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 Orkhon) 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 Khazars, Cumans, and Pechenegs, 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.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.