Why isn’t İstanbul the Capital of Turkey?

If you are not that familiar with Turkey, there is a high chance of you think that Istanbul is the capital city of Turkey. However, this is not the truth, and the capital city of Turkey is Ankara.

Istanbul is not the capital city of Turkey, and this is due to the historical events that extended World War I and Greco – Turkish War. New parliament had to be established in Ankara in the year 1920 since İstanbul was under invasion. After the war, parliament decided that it was best to change the capital city of Turkey to Ankara, from Istanbul which served as the capital for the Ottoman Empire.

See also: Ankara, the Capital of Turkey: Everything You Need to Know

One can wonder why Istanbul is not remained as the capital of Turkey, as it is today is the heart of Turkey. In comparison to Ankara, the current capital city of Turkey, Istanbul has a lot more things to offer as a capital city. But, history shapes decisions in unexpected ways, and this was the case of Istanbul not being the capital of Turkey. 

Was Istanbul the Capital of Turkey at Some Point?

Ottoman Empire was ruled from Topkapı Palace in İstanbul for centuries

Istanbul was the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, which was the former empire before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, between the years 1453 and 1923. Besides, Istanbul was not the capital city of the Ottoman Empire only. One can observe the history of Istanbul being the capital city starting from the 4th century. 

The empires before the Ottoman Empire which hold Istanbul, choose Istanbul as their capital city as well. Istanbul was the capital city of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD. Yet, Istanbul was not referred to as Istanbul at those periods. Instead, it was named “Byzantion”, which transferred to “Costantinapolis” afterward.

The aim of Constantine the Great 1st ‘s was to make Istanbul a beautiful place, and his aim was continued by the following emperors. After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Byzantion became the capital of the Eastearn Roman Empire.

Istanbul being the capital city of the Ottoman Empire did not happen until Mehmet “the Conqueror” conquered Istanbul in the year 1453. After this time, Istanbul remained the capital city of the Ottoman Empire for 470 years.

Lots of improvements in terms of architecture, art, science, culture were made in Istanbul throughout its capital city period on the Ottoman Empire. Such that, Istanbul was referred to as the “world capital” in the 16th century. Yet, of course, everyone was aware of Istanbul’s significance and it got occupied in the year 1918. After the occupation and the following events in Istanbul, things changed for good.

When did Ankara become the Capital of Turkey?

Aerial view of Ankara, the capital of Turkey
Aerial view of Ankara

Ankara became the capital of Turkey on October 13, 1923, after the Turkish-Greco War (Turkish Independence War). Some people aware that Istanbul was not a good place for being the capital city of a country. This idea was first brought by Von Der Goltz Pasha, after the Second Constitutional Era.

The reasons he counted for the transformation idea of the capital from Istanbul the Ankara included mainly the strategic and administrative issues. He claimed that Istanbul was the heaven on earth, where you can do nothing but enjoy the beautiful surrounding of it. Actually, he did not mention Ankara specifically while explaining why Istanbul cannot be the capital. Instead, he was offering that a city in the Central Anatolia region would be so much better as the capital city.

Most of the people was agreeing on the point that the capital of the city must be geographically in somewhere middle of the country, and Istanbul was not the optimal place for administrating and protecting the country. This subject started to become an important issue in the last periods of the Ottoman Empire.

Former Parliament Building in Ankara
Former Parliament Building in Ankara

After the occupation in Istanbul, everyone clearly saw that Istanbul was not the optimal place to protect under an occupation. The first step of Ankara as the capital city of Turkey was that Ankara becoming the center for the Turkish War of Independence. However, not everyone agreed with the idea that Ankara being the capital.

Some insisted that there is no way to change the capital to another city, and especially Ankara. Ankara indeed is a bad option according to someone who overlooks the administrative and the strategic location of it, when compared to Istanbul. 

Atatürk and Ankara

It can be said that Ankara being the capital city of Turkey is a part of the Atatürk reforms. Making a change on big things such as the capital city of a country is something serious in a way that can influence the destiny of the country forever.

Atatürk first recognized the dangers of keeping Istanbul as the capital city in the year 1919, while he was visiting Sultan Mehmet Vahdettin. Atatürk realized that while they were having a conversation, Sultan could not help himself but looks from the window to the enemy ships. Atatürk explained this small detail by saying that “A place where one can worry by seeing the enemy ship (Istanbul) cannot be the capital.”

It is fair to say that Atatürk decided to change the capital city long before getting to Samsun and starting the Turkish Independence War. Throughout the Turkish Independence War, it can be observed that small steps were taken to change the capital city.

As I mentioned earlier, big changes cannot happen overnight, and Atatürk knew that very well. So instead of changing the capital city overnight, he began with small changes to warm the environment a little bit longer before the actual decision. 

In the summer of the year 1919, Ankara was the center of the Turkish Independence War. Soldiers from Istanbul wishing to participate in the Turkish Independence War were first needed to visit Ataturk in Ankara and then sent to the east to participate in the war.

After the important congresses, the significance of Ankara increased greatly. The communication between Istanbul and those congress centers was provided by Ankara. In other words, important news from different cities was first sent to Ankara as it was known as the safest place in the country, and then it was delivered to Istanbul from there.

Ankara had a great significance especially in the Sivas Congress, by playing a role of a protector city. Ankara was the wall that protects possible occupations from the west during the Sivas Congress. After all of those small steps reinforcing the significance and potential of Ankara, there is nothing left but to officially pronounce Ankara as the capital city of Turkey.

In an interview made with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Atatürk stated the government’s intentions to make Ankara the capital city of Turkey. He said that the capital of Turkey must be in somewhere the middle of the country, and suggested the cities Ankara, Sivas, or Kayseri.

A single-article bill of 9 October 1923 suggested by Ismet Inonu suggested making a change in the capital city of Turkey. When the calendars were showing the date of 13 October 1923, Ankara officially became the capital city of Turkey.

Ankara in Nutuk

Nutuk is the name of the famous speech of Ataturk, from the year 1927. Atatürk explained why the government decided to change the capital city of Turkey to Ankara in Nutuk very clearly. He stated that the geographical and strategical significance of Ankara and the disadvantages of Istanbul in those terms led to this decision.  

Nutuk is an important speech that helps us to understand Atatürk better, and his explaining the reasons for transferring the capital city from Istanbul to Ankara is further supports how important and needed this change was.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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