The ethnonym "Turk" has similar connections. The Chinese form, "T'u-chùeh" < 'T'uat-kiwat reflects "Turkut," the plural form, as we have noted. This plural in –t could be Altaic. It is common in Mongol, rare in OldTurkic, and usually found in titles taken from the Jou-jan (e.g., tegin, tegit) —who, it is believed, but not universally, were speakers of some Proto-Mongolian Ianguage (they contained Hsiun-pi [Proto-Mongolian] and Hsiung-nu elements; Janhunen [1996,190], however, recently asserted a possible Turkic affiliation). It might also be Soghdian or some other Iranian tongue. In the earliest inscription from the Tùrk empire, the Bugut Inscription, which is written in Soghdian, not Turkic, we find trwkt ' ‘sy-ns’: Turkit / Turukit Ashinas (Mori-yasu and Ochir 1999,123). The Sui-shu tells us that the name "Tûrk" in their own tongue means "helmet" and that it comes from the fact that the Altay région, where we find the Tùrks at the time in which they form their empire, looks like a helmet. "The people call it a 'helmet,' t'u-chiïeh; therefore, they cail themselves by this name" (Liu 1958,1: 40). This is a folk etymology, and there is no attested Turkic form of "Tùrk" meaning "helmet." As Rôna-Tas has pointed out, however, there is a Khotancse-Saka word, tturaka, mcaning "lid" (1999,278 - 281). It is not a serious semantic stretch to "helmet." Subsequently, “Tùrk" would find a suirable Turkic etymology, being conflated with the word tùrk, which means one in the prime of youth, powerful, mighty" (Rona-Tas 1991,10-13).


It seems hard to avoid the conclusion that the Tùrks, per se, had strong connections with — if not ultimate origins in — Irano-Tocharian east Turkistan. They, or at least the Ashina, were migrants to southern Siberia-northern Mongolia, where we seem to find the major concentration of Turkic-speaking peoples. There are a considarable number of Tocharian and Iranian loan words in Old Turkic — although a good number of these may have been acquired, especially in the case of Soghdian terms, during the Tùrk impérial period, when the Soghdians were a subject people, an important mercantile-commercial element in the Tùrk state, and culture-bearers across Eurasia. It also should be noted here that the early Tùrk rulers bore names of non-Turkic origin. The founders of the state are Bumïn (d. 552) and his brother Ishtemi (552-575), the Yabghu Qaghan, who governed the western part of the realm. Among their successors are 'Muqan/Mughan/Mahân/Muhân (553 - 572), Tas(t)par (572 -581), and Nivar/Nâbàr/Nawâr (581-587). None of thèse names is Turkic (Golden 1992,121 - 122; Rybatzki 2000.206-221).


András Róna-Tas, Hungarians and Europe in the early Middle Ages: an introduction to early Hungarian history, Central European University Press, 1999,
PP 281:"We can now reconstruct the history of the ethnic name Turk as follows. The word is East Iranian, most probably Saka, origin, and is the name of a ruling tribe whose leading clan Ashina conquered the Turks, reorganized them, but itself became rapidly Turkified"


Limited Turkish words and their use for Iranians in Arabic texts:

M. A. Shaban goes further:“These new troops were the so-called “Turks”. It must be said without hesitation that this is the most misleading misnomer which has led some scholars to harp ad nauseam on utterly unfounded interpretation of the following era, during which they unreasonably ascribe all events to Turkish domination. In fact the great majority of these troops were not Turks. It has been frequently pointed out that Arabic sources use the term Turk in a very loose manner. The Hephthalites are referred to as Turks, so are the peoples of Gurgan, Khwarizm and Sistan. Indeed, with the exception of the Soghdians, Arabic sources refer to all peoples not subjects of the Sassanian empire as Turks. In Samarra separate quarters were provided for new recruits from every locality. The group from Farghana were called after their district, and the name continued in usage because it was easy to pronounce. But such groups as the Ishtakhanjiyya, the Isbijabbiya and groups from similar localities who were in small numbers at first, were lumped together under the general term Turks, because of the obvious difficulties the Arabs had in pronouncing such foreign names. The Khazars who also came from small localities which could not even be identified, as they were mostly nomads, were perhaps the only group that deserved to be called Turks on the ground of racial affinity. However, other groups from Transcaucasia were classed together with the Khazars under the general description.”

(M.A. Shaban, “Islamic History”, Cambridge University Press, v.2 1978. Page 63)


“The name Turk was given to all these troops, despite the inclusion amongst them of some elements of Iranian origin, Ferghana, Ushrusana, and Shash – places were in fact the centers were the slave material was collected together”(ʻUthmān Sayyid Aḥmad Ismāʻīl Bīlī, "Prelude to the Generals", Published by Garnet & Ithaca Press, 2001.)


Note unlike what M.A. Shaban states, someone like Ibn Khaldun has stated the Soghdians as a “Turkish” group.

 “In reference to the first two centuries of Islam, the term “Turk” as used by Arabic and Persian sources presents difficulties. The Muslim authors mean different things by the term, depending on their era, proximity to Inner Asia and knowledge of the region. It can overlap with other ethnic names (e.g. “Soghdian, Khazar, Farghanian”). (D. Pipes. Turks in Early Muslim Service — JTS, 1978, 2, 85—96.)

One Soghdian(Iranian) in particular who was mistaken for a Turk was the general Afshin. That is while two old Arabic sources mention Afshin as a Turk, it is clear to modern scholars he was a Soghdian and other sources have mentioned him as such.

Daniel Pipes states:"Although two classical sources claim him a Turk, he came from Farghana, an Iranian cultural region and was not usually considered Turkish"( D. Pipes. Turks in Early Muslim Service — JTS, 1978, 2, 85—96.)

Bernard Lewis also states: "Babak's Iranianizing Rebellion in Azerbaijan gave occasion for sentiments at the capital to harden against men who were sympathetic to the more explicitly Iranian tradition. Victor (837) over Babak was al-Afshin, who was the hereditary Persian ruler of a district beyond the Oxus, but also a masterful general for the caliph.”( Bernard Lewis, "The Political Language of Islam", Published by University of Chicago Press, 1991. Pg 482)

And J.H. Kramer states about Oshrusana:

“Under Mamun, the country had to be conquered again and a new expedition was necessary in 207/822. On this last occasion, the Muslim army was guided by Haydar (Khedar), the son of the Afshīn Kāwūs, who on account of dynastic troubles had sought refuge in Baghdād. This time the submission was complete; Kāwūs abdicated and Haydar succeeded him, later to become one of the great nobles of the court of Baghdād under al-Mutasim, where he was known as al-Afshīn. His dynasty continued to reign until 280/893 (coin of the last ruler Sayr b. Abdallāh of 279 [892] in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg); after this date, the country became a province of the Sāmānids and ceased to have an independent existence, while the Iranian element was eventually almost entirely replaced by the Turkic.”( J.H. Kramers "Usrūshana." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007)

Thus modern scholars affirm Afshin was Iranian. However to Arab authors at the time, the term “Turk” did not specifically mean Altaic speakers as much as a person from the far away regions of Central Asia.

According C.E. Bosworth, "The Appearance of the Arabs in Central Asia under the Umayyads and the establishment of Islam", in History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. IV: The Age of Achievement: AD 750 to the End of the Fifteenth Century, Part One: The Historical, Social and Economic Setting, edited by M. S. Asimov and C. E. Bosworth. Multiple History Series. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1998. excerpt from page 23: "Central Asia in the early seventh century, was ethnically, still largely an Iranian land whose people used various Middle Iranian languages.

C. Edmund Bosworth: "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."( C.E. Bosworth, “Central Asia: The Islamic period up to the Mongols” in Encyclopedia Iranica).

Thus one should be careful in looking at Arabic sources that were written by authors far away from Central Asia. With regards to the language and culture of the region, the work of Biruni is clear and he differentiates clearly between Iranian(Chorasmians, Persians, Soghdians) and Turks. But the work of Arab authors and those from Western Iran are less careful.




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The ethnonym "Turk"

"Turk" The ethnonym "Turk" has similar connections. The Chinese form, "T'u-chùeh" < 'T'uat-kiwat reflects "Turkut," the plural form, as we have noted. This plural in –t could be Altaic. It is common in Mongol, rare in OldTurkic, and usually found in...