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Who are Yuruks?

Who are Yuruks?

Cover photo: antitopor.com

The nomads from Anatolia who were engaged mainly in animal husbandry and lived either on the plains or in the high mountains, were called Oghuz Turks. They were also called Turkmen. Instead of the word “nomad” which included such definitions as “military”, “brave”, “fast”, “strong”, they started using the word “yuruk”. The name was used for all nomadic communities, especially for Oghuz Turks.

In the 11th century, the Oghuz Turks, living in Central Asia, passed Iran and after the victory in Malazgirt (September 1, 1071 the Seljuk army under the command of Sultan Alp Arslan defeated the army of the Byzantine emperor Roman IV Diogenes) settled in Anatolia. There they pursued their previous lifestyle. During the Islamization, Oghuz Turks began to spread throughout Anatolia. Some of them were leading a normal life and were called Turkmen, while others continued migrating and were called Yuruks.

During the rule of the Anatolian Seljuks and their principalities, Oghuz Turks were used as a military force. Seljuks, Ottomans and Yuruks were constantly fighting for territories. Under the rule of Osman Gazi Yıldırım Yuruks were defending the roads, building defenses. When the Osmans seized the territory of Balkans, a significant part of the nomads moved there. During the reign of Sultan Murad Khan, the nomads were sent to Sereza (Crimea) where they settled and helped with conquests. The resettlement of nomads to the Balkans continued more intensively during the reign of Osman Gazi Yıldırım.

Under Sultan Murad II and Sultan Fatih Mehmet, the nomads were sent to new conquered places. Like other citizens, they were granted citizenship and  some tax breaks. They were officially considered taxpayers and liable for military service. Yuruks were used in the army as an auxiliary force in the construction of buildings. Depending on the geographical location, they were used as a labor force: in shipbuilding, in the protection of roads, for the repair of public buildings. During the resettlement, Yuruks were living in the common tents.

The resettlement of nomads to the Balkans and their placement in the conquered places became the common policy of the Ottoman Empire. However, in some time, the migration of Yuruks slowed. The policy, however,  was conducted by the end of 18th century. A part of the migrants resettled by choice and not as a result of the state policy.

During the uprisings and revolts in the Ottoman Empire, the routine of the inhabitants of Anatolia was disturbed. The riots also changed the life of Yuruks. In order to ensure the administrative power over the nomads and prevent possible damage, the state made them settle in ordinary houses. The forced housing was aimed at ensuring the restoration of destroyed and vacant dwellings and cultivation of lands. It was also aimed at controlling the bandits whom the state itself couldn’t control.

In 1863, the Ottoman troops were defeated near Vienna and that intensified the bandit movements. That’s why in 1961 measures were taken for the final settlement of nomads.

Nomads in the Balkans united in the movement “Evlad and Fatihan”. They were used for military purposes. The Turk Yuruks living in Anatolia, namely in Hamma, Humus, Raqqa, Aleppo, were trying to prevent the raids of tribal gangsters. On March 18, 1692 a decree was signed according to which seventy more families from different prefectures and provinces were resettled. They were settled in the districts of Adana and Marash with a prescription not the leave those places. From 1693 to 1728, the Yuruks settled in the provinces of Kayseri, Pinirbashi in the territories of destroyed villages. In addition, nomadic communities scattered in the territories of Antalya, Isparta, in the mountains of Kozan, Chukorova, were settled in the Tasheli steppe, in the territory of southern Anatolia. Meanwhile, a decree issued in 1732 for Central Anatolia was canceled after the nomads were transferred to the respective territories. In addition, various nomadic communities were resettled in many established cities and towns in Mountain Toros, while some residents of Alanya were sent to Cyprus.

Since the nineteenth century, the financing of the nomads became more organized. The governors, who were appointed to the prefectures, where mostly the Yuruks settled, tried to discipline them. Starting from the times of Tanzimat (reforms related to modernization in the Ottoman Empire), abandoned lands and lands that the former owners had abandoned were chosen for  Yuruks. Thus, lands for them were chosen in the territories of Bursa, Konya, Ankara, Sivas, Aydin. Many nomadic communities were settled in order to create new cities - Islahiye, Adana, Aleppo, Marash, Anteb.

Today, all the migrated nomads have a permanent place of residence, but there are those who still continue leading  the former, nomadic way of life, living in the Taurus Mountains. The rules and legal provisions related to nomads were included for the first time in the so-called Fatih law (the basic law of the Ottoman Empire,). According to the law, Yuruks were united for administrative and military purposes. The law said that when going to war Yuruks had to provide themselves with all the necessary equipment. The law also divided  Yuruks into groups and exempted from taxes. After the war, they were given lands.

One person from the nomads was chosen as a chief. The chiefs were sharing the tasks within each other. At first the group consisted of twenty five persons then it increased up to thirty. Every fifth person of the group went to serve the state, while others were his assistants. All of them were exempt from paying several types of taxes.

In the villages, houses and the territories where Yuruks were living, accidents were often happening. In case of any accidents, they dealt with a lawsuit. Cadis were engaged in affairs related to Yuruks. They were also responsible for the choice of those Yuruks who would join the army and for the transport of the Yuruks’ animals.

Even living in Anatolia, Yuruks continued living in accordance with the traditions they had had in Central Asia. Their life was subject to certain rules. The rules were generally related to customs. In the summer they lived in the highlands, in the winter they moved to warm steppes. This order of life had been formed over time. There were nomads who rented pastures. Some tribes had their own pastures where all the animals of the tribe could graze. They owned houses, gardens, animals. Houses,  that looked like tents, were called yurts. In order not to mix the animals of one tribe with the animals of another, they were marked. Nomads were cultivating wheat, barley, corn and vegetables in order to feed sheep, goats, other cattle and camels. Dairy products and milk were their main food.

The clothes and household products they were making themselves. At the same time, the nomads didn’t have a closed economy. In order to buy something, they descended from the mountains, sold their own products and bought what they needed with the money they had received. The wheat and similar products they were bringing to sell in Istanbul. Those Yuruks who fed goats lived in tents made of wool, others - in tents made of felt. The tents consisted of several sections: sections of rest, sleeping and making food. As a rule, the tents were divided into 5-9 parts. The large tents were intended for the animals. In the section for rest they were laying out carpets and putting pillows on the sides.  

The structure in the family was built on male domination. Yuruks practiced a single marriage. However, the married children continued to live in the family of the father. Therefore,  Yuruks had large families. The marriage among close relatives was also practiced.

Yuruks had rich customs and  folklore. The migration of the nomads was due to certain principles. The migration in the steppe took place in the spring. The heads of the tribes used to announce the day when the migration would start. A day before it, Yuruks were preparing everything necessary for the journey. On the eve of the day,  all things were packed, immersed in the camels and covered with carpets. Small and large hangs were hung on the forehead of the camels. In front of the whole caravan, the bride used to ride, dressed in ceremonial clothes with a piece of wool in her hands. At the edges of the caravan were walking young men with weapons. The children of the heads of the tribes, the women, the young ladies were walking in front or near the animals. After a long journey, they were settled in a steppe and returned back in the autumn. The nomads had their own festive ceremonies: engagement, wedding, circumcision.

The engagement and wedding customs are still practiced. The boy comes to the family of the girl, he chose. If he receives a positive response, he drinks coffee at the girl’s house. Otherwise, he and his relatives should leave the house immediately. Having received the answer “yes” and taking a vow, the women from the groom go to the bride’s house to prepare her for the engagement. They prepare jewelry, gold, silver and dress. The Muslim religion forbids giving money for the bride, that’s why the groom’s side gives the bride jewelry, clothes, kitchen utensils, as well as gifts to her relatives. This ceremony is called “on the road”.  If the girl is from another village, the groom’s father sends gifts to every house in that village. He may send cups, dinner sets, sugar, coffee. The owners of the house invite the groom to their house and help him with the preparations for the wedding. When the wedding begins, both parties, both from the groom and the bride, treat the guests.

Before the wedding, they stage henna night in the house of the bride. A day before the bride leaves for the groom’s house, a chest with her gifts and dowry is placed in front of the door. They cover the bride’s face with a cape and put her on the horse. Then, the dowry is delivered to the groom’s house. In front of the groom’s house, the bride is taken off from the horse. One of the groom’s relatives meets her with money, grapes, sugar and wheat. The groom’s father meets the bride, gives gifts and makes a promise. Other relatives also meet her with gifts and invite her to the groom’s house.  

At the same time, the groom prepares for the ceremony. He puts on the wedding suit, goes to the priest of the village and prays for a righteous marriage. After the pray, the friends of the groom take him home.  

The next day, the women visit the bride. This ceremony is called “opening the veil”. In a week, the groom and bride come to the father-in-law’s house, kiss the hands of the eldest and invite him and the mother-in-law their home. The day is called “day of kissing hands”.  

Nomads were given names in accordance with their affiliation to one or another tribe: Kai, Bayat, Karaevli, Yazyar, Doger, Dodurga, Yaparly, Avshar, Kyzyk, Begdili, Karkyn, Baindyr, Pechenek, Chavundur, Chepni, Salur, Amir, Alavuntlu, Yuregir, Igdir, Bugduz, Kınık. Today, many villages in Anatolia are called so. Yuruks settled  in Central, Southern and Western Anatolia. Today they have spread throughout the country: Ankara, Bolu, Kastamonu, Balıkesir, Manisa, Kutahiya, Afyon, Ushak, Izmir, Aydin, Antalya, Konya, Aksaray, Niida, Nevsehir, Adana, Hatay, Gaziantep, Marash. Nomads who lived in large groups, were divided into small groups and concentrated in different places. The Yuruks from Central Anatolia moved to Ankara, Tokat and Kirshehir region. A large group of nomads was distributed in Bursa, Inegale, Nevshikhera, Aksaray. Very few Yuruks remained to live in the villages.

If in Anatolia  Yuruks were scattered throughout all the territory, in the Balkans they lived more organized. There they spread all the way to Bulgaria, Serbia and Thessalonniki. Yuruks in the Balkans were divided into eight groups. Each group had its name, tied to the place of residence.

Nomads living in the Balkans helped the Ottoman army during the conquests, so their number decreased over time. After the Ottomans lost the Balkans, the nomads gradually began to leave this territory and settle in Anatolia.  A part of the nomads, which remained in the Balkans, today mostly lives in Yugoslavia, is engaged in animal husbandry, preserves its traditions and structure.

Today, Yuruks living in Aydin, Manisa, Antalya, Mula, Adana, Balıkesir, have a permanent place of residence. But there are also those who adhere to the ancient order of life. They live in the mountains and lead a semi-settled nomadic lifestyle.

Translated Manan Ajamyan

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