History & Civilizations

History & Civilizations



The history of Turkey covers a 10,000 year-old civilization.  After the legendary Troy was founded around 3000 BC, the Hittites arrived in Anatolia towards 2000 BC.  By the beginning of 1000 BC, the Urartus created a unified state whose territory extended from the Caucasus to Lake Urmiya, with its capital in Van.  The Urartus were followed by the The Phrygians (750-300 BC) who settled in the Afyon-Ankara-Eskisehir triangle, declaring Gordion on the Sakarya River their capital.  After the death of Alexander the Great, Anatolia became the hub of the Seleucid Empire. Pergamon (Bergama) snatched part of Phrygia in 241 BC and became the emporium of Anatolia and a brilliant intellectual center.


The Roman period began with the death of King Attalus III of Pergamon who willed his country to the Romans because he had no direct heir. Anatolia then lived through a period of peace and prosperity, particularly in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.


In 330, Constantine, the Roman emperor, transferred his capital from Rome to the Roman Empire. When Rome collapsed in 476, Constantinople remained the sole capital. The Eastern Roman Empire was a state and a civilization, built along the lines of the Roman state, the Greek culture and the Christian faith.  By the 13th century, the Crusaders occupied Constantinople, forced the emperor to leave and established a Latin kingdom.


In the 11th century, under their leader Tugrul, the Seljuk Turks founded the dynasty of Seljuks reigning in Iran, Iraq and Syria. In 1071, his nephew Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantines in Malazgirt, opening the doors of Anatolia to the Turks.  Anatolia went through a profound transformation ethnically and politically and in the religious, linguistic and cultural spheres. The zenith of this civilization came in the 13th century with Konya as its political, economic, religious, and artistic center. The Seljuk Sultanate collapsed due to internal dissent and Mongol invasions by the early 14th century. Anatolia was again fragmented into rival principalities, one of which came under Ottoman rule.


In 1296, Osman declared himself the independent Sultan of Söğüt near to Bursa, and founded the Ottoman State. During the rule of his son Orhan, Bursa and Iznik were captured and soon the whole south-eastern coast of Marmara was under Ottoman control.  The victory at Kosovo in 1389 paved the way for Ottoman extension into Europe. Yet, the extension of the Ottoman Empire into the Balkans was eventually disrupted when Sultan Bayezid I was taken prisoner by Timur who invaded Anatolia.  The state fell into disorder as Bayezids sons fought over succession. The chaos ended when Mehmet I became the successor and restored Ottoman power.

In 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror took Constantinople, which was a momentous event for the whole world. By the late l6th century, the Ottomans were deep into Europe. In the following centuries, however, the Ottoman Empire lost its momentum, entered a period of stagnation and a period of decline.


In 1918, the Ottoman government, under the occupation of the Allied Forces, chose not to further resist a peace treaty embodying the partition of Turkey. In 1919 the Greeks, who had been promised a part of Anatolia, landed at Izmir and started an invasion in Western Anatolia while France sought control over South-Eastern Anatolia, and  Great Britain the same in Istanbul and in particular regions of the Middle East.


Against this challenge, the Turkish nation engaged in a struggle to restore territorial integrity and independence, to repulse foreign aggressors, to create a new state, to disassociate Turkey from the crumbling Ottoman dynasty, to eradicate an old and decrepit order and to build a modern country dedicated to political, social and economic progress. This was the vision of Atatürk, a general in the Ottoman army who had distinguished himself in the defense of Gallipoli (Çanakkale) against the Naval Forces of Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand.  Atatürk wanted a clean break with the past, to unite the nation in the quest for modernism and to lift Turkey to the level of European countries. On October 29 1923, the republic was proclaimed and Atatürk was elected president. Secularism was established by separating religious and state affairs. The Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic script and women were given the right to vote and to be elected as members of parliament. These reforms, and many others in all aspects of social life, put Turkey on the track towards becoming a thoroughly modern country.

Cairo Cultural & Information Office of TURKEY - © 2012