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Transoxiana 9 - Diciembre 2004

Qypchaq, Detachment of Blond Soldiers

Forukh Boltabaev

Graduate student, Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies. Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Qypchaqs, the most socio-politically powerful tribes of 11th-13th centuries lived in the Northern and North-eastern parts of Central Asia which have been called Dashti Qypchak (Qypchak Desert) or Velikaya Step (Great Desert) in ancient Russian verbal sources.

There are some hypotheses and views about the socio-ethnic background of Qypchaks, particularly about the lexical meaning of Qypchak which is called by Byzantine historians as Cumans. Also the Arabic and Russian historians of Early and Developed Middle Ages have very briefly mentioned about lexical meaning of Qypchak in their works about the people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

We may base on two main approaches to the lexical meaning of the word Qypchak . One of the above mentioned approaches belongs to the historians of Islamic world and other one belongs to the Byzantine historians as well as bases on the Russian almanacs. Moreover, we can take into account the views of scientists of XIX-XX centuries who learned the history of Central Asia.

The word of Qypchak is first mentioned in the association with geographical name Deshti Qypchak in Sayohatnoma (Travel Notes) of Nosiri Khusrav, traveler and government clerk of Seldjuks state in 11th century.1

But later, Rashid-Ad-Din, one of the most famous historians of Islamic world, who lived in 13-14 centuries has described the word Qypchak more in detail in his book Jome' Ut Tavorix (Collection of Almanacs) 2.

Rashid Ad-Din defines the word qypchak as following:

"... Qypchak is taken from the word kabuk . Kabuk is the name of the hollow tree. When Oghuz-khan's army was returning from the war, the pregnant widow of one of the soldiers had to give a birth inside of the hollow of kabuk tree, as there was not other appropriate place. Oghuz-khan decided to name the newborn boy Qypchak in honour of Kabuk tree which served as maternity hospital."3 According to the statements of all historians of Islamic world Qypchak tribes has came of this boy.

This story about Qypchaq background also mentioned by Hofiz Tanish Bukhari in his famous book Abdullanoma written in 16th century.

Traditionally, the most of historians of Maveraunnakhr (Transoxania) used to use the earlier statements in their works.

As a prove of this fact, we can see that they have stated the same story of Kypchak's background with some additions. For example, one of the leader-historians Abulg'ozi Bahodurkhan who was the Khan (King) of Khorezm from 1648 to 1663 AD also defined the word qypchak in his book Shajarai tarokima (The history of Turkmen Dynasties) by giving the same information as above, but with some additions:

"In ancient Turkic language they call hollow 4 wood5 as Qypchaq.... and at that time people used to say chypchak instead of qypchaq, because local people could not pronounce consonant q and they pronounced it as ch .6"

We consider that his arguments about the pronunciation of consonant q is not convincing according to following reasons:

  1. Historian said that the people could not pronounce q and they have pronounced it as consonant ch, but as he stated, people have pronounced q at the end of the word Qypchaq - he says that people used to say Chypchaq. If people could not pronounce consonant q in general, they had to pronounce the whole word as chypchach, not chypchaq.
  2. According to the phonetic features, the consonant ch cannot substitute the consonant q. The most suitable substitute consonants for q are k and kh.

Almost every Turkic nation has the same myth about Qypchaqs and the hollow tree, the only differences can be only the character of story or places of child born. This may be a reason to raise another hypothesis-we can consider the possibilities of existence of Qypchaq ethnic groups in the body of almost all Turkic nations (people).7

Even though the word Qypchaq is not pronounced the same in all Turkic languages, however it has the same meaning. The word kypchak etymologically belongs to the Turkic language and consists of two vowels ku and chak . The word ku in the first vowel means blond and fair-skin and it sounds as kub or kuba among the northern Turkic nations. The second vowel chak (or sak as in the ancient sources. It should not be confused with the Persian word sak which means dog in English as Persian language belongs to the Indo-European language family) is also a Turkic word which may be equalized with the suffix cha that means fondling word little in English or chik in Russian.

Above, we have analyzed the approaches of some leading historian of Islamic world.

As we have stated above, there is also the second approach to the lexical meaning of Qypchaq which is stated in European -mostly in Armenian and Byzantine- sources. Most of these sources stated Qypchaq as Cuman and this may be explained with the common phonetic features of the European languages.

If we will analyze the word of cuman by syllables, we will have following result:

As we have stated above, Cu [ku:] means blond or fair skin and the second syllable man [ma:n] came of Latin word manus (manus~mans~man ) which means crowd or detachment of soldiers .8 Thus, Cuman means the detachment of blond soldiers .

Russians called Qypchaqs as Polovtsi and Germans called them as Folban -in both cases the words mean blonde . However the definition of blond belongs to the Northern Qypchaq tribes, because the southern Qypchaqs had dark skin because of the climate.

In other European sources Qypchaqs also were called with such words like plavey-plawey-plauci (in Polish), plyczak (in Hungarian). All of these word means also blond.

In conclusion we can say that the version of the historians of Islamic world that connected with hollow tree is closer to the myth rather than truth.

And the second definition of the word of Qypchaq was made from anatomical point of view, which is scientifically more expedient to be accepted as the main definition of Qypchaq word in general.


  1. Abulgozi Bakhadur. Shajarai tarokima. Translated and editor Qozoqboy Mahmudov. Chulpon publishing House. Tashkent 1995.
  2. Barthold. V.V. Sochitanie. II edition. Leningrad. 1969. Publishing House of Soviet Academy of Sciences.
  3. Mirzo Ulugbek Tarihi arbai-ulus. (History of four nations). Editor academic Bori Akhmedov. Translated by Professor Makhmud Khasaniy. Tashkent 1994 Chulpon Publishing House.
  4. Rashididdin Jome-ut –tavorih . (Complex almans). The Institute of Manuscript. No:1 Tashkent, Uzbekistan. So, "Jame-ut-tavarih" (Collection of almanacs). Rashididdin. Editor academic I. A. Orbeli. Translated by Professor Y. P. Verhovskaya. Moscow 1960. Publishing House of the Soviet academy of Sciences
  5. Usman Turan . Ideology of Turkic peoples. Tashkent 1994.
  6. 6. Hofiz Tanish Bukhariy. Abdullanoma Editor academic Bori Akhmedov. Translated by Sodiq Myrzaev. Sharq (Orient) Publishing House. 1999.
  7. Latino-Russian Dictionary. A.K. Tananushko. Moscow 2003.


1 Sayohatname Nasiru Khusrau Editor E. Bertels. Moscow 1933. Publishing House of Academy Moscow.

2 Jame-ut-tavarih (Collection of almanacs). Rashididdin. Manuscript No. 1. Beruniy Institute of Oriental Studies of Uzbekistan Academy of Scientist.

3 Jame-ut-tavarih (Collection of almanacs). Rashididdin. Editor academic I. A. Orbeli. Translated by Professor Yu. P. Verhovskaya. Moscow1960 . Publishing House of Soviet academy of Sciences. Page: 51.

4 Hollow.

5 Wood.

6 Shajarai Tarokima (History of Turkmen dynasties) Abulg'oziy Bahodurhon. Edited by Professor Qozoqboy Mahmudov. Page 13. Chulpon Publishing House Tashkent 1995. Page: 6

7 Author

8 Latino-Russian Dictionary. A.K. Tananushko. Moscow 2003y.

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