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Heritage of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”: Epic culture, folk tales and music

Turks are the nation that has tradition of epic creation. There is no nation in the world, regardless of its level and population, that hasn’t its own folklore. And in fact, folklore peculiarities of all nations are unique; it is wrong to compare them, give preference and refer to different degrees. Each nation has its own creativity, natural course and its own legitimacy; and learning – is one of the proven ways of knowing the world. Folklore is a phenomenon that is a source of national-ethnical, ethnographic, psychological, aesthetic, sociological and anthropological peculiarities.

In this sense, the form of the natural expression of Turkish folklore is an epic creativity.

In great Turkish wars, leading the troops and inspiring the warriors were “ozanlar-ashuqlar”, who transmitted spiritual values and the memory of the wars from generation to generation. The influence of the Turkish epic on the world epic creation was great. Turkish epic culture had the power of ethnic and national self-expression.

Sources, reflecting the history and culture of the Turkic peoples are closely related to the oral traditions. Chronicles, laws, inscriptions, scrolls, forgotten cave paintings and writings together with folklore, survived and depicted the history and morality of people. The “Oguz-name” (“Book of the Oguz”) holds a special place among these cultural monuments. The “Oguz-name” books were numerous and traveled in the Caucasus, Siberia, Turkestan and the Near East.

One of these “Oguz-name” is the epic “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”.

The “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” (“Book of Dede Gorgud”) is the most famous among the epics of the Oguz Turks. The epics carry morals and values significant to the social lifestyle of the nomadic Turkic peoples and their pre-Islamic beliefs. The book’s mythic narrative is a part of the cultural heritage of Turkic countries, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and to a lesser degree Kyrgyzstan.

The epic “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” consisting of introduction and twelve chapters (stories/songs) are some of the best known Turkic dastans from among a total of well over 1,000 recorded epics among the Mongolian and Turkic language families.

According to the tradition, the authorship of the epic belongs to Dede Gorgud. Aybek ad-Devadari and Fazlullah Rashideddin, the historians of the 14th century, wrote that he lived in the period of Prophet Muhammed and was sent to him as a messenger by the Turks.

The work originated as a series of epics orally told and transferred over the generations before being published in book form. There are numerous collected versions of the stories, having mythological roots. It is thought that the first versions were written in the 11th century under the name of “Kitabi-Dedem Gorgud”. The extant manuscripts are handwritten copies of manuscripts of the 16th century. According to the German orientalist Heinrich Friedrich von Diez, who was the first to study this cultural monument, some of the mythological objects here, such as “Tapagoz” (“Oneeyed”) had analogy in Ancient Greek literature. Comparing two images - the “Tapagoz” image in “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” is elder than the image of “Polyphemus” (“Cyclops”) in Homer’s epic the “Odyssey”. 

Two manuscripts of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” are known today. One of them is Dresden copy, containing an introduction and twelve chapters (“boys” separate tales in epic) which was taken to Germany by the German orientalist Heinrich Friedrich von Diez and presented to the library of Dresden. The second copy, also containing an introduction and six chapters, was found in Vatican library, in the 50-s of the XX century.

According to some researches, the epic “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” was first written (appeared in written form) by an unknown person, in 1052. Until “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” was transcribed on paper, the events depicted therein survived in the oral tradition, at least from the 9th and 10th centuries. The cover of the manuscript was rewritten several times (11th-16th century). This also confirms that the copy of Dresden’s manuscript is not original, it is still a copy.

The epic “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” tells about the Oguzs of Azerbaijan. This cultural monument besides being a literary work is a chronicle of the history of the Oguz era, the period before the Arabic occupation of the Azerbaijani-Oguz state and the Arab invasion.  The main idea of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” embraces the defense of motherland and people, the struggle of old Oguzes, representing the good power against the foreign occupants and many of moral-didactic views. The book is also a highly credible source for identifying our history, our genocide and our origins.

The continuing interest of readers and researchers in the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” lies in its artistic content and broad humanity. Every ethnic epic poem is an embodiment of the life of the social group that created it and which keeps its fire burning. The whole moral and physical experience of the group becomes an ethnic memory expressed in epic poetry. But the significance of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” does not depend solely on its being an ethnic poem – the epic saga of the Oguz. It stems from the fact that it contributes to the history of human ecology on the Eurasian continent. From this point of view, the book is actually a lasting monument to the cultural history of the peoples of the continent, in the shape of the Oguz. 

The “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” is a masterpiece from the world’s treasury of epic poems in terms of its artistic content, its poetic and linguistic features and for its humanity and humanitarian ideas. For the Turkic peoples, especially people who identify themselves as Oguz, it is the principal repository of ethnic identity, history, memory of blood, customs and the sacred value systems of the Turkic peoples throughout history.

One of the earliest researchers of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” was Russian-Soviet academician Vasily Bartold, who noted that the epic was created in the Caucasus. A great Turkish scientist, O.Sh.Gokyay, who published the perfect edition of “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”, noted that “the peculiarities of Azerbaijani accent are obvious”. The eminent researchers of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”, such as Fuad Koprulu, Muharram Ergin and such famous Russian turkologists as V.V.Bartold, V.M.Jirmunski, A.H.Kononov and A.Y.Yokubovski confirmed that the language features are mostly related to Azerbaijan, in terms of the geographical location of the current events.

The great national leader of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev noted at the conference of the State Commission devoted to the epic “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”: “The epic “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” belongs to the entire Turkic world and its homeland is Azerbaijan. This work belongs to the Azerbaijani people and its owner is an independent Azerbaijan state.”

Concentrating his attention on the important role of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” in the socio-political and cultural life of the Azerbaijani people, the prominent statesman Heydar Aliyev promoted worldwide propaganda of the epics which reflected the patriotic ideas. On April 20, 1997, in order to that, the head of the state signed a special decree on the 1300th anniversary of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”. The holding of numerous high-level events dedicated to the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud” served as a cultural phenomenon of the rebirth of epic.

The epic culture, folk tales and music of the “Kitabi-Dede Gorgud”, passed on for centuries by the Oguz Turks, have been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The announcement was made on November 28 during the 13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. The document on this nomination was jointly presented by Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Kazakhstan.

The adoption of such important decision for our country was supported by the First Vice President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the head of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva, as well as the joint activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan as a result of our country’s partnership with UNESCO high level of development. Thanks to Mehriban Aliyeva’s support, Azerbaijan’s mugham, ashug art, Azerbaijan’s tar-performing arts, kamancha, lavash, kalagayi and other cultural values of Azerbaijan were also included in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.