Turkmen tribes

The major modern Turkmen tribes are Teke, Yomut, Ersari, Chowdur, Gokleng and Saryk.[1][2] The most numerous are the Teke.[3]

Ancient Turkmen Akhal-Teke horse, bronze, 4th-1st century BC.

The origin of all of these tribes is traced to 24 ancient Oghuz tribes, among which the Salur tribe played a prominent role as its people are considered the ancestors of a couple of modern Turkmen tribes such as Yomut and Ersari.[4]

Seljuks, Khwarazmians, Qara Qoyunlu, Aq Qoyunlu, Ottomans and Afsharids are also believed to descend from the early Oghuz Turkmen tribes of Qiniq, Begdili, Yiva, Bayandur, Kayi and Afshar respectively.[5][6][7]



Teke Horse Regiment, beginning of the 20th century

Teke is a major and historically one of the most influential modern Turkmen tribes. The Teke tribe can be subdivided into two, the Akhal Teke and Mary Teke. British Lt. Col. C.E. Stuart in 1830s also noted a subdivision into four clans, the Wakil (another variant Wekil), Beg, Suchmuz, and Bukshi:

"The Wakil and Beg clans are collectively called Toghtamish, as they are descended from a person of that name. The Suchmuz and Bukshi clans are collectively called Otamish..."[8]

Stuart estimated in 1881 the number of "Akhal Tekke" at "25,000 tents" and of "Merv Tekke" at "40,000 tents", which latter number included "Salor (5000 tents)". He estimated five people per tent, implying a total Teke tribal population of about 325,000 in that year.[8]

The Teke militarily resisted, mostly successfully, Persian incursions in the 19th century.[9] The Teke came under Russian colonial rule in the 1880s. Though the Turkmen tribes defeated Russian troops during the first incursion in 1879, a subsequent invasion between 1880 and 1881, culminating in the second Battle of Gökdepe, resulted in imposition of Russian Imperial authority. Following the surrender, the Teke commander, Ovezmurat Dykma-Serdar, was commissioned the rank of a major in the Russian Imperial Army. Russia's conquest of the Teke was completed in 1884 with the conquest of Merv.

Today members of Teke tribe are found predominantly in the southeastern regions of Turkmenistan.[10] They represent over a third of Turkmenistan's population (more than 1.6 million, as of 2014).[11][12][10]


Ersari carpet

Ersari or Ärsary (where er is a brave man, master; and sari is light, bright, yellow in Turkmen language) is another major tribe of the Turkmen people.[13] They live mainly in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ersari people's number is approximately 2.1 million people overall (1 million in Turkmenistan, 1,5 million in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Russia and other countries). Ersari has four sub-tribal divisions: Kara, Bekewul, Gunesh and Uludepe.

Ersari are direct descendants of the Salur tribe of the Oghuz Turks,[14] as is the Yomud tribe.

Ersari appear to have been a major component of the Sayin Khan Turkmen tribal confederacy, whose Yurt (nomadic territory) in the 13-17th centuries stretched from the Balkan mountains to the Mangishlaq peninsula and north to the Emba river. The label Sayin Khani, given to them by the other nomadic peoples around, referred to their emergence from the breakup of the Golden Horde, (founded by Genghis Khan's grandson Batu, known as the Sayin Khan), in order to differentiate their origins from tribes that came from the territories of Hulegu (Iran) or Chaghatay (Trans-Oxanian Central Asia).

The Sayin Khan Turkmens were an organized confederation of tribes thought to be divided, in typical Turco-Mongol fashion, into two parts, the Ichki (inner) and Tashki (outer) Oghuz. Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, the Khan of Khiva in the 17th century, in his book Shajara-i Tarākima ("The Genealogical Tree of the Turkmen", 1659) does not indicate whether the term Tashki refers to an organizational, military or purely geographical meaning. Sometime in the 17th century, in part to the drying up of the western Uzboy channel of the Amu Darya, the Ersari and its major subtribes moved east to the banks of the main course of the Amudarya. One sub-tribe, the Ali-Eli, also moved eastward, but remained near Kaka region, which is now in Ahal Province of Turkmenistan.


Inside the Turkmen tent, between 1905 and 1915

The Chowdur tribe are direct descendants of the Chavuldur tribe of the Oghuz Turks and are thought to have occupied the left flank of Oghuz Khan’s army.

They lived at the eastern shores the Caspian Sea since approximately at least the beginning of the second millennium. Abul Ghazi wrote that they had arrived in Mangyshlak as early as the 11th century. Prior to the rise of first Seljuk sultan Toghrul Beg in the mid-11th century, many tribes followed the lead of their tribal leaders such as Qilik bey, Kazan bey and Karaman bey, and settled in Mangyshlak. Most of them were members of the Imir, Dukur, Düker (Döger), Igdir, Chavuldur, Karkin, Salor or Agar (Ajar) tribes.

In 1219, the Mongols crushed the Khwarazmian Empire. Two years later, in 1221, the Mongol conquest pushed the Oghuz tribes, including the Chowdur, from the Syr Darya region into the Kara Kum area and along the Caspian Sea.

In the early 16th century, the Chowdur formed a confederate or aymaq in the Sayin Khan confederation. The Chowdur were primarily concentrated in the Mangyshlak Peninsula on the northeastern Caspian coast. The Kalmuks moved into the Mangyshlak Peninsula, the Sayin Khan confederation broke up and the Chowdur ended up southeast of Khiva, loosely confederated, but under the authority of the Yomut tribe. There are indications that some Chowdur ended up in the mid-Amu Darya region near the north of Charjui. Under the Khanate of Khiva, during the 19th century, Chowdur included the Igdir, Bozachi, Abdal, and Arabachi tribes.[15]


Yomuts are one of the major modern Turkmen tribes. They descend from the Salur tribe of the Oghuz Turks.[16]

The historical region of settlement is the southern part of the Balkan velayat (region) of Turkmenistan, near the Etrek River and in the adjacent areas of Iran, between Etrek and Gorgan, as well as in the north, in the Dashoguz velayat. The Yomuds were divided into sedentary, semi-nomadic and nomadic groups, the latter being the majority. Sedentary Yomud Turkmens lived in the villages of Chekishler and Esenguly (nowadays Balkan velayat of Turkmenistan), semi-nomadic ones lived in the lower reaches of the Etrek (in two large villages) in summer, and in winter they broke up into small groups and led nomadic life. Nomadic Turkmen Yomuds usually left for Etrek or Iran in autumn and winter.

The last ruler (de facto) of the Khanate of Khiva was the representative of the Turkmen Yomut tribe, Junaid Khan.[17]

Tribal structure and organizationEdit

A Turkmen man of Central Asia in traditional clothes. Photo by Prokudin-Gorsky between 1905 and 1915.

Turkmen society has traditionally been divided into tribes (taýpalar).[18] Full tribal structure of Turkmens is as follows: halk, il, taýpa, urug, kök, kowum, kabile, aýmak/oýmak, oba, bölük, bölüm, gandüşer, küde, depe, desse, lakam, top, birata, topar, and tire.[19]

The origin of all present-day Turkmen tribes is traced to 24 Oghuz tribes. Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, in his Shajara-i Tarākima places special importance to the Salur tribe of the Oghuz, since couple of major Turkmen tribes, such as Yomuts and Ersaris derived from it.[20] He claims that the leader of the Salur tribe was Salur Ogurcik Alp.[21] who had six sons: Berdi, Buka, Usar, Kusar, Yaycı and Dingli.[22]

At the beginning of the 20th century, Feodor Mikhailov, a Russian officer in the military administration of Transcaspian Region of the Russian Empire noted that “all Turkmen, rich and poor, live almost completely alike”. He also added that the Turkmen “put the principles of brotherhood, equality, and freedom into practice more completely and consistently than any of our contemporary European republics.”[23]

The five traditional carpet designs that form motifs in the coat of arms of Turkmenistan and its flag belong to these tribes (and are named after them; for example, "Yomut carpet").[24]

Turkmen way of lifeEdit

Turkmen asmalyk carpet, a textile trapping used in a Turkmen wedding procession

Modern Turkmen tribes were usually ruled by Serdars (Chief, military leader, nobleman) and guided by Aksakgal (elderly man), who, most of the time, were chosen by a consensus. Aksakgals guided their people by unwritten customary laws called tore or adat. Besides guidance and regulating affairs between individuals, families and groups, aksakgals, along with serdars, made important decisions on distribution of water, land or on declaring and waging war.[25]

Turkmen tribes recognized only their free will as a main authority and were never loyal to any of the foreign powers that conquered their lands. They always chose to rise and fight for their freedom, as evidenced in numerous battles and revolts against the neighboring Uzbek Khanates, Persian and Russian Empires.[26] Such khans and serdars of various Turkmen tribes as Aba Serdar, Keymir Kor, Nurberdi Khan, Gowshut Khan, Dykma Serdar and others are the most prominent and are still respected by modern Turkmen people.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Peyrouse, Sebastien (2015-02-12). Turkmenistan: Strategies of Power, Dilemmas of Development. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 9781317453260.
  2. ^ Edgar, Adrienne Lynn (2006-09-05). Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Princeton University Press. p. 21. ISBN 9781400844296.
  3. ^ Adle, Chahryar (2005-01-01). History of Civilizations of Central Asia: Towards the contemporary period : from the mid-nineteenth to the end of the twentieth century. UNESCO. p. 47. ISBN 9789231039850.
  4. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, "Shajare-i Tarakime" org. text pp. 207-218 and trans. pp. 267-268.
  5. ^ "Абулгази - Родословная туркмен". Russian State Library.
  6. ^ Safa, Z. (1986). PERSIAN LITERATURE IN THE TIMURID AND TÜRKMEN PERIODS (782–907/1380–1501). In P. Jackson & L. Lockhart (Eds.), The Cambridge History of Iran (The Cambridge History of Iran, pp. 913-928). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  7. ^ « The Timurid and Turkmen Dynasties of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia », in : David J. Roxburgh, ed., The Turks: A Journey of Thousand Years, 600-1600. London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2005, pp. 192-200
  8. ^ a b Stuart, Lt. Col. C.E. (1977). "Chapter 11, The Country of the Tekke Turkomans, and the Tejend and Murghab Rivers". In Cumming, Sir Duncan (ed.). The Country of the Turkomans. London: Oguz Press and the Royal Geographical Society. ISBN 0-905820-01-0.
  9. ^ Edgar, Adrienne Lynn (5 September 2006). Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Princeton University Press. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-4008-4429-6.
  10. ^ a b Luca Anceschi (5 February 2014). Informal Power in the Greater Middle East: Hidden Geographies. Routledge. p. 194. ISBN 978-1-317-81647-8.
  11. ^ ""World Population prospects – Population division"". population.un.org. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  12. ^ ""Overall total population" – World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision" (xslx). population.un.org (custom data acquired via website). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  13. ^ "Society" (PDF). Country Profile: Turkmenistan. Library of Congress - Federal Research Division. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  14. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, "Shajare-i Tarakime" org. text pp. 207-218 and trans. pp. 267-268.
  15. ^ Poullada, S. Peter (2018). Russian-Turkmen Encounters: The Caspian Frontier before the Great Game. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 149. ISBN 9781784537012.
  16. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, "Shajare-i Tarakime" org. text pp. 207-218 and trans. pp. 267-268.
  17. ^ Shoshana Keller. "To Moscow, Not Mecca", Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001, p. 34-35
  18. ^ Rafis Abazov, "Historical Dictionary of Turkmenistan", p.151
  19. ^ Soltansha Ataniyazov, “Türkmen Boylarının Geçmişi, Yayılışı, Bugünkü Durumu ve Geleceği” Türk Dünyası Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, Sayı 10, 1999, pp. 2-3
  20. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, "Shajare-i Tarakime" org. text pp. 207-218 and trans. pp. 267-268.
  21. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, "Shajare-i Tarakime" org. text pp. 207-208 and trans. pp. 264-265.
  22. ^ Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, "Shajare-i Tarakime" org. text p. 214 and trans. p. 267
  23. ^ F. A. Mikhailov, Tuzemtsy Zakaspiiskoi oblasti i ikh dzhizn, Etnografichestkii Ocherk (Ashkhabad, 1900), pp. 34-50; cited in Edgar, “Genealogy, Class, and "Tribal Policy" in Soviet Turkmenistan, 1924-1934,” p. 272.
  24. ^ Akyildiz, Sevket; Carlson, Richard (2013-10-15). Social and Cultural Change in Central Asia: The Soviet Legacy. Routledge. p. 165. ISBN 9781134495139.
  25. ^ Edgar, Adrien Lynn (2006). Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Princeton University Press. p. 26.
  26. ^ Burnes, Alexander (1992). Travels into Bokhara. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services Reprint. pp. 250–251.
  27. ^ Asiatische Studien: Études asiatiques. A. Francke. 2006. p. 459. Approximately six weeks after securing the capital of Khorezm and most of its territory, von Kaufman ordered General Golovachev to annihilate the Turkmen Yomut tribe in one of the most brutal expeditions of the Khivan campaign.