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Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

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Migration of Iranian Tribes

In Progrees

The topic of the migration of Iranians do not make sense at all if we proceed from the assumption of the existence of the so-called Indo-Iranian community of the Aryans without an exact idea of ​​its location. Meanwhile, there are still discussions about whether the Aryans are autochthons in the places of their current residence (WITZEL MICHAEL. 2012). In their own way of interpreting the selected set of linguistic, anthropological, archaeological, and ethnographic data, scientists actually come to the question of what and to what extent determines the ethnos. Accordingly, tracing the migration paths of speakers of languages, anthropological types, and cultures, they cannot come to a common opinion and, using formal logical methods, end up engaging in scholasticism. In our research, we focus on the issue of migration of speakers of Iranian languages without regard to their racial type.

The ancestral home of the Iranians, determined by the graphic-analytical method, was located in the ethno-producing areas formed by the left tributaries of the Dnieper and the right tributaries of the Don. As a result, the so-called "East Iranian" languages were actually formed in the areas in the west of the Iranian territory, which stretch along the left bank of the Dnieper. Accordingly, the "Western Iranian" ones were formed in areas along the left bank of the upper Oka and the right bank of the Don, adjacent to the settlements of the Finno-Ugrians (see map below).


At left: The territory of the formation of the Iranian languages in the 2nd millennium BC


On the map, the boundaries of ethno-producing areas are marked with red and blue dots. The blue dots also mark the border between the "western" and "eastern" Iranian languages.


The reasons forcing the Irano-Aryans to leave their original habitats between the Dnieper and the Don may be different. Perhaps the transition of the Balts and the Anglo-Saxons to the left bank of the Dnieper set in motion the local Iranian population of the Zrubna culture. However, we can think about other reasons. Steppe areas could be abandoned due to climate change, which led to a decrease in the productive possibilities of the steppe. In any case, archaeological data indicate a temporary desolation of the Azov and Black Sea regions:


… in the 12th -10th BC comparing with the previous period the steppes between the Don and the Danube reveal a tenfold decrease in the number of settlements and burials. The same trend of decline in population is manifested in the Pontic steppe also in the subsequent Cimmerian era, which is confirmed by the absence of settlements and stationary burial grounds in this area (MAKHORTYKH S.V., 1997: 6-7).


Thus, the Iranian tribes moved in search of dwelling places with more favorable conditions. Evidenced fact is that their presence has been historically recorded in Central Asia at the end of the second millennium BC:


Iranian names appeared in the Assyrian written sources in the 11-10th cent. BC, and are associated with regions of Western Iran that were in the sphere of the political activity of the Assyrian empire. What happened further east at this time – in the Central and Eastern Iran – is not reflected in these sources (ARTAMONOV M.I., 1974: 10).


Left: Historical regions in Central and Southwest Asia during the time of the Achaemenid (7th-4th century B.C.)


Historical regions are shown on the map at right, help to restore the migration routes of Iranian tribes from Eastern Europe to Central Asia

Two points of view exist about the Iran-Aryans incursions to the Near East – a) the way through Central Asia or b) the way through the Caucasus (PIANKOV I.V., 1979). In North Ossetia, there are a number of toponyms containing the element of Gimara, which goes back to the ethnonym of the Cimmerians (TSAGAEVA A. Dz. 2010: 5). However, one cannot exclude the possibility of migration of Iranians to Asia Minor through the Balkans, which is reflected in Hittite sources (SOKOLOV S.N., 1979-2: 235).



Distribution of Iranic Languages

This map is based on work by Dr. of Columbian University Michael Izady (the original is here) .


Obviously, the resettlement of the Iranians went in several waves and paths, but the main route of movement of most of the Iranians was along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, and further along the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers to the south and southeast, as Kuzmina describes (KUZ'MINA E.E., 1986: 203-204), although the route through the Caucasus could also be used. Given the location of the territories of settlements of Iranian-speaking peoples at the present time (EDELMAN D.I., 1968: the map 1) and on the historical ancestral home in Eastern Europe (STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998: 76, Fig. 17), certain assumptions can be made. The last in the chain of transmigrators around the Caspian Sea were the Sogdians (the ancestors of the modern Yaghnobians) since they occupied the extreme northern region of the modern settlements of Iranians in Central Asia, adjacent to the Afghans, who were their northern neighbors also in their historical ancestral home. Their other neighbors in their ancestral home, the Ossetians, now populate the mountains of the Caucasus and, undoubtedly, have never been to Central Asia.

Some part of migrated Iranians remained in southern Kazakhstan in the foothills of the western Tien Shan among local Turkic population, as evidenced by the local place names: Madikent/Mankent, Orungent, Syutkent, Chimkent, having a partial word Ir. kent "town, village, space" (POPOVA V.N., 2000, 53). This word was accepted by Turks and was used for the names of settlements with Turkic components (for example, Tashkent out of taš "stone"). However, Shymkent settlement had to be founded by Iranians, likely by Sogdians (Yagn. čim "meadow, grass"). This interpretation is supported by the name of the Lugovoi village (Russian "on meadow"), also located in this area, evidently covered by thick grass at that time. There are also Iranian terms of orography of South Kazakhstan darbaza/darvaza "gate, entry, passage", dašt/dešt "steppe, plain, desert", zax/zexab "source, spring" (ibid).

The territory of modern residence of the Kurd, the other neighbors of the Sogdians on the ancestral home, gives the reason to suppose, that they have come to these places by some other way, then the first wave of Iranians, i.e., through the Caucasus or through the Balkans. If they moved around the Caspian Sea, they should have left behind many other Iranian wandering groups – this seems improbable. We have already noted that the extension of the residence or the resettlement of ancient people went sequentially according to their mutual location on former habitats. According to B. Gornung, this important feature of migrated Indo-European tribes was noted already by Franz Specht (GORNUNG B.V. 1963, 53). As the forebears of the Kurd and the Sogdians had their areas being adjacent in adjacency on the ancestral home, therefore, at the movement, in the same way, their new residences should not be so far from another as we have this at present. The most plausible way of the resettlement of the ancestors of the Gilaki and the Talishi to the southwest coast of the Caspian Sea, where they have their residences at present, was the way through the Derbent pass. First, it is the shortest way. Second, the Talyshi residence is in the vicinity of the Gilaki’s habitat now and, what is very important, to the south of them, h.e. this is exactly the same location as on the Urheimat. The disposition of their habitats had to be other if they would move in some other way. But whatever the migration path of the ancestors of the Kurd, Talyshi, and Gilaki was taken to the Middle East we have reason to believe that until that time, they, as well as the ancestors of the Ossets, left their Urheimats under the pressure of the Balts and Anglo-Saxons. However, they still remained in Eastern Europe, when most deals of the Iranians migrated to Asia. The ancestors of the Baluchi and Mazandarani were among these Iranian tribes as their languages belong to the same north-western group of the Iranian languages as Kurdish, Talyshi, and Gilaki.


The beginning of the Iranian migration.

The names of the tribes having formed the first wave of the migration are marked by red color.


Thus, we can assume that the first wave of Iranian immigrants in Central Asia was formed by the ancestors of the modern Sarikolis, Pamir Iranians (Shugnans, Bartangs, Yazgulams, etc.), Persians, Afghans, and Sogdians (Yagnobi), i.e., the Iranian tribes that settled in the southern part of the common Iranian territory and in areas along the Dnieper. It is natural to assume that these habitats were once occupied by other Iranian tribes, who for some time remained in Europe and they should be connected with historical Cimmerians. The above-mentioned climate change, which led to a decrease in productivity of the steppe, can not lead to its complete abandonment. Another thing is that the newly arrived population to the steppe could not be numerous and to maintain its existence, except for economic activity, was to looting neighboring populations of the forest-steppe zone.


General picture of the Iranian migration in Minor and Central Asia