From Ataturk to Erdogan: Five things to know about modern Turkey

Agence France Presse
 Sunday 2:49 AM GMT


From Ataturk to Erdogan: Five things to know about modern Turkey

Ankara, 

The modern state of Turkey emerged out of the wreckage of the Ottoman
Empire to become a powerful strategic nation that borders Greece to
the west and Iran to the east.

It has been ruled since 2002 by the Islamic-rooted conservative party
of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has overseen some of the biggest
changes since modern Turkey was created in 1923.

But in presidential and legislative polls on Sunday, Erdogan and his
party will face the biggest test at the ballot box to their
one-and-a-half-decade grip on power.

Here are five things to know about Turkey.

- Successor to an empire -

At its peak, the Ottoman Empire ruled a swathe of territory extending
from the Balkans to modern Saudi Arabia, including the holy sites of
Islam.

But the Empire suffered centuries of decline and its end was confirmed
by defeat in World War I, in which it had fought on the side of
imperial Germany.

After a War of Independence, Turkish military leaders including
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk were able to salvage a modern state extending
from Thrace to Mesopotamia, declaring the creation of the Republic of
Turkey in 1923.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has sought to rebuild its Ottoman-era influence
in the Middle East, notably in Syria and Iraq as well as the Balkans
and also Africa.

- Secular, Western democracy -

Ataturk, Turkey's first president until his death in 1938, turned the
country towards the West and made secularism one of its founding
principles.

Multi-party democracy was introduced in 1946. Under Ataturk's
successor Ismet Inonu, Turkey remained neutral in World War II.

In 1952 it joined NATO along with its one-time foe Greece with the
strong backing of the United States, keen to ensure Ankara never fell
into the orbit of the USSR.

Critics have accused Erdogan of increasing authoritarianism, presiding
over a creeping Islamisation and changing Turkey's Western tilt. But
the president insists he is committed to a secular republic anchored
in NATO.

- Scarred by coups -

Turkey's powerful military ousted incumbent governments in coups in
1960, 1971 and 1980.

The 1960 coup was followed by the hanging of ousted prime minister
Adnan Menderes -- Erdogan's political hero -- along with two
ministers.

After coming to power, Erdogan clipped the wings of the military in a
bid to make political interventions by the army far less likely.

But in July 2016 he survived a coup attempt by a renegade army faction.

Erdogan said that attempt was ordered by his one-time ally, the
US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who denies the charges.

Erdogan then declared a state of emergency that has seen some 55,000
people arrested in an unprecedented purge. He -- and the opposition --
have vowed to lift the emergency after the elections.

- Host to refugees -

The country of more than 80 million has sought to boost its influence,
staunchly opposing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's
civil war but then working closely with his ally Russia to end the
conflict.

Turkey has taken in around 3.5 million Syrian refugees, who live
mainly in the southeast and Istanbul, as well as smaller numbers from
Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, it signed a deal to limit the flow of refugees to Europe
after one million crossed the Aegean through Turkey in 2015. The deal
was seen as a boost to Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union
but the process has floundered ever since.

Turkey has given passports to a few tens of thousands of Syrian
refugees but critics say the country lacks a strategy to deal with
their long-term presence.

- 'Kurdish problem' -

The non-Muslim minorities on the territory of modern Turkey were
forced out in the 20th century and only small populations remain
today.

Armenians regard the killings and massacres of their ancestors as
genocide, a term vehemently disputed by Turkey. Most Greeks left the
country in the population exchanges of 1923.

By far Turkey's largest ethnic minority are the Kurds. They make up a
fifth of the population and have long complained of being denied their
rights in what they call the "Kurdish problem".

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) took up arms in 1984 in a
bloody insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead.

Erdogan in the first years of his rule took unprecedented steps
towards giving the Kurds greater rights and opened talks with the PKK.
But a ceasefire unravelled in 2015 and violence continues, with still
no peace deal in sight.

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