Friday, June 24, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg and the Gür Khan

His father dead and the Naiman Army Defeated, Khüchüleg and a band of his most devoted followers fled south across the Altai Mountain into the Zungarian Depression in what now northern Xinjiang Province, China. As mentioned, Togtoga Beki and the Merkits had earlier aligned themselves with Naiman, but they too, like Jamukha, had apparently fled on the eve of the final battle. Chingis’s soldiers pursued them and in the autumn of 1204 the Merkit army was almost totally annihilated. Only Togtoga Beki, his sons, and a handful of his most devoted followers were able to escape the slaughter. His youngest son Khutukhan eventually would be tracked down by Jochi, Chingis’s oldest son, who as rumored may have been the biological son of a Merkit. Khutukhan was renowned for his skills as an archer, and supposedly for this reason Jochi begged Chingis to spare his life (whether Jochi harbored some sympathy for Merkits, since he was rumored to be half-Merkit himself, is unknown). Chingis was having none of it. He felt no sympathy whatsoever for the tribe that had kidnapped his wife: 
There is not tribe more wicked than the Merkit. How often have we fought them? They have caused us much vexation and sorrow. How can we spare his life? He will only instigate another rebellion. I have conquered these land for you, my sons. Of what use is he? There is no better place for an enemy of our nation than in the grave! 
Khüchüleg and Togtoga Beki and their followers eventually joined up with Khüchüleg’s uncle Buyirug, who had split with the main tribe of Naiman earlier and had not taken part on the battle at Tuleet Uul. Now, refugees from Mongolia, they nomadized in the upper valley of the Irtysh RIver, on the northern edge of the Zungarian Basin. But even here they were not safe from the long arm of Chingis. In 1208 (the date differs in some accounts) his army crossed the Altais into the valley of the Irtysh and flushed out the escapees from Mongolia. Togtoga Beki was killed, but Khüchüleg once again managed to slip out of the Mongol noose, as did Togtoga Beki’s remaining sons (in a act of peculiar familial devotion they reportedly cut off their father’s head and took it with them). 

Khüchüleg and his ever-dwindled band hightailed it south across the Zungarian Basin to the Uighur Northern Capital of Beshbaliq. 
Ruins of ancient city of Beshbaliq, surrounded by cultivated fields. The Buddhist Temple, which was not within the city itself, is the small white square far left, center. (See Enlargement)
 Ruins of Beshbaliq
Ruins of Beshbaliq
Ruins of Beshbaliq 
Buddhist Temple near ruins of Beshbaliq
 Modern-day descendant of the Uighurs who once lived at Beshbaliq (Listen to Uighur Music)
He was unwelcome among the Uighurs, who by that time may have already been aligned with Chingis Khan, and continued on across the daunting Tian Shan to the Silk Road city of Kucha, at the foot of the mountains on the northern side of the Tarim Basin. Apparently the welcome here was no warmer, since according to Juvaini he then “wandered in the mountains without food or sustenance, while those of his tribe that had accompanied him were scattered far and wide.” This was clearly the low ebb in Khüchüleg’s life. Yet he was nothing if not resourceful, and he would soon catapult from being a destitute wanderer in the Tian Shan to the nominal ruler of an Inner Asian empire who would vie with the Khwarezmshah himself for power. 

Obviously at loose ends, Khüchüleg’s and his few remaining followers fell in with the Gür Khan, ruler of the Khara Khitai Empire which then controlled much of Inner Asia between the Khwarezmshah’s own domains and the Uighuristan to the east. The Khara-Khitai were shards of the old Liao, or Khitan, Dynasty, which had come into power in 916 and ruled northern China until 1125 when they were unseated by the Jurchen, who founded the Jin Dynasty. Originally they were a nomadic people from the mixed forest and steppe east of the Khingan Moutains, in what is now the province of Inner Mongolia in China. At its height the Khitan Dynasty controlled, in addition to northern China, much of modern-day Mongolia, where the ruins of their formidable fortresses can still be seen. 
 Ruins of Khitan Fortress in current-day Arkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

 Ruins of Khitan Fortress

 Ruins of Khitan Fortress
 Ruins of Khitan Fortress 
 Buddhist Stupa near the ruins of Khitan Fortress. This must rank as one of the oldest existing Buddhist monuments in Mongolia. 
After their defeat by the Jurchens, the charismatic leader of the Khitans, Yelü Dashi, fled west with segments of the Khitan nobility and at least 100,000 followers. By 1234 he had established a capital at Balasagun, near Tolmak in modern-day central Kyrgyzstan, and by 1137 had overran the fertile Fergana Valley in western Kyrgyzstan. 
 Minaret at Balasagun, near Tokmak in modern-day central Kyrgyzstan
Pottery recovered from the ruins of Balasagun
On September 9, 1141, the defeated the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Qatwan, thus gaining control of much of Transoxiana, the Land Between the Two Rivers. From this point on the Khara-Khitai could legitimately be called an empire. By the start of the thirteen-century, however, the Khwarezmshah and his Khwarezm Empire had already seized portions of Transoxiana, and the Sultan was locked in a fierce conflict with Gür Khan on the western edge of the latter’s empire. In the east, tribes who had once submitted to him were now gravitating toward the Chingis Khan and his Mongols, who were clearly on the ascendancy. 

It was at this point in time, when the Gür Khan was fighting for the survival of his empire, that Khüchüleg providentially arrived in Balasagun. It is not clear if Khüchüleg had been captured the Khara Khitai patrols while wandering around in the Tian Shan or if he had turned up the Khara Khitai capital of Balasagun of his own volition. In any case, he soon finagled a meeting with the Gür Khan. It will be remembered that the Naiman had once accepted the suzerainty of the Khara-Khitai, and Khüchüleg may have played on this connection. Now the ever-resourceful Naiman made a bold proposal which conveniently addressed the Gür Khan’s own needs at the moment. Scattered throughout Inner Asia, Khüchüleg pointed out, from the domains of the Uighurs north of the Tian Shan around Beshbaliq to the Seven Rivers region south of Lake Balkash, the broken shards of the tribes who had escaped from the domination of Chingis Khan on the Mongolian Plateau were now roaming leaderless. Khüchüleg, the son of a former khan in Mongolia and thus still a man of some standing among the peoples of the Mongolian Plateau, now offered to rally these diverse tribesmen, exiles in foreign and unfriendly lands, under his own command and then place them in the service of the Gür Khan. According to Juvaini: 
If I receive permission, I will collect them altogether, and with the help of these people will assist and support the gür-khan. I shall not deviate from the path he prescribes and . . . I shall not twist my neck from the fulfillment of whatever he commands. 
The Khara Khitai leader readily acceded to this scheme and was apparently overjoyed with this seemingly powerful ally he had gained, showering him with robes of honor and other gifts and awarding him with a new title of Khan. And if we are to believe Rashid al-Din, the Gür Khan’s daughter Qunqu was smitten with Khüchüleg almost at first sight, and three days after the initial meeting they were married. In the thrall of his initial enthusiasm the Gür Khan was unaware that he let a viper into his nest and that Khüchüleg’s promises meant nothing. As Juvaini ruefully notes, “By such deceitful blandishments he cast the gür-khan into the well of vainglory” . . . Continued.