Turkey in Europe or Asia? 5 Major Things to Know

As a Turkish person, I even asked myself this question several times. The main dilemma about Europe being a continent is, Europe is not actually a continent but a peninsula of Asia. 

Europe as defined by Wikipedia:

Europe is commonly considered to be separated from Asia by the watershed of the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, the Greater Caucasus, the Black Sea, and the waterways of the Turkish Straits.

Although much of this border is over land, Europe is generally accorded the status of a full continent because of its great physical size and the weight of its history and traditions.” Source

As you can understand from this definition, Europe is regarded as a continent not because it is geographically a continent but Europe is a vast peninsula of Asia with a unique historical and cultural identity. 

The definition of European borders changed many times in history, and the vagueness of European borders also created debates about if some countries are located in Asia and Europe.

7 Continents of the World
Source Wikipedia

In this post, I will stick with Wikipedia’s definition of Europe and explore if Turkey is in Europe and Asia.

Turkey is a large country with a rectangular shape, Turkish territory that bridges southeastern Europe and Asia

Turkey has a territory both in Asia and Europe. For this reason, Turkey is a transcontinental country. The European portion of Turkey (Thrace region) comprises 3% of the country and 15% of Turkey’s population. Anatolia is the name of the Asian part of Turkey.

Turkish European TerritoryTurkish Asian Territory
NameThrace (or East Thrace) Anatolia (or Asia Minor)
Percentage of Turkish Territory3%97%
Percentage of Turkish Population15%85%
Turkish Population12 million people70 million people
Size (sq km)23,764 km2755,688 km2
Size (sq mi)9,175 sq  mi²291,773 mi²
Similar in land area toBelgium, SloveniaBigger than France,
Significantly bigger than Germany and Spain

Is Turkey a European or Asian country?

Turkey is a transcontinental country with Asian and European parts. For this reason, Turkey is called a Eurasian country.

The other Eurasian countries with Asian and European parts are Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Turkey is a bridge country between Asian and European countries, and culturally and historically closer to European countries. 

Turkey is a country with liberal values and a secular democratic government. For this reason, since the beginning of the 20th century, Turkey has been regarded as a first-world country. Turkey is one of the key members of the Western Alliance and a member of NATO.

You can check my article to learn more about why Turkey is regarded as a first-world country.

Turkey also has strong cultural and linguistic ties with Central Asian Turkic countries. The Turkish language is an Altaic language with grammatical similarities to Hungarian, Finnish, Korean, Mongolian and Japanese languages. If you wish to learn more about the Turkish language and its origins, please check my article.

Turkish people are genetically most similar to South Italians and Greeks. The most significant difference between Turkish ethnic origins and other South Europeans is Turkish people’s Central Asian heritage. It is believed more than 15% of Turkish genetic ancestry comes from Central Asian Turkic people. 

Yet, This number may be higher because Turkic people are known to have some degree of European DNA.

For these reasons, the United Kingdom and the United States classify Turkish people as white European. For more information on that, you can check my article on Turkish people’s race and my other article on how do Turkish people look.

Turkey as a European Country

Europe and Europeness are built on Greek and Roman Empire cultural traditions. Turkey also embraces Roman Empire traditions. 

For more than 600 years, the Turkish capital was Istanbul, the capital of the East Roman Empire. Turkish Ottoman Empire was a major power in Europe, ruling a significant part of Europe and controlling most of the Mediterranean. 

Yes, there are Turkic elements in our culture, we are Turkish after all, and Turkish people have had a culture of forming empires on their own since ancient times. Yet, Turkish government structure and all of Turkey’s economic and political organizations are based on Roman Empire and Western Legal traditions similar to European countries.

Turkey, besides being politically, culturally and economically aligned to Europe, Turkish people are European. 

Turkey is not a country where European norms were dictated and the nation was civilized by Europeans. 

For ages, Turkey and Turkish people directly contributed to European culture and played a major role in the formation of European culture. Turkey is part of Europe like any European nation. 

You can check my article to learn If you wish to learn why I think Turkey is a part of European culture. 

Turkey still is part of Europe. Turkish participates in European sports and cultural events. Turkey always benchmarks and aligns itself with Europe. 

Turkey has the highest standards among Asian countries in nearly every category.  Yet, like I, Turkish people subconsciously always compare our country with European countries, not Asian countries. We always strive to reach European standards. 

For example, Turkey could win many more medals if Turkey would decide to compete with Asian countries in sports, yet Turkish people feel European. We may not be the best in Europe, but Turkey has a place in Europe.

Is Turkey a member of the EU and Council Europe?

Turkey became one of the first new members (the 13th member) of the Council of Europe in 1950. The Council of Europe consists of all 47 European states regardless if they are a member of the European Union or not.

Map of European Countries that are members of Council of Europe

Not all European countries are members of the European Union. Currently, European Union has 27 members. Also, some countries are in the accession negotiations with European Union, and Turkey is one of them.

European Council focuses on the integration of the rule of law, human rights and democracy. On the other hand, European Union focuses on the socio-political and economic integration of European countries and societies.

Turkey is a candidate to European Union. Yet, I believethe accession negotiations are not going to end soon. 

On the surface, Europe presents human rights and Turkey’s presence in Cyprus as the main reason for the slow accession negotiations, but the reality is different. 

European countries have voting power proportional to their population. Admitting Turkey will grant Turkey the same voting power nearly as Germany. France and Germany are not eager to share powers in European Union with Turkey.

The United Kingdom was one of the biggest supporters of Turkey’s membership. With Turkey, the UK could even have balanced France and German votes in European Union. Yet, after the United Kingdom left the European Union, I am also confused if we continue to aspire to European Union.

Regardless of European Union membership, Turkey will continue to be a part of all European institituons and part of Europe.

The view of the oldest district Eminonu from the sea. The tallest building is the Beyazid fire watch tower. I am quite fond of this tower because it is located at the university I graduated from.

Is Turkey in Europe or the Middle East?

Turkey is a transcontinental country. For this reason, Turkey is considered to be in the Middle East (Asia) and the Balkans (Europe) at the same time. Anatolia is the Asian part of Turkey, and Thrace is the European part of Turkey. 

Yet, Turkish people are not happy as their country is grouped with other Middle Eastern countries. Turkish roots and history and Turkish worldview are significantly different from Middle Eastern countries. 

Turkish ruled the vast majority of Middle Eastern territory for centuries, yet Arabs had their own histories and language, which is completely different from Turkish history and language. (Check my article to learn more about how different Turkish is from Arabic and Turks from Arabs

The societal difference is more apparent by the reforms Turkish implemented after the French Revolution and after the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

I have been to both the Middle East and Europe. Eygpt, for example, one of the most civilized places in the Middle East, was very foreign to me. Even in London, in my postgraduate studies, I could not relate to other Middle Easterners.

Yet, I have been to many countries like Cyprus, Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Greece and not a single time I had a problem with the ways of doing things because the European thinking model is aligned with the Turkish model. I feel most close to Greeks, Italians and Spanish.

To better experience Turkey, you should look around and observe locals. This is very important if you want to really understand Turkish people.

For example, you are watching a belly dancing night show, but there are no Turkish locals. It is because belly dancing is not a regular part of Turkish culture. Have you seen a Turkish haggling or hassling as tourists do? That’s because it is not our culture; we look at the price tags as Europeans do.

Just notice the locals and experience the real culture; things will look more similar. Tourist guides like to exaggerate and make you think you are in a very exotic place, but not everything your tourist guides say is true.

You can also check my other article on Is Turkey in the Middle East if you wish to know more.

Does European Travel Insurance include Turkey?

I realized that some of my readers are here to learn practical information. So I will quickly answer their question before continuing my article. 

Turkey is often counted as a part of Europe, but it’s not a European Union member. Most travel insurances will include Turkey as a European country. Travel insurance providers rarely classify Turkey differently. 

Healthcare is affordable in Turkey, and access to healthcare is seen as a human right in Turkey. Even if you are a foreigner and do not have insurance coverage, you would be surprised by the service quality of Turkish hospitals and the reasonable fees charged.

Efe Genit

I am a father, a passionate traveler, and a Turkish lawyer. You can enjoy my guides and tips about Turkey that only Turkish locals would know.

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