Oghuz Turks have long and not without justice been reputed to be a Proud Warrior Race. The present day nation of Turkey was descended from the Ottoman Empire which was founded by border raiders in Asia Minor. These formed themselves into a conquering Empire which was able to subjugate large parts of the Balkans. At one of its key moments the Ottomans were, in 1453, able to take Constantinople which was the last trace of The Roman Empire. After this they grew to become one of the greatest powers in the world.
The Ottomans were checked by the improvements in military technique and increase in economic production by European powers. They were driven back in a series of wars by Austria and Russia. Subjugated powers began revolting in the nineteenth century, and the Ottoman Empire itself became a Vestigial Empire. So Vestigal in fact that one of the main reasons it survived was that other powers were afraid Russia would conquer it first and upset the Balance of Power.
During World War I the Ottoman Empire fought on the German side. It gave a fairly good account of itself, but in the end lost most of its empire, and upon surrendering, significant chunks of its Anatolian heartland were given—directly or indirectly—to Greece, Italy, and France. However in a curious twist of fate it managed to resurrect itself. The Turkish General Kemal Ataturk, who had distinguished himself at Gallipoli, put himself at the head of a nationalist movement which prevented the total collapse of Turkish independence (ironically, despite being a militant secularist, the mass of peasants who followed him showed up because he managed to convince an assembly of muftis to declare a jihad). Turkey reformed itself from a Vestigial Empire into a nation state under Ataturk who was, for the Turks, sort of a semi-benign cross between a Glorious Leader and a Cincinnatus. During World War II it stayed neutral and was able to do so both because of its formidable if old fashioned army, and because of the geopolitical skills of its leaders. During The Cold War the Turks took the anti-communist side and Turkish troops fought with distinction in The Korean War (amusingly, the Greeks showed up, too; there are no reports on what they thought of one another). Turkey joined NATO in 1952 as part of the first enlargement, at the same time as Greece. Turkey now has the second-largest army in NATO after the Yanks with Tanks.
Turkey's military has long been noted for its size. Due to the geographic position of Turkey, the nation played a major role in the planning of World War III scenarios during the Cold War, as their control of the Bosphorous blocked the only Soviet access to the Mediterranean. This, combined with American nuclear missile deployments in the country, made it a prime target if war was to break out. However, this was not the only reason for a large Turkish military. Until recently, the Turkish military played a significant role in the politics of the country. The army is tasked with enforcing the constitutional restrictions on religious governance, which led them to launch coups in 1960 against the Democratic Party, and again in 1997 against the administration of Necmettin Erbakan. They also had two other coups in 1971 and 1980, ostensibly in response to ideological violence, and a coup attempt in 2016 that is bona fide Flame Bait in Turkish communities. This heavy presence in Turkish politics is partly owed to the founders of modern Turkey, particularly Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, being generals in the Ottoman military. Having won Turkey's independence through war, there was a natural inclination to view the military as a fundamental part of the nation's politics, unlike countries like the United States where the military is firmly divided from the civilian administration. This seemingly omni-present military cabal has come to be known as the "Deep State" in Turkey.
Mandatory service is still enforced in Turkey, hence why it has such a vast military. Until recently, however, the military of Turkey vastly over-emphasized quantity over quality. None of the three main branches of the Turkish military were all that powerful, and they frequently relied on their NATO allies to make up for their shortcomings, such as a lack of adequate air defense. Despite being on the frontlines of the Cold War, it seems that NATO commanders placed significantly more preference in Germany, and viewed the Turkish armed forces as little more than a stop-gap for the Soviets if hostilities broke out. Most of their closest military arrangements were made with other NATO allies, particularly West Germany, from which they licensed the G3 rifle and MG 3 machine gun that are still standard issue.
However, the military has undergone significant changes recently. The administration of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has effectively restructured the Turkish military in the wake of two massive events: the Ergenekon Case note and the 2016 coup d'etat attempt. In the former, a massive number of military leaders were accused of belonging to an ultra-nationalist organization known as Ergenekon, that was supposedly planning on overthrowing the ruling AKP government. This resulted in hundreds of officers being arrested and losing their posts, and they were typically replaced by officers loyal to the AKP government. This did not avert another coup attempt, however, as Erdoğan had a falling out with his ally Fethullah Gülen, leader of the hizmet movement. The latter was involved in a coup attempt in 2016 that was quickly crushed, but there still exists significant controversy over the role of Gülen and other aspects of the coup that are beyond the scope of this article. Regardless, the outcome is that the Turkish military is effectively no longer a separate entity constantly watching over the civilian government as in decades past, but is now an arm of the the government.
Outside of the structural changes, the war with the PKK in Southeastern Turkey and the increasingly involvement of the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria has necessitated large equipment upgrades. They controversially purchased some Russian S-400 anti-air missile systems in order to resolve the massive AA gap in their arsenal, much to the chagrin of the US, who they had long depended on for anti-air coverage. The most notable of their indigenous developments has been a joint effort with South Korea to build an indigenous version of their K2 tank, known as the Altay, to replace the aging M60 Patton tanks. Beyond that, they are also working on equipping the armed forces with a new, indigenous assault rifle known as the MPT-76. The Navy is also getting quite a bit of love, with a new Amphibious Assault Ship planning to enter service soon, and several new surface warships in the works.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the Turkish military has carved itself a veritable niche as a Drone Deployer over the latter half of the 2010s, becoming one of the most prolific producers of both surveillance and attack drones. Baykar TB "Bayraktar" drones have come in contact with Russian-equipped forces in Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine, often offering significant advantages to Turkish-backed forces in these theatres. As a result, some experts have been describing Turkey as a drone superpower surpassed only by the US and China.
Appearances in fiction
- The first four volumes of the Franco-Belgium comic Djinn take place in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire just before World War I breaks out.
- America America is Elia Kazan's semi-fictionalized account of his uncle's escape from oppression in latter 19th century Ottoman Empire Turkey.
- Ayla: The Daughter of War features the Turkish Army as part of the UN coalition forces during The Korean War, where some Turkish soldiers find an orphaned Korean child in the middle of a massacre and end up adopting her as the war ranges on.
- Lawrence of Arabia.
- Kurtlar Vadisi (English title Valley of The Wolves note )
- The Great Warrior Skanderbeg
- O Şimdi Asker (He is a Soldier Now): Chronicles the experiences of a group of soldiers scheduled for short-term conscrption but ended up getting stuck in the military when a crisis with Greece breaks out. Somewhat critical of the army but ultimately focusing on the True Companions that grow between the diverse range of characters.
- The Lark Farm (La Masseria Delle Allodole), an Italian-made film about the World War I-era deportations of Armenians by the Turkish military.
- Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan, the novel which the above film was based on.
- Rampage, aka. Turkish Rambo.
- The Turkish Gambit novel from Erast Fandorin series (also the movie).
- Emilio Salgari (better known for his Sandokan novels wrote two novels, Capitan Tempesta e Il Leone di Damasco, centered around the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire for control of Cyprus and the Battle of Lepanto.
- The Shadow of the Vulture short story by Robert E. Howard takes place during the Ottoman-Hungarian/Habsburg Wars.
- M*A*S*H shows the Turks as part of the Korean War fighting force, and as such visiting the 4077th every so often. One scene had a Turk/Greek fight broken up by a pissed-off Father Mulcahy.
- Resurrection: Ertuğrul, a 5-season Turkish historical television series chronicling the deeds of Ertugrul Bey, father of Osman Ghazi Haan, that could be best described as "Vikings with Central Asian nomads". Not that there isn't a significant amount of overlap between those two groups.
- The Ottoman Army oppose the ANZAC protagonists in the series Gallipoli (2015). As the war for the Gallipoli peninsula falls into a stalemate, both sides begin to mellow and find each other as worthy adversaries and have a strange bond with each other, despite being enemies.
- In Battlefield 1, the Ottoman Empire and its forces face off against the British Empire in multiplayer. In singleplayer. they are the main opposing force in two of the War Stories, The Runner (based on the Battle of Gallipoli) and Nothing Is Written (based on the Arab Revolt).
- The Total War series features the Ottoman Empire as a playable faction in the original Medieval, Medieval II, Empire, and Napoleon.
- The Ottoman Empire at the height of its power plays an important role in Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Most of the game takes place in and around Constantinople, and various factions within the Sultan's court serve as allies or enemies to the Assassins' cause.
- In Hetalia: Axis Powers, the Moe Anthropomorphism of Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire (Sadiq Annan) appears once or twice with his troops around.