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DOI :10.26650/SJ.2022.42.1.0011   IUP :10.26650/SJ.2022.42.1.0011    Tam Metin (PDF)

Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi

Umut Üren

Propaganda, günümüzde sosyal ve siyasî hayatın hemen her köşesinde etkin biçimde kullanılan eski bir tekniktir. Uygulama alanı her ne olursa olsun bir ikna sürecini temsil eden propaganda, tarih boyunca başvurulan bir yöntem olarak görülmektedir. Toplum tarihi ile yaşıt olarak anılan propaganda yönteminin farklı toplumlarda değişik araçlarla icra edildiği, günümüzde ise iletişim araçlarının yaygınlaşması ile birlikte tesir alanının bir hayli genişlediği anlaşılmaktadır. Propaganda tarihine yönelik çalışmalarda, bu amacı yerine getirecek farklı araç ve teknikler üzerinde durulmuştur. Yazıtlar, özellikle kadim dönemler söz konusu olduğunda etkili ve sıkça başvurulan yöntemlerden biri olarak öne çıkmaktadır. Çalışmamızda Köktürk Yazıtlarındaki ifadeler temele alınarak, propaganda ve psikolojik harp unsurları bağlamında değerlendirmelere tabi tutulmuştur. Özellikle askerî terminoloji hususunda oldukça zengin bir muhtevaya sahip olan Köktürk Yazıtlarının siyasî ve sosyal hayata dair söylemleri bu noktada elverişli bir görüntü arz etmektedir. Bununla birlikte, yazıtlarda yer alan askerî terminoloji üzerinden dönemin Köktürk ordu yapısına dair bazı açıklamalar da çalışma konusuna dahil edilmiştir.

DOI :10.26650/SJ.2022.42.1.0011   IUP :10.26650/SJ.2022.42.1.0011    Tam Metin (PDF)

The Evaluation of Köktürk Instructions in the Context of Military Propaganda

Umut Üren

Propaganda is an old technique used effectively in almost every corner of social and political life these days. Regardless of the application area, propaganda represents a process of persuasion process and is seen to have been used as a method throughout history. Propaganda, whose method goas as far back as the history of society, is understood to have been carried out using various means in different societies; these days, its sphere of influence has expanded considerably with the widespread use of communication tools. Studies on the history of propaganda have focused on the different tools and techniques used in fulfilling this purpose. Inscriptions stand out as one of the most effective and frequently used methods, especially when dealing with ancient times. Our study is based on the expressions in the Orkhon Inscriptions, evaluating them in the context of propaganda and the elements of psychological warfare. The Orkhon Inscriptions have very rich content, especially in terms of military terminology, and their discourses on political and social life present a favorable image in this regard. In addition, the study includes some explanations about the structure of the Orkhon army of the period through the military terminology in the inscriptions.


Propaganda is viewed as an indispensable element of modern war and has been used as an effective tool since people lived in communities. Propaganda activities carried out during both war and peace times appear as an element that enables societies to act together in line with a specific purpose. Definitions made about the content of propaganda focus on the motives for influencing a group by means of indoctrination. In this process, the owners of the discourse generally attempt to convince any group of the correctness and validity of their ideas without resorting to violence. When looking at the history of propaganda, similar efforts are seen to even have been made in the context of ruler-andruled relations in ancient times. Although such initiatives were not called propaganda in those times, they can be said to have served similar purposes in terms of content and application. Governments in ancient times attempted to transfer their ideas and experiences to society using propaganda-type activities for both political and military purposes. One encounters the means of propaganda to differ at this point. In fact, various tools have been used for this purpose in line with the technical possibilities possessed in the different divisions of civilization. Despite propaganda activities carried out verbally and in writing having quite different techniques, their aims can be said to meet on more or less the same point. In times of war, aims such as providing the motivation war requires by involving society in the process and neutral groups in the struggle or by alleviating suffering from troubles can be said to come to the fore; however, those in power in times of peace can be said to resort to such activities with the intention of ensuring their own legitimacy and strengthening their power.

Many examples of propaganda activities being carried out by means of monuments, mausoleums, or inscriptions located at the hub of social life were present in ancient times. Such structures are undoubtedly tools that have left traces on the imagination of the society to which they had visual appeal. These types of structures, especially those in the center of social life in communities with a settled life, ensure that everyone in that group can easily receive the message. In this respect, studies on the history of propaganda have felt the need to search for the first examples of such efforts in ancient Greek sites. Based on this view, these types of activities associated with the art of governing have been sought predominantly in settled societies. In addition to the Greek example, units of ancient civilization as China and Egypt have been referenced as regions where similar efforts had been made. The activities carried out by the church, especially in the Middle Ages, have been evaluated in the context of propaganda after the examples indicative pf very early times. The papal attempts at organizing the Crusades have been frequently mentioned in this context. In 1622, when Pope Gregory XV established the official propaganda office of the Catholic Church under the name of Sacra Congregatio Christiana Nomini Propaganda, the concept began to appear frequently in the literature with its own original content. Propaganda involving predominantly religious discourse became widespread in the West after this date.  

Technological developments, the spread of mass media, and the acceleration of printing activities in particular have greatly expanded propaganda activities and their sphere of influence. Similar efforts were made in almost every region as an indispensable element of war times, with propaganda beginning to be institutionalized following World Wars I and II. Having gained more systematic usage in modern times, propaganda has appeared with rich content in terms of historical examples. The elements of psychological warfare that can be evaluated within the framework of propaganda are an application that almost every society has resorted with quite a variety of techniques. In this respect, even contemporary propaganda researchers do not hesitate to talk about ancient Chinese example of psychological warfare and Sun-Tzu.

Propaganda and psychological warfare practices in history are not limited to settled communities, as current studies are intensely processing. Such efforts have also been seen in the steppe societies since very early times. The methods used by the Mongols with regard to psychological warfare in particular have been frequently mentioned. In addition, the inscriptions belonging to the Göktürk era, known as the Orkhon Inscriptions, also have a narrative that can be evaluated within the framework of propaganda. These inscriptions were erected by the Göktürk leaders and are on a mausoleum complex in terms of their location. This had appealed to the Göktürk society of the period both in terms of content and image. The Khans who prepared the inscriptions stated wanting the texts there to be known by everyone and thus erected them in places everyone could access. The events in the inscriptions are not just a simple battle narrative. The various experiences of the Göktürks and the wars they waged were conveyed in a focused literary language. In this respect, the texts appear quite far removed from a haphazard historical source. The Göktürk state rulers faced their society and ancestors through the inscriptions. They often felt the need to give advice. What should be paid attention to in terms of the survival of the restored state is emphasized over and over again with great complexity. Among the issues raised, particular attention was drawn to the hostile elements. At this point, China comes to the fore more compared to the communities mentioned in the context of hostility in the inscriptions. The inscriptions were erected during the Second Turkic Khaganate, and the information at hand shows the people around Ilterish Qaghan, who’d revived the state, to have been educated people since Tonyukuk. Tonyukuk prepared the first inscriptions and was a statesman who’d grown up in China. Tonyukuk, who knew China and its politics well, advised both Ilterish and his son Bilge Khagan as a consultant. China was where the Göktürks had experienced the most difficult struggles and is evaluated in the inscriptions from a different perspective. Although the Göktürks had light relations with China during the time of Bilge Khagan, the ancient point of view had not changed, and China’s negative aspects were emphasized. While warning society using examples from the past, the Khans also described how China thought from time to time and decorated the inscriptions with the bad events that could happen if they were to be fooled by their policies. 

One important detail in the Orkhon Inscriptions is the intensity of military terminology. These terms are observed to be repeated in many lines of the Tonyukuk, Kul-Tegin, and Bilge Khagan Inscriptions that we’ve examined. Some of the prominent concepts in the work have been evaluated in the context of military propaganda. However, the military terminology in question has allowed us to make some explanations about the Göktürk army structure. The literary language used while conveying the events in the inscriptions containing military terms is consistent, and the narrative is strengthened with certain similes and belief motifs. Expressions such as “The enemy’s soldier is like a sheep, and my father is like a wolf” are seen as types that would have positively affected the society’s warrior motivations. The extraordinary efforts of the Göktürk khagans in times of war have also ben conveyed very impressively.

Apart from the elements that we evaluate within the framework of military propaganda, many statements about the legitimacy of the Orkhon administrative family are understood to be present in the inscriptions. Propaganda is not only seen to have been a method used in times of war throughout history but to also have served as a tool of power for the rulers. Similarly, the Orkhon Inscriptions also have references to the sanctity of the ruling family. Such situations are interpreted together with the concepts of kut [happiness/fortune] and töre [customs] in old Turks within the work. Tonyukuk must be noted as having constructed a different discourse in terms of legitimacy compared to the three inscriptions we’ve evaluated. While describing both his military and administrative activities in the inscriptions he prepared, Tonyukuk lists his own efforts on behalf of the Göktürk community. Some of the struggles observed between the ruling family may also be traced in this narrative, because Bilge Khagan is mentioned only in 2 places in this inscription, while Kul-Tegin’s is not at all. A calmer portrait also stands out in the discourse on enemies. The Kul-Tegin and Bilge Khagan Inscriptions have discourses that become a little sharper. Perhaps this denotes a harsher discourse to occur with the title of khagan.

This study has evaluated the narratives in the Orkhon Inscriptions within the context of propaganda and is also important in terms of showing the implements the steppe khagans had regarding state administration. Through their discourse in the inscriptions, the khagans appear to have been people who knew their society and were knowledgeable about the policies of those they struggled against. Of course, inscriptions were not texts erected only for the khagans’ legitimacy or for military purposes. However, all the subtleties of the art of administration can be seen in these texts, which also have the quality of a policy book. The parts that we’ve compared with modern propaganda techniques show the Orkhon rulers during the ancient period to have developed a discourse construction that would not fail to fill the shoes of its contemporary elements. 

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Üren, U. (2022). Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi. İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi, 42(1), 129-161.


Üren U. Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi. İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi. 2022;42(1):129-161.


Üren, U. Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi. İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi, [Publisher Location], v. 42, n. 1, p. 129-161, 2022.

Chicago: Author-Date Style

Üren, Umut,. 2022. “Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi.” İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi 42, no. 1: 129-161.

Chicago: Humanities Style

Üren, Umut,. Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi.” İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi 42, no. 1 (Dec. 2022): 129-161.

Harvard: Australian Style

Üren, U 2022, 'Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi', İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 129-161, viewed 7 Dec. 2022,

Harvard: Author-Date Style

Üren, U. (2022) ‘Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi’, İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi, 42(1), pp. 129-161. (7 Dec. 2022).


Üren, Umut,. Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi.” İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi, vol. 42, no. 1, 2022, pp. 129-161. [Database Container],


Üren U. Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi. İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi [Internet]. 7 Dec. 2022 [cited 7 Dec. 2022];42(1):129-161. Available from: doi: 10.26650/SJ.2022.42.1.0011


Üren, Umut. Köktürk Yazıtlarının “Askerî Propaganda” Bağlamında Değerlendirilmesi”. İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyoloji Dergisi 42/1 (Dec. 2022): 129-161.


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