Picture Muravyov
The old Turkmens Picture-Muravyov

The Qipchaq were originally one of the seven tribes that composed the Kimek federation. After the Kyrgyz defeat of the Uighur in 840, the Kimek moved westwards towards the steppes adjacent to the middle reaches of the river Irtysh, and perhaps the Ob. Ibn Xurdâdhbih wrote in about 875:

“As concerns the King of the Kimek, he changes his tents according to the grazing land.”

The anonymous author of the Hudûd al-Âlam (982) described the territory of the Kimek as possessing ⌠only one town but many tribes■. The Kimek:”…

The separation of the Qipchaq from the Kimek seems to have been in some way associated with the movement of an Altaic tribe known as the Qun. The Qun were attacked by the Qay and were forced to invade the lands of the Sari, who might have been a part of the Qipchaq. Some say the Qun and the Qipchaq are one and the same, hence the alternative name Quman. Having separated from the Kimek, the Qipchaqs moved to the southwest, settling close to the border with the Pechenegs. By the 1030’s the Qipchaqs and allied tribes of Chughraq (or Yigraq) and Küchet were already harassing the borders of Khorezm.

The Seljuk defeat of the Oghuz in Khorezm in 1042 shattered the latter’s control of the Syr Darya and opened the door to the Qipchaq tribes that were pressing on them from the north. The Qipchaqs moved quickly into the Syr Darya delta, the eastern shores of the Aral Sea and the steppes surrounding Khorezm. By the end of the 11th century, the Qipchaqs occupied all of the Aral Sea and northern Caspian regions previously controlled by the Oghuz tribes, the western Altai in the east and the Volga and Ural Rivers in the west. The Qipchaq federation absorbed not just some of the Oghuz, but also the Kimek and many other tribes in the region, such as the ancient tribes of Bashkirs and Uighurs who lived to the north and to the east of the Aral Sea. During the 12th century the process of ethnic assimilation continued, with the western Qipchaq absorbing the Bulghars and other tribes. The eastern Qipchaq merged with the Oghuz-Kimek, the Karluk, the Kara Kithay and others. In time they all became known by the general ethonym “Qipchaq”.

Meanwhile the Oghuz tribes who had migrated into Turkmenistan and Afghanistan during the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries maintained their independence from the Qipchaqs and increasingly became known collectively as the Turkmen. The nomads of western Central Asia had become polarised between the northern Qipchaqs and the southern Turkmen.

Writing in about 1120, Sharaf al-Zaman al-Marvazi, a physician to the Sejuk court, referred to the use of both tents and trellis tents by the Oghuz Turkmen. Although the Turkmen acknowledged the authority of the Mongol Qaganates, and later Khorezm, they retained their cultural independence until the Soviet period. As such the design and decoration of their yurts remained relatively isolated from external influence for many centuries.

Like the Kimek the Qipchaqs most probably used both the trellis-walled yurt and the covered cart, although early information about them and their dwellings is sparse. A few Qipchaq carts have been recovered from the excavations of 12th century kurgans in the viscinity of Dnepropetrovsk. The Codex Cumanicus, which may date from the 13th century, shows that they called their cart an araba, virtually the same word as today’s arba, whilst a dwelling was called an ew. As we shall see, ibn Battuta described their covered carts on the Qipchaq steppes at a slightly later date.

The Qipchaqs played an important role within the Empire of Khorezm in the pre-Mongol period. According to Juvaini, the Khorezmshah Mohammed used a yurt during the Mongol invasion in 1221. After crossing the Amu Darya at Termez he was warned of an assassination attempt and changed his sleeping quarters. In the morning his yurt was like a sieve, peppered with arrow holes. The archaeologist Tolstov uncovered 13th century yurt rings at Chirik Rabat close to the Jana Darya.

Web Resource: History of the Karakalpak webpage