Is Turkey in Europe or Asia?
Is Turkey in Europe or Asia?

Asia is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the continent of Europe and the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with both Europe and Africa. Asia covers an area of 44,579,000 square kilometres (17,212,000 sq mi), about 30% of Earth's total land area and 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area. The continent, which has long been home to the majority of the human population, was the site of many of the first civilizations. Its 4.5 billion people (as of June 2019) constitute roughly 60% of the world's population.

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It comprises the westernmost peninsulas of the continental landmass of Eurasia, and is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and Asia to the east. Europe is commonly considered to be separated from Asia by the watershed of the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, the Greater Caucasus, the Black Sea, and the waterways of the Turkish Straits. Although much of this border is over land, Europe is generally accorded the status of a full continent because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions.

About Turkey: Is Turkey in Europe or Asia?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Geographically, the location of Turkey is in both Europe and Asia.

The question of Turkey’s continental affiliation is an often debated one. While Turkey claims to be an integral part of Europe (substantiated by its historic legacy and by international alliances), many countries do not agree and Turkey is yet to be included in the European Union.

Turkey is bound by Bulgaria to the north-west, the Black Sea to the north, Georgia and Armenia to the northeast, Iran, and Iraq to the east, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and Greece, and the Aegean Sea to the west. It also shares maritime boundaries with Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The eastern region of Turkey—the Anatolian peninsula forms the westernmost fringe of Asia and is referred to as Asia Minor. The eastern parts of the country beyond the Bosporus are within Europe.

Turkey is spread over 302,455 square miles of area and is home to over 79,814,870 people. While most of Turkey lies in Asia, one of the country’s most populated city Istanbul lies in Europe.

The Territory Of Turkey

Photo: Britannica
Photo: Britannica

Turkey is situated at the crossroads of the Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, and eastern Mediterranean. It is among the larger countries of the region in terms of territory and population, and its land area is greater than that of any European state. Nearly all of the country is in Asia, comprising the oblong peninsula of Asia Minor—also known as Anatolia (Anadolu)—and, in the east, part of a mountainous region sometimes known as the Armenian Highland. The remainder—Turkish Thrace (Trakya)—lies in the extreme southeastern part of Europe, a tiny remnant of an empire that once extended over much of the Balkans.

The country has a north-south extent that ranges from about 300 to 400 miles (480 to 640 km), and it stretches about 1,000 miles from west to east. Turkey is bounded on the north by the Black Sea, on the northeast by Georgia and Armenia, on the east by Azerbaijan and Iran, on the southeast by Iraq and Syria, on the southwest and west by the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea, and on the northwest by Greece and Bulgaria. The capital is Ankara, and its largest city and seaport is Istanbul.

Part of Istanbul is located in Turkey’s small foothold in Europe, in the southeastern part of the region known as Thrace, which spans the European part of Turkey, northeastern Greece, and southeastern Bulgaria. Turkey’s part of Thrace is bordered to the north by Bulgaria, to the northeast by the Black Sea, to the south by the Sea of Marmara, to the west by Greece, and to the east by the highly strategic Bosporus Strait, which separates the European part of Turkey from Anatolia. Interestingly, although part of Istanbul lies in Anatolia, and is therefore part of Asia, the city is actually considered the most populous city in Europe, with a population of more than 15 million.

The Asian Origins Of The Turks

Photo: Dominican Abroad
Photo: Dominican Abroad

In the 11th century, Turks began appearing at the edges of Asia Minor (Anatolia), which was then controlled by the Greeks. Many of the Turks were mercenaries in the employ of local Arab and Persian rulers to the east of the Byzantine Empire and Armenia, the dominant states in Asia Minor. In 1037, the Seljuk Empire, a Turkic state, was founded northeast of Iran in Central Asia and quickly overran much of Persia, Iraq, and the Levant. By the 1060s, the Seljuk Empire bordered Byzantine Asia Minor. It should be noted that the Turks were a minority, ruling a Persian, Arab, and Kurdish majority.

The main strategic threat to the Turks was the Fatimid Caliphate based in Egypt. The Fatimids were Ismaili Shia and ruled over Jerusalem and Mecca at that time while the Turks upheld Sunni Islam. The Sunni Caliph in Baghdad was their puppet. By this time, the Caliph had ceased to exercise any political role while the Seljuk sultans held the reigns of power. As was the case of many empires, many problems arose due to the conflicts between nomadic rulers and a sedentary population. Thus, many of the Turkic tribes under Seljuk rule actually posed a problem for the Seljuks since they were restless and sometimes raided settled populations ruled by the Seljuks. As a result, many of the Turkic tribes and families were placed on the frontiers of the Seljuk Empire, including on the frontier of the Byzantine Empire. Turkish raids into Asia Minor commenced, greatly annoying the Byzantines.

In 1045, the Byzantines conquered Armenia. Their frontier with the Seljuks was not particularly strong or pacified as a result of the intermittent warfare there. Additionally, many Armenians did not like the Byzantines and did not help them resist the Turkish raids. Eventually, by 1071, the Byzantines, exasperated at constant Turkish raiding, decided to move a large army to their borders to eliminate the Turkish threat once and for all. Unfortunately, this was not a particularly good idea, because their strength lay in manning border forts against lightly armed tribal warriors. By attempting to fight a pitched battle, they also risked total defeat.

Furthermore, the Seljuk Turks did not want to antagonize the Byzantines. Their state apparatus was directed against Egypt; it was only tribes that were barely under central Seljuk control that were raiding the Byzantines. Romanus IV Diogenes, the Byzantine Emperor, created a previously non-existent threat for the Seljuks by moving some 40,000 troops to his eastern border, thus alerting the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan to the threat from Asia Minor. Thus, the Byzantines, by diverting the Turks’ attention from Egypt, brought a Turkic army to Asia Minor from Persia and Central Asia.

The Seljuk and Byzantine armies met at Manzikert in eastern Turkey, where the Byzantines were crushed. This is arguably one of the most decisive battles in history, as it resulted in the eventual establishment of Turkish power in Asia Minor. It was likely that the battle was lost by the Byzantines due to treachery, because units commanded by generals belonging to alternative court factions in Constantinople simply never showed up for the battle, despite being in the vicinity, and returned home afterwards.

Sultan Alp Arslan captured Emperor Diogenes and and offered him generous terms before sending him home. However shortly afterwards, the Byzantine empire suffered a civil war between Diogenes and other contenders for the throne and several generals broke his treaty with the Turks. This left Asia Minor devoid of soldiers and gave the Turks good reason to occupy it. By 1081, they were across the Bosphorus Straits from Constantinople. Although the Byzantines and Crusaders later recovered some territory in Asia Minor, from then on, the majority of the region remained under Turkish control.

Turkey And European History

Although Turkey has just a small part of European territory today, it once had control over a vast part of the continent, thus making Turkish history part of European history. This was during the time of the Ottoman Empire. At its height, the Turkish Ottoman Empire had conquered the entire Balkan Peninsula. In 1683, the Turks reached the outskirts of what is today the Austrian capital, Vienna, but were ultimately defeated, marking the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s decline. By the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire lost nearly all its territory in Europe, except for the area in the region of Thrace that remains part of Turkey to this day. Nevertheless, the Turks had a profound effect on the demographics of today’s Europe.

Turkey’s European Ties Remain

Photo: World Travel Guide
Photo: World Travel Guide

Although Turkey no longer controls large parts of Europe, it left a lasting legacy on the continent. For example, the Ottoman Empire spread the Islamic faith to large portions of the European population. As a result, some people in Europe, most notably in Albania and a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population, still profess Islam today.

At the same time, European culture has found its way into Turkey, especially over the past hundred years. After World War I, which marked the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the new leader of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, decided to westernize the country. The old Islamic Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, and a modern, secular republic created. Turkey even adopted a Latin script for the Turkish language, replacing the language’s Arabic script. For the next 100 years, Turkey would align itself with the West politically and economically.

Biodiversity of Turkey

Turkey's extraordinary ecosystem and habitat diversity has produced considerable species diversity. Anatolia is the homeland of many plants that have been cultivated for food since the advent of agriculture, and the wild ancestors of many plants that now provide staples for humankind still grow in Turkey. The diversity of Turkey's fauna is even greater than that of its flora. The number of animal species in the whole of Europe is around 60,000, while in Turkey there are over 80,000 (over 100,000 counting the subspecies).

The Northern Anatolian conifer and deciduous forests is an ecoregion which covers most of the Pontic Mountains in northern Turkey, while the Caucasus mixed forests extend across the eastern end of the range. The region is home to Eurasian wildlife such as the Eurasian sparrowhawk, golden eagle, eastern imperial eagle, lesser spotted eagle, Caucasian black grouse, red-fronted serin, and wallcreeper. The narrow coastal strip between the Pontic Mountains and the Black Sea is home to the Euxine-Colchic deciduous forests, which contain some of the world's few temperate rainforests. The Turkish pine (Pinus brutia) is mostly found in Turkey and other east Mediterranean countries; the other commonly found species of the genus Pinus (pine) in Turkey include the nigra, sylvestris, pinea and halepensis. The Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) and numerous other species of the genus Quercus (oak) exist in Turkey. The most commonly found species of the genus Platanus (plane) is the orientalis. Several wild species of tulip are native to Anatolia, and the flower was first introduced to Western Europe with species taken from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

There are 40 national parks, 189 nature parks, 31 nature preserve areas, 80 wildlife protection areas and 109 nature monuments in Turkey such as Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park, Mount Nemrut National Park, Ancient Troy National Park, Ölüdeniz Nature Park and Polonezköy Nature Park. In the 21st century, threats to biodiversity include desertification due to climate change in Turkey.

The Anatolian leopard is still found in very small numbers in the northeastern and southeastern regions of Turkey. The Eurasian lynx and the European wildcat are other felid species which are currently found in the forests of Turkey. The Caspian tiger, now extinct, lived in the easternmost regions of Turkey until the latter half of the 20th century.

Renowned domestic animals from Ankara, the capital of Turkey, include the Angora cat, Angora rabbit and Angora goat; and from Van Province the Van cat. The national dog breeds are the Kangal (Anatolian Shepherd), Malaklı and Akbaş.

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