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Tūrān (Persian توران) is the Persian name for a region around Central Asia, literally meaning "the land of the Tur". As described below, the original Turanians are an Iranian tribe of the Avestan age. As a people the "Turanian" are one of the two Iranian peoples both descending from the Persian Fereydun but with different domains and often at war with each other. In fact according to the Shahnameh's account, at least 1,500 years later after the Avesta, the nomadic tribes who inhabited these lands were ruled by Tūr, who was the emperor Fereydun's elder son. The association with Turks is also primarily based on the Shahnameh's geographical account where Turkification of Central Asia was partially completed during that time.
Tur/Turaj (Tuzh in Middle Persian) is the son of emperor Fereydun in ancient Iranian mythology. In the Shahnameh, he is identified with the Turks although culturally, there is no relationship between Turanians of the Shahnameh and the culture of ancient Turks. In 19th century and early 20th century discourse, now obsolete, Turan was primarily an ideological term designating Altaic and Uralic languages.
The oldest existing mention of Turanian is in the Farvardin Yashts of the young Avesta, which is dated by linguists to have been composed approximately 2500 years ago. The Avesta contains the names of various tribal groups who lived in proximity to each other. According to Prof. Gherardo Gnoli:’’Iranian tribes that also keep on recurring in the Yasht, Airyas, Tuiryas, Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis’’. In the hymns of the Avesta, the adjective Tūrya is attached to various enemies of Zoroastrism like Fraŋrasyan (Shahnameh: Afrāsīāb). The word occurs only once in the Gathas, but 20 times in the later parts of the Avesta.
The Turanians or Tuiryas as they were called in Avesta play a more important role in the Avesta than the Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis. Zoroaster himself hailed from the Airya people but he also preached his message to other neighboring tribes.
According Mary Boyce, in the Farvardin Yasht, "In it (verses 143-144) are praised the fravashis of righteous men and women not only among the Aryas (as the "Avestan" people called themselves), but also among the Turiyas, Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis; and the personal names, like those of the people, all seem Iranian character". Hostility between Tuirya and Airya is indicated also in the Farvardtn Yast (vv. 37-8), where the Fravashis of the Just are said to have provided support in battle against the Danus, who appear to be a clan of the Tura people. Thus in the Avesta, some of the Tuiryas believed in the message of Zoroaster while others rejected the religion.
Similar to the ancient homeland of Zoroaster, the precise geography and location of Turan is unknown. In post-Avestan traditions they were thought to inhabit the region north of the Oxus, the river separating them from the Iranians. Their presence accompanied by incessant wars with the Iranians, helped to define the latter as a distinct nation, proud of their land and ready to spill their blood in its defense. The common names of Turanians in Avesta and Shahnameh include Frarasyan, Aghraethra, Biderafsh, Arjaspa Namkhwast. The names of Iranian tribes including those of the Turanians that appear in Avesta have been studied by Professor Mayrhofer in his comprehensive book on Avesta personal name etymologies: Iranisches Personennamenbuch, I: Die altiranischen Namen. Faszikel l, Die Avestischen Namen.
The continuation of nomadic invasions on the north-eastern borders in historical times kept the memory of the Turanians alive. After the 6th century the Turks, who had been pushed westward by other tribes, became neighbours of Iran and were identified with the Turanians. The identification of the Turanians with the Turks was a late development, possibly made in the early 7th century; the Turks first came into contact with the Iranians only in the 6th century.
According to C.E. Boseworth:
In early Islamic times Persians tended to identify all the lands to the northeast of Khorasan and lying beyond the Oxus with the region of Turan, which in the Shahnama of Ferdowsi is regarded as the land allotted to Fereydun's son Tur. The denizens of Turan were held to include the Turks, in the first four centuries of Islam essentially those nomadizing beyond the Jaxartes, and behind them the Chinese (see Kowalski; Minorsky, "Turan"). Turan thus became both an ethnic and a geographical term, but always containing ambiguities and contradictions, arising from the fact that all through Islamic times the lands immediately beyond the Oxus and along its lower reaches were the homes not of Turks but of Iranian peoples, such as the Sogdians and Khwarezmians.
The terms "Turk" and "Turanian" became used interchangeably during the Islamic era. The Shahnameh, or the Book of Kings, the compilation of Iranian mythical heritage, uses the two terms equivalently. Other authors, including Tabari, Hakim Iranshah and man other texts follow like. A notable exception is the Abl-Hasan Ali ibn Masudi, an Arab historian who writes: "The birth of Afrasiyab was in the land of Turks and the error that historians and non-historians have made about him being a Turk is due to this reason". By 10th century, the myth of Afrasiyab was adopted by the Qarakhanid dynasty. During the Safavid era, following the common geographical convention of the Shahnameh, the term Turan was used to refer to the domain of the Uzbek empire in conflict with the Safavids.
Some linguists derive the word from the Indo-Iranian root *tura- "strong, quick, sword(Pashto)", Pashto turan(thuran) "swordsman". Others link it to old Iranian *tor "dark, black", related to the New Persian tār(ik), Pashto tor (thor), and possibly English dark. In this case, it is a reference to the "dark civilization" of Central Asian nomads in contrast to the "illuminated" Zoroastrian civilization of the settled Ārya.
In the Persian epic Shahnameh, the term Tūrān ("land of the Tūrya" like Ērān, Īrān = "land of the Ārya") refers to the inhabitants of the eastern-Iranian border and beyond the Oxus. According to the foundation myth given in the Shahnameh, King Firēdūn (= Avestan Θraētaona) had three sons, Salm, Tūr and Īraj, among whom he divided the world: Asia Minor was given to Salm, Turan to Tur and Iran to Īraj. The older brothers killed the younger, but he was avenged by his grandson, and the Iranians became the rulers of the world. However, the war continued for generations. In the Shahnameh, the word Turan appears nearly 150 times and that of Iran nearly 750 times.
Some examples from the Shahnameh:
نه خاکست پیدا نه دریا نه کوه
ز بس تیغداران توران گروه
Due the multitude of the swordsmen in the Turanian armyOne cannot view the sands, or sea or mountains
تهمتن به توران سپه شد به جنگ
بدانسان که نخجیر بیند پلنگ
The Tahamtan (Powerful-Bodied) Rustam went to battle against the armies of TuranLike a Leopard when he sees his hunt.
Since early 20th century, the word Turan was borrowed by the western languages as a general word for Central Asia. Accordingly, the phrase Turan Plain or Turan Depression is a geographical term referring to a part of Central Asia.
The term Turanian, now obsolete, was formerly used by European (especially German, Hungarian and Slovak) ethnologists, linguists and Romantics to designate populations speaking non-Indo-European, non-Semitic and non-Hamitic languages and specially speakers of Altaic, Dravidian, Uralic, Japanese, Korean and other languages.
Max Müller classified the Turanian language family into different sub-branches. The Northern or Ural–Altaic division branch comprised Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, Samoyedic, and Finnic. The Southern branch consisted of Dravidian languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, and other Dravidian languages. The languages of the Caucasus were classified as the scattered languages of the Turanian family. Müller also began to muse whether Chinese belonged to the Northern branch or Southern branch.
The main relationships between Dravidian, Uralic, and Altaic languages were considered typological. According to Encyclopædia Britannica: Language families, as conceived in the historical study of languages, should not be confused with the quite separate classifications of languages by reference to their sharing certain predominant features of grammatical structure. Today languages are classified based on the method of comparative linguistics rather than their typological features. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Max's Muller's efforts were most successful in the case of the Semites, whose affinities are easy to demonstrate, and probably least successful in the case of the Turanian peoples, whose early origins are hypothetical. The word Turanian is no longer used in the scholarly community to denote a classification of language families. The relationship between Uralic and Altaic, whose speakers were also designated as Turanian people in 19th century European literature, is also uncertain.
In European discourse, the words Turan and Turanian designate a certain mentality, i.e. the nomadic in contrast to the urbanized agricultural civilizations. This usage is probably in accordance with the Zoroastrian concept of the Tūrya, which is not primarily a linguistic or ethnic designation, but rather a name of the infidels that oppose the civilization based on the preaching of Zoroaster.
Combined with physical anthropology, the concept of the Turanian mentality has a clear potential for a cultural polemic. Thus, in 1838, the scholar J.W. Jackson described the Turanid or Turanian race in the following words:
The Turanian is the impersonation of material power. He is the merely muscular man at his maximum of collective development. He is not inherently a savage, but he is radically a barbarian. He does not live from hand to mouth, like a beast, but neither has he in full measure the moral and intellectual endowments of the true man. He can labour and he can accumulate, but he cannot think and aspire like a Caucasian. Of the two grand elements of superior human life, he is more deficient in the sentiments than in the faculties. And of the latter, he is better provided with those that conduce to the acquisition of knowledge than the origination of ideas.
Polish philosopher Feliks Koneczny claimed that there is a distinctive Turanian civilization, encompassing both Turkic and some Slavic peoples, such as Russians. This civilization's hallmark is militarism, anti-intellectualism and an absolute obedience to the ruler. Koneczny saw this civilization as inherently inferior to Latin (Western European) civilization.
In the declining days of the Ottoman Empire, the word Turanian was adopted by some Turkish nationalists to express a pan-Turkic ideology, also called Turanism. Presently, Turanism forms an important aspect of the ideology of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose members are also known as Grey Wolves.
In recent times, the word Turanian is sometimes used to express a pan-Altaic nationalism (theoretically including Manchus and Mongols in addition to Turks – and potentially Japanese and Koreans), though no political organization seems to have adopted such an ambitious platform.
The name "Turan" also appears in the fictional geography of the Conan the Barbarian stories.
Turaj, who in ancient Iranian myths was the ancestor of Turanians, is also a popular name and means Son of Darkness. The name Turan according to Iranian myths derives from the homeland of Turaj. The Pahlavi pronunciation of Turaj is Tuzh, according to the Dehkhoda dictionary. Similarly, Iraj, which is also a popular name, is the brother of Turaj in the Shahnameh. An altered version of Turaj is Zaraj, which means son of gold.