Following the fall of the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire and three years of war, the Republic of Turkey gained its independence in 1923. Army officer and nationalist leader Mustafa Kemal, later known as "Ataturk" or "father of the Turks," became the country's first president.
Turkey adopted a form of government known as a republican parliamentary democracy, and its third and current Constitution was adopted in 1982.
The country enjoys a strategic location -- it spans the continents of Europe and Asia and controls the entrance to the Black Sea -- and is home to a confluence of different cultures.
In addition, Turkey is regarded as a bridge between Europe and the Muslim world, and has been seeking to join the European Union for at least 10 years. It has been a member of NATO since 1952.
The country has a mostly Muslim population -- 99.8 percent -- with a strong secular tradition. This unique situation has forced the country's leaders to address, time and time again, the role of religion in Turkey's society and government.
In 2007, Abdullah Gul became Turkey's first president with roots in the Islamist political movement. His Justice and Development Party, or AKP, continued Turkey's economic reforms, but when it pursued the overturning of a ban on the wearing of headscarves in universities -- a tradition observed by many Muslim women -- it pushed the secular establishment too far.
The following year, the Constitutional Court agreed to take up charges filed by the chief prosecutor saying the AKP was a "source of anti-secular actions." If the court had ruled against the AKP, Gul and about 70 others in his party would have been banned from politics for five years.
But instead on July 30, 2008 the court decided to keep the AKP in place, restoring an element of political stability and tempering concerns that the removal of a democratically elected government would damage Turkey's efforts to join the EU.