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TURKS

 

O.T. FORD

 

Türkler

The Turks are a cultural nation speaking dialects of the Turkic language family, sometimes considered a constituent of a larger Altaic language family. The Turkic dialects (excluding Chuvash, Чăваш Чĕлхй « Čăvaš Čĕlxĭ ») form a single dialect continuum, located in Türkestan (depicted at right), primarily in a roughly-continuous region in central Eurasia.

Conventional “languages” within Turkic are generally identified by ethnicity or tribal identity, not by mutual intelligibility; they include Turkish (Türkçe), Gagauz (Gagauzça), Karachay (Qaraçayça), Balkar (*Malqarça), Azeri (Azəri Dili), Tatar (Tatarça), Bashkir (Башҡорт Теле « Bašq´ort Tele »), Turkmen (Türkmençe), Kazakh (Қазақ Тілі « Qazaq Tílí »), Karakalpak (Qaraqalpaq Tili), Uzbek (O‘zbekcha), Kyrgyz (Кыргызча « Kyrgyzča »), Uyghur (Uyğurçe), and Yakut (Саха Тыла « Saxa Tyla »). Some of the terms, both in native form and in English, are used in historical sources for groups not necessarily ancestral to the present groups known by those names.

Chagatai (چغتای « Čağatāj »), the lingua franca and literary dialect of Medieval Central Asia and the native dialect of Tamerlane (تيمور « Tejmüŭr »), was a Turkic dialect, and the direct ancestor of Uzbek and Uyghur. The Huns may also have been Turkic, but too little of their dialect was recorded to make a definitive classification.

Most Turkic peoples are traditionally Sunni Muslim. The main exceptions are the Azeris, who are traditionally Shiite Muslim, and the Gagauz, who are traditionally Eastern Orthodox. While Communist rule led to the suppression of these traditional religions for an officially-promoted atheism, the end of the Communist period has seen a revival of these religions. In Türkmenistan, the totalitarian rule that succeeded Communism introduced a parallel religion, worship of the autocrat Saparmyrat Nyıazow (“Türkmenbaşy”, in power 1985-2006) and his ideas, put forward in his book ‘Ruhnama’.

While the distant ancestors of the Turks may have practiced agriculture, the Turks entered the historical record as pastoral, horse-riding nomads of the steppe (Russian степь « stepĵ »), a material culture shared with the Mongols and the Russians, among others. This way of life is uncommon for most modern Turks, but an important part of cultural identity.

Seven present states (described below) are dominated by Turks: Turkey (Türkiye), Northern Cyprus (Kuzey Kıbrıs), (Northern) Azerbaijan ((Şimali) Azərbaycan), Kazakstan (Қазақстан « Qazaqstan »), Türkmenistan, Uzbekistan (O‘zbekiston / Ўзбекистон « Ŭzbekiston » ), and Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан « Kyrgyzstan »). All of them but Turkey and Northern Cyprus were subject regions of the Russian empire that were organized into “republics” of the Soviet Union (Советский Союз « Sovetskiĭ Sojuz »), and thus attained independence on the Soviet Union’s dissolution. The long period of Russian rule left the Russian dialect, at a minimum, as a regional lingua franca, but in some cases as a new native dialect, and also introduced Russian colonists into these Turkic societies, especially in Kazakstan. Four of the post-Soviet states (all but Kyrgyzstan) have spent the entirety of the post-Soviet period under authoritarian rule, with the first ruler of each having previously served as head of the local Communist party. Three of those rulers died in power; the fourth, Kazakstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev (Нұрсұлтан Назарбаев « Nursultan Nazarbaev ») is effectively still in power. Kyrgyzstan has been comparatively liberal, with attempts at authoritarian rule but also significant periods of democracy.

Turkic dialects have been written in a variety of scripts. A unique script existed for Old Turkic, and the Semitic-derived script now used primarily by the Mongols in Inner Mongolia was adopted by them from the Uyghurs. Eventually most Turks, being Muslim, wrote with the Arabic script. Latin scripts were introduced in Soviet Central Asia in the 1926 and in Turkey in 1928. Soviet authorities later forced Turkic speakers to adopt Cyrillic scripts and, moreover, different versions, as part of an effort to reduce pan-Turkic identity. After Soviet rule ended in 1991, new versions of the Latin script were adopted in Azerbaijan, Türkmenistan, and (with limited implementation) Uzbekistan and Kazakstan.

Major Turkic cities include İstanbul, Ankara, Tashkent (Toshkent / Тошкент « Toškent »), İzmir, Baku (Bakı), Bursa, Adana, Gaziantep, Kazan (or Казан « Kazan »), Alma-Ata (Алматы « Almaty »), Konya, Antalya, Bishkek (Бишкек « Biškek »), and Ashgabat (Aşgabat).

The term ‘Turk’ is often applied solely to the Anatolian Turks living in the states of Turkey and Northern Cyprus.

For the modern states dominated by Turks:

Turkey:

Northern Cyprus:

(Northern) Azerbaijan:

Kazakstan:

Türkmenistan:

Uzbekistan:

Kyrgyzstan:

 

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