Archive for the ‘Turks’ Category

East Turkestan, also called Xinjiang, Sinkiang or Uyguristan, lies north of Tibet and north-east of Afghanistan. It is a land of emeralds, oil and gold in the middle of Asia. It has huge deserts where the Chinese try out their death machines. The Silk Road used to pass through it, when Kashgar was its main city.

Most people born there are Turks –  Uighurs, in fact (sounds like “Weegurs”). They are distant cousins of the people in Turkey, close cousins to those in nearby Uzbekistan. Like most Turks, they are Sunni Muslims.

The Chinese have ruled East Turkestan since the late 1800s, calling it Xinjiang (Sinkiang on the old maps). The Chinese know it is not their country, which is why they have been sending their own people there to live so that it will no longer be a Turkish place. It is now about half Chinese, half Turk.

It was not always so. East Turkestan was once the centre of an empire, a place of great poets and great buildings. The Uighurs even ruled Mongolia. They defeated the Chinese in 751 and were free of Chinese rule for a thousand years (though they were ruled by the Mongols in the 1200s, but then so was everyone else in that part of the world). The Chinese sent them silk and the hand of princesses in marriage to keep the peace. Some say acupuncture started there.

East Turkestan started to fall under Chinese power in the 1700s. It came under direct Chinese rule in the late 1800s. When China was torn apart by civil war in the early 1900s, East Turkestan was independent for a time in the 1930s and again in the 1940s. In 1949 the communists won the civil war and the Chinese firmly took over again.

There has been violence directed against Chinese rule, especially in 1954, 1997 and now in 2008. The Chinese call it Islamic terrorism and blame foreigners like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But given the nature of the violence, it seems to be homegrown with little money behind it. Its aim seems to be freedom from Chinese rule, not jihad or holy war.

Turkestan is the old name for the region in Central Asia where the Turks live. In addition to East Turkestan there is West Turkestan, which the Russians once ruled: the present-day countries of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (but not Tajikistan or Afghanistan, which are Persian, not Turk).

Religion: Islam came there in 934. Before that the Uighurs were mainly Buddhists, though there were many who followed Nestorian Christianity and Manichaeism. Some Uighurs to the east are still Buddhist to this day.

Islam as practised there does not seem be strict or extreme: many of the young Muslims drink and dress just like the Chinese. Most Muslim women do cover their hair, but not their faces. There has been no clear proof of any suicide bombings. No one is allowed to visit Mecca on his own: the Chinese government is afraid of Islam (and any religion it cannot control).

– Abagond, 2008.

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Black Sheep Turks

The Black Sheep Turks, also known as the Kara Koyunlu or Qara Qoyunlu, are Turkmens who live in a region centred on Tabriz, living in both Iran and Turkey. They speak the same language as the people in Turkmenistan on the other side of the Caspian sea.

Most are Sunni Muslims. They write their language in Roman letters.

They are cousins of the Ottoman Turks, the Turks in Turkey, but their language is different. This makes them stick out. In 1958 Turkey passed laws to stamp out their language, to make them forget about being Turkmens. But the Black Sheep Turks have not forgotten. They still remain.

The Black Sheep Turks once had their own country, back in the 1400s. They ruled Tabriz and Mosul and, for a time, even Baghdad (from 1409 to 1469). They supported the arts. Tabriz in those days was famous for its miniature painting.

They had two great rulers:

  • Kara Yusuf, who ruled from 1390 to 1400 and from 1403 to 1420.
  • Jahan Shah, son of Kara Yusuf, who ruled from 1438 to 1455.

Kara Yusuf won their freedom when he took over Tabriz in 1390 and made it their capital.

The year 1400 brought Tamerlane, who set out from Samarkand to take over the world. He crushed the Black Sheep Turks along with everyone else. Kara Yusuf went to Egypt to ask for help, but was thrown in prison instead. Tamerlane ruled the land. It was all over, it seemed. But then on his way to China in 1405 Tamerlane died suddenly and his empire, built on terror and destruction, quickly fell apart.

One of Tamerlane’s sons, Shah Rokh, got Persia and helped Jahan Shah to overthrow his brother and become the ruler of the Black Sheep Turks in 1438.

After Shah Rokh’s death in 1447 Jahan Shah extended his rule east into Persia. His armies got as far as Herat, Shah Rokh’s capital in what is now western Afghanistan. Jahan Shah also overthrew his brother Esfahan in Baghdad and took over what is now southern Iraq and Kuwait.

The Black Sheep Turks were now at the height of their power, but Jahan Shah was hated. His own sons rose up against him. So did the Shiite Arabs south of Baghdad, led by a holy man who said the Mahdi was coming to rule the world and bring peace. In time they would take Basra and Najaf, cities south of Baghdad.

But neither his sons nor the Shiites did him in: it was his own pride. He overreached himself.

In 1467 Jahan Shah marched west on Diyar Bakr, the capital of the White Sheep Turks. His army was defeated and he was killed. Over the next two years the White Sheep Turks took over the lands of the Black Sheep Turks, dividing them with the Persians.

The Black Sheep Turks have been ruled by foreigners ever since.

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Turkey (1923- ) is what remains of the Ottoman Empire, which once ruled the Middle East. It lies in Anatolia, the land between the Black and Mediterranean seas.

It is not the only country with Turks. To the east there are others: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. But Turkey is by far the largest and richest of these.

Turkey stands between two worlds: Muslim and Western.

It is a Muslim country yet its people wear Western clothes, write with Roman letters and take part in parliamentary elections. Religion is kept out of government and even the women are not allowed to cover their heads in public like they do in other Muslim countries.

Turkey belongs to NATO, the Western military alliance. This means the second largest army in NATO is Muslim.

But Turkey is not part of the European Union (EU). It is not for want of trying. For years it was kept out because it had a bad record on human rights and its army had too much power in government.

Now that Turkey is changing its ways, the EU has begun talks for it to join, maybe in 2013. But the talks are going badly and Sarkozy, the president of France, is finding excuses to slow them down.

Even though Europe is no longer strongly Christian, many seem to be against Turkey joining the EU simply because it is Muslim. Turkey may seem Western on the outside but it is still Muslim on the inside.

Although Turkey has long been a friend of America, the two do not agree on Iraq: partly because Turkey is becoming more of a democracy and the people are against what America is doing in Iraq; but also because America turns a blind eye to Kurdish fighters crossing into Turkey from Iraq.

Turkey killed more than a half million Armenians in the early 1900s and later fought against Kurds in eastern Turkey. It was trying to make everyone in Turkey into Turks.

Anatolia was once a Christian land full of Greek towns and farms. It was the heart of the Byzantine empire. Between 1000 and 1500 the Turks uprooted and destroyed all of that. They marched on Constantinople and overthrew it, giving it a new name, Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire was born.

When the empire reached its height in the late 1600s it ruled the Arab world, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Armenia and other nearby countries. Its armies got as far as the gates of Vienna. Two hundred years later the empire began to fall apart. In the early 1900s the First World War delivered the death blow.

After the war in the 1920s Ataturk made Turkey more Western.

Turkey stayed out of the Second World War. It still had one of the largest and best armies in the world, but it did not have the tanks and fighter planes it took to fight a war. But it did join America against Russia in the Cold War that followed.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Alisher Navoi (1441-1501) or Mir Ali Shir Nava’i was one of the first great poets to write in any Turkish tongue. Hundreds of years later his verses and stories and songs are still read and sung and loved among the Turks, especially the Uzbeks, who claim him as a native son. His words are beautiful, both as words and in what they teach us about life.

Navoi came from Herat, then the capital of Khorasan, now the main city in the Afghan west. When his old schoolmate, Husayn Bayqarah became the king, he made Navoi his prime minister. Bayqarah was a great lover of the arts and made Herat into a Turkish Florence.

Navoi wrote in Persian under the pen name Fani and in Turkish under the name of Navoi, which means “The Weeper”. He wrote both prose and verse. He also wrote in Hindi and Arabic.

His best loved and best known work is the love story of Farhad and Shirin. Even then it was an old story. He told it in 12,000 lines of verse and told it better than anyone. It is part of his book “Khamsa”, which means “The Five”, because it contains five romances in verse: “Farhad and Shirin”, “Layli and Majnun”, “The Wall of Alexander the Great”, “Excitement” and “The Seven Wanderers”. These were the first romances written in any Turkish language.

Navoi wrote four divans or books of verse, one for each stage of life: childhood, youth, middle age and old age.

He also wrote books about religion, philosophy, language, Turkish verse and the lives of Turkish poets. Of these his most famous book is “The Trial of Two Languages” where he argues why the Turkish language is better than Persian.

Before Navoi all the great poets, Persian or Turk, wrote in Persian. People thought of Turkish as a good language for soldiers and herdsmen, but not for a poet. Navoi proved them wrong: by his verse he showed them how beautiful and wonderful Turkish can be.

Navoi wrote in Chagatay Turkish. Chatagay was the old, eastern Turkish that Tamerlane spoke. It is now a dead language, its nearest living relation being Uzbek.

The Soviets painted Navoi as a great man of learning, which he certainly was, but they left out his religious side. He was a Sufi of the Naqshbandi dervish order. Many of the great Persian poets were Sufis. Sufis are Muslim mystics who try to experience God directly through certain practices. Navoi studied under Jami, a great Persian poet, to learn how to become both a poet and a Sufi.

As the first great Turkish writer he had a profound effect on Turkish letters. Among his followers and admirers are Babur, the first Mogul prince, Mahmur, Ogohiy, Muqimiy, Furqat, Zavqiy, Nodirabegim, Uvaysiy, Mahzuna and Fuzuli. (Here I mainly follow the Uzbek spellings).

And of course, he affected more than just writers: he affects all of his readers. Like Homer and the Greeks or Virgil and the Romans, Navoi has shaped the mind and heart of Turks everywhere.

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A Guide to Turks

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
    • Bolgar
      • 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
    • North-eastern
      • 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.

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Tamerlane (1336-1405) was the last of the great Mongol conquerors. When he died at the height of his power in 1405 he ruled the lands between the Mediterranean and Tibet. The seat of his power was his beloved Samarkand, where his body now rests.

The Persians called him Timur the Lame behind his back. In English this became Tamerlane or Tamburlaine.

Tamerlane was a Mongol by blood, a Turk in manner and speech and a Muslim by faith. He was of low birth but somehow married a princess of the house of Genghis Khan, one of his proudest achievements. He saw himself as a latter-day Genghis Khan, perfecting the Mongol art of war.

His army of mounted archers was part Mongol, part Turk. He often laid waste to cities killing tens of thousands, as he did in Delhi and Baghdad. And yet he was a lover of the arts and helped to build up Samarkand making it into a beautiful city of blue and gold buildings.

Starting with next to nothing, he managed to take over Transoxania (roughly present day Uzbekistan) by 1366. By 1380 he had Khwarezm to the south-west (roughly Turkmenistan) as well.

In the 1380s he took present day Iran and Afghanistan. In those days it was divided into little kingdoms, which made it easy work for Tamerlane. In the 1390s he moved on to take what is now Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Pakistan, north-west India and Iraq.

In 1401 he took Damascus and broke the back of Mamluk power in Egypt, from which it never fully recovered.

In 1402 he crushed the Ottoman Turks at the battle of Ankara and took their sultan, Bayezid, prisoner. Bayezid remained Tamerlane’s prisoner and killed himself in the end. His two sons fought over what was left of the Ottoman empire.

Tamerlane twice sent his army to Moscow and twice defeated the khan of the Golden Horde. At his death he was preparing to march on China.

On his deathbed he had the lands of present day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, western Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Syria and eastern Turkey.

Body count: 14 million.

By defeating the Persians, the Ottomans and the Arabs, Tamerlane came very close to making Samarkand the centre of the Muslim world and making it over in his image.

After Tamerlane died, the western lands of the empire were soon lost. The east held. Its three great cities were Samarkand, Bukhara and Herat. During the hundred years after his death it saw a golden age of art, architecture, science and letters for both Persians and Turks.

After a hundred years the east broke apart into pieces from in-fighting. One of these pieces, ruled by Babur, Tamerlane’s great-great-great grandson, grew into the Mogul empire.

– Abagond, 2006.

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