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The earliest known empire in the area now known as Turkey was the Hittite Empire. In the time before Christ, Asia Minor, as it was then called, served as a crossroads between the great civilizations of Europe and Asia. Early Hittite civilization rivaled that of the Egyptians and Babylonians in terms of culture, arts, and mathematical achievements. The Hittites kingdom was conquered, however, by the Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans, respectively. Asia Minor became a Roman colony around 100 BC. In AD 330, the city of Byzantium became Constantinople, when the Roman Emperor Constantine made it his capital and converted to Christianity.
From the fourth through most of the eleventh centuries, the area was the heart of the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire. At the end of the 13th century, however, Turkish leader Othman I founded the Ottoman Dynasty in the Bursa region. Through a series of carefully crafted treaties, the Ottomans began building a small empire that eventually stretched into Eastern Europe. During the next 300 years, this army would become the most feared force in both Europe and Central Asia.
The Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the mid-16th century under the Emperor Suleyman the Magnificent. After its capture in 1453, Constantinople became Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. By then the empire had grown to include Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Tripoli, Greece, the Balkans, and most of Hungary.
By late in the 17th century, successful opposition by Christian countries began. Through wars and revolts over the next two centuries, the Turks lost Hungary, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Tripoli, Albania and Macedonia. As an ally of Germany in World War I, they also lost Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and authority over Egypt.
In response to the Greek occupation of Izmir in 1919, the Turks established a nationalist congress with Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Ataturk, as its president. Kemal established a provisional government in opposition to the Allied-controlled government in Istanbul. He led his Turkish armies to victory against the Italians, French, and Greeks, who were expelled from Turkey in 1922. The Treaty of Lausanne ended the conflict in 1923 and Turkey was recognized as an independent republic. Mustafa Kemal was recognized as republic’s first president. He ruled the country until his death in 1938 and reshaped Turkey. His title Ataturk translates as “Father of the Turks.”
After World War II, Turkey furthered relations with Western Europe by joining the United Nations, moving toward open, democratic political institutions and increasing individual liberties. However, economic difficulties led to a military coup in 1960, followed by the adoption of a new constitution in 1961. This led to a series of civilian governments until 1971 when Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel was forced to resign. The nation struggled to find its political identity for the next decade, alternating between civilian and military rule.
In 1982, partly due to international pressure, a new constitution was adopted and, in 1983, political parties were restored. After that, Turkey began strengthening its western ties and, during the Gulf War, supported U.N. forces. During the 1990s, economic and political stability led to a lack of foreign investment in Turkey, but recent government policies promise a brighter economic future.