About Turkey


Pakistanis who have studied in Turkey have wonderful memories of this great country. It played a central role in their lives. And therefore, this website is centered around topics that somehow or the other take us back to this great country.

The modern Republic of Turkey is located on the Anatolian peninsula which has been the crossroads of many great civilizations over the past millennia. Turks were relatively latecomers to this area. It was only after the rise of Islam that this great people migrated from Central Asia westwards and settled down in this peninsula around a thousand years ago.


Modern day Turks believe that they descended from an eponymous ancestor named Oğuz Han (or Oghuz Khan), who may have lived around 2,000 years ago. The Oğuz Turks are cousins of other Turkic nations like the Uygurs, Kazakhs, Turkmen, Uzbeks and others. During the 11th century, the Oğuz Turks migrated west under the leadership of the Seljuqs who were from the Kinik branch of the tribe. During this period, these Oğuz Turks were nomads and eventually settled down in Anatolia. All of these tribes including the Seljuqs had converted to Islam which gave them a mission. Other key branches of the Oğuz Turks were Anushteginids (Khwarezm Shahs), Kara Koyunlu, Aq Koyunlu and the Ottomans (who emerged from the Kayi branch). These tribes became the most powerful of nations among the Muslims and dictated the governments of the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad. Famous rulers among the Seljuqs were Alp Arsalan and Malik Shah along with their grand vizier Nizamul Mulk who are idolized by the Turks.

The unity of the Oğuz tribe gave strength to the Seljuqs, and Anatolia remained united for nearly 2-3 centuries under their rule. With the Mongol onslaught in the thirteenth century, the Seljuq power waned and disintegrated, and the Oğuz tribes became autonomous and powerless. The Mongols occupied much of Anatolia and had enslaved many of these Turkish groups.

The Mongol defeat at the hands of Mamluks in 1260 at Ayn Jalut and subsequent battles changed the course of history and weakened the Mongol position in Syria and Anatolia. They had virtually annihilated the Seljuqs, but the Oğuz tribes regrouped under the leadership of the Kayis leading to the establishment of the Ottoman empire by the end of the thirteenth century under the leadership of Osman I. Their initial capital was at Bursa.

Over the next 3-4 centuries, the Ottomans took control of almost all the Middle East and Balkans region of Europe. Constantinople was conquered in 1453 and became their capital – renamed as Istanbul. The Ottoman Sultans also became the caliphs. This was without a doubt one of the greatest empires in the history of mankind. The heritage they left behind over the entire region has left a deep mark on all the people they ruled. Their arts and architecture are a marvel.

As with every great empire, the Ottomans went into decline by the nineteenth century. In parallel, the Europeans had “discovered” the routes to America and India via the Cape of Good Hope. They plundered the nations that they colonized in the name of trade, and the riches fueled their renaissance and industrial revolution.

The First World War finally brought an end to the Ottoman Empire which had sided with the losing side – the Germans. The Arab governors and satraps under Ottoman rule had rebelled and joined forces with the enemy – the British and allied forces. The traitors within were an important source of the defeat. The empire was broken up into pieces and divided as “independent” countries. The Turks regrouped under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Paşa, known later as Ataturk, and were able to salvage the Anatolian peninsula. The Greeks had occupied the western part of the peninsula and the Russians had taken control of the eastern part. Ataturk’s armies were able to push them back. Thus, Ataturk became the father of modern Turkey and was proclaimed President. He signed the Treaty of Lausanne with the allied powers, and gave up claim on all territory except of the rump Anatolian state and a small territory in the Balkans on the other side of the Bosporus. He also abolished the Sultanate in 1922 taking all executive powers from the Ottomans. In 1924, he passed a law abolishing the caliphate, the end of an uninterrupted period from the time of the Prophet thirteen centuries earlier.

The modern Republic of Turkey chose to be secular and tried to eliminate all remnants of the Ottoman and Islamic period. Even the script of the Turkish language was Latinized to stop the young generation from having access to the vast literature in Ottoman Turkish. Turkey looked towards Europe to set its future course. The fez was abolished and Western traditions and cultural norms were espoused. Turkey was supported by Europe and there was gradual recovery and economic development.

The Kemalist regime was taken over by the Turkish army which kept a civilian government as the façade, but the real power remained with the generals. Turkey had joined the NATO alliance and was a front-line state against Soviet Union. With poverty and inequality within, the country was a ready prey for socialist and communist movements. The younger generation and university students led these efforts. METU students were in the forefront, and this led to confrontation between the leftist students and the army in the 1960s and 1970s. The weakening and eventual destruction of the Soviet Union brought the leftist movements in Turkey and elsewhere to change strategy from armed revolutions to social change.

In the meantime, there was an Islamic revival in the offing in the form of the followers of Beduzzaman Said Nursi who had been a contemporary of Ataturk and had been operating underground. These people were known as the Nurcular. By the 1970s, this group started taking part in the political, social and economic life of the country. Within a decade while the leftist movements suffered the Islamic movement gained ground. Under the leadership of Necmettin Erbakan, they gradually grew their presence in parliament and eventually Erbakan was elected prime minister in 1996. The secular forces within the Turkish army did not allow him to continue for more than a year and his party was banned. The Muslim parties regrouped under a new name of Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). The leadership passed on to Abdullah Gül and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2002 who became prime ministers in succession. Over these past 20 years, the AK Parti changed the face of politics and government in Turkey. They gradually took control of all institutions and replaced the secular elements with their own party supporters. Erdoğan is now President of the country and wields total executive and constitutional powers.

During these past three decades, Turkey has also seen a tremendous development in its economy. Huge investments were made in infrastructure, industry, services and other segments of the economy. The per capita GDP had grown very slowly from $309 in 1962 to $2,842 in 1992. In the 1960’s and 70s, Turkey and Pakistan were at almost the same status economically. The growth in Turkish economy was phenomenal after that and by 2013 it had climbed to $12,615. Over the past 8 years, there has again been a slowdown with a real possibility of change in the coming years.


Map of present-day Republic of Turkey

Turkey has the distinction of having territory in Asia and Europe. Around 97% of the land mass of the Republic of Turkey is in Asia on the Anatolian (Anadolu) peninsula, while the remaining 3% is in the Eastern Thrace area of the Balkans in Europe. The land mass covers an area of 783,562 square kilometers (302,535 square miles), of which 755,688 square kilometers (291,773 square miles) is in Asia and 23,764 square kilometers (9,175 square miles) is in Europe. It is around 11% smaller in size than Pakistan. The meeting point between Asia and Europe is the strait of Bosporus where the ancient city of Istanbul (previously Constantinople) is located. The city also spread on both continents.

Bulgaria and Greece border Turkey to its northwest and western in Europe. Georgia is on its northeastern border along the Black Sea while Armenia and Iran are along the eastern border. As small slice of Azerbaijan in the Nakhchivan region also touches the Turkish border between Armenia and Iran. Iraq is towards southeast and Syria is on its southern border.

On three sides, Turkey is surrounded by water. Black Sea is in the north, the Aegean Sea is on the west and the Mediterranean Sea on the south. The Straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles connect the Black Sea via Marmara Sea to the Aegean Sea, passing right through Turkey. On all three sides, Turkey has some of the best beaches in the world.

Turkey is blessed with a beautiful countryside, lakes, mountains, forests, and excellent climate. At the juncture of Turkey, Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan) and Armenia is the famous Mt. Ararat (5,137m high) where it is believed that Noah’s Ark rests. Lake Van – a saline water lake – is the largest lake in the country covering an area of more than 3,000 sq.km. at an altitude of 1,640 m. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers originate in eastern Turkey and flow through Syria and Iraq down to the Persian Gulf.

The coastal areas along the Mediterranean and Aegean seas have a temperate climate with hot dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters. Black Sea coastal areas also have a temperate climate with warm wet summers and cool to cold wet winters. Inland areas experience the four seasons and the Anatolian plateau can get snow for up to four months every year.

Demographics and Religion

Turkey currently (2022) has an estimated population of 85 million people, with the population currently growing at an annual 1.2%. Around one-fourth of the population is below 14 years old, while 15-64 year-old citizens constitute around 67%. The population is aging every year. Female population is around 50.6%. Based on its growth rates, it is projected that the population of Turkey will peak at around 100 million by the year 2058, and then start to decline.

Around 80% of the citizens are estimated ethnic Turks. Kurds are the largest minority group among the 47 ethnic groups in the country. Exact figures of each ethnic group are not known as the census does not document ethnicity. The Kurds are concentrated mostly in the southeastern and eastern provinces bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria. The non-Turkish minority Muslim groups include Kurds, Albanians, Arabs, Assyrians, Bosniaks, Circassians, Georgians, Laz, Pomaks, and Roma and Megleno-Romanians. Non-Muslim minorities include Armenians, Greeks, and Jews. Since the war in Syria, Turkey has been hosting between 3.6 million refugees as well.

Around three-fourths of the population lives in urban areas. The largest city is Istanbul having a population just under 15 million followed by Ankara having less than 5 million people. Other major cities are Izmir (2.9 million), Bursa (2 million), Adana (1.75 million), Gaziantep (1.65 million), Antalya (1.3 million), Konya (1.1 million), Kayseri (1.1 million), Diyarbakir (1 million), Mersin (1 million), Şanliurfa (0.9 million), and Eskişehir (0.75 million).

Around three-fourths of the population lives in urban areas. The largest city is Istanbul having a population just under 15 million followed by Ankara having less than 5 million people. Other major cities are Izmir (2.9 million), Bursa (2 million), Adana (1.75 million), Gaziantep (1.65 million), Antalya (1.3 million), Konya (1.1 million), Kayseri (1.1 million), Diyarbakir (1 million), Mersin (1 million), Şanliurfa (0.9 million), and Eskişehir (0.75 million).

Turkey is officially a secular country and does not sponsor any religion. Various survey and research organizations report different numbers of the religious mix of the population. However, all recognize that Islam is followed by the vast majority of the population. This number ranges from 80 to 99%. The variance in the numbers of Muslims is due to the unknown numbers of agnostics and atheists. Christians and Jews are in very small numbers and constitute less than 0.2% of the population. The census does not document the religion of its population. A very large proportion of the Turkish Muslims are Sunni, and normally follow the Hanafi fiqh. Shiah population is estimated at between 5 and 10% which includes the Alevis, Bektaşis, and Isna Asharis.

Education and Health

Education up to high school level (12 years) is provided free of cost in all public schools. The medium of education in primary and secondary schools is Turkish.

Higher education opportunities abound. There currently are 207 universities and academies of which 129 are owned by the state. Among the state-owned higher education institutions, there are 11 technical universities including METU, one institute of technology, two fine arts universities, one national defense university, and one police academy. There are 74 private foundation universities established by major business groups.

Turkey has been attracting foreign students in recent years. At present, over 800,000 foreign students are studying at various universities in Turkey. The government offers attractive scholarships through Türkiye Bursalari to over 165,000 students from many countries.

The government has a universal public healthcare system which is funded by a 5% tax surcharge on employers. This is known as Genel Sağlık Sigortası (Universal Health Insurance). Public sector funding covers more than three-fourths of all health expenditures in the country. There are many private hospitals which cater to health tourism that earns over $1 billion annually.

Average life expectancy in Turkey is 78.6 years (75.9 for males and 81.3 for females).

Turkish Cuisine

tel kadayıf
Iskender Kebap
Adana Kebap served on pide

Turkish cuisine is famous which is based on centuries of developments during the Ottoman period. During these past six centuries or more, the political dominance of the Seljuqs and Ottomans influenced the food of all parts of the Arab lands, the Balkans, and North Africa. One finds similar foods in all of these countries, with each one having deviations based on local traditions.

There is a huge variety of different types of kebabs, maybe more than 110 types. The ones that are most widely known are Adana kebap, iskender kebap, döner kebap, şiş kebap, tavuk şiş kebap, tandır kebap, beyti kebap, taş kebap, Urfalı kebap, patlıcan kebap, cağ kebap, ciğer kebap, testi kebap, fırın kebap, yoğurtlu kebap. The smaller restaurants known as lokanta offer a huge variety of other food with a mix of meat and vegetables. Most of the dishes have tomato and eggplant and therefore they are able to avoid the use of spices. Yoghurt is another important component of the dishes. Lahmacun is another favorite which is a special Turkish version of the pizza. It is laced with ground lamb and goat cheese. Kebaps are often served with pide bread, while other foods are eaten with ekmek bread or rice (pilav).

Turkey developed some of the most delicious desserts. Baklava is the king of Turkish sweets. The Syrians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Greeks and others also make baklava, but no one beats the baklava from the Gaziantep region of Turkey. Their baklava virtually melts in the mouth. The best baklava is made with pistachio and walnuts.

Another favorite is tel kadayıf which is crispy and soaked in syrup with pistachio, walnuts and cream. The Turkish delight are little squares with a jelly-like structure. These are made in different flavors with various types of ingredients for variety. One will find many other types of local desserts but none match up with baklava and tel kadayıf.

Turkish coffee is unique, served in small cups with thick coffee mud at the bottom. Turkish tea is very light and served in small tulip-shaped glasses without milk. People like to drink these with sugar cubes.


The most famous sport in Turkey is soccer football. There are several local football clubs in each city and region and in the universities. Volleyball and basketball are also popular games.

Folk Dancing and Music

Every region of Turkey has its own folk dance which depicts the culture of that area. The dancers wear colorful traditional clothing that are unique to each region. The music combined with each dance is extremely lively and played on local instruments, sometimes combined with folk songs.

The annual folklor festivals held in the major cities attract massive crowds and are extremely popular. Every Turkish child learns these dances and they will perform at major events in their lives.

Art and Architecture

Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque in Istanbul

Ottoman architecture has a tremendous appeal. The unique design of the thousands of mosques all over the region are evidence to its popularity. The Ottomans took some elements of Byzantine architecture and combined it with their own Turkic Central Asian characteristics to develop it into their own amazing designs. The Turks left a mark of the unique design of multiple layered domes and pointed minarets all over the Middle East. The mosques are grand and beautiful. The most famous of architects was Sinan who designed and built hundreds of mosques in addition to other buildings and structures. His masterpiece was the Süleymaniye in Istanbul or the mosque in Edirne in Thrace. Other significant buildings included the palaces (like Topkapı, Dolmabahçe), sarays, hospitals, educational institutions and other government buildings and structures.

Turkey is also famous for its ceramic tiles and carpets. The beautiful tile designs from Iznik (ancient Nicaea) adorn mosques and other major buildings.