Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

On the Iranian orgigin of the Turkish state

Posted by Fredsvenn on December 12, 2016

It is generally agreed that the first Turkic people lived in a region extending from Central Asia to Siberia, with the majority of them living in China historically. Historically they were established after the 6th century BCE. The earliest separate Turkic peoples appeared on the peripheries of the late Xiongnu confederation about 200 BCE (contemporaneous with the Chinese Han Dynasty).

Turkic people may be related to the Xiongnu, Dingling and Tiele people. According to the Book of Wei, the Tiele people were the remnants of the Chidi, the red Di people competing with the Jin in the Spring and Autumn period. The first mention of Turks was in a Chinese text that mentioned trade between Turk tribes and the Sogdians along the Silk Road. The first recorded use of “Turk” as a political name appears as a 6th-century reference to the word pronounced in Modern Chinese as Tujue.

Turkic tribes such as the Khazars and Pechenegs probably lived as nomads for many years before establishing the Turkic Khaganate or Göktürk Empire in the 6th century. These were herdsmen and nobles who were searching for new pastures and wealth. The Göktürk rulers originated from the Ashina clan, who were first attested to 439.

The Ashina clan migrated from Li-jien (modern Zhelai Zhai) to the Juan Juan seeking inclusion in their confederacy and protection from the prevalent dynasty. The tribe were famed metalsmiths and were granted land near a mountain quarry which looked like a helmet, from which they were said to have gotten their name (tūjué). A century later their power had increased such that they conquered the Juan Juan and established the Gök Empire.

It has often been suggested that the Xiongnu, mentioned in Han Dynasty records, were Proto-Turkic speakers. Although little is known for certain about the Xiongnu language(s), it seems likely that at least a considerable part of Xiongnu tribes spoke a Turkic language. However, some scholars see a possible connection with the Iranian-speaking Sakas. Some scholars believe they were probably a confederation of various ethnic and linguistic groups.

Genetics research in 2003 on skeletons from 2000 year old Xiongnu necropolis in Mongolia found some individuals with DNA sequences also present in some modern-day Turks, suggesting that a Turkish component had emerged in the Xiongnu tribe at the end of the Xiongnu period.

According to another archeological and genetic study in 2010, the DNA found in three skeletons in 2000-year-old elite Xiongnu cemetery in Northeast Asia belonged to C3, D4 and R1a. The evidence of paternal R1a supports the Kurgan hypothesis for the Indo-European expansion from the Volga steppe region.

As the R1a was found in Xiongnu people and the present-day people of Central Asia. Analysis of skeletal remains from sites attributed to the Xiongnu provides an identification of dolichocephalic Mongoloid, ethnically distinct from neighboring populations in present-day Mongolia.

Xiongnu writing, older than Turkic, is agreed to have the earliest known Turkic alphabet, the Orkhon script. This has been argued recently using the only extant possibly Xiongu writings, the rock art of the Yinshan and Helan Mountains. It dates from the 9th millennium BCE to the 19th century, and consists mainly of engraved signs (petroglyphs) and few painted images.

Excavations done during 1924–1925 in Noin-Ula kurgans located in the Selenga River in the northern Mongolian hills north of Ulan Bator produced objects with over 20 carved characters, which were either identical or very similar to the runic letters of the Turkic Orkhon script discovered in the Orkhon Valley.

The Hun hordes ruled by Attila, who invaded and conquered much of Europe in the 5th century, might have been Turkic and descendants of the Xiongnu. Some scholars regard the Huns as one of the earlier Turkic tribes, while others view them as Proto-Mongolian in origin.

Linguistic studies by Otto Maenchen-Helfen and others have suggested that the language used by the Huns in Europe was too little documented to be classified, but may have been an Indo-European language. Nevertheless, many of the proper names used by Huns appear to be Turkic in origin.

In the first half of the first millennium, mass-migrations to distant places were common, geographical borders were fluid and cultural identity was more likely to change dramatically during the lifetime of an individual, relative to the modern era. These factors also made it more likely that the Huns were, initially at least, closely related to the Turkic peoples.

In the 6th century, 400 years after the collapse of northern Xiongnu power in Inner Asia, the Göktürks assumed leadership of the Turkic peoples. Formerly in the Xiongnu nomadic confederation, the Göktürks inherited their traditions and administrative experience.

From 552 to 745, Göktürk leadership united the nomadic Turkic tribes into the Göktürk Empire on Mongolia and Cental Asia. The name derives from gok, “blue” or “celestial”. Unlike its Xiongnu predecessor, the Göktürk Khanate had its temporary khans from the Ashina clan who were subordinate to a sovereign authority controlled by a council of tribal chiefs.

Findley assumes that the name Ashina probably comes from one of the Saka languages of central Asia and means “blue” or gök in Turkic, the color is identified with the east, so that Göktürk, another name for the Turk empire, meant the “Turks of the East”. This idea is seconded by the Hungarian researcher András Róna-Tas, who finds it plausible “that we are dealing with a royal family and clan of Saka origin”.

“Ashina” means “noble wolf” in the Turkic languages, wolf being Bure or Kaskyr. In the Mongolian languages wolf is – Shono or Chono. “A” – the prefix of respect in Chinese; other opinions – or roots of the ethnonym “Ashina” are to be found in Saka-Wusun tribal anthroponymes.

H.W. Haussig and S.G. Kljyashtorny suggest an association between the name and the compound “kindred of Ashin” ahşaẽna – Old Persian, which can get quite satisfactory etymological development. This is so even in East Turkestan. The desired form would be in the Sogdian ‘xs’ yn’ k (-әhšēnē) “blue, dark”; Khotan-Saka (Brahmi) āşşeiņa (-āşşena) “blue”, where a long -ā- emerged as development ahş-> āşş-; in Tocharian A āśna- “blue, dark” (from Khotan-Saka and Sogdian).

The Saka etymology ashina (<āşşeiņa ~ āşşena) with the value “blue” (the color of the sky) is phonetically and semantically flawless. There is a textual support for this version in the ancient runic inscriptions of the Turks. In the large Orkhon inscriptions, in the story of the first Kagan, people living in the newly created empire, are named kök türk – translated as “Celestial Turks”. Without touching the numerous interpretations kök may have in this combination, we note its perfect semantic match with the reconstructed value of the name Ashina.

An explicit semantic calque suggests knowledge of its original meaning and foreign origin, which is compatible with the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nature of the First Turkic khanate, which entailed the loss, however, of the popularity of “national character”, in the words of L. Bazin, as was the political and cultural environment of the Otyuken regime of the era of Bilge Kagan.

Ashina writing system was taken from Sogdian language. The letters used in the construction of the memorial stele describing the heroic exploits of the members of the ruling kagan kind were Sogdian. Thus the main inscription on the stele Bugutskoy set up in honor of one of the rulers of the First Turkic khanate, is written Sogdian letter. A Sogdian inscription is found on the Broadsword discovered in the burial of the ancient Turkic warrior at the monument at Jolene in the Altai Mountains.

During the period of the Second Eastern Turk ancient Turkic runic writing spread, which was also influenced by Sogdian letters. Runes are widespread among the nomadic Turkic peoples in the early Middle Ages. Sogdian was an Eastern Iranian language spoken in the Central Asian region of Sogdia, located in modern-day Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. During Tang China (ca. 7th century CE), the Silk Road’s lingua franca in Central Asia was Sogdian.

The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times (from c. the 4th century BC). The Avestan language is often classified as early Eastern Iranian. The largest living Eastern Iranian language is Pashto, with some 50-60 million speakers between the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and the Indus River in Pakistan.

As opposed to the Middle Western Iranian dialects, the Middle Eastern Iranian preserves word-final syllables. Eastern Iranian is thought to have separated from Western Iranian in the course of the later 2nd millennium BC, and was possibly located at the Yaz culture.

The Iranian languages or Iranic languages are a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, which in turn are a branch of the Indo-European language family. The speakers of Iranian languages are known as Iranian peoples. Historical Iranian languages are grouped in three stages: Old Iranian (until 400 BCE), Middle Iranian (400 BCE – 900 CE), and New Iranian (since 900 CE).

Of the Old Iranian languages, the better understood and recorded ones are Old Persian (a language of Achaemenid Iran) and Avestan (the language of the Avesta). Middle Iranian languages included Middle Persian (a language of Sassanid Iran), Parthian, and Bactrian.

Researchers such as H.W. Haussig, S.G. Kljyashtorny, A.N. Bernstamm, C. V. Findley, B.A. Muratov, R.R. Suyunov, D.G. Savinov, S.P. Guschin, Rona-Tas, R.N. Frye, point out the origin of the Ashina from Saka-Wusun.

The Saka people were an Iranian people who spoke a language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. They are known to the ancient Greeks as Scythians and are attested in historical and archaeological records dating to around the 8th century BC.

Saka was the term used in Persian and Sanskrit sources for the Scythians, a large group of Eastern Iranian nomadic tribes on the Eurasian Steppe. Modern scholars usually use the term Saka to refer to Iranians of the Eastern Steppe and the Tarim Basin. René Grousset wrote that they formed a particular branch of the “Scytho-Sarmatian family” originating from nomadic Iranian peoples of the northwestern steppe in Eurasia.

In the Tarim Basin and Taklamakan desert region of Northwest China, they founded the settlements of Khotan and Kashgar, as well as the Kingdom of Khotan that was at various times a vassal to greater powers, such as the Han and Tang dynasties of Imperial China.

Modern debate about the identity of the “Saka” is partly from ambiguous usage of the word by ancient, non-Saka authorities. According to Herodotus, the Persians gave the name “Saka” to all Scythians. However, Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, AD 23–79) claims that the Persians gave the name Sakai only to the Scythian tribes “nearest to them”.

The Scythians to the far north of Assyria were also called the Saka suni (Saka or Scythian sons) by the Persians. The Assyrians, of the time of Esarhaddon, record campaigning against a people they called in the Akkadian the Ashkuza or Ishhuza.

Another people, the Gimirrai, who were known to the ancient Greeks as the Cimmerians, were closely associated with the Sakas. In ancient Hebrew texts, the Ashkuz (Ashkenaz) are considered to be a direct offshoot from the Gimirri (Gomer).

The Saka were regarded by the Babylonians as synonymous with the Gimirrai; both names are used on the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 515 BC on the order of Darius the Great. (These people were reported to be mainly interested in settling in the kingdom of Urartu, later part of Armenia, and Shacusen in Uti Province derives its name from them.)

However, modern scholarly consensus is that the Saka language, ancestor to the Pamir languages in northern India and Khotanese in Xinjiang, China belongs to the Scythian languages.

Wusun (literally: “grandchildren/descendents of the crow/raven”), an Indo-European semi-nomadic steppe people mentioned in Chinese records from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD.

The Wusun originally lived between the Qilian Mountains and Dunhuang (Gansu) near the Yuezhi. Around 176 BC the Yuezhi were raided by the Xiongnu, subsequently attacking the Wusun, killing their king and seizing their land. The Wusun prince was subsequently adopted by the Xiongnu ruler and made a Xiongnu general and leader of the Wusun.

After the Yuezhi around 162 BC were driven into the Ili Valley of Zhetysu, Dzungaria and Tian Shan formerly inhabited by the Sai (Scythians), the Wusun resettled Gansu as vassals of the Xiongnu. In 133-132 BC, the Wusun drove the Yuezhi from the Ili Valley and settled the area. They subsequently became close allies of the Han dynasty and a powerful force in the region for several centuries.

Pressured by the Rouran, the name of a state established by proto-Mongols, from the late 4th century until the middle 6th century, the Wusun are last mentioned by the Chinese as having settled the Pamir Mountains in the 5th century AD. They possibly became subsumed into the later Hephthalites, a confederation of nomadic and settled people in Central Asia who expanded their domain westward in the 5th century.

The Rouran were a confederation led by Xianbei people who remained in the Mongolian steppes after most Xianbei migrated south to Northern China and set up various kingdoms. The Rouran Khaganate was also called Juan-Juan.

According to René Grousset, Ju-juan – an alternate Chinese name for the Rouran – was a “disparaging pun” derived from Juan-Juan: “unpleasantly wriggling insects”. The power of the Rouran was broken in 555 by an alliance of Göktürks, the states of Northern Qi and Northern Zhou, and tribes in Central Asia.

According to most specialist scholars, the spoken language of the Hephthalites was an Eastern Iranian language. At the height of its power in the first half of the 6th century, the Hephthalite Empire controlled territory in present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India and China.

The stronghold of the Hephthalites was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, in what is present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdia and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured parts of present-day Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin in what is now Northwest China.

India was invaded during the 5th century by a people known in South Asia as the Hunas – possibly an alliance broader than the Hephthalites and/or Xionites. The Hunas were initially defeated by Emperor Skandagupta of the Gupta Empire.

By the end of the 5th century, however, the Hunas had overrun the part of the Gupta Empire that was to their southeast and had conquered Central and North India. Gupta Emperor Bhanugupta defeated the Hunas under Toramana in 510. The Hunas were driven out of India by the kings Yasodharman and Narasimhagupta, during the early 6th century.

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