Thursday, December 27, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Arab Invasion

By the end of the sixth century Bukhara Was Flourishing, but dangers lurked just beyond the horizon. It was probably around this time that the Sogdians constructed the Kanpirak, or “Old Woman”, the 150 or-more-long wall which surrounded most of the Bukhara Oasis and served as a bulwark against the hostile Turkish nomads who inhabited the deserts and steppes to the north. The invaders who would bring down Sogdiana and forever change the way of life in the Land Beyond the River came not from the north, however, but from the south, in form of Arabs who came proclaiming the new religion of Islam.

The Prophet Muhammed died in June of 632 a.d. Abu Bakr, his father-in-law and senior companion, assumed leadership of the Prophet’s followers and became the first of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs.  The Caliph and his successors had a simple mandate: the spread of Islam, by military conquest if necessary, to the far corners of the world. In the spring of 633 Arab General Khalid ibn Walid, acting under orders from Abu Bakr,  invaded Mesopotamia (current-day Iraq), then part of the vast Sassanian Empire stretching from near the shores of the Mediterranean to the Indus River. The incursion faltered after the death of Abu Bakr in 1634, but under this successor the second Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab the invasion continued and in September of 636 the Arabs defeated a huge Sassanian army in a three-day battle at the small town of Qadisiyyah, just east of Kufa and about one hundred miles southeast of Baghdad. Not long after the Sassanian imperial capital of Ctesiphon, eighteen miles southeast of Baghdad, surrendered without a fight, and the Sassanian emperor Yazdgird III along with his family and entourage fled eastward, taking refuge behind the natural border of the Zagros Mountains, which separated Mesopotamia from the Iranian Plateau.  In 642 Caliph Umar ordered his Muslim armies over the Zagros Mountains into the Sassanian heartland. Although vastly outnumbered the Arabs soon scored a stunning victory at Nahāvand, about forty miles south of Hamadan in what is now Iran. The Battle of Nahāvand was a death blow to the Sassanians. According to Islamic historian al-Tabari (838–923), “from that day on, there was no further unity among them [the Persians] and the people of the individual provinces fought their own enemies on their own territory.”

Yazdgird III, accompanied by thousands of relatives, hangers-on, and a small contingent of still-loyal troops fled farther eastward to Khorasan, passing through Nishapur and finally reached the then-already ancient city of Merv (fifty-five miles northwest of Mary in current-day Turkmenistan). Envoys which he had dispatched to Sogdians and Turk tribesmen north of the Amu Darya and to the Tang  Dynasty in China seeking aid to renew the battle against the Arabs came away empty-handed. Abandoned by the remainder of his troops, he again took flight and ended up hiding in the flour mill of a Christian miller on the banks of the Mugrab River south of Merv. In 651 he was assassinated, perhaps by the miller himself. After 427 years the Sassanian Empire was finally extinguished.

The same year Arab armies occupied Merv, 120 miles south of the Amu Darya, and Herat, on the western edge of Khorasan, and the following year Balkh, in Tokharistan  (current day northern Afghanistan), just thirty-five miles south of the Amu Darya. The Arabs invaders, now colonists, set up a governorship in Merv and used it as a base for further military forays to the north. Small raiding parties operating out of Merv may have penetrated  Khorezm on the lower Amu Darya in the 660s, but the first substantial campaign north of the Amu Darya took place in 673, when the governor of Khorasan Ubaidullah b. Ziyad led a force across the river to Bukhara. The Arabs were now in Transoxiania, or as they called it, Mawarannahr, literally “that which is beyond the river.”

 At this time Bukhara was still a Sogdian city and according to some accounts it was ruled by a khatun, or queen, who was the mother of the young Tugshada, the nominal Bukhar Khudat (ruler of Bukhara). She negotiated a truce with the Arabs and after paying them tribute of a million dirhams and 4,000 slaves they retreated back south of the river.

 For the next thirty years the Arabs continued to raid Bukhara and other cities in Mawarannahr and Khorezm but after demanding tribute from the local rulers, plundering the countryside, and enslaving Sogdians they continued to return to their bases south of the Amu Darya. In 705 al-Walid I ibn Abd al-Malik became the new Umayyads Caliph in Damascus, and under his reign the actual conquest of Mawarannahr began. Qutaiba b. Muslim, newly appointed governor of Khorasan, led an Arab army across the Amu Darya at Amul and in 706 attacked the city of Paikend at the very southern edge of the Bukhara Oasis.

After a two-month siege the city  fell. Qutaiba left a small garrison of troops and returned to Merv, but soon after his departure the Arab troops were expelled from the city. Qutaiba returned and wrecked horrific revenge, putting the fighting men to death, enslaving the women, and  completely plundering the city. Enormous amounts of booty was seized, including armor and weapons the quality of which amazed the Arabs. The message to the rest of the Zerafshan Valley was clear; submit and pay tribute or face annihilation.

With the destruction of Paikend the way was clear to Bukhara, thirty-one miles to the  northeast. Assaults on Bukhara in 707 and 708 failed, but 709 Bukhara and several other cities in Mawarannahr finally surrendered to Qutaiba. From the Bukharans he  collected tribute of 200,000 dirhams for the Caliph back in Damascus and 20,000 for the governor of Khorasan. A garrison was stationed in the city and every homeowner was made to house and presumably feed Arab troops.

 In 712 Qutaiba built the first mosque in Bukhara on the former site of a temple in the Ark, marking the introduction of Islam into the city. The temple may be been Zoroastrian, or possible even Buddhist. Apparently the local people did not immediately accept Islam, since, according to tenth-century historian of Bukhara Narshakhi, Qutaiba had proclaimed, “Whoever is present at the Friday prayer, I will give two dirhams.” The Quran had to be read in Sogdian, since none of the local people understood Arabic.

For the next hundred years Arabs maintained tenuous control of Bukhara and other cities in Mawarannahr. Revolts by the indigenous Sogdians were frequent, and in 729 they succeeded in expelling the Arabs from Bukhara altogether, although the city was taken a few months later. In the 740s the Abbasids (descendants of Abbas, uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) attempted to seize control of the Islamic geo-sphere from the Umayyads. Their lieutenant in Khorasan and Mawarannahr, Abu Muslim, defeated the Umayyads in 747–748, and local people, believing they were being liberated,  flocked to his banner. They soon realized, however, that the Abbasids, who finally seized the Caliphate in 750,  were no better than the  Umayyads. Revolts and rebellions against the ruling Arabs continued. 

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