Book of Dede Korkut

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Book of Dede Korkut 
by folk
Country  Turkey
Language Oghuz Turkish
Subject(s) The stories carry morals and values significant to the social lifestyle of the nomadic Turks.
Genre(s) Epic poetry

The Book of Dede Korkut, also spelled as Dada Gorgud, Dede Qorqut or Qorqit ata (Turkish: Dede Korkut, Azerbaijani: Dədə Qorqud, Turkmen: 'Gorkut-ata'), Arabic: دده قورقود‎ is the most famous among the epic stories of the Oghuz Turks (also known as Turkmens or Turcomans) The stories carry morals and values significant to the social lifestyle of the nomadic Turks and their pre-Islamic beliefs. The book's mythic narrative is part of the cultural heritage of Turkic states, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and to a lesser degree Kyrgyzstan.[1]

The work originated as a series of epics orally told and transferred over the generations before being published in book form. There are numerous versions collected of the stories. It is thought that the first versions were in natural verse, since Turkish is an agglutinative language, but that they gradually transformed into combinations of verse and prose as the Islamic elements affected the narrative over time. Various dates have been proposed for the first written copies. Geoffrey Lewis dates it fairly early in the 15th century[2][3] with an older substratum of these oral traditions dating to conflicts between the ancient Oghuz and their Turkish rivals in Central Asia (the Pecheneks and the Kipchaks). However, according to him, this substratum has been clothed in references to the 14th-century campaigns of the Akkoyunlu Confederation. Cemal Kafadar mentions that it was no earlier than the 15th century[Note 1] based on the fact that the author is buttering up both the Akkoyunlu and Ottoman ruler. Stanford Jay Shaw (1977) in his history of the Ottoman Empire dates it in the 14th century.[Note 2] Professor Michael E. Meeker believes that the stories and songs have emerged no earlier than the beginning of the 13th century and were written down no later than the beginning of the 15th century.[Note 3] Some scholars in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan place it in the 8th century.[citation needed] A precise determination is impossible to come by due to the nomadic lifestyle of the early Turkic people, where epics such as Dede Korkut were passing from generation to generation in an oral form. This is especially true of an epic book such as this, which is a product of a long series of narrators, any of whom could have made alterations and additions, right down to the two 16th-century scribes who authored the oldest extant manuscripts.[5] The majority of scholars of ancient Turkic epics and folk tales, such as Russian-Soviet academician Vasily Bartold and British scholar Geoffrey Lewis, believe that the Dede Korkut text "exhibits a number of features characteristic of Azeri, the Turkish dialect of Azerbaijan".[6]

The epic tales of Dede Korkut is one of the best known Turkic dastans from among a total of well over 1,000 recorded epics among the Mongolian and Turkic language families by international scholars.[7]

Origin and synopsis of the epic[edit]

Dede Korkut is a heroic dastan (legend), also known as Oghuz-nameh among the Oghuz Turk people,[8] which starts out in Central Asia, continues in Anatolia and Iran, and centers most of its action in the Azerbaijani Caucasus.[9] According to Barthold, "it is not possible to surmise that this dastan could have been written anywhere but in the Caucasus".[10]

For the Turkic peoples, especially people who identify themselves as Oghuz, it is the principal repository of ethnic identity, history, customs and the value systems of the Turkic peoples throughout history. It commemorates struggles for freedom at a time when the Oghuz Turks were a herding people, although "it is clear that the stories were put into their present form at a time when the Turks of Oghuz descent no longer thought of themselves as Oghuz."[11] Now it is known that the term 'Oghuz' was gradually supplanted among the Turks themselves as Turkmen, 'Turcoman', from the mid-10th century on, a process which was completed by the beginning of the 13th century. The Turcomans were those Turks, mostly but not exclusively Oghuz, who had embraced Islam and begun to lead a more sedentary life than their forefathers.[12] In the 14th century, a federation of Oghuz, or, as they were by this time termed, Turcoman tribesmen, who called themselves Ak-koyunlu established a dynasty that ruled eastern Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq and western Iran.[13] But even before that at least one of the stories (Chapter 8) of the Dede Korkut epic existed in writing, at the beginning of the 14th century, from an unpublished Arabic history, Dawadari's Durar al-Tijan, written in Egypt some time between 1309 and 1340.[14]

Since the early 18th century, the Book of Dede Korkut has been translated into French, English, and Russian.[15][16] However, it was not until it caught the attention of H.F. Von Diez, who published a partial German translation of Dede Korkut in 1815, based on a manuscript found in the Royal Library of Dresden,[17] that Dede Korkut became widely known to the West. The only other manuscript of Dede Korkut was discovered in 1950 by Ettore Rossi in the Vatican Library.[18] Until Dede Korkut was transcribed on paper, the events depicted therein survived in the oral tradition, at least from the 9th and 10th centuries. The "Bamsi Beyrek" chapter of Dede Korkut preserves almost verbatim the immensely popular Central Asian dastan Alpamysh, dating from an even earlier time. The stories were written in prose, but peppered with poetic passages. Recent research by Turkish and Turkmen scholars revealed, that the Turkmen variant of the Book of Dede Korkut contains sixteen stories, which have been transcribed and published in 1998.[19]

The twelve stories that comprise the bulk of the work were written down after the Turks converted to Islam, and the heroes are often portrayed as good Muslims while the villains are referred to as infidels, but there are also many references to the Turks' pre-Islamic magic. The character Dede Korkut, i.e. "Grandfather Korkut", is a widely-renowned soothsayer and bard, and serves to link the stories together, and the thirteenth chapter of the book compiles sayings attributed to him. "In the dastans, Dede Korkut appears as the aksakal [literally 'white-beard,' the respected elder], the advisor or sage, solving the difficulties faced by tribal members. ... Among the population, respected aksakals are wise and know how to solve problems; among ashiks [reciters of dastans] they are generally called dede [grandfather]. In the past, this term designated respected tribal elders, and now is used within families; in many localities of Azerbaijan, it replaces ata [ancestor or father]."[20] The historian Rashid-al-Din Hamadani (d. 1318) says that Dede Korkut was a real person and lived for 295 years; that he appeared in the time of the Oghuz ruler Inal Syr Yavkuy Khan, by whom he was sent as ambassador to the Prophet; that he became Muslim; that he gave advice to the Great Khan of the Oghuz, attended the election of the Great Khan, and gave names to children.[21]

The tales tell of warriors and battles and are likely grounded in the conflicts between the Oghuz and the Pechenegs and Kipchaks. Many story elements are familiar to those versed in the Western literary tradition. For example, the story of a monster named "Goggle-eye" Tepegoz bears enough resemblance to the encounter with the Cyclops in Homer’s Odyssey that it is believed to have been influenced by the Greek epic or to have one common ancient root. The book also describes in great detail the various sports activities of the ancient Turkic peoples: "Dede Korkut (1000- 1300) clearly referred to certain physical activities and games. In Dede Korkut's description, the athletic skills of Turks, men and women, were described to be "first-rate," especially in horse-riding, archery, cirit [javelin throw], wrestling and polo which are considered Turkish national sports."[22]

Soviet treatment[edit]

The majority of the Turkic peoples and lands described in the Book of Dede Korkut were part of the Soviet Union from 1920 until 1991, and thus most of the research and interest originated there. The attitude towards the Book of Dede Korkut and other dastans related to the Turkic peoples was initially neutral.

Turkish historian Hasan Bülent Paksoy argues that after Stalin solidified his grip on power in the USSR, and especially in the early 1950s, a taboo on Turkology was firmly established. He observes that the first full-text Russian edition of the Book of Dede Korkut, by Azerbaijani academicians Hamid Arasli and M.G.Tahmasib and based on the Barthold translation of the 1920s, was published on a limited basis only in 1939 and again in 1950.[20][23] He asserts, "Turk scholars and literati (who raised the same issues) were lost to the Stalinist 'liquidations' or to the 'ideological assault' waged on all dastans in 1950–52."[20] According to Paksoy, this taboo of the early 1950s was also expressed in the "Trial of Alpamysh" (1952–1957), when "all dastans of Central Asia were officially condemned by the Soviet state apparatus".

Soviet authorities criticized Dede Korkut for promoting bourgeois nationalism. In a 1951 speech delivered at the 18th Congress of the Azerbaijani Communist Party, Azerbaijani communist leader Mir Jafar Baghirov advocated expunging the epic from Azerbaijani literature, calling it a "harmful" and "antipopular book" that "is shot through with the poison of nationalism, chiefly against the Georgian and Armenian brother-peoples."[24]

Nevertheless, the publication of dastans did not wholly cease during that period, as editions of Alpamysh were published in 1957, 1958 and 1961,[25] as they had been in 1939, 1941, and 1949;[26] the entry on dastans in the second edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (volume 13, 1952) does not contain any "condemnation" either.[27] Despite the liberalization of the political climate after the denunciation of Stalinism by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956, the same "Barthold" edition of the Book of Dede Korkut was re-published only in 1962 and in 1977. Problems persisted all the way to perestroika, when the last full edition in Azerbaijani language was sent for publication on July 11, 1985, but received permission for printing only on February 2, 1988.[20]

UNESCO celebrations[edit]

In 1998, the Republic of Azerbaijan and UNESCO nominated, and in 2000 celebrated, the "One thousand three hundredth anniversary of the epic Azerbaijani legend Kitab-i Dede Qorqud".[28] In 2000, the General Director of UNESCO remarked: "Epics – and I have in mind in particular that of the Turkish-speaking peoples attributed to Dede Korkut, perpetuated by oral tradition up to the 15th century before being written down...are vectors of the historical, geographical, political, social, linguistic and literary references of the peoples whose history they relate. Although many of these epics have already been noted down, the oral and gestural skills of the storytellers and griots who keep them alive should also be immortalized without delay. The matter is urgent."[29][30]

Since 1956, UNESCO has commemorated historic events and the anniversaries of eminent personalities celebrated by Member States and Associate Members, in order to give them worldwide significance.[31] Azerbaijan announced the Kitab-i Dede Qorqud as its first "Celebration of anniversaries" in 1998.[32] In 1999 the National Bank of Azerbaijan minted gold and silver commemorative coins for the 1,300th anniversary of the epic.[33]

See also[edit]

Turkic Nomad Epics/Dastans[edit]


  1. ^ "It was not earlier than the 15th century. Based on the fact that the author is buttering up both the Akkoyunlu and Ottoman rulers, it has been suggested that the composition belongs to someone living in the undefined border region lands between the two states during the reign of Uzun Hassan (1466–78). G. Lewis on the hand dates the composition 'fairly early in the 15th century at least'."[2]
  2. ^ "The greatest folk product of the 14th century was the prose collection of Dede Korkut, the oldest surviving examples of Oghuz Turkmen epic. Dede Korkut relates the struggles of Turkmens with the Georgians and Abkhaza Circassians in the Caucasia as well as with the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond, adding stories of relationships and conflicts within Turkomen tribes."[4]
  3. ^ "The Book of Dede Korkut is an early record of oral Turkic folktales in Anatolia, and as such, one of the mythic charters of Turkish nationalist ideology. The oldest versions of the Book of Dede Korkut consist of two manuscripts copied in the 16th century. The twelve stories that are recorded in these manuscripts are believed to be derived from a cycle of stories and songs circulating among Turkic peoples living in northeastern Anatolia and northwestern Azerbaijan. According to Lewis (1974), an older substratum of these oral traditions dates to conflicts between the ancient Oghuz and their Turkish rivals in Central Asia (the Pecheneks and the Kipchaks), but this substratum has been clothed in references to the 14th-century campaigns of the Akkoyunlu Confederation of Turkic tribes against the Georgians, the Abkhaz, and the Greeks in Trebizond. Such stories and songs would have emerged no earlier than the beginning of the 13th century, and the written versions that have reached us would have been composed no later than the beginning of the 15th century. By this time, the Turkic peoples in question had been in touch with Islamic civilization for several centuries, had come to call themselves "Turcoman" rather than "Oghuz," had close associations with sedentary and urbanized societies, and were participating in Islamized regimes that included nomads, farmers, and townsmen. Some had abandoned their nomadic way of life altogether."[3]


  1. ^ Barthold (1962), p. 6
  2. ^ a b Kafadar (1996)
  3. ^ a b Michael E. Meeker, "The Dede Korkut Ethic", International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Aug., 1992), 395–417.
  4. ^ Stanford Jay Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Cambridge University, 1977, pg 141.
  5. ^ Lewis (1974), pp. 20–21
  6. ^ Lewis (1974), pp. 22
  7. ^ Rinchindorji. "Mongolian-Turkic Epics: Typological Formation and Development" / Institute of Ethnic Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Trans. by Naran Bilik, Oral Tradition, 16/2, 2001, p. 381
  8. ^ "Dastan". Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in 30 volumes), Third edition, Moscow, 1970
  9. ^ Kitabi Dede Korkut. Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in 30 volumes), Third edition, Moscow, 1970
  10. ^ Barthold (1962), p. 120
  11. ^ Lewis (1974), p. 9
  12. ^ Lewis (1974), p. 10
  13. ^ Lewis (1974), p. 16–17
  14. ^ Lewis (1974), p. 21
  15. ^ Bentinck, Histoire Genealogique des Tatars, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1726).
  16. ^ Abu Al Ghazi Bahadur, A History of the Turks, Moguls, and Tatars, Vulgarly called Tartars, Together with a Description of the Countries They Inhabit, 2 vols. (London, 1730)
  17. ^ Kitab-i Dedem Korkut – Mscr.Dresd.Ea.86 digital
  18. ^ Kitab-i Dedem Korkut – Vat. turc. 102 digital
  19. ^ Prof. Melek Erdem, Ankara University, "On the Connection with the Manuscripts of Turkmenistan Variant of Dede Korkut Epics". Journal of Modern Turkish Studies (2005), 2/4:158-188
  20. ^ a b c d Prof. H.B.Paksoy (ed.), "Introduction to Dede Korkut" (As Co-Editor), Soviet Anthropology and Archeology, Vol. 29, No. 1. Summer 1990; and, "M. Dadashzade on the Ethnographic Information Concerning Azerbaijan Contained in the Dede Korkut dastan", Soviet Anthropology and Archeology, Vol. 29, No. 1. Summer 1990. Reprinted in H. B. Paksoy (Ed.), Central Asia Reader: The Rediscovery of History (New York/London: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), ISBN 1-56324-201-X (Hardcover); ISBN 1-56324-202-8 (pbk.)
  21. ^ Lewis (1974), p. 12
  22. ^ Dr. Ergun Yurdadon, Chair of Recreation Management, United State Sports Academy, Sport In Turkey: The Pre-Islamic Period, Volume 6, Number 3, Summer 2003
  23. ^ Barthold (1962), pp. 5–8
  24. ^ "Report by Comrade M[ir] D[zhafar Abbasovich] Bagirov at 18th Congress of Azerbaidzhan Communist Party on the Work of the Azerbaidzhan Communist Party Central Committee," Current Digest of the Russian Press No. 24, Vol. 23 (July 28, 1951), 8.
  25. ^ "Alpamysh" entry in Bol'shaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya (the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, third edition) [1]
  26. ^ Alpamysh entry in Bol'shaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya (the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, second edition)
  27. ^ "Dastan" in Great Soviet Encyclopedia, second edition. See also "Dastan" [2] entry in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, third edition.
  28. ^ UNESCO website, accessed March 19, 2007 Celebration of anniversaries with which UNESCO was associated since 1996, UNESCO website, accessed March 19, 2007
  29. ^ UNESCO, Address by Mr Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the information meeting with the Permanent Delegations on the project "Proclamation of masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity". UNESCO, 5 May 2000
  30. ^ Another mention of Dede Korkut by Mr. Matsuura is made in August 2005
  31. ^ UNESCO website
  32. ^ UNESCO website
  33. ^ Central Bank of Azerbaijan. Commemorative coins. Coins produced within 1992–2010: Gold and silver coins dedicated to 1300th anniversary of epos "Kitabi – Dede Gorgud". – Retrieved on 25 February 2010.


  • Barthold, V., ed. (1962). The book of my grandfather Korkut. Moscow and Leningrad: USSR Academy of Sciences. 
  • Kafadar, Cemal (1996). Between Two Worlds: the Construction of the Ottoman State. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520206007. 
  • Lewis, Geoffrey, ed. (1974). The Book of Dede Korkut. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books. 

External links[edit]