|About | Contact | Mongabay on Facebook | Mongabay on Twitter | Subscribe|
Turkey - GEOGRAPHY
Turkey is a large, roughly rectangular peninsula situated bridge-like between southeastern Europe and Asia. Indeed, the country has functioned as a bridge for human movement throughout history. Turkey extends more than 1,600 kilometers from west to east but generally less than 800 kilometers from north to south. Total land area is about 779,452 square kilometers, of which 755,688 square kilometers are in Asia and 23,764 square kilometers in Europe.
The European portion of Turkey, known as Thrace (Trakya), encompasses 3 percent of the total area but is home to more than 10 percent of the total population. Thrace is separated from the Asian portion of Turkey by the Bosporus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi or Karadeniz Bogazi), the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi), and the Dardanelles Strait (Çanakkale Bogazi). The Asian part of the country is known by a variety of names--Asia Minor, Asiatic Turkey, the Anatolian Plateau, and Anatolia (Anadolu). The term Anatolia is most frequently used in specific reference to the large, semiarid central plateau, which is rimmed by hills and mountains that in many places limit access to the fertile, densely settled coastal regions. Astride the straits separating the two continents, Istanbul is the country's primary industrial, commercial, and intellectual center. However, the Anatolian city of Ankara, which Atatürk and his associates picked as the capital of the new republic, is the political center of the country and has emerged as an important industrial and cultural center in its own right (see fig. 1).
Turkey is bounded by eight countries and six bodies of water. Surrounded by water on three sides and protected by high mountains along its eastern border, the country generally has well-defined natural borders. Its demarcated land frontiers were settled by treaty early in the twentieth century and have since remained stable. The boundary with Greece--206 kilometers--was confirmed by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which resolved persistent boundary and territorial claims involving areas in Thrace and provided for a population exchange (see War of Independence, ch. 1). Under the agreement, most members of the sizable Greek-speaking community of western Turkey were forced to resettle in Greece, and the majority of the Turkish-speaking residents of Greek Thrace were removed to Turkey. The 1923 treaty also confirmed Turkey's 240-kilometer boundary with Bulgaria.
Since 1991 the more than 500-kilometer boundary with the former Soviet Union, which was defined in the 1921 treaties of Moscow and Kars, has formed Turkey's borders with the independent countries of Armenia (268 kilometers), Azerbaijan (nine kilometers), and Georgia (252 kilometers). The 499-kilometer boundary with Iran was confirmed by treaty in 1937. Turkey's two southern neighbors, Iraq and Syria, had been part of the Ottoman Empire up to 1918. According to the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey ceded all its claims to these two countries, which had been organized as League of Nations mandates under the governing responsibility of Britain and France, respectively. Turkey and Britain agreed on the 331-kilometer boundary between Turkish and Iraqi territory in the 1926 Treaty of Angora (Ankara). Turkey's boundary with Syria--822 kilometers long--has not been accepted by Syria. As a result of the Treaty of Lausanne, the former Ottoman Sanjak (province) of Alexandretta (present-day Hatay Province) was ceded to Syria. However, France agreed in June 1939 to transfer Hatay Province to Turkish sovereignty, despite the strong objections of Syria's political leaders. Since achieving independence in 1946, Syria has harbored a lingering resentment over the loss of the province and its principal towns of Antakya and Iskenderun (formerly Antioch and Alexandretta). This issue has continued to be an irritant in Syrian-Turkish relations.
Turkey's varied landscapes are the product of complex earth movements that have shaped Anatolia over thousands of years and still manifest themselves in fairly frequent earthquakes and occasional volcanic eruptions. Except for a relatively small portion of its territory along the Syrian border that is a continuation of the Arabian Platform, Turkey geologically is part of the great Alpine belt that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Himalaya Mountains. This belt was formed during the Tertiary Period (about 65 million to 1.6 million B.C.), as the Arabian, African, and Indian continental plates began to collide with the Eurasian plate, and the sedimentary layers laid down by the prehistoric Tethyan Sea buckled, folded, and contorted. The intensive folding and uplifting of this mountain belt was accompanied by strong volcanic activity and intrusions of igneous rock material, followed by extensive faulting during the Quaternary Period, which began about 1.6. million B.C. This folding and faulting process is still at work, as the Turkish and Aegean plates, moving south and southwest, respectively, continue to collide. As a result, Turkey is one of the world's more active earthquake and volcano regions.
Earthquakes range from barely perceptible tremors to major movements measuring five or higher on the open-ended Richter scale. Earthquakes measuring more than six can cause massive damage to buildings and, especially if they occur on winter nights, numerous deaths and injuries. Turkey's most severe earthquake in the twentieth century occurred in Erzincan on the night of December 28-29, 1939; it devastated most of the city and caused an estimated 160,000 deaths. Earthquakes of moderate intensity often continue with sporadic aftershocks over periods of several days or even weeks. The most earthquake-prone part of Turkey is an arc-shaped region stretching from the general vicinity of Kocaeli to the area north of Lake Van on the border with Armenia and Georgia.
Turkey's terrain is structurally complex. A central massif composed of uplifted blocks and downfolded troughs, covered by recent deposits and giving the appearance of a plateau with rough terrain, is wedged between two folded mountain ranges that converge in the east. True lowland is confined to the Ergene Plain in Thrace, extending along rivers that discharge into the Aegean Sea or the Sea of Marmara, and to a few narrow coastal strips along the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea coasts. Nearly 85 percent of the land is at an elevation of at least 450 meters; the median altitude of the country is 1,128 meters. In Asiatic Turkey, flat or gently sloping land is rare and largely confined to the deltas of the Kizilirmak River, the coastal plains of Antalya and Adana, and the valley floors of the Gediz River and the Büyükmenderes River, and some interior high plains in Anatolia, mainly around Tuz Gölü (Salt Lake) and Konya Ovasi (Konya Basin). Moderately sloping terrain is limited almost entirely outside Thrace to the hills of the Arabian Platform along the border with Syria.
More than 80 percent of the land surface is rough, broken, and mountainous, and therefore is of limited agricultural value. The terrain's ruggedness is accentuated in the eastern part of the country, where the two mountain ranges converge into a lofty region with a median elevation of more than 1,500 meters, which reaches its highest point along the borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Turkey's highest peak, Mount Ararat (Agri Dagi)--about 5,166 meters high--is situated near the point where the boundaries of the four countries meet.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress
Distinct contrasts between the interior and periphery of Turkey are manifested in its landform regions, climate, soils, and vegetation. The periphery is divided into the Black Sea region, the Aegean region, and the Mediterranean region. The interior is also divided into three regions: the Pontus and Taurus mountain ranges, the Anatolian Plateau, and the eastern highlands. The seventh region of the country is the Arabian Platform in the southeast, adjacent to the Syrian border.
The Black Sea region has a steep, rocky coast with rivers that cascade through the gorges of the coastal ranges. A few larger rivers, those cutting back through the Pontus Mountains (Dogukaradeniz Daglari), have tributaries that flow in broad, elevated basins. Access inland from the coast is limited to a few narrow valleys because mountain ridges, with elevations of 1,525 to 1,800 meters in the west and 3,000 to 4,000 meters in the east, form an almost unbroken wall separating the coast from the interior. The higher slopes facing northwest tend to be densely forested. Because of these natural conditions, the Black Sea coast historically has been isolated from Anatolia.
Running from Zonguldak in the west to Rize in the east, the narrow coastal strip widens at several places into fertile, intensely cultivated deltas. The Samsun area, close to the midpoint, is a major tobacco-growing region; east of it are numerous citrus groves. East of Samsun, the area around Trabzon is world-renowned for the production of hazelnuts, and farther east the Rize region has numerous tea plantations. All cultivable areas, including mountain slopes wherever they are not too steep, are sown or used as pasture. The mild, damp climate of the Black Sea coast makes commercial farming profitable. The western part of the Black Sea region, especially the Zonguldak area, is a center of coal mining and heavy industry.
The European portion of the Aegean region consists mainly of rolling plateau country well suited to agriculture. It receives about 520 millimeters of rainfall annually. Densely populated, this area includes the cities of Istanbul and Edirne. The Bosporus, which links the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, is about twenty-five kilometers long and averages 1.5 kilometers in width but narrows in places to less than 500 meters. Both its Asian and European banks rise steeply from the water and form a succession of cliffs, coves, and nearly landlocked bays. Most of the shores are densely wooded and are marked by numerous small towns and villages. The Dardanelles Strait, which links the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea, is approximately forty kilometers long and increases in width toward the south. Unlike the Bosporus, the Dardanelles has few settlements along its shores.
On its Asian side, the Aegean region has fertile soils and a typically Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The broad, cultivated valley lowlands contain about half of the country's richest farmland. Major crops are olives, citrus, nuts (especially almonds), and tobacco. The most important valleys are the Kocaeli Valley, the Bursa Ovasi (Bursa Basin), and the Plains of Troy. The valley lowlands are densely populated, particularly around Bursa and Izmir, the country's third largest city and a major manufacturing center.
The narrow coastal plains of the Mediterranean region, separated from Anatolia by the Taurus Mountains, which reach elevations of 2,000 to 2,750 meters, are cultivated intensively. Fertile soils and a warm climate make the Mediterranean coast ideal for growing citrus fruits, grapes, figs, bananas, various vegetables, barley, wheat, and, in irrigated areas, rice and cotton. The Cukur Ova in the east is a plain that is the most developed agricultural area of the Mediterranean region. It is a significant cotton-growing center and also supports a major cotton-based textile industry. In general, summers are hot and dry in the Mediterranean region. The weather in combination with the region's numerous sandy beaches has encouraged the development of a tourist industry.
Toward the east, the extensive plains around Adana, Turkey's fourth largest city, consist largely of reclaimed flood lands. In general, rivers have not cut valleys to the sea in the western part of the region. Historically, movement inland from the western Mediterranean coast was difficult. East of Adana, much of the coastal plain has limestone features such as collapsed caverns and sinkholes. Between Adana and Antalya, the Taurus Mountains rise sharply from the coast to high elevations. Other than Adana, Antalya, and Mersin, the Mediterranean coast has few major cities, although it has numerous farming villages.
The Pontus Mountains (also called the North Anatolian Mountains) in the north are an interrupted chain of folded highlands that generally parallel the Black Sea coast. In the west, the mountains tend to be low, with elevations rarely exceeding 1,500 meters, but they rise in an easterly direction to heights greater than 3,000 meters south of Rize. Lengthy, troughlike valleys and basins characterize the mountains. Rivers flow from the mountains toward the Black Sea. The southern slopes--facing the Anatolian Plateau--are mostly unwooded, but the northern slopes contain dense growths of both deciduous and evergreen trees.
Paralleling the Mediterranean coast, the Taurus (Toros Daglari) is Turkey's second chain of folded mountains. The range rises just inland from the coast and trends generally in an easterly direction until it reaches the Arabian Platform, where it arcs around the northern side of the platform. The Taurus Mountains are more rugged and less dissected by rivers than the Pontus Mountains and historically have served as a barrier to human movement inland from the Mediterranean coast except where there are mountain passes such as the Cilician Gates (Gülek Bogazi), northwest of Adana.
Frequently interspersed throughout the folded mountains, and also situated on the Anatolian Plateau, are well-defined basins, which the Turks call ova . Some are no more than a widening of a stream valley; others, such as the Konya Ovasi, are large basins of inland drainage or are the result of limestone erosion. Most of the basins take their names from cities or towns located at their rims. Where a lake has formed within the basin, the water body is usually saline as a result of the internal drainage--the water has no outlet to the sea.
Stretching inland from the Aegean coastal plain, the Anatolian Plateau occupies the area between the two zones of the folded mountains, extending east to the point where the two ranges converge. The plateau-like, semiarid highlands of Anatolia are considered the heartland of the country. The region varies in elevation from 600 to 1,200 meters from west to east. The two largest basins on the plateau are the Konya Ovasi and the basin occupied by the large salt lake, Tuz Gölü. Both basins are characterized by inland drainage. Wooded areas are confined to the northwest and northeast of the plateau. Rain-fed cultivation is widespread, with wheat being the principal crop. Irrigated agriculture is restricted to the areas surrounding rivers and wherever sufficient underground water is available. Important irrigated crops include barley, corn, cotton, various fruits, grapes, opium poppies, sugar beets, roses, and tobacco. There also is extensive grazing throughout the plateau.
The Anatolian Plateau receives little annual rainfall. For instance, the semiarid center of the plateau receives an average yearly precipitation of only 300 millimeters. However, actual rainfall from year to year is irregular and occasionally may be less than 200 millimeters, leading to severe reductions in crop yields for both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture. In years of low rainfall, stock losses also can be high. Overgrazing has contributed to soil erosion on the plateau. During the summers, frequent dust storms blow a fine yellow powder across the plateau. Locusts occasionally ravage the eastern area in April and May. In general, the plateau experiences extreme heat, with almost no rainfall in summer and cold weather with heavy snow in winter.
Eastern Anatolia, where the Pontus and Taurus mountain ranges converge, is rugged country with higher elevations, a more severe climate, and greater precipitation than are found on the Anatolian Plateau. The region is known as the Anti-Taurus, and the average elevation of its peaks exceeds 3,000 meters. Mount Ararat, at 5,166 meters the highest point in Turkey, is located in the Anti-Taurus. Many of the Anti-Taurus peaks apparently are recently extinct volcanoes, to judge from extensive lava flows. Turkey's largest lake, Lake Van, is situated in the mountains at an elevation of 1,546 meters. The headwaters of three major rivers arise in the Anti-Taurus: the east-flowing Aras, which empties into the Caspian Sea; the south-flowing Euphrates; and the south-flowing Tigris, which eventually joins the Euphrates in Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. Several small streams that empty into the Black Sea or landlocked Lake Van also originate in these mountains.
Most of eastern Anatolia comprises the area known historically as Kurdistan. In addition to its rugged mountains, the area is known for severe winters with heavy snowfalls. The few valleys and plains in these mountains tend to be fertile and to support diverse agriculture. The main basin is the Mus Valley, west of Lake Van. Narrow valleys also lie at the foot of the lofty peaks along river corridors.
The Arabian Platform is in southeast Anatolia south of the Anti-Taurus Mountains. It is a region of rolling hills and a broad plateau surface that extends into Syria. Elevations decrease gradually, from about 800 meters in the north to about 500 meters in the south. Traditionally, wheat and barley were the main crops of the region, but the inauguration of major new irrigation projects in the 1980s has led to greater agricultural diversity and development.
Turkey's diverse regions have different climates, with the weather system on the coasts contrasting with that prevailing in the interior. The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have cool, rainy winters and hot, moderately dry summers. Annual precipitation in those areas varies from 580 to 1,300 millimeters, depending on location. Generally, rainfall is less to the east. The Black Sea coast receives the greatest amount of rainfall. The eastern part of that coast averages 1,400 millimeters annually and is the only region of Turkey that receives rainfall throughout the year.
Mountains close to the coast prevent Mediterranean influences from extending inland, giving the interior of Turkey a continental climate with distinct seasons. The Anatolian Plateau is much more subject to extremes than are the coastal areas. Winters on the plateau are especially severe. Temperatures of -30°C to -40°C can occur in the mountainous areas in the east, and snow may lie on the ground 120 days of the year. In the west, winter temperatures average below 1°C. Summers are hot and dry, with temperatures above 30°C. Annual precipitation averages about 400 millimeters, with actual amounts determined by elevation. The driest regions are the Konya Ovasi and the Malatya Ovasi, where annual rainfall frequently is less than 300 millimeters. May is generally the wettest month and July and August the driest.
The climate of the Anti-Taurus Mountain region of eastern Turkey can be inhospitable. Summers tend to be hot and extremely dry. Winters are bitterly cold with frequent, heavy snowfall. Villages can be isolated for several days during winter storms. Spring and autumn are generally mild, but during both seasons sudden hot and cold spells frequently occur.
CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.
Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.
TRY USING CTRL-F on your keyboard to find the appropriate section of text