Long before the age of certainty and harsh facts, there ruled the mighty king Fereydun. The just and pious ruler, who liberated the world of men from the hand of his predecessor, the tyrannical monarch Zahnak, has ruled for five centuries, before giving in to the teeth of time. Acknowledging the last days of his reign, he summoned his three sons, Salm, Tur and Iraj and informed them of the order of succession and the parting of his kingdom into three part. Salm, the eldest, shall receive Rum, the western part of the kingdom (today’s Anatoloia), the second son, Tur, will rule the eastern part, beyond the Amu Darya river (the Oxus, in today’s modern Uzbekistan), whilee youngest and most virtues Iraj, will reign the kingdom’s prime land, Iran.
The two elder brothers where much envy of their younger sibling, and slayed him. Iraj’s son and heir, Manūchehr, sworn to make vengeance upon his father’s killers, and marched into Tur’s domain.
Thus began the epic clash of Iran and Turan.
The realm of Turan represents the dark, the barbarous and the chaotic, standing in complete contradiction to the Iranian cultural and enlightened order. the Iran-Turan wars went well beyond the matters of territory and culture, and dealt with the questions of good and evil, pure and impure and above all, the ever whirling sphere of destiny, casting its unbearable wights upon men and beasts.
This theme is the one which threads through the storyline of the great Persian epic poem, the Shahnameh (شاهنامه), by the tenth century author, Ferdowsi (940-1020), who based his composition on the pre Islamic Histories and mythologies of Iran.
The origin of the primeval distinction between Iran and Turan lies in the early differentiation between the sedentary agriculture based societies of central Asia, and the pastoral nomadic or semi nomadic people to the north. At that time these tribes where composed out of tribes of Iranian stock, and not the Turkic groups, penetrating into the area not before the tenth century AD.
Historically speaking, Iran is not the limited territory of the modern Islamic republic, but a much more vast land, ranging from Anatolia and Azerbaijan in the west, through the Iranian plateau, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Ferghana and all the way to the Tarim basin in what is today the modern Chinese province of Xinjiang.
This definition is made on the ground of linguistic and ethnic distribution in those territories prior to the Turkic and later mongol invasions.
Iranian people such as the Soghdians established prosperous trade centers in what is today`s Samarkand and Bukhara, thriving on the trade routes stretching east to west. Far to the east, the people of Kocha and Khotan sat on the margins of the terrible Taklamkan desert, writing commentaries of the Buddhist scriptures in their own Iranian languages.
The people of Afghanistan and Tajikistan largely speak Iranian dialects to this day.
Turan is the steppe.
The steppe is an ecological zone stretching across northern Eurasia, from Manchuria in the east, through Mongolia, modern Kazakhstan, southern Russia and the Ukraine, and all the way to Hungary in the west.
The steppe is composed out of temperate grassland and shrub lands, originally unsuitable for agricultural cultivation.
This ecological niche was first exploited by human populations, only with the development of the appropriate means of transportation, enabling people to transfer themselves, as well as their belongings across the sea of grass.
The domestication of the horse, occurring around southern Russia ca. 4000 BC, as well as the invention of the wheel, enabled people to venture far and deep into the previously impenetrable steppe, allowing them to exploit its lavish grassland for pastoral purposes.
A new human society was born.
Pastoral nomadism is a specialized economical system, relaying on the periodical migration of an entire human population in search of pasture for its herds. The domesticated horse, first used for carrying carts and later for actual riding, enabled the nomadic population to really solely on its livestock, and to hold a vast number of herd animals, especially sheep and goats but also Bactrian camels and sometimes, cattle.
The horse also enable the nomads an entirely new thing, so far unheard of in human history, the swift mobilization of fighting men from one location to the other.
The pastoral nomadic economy is unfortunately not an autarky , and there are some products which the nomads, be it due to their surroundings, or their social and economical structure, can not obtain on their own. grains, metals, textiles and even luxury goods were indispensable for the existence of the nomadic societies, and this factor had linked them with an unbreakable bond to the sedentary cultures.
The common method of obtaining those materials was trade, exchanging steppe originated goods such as furs, glue, honey, and slaves for the much needed products of the agricultural lands.
However trade was not always an option, so raids and extortion where an acceptable way of extracting the desired commodities.
Historically, the cultivators feared the pastoralists, and for good reason. The nomad,s absolute mastery of equine warfare, along with his utilization of the mighty composite bow, made him an intimidating foe, absolutely unmatched by his sedentary rivals.
In this regard, the epic struggle between Iran and Turan, represents a far echo of the ancient rivalry between two distinctly separated cultures, which much differ in their political and economical organization, as well as in their social values.
Even today, a travel through the Eurasian continent,and especially central Asia, is a journey through multiple layers of contacts and clashes between societies, cultures, values and material cultures. these ever overlapping lairs is what make these journeys so fascinating, allowing us to look back at the dawn of human societies as well as the way new cultures are formed through an ever flowing tides of complex and colourful transfusions.
And that’s what this blog is all about.