. This time, the Europeans, hitherto accustomed to a blasé attitude towards Ottoman occupation in the Helladic Peninsula, chose to intervene and an independent Kingdom of Greece was declared by 1833. By the 1880s, almost all of Europe west of the Bosphorus was free as would be the Middle East almost forty years later.

Modern Turkey (1924CE onward)Edit

The end for the Empire came in 1914. During the opening months of the Great War, pro-nationalist and revanchist strains in politics compelled the Empire into war with the Triple Entente of Russia, France and Britain. The first act of war was the takeover of two German ships fleeing from British pursuers. Although in theory they were now Ottoman property, the ships were then subsequently used to bombard Russian assets in the Crimea. Naturally, the Entente responded in kind and although the Turks enjoyed some success in defeating Allied invasions of the Anatolian heartland, elsewhere they were hopelessly defeated. Countless battles in the Caucasus bled the Empire dry, the province of Armenia staged a successful revolt, while the British exacerbated an insurgency campaign in the Middle East against the Ottomans. By 1918 it was clear who was winning, and a treaty was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Entente. An ambitious general and the victor at Gelibolu, Attaturk, then launched a coup, sending the sultan, Abdülmecid II, into exile in France, establishing the Republic of Turkey with himself as president. The Turkish republic, however, still had yet to reach the light at the end of the tunnel — in the wake of the fall of the sultanate, Turkey came under attack from a variety of European powers, mostly Greece and France and Armenia, and it was only with great difficulty that Greece was repulsed, and a settlement reached with France over the new roles each side would play in the Middle East. 


Mustafa Kemal

With the Lausanne Peace Agreement in 1924CE, Attaturk managed to consolidate control of Anatolia under the rule of Ankara. He also abolished the Sultanate in favor of a secular State, thus ending 600 years of the Ottoman Empire. In forming the modern Turkish state and becoming its first president, he placed emphasis not on ethnic origins or religion, but on loyalty to Turkey. He instituted many social reforms, firmly orienting the nation towards a European standard in hopes of making the nation equal to other modern powers that had beaten it during the First World War.

In the post-Ataturk era, and especially after the military coup of 1960, this ideology came to be known as "Kemalism" and his reforms began to be referred to as "revolutions." Kemalism comprises a Turkish form of secularism, strong nationalism, statism, and to a degree a western orientation. The continued validity and applicability of Kemalism are the subject of lively debate in Turkey's political life. The current ruling AK Party comes from a tradition that challenges many of the Kemalist precepts and is driven in its reform efforts by a desire to achieve EU accession. Turkey entered World War II on the Allied side until shortly before the war ended, becoming a charter member of the United Nations. Difficulties faced by Greece after World War II in quelling a communist rebellion and demands by the Soviet Union for military bases in the Turkish Straits prompted the United States to declare the Truman Doctrine in 1947. The doctrine enunciated American intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece and resulted in large scale U.S. military and economic aid under the Marshall Plan. After participating with United Nations forces in the Korean conflict, Turkey in 1952 joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Turkey is currently a European Union candidate, although this has been clouded by their refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.

Shifting SandsEdit


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