Turks - Orientation

Identification. Ethnically, the Turks are a cultural group united by a common language, but the term "Turk" has no clearly defined racial significance; it can be properly applied to those communities historically and linguistically connected to the nomadic people whom the Chinese identified as the "Tu-Kiu." Some scholars consider that the name "Hiungnu," which appears in Chinese sources of the second millennium B.C.E. , refers to the Turks; however, it was probably a generic term that included both Turks and Mongols, and perhaps other peoples.

Today ethnic Turks constitute approximately 80 percent of the population of the Republic of Turkey. Turkish-speaking peoples can be found in Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and China. Turks are linked by their common history and language, which are strong and persistent; additionally they are linked by their religion—Islam; with the exception of the Turkish tribe called the Yakut, who live in eastern Siberia and the Altai region, almost all Turks are Muslims.

Location. Turkey is located in southwestern Asia and fits roughly between 36° and 42° N and 25° and 45° E. It is bounded on the west by the Aegean Sea and Greece; on the north by Bulgaria and the Black Sea; on the northeast by Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; on the east by Iran, and on the south by Iraq, Syria, and the Mediterranean Sea. The total area of the country is 780,580 square kilometers. The greater part of the country lies in Asia, specifically Asia Minor or Anatolia. About 8 percent of Turkey—called Turkish Thrace—is in Europe. Because of the mountainous terrain and the maritime influence, climates vary greatly. The country has three main temperate climates: Mediterranean on the south and southwestern coasts, Black Sea in the north, and steppe throughout most of Anatolia.

Demography. The population of Turkey in 1994 was estimated as 62,154,000. More than half the population lives in urban areas. Turkey has one of the highest rates of population increase in the world, as the result of a high birthrate, estimated in 1994 to be 25.98 births per thousand and an average death rate of 5.8 deaths per thousand. The current annual rate of growth is 2.02 percent. From 1923 to 1994, the population multiplied by approximately five. Large-scale migration to the cities since the middle of the century has led to overcrowding. In 1990, 65 percent of the population was urban. Istanbul is the cultural, industrial, and commercial center. Ankara is the capital. Other major cities are: Adana, Antalya, Bursa, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Izmir, Kayseri, Konya, and Samsun.

Linguistic Affiliation. Turkish is the language of more than 90 percent of the population of Turkey. Until recently, some scholars contended that Turkish is part of the Ural-Altaic Language Group. Philologists today, however, consider Turkish an Eastern Turkic language. Turkish is an agglutinating language; words are made by adding strings of suffixes to a root that does not change. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Turkish language is vowel harmony. The vowels in a Turkish word are either all back vowels (a, ι, o, u) or all front vowels (e, i, ö, ü). Turkish is totally unrelated to Arabic or Persian, but it has borrowed many words from these two languages. In 1928 the Arabic script that had been used to write Ottoman Turkish was abandoned in favor of a twentynine letter Latin script. After the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, attempts were made to purify the Turkish language by creating new words to replace many Arab, Persian, and some French words. These attempts met with only limited success, and borrowed words are still very common.

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