What do people in Turkey want for their future?
Second edition. September 2016.

Turkey is found at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Its largest city, Istanbul, once known as Constantinople and Byzantium, was previously the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s efforts to create a modern, unified, and secular state out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire is one of the most remarkable stories of the twentieth century. While Atatürk’s legacy still looms large, there are new forces at play today that are shaping Turkey and its relationship to the world.

Empire, Republic, Democracy: Turkey’s Past and Future traces the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for independence, and Turkish resistance against European imperialism. Students explore the birth of the Turkish Republic, the emergence of a multiparty democracy, the military coups of the twentieth century, and the Kurdish conflict. The readings conclude by examining current issues in Turkey, including economic development, religion and secularism, human rights, authoritarianism, and foreign affairs. Students explore recent developments, such as the Syrian Civil War, the emergence of ISIS, the global refugee crisis, and the attempted military coup of 2016. In a culminating simulation, students grapple with the questions and challenges facing people in Turkey today.


Part I of the reading provides an overview of Turkey’s population and geography before delving into the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of an independent Turkey. Part II examines Atatürk’s reforms, political upheavals throughout the twentieth century, and the Kurdish conflict. Part III brings students up to date by covering the political and economic developments of the last few decades and exploring the critical issues affecting everyday people in Turkey.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


The Geography of Turkey

Students practice map–reading skills and consider how geography has affected the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire.

Art as Political Expression

Students analyze Turkish artist Zeki Faik İzer's 1933 painting, "On the Road to Transformation," by identifying symbols and their historical significance.

Photo Analysis: Looking at Turkey

Students analyze photographs of present-day Turkey to learn about Turkish life and society. Students consider the benefits and limitations of using photographs as a source.

The Options Role Play

Working cooperatively, students take on the roles of Turkish politicians and citizens to explore different options for Turkey's future.

Young People Speak Out

Working in groups, students read and analyze oral histories from the "Young People Speak Out" project based at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

Assessment Using Documents

Students review ten documents pertaining to Atatürk's legacy and answer a series of documents-based questions.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Findley, Carter V. Turkey, Islam, Nationalism, and Modernity—A History, 1789-2007. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.

Hanioğlu, M. Şükrü. Atatürk: An Intellectual Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Kinzer, Stephen. Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

White, Jenny. Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Zürcher, Erik J. Turkey: A Modern History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.

International news source with contributing journalists from the Middle East.
An interactive resource produced by the Wall Street Journal with videos and articles that follow the lives of people living along the border between Turkey and Syria.
A leading newspaper in Turkey.
An online magazine produced by the Arab Studies Institute. Resources include timelines, in-depth articles, and “Media Roundups” that aggregate news articles from multiple sources in Turkey and other countries.
An in-depth article on the lead up to the Gezi protests and their aftermath from The New York Times Magazine.
Young People Speak Out is an oral history project based at Sabanci University in Istanbul. In the Choices lesson, "Young People Speak Out," students read and analyze several of these personal stories. For a complete list of interviews, click on "Sitemap" in the English-language version of the website.
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