Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Overview: The present constitution was adopted in November 1982 and amended in 1995, 1999, 2001, and 2004. The government is a parliamentary system in which the president is elected by the legislative branch. Power is highly centralized at the national level. Since the adoption of a multiparty system in 1946, most of Turkey’s governments have been coalitions of two or more parties. Many of those governments have been weak and ephemeral. The government chosen in 2002 was the first since 1991 to be formed by a single majority party, the Justice and Development Party. As of late 2005, that party retained strong public support. The military has taken power three times, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Although in each case elections were held within three years, the military remains an important political force in the early 2000s. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the power of Islamist parties has increased, despite the principle of strictly secular government established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of modern Turkey. The judicial branch is genuinely independent.

Executive Branch: The president is elected by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA, parliament) for a single term of seven years. The last presidential election was in May 2000. The president, who has limited powers and abdicates party membership upon election, appoints the prime minister and has the power to summon sessions of the TGNA, promulgate laws, and ratify international treaties. The president also is commander of the armed forces. The prime minister, who supervises the implementation of government policy, usually is the head of the majority or plurality party of the TGNA. Members of the Council of Ministers, which in 2005 included 22 full ministers and three deputy prime ministers, are nominated by the prime minister and approved by the president. The president also appoints members of the national courts and the heads of the Central Bank and broadcasting organizations, and the president has the power to dissolve the Grand National Assembly. The president presides over the National Security Council, whose members include the prime minister; the chief of the General Staff; the ministers of national defense, interior, and foreign affairs; and the commanders of the branches of the armed forces and the gendarmerie. This powerful body sets national security policy and coordinates all activities related to mobilization and defense.

Legislative Branch: Legislative power is exercised by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), a one-chamber parliament composed of 550 deputies who serve five-year terms. The TGNA writes legislation, supervises the Council of Ministers, and adopts the budget. The TGNA also elects the president, by a two-thirds majority, from among its members. The president can be voted out of office by a vote of three-quarters of TGNA members. The TGNA decides on declaring war, martial law, and emergency rule and approves international agreements. Parliamentary elections are based on proportional representation subject to a national threshold of 10 percent. Members are elected by party lists drawn up by party leaders. Once elected, members have immunity from prosecution. TGNA legislation is developed by specialized commissions. The laws passed by the TGNA are promulgated by the president within 15 days. The president may refer a law back to the assembly for reconsideration.

Judicial Branch: The highest court in Turkey is the Constitutional Court, which examines the constitutionality of laws and other government actions. Members of that court are appointed by the president. The Court of Cassation, which is divided into 30 specialized chambers whose members are appointed by a Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (in turn appointed by the president), hears appeals from lower courts. The military court system, whose top level is the Military Court of Appeals, hears only cases related to the military. The Council of State settles administrative cases and offers opinions on laws drafted by the Council of Ministers. A 2004 amendment to the constitution abolished State Security Courts (SSCs), which had been cited for human rights violations as they carried out their function of trying individuals deemed a threat to national interests. However, the special new courts appointed to replace the SSCs received similar powers.

Administrative Divisions: Turkey is divided into 81 provinces (iller; sing., il), which in turn are divided into districts and sub-districts. Provinces have an average of eight districts each. Sixteen large metropolitan municipalities, about 3,200 smaller towns, and about 50,000 villages have their own local governments.

Provincial and Local Government: The provinces are administered by governors, who are appointed by the Council of Ministers with the approval of the president. The governors function as the principal agents of the central government and report to the Ministry of Interior. Districts are administered by sub-governors. Provinces, districts, and local jurisdictions also have directly elected councils. Although local jurisdictions have gained political powers since 1980, the system remains highly centralized. The national government oversees elected local councils in order to ensure the effective provision of local services and to safeguard the public interest; the minister of interior is empowered to remove from office local administrators who are being investigated or prosecuted for offenses related to their duties. Several ministries of the national government have offices at the provincial and district levels. An autonomous local administration exists at the level of municipalities, which elect a mayor and a municipal council. In the villages, the village assembly elects a council of elders and a village headman.

Judicial and Legal System: When the Republic of Turkey was established, the Islamic law of the Ottoman Empire was replaced in 1926 with a secular system borrowed from the Swiss and Italian legal codes. The judicial system has been criticized for the influence of the executive branch, particularly the National Security Council, over adjudication of certain cases. Also criticized is the membership of the minister of justice, a member of the executive branch, on the powerful Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors, whose functions of overseeing the lower courts and choosing judges have no review mechanism. Prosecutors have wide authority in the investigation of cases. All cases are heard by judges, not by juries. Every province has one penal and at least one civil court, each consisting of one judge, to hear routine cases. Central criminal courts, of which Turkey has 172, hear more serious criminal cases. Those courts consist of a judicial panel of three. In 2002 Turkey abolished application of the death penalty in peacetime. A new penal code, responding to some but not all of the membership requirements of the European Union (EU), was approved in September 2004.

Electoral System: Suffrage is universal for citizens 18 years of age and older. Only parliamentary delegates and local governments are elected directly. The Grand National Assembly elects the president, who must receive two-thirds of assembly votes to be elected in the first or second round of voting. If a third round of voting is necessary, a simple majority is acceptable. Direct parliamentary and local elections are held (separately) every five years, but the president or the Grand National Assembly can declare elections at an earlier date. In the 2002 parliamentary elections, which were judged to be fair by international observers, the Justice and Development Party won a majority of seats and formed a one-party government on that basis.

Political Parties: Turkey has had a multiparty system since 1946. In 2005 some 49 official parties were in operation. The existence and alignments of Turkey’s political parties have been fleeting, although the Republican People’s Party, founded by Atatürk in 1923, retained substantial power in 2005. After the parliamentary elections of 2002 caused a major shift in party strength, only two parties—the Republican People’s Party and the Justice and Development Party—held seats in parliament. The latter party held the majority, and in 2003 its head, Tayyip Erdoğan, was named prime minister. Nine seats were held nominally by independents, who in fact represented Islamic parties. Party representation in the Grand National Assembly is proportional to total votes received by a party’s candidates, but those candidates must receive at least 10 percent of the total vote for the party to be represented. The officially unrepresented parties receiving the most votes in the 2002 elections were the center-right True Path Party, the conservative Nationalist Action Party, the nationalist Youth Party, the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party, the moderate Motherland Party, and the Islamic fundamentalist Felicity Party.

Mass Media: Turkey has a wide variety of domestic and foreign periodicals expressing diverse views, and domestic newspapers are extremely competitive. The media exert a strong influence on public opinion. The most popular daily newspapers are Sabah, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Zaman, and Yeni Asir. Of those titles, Milliyet (630,000) and Sabah (550,000) have the largest circulation. Milliyet and the daily Cumhuriyet are among the most respected serious newspapers. Most newspapers are based in Istanbul, with simultaneous Ankara and İzmir editions. The broadcast media have very wide dispersion because satellite dishes and cable systems are widely available. The High Board of Radio and Television is the government body overseeing the broadcast media. Media ownership is concentrated among large private companies, a factor that limits the views that are presented. The largest such operator is the Dogan group, which in 2003 received 40 percent of the advertising revenue from newspapers and broadcast media in Turkey. In 2003 a total of 257 television stations and 1,100 radio stations were licensed to operate, and others operated without licenses. Of those licensed, 16 television and 36 radio stations reached national audiences. In 2003 some 22.9 million televisions and 11.3 million radios were in service. Aside from Turkish, the state television network offers some programs in Arabic, Circassian, Kurdish, and Zaza.

Foreign Relations: In 2004 the center of Turkey’s foreign relations remained the United States and Western Europe. Relations with Greece, a long-time antagonist, began to improve in 1999. Although the two countries’ fundamental dispute over Cyprus still was unresolved, in 2004 Turkey gained Greece’s support and the endorsement of the Council of Europe for membership in the European Union (EU), pending negotiation of a series of domestic reforms. Relations with the United States, close since the beginning of the Cold War, were damaged in 2003 when Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to cross into Iraq from Turkey. The United States canceled a major aid package, which later was restored in a smaller form. Relations improved in 2004 and 2005, and the United States continued advocating Turkey’s membership in the EU.

In the 1990s, Turkey developed economic relationships with the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—and economic and military relations with traditional enemy Russia improved dramatically. Beginning in the mid-1990s, relations with Israel have been unusually close for an Islamic nation, based mainly on Israeli military and security assistance. In the early 2000s, Turkey has cultivated closer relations with Syria, although a dispute remains over distribution of water from the Euphrates River. Close relations have not been established with Iran, aside from a natural gas supply agreement. Despite reservations about Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, in 2005 Turkey expressed readiness to establish relations with a new government in that country.

Membership in International Organizations: Among the international organizations of which Turkey is a member are the Asian Development Bank, Bank for International Settlements, Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact, Council of Europe, Economic Cooperation Organization, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Court of Human Rights, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Development Association, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Organization for Migration, International Telecommunication Union, Islamic Development Bank, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Nuclear Energy Agency, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pollution Control Agency, United Nations, United Nations Committee on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization. Turkey is an applicant for membership in the European Union.

Major International Treaties: Among the multilateral treaties to which Turkey is a signatory are the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, conventions prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling, and use of biological and chemical weapons (known respectively as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention), Energy Charter Treaty, Geneva Conventions, Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.


Armed Forces Overview: Turkey’s armed forces, the second largest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), are mainly made up of conscripts commanded by a cadre of professional soldiers. In 2005 the army had 402,000 active personnel, the navy had 52,750 active personnel, and the air force had 60,100. Of the active personnel, about 391,000 were conscripts, mainly in the army. In addition, some 379,000 were in the reserves and 150,000 in the national guard. Turkey contributes troops to several United Nations and NATO peacekeeping operations as well as maintaining a significant force in Turkish Cyprus. In 1998 a major expansion of the domestic arms industry began with the aim of withstanding an arms embargo such as the one imposed by the United States in the mid-1970s after the Cyprus conflict. The Ministry of Defense nominally controls the military, but in fact the chief of the General Staff is the most powerful figure in the military, and he enjoys substantial autonomy.

Foreign Military Relations: In 1996 Turkey signed two military cooperation agreements with Israel, making it the first Muslim country to establish such a relationship with that country. Between 1996 and 2002, military and economic ties between the two countries blossomed. The two nations shared training exercises and intelligence information and cooperated on joint security and weapons projects. However, in the early 2000s Turkey condemned Israeli actions against Palestine, cooling the relationship. In 2005 Israel and Turkey signed a new round of joint military production agreements. Turkey participated actively in the United States-led war on terrorism, sending 1,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2002 and taking command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s International Security Assistance Force in that country in 2002 and again in 2005. However, because of the Kurdish situation Turkey blocked U.S. troop movement into Iraq at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In 2002 Turkey was granted an advisory role in military operations of the European Union (EU). In the early 2000s, nearly all of Turkey’s arms acquisitions have been from EU countries or Israel.

External Threat: Beginning in the 1960s, regional disputes have brought Turkey and Greece close to war on several occasions. Although general relations have improved, in the early 2000s negotiators failed to reach a treaty ending the Cyprus crisis. In 2003 the U.S. invasion of Iraq increased Turkey’s fears that Kurds from northern Iraq would unite with Kurds in southeastern Turkey to renew claims for an autonomous or independent Kurdistan.

Defense Budget: In 2002 Turkey’s official defense expenditure was US$6.5 billion, but reportedly the actual expenditure, including funds for the military police and Coast Guard, was US$9.2 billion. The official expenditure for 2003 was US$8.1 billion and US$8.5 billion for 2004. The 10-year program to upgrade the defense industry received an initial allocation of US$31 billion.

Major Military Units: In 2004 the army had 2 infantry divisions, 17 armored brigades, 15 mechanized infantry brigades, 11 infantry brigades, 5 commando brigades, 8 training brigades, 4 aviation regiments, 1 attack helicopter battalion, and 3 aviation battalions. The air force had 11 squadrons of ground attack fighters, 7 squadrons of fighter jets, 2 reconnaissance squadrons, 5 transport squadrons, and 4 surface-to-air missile squadrons. The Naval Forces Command was divided into the Northern Sea Area Sub-command, the Southern Sea Area Sub-command, a Training Sub-command, and a Fleet Sub-command. One regiment of marines (3,100 troops) also was on active duty.

Major Military Equipment: In 2004 the army had 4,205 main battle tanks, 250 armored reconnaissance vehicles, 650 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 830 armored personnel carriers, more than 679 pieces of towed artillery, 868 pieces of self-propelled artillery, about 100 multiple rocket launchers, 5,813 mortars, 1,283 antitank guided weapons, 3,869 recoilless launchers, 3,288 antiaircraft guns, 897 surface-to-air missiles, 820 aircraft, 37 attack helicopters, and 284 support helicopters. The navy had 13 submarines, 19 frigates, 21 missile combat vessels, 28 patrol craft, 1 minelayer, 23 mine countermeasures vessels, 8 amphibious vessels, 27 support vessels, and 16 armed helicopters. The air force had 480 combat aircraft, 40 support helicopters, and no attack helicopters.

Military Service: The majority of military personnel are conscripted. At age 19, males are eligible to be conscripted for a 15-month tour of active duty, which was shortened from 18 months in 2003. University graduates may be conscripted as reserve officers for a 12-month period.

Paramilitary Forces: The National Guard, or Jandarma, includes 150,000 active personnel and a reserve of 50,000, under the command of the Ministry of Interior in peacetime and the Ministry of Defense in wartime. Included are one border division and three brigades, of which one is a commando brigade. Between 1988 and 2004, border security was the responsibility of the military; the Ministry of Interior reassumed this duty to meet a European Union requirement. The Coast Guard has 2,200 active-duty personnel, of which 1,400 are conscripts.

Foreign Military Forces: Turkey hosts the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Joint Command South-East. In 2005 that installation included some 1,650 U.S. Air Force personnel.

Military Forces Abroad: In 2004 Turkey had 36,000 troops, including two infantry divisions, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey also had 161 troops with the International Stabilization Force in Afghanistan, 1,200 with the stabilization force in Bosnia, one infantry battalion group with United Nations forces in East Timor, 940 troops with the Kosovo Force in Serbia and Montenegro, and observers in Georgia and Italy. In 2005 Turkey took a second turn in command of the International Stabilization Force. Because of strong public disapproval of the war in Iraq, no Turkish troops participated in the United States-led Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Police: The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for security in urban areas. Under the central directorate of this force are sub-directorates for each province. Specialized units deal with problems such as narcotics and smuggling. The exact size of the police force is not known. The 150,000-member paramilitary National Guard, or Jandarma, also under the Ministry of Interior except for wartime situations, is responsible for security outside urban areas—about 90 percent of Turkey’s territory. Jandarma officers come from the military academy, and recruits are conscripted. In the early 2000s, another force, called the village guards, was stationed mainly in southeastern Turkey to prevent upheavals in Kurdish territory. In the early 2000s, Turkey responded to international human rights pressure by revising the training of its Jandarma and National Police, which had a longstanding reputation for brutality and corruption. Younger police cadets now are sought to undergo a much longer training program emphasizing human rights. However, in 2004 several incidents of human rights abuses by police were reported, and sentences for such crimes remained light. In 2004 parliament established a judicial police force, under the administration of the Ministry of Interior, to assist prosecutors in investigating criminal cases.

Internal Threat: Because of its location, Turkey is a major transfer point on east-west drug smuggling routes, particularly those moving heroin from southwest Asia into Europe. Drug-related crimes such as money laundering also are common. However, the rate of violent crime and street crime is relatively low. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the main Kurdish terrorist organization, officially renounced terror in 2000 but resumed attacks in 2004. Turkey’s fears of Kurdish autonomy revived when the United States invaded neighboring Iraq in 2003.

Terrorism: Beginning in 1984, Turkey suffered waves of terrorist activity by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Urban terrorism increased sharply in the early 1990s. Many incidents were attributed to the radical Islamist group Dev Sol, which attacked Western targets in response to the Persian Gulf War of 1991. In the 1990s and the early 2000s, Dev Sol and its successor organization, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party, launched assassinations and other attacks against Turkish authorities and Westerners. For extended periods of time in the early 1990s, the PKK was able to control significant territory in the southeast. In the mid-1990s, Turkish forces launched a series of attacks against PKK bases, and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured in 1999. In 2000 the PKK announced a formal end to its terrorist campaign against Turkey. Renunciation of that status in 2004 resulted in a series of terrorist attacks in 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, in the late 1990s the Turkish military was accused of having ties with the Iranian-supported Hezbollah terrorist group (a separate group from the Lebanese Hezbollah), and in 2000 Turkish authorities launched a successful attack against the Hezbollah leadership in Turkey. Although in 2005 Hezbollah and the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front were considered the strongest Islamic terrorist organizations in Turkey, neither was believed capable of large-scale attacks. In November 2003 and March 2004, a series of terrorist bomb attacks targeted Western and Jewish sites in Istanbul. The Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front, suspected to have connections to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the November bombings.

Human Rights: In the early 2000s, the position of Turkey’s large Kurdish minority remained the largest ethnic human rights issue. Some improvement occurred in the position of Turkey’s Kurdish minority after governments had blocked public assemblies and the distribution of literature by Kurdish groups. In 2002 the rights of Kurds were expanded, together with a broader human rights reform program. In 2003 Turkey passed extensive reforms to comply with the human rights standards of the European Union. Reforms included harsher sentences for authorities convicted of torture, improving the availability of lawyers to accused individuals, allowing media broadcasts in Kurdish and other minority languages, and making it possible for a civilian to head the National Security Council. The death penalty was abolished for civil crimes in peacetime. However, human rights groups reported that implementation of these reforms was slow. In 2004 arbitrary arrest and detention occurred, journalists were harassed for antigovernment views, assembly and association were restricted occasionally, pretrial detention and judicial trials were overly long, the government still appeared to influence the outcome of some trials, and prison conditions were described as poor. The government has limited the activities of the media and harassed journalists expressing controversial views. In December 2005, the trial of novelist Orhan Pamuk for writings allegedly insulting the Turkish nation received international attention.

The right to practice religion generally has been respected. The state has limited financial and organizational activities of Greek and Armenian Christians, although legislation proposed in 2004 would remove some restrictions. Muslim activities have been circumscribed when undertaken in state-run institutions, and the state Directorate of Religious Affairs, responsible to the prime minister, oversees the operation of all religious institutions. Violence against women, particularly spousal abuse, is very common, and few victims file complaints. Honor killings of “disgraced” female family members continue in rural areas. Turkey is a destination and a transit point for a moderate amount of trafficking in women and children.


January 2006


Formal Name: Republic of Turkey (Turkiye Cumhuriyeti).

Short Form: Turkey.

Term for Citizen(s): Turk(s).

Capital: Ankara.

Other Major Cities: Istanbul, İzmir (Smyrna), Bursa, Adana, Gaziantep, and Konya (in order of size).

Independence: Turkey celebrates October 29, 1923, the date on which the Republic of Turkey was declared after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, as its date of independence.

Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1), Feast of the Sacrifice (January 10, 2006; variable date determined by the Islamic calendar), National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (April 23), Commemoration of Atatürk and Youth and Sports Day (May 19), Victory Day (August 30), Republic Day (October 29), and the End of Ramadan (October 24, 2006; variable date determined by the Islamic calendar).

Flag: The flag has a red background with a white crescent, open to the

right, on the left side and a five-pointed white star in the center.


The history of the geographical area occupied by the modern state of Turkey and the history of the peoples who occupy that state are quite different. Linking the two is the history of the Ottoman Empire. That empire was a vast, pan-Islamic state that expanded, beginning in the fourteenth century, from a small Turkish emirate located within the boundaries of the present-day Republic of Turkey to include holdings across North Africa, southeastern Europe, and most of the Middle East.

Prehistory and Early History: The land mass occupied by the Asian part of the Republic of Turkey, east of the Sea of Marmara, is known as Anatolia. The region was inhabited by an advanced Neolithic culture as early as the seventh millennium B.C., and metal instruments were in use by 2500 B.C. Late in the third millennium B.C., the warrior Hittites invaded Anatolia and established an empire that made significant economic and administrative advancements. In about 1200 B.C., the Phrygians overthrew the Hittites in western Anatolia, where a Phrygian kingdom

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