Summary and Keywords
The Turkic identity that first emerged with the rise of the Türk empire in the mid-6th century did not encompass all Turkic-speaking nomads in the Inner Asian world. The Türks, who founded the first Turkic nomadic empire, reserved the term Türk for themselves. In turn, the Uighurs and the (Yenisei) Qirghiz, who succeeded the Türks in the Mongolian steppes, did not identify themselves as Türk. As a result, after the final collapse of the Türk empire in the mid-8th century, Turkic identity did not survive among non-Türk groups in the Mongolian steppes.
Turk became a much broader identity in the Islamic world. Muslim writers spread the term Turk (plural Atrāk), virtually using it as a synonym for Inner Asian nomads including both Turkic- and non–Turkic-speaking groups. Accordingly, when the Mongols entered the Islamic world, Muslim writers in general identified them as Turks. The Muslim view of the Turks as Inner Asian nomads was adopted by the Mongols of the Ilkhanate and the Mongol successors in Central Asia (Timurids, Moghuls, and Shibanid Uzbeks), who viewed themselves as the most prominent branch of the Turks. (The designation Central Asia is used here for the interior region stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to Xinjiang, China in the east. Inner Asia denotes the steppe regions.)
Essentially, their Turkic identity was a non-Tajik, Inner Asian nomadic identity, not a non-Mongol, Türk-related identity. Importantly, it encompassed Mongol identity. In the histories and documents produced in the Ilkhanate and the Mongol successor states in Central Asia, Turk in the phrase “Turk and Tajik” and various Chinggisid and Timurid genealogies primarily denoted the Mongols.
However, a Central Asian type of Turkic identity was non-existent in the Qipchaq Steppe during the Mongol and post-Mongol period. Apparently, the term Turk had not been used as a self-appellation among such non-Türk groups of the Qipchaq Steppe as the Qipchaqs. Likewise, the Mongol successors of the Qipchaq Steppe (Uzbeks, Qazaqs, and Tatars) did not self-identify as Turks. However, like their Central Asian counterparts, they identified themselves as Mongol descendants.
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