An Ancient History of the Turkic People and the Great
A Handbook for Schoolchildren and Their Parents
This book is about the Turkic people,
from its rise in the Altai Mountains and its spillover to the rest of the Eurasian
continent. The touching narrative and thrilling legends relate about little-known facts of
world history and the life as it really was for the ancient Turkis, their contribution to
human civilization, their victories and setbacks. Nothing like this book has ever been
published anywhere around the world.
© Murad Adji, 2002
© St. George International Charity Foundation (Jargan), 2002
Who Makes a Nation?
The Way We Speak
Peering Through the Ages
An Ivory Tower Discovery
A Story Told by the Rocks
A First Wave Rolls from the Altai
First Light on the Ancient Altai
The Spruce Festival
Ancient Altai Artists
A Miraculous Discovery Made by Chance
How Mysterious the Scythians Really Were
A Gift from Tengri
The God of Heaven
The Turkis in India
The Turkis in Iran
The Illustrious Khan Erke
Bound for the Steppe
The Great Migration of the Peoples
The Turkis and Christianity
The Cross on Europe's Temples
The Turkis and the Byzantine Empire
Emperor Constantine the Perfidious
The Battle for the Don
The Turkis in Europe
Europe Arose in the Altai
Attila, the Turkic Ruler
The Turkis as Priscus of Byzantium Saw Them
Battling with Europe's United Army
The New Desht-i-Kipchak
The Steppe is our Homeland…
… and the Altai is our cradle
Many people, in fact billions of them around the Earth, speak
Turkic languages today, and have done so since the beginnings of history, from snow-swept
Yakutia in Northeast Asia to temperate Central Europe, from chilly Siberia to torrid
India, and even in a good many villages in Africa.
The Turkic world is vast and diverse. Turks are its largest tribe. They
are the title nation of Turkey, a big country in West Asia and a long-familiar name for
the rest of the world for its distinct identity, ancient customs and traditions, and high
and unique culture, a subject of a myriad of books and features.
At the other end of the Turkic world, the Tofalars, numbering only a
few hundred, are not someone you can tell much about. It's a sure bet they are hardly
known to anyone beyond their dense Siberian forests and the couple of villages they call
home town. But then, the Tofalars, perhaps, still speak the original, ancient Turkic
tongue after many centuries of only occasional contacts with outside cultures that could
distill their speech with borrowings.
The Turkic world is great indeed, and thoroughly enigmatic, too. It is
like a cut diamond, its every facet a nation - Azerbaijanis, Altaians, Balkarians,
Bashkirs, Gagauzes, Kazakhs, Karaims, Karachais, Kyrgyz, Crimean Tatars, Kumyks, Volga
Tatars, Tuvans, Turkmen, Uighurs, Uzbeks, Khakass, Chuvash, Shorians, Yakut - too many
names to reel off in the same breath.
Dozens of peoples live in the Turkic world - all alike and different at
the same time. You can always tell where they belong, from the special sounds and
undertones of their speech. Which means a word that is one thing in one place may be a
completely different thing in another. This diversity of meaning makes the Turkic
languages fathomless, on top of their simplicity and ancient heritage.
They were not always that different, though. There was a time, too long
ago, when all members of the Turkic race spoke one tongue that everyone understood in
every corner of the Turkic world. Around two thousand years ago, they started for various
reasons to move away from one another, geographically and linguistically, from their next
of kin and their common tongue, developing their endemic dialects that were a closed book
to outsiders. For a while, they were keenly aware of their common ancestry and remembered
their shared language that they could still speak at bazaars and fairs drawing merchants
from far away.
Their common primeval language provided a framework for belles-lettres.
Poets and story-tellers honed every word of their writings, so they could then caress the
ear of the Turkic world at large. Besides, the common language was spoken by government
officials mustering the troops or collecting taxes from their subjects. Large empires,
from end to end, spoke and wrote Turkic.
Is it only the language that makes one Turkic nation different from
another? Is it the linguistic diversity that gives brilliance to the diamond we call the
Everything is much more complex than it looks on the surface at times.
Can you image, some communities on Earth are ignorant of their Turkic
origins and will never believe you if you tell them who they are…. They were conquered,
at one time or another, and forbidden, on pain of death, to speak their native tongue.
They just forgot it clean, out of fear of reprisal. And with it their forefathers and all
that had come before…. They were now people without memory or knowledge of their real
This is the kind of thing that happened to people on our planet,
Of course, these people have visages that look exactly like the faces
of their ancestors (what the genes would then be good for?). Take the Austrians or
Bavarians, Bulgarians or Bosnians, Magyars or Lithuanians, Poles or Saxons, Serbs or
Ukrainians, Czechs or Croats, Burgundians or Catalans…. Nearly all of them blue-eyed and
fair-haired (exact replicas of the ancient Turkic men and women), and all blissfully
oblivious of their common roots. Doesn't that strike you?
Many unsuspicious Americans, Britons, Armenians, Georgians, Spaniards,
and Italians have Turkic blood flowing in their veins. And especially Iranians, Russians
and French. They, too, wear the unspoiled faces of their ancient Turkic forerunners, and
they, too, are dead sure they are anything but….
A sad enough story. It has been made that way, though - sad, or more
accurately, broken before it could be written to the end.
The Cossacks are what you can label an exception: a nation - yes and
no, a tribe - depends on the way you look at it. If you will understand it, of course.
Their true story lurks somewhere behind a veil of cock-and-bull stories. What we have
then, in the end, is that the Cossacks have contrived somehow to get lost on the
crossroads of Time - they style themselves Slavs, and still remember much of their native
Turkic tongue. Indeed, Turkic is palavered informally in some Cossack villages. True, they
call it, with tongue in cheek, their kitchen-speak, not native language.
I have pondered for many long years why the Turkic world is so little
known to so many people on Earth. Was it by fluke or design? You will hardly find another
language with as many nuances and dialects as the Turkic - really, people of common blood,
common ancestors, common history speaking different languages and thinking differently of
themselves. Why, indeed?
I have stumbled on the answer in history, lost in the mist of times,
and I am going to tell it in this book, "The Kipchaks: An Ancient History of the
Turkic People." It will only be an initiation, to be followed up by two more books -
"The Oguz: A Medieval History of the Turkic People" and "A New History of
the Turkic People."
Who Makes a Nation?
Our planet is peopled by many different communities each calling
itself a nation. How many are they really? No one knows for certain. Some sources put them
at four thousand, and others cite twice this figure. It is difficult, if not impossible,
to count them all. The reason is actually that we lack criteria for what is a nation. What
and who is it, indeed? Here viewpoints diverge widely.
People all look alike, until you stop to think more intently. Actually,
they differ in many respects. Even in the way they look to the eye. African countries have
predominantly black populations. China is populated by the so-called yellow-skinned race.
And Europe is home to the white race.
All of them - blacks, whites and yellow-skinned - share a single
They are different within as well as without - in disposition,
behavioural patterns, world views and social habits. In short, all people are very similar
in some ways and completely different in others.
Frequently enough, the term "nation" is used to refer to the
inhabitants of a country. For example, Azerbajanis live in Azerbaijan, or Georgians in
Georgia, the Caucasus.
Does this mean that the number of nations is equal to that of
Yes and no. A nation suggests people who speak the same language at
home or on the street, who love the same songs, dances and festivals, wear similar
clothing and eat identical food. They embrace a common religion and take pride in a common
history. What is more important, though, is that they share an attachment to their
homeland. This is a criterion a person or a nation measures up to. Each of us has a
homeland, one and only.
A major city like Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, is also home town for
people who do not speak Azerbaijani or call it their mother tongue, or profess Islam. Are
they - Russians, Jews or Georgians living in Azerbaijan - Azerbaijanis? They certainly
A nation is more than the people living in a country. People may live
in the same city or even in the same house, but follow different customs and life-styles.
Are customs or traditions, then, a force that builds up nations?
Again, the answer is yes and no. A nation is not a group of people
living in the same place. An accidental group, no matter how large, cannot be regarded as
a nation, unless it has a common history and common ancestors.
A nation arises in a very long and arduous process spanning many
centuries. It is a historical development driven by countless factors, many of them
appearing completely out of place. Like a growing fruit, a nation needs a certain time to
mature by its own rules no one has succeeded in formulating in black and white.
At the dawn of human history, people learned to watch and size up one
another. Gradually, they accumulated a store of knowledge about the life-styles and
cultures of other peoples, their relationships among themselves and with others. In our
days, that store of knowledge has developed into a science called ethnography (ethnos is
Greek for a tribe or people), a science that analyses and compares human cultures.
Ethnography did not come to be by accident. People had taken note, a
very long time ago, that quarrels and fighting inside a country or between neighbouring
countries are sparked off by differences. More often than not, differences arise because
one community knows little or nothing about its neighbours' customs and life-styles. All
people are hurt deeply by anyone offending their traditions. It would be foolish to expect
them to behave differently.
Ethnography is an important science precisely because it helps maintain
the peace on our planet. Knowing your neighbour can keep you out of the trouble's way. A
word or a simple gesture is at times enough for your neighbour to smile back and hold out
his hand to shake yours.
When you smile at another person and wish him well on a holiday, or any
day, you both will live with a light heart. Really, ethnography is a science helping to
look for ways to live in peace with yourself and with people around you.
It won't harm a Georgian to say Salam aleikum to an Azerbaijani, or
humiliate an Azerbaijani to utter Gamarjoba in greeting a Georgian. Both will be equally
pleased and forget any grievances they may have against one another.
The Way We Speak
Whichever way you look at it, the language they speak tells two nations apart, in the
first place. Speech and writing are central to human existence. People hear what you say,
if your words convey what you mean.
Every nation has its own language, and every one of its members speaks
it and thinks in it the way an outsider never will. This is a point noted by ethnographers
as well. A legend that has come down to us from a time when there was no science to give
ready answers tells us how people came to speak different tongues.
Long, long ago, the legend says, all people spoke one language, so they
could understand one another without going to the trouble of learning foreign words. All
but a tiny few were, however, drowned in the Flood that happened one day. To escape death
next time, the survivors started to build a tower in the city of Babel, as high as the
sky, so they could wait out another Flood. The gods were enraged and destroyed the tower,
and to prevent people from conspiring to build another tower, they scattered the mortals
around the earth, giving them different tongues. Since that time of confusion of the
tongues, each tribe could only understand its own language, and so, goes the legend, all
the different nations came into being.
A legend is an invention, of course, but it provided an explanation of
why all tribes were different and why they did not understand one another. And they made
do with this explanation for a long time.
If we follow the legend, one tribe found itself in mountains overgrown
with coniferous forests, in a place where glistening streams emptied into bottomless
crystal-clear lakes and where the sky was as high as high can be and clear as the clear
itself. That place was the Altai, in the language they now spoke. The most beautiful place
on earth, and the dearest of all.
What is really "Altai"? Some translate it as Golden
Mountains. This is not exactly so. The ancient Turkis read a different meaning into the
word. It was the Ancestral Land or Heavenly Kingdom even. Pick whichever you want, that
was the name they had for their, and our, homeland.
And then, Turkic was the language spoken here from time immemorial. The
Chinese were probably the first strangers who heard it being spoken.
At least, the Chinese put down in writing the word tiurk as tuchueh,
which translated as "sturdy" or "strong" in their language. They could
not be more right about their northern neighbours, the Altaians, who always struck
foreigners with their exotic appearance - fair-haired and blue-eyed, very strong and
Tele was another name Chinese wise men had for the Altaians. In fact,
for only those of them who were very much like the Chinese themselves in appearance -
black-haired and brown-eyed.
These differences between the Turkis, noted at the beginning of
recorded history, have survived to this day. The word Turki has been around from about
that time as well. The Chinese heard it from the Turkis themselves, but misspelled it to
make it pronounceable in Chinese, a common practice for people speaking one language and
borrowing a word from another language so it could be fit for their tongues.
Clever they were, those fabled gods - they even made sounds sound
differently in different languages.
Peering Through the Ages
Chinese chronicles are certainly a priceless source for ethnographers. They are not to be
taken fully on faith, however.
Chronicles, like people, even the most well-intentioned of them, are
prone to exaggerate. An altogether honest person may at times exaggerate things
monstrously not because of ill will, but through ignorance of details. Particularly, if he
relies on hearsay or rumour.
Rumour was what the ancient Chinese chroniclers drew on. As for exact
facts, they knew very little, if not at all, about the Turkis. And they put fable to the
parchment. They had their reasons for blowing things up immensely - the Turkis had
attacked and conquered Chinese lands.
The huge Chinese army, the pride of the Yin and Chou dynasties, was
defeated by a Turkic army. China had no choice but submit and pay tribute to the
conquerors. This is a probable explanation for the liberal use of tiurk -
"strong" or "very strong," or else "invincible", completely
extraneous for China's northern neighbour. That was perhaps the Chinese way of accounting
for the defeat.
Many ancient chronicles contain curious facts about events, people or
origins of new place names. These are, of course, interesting facts by themselves.
Ethnographers, however, rely on different techniques to obtain the information they need.
Take, for example, Chinese reports of the Turkis' distinct appearance.
How can these reports be verified? They say that fair-haired and blue-eyed people, tuchueh
or ding ling in Chinese, lived in the ancient Altai. People of these outward
characteristics were unknown to live in China at that time. One chronicler went, for lack
of imagination or better examples, as far as comparing the Turkis to monkeys (the
blue-eyed species living in southern China). We do not take them to task for this - they
had not seen people with such faces before, and so they focussed, of all things, on the
outward appearance of the Turkis whenever they set out to write about the strangers.
Chinese chroniclers had different words for tele, the other part of the
Turkic people who lived in the eastern Altai. They paid no attention to tele looks because
those people were little different from the Chinese.
Two faces of a single people? Believe me, this does happen, sometimes.
Contemporary scientists have corroborated the Chinese chroniclers'
astute observations. One of them is Mikhail Gerasimov. The celebrated
anthropologist-turned-sculptor learned to reconstruct the faces and bodies of
long-deceased people from their remaining skulls and bones. He was unrivalled in treating
the smallest details of heads and faces.
This is another branch of the science called anthropology. It is a
powerful tool in skilled hands, indeed.
Sculptures fashioned by Mikhail Gerasimov, who ultimately became a
member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, have an astounding precision. His best
portraits of ancients include the Russian czar, Ivan the Terrible, Russian Admiral Ushakov
and the great Turkic astronomer, Ulugh Begh.
Gerasimov made some of his famous sculptures from skulls found in
mounds, in which ancient Turkis buried their royals. He reconstructed Turkic faces, so now
we know how our ancestors looked. And as we look at those faces we wonder again and again
- that handsome man, I saw him in the corner store last week. Thank God, little has
changed over the millennia. True enough, something has changed, and even very much so at
times, in those Turkic faces. But more about that later.
My objective, though, is first establishing how and when the Turkis
turned up in the Altai.
An Ivory Tower Discovery
No matter how beautiful, the Tower of Babel legend little suited the scientists, who
wanted exact facts, which legends conspicuously lacked, imprecise and foggy as they are.
To get these facts, the ethnographers turned to archaeologists.
Archaeology is a science that studies ancient cultures through remains
to find out where and how people lived thousands of years ago. Archaeologists are
rummaging through ruined ancient cities, burials, and deserted caves, peering into the
faded outlines of ancient rock drawings, and sifting dust and sand for pottery shards in
an attempt to reconstruct a picture of the time long past.
The Ancient Altai has drawn archaeologists' attention for almost three
centuries, after remains of ancient cultures - enormous burial mounds, tombstones, ruins
of palaces, and fragments of sculptures in styles without parallel anywhere in the world -
were discovered here accidentally on deserted land plots in the 18th century.
Scientists who came here to investigate were in for another big
surprise - some of the local rocks showed impressive drawings and mysterious characters
drawn or carved by ancient artists. All of them as good as new and still waiting to be
researched in depth.
Who were the people that left these priceless cultural treasures? Who
lived on these desolated lands? No answer could be given to these and many other questions
for much of the intervening centuries. The Altai remained an enigmatic Treasure Island in
the centre of Asia, cloaked in a fog of mystery.
Generations of European scientists have tried unsuccessfully for over a hundred years to
unravel what they thought an unassailable puzzle of the Altai. The brightest minds in
archaeology had no inkling of where to look for an answer. Finally, they gave up trying,
deciding by consensus that the "dead" lettering belonged to a long-extinct race
and was unreadable.
The cloud of mystery continued to hang over the Ancient Altai. Its
inhabitants' traces were, it seemed, on the surface, and multiplied as studies went on,
but their profusion did not add clarity to the challenge. The invisible race kept its
secrets locked up.
Professor Vilhelm Thomsen of Denmark was the first scholar to succeed
in deciphering the baffling lines of rock lettering. He was no archaeologist, but he was
an accomplished linguist.
Linguistics is generally concerned with the world's languages, dead and
living alike. It has made a weighty contribution to our knowledge about ancient Turkis.
But it has not said its last word yet. This science offers enormous prospects and its
greatest discoveries are yet to be made.
Professor Thomsen succeeded where archeologists had failed. He achieved
his success routinely in the quiet setting of his workroom without ever going to the
He announced his discovery in Denmark on December 15, 1893. It was as
unexpected as it was astounding. On that day, Professor Thomsen presented his report to
the Royal Danish Scientific Society, revealing the principal secret of the Ancient Altai,
its "dead" race, to the world. The Danish professor deciphered the mysterious
rock inscriptions of the Altai's ancient inhabitants - and found them to be plain Turkic.
Everything seemed to be in place now - the Ancient Altai was the
Turkis' homeland and cradle of the Turkic people, as we know them today.
No one found courage or evidence to contest Professor Thomsen's
findings. So convincing and uncontestable they were. Nor did anyone hasten to side with
him. A curious situation emerged: the report unveiled a scientific discovery that was not,
in formal terms at any rate.
Chinese manuscripts found decades afterward also spoke about the Turkis
who lived in the Ancient Altai. The veil of secrecy appeared to be lifted in the 19th
century already. But that was actually not the case. Scientists suddenly found their
efforts being frustrated by politics and powerful people who wanted the truth to be
A Story Told by the Rocks
Do politicians need so much to have history told the way they want? Really, they have
their own, twisted view of history. They loathe the truth. They only want to see politics
everywhere, in their own light at that. They appeared to miss the inscriptions
immaculately interpreted by Professor Thomsen.
They certainly had their own reasons to act the way they did.
Politicians had doubts, waiting for fresh findings to come. And right they were. Unless we
know exactly when and how the Turkis first settled in the Altai, we cannot claim to know
anything much about the history of the Turkic people.
Archaeologists continued excavations until they went back in history to
a time when no nations, even the Turkis, existed and there was no one to write on the
rocks for the simple reason that humans living in the Altai in those distant ages could
not speak articulate words, so they made themselves understood by gestures and a few
discordant sounds. That was the age of brute primitive tribes that lived everywhere around
Judging by archaeological artifacts, primitive tribes first came to the
Altai about two hundred thousand years ago. They came from the region known today as
Indochina, southeast of the Altai, where the oldest human settlements in Asia, around a
million years old, have been unearthed.
There is evidence of tracks left by primitive people leading from Indochina to the rest of
Asia, to America and Europe. It was a kind of the Promised Land, a sort of breeding ground
for the bulk of humanity, in particular, all Mongoloids and Europoids.
Why did the ancients take to the Altai Mountains? Any answer would only be a guess. Their
scenic beauty? Hardly ever. More probably, the mountains gave them safety and enough food
Indeed, people living in that distant past did not fare much better
than animals they hunted or were preyed on. They lacked weapons to defend themselves
against predators or tools to make their life easier. For security reasons they lived high
in the mountains or deep in dense forests where they had a higher chance to survive and
hide from danger, their deftness and senses being their only expedients.
Two hundred thousand years is quite a long time by human standards.
Enough for traces of the first humans who settled in the Altai to be lost. And yet, we
know relatively much about them, thanks to the archaeologists' persistence and luck. We
know, for example, what they looked like, what they did to scrape a living from their
harsh surroundings, where they lived, which game they hunted and what clothing they wore.
We owe this knowledge largely to the efforts of Alexei Okladnikov, an
archaeologist of great talent and vigour. He appeared to see through the thick rock mass,
He was propelled to fame by accident. Walking slowly one day along the
footpath on the Ulalinka River bank in the public park in Gorno-Altaisk, the area's
central city, the unconventional scientist, as he was already known at the time, was deep
in thought, when high eye caught sight of a weird pebble among the myriad of others strewn
over the place. Stopping to pick it up, Okladnikov made a stupendous discovery, one that
made him a celebrity known to millions of people on Earth. Could not be simpler.
The pebble was actually a primitive man's tool that set him apart from
Thousands had walked the riverside footpath every day before him, but
Lady Luck smiled on him alone. Or was it something else? Okladnikov was a born
archaeologist and knew much about the science that was his calling. Picking up that stone
tool was more than a stroke of luck. Rather, it was that proverbial Newtonian apple.
The pebble in his hand…. He knew that neither the water stream nor
winter frosts could give it its shape. This could only be done by human hand. Really,
archaeologists are a strange breed. You have to see them relishing possession of a simple
chunk of rock. Enthusing in the knowledge that the hand of another human being touched it
many thousand years ago and feeling the warmth of that unknown hand.
The Ulalinka immediately shot into prominence - a swarm of
archaeologists descended on its banks to dig it up. And who else could lead them but
A brass band struck up at nightfall every day, as it had for years
already, and young people flocked in to have a dance, and older citizens, with nothing
else to do at home, came to breathe in fresh air. And each time they were amazed at
archaeologists digging up a cave or some other thing at that late hour. The cave, they
were to learn much later, was the oldest primitive site in the Altai. After it had been
dug out and cleaned up, it was named Ulalinskaya, after the nearby stream.
More primitive living sites followed shortly. They yielded stone axes,
knives, arrowheads and spearheads crudely fashioned by primitive craftsmen. As years went
by, knowledge about the history and cultures of the Ancient Altai built up.
Some of the artifacts were totally unique, raising the brows of
archaeology gurus. All about them was new and different from anything found at primitive
sites elsewhere. To give an example, their stone knives and daggers were razor-sharp, in
condition to give an overworked digger a perfect shave.
A stone sharper than a razor, can this ever be? Yes, it can. Nowhere
else but in the Altai. The fact is that primitive people living in the Ancient Altai could
make their knives as sharp as a razor or even sharper. Scientists overwhelmed with doubt
argued long and heatedly over this possibility. A modern man put in a mountain setting
would never accomplish the feat - he needs strong tools and high-precision machines.
How could the Altaic primitive man succeed where moderns fail? As
simple as he was himself. To get to the truth, however, archaeologists sought counsel from
physicists. Together, they put on numberless experiments. And, finally, they hit on the
The Altaic craftsman, they were stunned to learn, did not chip off a
stone with another stone, as was the general practice in that primitive world. Instead, he
treated a stone with fire and water. His tools were, therefore, without match around the
True enough, you cannot expose every stone to alternating fire and
water treatment. The only stone that fits this purpose is nephrite, a rare and very strong
greenish mineral with black streaks. Nephrite is relatively common in the Altai, and the
primitive caveman lost no time putting it to good use.
This discovery showed that mountains were more than a convenient place
to live in for the Altai's ancient inhabitants. They were a hoard of useful minerals. On
this evidence we may assume that the Altaic tribes were the earliest geologists on the
planet. They were keen enough to look for rocks they could use to make their stone tools
Really, geology started on its course in those distant mountain ranges.
A First Wave Rolls from the Altai
People lived in the Altai's caves for thousands upon long thousands of years, very little,
if at all, changing in their way of life - game hunting and fishing continued to provide
For all the slow pace of prehistoric life, archaeologists sense from
the artifacts they find a faster throbbing of life.
Change was presaged by metal artifacts (bronze, which is an alloy of
copper and tin, was the first metal to benefit the primitive man). They saw in the Bronze
Age in the Altai, succeeding to the Stone Age.
Again, thousands of years were to pass before people realised the
advantages metal had over stone. Stone arrowheads and spearheads continued to be used next
to bronze ones for quite a long time. The coming of metal signalled momentous changes in
the life of the Altaic tribes. To begin with, a bronze ax was greatly superior to a stone
one in felling trees.
With logs available in quantity now, man broke out of his primitive
environment. His existence no longer depended on the whims of the weather. He came out of
the cave into broad daylight. Now, he could choose where to live. He could build his own
This was really a great watershed, without exaggeration. People could
now build warm dwellings from logs. Decades, if not centuries, crawled by before this
became a reality, and when it did finally it was a long stride forward. In the beginning,
the huts were actually smoke huts.
It was not yet a house, as we understand it, nor was it a cave any
more, nor a tree branch shelter. It had no windows or doors, or wooden floor. Just walls
and a sloping roof. An earth parapet was piled up around the hut, or otherwise the hut was
half-buried in the ground. It was an octahedron in plan. The hut was accessed through an
entrance, or manhole, on its eastern side (a device that developed into a Turkic tradition
for ages to come). Animal hides were hanged up in the doorway for protection against cold
and winds, and the floor was covered with dry grass or straw matting. A hearth was made in
the centre of the hut, and a hole was left in the roof above it to vent smoke from the
interior. Smoke huts were warm inside even in severe Altai winters.
Dwellings of the new type were built wherever their owners' preferences
lay, usually in a terrain that gave them some sort of advantage. This is where the
difference between cave and smoke hut was - you cannot move your cave to a new location,
the way you can manhandle the logs. Man severed the umbilical cord that kept him tethered
Coming down from rocky slopes, people gradually built up valleys with
their log cabins, clustered into villages. Usually, they settled in places convenient to
live and teeming with game.
Nowhere else around the Earth did people build their dwellings from
logs. At that time log cabins were, without a doubt, the invention of Altaic tribes. A
remarkable invention that brought primitive people into the wide-open world.
At about that time, some of the native Altaic tribes migrated
northwestward to the Ural Mountains. We are not absolutely sure that those were Turkic
tribes. In actual fact, the Turkic people was not yet in existence five thousand years
ago, when Altaic villages cropped up far from their homeland. It was not the time yet.
Altaic tribes only used a few dozen words that must have sounded like
the chirping of a bird - simple and easy. It could hardly be called speech. Uncoordinated
sounds reinforced with gestures, or even a few articulated words do not make human speech.
They were only the beginnings of conversational language. More centuries were to elapse
before they could rightly be called language and people could converse.
Altaic tribes migrating to the Urals transplanted their know-how to the
new environment - they built smoke huts exactly as their forefathers did back in the
They sited their new villages and camps in forests and on riverbanks.
Their traces are found now and again in our age. They look amazingly almost like accurate
replicas of Altaic settlements. Even their utensils and tools, and much more else, were no
different from what they were down in the Altai.
Cities, if you could call them that, have been found deserted in the
Urals. We may safely assume that their prototypes existed in the Altai as well. Indeed, we
know of some ancient Altaic cities. But, I regret to say, they have not been explored or
researched. Little comfort from that.
But exist they did.
Arkaim is the best-studied ancient city in the Urals. By all
appearances, it was built five thousand years ago, and its inhabitants smelted bronze from
copper and tin they mined nearby. A smelting furnace used to stand in nearly every yard.
Fire burned in it day and night. The craftsmen took some of their handiworks as far as the
Then, who lived in Arkaim? Who built it, in the first place? After so
much debating, the opponents have very little to show for it. My impression is that the
city's residents had Altaic roots.
Migrants from the Altai settled in compact communities or colonies in
the Urals. Shortly, some of them moved on to the west where the climate was milder and
nature more bountiful. Each colony or tribal community (not yet a state, but with
rudiments of a nation state or princedom) roamed far and near in search of the land where
they could settle and lead a sedentary life for centuries to come.
Altaic tribes followed beast trails, untrodden roads, across
uninhabited territories of Northern Europe. And as they moved on and away, the itinerant
tribes lost touch with their common base and severed their ties with one another. Again,
separation and alienation took centuries to have its full effect.
After centuries of wanderings, people built up conversational skills
and changed their life-styles. Instead of simple verbal communication accentuated by
gestures and mimic, speech was growing more complex, as different tribes developed new
sounds and concocted new words to define new notions, unknown to other tribes.
Was it surprising then that people who used to speak a common, if
simple, language were eventually estranged from one another (a Tower of Babel in fact,
rather than in fable?).
Scattered by contingency and wanderlust across much of Northern Europe,
the next of kin of yesteryear now lived in isolation from the rest of the race, in small
communities where everyone was someone's near or not so near relation. Nearby tribes (to
be more exact, alliances of tribes) ended up coalesced into peoples speaking different
tongues with common Altaic roots.
Today, these are the Udmurts, Mari, Mordvins, Komi, Finns, Vepsi,
Karelians, and Rus. Each has gone through a centuries-long process of language evolution
and custom-building, and every one of them has its own traditions, festivals and
life-styles that make up a national culture.
Nation-building is an unpredictable process that takes many long
centuries. Don't expect every tribe to develop into a full-blown nation, though.
First Light on the Ancient Altai
My guess is that the Ural settlers who had not broken their links with the Altai and gone
on an occasional visit to their ancient motherland were called a generic name, the Turkis,
as also were the Altaic tribes. It is only a guess, without claims to the truth.
As Arkaim, Sintasht, and several other Uralian cities rose to
prominence, the Altai stepped back into the shadows and humbly waited for its hour of
glory to strike.
Meanwhile the Altaic tribes were busy discovering the surrounding world
and developing new lands. Completely unaware, they were preparing for events that were
brewing in the beneficial conditions of local nature.
The pioneers were climbing unassailable cliffs and chopping their way
through impassable thickets. They crossed turbulent rivers in search of grazing lands for
their cattle. Their road to glory was long and tortuous. The pristine Altai nature was
giving in reluctantly.
They had a special word, taiga, for impregnable mountain slopes
overgrown with forests.
Taiga is today a household word on all continents and with every
nation. Few people know, however, where it originated. At most they suspect it comes from
Altaic people made good travellers. They could take accurate bearings
on the Sun and read the stars for directions. They related their routes to rivers and
learned much about them - where the rivers sprang and flowed to, and how they behaved in
different seasons. In fact, rivers were their only highways, so people started giving
names to them. Thence comes geography.
Most certainly, rivers had no names to tell one from another in ancient
times. They all were katuns, which translates "river". That one and only river
that flowed past one's cave or village. Primitive people knew nothing about other rivers
or even an inkling there could be any more.
After all other rivers had been given names, the Altai's major river,
the Katun today, had the privilege of retaining its original name (katun, the river).
Another river descending from the white-topped peaks was named the Biya. It is still shown
under this ancient name on all geographic maps of the world. The Biya and the Katun roar
down the mountain valleys to join in a wide and mighty river, the Ob, which flows as far
as the Arctic Ocean, thousands of kilometres to the north.
A reminder, all these river names are of Turkic origin.
Biya translates as "lord" and Katun as "lady" from
Turkic, while Ob is Turkic for "grandma". The names of mountains, rivers and
lakes can tell much about the native population - its history and name-giving habits.
Going to the roots of a name is as difficult a task as making a discovery in any other
science, and the effort deservedly merits a science status - toponymy. Good-faith
toponymists are very few and far between, for their science places stringent demands on
people wishing to qualify - they have to be profoundly knowledgeable in history,
geography, linguistics and ethnography. In short, everything there is to know.
Eduard Murzaev was a true luminary in toponymy. His book, "Turkic
Place Names", which penetrates into many secrets of the Altai and Europe, is an
eye-opener. After you read it, you will see the geographic map in a different light.
Take the Yenisei, one of the world's biggest rivers and a household
name in Russia. Here, toponymy gives a deep insight into the harmony of sounds making up
A very old Altaic village used to stand in the upper reaches of the
river. According to an ancient legend, it is the birthplace of the Turkic nation. When
Turkis first came here, they called the river Anasu, Mother River.
The river, or more exactly water in general, had a special place in the
life of ancient Turkis. It began with the birth of a child who was, immediately after it
came into this world, dipped for a moment in the river's icy water, summer or winter. If
it survived the chilly bath, it was expected to live healthy and strong, and if not, few
pitied the loss. That baptism made the nation sturdy and hardy.
Remember tiurk in Chinese meaning strong? Indeed, quite simply.
Moderns no long read much sense into the name of the world's deepest
and cleanest lake, the Baikal, or the lofty Bai-Kol, the Sacred Lake, in Turkic. Dowsing
himself with a bucketful of bracing lake water was a matter of pride for a man.
Another great river, springing east of Lake Baikal ridges, carries a
different name and its true story is lost in history. The river that is the Lena today
used to be Ilin, or East River, for the Turkis.
It was the easternmost stream of the Ancient Altai. Several Altaic
tribes, or uluses, migrated to its riverside areas at a hard time back home. Turkic has
been spoken here from an age lost in human memory. Indeed, the vast expanse known as Sakha
(Yakutia) is a veritable preserve of the ancient Turkic world - it has been spared
political catastrophes and cataclysms, which it mostly owes to its immense remoteness from
Actually, the Ancient Altai began with Bai-Kol and Sakha (Yakutia),
stretching far to the west, into the boundless Eurasian steppe. It was a vast country, a
cradle and home of the Turkic people.
Toponymy is surprisingly akin to a precise science. Not only in the
case of Turkic names. Chinese, Arabian, Persian and Greek names are, by and large, easy to
identify as well. The explanation is simple enough - they reflect national traditions and
have always been forcefully to the point.
Name-giving, we learn, is a ritual reverently followed by each nation
or tribe. The Turkis, for example, were fond of giving names to mountains, but avoided
saying them aloud - doing this was a bad omen. The rule was: call that hill whatever you
like, but keep it to yourself, and never tell it to me, for I don't want to be visited by
misfortune. As a result, a mountain could have two or more names without ever knowing it.
People seemed to have their good reasons to nurture this tradition.
If we go by the legend, evil spirits lived in the mountains, which they
considered their own. They could make a flock suddenly incapacitated with a disease,
poison grazing grounds or dry up wells. Sacrifices were offered to those mountain masters
and false names were thought up for the mountains, to be purposely shouted about.
True, the say-aloud names were, by and large, jumbled and vague, so the
evil spirits could be misled and get lost, trying to figure out what was actually what.
To give an example, Abai-Koby, which is widely known in the Altai,
translates as "Elder Brother's Ravine". Actually, however, this is Bear Gully,
the bear being the patron of the place.
Or the tongue-twisting name of a mountain - Kyzyy-Kyshtu-Ozok-Bazhy.
Today nobody knows where it comes from or what on earth it could actually mean. Locals say
it in one breath, though. It translates variously to something like "Winter hut at
the mouth in a gorge head." What could that mean, if at all? Anyway, no evil spirit
has ever ventured there for lack of the exact address perhaps.
The ancient Turkis singled out some mountaintops for obos, or
sanctuaries, so they could come here with sacrifices to propitiate their gods or atone
their sins. Little wonder, obo is part of some mountain names in the Ancient Altai, like
Obo-Ozy or Obo-Tu. A sinner - many of them would come here from far afield - was to haul
up to the very top a boulder as big as his sin was. The sinner was free, however, to pick
one he thought was the right measure of his sin. The obos were actually built from those
The ancient Turkis deified the mountains, and atonement was sought
there. Exactly why? Folk tradition had it that the souls of long-gone ancestors whiffed in
here to sit in judgement on a sinner's fate. They shunned all mountains, though, but the
How then could a mountain be sacred? On what merits? There's no one
around to tell the answers. This is a Turkic mystery yet to be cracked. Don't the old folk
know anything about it, and yet keep mum?
The Uch-Sumer, the Three-Topped Mount, has always capped the sacred
mountain list. It sits in the Centre of the World (Meru in Turkic). Everything began here
and will end here, too. It was the holy of holies of the Ancient Altai, so people spoke in
low whisper in its holy presence. No game was hunted nearby either. Not even a grass blade
picked. Anything you did but pray was sin.
More sacred summits would come in succession - the Borus, Khan Tengri
and Kailasa. They, too, had long been held sacred by the Turkis. People would come here in
their thousands to celebrate festive events. The sanctuaries are still there - remembered
by all, but visited by the most devout few.
Rivers and mountains were not alone in sharing the ancient Turkis'
reverence among themselves. They all were challenged to a place in people's hearts by the
Spruce. The Spruce Festival was celebrated once every year, an occasion impatiently
awaited by small children and adults alike. This tradition lives on today.
The Spruce Festival
The Altai is unrivalled for its spruces - tall and slender. The spruce was revered as a
sacred tree by the ancient Turkis. It was welcome in every home, and festivals were held
in its honour between three and four thousand years back, when people everywhere
worshipped no one but pagan gods.
Originally, the festival was dedicated to Yer-su, who lived in the
centre of the Earth, in a place where deities and spirits took time out for a breather.
Next to Yer-su in order of seniority was Ulghen, an old man with a
bushy grizzled beard. He appeared to mortals in no other garb but a rich red caftan. In
fact, Ulghen was the king of the holy spirits. He presided over their gatherings, sitting
on a gold throne in a gold underground palace with a gold gate. The Sun and Moon, too, did
The Spruce Festival arrived at the height of winter, at what is now
December 25, when Day wins over Night and when the Sun lingers for a little while longer
underground. Humans prayed to Ulghen, extolling him for the Sun being returned to them
safe and shining as ever. For their prayer to be heard where it was addressed, they
brought the Spruce, Ulghen's pet tree, into their homes and decorated it with ribbons, and
even put gifts next to it for good measure.
Merrymaking went on all night - what else would you expect when Night
is reeling in defeat, licking its wounds, and Day comes out a proud winner. All night they
danced and chanted Korachun, Korachun. Indeed, this is the name of the festival -
Let-It-Go in old Turkic.
Let Night go and Day stay on and grow longer.
Roundelays, or Inderbais in Turkic, with revellers forming a circle
around the spruce, went on into the early hours next day. Curiously, they identified the
circle with the Sun. That was their way of hoaxing the luminary back into this world. And
then they religiously believed that once they made your fondest wish that night it would
certainly be fulfilled, sometime.
Really, Ulghen seemed never to let people down, not a single time -
morning come, Night always started slowly backing down, giving the Sun more time to stay
in the sky with each passing day.
The spruce was Ulghen's Tree that linked the daylight world of mortals
with the underground world of deities and spirits. Like a sharp-pointed arrowhead, it
showed Ulghen the way to the surface and up, or ol, which is "road" or
"way" in Turkic.
The word is one of the countless Turkic borrowings in the Russian
language (where it became yel).
Many centuries later, the tree continues to be feted. For some it is
Christmas Tree, others celebrate it on New Year Eve. Ulghen, though, has changed its name
to Santa Claus, or Father Frost, or whatever. Name-swapping regardless, he still wears
that old garb and is the centre of year-end merrymaking, as ever.
Round dances are still done around the tree. Few dancers ever give
thought to such details as the caftan, fur-trimmed hat, colour belt or felt high boots -
the way the ancient Turkis used to dress up their deity, for they knew of no other
clothing but the one they wore themselves. If you have doubts, ask the archaeologists, who
have these facts on record.
Tradition has it that Ulghen could change to a different person, Erlik.
Not unlikely, for Erlik was his own brother. It is difficult to establish the truth now,
after so much water under the bridge. Is it so important now who was who and how then?
Something is more important than that. For the ancient Turkis, Ulghen
and Erlik embodied the good and the ugly, light and darkness. We witness this duality on
December 25, when the evilest of people can play good and generous. Why not Erlik, then,
the symbol of evil as he was. On that December day, he brought gifts to people in his
backpack. No one was more overjoyed than children, who scampered looking for him. To coax
him they sang and pleaded with him to give them happiness and well-being.
Ancient Altai Artists
The ancient Turkis had a very keen eye for the world they lived in. They were little
afraid of Nature or the elements and boldly faced up to it, trying to understand what
comes from where and why. Gradually they acquired a peculiar world outlook and a sizeable
store of knowledge about the world. We call it now the unique Turkic culture, like no
other existing at the time. Regret as we do, we know very little about it, and rare is a
scientist who has thoroughly studied it.
Why are we so cock-sure about that? Of course, from the paintings and
drawings, thousands of which have been found by archaeologists on rock faces. Untouched by
anyone since they were first made in olden times, they amaze the viewer because, in the
first place, they are scenes from everyday life, as it was lived then.
You must certainly have an inner sense to grasp their message, for
every scratch or figure carries a meaning difficult to comprehend for modern humans. A
ram, for example, stood for riches and prosperity. A lion carried power and a tortoise
eternity and calm, a horse boded war, a mouse promised good harvest, and a dragon
represented the Sun, welfare and happiness.
A simple image could have a wealth of meaning and provoke a wave of
sentiments and thoughts. The drawing captured the life people led, the things they talked
about, the forces they feared and worshipped. It was as unpretentious and simple as the
people it was intended for.
This is precisely why we treasure rock art, which along with language
made a nation out of a random and disorderly community.
Turkic art originated between three and four thousand years ago. An
artist picked subjects for his drawings as life unfolded them before him. Scenes drawn
from life are especially precious to scientists - you only have to peer into the drawings
to see the rocks come to life to tell the history as it was being made.
It appears that artists had a special preference for yellow or
brownish-coloured rocks. No one has come up with a plausible explanation, so we have to
accept the facts as they are. Scientists find the drawings in groups all across an
enormous cliff face. There must be some sense in this, who knows. The mystery is firmly
locked up in the past.
No pigments or even charcoal were used by an ancient artist. His brush
was a sharp chisel that he used to cut dots, one next to another, so they are formed up
into a line. More lines defined outlines of an object the artist wanted to tell the world
Archaeologists were immensely surprised to see animal figures in rock
drawings forming groups of five or ten. Doesn't this remind you of your hand or both, with
their five or ten fingers? The artist was certainly aware of what he was doing - no matter
how simple their math was, ancient Turkis knew how to count their sheep and horses.
And yet, they had trouble measuring time at first. Eventually, the
ancient Altai populations could boast a calendar based on an animal cycle twelve years
long. An old legend tells us how it came about.
A local khan asked people around him to tell him about a war that had
been fought in the area long before. No one could tell him when that was - the tribes had
no measure for time or how a year could be divided into smaller time periods. The khan, a
clever man he was, ordered his tribesmen to corral whatever animals were around and to
drive them into the river so they could swim across, for a purpose unknown but to himself.
This was promptly done, and no more than twelve animals managed to get to the other bank.
A good idea, the khan thought, to give each year the name of one of these lucky animals -
the Cow, the Hare, the Snow Leopard, and so on. Taking guidance from this number, the khan
decreed the year to be divided into twelve months and twelve major constellations in the
night sky to be given names.
Legend apart, the twelve-year calendar was prompted to some ancient
gurus by the motion phases of the Sun and Moon. It had, we now know from scientists for
sure, nothing to do with the khan or his zoo, but was actually based on precise
mathematical and astronomic calculations.
Don't we owe the twelve-month year to the Altaians? Or twice
twelve-hour halves to make the 24 hours we normally call day - one for the day and one for
the night so they could square?
Very likely. How else would you explain ancient Turkic dating such as
this one: "… in the hour of the Horse on the Cow's day of the fifth month of the
year of the Snow Leopard?" You won't believe it, everyone knew exactly what happened
when. Unbelievable as it sounds, they had animal names instead of plain hours and days.
Really, a bizarre way to see the world.
Each animal-name year carried attributes everyone was well aware of.
The year of the Hare or Sheep presaged disaster or crop failure, while the Snow Leopard,
Dog or Cow augured bumper crop and prosperity.
An inquisitive explorer could glean much information from ancient Altai
drawings. For example, he could learn about their hunting habits. With dogs, of course.
The artist was certainly very attentive to detail. In one scene we see a man setting out
on a hunt, as we can gather from the bow he has slung behind his back and a leather quiver
with a bunch of arrows sticking out of it at his side, followed by a dog.
The Turkis' early art was as amazing as it was inordinate. Not because
of its artistic merits. Rather because it portrayed everyday scenes of a very distant
past, which is much more important for a researcher. It gives him an insight into what
real life was like then. Even such details as outlines of beasts, fishes and birds were
more than the artist's whim - they were part of tribal spiritual culture.
The artists' mood started, around three thousand years ago, add or
subtract a few hundred years, to undergo significant change. Animals seemed to be stepping
into the background, to be replaced with human figures.
Handsome faces stare at us from the depths of history. You do not feel
like turning away from them, or forget them the very minute you walk off. They are
actually the portraits of our ancestors, with between a hundred and two hundred
generations separating us.
Early human sculptures made their appearance in the Altai at around
that time. The ancient stone carvers were all mostly inspired by female models. They could
only make very crude copies of the originals - the figures were stubby and rough-hewn. But
their faces, oh…
The sculptors were certainly successful in capturing the sitters'
moods. Their cheekbones, a little too heavy and their eyes, crescent-slit the way they are
nowhere else, were the Altaians' hallmarks. And they still are today with all purebred
As far as we can judge from the drawings, ancient Altaians were
cheerful folk, fond of singing and dancing. They used to put on shows, so they could do
their fiery dances, their hands joined. Their merriment is perpetuated on rock faces.
Art is the soul of a nation. It never dies, even if the nation is no
A Miraculous Discovery Made by Chance
Art was not the only thing that set the Turkis apart from other tribes or nations. They
also were different because they always wanted to see the world beyond the horizon. They
loved to wander and were moved by curiosity to learn more about nature and the mystery of
the elements. Strange if they wouldn't, living in the mountains where winters were
severely cold and summers suffocatingly hot.
Skills and knowledge were all that people needed to make the
inhospitable Altai their comfortable home.
Around two and a half thousand years ago, a kind of miracle occurred in
the Altai. More exactly, it was no miracle at all. It was an event that was to happen,
sooner or later, to a talented nation.
Back then, someone awake in the dead of night saw a bright flash
streaking across the sky and what appeared to be a star plunging to its death on the
ground. That was a large black meteorite. Many people spotted the cold motionless
stone-like intruder and all walked away unconcerned. All but one, whose name was Temir,
who showed a more than momentous interest in the rock.
This was the ancient Turkis' first, or at least early, encounter with
iron, the Heavenly Metal. Indeed, the meteorite proved to be made of pure iron.
In fact, meteorites were not that rare in the ancient world. Thousands
of them had bombarded the Earth, and they were a familiar sight in the Altai, as also
anywhere else. In Ancient Egypt, for example, iron meteorites were beaten into knives and
swords so strong that they outpriced gold. Kings and gentry only were privileged to carry
Temir, the inquisitive Altai Turki, did something more than anyone else
could elsewhere - he invented a smelting furnace to turn iron-containing rock into useful
That was one of man's greatest inventions, comparable perhaps to the
wheel only in the magnitude of the impact it produced. There are two or three inventions
of similar consequences in the history of the human race. They stand a way above all
others. Each was a real stroke of genius, destined to live to eternity. No adjective would
be too overstretched in describing their significance.
Temir put iron within easy reach of everyone. "Face a
club-wielding foe with an iron shield," the Turkis could proudly say now. Smacks of a
petty boast, but really smelting iron was the Turkic nation's greatest secret that they
long refused to share with other peoples.
Iron-making skills were handed down from one generation to the next,
from father to son by word of mouth. And even then they were not broadly publicised but
were confined within a small circle of trusted families. Strangers were not allowed to
come near them. Metal makers and ironsmiths were always among the Turkis' most cherished
treasures. A metal maker's son was forbidden to marry a girl from any family but another
metal maker, so she could not learn secrets she was not supposed to know.
Ironsmiths' work was ranked on a par with the deeds of saints. And
rightly so, for iron brought the Turkis prosperity they had never experienced before. They
became the strongest and richest nation in the world. Amidst the reigning Bronze Age, they
had iron in profusion, so much of it that they could afford to make their kitchenware of
"Who was that clever guy who sold the idea to Temir?"
wondered his kinfolk fondling in their hands the still warm glistening iron ingots Temir
had produced out of ordinary chunks of rock (we know those were fragments of iron ore).
"Tengri, the God of Heaven, no doubt about it," they guessed.
This sealed the role of Tengri as the Altaians' kind patron god. Tengri
translates as God of Heaven or the Eternal Blue Sky. Since that time the Turkis have
always sought protection and solace from him.
Tengri sent his favorite son, Gheser, to the Ancient Altai to teach the
tribes to lead a righteous life. Gheser was the first ever Prophet on Earth. The messenger
of the God of Heaven, he illuminated people on Tengri.
Central Asian peoples have composed many legends about Gheser and his
holy deeds. True, Gheser's name has been modified over the centuries, by accident or
intent, to Keder or even Khyzer, which is now his most common name among the Turkic
people. And he is now best remembered in association with Tengri, the God of Heaven.
Gheser is a wise guardian of life on Earth. An immortal hero, who to
some people is a bearded old man leaning on his staff, and a strong young man brimming
with health and vigour to others.
Curiously, the figure of Khyzer (Keder or even Kederles) is common
among many nations of the world, those that had links with the ancient culture of the
Turkis and their god, Tengri. A keen person will hardly need any persuading to get the
Legends about Gheser sound like the echo of an age when happiness
poured on the Altai Mountains and when the Earth had been cleared from demons and
monsters. It was an age when the Altaians discovered iron ore in huge quantities and what
they could make out of it and started building cities and villages, when they learned
about the God of Heaven and when life was changing beyond recognition.
This period in the history of the Ancient Altai was thoroughly
researched by Professor Sergei Rudenko, an outstanding archaeologist. True, the great
scholar never spoke about Turkis in his writings and he had a different name for the
Altaians, the Scythians.
Professor Rudenko was neither forgetful nor careless, however.
How Mysterious the Scythians Really Were
At the time when Sergei Rudenko was digging out evidence of Turkic culture, no one dared
speak out or write the truth about it. A scientist risking a mere mention of it could land
in jail, or even be shot, in imperial Russia and later, in the Soviet Union. The subject
was a strong taboo.
What anyone could discuss, without fear of repression, were the
Scythians. Their living and burial sites could be unearthed and explored. And discuss and
explore them the scientists did. They passed up some Scythian themes, however. Like, for
example, the language the Scythians communicated in with one another, where they came from
or, what is most important, who they were, in the first place.
All these themes were under a harsh ban or rather a tacit covenant
among researchers to avoid discussing them. Did the Scythians come from nowhere and speak
a language no one knew anything about? As simple as that, did they just turn up suddenly
in the steppes of modern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, southern Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and
Hungary? Only to vanish in no time into the unknown. A situation you never see in real
The Greek writer, Herodotus, was the first European to tell the Western
world about the Scythians. In his "History" he wrote about the life of this
steppe race and its fetes and beliefs, traditions and fighting ability. Even about their
outward appearance and clothing.
According to Herodotus, the Scythians had come to the European steppes
from the East. A long way rather… But wherefrom, he did not know, his knowledge of
worldwide geography was clearly limited, and very much so. They certainly could only come
from the Altai Mountains, a land the Greeks had never heard about, and nowhere else.
Much time later, when scholars learned about the Altai and the Turkis,
they developed an apprehension that the Scythians were actually Turkis who had migrated
from the Altai, or more exactly, those of their tribes who had been forced to leave their
native lands forever, for one reason or another.
Their apprehensions were not devoid of reason, because the Scythians
and Turkis belonged to the same culture. Looking for differences is like trying to find
dissimilarities in twins - a waste of time.
The Russian historian, Andrei Lyzlov, suggested some three hundred years ago that
Scythians were directly related to Turkis. His sensational idea was rejected by the
country's rulers, however, and the scholar had sovereign wrath turned against him. Czar
Peter the Great, the sworn enemy of the Turkic people, who had overrun the Great Steppe
and turned the free Turkic land into Russia's colony, hated the idea. After all these
wrongdoings, he wanted to blot out the truth that the Turkis were native to Russia and
Ukraine, both of which had been their homeland from the beginnings of history. And he now
asserted that the Turkic people had not, nor ever had, a homeland or culture. The direct
effect of his assertions was that Russian historians started referring to the Turkic
people as "savage nomads" and "accursed Tatars".
Scholars that were soon coming to Russia from the West in droves were
paid huge sums to speak and write about Scythians as Slavs and Turkis, if things ever came
to that, as barbarous nomads, no less.
From that time on the truth was no longer heard about the Turkis and
Scythians. It was replaced by a vicious lie that was being implanted costs regardless. No
one believed it, though, so outrageous the fabrication was. What did Slavs have to do with
all that? They never lived in steppes; rather, they were forest dwellers.
To save face, another lie was cooked up - the Scythians, you know, came
from Persia and, sure enough, they spoke Persian. To much regret, this fantasy has taken
root and is very much alive in Russian historical science today.
What is more, the ignoramuses remain unconvinced by written evidence
found in Scythian mounds scribbled in Turkic runes. Nothing can make them change their
mind. Indeed, everyone sees whatever he wants to see.
The truth does not become a lie even if it is banned. It continues to
beckon honest researchers. Fortunately, Professor Rudenko was one of them.
He did not defy the ban, though - doing so could certainly bring
disaster on his head. Rather, he provided an accurate account of the Turkis and their
culture in his books. This is the main merit of his writings which are to be read between
the lines (the practice followed by both writers and readers in times of artistic freedom
Professor Rudenko found that the Scythians had lived in the Altai,
whence they migrated to Europe; that they were a Turkic people, speaking and writing in a
Turkic language. According to Herodotus, they called themselves Scoltes.
Iranians and Indians knew them as Sak (Shak), a name derived from the
ancient Turkic word sakla, which translates as "save". Appropriately, the
Scythians abandoned the Altai, leaving it in full dignity, with the faith of their
ancestors in their hearts. Science is yet to explain what forced the Scythians to forsake
their homeland. For now, little is known about the background of their migration.
Most probably, too much blood had been spilled in the Altai at that
time, two and half thousand years ago, as high-pitched quarrels grew into warfare. Some
tribes were upholding, arms in hand, the supremacy of the old gods (Yer-Su, Ulghen and
Erlik), while others were asserting the power of their new God of Heaven, the Almighty
For the first time in human history, the world was witness to a
struggle between polytheistic paganism and a new, monotheistic religion. It was a war of
The old believers, the Scyths (Scythians) (or Scoltes or Sacae) backed down and withdrew
from the battlefield. Certainly, they were not a new tribal confederation, one that turned
up suddenly and vanished just as unexpectedly without a trace, like a meteorite in a blaze
of fire. No, they were part of a race that had been and will be.
A Gift from Tengri
Why did a religious argument arise in the Altai, of all places? Was it sparked off by the
emotions boiling in the Turkic nation's soul, an unfathomable receptacle of dreams and
mysteries generating a rich spiritual culture?
The ancient Turkis believed that patron spirits of their tribes held
power over whether people lived in riches or in poverty. All tribes called their patron
spirits the Lord, but different tribes each had its own Lord - a swan, wolf, bear, fish,
deer, and so on, whose protection they sought.
And all together, the Turkis worshiped the Serpent or Dragon. (In
ancient Turkic, the serpent was maga or yilan, the dragon was lu, and the lizard was got,
which was probably modified to Goths as the Turkis were henceforth known in Europe.)
A tribe's Lord was depicted on its banner, which was believed to be the
repository of the patron spirit, so banners deserved a special treatment. Incidentally,
the ancient Altaians did not distinguish between the words banner and spirit - both had
the same meaning and were pronounced identically.
Initially, the ancient Turkis made their banners out of animal hides,
which were then replaced with common or silk fabric. Allowing a banner to fall was
considered bad luck, and tilting it was utter disgrace.
The Serpent was revered by all tribes by more than mere chance. It was
held that it was the forefather of humans and made people wise and knowledgeable. This
fable has survived from that distant past. Today too, the Serpent (or Dragon) is deeply
venerated in Central Asia, where feasts are put on in its honour and its images can be
seen in every conceivable place.
Interestingly, legends of the Turkis' neighbours frequently refer to
them as nagas, or serpent people. According to folk tradition, the Serpent was master of
the underworld. This explains why the deities under its control (Yer-Su, Erlik and so on)
lived underground, and people adulated them as rulers of the netherworld.
Tengri, the new God, came from quite another world, the Heaven. He
brought a different religion to people. And a different life, too. A life in the Iron Age.
He was the God of Heaven and Lord of the World for the Turkis, and more exactly for those
of them who had lost faith in the old gods.
The new God was not to everybody's liking, however. Its opponents
conceded defeat and retreated from the Altai, loyal to their old faith and their
underworld rulers. Their departure from the Altai in the 5th century BC laid the
beginnings of the history of the Scythians, the tribe called Scyths, or Sacae, in the
classical sources (or Scoltes).
So they departed, clearing the ground for momentous changes to start in
the Altai inevitably under the impact of iron tools and implements. Professor Sergei
Rudenko focused his research specifically on this period. He dug out a large cluster of
mounds at Pazyryk in modern Kazakhstan, retrieving an enormous cache of fabulous
treasures. I am not referring to the price of the gold and silver artifacts he found. His
finds were much more valuable for they provided an insight into the life of the Turkis
once they started using the advantages of iron. Indeed, he unearthed the evidence of the
Altaians' art and skills he had been looking for. This was Professor Rudenko's great
contribution to Turkic studies.
A true and honest scientist, he contributed archaeological discoveries
to the treasure-trove of science, in contrast to empty theories concocted on sovereign
orders. Without a doubt, his most precious find was a horse bridle that he recovered from
a mound hoard, its leather and iron mouth bit completely intact. And also iron crosses
that Turkis used for ornaments.
What's so interesting about a bridle today? Few people know, however,
that the bridle was first made in the Altai and that it introduced a new culture we call
Turkic Culture. It appears to be simple enough, next to modern widgets. Back then, though,
it made a Turki warrior what he was to his contemporaries - an invincible horseman who
could handle his warhorse the way no one else could and ride it across much of the world
The horse moved apart the boundaries of the Ancient Altai and opened up
broad vistas for travel and conquest; and it provided a new type of transport and draft
force that drove the Turkis forward on the road of progress. The Altaians had an instinct
and real knack for inventions destined to become staples for all races and peoples.
Back to those mounds. Archaeologists uncovered swords, scimitars and
daggers from them, and also stirrups and shirts of mail, helmets and armour plates, and
much more. Doesn't sound grand? It must. The Turkis' weapons were without match anywhere
else in the antique world. Remember, they gave a severe beating to the Chinese emperor's
crack armies? Their awesome strength made Chinese chroniclers look for an explanation,
which they promptly found - the tuchueh (strong), that simple. And more. Back in the 4th
century BC, the Chinese adopted elements of the Turkis' war gear, trousers, in particular,
which they swapped for long flowing coats. Shortly they learned horse riding, too.
The Altaians now knew that Tengri gave them unchallenged strength and
skills, such as ploughing their crop fields, a job no other people could do so well. The
earliest forged iron ploughshares (forerunners of modern ploughs) on Earth were found in
the Ancient Altai.
The Altaians reaped their crops with iron sickles and threshed their
sheaves with iron flail bars. They cultivated rye and millet and stored the harvested
grain in pottery jars. For larger crop harvests, they built granaries and drying barns,
and made sacks and flour bins. They had ovens to make round loaves of bread they called
karavais (made by karavaichis, or full-time bakers). The breads were round, to look like
small brown suns - yeasted tasty wonders with a crunchy crust.
Hunger had become a thing of the past for the Altaians.
The age of plenty entered the ancient Turkis' homes as well. Their
smoke huts gave way to log cabins (isi binas, a warm place, a word adopted and modified by
Russians to izba), really a warm and cozy place, with a high-standing brick oven inside.
Strangely, we call it the Russian oven today. Memories are short, of course. Incidentally,
Russians borrowed the Turkic word kirpech (oven clay) for brick, which was the Turkis'
main building material.
The Turkis were unsurpassed in building their houses from bricks and
The ancient Turkis have preserved their identity of body build and
complexion through the ages. You won't confuse it with anyone else's. To begin with, they
looked differently from other peoples because of their national garments. Their diet
abounded in meat and sour milk products, and their sumptuous brown bread made their meals
luxurious. Other peoples baked their loaves differently.
Clothing and national cuisine are distinctive traits for an
ethnographer. Little surprise, a horse-riding race would certainly wear different garments
and eat different foods from those of, say, a tribe of fishermen.
Everyone, young children to old adults, could ride a horse in the
Altai. Walking was a disgrace. An infant was first taught to sit on a horse and then to
walk. A Turki, in fact, grew up and died next to his horse. The two were inseparable
centaur-like. And were even buried together.
Now we know why the horse-riding Turkis needed those loose-fitting
trousers and high-heeled boots more than any other nations. Also, they were the first to
discover the advantages of saddles with stirrups, steel scimitars, daggers, spears and
super-power bows, objects other peoples had no need for. Even if they had, they lacked the
Turkis' knack with those weapons.
Among the inventions the hardworking Turkis contributed to world
civilization were iron sickles and axes, forged iron ploughshares, magnificent palaces and
attic houses, wagons and carriages, and many more useful things.
Some of them are illustrated on these pages. "Good and evil,
poverty and wealth all come from Tengri," the ancient Altaians said to comfort
And right they were.
The God of Heaven
Who was then that Great Tengri, the heart of Turkic culture?
Tengri was an invisible spirit inhabiting the Heaven, as vast as the
Heaven itself and as wide as the whole world. The Turkis reverently called Him the Eternal
Blue Sky or Tengri Khan, the latter name emphasising His supremacy in the Universe.
He was the Only God, the Creator of the world and all forms of life on
Earth, the Lord. So much was said in ancient legends, which are still remembered in our
To understand the wisdom and depth of faith in Tengri, people were to
embrace one simple truth - God is one and He sees everything. You cannot conceal anything
from Him. He is the Lord and Judge.
The Turkic people developed a habit of looking forward to Judgement
Day. Not in helpless fear, though, for people were sure that supreme justice existed in
the world. It was the Judgement of God, to be passed on everybody, king or slave.
God is protection and punishment, all in one. This was what the Turkis'
faith in the Only God was based on.
Religion was the supreme achievement of the Turkic people's spiritual
culture. The Turkis threw out their pagan gods and turned to Tengri - each in one's own
tongue, Bogh (Bogdo or Boje), Hodai (or Kodai), Allah (or Ollo) or Gospodi (or Gozbodi).
These words resounded in the Altai Mountains as long as two and a half
thousand years ago. And, of course, many other words were addressed to Tengri as well.
Bogh was the most frequent word on people's lips, though. It invoked
peace, calm and perfection. The Turkis now went into battle with Bogh in their hearts and
minds. And took up every challenge with Bogh at their side.
Another form of address to God, Hodai (literally, Be Happy), emphasised
the unique qualities of Tengri - the Almighty in this world, its Creator. All-powerful and
Allah (or Ala) was the least frequent word used by ancient Turkis. It
only came to their minds in moments of desperation when they wanted to ask the Great
Tengri Khan for something very important in their lives. The word derived from the Turkic
al (hand), suggesting "giving and taking". In its original sense, Allah could
only be uttered while saying a prayer with hands held out in front of you and palms up to
face the Great Blue Sky.
Gospodi was the rarest of all - it could only be spoken by priests.
Literally, the word means "seeing the light" or "eye opener". It was
an address one could say in a moment of truth, and it was full of philosophical wisdom. A
truly righteous man could ask for guidance in penetrating the inner sense of things.
The rules to be followed in prayer, celebration or fasting were
polished over the centuries, to develop into a code of behaviour or rites, performed by
Turkic priests could be told from laymen by the way they dressed and
behaved. Their clothing consisted of long robes (caftans or mantles) and peaked hoods,
which were white for senior clergy and black for the rest of the priesthood.
You can guess all right that ancient artists cut images of priests on
Altai rocks. So we now know what those "white wanderers" (a popular phrase for
them) were - preachers of the faith.
The Turkis chose a simple equal-armed cross, aji, for a symbol of
Tengri Khan. The cross was not new to Turkic culture, though - it had been an important
element in Turkis' lives, along with a "skew" cross that was a sign of the
underworld and old, underground gods.
As can be expected, aji crosses were very crude and simple, gradually
evolving into real works of art crafted by jewellers, who used to give them a gold coat
and adorn them with gems to please the eye and heart.
Skew crosses appeared in the Altai between three and four thousand
years ago. In actual fact, those were not crosses and were named so by Europeans when they
first learned about Tengri religion.
Semantically, the cross is an intersection of two lines. The Tengri
sign shows no intersection, and is, in fact, a solar circle with four equally spaced rays
radiating from it. Get the difference?
Sun rays, otherwise interpreted as grace of God emanating from a single
centre. They are a Heavenly sign that marks off Turkic culture, the culture of a people
that had profound faith in the power of the Eternal Blue Sky.
Occasionally, a crescent was added to the Tengri sign (or cross, if you
like), to convey a different message - a reminder of time and perpetuity. The Sun and Moon
were closely related to ancient Turkis (hence their twelve-year calendar).
The Tengri sign was embroidered on battle banners and worn on a chain
on the chest. It was tattooed on foreheads and woven into designs and ornaments by
artists. It was all in the spirit of strong national tradition.
The Turkis in India
Tidings of Almighty God of Heaven and his affluent country flew from Altai mountaintops
like a flock of birds to every corner of the world. Metaphor aside, the new religion was
disseminated by Turkis themselves, by word and deed. Their White Wanderers made their way
to other countries to spread the word of Tengri.
China sent back Turkic preachers from its borders. With a vengeance,
literally. It was shortly overrun by Turkic horsemen who put China to its knees by force,
the defensive Great Wall regardless. Eventually, however, people in the country that
styled itself the Celestial Empire learned about Tengri. The Chinese probably had their
own ideas about the cult of the Heaven and tried to uphold them.
It was all different in India, however. Interest in Tengri caught on
immediately, and an Indian page opened in Turkic history two thousand and a half years
ago, or even slightly earlier.
The Altai and India now shared a common spirituality. They certainly
had solid backgrounds for that communion, faith in the first place. (In truth, the Hindus
interpreted their Buddha in a way different from what Turkis made out their Tengri, and
still they felt free to search for an eternal truth and have spiritual dialogues with one
another.) Indian legends of nagas are a reminder of that distant past.
In Hindu mythology, nagas were semidivine beings, half human and half
serpentine, who had the Serpent as their forbear. They lived in a country far north of
India, in a land where incalculable treasures and an iron cross lay buried in the ground.
That distant land was known to Hindus as Shambhu (Benevolent), or Shambhkala (Shining
Fortress in Turkic).
According to legend, nagas had human faces and long snake bodies. They
could assume either human or wholly serpentine form. They were very gentle and musical
creatures who loved poetry, and their women were of striking beauty.
An ancient Hindu holy book, Mahabharata, tells of the origins of
religion and the evolution of spiritual culture. The book is really a chronicle of Ancient
India, with some of its pages devoted to the nagas and their mysterious northern land. No,
this is not a fairytale. It is an account of real events which is told, in a long-standing
Indian tradition, in legend form. (Indian scholars approach their legends in all earnest,
calling them absolutely reliable sources.)
The Hindus, for example, made no secret of the fact that they had
borrowed their sacred texts, Prajnyaparamita, from the nagas, or Turkis. This body of
wisdom could only be read by the wisest of proselytizers, who alone were capable of
absorbing the message of text.
In this way, the Hindus did a great honour to Turkic culture - they
have preserved for the Turkic race a sacred treasure that the Turkis have managed to
The land of Shambhkala lay at the foot of Mount Sambyl-Taskhyl, in the
catchment area of the Khan Tengri River. There, a wall of icy mist concealed cities,
monasteries and blossoming forests. Legends abounded about that enigmatic land. It was
rumoured that monastics in possession of consummate knowledge lived in that land.
Many people failed in their attempts to reach that land. No one came
anywhere near it. It was commonly held that it was hidden in an inaccessible valley
somewhere in Tibet, where earthly life touches the ultimate heavenly reason.
This view was voiced by some major Orientalists in the 19th century,
and was strongly endorsed by, among other leading public figures, Nikolai Przhevalsky, the
famous Russian traveller and ethnographer, Nikolai Roerich, a philosopher, and Elena
Blavatskaya, an educationist. For all their high stature, we cannot share their view. It's
human to err, especially if you look for something in a wrong place.
Theirs was certainly this case.
Actually, scientists knew almost nothing about the Altai and its
ancient culture, while many of them were not even aware of much there was to know in the
19th century. By suppressing and distorting the Turkic nation's history, the Russian
authorities drove Russian historical science into a corner, where recognized celebrities,
let alone commoners, could be misguided.
No one was aware at the time that belief in the God of Heaven had been
brought to Tibet and India from the Altai, of all places, and struck deep root there.
Modern Tibetan Buddhism (or less formal, Lamaism), the core religion of Tibet, Mongolia
and Buriatia, a republic in Russia, originated among the Turkis.
The name of Tengri was certainly known in India. How else could you
explain the Buddha's blue Turkic-slit eyes? Was it a reflection of a long-forgotten epic?
Such as one that unfolded two and half thousand years ago when strange horsemen rode into
India from the North? They settled in India, to become a new nation, the Shak. In fact,
they were Sacae of the Turkic race.
And more, Hindus called Buddha (his teaching was disseminated at
exactly that time) Shakyamuni or the Turkic god. It is highly probable, we assume, that
Buddha's teaching could be spread by the Turkis. This is abundant evidence, you will
agree. Besides, Buddha, Indian tradition goes, could turn into a naga. Finally, at least
fifty million of India's inhabitants profess faith in the God of Heaven. They are neither
Buddhists nor Moslems. They are called Christians in India, but they are not like any
other Christians around the world - they have distinct religious rites and symbols. They
will accept no other sign but the Tengri cross, which they wear on their chests and say
their distinct prayers in front of it. This is probably the only place in the world where
the Turkis' creed survives in its undistilled form. Indeed, nothing goes without leaving a
Traces of past events may at times surface suddenly in the least
Here is a good example. According to Indian legends, none other than
Turkis taught Hindus how to plough their fields with iron ploughshares and reap their
harvests with iron sickles. Hindus always praised the nagas for their fertile lands and
copious crops. The old ploughs unearthed in the Altai and Indian and Pakistani legends
appear to bring together the fragmented knowledge about ancient Turkis and fit in place
many missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle left by history.
While we are on the subject of borrowings, the famous Indian cavalry,
too, traces its beginnings from the coming of the Altaians. It will not be out of place
here to emphasise again that Turkic influence on Indian culture was enormous at that time.
Convincing evidence of this has been unearthed by archaeologists. More proof is, of
course, available elsewhere.
Altaic tribes came to India to stay forever there rather than just hit
and run. About one in ten Indians or Pakistanis today has a family tree rooted in Turkic
soil. A significant proportion, you will agree.
India was ruled for a long time by the famous Sun Dynasty, one of its
two major ruling families founded by King Ikshwaku, a nephew of the Sun, who migrated from
the Altai, where he lived in the Aksu River Valley, to India in the 5th century BC. Once
installed in power, Ikshwaku started building a city, Ayodhya, to be the capital city of
the Koshala (or Koshkala?) Kingdom. The city, which still stands today, has a museum
dedicated to the Sun Dynasty, with enough evidence about the Turkis who had arrived from
Ayodhya alternated between prominence and decline, and at one time it
was regarded as the capital city of Northern India, an indication of the great influence
Koshala had on that region. Eventually, the city fell into decay and neglect, only to
experience an upsurge again. With the arrival of Turkis, life was no longer calm or smooth
Ayodhya stood on the banks of the Sarayu (modern Ghaghara) River. It
looks like another Turkic place name, with an undisguised connotation of palace. Why not?
The city was the capital city of a powerful kingdom, with splendid palaces, temples and
beautiful residential houses. The river takes its name from the royal palace.
In fact, the map of India shows a lot of Turkic place names. Take
Hindustan, the vast region in Northern India. The name sends a Turkic message, with its
typically Turkic stan ending (Tatarstan, Kazakhstan, Bashkortostan or Daghestan), which
means "country" in Turkic.
Nothing stands alone in life. Nothing comes from nowhere and goes
without a trace. During the rule of Sun Dynasty kings, numberless families resettled from
the Altai to India. Migration continued for many centuries. You could see Altaic families
among the Indian nobility, their members going on to become great generals, poets,
scholars or clerics. But all of them spoke Turkic. The destinies are now part of Indian
legends and in genealogies of some Indian aristocrats. To give an example, the celebrated
dynasties of maharajas of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur rose from their Turkic roots in the
Little surprise, though, for India and the Altai were, in all but in
fact, a huge single country, both parts of which were linked by roads that can still be
used today - the Biisk and Nerchinsk routes.
The earliest road the Turkis built to reach India was the legendary
Suspension Pass, a mysterious road no one knows of today. No parts of it have survived,
save for folklore and suspension bridges, its replicas that continue to be built in the
Pamir Mountains and Tibet to this day.
Turkic cavalry used suspension bridges to cross mountain streams and
deep gorges on its way to India. It took a very brave man to ride a horse over soaring
Pilgrims, too, followed this road to see their relations or pray at
sacred Mount Kailasa, or visit the city of Kashmir.
It was a cherished dream come true for a Turki to see Mount Kailasa, as
also India itself. It was broadly held that a man who happened to see Mount Kailasa would
be happy for the rest of his life. According to legend, it was a place where Tengri Khan
himself rested from his chores, from time to time. A sacred place indeed.
The Turkis in Iran
India was not alone to be introduced to the God of Heaven. "White Wanderers"
walked as far as Iran. The surviving tales of Azhi Dahaka shed some light on that
Azhi Dahaka (Dahaka the Snake) was a foreign king who ruled Iran for a
time. He lived in the image of a serpent, struggling to assert faith in the God of Heaven.
Ordinary Iranians rejected his faith - you cannot force anything down anyone's throat if
he cannot swallow it.
After that regretful failure, Iranians continued to worship fire for
centuries more. Iranian nobles were that country's sole class that embraced Tengri in
secret and proudly related, generation to generation, their memories of ancestors
privileged to serve at the court of Azhi Dahaka. Or else they confided to their
descendants about their ancestral Turkic roots. Azhi Dahaka was, in fact, Arshak I, a
redhead imposter from the Altai, who founded the famous Arsacid dynasty in the 3rd century
BC. This fact is recorded in Iran's history books.
Surprisingly, many cities and villages, in fact, large regions in Iran
continue to speak Turkic in our days. Very long ago, Iran occupied an enormous area, many
times as large as it is today. Little wonder, therefore, that many of its ethnic groups
and their legends live on within that country's modern boundaries.
The Iranian page in Turkic history opened with the invasion of the
Sacae (Shak), who were on their way to India. Then came Tashkent (or Tashqand), a very old
city that marked its two thousand years recently. The city has an eventful history, many
sides of which, as of Turkic history in general, are cloaked in mystery.
Tashqand is habitually translated as "stone city". This is
not exactly so, because the Turkic word qand does mean a stone-built city already. It must
be something different, for toponymy experts alone to explain.
Professor Eduard Murzaev knew much about the Turkic knack of giving
names to cities, rivers and mountains. The scholar attempted in his book to go to the
origins of the name of Tashqand, but he had no time left to complete his task.
It was found later that tashty or dashty was "abroad" in
Turkic and that it came from Sanskrit, the language of Indian priests (more about that
later). "Abroad" gave the name "Tashqand" an entirely different
undertone. In plane language it translates as "a stone city in a foreign land".
The message was that it was not a town of log cabins, a predominant type of settlement in
the Altai, but exactly a city of stone buildings.
Why exactly "abroad"? We have an answer, by way of
A large and prosperous state, Bactria, a part of the Persian Empire,
used to lie in the very centre of Asia. Its fame spread in all directions, including
Europe, and it is actually to blame for Alexander the Great's Macedonian armies being
lured by its wealth. Bactria died off instantly politically, and long years of warfare
that followed on its territory finished it off economically as well as politically.
In fact, the weakened Bactrian state was embroiled in long wars, trying
to fend off the "savage nomads" (a staple name used for Turkis by modern
historians) descending on the prostrate country from the north. Yes, they were the
notorious Sacae, and they knew what they wanted when they invaded Bactria. Their business
done, a part of the their army turned around to push, across the Suspension Pass in the
unassailable Pamir Mountains, towards India.
Three hundred years after these devastating campaigns, in the 1st
century AD, new forces burst out of the Altai to rewrite history again. They had a cross
on their banners and a new faith in their hearts. Their westward drive opened another
Iranian page in Turkic history.
Azhi Dahaka's (or rather his proselytizers') failure did not stop the
Turkis in their resolve - they sent their cavalry to make up for the failure in their
earlier Iranian inroad. This time, the Turkic armies matched up to their long-standing
reputation. Fighting for succession to the lifeless Bactria was brief and decisive.
The wars cleared the stage for a new state, the Kushan Khanate, which
is today hidden behind a thick fog of ignorance. Kushan history is linked to whatever
people comes to mind - Greeks, Persians and whoever happened to be near, but the Turkis.
Tashqand was actually the first Turkic city in the area. It was built
close to ancient Bactrian cities, including Maracanda, near an iron ore deposit that drew
the Turkis here, above all.
The Turkis renamed the ancient Bactrian city Samarqand (probably,
derived from Sumerqand), and called the nearby iron-rich area the Iron Gate - no one took
any interest in iron but the Turkis.
The Kushan Khanate wielded awesome military power. It controlled modern
Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India and Iran, and even parts of China.
Very little truth is so far known about the legendary Kushan Khanate, even the true names
of its rulers, which all appeared to be concealed deliberately. We know their Hindu,
Iranian or Chinese surrogates, but never their Turkic originals. The founder of the Kushan
Khanate, for example, is known as Guwishka. His name, Gowerka, was stamped on his coins.
Who knows what it was in Turkic? Hardly anyone.
Many objects dating to that period have been unearthed. Some of them
bear inscriptions in clear Turkic runes. They confirm the hypothesis that Turkis started
settling in this foreign land before the onset of the new era (AD). Turkic runes and the
"stone city in a foreign land", Tashqand, were signs of their presence - iron
artifacts and runes are dated to the same period.
French archaeologists digging at Dasht Navur (Dasht again?) uncovered
remains of another Turkic city, and a cliff with similar runes nearby, on the territory of
modern Afghanistan. Another Turkic city stood at Kara Tepe, a short distance from
Tashqand. The cache of artifacts uncovered there contained earthenware with ubiquitous
inscriptions, a message from long-gone ancestors. Taking the cue from their respective
governments, scientists close their eyes to this multiple evidence.
We certainly can time events using a different set of signs. For
example, Turkic populations, Uzbeks in particular, the direct descendants of settlers from
the Altai. Their modern state, Uzbekistan, with Tashqand (Tashkent) as its capital city,
is the pride of the Turkic world. The Uzbeks alone have earned this honour for their
country. A thriving nation is the strongest evidence in the case we are arguing.
The Uzbeks' brethren from that distant Kushan Period live in
Afghanistan and Pakistan under the name of Pashtuns. They are quite a numerous species as
well. They do not speak pure Turkic, of course - what could you expect of a people torn
from their roots and intermingling with other races for centuries? Hardly recognizable on
language criteria, they have not changed their Turkic looks or deviated from their Turkic
life-styles. In fact, they have been wrested out of their historical context and
nonetheless remain a significant part of the Turkic world with a past beginning in the
You won't say that about the Turkmen, who are different. By all
criteria, they are purebred Turanians [inhabitants of the Turan Plain], but prefer to call
themselves a Turkic people. In cultural roots they are much closer to Iran. The Turkic
world certainly has resident aliens speaking the host nation's language. But then their
behavioural patterns are nowhere near those of the true Turkis.
The Kyrgyz, a people living in the Pamir Mountains, are a case apart.
They certainly belong to the Turkic race. Even though they have borrowed a lot from
Chinese culture, they remain Turkic at core with their unmistakable Turkic behavioural
Cultural melting pots are amazing phenomena in human history. They have
always been like that - boiling. Within its Kushan framework, Altaic culture borrowed the
best it could take from the local Turan tribes, giving them all it could in return. The
Kushan Khanate was, in scholarly opinion, a real melting pot where Oriental cultures were
fused into a distinct local culture. The Turkis, Iranians and Hindus living side by side
for centuries have learned a lot from one another. Would you expect otherwise?
The Turkic settlers in Central Asia could not escape their fate that
made them different from their Altaic kinsfolk. In fact, theirs was a new Turkic culture,
and they were appropriately called Turkis-Oguz (oguz translates as "worldly
The great Kushan melting pot gave the world some of its celebrated
scholars, poets, theologians and physicians who added glory to the East, the Turkic world
and the human race as a whole. The area's fertile land was destined to yield rich crops of
star-calibre philosophers and wise men.
Travellers to the Kushan Khanate were amazed at its flourishing cities,
magnificent palaces with beautiful statues, and majestic temples. And, of course, their
poets reciting their verses to the accompaniment of bird chirping in paradisiacal gardens.
Living in harmony with one's neighbours produces changes hard to
account for. It gradually changes much of what seems unshakable, even people's outward
appearance. For example, the overwhelming majority of Turkis-Oguz are now brown-eyed and
dark-haired. But they remain unchanged inside from their Altaic kinsfolk - hot-tempered
On top of anything else, they are a very practical lot.
The Illustrious Khan Erke
The world first learned about the mighty Kushan Khanate in the 1st century AD, when the
famous King Kanishka elevated the Turkic race to glory. Happily, we know his real name -
Khan Erke (or Kanerka, which was stamped on his coins).
More than anyone else before or after him, Khan Erke, a born
philosopher and poet, a sagacious ruler and brilliant warlord, contributed to the high
glory of Turkic culture. He made it unchallenged in the East. To their friends and foes
alike, Turkis appeared to be endowed with unnatural talents and powers.
Erke ascended to the Kushan throne in 78 AD and ruled for twenty-three
years. Word, not sword, nor spear, nor iron shirt of mail, was his main weapon, and above
all the word of God. To Him alone Erke and the Turkic world owe a debt of gratitude for
their spectacular victories.
Khan Erke's principal gift to the East was faith in Tengri.
His mission was made the easier thanks to his thorough knowledge of the
rites, prayers and the teaching itself. He could speak for hours, using fine words and
polished style that kept his listeners alert and thirsting for more. The khan's nice
speech and wise policies showed the indigenous population that the Turkic settlers valued
kindness and generosity more than they did gold, perfidy or power over non-Turkic people.
Their ruler was the true spokesman for his people. And the locals accepted him on faith,
and his people as well.
Khan Erke was convinced that every human being could, by controlling
his own behaviour, build paradise or hell for himself and his near and dear. No one, he
said, could blame anyone but himself for his misery and woes. God gives everyone his
deserves - no less no more.
This is really the only just Judgement - you alone are accountable to
God for your good and evil actions - under the Eternal Blue Sky. Only this matters, and
nothing else. The message of the new religion was simple enough - do good wherever you can
for the world to be kind to you.
This truth being as simple as that, people embraced it without
hesitation. Their new faith was simple and wise, unlike any other on Earth. The most
attractive side of the new creed was that you have your future in your own hands. Remember
this and don't miss your chance.
Turkis, for example, believed in the eternity of human soul and in
their reincarnation after death. Everyone knew that even a hardened sinner could atone for
all of his sins. He was given a chance and hope to cleanse himself any time in his life on
Earth. Faith in Tengri reinforced people's spirit and encouraged them to excel.
"Seek salvation in your deeds," Khan Erke exhorted his
Strangers were bewildered by the rite Turkis performed in the name of
Tengri. It was a grand occasion, and very festive, too. They never said the name of the
God of Heaven in haste. The rite was ceremonious and leisurely. No one in the pagan world
had ever witnessed so much grandeur and splendour or imagined it could be that way.
Pagans took the Turkis for what we now call extraterrestrials - people
from a world completely unfamiliar to them. The Turkis had everything neat and tidy, so
little wonder their Altai was paradise come true for other Oriental races and its
inhabitants got the name of Aryans. Not unlike Shambhkala in India, this birthplace of the
Turkic race bore this lofty epithet for over a thousand years, and the horse riders
themselves were the stuff of endless legends.
During the reign of Khan Erke, cities awoke to the melodious peels of
bells summoning the congregation to morning prayer. We can only guess what it felt like in
those thrilling moments.
Actually, very little is known about them. What kind of bells were
they? How did the bell towers look? No one can give the answers after so many centuries.
We certainly know, though, that bells really existed (some evidence of them has been
unearthed). The Turkic word for bell (kolokol) probably comes from that remote age - in
ancient Turkic, it meant "facing the Heaven", or more specifically,
"praying to the Heaven". And pray people did.
Prayers were said outside a temple, under the open sky of Tengri. Like
it was back in the Altai when people congregated for prayer at the feet of sacred
mountains. Judging by their remains, temples were not large. In the beginning, they were
built as reminders of those sacred mountains back home, eventually evolving into
No one could enter a temple, except for the clergy, who were qualified,
and only for a few brief moments. They wouldn't hang back more than that anyway, for they
were not allowed to breathe inside the sanctuary.
Things were different with other peoples. Their congregations swarmed
their temples. Later on, however, the Turkis adopted this practice, too. (To our regret
again, very little is known as yet about the destinies of various cultural traditions or
why some were superseded by others.)
It was general custom to burn incense before prayer. Incense burners
(censers) were used for this purpose. According to an ancient Altaic legend, evil forces
could not abide by the smell of incense (the incense-burning ritual was called qadyt in
ancient Turkic, from the root verb "repel" or "scare off").
The Turkis prayed to subdued singing. The choir fervently intoned a
sacred melody, Yirmaz (literally, "our songs"), in praise of the God of Heaven.
Whatever side of Turkic culture you take, you always see the
equal-armed cross of Tengri, called vajra in the East.
Khan Erke did not spare himself to propagate his faith. His reign is
deeply impressed on the memory of Oriental nations. It was a great reign indeed. Happily,
we know fairly much, from the archaeologists' digs, about Tengri crosses and ruined Turkic
cities and temples that existed in the Kushan period.
We can only guess about the confusion that overwhelmed people who
refused to accept Tengri. They were lost in doubt and depressed, tormented by their own
After all, iron tools and weapons, an excellent army and general
affluence in the country were strong indications of the high mission of Turkic culture, in
a way completely different from divine services. For these reasons the Altai and, by
implication, the Kushan Khanate were, therefore, regarded as the key spiritual centres in
the East, a promised land sought out by people in other lands. (Incidentally, some later
geographical maps label the Altai as Paradise - really.) People came here from afar to
find out more about Turkic culture. A school of arts was opened in Gandhara for
foreigners, along with several theological centres across the Kushan Khanate.
At one time, a Jew by the name of Joshua studied in the Altai,
following the example of Moses (Moshe or Mousa). An indirect reference to this is
contained in the Koran. On his return to Palestine, then a province of the Roman Empire,
Joshua brought news of horsemen in the service of the God of Heaven. His words are
recorded in the Apocalypse, the Christians' earliest religious book. For this he was
called Jesus Christ (Isa), or "God Blessed", that is, a "Divine
Priests from India and Tibet were frequent guests at the Kushan khan's
court. Appropriately enough, for Khan Erke transformed Kashmir into a holy city and a
centre of pilgrimage.
Altaic pilgrims, too, had a temple in Kashmir to worship their own god,
and Turkic was heard there day and night, all year round. Could it probably be the Golden
Temple that is still a major attraction in Kashmir?
Khan Erke devoted much of his time and effort to the promotion of his
creed and culture, benefiting enormously the Turkic world as a whole. Buddhists held their
Fourth Assembly in Kashmir, which drew many theologians from around the East. They gave
recognition to Tengri and His teaching that expanded the content of Buddhism (which
evolved into the well-known version of Buddhism, Mahayana).
The text of Mahayana was engraved on copper plates that immediately
became (and still are) a sacred dogma of Buddhism in China, Tibet and Mongolia, among
other places. These plates, or more correctly the Fourth Assembly, signalled the birth of
a new school of Buddhism, which was later named "Tibet Buddhism" or
The East's greatest enlightener, the sagacious Khan Erke knew how to
make friends and allies. He has been consecrated as a saint by the Buddhists, and his name
is cited in a prayer. The Turkis are, however, fully oblivious of their illustrious khan.
Fortunately, some other peoples have fond memories of him.
Bound for the Steppe
The rise of the Kushan Khanate in the 2nd century AD appeared to have awakened the Altai
or rather shaken it out of its slumber. A little background will help explain what
The Altai has a more rigorous climate than Central Asia. Crops were,
therefore, significantly lower. As everywhere, mountains are not the best place for crop
farming and good living. The Altaic khans were looking to the steppe beyond with hope and
misgiving. The steppe offered plenty of fertile land, but few people could physically live
In actual fact, the mountains dwellers had always dreaded the steppe.
It was devoid of trees, which meant no fuel for the hearth or logs for houses and barns.
Rivers were scarce there, so there was no water for cattle or vegetable gardens, or just
for drinking, at times. "The steppe is a land of gloom," gossiped old folk.
They were certainly right. The steppe is clean-stripped of prominent
feature to take your bearings on - only flat land all around under the blazing sun in the
sky. There is no telling where you are or where you go. Winds, quite often of hurricane
force, tend to blow for weeks on end. A snowstorm could snow over your village right up to
housetops within a few hours in winter.
Primitive tribes, undemanding though they were, never settled in the
inhospitable steppe. Evading the steppe, they settled in the mountains, on seashores and
in forests, but never in the steppe. You can hardly survive in the steppe unless you are
adequately prepared for life in the wilderness. For example, your shoes will be in tatters
from coarse grass after a long walk in the steppe. Nor can you walk barefoot, of course,
for any long time.
The Turkis had nowhere to go but across the steppe, towards a better
future with lush grazing grounds and rich croplands. Finally, towards the vast expanses
The Turkis were torn between two options - going or staying. Between
hope and fear. Finally, hope won over fear.
First, a few families took off and moved on into the unknown. And they
had the old label immediately attached to them - kypchak (Kipchaks). Settlers had always
been called kypchaks there since the time when Turkis first started out for India. Kipchak
was more than a settler. Its more accurate translation gives "crowded".
Another source of the label is the name of a very old Turkic tribe. It
probably, a long time before, led the way from the Altai, and everyone who followed it
were given its name, now as a trademark to be worn by all settlers.
One way or another, it takes a strong and self-assured tribe to pull up
stakes and face the steppe rigours. It was a brave decision to be exposed to the forces
reigning in the steppe. No one pressured the Turkis - they up and went on their own free
will. They certainly had on their side the necessary wherewithal - iron tools and weapons
unrivalled in the world and a rich experience of life in India, Central Asia and, of
course, the Urals and Ancient Altai. I don't remember if any historian has written
anything about that.
What happened next was that cities and villages were put up in the
steppe, roads were laid, bridges thrown across rivers, and irrigation canals dug. All this
was done so rapidly that no one had time to regret. A strong race they really were. Now
forgotten by all but a few curious archaeologists.
Their flourishing land gradually evolved into a new Turkic khanate,
which came to be known later as the Land of Seven Rivers. Its cities amid the steppe were
like bright stars in the dark sky. Not that they had striking architecture or dazzling
splendour. They had a different purpose to be there.
In our day these cities have been explored by Alkei Margulan, a Kazakh
archaeologist and member of the Academy of Sciences. As chance would have it, he spotted
them from an airliner window. He could discern from high altitude ruined buildings
overgrown with grass and sanded over. Shortly he drove into the steppe to see the deserted
cities firsthand. He did what he humanly could, and shared his findings in a book.
Alkei Margulan's research and book notwithstanding, much remains
obscure - the subject is too vast for one man to cope with it single-handed. But really,
it deserves to be studied in more detail, its complexity notwithstanding. Its importance
is too large to be overestimated - imagine people beginning to develop the steppe, a
terrain man had never ventured into. (Leaving aside a few small settlements, it was the
peopling of an uninhabited part of our planet.)
Scientists are yet to answer many questions. Like this one: How did the Kipchaks move
across the steppe? A simple question, it is hard to answer - you won't go far or carry
much in the steppe, so there must be a way to make things easier. Which one exactly?
Didn't I say the Turkis had plenty of horses? A horse will not carry
much in addition to its rider, however. How then will it carry provisions or materials you
will need to build and keep a house? Embarking on a long one-way journey, you will have
much to take along.
At the time we are on, Arabs transported their heavy loads on camels,
Hindus had their powerful elephants, Chinese relied on buffalos, Iranians depended on
donkeys. The Turkis had their dear horses, so they had to make most of what they had.
Now you know who it was that thought up the wagon and carriage. The
Turkis, of course, because necessity is the mother of invention. Wheeled transport, too,
was introduced by the Turkis, just as bricks, log cabins and felt were.
We do not know the name of the inventor, if there was one, but the
wagon is still very much here with us.
A lighter vehicle, carriage, came later. It was a great improvement on
the wagon or dray. And a speedy improvement, too - you could have two or three horses
hitched to it to race you across the steppe. Next were a hansom and brougham. With enough
horses to go around, troikas (a Russian word, of course) dashed up and down the steppe
leaving a thick trail of dust in the wake.
With a carriage to take you wherever you want, you need good roads and
staging posts to have a rest and change horses. And coaches, too, to carry parcels, mail
and, predictably, passengers. Coaches could deliver mail at an amazing speed of two or
even three hundred kilometres a day.
It is much, too much for that time. Compare that number with the twenty to thirty
kilometres people could make a day. The Turkis were then the speediest race on Earth.
The steppe in the Land of Seven Rivers holds the honour of being the
birthplace of coach service.
The Great Migration of the Peoples
The Turkic people's settlement in the steppe was a significant event in human history. The
discovery and settlement of Europeans in America was probably next in importance to
civilisation. The first, Great migration was certainly on a bigger scale with more
far-reaching consequences - indeed, a change of habitat.
It began in the Altai in the 2nd century AD, moving towards and across
Europe, where it ended on the western fringes of the continent three hundred years later.
The Turkis, of course, were not new to mass-scale relocations, such as
exodus to India, Iran and Central Asia. In sheer numbers and impact, they pale next to
that GREAT migration. And so does the exodus of Scythian tribes to the steppe - it was too
shallow and inconsequential.
Three hundred years is a good deal of time. A few generations were to
grow up on each new tract of land won from nature before next ones were strong and
populous enough to move on.
The Kipchaks made only an unhurried and cautious advance, but they knew
what they wanted. They had it the hard way, so it was natural for a spate of important
inventions to be made during this period to help cope with hardship and inspire confidence
in their slow trek across barren steppes.
They added a closed cover to their open wagons, turning them into
comfortable moving homes, kibitkas. For more convenience, they lined the kibitkas with
felt inside, so they now had warm small huts to weather the cold winters. A group of
kibitkas were always arranged in a circle at nightfall, a little town fortress bristling
with defences against a surprise attack.
The Turkis made felt into a building material, which kept homes warm in
winter and cool in summer. None but Turkis could process wool so fine, so simply and so
Felt does not soak up water. In rainy weather water trickles down the
tiny hairs in droplets falling to the ground. This property of felt cloth led to the
appearance of felt cloaks for the horsemen and their horses, if you will. Felting was made
into beautiful rugs (arbabashes) for use inside wagons and for making warm boots. Sheep
wool could be processed into fine cloth fit for making clothing and hats. Fine felt
hat-making is still a widespread industry in our days.
Felt is, without a doubt, a trademark of the Turkic people.
Let's look inside a felt-top kibitka. There was a felt arbabash on the
floor, surmounted by a sumavar to boil water or cook meals, should the family be on the
Sumavar is the simplest and most practicable thing man has ever thought up. Now it is
called a Russian samovar. Actually, however, it is of pure Turkic stock, as also the
troika (no Turkic equivalent for the word is known), since the times of the Great
Migration of the Peoples.
The steppe gave the Turkic nation many benefits and taught it lots of
It is not that the old was thrown away to give way to the new. The
ancient Altaic traditions survived, and the mountains lived on in people's hearts and
dreams. New generations came and went far from the mountains, of which they knew by
hearsay only. Strangely, though, they adored the mountains just as their distant ancestors
It was perhaps this nostalgia that led the more recent Turkic
generations to build kurgans (or mounds), tiny replicas of those majestic ranges, to be
always a reminder of their Altaic roots. So now, whenever we see a mound we take it for a
sign of Turkic presence, at one time or another.
They built mounds where khans or famous generals were buried. The place
was sacred. Nearby the Kipchaks honoured the dead and prayed to Tenrgri. The ancestors'
traditions were strictly observed. In the steppes the Kipchaks seemed to be doing the
same, but not quite the same.
Archaeologists digging up one mound after another made a striking
discovery. Those steppe hillocks were not piled up haphazardly, but were built according
to a plan. As a result, each mound was a feat of ancient engineering that can tell a lot
about the ancients' technical skills.
For some time after moving into the steppe, the settlers continued to
bury their dead as their forefathers had done back in the Altai. Gradually, they developed
a new approach fit for the steppe.
Ancient Altaic tribes did not inter their dead in the ground - digging
a grave in rocky ground or permafrost was a hard, if not impossible, job. Accordingly,
mountain dwellers followed a different burial rite.
A dead body wrapped in white cloth was taken to a sacred site, on a
high flat rock. Then, a heap of dry firewood smeared with animal fat was lighted up
nearby. The rising column of smoke attracted vultures from around the place for that
celebration of the dead.
Soon, nothing was left on the send-off rock but a few reddish black
spots and bones.
There must be a profound philosophical sense in this burial ritual. The
Turkis sincerely believed that death was the beginning of new life. The soul being
immortal, they held, it flitted into another human being or animal. The dead body, they
reasoned, was a sacrifice for the sake of new life.
On certain occasions, ancient Altaians actually interred their dead in
the ground, typically on top of a mountain. A hollow hole was then dug in the ground and a
log frame was half-buried inside, a kind of "house" for the dead. Archaeologists
have a name for these tombs - burial frame (or mortuary house).
Burial frames were forerunners of coffins, which are used extensively
today by almost all European cultures.
That was the way it was in the Altai. The steppe was different in
nature, however. The dead could only be buried in the ground. Mortuary houses were built
for the nobility, and mounds were piled up over them and capped with monuments similar to
the ancient send-off stones for vultures to feast on.
A rough log room containing a dead body was enclosed within a mound,
and food provisions, weapons, tools, daily necessities, a slaughtered horse and killed
slaves were placed next to the corpse. An underground passage led into the burial room
from beyond the mound for priests to come to perform services. Actually, underground
passages were only made under mounds built over the graves of dignitaries or saints, as we
call them now.
With mounds all around, Turkic lands looked now completely different.
The mounds marked their borders for neighbours to think twice before crossing into
Boundary markers was not the only role mounds played. According to
archaeologists, mounds served as reference points a wanderer could see from a far
distance. To give them that role, the Kipchaks built them along roads, like huge
milestones. The tradition caught on quickly, and from that time on steppe cemeteries were
sites along "milestoned" high roads.
Quite unexpectedly, mounds acquired a new function by the 3rd century,
when the mound became an open-air temple, in the way sacred mountains had been centuries
before. A platform, haram ("forbidden"), was levelled in front of the mound
entrance, where you could only pray, but were not allowed to talk. A tent-like brick
structure was put up on the top of a mound as a token of the ancient mountaintop boulder
Prayer ground and brick monument on mound top…. Was it all because
the Kipchaks wanted their mounds to remind them of the sacred Mount Kailasa? Or was there
another, more practical reason?
If our guess is right, we clearly see why churches appeared in the
steppes by the 4th century. Those were none other than churches, or kilisas (from Mount
Kailasa), where the Kipchaks kept the remains of their saints and near, not inside, which
The tent style that followed the outlines of the sacred mountain has
entrenched in church architecture since the early kilisas. It added yet another
distinctive touch to Turkic spiritual culture. From that time on the Kipchaks were
building their churches on high ground - on top of mounds or over the graves of their dead
Who could think the ordinary steppe mounds, looking very much like big
heaps of earth, contained so much useful information?
The Great Migration of the Peoples was not a relocation of hungry and
ragged hordes, as some scholars would have it. No, it was an advance and dissemination of
the Great Altaic culture across much of Eurasia. The Turkis made a step of enormous
magnitude towards reconciliation between East and West. It was certainly an outstanding
historical event of itself. The new state they established on new lands was a kind of
bridge linking the separated parts of the ancient world in one Eurasia.
Five generations came and went before the Kipchaks closed in on the
Caucasus and the borders of the Roman Empire. They were led across those boundaries by
Khan Aktash, who was the first eastern ruler to see the West at close range.
The galloping horsemen were clearly surprised when they saw a wide river suddenly coming
into view, and stopped at the water edge spellbound by a spectacle they had not seen for
long. The river was really great. They named it the Idel (the Volga of today; Russians
continued to call it the Itil in the 10th and 11th centuries). They pitched a camp
routinely and sent out scouts in all directions.
After a while, the returning scouts reported seeing local people
speaking an unknown language. This was, or could be, the first encounter between East and
West, the Turkis and Europeans.
We cannot tell with certainty who those Europeans were.
The Idel emptied into the Caspian Sea about three hundred kilometres
south of the point where the Volga does today. In a broad sweeping meander, the river
raced across the North Caucasus steppes, swerving towards the sea a short distance from
the Caucasus Range. We do not know now who lived on its banks first reached by the Turkic
The Idel's old watercourse has survived, but time left nothing in the
way of ancient living sites. Even though much has been destroyed, there is enough
field-work to be done there.
Ancient cities, for example. They are not there for the taking, of
course. Rather, they seem to have spilled over the place and dissolved in mud. Little
wonder, for they all had been built from mud blocks, to which straw was added for
strength. The houses were warm in winter, but did not last long. Clay was washed out of
the building blocks by rain and damaged by frost. Only the true brickwork foundations have
come through. That was enough for the archaeologists to identify their Turkic style of
An ordinary brick of furnace-baked clay can tell a lot to an inquiring
archaeologist. We learned about the Turkis' measures of length from brick dimensions. The
builders actually used several measures of length, some of them - arshin (equivalent to
0.71 metre) and sazhen (equivalent to 2.13 metres) - going back to the Altai. Those were
actually used in Russia for centuries after. But the main measure was the brick itself.
All of the Turkis' bricks had standard dimensions - 26-27 centimetres
long and 5-6 centimetres thick. Half-length made width, so a brick could nicely fit into a
mason's palm. A really practical choice.
Thousands of buildings were put up from these bricks from end to end of
the steppe, between Lake Baikal and Western Europe. Some bricks bore a tamgha, or the
mason's seal, to tell one builder from another.
Square bricks were also used occasionally. Despite their different
shape, they fitted into the same measure - 26 to 27 centimetres.
After they had their bricks made to measure, the builders could
proceed, with some kind of plan or design before their eyes. How else could they get their
buildings so nice and neat? And they certainly made some calculations to see how many
bricks they might need and where to place them.
Archaeologists have found traces of ancient buildings in the Volga
(Idel) drainage area, in the Ural and Altai mountains, in Kazakhstan and Daghestan, on the
Don, in Ukraine and in Central Europe.
Some other signs of the Great Migration of the Turkic people have been
preserved almost intact. Roadside stones, for example, with a deer figure cut on each of
them. For lack of any other name archaeologists have dubbed them "deer stones".
The Sun Deer was yet another sign of Tengri, predating the Turkic cross
by a long period of time.
Deer Stones provided travellers with information they might need on the
road. Symbols and legend were given on them in clear lines so they could be easily
recognized at a distance - a sort of modern road map or sign.
"Turn right to come to a palace, and nothing to go to the left
for." No, it was not folklore, but an inscription on a Deer Stone. Inscriptions were
made in Turkic runes, so no stranger unfamiliar with the old Turkic tradition of helping
travellers could read them.
Right, left, straight on, back were otherwise read as south, north,
east and west, respectively. Equipped with stone road map instructions, a traveller could
know where he was going and act accordingly.
Long messages, even verses, were cut on large boulders or rocks,
wherever they happened to be in the steppe. Poetry had been in the Turkis' blood, from the
Altaic times, and continued to live on in the steppe.
The Turkis composed poems and tales about their great trek westward.
Some of their folklore has survived, such as the ancient Tale of Aktash. It has changed
immensely since it was first told, but its core remains the same.
Really, Bashkirs insist that Khan Aktash was kin to them, Tatars say he
was one of them, and Kumyks are certain he was a flesh and blood Kumyk. A river in
Daghestan, North Caucasus, bears the famous khan's name, and the ruins of an old city
built - in popular tradition - by Khan Aktash are those of his capital city. Was he a
Bashkir, a Tatar, a Kumyk or what?
All at once, I believe. And I have strong reasons for that.
With a firm grip on the Idel, Khan Aktash established a state that had
a name already - Desht-i-Kipchak. The modern Kumyks, Bashkirs and Tatars were then all
Kipchaks, a single nation with nothing to divide them, as they are divided today, with a
common khan and one country. Centuries later, they have lost the sense of their common
identity to an extent that they argue over priorities.
A large Turkic khanate ruled by Khan Aktash arose in the 3rd century.
It was an outcrop of the Great Migration. Development of new lands could only end in the
emergence of new states, each with its own name, boundaries and ruler.
Desht-i-Kipchak has a profound meaning. It is commonly translated today
as the Steppe of Kipchaks (that is, Turkis who settled in the steppe). This translation
explains very little, however, and is totally out of tune with Turkic tradition. We have
very strong doubts about Desht or Dasht, which appears out of place here. Our doubts are
reinforced by the fact that it was "foreign land", rather than
"steppe" in ancient Turkic.
Could then the steppe settlers call their new-found home something like
"Kipchaks' abroad"? Hardly ever. Too indefinite.
The puzzle is resolved if we take a closer look at the short
"i" squeezed into insignificance by its two much bigger neighbours. It is what
is actually left of the old isitep (sounds very much like "steppe"), which was
Turkic for "shelter" or "protection", which leads us to "foreign
land sheltering the Kipchaks". Now we have everything in its place, fine and clear.
(Turkic syntax apart, the idea was exactly that.)
"Desht-i-Kipchak" were the only appropriate words the Turkis
migrating to the steppe to make it their new home could say - a new home where they were
comfortable and happy.
Steppe dwellers have no word more genial than isitep now. This is our
land, the dearest of all. The Kipchaks could now say with every reason: "The Altai is
our cradle and the Steppe is our Homeland."
The phrase "Desht-i-Kipchak" may certainly be interpreted
differently. Not unlikely, some people will see it as more precise. If, for example, you
start from the Turkic tash (or dash), which is "stone", "rock" or
"highland", you get tashta (or dashta), a place of residence. Some researchers
are striking out in this direction exactly. Others are probing into an Iranian equivalent
(at least one is thoroughly explored).
Whatever the case, the ancient Turkic word isitep will never make way
for any other in a steppe dweller's heart.
Khan Aktash built cities, villages, homesteads and outposts in the steppe on both banks of
the Idel. He was a very vigorous and enterprising ruler.
No matter what claims Tatars, Bashkirs or Kumyks may have on his glory,
he was a Turkic hero, a sort of generic name, if you wish, for a nation that had gone
through endless hardship leaving a deep imprint on the Urals and Caucasus, for a khanate
whose subjects were a united and determined nation.
The Turkic white horse galloped up and down the Idel, north or south,
at will. Cities were established, beginning in the 3rd century, on that great river. Some
of them are still very much alive today, like Sumeru (modern Samara), named in honour of
Uch-Sumer, the Altai's sacred mountain. The place must have reminded the nostalgic Turkis
about that distant sanctuary - a hill, vegetation or whatever: they never threw words
around without a purpose.
Another surviving city, Simbir (modern Simbirsk), or a "lone
grave", arose next to the burial place of a holy man. Next, Sarytau, that is,
"yellow mountain" (modern Saratov) was built on a sand hill. And, of course,
Bulgar, which was famous in the early Middle Ages already, a city inhabited by Turkic and
other races. A cosmopolitan city, judging by its Turkic name.
More cities were built on the Idel's tributaries - the Kama, Oka and
Aghidel, and in the Ural region, such as Chelyaba (modern Chelyabinsk), Taghil, Kurgan
(translated as "mound") and many more, all of them bearing Turkic names.
The Kipchaks did not, however, encroach on other tribes' land rights,
and were good neighbours to the Udmurts, Mari, Mordvins, Komi, Permyaks and other peoples
in the modern Volga area and the Urals. Actually, they were closely related, all coming
from their common Altaic roots.
Khan Aktash's forces marched past Scythian settlements. Their
inhabitants were the descendants of Turkic families that had left the Altai in protest
against Tengri's faith. They are modern Chuvash, who have remained loyal to the ancient
Turkic faith, with one notable exception - they recognized Tengri, whom they call Ego
The land of the Chuvash is a veritable museum and a treasure-store of
the Turkic world, patiently waiting to be sorted out.
It was not all smooth going, however. A foothold on the Idel had been
won at a cost of occasional bloodshed and lives lost. The Turkic cavalry, for example, ran
into stiff resistance from the Alans, a very strong and warlike tribe that had Roman
legionaries back down when they attempted an incursion into the Alans' lands.
The Alans effectively blocked the Turkis' advance towards the Don, and
where the Turkic cavalry did reach the river, they were not even permitted to bathe their
horses or restock their water supplies.
Khan Aktash returned to the Idel humiliated. Descending downstream, he
laid one more city, Seminder, the future capital city of the Khazar Khanate, putting a
seal of title on the Idel as a Turkic river.
Advance across the steppes ground to a halt here. Khan Aktash was short
of soldiers to hold on to the areas he had overrun. Europe was showing ever more
hostility, and the Turkis had to give more thought to their exposed flanks, especially the
Caucasus. They could have a respite in the mountains, which offered natural defences far
better than the best of fortresses. Unless they acted promptly, they would have been
forced back across the Idel.
Khan Aktash fought his way to the Caucasus.
On reaching a major mountain stream, Khan Aktash built a city, in fact
the first Turkic city in the North Caucasus, and Europe as a whole. A few mounds are all
that remains of it now, and occasional remnants of brick walls and earthen ramparts, next
to the Aktash River. Facing the ruins across the river is a Kumyk village, Endirei, held
in deep respect by the Kumyks for its venerable age.
From this long-lost city the Great Migration spearheaded southward, but
only briefly. The Turkic cavalry was stopped at the walls of Derbent, without a hope of
ever resuming its advance.
Derbent was a dependable outpost of the Western world and an
impregnable fortress perched on a mountaintop. A high stone wall ran down from the city
towards the seashore, raising an impassible barrier across the road to Iran and the Roman
Empire. Indeed the high wall was so thick that a cart could be driven along its top.
The wall gave safety to the city. And income, too. Not the wall
exactly, but rather its gate that was only opened to merchant caravans for a toll - in
cash or goods.
Not surprisingly, the gate was closed to the Turkic horsemen. They had
ridden against a blind wall, literally - with rocky cliffs at right, a sea at left, and a
fortress they could not take in front.
Well into the second half of the 3rd century on the planet, calm
descended on the Turkic world.
The land beyond the Derbent gate beckoned the Kipchaks, because it was totally unknown to
them. It was a new land and a new culture for these eastern steppe dwellers. Of course,
the Turkis had heard about Europe and the Roman Empire, but had never seen them.
Now, with nowhere to go, they entrusted their fate to the Heaven.
Desht-i-Kipchak resumed its customary peacetime chores - building new
towns, smelting iron and raising crops and cattle. As before, people feasted, got married,
raised children and mourned the death of their relations and friends. In short, their life
had regained its leisurely pace.
In the meanwhile, Turkic settlements were established and new cities
built in the part of the Caucasus under their control. One of them was Hamrin. The city
was famous for its sacred tree, the Tengri Khan tree, which was mentioned in almost every
history of the Caucasus at the time.
It was certainly not a sacred tree of a kind typically adulated by
pagans. No, the Turkis kept alive a legend of a world tree embodying everything created by
Great Tengri. (Incidentally, this is an occasion when Tengri was to be addressed as Hodai,
The world tree concept is a full-scale science that gives ultimate
knowledge to a man who, by learning it, begins to see the essence of the world and to
comprehend the way it works. Europeans call this science philosophy.
The world tree has branches reaching up to the sky and belonging to God
and birds. The roots of the tree go deep down into the underworld, into the Serpent's
kingdom. The tree trunk extends through the mid-world inhabited by humans and animals.
This tree of life is as eternal as God himself, and you cannot see as
you will never be able to see God.
According to legend, the tree of life is a channel for spirits and
thoughts to flow from one world to the other. The world tree gives humans the knowledge
they need. Could it be that Hamrin was a city of wise men and philosophers? Was it
possible that here, in the shade of the world tree, the Kipchaks sought counsel from
Tengri? Surrounded as they were by enemies?
Churches were shortly built in Hamrin, followed many decades later by
mosques. Whatever went on around, the tree remained the city's main sanctuary. Today it is
the site of a village called Kayakent. It has a regular urban plan, and the sacred Tengri
Khan tree still grows on its fringe as a reminder of the place's glorious past. The Kumyks
living here and beyond do not remember or know much about the tree, but they have a very
deep respect for that tree growing in Kayakent.
The tree of their future memories?
Great events were brewing in the world back then, in the 3rd century.
They began on the other side of the Derbent wall, with the Turkis standing by, no part
left for them at first. Eventually, however, the Kipchaks were destined to become the main
player and the moving force of the events.
"What Tengri says will be," says an old wisdom.
And, you won't believe it, the fortress gate opened by itself, without
an effort on the Kipchaks' part. Good intentions, they say, are sent by Heavens and they
will not go unfulfilled. A good illustration of this is provided by what followed next in
the history of the Caucasus and Europe as a whole.
No one was more happy about the arrival of the Kipchaks than Armenians who were fighting a
losing war with Iran across the Caucasus Range. They needed a strong ally and,
accordingly, they sent ambassadors to Hamrin. They were the first nation in Europe to
recognize the Kipchaks for what they were worth and applied every effort to get Derbent
open its gate to the Kipchak cavalry.
Armenian ruler Hosrow I seemed to pick the right ally. The Kipchaks
delivered a smashing defeat on the enemy whose troops fled in terror. The war ended there
and then. The allies each achieved their aims - Armenia wrested itself out of Iranian
control and the Kipchaks became masters of Derbent and the entire western Caspian
Modern Azerbaijan has many signs refreshing memories of those times.
One is, for example, the village of Kypchak. Or another, the town of Gyanja. Memories of
the Great Migration of the Peoples can even be found in little-known towns and villages
lost in the countryside. Look at Gusary. A modern name, it probably derives from the
Turkic prophet Gheser. In the distant 3rd century, the Turkic world spilled over into the
Caucasus, claiming the right to stay forever there. It shot deep roots in the new land and
was firmly integrated into the culture of the Caucasus and Europe as a whole. After many
amazing discoveries, we are certainly in for many more.
The Turkis' arrival in the Caucasus was an unprecedented event in world
history. Above all, it showed the strength of cavalry, a new type of army of horsemen that
was a force everybody was to reckon with, and indicated the future routes and horizons of
the Great Migration of the Peoples - from their new vantage ground, the Kipchaks had their
eyes set on Europe and the Middle East.
The Caucasus tensely waited for the political battle lines suddenly to
spring into action and set global events in motion to change history and the world itself.
The Turkis' arrival in Europe drew a line under antiquity and opened a
new page, the Middle Ages. A new Europe was born, with the Turkis at its cradle. This
Europe had sort of passed from infancy to adolescence. No point is made of this
significant episode, however, by historians.
The Caucasus had certainly played a major role in world politics,
standing as it does at the watershed between East and West, a boundary between two worlds.
It was a nexus of conflicting interests of Iran and the Roman Empire, where bloodshed had
been going on for centuries.
Also, it was perhaps the only place in the Western world where iron was
made and used on a significant scale. In fact, because of its scarcity it was prized more
than gold. (True, iron was not smelted here because of its very poor quality, and so, or
nearly so, it was in the Carpathian Mountains, where Celts used very similar techniques.)
Its poor quality regardless, it was a perennial bone of contention between competing
powers. Left without Caucasian iron, the Roman Empire would have never emerged from the
Bronze Age. Romans were unfamiliar with iron smelting practices, so they used bronze to
make armour for their legionaries. Iran, too, relied on Caucasian iron to meet its needs.
When the Turkis finished off the Iranian army in Transcaucasia, the
bottom fell suddenly out of the existing set-up. The world politics that had been kept in
balance here for centuries collapsed overnight, never to be born again. Very few people,
save for the most astute, realised this.
There were no visionaries among the Kipchaks, however. They were
completely unaware of much of what was happening in Europe. They withdrew back to their
steppes from across the Caucasus Range without trying to benefit from their victory - they
up and left, leaving the field to others to reap the harvest. Glad to have helped their
Armenian allies, they returned to develop their side of the Caspian coast.
The abandoned Transcaucasian field did not have to wait long for the
reaper. He was the Roman emperor Diocletian, a crafty fox and leading politician of his
age. With the whole of Europe lying at his feet, he felt he could bid for the world at
In 297, Diocletian had all of Transcaucasia under his rule, and then
fell upon the weakened Iran, seizing the richest provinces from it. His Iranian campaign
was quick and splendidly victorious. Rome was enthusiastic. There was talk of a new Golden
Age dawning on the empire. The success was utterly unexpected, even for the emperor
Victory was won much too easily, however. Deceptively easily, making
Diocletian suspicious. He was alone to sense a coming storm in that easy victory over the
Persians. The revolt in Armenia that soon followed gave him a foretaste of the catastrophe
looming for the empire over the horizon.
The revolt in Armenia was duly crushed and its Christian leaders were
thrown into jail. That could change little, however. The Armenians gave the impression of
being under a spell, waiting for a very important even to happen. A miracle predicted by
A Christian soothsayer, Gregory, had a vision of a fiery column, with a
cross on top of it, rising to the sky. The cross radiated bright light, exactly like a
At the time, the Armenians held little faith in the salvational power
of the cross - they were still pagans. They did remember well, however, the cross-spangled
banners the Kipchaks had fought under and were struck by coincidence - Saint Gregory saw a
similar cross in the sky. Was it a sign of God?
"The Turkis must be helped by their God of Heaven," the
Rumour about the Turkis' all-powerful God swept across Europe like wild
fire. News of it was carried far and wide by Christians. They spread Jesus Christ's
prophetic words of horsemen who would liberate the world from Rome's rule. You can read
this prophesy in the Apocalypse, one of Christians' most revered books. It was looked to
with hope. People would read every line time and again, relating the prophetic words to
what was happening around them. There was a complete match. Everything was turning out
exactly as the man called Christ had said.
"The prophesy has been fulfilled. Now wait," St. Gregory
addressed his followers, after he had seen the shining cross of Tengri in the sky. Weren't
those words why Armenians called the Saint Gregory the Illuminator?
Victory was round the corner. Bide your time and wait, was the message.
The Turkis, of course, did not know, or even guess, what was happening
in Europe at the time, until a young Armenian priest who came to them told them all. The
Armenian's name was Gregoris, he was a grandson of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and he was
only sixteen years old. Gregoris made a low bow and asked, in broken Turkic, for a meeting
with the Kipchak king.
Doesn't the Holy Book tell us, "What Tengri says will be"?
The Turkis and Christianity
Why did the young Bishop Gregoris come to see the khan and what did he ask for? No, it was
not military assistance.
This time, the Armenians were asking to be taught how to win. They
(both pagans and Christians) wanted to adopt faith in the God of Heaven who had made the
Turkis invincible. Christian Bishop Gregoris was the first European to come to the Turkis
to learn about the faith in Tengri so he could then teach it to his people. In fact, he
wanted to follow the example of Gheser and Khan Erke, this time in Europe.
At the time, hardly any European had as much as heard about the God of
Heaven. Jews prayed to idols (teraphim) and pagan gods (elohim), and the Romans worshipped
Jupiter. Heathen polytheism and dark barbarism were rampant across all of Europe.
In stark contrast to them Christians revered no gods, denying them all
and calling themselves atheists. They were awaiting the arrival of the horsemen on a
mission from the God of Heaven. The horsemen did come.
The Kipchaks' arrival at the boundaries of the Roman Empire and their
brilliant victory over Iran impressed all, Christians above all. The Kipchaks were on
everybody's lips - they were too outlandish to go unnoticed. Their iron armour and weapons
made them look out of a different world in the Europeans' eyes. And they really were -
from the bright world under the high sky of Tengri.
Heathen Europe looked at them bottom-up, like a foot soldier does at a
horseman. Europe lost to the Turkis on all counts, the principal of which was faith in God
- really an asset it lacked conspicuously, in God who gave the Turkic people plenty of
iron and an ability to make the most of it.
A simple example will emphasise the importance of iron. A well-landed
blow with an iron sword could cut a bronze one in two. In other words, Roman troops had no
arms to resist the Kipchaks. Like prehistoric men with nothing else but wooden clubs.
You can say whatever and however you like about the collapse of the
Roman Empire, put forward any hypotheses and make any guesses. All discussion would be a
waste of time unless you consider this simple fact.
Turkic Tengri stood for iron and Rome's Jupiter symbolised bronze. The
Kipchaks were to win inevitably, just as iron was superior to bronze. The Roman Empire was
doomed, fully at the mercy of the Kipchaks, if and when they cared to finish it off.
The Armenians would not send Bishop Gregoris for nothing. They were
probably the only Europeans who made the correct guess about the course of future events,
and did whatever they could to distance themselves from Rome on its deathbed, even if not
These were the reasons that brought the teenage bishop to Derbent. He
was baptised there (ary-sili or ary-alkyn in Turkic) by immersion in water blessed by a
priest holding a silver cross over it three times.
Baptism with water is a key rite of the Tengri worship. In fact,
initiation into the faith or, in other words, into the Turkic world. Baptism originated in
the Ancient Altai where newborn babies were dipped in ice-cold water before they entered
into the realm of the Eternal Blue Sky. (The baptismal bath made a child tiurk, which the
Chinese translated as "strong" or "robust".)
Another ancient Turkic word, aryg, meant "pure" in spirit. It
was applied to a person that had gone through a cleansing ceremony.
The use of water for baptism goes back to the Ancient Altai, among
people who cared for their bodily and spiritual purity. Today, introduction of baptism is
ascribed to Christians or to some other creed. It is completely wrong. Early Christians
could not use baptism for the simple reason that Europe first learned about the ritual
with the arrival of Kipchaks. This is an indisputable fact that is not covered up by
Christian historians themselves. Baptisteries, or basins to have Christians baptised, were
first built in the 4th century.
As added evidence, Tibetans, who adhere to traditions of faith in
Tengri, still perform ary-alkyn and ary-sili rites.
The Armenian bishop was, therefore, the first European to be admitted
to the faith in Tengri. That was the Turkis' own way, full of spiritual symbolism, to
express their relation to alliance with the West. Gregoris was baptised in a lake, Aji or
Lake Cross, near the village of Kayakent.
Turkic priests took the spiritually pure Gregoris to Hamrin where he
was initiated into the mystery of the World Tree. He was shown the Turkis' sacred texts,
in particular, Tengri's covenants, which have, as far as can be judged by fragments, been
incorporated in the Koran. And then, following an admission ceremony, he was allowed to
join together the thumb and fourth finger of his right hand, a godly sign of
In Oriental symbolism, the two joined fingers signified allegiance to
Heaven. They were then lifted to the forehead, lowered to the chest, raised again to the
left shoulder and then the right shoulder. The Turkis used this gesture to ask the God of
Heaven for protection and patronage. (Bishop Gregoris was thus the first Christian who
made the sign of the cross.)
Early Christians did not cross themselves, being unaware of the force
of the cross, and they adopted this practice from the Kipchaks.
Gregoris told his hosts of Christ, whom he worshipped, about Europe and
persecution of Christians. The Turkis believed him, accepting Christ for the Son of the
God of Heaven, because they knew of other sons of Tengri, in particular, Gheser, the
Turkic people's Prophet. Gheser is extolled in a prayer, which is very brief and
"We gave you Gheser, so say your prayers to God…." This is
phrase from Tengri's Testament. (Today, it makes up Sura 108 of the Koran.) The East still
remembers these words, even though the meaning of Gheser (Kawsar or Kewser) is not clear
Gregoris spent a long time learning the mysteries of divine service.
Turkis helped him to set up a Christian church in Derbent. (Many years later, it was
renamed Albanian Church, after a new country in the Caucasus, Albania, Gheser being
probably one of its cities.)
Armenia was the first country in Europe to have a new Christian church
in 301. The Armenian church accepted Tengri and adopted His cross. And more, Armenians
borrowed the principles of divine service from the Turkis. (Previously, Christians had no
rite of their own and followed Judaic practices in synagogues.)
Armenians also were the first defectors from the old practices, causing
ire and indignation in Rome. In response, Emperor Diocletian unleashed his notorious
persecutions of new Christians.
No Christian was, however, frightened by executions and banishment. The
new faith acquired growing numbers of followers instead. The seeds of Turkic culture
sprouted into plentiful shoots on the barren soil of heathen Rome. Indeed, no one can defy
the omnipotence of the God of Heaven.
Now, the various peoples comprising the Roman Empire talked without
fear about the helplessness of the old gods. They openly rejected Jupiter, crushed
Mercury's statues and smashed idols.
"What Tengri says will be."
In the end, Rome saw light as well. At one time, Emperor Diocletian
wanted to convert to new Christianity, but took fright at the last minute. In desperation
he abdicated and left the imperial palace. A wise politician, he realised that he had lost
to the Turkis.
He was defeated without ever engaging the Turkis on the battlefield.
On his departure exactly, the Roman Empire gave way, without war or
catastrophe. It ceased to be so self-assured and believe in itself, the greatest of
The Cross on Europe's Temples
Armenia and Albania (Caucasus), followed by Iveria (modern Georgia), Syria and Egypt were
all looking forward to the arrival of the Kipchaks: the Great Migration of the Peoples
continued over their territories. Or rather it was the Great Migration of the Cultures.
Tengri's cross and Turkic spiritual culture were acclaimed and accepted
everywhere. New Christianity (patterned on the Turkic faith) promised them complete
freedom from Roman rule.
The Kipchaks instituted a Patriarchal See for the benefit of people in
those countries in Derbent. It was a signal beginning, that early theological school for
the West. Again, people came here, as they did to the Altai and the Kushan Khanate
centuries before, to learn knowledge and experience. The school provided training to early
Christian priests, taught them to perform rites and conduct divine services, initiated
them in the mystery of faith, and trained preachers.
How else could Europeans learn about the God of Heaven? From that time
on, the Caucasus remained for long Europe's proselytizing centre.
The world's first Christian church was built in Derbent. It was
patterned on Turkic temples, which could not be entered by the parishioners. Hundreds of
people flocked to the new spiritual spring source from former Roman colonies.
The church building has survived to our days under layers of soil. It
was unearthed by archaeologists by accident, as they were digging in the fortress under
another project. No one expected to find it there. At first, they mistook it for an old
granary. As they dug deeper, however, they realised they had uncovered an ancient temple
buried in the ground intact, from foundation to dome. God saved it from destruction after
so many centuries.
Turkis built their temples to resemble equal-armed crosses from a
bird's-eye view. The temple in Derbent exactly fulfilled this requirement. Besides, it is
small and has brick walls, widespread among the Kipchaks.
Similar churches were soon built in Armenia, Iveria and other countries
allied with the Kipchaks. Their Turkic origins are suggested by signs their builders cut
in the church walls. Researchers scratched their heads for a long time, "What these
unintelligible signs could mean?"
The answer was very simple. They were tamghas, or peculiar seals. Every
one of Turkic tribes (or tuhums) had one. (Incidentally, the tamgha laid the beginnings
for European heraldry, an imaginative science studying symbols and genealogies.)
After centuries of silence, the inscriptions on the walls of old
churches spoke up when the tamghas' owners were identified.
An inscription in ancient Turkic in an Armenian church says, for
example, "Accept this gift for the monastic brotherhood." It ends with the
This gift was given, among other donations, by the Turkis to the
Armenian people about seventeen hundred years ago to celebrate the Armenians' admission to
the new faith. A short phrase, it speaks much about the peoples' destinies.
A stone block in another church, near the chapel dedicated to Vachagan
III the Blessed, bears a mason's engraving of a horseman wearing a priest's clothing. He
sat on his horse in a Turkic fashion, straight up, his legs down without stirrups.
Another puzzle to be unravelled? No, if we know that priests never used
stirrups riding in the steppe. Simply, they were not allowed to use them, the stirrups
being a prerogative of warriors.
November 10, 326, was a day for celebrations in Armenia - the Tengri
Cross was raised on that day over Europe's first few churches. From that day on the
Armenian people have been loyal to their newly acquired faith and the liberation mission
of their cross.
The Holy Cross feast has always been a joyous occasion for celebrations
in Armenia, for it was a turning point in its history. And right were the Armenians
calling St. Gregory the Illuminator, head of the Armenian Church, a Saint - he actually
showed the road to the Turkis to his grandson and his people.
St. Gregory departed from Derbent riding a royal chariot under a
cavalry convoy - he was carrying with him an equal-armed cross, a sacred symbol and sign
of a new Europe, from the Turkic world.
The Turkis conferred a high, indeed very high, honour upon the head of
the Armenian Church, giving him the title of katylic, which is "ally" or
"initiated" in Turkic. This title, modified to Catholicos over centuries (with
the Greek ending "-os" added on later), has been retained to our day.
Christian communities in Syria, Egypt and the Byzantine Empire kneeled
before this God's servant, the first true pastor of the Christian world. Armenia's
authority was growing tremendously in those years.
Armenia provided a conduit for European and Mediterranean culture to
absorb the secular and spiritual treasures of the Turkic world. The words "Light
comes from the East" have since acquired a more than simple physical meaning.
Really, Light comes from the East.
Europe knew very little about the East. Its encounters with the Turkic
world were infrequent and sporadic. The Romans took advantage of public ignorance to brand
the Kipchaks as villains and vicious and savage barbarians so as to scare off people and
prolong their domination. Unfortunately, they succeeded in many of their designs.
Bishop Gregoris was the only European to know the truth about the
Turkic people and its culture. He lived in Derbent, conducted service in the name of the
God of Heaven and he knew the Kipchaks firsthand. He was like a Prophet whose dedicated
service was reminiscent of Gheser's deeds. Europeans called Gregoris an Evangelist.
That went against the plans of the God of Heaven's haters lying in wait
in Rome. Rome's rulers were afraid of hearing the truth about the Kipchaks and feared
their arrival in Europe. As on numberless occasions before, they resorted to defamation,
which was their favourite tool. That was easy enough for them to do for Gregoris was a
scion of a noble Iranian family. Not without Iranian help, they accused the young bishop
of the fall.
The tragic day of trial came. Gregoris had nothing to say in his
defense. All facts were against him. The Turkis put him to a painful death, in Derbent's
central square. They tied the young man to the tail of a wild horse and the judges
pronounced the sentence.
Gregoris did not plead for mercy before death, as he had not at trial.
He uttered no words for he had nothing to be sorry of. All he did was look up to the sky
and say quietly: Tengri salg'an namusdan k'achmas ("What Tengri says will be").
The awe-struck judges did not immediately grasp the meaning of his last
phrase. When they did, it was too late - the horse was galloping along the seashore and
was very far to attempt to stop it.
The execution was promptly pronounced a martyred death and prayers were
said to Tengri to make the soul of the hero and innocent victim the Kipchaks' patron. It
was an ancient Altaic tradition to seek protection from a fallen hero.
From that very moment Bishop Gregoris was given a Turkic name, Jargan
("recklessly desperate"). In spirit he became one of Turkis, a man as recklessly
desperate as the Kipchaks themselves. The Turkis accepted him into their community and
said many prayers for Jargan's soul to be reincarnated in a newborn Turkic boy, never to
leave the Turkic world.
(A note must be made here that the Turkis attached tremendous
importance to name changing and reincarnation of the soul since a very distant past,
because, in particular, change of name marked the end of an old life and beginning of a
Jargan was buried with high honours befitting a Turkic national hero,
on top of the highest mountain there was at Derbent. A small chapel was put up on his
grave, and a church was built on the execution site.
A miracle occurred on the ninth day after burial - a water spring
struck next to the grave. Curative water spouted out of the ground on the very mountaintop
where no springs had ever existed before. Pilgrims started coming to the grave from places
far and near.
A small village soon grew up nearby - guards and their families now
lived there. The secrets of the holy place were closely guarded from generation to
generation. The guards tended the spring and people continued to come here to pay their
respects, and still do.
The Turkis and the Byzantine Empire
Different nations cherish memories of their history in different ways. Most frequently,
they take the form of legends or tales, folk poems or folklore passed by word of mouth
from generation to generation.
Even with insignificant details gone from its memory, a nation
remembers the high points of its past, for this is the way human memory is made. Reading
the information contained in legends is a task within reach of modern science.
Here we suddenly discover that culture is, apart from anything else, a
store of popular memories. In fact, culture makes a nation, with a future as well as past.
Legends, fairy-tales, and poems were not made to kill time, with nothing else to do.
Rather, every piece of folklore had a profound meaning for the contemporaries - and
posterity, too, for mystery lurks behind each line.
Turkic legends are exactly like that - elaborate phrases, minutely
detailed descriptions of subjects, and ever-present mystery or rather a secret meaning to
be gleaned between the lines.
The Turkis treasured each and every one of their heroes like we do a
precious gem. His name, attire and weapons were all invested with meaning, and quite
understandably so. A story-teller remembered dozens of legends, and were he to forget a
hero's name or any detail of the narration, he had no right to tell a legend.
The Turkis, of course, remember well the episode that occurred at
Derbent walls. Azerbaijanis, Kumyks, Tatars and other Turkic nations do remember a story
of an enormous Serpent, Ajdarkha, that took to frequenting an Oriental city, seizing or
extorting one thing or another. In the end, he captured the water spring and demanded to
be provided with young girls as a condition for returning the spring to the city. The
ruler's daughter was no exception. When her turn came, a warrior volunteered to deliver
her. He won over the Serpent, not with weapons, but by saying a prayer. All people saw
that his word proved stronger than his sword, for that word was "God".
That legend evolved over centuries, as some details were added or told
differently. The warrior was given different names - Khyzr or Khyzr-Yilyas, Keder or
Kederles, or Jirjis. Name changes regardless, he has always remained a youthful guard of
the life source.
The legend has been known in Europe as well, since no one knows when.
Europeans had many different names for the warrior - St. George, Georg, Egory, Juri, Jri
and dozens more.
These differences are nothing to be surprised at. One person was
different things for different peoples, because of political, religious or other reasons.
A common occurrence in the history of nations, when politicians forced culture to serve
their purposes. The opposite - several persons combined in legends into one, again to
please politics - is a fairly frequent case as well. Khan Aktash is one.
The Turkic legend of Jargan was rejected in Rome. Roman bishops could
not do otherwise. They took fright that its text could reveal the secret closely guarded
by the Western church. In 494 they banned Christians from as much as mentioning the name
of Gregoris (Jargan). The Turkic saint was first made over into a martyr and then a killer
- he was sat on a horse and sent to kill the Serpent, which, you know, is the ancestor of
the Turkic race. The old legend has changed beyond recognition. This is the image in which
St. George (Jargan or Gregoris) is known today.
Every effort was made to conceal the truth about the feat, about the
God of Heaven who had come to Europe from the Turkis, and about the fact that the Turkis
stood at the sources of Christian culture that came into its own following the
disintegration of the Roman Empire. Finally, the truth that Rome fell under the blows of
It was more than folk legend that was changed. The history of the
Turkic people was maliciously altered, too. That was not done by some frightened monk in
an out-of-the-way monastery. This was part of a policy that the Western church had pursued
towards the Kipchaks. An insidious policy it was. But because of it very little truth is
known about Desht-i-Kipchak and its people.
Facts have, however, remained what they are - facts. They never change
because they are held together by logic. Logic (a very clever science where proof goes)
has helped reconstruct the events as they actually occurred and learn the whole truth.
The truth is this. Christian Greeks came to Derbent in 311. They
arrived with a purpose you wouldn't call well-intentioned. Their aim was to commit a crime
the like of which the world had never seen and the traces of which are carefully concealed
to this day.
At the time, the Roman Empire was all in turmoil: the old rule fell and
no new one was in sight. Seven august claimants were fighting for the imperial throne.
Streets resounded with talk of the inability of old Roman gods to put things right.
Eventually, the empire broke in two - Western and Eastern empires. Chaos descended on
The Greeks were the first Europeans to remember the old political
axiom: "Your god your rule." So they came to the Turkis in an attempt to steal
the God of Heaven and impose their power on Europe. Never before had anyone attempted
anything like that. People came to learn, not steal from the Turkis.
A Greek by the name of Constantine was among the seven august
pretenders or emperors (rather, claimants to the shaky throne of the Roman Empire). Like
his rivals, however, Constantine had only his high title to show for his claim, without an
army and, therefore, power.
The Mediterranean was in the hands of Maxentius, the real emperor. His
army was stationed in Rome, and nothing seemed to forebode trouble. One day, however, the
Romans saw horsemen galloping under banners decorated with a cross (those were labarums)
no one had ever seen before. The attack was sudden and daring.
Maxentius' army was dealt a devastating defeat at the Milvian Bridge in
sight of the walls of invincible Rome in 312. Maxentius was killed in the battle, and
Constantine hastened to proclaim himself emperor. Actually, the Kipchaks who had entered
into an alliance with him on his insistence cleared the way to the throne for him. The
Turkic cavalry won a battle, victory in which was ascribed to the Greeks. Really, the
Greeks had not a single soldier under their banners.
The balance of forces in Europe swung heavily in Constantine's favour.
The period of anarchy ended.
In the same year 312, by a mere coincidence, the Greeks invited Turkic
priests to say prayers before congregation crowds to the Sole God (in Turkic, of course).
Prayers were said on central squares of Greek cities on orders of Licinius, Constantine's
rival for power in the empire's East.
Europe first heard about God from those preachers. This is a confirmed
The public saw the will of God in the Kipchaks' victory over Maxentium.
Fighting under a cross-emblazoned banner, a small Kipchak force had no trouble defeating
the Roman army. Its victory was received as a sign of the Heavens. Indeed, "your god
your rule" was the general opinion.
A very shrewd politician, Constantine grasped at this chance to show
himself off, in the wake of that victory, as a believer in the new God and make the new
faith and the Turkis serve his objectives. Following Licinius' example, he came out for
recognition of the new Christianity that had come from its birthplace in the Caucasus. He
expected to benefit from an alliance with the Kipchaks.
As they write history books, some researchers overturn, pass up or
conceal facts of history as politicians tell them. They ignore the old maxim that you
cannot conceal the truth for long - it will come out eventually, at the least expected
time. The Greeks chose to conceal the truth. They accepted the faith in God under
Constantine. This is a fact no one is going to deny. Historians pass up for some reason
the fact that they accepted it from Turkic priests, however. They seem to forget that
there were no other teachers or bearers of faith in the God of Heaven around at that time,
only the Kipchaks.
The Turkic religion gave rise to Buddhism in the East and to new
Christianity in the West. Tengri opened up differently to different peoples, and His
presence in the new places was added evidence of the Great Migration of the Peoples.
Europeans did recognize God and, through Him, Turkic spiritual culture. These facts cannot
be denied or concealed.
It is impossible to conceal that Constantine never accepted God and
remained a heathen all his life. A heathen High Priest. He was least of all interested in
true faith and only cared for power. He went to great lengths to deceive the Kipchaks, so
they could be next to him and keep him in power.
He paid a high price for victory over the Romans and lavished gifts and
promises on the victors. He stinted no efforts or money to keep the Turkic warriors at his
side so they could serve him. And stay behind they did. It looked as though the Greeks had
overindulged them on drinks. Those traitors were later known as "foederati"
(suggesting the treaty they had signed with the Greeks).
Constantine pampered them as best he could. For example, he introduced
a new calendar, with a day-off on Sunday, the Turkic way. Townsfolk were now forced to go
to church and pray to the new God of Heaven.
Please note a significant fact: until the year 325 the Greeks prayed to
Tengri only and relied on Turkic books and prayers in church service.
This fact is completely forgotten or ignored. Really, it helps explain
some of the darker aspects of European history. For example, coins minted in the Byzantine
Empire at the time bore the image of the Sun, or more exactly, equal-armed sun crosses,
Signs of the Sun. And Constantine himself was generally known as the Sun cult follower.
Was it right?
What is more, Turkic, dubbed "soldiery", was spoken in the
Byzantine army for a long time afterward. Thousands of Kipchak families were induced to
settle on Greek lands. They were given the best lands and their relocation costs were paid
by the Byzantine treasury in gold to the khans of Desht-i-Kipchak. Their relocation was,
of course, part of the Great Migration of the Peoples. Actually, though, it was not a free
movement of free people - the Kipchaks' services were bought for gold.
In real fact, the Kipchaks were behind the rise of the Byzantine
Empire, a major presence in Eastern Europe for a millennium. Three generations past, a
Byzantine culture sprouted in the new country, a product of cooperation between two
nations admitted to this day. According to experts, its eastern component played a
Nothing to wonder about. Europe offered a replay of the Kushan Khanate
scenario, with the only difference that the Byzantine Empire was ruled by a Greek rather
than a Turki. Whatever the case, it was a close fusion of two cultures. (Doesn't it strike
you how cheaply and smartly the Greeks bought the Kipchaks?)
Constantine had no enemies now, keeping a tight rein on the gullible
Kipchaks. He played generous with them and spared no efforts to have them on his side.
Unless he did, no one would have heard of the Byzantine Empire, ever.
In 324 Constantine laid a new capital, Constantinople, for his empire.
And again he turned to Turkic architects, so they could build it in their own way, as a
challenge to Rome, with churches erected in the name of Tengri. A foxy trickster, that
what he was.
Anyway, the Byzantine Empire was born.
Emperor Constantine the Perfidious
Rome's colony of yesteryear, the new empire was gaining strength with each passing year
and turning, with Kipchaks' helping hand, into a prosperous country. Alliance with the
Turkis gave it the weight to dictate its will to Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Rome itself.
Constantine's appetite was growing, however.
In 325 he summoned all Christian priests to Nicaea (modern Iznik,
Turkey) for the First Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church (General Council) that
went down in history as the Council of Nicaea.
The Council set a sole objective no one cared to disguise. The emperor
told the Council to establish a Christian church on a Greek, not Turkic, pattern. He had
toyed with that idea for years, stinting no efforts or money to achieve his aim.
Under Constantine's design, Tengri and Christ were to become one
person, or rather a sole God. The Greeks thought that the name of Tengri they usurped
would give them divine power. And they needed the Council of Nicaea and the church itself
for this purpose.
By appropriating Tengri for the needs of their church, they encroached
upon Turkic prayers, rites and churches, upon Turkic culture as a whole. The treasures the
Turkis had spent centuries to amass were now taken over by the Byzantine Empire and its
Church. A real crime against the Turkic people, isn't it carefully concealed to this day?
The priests gathered at the Council of Nicaea failed to see through
Emperor Constantine's design. When they finally realised what was behind it, they got
indignant. Making God and man one - could there be a sillier thing? A sacrilege?
The first to speak out in defence of Tengri was Bishop Arius of
Alexandria, Egypt. You could not, he said, equate man and God, for God was spirit and man
was flesh, or God's creation to be born and die by the will of God.
Arius was a very enlightened man, confident in his power of persuasion.
He was supported by bishops of the Armenian, Albanian (Caucasus), Syrian and several other
churches. Not one of them, of course, rejected Christ, and no one wanted to equate him
with God, for fear of divine punishment.
The argument ended abruptly and pathetically. Emperor Constantine, an
unbaptised neophyte, who presided at the Council, interrupted Arius rudely, saying he was
not there to be contradicted.
The dissident bishops remained unconvinced. They defied Constantine's
will and did not equate God and Christ. Which signified that they retained loyalty to the
faith they had been taught by Turkic clerics at Derbent.
Tengri remained the true God in the Christian churches of Armenia,
Albania (Caucasus), Iveria, Syria, Egypt and Ethiopia, and congregations in those
countries continued to pray to Him alone. His images were portrayed on icons and churches
were dedicated to Him.
Surprisingly, the Turkic khans seemed to overlook the Council of
Nicaea, as though they lived in a different world, in which "there is no god but
Again, the Greeks got away with impunity. To vindicate themselves, they
came up with a New Testament, a book of Christ's deeds and genealogy, which, they claimed,
were records left by Christ's disciples. It was a brazen lie.
How and where could they find those records, if Christ's name was first
mentioned in the 2nd century (by the Greeks themselves)?
A situation, of which the Turkis say, "Spit at the Sky and get the
spittle in your face."
Anyway, the New Testament compilers did not bother much about niceties.
When they learned about Gheser (Tengri's son), the Greeks attributed some of his deeds to
Christ and borrowed some other details from Buddha's life story. In the end, the
politicians, little concerned about religion, succeeded in composing a sacred book for the
Christian world, which was reviewed and rewritten time and again by none other than
politicians. The whole thing has nothing to do with true faith.
Constantine was a politician with a deep sense of what he wanted. He
picked the right time to set up his own church. Tensions boiled over between the Kipchaks
and their neighbours, the Alans, so the Kipchaks' concerns were very far from Greek
"When two men fight one of them dies," runs an Oriental
The Battle for the Don
The East has always followed its own rules. People there have always seen things their way
and had their own ideas about values. They could forgive but never forget an affront.
The quarrel between the Alans and Turkis over the Don River went on for
a long time. It did not subside a bit after Khan Aktash's death. Anything, even long
quarrels, must end sometime, with one side winning and the other losing. Actually, the
river was not at the centre of the quarrel. It was only a pretext.
In the distant age the Don marked Europe's easternmost boundary. The
Kipchaks, therefore, made war for advance into Europe. The Alans were not their real
enemies. They were manipulated by Romans and Greeks who secretly assisted the Alans in the
clear hope that the Turkis would be content with remaining foederati, or obedient
Those were the mainsprings of politics at work.
Some scholars hold that the Don got its name from the Alans. That was
their word for "water". Very probable. But are other rivers made of sand and
Again, the quarrel was not over who could drink and how much of the
Don's water. The Kipchaks were squeezed for land by the pressure of their growing
population, and whatever suitable land was in sight was on the western side of the river.
The Kipchaks multiplied rapidly for such reasons as affluent life in cities and villages
and the ancient tradition of having many children and hard work to make households
"Four children do not make a family," ran Kipchak wisdom. On
the birth of a fifth (or perhaps seventh?) child, a man won a status in the community. His
status rose even higher if all his children were boys.
By an old Kipchak tradition, the youngest son stayed behind to help his
ageing parents, while the elder sons rode off to develop new lands or took up army
Really, Desht-i-Kipchak had reasonable laws - they seemed to be made
for the benefit of the country's children and to be focused on concern for them. A
striking fact for those days. A child was taken care of as best his parents could so he
could care for them when they grew old.
If, for one reason or another, a family had only one son, the young man
was given an earring to wear on conscription into the army, so he would not be assigned to
risky or dangerous duties. The last remaining man in a family wore two earrings. He
enjoyed special privileges so he could marry and have children of his own.
All men were required to serve in the army. Army service was an
honourable and sacred duty. No exemptions were allowed. A young man out of service was not
allowed to marry. Besides, no girl would want to marry him. So he exerted himself to the
utmost to get noticed and wanted for a husband. Army service was a strong incentive in
Years before enrolment, a boy was given a colt to tend. On
conscription, he rode his own horse and carried his own arms. He was well prepared for
field service and knew many practical things about army life. This was largely due to
tradition - a boy always helped his father about house, with no time left for idling,
except for paramilitary training alongside his peers. That was a good way to learn about
life in the steppe.
A Kipchak was born in the saddle. No other horseman could sit as firmly
and gracefully as a Kipchak. His horse was a continuation of his own self. In fact, both
men and women were unsurpassed horse riders. No creature on Earth was more dignified for
them than the horse. They were acknowledged horse breeders and trainers.
Young braves went out of their way to please the seasoned elders.
Turkis always equated horse riding with art. Man and horse fused into one creature. This
creation of the Great Steppe can only be appreciated by a person whose veins carry warm
Turkic blood. There were no festivals without horse racing and fancy riding, and every day
brought new joys and pleasures. Is it surprising then that cavalry was the chief fighting
force of Desht-i-Kipchak?
But all this was not enough to overpower the Alans.
The Alans were skilful and hardy fighters. They had their own way of
fighting on the battlefield. Their soldiers were formed into a battle square, rimmed with
copper shields and bristling with long lances to take up the attackers. The Alans' short
straight swords and light bows were a strong deterrent for anyone.
The Turkis' sabres were of little help against such enemy. In warfare,
the Alans were superior to both Romans and Turkis. The stalemate was finally ended when,
after a long search for a chink in the Alans' armour, the Kipchaks invented a heavy
longbow, known by that name ever since in history - the Turkic longbow.
It took a strong fellow to draw a longbow - some 150 centimetres long -
or shoot an arrow with a heavy iron tip. But then the arrow had an awesome piercing power.
This tie-breaking invention was preceded by another - screeching
arrows. A very helpful invention they proved to be. A flying arrow produced a
blood-freezing sound, bringing trouble in its wake. Really, a swooping demon.
Evidently, many other inventions were made and tricks thought up. The
military history of that period has regrettably received very little attention from
Came the year 370. A watershed of sorts. Khan Balamir set out with his
army towards the Don. Now he meant business. The Alans were not aware of the Kipchaks'
latest invention. As usually, they promptly arranged their troops in a battle square
poised for repulsing cavalry attacks. The buglers hooted the sound of an inevitable
The Turkis were not in a hurry now, like they had been on all previous
occasions. Khan Balamir kissed the banner and addressed his troops with firm and confident
words of vow and exhortation and, following the ancient Turkic tradition, made a cross of
Tengri, blessing his soldiers. Now his cavalry moved on slowly towards the enemy.
It halted at a distance from the enemy square. A battle song was heard,
and archers advanced forward. They unleashed a torrent of screeching arrows on the enemy
ranks. The Alans heard evil spirits swooshing over their heads and a swarm of witches
riding on their brooms. The Alans got really terrified. Screeching arrows were only a
scare - a debilitating scare.
Longbow archers stepped in now. They sent their heavy arrows for a
kill. The Alans' copper breastplates were just as good as eggshells - Turkic arrows just
went through them and the wearers with ease. The regular ranks fell apart and panic broke
out among the enemy troops. The hour struck for the Turkic cavalry to sweep the field.
Swords flew up and swooped on the hapless Alans. As hours seemed to have passed, the
Kipchaks showed no sign of fatigue or mercy - chopping down the fleeing foot soldiers. The
river turned scarlet with so much blood shed, and the ground was covered with a blanket of
dead bodies. The massacre went on and on.
The Turkis won a clear victory and returned home. They did not come
back to the scene of the massacre for two years, as though giving the earth time to soak
up the blood and heal its wounds.
In 372 the Kipchaks arrived again, now in their wagons to look for
sites to build cities and villages. Archaeologists have dug up evidence to date, with a
high degree of probability, nearly all old cities on the Don to exactly that period, when
they were laid by the Kipchaks.
The ancient Tanais has since had its name changed to Don, or Ana Don
(Mother Don), as the Kumyks call it in their language.
In fact, "don" is an old Turkic word for "billowing
country". Back in the Altai, they had a Don Terek, Don Khotan, and so on. Here in
Europe they only wanted to make a point that the river flows across a steppe dotted with
hills and plateaus. So much for the origin of the river name.
The Turkis in Europe
The chain of steppe cities and villages crept slowly farther away from the Altai as the
vast country's boundary moved westward. In area, the Turkic land was the largest of all
states the world had ever seen.
The Roman Empire was in its heyday less than a quarter as large as
Desht-i-Kipchak. You could dismiss the Byzantine Empire out of hand - it had an area of
one yurt (region), at best two yurts, of the steppe power.
It took a horseman eight months to ride from Central Europe at the
western border of the Great Steppe to the Ilin River in the east.
The Kipchaks settled on uninhabited or, rather no man's, lands, adding
them to their enormous homeland. All was not as easy as is said. The pioneers fought their
way through impassable terrain, enduring severe winter cold and summer drought, and coming
through spring floods. They never stopped longer than they needed to build cities and
villages, roads and bridges, and develop croplands, orchards, canals and grazing grounds.
They pressed on and on.
Developing new lands was a really formidable challenge. Each time the
settlers were to start all over again - roads, river crossings, villages, croplands and
cities. Year in year out, land development was a lifelong process.
Then there were certainly brushes with the enemy. Much smaller in scale
than the great battle on the Don. No one dared put up a serious fight to the Kipchaks.
Their strength was well known in all of Europe - rumour flew much faster than the cavalry
or settlers' wagons.
Sword and plough, battle horse and sheep flock, warrior and
shepherd…. These were the symbols of the Great Migration of the Peoples. (Add to them
builder, craftsman, blacksmith, armourer, weaver, even wine-maker and baker.) The Kipchaks
must have been a very skilful nation to give new life to undeveloped lands.
The Great Migration of the Peoples was not conquering other countries
and turning their populations into slaves. It was, in fact, creating a new country, a
homeland for the Kipchaks. Skilled craftsmen and hard-working farmers rather than damned
Tatars or warlike nomads, which are the common labels attached to them, developed the
In the 5th century, the Kipchaks built a city on a high bank of the
Desna River. They named it Birinchi (which evolved into Brjanecsk), which is Turkic for
"first" or "chief". It was destined to become the capital of
Desht-i-Kipchak and a major city in Europe.
The city lies in a lovely spot, at a meeting place between the steppe
and woodland, on a dividing line between the Turkic world and Northern Europe. Today the
city is known as Briansk. No one says or remembers how old the city is. Local
archaeologists alone are surprised, with no one to share their bewilderment, to dig out
artifacts at least fifteen hundred years old. No one can explain how they got to be there.
The townsfolk live in total ignorance of their city's history or their own origins.
Occasionally, they dig out some ancient building foundations, earthenware shards, even
gold artifacts, and take them for a godsend, to be wondered at and admired, not asked why
Really, local subsoil is packed with wonders. A thousand years ago
their ancestors who lived here spoke Turkic, a fact no one knows about. The ancient city
has no history to be proud of now. It was closed, or rather torn out, on orders of Peter
Let us reconstruct some of it here. Birinchi played an important, in
fact, a key role in the Turkic world. It was the seat of the Turkis' chief priest and his
"white wanderers" (the name Kipchaks called their travelling preachers). The
city was the spiritual centre of the Great Steppe, a holy place for the Kipchaks.
Its importance was emphasised by rich iron ore deposits that gave the
city a central role. More cities and townships crowded around it.
Tolu (modern Tula) was another key city built during the Great
Migration of the Peoples and inhabited by craftsmen, metal smelters, arms makers and other
skilled folk. The Turkic word tolum translates as "arms". And again, Tula is a
city without a past, too, like the Great Steppe and the Turkic nation, cut off from its
ancient history and living in a misty dream.
Kursyk (modern Kursk), too, has a sad story to tell. We cannot say
exactly what kind of city it was or what its residents did. Its toponymics only suggests
that it was "ready for battle". At least, its name translates so from Turkic. We
must take it, therefore, as "guard city".
Karachev was a city that awoke in the morning to the sounds of martial
tunes. This garrison city, along with Kursk and Tula, was an outpost protecting the
approaches to Birinchi. The list of cities, on which the Kipchaks depended for their
supplies of arms and daily necessities, is quite long - Kipenzai (modern Penza),
Buruninezh (Voronezh), Shapashkar (Cheboksary), Chelyaba (Chelyabinsk), Bulgar, in fact,
dozens of cities, big and small.
Cities in Desht-i-Kipchak were linked by roads and postal services.
Turning away from the east southward, we find Baltavar (Poltava), a
major trading centre in those distant times. It was a venue of auctions and fairs that
brought merchants from across Turkic lands and foreign countries. Baltavar was a
prosperous city (its name means "bountiful" in Turkic). Of course, it was not
the sole trading city in the whole of Desht-i-Kipchak.
Khan Kobiak took a fancy to a high hill in the downstream Don, as a
good place to build a city in. Today, the place is known as Kobiak City. Nearby is another
city, Aksai, formerly a garrison that guarded, they said, the Don delta. Actually,
Kipchaks built fortress cities in the deltas of all major streams.
They had a knack for city building. Their cities looked simple and
devoid of flashy splendour. But they were comfortable to live in - broken down into blocks
by wide streets. All urban construction followed old Turkic blueprints. The buildings were
set on brickwork foundations and a central square, or maidan, was laid out for public
gatherings (or meetings, if you like).
Foundations are signs that relate to archaeologists much about the
design and outward appearance of old buildings. Kipchak buildings turned out to be complex
engineering structures. Builders never started work before proper calculations had been
made. Are we to understand that the "nomads" had their own engineers,
mathematicians and designers? Or was there a learned man to guide all construction work?
Wonder, how else could they do all that?
Passages were dug underground to connect large halls where provisions
were laid in for people to sit out an enemy attack. No civilians were in sight while the
siege went on.
Archaeologists were amazed to find those underground cities almost the
size of surface cities. That was not the end of surprises, though. The underground halls
had brick vaults and the connecting galleries revealed an ingenious concept, being wide
enough for two horsemen to pass by and providing ventilation and running water.
It is still not clear how the Kipchaks managed to do this. One thing we
know for sure is that, at one time or another, they were forced by circumstances to build
two-tiered cities. Or else they encircled their cities with a log palisade or brick walls,
an entirely different kind of self-protection.
Flow water was common as well. Earthenware pipes were placed under the
The Kipchaks followed a city siting code of their own. A site was to be
scenic and easy to support life. Aksai is a good example - the Don and the open steppe
going back to the horizon.
New roads were laid from the Don as far as another river, which the
Greeks called Borysthenes. We know it as the Dnieper today.
Curious what "Dnieper" was in Turkic? Opinions differ and we
will not go into them. What we are interested in here is that the Kipchaks appeared to
have a fashion to add a prefix "don" to major rivers in Europe - Doneper,
Donester, Donai. Why? Was it to do with cryptography? What kind of? Academics have not
come up with an explanation as yet. "Coincidence" is their general consensus.
No, I beg to disagree. The explanation is simple enough - the hills and plateaus the
rivers wind their way around, and Turkic tradition, too. (Moderns seem to know next to
nothing about geographical discoveries, and still less about name giving.)
An advancing Turkic force sent scouts forward to look for grazing
grounds, croplands, and residential sites and give names to terrain features, as well as
to watch out for enemy. How they did it, we do not know as yet.
The scouts moved stealthily across the untrodden steppe, followed
cautiously by settlers in their wagons. It took the Turkic spearhead two hundred years to
advance from the Altai to Europe.
The first Turki to see the Alps (with most of Europe sprawled around
them) was Attila, the great Turkic warlord and eternal hero of the Great Steppe.
The Kipchaks' calm and peaceful ways struck terror in the hearts of Roman rulers. Everyone
was afraid of the self-assured horsemen. Spies were planted on them to keep a secret watch
on their movements, and to do them harm at every opportunity. Everything looked decent on
the outside, though.
The Greeks, for example, were all praise for the Kipchaks and even
volunteered, in 312, to pay tribute to Desht-i-Kipchak. (What else could they do, when
their armies were beefed up with Kipchaks, their cities built by Kipchaks, and their
cornfields tended by Kipchaks?)
Rome, too, paid a tribute to the Kipchaks. But it did this against its
own free will.
The steppe dwellers' wagons were first sighted at the northern borders
of the Roman (Western) Empire in the 380s, if we take contemporaries on their word.
Accordingly, early Turkic settlements were built at approximately the same time.
At first, Romans were frightened at the prospect of living side by side
with Kipchaks. Things changed with the passage of time. The newcomers ceased to look as
fearful as they did at the start. Following the Byzantine example, Rome began looking for
ways to make the Kipchaks tame and compliant. Chance was on their side.
All happened sooner than everybody expected. Severe drought struck
Kipchak lands for two straight years, devastating their stores of provisions. Hunger
decimated the steppe population. There was a chance crafty Roman traders could not miss.
They made rounds of Kipchak localities, selling stale foodstuffs to the hungry families.
Food products were sold for gold only. A family that had run out of
gold had no other alternative than swap its children for dead dog meat Romans brought
along. It certainly pained parents to sell their children off to slavery, but it was the
only chance to save them from death by starvation.
Repulsive and inhumane as those trade-offs were, they speak of the
Romans' moral standards.
The Kipchaks bore their woes staunchly. They could certainly rob the
traders in desperation or keep them off limits. They did neither. They endured hardship in
silence. All this disgrace occurred at a time when Rome embraced the Greek version of
Christianity and pledged itself to be a katylik, or ally, to the Kipchaks, and fleeced its
newly acquired ally in trouble.
An "ally" like that knew no restraints. Rome had already
sworn allegiance to Byzantium, and hated the whole world for its humiliation. Especially
the Kipchaks who had sapped its erstwhile overwhelming power. Having lost in an open
face-off, the Romans engaged in a secret war that went on for more than a century. They
won the secret war in the end: they demonised the Turkis in the eyes of their descendants
by portraying them as either inhumans, or savages, or nomads with "beastly table
manners". Indeed, the Romans were masters of backstage play.
What did they mean "beastly table manner"? Holding a spoon or
fork that Turkis used while eating, assisting themselves with a small knife, which every
Kipchak always carried in a sheath next to his dagger? As simple as that. Or washing their
hands from a kumgan (jug) and wiping them against a towel before meals? Was it beastly,
What was then the right way to eat? Europeans had never heard of a
spoon or fork before they saw the "nomadic beasts". They used hands, which
beasts certainly could not. Greek aristocrats, for example, kept Arab boys so they could
wipe their greasy hands against the boys' coarse bushy hair after repasts.
Beautiful had a different meaning to a European than it did to a
The Byzantine Emperor Julian was a very handsome man, with a beard grey
from crawling lice. His courtiers, or mistresses, were enraptured at his beard teeming
with lice. And this made him immensely proud of it.
Neither Romans nor Greeks knew the real steam bath. That was a Turkic
invention. Incidentally, Slavs borrowed the word banya (steam bath) complete with its name
from the Turkic: bu (steam) and ana (mother), literally "mother of steam".
The famous Roman thermae (or public baths) were not a pleasure for all.
A select few of the 300,000 Rome residents could afford a day in a "public
bath". The Kipchaks had it differently - their baths were a daily must. The steppe,
with its grime and dirt, taught them to keep themselves and their houses clean and tidy. A
housewife would never start cooking before she swept the house clean. Clean houses and
bodies were entrenched in the Turkic way of life - filth was a source of pestilence and
diseases for steppe dwellers. Squalor was not tolerated.
Every Kipchak washed in the morning and evening, and also before each
meal and prayer.
Turkis sincerely believed that while they slept their souls left their
bodies to travel around the world socialising and return a brief moment before they awoke.
If a returning soul saw you were unwashed it shied away in fear. (For much the same
reason, lest the soul fail to recognize you in sleep, you were advised against covering
your head with a blanket.)
Kipchaks followed customs to the letter - they fully relied on popular
experience and wisdom as a way to avoid repeating mistakes their predecessors could have
Every single aspect of a custom had a clear meaning, without any
Did you know that nail clipping was a ritual to be observed
religiously? A Turki could then tell you that his strength (or huut) was under his nail in
daytime and at his hair roots at night. Both were to be spotlessly clean. This point was
repeatedly made clear to children.
Much in Kipchaks' life was muddle to Europeans, so they engaged in
guesswork and conjecture, inventing myths by way of explanation.
What could people need wagons for? You won't answer unless you are dead
certain. When, therefore, Roman spies first saw wagons Kipchak scouts were driving around
in search of suitable sites, the only idea that could come to their minds was that the
Kipchaks were nomads, and they hastened to spread this news around the world.
The Greeks, however, saw the other side of it, much farther than the
wagons. Notes penned by a Byzantine nobleman, Priscus, have miraculously survived to tell
the truth about the Great Migration of the Peoples, about Attila, and the more personal
aspects of Kipchaks' lives. The notes were spared the destruction suffered by all such
documents at the hands of the Romans over centuries.
Priscus's notes contain valuable historical evidence because they come
from a man who saw everything with his own eyes, and more, was a key actor in the drama
played out in his lifetime. He was a member of Europe's embassy that travelled to see
Attila and plead for peace with the wrathful Turkic ruler.
Passions ran really high at the time.
Europe Arose in the Altai
Attila was feared by everybody. Mere mention of his name sent creeps down the spines of
Europe's rulers. And rightly so, for Attila had a half million horsemen behind his back.
An awesome power.
A well-trained and strong army…. To be exactly that, this multitude
of armed men was to be organised, disciplined, and manageable. It was to have a long
fighting record and long-standing traditions. And a high fighting spirit besides. But that
was still not enough.
Armed men can be banded together fast enough, but moulding them into a
real fighting force could take more than a single generation of recruits. In actual fact,
an army is a cross-section of society - a reflection of all that is good in a nation's
culture, economy, and, not least, national set-up.
An army does not arise out of thin air - it is nurtured and cultivated
Raising a viable army is all hard work deserving high praise, for it
creates an army protecting its people and defending its country's security. A nation
without an army lacks identity and is doomed to be brought to its knees and become a
source of slaves to serve other people. Do I need to repeat these old truths?
I have another point to make. It is that we have evidence to show that
what Attila mustered under him was not a rabble of semi-savage tribes preying on Europe's
backyard, as we read in so many history books.
The Turkis had an excellent army that had proved its worth in China,
Iran, on the Don and even at Rome's walls. There was no force to challenge it in the
The army was broken down into forces, or tmas, each ten thousand
horsemen strong. In turn, the forces were divided up into regiments and companies of a
hundred troops. The latter, in turn, were recruited from members of a particular tribe
living in a yurt or ulus. It was led by a khan, the head of the yurt or ulus, who had
appointed assistants, atamans.
A force was named for its khan or its native yurt. That was an ancient
Altaic tradition first recorded at the time of Turkic settlement in India. One of Attila's
forces was named Burgund, a second was Savoia, a third Tering, and so on. Each force had a
battle banner that gave it a name, fighting fame and respect.
Attila had fifty forces in all, including those raised in the Yaik,
Ural, Don and a few other yurts, later additions to the Turkic state.
All soldiers were Turkis speaking a common language, Turkic. No other
tongues were tolerated in the army of Desht-i-Kipchak for the simple reason that it had
enough recruits of Turkic roots. True, some Alans served as auxiliaries, and occasionally
joined cavalry troops - they were too good fighters to be rejected. The Byzantine army was
the exact opposite. Turkic, the "soldiery" language, was spoken among the
troops, the greater part of which was made up of Kipchaks, who also accounted for a large
share of the empire's population. The pure-blooded Greeks were, therefore, compelled to
Roman spies were puzzled on hearing the names of Attila's forces -
Terings, Burgundi, Langobardi, and so on. They had never heard those names. So they put
their trust in the force of precedent. Roman rulers used to draft men of the lands they
conquered into their legions. Why, they reasoned, could not other races be in the Kipchak
army? Hence the "rabble", a label stuck by scholars, yes, we have to admit this
with regret, to Attila, his army and the Great Migration of the Peoples in general. And
also such offensive names as Huns, Goths and barbarians.
The Romans deliberately invented various insulting labels for the
Kipchaks, for they were clearly reluctant to all their victors by their true name. From
that time on, the Kipchaks were only referred to as "rabble",
"confederation of tribes", or "Huns" assembled by Attila.
In reality, however, the things were completely different. Byzantine
chronicles for 438 and 439, for example, reported literally the following about the Huns
and other "races" in Attila's army: except for their names, they did not differ
from one another; they spoke a common language and worshipped a single god, Tengri. Some
other chronicles reported that the Huns descended from the Goths. A line from a 572
document reads: "Meanwhile the Huns, whom we normally call Turkis…"
These are facts to be reckoned with.
We certainly have more trust in documents written in the age of the
Great Migration of the Peoples than we do in politically biased historians. Like those who
thought up a myth about "Germanic tribes" allegedly brought together by Attila.
One lie, we know, always leads to another. Were there ever
"Germanic tribes" in the first place? Those tribes came from the East as part of
the Kipchak army. They were yurt forces that trace their origins back to the Altai.
I will now attempt to reconstruct the long-forgotten facts, now turned into a political
realm where no one can tie the loose ends. It certainly needs a profound historical
The Kipchaks called their western lands in Central Europe Alman
("distant" or "farthest" in Turkic - really they lay a great distance
from the Altai). Today, too, many peoples say Alman when they refer to Germany.
The Alps appear to derive their name from the Turkic word alp, which
means "hero" or "victor".
Before the arrival of the Kipchaks Central Europe was the ancient
habitat of Frankish, Veneti, Teutonic and other tribes. The Roman historian, Cornelius
Tacitus, who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, left very detailed accounts of them.
Nor were they passed up by other historians, who all agreed that those tribes could not be
molded into a first-rate army. Those were primitive people, who wore animal skins and had
wooden javelins and clubs for their best battle weapons. Bronze swords and spears were
extremely rare among them. Tacitus' accounts are reinforced by archaeology. Could they be
the "Germanic" tribes that threw a challenge to Rome?
Burgundi (Burgundians), the iron horsemen, were another matter. This
"Germanic" tribe came to Europe from the shores of Lake Baikal, where they had
their tribal yurt (land). The modern Irkutsk Region in East Siberia has an area called
Burgundu, where this tribe used to live in the distant past. The archaeologists' finds in
the Ancient Altai leave no doubt about that. In those ancient times the Burgundians used
runic lettering and were very much a part of Turkic culture. It would take many pages to
attempt to tell about those roots.
The real, not imagined, roots of that "Germanic" tribe.
By the time Attila began his reign in 435, the Kipchak army had reached
the centre of Europe and created a Burgund yurt, or Burgundy. We know that with certainty.
The Burgundians spoke Turkic and used runes in writing, as you can learn in the museums
of, yes, modern Burgundy itself. A few exhibits are more convincing than a myriad of
words. The Burgundians were Turkic through and through - ornaments, household chattels,
national cuisine, even their visage. There is no arguing about that. Available evidence is
convincing enough, at least for those who wish to know the truth.
Burgundy was created by the Kipchaks and has not changed its name for
the past fifteen hundred years.
Migrants always and everywhere seem to have a strange habit of giving
the names of their native place to cities they build in the new lands. Really, it is an
ingrained tradition no one stops to think about whys and wherefores. Not a seasoned
ethnographer, however. Europeans settling in America or Australia, for example, did not
ponder much about place names - they just popped out of their mouths: New York, New
England, New Plymouth, St. Petersburg or Moscow (both in the United States) and so on.
Examples are indeed plentiful.
You certainly expect my new question: Did not the Turkis stand at the
origins of this tradition? So we still have a yurt by the name of Tulun (Tolun) in the
Altai, Tolu (Tula) in Central Russia, or Toulouse in France. They were all founded by
Attila's contemporaries and all were inhabited mostly by arms makers. Toulouse, for
example, was the capital city of the West European Kipchaks (Visigoths) between 419 and
508. Taken all together, these cities are merely road markers in the history of the Great
Migration of the Peoples, and their names are derived from the same Turkic word, tolum,
Did modern Europe actually begin in Siberia? Was it Siberia that
breathed a new life into stagnating Europe?
Why not? The bulk of the continent's population originated in the
Ancient Altai, even though it is known, through the Roman politicians' efforts, as
Another tribe, Terings (Thuringians) fought side by side with
Burgundians in Attila's army. They, too, had come from the Altai, from a tribal yurt that
is today an area bearing the old name. It has survived through centuries.
Tering is the Turkic for deep or profound. The name travelled across
half of the world in the Turkis' wagons, leaving numerous marks on the modern geographical
map. The Turings' yurt was established in Europe at the same time as the Burgund yurt.
Today it is Thuringia, a German Land, famous, until recently, for its racing horses, fine
koumiss, and deliciously smelling yogurt. The ancient Turkic trades live on in our day.
Or take Turin in Northern Italy. The Turings were certainly here, and
the city's history is closely bound up with the Great Migration of the Peoples, with the
Please take a special note that about every ancient settlement in
Northern Italy has a Turkic history, in one way or another: Kipchaks made up a large part
of the local population. Venice, for example, has a Turkic square, an old place in an old
city. The city owes its lasting fame to Turkic-speaking Kipchaks (Langobardi or
Langobards), who transformed an inconspicuous coastal settlement into a great sea power.
The Kipchaks brought Altaic larch logs over here to build the foundations that still
support the old city. Whenever we speak out about the history of Europe, we will do well
remembering the Great Migration of the Peoples. Many more things are cross-linked in our
lives than we can ever suspect.
Saxony, Bavaria, Savoy, Catalonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Czechia,
Poland, Hungary, Austria, England, Lithuania, Latvia (too many names to continue) were all
founded by the Kipchaks. These countries were started by Attila. He had led the spearhead
of his nation to Europe and established himself at the foot of the Alps, Europe's majestic
mountains very much like the Altai. The mountains were named Attila's Alps, or Otztaler
Alps today (Otztal is the Turkic leader's name distorted by the Europeans).
The Turkis gave the Carpathian and Balkan mountains the name we know
them by today. Balkan in Turkic means, literally, "a mountain overgrown with a
forest". Not a coniferous, but exactly the deciduous forest of the kind this part of
Southern Europe is famous for. Previously, its name was Hem or Em, a derivation from
Hemimont (Ancient Hemus).
The Carpathians have an unmistakably Turkic word root, which means
"overflowing" or "spilling over". Indeed, the area is notoriously
known for its devastating floods. A more precise name would be hard to find, in Turkic at
least. Before the arrival of the Turkis, the Europeans called the area the Sarmatian
Attila, the Turkic Ruler
Deception is just as a part of human nature as any other. It is a skill and craft, no
matter how reprehensible. Romans were unsurpassed masters of this craft. They seemed to
have no end of lies to invent to hide the truth about the Turkic people, blot out memories
about it and, in this way, account for their own weaknesses and failures. The legend about
the Martian Sword is a good illustration of this.
The sword was considered a symbol of divine choice in Europe. Attila
was told about the sword by a cowherd. The man saw a heifer in his herd limping. Extremely
worried, he walked back along the blood-spattered trail, only to find a sword sticking out
of the ground. He pulled it out and gave it to Attila as a gift.
An innocent tale, it seems?
Not exactly. It emerged soon after Attila's resounding victory in 443
and was intended to vindicate the Romans for their defeats. The magic sword had little to
do with their setbacks. Yet it alone, a chance that could not have been, remains in the
memory as the chief reason for the Kipchaks' successes rather than the real reasons such
as a powerful army, fearless warriors, iron weapons, heavy bows and arrows, the craftsmen
and metal makers who forged the world's best arms at the time in cities and encampments
back in the Turkic hinterland. The true reasons have either been forgotten or distorted.
Regret as we do, there are too many malicious legends like this one.
Actually, they were placed at the foundations on which the Turkic people's history was
built. A hint here, an omission there make together a brazen lie, with only a few grains
of truth left over.
In 434 Attila became a joint ruler, together with his elder brother
Bleda, of Desht-i-Kipchak, an immense state whose government organisation was so much
admired by the Chinese (volumes were written about it). It was not, therefore, a
"loose confederation" of tribes, of which Attila was made the nominal ruler, but
a close-knit country known to much of the world.
Attila was very young when he became a co-ruler. He and Bleda ruled
wisely and successfully for a time. Peace and accord between the ruling brothers was not
to the liking of either Byzantium or Rome, which worked hard to set the brothers against
each other, so their quarrel could drain the Turkic state of vitality and unity to be
dealt with easily by the two Western powers.
Fearing a head-on confrontation they could lose, the enemies opted for
scheming - poisoning, bribing, turning one brother against the other, deceiving, killing
secretly. Cowardly devices as they were, Attila was forced to watch out for hostile moves
from the early days of his rule. The brothers survived several assassination attempts.
Thank Tengri, poisoned arrows missed their targets and poison was made
harmless by antidote. In that secret war the Turkis proved the stronger as well.
Attila was nicknamed the Scourge of God. No matter how much his enemies
plotted and fumed in impotent rage, they were unable to kill him. The young rulers were
too wise for them to be disposed of in this way.
Attila began his rule in a peaceful disposition, without a thought of
war. He was born like that. All strong and self-assured people are. Meeting the emperor of
the Western Roman Empire at the city of Margus (Pozarevac) in the Balkans, he announced
the terms for peace and demanded from Rome payment of three hundred kilograms of gold in
annual subsidies. The Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire was paying an equal amount.
Rome had no choice but agree. It was ready to pay any price to avoid
Having signed the treaty, Attila set to expanding his possessions in
Northern Europe in 435. He and Bleda led their armies to the shores of the Baltic,
founding many cities along their trail in the modern Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania and
With a foothold won in Northern Europe, the brothers travelled back to
the Turkic heartland on the Idel, Don and Yaik rivers, in the Caucasus and the Altai. In a
country as big as Desht-i-Kipchak the brothers had their hands full. (The brothers' visits
were echoed in folklore - in fact, Attila is highly revered by all European nations with
Rome and Byzantium were scared of their neighbour's growing strength.
Apprehensive as they were, they could not interfere with the brothers' plans. Finally,
they found a helpful tool - Christians, who alone were the Turkis' long-standing allies
and kept up contacts with their rulers and clergy.
A germ of discord was sneaked into Desht-i-Kipchak. Christians were
completely unaware that they were puppets with strings pulled by Western politicians, who
turned religion to their advantage.
Infection crept into Kipchaks' ranks, slowly and unnoticed. Envy,
gossip and slander seemed to appear from nowhere. Like rust corrodes iron, so were they -
deadly and unfailing. The whole thing was rigged up with skilful hands. Gloating about the
recurring quarrels between the ruling brothers, Byzantium stopped paying subsidies to the
Attila was quick in seeing through the Greeks' design. He made up with
his brother and in 441 unleashed his full fury against the offender. His horsemen quickly
brought the Greeks to their senses. Their message was clear - their treaty with the
Kipchaks was to be kept in full and in time.
Like a wave of fire, the Kipchak cavalry swept the Byzantine Empire's
northern territories. Retribution was quick and unavoidable. Cities were plunged into
darkness - flattened to lifeless ruins. The Byzantine emperor lost his head in despair -
he pleaded for an armistice and peace at any price.
Taking the emperor on his word, Attila pulled his army out of the
After a year-long respite, the Greeks seemed to have not learned the
lesson. They resumed scheming, with Roman and Greek Christians as their docile tools in
spreading gossip and discord. The Greeks clearly needed a repeat lesson and they got it.
This time Attila was rock-firm. He crushed the Byzantine army, giving it no chance of
It was certainly a fratricidal battle. The foederati, who were Kipchaks
in Byzantine service and converted to Christianity, were pitted against their brethren,
the followers of Tengri and had to pay a heavy price for that.
Attila came to within striking distance of Constantinople.
The Byzantine capital was at his mercy.
The Kipchaks did not attempt an assault on it. They had no need for it,
like they did not for the whole of the empire. As a matter of record, the Turkis did not
conquer a single country or nation over the centuries of the Great Migration of the
Peoples. They were content with settling on non-man's lands, which they developed and
Attila did not have to wait for long at Constantinople. The Greeks
promptly paid up the arrears in subsidies - almost two and a half tons of gold. The
Kipchaks named a new price for future and withdrew.
With road dust still unsettled in their wake, the Greeks were up to
their old tricks again. Surely, they were very poor learners. And once again, their tools
were Christians, charming beauties, and expensive presents, but patience in weaving their
plot was their main asset. This time they took no risks. The quarrel between the ruling
brothers was ended with a stab of the dagger.
Alone on the throne, Attila avenged the death of his brother, taking
out his wrath on the enemy for the rigged-up clash. Soon, the sole ruler could use fork
and knife at meals again (it is a Turkic tradition to refrain from using fork and knife in
a family that has not avenged the death of its member).
Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about Attila's next campaign
against the Byzantine Empire in 447 and 448. We only know that the empire suffered a heavy
damage - its cities were all wiped off the face of the earth. How did the war go on? What
battles were fought where? All evidence has been obliterated.
Resigned to their utter defeat, the Greeks withdrew from the Northern
Balkans, leaving them to the Turkis. The southern border of Desht-i-Kipchak moved very
close to the Mediterranean and Constantinople.
The Turkis as Priscus of Byzantium Saw Them
By 449 the storm seemed to have subsided in Europe. Attila calmed down, becoming his
merciful self again. With no time lost, a delegation led by a Byzantine nobleman, Priscus,
headed straight for his headquarters to plead for peace - peace at any price.
"After crossing some rivers," Priscus wrote in his narrative,
"we arrived in a large village where Attila's palace was situated."
Priscus does not give the name of the village. It was probably Preslav,
the capital of ancient Bulgaria, or an old town in Bavaria. Whatever it was, it was a new
Turkic town in the centre of Europe that arose with the coming of the Turkis.
The Greek emissary was dazed at the sight. A town of this type did not
exist anywhere in Europe. Priscus was particularly overwhelmed by Attila's palace. Built
of logs and decorated with carved window casings, it gave the impression of soaring above
the ground. It shone in the sun, its rays reflected in the fine craftwork of the building.
Its pointed spires were thrust high into the sky.
Next to the king's palace stood the house of the queen, Kreka. A
smaller building, it looked more beautiful as though made of wooden lace. Its carved
designs gave it a fairy-tale image. A house spun out of sun rays.
The ruler's residence was encircled with a high enclosure adorned with
Priscus stood there, transfixed by the sight of an unparalleled wooden
wonder. He was lost for words. He was all numb admiration. The dazed Greek entering the
palace wondered how logs could be placed to make a building look round. Actually, it was
anything but round, as it appeared to Priscus. The building was octagonal, in the Turkic
tradition originating in the Ancient Altai, from the early smoke huts.
The tower house was really a smoke hut - much higher and built somewhat
"The floor of the room was covered with woollen mats for walking
on," wrote Priscus. Exactly. Kipchaks always put felt rugs or mats on the floor of
their houses, following the ancient tradition.
The inquisitive Greek noted every small detail - what the Kipchaks did,
how they dressed and what meals they ate. Nothing escaped his eye, the eye of an
experienced spy (what Priscus actually was). They wouldn't have sent a simpleton on that
Priscus was awed by the beauty of Turkic women, their elegant and
simple attire, especially the kerchiefs (or rather shawls) with their long-stranded tassel
fringes. Kipchak women wore white shawls to church and on days of mourning, and
multi-coloured ones, on holidays and ordinary days.
The emissary's report appears so clear that it only needs plain reading. Not quite so in
fact. Take the tower house, where Queen Kreka lived and which Priscus first saw in the
Kipchaks' capital. Now it is called a Greek house, suggesting that the tower house was
invented by the Greeks. Invention of felt is now ascribed to the French. Shawls were first
made by someone else, and so on. All these, and many other things are a legacy of the
Turkic nation built up over centuries.
In real fact, all these ordinary things made Kipchak culture distinct
in the European environment. They gave a face to a nation, making it recognizable and
unlike other nations.
And what are the Kipchaks doing? How do they take these crude
distortions of their history? With serene calm. Many centuries past they have remained
Turkic at heart. Magnanimous and forgiving. Loathe to take immediate action and prone to
leave things to be done on another day. It is knowing long in advance that the truth will
eventually win out. Take them as they are.
Doesn't it strike you that after so many attempts to poison him, Attila
asked Priscus to share a meal with him? No, it was not an outburst of magnanimity or
generosity. It was only customary Turkic hospitality - refusing to receive guests was an
unpardonable act for a Kipchak. With Priscus in his house, Attila could not sit down to a
meal without asking the Greek to join him.
Skilful politicians, then and now, have always abused the Turkis'
openness, decency and hospitality in an attempt to gain an advantage over them. The
unsuspecting and credulous Turkis lightly revealed their weaknesses and exposed themselves
to hazards - all to the detriment of Desht-i-Kipchak.
There is no one to be blamed for that - they are made this way as a
nation. And no one can change them, no matter how hard he may try. They have it in their
genes. The Great Migration of the Peoples gave Turkis a good chance to change or scrap
some of their very ancient traditions - Europe was a different environment, an alien
culture and strange moral values. They did not, or did not even try. Their khans'
short-sightedness cost the Kipchaks dearly. When in Rome do as the Romans do, ran the old
wisdom. The Kipchaks failed in their efforts to force Europe to live their way. Instead,
they were overwhelmed by the forces at work in their new home.
… Back to Attila's feast room. It smelled of fresh wood. Broad
benches were ranged along the walls. Heavy oak tables stood next to them. Attila sat at
the head of his table. That was his place of honour (throne), tver in Turkic. It was
screened with fine motley curtains. His elder son, Ellak, sat nearby on a step, his eyes
lowered. Ellak did not touch any food, keen as always to do his father a service.
Waiting on your father is a son's noble duty. It was a law, and inborn
tradition, with the Kipchaks. Obeying a senior was indisputable, as also was a senior's
duty, enshrined in the adat (code of honour), to protect a junior. The Kipchaks had an
elaborate ritual to be followed at the table and around house.
Before sitting down at the table, Priscus went on, they "said a
prayer to God". The prayer was led by Father Orestes, an enigmatic personage in
Europe's history. The prayer said, all sat down to meal.
Father Orestes knew many European languages and, in fact, was a bright
star of his time. He was a man of wondrous destiny. There are two theories about who he
actually was. One says that he was Attila's confessor, according to the other he was the
Turkic ruler's secretary and interpreter. He was born in Desht-i-Kipchak (more exactly, in
modern Austria or Hungary). Was he a Kipchak? There is no evidence to the contrary, save
that Roman historians claimed he was of Roman stock.
Could Attila tolerate a foreigner as so close a counsel of his? Would
he confide his thoughts and feelings to him? Would he send the priest as his ambassador to
Constantinople? Never on earth. The confessor is a very close friend, confidant and
Curiously, Father Orestes, like many of Attila's courtiers, made a
brilliant career in Rome after their king's death. They were not the first Kipchaks to be
accepted into the Roman fold - many Turkis had for some time already served at the
imperial court and in the army and clergy. It was a dusky time, a time of plots, coups and
treacherous murders - Roman society was in turmoil, inviting Kipchaks in desperation.
Everybody who was somebody was looking for a snug place in society.
Rome saw a replay of the Byzantine scenario with the coming of Kipchaks
- cultures and races intermingled freely, until the Kipchaks made an attempt to seize
power. The coup was led by the selfsame Father Orestes, now a Roman general and master of
foederati soldiers. He put his little son, a very handsome child, Romulus, on the throne,
adding a diminutive Augustulus to his name because of his young age. Born a Kipchak,
Romulus Augustulus was the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire.
On September 5, 476, he was deposed by another Kipchak, Odoacer, who
formally put an end to the Western Roman Empire. The Kipchaks, who had argued too much
over succession to the Roman throne, ended up without it.
The destiny of the last Roman emperor's father, Orestes, took another,
and quite unexpected, twist. According to the other theory, the Romans made him a
Christian in 511, or thirty-five years after his death, and canonised him as St. Severin
("The Life of St. Severin" is a large volume full of discrepancies).
Priscus's notes give a clear-headed person much, really overly much,
food for thought. The events he described do not fit into the narrow confines of
How the meals proceeded at Attila's palace, what they drank, what they
conversed about, whom they made a ridicule of, who wore what at meal - the Greek
ambassador's account was fairly correct.
As custom dictated, the meal ended with singing. The kind of singing
that reaches deep into your heart, intoxicating you more than wine does. Singing was as
much part of a Turki in the 5th century as it had been before and was to remain later. It
goes with nature, like language. It persists in history.
Musicians filed into the feast hall and immediately broke into an
ecstatic melody, their hands dancing on the strings and their fiddles flying up and down.
Priscus sat frozen to his seat. He heard music. Wonderful music. And strange instruments,
the like of which the Greeks had never seen. (Those were the granddads and grandmas of the
modern cello, violin, harp, balalaika and harmonica).
A jester stepped out from behind the music band. His follies made the
revellers double over with laughter. Attila was laughing off his head together with
Was it a desire to mimic the great Attila that European kings and
rulers eventually took to keeping jesters at court to amuse and entertain guests at balls
and speak out the truth in their sovereigns' face with impunity? Moreover, jesters were a
visible fixture at royal houses having Turkic roots only. Scots and Romans, for example,
had no tradition of keeping jesters.
And more, Priscus was struck by Attila's modesty. Clearly, his
life-style was anything but royal. The clothing that great man wore and the food he ate
were no different from those of the men around him.
What made him out of the crowd was the admiring eyes all turned on the
hero. He was revered immensely for what he was and what he did. Attila's courage and
wisdom left no one unimpressed. For example, he was unmatched in game hunting. He used to
hunt on horseback. Chasing wild boars, deer or bears, he wore his prey down and then
finished it off with a blow of his mace or a stab of his poleax on the gallop.
Falcon hunting was his tender love. Indeed, falconry had a special
place at Attila's court, with falconers to look after these birds of prey, breed them and
train for hunting. They also kept kites, but did not take them out hunting - these
small-size hawks have too strong an instinct to ravage their kills before the hunter can
retrieve them intact.
Bear teasing was another favourite pastime with the Kipchaks. Some
daredevils caught bears alive in the forest and brought them to Attila's capital in cages.
Bear-fights were held in deep by the Turkis.
A bear-fight followed approximately this scenario. A wild bear was let
into a pen, and a brave soul with a bear spear or knife in hand stepped into the enclosure
to the tumultuous shouts of the fans. The beast sensed his near end, but was unable to
escape. After tossing and turning for a while, it lost patience and - the onlookers gasped
in suspense - violently attacked his nemesis. The fighter, ready for the dash, sank his
knife hilt-deep into the beast's heart. The audience exploded into wild applause.
Or take belt wrestling, another way to show off gallantry for a Turki.
It was actually a national play, very much in evidence on a feast day. The winner was
rewarded with a ram - another ancient tradition.
Finally, fistfights. A nice amusement it was. Neither rivalry nor
sport. A sacred ritual that was in a Turki's blood. Every man could take a chance to test
his mettle. Kipchaks were raised on fisticuffs from early childhood, toughening themselves
in court or street fights. Quarrels were settled by challenging the offender to a fight. A
face to face bout.
Fist law had a special place in Kipchak society. It was respected and
feared. It was enforced one on one or group against group. Fighting went on until first
blood was drawn. It was a rule that was rigorously asserted. A breach of this rule could
invite trouble, and even death on the spot for the offender. Relatives were not allowed to
avenge the deserved death.
The Kipchaks enjoyed life in many ways and had many feasts to prove it.
After a victorious military campaign they indulged in a favourite play - with long curved
sticks instead of sabres in their hands, mounted players were driving an enemy's head tied
in a leather bag around a field. Really, an exalted celebration of victory.
This savage play has survived to this day, and now it is called polo.
(The English are its most ardent advocates, because their ancestors migrated to the
British Isles together with Attila.) True, they don't cut off anyone's head to divert
themselves, they use a wooden ball instead. They follow the ancient rules of the game,
Like nations, traditions do not die. Memories do.
Battling with Europe's United Army
Attila was playing deliberately cool with Priscus's embassy. He made it a point to have
each of his moves or gestures show how disgusted he was. Disgusted at the deception all
around him. The great Kipchak knew politics was lying as best you can. For all that, he
could not reconcile himself to this reprehensible practice that was a norm in Europe. His
guts revolted against it.
He lived by different rules and professed a different political
culture. His moral standards were different, too. Every Kipchak grew up convinced that
deception could not make man rich or bring anything but shame upon his head. As he talked
to the embassy Attila knew that the Christian envoys were luring away his best troops,
unashamedly and impudently. He ordered lists of the defectors to be drawn up and demanded
from the Europeans that the traitors be turned over. The Europeans, however, denied any
wrongdoing, with a hypocritical smile.
The Kipchak king did not know much about negotiating skills. He was too
upright to dally with politics. Attila said everything to the ambassadors' face. They took
it for his weakness and made fun of him.
Actually, there was nothing much to talk about. Nothing could be
clearer. The Europeans were weaning away his troops, his best military commanders. Attila
was certainly resentful. But that was only half the trouble.
The other half was that the defectors were fated to leave him, no
matter how hard he tried to prevent their desertion. Nothing could - order, execution or
fear - go against human nature, and the way communities shed surplus numbers. How do they
do it, no one knows - it is an ethnographic mystery yet to be resolved.
As a general rule, talents abandon their home countries, not because of
a higher pay, but because they want power, prestige and career advancement. The power and
careers they have long lost hope of getting at home.
The Kipchaks hated Rome and made no secret of it. And yet they walked
away lightly to serve a country not their own. Probably, they had their reasons and
motivations. One defector, for example, wrote bluntly that he wanted to erase the name
Roman from the world's memory and rebuild the Roman Empire as a Kipchak Empire. He noted
sadly, however, that the Turkis had very bad laws. "I made up my mind then that I
would rather labour to revive Rome's glory - which will never pass," by Turkic hands,
This tragedy - indeed, tragedy is the right word - haunted the
Kipchaks. Population growth was detrimental to them. There were too many of them, even for
the enormous Desht-i-Kipchak, which was bursting at the seams. The place became too
crowded for its talented sons to fulfil their potential and to prosper. A tribe cannot
have a hundred wizards or a thousand brilliant military commanders. Even if it does, their
talent would be wasted in idleness.
One truly wise counsel and one military commander of genius would do (a
duo or trio would, but, God forbid, not a hundred or a thousand). It is like a hundred
great poets - they would tire the listeners to death with their great verse. A surplus of
talents that are unaccounted for is just as damaging to society as their shortage. This
was a situation that the Kipchaks landed in under Attila.
On the other extreme, the Romans and Greeks were starved of talent.
Europe steeped in heathenism had long sunken hopelessly into senility and was desperately
in need of a fresh blood transfusion to give it a new lease of life. Therefore, they
welcomed defectors from Attila with open arms, giving them all comforts of life, often at
the sacrifice of their own. Even humiliations, such as, for example, Rome's conversion to
Greek Christianity in 380 on the Kipchaks' urging. Really, it was an act of desperation,
as they knew the Kipchaks to be the Christians' allies. That was their only chance to have
a foot in the Turkic world.
The Kipchaks - those simple-hearted darlings of Fate - seemed to be
engrossed by their own greatness and be only living for a day, oblivious of the world
around them. One day or another, the defectors from Desht-i-Kipchak were to show that they
had Kipchak blood flowing in their veins.
First, they betrayed to the Romans an ancient Turkic custom (atalyk) of
giving one's children into the care of other families. The Romans hastened to send Aetius,
a scion of a celebrated Roman family, to Attila. Attila received Aetius like a younger
brother of his and taught him everything he knew, as custom dictated. When time came for
Aetius to go back home, he returned a wise and learned man. He went on to become a general
and then commander of the Roman army. No one in the whole of the Western Empire knew the
Kipchaks better than Aetius (a disciple of Attila himself).
Now, Aetius started scheming, without sparing himself, to set Turkic
rulers against one another and slander one in the eyes of another, lure the Kipchaks to
his side and coax military commanders, clergy and ordinary people. He gave them good land
and rich estates, titles and offices. He did all this because he discerned the talent
tragedy of the Turkic nation before they could themselves. Aetius found a soft spot and
was now pressing on it to give Rome an advantage. He pitted Kipchaks against Kipchaks on
Who indeed was Aetius? He behaved too self-assuredly in the company of
Kipchaks, like one of them. Little surprise, though. His father, a Turki by the name of
Gaudentius, was magister equitum, "master" of the Roman cavalry, and his mother,
Itala, was a born Roman, a "noble and rich woman", as contemporaries wrote about
her. An evil genius was born of their marriage.
Gaul (modern France) was, through Aetius's strenuous efforts, a real
kingdom of defectors. It was settled by thousands of Kipchak families, and everything in
the land bore a Turkic imprint. Even the name of its capital, Toulouse, which is a common
Those were the traitors Attila wanted Priscus's embassy to turn over to
him, little aware that you cannot turn a river back to its source. His was a demand that
nobody could fulfil. Attila persisted, citing hundreds of names - in Toulouse (Tolosa) and
other cities hiding the fugitives, but all in vain.
The Kipchaks had a wonderful intelligence service. Their agents
reported, for example, that the Gaul city of Aurelianum was renamed Orleans, which sounded
more Turkic. (Place renaming is inevitable as migrants or settlers pronounce local names
their own way to get them sound familiar.)
Priscus and his companions denied everything Attila accused them of,
even the appearance of Turkic cities in Gaul. Having run out of arguments in getting his
way, Attila told the liars to get out and away.
Meanwhile the situation was rapidly turning against the Kipchaks, their
enemies playing for time so Aetius could gather a large army from around Europe and strike
a surprise blow. They miscalculated, however.
Attila struck first, invading Gaul and heading straight for Toulouse
and Orleans. The cities felt so secure against surprises that no preparations had been
made to stand up to Attila.
At the first sight of cross-spangled banners and cavalry the settlers,
and the whole of Gaul, lost sleep in anticipation of judgement. The traitors were put to
trial that was short and just. No one even moved to oppose it. The fugitives knew that
treason was the most heinous crime for a Kipchak - he could atone any crime or offense but
treason and cowardice. They were left no chance, but a few minutes of repentance.
As Attila was meting out punishment in Orleans, his scouts reported
that the Roman army had marched out to attack him. Aetius was on a war-path. Attila was
suddenly assailed by dim forebodings. He had long been tormented by suspicions of deceit,
and now he turned to a fortune-teller.
A ram was slaughtered by tradition. When the fortune-teller looked at
the ram's blade, he recoiled in terror and predicted disaster. (Not improbably, the
fortune-teller, too, had been bribed by Rome.)
Victory had been given away to Aetius even before the battle began. It
was a psychological victory - seeds of doubt had been planted in Attila's mind.
That was all Aetius had achieved. His joy was premature. He had
manoeuvred his troops to the Catalaunian Fields, a famous plain in Champagne, inviting
Attila to battle there. It was clearly a rash move.
True, the terrain was not what you could call cavalry-friendly. Attila,
though, accepted the unfavourable terms. Probably, he did this deliberately to mislead the
enemy. Grim forebodings attacked him again. It suddenly appeared to him that the terms of
battle had been imposed on him, and even though he had been reluctant to accept them, he
succumbed to his fate, accepting them.
Tormented by doubts, Attila would now and again raise his eye to the
sky, peering into the deep blue, as though looking for a sign from the Heaven. But no sign
came down. The night before the battle passed calm and quiet. At the first glimmer of
dawn, battle lines were drawn, but Attila continued to be torn by doubts. Finally, he
said: "Retreat is worse than death [in battle]." Worn down by doubts, he made
his steps towards his horse. The sun stood at near noon.
Spurred on by their battle-cries, the Kipchak cavalry galloped into
attack. Tutored by Attila himself, Aetius had anticipated it. The attack petered out. The
Turkic horsemen fell back. The bitter taste of failure returned Attila to his usual
composure. Praise Tengri, he won the battle over himself at the moment.
He rode up to his troops to address them with words he knew would carry
his message. His pure and lucid mind begot fine and honest words that sounded as clear as
the swoosh of a flashing sabre. Their commander's words heated up the Kipchaks' hearts.
"Defence is a sign of fear…. Brave is he who strikes first….
Revenge is a great gift of nature…. He who strives to victory is protected against
arrows…. He who whiles away time while Attila fights is dead already." Those were
the last words of his brief address.
"Saryn k'ochchak" (Glory to the brave), boomed the great
Kipchak and crossed his troops with his sabre. His voice was drowned in a roaring Hurrah,
which is "Kill" or "Get 'em" in Turkic.
In a moment the opposing armies were entangled in a deadly battle. A
bright light of victory suddenly flared for the Kipchaks over the Catalaunian Fields. The
sun danced in the flashing Turkic sabres. This time, the battle against Europe's united
army took a serious turn. Tengri's warriors returned to their camp late in the night,
tired and beaming with delight.
In the morning Attila magnanimously looked on as Aetius's army was
pulling out of the battlefield, half-finished and drained of will to fight on. A generous
gesture the enemy did not deserve, though, which the thrashed Romans mistook for a
weakness. They, or rather their historians, ticked as a point won against Attila in the
battle on the Catalaunian Fields.
That was the price of pity shown on the battlefield.
Attila was, of course, little aware of what was to happen centuries
later. He led his army against Rome, razing to the ground North Italian cities inhabited
by Turkis. Milan, another safe haven for fugitive Kipchaks, suffered most.
Before long, Attila camped within a few days' march from Rome. The
Kipchak "losers" - strong and proud under their unfurled banners - were
threatening Rome. The Empire's elite, with Pope Leo at the head, rode all the way up to
see Attila. They pleaded with him to spare them and their city. They certainly played
safe, knowing about the Kipchaks' compassion, kindness and lenience. The pope knelt in
prayer in front of Attila. This scene is immortalised in Raphael's painting, which is on
display in the Vatican City.
It was not the opponents' entreaties that halted the Kipchaks' advance.
Not even the lie that pestilence was raging in Italy. It was actually the cross that the
Roman pontiff raised above his head.
It was Tengri's cross. The Kipchaks took it for the will of Heaven.
Rome hoisted the Turkic sacred symbol aloft, as a gesture of submission to the power of
Desht-i-Kipchak. The war was over.
Attila turned his horse around and headed back home. The spectacle of a
prostrated enemy never delighted him.
He was outwitted, in the end. In a brazen and insidious way. A half-subdued enemy is
dangerous because in his thirst for revenge he can go to great lengths and to every
unthinkable crime. There is no moral barrier to stop him.
When Attila saw Ildico, a beautiful girl no one knew where she had come
from, he fell in love with her. Really, he was a man with a tender and passionate heart.
Their wedding feast went on all night. In the morning his guards were alarmed when Attila
failed to come out of his bedroom late into the day. They waited until noon. Everything
was suspiciously quiet in the royal bedroom.
They broke the door and saw an appalling scene - their beloved king lay
in a pool of blood and the girl sat statue-like near him. Was it an accident? Not the
least bit. That night, the Byzantine Emperor Marcian in Constantinople saw Attila's broken
bow in his dream. It was a sign of trouble.
It happens, of course, that dreams come true sometimes. If we remember
that the Greeks had attempted to poison Attila before, we would be reluctant to accept his
death as an accident. A premeditated murder? Or what, if not that?
The Kipchaks went mad with grief. Their king's death robbed them of
will and determination. All cities and villages were in mourning. Women put on their white
robes and unclasped their hair to hang loose. Their men, true to tradition, were cropping
off locks of hair and making deep cuts in their cheeks. The invincible warrior was dead.
His death was to be mourned with blood, not tears.
A tent was pitched in the field for the king to lie in state. A select
troop of cavalry was detailed to make circles around the tent all night as a tribute to
the greatest of Turkis.
After the blood-washed mourning, a sumptuous feast was celebrated at
the tent. A savage, almost ghastly spectacle - funereal grief and unrestrained merriment
going on side by side. A strange rite. The ruler departing for the other world was to see
that the affluence he had assured for his subjects did not end with his departure. Life
Attila was buried in the dead of night.
His body was placed into three coffins put into one another. The first
coffin was made of gold, the second of silver and the third of iron. The king's weapons
and decorations that he never wore in life were buried with him.
Attila's burial place has never been found. Everybody involved in the
funeral was killed. They all went calmly into the netherworld to serve their master.
As mourning descended on Kipchak lands there was jubilation among the
Romans and Greeks. They rejoiced at Attila's death and made no effort to conceal their
glee. Their next objective was to set Attila's successors against one another and wait
until the Kipchaks wore themselves out by infighting.
Attila's eldest son, Ellak, was a legitimate heir to his father's
throne. Ellak was slandered, however, and embittered. A long period of internecine strife
The Turkis appeared to have risen against themselves. Brother killed
brother. Tribe fought tribe. It was a war waged by all against all (the grief made
Kipchaks blind and robbed them of their senses). When Ellak was killed in battle, Roman
politicians, preachers and legionaries knew what they could do next. Alienating and
dividing, supporting the weak and harming the strong, and, above all, slandering and
Slander was the tested weapon to fight the Turkis - they would do the
rest themselves. The Great Migration of the Peoples came to a long period of mutual
destruction: a nation of great numbers was killing itself.
On the bottom line, however, all was not as bad for Turkic culture as
it seemed. Rather, the end was unexpected and even paradoxical. By the late 5th century,
the Turkis had populated half of Europe and all of Central Asia. Turkic was more frequent
than any other language in Eurasia, and Turkis were the most populous nation in the world.
True, they fought among themselves, worshiped different gods and
professed different cultures. But, in any case, they all had their roots in the Altai and
one, Turkic, blood flowing in their veins. No matter how different, that is a common
heritage they are destined to share forever.
And that was the chief product of the Great Migration of the Peoples. A
single nation gave birth to scores of other nations.
The New Desht-i-Kipchak
Like the Kushan Khanate before it, the giant Desht-i-Kipchak flew apart. Austrasia,
Alemannia, Bavaria, Burgundy, Bohemia, and scores of other new Turkic states sprang up in
Europe in the wake of its collapse. (With dozens more appearing in Asia.) Its fragments
were scattered all across the bleeding land of Desht-i-Kipchak.
Some Turkic lands styled themselves kingdoms living by Roman law. One
of them was the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain. Still others were kaganates that remained
faithful to Oriental culture. The kaganates were ruled by kagans, who were elected by
khans from among the khans.
According to whatever records survived, kagan elections were played out
on approximately the following scenario. A would-be ruler was seated on a white rug and
carried on shoulders around a temple or any other sacred place (nine times along the solar
circle). A string was then thrown around the kagan elect's neck and tightened until the
victim lost consciousness. The half-strangulated pretender was asked: "How long can
you be the kagan?" That was the khans' way of setting the ruler's term of office.
The election was rounded up with wholesale plunder of the newly elected
kagan. The man was stripped of all property that could be carried off. That was a
tradition, and it had a name, khan talau (plunder of the khan). The logic was that the
khan was from now on provided for by the nation. (Curiously, khan talau survived though
much of the Middle Ages in Europe, where Western church cellars, for example, were raided
after election of a new pope.)
Under another election scenario, the khans (the modern electoral
college) took turns throwing up a sacred staff so it could land, its pointed end first, in
a circle drawn on the ground. Who managed to pull off the trick best was made kagan
(wasn't it Tengri who guided his staff?).
A kagan was elected to rule the kaganate of Austrasia, a new Turkic
state in Central Europe, at the end of the 5th century. It comprised lands lying farthest
west of the Altai - modern France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, parts of Spain and
Southern Germany, and Austria, where Turkis made up a sizable part of the population.
Next, after and east of Austrasia, came the Avaria kaganate (Avar
Empire) on lands occupied today by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia,
part of Germany, and Croatia. Here, too, lived the Turkis swept westward by the great
waves of migration from the east.
Another kaganate, Ukraine, took up most of the modern state of that
name and part of Central Russia, up to the Moskva River.
Greater Bulgaria, another Turkic kaganate, lay south of Ukraine, its
wide arc skirting the western seaboard of the Black Sea, from modern Bulgaria, Romania,
the Balkan countries, to parts of Southern Russia and Ukraine. These lands, too, were
populated by Turkis who had migrated here from the Altai.
The Khazar kaganate extended from the South Caucasus northward across
the Don steppe.
The kaganate of Bulgaria (simply Bulgaria) held lands on both banks of
Siberia was the name of the kaganate occupying the entire Altai steppe,
from the Yaik River to Lake Baikal.
Finally, Sakha was the easternmost Turkic land, a lone star in the
North with an identity setting it apart from other lands.
For all their different allegiances and names, they had a horseman,
banner and equal-armed cross for their sovereign symbols, as they did in Attila's time.
Their subjects prayed to Tengri and worshipped the Eternal Blue Sky over their heads.
The rest of Europe addressed their prayer to crucified Christ, who was
shown as a lamb in pictures and paintings.
This significant difference between Turkic and non-Turkic lands,
between Turkic and non-Turkic cultures persisted far into the Middle Ages.
The Great Migration of the Peoples left indelible tracks on the face of
Eurasia. This map shows where and when Turkis, forced out of the Ancient Altai by the
overpopulation pressure, settled over successive centuries. Left by the great nation, they
will remain forever.
We have tried to convey this message in this book. The art designer has reproduced museum
exhibits here, without adding anything of his own.
As we judge, the story of a nation can best be told by that nation and its culture only.
List of Illustrations
Architecture of Old Europe. Vienna.
Craftsmen in Ancient Egypt. Fragment of a relief (tracing). 3rd millennium BC.
Bird. Applique on a felt rug. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds. The Altai.
Bronze casting in Ancient Greece. Detail of a bowl (tracing). 6th century BC.
Museum hall. Pieter Bruegel's painting "The Tower of Babel". 16th century.
Ancient Turkic runes on a stele. Approximately 3rd century BC. Minusinsk Depression in
Khakassia, Southern Siberia.
The same runes on the Great Elling Stone. 10th century. Denmark.
Ancient Turkic faces:
- A Kushan ruler. Earthenware. 1st or 2nd century. Khalchayan, Uzbekistan;
- M.M. Gerasimov's reconstruction from a skull found in the Kenkol burial. 1st century.
- Portrait of an unidentified person. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the
- Burial mask. Terracotta. Early 1st century. Uibat, Khakassia.
Horse rider. Rock drawing. Approximately 1st millennium BC. Lena River bank, Sakha
Chinese picture of Ancient Turkis.
A tattoo fragment. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Tattoo on a chieftain's body. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Harness ornaments. Carved wood. 5th century BC. The Altai.
Ancient Turkic runic alphabet. 1st millennium BC.
Bridle ornament. Bronze. Approximately the 5th century BC. Seven Brothers mounds, North
Runic monument. Minusinsk Depression, Khakassia.
Turkic warrior with a "screeching" banner. Fragment of an ancient painting
Ritual rock charm drawings. 2nd millennium BC. Minusinsk Depression, Khakassia.
Ritual drawing of an elk female. Stone engraving. 3rd millennium BC. Angara River area,
Tribal rock charm drawing. 2nd millennium BC. Minusinsk Depression, Khakassia.
Spearhead inscribed with ancient Turkic runes. 4th century. Ukrainian steppe.
The oldest stone tool found by Academician A.P. Okladnikov. 200,000 years BC. The Altai.
Ancient stone sculpture.
Charm griffin. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Bashadar mound, the Altai.
King's pole-ax. Gold. Approximately the 5th century BC. Kelermes mound, North Caucasus
Rooster totem, a tribal charm. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Sarcophagus with animal figures. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Bashadar mound, the Altai.
Chart illustrating the design of a steppe mound.
Stone stele. 2nd millennium BC. Minusinsk Depression, Khakassia.
Bowl. Silver. 1st century. Ukrainian steppe.
Map. A drawing of the Yenisei River by S.I. Remezov. Early 18th century.
Ancient rock drawings and runic inscriptions. 1st millennium BC. Khakassia.
Funeral stone in Pabon-Ha, Tibet.
Spruce, the Tree of Life. Rock drawings. 1st millennium BC. Sagyr area, Eastern
Deer. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
The famous stone idols sculpted by the ancient Turkis.
Spearhead. 4th century. Ukrainian steppe.
Metal smelting furnace. Early 1st century. The Altai.
Portrait of an ancient Turki. Embroidery. Early 1st century. Noinulin mounds, Northern
One of the numerous representations of Gheser. Tibet.
An iron meteorite. Museum collection in Vienna.
Vase. Gold. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukraine.
Detail of an ornament. Gold. 4th century BC. Tolstaya Mogila (Thick Grave) mound, Ukraine.
Scenes of Turkis' life. Vase detail (tracing). 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukraine.
A horseman fighting foot warriors. Detail of a comb. Gold. 4th century BC. Solokha mound,
Dragon, the Turkis' guardian, or bird griffin. Silk embroidery. Early 1st century.
Noinulin mounds, Northern Mongolia.
A warrior with a wolf standard (wolf-shaped banner). Carved bone. Orlatsky burial.
Fantastic animal. A tattoo fragment. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Horse head ornament and saddle. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Galloping horse. Fragment of an ancient low relief.
Winged horse. Detail of an amphora. Silver, gilt. 4th century BC. Chertomlyk mound,
Symbolic representation of Jargan's (St. Gregory's) feat. Approximately the late 4th
century. Stone engraving. Daghestan.
The eternal sign of Tengri. Gold. 6th or 7th century. Found in a steppe mound in
Turkic priests. Rock drawing. 1st millennium BC. The Altai.
Women in praying positions. Fragment of a tapestry. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the
Turkic preacher at a temple. Ancient rock drawing. Pakistan.
A deer head in a griffin's beak, a ritual symbol. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk
mounds, the Altai.
The Great Wall of China. 3rd century BC.
Warrior figures. Terracotta. 3rd century BC. Shenxi Province museum, China.
Suspension bridge in the Pamirs.
King of the nagas. Low relief fragment. 4th century BC. India.
A she-naga. Low relief fragment. 4th century BC. India.
Turkic warrior. Bronze. 2nd century. Iran.
Ancient horsemen. Low relief fragment in Persepolis. 5th century BC. Iran.
Tengri faith preacher. Gold. Approximately 4th century BC. Amu-Darya treasure.
Turkis laying siege to a pagan fortress. Platter fragment. Silver. Anikovsky treasure.
Arab-Ata Mausoleum. Interior. A typical specimen of Turkic architecture, with a dome on an
octagonal brickwork building. Uzbekistan.
Drinking horn in the shape of Capricorn. Silver. 5th century BC. Seven Brothers mounds,
North Caucasus steppe.
A khan's caftan (reconstruction). Leather sown over with gold flakes. 5th century BC.
Issyk mound, Kazakhstan.
Horsemen. A fragment of embroidery. Early 1st century. Noinulin mounds, Northern Mongolia.
"Kushan" runic script. Part of an inscription on the temple honouring Khan Erke
(King Kanishka). Stone. 2nd century. Surkh-Kotal, Northern Afghanistan.
Ruins of an ancient Turkic temple and fortress of Koi-Krylgan-kala. 3rd century BC.
Winged animals, or "ancestors" of Turkic chimeras. Detail of the Seven Rivers
altar. Bronze. Approximately 4th century BC. Kazakhstan.
Head of a Turkic warrior. Earthenware. 2nd century. Khalchayan, Uzbekistan.
Dagger in a gold sheath. Early 1st century. Tilla-Tepe burial, Afghanistan.
Plan of the Tilla-Tepe burial.
Turkic warrior of the age of the Sak (Shak or Sacae). Fragment of a low relief.
Coin of Khan Erke (King Kanishka).
Statue of Khan Erke (King Kanishka). Red sandstone. 1st or 2nd century. Museum in Mathura,
Stair of the temple in honour of Khan Erke (King Kanishka). 2nd or 3rd century.
Coin of Khan Erke (King Kanishka), reverse.
Detail of a palace low relief. Stone. 2nd century. Airtam, Uzbekistan.
Female lute player. Detail of a low relief. Stone. 2nd century. Airtam, Uzbekistan.
Buddhist sanctuary (Sita-Tara). Bronze.
Vajra (Tengri sign), the chief treasure of Buddhism. The illustration shows a side view of
Vajra on top of the temple in the Buddhist Erdeni-Dzu Monastery. Mongolia.
Winged lion with a serpentine tail. Sandstone. 2nd century. Mathura, India.
Detail of a necklace. Gold. 4th century BC. Tolstaya Mogila mound, Ukraine.
Chariot, the forerunner of a buggy. Wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Chariot. An ornament. Gold. Amu-Darya treasure.
Kailasa, the ancient Turkis' sacred mountain. The Himalayas.
Drinking horn in the shape of a ram figure. Silver. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound,
Mound excavation. Drawing made in 1864.
Griffin attack. Applique on felt. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Oil lamp. Bronze. 4th century BC. Chertomlyk mound, Ukraine.
Mound excavation. Drawing made in 1864.
Dancing woman. Gold plaque. Bolshaya Bliznitsa mound, North Caucasus steppe.
Griffin attack. Fragment of an applique on felt. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the
View of excavation of the fifth Pazyryk mound.
Khan (he or she?) on the throne. Fragment of an appliqued felt rug. 5th century BC.
Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Platter table with detachable legs. Wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Horseman. Fragment of an appliqued felt rug. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Jars on the seashore. Composition.
Horseman. Drawing. Dura-Europos, Iraq.
Ornament, a hrivna with horse rider figures. Gold, enamel. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound,
Dragon. Detail of an ornament. Gold, beading, garnet insets. 5th century. Karyazh city,
Griffin attack. Detail of a necklace. Gold. 4th century BC. Tolstaya Mogila mound,
Sword hilt. Gold. 4th century BC. Chertomlyk mound, Ukaine.
Ruins of the ancient Turkic fortress of Teshik-Kala. Khorezm, Uzbekistan.
Chasing scene. Fragment of a low relief. Stone. 1st millennium BC. Iran.
Water jet lion (copy). Stone. Orta-Kapy gate. Derbent, Daghestan.
Citadel (Naryn-Kala). Western gate. Derbent, Daghestan.
Orta-Kapy gate. Derbent, Daghestan.
Derbent in 1796. Drawing from a book by E. Eichwald, Germany.
Reliquary, a container to keep relics.
Ahtamar Church of the Holy Cross. Low relief. Turkey.
Orta-Kapy stair. Derbent, Daghestan.
An ancient Turkic temple after excavation. Early 4th century. Derbent, Daghestan.
Martin Schongauer. The Carrying of the Cross. Copper engraving. 15th century.
Ruins of an ancient temple. Armenia.
Roman legionaries. Marble. 2nd century. From the Louvre collection, Paris.
Turkic horug (church gonfalon).
The crosier of the Armenian Church Catholicos. Detail.
Albrecht Durer. Four Horsemen. From the Apocalypse cycle. Wood engraving. 15th century.
Plan of the Echmiadzin Cathedral, an example of Turkic church architecture - the
foundation is always cross-shaped. Early 4th century. Armenia.
Plan of a temple in Garni built before the arrival of the Turkis, an example of European
architecture of that age. 2nd century. Armenia.
Temple in Garni. Drawing of a reconstruction.
Kirants Monastery built in the famous hip-roof style borrowed from the Kipchaks. Armenia.
Ruins of a church. The mason's low relief. Stone. 7th century. Armenia.
Symbolic presentation of a church as a gift from Turkis to a Christian community. Stone.
Akhpat Monastery, Armenia.
Plan of the Echmiadzin Cathedral after renovation in the 5th and 7th centuries. Armenia.
Acceptance of Tengri's life-giving sign (aji), called today Exaltation of the Cross.
Djvari Church. Mtskheta, Georgia.
Face of St. George. Dome detail of the Church of St. George. Mosaic. Late 4th century.
Sarcophagus with a scene showing Constantine's triumph. Pink porphyry. 4th century.
Vatican Museum. Rome.
Church of St. Sophia, interior. Rebuilt in the 6th century. Istanbul (Constantinople),
Head of Emperor Constantine. Marble. 4th century. Rome.
Church of St. Vitalius, a specimen of Turkic architecture - hip-roof style on an octagonal
building. Beginning of the Gothic style. 6th century. Ravenna, Northern Italy.
Mosaic in the Grand Palace at Constantinople, an example of Turkic, or
"barbaric", influence on Byzantine art. 5th and 6th centuries. Istanbul
Woman with a jug. Detail of the floor mosaic in the Grand Palace at Constantinople, a
specimen of Greek art. 5th and 6th centuries. Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey.
Theodoric's Mausoleum. 6th century. Ravenna, Northern Italy.
Church of St. George, one of the earliest churches in Europe patterned on Turkic
architectural style. 4th century. Salonika, Greece.
Priceless relics of the Church of St. Sophia. Mosaic. Istanbul (Constantinople), Turkey.
Besshatyr mounds. Kazakhstan.
Heavy Turkic-type bow.
Fish, a sign of antiquity in Turkic spiritual culture. Gold. 4th century BC. Ukraine.
Figure of a youth. Detail of a candleholder. Bronze. 5th century BC. Nimfei mounds.
Horseman. Mural. China.
Duel. Detail of a vase. Silver. 7th century.
Female figure. Detail of an ancient mirror. Bronze. 5th century BC. Ukraine.
Figure of a youth. Detail of a candleholder. Bronze. 5th century BC. Nimfei mounds.
Candleholder. Bronze. 5th century BC. Nimfei mounds. Ukraine.
Ram in a wolf's maw. Probably, a sign of sacrifice. Carved wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk
mounds, the Altai.
Archway. Derbent, Daghestan.
Vessel. Silver, gilt. 4th century. From the Hermitage collection, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Ruins of an ancient city. Romania.
Heavenly angels, messengers from the Altai. Detail of a bracelet. Gold, bronze, enamel.
4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukraine.
Figure of an argali, a bridle ornament. Wood. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Copper lamp. Kazakhstan.
Interior of a medieval castle, a typical example of Turkic influence on European culture.
Horse ornament. Horn. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
The Capitoline she-wolf (after restoration). Bronze. Rome.
Column. Ruins of an ancient European city.
Lion head. Detail of a necklace. Gold, enamel. 4th century BC. Bolshaya Bliznitsa mound,
North Caucasus steppe.
Fragment of a Greek statue leg. Marble.
Details of Turkic ornaments. Gold, enamel. 4th century BC. From Ukrainian mounds.
Greek vase. Earthenware. From the Hermitage collection.
Ancient shield. 5th century BC. Tuektin mound, the Altai.
Warriors leaving the battlefield. Detail of a gold plaque (tracing). From Peter the
Great's Siberian collection.
Khan's helmet. Bronze. Kekuvatsky mound, Ukraine.
Amazon. Bronze. 3rd century BC. Ukraine.
Gold bowl. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukraine.
Saber hilt with unmistakable Turkic symbols.
Old building with Tengri signs. France.
Serpent, a symbol of wisdom. Marble. Constanta Museum, Romania.
Great Attila. Detail of a vase. Silver. Sentmiklos treasure, Northern Romania.
Serpentine bracelet. Gold. 5th century BC. Seven Brothers mounds, North Caucasus steppe.
Female swan. Vessel. Blue marble.
Quiver lining. Detail. Gold. 4th century BC. Melitopol mound, Ukraine.
Bridle ornament. Bronze. 5th century BC. Seven Brothers mounds, North Caucasus steppe.
Fancy wood carving was the oldest Altaic handicraft.
Wood lace, a play of the handicraftsman's imagination.
Triangular plaque with figures. Gold. Karagodeuashkh, North Caucasus steppe.
Preparing for falcon hunting. Mosaic. 4th century.
Face. Carved wood. 5th century BC. The Altai.
Decoration detail of an old house. Wood. Tomsk, Siberia.
Carved posts. Tracing. Wood. Daghestan.
Bear. 3rd millennium BC. Samus burial, Siberia.
Pages 158 and 161
Raphael. Pope Leo I meets Attila. 16th century. Fresco. "Stanza d'Eliodoro",
Bowl. Silver, gilt. 4th century BC. Gaimanova Mogila mound, Ukraine.
Drinking horn. 4th century BC. Ukraine.
Woman's perfidy. Engraving. Ivory. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukraine.
Two chimeras from a khan's sarcophagus. Gold. Bolshaya Bliznitsa mound, North Caucasus
Fantastic lion. Gold. 5th century BC. Kelermes mound, North Caucasus steppe.
Fraternization scene. Plaque. Gold. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukraine.
Female dancer. Gold. 4th century BC. Bolshaya Bliznitsa mound, North Caucasus steppe.
Al-Idrisi's world map. 1154.
Sphinx, or half animal half man. Fragment of an applique on a felt rug. 5th century BC.
Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.
Louvre's interior, Paris, France.
Map showing lands settled by Turkis.
Ornament. Gold. Peter the Great's Siberian collection.
Upper World Bird, a sign of Turkis' unity. Felt. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the
Horseman from legend. Gold, enamel. 4th century BC. Kul-Oba mound, Ukrainian steppe.
Arba-bash rug. Coloured designs on felt. 5th century BC. Pazyryk mounds, the Altai.