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Book No. 112

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Book of Dede Korkut


Anonymous, Book of Dede Korkut

Book of Dede Korkut

(Excerpted from Book of Dede Korkut on Wikipedia. the free encyclopedia.)

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.

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 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 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. 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. Some scholars in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan place it in the 8th century. 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. 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".

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.


Origin and synopsis of the epic

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

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." 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. 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. 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.

Since the early 18th century, the Book of Dede Korkut has been translated into French, English, and Russian. 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, 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. 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.

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]." 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.

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."

Bibliography: Lewis, Geoffrey, ed. (1974). The Book of Dede Korkut. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books.




Legend I: The Story of Bugach Khan, Son of Dirse Khan

Legend II: The Story of Bamsi Beyrek, Son of Bay Bure

Legend III: The Story of Delu Dumrul, Son of Duha Khoja

Legend IV: The Story of Yigenek, Son of Kazilik Khoja

Legend V: The Story of Emren, Son of Begil

Legend VI: The Story of Seghrek, Son of Ushun Khoja

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