Oghuz Turks

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For all Turkic groupings and Turkic history, see Turkic peoples.

The Oghuz Turks (variously: Oguz, Okuz, Oufoi, Guozz and Ghuzz) are regarded as one of the major branches of the Turks in history.

The Oghuz Turks are the ancestors of today's western Turks whose numbers are more than 100 million and inhabit areas in western Asia and eastern Europe: Azerbaijanis of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azarbaijan, Turks of Turkey and Cyprus, Turkmens of Turkmenistan and northeastern Iran, Qashqai and Khorasani Turks of Iran, Balkan Turks of Greece, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia as well as Gauguz (Gokoguz) Turks of Moldova.

During Turkic mass-migrations in the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th centuries, the Oghuz were among the indigenous Turks of Central Asia who migrated towards western Asia and eastern Europe via Transoxiana. From the 5th century onwards, the Oghuz were the founders and rulers of several important Turkic kingdoms and empires, the most notable of them being the Gokturks, Seljuks, Safavids and the Ottomans.

Although also settled and urbanized, the nomadic way of life bred in them a combative spirit, sense in leadership, the habit of mobility, elegant equestrian skill, and an unusual dexterity as archers on horseback. Since early times in their history, they were noted for such moral virtues as endurance, loyalty, self-discipline and foresight.

In the later centuries, they adapted and implied their own Turkic traditions and institutions to the ends of the Islamic world and emerged as empire-builders with a constructive sense of statecraft, making a positive contribution to history as the vast regions in which they ruled evolved into new phases of social, economic, religious and intellectual advancement.

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Name

The name Oghuz (also pronounced Okuz) is derived from "arrow" and "tribes." The depiction of an archer shooting an arrow was the flag of the Seljuk empire, which was founded by the Oghuz Turks in the 10th century.

The designation of "Oghuz" was given to a series of Turkic tribes in Central Asia who had united into a new confederation. This socio-political union led to the emergence of a new larger Turkic tribe and community, known as the Oghuz. The Oghuz community gradually grew larger as various other Turkic tribes united during the Gokturk empire (6th, 7th century.)

Oghuz is not an ethnic name, and it can be simply translated into "Turkic tribes". The "Oghuz Turk branch" or "western Turk branch" is one of the traditional six branches of the modern Turkic peoples. The "Oghuz branch" is a geographical and historical designation, not a separate ethnic term since the Turkic peoples of the world share the same ethnic roots.

They are referred to as "western Turks" because they moved west from other Turkic peoples after the Gokturk empire collapsed, and because the majority of the areas in which they inhabit today (except Turkmenistan and the Turkmen Sahra) are west of the Caspian Sea, while those referred to as "eastern Turks" live east of the Caspian Sea.

Origins

The Oghuz Turks have perhaps been the most famous, important, dominating, fruitful and successful branch of Turkic peoples and families.

Their history as kings, statesmen, warriors, as well as an enormous tribal union and large communal branch begins in the pre-Islamic period, yet their achievements and progression in the centuries after the arrival of Islam have left their mark on history and civilization.

The original homeland of the Oghuz, like other Turks, was the Ural-Altay region of Central Asia known as Turkistan or Turan, which has been the domain of Turkic peoples since antiquity. Although their mass-migrations from Central Asia occurred from the 9th century onwards, they were present in areas west of the Caspian Sea centuries prior, although smaller in numbers and perhaps living with other Turks. For example, the Book of Dede Korkut which is the historic epic of the Oghuz Turks was written in Azerbaijan in the 6th and 7th century.

According to many historians, the usage of the word "Oghuz" is dated back to the advent of the Huns (220 BC). The title of "Oghuz" (Oguz Khan) was given to Mete, the founder of the Hun empire, which is often considered the first Turkic political entity in Central Asia.

Also in the 2nd century BC, a Turkic tribe called "O-kut" who were described as Huns (referred to as Xiongnu or "colored-eyed people" in Chinese sources) were mentioned in the area of Tarbogatain, in present-day southern Kazakstan. It must be noted that the Greek sources used the name Oufi (or Ouvvi) to describe the Oghuz Turks, a name they had also used to describe the Huns centuries earlier.

A number of tribal groupings bearing the name Oghuz, often with a numeral representing the number of united tribes in the union are noted.

The mention of the "six Oghuz tribal union" in the Turkic Orhun inscriptions (6th century) pertains to the unification of the six Turkic tribes which became known as the Oghuz. This was the first written reference to Oghuz, and was dated to the period of the Gokturk empire. The Oghuz community gradually grew larger, uniting more Turkic tribes prior and during the Gokturk establishment.

Prior to the Gokturk state, there are references to the "Sekiz-Oghuz" ("eight-Oghuz") and the "Dokuz-Oghuz" ("nine-Oghuz") union. The Oghuz Turks under Sekiz-Oghuz and the Dokuz-Oghuz state formations ruled different areas in the vicinity of the Altay mountains. During the establishment of the Gokturk state, Oghuz tribes inhabited the Altay mountain region and also lived in northeastern areas of the Altay mountains along the Tula River. They were also present as a community near the Barlik river in present-day northern Mongolia.

Their main homeland and domain in the ensuing centuries was the area of Transoxiana, in western Turkistan.

This land became known as the "Oghuz steppe" which is an area between the Caspian and Aral Seas. Ibnul Asir, an Arab historian, declared that the Oghuz Turks had come to Transoxiana in the period of the caliph Al-Mahdi in the years between 775 and 785. In the period of the Abbasid caliph Al-Ma'mun (813833), the name Oghuz starts to appear in the works of Islamic writers. By 780, the eastern parts of the Syr Darya were ruled by the Karluk Turks and the western region (Oghuz steppe) was ruled by the Oghuz Turks.


Anthropology

The Oghuz Turks are labeled by some historians as "the purest of Turks" in terms of race, language and culture. According to Lev Gumilev in his accredited work entitled 1,000 Years Around the Caspian, the Oghuz in the anthropological (racial) category were Caucasoid (Europoid).

The majority of today's Oghuz Turks have light to dark skin tones and dark hair and eye colors, while lighter Europoid features including very light skin tones, blondish/brownish/reddish hair colors and light eye colors are evident in Azerbaijanis from the Republic of Azerbaijan and the northwestern region of Iran known as Iranian Azarbaijan as well as the Turks of Turkey, Turkmens and other Oguz Turks. Elements of both Caucasoid and Mongoloid strains are evident in some.

Like most of the other Turkic peoples, the Oghuz have a round skull formation, high cheek bones and straight hair.

Social Unit

The militarism that their empires were very well known for was rooted in their centuries-long nomadic lifestyle. In general they were a herding society which posessed certain military advantages that other societies did not have, particularly mobility. Alliances by marriage and kinship, and systems of "social distance" based on family relationships were the connective tissues of their society.

In Oghuz traditions, society was simply the result of the growth of individual families. But such a society also grew by alliances and the expansion of different groups normally through marriages. The shelter of the Oghuz tribes was a tent-like dwelling, erected on wooden poles and covered with skin, felt, or hand-woven textiles, which is called a yurt.

Their cuisine included yahni (stew), kebabs, togya corbasi (a soup made from wheat flour and yogurt), kimis (traditional drink of the Turks), pekmez (a syrup made of boiled of grape juice and helva made with cornflour), tutmac (noodle soup), yufka (flattened bread), katmer (layered pastry), chorek (ring-shaped bun), bread, clotted cream, cheese, milk and ayran, as well as wine.

Social order was maintained by emphasizing correctness in conduct as well as ritual and ceremony. Ceremonies brought together the scattered members of the society to celebrate birth, puberty, marriage, and death. Such ceremonies had the effect of minimizing social dangers and also of adjusting persons to each other under controlled emotional conditions.

Patrilineally related men and their families were regarded as a group with rights over a particular territory and were distinguished from neighbors on a territorial basis. Marriages were often arranged among territorial groups so that neighboring groups could become related, but this was the only organizing principle that extended territorial unity. Each community of the Oghuz Turks was thought of as part of a larger society composed of distant as well as close relatives. This signified tribal allegiance. Wealth and materialistic objects were not commonly emphasized in Oghuz society and most remained herders, and when settled they would be active in agriculture.

Status within the family was based on age, gender, relationships by blood, or marriageability. Males as well as females were active in society, yet men were the backbones of leadership and organization. According to the Book of Dede Korkut which demonstrates the culture of the Oghuz Turks, women were expert horse riders, archers, and athletes. The elders were respected as repositories of both secular and spiritual wisdom.

Homeland in Transoxiana

In the 8th century, the Oghuz Turks made a new home and domain for themselves in the area between the Caspian and Aral seas, a region that is often referred to as Transoxiana, the western portion of Turkistan. They had moved westward from the Altay mountains through the Siberian steppes and settled in this region, and also penetrated into southern Russia and the Volga.

In his accredited work titled Divani Lugati’t-Turk, Mahmud of Kashgar, a Turkic scholar of the 11. century, described the Karachuk Mountains which are located just east of the Aral Sea as the original homeland of the Oghuz Turks. The Karachuk mountains are now known as the Tian Shan Mountains, and they are adjacent to Syr Darya.

The extension from the Karacuk Mountains towards the Caspian Sea (Transoxiana) was called the "Oghuz Steppe Lands" from where the Oghuz Turks established trading, religious and cultural contacts with the Abbasid Arab caliphate who ruled to the south. This is around the same time that they first converted to Islam and renounced their Shamanist belief system. The Arab historians mentioned that the Oghuz Turks in their domain in Transoxiana were ruled by a number of kings and chieftains.

It was in this area that they later founded the Seljuk empire, and it was from this area that they spread west into western Asia and eastern Europe during Turkic migrations from the 9th until the 12th century.

Dynasties

Oghuz Turk dynasties include: Seljuks, Atabeks, Akkoyunlu, Karakoyunlu, Safavis, Afshars and Qajars (Gajars) and in Anatolia (Turkey) the Oghuz Turks founded the Ottoman empire.


Turcoman & Turkmen

The terms "Turkmen" and "Turcoman" were often used as a designation for the Muslim-Oghhuz Turks (Azerbaijanis, Turks of Turkey, central Asian Turks) in periods of history, and the ethnic name that the modern Turkmens of central Asia use to designate their nationality was formed later.

Although a term most commonly used for the Oghuz of central Asia, the name "Turkmen" or "Turcoman" once applied to Azerbaijanis and the Turks of Turkey as well, distinguishing between other Turks and non-Muslim Turks. Some western books which were written prior to the modern age use the terms "Turcoman" for the descendants of the Oghuz Turks who were not from the Turkmen nationality of central Asia, which is one of the branches of the Oghuz.

For example, it is written in many sources prior to the modern age that the largest component of the population of Azerbaijan is composed of "Turcoman tribes." The "Turkmen" reference in history books which is often used for Azerbaijanis and Turks of Turkey simply means "Muslim Turk" or "Muslim western Turk" which means Oghuz Turk.

In Turkey the word Turkmen refers to nomadic Turkish tribes (all muslims) some of whom still continue this lifestyle.

According to the Encyclopędia Britannica the name Turkmen is a synonym of Oghuz which includes all the Turkish (Turkic) population who live to the southwest of Central Asia:

  • Turkey
  • Azerbaijan Republic
  • Iran
  • Turkmenistan
  • in other countries:

The Turkish historian Y. Oztuna presents almost the same definition to the name Turkmen. He labels the Turkmen Oghuz or western Turkish populations as:

  • Ottomans
  • Azerbaijan
  • Turkmen (Turkmenistan)

Literature

Oghuz Turkish literature includes the famous Book of Dede Korkut which was UNESCO's 2000 literacy work of the year, as well as the Oguznama and "Koroglu" epics which are part of the literacy history of Azerbaijanis, Turks of Turkey and Turkmens. The modern and classical literature of Azerbaijan, Turkey and central Asia are also considered the Oghuz literature, since it has been produced by their descendants.

The Book of Dede Korkut is an invaluable collection of epics and stories, bearing witness to the language, the way of life, religions, traditions and social norms of the Oghuz Turks in Azerbaijan, Turkey and central Asia.


See also

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