The people who called themselves Türk (Chinese Tujue突厥) appear in historical records only a few years before they overthrow their political masters in the middle of the 6th century CE and create a powerful steppe empire that stretched at its height from Manchuria to the Black Sea. These early Türks are sometimes called “Kök” (Old Turkic “Blue,” referring particularly to the color of the sky but also indicating the East) Türks to distinguish them from other peoples who spoke Turkic languages and called themselves by various names, some of which included the term Türk. The Kök Türks dominated much of Inner Asia for most of the period from the mid-6th to the mid-8th centuries; during that era their polity waxed and waned in strength and did not always enjoy political unity. Nevertheless, they exercised authority throughout much of Eurasia for some two centuries; Türk military, diplomatic, and economic interactions with their neighbors, including the Chinese, Persians, and Byzantines, are an important component of their historical significance. They created Inner Asia’s first native script and first known examples of historiography, and promoted the international exchange of goods and ideas on an unprecedented scale. The expansion of Türk power and culture helped shape the Inner Asian world in which the Mongols later established their empire.
Michael R. Drompp
Ali Gibran Siddiqui
The Khwājagān (lit. “Masters”) were a constellation of Ṣūfīs in 13th- to 16th-century Mawara an-Nahr and Khurasan. The Naqshbandīyya were Ṣūfīs from among the Khwājagān who followed the teachings of their shaykh, or Ṣūfī master, Khwāja Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Naqshband (1318–1389). Given the eventual emergence of a more centrally organized Naqshbandī order among the otherwise unorganized Khwājagānī tradition by the mid-15th century, later Naqshbandī hagiographers have retroactively combined the development of both traditions under a single linear narrative. While such hagiographies from the 16th century onward portray the Khwājagān as a monolithic group, united in beliefs and rituals, and tracing its silsila (lit. “chain”) or spiritual lineage back to the first caliph Abū Bakr (r. 632–634), there is little evidence from the 13th and 14th centuries to buttress these claims. A study of earlier sources from this time period instead suggests that there was considerable variation among the attitudes and beliefs espoused by individual Khwājagānī Ṣūfī masters and that a loosely defined common identity among the Khwājagān grew out of aversion to the practices of more established Ṣūfī traditions that included ascribing particular importance to spiritual lineages and public displays of devotion. Thus, this Khwājagānī current spread across Central Asia in the form of local Ṣūfī communities, which sought to challenge traditional understandings of Sufism. Part of the Khwājagānī aversion to ostentatious modes of worship by more traditional forms of Sufism led to an increased preference for silent forms of dhikr (lit. remembrance) or the ritualistic recitation of sacred names and phrases, as opposed to more vocal and public forms. By the 15th century, this proclivity toward silent dhikr had become a hallmark of the Khwājagānī-Naqshbandī tradition. The term Khwājagān is the plural of the Persian word khwāja, which literally means “master” and often reserved for persons of distinction. As an honorific term, originally reserved as a title of prestige for prominent members of Persianate societies, Ṣūfī murīds or disciples used the title “khwāja” to refer to their masters or teachers with respect. In Naqshbandī sources written from the 16th century onward, hagiographers such as ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn Kāshifī Ṣafī have consistently referred to all members of the Khwājagānī and the Naqshbandī tradition by the epithet “khwāja.” Consequently, these Naqshbandī hagiographers have used the term Silsila-ye Khwājagān or the Chain of the Khwājas to refer to both the Naqshbandī silsila and its predecessors among the Ṣūfī masters of 12th-, 13th-, and 14th-century Central Asia.
To trace the Soviet legacy in Central Asia is to trace the contours of a complex, multifaceted, and in many ways unfinished process. Between the advent of Russian imperial rule in the late 19th century and the collapse of Soviet power in 1991, the dynastic monarchies and nomadic federations of Central Asia were subdued, and the region was refashioned first into a European settler colony and then into industrialized national republics. Everything from political geography and institutions, economic patterns, urban patterns, and normative identities were indelibly shaped by the Soviet experience. Despite the legacies of the Soviet period, however, each of the states of Central Asia has also followed its own distinct trajectory since 1991, complicating the search for a coherent regional narrative. All of the post-Soviet states of Central Asia share certain common political, economic, and cultural “inheritances,” but their divergent histories since 1991 highlight not only the enduring significance of this shared patrimony, but also their remarkably different responses and trajectories since 1991.
Beatrice Forbes Manz
The Timurid dynasty was founded in 1370 by the Turkic warlord Temür, usually known in the west as Tamerlane (Temür the lame). Rising to power within the realm of Chinggis Khan’s second son Chaghadai, Temür established his capital at Samarqand and embarked on a career of conquest throughout the former Mongolian Empire and the Central Islamic lands. While his campaigns ranged from Delhi almost to Moscow and from the eastern Turkestan to western Anatolia, Temür established an administration only over the central regions, including Iran and Transoxiana; these were largely settled and Persian-speaking territories. Temür and his followers were Turks loyal to the Mongol tradition, but they were also Muslim and well acquainted with Perso-Islamic culture. The dynasty lasted three more generations—those of Shāhrukh (1409–1447); Abu Sa`īd (1451–1469); and Sulṭān Ḥusayn Bayqara (1469–1506). During this time, the Timurid state shrank in size but gained fame for its wide-ranging cultural patronage and sophisticated styles in architecture, literature, and the arts of the book. In 1507, the Uzbek Shibani Khan overthrew the Timurid dynasty and took over its eastern territories. The Timurid prince Babur Mirza retreated from his region of Ferghana to Kabul and then in 1526 conquered Delhi and founded the Mughal or Later Timurid dynasty.
Xinjiang is a 642,800-square-mile area about the size of Iran, comprised of two different ecological zones (northern steppe and southern oases) in the heart of Eurasia. After subjugating the Zunghar Mongols, based in the area, in 1754–1759, the Qing stationed 25,000–45,000 troops there. The empire transferred 850,000–4,000,000 taels of silver from China annually for the financial support of the troops. The Qing also encouraged migration of Han and Muslim Chinese (Tungan) merchants and colonists to develop the underpopulated north, and they relied on oasis Muslim (or “Uyghur”) landlords (beg) to do the same in the south. For the first sixty years, the region witnessed the unprecedented expansion of local economy and the rise of a new regional identity. However, the Qing faced stiff challenges to their authority from the 1820s to the 1860s, as the former ruler of the area of southwestern oases, the Islamic saintly family (khwaja) that lived in exile in Central Asia after the Qing conquest, invaded Kashgar and Yarkand, often supported by the opportunistic ruler of the neighboring Khoqand khanate. The Qing was eventually able to fend off the khwaja challenge. However, the discontinuation of the silver transfer from China during the Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864) led to the fall of Qing rule in 1864. Tungans and native Muslims rose in revolt in the name of holy war, which culminated in the formation of an independent Islamic state presided over by the Khoqandi general Ya’kūb Beg. After the Qing empire reconquered Xinjiang in 1877, the Qing transformed Xinjiang into a Chinese province (sheng) in 1884, largely in response to the increasing activities of the Russia empire, driven by its commercial and territorial ambition. However, the subsequent opening of numerous “treaty ports” across Xinjiang, where extraterritorial condition prevailed, rendered the Qing government’s territorial control over the region incomplete.