Tūrān (Persian: توران), literally meaning "the land of the Tur", is a region in Central Asia. The term, of Iranian origin, first appears in the texts of the Avesta, where the Tuirya are an Iranian tribe. In later times, the term subsequently evolved to be synonymous with Aniran, the "non-Iranian" lands, in particular with lands inhabited by the "Turks". This latter meaning is that found in Firdousi's Shahnameh.
In Firdousi (building on older sources), the Turanians are a people descended from Tur/Turaj (< Turan in Avestan, Tuzh in Zoroastrian Middle Persian), the middle son of the primordial king Fereydun (< Avestan Thraetaona). In Firdousi's version of the tale (Shahnameh 1.189), after Fereydun's death, the "world" is divided amongst the king's sons. Of these, Tur inherits the north-eastern lands adjacent to Iran, which thereafter come to be called "Turan" after him. In the story, this partition leads to a family feud in which an alliance of the two elder sons (who together rule over the Aniranian lands) battle the forces of the youngest (the Iranians). The Iranians win. Firdousi was himself a native of Khorasan, and for him Turan lay in the region to the immediate north of his own homeland, i.e. in the region of Transoxiana that is now known as Turkmenistan. In this context, Firdousi's identification of Turanians as "Turks" reflects the poet's personal knowledge of the settlement of that region by the Turkmen/Tartars, which had begun only a few centuries earlier. Accordingly, as a conveniently real-life placeholder for the Turanians who make life difficult for Iranians, the "Turks" (as Turanians) made the conflicts in the story more tangible and real-life to the poet's immediate local audience. Historical accuracy was not pertinent in Firdousi's tale of the Kayanians and other mythical kings — "a Turkologist seeking for information in the Shahnama on the primitive culture of the Turks would definitely be disappointed."
Whether "Turan" ever had a clear geographic identity is unknown. The Avesta's geography is silent on the subject of Turan, and in the Shahnameh Tur's and Salm's inheritance together encompass everything in the "world" that is not Iran: Tur's receives all the Non-Iranian lands lying east and north-east of Iran, just as Salm receives all the Non-Iranian lands lying to the west and north-west. Raymond Possehl identifies Turan as comprising Southern Turkmenistan, the Atrak Valley, the Eastern Elburz Mountains, the Helmand Valley, and Bactria and Margiana. By Possehl's definition, "Turan" therefore encompassed lands lying along the north and north-east of present-day Iran, which—with the exception of Southern Turkmenistan—does not coincide with either the Avestan, nor the traditional Iranian (including Firdausi's) perception of Iran and Aniran, which are cultural concepts, not political ones.
In the early history of linguistics, in the era when discoveries were still being interpreted in pre-Enlightenment biblical terms, the languages of the world were imagined to be divided into three groups, which were named after the three sons of the biblical Noah: "Hamitic languages" after Ham, "Semitic languages" after Shem, and "Japhetic languages" after Japheth. The writers of the time (in a tradition that continued well into the 19th century) associated language with ethnicity, rather than culture, and assigned the "Hametic languages" to Africans, the "Semitic languages" to Asians and the "Japhetic languages" to Europeans. By the mid-18th century these terms were found to be wholly inadequate, not only because trade with far-eastern and inner Asia had revealed that the languages in use there were very obviously unrelated to the better known near-eastern Asiatic languages, but mainly because in 1794 Sir William Jones had identified Sanskrit to be related to Greek and Latin, and in doing so discovered the Indo-European language group. These discoveries set off a race to find names for the newly discovered language groups, the most unfortunate development of which was Max Müller's insistence that the Indo-European language group be called "Aryan". Because language was at the time still identified with ethnicity, this carried the implicit notion that "Aryan" stood in contradistinction to "Semitic", the latter term having been carried over from the old Ham/Shem/Japheth paradigm. Jones, a judge in colonial India, had been studying the religious "laws" expounded in the Manusmriti when he made his discovery, and in that Sanskrit text "Aryan" is a racist term— with light-skinned Brahmin "nobles" in contradistinction to (and in conflict with, and with claims of superiority over) the dark-skinned, low-caste, "inferior" Dasas, by which the aboriginal Dravidians are meant. That the word "Aryan" did not actually mean "noble"—as a simple self-descriptor, in the Iranian context it simply means "Iranian"—was not understood until much later, but by then the racialist linguistics had engendered the Aryan-vs-Semite dichotomy that would later culminate in the Holocaust. In the mid-19th century, in the same ethnicity-bound (and conflict-bound) perception of languages employed earlier for Aryan-vs-Semitic, Max Müller had also suggested that the name "Turanian" be employed to describe then-newly discovered Turkic language group. Müller used the term much as Firdousi had used it: for the "Turks", and in contradiction to/conflict with "Aryan" (=Firdausi's Iranian). Although Müller's term is not used by linguists today, it did have a following for some time in the late 19th century.
The oldest existing mention of Turanian is in the Farvardin Yashts of the young Avesta, which is dated by linguists to have been composed approximately 2500 years ago. The Avesta contains the names of various tribal groups who lived in proximity to each other. According to Prof. Gherardo Gnoli:’’Iranian tribes that also keep on recurring in the Yasht, Airyas, Tuiryas, Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis’’. In the hymns of the Avesta, the adjective Tūrya is attached to various enemies of Zoroastrism like Fraŋrasyan (Shahnameh: Afrāsīāb). The word occurs only once in the Gathas, but 20 times in the later parts of the Avesta.
The Turanians or Tuiryas as they were called in Avesta play a more important role in the Avesta than the Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis. Zoroaster himself hailed from the Airya people but he also preached his message to other neighboring tribes.
According to Mary Boyce, in the Farvardin Yasht, "In it (verses 143–144) are praised the fravashis of righteous men and women not only among the Aryas (as the "Avestan" people called themselves), but also among the Turiyas, Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis; and the personal names, like those of the people, all seem Iranian character". Hostility between Tuirya and Airya is indicated also in the Farvardtn Yast (vv. 37-8), where the Fravashis of the Just are said to have provided support in battle against the Danus, who appear to be a clan of the Tura people. Thus in the Avesta, some of the Tuiryas believed in the message of Zoroaster while others rejected the religion.
Similar to the ancient homeland of Zoroaster, the precise geography and location of Turan is unknown. In post-Avestan traditions they were thought to inhabit the region north of the Oxus, the river separating them from the Iranians. Their presence accompanied by incessant wars with the Iranians, helped to define the latter as a distinct nation, proud of their land and ready to spill their blood in its defense. The common names of Turanians in Avesta and Shahnameh include Frarasyan, Aghraethra, Biderafsh, Arjaspa Namkhwast. The names of Iranian tribes including those of the Turanians that appear in Avesta have been studied by Professor Mayrhofer in his comprehensive book on Avesta personal name etymologies: Iranisches Personennamenbuch, I: Die altiranischen Namen. Faszikel l, Die Avestischen Namen.
Late Sassanid and early Islamic era
The continuation of nomadic invasions on the north-eastern borders in historical times kept the memory of the Turanians alive. After the 6th century the Turks, who had been pushed westward by other tribes, became neighbours of Iran and were identified with the Turanians. The identification of the Turanians with the Turks was a late development, possibly made in the early 7th century; the Turks first came into contact with the Iranians only in the 6th century.
According to C.E. Boseworth:
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.
The terms "Turk" and "Turanian" became used interchangeably during the Islamic era. The Shahnameh, or the Book of Kings, the compilation of Iranian mythical heritage, uses the two terms equivalently. Other authors, including Tabari, Hakim Iranshah and many other texts follow like. A notable exception is the Abl-Hasan Ali ibn Masudi, an Arab historian who writes: "The birth of Afrasiyab was in the land of Turks and the error that historians and non-historians have made about him being a Turk is due to this reason". By 10th century, the myth of Afrasiyab was adopted by the Qarakhanid dynasty. During the Safavid era, following the common geographical convention of the Shahnameh, the term Turan was used to refer to the domain of the Uzbek empire in conflict with the Safavids.
Some linguists derive the word from the Indo-Iranian root *tura- "strong, quick, sword(Pashto)", Pashto turan (thuran) "swordsman". Others link it to old Iranian *tor "dark, black", related to the New Persian tār(ik), Pashto tor (thor), and possibly English dark. In this case, it is a reference to the "dark civilization" of Central Asian nomads in contrast to the "illuminated" Zoroastrian civilization of the settled Ārya.
In the Persian epic Shahnameh, the term Tūrān ("land of the Tūrya" like Ērān, Īrān = "land of the Ārya") refers to the inhabitants of the eastern-Iranian border and beyond the Oxus. According to the foundation myth given in the Shahnameh, King Firēdūn (= Avestan Θraētaona) had three sons, Salm, Tūr and Īraj, among whom he divided the world: Asia Minor was given to Salm, Turan to Tur and Iran to Īraj. The older brothers killed the younger, but he was avenged by his grandson, and the Iranians became the rulers of the world. However, the war continued for generations. In the Shahnameh, the word Turan appears nearly 150 times and that of Iran nearly 750 times.
Some examples from the Shahnameh:
نه خاکست پیدا نه دریا نه کوه
ز بس تیغداران توران گروه
Due the multitude of the swordsmen in the Turanian army
One cannot view the sands, or sea or mountains
تهمتن به توران سپه شد به جنگ
بدانسان که نخجیر بیند پلنگ
The Tahamtan (Powerful-Bodied) Rustam went to battle against the armies of Turan
Like a Leopard when he sees his hunt.
From the early 20th century western languages borrowed the word Turan as a general designation for Central Asia. Accordingly, the phrase Turan Plain or Turan Depression became a geographical term referring to a part of Central Asia.
The term Turanian, now obsolete, formerly[when?] occurred in the classifications used by European (especially German, Hungarian and Slovak) ethnologists, linguists and Romantics to designate populations speaking non-Indo-European, non-Semitic and non-Hamitic languages and specially speakers of Altaic, Dravidian, Uralic, Japanese, Korean and other languages.
Max Müller (1823–1900) identified different subbranches within the Turanian language family:
- the Northern or Ural–Altaic division branch comprising Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic, Samoyedic, and Finnic
- the Southern branch consisted of Dravidian languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, and other Dravidian languages
- the languages of the Caucasus Müller classified as the scattered languages of the Turanian family
The main relationships between Dravidian, Uralic, and Altaic languages were considered[by whom?] typological. According to Encyclopædia Britannica: "Language families, as conceived in the historical study of languages, should not be confused with the quite separate classifications of languages by reference to their sharing certain predominant features of grammatical structure." As of 2013[update] linguists classify languages according the method of comparative linguistics rather than using their typological features. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Max's Muller's "efforts were most successful in the case of the Semites, whose affinities are easy to demonstrate, and probably least successful in the case of the Turanian peoples, whose early origins are hypothetical". As of 2014[update] the scholarly community no longer uses the word Turanian to denote a classification of language families. The relationship between Uralic and Altaic, whose speakers were also designated as Turanian people in 19th-century European literature, remains uncertain.
In European discourse, the words Turan and Turanian can designate a certain mentality, i.e. the nomadic in contrast to the urbanized agricultural civilizations. This usage probably[original research?] matches the Zoroastrian concept of the Tūrya, which is not primarily a linguistic or ethnic designation, but rather a name of the infidels that opposed the civilization based on the preaching of Zoroaster.
Combined with physical anthropology, the concept of the Turanian mentality has a clear potential for cultural polemic. Thus in 1838 the scholar J.W. Jackson described the Turanid or Turanian race in the following words:
The Turanian is the impersonation of material power. He is the merely muscular man at his maximum of collective development. He is not inherently a savage, but he is radically a barbarian. He does not live from hand to mouth, like a beast, but neither has he in full measure the moral and intellectual endowments of the true man. He can labour and he can accumulate, but he cannot think and aspire like a Caucasian. Of the two grand elements of superior human life, he is more deficient in the sentiments than in the faculties. And of the latter, he is better provided with those that conduce to the acquisition of knowledge than the origination of ideas.
According to Iranian poet Mohammad Taghi Bahar, the name Turan derives from the Avestan "Tau-Raodan", which means "Further on the River", where the "River" equates to the Amu Darya. Bahar also mentions the word Turk is from Middle Persian "Turuk," which means "Warrior" or "Horseman".
Polish philosopher Feliks Koneczny claimed the existence of a distinctive Turanian civilization, encompassing both Turkic and some Slavs, such as Russians. This civilization's hallmark is militarism, anti-intellectualism and an absolute obedience to the ruler. Koneczny saw this civilization as inherently inferior to Latin (Western European) civilization.
In the declining days of the Ottoman Empire, some Turkish nationalists adopted the word Turanian to express a pan-Turkic ideology, also called Turanism. As of 2013[update] Turanism forms an important aspect of the ideology of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), whose members are also known as Grey Wolves.
In recent times[when?], the word Turanian has sometimes expressed a pan-Altaic nationalism (theoretically including Manchus and Mongols in addition to Turks), though no political organization seems to have adopted such an ambitious platform.
The name "Turan" also appears in the fictional geography of the Conan the Barbarian stories.
Turaj, whom ancient Iranian myths depict as the ancestor of the Turanians, is also a popular name and means Son of Darkness. The name Turan according to Iranian myths derives from the homeland of Turaj. The Pahlavi pronunciation of Turaj is Tuzh, according to the Dehkhoda dictionary. Similarly, Iraj, which is also a popular name, is the brother of Turaj in the Shahnameh. An altered version of Turaj is Zaraj, which means son of gold.
- Turanian languages, (alternative name for Ural-Altaic, an obsolete language-family)
- Turanid race
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- G. Gnoli, Zoroaster's time and homeland, Naples 1980. "Iranian tribes that also keep on recurring in the Yasht, Airyas, Tuiryas, Sairimas, Sainus and Dahis".
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- K. H. Menges, in Encyclopaedia Iranica Excerpt: "In a series of relatively minor movements, Turkic groups began to occupy territories in western Central Asia and eastern Europe which had previously been held by Iranians (i.e., Turan). The Volga Bulgars, following the Avars, proceeded to the Volga and Ukraine in the 6th–7th centuries."
- Bosworth, C. E. "Barbarian Incursions: The Coming of the Turks into the Islamic World." In Islamic Civilization, Edited by D. S. Richards. Oxford, 1973. pg 2: "Hence as Kowalski has pointed out, a Turkologist seeking for information in the Shahnama on the primitive culture of the Turks would definitely be disappointed."
- Possehl, Raymond (2002). The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Rowman Altamira Press. p. 276.
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- R. Frye, The Heritage of Persia: The pre-Islamic History of One of the World's Great Civilizations, World Publishing Company, New York, 1963. pg 41
- Encyclopedia Iranica, "Afrasiyab", E. Yarshater
- Encyclopædia Iranica, "CENTRAL ASIA: The Islamic period up to the mongols", C. Edmund Bosworth
- Abi al-Ḥasan Ali ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn Ali al-Masudi, Muruj al-dhahab wa-maadin al-jawhar, Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Marifah, 2005.
- Abel Hovelacque, The Science of Language: Linguistics, Philology, Etymology, pg 144, 
- Elisabeth Chevallier,François Lenormant, "A Manual of the Ancient History of the East", J. B. Lippincott & co., 1871. pg 68. 
- George "van" Driem, Handbuch Der Orientalistik, Brill Academic Publishers, 2001. pp 335–336. 
- "language. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-27199>.
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- "The Iran and Turan", Anthropological Review 6:22 (1868), p. 286
- Sabk Shenaasi[year needed][page needed]
- Iranians and Turanians in the Avesta
- Der Schatten von Turan (a history of the Turan ideology – in German)
- Hunmagyar.org (a representative of the controversial Turanian theory)
- TURAN (Turkish Turan ideology)