Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg | Gog and Magog

Khüchüleg, born the Son Of A Khan in Mongolia, had no intention of playing second fiddle to the Gür Khan. He quickly set about assembling an army that was loyal to him alone. According to Juvaini: 
. . . from all sides his tribesmen assembled around him. And he assaulted divers places and plundered them, striking one after another; and so he obtained a numerous army and his retinue and army was multiplied and reinforced. 
One reason so quickly gained adherents was that he allowed his men to loot and plunder at will; the Gür Khan had kept a tight reign on his own troops and paid them a salary in lieu of the right to indiscriminate plunder, a policy almost unheard of at the time. Not only the exiled tribesmen from the Mongolian Plateau were attracted to Khüchüleg’s free-booting ways; soon soldiers were deserting the Gür Khan’s own army and joining up the Naiman adventurer’s marauders. He was still fighting under the banner of the Khara Khitai, however, and in the autumn of 1209 the Gür Khan sent Khüchüleg east to deal with the rebellious Uighurs In Uighurstan, formerly clients of the Khara-Khitai who had thrown in their lot with Chingis Khan earlier that year. The sortie east no doubt provided plentifully opportunities for looting the countryside, but the Uighurs were not to be budged from Chingis’s camp. The Gür Khan, meanwhile, had ridden west to confront the Khwarezmshah. In 1210, personally leading an army of 30,000 men, he seized the Samarkand from the Sultan, but in line with his polices did not allow his men to plunder the city. Hearing that the Gür Khan was engaged in Transoxiania, Khüchüleg now showed his true colors. “ . . . Turning on the gür-khan, he ravaged and plundered his territory, now attacking and now retreating,” according to Juvaini. First he sacked the Khara Khitai imperial treasury at Özkend, on the Syr Darya River, then occupied the Khara Khitai capital of Balasagun. 

Hearing of this treachery, the Gür Khan abandoned Samarkand and rode back east to confront the now overtly rebellious Naiman adventurer. Sensing the disarray among the Khara-Khitai, the Khwarezmshah quickly sent an army eastward. In the early autumn 1210 this army collided with a Khara Khitai army led by Tayangu, the military commander of Taras (or Talas), a city on the Talas River in the Seven Rivers Region between the Syr Darya and Lake Balkash. Where this clash, which would proof to be the defining battle between the Khwarezmshah and the Gür Khan, took place is not exactly clear. At one point Juvaini says it occurred at “steppe of Ilamish”' (apparently in the lower Ferghana Valley); elsewhere he implies it took place near Taras. On the morning of battle the Khwarezmshah ordered his men to say their prayers, then according to Juvaini: 
. . . the whole army raised a shout and charged down upon those wretches [the Khara Khitai] . . . The greater part of that sect of sedition were destroyed beneath the sword, and Tayangu himself was wounded in the battle and had fallen on his face like the subjects of the Khara Khitai. A girl was standing over him and when someone tried to cut off his head she cried out: ‘It is Tayangu!’ and the man at once bound him and carried him off to the Sultan.
From this time on, Juvaini tells us, “dread of the Sultan was increased a thousandfold in the hearts of men.” 

One of the paid poets in the Khwarezmshah’s court composed a lengthy paean to his recent exploits in which he termed the Sultan “the Second Alexander,” referring of course to Alexander the Great. This epithet so pleased the Sultan that he had it added to his list of official titles. Tayangu, the Khara Khitai general who had recently been taken prisoner, fared less well. The Sultan had him beheaded and his body disposed of in a river. 

The Khwarezmshah’s forces moved on to the City Of Ötrar, in the Syr Darya basin, whose governor “refused to dislodge from his brain the arrogance of pride and vanity of riches” and had “turned aside from ‘the straight path’ by leaguing himself with the the Khitai,” according to Juvaini. The traders of Ötrar, pointing out to the governor that he had “ignominiously cast thyself and us into the jaws of a leviathan,” urged him to surrender the city to the Khwarezmshah, which he did. The Sultan give him and his family safe passage out of town on condition that he not return, then, as we have seen, appointed his mother’s nephew Inalchuq as governor and give him the title of Gāyer Khan. 

The Khwarezmshah’s armies proceed up the Ferghana Valley and soon took the city of Özkend.The Gür Khan was now trapped between the ever-advancing Khwarezmshah in the west and Khüchüleg in the east. Khüchüleg was by now in clandestine contact with the Khwarezmshah and the two soon hatched a plot defeat the Gür Khan and divide his empire among themselves. 

But the Khara Khitai emperor was not yet ready to throw in the towel. In 1211 he confronted his rebellious son-in-law near Balagasun and in the ensuing battle took many of his men prisoner and even managed to recover some of the imperial treasury which Khüchüleg had looted earlier. Khüchüleg escaped, fleeing eastward, and began gathering in his scattered troops and reorganizing his army. Meanwhile the citizens of Balagasun, by now fed up with the Gür Khan and hearing that the Khwarezmshah’s army was approaching, decided to take their chances with the Sultan, whose star it seemed was on the rise. They barricaded themselves within the city walls and for sixteen days held off the Khara Khitai. Finally, with the aid of war elephants they had earlier captured from the Khwarezmshah (who had apparently obtained them on one of his forays into India) they broke down the gates and entered the city. The Khara Khitai army, now an unruly mob no longer obeying the Gür Khan’s strictures against plundering, allegedly killed 47,000 townspeople and thoroughly looted the city. 

By then the Khara Khitai Empire was in shreds. The Khwarezmshah was advancing from the west and somewhere in the east Khüchüleg was biding his time, waiting for the right moment to spring once again upon the Gür Khan. The time would soon come. In the autumn of 2011 the Gür Khan retired to the western end of the Tarim, near Kashgar, for a spot of hunting. Given the predicament he was in it seemed a peculiar way to spend his time, but maybe he needed to rest his shattering nerves by indulging in one of his favorite pastimes. Maybe he was enjoying himself so much that his guard was down. In any event, Khüchüleg and 8,000 men swooped down on the unsuspecting Gür Khan and captured him. He choose not to kill the emperor of the Khara Khitai. Instead, he assumed the Gür Khan’s titles and married one of his daughters to a Khitan princess in an attempt to link himself with the Khitan nobility. He tried to ingratiate himself further by adopting Khitan customs, clothes, and religion. 

According to Rashid al-Din, his Khitan wife Qunqu at this point managed to convert him from Christianity to Buddhism, the prominent religion among the nobility (Juvaini claims he married one of the Gür Khan’s wives that had caught his eye and implies that it was she who converted him to Buddhism). Clearly the upstart adventurer from the Mongolian Plateau wanted to be seen as the new Gür Khan, ruler of the Khara Khitai Empire. But the real Gür Khan finally died in 1213 and most commentators, including Juvaini, concluded that the Khara Khitai Empire died with him. 

The fall of the Khara Khitai, even though they not were Muslims themselves, was not viewed with universal favor by all Muslims in Inner Asia. After the huge defeat suffered by the Tayangu-led Khara Khitai army in 1210 there was much rejoicing among among some elements in the Khwarezmshah’s realm. According to Juvaini, “‘The order of ascetics offered thanks to God; the great men and notables feasted and revelled [sic] at the sound of timbal and flute; the common people rejoiced and made merry; the young men frolicked noisily in gardens; and old men engaged in talk one with another.’” But the more reflective graybeards had reservations. Some held the belief that the Khara Khitai had served as a useful wall or dam between themselves and the Mongols. They remembered that according to the Quran (Sura Al-Kahf, "The Cave", 18:83–9), a mysterious individual called Zul Qairain ("The Two-horned One") had journeyed to a distant northern land where he found a people who were suffering from the mischief of mysterious entities known as Gog and Magog. Zul Qairain then erected an iron wall to keep out Gog and Magog, but he warned that the wall would be removed as the Day of Judgement drew near. By the thirteenth century the Mongols had become identified with Gog and Magog. Juvaini goes on to tell of a Muslim scholar named Sayyid Murtaza who did not join in the general rejoicing after the Khwarezmshah had decisively defeated the Khara Khitai in 1210. When asked by Juvaini’s cousin, from whom Juvaini heard this story, why he sat brooding in a corner with a sad look on this face, the scholar replied: 
‘Beyond these [the Qara Khitai] are a people [Mongols] stubborn in their vengeance and fury and exceeding Gog and Magog. And the people of Khitai were in truth the wall of Zul Qairain between us and them. And it is unlikely, when that wall is gone, that there will be any peace within the realm or that any man will recline in comfort and enjoyment. Today I am mourning for Islam.’ 
For the moment Khüchüleg held the broken remnants of the Khara Khita Empire in his hands. But in far-off Mongolia Chingis Khan had never forgotten about the Naiman prince who had somehow slipped out of his grasp back in 1204. Khüchüleg’s days were numbered, and once he was gone nothing would stand between the Islamic Khwarezm Empire and the spawn of Gog and Magog.

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