In ancient times, Turkey was known as Asia Minor or Anatolia. Among the many inhabitants were the Hittites (c.1800–c.1200 BC ), the first people to use iron; the Greeks, who, according to legend, destroyed Troy (or Ilium) about 1200 BC & who colonized the Aegean coast from about 1000 BC on; the Phrygians (c.1200–c.600 BC ); the Lydians (c.700–546 BC ), the first people to mint coins; the Persians (546–333 BC ); & the Romans, beginning in the 2d century BC . Roman Emperor Constantine I (the Great) changed the name of the city of Byzantium to Constantinople (now Istanbul) & made it his capital in AD 330; a division between the Western & Eastern Roman Empires, with their respective capitals at Rome & Constantinople, became official in 395. Constantinople, seat of the Byzantine Empire, became the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which officially separated from Roman Catholicism in 1054, when the pope & the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other.
The Turks are a Ural-Altaic people who emerged from the plains between the Ural Mountains in Europe & the Altay Mountains in Asia. The forerunners of the inhabitants of present-day Turkey, known as the Seljuk Turks (named after the Turkish conqueror Seljuk, fl.10th century), defeated the Byzantines in the battle of Malazgirt (1071) & established themselves in Anatolia. They attained a highly developed Muslim culture in their great capital at Konya, in central Turkey. The Turkish conquest of Syria, including Palestine, led to the Crusades (1096–1270), a series of intermittent & inconclusive wars. Various Latin (Roman Catholic) & Greek (Eastern Orthodox) states were formed in parts of the Turkish Empire, but none lasted. The sack of the Christian city of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204, followed by the establishment of the Latin Empire there (1204–61), shocked Europe & tended to discredit the Crusading movement.
Seljuk power was shattered when the Mongols, another Ural-Altaic people, swept across Asia Minor in 1243. As the Mongols withdrew, Turkish power revived & expanded under the Ottoman Turks, a group of frontier warriors whose first chief was Osman I (called Ottoman in the West, r.1300?–1326). In 1453, the Ottomans under Mehmet II (the Conqueror) occupied Constantinople & made it their capital. In 1516, they conquered Syria; in 1517, Egypt. In 1529, they were at the gates of Vienna, at which point the European expansion of Turkish power was stopped. The Turkish fleet was decisively defeated in a battle near Lepanto (now Navpaktos) in Greece in 1571. At its peak, generally identified with the reign of Sultan Suleyman I (the Magnificent, r.1520–66), the Ottoman Empire encompassed an estimated 28 million inhabitants of Asia Minor, much of the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa as far west as modern Algeria, the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Caucasus, & the Crimea. During the 17th, 18th, & 19th centuries, as a result of the rise of nationalism & encroachment by the European powers, it gradually shrank in size, the independence of the remainder being maintained only by shrewd balance-of-power diplomacy.
The process of modernization began with the Imperial Rescript of 1839, promulgated by Sultan Abdul Mejid (r.1839–61), & by a body of reforms known as the Tanzimat, which to some extent curbed the absolute powers of the sultan-caliph. (The Turkish sultans had added the title “caliph” following the conquest of Egypt in 1517.) The Illustrious Rescript of 1856 was largely dictated by Britain, France, & Austria as part of the negotiations leading to the settlement of the Crimean War (1853–56), a clash between the Russian & Ottoman Empires; it ensured equal rights for non-Muslims, provided for prison reform & the codification of Turkish law, & opened Turkey to European skills & capital. A constitution was introduced in 1876 by Sultan Abdul Hamid II (r.1876–1909) but was suspended in the following year. Thereafter, an absolute monarchy prevailed until the Young Turk revolution of 1908, at which time the constitution of 1876 was reinstated. In 1913, leaders of the Committee for Union & Progress (the organizational vehicle of the Young Turks) took effective control of the government under Sultan Mehmet V (r.1909–18). The principal leaders were Talat & Enver Pasha, who, at the outbreak of World War I, threw what little remained of Ottoman strength behind the Central Powers, which had sided with Turkey in its fruitless attempt to retain its last major European possessions in the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. Although the Turks were unable to make any headway against British forces defending the Suez Canal, they did offer a heroic defense at Gallipoli (the Gelibolu Peninsula) & the Dardanelles, in a prolonged battle between Turkish & British-French forces that lasted from February 1915 to January 1916 & took the lives of about 100,000 soldiers on each side. In 1917, however, Turkish resistance collapsed, & the British pushed Turkey out of Syria, Palestine, Iraq, & Arabia. An armistice was concluded on 30 October 1918, & Enver Pasha & his colleagues fled the country.
On the basis of a series of earlier Allied agreements, the Ottoman Empire was to be stripped of all non-Turkish areas, & much of what remained Asia Minor was to be divided among the United Kingdom, France, Greece, & Italy. A substantial portion was actually occupied. In 1919, with Allied assistance, the Greeks invaded Anatolia through Izmir, but a Turkish nationalist resistance movement under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later called Ataturk), who had commanded a division at Gallipoli, finally defeated them in 1922. The sultan, being virtually captive in Istanbul, was disgraced in Turkish eyes by his identification with Allied policy. After much maneuvering, a rival nationalist government under Mustafa Kemal was established in Ankara & gained national & international recognition. On 1 November 1922, the sultanate was abolished by Mustafa Kemal’s provisional government. The following year, the Ankara government negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne with the Allies, which recognized Turkish sovereignty over Asia Minor & a small area in Thrace. There was a massive exchange of Greek & Turkish populations. On 29 October 1923, a republic was proclaimed, with Ankara as its capital, & on 3 March 1924, the caliphate was abolished & all members of the dynasty banished. Before & during the war, Armenians sought to establish their independence & were brutally repressed by the Turks. Over a million people are said to have died being driven from their homes; many survived in exile.
During the next few years, a series of social, legal, & political reforms were accomplished that, taken collectively, became known as the Ataturk Reforms. They included the substitution of secular law for religious law, the writing of a republican constitution based on popular sovereignty, suppression of religious education in Turkish schools, introduction of a Roman alphabet to replace the Arabic script, & the legal upgrading of the position of women. With minor exceptions, political power resided in a single party, the Republican People’s Party, & to a very substantial extent in Mustafa Kemal personally until his death in 1938. His chief of staff, Ismet Inonu (Pasha), became president & established a two-party system of government with the formation of the opposition Democrat Party (DP) in 1946.
Although pro-Allied, Turkey remained neutral during most of World War II, but early in 1945 it declared war on the Axis & became a charter member of the UN. In 1947, the Truman Doctrine pledged US support to Turkey in the face of mounting Soviet pressure. This move was followed by large-scale military & economic assistance from the US. Turkey thus became firmly committed to the Western alliances – NATO & the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO (Baghdad Pact).