Face Music - History: Horsemen – Nomads
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  • Gök-Turks – Kök-Turks – Old Turks and Turkestan
    5th to 8th century after Christ
- map sketch:
The Ancient Turks are referred to today as the Gök-Turks or Kök-Turks. Their empire existed from 552 until 742 AD as an assembly of nomad tribes, with an interruption of about 50 years between the first and the second empire, when the founders, who were designated “t‘u-chüeh” (Turk) by the Chinese, were under Chinese rule during the Tang dynasty (618 through 907 AD). Their territory extended from the Caspian Sea to Manchuria, it was the first state in the history of the Central Asian nomad states that had Ancient Turkish as its official language, as found in the Orkhon scripts, which are records on sepulchral steles in honor of the respective rulers.

map sketch:

Before the Turk tribe could found its first empire, the steppe and desert regions of Central Asia were inhabited by different nomad and settling peoples. The most influential of them was the settling people of the Iranian Soghdians, who dominated trade along the Silk Road. This ethnic group is associated with the Scythians, who speak Iranian while still being nomads. The Scythians were the first nomad people of Central Asia who mastered the manufacture of iron ore. The Scythians were a group not only of warriors but also of traders, who temporarily dominated the Eastern European steppe areas and were partly associated with the Byzantine Empire and Persia.

- map sketch:

The Han Chinese were unaware of these tribes living north of their borders until they began to regularly invade their territory. These steppe nomads were a confederation of various tribes, many of which spoke Turkic languages. The Hsiung-nu received specific mention in the Chinese chronicles because the Han had to pay tolls to them.

- map sketch: Han-Dynasty


Turkestan was fought over several times during its long history. It was part of many nomad empires. A large part of it belonged to the tribal confederation of Hsiung-nu around 174 BC. Some Iranian-speaking peoples like the Gutaeans (another word for migrating mountain people), who originated in the valleys of the Zagros Mountains, settled in this region as well. They were also related to the Kuchi people, who founded the Kushan Empire. Other parts temporarily belonged to the Persian Empire (Achaemenid Empire) and to the realm of Alexander the Great.

Contemporary Turkestan was settled by Iranian-speaking peoples. It was tangent to Persian territory in the south. Between the 13th and the 16th centuries AD the region was ruled by the Mongolians and known by Europeans as
Great Tartary. This Turan Depression, or Turan Lowland, was part oft the western Gök-Turk empire at the time. The name “Turkestan” is equal to the expression “Home of the Turks” (i.e. the Turk’s original homeland). Historically, however, this equation is false, as the actual “original home” of the Turkic peoples is located farther east, in what is today Mongolia.

During the 4th and early 5th centuries AD part of Turkestan was ruled by the Rouran (Ruan Ruan, Shou-shan, Shuan-Shuan or Juan Juan = Chinese for “swarming worms”), who were another tribal confederation consisting of various nomad peoples comprising all nomads that spoke Ancient Turkish and Ancient Mongolian. One of these tribes were the Turks (designated “t‘u-chüeh” by the Chinese), whose original homeland is located around the Altai Mountains. The Rouran ruled in the area of today’s Mongolia as well, and they are believed to be of Altaian origin, too. Their confederation was formed by Yujiulü Mokolü (“bold head”, who ruled from 277 to 307 AD) in the 3rd century AD and expanded over all the areas north of the Gobi Desert under the rule of She-lüan (Kütelbüri, 394 to 410 AD) around 402 AD. The Rouran attacked the China’s borders several times, and in 429 AD they lost a fierce fight for power agains
t the Tabgach of the Wei dynasty. This is the first time the Turks were mentioned in Chinese chronicles, as they became known as armorers and leuds to the Rouran. Temporarily, they overlorded the Hephtalites (White Huns) and the Avars in Central Asia (Transoxiana). Between 520 and 552 AD, the confederation was weakened by a few fratricidal wars.

map sketch:

- more information: please see: Hsiung-nu, Huns, Avars and Parthians

  • The Tabgach are commonly described as a subgroup of the Xanbei, who were mostly Mongolians. They were among the most important tribal confederations that had emerged after the collapse of the Hsiung-nu (Xiongnu) empire. Around 260 AD they acquired the power in northern Shansi, north of the Great Wall. The majority of tribes who held political power was Turkic. Some were tribes who spoke Mongolian and Tungusic (Evens, Evenks and Manchu), and some were Indo-European tribes. In the late 4th century AD, their power reached from Shansi and Hopeh to the Yellow River, where they founded the northern Wei dynasty. Their rulers were predominantly Buddhist. After the northern Wei were divided into the eastern Wei (Tung Wei) and the western Wei (His Wei), the Tabgach entered the Chinese history books.

A widespread myth about the origin of all the Turkic tribes according to Chinese writings regards a female wolf as their ancestor. The wolf once saved a boy who was the only survivor of his tribe. According to the legend, his cohabitation with the wolf (Asena) produced ten boys. The number ten is also associated with the tribal confederation of On-Ok, one of the ten tribes the western Gök-Turk empire emerged from (Asena legend).

The Gök-Turks’ political structure was far more complex than that of a simple tribal democracy. Young males gathered around a stratum of military leaders, going on prowls lead by a Khagan. A “Hakan”, who was perceived as sacred, was the religious, spiritual and legitimate leader of a syndicate. The power in this community was held by a type of warrior class. As in other nomad communities, traces of older social systems remained. Other clans existed, and women played a larger role than in the Islamic world, receiving a greater number of executive functions.

Gök-Turk Period

In the 6th century AD the Turks invaded Turkestan and erected their western partial khanat there, which was upheld until the year 742/5 AD. Originally, they had been residents of East Turkestan and the Altai, and they adopted their predecessors’ tradition and administrative system. The Turkic tribes were skilled ironsmiths who controlled an economically strategic spot, where two trade routes crossed, one passing the Altai and connecting Orkhon Valley in the east to Ili Valley in the west, the other leading from the upper Yenisei south to the Altai and Tienshan. First they were under the rule of the Rouran (the Altaian Great Confederation), but in 520 AD the Rouran fought a battle over the throne that forced some of them to seek refuge among the Chinese in Inner Mongolia. Also there were some attacks
by the Gaoche, a Turkic Dingling tribe who originally settled at Lena River and Lake Baikal. Thus, the neighboring Hephthalites (White Huns) were asked for support. During further fights among the Rouran tribes in 546 AD, the Gaoche tried to break free again from their rule. The Turks, however, informed the Rouran leader and sabotaged the Gaoche success. After that, Bumin, who was the Turk leader at the time, called for the Rouran ruler to give him one of his daughters’ hand in marriage, which he refused. Bumin probably took this as an offense, married a princess from the western Wei (one of the two succeeding states of the northern Wei, which were in turn successors of the Tabgach empire) and revolted against the Rouran. In 552 AD, Bumin smashed the dynasty of the Rouran, thereby setting the stage for the foundation of a new empire and being declared its first ruling Khan. His empire lasted from 552 to 742 AD.

Gök-Turks – the Eastern Empire

The Gök-Tu
rk empire was subdivided into two administrative entities soon after it was founded. The western part was politically subordinate to the eastern part. In the south of the eastern empire first there were the Chinese dynasties, the northern Qi and the northern Zhou, who replaced the Wei dynasty of the Toba. These dynasties had emerged from a separation of the Tabgach and forced to pay tolls, but as they went on to be involved in mutual fights, they did not constitute a risk. The Kitan (Khitan), a Mongolian tribe from today’ Manchuria, settled in the east. They had various fights with the Gök-Turks and the Tang Chinese (around 560, 696/7, 733/5 AD). In the north the Kyrgyz kept settling (upper Yenisej). They probably came from the southern Altai Mountains (they were first mentioned by the neighboring Chinese as early as the late 3rd century BC). The Gök-Turk Khan Muhan gave one of his daughters to the northern Zhou, thus keeping the option open to fight against the Kitan and the Kyrgyz. Muhan beat the Kitan in 560 AD. When religious persecution of the northern Zhou set in under emperor Wu-ti in 574 AD, the Buddhist monk Jinagupta fled, accepted an invitation by the Turkic ruler Taspar and founded the first Buddhist community. While Taspar ruled, the eastern empire was stable towards the inside and the outside. When he died in 581 AD and his brother Nivar came into power, the power of the Gök-Turk shrank due to rivalry between the eastern and the western empire. Between 582 and 584 AD the western part under Yagbu Tardu detached itself from eastern rule. Tarbu was probably encouraged to take that step by the Chinese emperor Wen. Wen had united large parts of northern China within the Sui dynasty and considered the weakening of the Turks an important prerequisite for their own survival. Initially, both parts of the Turkic khaganate agreed to an alliance with China but after emperor Wen had annihilated the northern Zhou empire some had fled to the khan’s court into the East Turkic empire trying to persuade the Turks to help them reconquer their power in northern China.

The Sui went on trying to instigate the Eastern and Western Turkic Empires against each other and against the remaining Tabgach. The fights among the Eastern Turks increased to the point that Nivar Khan, who ruled from 581 to 587 AD, was denied the power by two of his cousins. In the west of the Eastern Turkic Empire the western tribes were contested, while in the east new fights against the Kitan started. After they had succeeded in weakening the eastern khaganates, the Chinese now supported Nivar Khan, so that Tardu in the west would not become strong enough to build a new pan-Turkic empire due to the weaker eastern part. Nivar’s successor was Mu-ho-tua (according to Chinese records). He killed his rivals but died himself in the same year he achieved power. His successor T’u-lan, who ruled from 587 to 600 AD, had to face a rival as well: His name was T’u-lin, and he was supported by the Chinese. When T’u-lin was defeated, the Chinese took him and his supporters on, as T’u-lin’s and his supporters’ separation from the Eastern Turkic Empire lead to a schism of that empire that lasted several years. In 600 AD, T’u-lin acquired power over the entire Eastern Turkic Empire. His son Shih-pi brought about a brief restrengthening of the Eastern Turkic Empire from 609 to 619 AD. In the meantime, the Sui dynasty itself was involved in fights and thus faced the Eastern Turkic threat again. In 624 AD, the Eastern Turks under its new Khan Hsieh-li attacked the Chinese again. In the meantime, the Tang dynasty had accroached the power in China, and it successfully repelled Hsieh-li’s attack. However, the Tang dynasty had become very powerful under emperor T’ai-tsung’s rule. After his successful attack, Hsieh-li was forced to bow to the Chinese for good. The China of the Tang dynasty achieved its province of the “four garrisons” in the southern region of the western Gök-Turk empire. This region, subdued by the Tang, was ultimately designated the “western territory”. The area would belong to Tibetan realms several times during the 7th and 8th centuries. After the decline of the Gök-Turk empire (742/5 AD) various Turkic-derived successor states were founded in this area. Where the eastern khanate used to be (in Eastern Turkestan and the actual Mongolia, the Uighur empire emerged, which existed until 840 AD. It was ultimately subdued by the Kyrgyz. In the former western khanate, the empires of the Kipchaks and the Seljuks were founded, whose sphere of influence would finally extend to Europe and the Middle East. The Khazars and the Oghuz also have part of their roots in Turkestan.

- map sketch:

  • The Kitan were an ethnic group from what is today Manchuria. They existed as early as the 6th century AD. They had various fights with the Gök-Turks and Tang China (560 696/7, 733/5 AD). The Kitan Leader Yelü Abaoji pushed towards the west in 924 AD, whereby he defeated the Kyrgyz in Mogolia, then he made a turn towards Kansu to subdue the Uighurs, the Tanguts and the Tuyuhun. Abaoji’s son Yelü Deguang attacked the Liang dynasty in northern China. Under Liang and subsequent Jin rule cities were founded up until the River Amur. Farming, horse breeding, iron foundry and weaving took place. The Kitan used two scripts ( Khitan script) that were influenced by the Chinese script (around 920 AD): the large script that consists mainly of logograms (i.e. one sign represents one word), and a small script that developed at a later point in time that has phonograms as well (which means that one sign signifies one phoneme) and is thus of particular interest for linguists being the earliest known version of the Mongolian languages. Both scripts would later influence the development of the scripts of the Tungusic Jurkhs, who were predecessors of the Manchus and the Xibe, who were under Mongolian influence during the Qing dynasty and later got assimilated by the Han.
    In the period from about 1116 AD (conquest of Liaoyang) until 1125 AD (capture of the emperor) the Liang empire was taken over by its former vassals, the Jurkhs (late Jin dynasty), who also came in from Manchuria. Some of the Kitan fled west (partly via Siberia) and founded a new empire with the name of Kara Kitai under their prince Yelü Dashi, and they massively contributed to this empire’s fate between 1128 and 1218 AD. This empire stood its ground by a victory over the sultan of the Seljuks, Sandjar, at the Katwan steppe near Samarkand in 1141 AD. The empire lasted unter the Mongolian invasion of 1217/8 AD. In China, direct successors of the Kitan are the Mongolian-speaking Daur*.

    Daur – Dahur: During the time of the Qing Dynasty, they moved and wandered a lot; originally, they had lived in Transbaikalia at the upper course of the Amur and in Central Mongolia. The hierarchy of the Daur people was clearly structured. Following the wedding ceremony, the groom moved to the bride's family – without any legal claim. Each family had its own shaman. The Mongolian speaking Daur are also direct descendants of the Khitan in China in the region Xingjiang and in Pakistan.

    map sketch:

  • Jin Dynasty (1115-1234)
  • Liao-Dynasty
  • Liao Dynasty - Western Xia
  • Liao Dynasty - Uyghurs & Karluks
  • 3rd Ming and Manchu-Quing Empire (1760)
  • Great Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)

    more information: please see: Uighur and Tanguts

  • The Turkic group of the Kipchaks (also known as Kumans) initially came from the River Irtych as a branch of the Kimak family. When they were forced to move west by the Turkut in the course of the 7th century AD, they migrated to the land at the Volga and into the steppe areas of Ukraine under Bolus Khan, where they in turn ousted the Pechenegs, who had settled there, to beyond the River Danube, followed by their first invasion of Hungary in 1071 AD. They conducted many wars against the Kievan Rus’, and they lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle, operating smaller trading towns. The Kipchaks used to have multiple princes. After defeats at the River Don in 1111 and 1116 they had to seek refuge among the Georgians, where they started a Kipchak-Georgian alliance by means of a marriage. When the Kievan grand prince Vladimir Monomakh died in 1125 AD, they returned. In 1154 AD their rule began anew, with the city that is today known as Kharkiv developing into a center of power.
    Around 1223 AD the Mongolians expanded into the southern Russian steppes, accompanied by the Turkotatars, their confederates, who had defeated a newly established Russian-Kipchakian alliance at River Kalka. Soon after, the Mongolians defeated the Kuman Khan Kuthan (Kötöny, Kutyan) once again. In 1123, a delegation of Kuman Muslims had requested help from the Caliph of Baghdad unsuccessfully. The Kipchak’s ultimate decline came with Batu Khan’s campaign from 1236 to 1239 AD. Part of the people, led by Kuthan Khan, fled from the Mongolians to Hungary. Their area of settlement was the northern part of the territory between the rivers Danube and Tisza, including the areas bordering Körös and Maros. Rivalries with the long-established Hungarian and German nobilities intensified. The Kumans moved to Dobruja (Transdanubia – northeastern tip of the Balkan peninsula), where the Bulgarian czar offered them settling areas. In the 15th century, Kumans reappeared as the guard of Hungarian king Sigismund.
    Part of their people remained in the east and participated in the founding of the Khwarezmian Empire. The
    Khwarezm Shahs were a muslim dynasty of Mamluk origin in Khwarezmia, Transoxiana, in today’s Pakistan and Persia (1077 through 1231 AD).

    map sketch:

  • Khwarezmian Empire
  • Khwarezmian and Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)
  • Karluk Empire - Samanid Emirate
  • Varagians – Kiev' Rus

Gök-Turks – the Western Empire

The first Yabghu (prince) of the Western Empire was Is'tämi, who ruled from 552 to 575 AD. Approximately ten years after he took office, there was a war with the Hephthalites (White Huns), which was followed by an alliance between the Sassanid Persia and the West Turks. As a result of this alliance the Hephthalites were attacked and defeated from various sides. Afterwards they fled from the original area (Badakhshan in Northeastern Afghanistan used to be their center), and their territory was divided between the Turks and the Sassanids. The Sassanids received Bactria, but it was taken away from them by the Turks. For the Turks, acquiring the Hephthalite areas meant gaining an extremely important economic factor: control over part of the Silk Route.

more information: please see: Sassanids

  • The Silk Route led from Kansu about 7000 km to the Black Sea. South of the Gobi it ran 2000 km to Kumul, where the road split. One of the routes led west to the Tarim Basin and the old city states, while the other led northwest (north of Tianshan), then southwest to Samarkand, Bukhara and Merv. From Samarkand there were routes to Bactria and India, into the realms of the Parthians and Sassanids, to Anatolia, Syria and Chwarezm, east of the Caspian Sea, north of the Black Sea, i.e. a route leading to Byzantium. The Silk Road was used to transport silk, cotton, spices and drugs.

    - map sketch: Silk Road - topographical map – Silk Road - travel routes

The transport of raw silk from China and textiles manufactured from silk were an important factor in the trade between Sassanids and Byzantines. Persia and Byzantium had been enemies since 517 AD and waged war several times. The Turkish Empire played an important strategic and economic role. In 568 AD a Turkish-Byzantine alliance against Sassanid Persia was agreed on in Is'tämi’s summer residence. Khan Tardu was disgruntled by an alliance of the Byzantines and the Avars. Fights with Byzantium led by Tardu soon developed into wars, while the Turks continued to live out their hostilities against the Sassanids. Tardu advanced to Herat in 588/89 AD, and while being unable to conquer it, at least the north of today’s Afghanistan including the important cities of Kunduz and Balkh fell under Turkish rule. Tardu was known as a statesman without any diplomatic skill. His eagerness for expanding his sphere of control led to other fights with Byzantium, the Sassanids and even the East Turkish khan. In 584 AD he said goodbye to the Eastern Turkic Empire and allied with the Sui dynasty against the Eastern Turks. Tardu was killed during a riot by the Tölis tribes, and his empire became subject to rivalries within the dynasty. Tardu’s grandson Shih-kuei received the west of the Western Turkic Empire, while Ch’u-lo was given the east. As Ch’u-lo displayed similar desires for power as Tardu, the Chinese denied him further support, allowing Shih-kuei to emerge victorious. Shih-kueis successor T’ung shih-hu (628 to 630 AD) managed to extend the Turkish zone of power beyond the Amu River. At that time, the western part extended from the Altai across the Hindu Kush to the Caspian Sea. T’ung shih-hu died in 630 AD during a Karluk riot. The ten Western Turkic tribes began to fight over power, which allowed the Chinese to split this area among two Chinese protectorates in 657 AD. In 659, the Western Turkic Empire was ultimately incorporated by China. In the course of the dissociation of the Western Turkic Empire various tribes migrated west, the most relevant including the Khazars.

  • Khwarezm: a landscape extending from the Caspian Sea in the northeast to central Afghanistan as we know it today in the east. From the 6th century AD the region under Cyrus the Great was part of the Achaemenid Persian empire, subdivided into Satrapia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Khwarezm and Parthia. Kwarezm used to be a center of the Zoroastrian religion. In 329/328 BC the Kwarezmian king Farazman showed up and offered Alexander the Great an alliance. Around the Nativity coinage set in that was strongly influenced by inscriptions in Khwarezmian, the captions of which reveal the names of some of the rulers. In the 2nd century AD, the empire was probably conquered by the Kushans. In the mid-3rd century AD, individual coinage set in (silver and copper coins). It is assumed that King Vazamar released the empire from the Kushan rule. In the 4th and 5th centuries AD the empire probably had to fight invading nomads, and it was temporarily part of the Sassanid empire and did not recover before the 6th century AD.
    - Archeological excavations have proven that a highly developed culture existed here. Beginning in the 2nd century AD the Khwarezmian language (a Central Iranian language) was written in the indigenous script that was related to Aramaic. The arts in particular (monumental structures, painting) display craftsmanship and originality, and they are influenced by the Parthian and the Bactrian arts. The wealth of the Khwarezmian Empire was based on its highly developed irrigation cultivation. Not only cotton and rice, fruits and wine but also crops were cultivated. In 712 AD Khwarezmia was defeated by the Arabs, who then introduced Islam. Later it belonged to the dominion of the Samanids and the Ghaznavids. In 1043 AD the land was conquered by the Seljuks but gained independence soon after. From the 11th to the 13th centuries AD, Khwarezm was the center of the empire of the Khwarezmian Shahs. Under Ala ad-Din Mohammed (1200 to 1220 AD) it reached its highest blossom and extended from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf. At the same time, Persian culture reached a new apex, although short-lived, as in 1220 AD the Mongolians under Genghis Khan ravaged the country and incorporated it into the Empire of the Golden Horde. By the end of the 14th century AD, Timur Lenk set out to conquer, in the course of which the country’s capital, Konye-Urgench (Köneürgenç) was destroyed, but later it was reerrected. In 1511 AD the Khanate of Khiva emerged, the successor state to Khwarezm. Its center was also called Khiva, a city that had existed since the 6th century AD. In the early 17th century AD it would become the country’s capital, when the former capital had to be abandoned after the Amu Darya had changed its course. The population was composed of of Uzbeks, Turkmen, Karakalpaks and other peoples, and it made its living on animal husbandry, farming and industry. In the late 16th century AD the former tribal gentry that owned large properties, developed into big seigneurs.
  • The Karakalpaks are a Turkic-speaking people southeast of Lake Aral, closely related to the Kazakhs. They emerged from the Southern Kazakhs, and they traditionally pursued farming and fishing. A majority of the Karakalpaks are members of Sunni Islam.
  • The Pechenegs were one of the old Turkic peoples. They originated in Western Siberia, and although their origin is propably Oghuz (sometimes they are referred to as Oghuz Pechenegs), they had belonged to the Gök-Turks since 552 AD. After the Gök-Turk’s decline they migrated further west. In 889 AD the Oghuz drove them across the Volga. In 896 AD they allied with the Bulgarian czar Simeon I to crush the Magyars (Hungarians) in the area north of the Black Sea. The Magyars moved west after their defeat, where they settled in the upper Tisza area (today’s Hungary). The Pechenegs had lengthy fights against the Kievan Rus’ princes and the Khazars living at the Volga. In 968 AD they laid siege on Kiev and murdered the Kievan Great Prince Sviatoslav when he returned from an extensive and unsuccessful campaign against Byzantium. In 1036 AD they suffered a heavy defeat by Sviatoslav’s grandson Yaroslav and fled across the Danube, where they continued to threaten Byzantium several times. At the climax of their power (11th century AD), the Pechenegs ruled over the area between Talas and Danube. King Stephen I (Hungary) defeated them in 1003 and 1021 AD, but after 106 AD they settled in Wallachia, and in 1067/68 AD they invaded Hungary. According to Arabian reports the Pechenegs converted to Islam starting in 1009 AD. In 1068 AD a civil war broke out between the Muslim minority led by the Pechenegs and the still heathan majority. After numerous casualties the Muslims won, after which they attacked Constantinople together with the Seljuks. Following a bloody defeat in 1091 AD at the Levunion Mountains, the Pechenegs retreated to beyond the Danube (Wallachia) and began to slowly dissociate.

Second Gök-Turk Empire

Turkic sovereignty was regained after 682 AD despite various obstacles. Chinese sources report several riots of Turkic tribes, involving robberies and pillaging, each of which were successfully struck down. A Turkic tribal leader named Kutluk established himself as someone who could assert himself within his confederation. The Tang (successors of the Sui dynasty) were weakened; the Tibetans had gained the Tarim Basin in 670 AD, heavily damaging the Chinese and initiating dyastic strifes. Kutluk Ilteris, once a mercenary soldier on China’s payroll now founded the second Gök-Turk empire, which is referred to as “Karluk rule” and became known in the western chronicles as the “Empire of the Ilig Khans”. After numerous military expeditions, this new Turkic empire comtrolled the steppes from the Great Wall to the outer borders of the Arabs, who had started to expand into Transoxiana (between the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya) from 705 AD. Their center was the territory of the Khangai Mountains. Although Ilteris suffered a heavy defeat against the Chinese in 681 AD, this did not derogate his own personal success. From 682 AD he began to unite the Gök-Turks together with 16 allied tribes. One of his allies was Tonyukuk, leader of the related “Bilge Clan”, whom he declared the commander in chief of his troops. Between 683 and 687 AD Ilteris subdued most of the tribes from the Eastern empire, only Tolu ruler Hushile Khagan managed to flee to China with some other members of his tribe.

When Ilteris died in 691 AD, his brother Bökö (who ruled from 692 to 716 AD) was declared the chief of the empire on a kuriltai of tribes and designated “Kapagan Khan”. Kapagan had received Chinese education and was therefore known as “Mokh’o” in China. During his rule, the renewed Gök-Turk empire thrived once again. He headed the empire only as the guardian of his nephew Kül-Tegin, who was six years old at the time. This is the only explanation for Kapagan not assuming the titel of khagan. Tribes such as the Karluks and the Oghuz put themselves under his control deliberately, and in 699 AD the Western empire was reunited with the Eastern empire. Non-Turkic peoples like the Kitan were subdued as well. Although Kapagan ruled very rigidly over the peoples of his own empire, which enticed new riots among the tribes of the Basmyl and the On-Ok in 711/12 AD, the Gök-Turk empire thrived in wealth. His fight against the Muslim Arabs, who were overrunning Central Asia after 705 AD, was less successful. Kül-Tegin suffered a bloody defeat near Bukhara. Around 715 AD, the two Turkic empires finally went separate ways politically. Led by the “Karakhans”, the western part dismissed the eastern part once again, going its own political ways. The west’s first chief was Sulu Khan (ruler from 717 until 734 AD), who fought against the Arabs again. Also the Oghuz began to slowly migrate west and to settle in the area of Turkestan, which had originally been Iranian-speaking and belonged to the zone of power of the On-Ok. At a punitive expedition against those tribes that had been instigated against him by the Tang Chinese, Kapagan lost his life. In 716 AD he was murdered by members of the Bayirqu tribe in today’s Mongolia, north of the River Tula. Kapagan’s sudden death brought about new confusions. Ilteris’ son Kül-Tegin excelled especially. Fugiuy-bogiu Kuchuk Khan declared himself ruler of the Gök-Turks in 716 AD. However, at the peace kuriltai neither he nor Kutluq Bilge-Kül (another one of Ilteris’s sons) was declared khagan. He appointed Tonyukuk and Kül-Tegin as consultants, which formally restored the peace in the empire (it was also under this ruler that the real political rise of the later Uighurs began). Kutluq Bilde-Kül successfully changed the way wars were waged: The most successful troops were the mounted bowmen. The best shots were allowed to wear white falcon feathers on their helmets. Determined and highly disciplined, they attacked their opponents in an arrow formation, wearing armors made of rigid leather or metal. In addition, Kutluq Bilge-Kül wooed the mercenaries of other peoples, so that he gathered both Turks and non-Turks such as Mongolians, Tanguts and numerous Chinese in his ranks. Kutluq Bilge-Kül continued to extend the Gök-Turk sphere of control. He subdued all areas up to the Syr Darya river in the west and down to the Chinese province of Shandong in the East. In the south his area ended in Tibet. He also managed to finally subdue the tribes of the Tula region, a feat his predecessors Idat and Kapagan did not achieve.

Kutluq Bilge-Kül’s empire comprised the areas from the Black Sea to China and from Altai to Hindu Kush. It was not only steppe but also desert. The order of khagan had changed from being a subordinate chief’s title (far below the old title of “Shanyu” or “Tanhu”), it was now a half-god for the late Gök-Turks. His tent, the yurt, was made of abundantly stitched red silk. During the summers, the ruler Kutluq Bilge-Kül and his court used to move to the abundant pasture lands of the north and back south in autumn. In 731 AD, Kül-Tegin died, and Tonyukuk emerged as the only advisor to Kutluq Bilge-Kül. This fact is documented in Tonyukuk’s inscriptions. However, Kutluq Bilge-Kül was not to rule for long, as he was poisoned no later than 734 AD. On his deathbed at least he was able to view the execution of his murderers and their instigators. They were members of the Basmyl tribe, who fell out of favor because of their deed. At the kuriltai in 734 AD, Bilge-Küls supporters enforced the choice of his son Yiran, but Yiran died the same year, making his own under-age son Bilge Kutluq-Tengri the new ruler. Two of his uncles were appointed his guradians, it was they who had the real power in their hands. The “left shad”, Il-Itmysh Bilge Khan, ruled over the west, while the “right shad” named Ozmysh Khan ruled over the areas in the east. The Gök-Turk empire was about to fall apart again into two independent empires.

When in 740 AD Tang China had recognized Tengri’s rule over the Eastern Turks, his mother Pofu invited Il-Itmysh Bilge, the West Turkic “left shad” to a kuraltai. At his arrival, he was grabbed by the mothers’ lifeguards and instantly beheaded. As a consequence, the West Turks put themselves unter Tengri’s control, who now adopted the name “Oghuz Khan”. The mother’s treason however brought about a terrible consequence: The other uncle, Ozmysh Khan, the “right shad” of the Eastern territories, felt threatened by Tengri’s self-naming, so he attacked and killed him in 741 AD.
It was Ozmysh Khan’s intention to succeed Tengri. He took up the name “Vuzumishi” and the title of khagan, but he became an unpopular ruler. Especially the western tribes despised him, and the Basmyl turned out to be his worst enemies. In 744 AD, the Karluks united the tribes of the Basmyl, and the Oghuz attacked Ozmysh. Ozmysh was killed in the fights, and his death marks the end of the Second Gök-Turk Empire.

While Bomei-Tegin Khan, brother of Ozmysh Khan, who was killed in 744 AD, did make attempts to acquire the power in the eastern empire with the name of “Bomei Khagan”, he was murdered by Uighurs in the following year. The Karluks, the Oghuz and the Basmyl now founded the Uighur Empire on the soil of the former eastern empire. This empire was to exist from 745 until 840 AD. The first ruler who came from the Uighur dynasty was the Chinese soldier Gulipeiluo. Gulipeiluo assumed the title Qutlugh Bilge Köl and chose the town Kara Balgasun at the upper Orkhon, which had previously been Ordu Balyk and would later become Karakorum, as the center of his empire. The Karluks would have their capital in Kuz Ordu, which is Balgasun today.

Karluks were the first Turkic people in history to create their own uniform offical language, which would expand to the Persian Khwarezm Empire and be called Karluk Khwarezmian or Karluk Uighurian.

- more information: please see: Oghuz

Arab Invasion

Between the years of 661 and 750 AD, large parts of what would later be Turkestan were converted to Islam by the Arabs. At the time there were very strong Christian and Buddhist communities in the region as well. Starting in the 8th century AD, the Great Persian Empire and China had an open fight over the area of what would later be called Turkestan. Finally, the Turkestan territory was split up between the two competitors. China’s sphere of influence now extended over the region from the Tarim Basin over Lake Balkash to the eastern bank of Lake Syr Darya. The territories west of Syr Darya up to the Mangyshlak Peninsula belonged to the sphere of influence of the Persian Empire.

Mongolian Period

From the 11th until the 13th century AD, large parts of the Turkestan region were under the Iranian rule of the Khwarezm shah. From 1220 AD, the areas within Turkestan were part of the Great Mongolian Empire of Genghis Khan. It was in this area that the Mongolian partial khanate of Chagatai was founded, the eastern half of which existed formally as Moghulistan until 1510 AD.

In the 15th century, Turkestan was divided into two halves at the border between Altai Tien Shan and Pamir. The western part of Turkestan was dominated by the Iranized Mongols Timur-Lenk, while the Eastern part remained under the control and governance of the local successors of Genghis Khan. The western part of Turkestan remained under Persian influence until the Russian conquest. After the era of the Timurids, the entire Turkestan territory once again came under Mongol governance, with the Oirats founding their rather short-lived realm.

Chinese and Russian Ruler

After 1500 AD, on the soil of Turkestan the khanate of Khiva, Bukhara and the Kyrgyz khanate of Koksand emerged. In the eastern half the khanates of Kashgar, Tufan and Khotan were founded. In 1759 AD, the Chinese Empire conquered these territories and expanded its sphere of control onto Lake Balkash. Officially China referred to these areas as “returned old territory”, or briefly “Sinkiang” (Xinjiang), “new land”. On November 11th, 1844, Eastern Turkestan was subsumed with the adjacent Dzungaria as the new province of Xinjiang, which was put under Chinese civil administration.
The rest of the territory which was not under Persian or Chinese influence was united in three tribal confederations (so-called “hordes”) and one Kazakh khanate and the Bökei horde by Kazakh nomads in the 18th century AD. Starting in the mid-19th century AD, the Russian Czardom began to expand onto the Central Asian steppes, and the Kazakh nomads deliberately put themselves under Russian rule. Bloody wars at the border between Russia and China forced them to retreat to approximately their current size. Only today’s Mongolia, Tuva and Manchuria remained with China as its provinces. However, these areas were under strong Russian influence, and parts of them were considered Russian protectorates.

The Turkic peoples living under Chinese rule saw themselves as a suppressed ethnic group “under foreign rule”. They started numerous riots against the Chinese command, supported mainly by Kazakh from the Russian part of the region. A few influential dervish orders played important parts in these riots. In the years of 1917 to 1920 the northern steppe area of western Turkestan was ruled by one Alash Orda. When the dispossessions of Kazakh animal nomads that were demanded by the Sovyets were about to be executed, a large part of the Kazakhs fled to China (the province of Sinkiang) and Mongolia (Tannu-Urianchai) with their herds.

- map sketch: after 1900 AD

  • Turkestan is an arid mountain region in Central Asia. It extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Gobi Desert in the east. The first larger cultures in this area were developed by Iranian peoples who settled in the east and began to build numerous towns and cities. In the 7th and 8th centuries many of the Turkestan areas were dominated by early Turkic peoples. Today, many different ethnicities are found in the area of Turkestan, the majority of which now speaks Turkic languages. Today, Turkestan is inhabited by Turkmen, Uighurs, Uzbeks, Karakalpaks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz people, Tatars, Azerbaijani people, Karäim, Krim Turks, Meskhet Turks and Turks. Apart from the long-established Iranian peoples of the Tajiks, the Persians and the Afghans, Chinese and Russian people live there as well. Some of these peoples in certain regions can still be described as the indigenous population. The large Turkic peoples of the region have their own Turkic states on the territory of Turkestan by now.
February - July 2009 – Albi - translated by Hermelinde Steiner - February 2012