The Gür Khan, whatever his personal failings, had enjoyed during most of his reign the popular acclaim of many the people in his realm. Not until his army under Tayangu was defeated in the autumn of 1210 and many of his disheartened troops went on a looting spree did the Gür Khan’s subjects turn on him. Khüchüleg was cut from different cloth. Although he entertained pretensions of ruling the old Khara Khitai Empire he was basically a freebooter who was more interested in loot and plunder than the day-to-day administration of a functioning society. A nomad from the steppes of Mongolia, he was particularly insensitive to the needs of the sedentary peoples which he now at least nominally ruled. And not of all the local chieftains who were loyal to the Gür were ready to bow down to the Naiman marauder.
Trouble started first at Almaliq, near the current-day city of Ili in the Valley Of The Ili River, the source of which is deep in the Tian Shan to the east. The Ili River was the easternmost of the rivers in the Seven Rivers Region, an area where, as on geographer points out, “sedentaries and nomads have met at various points in history—coexisting, overlapping, or competing—because it lends itself to both ways of life . . .” Thus it is of “special interest as the historical divide between the eastern and western halves of Inner Asia.” Separated by formidable mountains from the mountain-rimmed basins and depressions to the east, it was more oriented westward, towards the vast steppes and deserts that stretch off to the shores of Caspian Sea. Until 1211 much of the Seven River Region, including, the upper Ili Basin has been ruled by Arslan Khan, nominally a subject of the Gür Khan.
After the defeat of Tayangu’s army, the Arslan Khan had held his finger to the wind and decided that it was time to align himself with Chingis Khan, who was already the suzerain of the Uighurs across the mountains to the east, and he went personally to the court of Chingis Khan to declare his loyalty. While he was gone an adventurer by the name of Ozar seized control of the upper Ili Basin and the steppes which slope down to the the western edge of the Zungarian Basin, including the Boro Steppe and the area around Lake Sayram. According to Juvaini, he:
used to steal peoples’ horses from the herds and commit other criminal actions, such as highway robbery, etc. He was joined by all the ruffians of that region and so became very powerful. Then he used to enter villages, and if the people refused to yield to him obedience he would seize that place by war and violence.
Khüchüleg marched against Ozar Khan, as he now styled himself, several times but to the Naiman’s fury was unable to bring the highwayman to heel. Then Ozar Khan, like Arslan Khan, decided to declare his loyalty to Chingis. Khan. He also traveled to the Mongol court, where he was royally received. Chingis, eager to gain his services and cement his loyalty, offered him one of his granddaughters, the daughter of his oldest son Jochi, in marriage. But before Ozar left to go back to the Ili Basin Chingis had some advice for him. Ozar was an avid huntsmen, but Chingis warned him not to go on hunting parties lest he himself fall prey to other hunters. Chingis was so adamant on this subject that he gave Ozar a thousand sheep so he would not have to hunt game for food. Perhaps Chingis had a premonition about Ozar’s death. In any case, when Ozar returned to the Ili Basin he failed to heed Chingis’s advice. While out hunting he was ambushed by troops loyal to Khüchüleg and captured alive. He was taken in chains to Almaliq, where his captors apparently hoped to ransom him. Instead the residents of Almaliq closed the gates of the city and took up arms against Khüchüleg’s men. At this point rumors arrived that a Mongol army under the command of Chingis’s famous general Jebe was on the way to Almaliq. Khüchüleg’s men retreated south with their prisoner and since he was now worthless they slew him somewhere along the road. At least this is the story told by Juvaini. Other sources suggest that Arslan Khan, eager to recover his hereditary fiefdom, had Ozar Khan killed.
Although Juvaini paints him as a highwayman and ruffian he adds that Ozar,“although rash and foolhardy, was a pious, God-fearing man and gazed with the glance of reverence upon ascetics.” One day a Sufi approached Ozar and announced:“‘I am on an embassy to thee from the Court of Power and Glory; and message is thus, that our treasures are become somewhat depleted. Now therefore let Ozar give aid by means of a loan and not hold it lawful to refuse.’” Ozar bowed to the Sufi and “while tears rained down from his eyes” offered him a balish of gold (about seventy-five dinars). Mission accomplished, the Sufi departed.
Having lost the IIi Basin Khüchüleg turned his attention south to the Tarim Basin. Back in 1204 the people of Kashgar had revolted. In retaliation the Gür Khan had seized the son of one the local rulers as a hostage and kept him under house arrest in Balagasun. Khüchüleg now sent this princeling back to Kashgar in hopes that he would smooth the way for his own arrival. The local nobles, who loyalties in the meantime had wavered, had him killed at the city gates before he even set foot in town. Outraged, Khüchüleg descended on Kashgar. He made the local people quarter his troops and for three or four years running ravished the countryside at harvest time. “And oppression, and injustice, and depravity were made manifest; and the pagan idolators accomplished whatever was their will and in their power, and none was able to prevent them,”Juvaini laments.
Religion quickly became an issue. Khüchüleg, who under the influence of his wife was now professing Buddhism, now declared that people of the western Tarim Basin must accept “the Christian or idolatrous creed [Buddhism],” according to Juvaini, or “don the garb of Khitayans.” The details of Khitan haberdashery are not known, so it is not clear exactly what this entailed. In any case, the locals, according to Juvaini were having none of it: “And since it was impossible to go over to another religion, by reason of hard necessity they clad themselves in the dress of Khitayans.” Khüchüleg also prohibited the call-to-prayer from the minarets of Kashgar and Khotan and closed all Islamic schools and colleges. In Khotan, the legendary Silk Road city famous for Carpets, luxurious Silk, and Jade, Khüchüleg called all the local imams out into the countryside and engaged them in debate about the merits of their respective religions. Not liking what he heard from an imam named Ala-al-Din Muhammad, he had the Muslim scholar crucified on the door of his own college. Juvaini:
Thus was the Moslem [sic] cause brought to a sorry pass, nay rather it was wiped out, and endless oppression and wickedness were extended over the slaves of Divinity, who set up prayers that were blessed with fulfilment . . .
The answer to their prayers soon arrived in the person of Jebe, one of Chingis Khan’s ablest generals.