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term applied in its wider meaning to the Turkic-speaking peoples of Turkey, Russia, Central Asia, Xinjiang in China (Chinese Turkistan), Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, Iran, and Afghanistan. They total about 125 million, and they are distributed from E Siberia to the Balkans. The wide differences in physical appearance and culture among the Uigurs of China, the Uzbeks of central Asia, and the Osmanlis of Turkey (to cite random instances) make it impossible to speak of Turks as an ethnic or racial group. Although Islam is the religion of the majority of Turks, its importance came relatively late. The most significant unifying link among the Turks is the very close relation of their languages, which are marked by great regularity of pattern and clarity of structure. It is probable that many peoples who were unrelated to the original Turks adopted either wholly or in part their speech and their social organization. The AvarsAvars
, mounted nomad people who in the 4th and 5th cent. dominated the steppes of central Asia. Dislodged by stronger tribes, the Avars pushed west, increasing their formidable army by incorporating conquered peoples into it. Reaching their greatest power in the late 6th cent.
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 were probably Turkic; they and the MagyarsMagyars
, the dominant people of Hungary, but also living in Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Serbia. Although in the past it was thought a common origin existed among the Magyars, the Huns, the Mongols, and the Turks, modern research has disproved this claim.
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 certainly had adopted the Turkic tribal organization when they appeared in Europe, and many Magyar words are of Turkic origin.

Early Migrations and Empires

The name Turk was first used by the Chinese in the 6th cent. to designate a nomadic people who had established a large empire stretching from Mongolia to the Black Sea. This empire, which was divided into two independent parts, was forced to accept Chinese sovereignty in the 7th cent. The northern empire regained its independence in 682, and the oldest known Turkic inscriptions (see under OrkhonOrkhon
, river, c.300 mi (480 km) long, rising in the Khangai Mts., N central Republic of Mongolia, and flowing east, then north, past the site of ancient Karakorum, and then northeast to join the Selenga River just S of the Russian border.
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) are related to it. In succeeding centuries control of the area passed from the Oghuz Turks to the Uigurs and to the Kyrgyz, who were the last Turkic peoples to reside in Mongolia. They, like their predecessors, migrated to the south and west after they were expelled (924) by the Kitai. Other Turkic peoples, notably the KhazarsKhazars
, ancient Turkic people who appeared in Transcaucasia in the 2d cent. A.D. and subsequently settled in the lower Volga region. They emerged as a force in the 7th cent. and rose to great power. The Khazar empire extended (8th–10th cent.
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, CumansCumans
or Kumans
, nomadic East Turkic people, identified with the Kipchaks (or the western branch of the Kipchaks) and known in Russian as Polovtsi. Coming from NW Asian Russia, they conquered S Russia and Walachia in the 11th cent.
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, and PechenegsPechenegs
or Patzinaks
, nomadic people of the Turkic family. Their original home is not known, but in the 8th and 9th cent. they inhabited the region between the lower Volga and the Urals. Pushed west (c.
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, played important roles in the medieval history of S Russia and SE Europe. The Turkish groups of the greatest import in the history of Europe and W Asia were, however, the Seljuks and the Osmanli or Ottoman Turks, both members of the Oghuz confederations. The Arab annexation of the area of ancient Sogdiana in the 7th cent. brought the Oghuz Turks into direct contact with the Abbasid caliphate and later with the Persian Empire. The Turks embraced the Sunni Muslim faith and began to migrate to the Middle East. At first they were used as mercenaries by the Abbasids, but soon the Turks became the actual rulers of the empire.

Seljuk Empire

At the beginning of the 11th cent. a great wave of Seljuk Turks, led by Tughril BegTughril Beg
, 990–1063, founder of the Seljuk Turk dynasty ruling (11th–14th cent.) parts of Anatolia, Iraq, Persia, and Syria. He was early successful in conquests with his brother, who eventually governed Khorasan.
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, conquered Khwarazm and Iran. They entered Baghdad in 1055; Tughril Beg was proclaimed sultan. Under his successor, Alp ArslanAlp Arslan
, 1029–72, Seljuk sultan of Persia (1063–72). In 1065 he led the Seljuks in an invasion of Armenia and Georgia and in 1066 attacked the Byzantine Empire. The success of his campaign was crowned (1071) by his brilliant victory over Romanus IV at Manzikert.
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, the Seljuks conquered Georgia, Armenia, and much of Asia Minor, overran Syria, and defeated (1071) the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV at ManzikertManzikert
, Turk. Malazgirt, village, E Turkey, SE of Erzurum. It was an important town of ancient Armenia. A council held there in A.D. 726 reasserted the independence of the Armenian Church from the Orthodox Eastern Church.
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, opening Byzantium (except for a small area around Constantinople) to Seljuk and Turkmen occupation. This irruption was a major factor in bringing about the CrusadesCrusades
, series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th cent. to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. First Crusade

In the 7th cent., Jerusalem was taken by the caliph Umar.
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, during which a three-part struggle among Christians, Seljuks, and Egyptian Mamluks developed. Alp Arslan's son, MalikshahMalikshah
, 1055–92, third sultan of the Seljuks (see Turks). In 1072 he succeeded his father to head an empire that controlled parts of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and areas near the Persian Gulf. His rule was aided by the powerful vizier, Nizam al-Mulk.
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 (reigned 1072–92), ably administered and developed his huge empire; he was a protector of Omar KhayyamOmar Khayyam
, fl. 11th cent., Persian poet and mathematician, b. Nishapur. He was called Khayyam [tentmaker] probably because of his father's occupation. The details of his life are mostly conjectural, but he was well educated and became celebrated as the outstanding
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, who reformed the calendar at his behest. At the start of the 12th cent. the Seljuk empire began to fragment, and various parts achieved virtual independence. The attacks of the Khwarazm shah led to the final downfall of the empire in 1157.

Successor States

Among the successor states were the Zangid sultanate of Syria, whose ruler Nur ad-DinNur ad-Din
, 1118–74, ruler of Syria. He was the son of the conqueror Zangi, and he succeeded to power in 1145. He defeated the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor and fought with Baldwin III of Jerusalem.
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 was known for his victories over the Crusaders; the empire of KhwarazmKhwarazm
or Khorezm
, ancient and medieval state of central Asia, situated in and around the basin of the lower Amu Darya River; now a region, NW Uzbekistan. Khwarazm is one of the oldest centers of civilization in central Asia.
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, which at one time nearly attained the limits of the earlier Seljuk empire; and the sultanate of Rum or Iconium (see KonyaKonya
, city (1990 pop. 509,208), capital of Konya prov., S central Turkey. It is the trade center of a rich agricultural and livestock-raising region. Manufactures include cement, carpets, and leather, cotton, and silk goods.
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), which comprised a large part of Asia Minor. All the Seljuk states were overrun in the 13th cent. by Jenghiz Khan and his successors, whose hordes comprised both Mongols and Turks and became generally known as TatarsTatars
or Tartars
, Turkic-speaking peoples living primarily in Russia, Crimea, and Uzbekistan. They number about 10 million and are largely Sunni Muslims; there is also a large population of Crimean Tatar descent in Turkey.
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. The Turko-Tatars now living in the nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States are largely descended from the Golden HordeGolden Horde, Empire of the,
Mongol state comprising most of Russia, given as an appanage to Jenghiz Khan's oldest son, Juchi, and actually conquered and founded in the mid-13th cent. by Juchi's son, Batu Khan, after the Mongol or Tatar (see Tatars) conquest of Russia.
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 of Batu Khan, as are the Uzbeks (see UzbekistanUzbekistan
, Uzbek Ozbekiston, officially Republic of Uzbekistan, republic (2015 est. pop. 29,200,000), 173,552 sq mi (449,500 sq km), central Asia. The republic, which is the most populous country in Central Asia, borders on Afghanistan in the south, on Turkmenistan in
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), who ruled a vast empire in the 16th cent.

The Osmanlis

In Asia Minor the sultanate of Konya was taken over, after the Mongol wave had receded, by the emirate of Karamania (see KaramanKaraman
, town (1990 pop. 76,682), S central Turkey, at the northern foot of the Taurus Mts. The ancient Laranda, Karaman was renamed after the chieftain of a Turkic tribe who conquered the city c.
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), but the Osmanli Turks completed the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire. A minor tribe and the last of the Turkish invading peoples, the Osmanli had been assigned (13th cent.) to the border area of the Byzantine Empire by their Seljuk overlords. It was largely this position as guards of a constantly contested frontier that allowed them to develop their highly disciplined organization, which in turn enabled them in the 14th cent. to make themselves masters of the ruins of the Seljuk empire in Anatolia. Their first historic ruler Osman IOsman I
or Othman I
, 1259–1326, leader of the Ottoman Turks and founder of the dynasty that established and ruled the Ottoman Empire. The Osmanli or Ottoman Turks derive their name from Osman.
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, gave his name both to the nation and to the dynasty that ruled an empire extending, at one period, from Vienna to the Indian Ocean and from Tunis to the Caucasus (see Ottoman EmpireOttoman Empire
, vast state founded in the late 13th cent. by Turkish tribes in Anatolia and ruled by the descendants of Osman I until its dissolution in 1918. Modern Turkey formed only part of the empire, but the terms "Turkey" and "Ottoman Empire" were often used
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). The people of modern Turkey, which was founded after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, are called Osmanli Turks. The original Osmanlis had merged at an early stage with the Seljuks, and their descendants mixed extensively with Muslim converts from the many dozens of nationalities that made up their empire.


See J. R. Krueger, ed., The Turkic Peoples (1963); K. H. Menges, The Turkic Languages and Peoples (1968); D. Hotham, The Turks (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a nation (natsiia; nation in the historical sense) and the majority population of Turkey. There are more than 35 million Turks in the Republic of Turkey (1975, estimate). Turks also live in Bulgaria (more than 700,000), Yugoslavia (about 200,000), Greece (about 100,000), Cyprus (about 100,000), Rumania, Iraq, the USSR, and elsewhere. The language of the Turks is Turkish. The majority of Turks are Sunni Muslims; most Turks belong to the Mediterranean race.

The Turks are descendants of two main ethnic groups. The first group consisted of nomadic tribes of Turkic herdsmen, mainly Oghuz and Turkmens, who had migrated to Asia Minor from Middle Asia and Iran between the 11th and 13th centuries, during the Mongol and Seljuk conquests (seeSEUUKS). The second group was the local population of Asia Minor. Some Turkic tribes, such as the Uz and Pechenegs, migrated to Asia Minor from the Balkans. By intermarrying with the local population of Greeks, Armenians, Georgians, and others, the Turkic tribes partly assimilated them, but the Turks themselves adopted many of the economic skills and cultural features of their hosts. At different times, Arab, Kurdish, South Slavic, Rumanian, Albanian, and other peoples contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Turks.

During the Turkish conquests of the 14th to 16th centuries, the Turks reached as far as the Balkans and Cyprus. The formation of the Turks as an ethnic group was essentially completed in the 15th century; the formation of the Turkish nation took place in the first decades of the 20th century.

Approximately 65 percent of present-day Turks are engaged in agriculture, both land cultivation and cattle raising. About two million Turks are industrial workers. The Turks include several seminomadic ethnic groups, including the Yuruks, Turkmens, Takhtadyj, and Durrani (Abdali). As these groups have become settled, they have been quickly assimilated.


Narody Perednei Azii. Moscow, 1957.
Eremeev, D. E. Etnogenez turok. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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