Turkish General Information
Name of Country Turkish
Population Approx. 69,660,559 people (July 2005 estimate)
Government Republican parliamentary democracy
Ethnic Groups 80% of the population is Turkish and 20% are Kurdish.
Religions 99.8% of the population is Muslim (mostly Sunni), while the remaining 0.2% are mostly Christians and Jews.
Languages Turkish is the official and most widely spoken language, with others such as Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian and Greek also spoken.
Turkey lies across two continents: 3% of the country is in Europe (Thrace) and 97% in Asia (Anatolia). Turkey controls the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, the vital sea links between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Its strategic position has made Turkey an area of prime importance through history.
Turkish history extends as far back as 7,500 BCE when the first known human inhabitants lived in this region. Turkey was dominated by many different civilizations starting off under the Hittites who fell to the Persians who in turn were conquered by Alexander the Great. Turkey was then eventually incorporated into the Roman Empire, which adopted Christianity. In the 11th century the Great Seljuk Turks were the first to rule what is now modern Turkey. They introduced Islam and eventually lost their power to the Ottoman Turks.
Turkey as we know it today was created in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the War of Independence. In October 1923 it was declared a Republic and Mustafa Kemal became President of Turkey. He was given the surname Ataturk ('The father of Turkey'). Ataturk changed Turkish society and culture. During his presidency a constitution was adopted, polygamy abolished, Islam was removed as the state religion and women were given the right to vote. Ataturk died in 1938 but remains a true hero in Turkey today.
In 1980 political infighting and civil unrest caused havoc in the country, supported on the one hand by the Soviet block and on the other by fanatical Muslim groups. The military took control and established a military government, keeping strict control and committing various human rights abuses. In 1983 Turgut Özal's centre-right party won the free elections and throughout the 1980s the economy boomed.
Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union (EU) are impeded by its human rights record, a shaky economy, ongoing conflict with its Kurdish population and refusal to recognise the Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus (which represents the whole island of Cyprus in the EU). Turkey continues to discuss membership with the EU.
Turkey's sparsely populated eastern and south-eastern regions are home to 6 million Kurds. 4 million Kurds live elsewhere throughout the country, more or less integrated into Turkish society. Kurdish separatism and the relationship between Turks and Kurds is a real issue in Turkey. The government's attempts to assimilate Kurds included outlawing the Kurdish language and other aspects of Kurdish culture. In 1999 the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was arrested and the nation went on red alert. Today the situation has improved. Ocalan's group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK), declared a ceasefire and there has been some liberalisation of official attitudes to the Kurds.
Early in 2001, the Turkish economy collapsed spectacularly, more than 1 million people lost their jobs and the International Monetary Fund provided financial support. Since then the economy has grown erratically, with a mix of modern commerce and industry and traditional agriculture.
History of Migration to Australia
Turkish migration to Australia in a structured way began in the late 1960s. Hence most Turkish people living in Australia have been living here for several decades and have raised their children here. After WW II Turkish migrants were the first major Muslim group to arrive in Australia.
Until 1967 Turkish migration to Australia was limited and many Turks living here at that time were Turkish Cypriots. In 1967, however, with increasing Turkish interest in employment opportunities outside Turkey, the Turkish and Australian governments made an agreement resulting in assisted migration for Turks. 30,000 Turkish people migrated to Australia over the next 30 years. This early Turkish migration to Australia was intended to be a short-term working migration, as nearly all immigrants actually wanted to return to Turkey within two or three years. Their biggest concern in Australia was to find work and save money.
In the mid 1970s and early 1980s the Australian government reduced the levels of assisted migration for unskilled workers, as a result of economic recession and decreased availability of jobs. The number of Turkish immigrants decreased. Attitudes of Turkish immigrants to their Australian migration started to change and resulted in longer residence and a commitment to staying in Australia. In the 1990s, the numbers of Turkish immigrants were relatively small and mainly characterised by educated and skilled professional groups or relatives and spouses of earlier immigrants to Australia. Fewer than 1,000 Turkish people are now migrating to Australia each year. There are over 75,000 people in Australia who were born in Turkey or are of Turkish background or who speak Turkish.
Turkish communities in Australia today have been established largely in Victoria and NSW and they live mainly in Melbourne and Sydney. In Sydney the Turkish community lives mainly in western suburbs such as Auburn, Fairfield, Marrickville and Blacktown. In these areas, services relevant to Turkish people have been set up over a period of time, such as Turkish delicatessens and Halal meat from local butchers. Furthermore, the education departments in Victoria and NSW have made provisions for Turkish students through adding more extensive bilingual support programmes within the schools and the communities have also set up Saturday community language classes.
Turkish Community in NSW
Approximately 12,150 people or 0.2% of the population living in NSW were born in Turkey.
Approximately 19,153 people or 0.3% of the NSW population spoke Turkish. Turkish speaking people make up the 15th largest language group in NSW.
Some Cultural Aspects of Turkish Life
Turkey lies where East and West meet and has had many cultural influences over the centuries, giving Turkey its own rich, distinctive cultural flavour.
Art is a big part of Turkish culture: its museums contain many delicate artworks such as, coloured tiles, graceful glass vases, carved wooden mosque doors, illustrated Korans, intricate jewellery and sumptuous costumes. A lot of Turkey's heritage and culture can be seen in its museums. The former Sultan's palace Topkapi Saryi has been turned into a museum where the imperial treasures and relics of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) are kept. The museum of Anatolian civilisations in Ankara has outstanding exhibits of Phrygian, Hittite and other civilisations. Visual arts in Turkey were curtailed by Muslim dictum, which forbids representation of any being with 'immortal soul'. Consequently Islamic artists produced many non-representative arts and most public monuments are heroic depictions of Ataturk and events from the war of independence. Carpet weaving is also a big part of Turkish culture and recently a resurgence of Ottoman art has appeared including paper marbling and shadow puppet plays.
Music is listened to and appreciated widely in Turkey. Today much of Turkish music is based on traditional folk music, a source of inspiration for longer symphonic works. Another form of Turkish music also incorporates traditional folk music, adding an urban slant to create Turku. Although the thousand year old tradition of Turkish Troubadours has largely been replaced by television and cassettes it still continues to be appreciated and is often performed and recorded. Ataturk is largely responsible for Turkish culture as it is today, encouraging representative painting, sculpture and literature. Ataturk also loved opera and introduced it to Turkey along with western dance and drama. Today Turkey maintains State operas in Istanbul and Ankara. Another variety of Turkish music is Ottoman court music, which is mainly religious.
The Turkish film industry began early, doing well in the 1920s and expanding rapidly after World War II. Throughout the 1960s-70s Turkish film delved into political and social issues. Today Turkish cinema is driven by honesty, naturalism, and dry humour.
Literature is highly regarded in Turkish culture and is considered by some the most advanced of contemporary Turkish arts. The introduction of a new Latin based alphabet brought literacy to many more Turkish citizens as Ottoman gave way to the vernacular. The Turkish language has been described as 'elegantly simple' however it differs greatly from Indo-European languages in its rules of word order and verb formation. Verbs can be so complex that they constitute entire sentences in themselves, making it a challenging language to learn.
Many Turkish traditions and customs derive from Islamic practices as 99% of the country is Muslim. Christian Churches built by famous 16th century Turkish architect Sinan have been converted to mosques lin Istanbul, Edirne, Bursa and other cities.
It is etiquette in Turkey to wear modest clothing especially in areas not frequented by tourists, where women should have their heads, arms, and shoulders covered, wearing either modest dresses or skirts which reach the knees. Many Turkish customs relate generally to politeness.
Meat is very popular in Turkish cuisine, lamb and fish are staple restaurant food and eggplant is used widely. Turkey is the home of shish kebabs which are found everywhere throughout Turkey. Turkish desserts are often soaked in honey and tend to be very sweet; fruit, nut and pastry blends are very common.
Attitudes towards People with Disability
The response to disability in Turkey varies enormously among individuals and different groups in the community. During the Ottoman Empire people with mental illness were valued and treated with very progressive techniques including music, peaceful environments and recitations of the Koran. In more recent times having a family member with disability was generally not considered as something that people and families could talk about. For a long time families would take their family member to see a religious person to be healed or cured. There was a lack of other services and a feeling of being stigmatised. Parents would sometimes blame each other for causing the disability and families had difficulty accepting disability as part of their lives. This was especially so for people with mental illness and intellectual disability. One consequence was that many people with disability were put into institutions, especially people with more complex support needs.
After the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and after the years of hardship caused by WW II, people's attitudes toward disability started to change slowly. Since then many reforms in science and society have taken place.
Awareness of and attitudes towards people with disability have changed with the influence of international contacts, the internet and the media. These have all worked to influence Turkey to change its legislation, to foster the rights of people with disability and to expand the service system. In 1994 the Turkish Parliament adopted the UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disability, to set certain standards for people with disability. Ongoing efforts to join the EU have also played an important role.
Two devastating earthquakes in the Marmara Region in 1999 had huge effects on everyone's life. They killed thousands of people and left many injured and with permanent disability. Disability became more visible in the community and new services and centres for people with disability were developed in the Marmara region for therapy and rehabilitation for people affected by the earthquakes.
Since 2000 a new community based rehabilitation approach has been implemented across Turkey. This has encouraged forming relationships between people with disability, their families and institutions. This approach tries to provide equal opportunities for people with disability, integrating people with disability into the community, giving people with disability more autonomy and raising awareness and sensibility about disability within the community. The language used to describe disability is changing, describing disability in a more positive way, although terms such as 'handicapped' and 'disabled' are still common in everyday use.
There is still a lot of variation in people's beliefs about disability and in the way people respond to disability. For some, disability is a blessing because it reminds us of our humanity. Others believe it is God's will or that God is testing our belief, our compassion or our patience. Some find there is enormous respect in the community for people with disability.
When a child with disability is born the family find it very hard to adjust and accept the disability, and sometimes they never come to terms with it. Some families withdraw from community life and isolate themselves. Families are still the main carers for their family member with disability and many see it as their duty and responsibility.
Suheyla and her family
People's beliefs and location can influence where they seek help. There are more services and parents are more likely to seek professional help in the city than in rural areas. In rural areas in the past people often sought help from religious leaders and were also more likely to use traditional herbal formulas for health care. In rural areas communities are very close and there is more informal social support, so it is easier for people with disability to participate in the community, particularly people with intellectual disability. This is much more difficult to do in the city as people don't often know their neighbours and local community and city life is much faster, with not so much time for neighbourhood relationships and with access to buildings and transport still patchy.
Disability is still seen as a medical condition, which needs medical treatment and rehabilitation to be cured or eased. While there have been legislative changes, the social dimension of disability is still not understood and people with disability are often segregated and excluded from social, political and economic activities. Only a small percentage of children with disability attend school and there are limited resources such as day care and respite care.
While the Turkish constitution enshrines the rights of people with disability the reality falls a long way short of this. High unemployment rates among people with disability reflect the lack of training and education opportunities as well as access to facilities. Many people with disability work in sheltered workshops. Although the outlook has improved greatly, nevertheless to a large extent people with disability remain isolated and excluded in Turkish society.
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