The Gök türk rulers originated from the Ashina tribe, an Altaic people who lived in the northern corner of the area presently called Xinjiang. Under their leadership, the Göktürkler rapidly expanded to rule huge territories in north-western China, North Asia and Eastern Europe . They were the first Turkic tribe known to use the name "Turk" as a political name.
The state's most famous personalities other than its founder Bumin were princes and and the General Tonyukuk, whose life stories were recorded in the famous Orkhon inscriptions.
The name ''Tujue'' appeared in Chinese sources relatively late, the first record being dated 542 meaning "strong" or "powerful". Kök-Türks is said to mean "Celestial Turks", but this is contested. Alternate meanings are "Blue Turks", and "Numerous Turks"; as ''kök'' meant both "sky" and "blue" in the Köktürk language, and a similar sounding word stands for "root". This is also consistent with "the cult of heavenly ordained rule" which was a pivotal element of the Altaic political culture before being imported to China. Similarly, the name of the ruling Ashina dynasty probably derives from the term for "deep blue", ''āššena''. The name might also derive from a Tungusic tribe related to ''''.
According to the ancient East Asian cosmology outlined in the theory of the , to which the Turks have also ascribed since ancient times, the color blue is a symbol representing the eastern direction, and it is associated with good omens. The Guardian Deity of the Eastern Direction is the . Thus, it would not be surprising if the Göktürks had chosen to call themselves "Blue Turks" in the primary sense of "East Turks", with all the associated connotations of "first," "rising," "dawning," "auspicious," and so forth. Göktürk is pronounced .
Four hundred years after the collapse of northern Xiongnu power in Inner Asia, leadership of the was taken over by the Göktürks after rebelling against the Rouran. Formerly an element of the Xiongnu nomadic confederation, the Göktürks inherited their traditions and administrative experience. From 552 to 745, Göktürk leadership bound together the nomadic Turkic tribes into an empire, which eventually collapsed due to a series of dynastic conflicts. The great difference between the Göktürk Khanate and its Xiongnu predecessor was that the Göktürks' temporary '''' from the Ashina clan were ''subordinate'' to a authority that was left in the hands of a council of tribal chiefs. The Khanate received missionaries from the Buddhists, Manicheans, and Nestorian Christians, but retained their original religion, Tengriism. The Göktürks were the first Turkic people to write in a .
First unified empire
The Turks' rise to power began in 546 when Bumin Khan made a pre-emptive strike against the and tribes who were planning a revolt against their overlords, the Rouran. For this service he expected to be rewarded with a Rouran princess, ''i.e.'' marry into the royal family. Disappointed in his hopes, Bumin allied with the state against Rouran, their common enemy. In 552, Bumin defeated the last Rouran Khan, Yujiulü Anagui. He also subdued the Yenisei Kyrgyz and the Khitans of Western Manchuria, was formally recognized by China, and married the Wei princess Changle.
Having excelled both in battle and diplomacy Bumin declared himself Il-Qaghan of the new Göktürk empire at Otukan, the old Xiongnu capital, but died a year later. It was his son who consolidated his conquests into an empire of global reach. Bumin's brother Ist& was titled ''yabghu of the west'' and collaborated with the n Sassanids to defeat and destroy the White Huns, who were allies of the Rouran. This war tightened the Ashina's grip of the Silk Road and drove the into Europe.
Istämi's policy of western expansion brought the Turks into Eastern Europe. In 576 the Göktürks crossed the Cimmerian Bosporus into the Crimea. Five years later they laid siege to Tauric Chersonesus; their cavalry kept roaming the steppes of Crimea until 590. As for the southern borders, they were drawn south of the Oxus River, bringing the Ashina into conflict with their former allies, the Sassanids of Persia. Much of Bactria remained a dependency of the Ashina until the end of the century. The name refers to "ten arrows" that were granted by the khagan to five leaders of its two constituent tribal confederations, and Nushipi, whose lands were divided by the Chui River. The son of Ilteriş, , was also a strong leader, the one whose deeds were recorded in the Orkhon inscriptions. After his death in 734 the empire declined. The Göktürks ultimately fell victim to a series of internal crises and renewed Chinese campaigns.
When Kutluk Khan of the allied himself with the Karluks and Basmyls, the power of the Göktürks was very much on the wane. In 744 Kutluk seized Ötükän and beheaded the last Göktürk khagan Özmish Khan, whose head was sent to the Tang Dynasty Chinese court. In a space of few years, the Uyghurs gained mastery of Inner Asia and established the Uyghur Khaganate.
First Göktürk Empire
** 552 - 553 elder son of Tuwu
*** 553 - 554 son of Tumen
***Taspar Khan 572 - 581 son of Bumin Khan
**** 581 - 587 son of Kelou
***** 588 - 599 son of Shetu
****** 599 - 609 son of Chuluohou
******* 611 - 619 son of Rangan
******* 619 - 621 younger brother of Duoji
******* 621 - 630 third son of Rangan
**** 587 - 588 brother of Shetu
*** 554 - 572 younger brother of Kelou
*** 572 - 581 younger brother of Qijin
****Unknown title / Ashina Anluo 581 son of Tuobo Qaghan
Rival Qağans of Ishbara
*Rudan Buli Khan 580s
*Talopien Apa Khan 580s
*Tardu Datou Khan 599 - 603
**Ist& 553 - 573 second son of Tuwu
**Tardu Datou Khan 599 - 603
**Nili Khan 603 and 603 - 611
**Shekuei 611 - 618
**Tung Yabğu 618 - 630
**Yiwu Khan 630
Interim claimants of Eastern Turkic throne
*Qilibi Khan 639 - 644
*Chebi Khan ~646 - 649
* Ashina Nishoufu 679-680
* Ashina Funian 681
Second Göktürk Kaganate
*Ilteris Sad 682-694
*Qapagan Khaghan 694 - 716
*Inäl Khan 716
* Khan 716 - 734
*Kul Tigin Khan 716 - 731
*Yollug Khan 735 -
*Icen Khan - 744
*Etimis Khan 744-747
*Eletmish Kagan 747-759
*Bügü Kagan 759-779
Notes and References
*Findley, Carter Vaughin. ''The Turks in World History''. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0195177266.
*Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, 3rd ed. Article "Turkic Khaganate" .
*. ''The Empire of the Steppes''. Rutgers University Press, 1970. ISBN 0813513049.
*Gumilev, Lev. ''The Gokturks'' . Moscow: AST, 2007. ISBN 5170247931.
*Wink, André. ''Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World''. Brill Academic Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0391041738.
* Zhu, Xueyuan. ''The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities''. Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 2004. ISBN 7-101-03336-9.
* Xue, Zongzheng. ''A History of Turks''. Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press, 1992. ISBN 7-5004-0432-8.