Showing posts with label Naiman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Naiman. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Death of Khüchüleg

Juvaini believed that the arrival of the Jebe and his Mongols in the realm of the Khara Khitai was an act of Divine Providence: 
God Almighty, in order to remove the evilness of Küchlüg [Khüchüleg], in a short space dispatched the Mongol army against him; and already in this world he tasted the punishment of his foul and wicked deeds and his ill-omened life; and in the hereafter the torments of hellfire. Ill be his rest! 
Chingis Khan may have been acting out of more down-to-earth considerations. Khüchüleg had earlier escaped from the Mongols at both the battles at Tuleet Uul and on the Upper Irtysh and this must have rankled. Then he had gathered under his own banner all the disaffected tribesmen who had fled the Mongolian Plateau, thus posing a threat to the Uighurs and others at the western end of Chingis’s own domains. Perhaps the Naiman adventurer even had his sights set on some day leading his assembled forces back to Mongolia and challenging Chingis Khan on his home turf. And by 1216 Chingis, as we have seen, was already making overtures to the Khwarezmshah about trade relations between the Mongols and Khwarezmia. Now Khüchüleg, essentially a free-booting marauder, sat astride the great trade routes linking the two realms, ready to swoop down on any trade caravans which might pass through the territories over which he now ruled rough-shod. There is also the school of thought, promoted by various modern historians, that Chingis even at this stage of his career entertained some overarching vision of world conquest and considered Khüchlüg simply as one more obstacle which had to be overcome on the inevitable march west, perhaps even to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Whatever his motivations, in 1216, after he had defeated the Jin in northern China, Chingis sent his general Jebe west to at long last deal with the Naiman upstart Khüchüleg. Jebe was a member of the Taichuud tribe, once one of the young Chingis Khan’s many enemies. As a young man Temüjin, the future Chingis Khan, had been captured by the Taichuud and held prisoner. He later made a daring escape with the help of a man named Sorkhon who had divined a great future ahead for the young Temüjin and who would eventually become one of his followers. The Taichuud were just one of the many tribes Chingis would defeat in his rise to power. In the decisive battle against the Taichuud someone shot an arrow which according to the Secret History hit Chingis’s yellow war horse in the neck. It may have been Chingis himself who was wounded in the neck, but apparently he did not want to reveal this. Anyhow, after the battle the Taichuud who were taken prisoner were interrogated to find out who had shot the arrow at Chingis. “Who shot that arrow from the mountaintop,” Chingis demanded. A man named Zurgadai replied : 
I shot that arrow from the mountain top. If I am put to death by the Qahan (Chingis), then I shall be left to rot on a piece of ground the size of the palm of the hand. But I am granted mercy, then shall I go ahead on behalf of the Qahan .
I wlll attack for you:
I will slash the deep waters
and erode the shining stone.
At your word, I will go forwards
and smash the blue stones.
If you order me to attack,
I will slash the black stones.
I will attack for you.
Chingis Khan was impressed that the man had admitting to shooting at him, even though there was a chance he would be put to death for such an act, and had not attempted to lie his way out of it. A man like this, Chingis concluded, would make a good addition to his armies. Chingis gave Zurgadai the new name of Zebe, which means “arrow” in Mongolian, and proclaimed. “I shall use him as an arrow.” Zebe (or Jebe, as it is more commonly rendered in English) would become the arrow which would unfailingly fly at any target to which Chingis aimed him. The target now was Khüchüleg. 

Jebe headed westward, adding a contingent of Uighur troops to his army on the way, and soon arrived at Almaliq, in the basin of the Ili River, where he linked up with the tribesmen who had already declared their allegiance to Chingis. With these reinforcements he proceeded to the old Khara Khitai capital of Balagasun, where he defeated an army of some 30,000 men who had earlier obeyed the Gür Khan but who now were aligned at least nominally with Khüchüleg. Now reading the prevailing winds, other local rulers threw in their lot with Jebe and Mongols, including Yisimaili, a prominent Khara Khitai commander from the city of Kasan in the Ferghana Valley. With Yisimaili, who was apparently familiar with the country, leading Jebe’s vanguard, the Mongol army headed south to Kashgar, where Khüchüleg was reputed to be holed up. Hearing of the imminent arrival of the Mongols he fled south toward the Pamirs, perhaps hoping to eventually reach the dubious safety of India. 

Jebe and his army of 20,000 Mongols and various auxiliaries were viewed as liberators by the Muslim population of Kashgar. According to Juvaini the local people stated that: 
. . . each group of Mongols, arriving one after another, sought nothing from us save Khüchlüg [sic], and permitted the recitation of the takbir [call to prayer] and azan, and caused a herald to proclaim in the town that each should abide by their religion and follow their own creed. Then we knew the existence of this people to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace. 
After rounding up and executing all of Khüchüleg’s soldiers who had remained in the city Jebe and his men set out in hot pursuit of the Naiman runaway. They probably followed the old Silk Road caravan road (and now the route of the Karakoram Highway) up the valley and canyon of the Gez River, past Khökh Nuur (Blue Lake) and the immense massif of 24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata (later Marco Polo may have used this same route).
 The Pamirs 
 Valley of the Gez River leading into the Pamir
 Khökh Nuur (Blue Lake) and 24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata
Plateau of the Pamirs
Somewhere near the border of Badakhshan and the Wakhan region deep in the Pamir Knot (perhaps in modern-day Tajikistan) Khüchüleg took the wrong road (Juvaini cannot help opining that “it was right that he should do so”) and ended up in a dead-end valley. 

Jebe, coming up behind, met some local hunters and made them a deal: if they would bring him Khüchüleg no harm would come to them; if they did not they would to be aiding and abetting Khüchüleg’s escape and would have to face the consequences. They captured the errant Naiman and brought him to Jebe, who rewarded them with much of the loot—jewels and money—which they had seized from Khüchüleg’s traveling party. The Naiman adventurer, born on the steppes of Mongolia, had led a wild and tumultuous life since 1204 when he had fled Mongolia, throwing a good portion of Inner Asia into turmoil, but it all ended here in a desolate valley in the high Pamirs. He was executed and his head cut off. One source maintains that Jebe took his head back with him and displayed it in Kashgar and Khotan to prove that the oppressor of the local Muslim populations was finally, at long last, dead. 

With the death of Khüchüleg Chingis’s favored general Jebe was now the de facto ruler of a huge swath of land from Khotan north to the Seven Rivers region. Did the thought cross his mind that at this point he could have declared himself the new Gür Khan and founded an empire of his own? Apparently back in Mongolia even Chingis Khan began to worry that Jebe “in the pride of victory would mutiny,” as Barthold puts it. But Jebe was made of different stuff. He had sworn his loyalty to Chingis Khan back when his life had been spared after the defeat of the Taichuud and he was not about to turn on his sworn lord and master. As a sign of his fealty.he gave to his commander-in-chief a gift of 1000 yellow horses like the one Chingis had been riding at the final battle with the Taichuud, the horse he, Jebe, had supposedly hit in the neck with an arrow. Tracking down Khüchüleg and seizing his territories was certainly a feather in his cap, but his greatest exploits as a general in the Mongol army were yet to come. He would remain loyal to Chingis until his death in 1225. 

Khüchüleg died sometime in 1218. Around this time the merchants of the Mongol Caravan To Otrār had been killed, along with the emissary Chingis had sent to demand compensation for the massacre. War with the Khwarezmshah was now inevitable and the Last Obstacle between the Mongols and the Khwarezm Empire—the Naiman adventurer Khüchülüg—had been removed. Now Chingis Khan was ready to ride west

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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Tatatunga | Mongolian Script

The Final Battle With The Naiman did have one unexpected consequence. Found wandering around the field of battle was a well-dressed man who appeared to be armed only with wooden pens. He also had in his possession the official seals of Tayang Khan. Taken before Chingis himself, he explained that he had been the Naiman ruler’s personal scribe and seal bearer. His name was Tatatunga and he was a Uighur originally from Uighuristan. He had been hired by the Naiman as a scribe and court intellectual. He apparently spoke the Naiman language, whatever that might have been, and presumably he knew at least some Mongolian. Chingis was always quick to utilize the talents of those caught up in his dragnets. Soon realizing how Tatatunga’s particular skills might be used, he set him the task of developing a script for the Mongol language, which up until then did not have a writing system . . . Continued.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg and the Naiman

While Events Played Out In Otrār yet other drama were unfolding high up in the hidden recesses of the Pamir Mountains on the southern edge of Inner Asia. Situated at the convergence of five other great mountains ranges—the Tian Shan, Kun Lun, Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram—the range is often referred to as the Pamir Knot, the nexus which ties all the other ranges together. 
The Pamir Knot from south of Kashgar. This is right where the Kun Lun and the Pamir ranges come together. 
Although much of the range consists high, grassy plateaus, it also lays claim to some of the world’s highest summits, including 24,590-foot Ismoili Somoni Peak, 23,310-foot Evgenia Korjenevskaya Peak, and 23,406-foot Peak Lenin. Some geographers also include 24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata in the Pamirs, although most consider it part of the Kun Luns. 
24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata 
Indeed, the exact boundaries of the range are unclear, but much of it would appear to be in current-day Tajikistan, and smaller portions in China (Xinjiang Province), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. An ancient southern extension of the Silk Road ran from Kashgar, at the western end of the Tarim Basin, over the Pamirs to India (now Pakistan). The modern Karakoram Highway, one of the highest roads in the world, now follows much the same route. Here, on what Tajiks call Bom-i-Dunyo, the Roof of the World, a confrontation that began in far-off north-central Mongolia fourteen years earlier finally reached its denouement. The main players in this drama were Jebe, one of Chingis Khan’s most famous generals, and a Naiman chieftain by the name of Khüchüleg. 

The Naiman was one of the most powerful tribes in Mongolia in the latter half of the twelfth century when Chingis Khan and his own tribe were on the ascendency, and they would prove to be one of his most formidable opponents. Their territories extended from the valley of the Orkhon River in central Mongolia south and west to the Altais and included much of central and and western modern-day Mongolia. Their name naiman means “eight” in Mongolian, perhaps indicating the number of sub-tribes or clans which made up the tribe as a whole. Whether they were a Turkic or a Mongolic people is uncertain. Up until 1175 they were vassals of the Khara Khitai off to the west, but later recognized the suzerainty of the Jin Emperor, who awarded their leader with the title of Tayang (taiwang = Great King) Khan. They aspired to some level of cultural and no doubt considered themselves superior to the Mongols of Chingis Khan. In a famous passage in the Secret History, the Tayang Khan’s wife, Gürbesü, (she had started out as his stepmother but after the death of her husband married her stepson) spoke of the Mongols thus: 
They stink and their clothes are filthy. They live at a great distance from us. Let them stay where they are. But perhaps we can bring their neat daughters-in-law and girls here. We will make them wash their hands and feet. Then they can milk our cows and sheep.
These were words which she would live to regret. 

At least some among the Naiman practiced Nestorian Christianity. This branch of the Christian faith, deemed heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, gravitated eastward to escape persecution and eventually become known as the Church of the East. Although little remembered now, it was once widespread throughout Inner and East Asia and exerted considerable influence. Following the great trade routes east Nestorian Christianity reaching Xian, the main eastern terminus of Silk Road, no later than the 780s (see the Nestorian Stele in Xian). It eventually seeped northward across the Gobi Desert and onto the Mongolian Plateau, where it found adherents among the Keraits, whose leader Tooril was Chingis’s early patron, and their bitter enemies the Naiman. Khüchüleg, son the Tayang Khan, would himself profess to Christianity, although there was little if anything in his tumultuously violent life to indicate that he ever practiced any of its tenets. 

The events leading up to the showdown between the Naiman and Chingis Khan are beyond the scope of this narrative. Suffice it to say that by 1204 the long festering conflict had come to a head. Jamukha, the chieftain of the Jadirat and Chingis’s bosum buddy from his younger days (according to the Secret History they had “swore their brotherhood and love for one another” and at night “slept under the same quilt.”) and now his bitter enemy threw in his lot with the Naiman, as did Togtoga Beki of the Merkits. Chingis held a special animus for the Merkits, since they had once kidnapped his wife Börte, and when Chingis finally managed to retrieve her she was pregnant. It was widely rumored that Chingis’s oldest son Jochi had been actually been sired by a Merkit. Thus there was bad blood between Chingis and Merkits. 

The Mongols were highly outnumbered by the Naiman and their allies, but while camped on the Saar Steppe Chingis had each of his men build five campgrounds at some distance to each other. Naiman watchmen from the top of Azgart Khairkhan Mountain, overlooking the Saar Steppe, said to each other, “Did we say the Mongols are few? . . . Daily they appear to grew in numbers. There are now more fires than stars.” Hearing this, Tayang Khan concluded that he was facing an immense army. A weak and indecisive man totally in the sway of his domineering ex-stepmother-now-wife Gürbesü, Tayang Khan quickly lost all heart for confronting the Mongols directly. Instead he proposed a retreat south to the Altai Mountains where the Naiman army could then turn on the Mongols and engage them after they had exhausted themselves in the chase. He presented this as the tried and true tactic of the “feigned retreat”, but his own son Khüchüleg and other army commanders interpreted it as cowardice. Upon hearing of his father’s plans Khüchüleg exclaimed: 
Old Woman Tayang again! He must have lost his courage to utter such words . . . Tayang, who has never dared venture further afield that a pregnant woman would go to urinate, nor even a calf to graze.
A Naiman military commander chimed in: “Had we expected that you were such a coward, we would have done better to send for Mother Gürbesü and, although she is only a woman, given her command of the army . . . You are stupid, Tayang. It is all over, you have failed.” 
The Saar Steppe, with Azgart Khairkhan Mountain in the distance
The summit of Azgart Khairkhan Mountain
Overruled and held in contempt by his son and army commanders, Tayang Khan had no choice but to stand and confront the Mongols. “A dying life, a suffering body—they are common to all men. Given it is so, let us fight,” he fatalistically concluded. The ever-vacillating Jamukha, perhaps still in his heart enamored of Chingis, the companion of his youth, deserted the Tayang Khan at the last moment, compounding the Naiman ruler’s predicament. The by-then thoroughly demoralized Naiman sought the high ground of a mountain know as Tuleet Uul in current-day Arkhangai Aimag, where they were quickly surrounded by the Mongol army. They tried a nighttime breakout, but according to the Secret History:
They rolled down from the summit, piling on top of another. Their bones were smashed and fell to pieces, like rotten logs; thus they died. 
Tuleet Uul, where the Naiman rolled down like rotten logs

The Naiman were thoroughly routed. Tayang was caught and executed without further ado. His wife Gürbesü was taken prisoner and brought before Chingis. “Did you not say that we Mongols have a bad smell? So why have you come now?” he chided her. He then made her one of his wives. History is silent about what they said to each other on their wedding night. His son Khüchüleg and a band of his close followers did manage to break out of the Mongol cordon and escape. It would be another fourteen years before the Chingis’s general Jebi would finally track him down in the high Pamirs.