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Turkey - Geography And Demographics, Family Life And Structure, Issues Related To Family Life, Changes In Family Life

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The family is both the strongest social institution in Turkey and the foundation that supports the twin pillars of tradition and adaptation. The durability of marital unions, coupled with pressures for mutual commitment and obligation, contribute to this family stability. In 2001, for example, Turkey experienced a serious economic crisis, but despite severe levels of unemployment, rampant inflation, and frequent devaluations of the Turkish lira, there were few public protests towards the policies of the government or the World Bank. Many experts have attributed this to the strength of the traditional Turkish family, where members continue to support each other in times of need and crisis, offsetting the negative effects of such economic problems as unemployment. The family thus provides not only a supportive network for individuals, but forms a framework to enforce social controls and acceptable patterns of public behavior.

Situated in Eastern Europe, Turkey has a population of about 68 million (SIS December 2001). Founded in 1924 as a secular republic, Turkey was the last nation-state to be formed out of the geographic entity that once was the Ottoman Empire, which contained many of the modern states of the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, and southeastern Europe.

The majority of the population is Muslim (about 99%), most being Sunnis. Shiite Muslims represent about 15 percent of the population, and there are smaller groups of Christians and Jews. Turkey has inherited a complex historical and cultural legacy. Ethnically, the predominant majority are Turks, and there are also groupings of Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Caucasians, Arabs, and others. The official language of the country is Turkish, a Ural-Altaic language spoken by most citizens.

Family law in Ottoman society was mainly defined by Islamic sharia law. The laws allowed polygamy, with men legally entitled to four wives as long as they could support them all and treat them fairly. Men also had the exclusive right to dissolve their marriages. These laws began to change only in the twentieth century, with, for example, a rule that made it obligatory for a man who wanted to marry a second wife to gain the permission of the first.

After the caliphate was abolished (in 1923), and with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey (in 1924), secular law replaced the sharia. The 1926 Civil Code, modeled on the Swiss Civil Code, abolished polygamy and endorsed compulsory civil marriage for all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations. The new laws recognized the right of divorce for both partners and accepted egalitarian inheritance laws and the separation of property in marriage. Since then, when the law set itself the task of improving the status of women and making a break with the past, it has An Ankara family living in the Old Citadel Quarter of Turkey's capital. RICHARD T. NOWITZ/CORBIS become extremely difficult for a man to obtain a divorce without the consent of the wife.


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