Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mesopotamia | Loveland

Read the Mesopotamian’s Love Letter To An Old Flame.
 The Mesopotamian

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Otrār Besieged

From their rallying point in the Seven River Region the armies of Chingis Khan descended upon the city of Otrār. As noted, Nasawi wrote that the Khwarezmshah sent 20,000 horsemen to defend the city. Juvaini on the other hand claimed that the Khwarezmshah sent a commander named Qaracha Khass-Hajib to Otrār with 10,000 men and had also sent 50,000 troops from his auxiliary armies. In any case. it appeared at first glance that the city was well-defended. The Gāyer Khan had strengthened and reenforced the walls of the the Rabad (outer city, the Shahristan (walled inner city), and the Ark, or citadel, and had laid in a vast store of weapons. Despite all this when he climbed the city wall to view the arrival of the Mongol army, he “bit the back of his hand in amazement” at the “tossing sea of countless hosts and splendid troops” arrayed before him, according to Juvaini. The entire multitude may have numbered 150,000 men. 

The siege of Otrār probably begin in September of 1219. Chingis realized early on that his entire army was not needed to take Otrār, and he may have not wanted to give the other cities of Transoxiania more time to prepare their defenses. After the city was surrounded and no escape possible for its defenders he decided to split up his army. Several tümen, including a tümen of Uighur auxiliaries (a division numbering 10,000 each) of troops), under the command of his two middle sons Chagatai and Ögedei were ordered to stay and continue the siege of Otrār. His oldest son Jochi and several tümen were dispatched down the Syr Darya toward Jand and other cities. Half a tümen proceeded up the valley of the Syr Darya to Khojend and Fanakat. Chingis himself and his youngest and perhaps favorite son Tolui would lead the main body of the army to Bukhara, the city which rivaled Samarkand as the most important in Transoxiana. 

There were soon signs of rifts among the city’s leadership. After the Khwarezmshah had seized control of Otrār in 1210 city or early 2011 he had executed the father, uncle, and various other relatives of a prominent local official named named Badr al-Din al-Amid. Despite the transgressions of his family members Badr al-Din al-Amid had remained on as the civil governor of the city. He nursed a grudge against the Khwarezmshah, however, and he was only too eager to avenge the murder of his relatives by siding with the Mongols who now appeared at the city’s walls. He may have also realized he was buying his way out of a doomed city. Intimately familiar with the political situation in Transoxiania, he was able to give Chingis detailed intelligence about the fault lines in the Sultan’s court, including dirt about the feud between the Sultan and his mother and the military party she headed. Chingis would later put this information to good use. Also, it will be remembered that one of the proposals given by the Khwarezmshah’s military council had been to allow Chingis into Transoxiana and then use the defenders’ supposedly superior knowledge of the the local countryside to corner and ambush his troops. This advantage quickly evaporated as Chingis received intimate knowledge about the roads and conditions in the countryside from Badr al-Din al-Amid and other Muslim collaborators. As Barthold points out, “The strategic plans of Chingiz-Khan and their brilliant execution prove that the geographical conditions were well known to him.” 

For four months the battle raged before the walls of Otrār. As it become increasingly obvious the city would never escape from the noose the Mongols had thrown around it the military commander Qaracha Khass-Hajib advised surrender. Gāyer Khan refused, knowing full well that given his role in The Plundering Of The Mongol Trading Caravan and the execution of Chingis’s emissary he could expect no quarter from the Mongols. To surrender was to die. Instead he argued: “‘If we are unfaithful to our master [the Sultan], how shall we excuse our treachery, and under what pretext shall we escape from the reproaches of Moslems?” 

Juvaini’s account of what happened next is muddled. Apparently one night Qaracha Khass-Hajib opened the Sufi-Khana Gate to the city and sent some of his forces outside the walls to do battle with the Mongols. That night the Mongols somehow entered by the same gate and managed to take Qaracha Khass-Hajib prisoner. Apparently now that he was in the hands of the Mongols he and some of his officers attempted to switch allegiance and throw in their lot with the besiegers. Unfortunately for Qaracha Khass-Hajib, the Mongols took a dim view of such expedient, self-serving behavior on the battlefield. “Thou has been unfaithful to your own master in spite of his claims on thee on account of past favors. Therefore neither can we expect fidelity of thee.” Qaracha Khass-Hajib and his companions were then introduced to the Destroyer of Delights. There is no mention by Juvaini if they were tortured before their executions or how they died. He says only that he and his companions managed to “attain to a degree of martyrdom.” 

Both the outer and inner sections of the city were overrun by the Mongols. The entire populace was herded outside the walls ”like a flock of sheep” and the now-empty city looted by the victorious Mongols and their auxiliaries. If Gāyer Khan had harbored any remaining doubts about fighting on against the Mongols the fate of Qaracha Khass-Hajib must have squelched them. He and 20,000 of his men retreated behind the walls of the Ark (citadel) and prepared to fight “as long as one of them had breath in his body.” They did not go down easily. “They set their hearts upon death and having bid themselves farewell sallied forth fifty at a time and spitted their bodies upon spears and swords.” They got their wish for martyrdom but not before inflicting serious damage. Even Juvaini admits that “many from the Mongol army were slain.” 

After a month of vicious fighting only Gāyer Khan, two of his bodyguards, and members of his harem remained alive. They took final refuge on the roof of the Citadel. The Mongols had strict order to take Gāyer Khan alive. They killed his bodyguards and Gāyer Khan finally shot the last of his arrows. His women then handed him bricks which he hurled down on his tormenters. Finally even these were exhausted. In light of his eventual fate he would have been well advised to commit suicide by jumping off the top of the Citadel. Instead, he allowed himself to be captured and bound in heavy chains. Eventually he was taken to Samarkand for his inevitable meeting with the Destroyer of Delights, the details of which will be related later. The Citadel was demolished and the walls of the city completely razed. Many of the common people of the city were rounded up and made to serve as levies in upcoming battles. Artisans among the populace were ordered to practice their crafts for the benefit of their new Mongol overlords. Thus the deaths of the 450 merchants in the Mongol trade caravan and the execution of Chingis Khan’s emissary to Gāyer Khan were avenged. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | The Khwarezmshah Prepares for War

Even before the arrival of the last Mongolian embassy led by Ibn Kafaraj Bughra the Khwarezmshah had sought the advice of his military and political advisors about what to do in the case of war with Chingis. Thus he himself had probably concluded that the massacre of the merchants in Otrār had made war inevitable. One of his military advisers, Shihab ad-Din Khiwaqi, counseled that the Khwarezmshah should concentrate his entire army on the banks of Syr Darya and confront the Mongol army in one huge battle before the Mongols had time to recover from their long march. The downside of this idea was the all of the Khwarezmshah’s generals, many of whom belonged to the Turkmen aristocracy loyal to his mother, would be gathered together in one place along with all of their soldiers. Their loyalty to the Sultan himself was by no means certain, and there was a very real possibility of a coup d’état by generals who would overthrow their command-in-chief. This proposal was dismissed. 

Another proposal was to allow the Mongols to enter Transoxiania uncontested and then, taking advantage of the defenders’ knowledge of the local countryside, ambush the invaders on numerous fronts. Still others advised abandoning Transoxiania to its fate and retreating south to Khorasan. The Khwarezmshah’s armies would then have to defend only the fords on the Amu Darya to keep the Mongols bottled up in Transoxiania north of the river. Others, the most pusillanimous of his counselors, argued that both Transoxiana and Khorasan were indefensible and that the Sultan and his armies should cross the Hindu Kush Mountains and seek refuge in India . . . Continued.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Ride to Khwarezmia

Back in Mongolia Chingis had convened a Khuriltai to plan the invasion of Khwarezm. He was not one to ride off half-cocked. His anger over the murder of his envoy to Otrār had cooled, but his resolution to exact retribution had stiffened. His intelligence networks would have informed him that while the Khwarezmshah was inflicted by infighting among his family and court and by rising discontent among the populace he was still capable of putting half as million or so soldiers into the field. Chingis organized the invasion of Khwarezm in the same step-by-step methodical way he had attacked and finally defeated the Jin in northern China. Leaving the Mongolian Plateau in the spring of 1219, he and his assembled army crossed the passes through the Mongol Altai and dropped down into the upper basin of the Irtysh River, on the northern side of the Zungarian Depression. On the rich grassland straddled the Irtysh he and his men spent the summer fattening their horses. They no doubt also took time to engage in huge hunts for wild game which not only provided food but also served as training exercises for his troops. By the early autumn, when the grass began to yellow, commanders and men were familiarized with each other and their horses were fattened and well-rested. The march west began. 

Most accounts imply, even if they do not state outright, that his entire army proceeded en masse to the western end of the Zungarian Basin. (According to one alternative account, Chingis divided his army into two wings, one led by his son Chagatai which would take a northerly route via the Zungarian Basin and another under the command of his son Jochi which would take a southerly route through the Tarim Basin. ) Leaving the bottom of the basin, they rode through the Bor Steppe and by Lake Sayram, areas which as we have seen were in the domains of Ozar Khan and now his son Siqnaq Tegin, and then crossed over the Borohogo Range via the Ak-Tasi Pass. 
Lake Sayram
Then via switch-backed trails they dropped down the great ramparts on the western side of the Borohogo Range into the Ili Valley. . . Continued.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | The Khwarezmshahs

Ala al-Din Mohammad, the sultan who had ordered or acquiesced to the Murder Of The 450 Muslim Traders in Otrār, was the fifth of the Khwarezmshahs to rule Khwarezmia. His line began when the Seljuk Turks conquered the province of Khwarezm, the area encompassing the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River and its delta where flows into the Aral Sea. Starting in the 11th century, the Seljuks Turks, originally nomadic tribesmen of Inner Asia, had created a vast empire encompassing much of current-day Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iran, Iraq, and Turkmenistan. In the early 1040s they invaded Khwarezmia and after taking control of the province appointed a succession of military governors. In 1073 a Turkish slave-soldier named Anustigin was named governor and given the title of Tastar, or “Keeper of the Royal Washing Bowls”. In 1097 his son Arslantigin inherited the position and assumed the title of Khwarezmshah, thus initiating a line of rulers who would oversee the province of Khwarezm and later the Khwarezm Empire for the next 130 years. 

Arslantigin’s son Atsiz rebelled against his Seljuk overlords in 1141–42 and was defeated in battle, but managed to retain control of Khwarezmia while remaining a vassal of the Seljuk Sultan Sanjar. Around this time the Khara Khitai impinged on Khwarezm from the east and they like the Seljuks demanded tribute from the Khwarezmshah. Atsiz’s son Arslan became Khwarezmshah in 1156. A year later the great Seljuk Sultan Sanjar died and Seljuk power in the province of Khwarezm waned. The Khwarezmshah Atsiz still paid tribute to the Khara Khitai, but he had a much freer hand with the decline of the Seljuks and in 1158 he invaded Transoxiania, thus giving rise to the nascent Khwarezm Empire. An invasion of Khorasan, the former territory of the Seljuks (modern-day eastern Iran) was initially aborted, but clearly the Khwarezmshahs were becoming dominant players in Inner Asia during the latter half of the twelfth century. 

Arslan’s successor, Tekesh, pursued his father’s expansionist policies in northern Khorasan while continuing to recognize the suzerainty of the Khara Khitai. To aid in his wars of expansion in Khorasan and elsewhere he sought the aid of Kipchak, Oghus, and other tribesman who nomadized around the Aral Sea to the north of the province of Khwarezm. Most of these Turkmen still followed the ancient chthonic religions of the steppe and while they proved to be fierce and effective warriors they soon earned hatred of the Islamic peoples of Khorasan for their unbridled violence and cruelty. In 1192 Tekesh invested Rayy, one of the leading cities of Khorasan, and claimed much of the province for himself. In 1194 he defeated and killed one of the the last great Seljuk sultans, Toghrul III (r. 1174–1194), cementing his hold on large portions of Khorasan. Tekesh was planning an attack on the Abbasid CaIiphate in Baghdad, the defeat of which would have made him essentially the ruler of the Islamic geosphere, when he died in 1200. 

Tekesh’s son Ala al-Din Mohammad, the Khwarezmshah who would confront Chingis Khan, eventually turned on his Khara Khitai suzerains and attempted to rule Transoxiania independently. He continued his father’s takeover of Khorasan and expanded his empire into northern Afghanistan. In 1217, as we have seen, he attempted to realize his father’s dream of seizing the Caliphate for himself by invading Mesopotamia and its capital of Baghdad. This venture failed, but nevertheless as the year 1218 drew to a close the Khwarezmshah appeared to be the most powerful potentate in Inner Asia. Yet all was not well in the domains of the Sultan. First and foremost, off to the the east loomed the ominous figure of Chingis Khan and his Mongols. 

The Sultan had been warring with the Khara Khitai under the Gür Khan for much of his reign and had only managed to win a decisive battle against them in 1210. Then just one small wing of Chingis’s army under the command of Jochi had swept into the territories of the Khara Khitai and not only quickly defeated and scattered the Khara Khitai forces but had also managed to capture and kill the pretender-Gür Khan Khüchüleg. Now the nascent empire of Chingis Khan were coterminous with his own empire. To make matters even worse, Jebe and His Mongols were seen as the liberators of the Muslims in the western Tarim Basin, while he himself was hated by the Islamic people of Khorasan for the deprecations of the Turkmen unbelievers who had been recruited into the Khwarezmian army by his father and himself. He had also tried to unseat the Caliph in Baghdad, a Sunni Muslim, and replace him with a Shiite sayyed, Ala al-Molk Termedi, thus stoking age-old sectarian rivalries and earning him the enmity of the Sunni majority in his realm. Indeed, there were rumors that the Caliph in Baghdad, Nasir, had initiated contact with Chingis Khan, asking him to attack Khwarezmia and overthrow the Khwarezmshah. Presumably the Caliph did not consider the nomads from Mongolia a threat to the Abassid Caliphate itself. If this is indeed the case, then Nasir, the Abassid Caliph, had made a miscalculation of inestimable proportions. 

And then of course the Khwarezmshah had just overseen the murder of 450 Muslim traders in Otrār, an act which would not endear him to the powerful Islamic mercantile class in his domains, a group whose ambitions were at odds with those of his own to begin with. Then there were the Sufis, orders of mystically-minded Muslims whose networks permeated Inner Asia. According to one modern historian,
 . . . Sufi histories came to claim that it was their spiritual masters who had invited Chinggis Khan to invade and decimate the Muslim world. In their view it was only by weeding out the old corrupt Muslim order that the true and righteous form of Sufi Islam could flourish.
There were also the problems in his own court. The first and foremost was his mother, Terken Khatun. She was originally from one of the Turkmen tribes who nomadized around the Aral Sea north of Khwarezm. Juzjani claims she was the daughter of the Khan of Kipchaq; Nasawi says she came from the Yemek, another Turkmen tribe. Juvaini adds that she was an “A’jami”—a barbarian or someone of non-Muslim birth. In any case, the Khwarezmshah’s father Tekesh had apparently married her in an attempt cement his alliance with the Turkmen tribesmen he needed to prosecute his wars in Khorasan and elsewhere. Juvaini had a low opinion of Terken Khatun’s people:
 . . . mercy and compassion were far removed from their hearts. Wherever they passed by, that country was laid in ruins and the people took refuge in their strongholds. And indeed it was their cruelty, violence, and wickedness that brought about the downfall of the Sultan’s dynasty. 
It was this behavior that had earned their commander-in-chief, the Sultan, the hatred of the people of Khorasan. 

After the death of her husband and the ascension of her son as Khwarezmshah Terken maintained a fiefdom of her own and insisted on keeping her own separate court. Juvaini maintains that from this position of independence she, the Khatun (Queen), thoroughly dominated her son, controlling his finances and giving orders to officials he had appointed. Also, many of her fellow tribesmen had achieved high rank in the Khwarezmian army and their ultimate loyalty was to her and not her son. And if we are to believe Juvaini she indulged in “secret revelries,” although the prim and proper historian does not go into detail about this. It did not take Chingis Khan’s intelligence network long to sniff out this potential riff in the royal family and he would soon attempt to exploit it for his own purposes. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mongolia | Zanabazar Guide | Kindle Version

This version has 108 illustrations. They appear in black and white on Kindles themselves, but of course they are in color on devices that support color using the free Kindle app, including Mac and Windows computers and the iPad. I must say the photos look great on the iPad. And you hard-core cheapskates can still get the Text Only Kindle Version of the book for even less! While you are at it, also order the Kindle Version of Travels in Northern Mongolia. If you have not yet upgraded to Kindle now is the time.  Dead Tree Books are so twentieth-century. Don’t be an old Fuddy-Duddy!

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