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Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

Reflecting on Advanced Turkic Civilization

Reflecting on Advanced Turkic Civilization - e-history.kz
The Turkic world throughout its long history was a unique place where powerful cultures and civilizations originated and developed.

It had a great influence on the course and development of world history, culture and civilization. Its impact and influence was due to the fact that the Turkic world, being geographically located in the central part of the Eurasian continent, has always been a connecting bridge between the two great cultures of the East and the West. Noting this role of the Turkic world, many researchers, neglect at least three factors. First, the inevitable influence and impact of these cultures on the Turkic, which led to the assimilation and borrowing from these cultures secondly, the fact that the Turks had their own culture and civilization, which was rather high for its time. And that their culture has had a tremendous impact and influence on the neighboring, according to a number of well-known scientists, the starting conditions for the development of neighboring civilizations, including European. Particularly in this regard, the influence of the Turks on Russia can be noted, which historians with Eurocentric and Russian-centric historians are trying hard not to notice.

To begin with, the concept of so called ancient Turkic civilization includes the state-legal mechanism, economic, military and technological achievements, myths, written heritage, art, etc. A circulating opinion on the presence of presets or prototypes of runic in Sak-Uisun time cannot be rejected.

However, it was probably in the epoch of the creation of the Great Kaganate Turks that great and bold steps were taken to revive, reform and modernize this alphabet on the scale of a huge united empire. The fundamental feature of the Turks civilization was the harmony of ethnocultural identity and universal content. Turks managed to maintain their own ethnic identity, language, nomadic worldview, and traditions, and at the same time combine and integrate different ethnic massifs of the Kaganate. Intercivilization dialogue and stimulation of this dialogue are also indicators of the ethnos civilization. In the history of the Turkic civilization, the role of the Sogdian and Chinese factors cannot be denied. Later, the transition of the Turks to the Arabic alphabet occurred gradually and through the efforts of the Turkic elite itself.

Ethnolinguistic atmosphere in the steppes of Eurasia back in the days was characterized by the intensification of the turkization process, when, due to many factors, it reached its apogee and logical conclusion. Turkic language became lingua franca of early medieval Eurasia. At the same time, the formation of a specific language of runic monuments testifies to attempts to create in the empire a single overtribal language and serious positive changes in mentality.

In a broad sense, the concept of “ancient Turkic civilization” includes the state-legal mechanism created by Turks, economic, military and technological achievements, myths, epic, military-knight’s code, written heritage, art from Manchuria to the Black Sea is already a phenomenon and an indicator of social progress. It is known that the empire does not happen without civilization. Along with writing and urban culture, statehood is the most important classical indicator of civilization. The empires, as extensive polyethnic associations created by military administrative methods, demanded enormous energy and intelligence from its organizers. The original political-legal system of the Turks met the civilizational requirements of that era. According to some scientists, an extensive Turkic titulature is an indicator of a developed state apparatus.

Throughout several centuries, the Turks managed to preserve their own most important ethnic identity, language, nomadic worldview, and traditions, while at the same time uniting and integrating different ethnic arrays of Kaganat into one whole. 

Indeed, a fundamental feature of the ancient Turkic civilization was that it was initially characterized by the harmony of ethno-cultural originality and universal content. The Turkic-speaking tribes that inhabited the Great Khaganate, later the states of the Kypchaks, Karluks, Oguzs, Kimaks, and others, closely communicated with their near and far neighbors. China, Iran, Byzantium, Russia, Georgia, Hungary, Khorezm, Egypt - this is not a complete list of countries and states with which medieval Turks entered into close and cultural contacts with. The role of the Great Silk Road, which is in its epoch in its heyday, is difficult to overestimate. Inter-civilization dialogue and stimulation of this dialogue is also an indicator of the ethnos civilization.

From the point of view of the material and economic foundations of civilization, it should be noted that mainly based on the nomadic pastoral complex, the ancient Turkic community was also an association of miners, metallurgists, artisans, gunsmiths, builders. The visiting card of the ancient non-Turkic civilization are the monuments of the Turkic writing: the runic and Uyghur letters. Found in the vast expanses of Siberia, East Turkestan, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, Hungary and other regions of Eurasia, they are an expression of the original culture and thinking of the Turks.

The most striking phenomenon of the ancient Turkic era should, of course, be to determine writing. The rich written heritage of the Turks was and remains the object of scientific study throughout the world. It is worth emphasizing that the deciphering of runicas and the development of Turkic science in Europe and Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century had a tremendous impact on the awakening of the national identity of the Turkic peoples - not only in Turkey, but also in Tsarist Russia, where the descendants of the Turks were subjected to racial and cultural discrimination. By now, the achievements of world turkology are impressive; numerous works on the history of the runic writing, the culture of that era have been created, although a number of problems are still debatable.

Of course, the question of the genesis of the ancient Turkic writing is interesting and significant. Various hypotheses about the origin of Runic were put forward: tamgaly, pictographic, Phoenician, Aramaic, including Parthian, Sogdian, Khorezm, Pahlavi and others. The most popular is the version about the origin of the ancient Turkic alphabet from Sogdian prototypes. According to Gerard Kloson, the Turks created their own alphabet, successfully adapting and connecting the Greek alphabet, the Pahlavi letter and their original signs. It is noted that the genius of an ancient non-Turkic man who, relying on the Greek alphabet and the Pahlavi letter, was able to talently modernize his own ancient Turkic pictograms, and turn them into an alphabet that subtly takes into account all the features of live Turkic speech.

Kazakh scientists define the time of the fourth and fifth centuries as the lower boundary of the history of runic letters. Their assumprions are based on the point of view of the ancient roots of this writing in view of the Sumero-Turkic lexical parallels.

A widespread version of chronology is the period of the sixth to the thirteenth centuries. The opinion about the presence of prerequisites or prototypes of runic in Sak-Usun time cannot be rejected. However, it was probably in the epoch of the creation of the Great Kaganate Turks that great and bold steps were taken to revive, reform and modernize this alphabet on the scale of a huge united empire. And the multi-ethnic composition of the Turkic empire, the Sogdian complex, a lively cultural dialogue on the Great Silk Road became in this matter an important stimulating factor.

Speaking about the ancient Turkic civilization, one cannot neglect the issue of the Sogdian and Chinese influence in the cultural genesis of the Turks. The cultural and civilizational pattern is obvious, when the Turks as a people with a nomadic mentality advance to the historical arena primarily as commanders and experts in government and law, while in the sphere of spiritual life, religion, education, clerical work, etc. The nomadic Turks were naturally complemented in civilization terms by the representatives of the Iranian culture who lived within the state, as well as (to a lesser extent) the Chinese-Confucian civilization. The famous saying that there is no Turk without a tat, which is cited by Mahmud al Kashgari, should be interpreted in the light of this cultural-civilizational symbiosis. Hush up the factor of inter-ethnic exchange would mean to move away from the scientific position, especially, as noted above, openness to cultural exchange, ability to dialogue and mutual influence are also indicators of the ethnos civilization.

When it comes to the military superiority of the Turks, there is a lot to talk about. For instance, the psychology of the Turks and the Chinese was the opposite. The Chinese love to delve into the difficult-intertwined and intricate intricacies of life. The Chinese can work for a long time and monotonously, until exhaustion to train. They do not sit and engage in meditation. Turks, in contrast, constantly choose a clear, clear, without various details line of conduct, discarding all superficial. Their wide scope of thinking is similar to the breadth of the Steppe itself. They are monotonous work. Unity will master meditating among the Turks. 

While the Chinese had a philosophy of Confucianism, then the Turks and Mongols had their own, more ancient and original religion Tengri, who was considered the creator of the Universe. The ancient Turks were convinced that they were the beloved Sons of Heaven Tengri and that Tengri patronized them in the Great Acts. In the military and martial arts, the teaching of Tengri, the cult of ancestors and faith in the inhabitants of heaven, which inspired the fighters to feats, played an important role in raising the morale. In order for the fighter to be an honest and reliable warrior in battle and in ordinary everyday life, the teachings of Tengri were implanted, according to which lies and betrayal were considered an insult to nature, and therefore to a deity. In the armies of China, the state of the scammers was necessarily envisaged, and the Turks who were in the Chinese service did not tolerate this and the open scammers killed them.

All this philosophy and worldview were laid in Turkic martial art, which was different in spirit from Chinese. Having such internal strength and philosophy in the military and martial arts, the Turks won not with numbers, but with high fighting spirit. If the Chinese were skillful in the performance of combat dances, where sometimes several hundred people could participate, usually they were professional warriors playing historical battle scenes, then the Turks appreciated not fighting dances, but victories on the battlefield or fights in the ring. For beautiful demonstrative martial dance you need to know a few dozen martial arts techniques. For a fight or fight, so much knowledge of tricks is not necessary. The Turks trained up to fifteen to seventeen receptions and this was enough to defeat the most artful martial arts dancer. Therefore, the battle or fight Turks won mainly their fury and strength of mind.

Therefore, up to the fourteenth century Turkic Tatars were considered invincible. Especially the degree of high martial art of the Tatar Turks was manifested during the reign of Genghis Khan, his sons and grandson Baty Khan. The army of Genghis Khan, numbering up to 100 thousand horsemen, conquered China, Korea and Iran.  On the Kalka river, twenty five thousand strong corps of Tatars won a brilliant victory over the thousands of army of Russian soldiers. Commander Subetei with his warriors, practically unaware of defeat, won sixty five battles in the territory from Korea to the Adriatic Sea.

The aggressive power and strength of the Chinese empire on the one hand, the enormous pushing force on the part of the Roman Empire, and then the aggression of the Arabs from Central Asia and the Caucasus could not but affect the tactics of the Turks. Here's how Tonyukuk wrote about the Turkic tactics: In terms of numbers, Turks cannot be compared with a hundredth of the population in China and the fact that they can withstand this state, the reason is that the Turks, following grass and water, do not have a permanent seat and practice only in military affairs. When they are strong, they go forward for acquisitions, when they are weak — they shy away and hide. The tactics of the Turks consisted in exhausting the enemy and in unexpected raids. If the Turks were victorious, they would cut down the enemy together, but if the enemy defeated them, they did not consider it a disgrace to retreat dispersed. The Chinese commanders wrote about them like this: Before a decisive offensive of the enemy, the Turkic horsemen part like a flock of birds in order to gather and re-enter the battle.

Such tactics of military combat became part of the martial art of the Turks. Before a decisive offensive of the enemy, the fighter retreats to the side and, using his strength and the inertia of the enemy, knocks him down or knocks him to the ground. Naturally, the military art of the horse warrior was especially appreciated.

The art of war was the pride of an equestrian warrior, an easy landing on a horse, an impeccable ability to stay in the saddle, and the art of horse riding. The warrior had to hold himself on a horse so that no one could move him or throw him to the ground, because this is exactly what the opponents are trying to do in a duel. The warrior's protective armor was: a leather robe, protected from above by metal discoid metal plates or plates.

The Turkic-Sogdian synthesis is a vivid expression of the fruitful dialogue and interpenetration of cultures in the empire. Sogdians served Turkic kagans as diplomats, mentors in literacy, religious figures, scribes, officials, merchants, city builders. Most of the cities of Syrdarya and in the Semirechie region arose as a result of Sogdian colonization, and most of their inhabitants in the early stages of history came from Sogd. As Lev Gumilyov noted, the Turkish-Iranian complementarity was positive, whereas from China, Turks had a cultural rejection.

Nevertheless, the study of written and archaeological sources shows that the influence of Chinese culture — right up to the wide spread of Islam — was also significant. In the classic book of Gibb “The Arab Conquests in Central Asia” shows the picture of China’s rather deep political and cultural influence on Sogdians and Turks (Western Turks, Turgeshes, etc.) in the pre-Islamic period. The earliest monument of writing relating to the history of the First Khaganate is the sign of the Bulgut. The stele was dedicated to Taspar Kagan. The inscription, made in the Sogdian language and the alphabet, tells of the creation of the state, the acts of Taspar Kagan. According to experts, it is clear from the context of the inscription that the Sogdian letter was understandable in the Kaganate to a fairly wide range of educated people from the tops of the Turkic society. The fact that in the cultural history of the ancient Turkic society there was a Turkic-Sogdian-Chinese synthesis is also written by modern Kazakh researchers.

At the same time, by the number of plates and tips on the belt, the social significance of its owner was determined. The horsemen had shields, but not the same as the infantrymen (covering the man almost entirely), but small round ones, protecting only the upper half of the body when sitting on a horse. The shield served to repel the blows of a sword, saber or spear. Combat martial arts of the Turks included a wide range of techniques in hand-to-hand combat conducted by the legs, because in battles the hands of a warrior were occupied with weapons. The armor on the warriors did not give an advantage to the blows, and the main method of applying force in the fight was tremors.

The inability to rely on the force of reciprocating movements in combat led to the prevalence of rotational movements, which, in turn, made it possible to combine the training of warriors with ritual dances. A special feature of the Turkic martial arts and its main difference are the techniques in the form of circles and spirals, which in continuous connection create a reliable defense for the warrior. The martial art of the Turkic masters gave different names.

Between the 11th and 16th centuries, Turks began to accept Islam. At first, it was accepted by merchants, warriors, who were recruited to serve the Caliph, the townspeople, and only after many centuries, the latter - the nomads. Having poorly understood the Arab religion and remaining indifferent to religious disputes, the Turks began to profess Islam in good faith, as a military charter, without changing anything in it and without disputing anything. With the adoption of a new religion by the Turks in martial arts, applied art, tactics, style were preserved, but the philosophy of the ancient Turkic religious teachings, based on the reverence and elevation of the ancestral spirits and on the ancient Turkic traditions, was supplanted. When the Turkic states lost their independence, the art disappeared. Thus, with the loss of their traditions, philosophy and religion by the Turks, their morale was lost. Since then, they have not enjoyed the love and patronage of Tengri - the Spirit of Heaven and have ceased to be invincible warriors.

Evidence of the Sino-Turkic dialogue during the sixth century and the acquaintance of Turks with Buddhism is the translation of the Nirvana Sutras into Turkic language. Preachers of various branches of the Indo-Buddhist religious tradition came to the Turks. It is well known that Ton Jabgu Kagan, the great ruler of Western Turks, had a meeting with Xuan zang, the famous Buddhist teacher of China. Also among the Western Turks, the Indian preacher Prabhaparamitra preached. On one of the sides of the Bugut stele there was an inscription in Sanskrit by a letter of Brahmi.

At the same time, the phenomenon of the reverse influence of the Turks on Iranians, Chinese, Slavs and others should not be forgotten. Not to mention the generally known facts when Sogdians, Chinese, Persians, Arabs, Slavs resorted to the military-political services of the Turks-nomads, armies, were invited to serve as military commanders, the Turkic influence also affected the spheres of language, life, objects of material culture, spiritual traditions. The mutual influence of the Turkic and Chinese cultures reached its peak in the Tang era. At that time, interest in Turkic culture and language increased significantly in China, and a Chinese-Turkic dictionary was compiled, which unfortunately has not reached our days.

Sogdians also did not manage without the influence of Turkic culture; in particular, it concerns the language sphere. Mahmud Kashgari testified that by the eleventh century. Sogdian language was already falling out of use, being absorbed by the Turkic language. We often talk about the immense influence of Iranian vocabulary on Turkic languages, and this has become a textbook fact; at the same time, attention is not always drawn to the processes of the reverse impact of the Turkic language on Iranian, including on such a developed literary language of the Middle Ages, as New Persian (Farsi). A well-known german turkologist provided an example of nearly two thousand of Turkic origin in the Farsi language, while this borrowed vocabulary covers the material and spiritual spheres. Turkic words were also infiltrated into Old Russian speech, into Arabic (including various eras - from the Mamluks to Ottoman rule). In general, it is necessary to conclude that even in the process of actively integrating Chinese and Iranian cultural worlds into orbit, the nomads of Eurasia (Turks and Mongols) did not remain passive translators.

Old myths about wildness and the absence of a written heritage among the nomadic Turks have been dispelled by modern Turkic studies. The fact that Turkic literacy was fairly widespread and was available not only to the aristocracy, but also to the masses, is indicated by the information of foreign written sources that the Turks write on wooden tablets when calculating the number of people, horses, taxes and cattle; also the scribe has always been indicated in debt obligations and trade contracts; in the texts of religious content.

The social status of bitikchi - the scribes was, in all likelihood, high. They were experts in writing and calligraphers. The religious writers of the texts could have been monks. It was mentioned that the alphabets of monuments and documents look as the result of sophisticated art, developed by several generations of professionally prepared to read and write scribes.

The culture of writing in Turks reached a certain height. The runic alphabet was intended mainly for carving on stone (that is, it was a lapidary letter), but paper scrolls from Eastern Turkestan have survived to this day. Many religious texts were written on the papers of local or western (imported) production. The Turks used thick black mascara made of soot, a reed pen (penetrated through missionary activity, recorded Sogdian, Uyghur, Syrian, Manichaean letters), Chinese hair brushes for writing on papers. According to the turkologists, the word “write” comes from the Chinese name of the brush.

The runic writing of the Turks was distributed throughout the territory of the Turkic empire - up to the North Caucasus and Turks, Turgshes, Karluks, Kirghiz, Oguzes, Kimaks, Kipchaks and other subethnos were written on this alphabet. In total, about three hundred monuments of runic writing have been discovered in modern science. Of these, over one hundred fifty types of runic monuments are found in the valley of the Yenisei. The invaluable treasures of the Turkic civilization are the famous Orkhon monuments. The author of the epitaphs in honor of Bilge Kagan and his brother Kultegin is considered the ancient historian, thinker and ideologist of the Turkic Yollyg-tegin empire. Historical and biographical texts, first of all, memorial and lifetime descriptions of the deeds and exploits of the most prominent representatives of the ruling clan of Ashin and relatives of this kind of Turkic nobility embody the spiritual and political ideals of the ancient Turkic man.

The study also indicates that the Turks had the progress of scientific thought, and that for two hundred years of their history, they apparently overcame the pass from the mythical, figurative thinking to the historical and rational. And the transition from cyclic to extended time is a transition from primitive to history. Thus, it can be argued that even before the arrival of Islam, the Turks had the rudiments of the original philosophy of history. And although, of course, full-fledged historiography comes to the Turkic world together with the Muslim, Arabic factor, it’s also natural that the experience of understanding the past, the acts of ancestors contained in Orkhon epitaphs and genealogical traditions of the Turks, became the starting point for further, already strictly rational, scientific study of history in the framework of the Turkic-Muslim historiography.

If we touch upon the subsequent fate of the runic writing, then, as we know, it is supplanted by Uyghur italics, and then the Arabic alphabet. Change of writing is a turning point in the history of any civilization. With regard to the specific case of the transition from the ancient Türkic alphabet to the Arabic letter, it is necessary to distinguish the context of the historically objective civilizational choice of the people from acts of forcible introduction (the latest version in the history of the Turkic world took place in the modern history and concerns the introduction of Latin and Cyrillic).

Prominent historian Barthold, commenting in his writings on the legendary version of the destruction of monuments of ancient Khorezmian writing by the Arabs, notes that this myth is not supported by any sources. The academician writes: and earlier sources do not say anything about such extermination, which in itself seems unlikely. Barthold believed that the pre-Islamic monuments "were forgotten without any violent measures by the conquerors" were considered more likely by the adoption of Islam. It is worth recalling that the orientalist also wrote about the incorrectness of explaining the destruction or damage of ancient Turkic stone sculptures exclusively by Muslim influence and its fanaticism, since the late Mongolian conquerors also fought off the heads of the sculptures, because of superstition that otherwise these images of people of the past may be harmful to the living.

Even if there is no reliable evidence about the written monuments of the Iranian peoples about their systematic destruction and prohibition by the early Muslims, then this myth is not suitable for the history of the ancient non-Turkic writing. We mean both geographical and geopolitical circumstances (the main territory of the Turks was not included in the Caliphate), and the ambitions and militancy of the Turkic nomads, as a result of which the Arabs feared them and tried not to enter into confrontation with them.

On the whole, the transition to the Arabic alphabet proceeded gradually and through the efforts of the Turkic elite itself. According to prof. Kemal Silaj, who converted to Islam, the educated Turks turned to Arabic letters rather for religious reasons. It seemed to these neophytes that, using Arabic writing, they were striving to become more devoted Muslims. We must not forget the factor of competition of scientific and educational systems, in which medieval Islamic institutions influenced even Western Europe, China, and India.

A vivid indicator of the ancient Turkic civilization are examples of religious art - stone sculptures, which were placed on the graves of the departed. Turkic stone sculptures are works of art, many of which are made very skillfully. The sculptural image of the commander Kultegin as part of the once magnificent memorial complex is particularly notable among them. On the territory of Kazakhstan there are about four hundred stone sculptures of the ancient non-Turkic era. The number of Turkic stone statues in Xinjiang is estimated to be 186; and of greatest interest is the statue with the crown, which, as the Japanese scientists studied, determined, the Kagan of the Western Turks Nari Kagan - the grandson of the famous Mukan Kagan.

Most Western scholars believe that the ancient Turkic sculpture appears under the direct influence of Chinese civilization, as a direct imitation of Tang China. Apparently, one should not exaggerate the meaning of imitation, as well as hush up the facts in favor of intercultural exchange. As we noted above, it is certainly impossible to ignore the role of external influences, intercivilizational contacts in the era of the Great Turkic Empire. Scientifically correct would be the thesis that  in the remarkable art of creating stone sculptures, Turks might have received an initial impulse from outside, from the school of Chinese and Sogdian masters able to give it the shape of a distinctive national tradition.

In the Turkic society were experienced master stonemasons who were engaged in the manufacture of stone sculptures. In the monumental art of the ancient Turkic era, not only ethnic, but also local features, local differences within the Turkic art itself were observed. In recent years, cult-memorial complexes of Western Turks in the territory of Kazakhstan, in Zhetisu, have been comprehensively studied. These are the sanctuaries of Zhaisan and Merke with stone statues in the steppe belt of the northwestern foothills of the Shu-Ili mountains. They belonged to the population of the West Turkic Kaganate. There are twenty seven iconic memorial complexes in Zhaisan, each of which consists of burial mounds, stone sculptures and others. In the sanctuary in the upper reaches of the river Merke, more than 70 stone sculptures were found. At the same time, half of them were installed in honor of women, which is, as archeologist A. Dosymbayeva notes, a rare case in Turkic memorial and monumental art.

In the future, the perspective of the ancient Turkic civilization was such that due to the openness and dynamism of the mentality of nomads, activating the process of cultural genesis with the shift of its centers to the west in the sense of rapprochement with the Iranian world, the trend of complication and reorganization of the cultural-civilization complex in accordance with the Islamic factor.