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İconTurkish Culture

Being 'Turkish' seems to be a geographical label as much as anything else. Everybody and their uncle have been through Anatolia in the last 5000 years and the result is a rich and diverse culture, drawing on influences beyond analysis. It's important however to remember that you're essentially dealing with a modern Turkey that is less than 100 years old.

1998 sees the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, an event which almost all Turks, no matter what their political beliefs, see as the point at which the idea of 'Turkey' was preserved and the country as a whole brought into the 20th Century. In conversation with Turks you'll often hear the newness or youth of the country referred to as the reason for many things you'll remark upon.

99% of Turks are Muslim. Turkey is however a militantly secular country and life here is far removed from that under fundamentalist regimes. This is a key factor if you want to achieve any understanding of the way that politics and society work here. At times you'll forget that you're in an Islamic country and only be reminded next time you hear the call to prayer, broadcast through a dodgy PA system from the nearest mosque. The mix of cultural influences and traditions here is one of the things that draws tourists to the country and, well, come and see for yourself.

It is also important to realise that Turkey is a country undergoing radical changes, and has been for the last century. Urbanisation and migration from the troubled east to the more developed west are changing the character of the towns and the rural areas and bringing a truckload of social problems with them.

Turkey's position, both geographically and politically, makes it a key player in relations between Europe and the middle east. Turks themselves like to distance themselves from the Islamic block to their east and certainly do not perceive themselves as Arab. Their is a tradition, founded by Ataturk, of looking west in terms of political and social reform but the recent refusal of the EEC to make more than token gestures towards considering Turkey for membership may have done much to convince Turks that this road will not be open to them for some time. The peculiar role played by the army in moderating Turkey's democratic process coupled with human rights concerns, the Cyprus issue and the continuing armed struggle in the East provide serious obstacles, in the eyes of the West at any rate, to Turkey playing the role in Europe that it wishes.

Turkey will, however, continue to look for ways to expand her influence, with the roads to the East and the West temporarily blocked this leaves the Turkic block, recently exposed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it is here perhaps that Turkey will find a role as a regional superpower. The exploitation of this regions natural resources will be hard to achieve without Turkey's involvement and cooperation and natural gas and oil projects are under way.