This collective monograph brings together papers presented in June 2015 at INALCO (Paris) by archaeologists, historians, linguists, geographers, etc. of the Persian and Turkic worlds, on the notion of Turan – from its appearance in the Avesta to modern reappraisals, through the tenth-century Shahnama of Firdawsi. In their introduction, the Editors recall that this ‘mysterious’ notion covers millennia-old oppositions between the Iranian and Turkic worlds, the latter extending from the Altai to modern-day Turkey.
Grenet attempts to clarify the meaning and evolution of this notion over the centuries. We learn, in particular, that the image of Turan crystallises around the figure of its king Afrasyab who, born in the land of the Turks, fought against the Parthians and the Sassanians south of the Amu Darya River. Through literary sources, A. Caiozzo and C. Rhoné study the influence of pre-Islamic Iranian myths which, from the tenth century onwards, experienced a revival during the struggle for power between Iranian-speaking Ghaznavids and Turkic-speaking Central Asia, representing the mythical homelands of Iran and Turan respectively.
Gorshenina analyses the memory struggles in Central Asia during the Tsarist and Soviet periods. She examines the controversies that broke out over interpreting the Shahnama, making King Afrasyab the core of the Turan/Iran quarrel – a dispute continued after the dissolution of the USSR, when the national histories of the region’s newly independent states had to be rewritten. V. Grandpierre points out that the tentative utilisation of this conflict spurred heated debates, in the late nineteenth century, on the Turanian origin of the Sumerians. Refuting the assertions of Hungarian scholars, the author stresses the impossibility in the current state of research of affirming or denying the Sumerians’ belonging to the Turanian world. L. Dedryvère et S. Prévost then compare the differences between British and German research on the notion of Turan on the basis of linguistics, geography and ethnography, in an attempt to scientifically establish a kinship between the peoples described as Turanians in the context of European imperialism. Indeed, the authors believe that ‘the fortune of the Iran/Turan dichotomy’ reflects German racial theories that persisted until the 1960s.
Szureck turns his attention to nineteenth-century Turkish Turanism based on French theories developed at the time. Reviewing studies by French scholars, he concludes that ‘Turanity’ (an expression of Turkishness based on common brachycephalic features shared by the Ottomans and the peoples of the Eastern Balkans) had evolved from the 1930s onwards: it had then to rely not on physical criteria but on language, in order to spare the Ottomans the stigma of belonging to the Mongolian ‘race’. B. Ablonczy explains how much Turanism seduced the Hungarian intelligentsia in the early twentieth century: manifested in art and architecture, its ideology reappeared after the dissolution of the USSR. Finally, K. Ungvary describes the rise of Turanism in Hungary during the Interwar period, taking up an idea that, since the early nineteenth century, has haunted the Hungarians, caught between Austria and the Ottoman Empire: the choice between the East and the West. Turanism was understood by its followers as a return to the sources and prestige of the nomadic conquering peoples credited with the birth of civilisation, an idea still alive in Hungary.
The conclusion drawn in the volume’s introduction is, therefore, self-evident: if the modern reappraisals of the notion are conspicuous by their diversity, the precise location of historical Turan and the ethnic composition of its ancient populations remain a mystery. Perhaps may one regret that the book, which attempts to locate Turan geographically, lacks a map that would have enabled the reader to follow its demonstrations and developments.