Ögüz Khan

[Aaron Chivington]

Ögüz Khan, whether mythical or once existent, has served and continues to serve as the main source from which Turkmen men and women have identified themselves. Since the foundation of the first Turkmen state sometime in the 16th century, Turkmen have identified themselves with his line of genealogy, as a common bond shared by all who call themselves Turkmen (turk-men.gov). Various stories and legends surround the actual identity and origins of Ögüz Khan and the mod-ern day Turkmen. One scholar, S.G. Agajanov, writes that “the Oghuz in western Central Asia originally came from the eastern T’ien Shan region. Oghuz historical tales relate that the head-quarters of their supreme ruler or leader was at one time situated on the shores of Lake Issyk-kül” (Unesco, 61). Mysticism and local folklore focus heavily on the origins of Oguz Khan. At one point, contentions arose between the ruler of the Oghuz and his son Ögüz Khan. According to Rashid al-Din, a Persian historian around the end of the 13th century, Ögüz Khan was able to subdue a large area once ruled by his father, which included Almalîk and Alatagh. Following this they campaigned West to the borders of Transoxania and Khwarazm, and finally to the lower parts of the Itil (Volga) (Unesco, 61).

Turkmen identity was grounded in genealogy. ” ‘Turkmenness,’ according to historian Adrienne Edgar, “was understood in terms of patrilineal descent, with all those who called themselves Turkmen claiming origin in a single mythical ancestor – Ögüz Khan” (Edgar, 269). This raised various issues for colonizing forces in the region, who encountered a society greatly valuing kin-ship over class (ibid., 269). The myth of Ögüz Khan in central Asia was passed down orally, although language was not definitive of Turkmen identity. It was the blood line from Ögüz Khan which gave the distinction (Edgar II, 129). Although Ögüz Khan was a historical figure, the stories surrounding him varied from tribe to tribe. Most took their names from the founder of their line, who took the name from the son or grandson of Ögüz Khan (ibid., 21). These include the Tekes, Salirs, Sariks, Yomuts, Choudirs, Goklengs, and Ersaris. Along with claiming heritage from a specific descendant of Ögüz Khan, the various tribes (halq or il in Turkmen) each had their own distinct genealogy, history, legends, and myths (ibid. 21). This tradition has since been picked up by the government of Turkmenistan in its post-independence era.

In June 2008, Turkmenistan under the leadership of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, dedicated a monumental fountain complex honoring Ögüz Khan and his six sons (turkmen.gov). According to President Berdimuhamedov, “Ögüz Khan valued above all peace, unity and soli-darity, without which the welfare and prosperity of any people were impossible” (ibid). The President has combined the various histories and myths about Ögüz Khan into one unifying na-tional narrative for the Turkmen people, in an effort to establish a common thread for the various tribes since Turkmenistan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This is the primary landmark in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, symbolic of Ögüz Khan’s status as the origin of all Turkmen identity.


Works cited

  • Adrienne Lynn Edgar, “Genealogy, Class, and “Tribal Policy” in Soviet Turkmenistan, 1924-1934,” Slavic Review 60, no. 2 (summer, 2001), 266-288.
  • ________, Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan (Princeton: Prince-ton University Press, 2004).
  • Unesco, M.S. Asimov, Clifford Edmund Bosworth, Muhammad Osimi, S.G. Agajanov, History of Civilizations of Central Asia (Mortial Banarsidass Publishing, 1999).
  • “Symbol of the Magnificence of History, Token of Hospitality and Sincerity of the Turkmen People” (http://turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/2008/06/30/print:page,1,symbol_of_the_magnificence_of_history_token_of_hospitality_and_sincerity_of_the_turkmen_people.html).