Asia Minor Travel & Tours - Your Guide to Turkey

Culture & Politics

Nomads With its deep history and large ethnic mosaic, Turkey is a culturally rich country. The languages, religions, art, literature, and traditions of various indigenous and migrating cultures in this “melting pot” of history resulted in the broad cultural spectrum of modern Turkey. There is no aspect of modern culture that cannot be connected to the history of Anatolia. Literally described, Anatolia is one of the best locations in the world to offer a good understanding of the concept of cultural transition.

The official language of the Turkish Republic is Turkish, which was introduced by the first Turkish tribes to migrate to Anatolia around the 10th century . Though the modern Turkish spoken in Turkey is of Asian origin, it differs more or less from those of other Turkish communities in the world. Even the Turkish dialects spoken in various parts of the country today show some differences in pronunciation and expressions.

Black Sea village girlAmong the other languages spoken in modern Turkey are Greek, Ladino, Armenian, Kurdish, Georgian, Lazish, Arabic, and Assyrian, all of which clearly reflect the influence of other cultures.

As Turkey is a secular country, there is no official religion. While 99% of the total population are Moslems, the remaining 1 percent are of varying religions, mostly Jewish and Christian. According to the Lausanne Treaty signed on July 24, 1923 these non-Moslem communities were given the right to have legal and political equality, to use their mother languages in the courts, to establish their own educational institutions, and to hold religious ceremonies.

With the secularization of public policy by the foundation of the Republic in 1923, education in Turkey underwent a radical change. Now the aim of the Turkish educational system is to produce productive citizens with contemporary educational standards.

Apart from private schools, schools in Turkey are free of charge up to the higher education level. 

Turkish school childrenThe mandatory part of the Turkish education system is primary school for eight years. The first five years consists of an introduction to basic subjects under the guidance of one teacher. The next three years, a specialist teacher is assigned to each subject. In addition to the basic subjects, students have to choose from one of three foreign language classes: English, French, or German. Religion classes are optional.

Secondary education is three years and consists of lessons in general knowledge at the intermediate level.

Higher education is comprised of Universities and Colleges for professional education. Entrance to the higher education requires two separate admission exams held by the Higher Education Council. Along with the several private universities, there are 58 state universities which charge an annual fee of 100-300 US dollars.

Though the lifestyles of Turkey’s residents differ from one social group to another, it is possible to describe them under main categories according to their settlement types.

Cities, the largest type of settlement in Turkey with populations over 20,000, have organized social and administrative groups. About 23% of the total population live in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, the three largest cities in Turkey. The total population of 57,000,000, according to the general census of 1997, is now assumed to be around 70,000,000. The continuous migration from rural to urban areas since the 1950’s has brought on many problems. Besides the modern urban settlements, illegal settlement groups called gecekondu, which means “built overnight”, have appeared within cities over the years.

The second type of settlement are towns, with a population of 2,000 to 20,000. Depending on their geographic and economic conditions, they have varying features from rural more organized settlements. However, the most distinctive character of towns is a rather rural and conservative lifestyle in comparison with urban centers. The traditional hierarchical organization of family, where the individuals are economically dependent on the family, and the traditional social organization, where relationships are underlined by the community, are still prominent features of towns.

Horse carriage in CappadociaVillages, on the other hand, constituting 54% of the total population, are characterized by an agriculture-based economy. While in many villages modern machinery is used, depending on geographical location, there are still some villages dependent on human labor alone. As a result of this agricultural economy, life in villages reflects a completely rural and traditional style. Most of the traditional art forms such as weaving, pottery, woodworking, as well as customs like wedding ceremonies, folk dramas, dances, and festivals, some of which are a continuation of Asian shamanism and ancient Anatolian Dionysian rituals, are preserved in their original forms.

Administration of the State
The Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) is the legislative power of the Turkish Republic. The members, who must have a primary school education, a security clearance, and be above 30 years of age, are elected by the whole nation every five years. The total number of deputies is 550.

The president, who is elected for a period of seven years, supervises the state departments and all procedures described in the Constitution. Among his duties are publishing and returning laws to parliament for revision, deciding the renewal of elections, and appointing the prime minister. The cabinet, which is formed by the prime minister, consists of ministers who are responsible to the legislature.

Supplementary to the state administration system, there is also a local administration system to respond to the needs of the people living in specific settlements.

Municipalities are the first of three types of local administration formed by local elections held every five years. Municipalities, with the mayor acting as the chief executive and an assembly, are responsible to meet all civic needs such as providing drinking water, electricity, public transportation, and sewer systems.

The provincial local governments, with a governor assigned by the central administration as chief executive of cities and towns, acts according to the measures of the central administration. The provincial local government is the representative of the central government and is responsible for supervising the functioning of the administration.

The third type of local administration is the administration of the villages by a “muhtar” as the chief executive and the village assembly, elected by the residents for a period of five years.

Content by Umit Isin

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Last modified: 
February 25, 2014