Turkoman (ethnonym)

Turkoman, also known as Turcoman,[note 1] (English: /ˈtərkəmən/)[1] was a term for the people of Oghuz Turkic origin, widely used during the Middle Ages. Oghuz Turks were a western Turkic people that, in the 8th century A.D, formed a tribal confederation in an area between the Aral and Caspian seas in Central Asia, and spoke the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family.

Tour d'Erivan.jpg
Turkoman tower near Yerevan, Armenia
Regions with significant populations
Central Asia, South Caucasus, Middle East
Oghuz Turkic
(Azerbaijani · Turkmen · Turkish)
Predominantly Islam
(Sunni · Alevi · Bektashi · Twelver Shia)
Related ethnic groups
Other Turkic people

Turkmen, originally an exonym, dates from the High Middle Ages, along with the ancient and familiar name "Turk" (türk), and tribal names such as "Bayat", "Bayandur", "Afshar", and "Kayi". By the 10th century, Islamic sources were calling Oghuz Turks as Muslim Turkmens, as opposed to Shamanist or Buddhist Turks. It entered into the usage of the Western world through the Byzantines in the 12th century, since by that time Oghuz Turks were overwhelmingly Muslim. Later, the term "Oghuz" was gradually supplanted by "Turkmen" among Oghuz Turks themselves, thus turning an exonym into an endonym, a process which was completed by the beginning of the 13th century.

In Anatolia, since the Late Middle Ages, "Turkmen" was superseded by the term "Ottoman", which came from the name of the Ottoman Empire and its ruling dynasty. It remains as an endonym of semi-nomadic tribes of the Terekeme, a sub-ethnic group of the Azerbaijani people.

Today, a significant percentage of residents of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan are descendants of Oghuz Turks (Turkmens), and the languages they speak belong to the Oghuz group of the Turkic language family. As of the early 21st century, this ethnonym is still used by the Turkmens of Central Asia,[2] the main population of Turkmenistan, who have sizeable groups in Iran, Afghanistan and Russia, as well as Iraqi and Syrian Turkmens, the other descendants of Oghuz Turks.

Etymology and historyEdit

Turkomania of the Ottoman Empire

The current majority view for the etymology of the ethnonym Türkmen or Turcoman is that it comes from Türk and the Turkic emphasizing suffix -men, meaning "'most Turkish of the Turks' or 'pure-blooded Turks.'"[3] A folk etymology, dating back to the Middle Ages and found in al-Biruni and Mahmud al-Kashgari, instead derives the suffix -men from the Persian suffix -mānind, with the resulting word meaning "like a Turk". While formerly the dominant etymology in modern scholarship, this mixed Turkic-Persian derivation is now viewed as incorrect.[4]

The first-known mention of the term "Turkmen", "Turkman" or "Turkoman" occurs near the end of the 10th century A.D in Islamic literature by the Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi in Ahsan Al-Taqasim Fi Ma'rifat Al-Aqalim. In his work, which was completed in 987 A.D, al-Muqaddasi writes about Turkmens twice while depicting the region as the frontier of the Muslim possessions in Central Asia.[5] According to medieval Islamic authors Al-Biruni and al-Marwazi, the term Turkmen referred to the Oghuz who converted to Islam.[6] There is evidence, however, that non-Oghuz Turks such as Karluks also have been called Turkomans and Turkmens.[7] Later during the Middle Ages, the term was extensively employed for Oghuz Turks, a western Turkic people, who established a large tribal confederation called Oghuz Yabgu in the 8th century A.D. This polity, whose inhabitants spoke Oghuz Turkic, occupied an area between the Aral and Caspian seas in Central Asia.[8][9]

The Seljuqs appeared in the beginning of the 11th century in Mawarannahr.[10] Muslim Oghuz people, generally identified as Turkmens by then,[11] rallied around the Qinik tribe that made up the core of the future Seljuq tribal union and the state they would create in the 11th century.[12]

Medieval Qara Qoyunlu Turkmen helmet

Since the Seljuk era, the sultans of the dynasty created military settlements in parts of the Near and Middle East to strengthen their power; large Turkmen settlements were created in Syria, Iraq, and Eastern Anatolia. After the Battle of Manzikert, the Oghuz extensively settled throughout Anatolia and Azerbaijan. In the 11th century, Turkmens densely populated Arran.[13] The 12th-century Persian writer al-Marwazi wrote about the arrival of Turkmens to Muslim lands, portraying them as people of noble character who are strong and persistent in battle because of their nomadic lifestyle, and calling them sultans (rulers).[14]

"Turkoman" entered into the usage of the Western world through the Byzantines in the 12th century.[15] By the beginning of 13th century, it became an endonym among Oghuz Turks themselves.[16]

The Turkmens also included the Yiva and Bayandur tribes, from which the ruling clans of the states of Qara Qoyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu emerged. After the fall of Aq Qoyunlu, the Turkmen tribes—partly under their own name, for example Afshars, Hajilu, Pornak, Deger, and Mavsellu—united in a Turkmen Qizilbash tribal confederation.[17]


Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, built during the Seljuq era (early 12th century)

By the 10th century A.D, Turkmens were predominantly Muslim. They later found themselves divided into Sunni and Shia branches of Islam.[18] Medieval Turkmens markedly contributed to the expansion of Islam with their extensive conquests of previously Christian lands, specifically those of Byzantine Anatolia and the Caucasus.[19]


Territories where Oghuz languages are spoken today

Turkmens primarily spoke languages that belong or belonged to the Oghuz branch of Turkic languages, which included such languages and dialects as Seljuq, Old Anatolian Turkish, and old Ottoman Turkish.[20] Kashgari had cited phonetic, lexical and grammatical features of the language of Oghuz-Turkmens;[21] he also identified several dialects and presented a couple of examples displaying the differences.[22]

Old Anatolian language, introduced to Anatolia by Seljuk Turkmens[23][24] who migrated westward from Central Asia to Khorasan and further to Anatolia during the Seljuk expansion in the 11th century, was widely spoken by Turkmens of the area until the 15th century.[25] It is also one of the known ancient languages within the Oghuz group of Turkic languages, along with old Ottoman.[26] It displays certain characteristics peculiar to eastern Oghuz languages such as modern Turkmen and Khorasani Turkic languages,[27][28] rather than western Oghuz languages such as Turkish or Azerbaijani. Such Old Anatolian Turkic features as bol- "to be(come)", also present in modern Turkmen[29] and Khorasani Turkic,[30] is ol in modern Turkish.[31]


The cover of the Gonbad manuscript of "the Book of Dede Korkut"

Book of Dede Korkut is considered an Oghuz masterpiece.[32][33] Other prominent works of literature produced during the High Middle Ages also include the Oghuzname, Battalname, Danishmendname, Köroğlu epics, which are part of the literary history of Azerbaijanis, Turks of Turkey, and Turkmens.[34]

The Book of Dede Korkut is a collection of epics and stories bearing witness to the language, the way of life, religions, traditions and social norms of the Oghuz Turks.[35]

Modern useEdit

Turkmens in national costumes, Turkmenistan

In Anatolia in the late Middle Ages, the term "Turkmen" was gradually supplanted by the term "Ottomans".[36] The Ottoman ruling class identified themselves as Ottomans until the 19th century.[37] In the late 19th century, as the Ottomans adopted European ideas of nationalism, they preferred to return to a more common term Turk instead of Turkmen, whereas previously Turk was used to exclusively refer to Anatolian peasants.[38]

The term continued to be used interchangeably with other ethnohistorical terms for the Turkic people of the area, including Turk, Tatar and Ajam, well into the early 20th century.[39][40][41] In the early 21st century, "Turkmen" remains as the self-name for the semi-nomadic tribes of the Terekime, a sub-ethnic group of the Azerbaijani people.[42]

Yörük girls of Balıkesir in traditional dress

In the early 21st century, the ethnonyms "Turkoman" and "Turkmen" are still used by the Turkmens of Turkmenistan,[43] who have sizeable groups in Iran,[44][45] Afghanistan,[46] Russia,[47] Uzbekistan,[48] Tajikistan[49] and Pakistan,[50] as well as Iraqi and Syrian Turkmens, descendants of the Oghuz Turks who mostly adhere to an Anatolian Turkish heritage and identity.[51] Most Iraqi and Syrian Turkmens are descendants of Ottoman soldiers, traders, and civil servants who were taken into Iraq from Anatolia during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.[52] Turks of Israel[53] and Lebanon,[54] Turkish sub-ethnic groups of Yoruks[55][56] and Karapapaks (sub-ethnic group of Azerbaijanis)[57] are also referred to as Turkmens.[58][59]

"Turkoman", "Turkmen", "Turkman" and "Torkaman" were – and continue to be – used interchangeably.[60][61][62]


  1. ^ also called Turkman;


  1. ^ "Turkoman: definition". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam Webster. n.d. Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  2. ^ Qadirov, Sh; Abubakirova-Glazunova, N. "Turkmens". Big Russian Encyclopedia (in Russian).
  3. ^ Clark, Larry (1996). Turkmen Reference Grammar. Harrassowitz. p. 4. ISBN 9783447040198., Annanepesov, M. (1999). "The Turkmens". In Dani, Ahmad Hasan (ed.). History of civilizations of Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 127. ISBN 9789231038761., Golden, Peter (1992). An introduction to the history of the Turkic peoples : ethnogenesis and state-formation in the medieval and early modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Harrassowitz. pp. 213–214..
  4. ^ Clark, Larry (1996). Turkmen Reference Grammar. Harrassowitz. pp. 4–5. ISBN 9783447040198.,Annanepesov, M. (1999). "The Turkmens". In Dani, Ahmad Hasan (ed.). History of civilizations of Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 127. ISBN 9789231038761.,Golden, Peter (1992). An introduction to the history of the Turkic peoples : ethnogenesis and state-formation in the medieval and early modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Harrassowitz. pp. 213–214..
  5. ^ Al-Marwazī, Sharaf Al-Zämān Tāhir Marvazī on China, the Turks and India, Arabic text (circa A.D. 1120) (English translation and commentary by V. Minorsky) (London: The Royal Asiatic Society, 1942), p. 94
  6. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, «Genealogy of the Turkmens» Commentary 132: Then the name "Turkmen" was assigned to one of the most powerful tribal associations - to the Oghuz people.
  7. ^ Clark, Larry (1998). Turkmen Reference Grammar. Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 14. ISBN 3-447-04019-X. One of those dialects appears to have been spoken by the Karluk Turkmen, who were identified by Kashgari as "A tribe of the Turks. They are nomads, not Oghuz, but they are also Turkmen."
  8. ^ Karamustafa, A. (2020). "Who were the Türkmen of Ottoman and Safavid lands? An overlooked early modern identity". Der Islam. 97 (2): 477. doi:10.1515/islam-2020-0030. S2CID 222317436.
  9. ^ Barthold, V.V (1966). Sochineniya (in Russian). Moscow: Nauka. p. 558. Whatever the former significance of the Oghuz people in the Eastern Asia, after the events of the 8th and 9th centuries, it focuses more and more on the West, on the border of the Pre-Asian cultural world, which was destined to be invaded by the Oghuz people in the 11th century, or, as they were called only in the west, by the Turkmen.
  10. ^ A ́goston, Ga ́bor; Masters, Bruce Alan (2010). Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. Infobase Publishing. p. 515. The Seljuks emerged in the beginning of the 11th century in Transoxania (present-day Uzbekistan). Until the early 14th century, they ruled over Khorasan, Khwarezm, Iran, Iraq, Hejaz, Syria, and Anatolia.
  11. ^ "Gozz". Encyclopedia Iranica.
  12. ^ Golden, Peter (1996). Ronald Suny (ed.). The Turkic peoples and Caucasia, Transcaucasia, Nationalism and Social Change: Essays in the History of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Michigan. pp. 45–67.
  13. ^ Golden 1996, pp. 45–67.
  14. ^ Hillenbrand, Carole (2007). Turkish Myth and Muslim Symbol. Edinburgh University Press. p. 148. ISBN 9780748625727.
  15. ^ Zachariadou, Elizabeth (1991). Alexander Kazhdan (ed.). "Turkomans". Oxford University Press. pp. 10–32.
  16. ^ Lewis, Geoffrey (1974). The Book of Dede Korkut. Penguin Books. p. 10.
  17. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranika «AQ QOYUNLŪ»: "The surviving Āq Qoyunlū tribes and groups were absorbed, in some cases years later, into the Qizilbāš tribes; in this process, the Afšār retained their tribal identity while others, such as the Ḥāǰǰīlū, Döḡer, Mawṣellū, and Pornāk, were merged into a new tribe called Turkman".
  18. ^ Ward, Steven (2014). Immortal, A Military History of Iran and Its Armed Forces. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-1-62616-032-3. Selim was a devout Sunni who hated the Shia as much as Ismail despised the Sunni. He saw the Shia Turkman of Anatolia as a potential "fifth column"...
  19. ^ Zarcone, Thierry; Hobart, Angela, eds. (2013). Shamanism and Islam. I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd. pp. 98–101. ISBN 978-1-84885-602-8.
  20. ^ Robbeets, Martine (2020). The Oxford Guide to the Transeurasian Languages. Oxford University Press. pp. 393–394.
  21. ^ Clark 1998, p. 13.
  22. ^ Clark 1998, p. 14.
  23. ^ Schiewer, Gesine Lenore (2022). Language and Emotion. Volume 1. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 284.
  24. ^ Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad (2006). Early Mystics in Turkish Literature. Routledge. p. 207.
  25. ^ Lars Johanson, Christiane Bulut, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag (2006). Turkic-Iranian Contact Areas: Historical and Linguistic Aspects. p. 5.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  26. ^ Robbeets 2020, p. 393.
  27. ^ Clark 1998, p. 15.
  28. ^ Brown, Keith (2010). Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World. Elsevier. p. 1117. ISBN 978-0-080-87775-4.
  29. ^ Clark 1998, p. 513.
  30. ^ Ziyayeva, Zemine (2006). "Khorasan languages". Journal of Caucasian University. Baku. 18: 91–97.
  31. ^ Backus, Ad (2014). Colloquial Turkish. Routledge. p. 266.
  32. ^ Weber, Harry B. (1978). The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet Literature, Vol.2. University of Michigan. pp. 13–15.
  33. ^ "Intangible Heritage: Nine elements inscribed on Representative List". UNESCO. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
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  35. ^ The Book of Dede Korkut. Translated by Lewis, Geoffrey. London: Penguin. 1974. p. 7. ISBN 0140442987.
  36. ^ Eremeev, Dmitry (1971). Этногенез турок: происхождение и основные этапы этнической истории (in Russian). Наука, ГРВЛ. pp. 130–137.
  37. ^ Kushner, David S.. "Self-Perception and Identity in Contemporary Turkey." Journal of Contemporary History 32 (1997): p. 219
  38. ^ Kushner, David S.. "Self-Perception and Identity in Contemporary Turkey." Journal of Contemporary History 32 (1997): pp. 2020-221
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  40. ^ Тюрки. Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (in Russian). 1890–1907. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  41. ^ Tsutsiev, Arthur. "18. 1886–1890: An Ethnolinguistic Map of the Caucasus". Atlas of the Ethno-Political History of the Caucasus, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014, pp. 48-50. "Tatars" (or in rarer cases, "Azerbaijani Tatars") to denote Turkic-speaking Transcaucasian populations that would later be called "Azerbaijanis"
  42. ^ Hajiyeva, Sakinat (1990). Terekemes of Daghestan (in Russian). Nauka (Science). pp. 3–7. ISBN 5-02-016761-4.
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  47. ^ 2002 Russian census
  48. ^ Alisher Ilhamov (2002). Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan. Open Society Institute: Tashkent.
  49. ^ 2002 Tajikistani census (2010)
  50. ^ "Afghans in Quetta: Settlements, Livelihoods, Support Net works and Cross-Border Linkages". Archived from the original on 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2020-09-15.
  51. ^ Triana, María (2017), Managing Diversity in Organizations: A Global Perspective, Taylor & Francis, p. 168, ISBN 978-1-317-42368-3, Turkmen, Iraqi citizens of Turkish origin, are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds and they are said to number about 3 million of Iraq's 34.7 million citizens according to the Iraqi Ministry of Planning.
  52. ^ International Crisis Group (2008), Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds: Conflict or Cooperation?, Middle East Report N°81, 13 November 2008: International Crisis Group, archived from the original on 12 January 2011, "Turkomans are descendents of Ottoman Empire-era soldiers, traders and civil servants... The 1957 census, Iraq’s last reliable count before the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, put the country’s population at 6,300,000 and the Turkoman population at 567,000, about 9 per cent...Subsequent censuses, in 1967, 1977, 1987 and 1997, are all considered highly problematic, due to suspicions of regime manipulation".
  53. ^ Suwaed, Muhammad (2015), "Turkmen, Israeli", Historical Dictionary of the Bedouins, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 237, ISBN 978-1442254510
  54. ^ Orhan, Oytun (2010), The Forgotten Turks: Turkmens of Lebanon (PDF), ORSAM, archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-03
  55. ^ Solak, İbrahim. XVI. Yüzyılda Maraş ve Çevresinde Dulkadirli Türkmenleri.
  56. ^ Yusuf Durul: Flat-woven rugs made by "Yürüks". Ak Yayınları, 1977, page 60.
  57. ^ Article "Terekimes» Archived 2018-01-09 at the Wayback Machine: "The term 'Terekem' is usually associated with the ethnonym 'Turkmen' ".
  58. ^ İbrahim Aksu, "An Onomastic Study of Turkish Family Names, Their Origins, and Related Matters." 2005 , page 50.
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Further readingEdit