Turkic peoples

The Turkic peoples (or simply Turks or Turkics) are Eurasianpeoples residing in northern, central and western Asia,Mongolia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family.[4] They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds. The term Turkic

represents a broad ethno-linguistic group of people including existing societies such as the Azerbaijani, Chuvashes, Kazakhs, Tatars, Kyrgyzs, Turkish,Turkmen, Uyghur, Uzbeks, Bashkirs, Qashqai, Gagauzs, Yakuts, Crimean Karaites,Krymchaks, Karakalpaks, Karachays, Krymchaks, Nogais and as well as past civilizationssuch as the Kumans, Kipchaks, Avars, Bulgars, Turgeshs, Seljuks, Khazars, Ottomans,Mamluks, Timurids, and possibly the Xiongnu and Huns[4][5][6].


See also: List of Turkic groupsThe Countries and autonomous regions where a Turkic language has official status.

The distribution of people of Turkic cultural background ranges from Siberia, 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 and Iran. Additionally, Turkic people are found within Crimea, East Turkistan region of western China, northern Iraq, Pakistan, Israel, Russia, Afghanistan, and the Balkans: Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, and former Yugoslavia. A small number of Turkic people also live in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. There is also a small number in easternPoland and southeastern part of Finland.[7]. There are also considerable populations of Turkic people (originating mostly from Turkey) in Germany, United States, and Australia, largely because of migrations during the twentieth century.

Sometimes the above list is grouped 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 of 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.

All the Turkic peoples native to Central Asia are of mixed Caucasoid and Mongoloid origin. Of these Central Asian Turks, Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz are closer to Mongoloids racially. Karakalpak are mixed almost evenly. Uighur in Xinjiang China, Uzbek and Turkmen are more close to Caucasoid. The genetic distances between the different populations of Uzbeks scattered across Uzbekistan is no greater than the distance between many of them and the Karakalpaks. This suggests that Karakalpaks and Uzbeks have very similar origins. The Karakalpaks have a somewhat greater bias towards the eastern markers than the Uzbeks. Reference: The Karakalpak Gene Pool (Spencer Wells, 2001) & Discussion and Conclusions at http://www.karakalpak.com/genetics.html

The Turkic people display a great variety of ethnic types.[8] They possess physical features ranging from Caucasoid to Northern Mongoloid. Mongoloid and Caucasoid facial structure is common among many Turkic groups, such as Chuvash people, Tatars, Kazakhs, Uzbeks,Hazaras, and Bashkirs. Historically, the racial classification of the Turkic peoples was sometimes given as “Turanid”.

The following is an incomplete list of Turkic people with the respective groups’s core areas of settlements and their estimated sizes (in million):

People Region Population
Turkish people

  • Meskhetian Turks
  • Syrian Turkmens
  • Iraqi Turkmens
Turkey, Germany, France, England, USA, Bulgaria
70 M
Azerbaijanis Azerbaijan Republic, Iran, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Ukraine, Netherlands, UK 21 to 30 M
Uzbeks Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan 23 to 29 M
Uyghurs Xinjiang(PRC), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and United States. 20 M
Kazakhs Kazakhstan, Russia, China(Xinjiang), Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Turkey 14.3 M
Tatars Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Finland, Poland, Lithuania 10 M
Turkmens Turkmenistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, 7 M
Kyrgyzs Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, China, Tajikistan 4 M
Chuvashes Russia 1.8 M
Bashkirs Russia 1.8 M
Qashqai Iran 1.5 M
Gagauzs Moldovia 0.2 M
Yakuts Russia 0.5 M
Karakalpaks Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan 0.5 M
Karachays andBalkars Russia, Turkey 0.4 M
Crimean Karaitesand Krymchaks Lituania, Poland, Russia, Turkey 0.2 M

Geographical distribution

Many of the Turkic peoples have their homelands in Central Asia, where the Turkic peoples originated. According to historian John Foster, “The Turks emerge from among the Huns in the middle of [the] fifth century. They were living in Liang territory when it began to be overrun by the greater principality of Wei. Preferring to remain under the rule of their own kind, they moved westward into what is now the province of Kansu. This was the territory of kindred Huns, who were called the Jwen-Jwen. The Turks were a small tribe of only five hundred families, and they became serfs to the Jwen-Jwen, who used them as iron-workers. It is thought that the original meaning of “Turk” is “helmet”, and that they may have taken this name because of the shape of one of the hills near which they worked…. As their numbers and power grew, their chief made bold to ask for the hand of a Jwen-Jwen princess in marriage. The demand was refused, and war followed. In 546, the iron-workers defeated their overlords.”[9] Since then Turkic languages have spread, through migrations and conquests, to other locations including present-day Turkey. While the term “Turk” may refer to a member of any Turkic people, the term Turkish usually refers specifically to the people and language of the modern country of Turkey.

The Turkic languages constitute a language family of some 30 languages, spoken across a vast area from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, to Siberia and Western China, and to northern edges of Pakistan and the Middle East.

Some 170 million people have a Turkic language as their native language;[10] an additional 20 million people speak a Turkic language as a second language. The Turkic language with the greatest number of speakers is Turkish proper, or Anatolian Turkish, the speakers of which account for about 40% of all Turkic speakers.[11] More than one third of these are ethnic 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, Australiaand the Americas as a result of immigration. The remainder of the Turkic people are concentrated in Central Asia, Russia, the Caucasus, China, northern Iraq and northern andnorthwestern Iran.

At present, there are six independent Turkic countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,Turkmenistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan; There are also several Turkic national subdivisions[12] in the Russian Federation including Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Chuvashia, Khakassia, Tuva,Yakutia, the Altai Republic, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessiya. Each of these subdivisions has its own flag, parliament, laws, and official state language (in addition to Russian).

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China and the autonomous region ofGagauzia, located within eastern Moldova and bordering Ukraine to the north, are two major autonomous Turkic regions. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine is a home ofCrimean Tatars. In addition, there are several Turkic-inhabited regions in Iran, Iraq, Georgia,Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and western Mongolia.

In the age of nationalism, Turkic speakers were among the first Muslim people to take up Western ideas of liberalism and secular ideologies. Pan-Turkism first sprang up at the end of the nineteenth century in the Russian Empire and was advanced by leading Turkish intellectuals like Crimean Tatar İsmail Gaspıralı, Azerbaijan philosophers like Mirza Fatali Akhundov 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 Turks: the ill-fated Idel-Ural State established in 1917, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918 (both annexed and absorbed by the Soviet Union), and in 1923 Republic of Turkey. In 1991 Azerbaijan became an independent Azerbaijan Republic.

The Turks in Turkey are over 60 million[13] to 70 million worldwide, while the second largest Turkic people are the Azerbaijanis, numbering 22.5 to 40 million worldwide; most of them live in Azerbaijan and Iran.

Turks in India are very small in number. There are barely 150 Turkish people in India. These are recent immigrants. Descendants of Turkish rulers also exist in Northern India. Small amount of Uyghurs are also present in India. Turks also exist in Pakistan in similar proportions. Turkish influence in Pakistan can be seen through the national language, Urdu, which comes fom a Turkish word meaning “horde” or “army”.

Salar at Qinghai in China, Western Yugur at Gansu in China, Dolgan at Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia and Nogai at Dagestan in Russia are the Turk minorities at the respective regions. Beauty of Yugur Culture, Beauty of the Dolgan and Northern Tungus Culture, Beauty of Yakut Sakha Culture, Beauty of Khakass Culture [Altai Culture] [the Tuvan Culture] at http://www.youtube.com show the facial feature of the Turks native to Asian Russia, Mongolia and China


The first known mention of the term Turk applied to a Turkic group was in reference to theGöktürks in the sixth 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 (735 CE) 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 BCE referring to a neighbouring people as Tu-Kiu.

In modern Turkey, a distinction is made between “Turks” and the “Turkic peoples” in loosely speaking: the term Türk corresponds specifically to the “Turkish-speaking” people (in this context, “Turkish-speaking” is considered the same as “Turkic-speaking”), while the termTürki refers generally to the people of modern “Turkic Republics” (Türki Cumhuriyetler orTürk Cumhuriyetleri). However, the proper usage of the term is based on the linguistic classification in order to avoid any political sense. In short, the term Turkic can be used for Turk or vice versa.[14]

Map from Kashgari's Diwan, showing the distribution of Turkic tribes.

Map from Kashgari’sDiwan, showing the distribution of Turkic tribes. Timeline of Scythian kurgans in Asia and Europe (Per Fig.6 of Alekseev, A. Yu. et al., “Chronology of Eurasian Scythian Antiquities”.[15]

Timeline of Scythian kurgans in Asia and Europe (Per Fig.6 of Alekseev, A. Yu. et al., "Chronology of Eurasian Scythian Antiquities"

According to Mahmud of Kashgar, an eleventh 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. For millennia, a long string of historical references specifically linked Herodotus’ Scythians with various tribes, such as the Hunno-Bulgars, Avars, Türks, Mongols, Khazars etc.[16]. Between 400 CE and the 16th century the Byzantine sources use the name Σκΰθαι in reference to twelve different Türkic peoples [16] . A similar name, Dur, appears in mediaeval Hungarian legend as a legendary chieftain of the Caucasian Alans (Arran, Iron) whose daughters supposedly bred with the Magyar ancestors Hunor and Magor.

Alp Er Tunga is a mythical hero in Turkic tradition; the Göktürks of the sixth century carried on the tradition of Alp Er Tunga and they too had a myth according to which they themselves were descendants of a wolf.

There is a famous “sagu” of Alp Er Tunga. Sagu is a poetic term of ancient Turks and those poems were usually written after heroes, leaders etc.

Sagu of Alp Er Tunga in old Turkish:

Alp Er Tunga öldi mü Issız acun kaldı mu Ödlek öcin aldı mu İmdi yürek yırtılır.

Ödlek yarag közetti Ogrı tuzak uzattı Begler begin azıttı Kaçan kalı kurtulur.

Uluşup eren börleyü Yırtıp yaka urlayu Sıkrıp yuni yırlayu Sıgtap közi örtülür.

Begler atın argurup Kadgu anı turgurup Mengzi yüzi sargarup Körküm angar törtülür.

Ödlek arıg kevredi Yunçıg yavuz tavradı Erdem yeme savradı Ajun begi çertilür.

Ödlek küni tavratur Yalnguk küçün kevretür Erdin acun sevrütür Kaçan takı ertülür.

Bilge bögü yançıdı Acun atı yençidi Erdem eti tınçıdı Yerge tegip sürtülür.

Ögreyikü mundak ok Munda adın tıldak ok Atsa acun ograp ok Taglar başı kertülür.

Könglüm için örtedi Yitmiş yaşıg kartadı Kiçmiş ödik irtedi Tün kün keçip irtelür.


Main article: History of the Turkic peoples

Origins and early expansion

The top of Belukha in the Altay Mountains is shown here. The mountain range is thought to be the birthplace of the Turkic people

It is generally believed that the first Turkic people lived in a region extending from Central Asia to Siberia. The earliest clearly Turkic peoples appeared on the peripheries of the lateXiongnu confederation. If not their ethnic descendants, they at least had strong ties to the Xiongnu.[17] Turkic tribes, such as Khazars and Pechenegs, probably lived as nomads for many years before establishing the Göktürk Empire in the 6th century. The first mention of Turks was in a Chinese text that mentioned trade of Turk tribes with the Sogdians along theSilk Road.[18] The first recorded use of “Turk” as a political name is a sixth-century reference to the word pronounced in Modern Chinese as Tujue. The Ashina clan migrated from Li-jien (modern Zhelai Zhai) to the Juan Juan seeking inclusion in their confederacy and protection from China. The tribe were famed metal smiths and was granted land near a mountain quarrywhich looked like a helmet, from which they were said to have gotten their name 突厥 (tūjué). A century later, their power had increased such that they conquered the Juan Juan and established the Gök Empire.[19]

Orkhon tablet inscribed in Old Turkic scriptGöktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia.Göktürk sculpture from Orkhon Valley

Turkic peoples originally used their own alphabets, like Orkhon and Yenisey runiform, and later the Uyghur alphabet. The oldest inscription was found near the Issyk river in Kyrgyzstanand has been dated to 500 BC. Traditional national and cultural symbols of the Turkic peoples include wolves in Turkic mythology and tradition; as well as the color blue, iron, and fire. Turquoise blue, from the French word meaning “Turkish”, is the color of the stoneturquoise still used as jewelry and a protection against evil eye.

Orkhon tablet inscribed in Old Turkic script

It has often been suggested that the Xiongnu, mentioned in Han Dynasty records, were Proto-Turkic speakers.[20][21][22][23][24] Although little is known for certain about the Xiongnu language(s), it seems likely that at least some Xiongnu tribes spoke an Altaic (Turkic) language.[25] Some scholars see a possible connection with the Iranic-speaking Sakas,[26]while others believe they were probably a confederation of various ethnic and linguistic groups. On the other hand, genetics research from 2003[27] confirms the studies indicating that the Turkic people originated from the same area and so are related with the Xiongnu.[28]

Xiongnu writing might be connected to the earliest known Turkic alphabet, the Orkhon script. This has been argued recently using the only extant possibly Xiongu writings, the rock art of the Yinshan and Helanshan.[29] It is dated from the 9th millennium BC to 19th century, and consists mainly of engraved signs (petroglyphs) and few painted images.[30] Excavations done during 1924–1925, in Noin-Ula kurgans located in Selenga River in the northernMongolian hills north of Ulan Bator, produced objects with over 20 carved characters, which were either identical or very similar to that of to the runic letters of the Turkic Orkhon script discovered in the Orkhon Valley.[31]

The Hun hordes of Attila, who invaded and conquered much of Europe in the 5th century, might have been Turkic and descendants of the Xionghu.[17] The issue is controversial because their ethnic and linguistic background is uncertain.[32][33] Some scholars argue that the Huns were one of the earlier Turkic tribes, while others argue that they were of Mongolicorigin.[34] linguistic studies by Otto Maenchen-Helfen’s support a Turkic origin.[35][36]

Göktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia.

In the 6th century, 400 years after the collapse of northern Xiongnu power in Inner Asia, leadership of the Turkic peoples was taken over by the Göktürks. Formerly in the Xiongnu nomadic confederation, the Göktürks inherited their traditions and administrative experience. From 552 to 745, Göktürk leadership united the nomadic Turkic tribes into the Göktürk Empire. This was the first known political entity to be called “Turk”. The name derives fromgok, “blue” or “celestial”. Unlike its Xiongnu predecessor, the Göktürk Khanate had its temporary khans from the Ashina clan that were subordinate to a sovereign authority controlled by a council of tribal chiefs. The Khanate retained its original shamanistic religion,Tengriism, although it received missionaries of Buddhists, Manicheans, and Nestorian Christians. The Göktürks were the first Turkic people to write Old Turkic in a runic script, theOrkhon script. The Khanate was also the first state known as “Turk”. It eventually collapsed due to a series of dynastic conflicts, but the name “Turk” was later taken by many states and peoples.

Turkic peoples and related groups migrated west from Turkestan and what is now Mongoliatowards Eastern Europe, Iranian plateau and Anatolia and modern Turkey in many waves.[37]The date of the initial expansion remains unknown. After many battles, they established their own state and later created the Ottoman Empire.[38] The main migration occurred in medieval times, when they spread across most of Asia and into Europe and the Middle East.[19] They also participated in the Crusades.[39]

Kipchaks in Eurasia circa 1200.

Göktürk sculpture from Orkhon Valley

Later Turkic peoples include the Avars, Karluks (mainly eighth century), Uyghurs, Kyrgyz,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 (Khazars), Buddhists, andZoroastrians.

Middle Ages

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 theSeljuk dynasty and eventually captured the territories of the Abbasid dynasty and theByzantine Empire.[19]

Kipchaks in Eurasia circa 1200.

Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz and Uyghurs were struggling with one another and with the Chinese Empire. The Kyrgyz people ultimately settled in the region now referred to as Kyrgyzstan. TheTatar peoples conquered the Volga Bulgars in what is today Tatarstan, following the westward sweep of the Mongols under Genghis Khan in the thirteenth century. Other Bulgars, who had initially invaded Europe in 5th-6th centuries, as part of the Hunnic tribal confederation, finally settled in Southastern Europe in the 7th-8th centuries,and mixed with theSlavic population, adopting what eventually became the Slavic Bulgarian language. Everywhere, Turkic groups mixed with the local populations to varying degrees.[19] In 1090–91, the Turkic Pechenegs reached the walls of Constantinople, where Emperor Alexius I with the aid of the Kipchaks annihilated their army.[40]

Islamic empires

Main articles: Timurids, Ilkhanate, Mughal Empire, and Ottoman EmpireThe Ottoman Empire c. 1683

The Ottoman Empire c. 1683

The Ottoman Empire c. 1683

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.[19]

The Mughal Empire was a Muslim empire that, at its greatest territorial extent, ruled most of the Indian subcontinent, then known as Hindustan, and parts of what is now Afghanistan andPakistan from the early 16th to the mid-18th century. The Mughal dynasty was founded by aChagatai Turkic prince named Babur (reigned 1526–30), who was descended from the Turkic conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) on his father’s side and from Chagatai, second son of the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, on his mother’s side.[41][42] The Mughal dynasty was notable for the ability of its rulers, who through seven generations maintained a record of unusual talent, and for its administrative organization. A further distinction was the attempt of the Mughals to integrate Hindus and Muslims into a united Indian state.[41][43][44][45]

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 theBalkans, and it finally gave way after World War I to the present-day republic of Turkey.[19]


Main article: Turkic languagesFurther information: Turkic alphabetsThe Orkhon script is the alphabet used by the Göktürks from the 8th century to record the Old Turkic language. It was later used by the Uyghur Empire; a Yeniseivariant is known from 9th-century Kyrgyzinscriptions, and it has likely cousins in the Talas Valley ofTurkestan and the Old Hungarian script of the 10th century.

The Turkic alphabets are sets of related alphabets with letters (formerly known as runes), used for writing mostly Turkic languages. Inscriptions in Turkic alphabets were found fromMongolia and Eastern Turkestan in the east to Balkans in the west. Most of the preserved inscriptions were dated to between 8th and 10th centuries DE.
The earliest positively dated and read Turkic inscriptions date from ca. 150, and the alphabets were generally replaced by the Uyghur alphabet in the Central Asia, Arabic script in the Middle and Western Asia, Greek-derived Cyrillic in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, and Latin alphabet in Central Europe. The latest recorded use of Turkic alphabet was recorded in Central Europe’s Hungary in 1699 CE.

The Turkic runiform scripts, unlike other typologically close scripts of the world, do not have a uniform palaeography as, for example, have the Gothic runes, noted for the exceptional uniformity of its language and paleography.[46] The Turkic alphabets are divided into four groups, the best known of them is the Orkhon version of the Enisei group.

The Turkic language family is traditionally considered to be part of the proposed Altaic language family.[11][47][48][49] The Altaic language family includes 66 languages[50] spoken by about 348 million people, mostly in and around Central Asia and northeast Asia.[47][51][52]

The various Turkic languages are usually considered in geographical groupings: the Oghuz(or Southwestern) languages, the Kypchak (or Northwestern) languages, the Eastern languages (like Uygur), the Northern languages (like Altay and Yakut), and one existing Oghurlanguage: Chuvash (the other Oghur languages, like Hunnic and Bulgaric, are now extinct). The high mobility and intermixing of Turkic peoples in history makes an exact classification extremely difficult.

The Turkish language belongs to the Oghuz subfamily of Turkic. It is for the most part mutually intelligible with the other Oghuz languages, which include Azeri, Gagauz, Turkmen and Urum, and to a varying extent with the other Turkic languages.


Turkic mythology is the mythology of the Turkic peoples that spoke Turkic languages which are argued to be a subfamily of the disputed Altaic language family. Tengriism and otherShamanistic religions had been the dominant religion for most of history.

In one tradition, described in the ancient Zoroastrian text called the Zend-Avesta — similar to the biblical story of Noah — the Turkic peoples are descendants of “Tur” or “Tura”, a grandson of Yima, who was the sole survivor of a catastrophe that depopulated the Earth.


The Wolf symbolizes honour and is also considered the father of most Turkic peoples. Asena(Ashina Tuwu) is the wolf mother of Tumen Il-Qağan, the first Khan of the Göktürks.

The Horse is also one of the main figures of Turkic mythology. Türks consider the horse an extension of the human, one creature.

The Dragon, also expressed as a Snake or Lizard, is the symbol of might and power. It is believed, especially in mountainous Central Asia, that dragons still live in the mountains ofTian-Shan (Tangri Tagh) and Altay. Dragons also symbolize the god Tengri (Tanrı) in ancient Turkic tradition, although dragons themselves aren’t worshipped as gods.


Geser (Ges’r, Kesar) is a Tibetan/Mongolian religious epic about ‘Geser’ (also known as ‘Bukhe Beligte’) a Turkic prophet who taught Türks the new monotheistic religion Tengriism. It is unknown when he lived, and there are not many historical documents that mention him. Tengriism isn’t approved by most Muslim scholars, but sura 108 of the Quran has the nameAl-Kawthar,in which the word kawthar could potentially be read as ‘Käusar’, which may be an Arabisation of the Turkic name ‘Geser’. The name of this sura is conventionally interpreted as “all goods” or “abundance”, but this is not certain and many scholars have different opinions on this sura.

The legend of Timur (Temir) is the most ancient and well-known. Timur found a strange stone that fell from the sky, an iron ore meteorite. He was a smith and decided to make a sword of it. Few knew about iron in Asia before then. He tried to make a sword from it by using the usual bronze sword making process. He mentioned that this material, iron, was very easy to change and manipulate, though it was even stronger than bronze. Today, the word “temir” or “timur” means “iron”. The melting process was known before in Egypt and India, but it wasn’t used that widely in other parts of Asia, because of the very high iron price (much higher thangold) in the Mediterranian and Europe at that time.

Bai-Ulgan (Bai-Ulgen, Ulgen, Ülgen, Ulgan) is a Turkic and Mongolian creator-deity.

In the Bible, Togarmah, son of Gomer, was ancestor of the Turkic-speaking peoples. His sons Ujur (Uyghur: Mongol-Turks), Tauris, Avar, Uauz (Oghuz Turks), Bizal, Tarna, Khazar, Janur, Bulgar, and Sawir (Sabir, a Turkic people, probably of Hunnic origin) are the mythical founders of tribes that once lived around the Black and Caspian Seas.


A diagram of the Tengriist World view on a Shaman's Drum. The World-tree is growing in the centre and connecting the three Worlds Underworld, Middleworld and Upperworld

A shaman doctor of Kyzyl

Various pre-Islamic Turkic civilizations of the sixth century adhered to shamanist andTengriist traditions which are reflected in the state symbols of Kazakhstan. The Shamanist religion is based on spiritual and natural elements of earth. Tengriism involves belief in Tengrias the god who ruled over the skies. Turkish: Tanrı and Azerbaijani: Tanrı remain in use by speakers of those languages as a term for God regardless of their faith.

Today, most Turks are Sunni Muslims. These include the majority of Balkan Turks, Balkars, Bashkorts, Crimean Tatars, Karachay, Kazaks, Kumuk, Kyrgyz, Nogay, Tatars (Kazan Tatars), Turkmens, Turks of Turkey, Uygurs, and Uzbeks. The Azerbaijanis of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan are the only major Turkic-speaking people who traditionally adhere to the Shī‘ah sect of Islam. The Qashqai nomads and Khorasani Turks as well as various Turkic tribes spread across Iran are also Shī‘ah. The Alevis of Turkey are the largest religious minority in the country. Their belief system is a branch of Twelver Shī‘ah theology.

Many Karaims and Krymchaks of Eastern Europe (Especially Crimea) are Jewish, and there are Turks of Jewish backgrounds who live in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Baku. The Khazars, who existed long before Islam appeared, widely practiced Judaism. In the Siberian region, the Altay, some Tuvan and Hakas are Tengriist, having kept the original religion of Turkic peoples.[citation needed] The Yakuts of Yakutia in northeastern Siberia are traditionally Shamanists, yet many have converted to Christianity. The Sari Uygurs “Yellow Yughurs” of Western China, as well as the Tuvans of Russia are the only remaining BuddhistTurkic peoples. In addition, there are small scattered populations of Turks belonging to other religions such as the Bahá’í Faith and Zoroastrianism.

Mosque in Kazakhstan.

Even though many Turkic peoples became Muslims under the influence of Sufis, often of Shī‘ah 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 major Christian-Turkic peoples are the Chuvash of Chuvashia and the Gagauz(Gökoğuz) of Moldova. The traditional religion of the Chuvash of Russia, while containing many ancient Turkic concepts, also shares some elements with Zoroastrianism, KhazarJudaism, and Islam. The Chuvash religious calendar cycle and the agrarian cult that it was based on combined ancestor worship and worship of earth, water and vegetation. The Chuvash converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity for the most part in the second half of the nineteenth century. As a result, festivals and rites were made to coincide with Orthodox feasts, and Christian rites replaced their traditional counterparts. A minority of the Chuvash still profess their traditional faith.[53]

Some Turkic peoples (particularly in the Russian autonomous regions and republics of Altay,Khakassia and Tuva) are largely Tengriists. Tengriism was the predominant religion of the different Turkic branches prior to the eighth century, when the majority accepted Islam.

Traditional Inner Asian cults, commonly referred to as shamanism, survive in many places, often submerged in other religions. In post-Soviet Siberia, 300 years after their forced conversion, the Yakuts (Sakha) and others have completely rejected Eastern Orthodox Christianity in favor of a revived shamanism.[54]

International organizations

Map of TÜRKSOY members.

The newly established Turkic Council, founded on November 3, 2009 by the Nakhchivan Agreement between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey, aims to integrate these organizations into a tighter geopolitical framework.There exist several international organizations created with the purpose of furthering cooperation between countries with Turkic-speaking populations, such as the Joint Administration of Turkic Arts and Culture (TÜRKSOY) and the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking Countries (TÜRKPA).


2nd century BC – 2nd century AD, characters of Hun– Syanbi script (Mongolia and Inner Mongolia), N. Ishjatms, “Nomads In Eastern Central Asia”, in the “History of civilizations of Central Asia”, Volume 2, Fig 5, p. 166, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, ISBN 92-3-102846-4

2nd century BC – 2nd century AD, characters ofHun– Syr-Tardush (Syanbi) script (Mongolia and Inner Mongolia), N. Ishjatms, “Nomads In Eastern Central Asia”, in the “History of civilizations of Central Asia”, Volume 2, Fig 5, p. 166, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, ISBN 92-3-102846-4

Oldest known Turkic alphabet listings, Rjukoku and Toyok manuscripts. Toyok manuscript transliterates Turkic alphabet into the Uyghuralphabet. Per I.L. Kyzlasov,Runic Scripts of Eurasian Steppes, Moscow, Eastern Literature, 1994, ISBN 5-02-017741-5.

A copy of Göktürk (Orkhon) Epigraph in Ankara

Inscription in Kyzyl using Orkhon script

Golden Horde invasion of Russia in 1382.

The entry of Mehmet II into Constantinople in 1453.

Sattar Khan (1868-1914) was a major revolutionary figure in the late Qajarperiod in Iran.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk with his soldiers at Anafartalar,Çanakkale, 1915.

Armed students of “Gökçeada Öğretmen Okulu” against a possible attack of Greece to the island, 03.12.1967.

The battle of Wadi al-Khazandar, 1299. 14th century image.

Karachay patriarchs in the nineteenth century

Whirling dervishes in Turkey

Qashqai caravan halt in Iran

Kazan Tatar woman, 18th century

Crimean Tatar soldier fighting with the soldier of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Sultan Bayezid captured byTimur after the Battle of Ankara

Babur, founder of theMughal dynasty.


Meyers Blitz-Lexikon (Leipzig, 1932) shows aTurkish man as an example of the ethnic Turkish type.

Karachay national dance.jpg

Karachay national dance (Russia)

Qashqai women spinning (Iran)

Uzbek students (Uzbekistan)

Kyrgyz man performing epic poem (Kyrgyzstan)

Uyghur girl (China)

Uyghur children (China)

Tuvan Family.jpg

Tuvan family in traditional clothing (Russia)

Performing Azerimusicians

Minusinsk Tatars (Russia)

Gagauz people in traditional clothing (Moldova)

An Uzbek girl with traditional headdress. (Uzbekistan)

Yakut family in 1911. (YakutiaRussia)


Flags of the Turkic republics

Flag of Altai Republic

Flag of Azerbaijan

Flag of Bashkortostan

Flag of Chuvashia

Flag of Gagauzia

Flag of Iraqi Turkmen

Flag of Kabardino-


Flag of Karachay-


Flag of Karakalpakstan

Flag of Kazakhstan

Flag of Khakassia

Flag of Kyrgyzstan

Flag of Sakha

Flag of Tatarstan

Flag of Turkey

Flag of Turkmenistan

Flag of Tuva

Flag of Uzbekistan

Unofficial Gagauzia flag.

Flag of the Crimean

Tatar people.




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