Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents



In addition to large and small cities, Turkey has scores of semiurban places that officially are classified as towns. A town (kasaba ) is defined as an incorporated settlement with a population between 2,000 and 20,000. Towns generally provide basic economic and political services to the regions in which they are located. The social structure of larger towns is similar to that of the cities. There is an elite composed of government officials, military officers, and a few wealthy landowning, mercantile, and professional families; a middle class made up of administrators, merchants, shopkeepers, soldiers, and teachers; and a lower class consisting of artisans and various categories of workers. Some of these diverse occupational groups may be absent in the smaller towns.

Traditionally, elite status in towns derived from both wealth and family descent. Political and economic influence was exercised for several generations by local landowning families that had intermarried with Ottoman officials sent by the government to administer the towns. The policies introduced by Atatürk during the 1920s and 1930s changed the composition of most town elites, however. Families unable or unwilling to adapt lost influence and power, whereas those families who embraced the new values continued to wield local influence. Since the 1960s, the educated descendants of some members of the traditional landed elite have become governors, mayors, doctors, lawyers, judges, and merchants, as well as large landowners employing modern farm technology and business practices. These individuals also have assumed leadership of the local hierarchies of the political parties.

Village Life

Until the early 1950s, more than 80 percent of the inhabitants of Turkey lived in villages, which numbered more than 36,000. As defined by the government, a village (koy ) is any settlement with a population of less than 2,000. Although Turkey's rural population has continued to grow, the percentage of the total population living in villages has declined as a result of rural-to-urban migration. In 1970 about 67 percent of the population lived in villages; five years later, this proportion had shrunk to 59 percent. In 1980 more than 54 percent still lived in villages, but by 1985 most people lived in urban areas. In 1995 less than 35 percent of the population lived in villages.

Since the 1950s, agriculture has become increasingly mechanized, and this gradual change has affected land tenure patterns and village society (see Land Tenure, ch. 3). Small landowners and landless families generally have not benefited from this change, and consequently they have been the rural residents most likely to migrate to the cities. In contrast, larger landowners have profited from the new agricultural methods by increasing their holdings and investing their increased wealth in industry. By the early 1980s, the personal and sharecropping relationships between landowners and agricultural laborers and tenants had been replaced by new and impersonal wage relations. This development prompted agricultural wage earners with grievances against landowners to seek advice and relief from labor unions or labor-oriented groups in the towns.

In the 1990s, the extended family network remains the most important social unit in village society, even though most households tend to be composed of nuclear families. The extended family serves a crucial economic function in villages by fostering cooperation among related households by way of informal arrangements concerning shared machinery, shared labor, and even shared cash income. The extended family also is expected to provide support if one of its constituent nuclear households faces an economic, political, or social crisis. An extended family may be composed of a father, his married adult sons, and their children and wives, but usually it is a broader concept embracing several generations headed by one or more senior males who can trace common descent from a male ancestor. In this sense, an extended family is a patrilineage. Although such kin groups lack status as corporate entities in custom or law, they have an important role in defining family members' rights and obligations.

There are important similarities among villages within a given region, as well as differences from one region to the next. In this sense, it is possible to distinguish among villages in three distinct geographic regions: Anatolia, the coastal area, and southern and eastern Turkey.

Data as of January 1995

Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents