Turanian tribal meeting in Hungary

A friend of mine sent me a link to a Hungarian-language paper published in Romania. The article he called my attention to was a detailed description of Kurultaj 2010, a three-day affair organized by the Hungarian-Turanian Foundation. I mentioned Turanism briefly when I talked about Endre Ady’s journalistic activities in the early twentieth century, mostly in order to explain the meaning of the Hungarian expression “Turanian curse.”

Hungarian Turanism is a nationalistic ideology that stresses the alleged origins of the Hungarian people in the steppes of Central Asia (Turan) and the affinity of the Hungarians with Asian peoples such as the Turks. It gained wide currency on the Hungarian political right in the years between the two world wars and became an element in Hungarian fascist ideology. Ferenc Szálasi was a great believer in the existence of a Turanian-Hungarian race; this idea was an important part of his ideology, “Hungarism.”

So, although some people might just laugh at the shamans, the iurtas, the falcons, and the archers who gathered this year at Kurultaj (meaning tribal meeting), there is more here than meets the eye. The organizers are skilled and managed to attract representatives from eleven nations “to celebrate friendship and common history.” Representatives of Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Uyguristan, Mongolia, Bashkiria, Bulgaria, and many ethnic groups from Russia attended the event. And what is worrisome that this distinctly far-right gathering managed to get a sponsor, Sándor Lezsák, a member of Fidesz and one of the deputy speakers of the house. Perhaps he doesn’t know the close connection between Turanism and Hungarism or perhaps he is fully aware of it and decided to sponsor the event anyway in order to appease those who are true believers and most likely the followers of Jobbik. In either case, the message is not encouraging because his presence there gives an implicit governmental stamp of approval.

The article in the Romanian paper was written by a woman who was obviously hooked. She described the event as “a three-day trance.” It wasn’t just an ordinary “program,” it was a “feast.” People urged her and her friends to attend because they “will discover only there what it means to be a Hungarian.” This is the second time that Kurultaj is held. The event has its so-called scientific roots in the “discovery” by András Zsolt Bíró, an anthropologist and human biologist, that the Hungarians’ closest relatives are a tribe called “madiar” in Kazakhstan. Well, there is a little problem here. According Klára Sándor, a linguist and Turkologist, “madiar” here means “good Muslim” and has nothing to do with the word “magyar.” Moreover, according to real linguists the word “magyar” is a relatively new development; earlier Hungarians called themselves “modzser(i).”

I did a little research on András Zsolt Bíró’s background. Since in practically all his publications he is described as a research fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the Hungarian Natural History Museum naturally I looked for him there. No sign of Dr. Bíró. Perhaps he used to work there but since his mind became clouded by Turanism and pseudo-scientific nonsense, the Museum had enough of him. In any case, Dr. Bíró takes all this rather seriously. Here is a picture of him during the festivities. Our Bíró is on the left.Kurultaj, Biro Andras Zsolt balra

But there is also an official shaman. His name is Zoltán Nagy Sólyomfi. I assume his ordinary name was simply Zoltán Nagy, but for a shaman this is not enough. So he added “Sólyomfi,” meaning “son of the falcon.” The shaman performed name-giving ceremonies. The relatives and friends “with great humility witnessed the ceremony turning towards the four cardinal points in addition to the sky and the earth” while little Bendegúz received this formerly rather unusual name. In the 70s no Bendegúz was born but since the 1990s it is becoming quite a popular name for boys. According to legend, Bendegúz was the father of Attila the Hun. One can see the ceremony here:Kurultaj-foldanya aldasa Bendeguzra

The shaman also performed marriage ceremonies pagan style which ended by covering the couple with horse skin. It was, according to our journalist, “an uplifting sight.” But perhaps the greatest interest surrounded the “Tent of the Ancestors.” One had to stand in line to see the skull of “Warrior Bene” and the reconstruction of his head. He was apparently one of the invaders who arrived in the Carpathian Basin in 896. But since the invaders were not all Hungarians, I really don’t know how they decided that “Warrior Bene” was a bona fide Hungarian.

Finally there was a rock opera entitled “The Blood of Nimrod.” Most people know his name from the Bible as the great-grandson of Noah, “a mighty hunter before God,” but according to Hungarian legend Nimrod was the mythical ancestor of all Hungarians. According to the legend first mentioned in Simon Kézai’s Gesta Hungarorum (13th century) Nimrod the mighty hunter had two sons, Hunor and Magor, themselves great hunters. The two young men surrounded by fifty warrirors encountered a handsome stag whom they followed and eventually came upon a group of beautiful women, among them the daughters of King Dula of the Bulars whom they married. Hunor’s descendants became the Huns and Magor’s the Hungarians. Although science has long since proved that the Huns and the Hungarians had nothing to do each other, such legends can greatly influence national consciousness. The first part of the rock opera centered around the Legend of the Miraculous Stag, while the second concentrated on Attila.

At the end there was a bonfire set by the shaman himself and the people rapturously listened to the sound of drums while they swore that they would meet again in two years’ time. The outfits these drummers wore remind me of the clothing of warriors found on huge historical canvases by nineteenth-century Hungarian painters. Here is a typical one: Mihály Munkácsy’s “Honfoglalás” (Occupation of the Homeland).

All this may seem like an innocent game of “traditionalists,” but unfortunately these events are manifestations of political trends that are not leading the country in the right direction. Falsification of history is one thing, but “Turanism” revives bad memories from the 1930s and after. Turanism means turning away from Europe. Turning toward the Asian past is denying everything that has happened to Hungary in the last one thousand years. It is a denial of the modern world and all its achievements. I would be curious what kinds of psychological impulses create the desire to join such groups. Whatever it is, it signals a society not at all sure of itself. Not sure where it comes from and where it is going. And I don’t think that Viktor Orbán’s new regime of cooperation will solve the problem.


  1. #1 and #2 of the 10 Commandments:
    ONE: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
    TWO: ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.’
    I’ll bet a week’s wages that the people who attend these events are also big-time active in their local churches. Tsk, tsk.

  2. At the present times, anything what Hungarians do concerning their myths and traditions is ridiculous, wrong and ought to be condemned. Right? No! Some Slovaks believe, they are descendent of Avars, Romanians think to be the rightfull heirs of the Romans, Jews say themselves the Chosen People of God and so on… Racial or ethnic intolerance may be observed in all these countries, as in many other places in the World. Then what’s different with Hungarians.
    By the way, I have observed many shamanistic celebration in Brazil, and I never found reason to laugh.
    Finally, the events of the Second World War are only a part of the History, not History itself. Despíte some Hungarian nazis used Hungarian historic symbols or national myths, there are no reason to throw them away (I mean the symbols and myths, OK?)

  3. Of course Mr.Rabóczkay could be right. There is a demand for a romantic narrative of the origins of Hungarians and about the origins of the Hungarian language. A lot of possibilities for all kind of swindlers and charlatans are offered now in Hungary.
    I heard a good story: at a public debate in Budapest, a lady was complaining about her son, who is a student at the St.Paul academy of Hit Gyülekezete, she did not understand why her son is learning Hebrew. A catholic priest who moderated the panel debate told her, because the bible was written in Hebrew. The lady screamed: “This is a lie, the bible was written in Hungarian.” So why should Hungarians not believe that the bible was written in Hungarian and that Jesus was not a Jew. Why should Hungarians not believe that the earth is a disc? After all we live in a postmodern world and any “narrative” goes.
    T.R.: „Racial or ethnic intolerance may be observed … Then what’s different with Hungarians.”?
    The racist murder of Roma (cigány) makes a difference. And to you as a Catholic it could make a difference, after all the victims are Catholics, they are your brothers and sisters.

  4. A Y-chromosomal comparison of the Madjars (Kazakhstan) and the Magyars (Hungary)
    American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Vol. 9999, No. 9999. (2009), NA.
    “The Madjars are a previously unstudied population from Kazakhstan who practice a form of local exogamy in which wives are brought in from neighboring tribes, but husbands are not, so the paternal lineages remain genetically isolated within the population. Their name bears a striking resemblance to the Magyars who have inhabited Hungary for over a millennium, but whose previous history is poorly understood. We have now carried out a genetic analysis of the population structure and relationships of the Madjars, and in particular have sought to test whether or not they show a genetic link with the Magyars. We concentrated on paternal lineages because of their isolation within the Madjars and sampled males representing all extant male lineages unrelated for more than eight generations (n = 45) in the Torgay area of Kazakhstan. The Madjars show evidence of extensive genetic drift, with 24/45 carrying the same 12-STR haplotype within haplogroup G. Genetic distances based on haplogroup frequencies were used to compare the Madjars with 37 other populations and showed that they were closest to the Hungarian population rather than their geographical neighbors. Although this finding could result from chance, it is striking and suggests that there could have been genetic contact between the ancestors of the Madjars and Magyars, and thus that modern Hungarians may trace their ancestry to Central Asia, instead of the Eastern Uralic region as previously thought. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.”

  5. To Erik: I appreciate the scientific informations you are giving.
    To K.P.: Well, the need of romantic narrative is not peculiar to Hungarians. There are people who consider themselves chosen by God. In comparison, Hungarians seem modests.

  6. I am Turkish,
    why do I have to be labbeled as fasict? if I feel there is a historical & cultural connection with a Khazak or a Hungarian?
    I think as long as it done with good intentions, its a good thing. Just becuase we are linked, which is scientific fact, does not mean we are facist if we acknowledge it.
    I am not going around burning books and putting people into ovens becuase of this beleif,
    sharing Paprika recipes and trying Ghulash is fun.

  7. Tibor Rabóczkay :
    To Erik: I appreciate the scientific informations you are giving.
    To K.P.: Well, the need of romantic narrative is not peculiar to Hungarians. There are people who consider themselves chosen by God. In comparison, Hungarians seem modests.

    Madjar = faithful muslim, it is not related with Magyar (Hungarian)

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