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Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003

Ankara, Turkey


Muslim country, secular republic

Although Turkey is almost exclusively Muslim — 99.8% of the seventy million population are (mostly Sunni) Muslims, and the other 0.2% is made up of Christians and Jews — the country is actually a secular republic.

Istanbul, the largest city, straddles the Bosporus strait (where Asia and Europe meet) so Turkey is situated in both Europe and Asia. Although 97% of Turkey is located in Asia, on the peninsula between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea known as Asia Minor, in many respects Turkey is accepted as a European country.

Indeed, if the Turkish citizens look and act more European than Muslim, it is because shortly after the national hero and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, became the first President of the Turkish Republic in 1923, he abolished the fez, replaced traditional clothing with Western styles, and introduced the Latin alphabet.

Ataturk, which literally means, the "Father of the Turks," implemented secularism over theocracy nationwide: he abolished the sultanate and the caliphate, and secularized the religious courts and schools (madrassahs), adopted the solar calendar, and made Sunday the official day of rest (not the Muslim holy day, Friday).

Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but efforts to enter the European Union (EU) have been perennially rebuffed.

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