Karluk: ethnopolitical history, economy, and culture
The Karluks were a prominent nomadic Turkic tribe residing in the regions of Kara-Irtysh (Black Irtysh) and the Tarbagatai Mountains west of the Altay Mountains in Central Asia. They were also known as the Gelolu. They were closely related to the Uyghurs. Karluks gave their name to the distinct Karluk group of the Turkic languages, which also includes the Uyghur, Uzbek, and Ili Turki languages. The Karluk language is also known as Chagatai.
Karluks were known as a coherent ethnic group with autonomous status within the Göktürk kaganate and the independent states of the Karluk Yabgu and Karakhanids, before being absorbed in the Chagatai Khanate of the Mongol empire.
The Karluks were a branch of the Turgesh or aboriginal Altaians.
The first Chinese reference to the Karluks (644) labels them with a Manichaean attribute: Lion Karluks .The "lion" (Turkish: arslan) Karluks persisted up to the time of the Mongols.
In the Early Middle Age, organized as the Uch-Karluks (Three Karluks) union, composed of Karluks, Chigils, and Yagma tribes, they were members of the Göktürk Kaganate. After the split of the Kaganate around 600 into the Western and Eastern Kaganates, the Uch-Karluks remained in the Western Turkic Kaganate under a non-autonomous home rule, as the members of the five Tele tribes that did not receive autonomy: the Karluk, Yagma, Kipchak, Basmyl and Chuban.
In 630, the Aru-Kagan (Chinese Helu) of the Eastern Turkic Kaganate was captured by the Chinese. His heir apparent, the "lesser Khan" Khubo, escaped to Altai with a major part of the people and 30,000 soldiers. He conquered the Karluks in the west, the Kyrgyz in the north, and took the title Ichju Chebi Khan. The Karluks allied with the Tiele and their leaders the Uyghurs against the Turkic Kaganate, and participated in enthroning the victorious head of the Uyghur (Toquz Oghuz). After that, a smaller part of the Karluks joined the Uyghurs and settled in the Bogdo-Ola mountains in Mongolia, the larger part settled in the area between Altai and the eastern Tien Shan.
In 650, at the time of their submission to the Chinese, the Karluks had three tribes: Meulo, Chjisy (Popou), and Tashili. On paper, the Karluk divisions received Chinese names as Chinese provinces, and their leaders received Chinese state titles. Later, the Karluks spread from the valley of the river Kerlyk along the Irtysh River in the western part of the Altay to beyond the Black Irtysh, Tarbagatai, and towards the Tien Shan.
By the year 665 The Karluk union was led by a former Uch-Karluk bey with the title Kül-Erkin, now titled "Yabgu" , who had a powerful army. The Karluk vanguard left the Altay region and at the beginning of the 8th century reached the banks of the Amu Darya.
In 766, after they overran the Turgesh in Zhetysu, the Karluk tribes formed a Khanate under the rule of a Yabgu, occupied Suyab and transferred their capital there. By that time the bulk of the tribe had left the Altai, and the supremacy in Zhetysu passed to the Karluks. Their ruler with the title Yabgu is often mentioned in the Orkhon inscriptions. In Pahlavi texts one of the Karluk rulers of Tocharistan was called Yabbu-Hakan (Yabgu-Kagan). The fall of the Western Turkic Kaganate left Zhetysu in the possession of Turkic peoples, independent of either Arabs or Chinese.
In 822 the Uyghurs sent four Karluks as tribute to Tang dynasty China.