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The Turkic Challenge to Persian Supremacy in Premodern Central Asia

Frontiers of Persian Learning Lecture by Ron Sela (Indiana University)

Thursday, January 21, 2016
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
6275 Bunche Hall

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Persian emerged as a favored language of chancery, belle-letters, poetry and history-writing in much of Eurasia already during the Mongol Empire era, but its preferred status was neither inevitable nor without challenge. Indeed, the expansion of Turkic-speaking populations and the development of political and cultural patronage under Timur (Tamerlane) and later under new Chinggisid rulers in Central Asia led to the production of numerous texts in Turkic in diverse fields and subjects. Coupled with a concerted effort to make the written language accessible to lay audiences (an exercise that, it was implied, could only be achieved in Turkic), more and more written records in Turkic began to emerge in regional urban centers (Tashkent, Khiva, Balkh, Herat, Bukhara, Samarqand, Kashghar, etc.), often as distinct and self-conscious alternatives to Persian. In this paper I outline the types of Turkic challenges and their execution along three main lines of inquiry: a.) The articulation of the need for original Turkic-language histories and for significant translation projects (typically from Persian and Arabic); b.) The endeavor to make the language of these new written materials accessible to the people; and c.) The availability of professionals who could accomplish these tasks. I then discuss the mixed results of the Turkic endeavor.


Ron Sela is currently an Associate Professor (tenured) at Indiana University’s Departments of Central Eurasian Studies and International Studies. He has taught previously at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, spent a year as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute of Asian & African Studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and more recently he was a Member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Given the wide-ranging nature of his profession, Sela also plays an active role in several other units at Indiana University, including the Department of History, the International Studies Major, the Dhar India Studies Program, the Islamic Studies Program and the Russian & East European Institute among others.

Image from the Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts (flickr)

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, Center for India and South Asia, Program on Central Asia