A Turk, in the common sense of the word, is someone from Turkey. Here I use it in its more general sense: anyone who speaks Turkish or any of its sister languages. So not only are the Turkish Turks but so are the Azeris, Turkmens, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Uighurs, Tatars and others.
Although you would not know it now, for a thousand years, from about 900 to 1900, they ruled the greater part of the Muslim world. For a time they ruled parts of Hindu India and Christian Europe as well. Only in the 1200s in Mongol times and in the last hundred years in Western times did they fall from power. The Ottomans, Seljuks, Mamluks, Timurids, Moguls, the Tartars of the Golden Horde and so on were all Turks. They were long the great enemy of the West.
Religion: Nearly all Turks are Sunni Muslims. Those who are not: the Azeris are Shia Muslim, the Chuvash and some Bashkirs are Christians and the Yakuts still worship spirits.
Countries: They live mainly in Turkey and the countries to the east: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, East Turkestan (what their Chinese rulers call Xinjiang) and in northern Siberia in Yakutia. The rest live here and there in the sea of Russians and Eastern Europeans that they once ruled.
Here is a family tree showing all the Turkish languages that have at least a million speakers and some others. Following each is the millions of speakers each has.
- Western Turk
- Chuvash (2)
- Oghuz (South-western)
- Azeri (30)
- Turkmen (6)
- Turkish (75): Seljuk, Ottoman, Turkey
- Qashqai (1.5)
- Khorasani (0.4)
- Pecheneg (0)
- Kipchak (North-western)
- Kipchak (0): Golden Horde, Mamluks
- Tatar (8): Golden Horde, Cossacks
- Bashkir (1)
- Krymchak (0.0001)
- Kazakh (12)
- Karakalpak (0.4)
- Kyrgyz (3)
- Chagatay (South-eastern)
- Chagatay (0): Timurids, Moguls
- Uighur (10)
- Uzbek (22)
- Eastern Turk
- Yakut (0.4): Sakha
- Tuvani (0.2)
The difference between some of these languages is less than that found within Arabic.
Despite where they live, the Tajiks are not Turks but cousins of the Persians, like the Afghans to the south.
The first Cossacks were Tartars. The word “Cossack” and “Kazakh” come from the same Turkish word for “free man”.
Homeland and history: It seems their ancient homeland was just north of Mongolia. They raised horses, sheep, goats and cows and followed shamans. They lived in round tents made of felt. The Yakuts went north and the rest moved south-west to live in Central Asia. There they became Muslims.
Many moved on into the heart of the Muslim world, becoming its soldiers and later its rulers, taking on Persian ways.
They could not stand up to the Mongols, their distant cousins who came in the 1200s, but in the 1300s, when the Mongol empire broke up, they took over the pieces that remained. The Mongols outside of Mongolia became Turks. Tamerlane is an example.
The greatest of the many Turkish empires was the last, the Ottoman empire, which found itself on the losing side of the First World War in the early 1900s and was broken up soon after.
There are three natural Turkish countries:
- Turkey – without Kurdistan
- Azerbaijan – with the Azeri part of Iran
- Turkestan – Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang
Yakutia is too small to be a true country.