Turkey country brief

Overview

Located in south-eastern Europe, Turkey borders the Black Sea between Bulgaria and Georgia, and the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas between Greece and Syria. Its population of 79.4 million (2016) is predominantly Sunni Muslim, with the main ethnic groups being Turkish (70 per cent), Kurdish (18 per cent) and others (12 per cent). The capital of Turkey is Ankara.

Bilateral Relations

Australia and Turkey established formal bilateral relations in 1967. Australia has an embassy in Ankara and a consulate-general in Istanbul. In 2006, Australia also established a consulate in Çanakkale (the province in which Gallipoli is located) to provide consular assistance to Australians who visit the Anzac battle sites each year.

Australia and Turkey have a friendly and cooperative relationship, with substantial dialogue across a wide range of issues, high-level visits and solid bilateral trade and investment. Both Australia and Turkey regard the 1915 Gallipoli landings as an event of particular significance in their modern histories. Every year a large number of Australian and Turkish citizens attend commemorative services at Gallipoli. Throughout 2015, both countries held a series of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, including major cultural exchanges under the auspices of the Australia International Cultural Council.

2015 and 2016 saw a series of high-level visits to Turkey. Former Prime Minister Abbott visited Turkey for the Gallipoli commemorations in April 2015. During his visit, the prime ministers of both countries agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation to counter terrorism, tackle terrorist financing and mitigate the threats from foreign fighters. The prime ministers welcomed progress towards a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and agreed to commence work on an MOU on the return of foreign fighters. Governor-General Cosgrove visited for the centennial August Offensive commemorations at Lone Pine on 6 August 2015.

Prime Minister Turnbull visited Turkey for the G20 Summit in November 2015.

The Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, visited Turkey for the Anzac commemorations in April 2016.

The Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Ismail Kahraman, visited Australia in October 2016.

Community Links

In 1967, Turkey and Australia signed a bilateral agreement on assisted migration. Under the agreement, Australia offered migration to whole families, as permanent migrants. The program resulted in an increase of the Turkey-born population in Australia from 1,544 at the 1961 Census to 11,589 in 1971. The 2011 Census showed that 66,924 Australian residents claimed Turkish ancestry, with 32,843 having been born in Turkey.

Turkey and Australia have established a number of sister city agreements, including Adana and Sydney, Izmir and Melbourne, and Eceabat and Oberon.

Bilateral Agreements

Australia and Turkey have signed bilateral agreements on a broad range of areas including:

  • an agreement on the residence and employment of Turkish citizens in Australia, signed in 1967;
  • an Agreement on Economic Co-operation, signed in 1988;
  • an Extradition Treaty, which entered into force in 2003;
  • a Work and Holiday Visa Arrangement, signed in 2005;
  • a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on agricultural cooperation, signed in 2005;
  • a Defence Framework Agreement, signed in 2006;
  • an MOU on counter-terrorism cooperation and organised crime, signed in 2007;
  • an arrangement on cooperation in the fields of animal health and biosecurity, signed in 2008.
  • an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which entered into force in 2009;
  • a Defence Materiel Cooperation Arrangement, signed in March 2010;
  • a Double Taxation Agreement signed in 2010; and
  • an Air Services Agreement, signed in 2010.

Bilateral Economic and Trade Relationship

Turkey is Australia's 33rd largest merchandise trading partner, with two-way trade valued at almost $1.3 billion in 2015. Exports to Turkey were worth $466 million, principal items being coal, gold and medicaments. Imports were valued at $817 million, with principal items including gold, fruit and nuts, ships and boats, and construction materials.

Bilateral investment between the two countries is relatively small, although the entry into force of an Investment Protection & Promotion Agreement in 2009 and signature of a Double Taxation Agreement in 2010 are aimed at further encouraging bilateral investment. Australian investment in Turkey was worth $753 million in 2015, well ahead of Turkey's investment in Australia (A$83million).

Australian companies have invested in Turkey, mainly in the energy sector. Other areas of investment interest include infrastructure (brought about by government privatisation programs), mineral exploration, construction and agribusiness.

Political Overview

The Republic of Turkey was founded on 29 October 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a military hero who participated in the Gallipoli campaign. As its first President – remaining in office until his death in 1938 – Atatürk embarked on a radical modernisation program. In the ensuing years, Turkey underwent a series of social and political reforms that saw the establishment of a secular, democratic political system. The then Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan's ‘Justice and Development Party' (AKP) was first elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2007 and 2011. After inconclusive elections in June 2015, the AKP was re-elected for a fourth time at fresh elections held on 1 November 2015.

In August 2014, Erdoğan stood as a candidate in Turkey's first-ever direct presidential elections; previously the parliament had elected the president. Erdoğan won the nation-wide ballot with 51.8 per cent of the vote.

The June elections saw the rise of the People's Democratic Party (HDP). In achieving 13 per cent of the vote in June, it cleared the 10 per cent electoral hurdle to claim 80 seats in parliament. This gave Turkey's Kurdish population a voice in parliament for the first time through party representation, rather than independents. The HDP suffered a drop in support at the November elections but still cleared the 10 per cent threshold to retain parliamentary representation. In November 2016 the two Co-Chairs of the HDP and nine other MPs were detained on terrorism charges, a move which the HDP claims was politically motivated. This followed a decision of the Parliament in May 2016 to remove immunity from prosecution from 138 MPs.

In May 2016 Binali Yildirim was appointed as Turkey's Prime Minister. The current Deputy Prime Ministers are Numan Kurtulmus, Mehmet Simsek, Tugrul Turkes, Veysi Kaynak, and Nurettin Canikli. Mevlut Cavusoglu and Fikri Isik serve as Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers respectively. Nihat Zeybekci is Turkey's Minister of Economy.

After a two-year hiatus, in July 2015 fighting again erupted in the ongoing bloody insurgency between the Turkish Government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The conflict has been confined mostly to Turkey's Kurdish south-east but has also involved Turkish military operations against PKK camps in northern Iraq, and PKK/TAK attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and other locations. Most recently, the TAK claimed responsibility for a 10 December 2016 attack in Istanbul that left at least 44 people dead. No end appears in sight to the three-decades long conflict. The PKK is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Australia and many other countries, including the UK, Canada, the US, and New Zealand.

Separately, Turkey has also recently endured serious terrorist attacks attributed to Daesh. For example, on 20 July 2015, a suicide bomber killed 32 and injured scores of others at the southern Turkish town of Suruç, close to the border with Syria. In one of the worst attacks in Turkey's history, on 10 October, explosions outside Ankara's main railway station killed over 100 during a peace demonstration involving left-wing and Kurdish groups. The Turkish government blamed both attacks on Daesh-linked suicide bombers. On 12 January 2016, nine German tourists were killed in a suicide attack in Istanbul's Sultanahmet square. On 28 June 2016 more than 40 people were killed during an attack on Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. Both these attacks have been blamed on Daesh.

On the evening of 15 July, an element of the Turkish armed forces mounted a failed military coup that resulted in the death of 270 and at least 1,491 injured, including 24 deaths of people linked to the plot. The Turkish Government has claimed the attempted coup was carried out by supporters of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Since the coup attempt, some 40,000 people have been detained, including including 3,495 judges and prosecutors. Over 110,000 public officials have been suspended or dismissed in relation to the coup attempt, including more than 3,000 judges and prosecutors. More than 170 media outlets have been closed down, and many journalists detained. More than 1000 educational institutions have been closed. A State of Emergency, which greatly enhanced the powers of Turkish authorities, was declared on 21 July 2016.

Foreign Policy

Traditionally, Turkey's foreign relations have been structured around the NATO alliance, its geo-strategic position and cultural and historical ties. The United States is a key foreign policy and security partner for Turkey. In recent years Turkey has sought to enhance relations with a more diverse range of countries, including other emerging economies, countries in its immediate region, and African countries. The situation in Syria is a major preoccupation for Turkey, which is a member of the anti-Daesh coalition. Turkey is currently hosting almost 3 million refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey's membership of NATO is an important foundation of its national security strategy. It maintains close relations with a number of European countries, many of which are major trade partners and sources of foreign investment. Turkey has also actively promoted enhanced East-West links through the “Alliance of Civilizations”, a UN initiative it jointly supports with Spain.

Turkey has a close historical relationship with Afghanistan and has twice led NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It has made a major contribution to training of Afghan security personnel, and maintains a substantial troop presence in Afghanistan. Turkey is committed to encouraging the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate more closely and sponsors a regular trilateral dialogue process. The Turkish Government also deployed maritime and ground forces to the UNIFIL deployment in southern Lebanon in 2006, and contributed police to UN missions in East Timor.

Turkey is a member of the anti-Daesh coalition, and maintains a keen interest in Iraq and Syria, particularly the northern areas of these countries, for security, ethnic, religious and historical reasons. In late August 2016, Turkey deployed military forces into northern Syria (Operation Euphrates Shield); it also maintains a military presence in northern Iraq. Turkey has stated that one of its major priorities in Syria is preventing the establishment of a contiguous territory in northern Syria controlled by the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey regards Cyprus as an important national security issue and maintains a military presence in northern Cyprus. It is the only country to recognise the self-declared ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus'. Turkey supports the UN Secretary-General's efforts to bring about a negotiated and peaceful settlement to the dispute in Cyprus.

Turkey maintains strong relations with Black Sea countries and is a leader in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) forum. Turkey acts as an important link in the East-West Energy Corridor, bringing Caspian Sea energy from Azerbaijan to Europe and world markets. In October 2009, Turkey and Armenia signed Protocols that, when ratified by both countries, are intended to lead to the normalisation of relations.

Turkey is a member of ‘MIKTA' (Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia), an informal and non-exclusive grouping of influential countries cooperating to address diverse international challenges.

Economic Overview

Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world (World Bank, 2016) and is thus a member of the G20. With a population of approximately 80 million people, 40 per cent of whom are under 22, Turkey possesses considerable potential for continued growth and development.

In 2001, Turkey experienced a severe financial crisis and adopted a series of financial and fiscal reforms as part of an IMF program. The reforms strengthened the country's economic fundamentals and ushered in an era of strong growth - averaging more than 6 per cent annually until 2008. Global economic conditions and tighter fiscal policy caused GDP to contract in 2009, but Turkey was able to rebound strongly from the global financial crisis, experiencing around 9 per cent GDP growth in 2010-11. Growth dropped to roughly 4 per cent from 2013 to 2015, and the Economist Intelligence Unit is forecasting real GDP growth of 3 per cent in 2016 and 2017.

In late September 2016, Moody's downgraded Turkey's sovereign credit rating to ‘junk' status. This followed the July coup attempt, and an April 2014 negative outlook for Turkey's credit rating.

Reliance on energy imports is the major cause of Turkey's current account deficit (currently 4.5 per cent of GDP), but Turkey's strategic position also provides opportunities for it to develop its role as an energy transit country between Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. On 10 October 2016, Turkey and Russia signed an agreement for the construction of a major undersea gas pipeline (TurkStream). The European Union (EU) remains Turkey's major trading partner, but Turkey has diversified its trade in recent years. Turkey has long sought full entry into the EU and its predecessors, with Turkey's entry into the European Customs Union in 1996 an important milestone. Accession negotiations with the EU began in October 2005 and are ongoing.

Last Updated: 23 July 2014