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The Kay? or Kai tribe (Middle Turkic: , romanized: Kay; Turkish: Kay? boyu, Turkmen: Gaýy taýpasy) were an Oghuz Turkic people and a sub-branch of the Bozok tribal federation. In the 11th century Mahmud al-Kashgari cited Kay? (Kay) as of one of 22 Oghuz tribes in his D?w?n Lugh?t al-Turk. The word kay? means "the one who has might and power by relationship".
In his history work Shajara-i Tar?kima, the khan of the Khanate of Khiva and historian, Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur, mentions Kay? among 24 Oghuz Turkic tribes, direct descendants of Oghuz-khan, who was the ancient progenitor of the Oghuz people. The name of the tribe translates as "strong". In his extensive history work "Jami' al-tawarikh" (Collection of Chronicles), the statesman and historian of the Ilkhanate Rashid-al-Din Hamadani also says that the Kay? tribe comes from the oldest of Oghuz Khan's 24 grandchildren who were the patriarchs of the ancient Oghuz tribes, and the name Kay? means "powerful".
Hungarian scholar Gyula Németh (1969) links Kay?(?) to a (para-)Mongolic people whom Muslim scholars called Qay, also known to Chinese as Xí (< MC *?iei ?), to Tibetans as Dad-pyi, and in Göktürk-authored Orkhon inscriptions as Tatabï; however, Németh's thesis is rejected by Köprülü among others. Later on, Németh (1991) proposes that Mg. Qay is derived from Tk. root qað- "snowstorm, blizzard"; nevertheless, Golden points out that Qay has several Mongolic etymologies: ?ai "misfortune", ?ai "interjection of grief", ?ai "to seek", ?ai "to hew".
According to Ottoman tradition, Osman I, the founder of Ottoman Empire, was a descendant of the Kay? tribe. This claim has, however, been called into serious question by many modern historians. The only evidence for the Ottomans' Kay? descent came from genealogies written during the fifteenth century, more than a hundred years after the life of Osman. More significantly, the earliest genealogies written by the Ottomans did not include any reference to Kay? descent at all, indicating that it may have been fabricated at a later date.
However, one proof that Osman I was actually related to the tribe and that Ottoman tradition was correct is that after the death of his grandfather, his father, Ertu?rul and his uncle, Dündar, migrated to Sö?üt with 400 members of the tribe.
The famous Oghuz Turkish folk narrator, soothsayer and bard Gorkut-ata (Dede Korkut) belonged to the Kay? tribe. In the 10th century, the Central Asian Oghuz Yabgu State was headed by supreme leaders (or Yabghu) who belonged to the Kayi tribe.
According to Soviet archaeologist and ethnographer Sergey Tolstov, part of the Kayi tribe moved in the Middle Ages from Central Asia to modern day Ukraine, they are known in the Old Russian Chronicles as kovuy and kaepichi, yet Golden considers the Kaepichi to be descendants of the para-Mongolic Qay instead. According to the famous Soviet and Russian linguist and turkologist A. V. Superanskaya, the origin of the name of the city of Kiev is associated with the Kay? tribe:
"As ethnographers testify, ethnically "pure" peoples do not and cannot exist. On the contrary, new peoples arise from ethnic mixes of two or more peoples, usually assimilating the best features of each. There are many folk legends that the beginning of a nation was laid by two (or several) brothers ... Apparently, something similar lies behind the legend of Kiy, Schek, Horev and Lybed. The tribal name Kyy (Kiy) belonged to the ancient Turkic peoples. It is still present in the names of tribal structures of modern Turkic peoples ".
With the Russified name Kaitag (Mountain Kay?) the Kay? tribe played a prominent role in the history of the Caucasus, and now the Kaitag language is classified as one of five dialects of the Kumyk language, which for ten centuries (10-19 cc.) was a lingua franca in the North Caucasus. Kaitag principality was a leading component of the Shamkhalate of Kazi-Kumukh state on the Caspian western seaboard that in different forms lasted from the 8th to the 19th centuries. Kaitag textiles, stamped out under the Soviet rule, remain distinct in their artistry and workmanship.
In Turkmenistan, the Kay? tribe is one of the main divisions of the Geklen Turkmens living in the Balkan region and consists of the following clans: adnakel, ak kel, alatelpek, bagly, barak, burkaz, ganjyk, gapan, garabalkan, garawul, garagol, garagul, garada?ly, garakel, garga, gary?maz and others. The Kay? are also a clan among the Bayat Turkmens of the Lebap Region.
That they hailed from the Kay? branch of the O?uz confederacy seems to be a creative "rediscovery" in the genealogical concoction of the fifteenth century. It is missing not only in Ahmedi but also, and more importantly, in the Yah?i Fakih-Akpa?azade narrative, which gives its own version of an elaborate genealogical family tree going back to Noah. If there was a particularly significant claim to Kay? lineage, it is hard to imagine that Yah?i Fakih would not have heard of it.
Based on these charters, all of which were drawn up between 1324 and 1360 (almost one hundred fifty years prior to the emergence of the Ottoman dynastic myth identifying them as members of the Kay? branch of the Oguz federation of Turkish tribes), we may posit that...
In fact, no matter how one were to try, the sources simply do not allow the recovery of a family tree linking the antecedents of Osman to the Kay? of the O?uz tribe.