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Tension between Islamists and secularists threatens democracy and EU accession

Turkey is predominantly mountainous. The lowlands are mostly confined to coastal areas around the Black Sea, the Aegean, and the Mediterranean. Turkey straddles the border between Europe and Asia—though its European part is quite small. The Asian part, known as Anatolia, has at its heart the central Anatolian plateau, which is encircled by mountains. Western Anatolia consists of long mountainous ridges and deep valley floors, though the highest mountains are in the east.

The majority of the population are Turkish and almost all are Sunni Muslim. Over recent decades Turkey has been industrializing rapidly and more than two-thirds of the population live in cities. But by the standards of other industrial countries, levels of human development are low. In 2004, adult literacy, for example, was only 87%, and significantly lower for women. And outside the cities, health services are poor. Until recently, many Turks were emigrating to the EU, particularly to Germany. The exodus has more or less ceased, but there are still some two million Turks in the EU, whose annual remittances although declining are still around $1.4 billion. However, there is also an inflow: around 2.5 million foreigners are living in Turkey, of whom one million are unauthorized.

Within Turkey, there is also a significant minority of Kurds—one-fifth of the population. The Kurds are one of the world's largest ethnic groups without a state of their own, though eastern Anatolia, where most Turkish Kurds live, together with neighbouring regions of Iran and Iraq, is referred to as Kurdistan. The government of Turkey has long tried to repress Kurdish nationalism and from 1984 to 1999 fought the guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers' Party in a war that cost more than 30,000 lives. In 1999 the PKK declared a ceasefire but resumed its campaign on a smaller scale in 2004.

With more than half the workforce employed in service industries, and one-fifth in manufacturing, Turkey has the characteristics of an advanced industrial economy. Many of the formerly state-owned enterprises, including iron, steel, and chemicals, have now been sold, often to foreign investors. But most of the smaller enterprises are nationally owned. Turkey is also the world's second largest exporter of pasta.

Tourism is also a major source of employment and income, with 23 million visitors bringing in around $19 billion per year. Most of the tourists on packaged holidays come from Germany or the UK.

Turkey's diverse landscape has sustained steady growth in agriculture which still employs one-third of the workforce. Although levels of technology are lower than in Western Europe, output has kept pace with population, so Turkey is largely self-sufficient in food, and has crops such as wheat, sugar beet, cotton, and tobacco, some of which are exported.

Ambivalent relationship with Europe

Turkey has always had an ambivalent relationship with Europe. On the one hand, Turkey is strategically important, and has been a key member of NATO, for which it was a missile launching pad during the cold war. On the other hand, it has a poor record on human rights, particularly with respect to the Kurds. Added to this has been the dispute with Greece over Cyprus.


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