VARIOUS ASPECTS OF TURKISH CULTURE
The great bulk of Turkey's territory is located on the Anatolian peninsula where some of mankind's earliest settlements were established as early as 10000 BC. Indeed, Anatolia's rich geography and varied climate have been favorable to the development of numerous urban civilizations and great empires throughout the flow of centuries. Few areas have witnessed such a rich succession of civilizations.
From prehistoric man to the Hittites, Anatolian Kingdoms of Caria, Lydia, Phrygia, and Troy, from Homer to Saint Paul, from Alexander to Justinian, Süleyman the Magnificent, and Atatürk, Anatolia is also the land from which Turkish civilization acquired some of its strongest roots, and most prestigious works of art and literature. Thus, this long history of successive civilizations has deeply influenced the social and cultural fabric of modern Turkey. The Turkish culture of today is the amalgamation of all these civilizations that have enriched the land throughout the centuries.
Archeologists can trace this region's past as far back as the Paleolithic or the Mesolithic periods. Traces of human occupation can be found in shelters and caves like the Karain Cave near Antalya in southwestern Turkey, occupied by nomadic tribes between 10,500 and 7,000 BC.
After the Paleolithic or the Mesolithic periods, two exceptional cities, Çatalhöyük and Hacìlar evolved in the Neolithic period as brilliant examples of man's transition to a settled lifestyle, in what may be considered the oldest model of an urban civilization.
Around 3200 BC, the blossoming of metallurgy in the Near East helped bring about many changes. Rich in gold, silver and copper, Anatolia became one of the most "civilized" areas of the world, especially with Troy and Alacahöyük.
In the following millennia, civilizations such as the Assyrians, the Sumerians and the Hittites rose and fell as invaders from abroad continued to leave their mark in Anatolia. The major upheaval around 1200 BC is attributed to the arrival of a new stock of people from the Balkans who brought with them a more effective social organization and more highly evolved societal techniques. This event shook Anatolia and most of the eastern Mediterranean. This was also to be the end of the age of great Anatolian empires, which then split into a multitude of small, independent kingdoms. Midas, the King with the golden touch and Croesus, the inventor of coinage, were rulers of small but important Anatolian kingdoms during the first millennium BC. Many of the great accomplishments of classical and Hellenistic civilization in the realms of art, architecture, philosophy, medicine and science came to light in Ionia, the region around present-day Izmir and Bergama.
Rome took over Anatolia in the last century BC and called it Asia Minor. The Roman provincial capital of Ephesus was among the largest and finest cities of its time. St. Paul preached there and Virgin Mary died in a small house in the outskirts of the city. The seven churches of Asia, whom St. Paul addressed as Epistles, are all in Anatolia. St. Nicholas, Santa Claus himself, lived on Anatolia's south coast.
In 330 AD, Constantine the Great established the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople. By the time of Emperor Justinian, Rome had fallen and Constantinople remained the sole capital of the vast empire. For centuries, the Byzantine and Arabic Empires struggled for control of Anatolia, but both were swept aside by the coming of the Turks from Central Asia.
The westward movement of Turkic peoples headed by the Seljuks led to permanent Turkish settlement in Anatolia. Meanwhile, people of different ethnicities remained there. The Seljuks left their descendants a rich cultural legacy: Omer Khayyam, the mystic poet renowned throughout the world for his Rubaiyat, was a subject of the Seljuks of Persia; and Mevlana, the spiritual leader of the humanist philosophy of tolerance of Sufism, and founder of the Mevlevi order of the Whirling Dervishes, lived in Konya, the capital of the Anatolian Seljuk Empire, where his order flourished.
Then came the Ottoman Empire which made an impact on the course of world history. This empire came to life in the late 13th century as a small Turkish principality near Bursa on the northwestern frontier of the Anatolian Seljuk Empire and gradually found its place in history as one of the great empires of Renaissance Europe. The Ottoman Empire reached its zenith in the 17th century. By that time it covered Asia Minor, the Crimea, the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire followed in the footsteps of its ancestors and set up a system based on tolerance for the many differences among its subjects. This cultural and religious tolerance and goodwill is best manifested in the reception of Jews fleeing the Inquisition in the 15th century. It was due to this exceptional system assuring stability and tolerance, and freedom of conscience that the Empire was able to hold together people of different religions, languages and races, and also succeeded in protecting and preserving different cultures and languages. Today, that tradition of tolerance and harmony lives on in modern Turkey, being enriched as time passes.
The Republic of Turkey was built on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist at about the same time the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires ended in the wake of the First World War. The Republic of Turkey was founded by and on the inspiring ideals of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, one of the greatest leaders of this century. After the Republic was proclaimed in 1923, a program of far-reaching structural reforms was put into motion, aiming to better meet the challenges of the modern world. Despite the more immediate tasks at hand related to this social reorganization, the Republic did not neglect Anatolia's heritage and worked towards a synthesis of the cultures of different civilizations and peoples, adhering to the principle stated by Atatürk, "culture is the foundation of the Turkish Republic". At present, Turkey spares no effort in order to protect and enhance the treasures of past civilizations that grew on its land.
Another reflection of this cultural synthesis can be observed in the rich social structure of Turkey. Indeed, Turkey considers itself both European and Asian, and cherishes this diversity as an asset. The Turks have lived seven centuries of their history in Europe, and as a European power, have shared and contributed to the contemporary culture of the West, while also being influenced by it. Turkey can be regarded as a cultural bridge between the East and the West. This unique characteristic is evident today in the social, cultural and political domains of the country. Turkey has the longest-running democracy in its widening region, a secular system, and Turkish artists and artisans that have developed styles of art that are uniquely Turkish and universal at once, blending together the traditional styles of the East with the practices of the West.
Artistically, in earlier times, Turkish craftsmen and artists showed their creative talents in architecture, music, poetry, textiles, wood and metal working, ceramics, glass making, jewelry, manuscript illumination, miniatures and calligraphy. The Ottoman Empire rapidly became the center of the Islamic artistic tradition because of its cultural endowment, facilitated by constant contact with all the branches of oriental art and exposure to the occident.
The early years of the Republic witnessed a rapid flourishing of the fine arts. Classical music, opera, theater and ballet, as well as plastic arts and painting took impressive strides. Literature attained new forms of expression. The film industry started to grow. Indeed, continuous progress was witnessed in all walks of cultural life. Today, this development has attained a certain maturity in art and culture. Turkish painters and sculptors exhibit at home and abroad, and participate in many international festivals. Architects put their art to work throughout the world. Many Turkish musicians have gained international acclaim and record on world-wide labels. Turkish cinema too has acquired international recognition, and promises a bright future. Works of Turkish writers are increasingly translated into other languages and appreciated for their distinct character.
Turkey now holds more than a dozen international art and culture festivals each year, featuring prominent international artists and performers, attracting an audience from all over the world.
Now that cultural, social and economic issues are becoming increasingly important in international relations, Turkey, with this rich cultural heritage and potential, is prepared to play its role in the exciting journey that humanity will embark upon in the new millennium.