4. Atatürk liberated Turkish women (but forgot to tell the men).
When Turkish women read about laws and practices in other Muslim-majority nations that discriminate against their sex or punish their sexuality, they think kindly of the founding vision of the Turkish Republic. Every schoolgirl knows that the nation's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, freed Turkish women from the veil and polygamous marriage and replaced Quranic law and traditional custom with the European civil code. Men in white ties and women in backless frocks danced arm in arm across the floor in the Republic Day balls during the 1920s, a theatrical demonstration of the new access women enjoyed with respect to public and professional life. Women were given the franchise in 1930 and voted in municipal elections that year.
Many Turkish women, however, are beginning to wonder whether they were lured into declaring victory in a battle that has only just begun. Indeed, a 2011 World Economic Forum gender-gap study put Turkey well at the bottom of the international league of equality (122 out of 135, below Lebanon and Nigeria and just above Egypt and Iran). Turkey's poor performance in key measures of equality such as health, educational attainment, and representation in the workforce is all the more remarkable for being so totally at odds with the Turkish public's own perception. A raft of new legislation does give Turkish women equality and protection. But only a quarter of Turkish women are employed, and a recent study suggests some 42 percent of women over the age of 15 have suffered physical or sexual violence at the hands of a husband or partner at some point in their lives.
5. Turkey has the biodiversity of a small continent.
Turkey occupies a landmass slightly larger than Texas, at just over 300,000 square miles, and is more than three times the size of the United Kingdom. In terms of the variety of terrain and particularly the diversity of its plant life, however, Turkey exhibits the characteristics of a small continent. There are, for example, some 10,000 plant species in the country (compared with some 13,000 in Europe) -- one in three of which is endemic to Turkey. Indeed, there are more species in Istanbul province (2,000) than in the whole of the United Kingdom. While many people know of Turkey's rich archaeological heritage, it possesses an equally valuable array of ecosystems -- peat bogs, heathlands, steppes, and coastal plains. Turkey possesses much forest (about a quarter of the land) but, as importantly, some half of the country is semi-natural landscape that has not been entirely remodeled by man.
At the same time, there is often a callous disregard in Turkey for this natural legacy. Many habitats are endangered by urbanization, mass tourism, and the government's mania to build a dam wherever its sees running water. Istanbul is under particular threat, due to large infrastructure projects such as a proposed car tunnel that would pump private vehicles into the historical peninsula and a third Bosphorus Bridge at the Black Sea end of the straits, which would lead to the urban development of the city's last remaining green belt.
6. Istanbul is the world's largest Kurdish city.
There are anywhere from 28 to 35 million Kurds inhabiting a region that straddles Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, with smaller populations elsewhere, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon. This geographic diversity suggests that Kurdish identity is shaped by a variety of competing forces, and that ethnic solidarity with fellow Kurds across borders is often overshadowed by the concerns and politics of the countries in which Kurds find themselves. In Turkey, Kurds form a majority in 15 provinces in the southeast and east of the country, with the metropolitan city of Diyarbakir serving as the unofficial capital of the Kurdish region. There is also a large diaspora both in Western Europe and in coastal Turkish cities such as Adana and Izmir. Istanbul, on the diametrically opposite side of the country from Diyarbakir, is almost certainly the largest Kurdish city in the world, similar to the way that New York City is home to the largest number of Jews in the United States.
For all its claims to be a melting pot of civilizations and a mosaic of different cultures, Turkey has been continuously blindsided by the problem of accommodating its own ethnic diversity. A principal reason lies in the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 and the perceived need to impose a new national identity on a war-stricken nation. Kurds posed an obvious challenge, first because they formed a distinct and regionally concentrated linguistic group that was not Turkish and second because they were overwhelmingly Muslim and therefore not an anomalous "minority" -- as defined by the Treaty of Lausanne -- that could be afforded special rights.
7. Turkey's press operates with one hand tied behind its back.
The Turkish press is vibrant, varied, and vocal, and at the same time restricted. On one hand, Turks cannot claim to be badly informed. There are some 35 national newspaper titles, though total circulation remains low for a country of its size -- 4.5 million, or the equivalent of one London or New York tabloid. There are more than two dozen dedicated news channels, both terrestrial and cable. Rival cable and satellite platforms broadcast foreign news and special interest programs. Internet portals relay gossip, chat rooms hum, and many politicians, even the president (@cbabdullahgul), feel obliged to tweet.
At the same time, the Turkish media has proven a poor watchdog over its own freedoms, largely because of its unholy alliance with government. In too many cases, media ownership has been a "loss leader" -- purely a means to pursue non-press financial interests. The director of the state broadcasting authority is appointed by the cabinet, and officials are not above using the threat of tax audits to discipline media barons who still prove uncooperative. Freedom House, the Washington-based think tank that hands out grades to countries according to the state of their civil liberties and political rights, describes Turkey as "an ever-shifting dichotomy between democratic progress and resistance to reform." It awards it three points (worst score seven) and labels the country "partly free."
The Turkish government has recently been criticized for the large number (around 100 by some reckonings) of journalists in prison. Officials argue that these are people who have committed offenses and just happen to be journalists. While this may be technically accurate, many of the "offenses" have to do with freedom of expression, as many of those in pre-trial detention are Kurdish activists arrested for abetting terrorism. For the most part, the government does not have to use the courts to spin the press in its own direction.