Turkish Symbols

Reflections of Hun Period Turkish Motifs and Symbols in Art and Life
DOI :10.26650/B/AA09.2022.003   
AuthorGözde Sazak

One of the motifs of the study is the Kut-Alp Motif which concerns a pre-Islamic Turkish motif that describes the Kutlu Turkish Khan (Blessed Turkish ruler) and symbolizes all the Turkish khans throughout history. This motif is so coherent that it is as if a single soul came to the world at different times and was repeated over and over, taking control of the Turkish nation and saving it from extinction. Understanding Kut-Alp is to understand the deep meanings this work is attempting to penetrate. Indeed, the Kut-Alp motif is a brilliant mirror in which Turkish identity and the Turkish national spirit are fully manifested.
Of course, this research is beneficial in shedding light on Turkish history, especially the period of the Huns. The work’s aim reveals that the Huns established a civilization in which the contemporary Turkish identity has flourished. In fact, this civilization sends us messages from the past through magnificent works of art. These messages’ correct interpretation becomes possible through decoding artworks’ motifs and symbols, and this study’s decoding element is cognitive psychology, which, through my formal education, became a beneficial tool for solving and interpreting the codes hidden in artworks, in service of Turkish history.
When this research started, there existed no previous scale or categories for motifs and symbols, which include: böke, water of life, the kut power deal, wolf, tiger, stag, bull/camel, eagle, alp, and kut-alp (see Table 1 titled Hun Period Turkish Symbols and Motifs). After two years of painstaking and careful research and analysis, I created a ladder into the depths of meanings by classifying symbols under “kut-alp motif” categories. One of the most important foundations of this work was the Russian Federation’s State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the trip we made there with the BAP project (no. 21875) of the Rectorate. Our seven-day walk through the State Hermitage Museum’s long corridors resulted in approximately three thousand photographs of archaeological artifacts of Turkish art being recorded. In addition to this study’s physical achievements, the trip served as the gateway to our emotional world. Particularly when I entered the great hall in which the Pazyryk burials were exhibited, sensation was displaced, and the idea that these exhibits were more than simple artwork but actually carry messages from the depths of time engrained the hall forever in my mind. The desire to read and understand these messages became a passion.
Extensive studies, various interpretations of art from various sources, and various philosophical approaches first led to the creation of categories by only visual implementation. Similar elements caught my attention, helping to form categories of repeated motifs: curved serpentine dragon/stag/eagle with horned heads, wings, two horns, the three-point or three-slice pattern, circular motions, pointed teeth, biting movements, fish scale ornaments, and curved motion tree branches. Simultaneously, I began an in-depth study of the Turkish epics, finding that their motifs and symbols were described through the various meanings of a composition. These epics and my gathered visuals allowed for me to begin to unravel their meanings. A unique analysis and presentation method emerged through finding and matching the visuals to the epics (see Table 3 titled Arrival, Analysis, and Presentation Method). But a third dimension was missing. I wanted to reach the mind structure of the society that created these epics and artworks so as to find their true meanings and to see their reflected faces. At this point, C.G. Jung’s Archetypes and Collective Subconscious Theory helped me in assembling and assigning meanings.
In brief, first categorized visual images were made and then used to search for their repeated symbols and motifs within Turkish epics, matching the visuals together with written word. The key concepts developed from this interdisciplinary method are böke, kut-power exchange, and kut-alp concepts, through which we were able to uncover all other meanings of the motifs. To present this intricate analysis uniquely, we have reached what we call the “method of arrival from process to process” by developing the formula of “the curtain, the light behind the curtain, and the source of light behind the curtain.”
The first part of this work, which can be defined as the six structures of all these studies, is the solid foundation of all analyses in the “Huns on the Stage of History” and “Huns in Archeological Resources.” In Chapter One, we have once again written the usual political history, but the “Hun Culture” sub section, which is more important for our study, is used as an auxiliary element in our Arrival, Analysis, and Presentation Method, that is, analysis of the Huns’ identity from clues that reveal the meaning they give to life. These cultural features helped us imagine the daily life of that era.
“Huns in Archaeological Resources” consists of archaeological reports (the oldest and the most recent) and archaeological findings of Western and Russian scientists in Turkestan. There were discovered works of Turkish culture and art that helped us evaluate the geography and time period. These reports demonstrated that Turkish-Hun archeology occurred in parallel with migrations in political history. In other words, tracing the political history provided a map of archaeological areas. This assessment thus provided the opportunity, for the first time, to develop a ‘Coordinate map of the history and timeline of the Hun Kurgan and its cities’. It is possible to determine the kurgans’ coordinates of time and geography in Map 3 and in the Table of Coordinate Data in History and Time of Hun Kurgan and Cities in Chapter 2.
Finally, images of 115 examined archaeological finds were prepared in catalog form, the labeling system being self-developed. Accordingly, finds in the images were titled first by material and then according to the pre-determined motif category. After the image name, the kurgan, the region, the country from which the findings were extracted, and, finally, its current archive were stated. As seen by the labels, all pictures mentioned as Sazak 2013 belong to the photo archive created during my work in the State Hermitage Museum. Other art history1 and museum catalogs2 which we used in the painting catalog, are the most important works in their respective fields.
This study has benefited from more than two hundred and fifty resources in Turkish, English, German, and Russian. I had the opportunity to meet one of the most important Turkologs of Russia during the two separate Russian trips, one year from the BAP Project No. 21875: Professor Dr. S.G. Klyashtorny, Director of the St. Petersburg Oriental Institute, and Dr. T. İ Sultanov, history professor of St. Petersburg State University. As a result of our long scientific conversations, I had the chance to establish personal friendships with these valuable Russian Turkologists. At the State Hermitage Museum, the friendly relationship I established with Dr. N. Kozlova and Dr. J. Elikhina, the respective head and assistant of the Oriental Department, still continues on to this day. I must also take the opportunity and thank Assoc. Prof. Dr. A. Farzaliev for his close attention and assistance during my trip. In addition, during one visit to the Institute of Oriental Studies, Dr. L. Yu Tugusheva’s warm conversation and the tea she offered continues to warm my heart.
In addition to the State Hermitage Museum, the St. Petersburg Russian Ethnographic Museum, St. Petersburg Kunstkamera Ethnography Museum, and the Moscow History Museum were of immense value for creation of the archive of approximately three thousand photographs.
In Turkey, Ege University’s Turkish World Research Institute’s Fikret Turkmen Library was very useful for research into the Turkish epics. The Ircica Library, Boğaziçi University Library and the psychology brought from the United States symbolic anthropology, anthropology and archeology, archeology and humanities, literature-psychology, archeology books on the latest research and developments facilitated our overall reflections.
As a result of studies directed by Professor Dr. Mualla Uydu Yücel, we developed an analysis method that can reach the deep meaning of motifs and symbols, thanks to an interdisciplinary approach. As ancillary tools of this method, we have established the key concepts of böke, kut power deal exchange, kut-alp, and bridge.
Again, a presentation method especially for this work was created for ease of understanding these analyses, Arrival, Analysis, and Presentation Method and expressed it visually in Table 3.
Then, for the first time a classification and naming of motifs according to layers of meaning was created. This study is titled, Turkish Motifs and Symbols (see Table 1). Through this table, we developed a narrative methodology that can be applied to training modules at different levels. All the images in Table 1 are named according to the self developed labeling system and my work is listed in the Picture List section and catalogued in the Appendix section.
Finally, a map of archaeological excavation areas (kurgan and cities) from which the visual archaeological finds originate is shown (Table 1; see Map 3 titled Coordinate Map of Hun Kurgan and its Cities in History and Geography). In this study, maps have been prepared of ten archaeological regions described in the ‘Huns in Archaeological Resources’ section as Maps 4–13. In the coordinate list, as part of these maps, the kurgans’ latitude–longitude data, the period of the discovery, today’s geographical location names, and the archeological regions map are presented (see Table 2, titled Coordinate Data of Hun Kurgan and its Cities in History and Geography).
For the first time, an attempt has been made to shine light onto the true depths of meanings in Turkish motifs and symbols, in part through the interdisciplinary relations of psychology, archeology, and art history. In my opinion, implementation of this method has been opened the door into the metaphysical infrastructure of the Turkish identity, which culture and art history cannot fully explain. Areas yet to be investigated should be physically explored through interdisciplinary studies (e.g., language, history, archeology, psychology, art history), and results should be evaluated from a multi dimensional perspective, one of them, in my opinion, is military discipline. In addition, reflections of pre-Islamic Turkish motifs and symbols during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods should be examined in detail with the Arrival, Analysis, and Presentation Method created and implemented in this study.

SubjectsHumanities, Multidisciplinary


PublisherIstanbul University Press
Publish Date08.06.2022
Cover (PDF)
Front Pages (PDF)
Full Text (PDF)


Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.



Istanbul University Press aims to contribute to the dissemination of ever growing scientific knowledge through publication of high quality scientific journals and books in accordance with the international publishing standards and ethics. Istanbul University Press follows an open access, non-commercial, scholarly publishing.