This is a comparative study between three versions of the story of Köroğlu, one of the most widespread Turkic destans, shared also by some Iranian and other non-Turkic neighbouring communities. The author discusses the classical separation of the versions into two major groups, west and east of the Caspian Sea, the versions coming from the Southern Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan, being considered the earliest ones. The paper compares the first dated recorded version of the text, written in Persian in the vicinity of Tabriz in the 1840s at the request of the Polish scholar of Persian and diplomat Alexander Chodzhko, with mutually similar Turkmen and Tajik versions (first published, respectively, in 1980 and in 1987). In tracing the transformation of Köroğlu’s occupation from murderous outlaw in the western version to wise and just ruler in the eastern ones, it is suggested that the destan bears considerable influence from the Persian epic tradition.
The author sheds light, in particular, on the non totally fictional character of the Köroğlu of the Azerbaijani version—suggesting that there may have been more than one Köroğlu in the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Anatolia and Southern Caucasus. Judith Wilks then astutely suggests that not only did Chodzhko conform the nineteenth-century trend toward glorifying the heroic past when dealing with folklore, but that he had the heroes of the Shah-nama of Firdawsi in mind when doing the translation—the result being that sometimes Köroğlu’s words and deeds appear much nobler than would be appropriate for a crude bandit. Conversely, the similarities between the Turkmen and the Tajik versions are illustrated by numerous common features. The former is considered a transitional version: here the hero is the chieftain of his people, provided with a genealogy, though this does not prevent him from robbing caravans, whilst the supernatural element is also much increased in the narrative (this peculiar feature being seen as a sign of the disintegration of the heroic-epical texture of the destan, and of the beginning of its transformation into a folk romance).