Turkic (突厥) peoples, the predecessors of today’s Turks, Afghans, Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyzians, Tajiks, and the Uyghurs living in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, reigned supreme across Central Asia since the 5th century AD.
Today their descendants remain the largest ethnic group in the region, and the languages they speak all originate from the ancient Turkic language.
Interestingly, countries along the so-called One Belt One Road are predominantly Turkic in origins.
This is something that those eyeing participation in the China-led economic program must bear in mind.
Given this, if Hong Kong businesses want to explore opportunities along the belt and road, it is important for them to understand the Turkic culture, and perhaps learn some Turkic language too.
Among the various Turkic languages that are still in use today, Turkish is the most widely spoken. Grammatically as well as alphabetically, it has a lot in common with the languages used in most of the Central Asian countries.
In other words, you won’t have much problems communicating with the natives along the entire One Belt One Road if you speak Turkish. It is estimated that today native speakers of the various Turkic languages total approximately 130 million.
In the past Russian was the common language in Central Asia, as many of the countries in the region used to be former Soviet Union republics.
However, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian ceased to be the official language among the newly independent republics, and it is no longer taught in most of the schools across the region.
That said, it is estimated that there are still 19 million people in countries along the belt and road who can speak fluent Russian.
So, if you want to do business in Central Asia, being able to speak Russian would give you an advantage, and being able to speak Turkish would be a definite plus.
Coming back to Hong Kong, the problem now is that we can hardly find any person here who can speak Turkish.
But that may change soon, as the Baptist University’s School of Continuing Education has recently started a course on Turkish. As people get to know more about the potential opportunities from China’s belt and road program, we could see increased enrollment for Turkish language classes.
However, it not not enough to just being able to speak Turkish. One must also understand the people’s culture and learn to respect their customs if one wants to seize opportunities in Central Asia.
People along the belt and road routes are overwhelmingly Islamic. Hence, those undertaking business trips in Central Asia must be careful not to do anything that may offend the natives, such as eating pork or having close physical contact with local females.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 23.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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