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Göktürk Empire

Long before the spread of the Mongols, there existed a Eurasian Empire centered in Mongolia that was nearly as great and as powerful as that of Genghis Khan. It is known as the Göktürk Kaganate (552-744 AD), and it controlled the Silk Road as far west as the Black Sea. European historians rarely mention this state, probably because the Göktürks (Blue or Celestial Turks) had not reached western Europe directly, still their influence on Central Asia was profound. The Gokturk Empire was destroyed by the Tang dynasty in 630 by Li Jing and the western half was destroyed in 657 by general Su Dingfang. The only part of the Turkish Empire which the Tang state didn't occupy was the Khazars in southern Russia.

The Turks (Turkish people), whose name was first used in history in the 6th century by the Chinese, are a society whose language belongs to the Turkic language family (which in turn some classify as a subbranch of Altaic linguistic family. They identify themselves as being descended of Oghuz Turks who migrated to Anatolia in 11th century. Throughout history, the Turkic peoples have established numerous states in various geographical regions on the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. Turks brought their culture to the places to which they had migrated and were also affected by the cultures of these regions. According to Chinese records, Turks appeared in political history of Asia with the Huns, a coalition of various central Asian nomads, including Turks.

The Celestial Turks (aka Türük, Kök Türük, Tourkh, Turk, Tujue, Tr'wk, Gök Türk) were one of the many nomadic Turkic peoples that lived in Mongolia in the early Middle Ages. Their origins are not clear because 6th-7th century Chinese sources describe different myths. They might have been a part of the Xiongnu, they might have been Turkified Xianbei who fled massacre from the Tuoba Wei or they might have Turkified Indo-Europeans; as examples to very different views regarding their origins. Whoever their origins were, they were the first Turkic group to use the name Turk.

Bumin Kagan 552 553
Istemi Kagan 553 576
Tapar Kagan 576 581
Baga Ishbara Kagan 581 587
Chur-Baga Kagan 587 588
Tunga Turan Kagan 588 600
Bilge Tardu Kagan 600 603
Kimin Ture Kagan 603 609
Shibi Kagan 609 619
Chulluk Kagan 619 621
Kara Kagan 621 630
Shirbe Kagan 630 646
Chibi Kagan 646 647
Ipi Tulu Kagan 647 653
Chenku-Yabgu 653 659
Echine Turche Kagan 659 679
Echine Kur Pur Chur Kagan 679 682
Ilterish Kutlug Kagan 682 693
Kapagan Kagan 693 716
Bilge Kagan 716 734
Ichen Bilge Kagan 734 739
Bilge Kutlug Kagan 739 741
Penge Kagan 741 742
Suyen Kagan 742
Uzmush Kagan 742 744
Peymen Kagan 744 745
After the collapse of the Asian Hun State, a new state called the Göktürk Empire was founded at the foot of the Altay Mountains. The Göktürks who were the first to employ the word "Turk" in their official state name, chose Ötüken, the former capital of the empire as a base and established khanates. The ruling family of Türük came from the Ashina tribe which was believed to have descended from a child and the Kök Böri (Blue Wolf). Until 552, the Türük people lived in the Southern Altais but in 552 they moved into the Orkhon Valley in Central Mongolia. Bumin Khan (death: 552 AD) was the founder of the Göktürk Empire. He is mentioned as "Tumen" (??) in the ancient Chinese sources. His name means "smoke cloud". Little is known about his life, and most of the information comes from legends in which he gathers a group of Turkic people living in a legendary place called Ergenekon located in the inaccessible valleys of the Altay Mountains.

This immense empire was divided up between two branches of the leading Turkish clan almost immediately after it was formed. The two main branches of the Ashina family, one descended from Bumin and the other from his brother Istemi, ruled over the eastern and western parts of the Göktürk empire, respectively. The Eastern Kaganate (capital: Ordu-Baliq,, population 100.000, 3 miles across) had been centered in the sacred and fertile Orkhon Valley. Curiously, Genghis Khan's capital Karakorum was also afterwards located in the very same place, only 10 miles away from the Ordu-Baliq ruins, apparently because, just like the Turkic peoples, the Mongols believed in the divine force emanating from the Orkhon Valley and mythical Mount Ötüken. The Western Kaganate, which existed until 659, was ruled from a Silk Road outpost city Suyab in today's Kyrgyzstan.

Later they spread out and became an empire. They professed that a khanate could not be ruled by means of war and bravery alone and that wisdom was very important. Bilge (means wise) Khan and Kül Tegin are noted as the wisest and most heroic figures among Turkish statesmen in history. It was because of this that both these khans and Tonyukuk, another Göktürk Khan, immortalized their accomplishments with inscriptions.

The Göktürk Empire was overrun by the Chinese (659-681), and then by the Uyghurs who founded the Uyghur Kaganate (744-840). However, these seem to be changes rather in the ruling dynasties, not language or culture. In 681 Ilteris Sad (Idat) and his brother Bäkçor Qapagan Khan (Mo-ch'o) revolted against Chinese domination and gradually re-established the Khanate. Over the following decades, they steadily gained control of the steppes beyond the Great Wall of China. By 705, they had expanded as far south as Samarkand and threatened Arab control of Transoxiana. The Göktürks clashed with the Umayyad Califate in a series of battles (712-713) in which the Arabs again emerged as victors.

Following the Ashina tradition, the power of the Second Empire was centered on Ötükän (the upper reaches of the Orkhon River). This polity was described by historians as "the joint enterprise of the Ashina clan and the Soghdians, with large numbers of Chinese bureaucrats being involved as well".

After the collapse of the Göktürk empire under pressure from the resurgent Uyghurs, branches of the Ashina clan moved westward to Europe, where they became the kaghans of the Khazars. The main migration (expansion) of Turkish people to Anatolia occurred at the same time of Turkic migration between the 6th and 11th centuries (the Early Middle Ages), when they spread across most of Central Asia and into Europe and the Middle East.

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