Turkey has been officially secular since 1924, although 98% of the population is Muslim. Most Turkish Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, but a significant number are Alevi Muslims. The appeal of political Islam and the Kurdish insurgency continue to fuel public debate on several aspects of Turkish society, including the role of religion, the necessity for human rights protections, and the expectation of security.
Turks of Kurdish origin constitute an ethnic and linguistic group. Estimates of their population range up to 12 million. Although an increasing number have migrated to the cities, the traditional home of the Kurds is in poor, remote areas of the east and southeast, where incomes are less than half the national average and all other economic and social indicators lag.
Turkish culture, rich in Ottoman and folkloric elements, is traditional and modern. Turkish carpet weaving is one of the oldest crafts in the world. Ceramics and other Ottoman-era crafts retain their varied regional character.
Modern Turkish cultural life dates from the 1923 founding of the republic and early efforts to Westernize Turkish society. As a result, the arts, literature, drama, and classical and contemporary music have flourished. State support of cultural activities is extensive and encompasses a national network of theaters, orchestras, opera and ballet companies, university fine arts academies, and various conservatories. Public funds also are used to provide partial support for private theater groups and for major art exhibits and festivals.
The new republic concentrated on Westernizing the empire's Turkish core -- Anatolia and a small part of Thrace. Social, political, linguistic, and economic reforms and attitudes introduced by Ataturk before his death in 1938 continue to form the ideological base of modern Turkey. Referred to as "Kemalism," it comprises secularism, nationalism, and modernization and turns toward the West for inspiration and support. The continued validity and applicability of Kemalism are the subject of frequent discussion and debate in Turkey's political life.
Turkey entered World War II on the Allied side shortly before the war ended and became a charter member of the United Nations. Difficulties faced by Greece after World War II in quelling a communist rebellion and demands by the Soviet Union for military bases in the Turkish Straits caused the United States to declare the Truman Doctrine in 1947. The doctrine enunciated American intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece and resulted in largescale U.S. military and economic aid. After participating with United Nations forces in the Korean conflict, Turkey in 1952 joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The 550-member Parliament carries out legislative functions. Election is by proportional representation. To participate in the distribution of seats, a party must obtain at least 10% of the votes cast at the national level as well as a percentage of votes in the contested district according to a complex formula. This "double threshold" or "barrage" mechanism is intended to reduce the likelihood of coalition governments by reducing the number of smaller parties in Parliament.
The president is to enact laws passed by Parliament within 15 days. With the exception of budgetary laws, the president may return a law to the Parliament for reconsideration. If Parliament reenacts the law, it is binding. constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority for approval. They also may be submitted to popular referendum.
The 1982 constitution preserves the judicial system previously in effect and provides for a system of State Security Courts to deal with offenses against the integrity of the state. The high court system remains in place with its functional division, common in European states, including a Constitutional Court responsible for judicial review of legislation, a Court of Cassation (or Supreme Court of appeals), a Council of State serving as the high administrative and appeals court, a Court of Accounts, and a Military Court of Appeals. The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, appointed by the President, supervises the judiciary.
Modern Turkey has a democratic tradition marred by several periods of instability and authoritarian rule. One-party rule (Republican People's Party-CHP) established by Ataturk in 1923 lasted until elections in 1950. The Democrat Party then governed Turkey until 1960, when growing economic problems and internal political tensions culminated in a military coup. A new constitution was written, and civilian government was reinstated with the convening of the Grand National Assembly (GNA) in 1961. This constitution established a National Security Council (NSC) composed of the president; the prime minister and other key ministers; the Chief of the Turkish General Staff; and representatives of the army, air force, and navy.
Coalition governments, dominated by the CHP, ruled Turkey for the next 5 years. In 1965 and 1969, the Justice Party (JP), led by Suleyman Demirel, won sizable majorities of GNA seats and ruled alone.
Political agitation surfaced in 1968 and increased as left- and right-wing extremists took to the streets. In March 1971, senior military leaders grew dissatisfied with the JP's inability to cope with domestic violence. In a so-called "coup by memorandum," they called for the JP's replacement by a more effective government.
Demirel's government resigned and was replaced by a succession of "above party" governments, which ruled until the October 1973 general elections. Those elections saw the CHP reemerge as the largest party and its chairman, Bulent Ecevit, become prime minister of a coalition government composed of the CHP and the conservative, religiously oriented, National Salvation Party. In 1974, the coalition faltered. Ecevit resigned, early elections were called, and a prolonged government crisis ensued.
From 1975 to 1980, unstable coalition governments ruled, led alternately by Demirel and Ecevit. By the end of 1979, an accelerating decline in the economy, coupled with mounting violence from the extreme left and right, led to increasing instability. Demirel's government began an economic stabilization program in early 1980, but by summer, political violence was claiming more than 20 victims daily. A severely divided GNA was unable to elect a new president or to pass other legislation to cope with the crisis.
On September 12, 1980, the CNS ("Council of National Security"), led by Gen. Kenan Evren, moved successfully to restore public order. Thousands of terrorists were captured, along with large caches of weapons and ammunition. While political activity was banned and the former political parties dissolved, the CNS initiated steps to restore democratic civilian rule by 1983. These measures included a national referendum on November 7, 1982, which resulted in overwhelming public approval (91%) of a new constitution drawn up by the 160-member Consultative Assembly and modified by the CNS. The referendum simultaneously approved General Evren as president for a 7-year term. A temporary article banning former political party leaders from politics for 10 years also went into effect.
New political parties were allowed to form in 1983 as long as founding members were not leaders or members of Parliament attached to any pre- 1980 political parties. Prior to the deadline for participation in the 1983 national elections, three political parties -- the Nationalist Democracy Party, the Motherland Party and the Populist Party -- were authorized.
In the 1983 elections, the Motherland Party (ANAP -- founded by Turgut Ozal, Deputy Prime Minister 1980-82 and architect of Turkey's successful economic austerity program under the military government) won an absolute majority in the then 400-member Grand National Assembly. The Populist Party came in second and the Nationalist Democracy Party third. The new government took office in December 1983. The Ozal administration, the first civilian government since the early 1970s to rule without coalition partners, made economic reform its priority.
In September 1987, a referendum lifting the 10-year ban on former politicians passed by a small margin. Ozal called immediately for national elections, the first since 1980 in which all legal parties were allowed to participate. The elections were held in November, and Ozal won a second 5-year term and a comfortable majority in Parliament (292 of then 450 seats based on a weighted proportional system). The Social Democrat Populist Party won 99 seats and became the main opposition party. Former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel's True Path Party won 59 seats. No other party reached the 10% level necessary to enter Parliament. The Democratic Left Party of former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit won only 8% of the vote.
In 1989, Turgut Ozal was elected president by the Parliament, but Ozal's Motherland Party suffered a setback in March 1989 municipal elections, receiving only 22% of the votes cast; down from 36% in 1987. In October 1991, Suleyman Demirel's True Path Party (DYP) won 179 seats in the parliamentary elections and formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Populist Party, which had won 99 seats. In 1993, Demirel was elected president after Turgut Ozal died, and Tansu Ciller became Turkey's first female prime minister.
In the March 1994 local elections, the Islamist Welfare Party (RP) emerged as the big winner, capturing the offices of mayor of Ankara and Istanbul and most municipalities in Turkey's southeast, even though the DYP got the largest percentage of the vote. These local elections marked the emergence of RP as a political force.
In the September 1995 party convention, Deniz Baykal was elected CHP party leader. Baykal and Ciller failed to conclude an agreement to continue the coalition, forcing the government to resign on September 20, which led to a 45-day parliamentary "crisis." President Demirel asked Ciller to try to form a new government. Ciller established a DYP-only minority government in late September but failed to win a vote of confidence. Demirel gave Ciller a second chance to form a government, and she again turned to Baykal. They formed a new DYP-CHP coalition that won a confidence vote on November 5. The two parties cooperated in passing a new election law and set general elections for December.
In the December 1995 elections, three parties emerged with nearly identical electoral support of around 20% each: the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party of Necmettin Erbakan, the moderate center-right Motherland Party of Mesut Yilmaz, and Ciller's moderate center-right True Path Party. The latter two parties represent the secular Turkish mainstream, but as a result of animosity between their two leaders, they were unable to successfully forge a lasting coalition that would have precluded a RP role in government; the ANAP-DYP coalition lasted only a few months. In July 1996, Ciller and Erbakan agreed to form a government in which Erbakan, because his party had garnered more votes, was the senior partner.
The Erbakan government tried to set some new policy directions by "reaching out" to a new group of international partners, challenging the military's political role, and seeking to chip away at secularism. As a result, the military, throughout the spring and late summer of 1997 supported a growing popular movement of business, labor, and community groups to build pressure for the Erbakan government's resignation. In June, Mesut Yilmaz formed a new minority government with Ecevit's Democratic Left Party (DSP) and Cindoruk's Democrat Turkey party.
These three parties governed with 223 of 550 seats in Parliament. This was possible because the Republican People's Party (CHP) under Deniz Baykal supported the coalition without being a part of it. As a requirement of CHP's support, in June 1998 Yilmaz announced that he would resign at the end of the year and hand over power to an "election" government until new elections in April 1999.
President Suleyman Demirel asked Ecevit on January 7 to form a government to succeed that of Prime Minister Yilmaz, which fell on November 25 in response to corruption allegations. Ecevit's government won a vote of confidence on January 17 and ruled until national elections were held on April 18, 1999.
In the April 1999 elections, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) captured 22% of the vote, followed closely by the far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which garnered 18%. Together with center-right Motherland Party (ANAP), the three parties forged a coalition with a strong majority of approximately 360 of the 550 seats in Parliament. Ecevit's government won a vote of confidence in Parliament on June 9. Bolstered by its strong parliamentary majority, the 57th government embarked on an ambitious reform program that contained legislative proposals that had been attempted by several previous governments but had never succeeded.
Between June and September 1999, the 57th government successfully enacted legislation that included reform of the country's banking sector and social security system; codified procedures for the submission of foreign investment contracts to international arbitration; removed military officers as judges in State Security Courts; and amended the political parties law to make judicial closure of parties more difficult.
Turkey maintains an embassy in the United States at 1714 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20036, Tel. (202) 659-8200 and consulates general in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Houston.
Turkey is a customs union partner with the European Union and a member of the WTO. Turkey has a number of bilateral investment and tax treaties, including with the United States, that guarantee free repatriation of capital in convertible currencies and eliminate double taxation. Nonetheless, foreign direct investment has totaled only $12 billion at the most since 1980, a paltry sum reflecting investor concerns about political uncertainty, inadequate regulations, stalled privatization, and troubling macroeconomic indicators.
Turkey has undertaken economic reforms over the past 15 years that have reduced the government's role in the economy and permitted the private sector to thrive. Turkey has abandoned the insulated, state-directed economic policies put in place by Ataturk. An export-led growth strategy and free-market principles catapulted Turkey into the ranks of the fastest-growing economies in the OECD.
Turkey's leadership, however, failed to complete the reform program that was initiated in the early 1980s, exacerbating Turkey's economic problems. Large public sector deficits and resulting high inflation continue to hamper the economy.
Rapidly overcoming a government-caused financial crisis in 1994, Turkey grew 7.4% in 1996 and 8.5% in 1997. In 1998, prior to implementation of a disinflationary program, the economy grew 3.8%. WPI inflation rose to a peak of 91% in this period but fell to 50% in early 1999.
The Ecevit government, in place since June 1999, restarted structural reform, including passage of social security reform. Privatization is expect to revive with passage of legislation designed to implement international arbitration and to introduce a regulatory framework for the energy and telecom sectors.
Turkey's current account normally runs a slight deficit, but, owing to the economic slowdown in late 1998 and through 1999, the current account turned positive for 6 months. The elimination of duties for most manufactured imports under the EU Customs Union led to a sharp rise in imports from the EU, and the EU's share of imports increased to about 60%.
Turkey's GNP has grown at an average annual rate of 5% since 1983, ranking it at the top of the OECD countries, although the growth pattern has been uneven. The recession in 1994, when GNP fell a record 6%, brought to an end 13 years of positive growth. The economy rebounded with 8.1% GNP growth in 1995, 7.4% in 1996, and 8.0% in 1997. Officially, gross national product (GNP) totaled $204 billion in 1998.
Inflation, Wages, and Monetary Policy
Turkey's principal economic problem remains inflation, fueled primarily by large public sector deficits and ingrained inflation expectations. Annual consumer price inflation has averaged 79% since prices began to escalate in 1988; wholesale price inflation has averaged 75% over the same period. Average annual inflation was 75% in 1998. The government continues to regulate some prices to control the impact of inflation on low-income households. The prices of bread, sugar, tea, energy, and public utilities are regulated. The government also exerts large control over wage rates because of large public sector employment.
Turkey's monetary authorities have successfully adopted policies to build up convertible currency reserves, maintain an even depreciation of the lira in line with inflation, and ensure smooth functioning of market clearing mechanisms. The Central Bank and Treasury finalized an agreement in July 1997 to put strict limits on short-term Treasury borrowings and realized a slight primary surplus (the public sector balance excluding interest payments) instead of the projected 1% of GNP primary deficit for 1997. The 1998 primary surplus exceeded 4% of GNP.
Turkey entered NATO in 1952 and serves as the organization's vital eastern anchor, controlling the straits leading from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and sharing a border with Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Two NATO headquarters are located in Izmir. Besides its relationships with NATO and the European Union (EU), Turkey is a member of the OECD, the Council of Europe, and OSCE. Turkey also is a member of the UN and the Islamic Conference Organization (OIC).
Due to proximity and Turkic linguistic and ethnic ties, the Turkish Government and businesses continue to develop links with most of the Central Asian and Caucasian states. The Turkish Government has stated that it would like to see the establishment of joint ventures between Turkish and foreign firms to further tap the potential of the emerging Central Asian markets. Turkey has established the Turkish International Cooperation Agency to foster such ventures. Turkey also has continued to expand its trade relations with the Middle East and Russia.
Turkey and the EU formed a customs union beginning January 1, 1996. The agreement covers industrial and processed agricultural goods. Turkey has harmonized its laws and regulations with EU standards. Turkey adopted the EU's Common External Tariff regime, effectively lowering Turkey's tariffs for third countries, including the United States.
Turkey is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It signed a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1991; it is negotiating free trade agreements with several central European countries. In 1992 Turkey and 10 other regional nations formed the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Council to expand regional trade and economic cooperation.
President Clinton, Secretary Albright, Energy Secretary Richardson, Commerce Secretary Daley, and other leading Americans have all identified Turkey as "pivotal," "central," and "important" to a wide range of priority American interests. Turkey's geography and modern history, its economic and military power, its weight in international organizations particularly NATO, its supporting U.S. military activities from Korea to Kosovo, and its dynamic internal struggle between strong popular aspirations for further democratization vs. institutionalized resistance, add up to make Turkey's importance to the United States both obvious and growing.
In December 1997, President Clinton and then-Prime Minister Yilmaz agreed to base U.S.-Turkish relations on a five-point agenda of shared interests: strategic energy cooperation; boosting trade and investment; strengthening security ties; collaborating for regional stability; and removing Cyprus and Aegean tensions as flashpoints. Human rights progress also is an important interest. The interim Ecevit government adopted this agenda without modification in early 1999, and it formed the basis of discussions for Prime Minister Ecevit and President Clinton when they met in the White House on September 28, 1999. President Clinton is scheduled to make a state visit to Turkey and then participate in the OSCE Summit in Istanbul during November 1999.
The U.S. and Turkey have had a Joint Economic Commission since 1993. Turkey has been designated a Big Emerging Market (BEM) for U.S. exports and investment by the Department of Commerce. In 1997, the U.S. trade surplus with Turkey was more than $2.0 billion. The U.S. is Turkey's third-largest export market.
Political Affairs -- Gene Christy
Political-Military Affairs -- Stuart Brown
Economic Affairs -- Madelyn Spirnak
Regional Affairs -- Terry Percival
Consular Affairs -- Jaqueline Ratner
Administrative Affairs -- Art Salvaterra
Public Affairs -- Helena Finn
Agricultural Affairs -- Susan Schayes
Commercial Affairs -- John Breidenstine
Defense/Air Attache -- Col. James M. Carlin, USAF
Navy Attache -- Comdr. Ken Taylor, USN
Army Attache -- USA
Consul General Istanbul -- Frank Urbancic
Consul Adana -- Stuart Jones
The U.S. embassy is located at 110 Ataturk Blvd., Ankara. The consulate general in Istanbul is at 104-108 Mesrutiyet Caddesi; the consular agent in Izmir at Kazim Dirik Caddesi, Atabay Is Merkezi 13/805, and the consulate in Adana, on Ataturk Caddesi.