Traces of The Turkish Identity: Gokturk Script

Traces of The Turkish Identity: Gokturk Script

In the midst of a vast steppe, they stand against time as if they are marking their homeland…

Even though they have paid the price of being the only elevation on such a plain, worn by lightning and storms, in a geography such as Mongolia, they continue to exist as the symbol of Turkish identity and the source of Turkish culture.

Gokturk Script (Orkhon Inscriptions) is the treasure of the Turks… The inscriptions date back to the Gokturk era, the second largest Turkish state in Asia, after the Great Hun Empire. These inscriptions are the first written documents where the Turkish name and Turkish nation take place. History is written in stone, the source of the Turkish language, proof of the transition from a tribe to a nation…

Monumental inscriptions

It is not possible to call these inscriptions as tombstones. These monuments that describe the history, lives, beliefs, struggles and administrative systems of the Gokturk, are rather a political memory, a declaration… They are actually inscriptions but are often called “monuments” because they are imposing.

A document of public accountability

In the same region, six inscriptions were found written in Orkhon script. These inscriptions are important texts both in terms of their language and style. In terms of the contents, the inscriptions provide a lot of information about the life and tradition of the people of the period. Among the epigraphs, the legendary trio of the Gokturks, Bilge Khan, his brother, Commander-in-Chief Kul Tigin and the great statesman Tonyukuk, come to the fore. These inscriptions, written with the concern of giving account to the state and its people, are remarkable documents in terms of reflecting the history of the period, the mutual duties of the state and the nation and the events that took place in that period in the most realistic details…

A Great discovery

Professor Dr. Muharrem Ergin, the author of the book “Orkhon Abideleri” (Orkhon Monuments), Turkologist and scholar who is no longer alive today was not unjust when he mentioned that even the names of the researches on these inscriptions could form a book. Research has been carried out on these stones which occupied scientists since 1722 in many languages all over the world. History of the discovery of monuments are long; In 1709, during the Battle of Poltava, the Swedish officer J. Von Strahlenberg, who was captured by the Russians, was deported to Siberia. During his 13-year exile, J. Von Strahlenberg made observations of the monuments written in a language he did not understand. After returning to his country in 1722, Strahlenberg’s research was published and attracted attention. In the same period, German botanist D. Messerschmidt, who was in Siberia, saw the inscriptions and he introduced these monuments in a written presentation at the Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1720. The fact that the epigraphs attracted scientists’ attention led to the finding of the Yenisei epigraphs in the Yenisei valleys of Southern Siberia, dated one or two centuries before the Orkhon monuments. Hundreds of statues, balbals, city ruins, stone roads, water canals, ram and turtle statues, and altar stones were also found. 

The mystery is revealed

Russian and Finnish scientists, who came to the land from the 1890s and searched the inscriptions, took photographs of the monuments and this was the beginning of the revealing of the mystery. The largest contribution came from the Danish scientist Vilhelm Thomsen. Vilhelm Thomsen first decoded the words of tengri, Türk, and Kul Tigin, which are frequently found in the monuments, and then read all the monuments, announcing to the world that he read the inscriptions of Bilge Khan and Kul Tigin at the meeting of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences on December 15, 1893. We should mention the name of Turkish linguist, researcher and writer Talat Tekin who worked on the grammar of Orkhon Turkish and the analysis of inscriptions in 1965, while he was doing his doctorate on Orkhon Inscriptions in America.

Messages of unity

Kul Tigin monument, which was heavily damaged as a result of a lightning strike in the period of approximately 1300 years, is dated 732. Bilge Khan makes the monument for his brother, who plays an active role in the formation of a powerful state, and his becoming the khan. He and the nephew of Kul Tigin, Yollug Tigin, write the inscriptions. The inscription contains the messages of unity and integrity and the events of Gokturk history. On the east side of the four-sided limestone monument, there is a Turkish text with the Gokturk letters and on the west side, there is a Chinese message sent by the Tang Emperor due to the death of Kul Tigin. In this inscription, Turkish-Chinese friendship, Turkish empire and Kul Tigin are praised: “We have made a particularly great inscription for everyone afar and near to learn it, so that the glory of their common successes will come to life every day, in the minds of the future unrestricted generations.” and “Who can say that it is not certain that such men will stand forever? A monument as high as a mountain is now erected to announce the fortunate news forever.”

There are two lines with Gokturk letters added later in the inscription. Mountain goat stamp, which is believed to be the common stamp of all Turkish tribes, and the depictions of children sucking milk from the wolf, are striking in the inscription. The inscription, originally found standing on the tortoise pedestal, was placed on a granite block cut in altar stone in 1911 after the tortoise pedestal was broken.

From son to father

Bilge Khan monument, one kilometer from the Kul Tigin inscription, is dated 735. It was erected by his son, who became the khan after him, a year after the death of Bilge Khan. Over the Chinese inscription on the western front, which has been almost completely erased, the Turkish inscription continues. There are also events after the death of Kul Tigin. This monument was written by his nephew Yollug Tigin. Around the monument, there are statues, balbals, and stones, as well as the remains of the tomb, as in others.

Commander in chief is the narrator

The Commander-in-Chief Tonyukuk was the grand vizier of Bilge Khan and Kapgan Khan, Bilge Khan’s father and İlteriş Khan’s uncle. He takes part in İlteriş Khan’s rebellion and he remains the chief assistant of the state administration from that day until the Bilge Khan era. He orders the erection of the monument of Tonyukuk during his old age in 716. The narrator of the inscription is Tonyukuk. The writings in the inscription are sloppier and corroded than others, and their decorations are more modest. The inscriptions describe how the Gokturk Turks survived Chinese captivity, how the war of liberation took place, and what Tonyukuk did.