Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Turkey | Mardin | Deyrulzafaran Monastery

Deyrulzafaran Monastery is located about three and half miles from downtown Mardin. Every travel agent in town offers a stop at the monastery on one their tours of the local sites, but there does not seem to be any public transportation. A taxi costs 25 lira ($11.77), which seemed rather exorbitant. I tried to bargain the price down to 20 lira with several different taxi drivers but to no avail. The last one got a bit huffy and unleashed a barrage of Turkish at me which did not seem be at all friendly. So I decided to walk. If I can’t walk three and a half miles in an hour it is time to hang up my walking cane. At ten on the morning it was still fairly cool and the walk out of town went quickly. I soon arrived at the turnoff to the monastery at the village of Eskikale. From here it about a mile to the monastery through sparsely vegetated hills inhabited by flocks of sheep and the occasional horse and frolicking colt.  

Outside of the monastery were half a dozen big tour buses, dozen or more minivans with tour groups, and a sprinkling of private vehicles. Just outside of the monastery grounds is a new visitors center with an extensive gift shop and a cafe with abundant patio seating. After quaffing down two liters of water I bought a six lira ticket and entered the monastery. 

Deyrulzafaran is one of the oldest monasteries in the world. It was founded in 439 on the site of a former sun-worshippers’ temple, as was the Mor Behnam and Mort Sara Church. Unfortunately only the main courtyard and several rooms fronting on it, including a small chapel, are open to the public. 
Deyrulzafaran Monastery (click on photos for enlargements)
Deyrulzafaran Monastery
Main entrance to Deyrulzafaran Monastery
Gateway leading to the inner courtyard
The inner courtyard
The inner courtyard
Walkway fronting on the courtyard
Walkway fronting on the courtyard
Dining Hall in the monastery
Chapel in the monastery
View of the plains of Mesopotamia from the monastery
It was quite a bit warmer by the time I started walking back to Mardin. I did not have a hat, and the sun was uncomfortably hot on my head, freshly shaven just this morning. I was just about out of steam by the time I reached the main road back to Mardin. Maybe it was time for me to hang up my walking cane. Then a car stopped. Inside were three downright gorgeous women who looked to be in their twenties or early thirties. The driver asked me in a strong French accent if I needed a ride. The woman were from France but were working in Istanbul. They had flown to Mardin the evening before, rented a car, and were taking in the sites. They planned to fly back to Istanbul tonight. They were now on their way to Midyat. We drove to the edge of town and they dropped me off at the cutoff to Midyat. Back in the Mardin town square I saw one of the taxi drivers who had turned down my offer of 20 lira earlier. “Manastir—yirmi besh! (monastery—twenty-five lira),” he offered, I held out my ticket stub to the monastery and made walking motions with my fingers. He snorted, clearly not believing I had walked to the monastery and was back in time for lunch. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Turkey | Mesopotamia | Mardin | Mor Behnam and Mort Sara Church

My first morning in Mardin I wandered out of my “butik” hotel—almost every hotel in Mardin claims to be a “butik” (boutique) hotel—at six o’clock, just as the sun was coming up. 
Gazi Konagi “Butik Otel”—Boutique Hotel (click on photos for enlargements). 
Three hundred feet above to the right the sun was just illuminating the cliffs and walls of the Mardin Citadel. 
Mardin Citadel looming above the town
Another view of the Citadel
A few hundred feet down the road I noticed a tea house called Camli Kösk Kiraat Hanesi, apparently the only place open on the street open at this hour. Although there was some very up-scale hotels—“butik” of course—nearby, this place was rustic: wobbly old tables and rickety wooden chairs, with faded black and white photos of local notables in what looked like nineteenth century suits on the walls. Around two tables laden with tea glasses codgers and graybeards played cards. Whether they had been there all night or were just early risers was unclear. The card game looked like it might have been going on for years. A short bald-headed man in his sixties came up with arms outspread, smiling broadly, eyes twinkling, as if I were an old acquaintance who has just returned to town.  “Please, please, sit. My name is Sharif. What is your language? German? . . . English, you say? I speak Arabic—I am Arab—Turkish, Kurdish, little French, very little English . . . Please, tea? Turkish coffee?” 

I ordered Turkish coffee with a little sugar. As the man bustled off several of the ancient card players slowly swiveled their heads in my direction and stared at me. Several give me tentative nods and waves. I got the feeling I qualified as an event in this tea room. Sharif brought my coffee along with half a glass of water. “Do you have Mirra? I asked. Sharif clapped his hands in apparent delight. “You like mirra? he beamed. “Of course, of course, we have mirra, one moment please.” He returned a couple of minutes with a small metal pitcher and a small expresso-sized cup. Mirra is highly concentrated coffee with the consistency of a light syrup. He poured a small splash of the tarry black liquid into the cup and held it out to me. From a Kurdish acquaintance of mine I knew that mirra etiquette required that I take the cup directly from his hand—he would not place it on the table—and toss back the mirra in one go, like a shot of whiskey, then hand the cup back. If you wanted more you went through the motions again. Hardcore mirra addicts sometimes did four or five shots at a time, the equivalent, I was told, of twelve or fifteen cups of regular coffee. I had two shots, then settled back to finish my Turkish coffee. This was very similar to my usual breakfast while traveling of three shots of expresso with a latte grande chaser. (Before anyone leaves a comment reminding me of my past Diatribes Against Coffee Drinkers, allow me to point out that at home in my hovel in Ulaanbaatar I am strictly a Tea Drinker. It is extremely difficult to find good tea while traveling, however (outside of China at least), so while wandering I tend to indulge in coffee). 

Braced up by mirra and Turkish coffee, the coffee world’s equivalent of a boilermaker—a shot of whiskey and a beer—I headed back out onto the street (the Turkish coffee cost 1.5 lira (71 cents), compared with four to six lira in Istanbul, and another lira for the mirra). A few hundred feet past the town square, where a few early morning mini-buses were picking up passengers, a sign on the side a building pointed the way up a side street to the Mor (saint) Behnam and Mort (female saint) Sara Church. The narrow street led up the hill to a stone portal opening into the courtyard of the church. 
Street leading to Mor Behman Church
I went in and down on a low stone wall. The place appeared to be deserted, but the still of the early morning I soon made out the sound of a low monotonous chant, like the droning of bees. Following the sound, I entered a smaller courtyard and what appeared to be the main part of the church. The door to the church was closed and bolted, but putting my ear to it I could clearly hear a chanted liturgy. I wanted to knock but I did not have the nerve to interrupt. Returning to main courtyard I sat again on the low stone wall and performed my own morning orisons, although admittedly not those dedicated to the Galilean or his alleged Father. Soon a young man in jeans and Nikes strode by and into the small outbuilding housing the steeple of the church. Then he rang the church bell for about a minute. Church bells may have first tolled on this site 1445 year ago. 
Outbuilding and steeple of the Church. According to the caretaker, this part of the church may date back to the sixth century.
The story of church begins with Mor Mathai (i.e., Saint Matthew, but obviously not the Matthew of Twelve Disciples fame), who was born in the early fourth-century near Amida (modern-day Diyarbakir) just north of Tur Abdin. The region was then part of the newly established Byzantine (East Roman) Empire. Under the first Byzantine emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306–337) Christianity had been declared the official religion of the Empire. Monasteries dedicated to the now officially sanctioned religion sprung up in the Tur Abdin region and Mathai entered one of the these. Then in 361 the nephew of Constantine, Julian “the Apostate”, became emperor of the Byzantine Empire. (For a marvelously entertaining fictional portrayal of this intriguing character see the novel Julian, by Gore Vidal; of Greco-Roman persuasion himself, Vidal was sympathetic to Julian.) 

Appalled by what he perceived to be the deleterious effects of Christianity on Byzantine society, Julian attempted to undo the work of his uncle by introducing his own idiosyncratic blend of Greco-Roman polytheism and neo-Platonic paganism. In early 362 he issued an edict guaranteeing freedom of religion, which in effect ended Christianity’s status as the official religion of the Empire. Although all religions were now supposed to be equal before the law, Julian obviously favored the followers of the old Greco-Roman gods. Christians were stripped of the rights and privileges they had enjoyed under previous emperors and before long outright persecutions of “Galileans”—Julian’s term for Christians—commenced. (Himself a writer of some note, Julian penned a polemic against Christianity entitled Against the Galileans which is still in print today and gets four star reviews on amazon.com.) Anti-Christian sentiment eventually reached the Tur Abdin region and Mathai and other monks were forced to free south, beyond the reach of Julian and his paganish minions. (Also see The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World.)

Mathai eventually found refuge at Mount Alfaf, a mountain looming above the Nineveh plain about eighteen miles north of current-day Mosul in Iraq. This region was then part of Persian Sassanian Empire, where Zoroastrianism was the favored religion. Christianity was not officially recognized as a permissible religion in the Sassanian Empire until 409, but even before then Christians were tolerated, especially those who had fled from the Byzantines, the long-standing enemy of the Sassanians. In this environment Mathai found refuge. He built a hermitage on the side of Mt. Alfaf and eventually earned a reputation as a holy man and healer. Soon people were streaming to his hermitage to receive his blessing and be healed of their mental and physical afflictions.

One day Behnam appeared at Mor Mathai’s hermitage. Behnam was the son of the ruler of Abiadene, a kingdom in northern Mesopotamia located between two tributaries of the Tigris River; the Great Zab River, which originates in Anatolia, near Lake Van, and the Lesser Zab, which finds its source in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. The capital of Abiadene was Arbela (Arbil, in current-day Iraq). Once part of ancient Assyria, Abiadene eventually fell under of the sway of the Parthian Empire, later the Roman Empire, and finally, by the beginning of the second century a.d., the Iranian Sassanians. Although the area soon became a stronghold of Syriac Christianity, Behnam’s father, Sennacherib, espoused Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Sassanians. 

One day Behnam decided to go on a hunting trip to Mt. Alfaf region, in the north of Abiadene. He soon spotted a large deer and set out in pursuit of it. The deer led Behnam and his party to a valley just below Mt. Alfaf before it managed to escape. They camped in the valley and that night Behnam had a dream in which an angel appeared and told Behnam that there was a man living on the mountain who could show him the way to eternity. The next day Behnam climbed the mountain and came to Mor Mathai’s hermitage. Here he saw the deer which he had followed the previous day. He now noticed that it had a cross emblazoned on its forehead. Behnam then met Mor Mathai, who introduced him to the Christian Gospels and promised him that whoever believed in Jesus, the son of God, would be rewarded with eternal life. Behnam did not convert to Christianity at this time, but he had been impressed by Mathai’s saintliness and apparent healing powers. Before returning home he asked Mathai to come go to Arbela and treat his sister Sara, who was suffering from leprosy. Mor Mathai eventually traveled to Arbela but he did not enter the city. Instead, Behnam brought his sister out of the city to meet him. Mor Mathai told Sara about the miracles which Jesus had supposedly performed and instructed her in the teachings of Christianity. She decided to convert to Christianity and allowed Mor Mathai to baptize her. When she emerged from the baptism she was, according to legend, cured of her leprosy. Inspired by this apparent miracle, Behnam and forty of his companions also decided to be baptized and became Christians. (An alternative version of this legend suggests that Sara herself traveled to Mor Mathai’s hermitage at Mt. Alfaf and was cured of leprosy there. According to this variant Behnam, his forty companions, and Sara were all baptized together at Mt. Alfaf) 

Mor Mathai warned Behnam and his sister that they might be subjected to persecution by the Zoroastrians of Abiadene, but they averred that they would be happy to die as martyrs. When King Sennacherib heard that his son and daughter had converted he was infuriated, and he ordered them to renounce Christianity. They refused and attempted to flee to Mt. Alfaf and seek refuge with Mor Mathai. Soldiers sent by Sennacherib in pursuit of Behnam and his forty companions and his sister eventually caught up with them near Nimrud, in what is now Iraq, and killed them all. This took place in 350. According to legend, before they died both Behnam and Sara prayed that their father would also convert to Christianity. Soon afterwards Sennacherib fell seriously ill, and in desperation he sent for Mor Mathai. The holy man cured the king, who then decided to convert to Christianity himself. Thus were Behnam’s and Sara’s final prayers answered. 

The grateful Sennacherib later donated land near the south summit of Mt. Alfaf to Mathai. In 363 Mathai founded a monastery on the site. This monastery, named after Mor Mathai, eventually became famous for its Scriptorium, which contained an extensive collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts. From the eleventh through nineteenth centuries the monastery was looted numerous times by Kurds who lived in the area, but it still exists to this day. Each September 14th Christians of various Eastern (non-Chalcedonian) sects would meet at the monastery to commemorate the day of Mor Mathai’s death. Whether this tradition still exists in the unsettled conditions of modern-day Iraq is unclear. Mor Mathai’s original hermitage, where he first met with Behnam, is also said to still exist. In the sixth century a Persian merchant built a shrine on the hill near Nimrud where Behnam and his party were martyred. Later a monastery grew up on the site. The monastery reportedly still exists and is now administered by Syriac Catholics.

The church dedicated to Saint Behnam and Saint Sara in Mardin was built in 569 a.d. on what was previously the site of a sun-worshippers’ temple. The church is still used by the Syriac Orthodox community in Mardin and is the headquarters of the metropolitan bishop of Mardin. 
The Church of Saint Behnam and Saint Sara
Plaque in the wall or church displaying Syriac script. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. 
Plaque in the wall or church displaying Syriac script
Residence on the church grounds constructed with region’s characteristic tawny limestone.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Turkey | Mesopotamia | Mardin

Wandered out to Mardin, in southeast Turkey, 673 miles east-southeast of Istanbul, on the very border between Anatolia and Mesopotamia. The Syrian border is about 14 miles to the south, but there are few visible signs of the war in Syria in this part of Turkey. Mardin is famously located on the side of a 3700-foot high hill overlooking the great plain of Mesopotamia. The southern edge of the town is at about 3000 feet, but at the Syrian border the elevation has already dropped to 1600 feet, almost 2000 feet lower than the town. 
 The hillside city of Mardin (click on photos for enlargements).
 The great plain of Mesopotamia viewed from Mardin—home of Suberians, Hurrians, Elamites, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Romans, and Byzantines—and that’s just up the fourteenth century!—and beloved by current day Neo-Mesopotamians.
 The town of Mardin
 Most of the lanes running up and down the town are staircases. 
 The narrow streets of Mardin. 
The 170-foot high minaret of the Great Mosque (Ulu Camii), built by order of Qutb ad-din Ilghazi in the 12th century. As you probably know, Qutb ad-din Ilghazi was the ruler of the Artuqid Turks, who in the 12th century established an emirate more-or-less independent of the Saljuq Sultanate of Rum. The mosque originally had two minarets, but one was reportedly destroyed by Amir Timur (Tamurlane). 
Courtyard of the Great Mosque
Mardin is the jumping-off point for the region known as Tur Abdin, “Mountain of the Servants of God” or “Mountains of the Hermits”, which rumor has it may contain a Portal to Shambhala. More on Tur Abdin to follow . . . 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Bakharzi | Bayan Quli | Sorqaqtani

Update: I just got an email from Well-Known Mongolian Artist Soyolma informing me that there is now a best-selling book in Mongolia (in Mongolian language) about the life of Sorqaqtani.

Wandered out to the Fathabad district, about two miles east of the old historical core of Bukhara, to visit the mausoleum of Saif ed-Din al-Bakharzi. The mausoleum complex is now in a nicely laid out park surrounded by four-lane highways and Soviet-era apartments blocks. Bakharzi was born in Khorasan (now northeastern Iran) and studied religion in Nishapur and Herat before moving to Gurganj (now Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan). Gurganj was the capital of Khwarezm, the land on either side of the lower Amu Darya River, including the broad delta estuary of the river on the southern edge of the Aral Sea. By the beginning of the thirteenth century Khwarezm had become the core province of the Khwarezmian Empire, which under the leadership of Muhammad Khwarezmshah (r. 1200-1220) included a huge swatch of Asia from the Caspian Sea to the Indus River. Bakharzi had early on shown an inclination toward mysticism, and he may have been attracted to Gurganj by the presence of Nadjm ed-Din Kubra, who would eventually be recognized as one of the thirteen century’s great mystics. In any case, he became a disciple of Kubra, apparently while still a teenager. 

Nadjm ed-Din Kubra was born in Gurganj in 1145, the son of fabric merchants who studied religion on the side. As a child he experienced what he called the “loosening of the bonds of the intellect,” apparently mystical experiences during which he was temporary removed from the strictures of consensual reality. Reining in these impulses, he devoted himself to the conventional study of hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), seeking out teachers in Nishapur in Khorasan, Hamadan and Isfahan in Iraq-i Ajam (northwest Iran), Mecca, and finally Alexandria in Egypt. From Alexandria he drifted on down to Cairo, where he fell under the sway of a Sufi teacher by the name of Ruzhedan. Under Ruzhedan’s supervision Kubra did several forty-day retreats and engaged in other Sufi practices. Ruzhedan was so impressed by Kubra’s progress along the Sufi path that he came him one of his daughters in marriage. Kubra went on to study with a succession of Sufi teachers in Cairo and in Dezful, in Iraq-i Ajam. While in Dezful one of his teachers, Esmail il-Qaṣri, declared that Kubra was qualified to become a teacher himself. He returned to Cairo to get the blessing of Ruzhedan and then made the long journey back to Khwarezm, arriving in Gurganj in 1184. In Gurganj Kubra eventually gathered around him a group of some sixty students, including an inner circle of twelve particularly gifted devotees. Because of his teaching abilities, his followers gave him the nickname Shayk-e walitaras, the “saint manufacturing saint.” Bakharzi was apparently one of Kubra’s sixty students—whether he was in the inner circle or not is unclear—and it was later said that he was one the saints who Kubra “manufactured.” 

In 1219 Chingis Khan invaded the land of the Khwarezmshahs. Otrar, Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, and other cities in Mawarannahr (Transoxiania) quickly fell to the Mongols. In the fall of 1220 Chingis ordered his two sons Chagaadai and Ögödei to invade Khwarezm and take the capital of Gurganj. Word of the holy man in Gurganj had Chingis Khan himself. According to one near contemporary account, Chingis Khan:
had heard of the Shaykh of Shaykhs and the Polestar of Saints [Kubra], and knew somewhat of his character [and] he sent him a message that he intended to sack Khwarazm [Gurganj] and massacre its inhabitant, and that one who was the greatest man of his age should come out from it and join him, now that the moment had arrived for the incidence of the catastrophe. “That I should come forth from amongst them,” replied the Shayk, “would be an action remote from the way of virtue and magnanimity.” 
The historian Nur ad-Din Abd ar-Rahman Jamī (1414 –1492) tells what happened next:
When the Tartar heathen [Mongols] reached Khwarazm, the Shaykh (Kubra] assembled his disciples, whose number exceeded sixty . . . The Shaykh summoned certain of his disciples . . . and said, “Arise quickly and depart to your own countries, for a fire is kindled from the East which consumes nearly to the West. This is a grievous mischief, the like of which hath never heretofore happened to this people (the Muslims)”. Some of his disciples said, “How would it be if your Holiness were to pray, that perhaps this [catastrophe] may be averted from the lands of Islam?' “Nay,” replied the Shaykh, “this is a thing irrevocably predetermined which prayer cannot avert.” Then his disciples besought him, saying, “The beasts are ready prepared for the journey: if your Holiness also would join us and depart into Khunlsan, it would not be amiss.” “Nay,” replied the Shaykh; “’here shall I die a martyr, for it is not permitted to me to go forth.“ So his disciples departed into Khurasan . . . When the heathen entered the city, the Shaykh called such of his disciples as remained, and said, “Arise in God's Name and let us fight in God's Cause.” Then he entered his house, put on his Khirga (dervish robe), girded up his loins, filled the upper part of his Khirga, which was open in front, with stones on both sides, took a spear in his hand, and came forth. And when he came face to face with the heathen, he continued to cast stones at them till he had no stones left. The heathen fired volleys of arrows at him, and an arrow pierced his breast. He. plucked it out and cast it away, therewith passed away his spirit. They say that at the moment of his martyrdom he had grasped the pigtail of one of the heathen, which after his death could not be removed from his hand, until at last they were obliged to cut it off.
Later a mausoleum in his name was built on the outskirts of Gurganj. It can still be seen there today, but whether or not his body is actually in it remains a matter of conjecture. 

Bakharzi was one of the students of Kubra who escaped from Gurganj before the Mongols sacked the city. He settled in the outskirts of Bukhara, which itself had been sacked by the Mongols a year earlier and quickly attracted students of his own. They became the Bukhara core of the Sufi sect known as the Kubrawiya—followers of the teachings of Kubra. Eventually a complex of dwellings, meeting places, and schools for members of the Kubrawiya grew up the Fathabad district. Word of the illustrious Sufi teacher in Bukhara eventually spread far and wide. Berke Khan, the son of Jochi, Chingis Khan’s oldest son, and the Khan of the Golden Horde from 1257 to 1266, heard of Bakharzi and travelled to Bukhara to met him. The record is unclear, but Bakharzi may have been instrumental in the conversion to Islam of Berke Khan, the first important Mongol to do so.

Word of Bakharzi also reached Sorqaqtani, arguably the most influential woman in the Mongol Empire in the mid-thirteenth century. Sorqaqtani was daughter of Jakha Gambhu, the younger of brother Tooril (a.k.a. Tughrul, Wang Khan, Ong Khan, etc), ruler of the Keraits, a powerful tribe in Mongolia around the time of Chingis’s Khan’s rise to power. Tooril was the blood brother of Chingis Khan’s father Yesükhei and later Chingis’s own patron and ally. Tooril’s headquarters were in the Tuul River valley, near the site of current-day Ulaanbaatar. Later Marco Polo would retail the story that Tooril was the legendary Prester John, the Christian king who would come to the aid of European Crusaders in the Mideast by attacked Muslims from the rear, as it were. Tooril in all likelihood had never heard of the Crusaders and its doubtful if he had any interest in politics outside of the Mongolian Plateau. HIs name may have became connected with the Prester John legend because many of the Keraits, and possible Tooril himself, were Nestorian Christians. This branch of Christianity, declared heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 a.d., migrated eastward to escape persecution and eventually become known as the Church of the East. Following the great trade routes east, Nestorian Christianity reached Xian, the main eastern terminus of Silk Road, no later than the 780s. It eventually spread northward across the Gobi Desert and onto the Mongolian Plateau, where it found adherents among the Keraits and other tribes. It was not clear if Jakha Gambhu was a Nestorian Christian, but his daughter Sorqaqtani most definitely was. 

Around 1203 Tooril, afraid of Chingis Khan’s rising power among the tribes of the Mongolian Plateau, plotted to have him assassinated. The plot failed, and in retaliation Chingis Khan annihilated the Kerait nation. Jakha Gambhu attempted, however, to stay on Chingis’s good side, and to cement their relationship he offered up three of his daughters as peace offerings. The oldest of them was married to Chingis himself (he later gave her away to one of his favorite generals); the middle daughter was married to Jochi, Chingis’s oldest son; and the youngest, Sorqaqtani, was wed to Tolui, Chingis’s youngest son, while she was still a teenager. 

Tolui and Sorqaqtani went on to have four sons: Möngke, Khubilai, Khülegü and Ariq Böke, Tolui died relatively young, at the age of 40, in 1232. According to the Persian historian Ata Malik Juvaini, he became a victim of his own successes: “the world his thrall and the heavens subservient to his wishes, he became excessively addicted to the circulating of cups of wine from morn till eve, and a malady over took him such that two or three days did not pass before he died.” Juvaini was the hired pen of Khülegü, Tolui’s son, so it seems unlikely he would so relate such an unflattering story if there was not some truth to it. Chingis’s third son, Ögödei, offered to marry the newly widowed Sorqaqtani, but she refused. She also turned down an offer to marry his son, Güyûk, explaining that she needed all of her energies to raise and educate her sons. Thus began two decades of maneuvering which eventually made at least three of her sons rulers of immense khanates. According to Juvaini, 
. . . in the management and education of all her sons, in the administration of affairs of state, in the maintenance of dignity and prestige and in the execution of business, Beki [Sorqaqtani], by the nicety of her judgement and discrimination, constructed such a basis and for the strengthening of these edifices laid such a foundation that no turban-wearer [men, in general] would have been capable of the like or could have dealt with these matters with the like brilliance. 
Even the spurned Ögödei listened to her counsel and bowed to her wisdom in matters of state: 
In any business which [Ögödei] undertook, whether with regard to the weal of the Empire or the disposal of the army, he used first to consult and confer with her and would suffer no change or alteration of whatever she recommended. The ambassadors . . . too held her in great honour and respect; and the dependents and subjects of her Court in nearest and farthest East and West were distinguished from those of all the other princes by the dignity and protection they enjoyed, and because of her zealous concern for each of them individually their lives were contented and carefree.
Ögödei’s eldest son Güyük had been named Great Khan of the Mongols in 1246. He transmigrated in 1248, and for three years his widow Oghul Qaimish ruled as regent. Sorqaqtani had been busy behind the scenes, however. According to Juvaini, after her husband Tolui had died,
. . . she had won favor on all sides by the bestowing of gifts and presents upon her family and kindred and dispensing largesse to troops and strangers and so rendered all subject to her will and planted love and affection in everyone's heart and soul, so that when the death of Güyük Khan occurred most men were agreed and of one mind as to the entrusting of the keys of the Khanate to her son Möngke Khan. For the report of her wisdom and prudence and the fame of her counsel and sagacity had spread to all parts, and none would gainsay her word. Furthermore, in the management of her household and in the ceremonial of her court she laid for kinsmen and stranger such a foundation as the khans of the world had not been capable of.
 Sorqaqtani’s politicking succeeded, and she lived to see her first son Möngke Khan named Great Khan in 1251. Her second son Khülegü would overthrew the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in 1256 and found the Ilkhanate in what is now Iran, Iraq, and parts of Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey. Her third son Khubilai ruled as Great Khan of the Mongols from 1260 to 1294 and founded of the Yuan Dynasty in China. For a brief time in the early 1260s Ariq Böke, her fourth son, claimed the title of Great Khan, but he was eventually overthrown by his brother Khubilai. Such was Sorqaqtani’s legacy to world history. 

Although she remained a Nestorian Christian to the end of her life, Sorqaqtani, like many of the Mongolian ruling class, was remarkably ecumenical when it came to religious matters. According to Juvaini: 
 . . . her hand was ever open in munificence and benefaction, and although she was a follower and devotee of the religion of Jesus she would bestow alms and presents upon imams and shaikhs and strove also to revive the sacred observances of the faith of Mohammed (may God bless him and give him peace!). And the token and proof of this statement is that she gave 1000 silver balish that a college (madrasa) might be built in Bukhara, of which pious foundation the Shaik-al-Islam Saif-ad-Din of Bakharz should be administrator and superintendent; and she commanded that villages should be bought, an endowment made and teachers and students accommodated [in the college]. And always she would send alms to all parts to be distributed among the poor and needy of the Moslems; and so she continued until . . . the year 649 [February-March, 1252], when the Destroyer of Delights sounded the note of departure.
Bakharzi became the mudabbir (principal) of the madras and mutavalli (administrator) of the endowment set up by Sorqaqtani, and under his leadership the Sufi complex continued to grow until he transmigrated in 1261. HIs son Abu al-Muzaffar Ahmad succeeded him as leader of the Kubrawiya in Bukhara. Around this time the region was thrown into upheaval by the internecine wars between various feuding Mongol factions and as a result very little is known about the fate of the Kubrawiya in Bukhara for the next forty or so years. 

Abu al-Muzaffar Ahmad died in 1312 or 1313 and was replaced by Barkhazi’s grandson Abu al- Mafakhir Shaykh Yahya. Under his leadership the Kubrawiya again flourished. He had over the years managed to became quite wealthy, and he used his money to purchase eleven agricultural villages. A portion of the income from these villages he placed in an endowment which was to provide for the upkeep of the Kubrawiya complex, including a mausoleum for the remains of his grandfather Barkharzi. Three copies for the deed of endowment, signed on August 1, 1326, can still be found in Uzbeg archives. Presumably Sorqaqtani’s endowment was also still contributing to the upkeep of the complex. 

Seven years later, in 1333, legendary Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta (1304–1368-69), who spent more than thirty years traveling around the Islamic world, arrived in Bukhara. At the time, according to Ibn Battuta, the city was still feeling the effects of the Mongol irruption: “This city had once been the capital of the cities lying across the Jaihun River [Amu Darya], but the cursed Tatar Tinghiz [Chingis Khan] . . . destroyed it so that all of its mosques, madrassahs and market-places lay in ruins, with a few exceptions.” Ibn Battuta was wrong to blame Chingis Khan himself for the desolation he saw. Chingis had sack the city 113 years earlier, and according to most sources, including Juvaini, Bukhara had rebounded in the aftermath. The desolation which Ibn Battuta claims to have seen was the result of the vicious infighting between the various contestants for control of the Chagaadai Khanate. 

The one exception to the gloomy picture of Bukhara painted by Ibn Battuta was the Kubrawiya complex. According to Ibn Battuta:
We alighted in a suburb (rabat) of Bukhara known as Fathabad, where there is the tomb (qahr) of the learned, devout, ascetic shavkh Sayf al-Din Bakharzi, one of the great saints . . . This lodge is connected with the shaykh; it is immense, and has vast endowments from which travellers are fed. Its superior, Yahya al-Bakharzi, is one of his descendants. He entertained me in his home, and invited the prominent men of the city [Bukhara] for the occasion. The Koran-readers recited with beautiful modulations, the preacher delivered a sermon, and they sang melodiously in Turki and Persian . . . We passed there a wonderful night.
In 1358 the mausoleum of the Mongol ruler Bayan Quli was added to the complex. He had reigned as the nominal khan of the Chagaadai Khanate, to which Bukhara belonged, from 1348 to 1258, when he was assassinated by a rival. It is not clear if he himself belonged to the Kubrawiya sect, but he apparently was inspired by the spiritual legacy of Barkhazi and wanted to be entombed near Barkhazi’s own mausoleum. The mausoleum of Bayan Quli still stand, heavily restored, next to the mausoleum of Barkhazi.

The original mausoleum of Barkhazi seen by Ibn Battuta was later replaced with the mausoleum which now stands on the site. Historical data on the current mausoleum is lacking. The caretaker of the mausoleum and various ephemeral sources—tourist guides to the city, brochures, etc.—indicate only that it was built in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The generally accepted date for the end of Chagaadayid rule in the region and the beginning of the reign of Amir Timur—Tamerlane—is 1370. Thus it is not clear if the mausoleum was built during  the Chagaadayid or Timurid eras. If it was built in Timurid times then the mausoleum of Bayan Quli, built in 1358, may be the only remaining Chagaadayid—Mongol—monument in the city of Bukhara. It is indicative of those turbulent times that the mausoleum contains the body of a Mongol killed by another Mongol.
The Mausoleum of Bakharzi, dating to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The mausoleum of Bayan Quli can be seen in the background to the right (click on photos for enlargements).
The tomb of Bakharzi. According to the caretaker the skull of Bakharzi was removed from the tomb, in 1940 he believes, and taken to Moscow for study. It was later returned and is now in the tomb with the rest of the body.
The Mausoleum of the Mongol khan Bayan Quli. This may be the only Mongol-era monument remaining in Bukhara.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Uzbekistan | Tashkent | Bukhara

I had pretty much wrapped up My Spice Buying Expedition in Istanbul, but while I was in the neighborhood I thought I better wander by Bukhara, in Uzbekistan. There is a red-eye special leaving from Istanbul for Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, at 11:55. pm. I arrived in Tashkent at 7:30 the next morning amidst a major snowstorm. The plane for Bukhara was not scheduled to leave until 3:35 pm, so I spent the rest of the day sitting in the domestic terminal rereading Barthold’s Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, the absolute bible for the history of Inner Asia up until the time of the Mongol irruption. I had rather unwisely left Mongolia without a copy—I have copies of three different editions in my Scriptorium—but having decided I was coming to Bukhara I had amazon.com fedex a copy to my hotel room in Istanbul. It left Amazon’s warehouse in the U.S. at 4:57 pm on a Tuesday and I signed off for it at my hotel at 12.51 pm on Friday, just in time for my Uzbekistan trip. The domestic terminal in Tashkent is unheated—it was 5 degrees Fº outside and not much warmer inside—and there is no restaurant or even a place to get a cup of tea or coffee. I would have given my left nut for a Starbucks. Anyhow, besides Barthold I had my Kindle with 138 books downloaded on it and another 684 in the Cloud, so I did not lack for reading material. Amazingly the domestic airport did have free internet in the departure area—albeit very slow, but still internet—so I could have downloaded from the Cloud or bought some new titles if I needed a quick book fix. 

By 2:00 pm at least six inches of snow had fallen in Tashkent. Several domestic flights, including one to Termez, were canceled because of the weather, but finally the flight to Bukhara as announced. But then they had to spent an hour and a half de-icing the plane, so we did not get off until five. You would think Uzbekistan Air would use a small plane for the one-hour flight to Bukhara, but no, they use a wide-body Boeing 767 and it was just about full. 

It was 8 degrees above zero Fº in Bukhara when we arrived. Although this is definitely not the tourist season in Bukhara I was not the only tourist on the plane. There  was a group of at least 12 people from China who were met by the agent of a tourist company in Bukhara. They had come prepared: some of them had on expedition-grade down parkas and pants. They looked like they were ready to start out on a trek to the North Pole. 

It was 6:30 by the time I got my bag and exited the terminal. Waiting for me was my old pal from Komil’s Guesthouse
My pal from Komil’s Guesthouse (click on photo for enlargement) 
He does not speak English, but we caught up on the news in Russian while driving to the guesthouse. I am of course the only guest here. These old mansions which have been converted to guesthouses do not have central heating, but there was an electric space heater in my room and it was quite toasty. I had sent an email to Komil’s earlier ordering plov for dinner and it was ready soon after I arrived. I realized that I had not eaten for thirty-six hours—I had fallen asleep on the Istanbul-Tashkent flight before the meal was served—so the plov—classic Bukhara plov by the way—carrots only, no onions—was quite welcome. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uzbekistan | Iron Gate | Termez

Chingis Khan and his men spent the summer of 1220 in the Nasaf Pasture Lands fattening their horses and confabulating with Sufis. When the grass began to yellow in the early autumn they proceeded 135 miles southeast to the city of Termez, on the way passing through the famous Iron Gate, a narrow defile through the mountains that separate the drainages of the Kaskha Darya and the Amu Darya (the modern-day road from Qarshi to Termez follows the same route). This was the ancient passageway between Sogdiana and Bactria. Alexander the Great probably came this way along with a host of other conquerors, ambassadors, and trade caravans. The name may not be just metaphorical; at one time, it appears, the defile was guarded by an actual iron gate. 
 Country north of the Iron Gate (click on photos for enlargements)
 Cathedral-like rock formations in cliffs along the road
According to officials at a nearby police checkpoint, the original Iron Gate was in this defile. The new road through the area take a slightly different route. 
The new road at the southern end of the Iron Gate defile
The old city of Termez is located on the banks of the Amu Darya about four miles northwest of the outskirts of the modern city of Termez. According to local lore the city got its name from the ancient Sogdian word for “crossing” or “transition place”. There was an important ford of Amu Darya here or nearby (the notorious “Friendship Bridge” linking Afghanistan and Uzbekistan is here now,) and the city did serve as a gateway between Mawarannahr and Khorasan to the south.

Termez celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of its founding in April of 2002. This date was chosen arbitrary. In fact, the city may be much older. There was already a city here when the Persian Acheamenid Dynasty occupied the area in the sixth century b.c. In 329 b.c. Alexander the Great conquered the city and under Greek occupation it became known as Demetris, named after one of Alexander the Great’s generals. In the first to third centuries a.d. the city was included in the the Kushan Empire,  and it became an important northern outpost of Buddhism (the numerous ruins of monasteries, temples, stupas, and caves can still be seen in the area today). Later it became part of the Persian Sassanid Empire. in 705 a.d. the city was captured by invading Arabs. It population was Islamized, and under the Abbasid Caliphate the city became a focal point of Islam in the region The mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi (c. 830 a.d.–c. 912 a.d), an influential early Sufi and theosophist, is located next to the ruins of old Termez and is to this day an extremely popular pilgrimage site for Muslims from throughout Inner Asia and beyond. The city was subsequently ruled by Samanids, Ghaznavids, Saljuqs, and Qarakhanids before becoming part other Khwarezmshah’s empire in 1206. 
 Mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi
 Tomb of Hakim al-Termedi 
 Near the mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi are numerous underground chambers. I assumed that this were built by Sufis for use as meditation retreats. I learned later that they were originally built by Buddhists who lived in the area. They may have lived in them and/or used the as retreats. Of course they may also have been used by Sufis after the area was Islamized. These underground chambers may also have been used in the summertime to escape the notorious heat in the area. Termez is the hottest city in Uzbekistan, and that is saying a lot. 
 Steps to underground retreat
 Steps from underground retreat
As soon as  Chingis Khan arrived in the area he sent, as usual, envoys into the city to demand its immediate surrender. “But the inhabitants, encouraged by the strength of the fortress, half of whose walls were raised up in the middle of the Oxus [the Amu Darya River; he meant one side of the city bordered on the river], and rendered proud by the multitude of their troops, gear and equipment, would not accept submission but sallied forth to do battle,” according to Juvaini. 
 Artist’s rendering of the walled city of Termez
The walls of the old city can clearly be seen in this photo. The southern end of the city has been eroded away by the Amu Darya. The mausoleum of Hakim al-Termedi can be seen near the upper left-hand corner of the city walls. 
The old city walls. I was told that it was possible to walk around the ruins. When I arrived in Termez, however, I discovered that there was some kind of security alert in effect and the ruins were closed. The walls were patrolled by soldiers with AK47s and they would not even allow anyone to take photos. I snapped this one off when no one was looking. As can be seen from the satellite photo above, the ruins are right on the Amu Darya River, which separates Uzbekistan from Afghanistan. Other areas along the river are always off-limits.
The Mongols set up mangonels and began a continuous day-and-night bombardment of the city. After softening up the walls for ten days, on the eleventh day they stormed the city and quickly seized it.  As in Bukhara and Samarkand all the inhabitants were driven out of the city so that it could be looted at will by Chingis’s troops. The inhabitants were then “divided proportionately among the soldiers in accordance with their custom; then they were all slain, none being spared.” One woman who did escape the initial slaughter approached some Mongol soldiers and said, according to the Persian pen-pusher Juvaini:
“Spare my life and I will give you a great pearl that I have.“ But when they sought the pearl she said, “I have swallowed it.” Whereupon they ripped open her belly and found several pearls. On this account Chingiz Khan commanded that they should rip open the bellies of all the slain.
From Termez the Mongol army rode upstream on the Amu Darya into the region of Badakhstan in what is now northeastern Afghanistan and southern Tajikistan. Little is known about this winter of 1220–21 campaign by Chingis Khan. The cities of Kangurt and Shuman (current locations unclear) were apparently sacked. Then, according to Juvaini’s brief account, Chingis Khan “sent armies into the whole of Badakhstan and all that country, and conquered and subjugated the peoples, some by kindness, but most by severity; so that in all that region there was left no trace of their opponents.” Chingis Khan and his army spent the winter thus occupied, and March or April of 1221 returned to Termez.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Uzbekistan | Dabusiya

As you know, the Great Silk Road City Of Bukhara fell to the Mongols sometime of February of 1220. By the beginning of March Chingis Khan was ready to march on Samarkand. The two Jewels of Mawarannahr, Bukhara and Samarkand, were linked by the so-called Royal Road, an ancient thoroughfare following roughly the course of the Zerafshan River. Samarkand is 135 miles east of Bukhara as the crow flies, but upstream from Bukhara the Zarafshan River loops to the north before continuing on east, and the distance between the two cites via the Royal Road, which roughly follows the river, was between thirty-seven and thirty-nine farsakhs (148 to 156 miles) This was a journey was six or seven stages, or days, by camel. 
The Zerafshan Valley (click on photos for enlargements)
Accompanied by the huge flock of levies who had been dragooned in Bukhara for the anticipated siege of Samarkand, the Mongol army proceed north on the Royal Road, probably passing once again through the towns of Shargh, Iskijkath, and Vabkent  and finally reaching the edge of the Bukhara Oasis at Tawais. After another eight miles they passed by the Caravanserai Of Rabat-i-Malik and continued on twelve more miles to Kermaniye. 
The huge portal of the Rabat-i-Malik Caravanserai
At some point beyond of the Bukhara Oasis Chingis Khan may have divided his army into two parts, with one contingent crossing the Zerafshan River and proceeding east on the north bank, and the other riding east on the south bank. According to a story told by the Chinese Daoist Chang Chunzi, who himself traveled along the north bank of the Zerafshan a year later, in 1221, Chingis Khan himself led the army on the north bank. The Chinese holy man saw “on the road a well more than one hundred feet deep, where an old man, a Mohammadan, had a bullock which turned a drawbeam and raised water for thirsty people. The emperor Chinghiz, when passing here, had seen this man, and ordered that he should be exempted from taxes and  duties.”

Beyond Kermaniye the Royal Road veered to the south-southeast and passed a region dotted with numerous cities and towns that had flourished for a thousand years in the rich oases lining the Zerafshan RIver. This was the very heart of old Sogdiana. Chingis Khan, in his haste to get to reach Samarkand, did not linger in this well-populated and prosperous region. According to the Persian historian Juvaini (1226–1283), “whenever the villages in his path submitted, he in no way molested them.” The historian al-Athir (1160–1233), however, asserts that Chingis Khan continued to seize able-bodied men in the towns he passed through, adding them to the already vast horde of levies he had dragooned in Bukhara. Al-Athir further asserts that these men were forced to march on foot along side the Mongol army and that any who fell from hunger or exhaustion were killed. 

We hear of only two cities which put up any real resistance. The first was Dabusiya, located twenty-four miles south-southeast miles east of the current-day town of Karmana on the south bank of the Zerafshan. One of the half dozen or so major cities of ancient Sogdiana, Dabusiya had been a well fortified city as early as 112 a.d., and in the early eighth century over 10,000 Sogdian and Turkish troops had unsuccessfully defended the city walls against Arab invaders. It was later occupied by the Samanids, and was still a well-fortified city when it it finally fell to the Qarakhanids during the reign of Ismail II al-Muntasir, the last of the Samanid rulers. With the defeat of the Qarakhanids it became part of the Khwarezmshah’s realm. Although still heavily fortified, with mammoth walls facing the Zerafshan River, it did not provide much of an obstacle to the Mongols. Chingis left a detachments of troops to besiege the city while he and bulk of his army hastened eastward to Samarkand. We hear no more of Dabusiya from Juvaini or other historians, but eventually the city fell to the Mongols and was at some point destroyed. It was never rebuilt and today there is no city or town of Dabusiya, although the ruins of the old city walls still rear up from the south bank of the Zerafshan. 
Looking down the Zerafshan River from the ruined ramparts of Dabusiya
 The walls of Dabusiya
 Walls of Dabusiya
An old street running through the ruins of Dabusiya
 One of the city gates in the distance, with a street running through the city
Street running through the city
 The Zerafshan River upstream from the top of the city’s ramparts
 Local people taking the ferry across the Zerafshan
Nowadays people come here to visit the tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, a famous local saint, whose mausoleum now stands amidst the ruins of the old city.
 Mausoleum of  Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, situated amidst the ruins of Dabusiya
 Mausoleum of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
Tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
My driver (left), without whose help I would have never found Dabusiya; the imam in the charge of the mausoleum (center); and some guy who insisted on getting into the photo (right)