Sultan Palace Merv

Turkmen Ethnic Groups (Tribes)

In the 15th – 16th centuries Turkmen Ethnic tribes in Central Asia began to form tribal alliances called: the Yazirs, Salors, Khizir-elis, Uchilis (three tribes Devejis, Eskis, Alilis), Esenilis, Soyunkhans, Yaka Turkmens, Teke- Yomuts and others. These gave rise to a recognizable Turkmen community, now living in Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, with a distinct ethnic composition.

By the 16th century, all ethnic links between the Turkmens of Central Asia and the Turkman of Eastern Anatolia, western Persia and beyond had been lost.

Clad in high wool hats and mounted on Akhal Teke horses, the Turkmens were famous for their raids. Nomadic people, they were continually at war with neighboring states. Divided into tribes, who possessed the high pride in its own ancestry and considered its own tribe as true Turkmen.

In 18-20th centuries, all Turkic speaking nomadic groups who claimed themselves Turkmen traced their ancestry to the mythical Turkic warrior Oguz Khan. Turkic groups who did not claim that they come from Oguz Khan were not considered Turkmens, even if they spoke the same language and lived in the same area.

Groups claiming that they are Turkmens could be found in Central Asia, the Middle East, from North Caucasus to Iraq, Iran, Anatolian Turkey. Despite the single fact that Turkmens come from Oguz Khan, there is not one history background between them. Turkmen tribes have the different stories about their history what can conflict and compete with each other.

The modern descent groups were subdivisions of the larger category of Turkmens. The Turkmen population divided into a number of tribes, each thought to descend from one of Oguz's son or grandsons. Each tribe named after the putative ancestor who founded that branch of family tree. For example, the Yomut tribe named for Yomut, said to have been the great-grandson of Oguz's grandson Ogurjik. These tribes were divided into a series of ever smaller sections and subsections, each presumed to descend from a common ancestor.

The largest subgroups of the Turkmen population: Tekes, Salir, Sariks, Yomuts, Choudirs, Goklengs, Ersaris were known as halq or il (halq or halk – people, il – country or yurt). Each of Turkmen tribes had its own genealogy, history, legends and myths. Each big tribe associated with a specific Turkmen dialect and had its own distinctive forms of dress and carpet ornaments. Last four tribes: Khoja (Hoca), Atta (Ata), Shikh, Mahtum Kuli families were descendants of caliphs Ali, Omar, Osma, Abubekr respectively, they enjoyed a privileged position amoung the other Turkmen tribes because of their sacred origin.

In 1832, Turkmen Tribes estimates are around … 700,000 persons

In the mid-nineteenth century the most numerous and powerful was:


Teke inhabited the Akhal (Akhal Tekes) and Mary (Mary Tekes) regions of present day Turkmenistan Mahmud Kashghari mentioned Teke as one of Turkmen Oghuz tribes. Abul Ghazi describes the Sariks and Tekes as descendants of the Salur Toi-Tutmas. In 16th- 17th centuries, Tekes lived in Balkan and Kuren Dagh. In the 18th century Tekes started to move eastward where they displaced the Emrelis (descendants of old tribe Eimur) and the Karadashli (descendants of the old tribe Yazghir or Yazir) from Akhal area and the Sariks from Serakhs and Merw.


Yomut was the founder of the tribe, and then the tribe line come from his four sons. The second largest tribe, located mainly in two geographical area: the Gurgan (Iran) and Balkan (Turkmenistan, along the Caspian Sea from Iranian border to the Gora Bogaz bay) regions.

Yomuts subtribes in 1844: Sheref, Chuni, Bayram Shah, Kujuk Tatar, Ogurjali. In 1855 Persian Census Yomuts are divided into 17 subtribes.Some estimates in 1844: 40,000- 50,000 families. Regarded themselves as from noble lineage.

Goklengs (Goeklen)

Goeklens lived near the Gurgan Yomut regions in northern Khorasan province of Iran and along border in present day south western Turkmenistan ( Geoklengs claim themselves to come from old Oghuz Turkic tribe – Begdili).

Goklen subtribes in 1832: Kayi, Karavul Khan, Bayindir, Kevish, Erkekli, Ay Dervish, Begdili, Yanak or Gerkez, Sengrik.Some estimates in 1844: around 12,000 families. Regarded themselves as from noble lineage.


Ersari (Er- Brave, Sari- Yellow or Bright) In 16th centuries shared territories in Mangyshlak together with other Turkmen tribes, then started to move south-east. First to Akhal areas, Merw, then to Amul – Kerki and other line along former Uzboy River, then upstream of Amu Darya river to Afghanistan. Starting from 18th lived along Amu Darya river, near Bukhara area, in the east of Turkmenistan, Turkmenabat- Kerki areas. Some between Ersaris tell that they are descendants from old Oghuz Turkic tribe – Begdili, or the famous Oguz – Ogurdjik Alp Salor, accordingly to Abu Ghazi. Ersaris have four sub-tribes: Gara, Bekeul, Gunesh, Uludepe.

Late 13th, 14th- up to late 16th highly probable been an important part of Sayin Khan Turkmen (Salor) tribal union (Sayin Khan another local name of Genghis Khan's grandson Batu).

Ersari Baba was the legendary leader of Ersari people and other Turkmen tribes (in Mangyshlak, Balkan Mountains). Who united Turkmen tribes into Sayin Khan Turkmen Tribal Union, all the Turkmen tribes who remained in the Oghuz Steppe after Mongol Invasion.


Salirs lived around Serakhs, along present day Iranian border and to the south of Mary oases, on Garabil plateau, near Afghanistan. Together with Yomut, Teke, Sarik probably coming from old Oghuz Turkic Salur (Salyr) Tribes, Left Flank, Three Arrows, 2nd group – Tak Khan.

Choudir (Chowdir)

Chowdir belong to the old Oghuz Turkic tribe. Three Arrows - Left Flank of Oghuz Army order, Goek Khan group, meaning – famous (other interpretation – herder) They lived in the desert area between Khiva and Mangishlak plateau (to the south west from Northern Yomuts. Chowdur is one of the main Turkmen dialect.

In 11th they moved in Mangyshlak plateau, followed by other Oghuz tribes Imir, Dukur, Doeger, Igdir, Karkin, Salor, Agar. Later, the tribe was part of Sayin Khan tribal union up to late 16th century. Then under authority of Northern Yomuts till 18th century. In 19th century Choudirs included Igdir, Bozachi, Abdal, Arabachi tribes.

Tekes and Yomuts tribes

They divided into the subtribes and sections, who possessed their genealogy and distinctions. The smallest kin tribal section – tohum or bir ata was a group of families claiming the same ancestor three to five generations in the past. They have the same mutual obligations, use their resources to pay for wedding, circumcision celebrations, to ransom members captured by enemies, to replace stolen stock or protect each other or their guests.

In the beginning, all Turkmen were nomadic pastoralists in the Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts (Oguz steppe), deserts in central Asia. They raised sheep, goats, camels, horses, having animal products as milk, cheese, wool and traded it to settled peoples for grain, tea, sugar, clothes, guns and other manufactured products. In the end of 19th century, Turkmen began to move into fertile oasis along the edges of Karakum desert to settle and start agriculture growing wheat, barley, vegetables, fruits, nut trees, grapes, rice, cotton, and melons. The nomadic and sedentary life formed a continuum among some Turkmens, in the arid area relying mostly on the livestock herding and in the fertile regions making mainly agriculture. Settled Turkmens known as Chomur, and nomadic as Charwa.

There is the proverb showing some aspects of Turkmen life <You can leave religion if you like, but you can not leave your people>. Turkmen lead the life, in accordance with customary law (adat – it was an elaborate unwritten code that regulated all aspects of life, from marriage, family relationship to land distribution and the conduct of war). This code was interpreted and enforced by the elders, known as yashuli (old men) or aksakgals (white beards) chosen between the most experienced and most influential oldest men in a tribe. Being Muslim was also part of Turkmen identity. Like a number of rural and tribal peoples throughout the Islamic world, Turkmen practiced a variety of popular or folk Islam focused on the veneration of saint shrines and saintly lineages. Together that Turkmens observed Islamic practices of prayer, fasting at Ramadan, almsgiving; they had little familiarity with the great textual traditions of Islam. Man who could read and recite prayers respectfully called a mullah or cleric.

By the late nineteenth century, Ersaris were subordinate to the Bukhara Emir, Yomuts around Khiva were the subjects to Khivan Khan, Tekes and Western Yomuts incorporated in Russian Empire, Goklengs and some Yomuts in the same area were under Persian rule. Nevertheless, the controlled Turkmen considered as unruly. Feared for their tendency to make raids for slaves and livestock on the border regions. Bukhara, Khiva, Persia, Afghanistan always paid dearly whenever they let down their guard against supposedly submissive Turkmen tribes.