The Turkic Link
Another reason why I wanted to go to two countries, at first Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and then Turkey and Kazakhstan, was to see two native cultures of the greater Turkic world. Turks, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Kyrgyz, plus Tatars in Russia, Uyghurs in China, and Azeris in Azerbaijan are all members of the greater Turkic ethnic group.
Take note: there's a big difference between turkish and turkic . Turkish people are the people of Turkey. Turkic people are those of the ethnolinguistic group that stretches from Europe to China.
What does that mean? Consider, for example, that Swedes, Danes, Germans, Austrians, and even British Anglo-Saxons are considered part of the same Germanic ethnolinguistic group. The Arab ethnolinguistic group stretches from North Africa to the Middle East, from Morocco to Iraq. And the Slavic ethnic group includes Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Russians, Ukrainians, and many more. The Turkic peoples are geographically the largest group of people in the world, stretching from Hungary to western China, but they are not very large in terms of population -- even Kazakhstan, geographically the ninth-largest country in the world, has a population of only 18 million, which includes only 10 million Kazakhs.
This link is clearest in language. Although English is influenced by Celtic, Latin, and French, the basic grammatical structure is clearly Germanic. Phrases like "That is good" are said "Das es gud" in German -- a clear linguistic connection. The same is true in the Turkic world. Whenever you travel it's important to learn some basic vocabulary, and I found that the word for "water" is the same in Turkish at it is in Kazakh: "su." (And according to people I met in Kazakhstan, the word is also the same in Uzbek and Azeri.)
Take a look at this map I bought in Turkey. This is a pretty accurate demarcation of where the peoples of the Turkic world live, even including the minority Turkic communities in countries such as Hungary, Russia, and Iran.
The connection goes beyond language. Remember the Blue Mosque in Istanbul? It gets its name because the interior is covered with blue tiles. Likewise, the mosque in Almaty is blue on top, another reference to the sky. This is because the original Turkic shamanist/animist religion worshiped mountains, fire, and most importantly, the sky. The influence carried over when the Turkic peoples converted to Islam, and you can identify many Turkish mosques by the blue ceilings, both inside and out.
It's also true that none of the Turkic peoples are particularly fundamentalist about religion. Indeed, Islamic fundamentalism is a creature of the Arab world first and the Persian world second. All of the Turkic peoples are pretty relaxed, which can be seen in their lax attitudes towards alcohol and preference for secular government. Even in Afghanistan it was the ethnically-Persian Pashtuns in the South that made up the Taliban, and the ethnically-Turkic Uzbeks that made up the Northern Alliance -- which, if nothing else, were/are secular in their approach to government.
That concludes this travelogue! I hope that proved informative and educational, and maybe even inspired some of you to travel further a field, and, when you do, to tell us all about it on the web.
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