One of the most important events of the last century is the establishment, in 1917, of the communist Soviet rule, which was claimed, by its enforcers, to be tried for the first time and to be a prospective milestone with its reflections in human history, and the consequent collapse of the same after a ruling period of 74 years. As in 1918 when the non-Russian peoples in Tsarist Russia, which started to rapidly disintegrate after the declaration of independence of the Finnish people in December 1917, parted from Russia and formed their national governments, a similar process was witnessed in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Following the famous Belovezh Agreement signed by and between Leonid Kravchuk, Boris Yeltsin, and Stanislav Shushkevich in December 1991, the liquidation of the Soviet Union started, and the said process was completed in a rapid fashion with the meeting held in Almaty near the end of the same month. As of this date, the international community automatically recognized the Union Republics, which had already resolved upon independence, as equal members.
When we take a more impartial look at the Soviet Union today, it turns out that the communist Soviet rulers were not that different from the Russian noblemen that lived in the time of the Tsar, and, on the contrary, that there are many similarities between the Tsardom and the Soviet governments. In order to understand the Soviet rule and its deeds, one should first conceive the period of Tsardom. Therefore, it is of great significance to take such a historical continuity as a reference point for foreseeing the future of the Turkish Republics that became independent in 1991. One should mention that the Soviet nationality policy which, in its very essence, is a derivation of Tsarist Russian policies, has had great impact on the evolution of the political and social systems of the newly established ex-Soviet states, the Turkish republics in particular (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan). In ex-Soviet geography the crucial factor in the transition period today is undeniably political and social stability. Besides, territorial and/or ethnic conflicts stemming from the legacy of the Soviet era pose a serious source of instability for the future.
As mentioned above, in 1991 the Union Republics within the broader Soviet administrative system automatically acquired independence and were internationally recognised. Yet, the declarations of sovereignty and the dreams of independence were not merely restricted to the union republics this right of which was already reserved by virtue of the Soviet Constitution of 1977 but also encouraged rapidly the ethnic republics and the autonomous regions within the borders of the union republics. The country that was most affected by this situation was Russia. By the end of 1991, a significant majority of the 21 ethnic republics forming the Russian Federation of today declared their independence. Most of the Turkish republics who are underlined in the classification of this volume as Federal and Autonomous Republics are indeed these ethnic republics within the Russian Federation. Yet, Turkish republics and peoples with such legal rights are found not only within the Russian Federation, but extend from such other former Soviet republics as Moldova and Ukraine to Eastern Turkestan within the Peoples Republic of China.
The most important two states established, after the Golden Horde, in the Turkish provinces in the North are the Khanates of Kazan and the Crimea. The Kazan Tatars lived under Russian domination as of the demise of the Kazan Khanate in 1552, and were forced to accept the administrative structures which were shaped under the initiatives of Russian regimes. The union republics were reorganized in the Soviet Union period territorially as well as administratively; the communist rulers avoided granting, to Tatarstan only, the status of union republic. And, each time, the petitions which were sent, to that end, by Tatarstan to Moscow particularly in the 1960s were ignored. Yet, against all odds, Tatarstan, even today, is one of the most important members of the international society. The Kazan Tatars have always been a people which must be monitored carefully due to their political and historical mission, and due to the rich natural resources of the geography they live in, and the intellectual background they sport.
Bashkortostan is another important ethnic republic which forms the Russian Federation like Tatarstan with whom it has close ties. Today, Bashkortostan is an important republic which must be closely monitored not only because it has the position and power to influence the policy of the Russian Federation, but also because it is an actor capable of influencing the course of international events due to the rich natural resources hidden in its geography.
The third ethnic republic whose name has become more audible recently in the routines of Russian politics is that of the Saha. Being the owner of a very important position in diamond production, the Saha Republic is eager to increase the activity by actively taking part in the debates in Russia over the structure of the federation.
And the Northern republics of Altay, Tuva, and Hakas constitute the republics where the other Turkish peoples in the Russian Federation live. Yet, all these three republics, which have become rich thanks to their natural resources, have such important problems of alcoholism and an unbalanced demographic structure.
The close ties of the Crimean Tatars with Turkey, which exist even today, date back to the year of 1475. And since 1783, the regrettable destiny of the Crimean Tatars has been closely monitored by the Turkish people. The most terrible stage of this tragedy was the exile of 1943. Crimean Tatars started to return to their homeland as of 1957, the efforts they made to that end had its impact in Turkey and collective sympathy of the Turkish people and especially from many Turks of Crimean origin. The problems that the Crimean Tatars have encountered are not over. The victims of the conflict between the Russian population in the peninsula and the Ukrainian government, and thus between Ukraine and Russia are, unfortunately, the Crimean Tatars who have, today, become a mere minority in their own homeland.
Being Orthodox Turks introduced to the Turkish public by the late Hamdullah Suphi Tanrıöver, the Gagauz Turks shall constitute another topic of this volume. We tried to elaborate comprehensively the debates as to which Turkish tribe the Gagauz people belong to, and their language which is much similar to Anatolian Turkish.
Eastern Turkestan shall constitute the last topic studied in this section. We made an attempt to reflect the current status and problems, and the culture of the Turks of Eastern Turkestan whose history and historic struggle was covered in detail in the previous volumes.
The peoples dealt with under the heading Turkish Communities are, in a sense, the signature of the Ottoman existence in different regions. It must be remembered that the area extending from the Caucasus to Middle East and the Balkans was Ottoman land until the beginning of the last century.
Out of these said regions, the Turkish existence in the Balkan Peninsula dates back to the times before the Ottoman State, yet the most permanent settlement policy was implemented in the Ottoman period. At the outcome of the holy wars which were first initiated at the frontiers with the expedition of Aydınoğlu Umur Bey in 1332, Turkish communities -which represent an undeniable fact of their affiliated country- have emerged today in a vast geography that extends from Western Thrace to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Kosovo.
The same situation applies to the Middle East, too. But the Turkish existence in the Middle East which constituted an important route of the paths of migration of the Turkish peoples dates back to the times before the Ottomans, and presents a great deal of diversity. For instance, in Iran where the South Azerbaijani Turks are believed to constitute a major part of the population, there is a wide range of Turkish diversity from Kashkay Turks to Sungur Turks. In addition to Syria, there is also a considerable amount of Turkish/Turkmen existence in Iraq, notwithstanding the rather insisting efforts of the public opinion today to ignore them.
Presenting a complete ethnic mosaic, the Caucasus is another region with intensive Turkish traces. The Turkish communities of todays Caucasus are the Karachay, Balkar, Nogay, Kumuk, and Ahıska Turks, and the Turkmen people. The Karachays and the Balkars exist in the Russian Federation as ethnic republics (Karachay-Cherkess and Kabardino-Balkar).
On the other hand, there is a considerable Turkish existence in Turkestan, and especially in Afghanistan which is nowadays at the top of the world agenda, Siberia, and the Lower Volga region where the Astrakhan Khanate ruled until 1556.
The Turkish settlements around the world are constituted especially by the Turks who have migrated West in the 1950s due to economic reasons. Today, a great mass of Turkish people live in Europe -mostly in Germany, and in the United States of America, Australia, and even in the Russian Federation with whom our economic and cultural ties are getting stronger each day, and these people act as a bridge in our relations with these countries.