The nation of Turkey is situated on two continents — Asia and Europe. Because of its location, it has played an important role in both Asian and European history. For some 600 years Turkey was the center of the great Ottoman Empire. At the height of its power, the empire stretched from east central Europe to Southwest Asia and North Africa. The modern Republic of Turkey, which was founded in 1923, retains only a part of the once vast Ottoman Empire. But it is still a country of considerable size, about as large in area as Utah, Arizona, and Nevada combined.
The region that is now Turkey has been inhabited by various peoples since ancient times. It was the birthplace of the Hittites, one of the earliest civilizations. Later, Greeks from Europe, Arabs, and other peoples from Asia settled in parts of the region. The Turks, who came from Central Asia, arrived in the 11th century and eventually became the dominant people of the region. Today, Turks make up the vast majority of the population. The Kurds, a non-Turkish people, most of whom live in the southeastern part of the country, are the largest minority group.
Language and Religion. Turkish, the official language of the country, is of Asian origin. At one time the Arabic alphabet was used to write Turkish, but a modified Roman alphabet is now used. Almost all the people are Muslims, and mosques (Muslim houses of worship) are found throughout the country. Many of the mosques represent notable examples of Islamic architecture.
Way of Life. In appearance and dress most Turks resemble Europeans. Their way of life combines both European and Asian traditions.
Turkish food, arts and crafts, and folktales reflect Asian influence. Turkish food often is cooked over charcoal pits. Favorite Turkish foods are shish kebab — small pieces of meat (mutton or beef) and onions roasted on a spit — and yogurt. The Turks first learned to make coffee in Yemen during the 16th century, when they conquered the Arabian Peninsula. They took coffee back to Turkey and later introduced it to Europe.
Since the Muslim religion frowns on the making of pictures of living beings, Turkish artists for centuries have concentrated on geometric designs. Turkish art is famous for its colorful designs in wood carvings, metalwork, carpets, ceramics, tiles, and buildings.
Turkish music and sports show a strong European influence, but they have retained their national character. Today soccer and wrestling are the most popular sports.
Education. After World War I, religious schools were replaced by state schools patterned after the European system. Primary, secondary, and college education are free. Primary education is compulsory for children age 7 to 12. There are high schools in all the larger towns and cities. Technical schools, teacher-training schools, and colleges provide further education. Turkey has a number of universities. The largest is the University of Istanbul, founded in the 15th century.