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The First Gok-Turk Khanate

The "ethnical" point of view in Central Asia in the 6th and 9th centuries was as follows:

1- Töles (Tölös, Tölis, Tie,le in Chinese): the most crowded Turkish group had spread out in Central Asia. It is not true to accept all those groups having Turkish origins, spread from the Lake Baikal to the Black Sea. For example, it is known that those living in the west (the Alans) were Iranians. Wu-hun (Ugor) had been a group from Ural. It is stated that names of the Töles groups, even though they are not completely analysed yet, have the origins from the Huns and probably their language and habits are the same with the Gok-Turks. According to some of the Chinese registers, in the period of Tabgaçs (363-534), Kao-kü, some groups of Töles, defined them originated from the wolf father as the other Turks since they were using the carriages with the high wheels.

2- Tardush in the first quarter of the 7th century, had been a group from the tribe of Töles. They were known as being the richest and the bravest of the Töles', living between the River of Orkhun and mounts Altay.

3- Uygurs: they lived in the north of the River of Tola.

4- On-Oks: they lived in the wide area from the west of Altays to Seynah (Sirderya). They were known as "West Gok-Turks". Türgishs and Karluks originated from To'lus. Besides, in the same area, some of the Turkish tribes known as Cuyüe and Ç'u-mi, in the following years to 630, during the interregnum period of the Gok-Turks Khanate, lived in the dry steppes near Beshbalyk and were named as Turks of Sha-t'o (Turks of desert).

5- Basmils: it is claimed that the root of this tribe, although its king Idukut was Turkish, had been foreign. They generally lived in Beshbalik region in Central Asia.

6- Kirgizhs: they were in the region of the fountain of the River of Yenisey, in the west of Baikal.

7- Oguzs: they lived in the region of the River of Selenga and Ötüken.

8- K'itan, Tatabi, Nine-Tatars: the tribes from the Mongol root such as Oguz and Tatars, lived in the east region near the River of Onon and in Kerulen.

However, in should be remembered that all of those tribes changed their places from time to time; those separated tribes formed new ones.


The origins of the Gok-Turks, according to the Chinese sources, came from the Asian Huns. The leader's family was named Ashina (Asena, Zena, etc.). Gok-Turks' history mixed up with the legends about the derivation of the Ashina family from a female wolf.

But, the tradition of deriving from a wolf existed also between the Asian Huns and the tale about the transportation of the Turks from the narrow and intransitive ways to safer places by the father wolf, was told in the 3rd century between the Tabgaçs. This fact shows firstly the oldness of the Turks and the close relationship with the Turkish groups. Besides, the tale of the Ashina family about the massacre and the salvation of only a boy, hides a tragedy of which we do not know exactly what happened in the earliest history of the Gok-Turks. The symbol of the kingdom of Gok-Turks had been a flag with a golden wolf head because of the belief of the father wolf.


It is known that for the first time the Gok-Turks appeared in history as being dependent to the Juan Juans. They were busy with the blacksmith's profession as their traditional art in the mountains of Altay and they manufactured guns to the Juan Juans. Even that time they were not disorganized. According to Çou-shu (Chinese yearbook, 550-557), A-hien, the ancestor of Bumin (in Chines, T'u-men) the founder of the Gok-Turks, had the title of "shad" (merry, merry wise) and Tu-wa, the leader came before Bumin, was known as Ta-ye-hu (the big yabgu). Thus, the essence of the dependence of the Turkish groups to the Juan Juans was federal. Later, Bumin in the year of 534 had political relations with the administers of the north Tabgaç (Wei), in 542 he was seen near the River of Huang-ho in front of his raiders, and in 545 he received the envoy sent by the king of West Tabgaç with the words "a committee comes from the emperorship, our state will be honoured". Ishbara, one of the Gok-Turks khans, in a speech he held in 585, said that the Gok-Turks State was established 50 years ago, which means in 535.

However, Bumin established his emperorship in Ötüken (in the west of the River of Orkhun, in the 47th latitude and 101st longitude), the capital of the former Great Huns Emperorship in the year of 552. Before this establishment, Bumin in 546 suppressed the rebellion of Töles against the Juan Juans and wished to marry the daughter of that state, as he wanted to show that he had the same worth with that state's king; but he was refused rudely. Then, he occupied the lands of Juan Juans until they were collapsed totally, and he officially named himself "il-khan". Bumin died in the year of the establishment of the state, after he offered to his brother Istemiye the name of "Yabgu" and the sovereignty of the east region of the state, since he helped Bumin during the establishment of the west region of the state.

Istemi continued his conquests in the west, and the state had its precious period when K'o-lo (Kara?), the son of Bumin, and Mu-kan (553-572), the other son of Bumin that became king after the dead of his brother, had the power in Ötüken. Mu-kan Khan, as mentioned in the Chinese sources, had an awesome appearance and bright blue eyes, he had been powerful and harshness, defeated the Juan Juans with a last stroke (556), and had the control of the countries of Ki-tans and Kirghiz. He suppressed the dynasty of Chou, who replaced the West Tabgaçs in China, and the dynasty of Tsi. He prevented the military support of China to the state of Ak-huns-Eftalit and the people of Transoxiana who requested the Chinese support against the operations of Istemi. In 564, he blockaded Tsin-yang, the capital of Tsi in Shan-si and he married his daughter princess Ashina to the emperor of Chou (568). According to the sources, the Chinese emperor pacified the khan of Gok-Turks, who possessed wide countries and army of 100.000 people, by forming a kinship.


The power Mu-kan had commanded had been the army of the east wing of the emperorship. The other army under the command of Istemi (552-576) was active in his own region. In a short time, the Turkish emperorship raised to be a world state by Istemi, who after he had the sovereignty of the west of Altays, the Lake of Isik and Tien Shang Range, affected the two biggest states of the Middle Age, such as the Emperorship of Sassanids and Byzantium with his military and political movements in the wide range, to adapt to the Gok-Turks' politics.

After his first pressure experience over the Ak-Hun-Eftalits in the year 561, Istemi who accepted the Sasani Emperorship to be a natural allied against this state, that held the Silk transit trade in their hands, made an agreement with Shehinshah Anushirvan Adil. By this means, his daughter became the empress to the palace of Iran by marrying Anushirvan. The state of Ak-Huns-Eftalits collapsed by the suppression of the allies and its lands had been shared between the two emperorships, with the Oxus River (Amu Darya) as a border (564). The Transoxiana, a part of Fergana, Kashgar, Hoten etc. had been transferred to the Gok-Turks. Thus, the Turkish had the Middle Asian Silk caravan road for the third time in their hands.


However, Anushirvan was not happy with this sharing, although he had the "lion's share" in comparison to his additions for the victory. He also wanted to obtain the Transoxiana route of the caravan road. With this intention, he stopped the silk transport from his country to the harbours of Mediterranean and Byzantium. In this manner, he applied his idea to bring disorder by sabotaging the activities of the people of Sogd (the region of Semerkant), the famous caravanians of the silk trade and the dependent group to the Gok-Turks. He also wanted to deprive the Turks from the high income such as the charges of silk transit. He even killed the envoys Istemi had sent to him by cheating.

Istemi hit out the hope of reconcile, returned to Byzantium and sent a committee to Istanbul with a silk merchant from Sogd and the diplomat Maniah as the president (568) of the committee. This was the first official committee that went from Middle Asia to East Rome in the history. Since the silk problem interested also Byzantium as well as the Gok-Turks, the Byzantine Emperor Justinos II welcomed the Turkish envoys with the desire of getting rid of the Sassanids' interventions, changing the transport route to the Indian Ocean, and making contacts with the state of Himyeri in south Arabia.

He read Istemi's letter that was written in "Iskit" (Turkish) and from Maniah's explanations, he understood the seriousness of the initiative. He sent out a committee with Zemarkhos, the general governor as the president of the committee, to make an agreement (568, beginning of August). It was a precious document that showed the life style, strength and splendour of the Gok-Turks in the memories of the Byzantine envoys, who came to Ak-Dag passing from the Tien Shan Range by the route of Black Sea, Caucasia, Caspian Sea, and the Lake of Aral to the presence of Istemi (according to the Byzantine sources, Dizabulo, Dilzibulos, Silzioulos, Stembis: Sincibu in Altaris). Istemi realized his desire to suppress Anushirvan to open the Silk Road by cooperating with Byzantium and in the year of 571 the struggle between Sassanids and Byzantium began. But there is no evidence that the Gok-Turks joined to this war.

However, they interfered within the last years of Ormuzd IV. (579-590), as he had been the son of Anurshirvan, born from a Gok-Turk princess and therefore named as "Turkish-born". The reason of this lateness can be understood from the words of Turk-shad, the person who met Valentinos in the Turkish region near the Lake of Aral in 576, one of the envoys that Byzantium sent to oppress the Gok-Turks to join to the war. This Turkish prince blamed Byzantium to protect the Avars, the unforgivable enemies of the Gok-Turks, and to give shelters to those "who deserved to crush under the legs of the horses like ants, instead of being killed with a sword"; and this blame was true.

The most important conclusion of the politics of Istemi was that: after the Sassanids-Byzantium struggle which lasted for 19 years (571-590), these two emperorships' relations did not improve and with the attacks of the Emperor Heraklaious to Madain (Ktesiphon), the capital of the Sassanids (622-628), The Sassanids Emperorship had no more power left. This situation, which is also mentioned in the Koran, made the sovereignty of the Islamic Religion in Iran easier.


Mu-kan, the khan for whom all the military-political activities, including the movements of Istemi, had been done in the Emperorship of Gok-Turks, died in 572. During the kingdom of this big khan that the map of the state reached an enormously wideness (according to the Chinese sources, the wideness of the kingdom was more than 10.5 billion km2) and this was also reflected in the inscriptions of Orkhon: "they mobilized the armies to four directions and suppressed, controlled the tribes; they made the Turkish people sovereign from Kadirgan, in the east and to Temir Kapig (Iron Gates, on the road of Belh-Semerkand, width of 10-12 meters and length of 3 kilometres), in the west; between those countries the Gok-Turks were free and independent, the wise khans, the brave khans, rulers were all brave and wise…" It is understood that to the big funeral arrenged in Ötüken besides the states in the neighbourhood (such as China, Tibet, Arab, Kirghiz, Three-Kurikan, Thirthy- Tatar, Kitan, Tatabi), there was also the Emperorship of Byzantium.


Mu-kan's brother T'a-po (Tapar? in 572-581) took his place. The new emperor of the powerful kingdom, called the Emperor of Chou who had sent beneath gifts, 100 thousand rolls silk to celebrate him, and the Emperor Tsi, the enemy of the Chou, who had sent besides various gifts his supreme commander for celebration and showing special attention, "my sons". This showed that all the north China was under the Turkish control.

Since the country was too wide, Istemi divided the control of his lands into two between the son of K'o-lo, his brother (in the east), and his little brother Jo-tan (in the west) by giving them the name of "khan" and recognized the sovereignty of T'a-po. He became "the great khan" by this recognition. He wanted to marry a princess of Tsi and he believed to a Buddhist missionary (Jnagoupta)'s inspirations; then he tried to protect the Buddhist religion in the country, although the harmful aspects of the Buddhist religion was mentioned by the preceding Turkish administrators. He built a Buddhist temple and a statue of Buddha. Gok-Turks' grandeur was to begin to collapse. T'a-po made mistakes also in foreign politics. After the Tsi had been repelled in 575 by the Tchin dynasty, he announced a prince of Tsi, who had escaped and sheltered to him, as "Chinese khan".

This act spoiled the relation between T'a-po and Chous; he was stopped with the promise of a new Chinese princess when he progressed with a crowded army to the region of Pekin (579). However, the king of Chou wanted the submission of the Tsi prince, "the Chinese khan", in return for the Chinese princess. During a hunting the prince had been kidnapped by the Chou, tolerating this, the khan's prestige totally shook in the eyes of his folk. Another important event in those years, when splits occurred in the unity and culture of Gok-Turks, had been the death of Istemi (576).


Although his official name should have been "Yabgu" (the Gok-Turks people dependent of him were sometimes called as Yabgu Turks), we are being informed about the death of this great personality, who even is called "khan" in inscriptions, by the words of the above-mentioned Turk-shad. One of the subjects that made the Turk-shad angry, had been the disturbing of the Turks during the days of their mourning for their dead "forefathers". This speech, which had been an important road memory from the point of view of the tribes who lived at the west regions of the Gok-Turk khanate, and had been addressed to the ambassador Valentinos' name, further on contained important explanations about the style and the philosophy of the Turkish conquests: "I know how our prisoners the Uar-Huns (Avars) went to Byzantium.

I know where Dinyeper, and Maritza Rivers are and where the Danube flows and pours. The countries from the east to the west kneeled down in front of us. You see the Alans and On-Ogurs. They tried to disobey, but their hopes became naughty. We will also come to Rome". These words which showed that the borders of the Gok-Turks extended up to the north of Caucasia, also had been an open threat to Byzantium. But Turk-shad showed that he was not joking. The East Roman envoys still had been in the lands of Gok-Turks when the famous Castle of Kerç in Crimea, which belonged to the Byzantines, had been invaded by the Turkish armies (576). This is the date when the borders of the Gok-Turk Khanate extended from Mançurya to the Black Sea.

Although Tardu, son of Istemi, who took his place after his father (576-603) (Ta-teu in Chinese, actually a title), had been similar to his father by means of being powerful and for his love for war, had deepened the separation that the Khan T'a-po wanted, due to his passion. The Chinese took advantage from his weakness: First of all, using him against T'a-po, they inspired Ta-lo-pien (son of Mu-kan), who had been offended as for the reason that a part of the khanate had not been given to him, to go to Tardu. Whereas, even Mu-kan had not nominated him as a candidate for the throne, because his mother was not noble (from a Turkish family). Even though the great khan T'a-po, who died in 581, wanted him to be the khan instead of his own son, the Senate (Parliament) refused this and brought Ishbara (Sha-po-lüe in Chinese), the son of K'o-lo as the khan.


China continued encouraging the disagreements among the Gok-Turks. While Ta-lo-pien prepared for the struggle with the new great khan together with Tardu, the west Yabgu, Ishbara was sending soldiers to China to realize the inspirations given by the princess of Chou, his wife who wanted to take vengeance of her family from the khan of Sui (581-618), who obtained the power instead of the Chous and built a political unity for the first time since 350 years in China. Meanwhile, Ven-li, the Emperor of Sui, was trying to drive away from China nearly 10 thousands of Turks who worked as merchants in the Chinese cities and had privileges due to their friendship relations.

In spite of this, when Ishbara came with his armies to China, the Chinese cheating activities increased. Wen-li sent Tardu a flag with golden had of a wolf in order to inform him that he was greeted as the great khan of Gok-Turks. Tardu whom ambitions had increased, at first refused Ishbara who proposed to act in common against China and announced that he did not recognize the kingdom of the east region (582). Meanwhile, Ishbara had to struggle with Ç'ang Sun-Sheng, the diplomat-general who knew the Turks very well and to work with the discord of this Chinese between the Turkish commanders. In this way, the empire was divided officially into two.