Why İstanbul Is Not the Capital of Turkey

Istanbul, the first city that comes to mind when it comes to Turkey, has been under siege throughout history and has been a city that fascinates all people. Istanbul is the most beautiful city in Turkey with its magnificent features such as being one of the transportation centers of the world, hosting the Bosphorus. On the other hand, Ankara is a city located in the center of Anatolia, which has qualities such as its location, climate, calmness, and ease of transportation and communication.

Istanbul, which inspired many poets, united two continents and served as the capital of three universal empires such as the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires throughout history, gave Ankara, located in the heart of Turkey, the distinction of being the capital in 1923. There are reasons behind the decision to move the capital from Istanbul to Ankara, such as Ankara’s geopolitics, geographical situation, military strategy, and strong belief in the liberation struggle of its people.

If I were to briefly describe the cities of Ankara and Istanbul, while Istanbul is a city that stands out all over the world like a fascinating face, Ankara is not visible as a heart but represents an indispensable city. Ankara has earned the right to be the capital city with these hidden but powerful features.

What the Capitals Represent

Capitals, which mean the administrative center of a state, must have some important and strategic features that make them capitals. The Capitals have the power to represent countries. For this reason, it is common for capitals to be located in the central parts of the countries and accessible places. States choose capitals as a means of control to maintain unity and integrity, so capitals are very important places that must be protected.

Capitals should also have a strong centrist structure, symbolize national identity and power, and be a city that can take an active role in political and economic decision-making processes.

Ottoman Empire Capitals

The Ottoman Empire, which was established as a principality in 1299, expanded its borders over time and became an empire. Since its establishment, the Ottoman Empire has changed its capital many times according to its increasing borders and changing strategies. Istanbul was the last capital of the Ottoman Empire, which continued its existence for 622 years. For 470 years, Istanbul served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The first capital of the Ottoman state is also known as Söğüt. After Ertuğrul Gazi took Bilecik from the Greeks, he determined the capital as Söğüt. Over time, the Ottoman Empire chose Iznik as the capital after Söğüt and then Bilecik again. In 1326, the capital was moved from Bilecik to Bursa, and Bursa remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire for 39 years. In 1365, the Ottoman Empire decided to move the capital to Edirne due to its settlement policy and its desire to conquer Istanbul.

Edirne remained the capital for 88 years until Istanbul was conquered. With the conquest of Istanbul, the new capital was Istanbul, and since the location of the capital was not changed until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it is called the last capital of the Ottoman Empire in history.

Importance of Istanbul

Istanbul has developed under the sovereignty of many states throughout history and has exhibited their cultural values. The Bosphorus, which connects the European and Asian continents, and its strategic location add a great privilege to Istanbul.

Istanbul that Fatih Sultan Mehmed conquered in 1453 was highly developed in terms of science, culture, and art with the Ottoman state, and became a cosmopolitan city where different nations and races could live together. For this reason, Istanbul also contains the sacred relics of 3 major religions.

In fact, in Islam, one of the dominant religions of the Ottoman Empire, the Hz. Muhammad said about Istanbul: “Istanbul will definitely be conquered. What a great commander, the commander who conquered him, what a great army that army is.”

Another famous saying emphasizing the importance of Istanbul belongs to Napoleon Bonaparte, who was the French Empire from 1804 to 1814: “If the world was a single country, its capital would be Istanbul.”

The Past of Ankara City

Once upon a time, Ankara was one of the main centers of trade and the Ahilik Organization is a tradesman solidarity organization. Ankara, whose population reached 100 thousand in the 17th and 18th centuries, entered a period of great decline in the 19th century due to problems such as thirst and famine, and its population decreased to almost 26 thousand.

İn addition, great losses were experienced in Ankara with the occurrence of the great Ankara fire, which started on the night of September 13, 1916, and lasted until September 15. As a result of this fire, which started in the center of Ankara, spread to the whole city in a short time, 5 people lost their lives, and approximately 1000 houses belonging to non-Muslims, 935 shops, 7 churches, 2 mosques, and 3 health institutions were completely burned.

When Mustafa Kemal Pasha and the National Strugglers came to Ankara, which was a city of debris, only 4000 Turks lived in the center of Ankara, the rest consisted of 1700 Catholic Armenians, 150 Gregorian Armenians, 350 Greeks, and 50 Jewish families.

Falih Rıfkı Atay, one of the most influential journalists of the Republican era, talked about Ankara at that time in his famous Çankaya work :

“When we came to Ankara in 1923, there was no sign of the Christian quarter except for the vineyard houses. When we got off the train, we would return to a place of fire whose dust never ceased, passing through a swamp on both sides, a treeless cemetery, and barracks of adobe and wooden craftsmen. I do not think that even a backward Anatolian town was as primitive as Ankara back then.”

Recommendations for Government Center

In the period when the War of Independence finally ended and the Lausanne negotiations began, several conversations had begun to change the capital.

In fact, the basis of this idea dates back to ancient times. Although Istanbul is of great strategic importance, it has been seen to be in danger many times throughout history. The passage of the British Navy through the Dardanelles in 1807 and the advance of Russia to Edirne in 1829 are examples of how dangerous Istanbul was. With the understanding of the seriousness of the situation, various suggestions were presented for the change of the capital.

Moltke, who was in charge of the Ottoman army, put forward the idea that the capital Istanbul should be changed in 1839.

Marshal Von Der Goltz Pasha, who served in the Ottoman army for 16 years, declared that the capital should be moved into Anatolia with the following words:

“Transfer the capital from Istanbul to Anatolia, for example to Konya, because Istanbul is not a suitable place to work or do business. Nature wanted to bring heaven down to earth and chose Istanbul, that Bosphorus, that Camlica, that Islands, it gives life to the soul. Half of the day is spent on the road and the rest is with your visitors”

Also, Von Der Goltz Pasha insisted that the Ottoman capital should be in Asia as a result of the Ottoman Empire’s territorial losses in the Balkan Wars. Especially in 1912, when the Bulgarian army came almost to Istanbul, a serious danger was experienced again.

Ferit Bey, the editor-in-chief of the Vazife newspaper of the period, described this situation with the words: “A capital cannot be established at a point exposed to danger from three sides”, “For the safety of the nation and the country, the capital must be established in the center of the homeland and the heart of the nation”.

After the last World War I, as a result of the occupation of Istanbul by the Allied Powers, sufficient struggle could not be fought in Istanbul and it was decided to make Ankara the capital.

How Ankara Became the Capital

In this period, it was thought that there should be a region between the triangle of Ankara-Kayseri-Sivas as the capital. Ankara, located in the very center of Anatolia, was the best option.

The decision, which has already been finalized on this issue, was officially and legally announced when the Minister of Foreign Affairs İsmet Pasha proposed a single-item draft law to the Parliament on 9 October 1923.

After long discussions, “The capital of the Turkish State is the city of Ankara.” It was adopted as a law on 13 October 1923 with the signature of 13 deputies. After 16 days, the Republic was proclaimed on 29 October 1923.

The spirit of national struggle in Anatolia had saved Istanbul, so it was of great importance that the capital was in the heart of Anatolia.

Why Ankara Is the Capital

Of course, there were many reasons for making Ankara the capital, such as the geographical location of this province, its historical place, and the patriotism of the people of Ankara in the liberation struggle.

Ankara was a very attractive and reassuring point in terms of being the administrative center of the country. it was a place that had not been occupied before.

The spirit of the Kuva-yı Milliye, which was established by the people against the attacks and occupations in Anatolia after the Ottoman Empire’s army was restricted by the invading states, was extremely inflamed, so that Ankara became a symbol of the national struggle.

The fact that Ankara was surrounded by mountains was another advantageous feature that greatly reduced the possibility of invasion.

Ankara’s proximity to the western front allowed the railways from Western Anatolia and Istanbul to reach Ankara. Therefore, transportation was easier.

Since Ankara was a city close enough to follow developments in Istanbul closely, it would be easy for Ankara to be aware of Istanbul’s potential dangers and respond quickly.

Ankara was a city that was able to maintain its strength and tranquility against any kind of attack, and this was an essential other feature that enabled the war strategy to be carried out effectively.

Ankara, being in the center of Anatolia, allowed the government to attribute its views equally to all parts of the country. Because if the government retreated to a corner of the country, then it could forget the situation of cities that were not flourishing and were far from the center.

In those years, Istanbul was the most civilized place in Turkey. There is no doubt that the main reason why Anatolia was such a ruined place at that time was that the headquarters of the government was in Istanbul and it was mostly concentrated there.

All these events had recently increased the distrust of Istanbul’s political and social environment.

After the capital was moved to Ankara, the administrators of the country entered the country and, experiencing the same conditions with anatolıan people, began to seek solutions to the problems of Anatolia.

Celal Nuri İleri, one of the Turkish journalists of the period, in his speech at the parliament on Ankara’s becoming the capital, said, “In order to understand all the needs and needs of Anatolia, we must endure the dust of Ankara in the summer and the mud in the winter so that we can find a cure for it.” “A government, especially if the largest part of the country, ninety-five percent of it, is in Anatolia, and if the center of that government is in Istanbul, they hardly think about Anatolia.”

There were also those who did not want Ankara to be the capital. Especially European states objected to Ankara being the capital. Because the established republic did not bow to the intervention of other European states in Turkey’s internal affairs.

Since the Western states thought that they could use their political and military influence on Istanbul more easily, they insisted that the capital of the Republic of Turkey be in Istanbul, but Ankara finally succeeded in making the western states accept its view.

The views of Western states were reflected in the official correspondence of the period with the following striking words: “The republican regime will not hold up and will collapse. Therefore, Istanbul will be the capital again. There is no need to move the embassy to Ankara.”

Although the capital was moved to Ankara in the first years of the Republic, embassies of Western states generally remained in Istanbul. Especially England maintained its determination not to move its embassy from Istanbul to Ankara until 1929.

As a matter of fact, although the Government of the Turkish Grand National Assembly asked these states to send diplomatic representatives with ‘ambassador’ status; Western states such as England, France, and Italy showed once again that they do not accept Ankara by insisting on sending a ‘middle envoy’ to the Ankara Government.

In 1925, two years after Ankara became the capital, only the Soviet Union and Afghanistan had embassies in Ankara. It was about six years later that Italy and France moved their embassies.

Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I love Istanbul. I have been to 10 different countries. Istanbul is in the top 3 cities. I like to play soccer too :)

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