Dressing The Stans

Tunic for a Pashtun boy attending the Atan dance. Early 21st century. Tunic for a Pashtun boy attending the Atan dance. Early 21st century. TRC 2010.0532b.

3. The peoples of Central Asia

The lands of Central Asia are nowadays inhabited by a wide array of groups, many of whom with their own particular history, language and dress. Roughly speaking, the Central Asians can be divided, mainly on the basis of their language, into those with a more Iranian background, and those with a more pronounced Turkic or Turkic/Mongolian origin.

Those with an Iranian-speaking background had lived in Central Asia for millennia when from the first millennium Turkic group arrived. They came from much further north and east. Some of the Turkic peoples migrated towards the west, towards a land subsequently was called after them, namely Turkey. Others settled in what is now Iran and the lands east of the Caspian Sea. Their descendants are the Turkmen, who now mainly are found in modern Turkmenistan and settled there in the early second millennium. Relative newcomers in large parts of Central Asia are the equally Turkic Uzbeks, who in the late 15th and early 16th centuries moved south from what is Kazakhstan and occupied large parts of what is now Uzbekistan. They also moved further south into northern Afghanistan. Other immigrants are the Turkic Kyrgyz, who centuries ago came to live in the mountainous Central Asian borderlands with what is now China.

1999.0316Turkmen woman's broach, mid-nineteenth century. Silver with garnet coloured glass insets. TRC 1999.0316. For further information, clock on the illustration.The original, Iranian speaking population of Central Asia are traditionally called Tajiks, and they were allocated their own country by the Soviet rulers in the 1920s, but they can also be found in neighbouring lands. In Afghanistan, the Tajiks represent a large part of the population, mainly in the north of the country, but also in the urban centres in the south. Their language is called Dari, which is basically a form of Persian, which is one of the many Iranian languages. Dari is, next to Pashto, the main language of Afghanistan. Pashto is another Iranian language, which is spoken by the Pashtuns, who form the larger, and dominant part of the population of the country, and who traditionally are named Afghans, hence the name of the country.

Iranian and Turkic groups constitute the dominant ethnicities in Central Asia, but there are also other groups, such as the Hazaras in Afghanistan. They claim descent from the armies of the Mongolian conqueror, Genghiz Khan, in the early 13th century. Their language, which is now Dari or Persian, still contains many Mongolian words.

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