Learn more about Turkic peoples
|Ataturk - Timur - Heydar Aliyev - Attila the Hun - Manas - Yat-Kha|
|Regions with significant populations||Minor Asia, Balkans, Eastern Europe Caucasus, Middle East, Central Asia, Siberia, Far East, Western China|
|Religion||Islam, Christianity, Shamanism, Buddism, Tengriism, Judaism many have Atheistic and Agnostic beliefs.|
Turkic peoples are Northern and Central Eurasian peoples who speak languages belonging to the Turkic family, and who, in varying degrees, share certain cultural and historical traits. The term "Turkic" is generally considered to represent a broad linguistic characterization, and not necessarily an ethnic one. The term "Turk" refers to a nation/ethnicity. "Turkish" on the other hand, is considered to represent more specifically the citizens of the nation of Turkey, as well as the Turkish ethnicity. The Turkic languages are a subdivision of the Altaic language group, and are one of the most geographically widespread in the world, being spoken in a vast region spanning from Europe to Siberia.
 Geographical distribution
The Turkic peoples have many different branches, and their total population is around 150 million, when all of the populations in Turkic nations and Turkic-speaking minorities in other countries are taken into account. Roughly half of these belong to Turks of Turkey, dwelling predominantly in Turkey proper and formerly Ottoman-dominated areas of Eastern Europe and West Asia; as well as in Western Europe, Australia and the Americas as a result of immigration. The other half of the Turkic peoples are concentrated in Central Asia, Russia, the Caucasus, China and Northern and North Western Iran.
At present, there are six independent Turkic countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan, as well as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the island of Cyprus (recognized only by Turkey and by Nakhichevan, an autonomous region in Azerbaijan). There are also several Turkic national subdivisions in the Russian Federation: Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Tuva and Yakutia. Each of these subdivisions has its own flag, parliament, laws and official state language (in addition to Russian).
There are also two other major autonomous Turkic regions: The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known to some people as East Turkestan) in western China, and the autonomous state of Gagauzia, located within eastern Moldova, and bordering Ukraine to the north. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine is a home of Crimean Tatars. In addition, there are several Turkic-inhabited regions in Iran, and parts of Iraq, Georgia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and western Mongolia. The Turks of Turkey number over 70 million, including expatriates and minorities in Europe, while the second largest Turkic people are the Azerbaijanis, who number around 19-33 million worldwide, with most of these living in northwestern Iran.
 Turkic roots
The Xiongnu of Han Dynasty records may have been proto-Turkic speakers.      Another viewpoint is that the Xiongnu language was Samoyedic rather than Turkic. <ref name="pulleyblank">G. Pulleyblank, The Consonantal System of Old Chinese: Part II, Asia Major n.s. 9 (1963) 206—65</ref>  The first recorded use of "Turk" as a political name is a Sixth century reference to the word now pronounced in Modern Chinese as Tujue. Turkic peoples probably lived as nomads for many years before establishing a political state (Göktürk empire). Turkic nationalists have claimed that the expansion of proto-Turkic peoples across Eurasia involved the Scythians (Ishkuz), Xiongnu, Huns, Sarmatians, Khazars, Pechenegs, Alans, Cimmerians, Massagetae and other steppe populations. While some of these peoples may have represented, to some extent, a proto-Turkic or Turkic tribe or confederation, many of them are considered non-Turkic by mainstream historians. Certainly in later times the Khazars and the Pechenegs were Turkic, but the Cimmerians, Massagetae, Sarmatians and Scythians are thought to have been earlier Indo-European speakers.
Turkic peoples originally used their own alphabets, like runiform Orkhon script and the Uyghur alphabet. The traditional, national and cultural symbols of the Turkic peoples include the star and crescent—used as a symbol of Turks since pre-Islamic times  when they aspired to Shamanism—wolves, a part of Turkic mythology and tradition; as well as the color blue, iron and fire.
In the age of nationalism, Turkic speakers were among the first Muslim peoples to take up Western ideas of liberalism and secular ideologies. Pan-Turkism first sprang up at the end of 19th century in the Russian Empire and was advanced by leading Turkic intellectuals like Crimean Tatar İsmail Gaspıralı and Tatar Yusuf Akçura, as a reaction to Panslavist and Russification policies of the Russian Empire. The first fully democratic and secular republics in the Islamic world were Turkic: the ill-fated Idel-Ural State established in 1917, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918 (both annexed and absorbed by Soviet Union) and in 1923, Republic of Turkey.
In modern Turkey, a distinction is made between "Turks" and the "Turkic peoples": the term Türk corresponds specifically to Turkish people and culture, while the term Türki refers generally to modern Turkic peoples and cultures.
Some claim that this distinction is an artificial one, and one not made by speakers of Turkic languages elsewhere. It is sometimes claimed further that much of the separation is the result of Stalinism, and that prior to the founding of the Soviet Union, the term "Turkish" had been used to describe all Turkic peoples as part of a greater family. Others counter that this argument is without basis, and only used to support the racial theories of Pan-Turkism—pointing out that the differences among the separate governmental administrations, as well as cultural, religious, historical, and even racial differences, are too great to speak of any political unity.
The first known mention of the term "Turk" applied to a Turkic group, was in reference to the Gokturks in the 6th century. A letter by the Chinese Emperor written to a Göktürk Khan named Ishbara in 585 described him as "the Great Turk Khan". The Orhun inscriptions (AD 735) use the terms Turk and Turuk".
Previous use of similar terms are of unknown significance, although some strongly feel that they are evidence of the historical continuity of the term and the people as a linguistic unit since early times. This includes a Chinese record of 1328 BC referring to a neighbouring people as "Tu-Kiu".
 Traditions about nomenclature
In the ancient Zoroastrian texts of the Avesta, one of the grandsons of Yima (comparable to Noah as the sole survivor of a catastrophe that depopulated the Earth) is named "Tur" or "Tura"—the supposed ancestor of so-called "Turanian" peoples, a term used in Ancient Iran for all the inhabitants of Central Asia. The term "Turanian" is derived from the Iranian word "tur" or "tar," meaning "dark,"  (in reference to how the West Iranians saw the lands to their north as a mysterious "land of darkness"), however claims that there is any etymological connection to the word "Turk" are hotly disputed among various historians.
This traditional Persian genealogy has been confused by some with the late 16th century Mughal (Indian) work Akbarnama by Abul-Fazel, where he recounts certain Islamic traditions making "Turk" the oldest son of Japheth and grandson of Noah; also, in the 19th century, it was common in Christian circles to equate the ancestor of the Turks with Togarmah, grandson of Japheth in Genesis 10.
According to Mahmud of Kashgar, an 11th century Turkic scholar, and various other traditional Islamic scholars and historians, the name "Turk" stems from "Tur", one of the sons of Japheth, and comes from the same lineage as Gomer (Cimmerians) and Ashkenaz (Scythians, Ishkuz) who, according to tradition, were some of the earliest Turks (most modern scholars believe these tribes to have been Iranian). A similar name, "Dur", also appears in Mediaeval Hungarian legend, as a legendary chieftain of the Caucasian Alans (Arran, Iron) whose daughters supposedly bred with the Magyar ancestors, "Magor" and "Hunor".
In the Turkic dictionary (Divan ul-Lughat at-Turk) of Mahmud of Kashgar, the eponymous hero of the Turks, Alp Er Tunga, is identified with the character Afrasiab ("Frangasyan" in the Avesta) in Persian literature. Alp Er Tunga is a symbolic figure in Turkic tradition; the Gokturks of the sixth century carried on the tradition of Alp Er Tunga and they too believed to be descendants of a wolf. According to the "Book of Kings" written by the Persian author Ferdowsi, Afrasiyab was hunted down and killed in Azerbaijan.
It is generally believed that the first Turkic people were native to a region spanning from Central Asia across throughout Siberia. Some scholars contend that the Huns were one of the earlier Turkic tribes, while others support either a Mongolic or Finno-Ugric origin for the Huns. The main migration of Turkic peoples occurred between the fifth and tenth centuries AD, when they spread across most of Central Asia and into Europe and the Middle East.
The precise date of the initial expansion from the early homeland remains unknown. The first state known as "Turk", giving its name to the many states and peoples afterwards, was that of the Gokturks (gog = "blue" or "celestial") in the 6th century AD. The head of the Asena clan led his people from Li-jien (modern ZhelaiZhai) to the Juan Juan seeking inclusion in their confederacy and protection from China. His tribe were famed metal smiths and were granted land near a mountain quarry which looked like a helmet from which they got their name 突厥(tūjué). A century later their power had increased such that they conquered the Juan Juan and set about establishing their Gok Empire.
Later Turkic peoples include the Karluks (mainly 8th century), Uyghurs, Kirghiz, Oghuz (or Ğuz) Turks, and Turkmens. As these peoples were founding states in the area between Mongolia and Transoxiana, they came into contact with Muslims, and most gradually adopted Islam. However, there were also (and still are) small groups of Turkic people belonging to other religions, including Christians, Jews (see Khazars), Buddhists, and Zoroastrians.
Turkic soldiers in the army of the Abbasid caliphs emerged as the de facto rulers of most of the Muslim Middle East (apart from Syria and Egypt), particularly after the 10th century. The Oghuz and other tribes captured and dominated various countries under the leadership of the Seljuk dynasty, and eventually captured the territories of the Abbasid dynasty and the Byzantine Empire.
Meanwhile, the Kirghiz and Uyghurs were struggling with one another and with the Chinese Empire. The Kirghiz people ultimately settled in the region now referred to as Kyrgyzstan. The Tatar peoples conquered the Volga Bulgars in what is today Tatarstan, following the westward sweep of the Mongols under Genghis Khan in the 13th century. The Bulgars were thus mistakenly called Tatars by the Russians. Native Tatars live only in Asia; European "Tatars" are in fact Bulgars. Other Bulgars settled in Europe in the 7-8th centuries, exchanging their original Turkic tongue for what eventually became the Slavic Bulgarian language. Everywhere, Turkic groups mixed with the local populations to varying degrees.
As the Seljuk Empire declined following the Mongol invasion, the Ottoman Empire emerged as the new important Turkic state, that came to dominate not only the Middle East, but even southeastern Europe, parts of southwestern Russia, and northern Africa.
The Ottoman Empire gradually grew weaker in the face of maladministration, repeated wars with Russia and Austro-Hungary, and the emergence of nationalist movements in the Balkans, and it finally gave way after World War I to the present-day republic of Turkey.
The Turkic language branch belong to Altaic language groups. The various Turkic languages are usually considered in geographical groupings, since high mobility and intermixing of Turkic peoples in history makes an exact classification extremely difficult: Oghuz (or Southwestern) languages, Kypchak (or Northwestern) languages, Eastern languages (like Uygur) and Northern languages (like Altay and Yakut) and divergent languages like Chuvash.
Various pre-Islamic Turkic civilizations of the 6th century were Shamanist and Tengriist. The Shamanist religion is based on spiritual and natural elements of earth. Tengriism in turn involved belief in the god Tengri as the god who ruled over the skies. They were also bearers of the Zoroastrian religion, especially in Azerbaijan, as well as Buddhism and Judaism.
Today, most Turks are Sunni Muslims. They include the majority of Balkan Turks, Balkars, Bashkorts, Crimean Tatars, Karachay, Kazaks, Kumuk, Kyrgyz, Nogay, Tatars (Kazan Tatars) Turkmens, Turks of Turkey, Uygurs, Yellow (Sari) Uygurs and Uzbeks. The Azerbaijanis of the Republic of Azerbaijan and South Azerbaijan (northwestern Iran) are the only major Turkic people that adhere to the Shia sect of Islam, while there have been many conversions to Sunni Islam as of late. The Qashqay nomads and Khorasani Turks as well as various Turkic tribes spread across Iran are also Shia Muslims. The Alevis of Turkey are the largest religious minority in the country. Even though it is claimed that they believe in a doctrine of Islam that is closely related to that of the Shia school of thought, Shia's, however, regard Alevis as heretics.
The major Christian-Turkic peoples are the Chuvash of Chuvashia and the Gagauz (Gökoğuz) of Moldova. Many Karaim Turks of eastern Europe are Jewish, and there are Turks of Jewish backgrounds who live in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Baku. In the Siberian region, the Altay, some Tuvan and Hakas are Tengrist, having kept the original religion of Turkic peoples. The Yakuts of Yakutia in northeastern Siberia are traditionally Shamanists, yet many have converted to Christianity. The Sari Uygurs (Yellow Uygurs) of western China, as well as the Tuvans of Russia are the only remaining Buddhist Turkic peoples. In addition, there are small scattered populations of Turks belonging to other religions such as the Bahá'í Faith and Zoroastrianism.
Even though many Turkic peoples became Muslims under the influence of Sufis, often of Shi'a persuasion, most Turkic people today are Sunni Muslims—although a significant number in Turkey are Alevis. Alevi Turks, who were once primarily dwelling in eastern Anatolia, are today concentrated in major urban centers in western Turkey with the increased urbanism.
The Chuvash of Russia, in their traditional religion, manifest a unique amalgam, that derives in part from ancient Turkic concepts, and in part from other aspects that may be compared to Zoroastrianism, Khazar Judaism, and Islam. The Chuvash religious calendar cycle was based on an agrarian cult, closely combining the cults of earth, water and vegetation, with that of ancestor worship. The conversion of the Chuvash to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, mostly effected in later 19th century, had a noticeable effect on their festivals and rites, that were adapted to coincide with Orthodox feasts—with Christian rites substituted for their traditional counterparts. Though contemporary Chuvash are counted among Orthodox believers, a minority continue to profess their traditional faith .
There are Turkic -speaking groups of Jews, such as Crimean Karaites.
Some Turkic peoples (particularly in the Russian autonomous regions and republics of Altay, Khakassia, and Tuva) are largely shamanists. Tengriism was the predominant religion of the different Turkic branches prior to the 8th century, when the majority accepted Islam.
There are also a few Buddhist (eg. Tuvans), Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Bahá'í Turkic peoples today.
Remark: Tengri has long changed to "Tanrı" in modern Turkish (as spoken in Turkey), the same as in Azeri, literally meaning "God" in English. However, traditionally, god is referred to as "Allah" in most daily usage, where "Allah" is one of many names of "God" as mentioned in Quran. The word "tengri / tanrı" is still in use by citizens of Azerbaijan and Turkey, where Islam at present is the dominant religion.
 Geographical distribution and ethnic division
The distribution of peoples of Turkic cultural background ranges from Siberia where the Yakuts reside, across Central Asia, to Eastern Europe. Presently, the largest groups of Turkic people live throughout Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, in addition to Turkey. Additionally, Turkic peoples are found within Crimea, the Xinjiang region of western China, northern Iraq, Iran, Israel, Russia, Afghanistan, Cyprus, and the Balkans: Moldova, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and former Yugoslavia. A small number of Turkic people also live in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. There are also considerable populations of Turkic people (originating mostly from Turkey) in Germany, United States, and Australia, largely because of the migrations during the 20th century.
An exact line between the different Turkic peoples cannot easily be drawn. The following is a non-comprehensive list of the major groups:
- Altays (Oirots)
- Balkars (along with Karachays, speakers of the Karachay-Balkar language)
- Crimean Tatars
- Karachays (along with Balkars, speakers of the Karachay-Balkar language)
- Crimean Karaites
- Krymchaks (speak a modified form of Crimean Tatar)
- Meskhetian Turks
- Turks of Turkey (see also Ottoman Turks)
Some divide the above into six branches: the Oghuz Turks, Kipchak, Karluk, Siberian, Chuvash, and Sakha/Yakut branches. The Oghuz have been termed Western Turks, while the remaining five, in such a classificatory scheme, are called Eastern Turks.
One of the major difficulties perceived by many who try to classify the various Turkic languages and dialects, is the impact Soviet, and particularly Stalinist nationality policies—the creation of new national demarcations, suppression of languages and writing scripts, and mass deportations—had on the ethnic mix in previously multicultural regions like Khwarezm, the Fergana Valley, and Caucasia. Many of the above-mentioned classifications are therefore by no means universally accepted, either in detail or in general. Another aspect often debated is the influence of Pan-Turkism, and the emerging nationalism in the newly independent Central Asian republics, on the perception of ethnic divisions.
 Physical appearance
Some historians consider "Turkic" as a linguistic categorization, rather than a strictly ethnic characterization. This is unsurprising, since Turkic peoples often differ greatly from one another in physical appearance, reflecting the abundant migrations, conquests and settlements across Eurasia. Therefore, the already considerable problems involved in any racial classification are made much more difficult in the case of the Turks.
The majority of Turkic-speaking peoples, from former Ottoman lands to western China, and from the Siberian plains to central Iran, seem to possess physical features ranging from Mediterranean Caucasoid to Northern Mongoloid, in varying degrees. Some have very light features, including blue eyes and blondish or reddish hair, others are distinctly Northern Asiatic, but can still have blue or grey eyes.
In western Turkic lands, such as Turkey and Azerbaijan, a great many people look "Mediterranean", having caucasoid features, dark hair and eyes, and olive skin. In Black sea region and Thrace people have mostly light color eyes such as blue, green or gray and blond, brown hairs. This is mostly attributable like the Greco-Romans and south Slavic peoples in eastern part of Turkey some Turkish people look like as Iranian peoples but Kurdish people fully look like so. However the artistic record does depict the early Ottomans as being of asiatic countenance, with dark hair and Mongoloid features. The type remains a prominent minority in modern Turkey. Another example of admixture would be in Hungary. Hungarians are very much assimilated into Europe. However, current DNA evidence suggests that modern Hungarians (Magyars) were Uralic in origin (i.e. from the Ural mountains that divide Europe fom Asia). The relationship of the Magyars with Turkic groups is unclear. Even so, modern Hungarians have acquired a large Slavic and German DNA admixture since they arrived (See external links for citations).
Parallel but different patterns of diversity occur in central Asia, in the lands once host to the Silk Road; for many centuries, the main route of trade between China and the world west of it. The inhabitants of these regions can exhibit extremes of racial phenotype from caucasoid to mongoloid, with probable admixtures of Persian, Jewish, Arab, Indian and Chinese, yet remaining culturally homogenous within their regions. Light skin, hair and eyes, along with a mongoloid facial structure, is prevalent among some Northern Central Asian Turkic groups, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs, although dark hair and fair to light-brown skin tends to be the norm. An example is the Uyghurs of what some of them call East Turkestan (the Xinjiang region of China), who amongst themselves exhibit facial characteristics varying from mongoloid to north european, somewhat different from Han Chinese. In areas of significant Russian influence (from Azerbaijan to Kirgizstan), a Slavic admixture is common.
There has been much debate about the racial nature of the original Turkic speaking ancestors, with some in the past presuming a "Ural-Altaic race" that shares predominantly caucasoid features at one end of the spectrum, and predominantly mongoloid features at the other. It is however widely accepted that Turkic linguistic roots are Altaic, i.e. originating in the Altay mountain region spanning present-day Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and it may be that they have less relation to Uralic peoples than previously thought. In recent times, linguists have tended to separate the old Ural-Altaic language group in two. Turkic languages now sit alongside Mongolic and Tungusic, but distinct from the Uralic languages Finnish and Hungarian. Many linguists think even the Altaic grouping is not a genetic (linguistics) group, but that the similarities are due to borrowing over an extended period. In any case, modern practice is to assume no relation between language and race, as language can be learned and even native speakers of a language (e.g. the English language) can be of any race.
The tribes inhabiting the Altay region today, with the least incursion from Russians and Han Chinese, are of predominantly asiatic/mongoloid appearance, and of light, though not white skin tone; and this is perhaps the best clue available as to the appearance of the original Turkic ancestors. In stature they are stocky, and do not tend to be as tall as Europeans.
Currently, large-scale, detailed DNA research to establish genetic genealogies of Turkic peoples is scant. Evidently, today a great number of Turks do not share this genetic phenotype. Genetic studies performed in four towns across modern Turkey have demonstrated the dilution of the Turkic strain. Only around 30% of those studied possessed a gene marker relating them to a central Asian (i.e. Turkic) ancestor, yet all those studied were Turkish citizens. Altogether, the story of Turkic peoples is a story of admixture and two-way cultural assimilation.
Turkic identity, therefore, exists on two levels. On one, it is a race of (predominantly mongoloid) people from central Asia. On another, it is like an ocean current, spreading and mingling with far-flung waters, and giving rise to a broad-shared history, language, and cultural values transcending genes and racial categorisation.
Some refer to the Turkic countries, regions and peoples as part of the Turkish World. Others are worried that this is a result and example of Pan-Turkism, claimed to encourage hegemonial or even imperialistic aims of modern day Turkey. However, this may not be the case as many claim that Pan-Turkism is supported widely outside Turkey. Turkey's official stance as a nation state does not support Pan-Turkism - though it does not reject it either.
Proponents of the concept point out that in similar fashion, many Arabs also feel to be part of a greater "Arab World". It is also held that encouragement of this cultural and linguistic affinity can be used as a vehicle to increased regional development and security.
Opponents point to the negative elements that can become involved in any kind of nationalism (be it Turkic or otherwise), the role of pan-Turkic movements in the revolutionary wars in Russia, and the cultural, religious, and political diversity among the many Turkic peoples and ethnic groups, and feel that a movement to greater pan-Turkic unity would be a negative influence on the region.
Performing Azeri musicians
Qashqai caravan halt
Crimean Tatar soldier fighting with the soldier of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
 See also
- Turkic states and empires
- Turkic European
- Shatuo Turks
 External links
- Encyclopedia Britanica 1911 Edition
- Istanbul Kültür University
- Murad Adji's site Contains books in english
- A Comparison Between the Turkey and Turkmenistan Turkishes
- Examples of traditional Turkish and Ottoman Clothing
- A General Look at the History of the Uyghur Turkish
- International Turcology and Turkish History Research Symposium
- Türkçekent Orientaal's links for Turkish Language Learning
- Türkçestan Orientaal's links to Turkic languages
- Ural-Altaic-Sumerian Etymological Dictionary
- Crimean Tatar Internet Resources
- Crimean Tatar Web Site
- Kemal's Crimean Tatar Web Site with Crimean Tatar Language Resources
New DNA Results
- "Probable ancestors of Hungarian ethnic groups: an admixture analysis"C. R. GUGLIELMINO1, A. DE SILVESTRI2 and J. BERES
- MtDNA and Y chromosome polymorphisms in Hungary: inferences from the palaeolithic, neolithic and Uralic influences on the modern Hungarian gene pool
 Further reading
- Findley, Carter Vaughn. 2005. The Turks in World History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516770-8; 0-19-517726-6 (pbk.)
- Charles Warren Hostler, The Turks of Central Asia, (Greenwood Press, November 1993), ISBN 0-275-93931-6
- H.B. Paksoy ALPAMYSH: Central Asian Identity under Russian Rule (Hartford: AACAR, 1989)
- Peter B. Golden, An introduction to the history of the Turkic peoples: Ethnogenesis and state-formation in medieval and early modern Eurasia and the Middle East, (Otto Harrassowitz (Wiesbaden) 1992) ISBN 3-447-03274-X
- Golden, Peter B. (2006) "Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Turks and the Shaping of the Turkic Peoples." In: Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawai'i Press. Pp. 136-157. ISBN-13: ISBN 9780824828844; ISBN-10: ISBN 0824828844
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