The Qırğır (隔昆, 堅昆, 紇骨, 契骨, Xερχίρ), also referred to as the Yenisei Kyrgyz, are the ancestors of the modern Qırğız, Altı Gırgıs, Xakas, and Altay people. They were one of the major Turkic tribes within Inner-Asia, west of the Xuŋa and southwest of the Tägäräk. The center of their former territory could be described as meeting point of the Upper and Lower Yenisey Rivers, near the Minusinsk Basin. After the collapse of the Xuŋa Empire, they split into various fragments, many carrying a variant of the name Qırğır.
Transcription and Etymology
The tribal name Qırğır has been variously transcribed as:
Gekun (隔昆) LH* kɛk-kuən < OC *krêk-kûn - Shiji
Jiankun (堅昆) LH *ken-kuən < OC *kîn-kūn - Shiji
Hegu (紇骨) LH *gət-kuət - Weishu
Qigu (契骨) MC *kʰiei-kwət - Zhoushu
Xerxir (Xερχίρ) AG *kʰerkʰír - History (Menander)
Its etymology is straightforward, deriving from Turkic *kɨr "steppe" and *ga[d] "tribe." Although their name ended with final -rʲ, it is not clear if they were originally Oghuric speakers or were simply late in the process of sound changes. For instance, the Xuŋa had evidently transitioned from *rʲ to *z before their words were ever recorded in the Shiji (refer to their Lexicon).
The ethnogenesis of the Qırğır tribe can be traced to at least the 3rd century B.C.E., sometime before the reign of Bağatur Darğa. In the Shiji, they are mentioned as a tribe north of the Xuŋa, inhabiting an area close to the Hun-yu (渾庾), Qıpçaq (屈射), Tägäräk (丁零), and Sir (薪犁) tribes. Academia Sinica places them at the coordinates 96.48, 53.35, near the Minusinsk Basin. Brosseder & Miller’s (2011) compilation of Xuŋa sites map a Xuŋa settlement near this location as well. The cultures referred to as the “Tagar Culture” and its succeeding “Tashtyk Culture” were also based in the area around the Minusinsk Basin and no doubt contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Qırğır tribe. Turkic speaking ethnic Scythians likely had a sizeable population among Western Turkic tribes such as the Qırğır.
The archeological findings of the Tagar and Tashtyk Culture match the depiction of early Turkic people, especially those associated with the Tägäräk, a tribal confederation that historically included the Qırğır.
These funeral masks, likely belonging to the elite, suggest an Eastern phenotype and are somewhat comparable to a 6th to 5th century C.E. Hunnish mask unearthed in Moŋğulkürä (Zhaosu County), Uyğuristan (East Turkistan):