I have mixed thoughts about visiting Turkey. Not just the current political turmoil, but their past history with the genocide of the Armenians. We grew up with so many Armenian families and friends in the area. They are among my best friends. And the greater Fresno area is home to a large number of Armenian Americans. But I have been anxious to visit, despite all of the issues, even the danger. Last year, as you may remember, I had one of the last visas issued to an American, and was told by the State Department NOT to go!
This time, unless another war breaks out, or open hostility to tourists, namely Americans, becomes unbearable, I am going. I plan to pick and choose my spots, and most likely avoid tour groups, which seem to be an easy target for anti-American trouble makers.
What is it about Turkey that draws one to Istanbul and other major points of interest? For one, I think the Grand Bazaar has always been a draw. And the famous Bosphorus, where the Sea of Marmara meets the Black Sea, and by extension, the Dardanelles, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean. I distinctly remember hearing and learning those names in World History as a sophomore in high school.
But since I should not find today’s Turks responsible for the terrible genocide, I should not find modern day Belgians responsible for Leopold II, or my own modern day Japanese homeland responsible for World War 2. The country has a strong culture, and as part of the Ottoman Empire, led the way of the world for a long time.
For one, Turkey lies in a unique place, partly in Europe, and partly in Asia. Throughout history, it has served as both a barrier and a bridge between the two great continents.
Turkey is also at the crossroads of the Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, as well as the eastern Mediterranean. It has the largest land area of any European country, with nearly all of it in Asia. It stretches about a thousand miles wide, and from 300 to 400 miles top to bottom. To the north, is the Black Sea, with Georgia and Armenia to the northeast, on the east by Azerbaijan and Iran, to the southeast by Iraq and Syria (that worries me), and on the northwest by Greece, and Bulgaria.
Ankara is the capital, and the largest city and seaport is Istanbul, where I will start this adventure. The Turkish narrows are a major factor in its relationship with their neighbors. These include: the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles, collectively known as the Turkish Straits. Turkey’s control of the Straits, the only outlet from the Black Sea, is a major factor in its relations with other countries.
The modern Turkish republic was founded in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It is a parliamentary democracy, and have multi party elections since the 1950s.
The highest point in Turkey is Mount Ararat, at 16,945 feet. The lowlands are located on the coast, while the majority of the country is mountainous. The climate can be described as a dry semi continental Mediterranean variant, with colder winters than most of their Mediterranean neighbors, due to the mountainous areas.
Turkish is the mother tongue, with the remainder speaking Kurdish (about 1/5 of the population), and a few Arabic. More than 90% of the country is Muslim, but Turkey remains a secular country. Islam was removed as the official state religion back in 1928.
The population hovers around 80 million, though immigrants arrive daily from war torn neighboring states. Turkey has a mixed economy, having transformed from agriculture (now 25%) to industry (now 25%) and services (now 50%). Turkey has a wealth of natural resources, including coal, oil (limited), iron and other metallic ores. Turkey is the Middle East’s largest steel producer, while textiles are second.
That is a lot to digest for now. More on life here, the culture, the people, and some more interesting things.