Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan | Soyolma | Narkhajid

I posted earlier on Soyolma’s Renderings of Tara at the Tsagaandarium Art Gallery. She also had on display what is apparently a variation of Narkhajid.
Rendering of Narkhajid by Soyolma (Enlargement)
Narkhajid (Enlargement)
Detail of Narkhajid Painting (Enlargement)
A more traditional rendering of Narkhajid at Amarbayasgalant Monastery
Another traditional rendering of Narkhajid by Soyolma on display in the Studiolium of my hovel. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mongolia | Gov-Altai Aimag | Shar Khuls Oasis | Gobi Bears

See Mongolia: Endangered Bear Struggles Against Climate Change. Although it does not say so in the article, the place described is Shar Khuls Oasis. I have visited Shar Khuls Oasis twice, and once had A Run-in With A Gobi Bear nearby. 

 Shar Khuls Oasis looking north (see Enlargement)
Shar Khuls Oasis looking south (see Enlargement
Footprints of Gobi Bear we met just south of Shar Khuls 
Mojik and Uyanga fully recovered from their bear encounter

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Bad Air | Supercomputer

According to An Article in Time Magazine the World Health Organization claims that Ulaanbaatar is the second most polluted city in the world, behind only Ahwaz, Iran. I simply cannot believe this. I now live in Zalsan Tolgoi on the outskirts of the city where the air is famously fresh and clean but I did spend half a dozen winters living in the heart of the city, and although the air was bad I would not say it was world-class bad. Are you telling me that the air in Ulaanbaatar is worse than the air in, for instance, Hong Kong (or am I confusing heat and humidity with bad air)? Anyhow, chalk another one up for Ulaanbaatar. According to some sources it is also The Ugliest City in the World.

But wait! Mongolia just got its First Cray Supercomputer!
Yak  checking out Cray Supercomputer

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mesopotamia | Fertile Crescent | Rap Song

Who knew they Rapped in the Fertile Crescent?
Nobody ruled better, I’m Nebuchadnezzar,
Me and my Chaldeans are sharper than cheddar.
We’re so holy like Swiss cheese,
One day my wife said, “Neb, I miss trees.
This city life is too hard for me,
All is see is brown, baby, I need garden-green.”
So I built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for my girl,
It’s one of the seven wonders of the world . . .
 Nebuchadnezzar (c 634–562 BC) knew how to get down. 
Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebbie, as he was known to his friends) built the famous Gate of Ishtar, which can now be seen in Berlin, Germany.
Gate of Ishtar, now in Berlin
Thanks to the Silk Road Gourmet for bringing the Rappin’ Chaldeans to my attention.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Bukhara | Fall of the Citadel

A few days after his Appearance In The Friday Mosque, Chingis visited another mosque outside the city walls. From the pulpit of this mosque he ordered that all the city’s wealthiest people be brought before him. Two hundred and eighty people were produced, 190 from the city itself and ninety merchants from other cities who happened to be in Bukhara at the time. He then harangued these assembled worthies: 
O People know that you have committed great sins, and the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you. 
This is probably the source of the “I am the Scourge of God” declaration attributed to Chingis Khan which pops up in so many later accounts of the Mongol invasion of Mawarannahr. But did Chingis actually make this speech? Other contemporary sources, al-Athir for example, make no mention of it, although such a dramatic reproof of the citizens of Bukhara could hardly have escaped their notice. This leads later commentators to conclude that Juvaini inserted this speech simply to spice up his narrative. Barthold, after examining all the available sources, concludes that Juvaini’s account of the speech “is quite beyond belief.” 

Juvaini and al-Athir do agree, however, that Chingis ordered the assembled notables to cough up much of their wealth. “There is no need to declare your property that is on the face of the earth; tell me of that which is in the belly of the earth,” he told them, apparently meaning he wanted them to reveal whatever possessions they hidden—perhaps buried—from him. To the most important of the merchants he assigned a Mongol or Turk overseer whose job it was to pry their wealth out of them. Juvaini claims, however, that as long as the merchants willingly handed over their possessions these heavies did not “did not torment them by excessive punishment or demanding what was beyond their power to pay.” 

Then each morning more merchants were herded into an audience hall where Chingis harangued them, demanding that they turn over their riches to him. Of special interest to Chingis were the merchants who had dealt in the silver and goods plundered from the Mongol trade caravan at Otrār. As we have been the Khwarezmshah had deposed of his share of the loot to Bukharan merchants, and they were now brought to account and made to produce their ill-gotten gains. The arm of Chingis Khan was long indeed. 

Not everyone in Bukhara acquiesced to the Mongols’ roughshod treatment of their city. The afore-mentioned Jalal-al-Din Ali b. al-Hasan Zaidi, one of the leading imams of the city, and his son objected to the treatment meted out to prisoners and the rape of women by Mongol soldiers. A brawl ensued and both the imam and his son were killed. Others who protested, included the judge Sadr al-Din Khan and Majd al-Din Masud, brother of the Khwarezmshah’s vizier Nizam al-Mulk, were also slain. But these were exceptions. Most inhabitants of the occupied city had no choice but to submit to the Mongols. Except, of course, for Khökh Khan and his 400 men who remained holed up in the Citadel. 

Twelve days after the Mongols had arrived in the city Chingis decided to deal with the diehards in the Citadel. Juvaini would have us believe that in order to flush these remaining men Chingis ordered the surrounding quarters be put to the torch. Within days much of the city, with the exception of places and mosques constructed of baked bricks, had burned to the ground. It is not clear why the entire assembled Mongol army could not deal with 400 men, making such a drastic expedient necessary. Later commentators would suggest that the fire which consumed the city started accidentally while the city was being plundered and quickly spread through the districts made up mostly of wooden buildings. In any case, the fire did not phase the defenders of the Citadel. The Mongols set up mangonels and began heaving huge stones into the Citadel; the defenders responding by flinging out pots of burning naphtha. The Citadel was soon “like a red-hot furnace fed from without by hard sticks thrust into the recesses, while from the belly of the furnace sparks shoot into the air,” claimed Juvaini. Using the local citizenry as human shields the Mongols stormed the walls. The fight went on for days. The Khökh Khan “who in bravery would have born the palm from lions, engaged in many battles: in each attack he overthrew several persons and alone expelled a great army.” All to no avail. Finally the last defenders of the Citadel were “drowned in the sea of annihilation.” 

For reasons which commentators, including Juvaini, do not make entirely clear, Chingis now decided upon a wholesale purge of the already defeated and burned city. Of the Qangli Turks within the city “no male was spared who stood higher than the butt of a whip” and their womenfolk (“slender as the cypress”) and children were sent into slavery. The remaining men and women (of the latter, both “ugly and beautiful,” Juvaini dutifully notes) were driven out onto the surrounding plains and what remained of the city and its walls were leveled. The healthy males, both adults and youths, were dragooned as levies for the upcoming siege of Samarkand. The remaining citizenry retired to surrounding villages, as nothing remained of their city. 

One man who escaped from the carnage in Bukhara eventually ended up in Khorasan. Here he was questioned about the Mongols and the fate of Bukhara. His words, as recorded by Juvaini, have often been repeated: “They came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered and they departed.” Juvaini, who knew his way around words, agreed that “in the Persian language there could be nothing more concise than this speech.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | The Fall of Bukhara

Chingis and his army arrived at Bukhara in February or March of 1220 and camped before the gates of the citadel. The number of defenders inside the city is disputed: Juzjani says there were 12,000 calvary; Juvaini says 20,000 “auxiliary“ troops from the Khwarezmshah’ army; and Nasawi claims 30,000. Among those leading the forces holed up in the city were Ikhtiyar al-Din Kushlu, the Grand Equerry of the Sultan; Hamid Pur, a Khara Khitai taken prisoner by the Sultan in 1210 who later joined his army; a commander by the name of Inānch Khan, and a certain Khökh Khan (Blue Khan), also known as Gürkhan (not, of course the Gürkhan of the Khara-Khitai, who had died in 1214). This Khökh Khan was a Mongol who had earlier deserted to the cause of the Khwarezmshah and achieved a position of some prominence in Bukharan society. Later historians would float the wild rumor that this Khôkh Khan, or Gür Khan, was none other than Jamukha, Chingis’s bosom buddy as a young man (they had slept together under the same blanket for two years, according to the Secret History) and later his arch-nemesis, who had somehow escaped from Mongolia only to pop up again here in Bukhara as the perennial thorn in Chingis’s side. Jamukha did hold the title of Gürkhan (“Universal Ruler) and this may have led some to confuse him with this Mongol deserter who had assumed the same moniker. As the Secret History make perfectly clear, however, Jamukha had been executed by Chingis’s order back in 1205. Whoever Khökh Khan was, he was not Jamukha. 

Surrounded by an army “more numerous than ants or locusts,” it did not take long for these commanders to conclude that they did not want to stay and defend what now appeared to be a doomed city. Three days after the arrival of the Mongols they led their troops (20,000, according to Juvaini) out of the city gates. Juvaini adds that numerous inhabitants of the city decided to take their chances with the bolting soldiers. They finally managed to battle their way through the Mongol cordon and flee south. These escapees from the city hoped to reach the Amu Darya River and cross over to the supposed safety of Khorasan, where the Khwarezmshah was thought to be gathering an army to finally confront the invaders. Mongol detachments sent in pursuit harried them all the way to the Amu Darya. Almost all of the absconders were hounded down and massacred. Hamid Pür was caught and killed before he reached the river. Only a handful of men led by the Inānch Khan managed to cross the river and escape. Thus was the ignominious end of the men the Khwarezmshah had tasked with the defense of Bukhara. 

Khökh Khan and 400 die-hard troops who had refused to abandon the city remained holed up in the Citadel, but the remaining inhabitants of the Bukhara had no choice but to forfeit the rest of their their city. A judge by the name of Badr a-Din led a delegation sent to negotiate the surrender. On the 10th, or the 16th, of February, depending on whose account we believe, Chingis Khan made a triumphal entry into the hitherto noble city of Bukhara. He and his son Tolui rode their horses into the big Friday Mosque, where Tolui dismounted and ascended the minbar, or pulpit. According to Juvaini Chingis then asked if this was the palace of the Khwarezmshah; he was informed the imams in attendance that it was the House of God. He too then dismounted and climbed up onto the pulpit. Although it may have been the House of God, he had more earthly concerns. The Mongols’ horses were hungry and must be fed, he ordered. The city’s granaries were opened and the grain dispensed for horse feed. Chingis’s men dragged the cases which were used to store Qurans out of the mosque, dumped out the sacred books, and used them as feeding troughs for their horses. Their horses having been seen to, they ordered up wine and dancing girls for their own entertainment. Soon the mosque rang with the sound of Mongol songs bellowed by the celebrating inebriates. 

Juvaini, although a scribe in pay of one of Chingis’s descendants, was a Sunni Muslim himself, and he could not keep a note of disapproval out his account of these carryings-on. Hitherto dignified imams, sheiks, and sayyids, he tells us, were made to look after the Mongol horses while their owners partied. When the bacchanalia was over the Mongols rode away, trampling under the feet of their horses the leaves of the Qurans which had been scattered around the courtyard of the mosque. At this point, an imam named Jalal-al-Din Ali b. al-Hasan Zaidi, “chief and leader of the sayyids of Transoxiania . . . famous for his piety and asceticism,” turned to an imam named Rukn-ad-Din Imamzada, “one of the most excellent savants in the the world,” and lamented, “ . . . what state is this? That which I see do I see it in wakefulness or in sleep, O Lord?” Apparently all of which he had just seen seemed like a nightmare to him. His companion replied, “Be silent: it is the wind of God’s omnipotence that bloweth, and we have no power to speak.” The wind was not about to abate, and for many in Khwarezmia the nightmare was just beginning.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | March to Bukhara

While the Siege of Otrār was in progress Chingis Khan and his youngest son Tolui led the main Mongol army southwest to Bukhara. No mention is made in any of the sources about crossing the Syr Darya, usually an intimidating operation, which leads Barthold to opine that the river was frozen over by the time the Mongol army reached it and that they crossed over on the ice. This could have occurred no earlier than late November or early December. The first major town the Mongols encountered south of the Syr Darya was Zarnuq. “When the king of planets raised his banner on the eastern horizon [at sunrise, to the more prosaic-minded],” Chingis and his army appeared before the city walls, according to Juvaini. The inhabitants retired into the Citadel, closed the gates, and at first were determined to resist the Mongol attack. A man named Danishmand (danishman means “consultant”), either a commander of one of the Turkish auxiliary units or a Khwarezmian trader who had attached himself Chingis’s army, was sent into the city to talk some sense into the local panjandrums. After they threatened him with bodily harm, he shouted at them: 
I am . . . a Moslem and a son of a Moslem. Seeking God’s pleasure I am come on an embassy to you, at the inflexible command of Chingiz-Khan, to draw you out of the whirlpool of of destruction and the trough of blood . . . If you are incited to resist in any way, in an hour’s time your citadel will be level ground and the plain a sea of blood. But if you listen to advice and exhortation with the ear of intelligence and consideration and become submissive and obedient to his command, your lives and property will remain in the stronghold of security. 
After this verbal blast the local dignitaries thought it wise to surrender. But they insisted that Danishmand be held hostage while they went out to negotiate terms with Chingis. If any of them were harmed it would mean Danishmand’s head. First they sent forth a delegation with gifts for the Mongol potentate. Chingis did not appreciate this gesture. He dispatched a message to the city fathers telling them to quit wasting time and to appear in person before him immediately. Receiving this summons “a tremor of horror appeared on the limbs of these people” and they presented themselves to Chingis forthwith. Without further ado he accepted their surrender and then ordered all the inhabitants to vacate the city. During a headcount young men were singled out and drafted as levies for siege work in the anticipated attack against Bukhara. Then while the people of Zarnuq were encamped on the the plains outside the city the citadel was leveled. Juvaini does not specifically say the abandoned city was looted, but presumably it was. Still, the inhabitants had escaped with their lives and whatever personal possessions they had managed to keep out the hand of the Mongols. After the invaders left they were free to return to what remained of their city. The relatively benign fate of Zarnuq led Chingis’s soldiers, perhaps Turkish auxiliaries, since the words are Turkish, to nickname the town Qutlugh-Baligh (“Fortunate” or “Blessed” Town). 

To reach Nur, the next big town before Bukhara, the Mongol army had to cross a fearsome stretch of the waterless Kyzyl Kum Desert. Normally this would have been a daunting if not impossible march for a large army, but a Turkmen caravan man in Zarnuq, apparently with a grudge of his own against the Khwarezmshah or in return for coin of the realm, showed Chingis a secret road from Zarnuq to Nūr, greatly facilitating the Mongol advance. Henceforth this route became known as the Khan’s Road (Juvaini tells us that he himself traveled this road years later, in 1251.) Again the belief of the Khwarezmshah’s advisors that his army would have an advantage over the Mongols because of their knowledge of local roads and terrain proved false. At least some elements of the local populace were proving to be more than willing to assist the invading Mongols. 

A Mongol commander by the name of Dayir led the Mongol vanguard to Nur. On the outskirts of town they stopped in some groves of fruit trees—now barren, as it was January—and camped. That night they cut down trees and used the wood to fashion scaling ladders. The next morning they rode up the city walls holding the scaling ladders in front of them The sudden appearance of this Mongol vanguard via a route thought to be known only to merchants caused the watchmen on the walls to mistake it at first for a trading caravan. As the horsemen got closer the watchmen saw the ladders and realized that that the mounted men were invaders. The city gates were thrown shut and the city fathers commenced debating among themselves what course of action to take. After much argument it was decided that they had no choice but to throw in the towel. An envoy was sent to Chingis Khan, who was still advancing across the desert with the bulk of his army. Accepting the city’s surrender, he ordering the city fathers to submit to his general Sübetei, who had already arrived at Nur in the wake of the vanguard. Sübetei herded the inhabitants out of town, allowing them to take along only “what was necessary for their livelihood and the pursuit of husbandry and agriculture, such as sheep and cows . . .” He further ordered that “they should go out on to the plain leaving their houses exactly as they were so that they might be looted by the army.” In return for this acquiescence the Mongols agreed not to inflict bodily harm on anyone. 

When Chingis Khan finally arrived in town he ordered the city’s inhabitants to cough up 1500 dinars, the same amount they paid in taxes to the Khwarezmshah each year. Half of this sum, we are told, was paid in women’s earrings. The fact that the locals still had dinars to pay, and women earrings to hand over, would seem to indicate that individuals had not been robbed of the possessions on their persons, even though the town itself had been sacked and looted. As usual, young men were dragooned as levies, although according to Juvaini only sixty were taken. 

Compared with the devastation the Mongols would later inflict on cities which resisted them, Nur, like Zarnuq, got off rather lightly, even if the women did lament the loss of their earrings. Both cities were essentially sideshows. By February of 1220 Chingis and his army were on the outskirts of Bukhara, and the main event was about to begin.