A. Samoilovich

The motive for compiling this brief piece was provided by an article written by Professor A A Semyonov in Turkmenovedenie" ("Turkmen Studies"), No 8-9, 1929, entitled "On material relating to Sufism among the Turkmen people".
    Making reference only to my old works (up to 1915) on the Turkmen poet Makhtumkuli, Professor Semyonov complains that a question of considerable importance  remains unresolved - that of the particular influences which caused his poetry to be permeated by the Sufi world view. Furthermore, before quoting extracts from two works on this subject written in Persian, he informs us, as if it were a new and unquestionable fact, that "although what is now the Turkmen steppes was impenetrable in the distant past, the religious attraction felt by the former (14th century)
inhabitants towards the Central Asian lands of Transoxiana [beyond the Amu-Darya river] was fairly powerful, and for some as yet unknown reason the Sufi orders of Bukhara, rather than Khiva or elsewhere, were not without success
in enlisting proselytes among the Turkish peoples of these steppes.
    In reality, even if the questions surrounding the Sufi influence on the Turkmen and their literature, and the sources and routes taken by this influence, have not been sufficiently worked on, they have nevertheless been addressed in academic publications on a number of occasions, and have appeared even in the popular press.(1)
    In the first issue of "Material on Central Asian Turkish Literature" for 1909 (page 2) I stated that Makhtumkuli
belongs to a chain of poets who go back through a historical line of Sufism to the father of Central Asian Turkish mysticism, Hoja Ahmed Yasawi (12th century), but before me the fact had been pointed out by Vambery. The issue was addressed later (in 1918) in an extensive study by Professor Kopruluzade of Istanbul.
    "The First Sufis in Turkish Literature" (pages 198-199).  In my recent work "On the History of the Central Asian Turkish Language" (1923)1 highlighted the active participation of the modern Turkmens' forefathers in the literary
activity of Khorezm (Khiva) in the period of the Ulus [tribal state] of Juchi [l3th-l4th century], the population of which included several Turkmen tribes.
    It was in and around that penod that some of the most eminent figures of the Ahmed Yasawi Sufi school developed, including Suleyman Bakirgan, otherwiSe known as Hakim-Ata (late 12th-early 13th century), who died before the Mongol conquest of Khorezm. There are no grounds for doubting that it was not Bukhara but Khorezm that was Sufism's main conduit into the Turkmen world over the centuries. After all, Bukhara was always of secondary - of great - importance, except for those Turkmens subject to Bukhara.
    In my latest work, "Essay on the History of Turkmen Literature", which came out in spring 1929, 1 touch on the possibility that Ahmed Yasawi himself was close to the Oghuz Turkmen world (on page 136), Professor Kopruluzade, too, admits the possibility of an Oghuz influence on the literary language of Ah med Yasawi. As the same "Essays" show (pages 134, 139-140), in Makhtumkuli's day the cultural influences on the Turkmen, and on Makhtumkuli himself, came from Khorezm rather than Bukhara, and there is nothing that is obscure about that.  I shall cite as an example an extract from Makhtumkuli's works which clearly shows the influence of Suleyman Bakirgan's poems and which is comprehensible only within the historical context of the times of this mystic of 13th century Khiva, where the names of the Mongol-Tatar conquerors resounded everywhere.
    In one of Makhtumkuli's works, composed in septametric quatrains, after the names of the holy places of Nur-Ata, Dargan-Ata and Bakirgan, we read:

        Gundogardan gunbatar
        Tersa, zhohit hem tatar
        Shaherleri hatar-hatar
        Magribistana sari.

        From east to west
        Christians, Jews and Tatars (reign).
        Their towns are set out in rows
        Facing west.(2)

 The reference to Tatars alongside Christians and Jews, who are usually contrasted with Muslims, a reference which is unusual in Turkmen literature, arrests the attention of the reader or researcher, making it difficult to work out the meaning of this composition as expressed by an 18th century Turkmen poet. It transpires, however, that the mysterious combination of these names goes back to the 13th century, when this was quite comprehensible and natural for the Muslims of the time, when one considers the Mongol-Tatars, who had not yet been Turkified and who had not yet adopted Islam.
    Among he works of Hakim-Ata included in the "Bakirgan Kitabi" ("Book of Bakirgan") anthology published in Kazan,(3) there is a poem which, like the above work by Makhtumkuli, is written in septametric quatrains like a refrain. It was this poem that Makhtumkuli, the heir of the Sufi school of Ahmed Yasawi, borrowed the first two lines of the quatrain we quoted.
    Let us quote from the relevant part of Hakim-Ata's poem.

        Gun togadin hatatga,
        Tersa, Zhohud, tatalga,
        Kullug Kilib satarga,
        Sheykhim Abmed Yasawi.

    I shall attempt to translate this quatrain, which is difficult to understand because of the laconic character of the language used, in the following manner:

        (When the whole world) from east to west
        Services and trades with
        Christians, Jews and Tatars,
        Abmed Yasawi (remains) my sheikh

    In conclusion, I should note that Makhtumkuli's works mention both the founder of the Naqshbandiya order of Sufis in Bukhara, Bahautdin led: Mohammed Bahautdin Naqshband],(4)  and the father of Central Asian Turkish Sufism, Hoja Ahmed,(5) to whom, incidentally, he referred as ruler of the seven climates (ie the universe), Yasawi".

'Turkmenovedenie" ("Turkmen Studies"),
No 12, 1929, page 28.


(1) cf. my note "On the History of Turkmen Literature", in the newspaper "Turkmenskaya Iskra" No 40/lssi'e 673, 1927.
(2) "Selected Works of the Turkmen Poet Makhtumkuli, published by Turkmengosizdat, Ashkhabd, 1926, page 321
(contains errors). My guide to Makhtumkuli, NC) 17q.
(3) I have used the 1904 edition, typolithography from the estate of M Chirkova, page 12).
(4) Ashkhabad edition of Makhtumkuli, pages 12, 19, 295

Below we reproduce one of the earliest articles of the Soviet period relating to Makhtumkuh. It was published
in Turkmenovederie (Turkmen Studies) in 1929.

I. Belyayev

In Transcaspian Region, not far from the town of Kara-Kala, the Turkmen keep a large manuscript volume by
the famous 18th-century Turkmen poet Makhtumkuli, written in his own hand. This interesting literary record
contains excellent examples of artless Turkmen folk poetry.
    Makhtumkuli's works are greatly believed and widespread not just among the Turkmen of Transcaspian Region but also among the Karakalpaks living along the shores of the Aral Sea. Some excerpts from this poet's works, which have been collected by the well-known academics A. Vambery and A. N. Samoilovich, and other researchers of Turkmen literature, point to the great and many-sided talent of Makhtumkuli - poet, mystic and convinced adherent of freedom and moral strength.
    It would be highly desirable for a local friend of oriental literature and history to turn his attention to the above manuscript by Makhtumkuli. The Turkmen relate that this work in the author's own hand is brought into the town of Ashkhabad every year so that copies can be made during the congress of judges of the people.

"Turkestanskiye vedomosti" ("Turkestan News");
lst June 1904. No 73

Transtated by John McLeod