Once the centre of the Ottoman Empire, the modern secular republic was established in the 1920s
by nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk. Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey's strategically
important location has given it major influence in the region - and control over the entrance to the Black Sea.
Progress towards democracy and a market economy was halting after Ataturk's death in 1938, and the army
seeing itself as guarantor of the constitution - repeatedly ousted governments seen as challenging secular
values. Joining the European Union has been a longstanding ambition. Membership talks were launched in
2005, but have stalled over serious misgivings about Turkey's human rights record. Kurds make up about a
fifth of the population. Kurdish separatists who accuse the Turkish state of seeking to destroy their cultural
identity have been waging a guerrilla war since the 1980s.
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