As summer has descended and my schedule has become irregular, I have found it difficult to create time to finish the Kazakhstan history series I began in the Spring. Panels 6-10 will definitely come to the Wild Apple Grove, but I am not sure when.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
According to the great Kazakh historian Shokan Valikhanov (more about him in a future panel) "their lands were threatened from all sides, their cattle were driven away and entire families were taken captive by the Dzungars, Volga Kalmuks, Yaik Cossacks, and Bashkirs" in the early 1720s. These were the years of the Great Disaster.
In the 1730s, the Kazakhs were able to reverse the tide of the invasion under the leadership of several important batyrs, of whom Bogenbay and Raimbek and Ablai are probably the most famous. Starting in 1726, the three juzes or hordes (Great Horde, Middle Horde, and Small Horde) united in their fight against the Dzungars. They took back control of their homeland over the course of the next decade, though the fighting continued beyond that. The Battle of Anrakai in 1730 was a major turning point in this fight; under the leadership of Abul Khair Khan the united Kazakhs defeated the Dzungars and forced to retreat toward the territory of the Dzungar Khanate (present-day northern China). In 1758, Ablai Khan led a united Kazakh army which forced the Dzungars out of Kazakh lands for good. The Kazakhs were aided by the fact that the Dzungars were under attack by the Chinese Empire at the same time.
To sum up, during the middle 18th century, the Kazakhs took back control of their homeland from the invading Dzungars. While they remained divided into three separate juzes, they sometimes united under one khan. The khans of each juz were selected by the collective leaders of each aul, which is a community with extended family ties. I find the political structure of the nomadic Kazakhs fascinating. While Soviet historians typically described it as a feudal state, current historians more often describe it as a "military democracy," with political authority given to leaders based on military strength and leadership. To learn more about this, check out Martha Brill Olcott's excellent book, The Kazakhs, some of which can be read online through Google Books.
Monday, May 20, 2013
By the mid-15th century, the successors to Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire had lost control of their territory, split up into numerous kingdoms across Central Asia. In the 1460s, the Kazakh Khanate was born when several "Kazakh" leaders joined together and broke away from the Uzbek-dominated khanate (or kingdom) of Abu'l-Khayr Khan . This is the first time in the historical record when we hear of the Kazakhs referring to themselves as such. There is some argument about the origin of this word, but the most likely explanation is that it comes from the Turkic word qazaq, which means "to wander." Thus the Kazakhs were wandering steppe herders and warriors.
The Kazakh khanate flourished in the middle ages and came to control the area that is now Kazakhstan as well as territory that extended into Southern Siberia and present-day Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. During this time, the Kazakhs controlled much of the Silk Road, including the important cities of Tashkent, Taraz, and Turkistan, all of which experienced a cultural renaissance during the period between the 15th and 18th centuries.
In the early 1600s, the Kazakh Khanate split into three "Juzes" or hordes. These were distinct political confederations--the Great, Middle, and Small Juzes--each of which had its own distinct geographic boundaries. At times the Juzes were united under a single leader (whom all three agreed to follow), but other times they had no common leader and were politically divided.
This panel depicts the beginning of the end of Kazakh dominance of Kazakhstan. Notice all of the mourners, as well as the people being taken as prisoners and slaves. The years of 1723-1727 are known in Kazakh history as "the years of Great Disaster." This was the beginning of repeated Dzungar (pronounced Jungar) incursions into Kazakhstan, which coincided with several years of famine and widespread illness across the steppes. The Dzungars were a nomadic people who arose in northwestern China and southwestern Mongolia in the 17th century. In the early 18th century, they pushed westward into Kazakhstan, plundering and destroying Turkistan and Tashkent in 1724-1725. The wars with the Dzungars continued for many years, and they will continue in our next panel.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
- The warrior on the left has two things common to both the Mongols of Genghis Khan's day and the Kazakhs centuries later: the composite recurve bow and the hunting falcon. The bow was made of layers of horn, wood or bamboo, and sinew which were glued together with animal glue. This design made for a very powerful bow which did not have to be too long and unwieldy (like the English long bow, whose power was a function of its size). Warriors could therefore load and shoot this bow quickly and easily while riding a horse or pony. The mounted archer formed the backbone of the Mongol army.
- The falcon was used for hunting by the Mongols, and it would continue to be used by the Kazakhs. I learned that the Golden Eagles in Central Asia are powerful enough to take down a wolf!
- The musician is once again playing the two-stringed dombra of the Central Asian steppes.
- The seated figure on the right is offering a ram's head, which has long been given to the most important member or guest at a feast.
Thoughts on the MongolsThe Mongols had consolidated control of this part of Central Asia by 1223. In my opinion, the Mongols and Genghis Khan are often given an undeservedly bad rap in the West, where we usually associate them with violence and terror. In reality, they were no more ruthless than other soldiers of their day. Perhaps Genghis Khan differed only in his thoroughness in eliminating enemies and rivals during his rise to power and while extending his dominion. The establishment of Mongol supremacy across the Eurasian steppe brought benefits to many of the people who found themselves under Mongol domination. However, the aristocracy--who also happened to be the writers of history--typically were not better off. They lost their power to tax and control the peasants who lived at their mercy and served at their command. On the other hand, commoners experienced many benefits of unification: stability, lower taxes, safe and widespread trade, faster communication, religious tolerance, freedom to travel, and the spread of knowledge, ideas, and technology across previously closed borders.
A little bit about Genghis Khan
The boy who would become Great Khan was born in 1162 (the most commonly accepted date) in the northeast of present-day Mongolia and named Temujin by his father, one of many Mongol chieftains. The Mongols of his day were nomadic herders of sheep and horses. When Temujin was nine, his father was murdered by a rival tribe of Tatars in the continuance of an old feud. Temujin's family were abandoned by their tribe and spent the next few years struggling to survive on their own. With no livestock and few possessions, they had to hunt and gather food in order to survive.
At the age of ten, Temujin killed his older half-brother Behter, who apparently had tried to bully him one time too many. He was captured and forced into slavery by another group of Mongols, but he escaped around the age of fourteen. Toughened by his years in the wilderness and educated by his mother in the skills necessary to survive in the Asian steppe, Temujin was recognized as a leader and began to build up a following of his own. By 1206, he had eliminated his rivals one at a time, and he was proclaimed Genghis Khan--which translates to "oceanic ruler," i.e. universal ruler--by a great assembly of Mongols. He had consolidated power and united all of the Mongol tribes. They were now poised to break out of the Mongol steppes and start taking over the rest of the world.
The Mongols extend their reach
Now that Genghis Khan had united the Mongols, they created a formidable fighting force. Using tactics that they had honed in large and organized hunts, they invaded and took over much of China before turning westward, across the Tian Shan Mountains to the empire of Khwarezm. Khwarezm had its power base in Persia, but it reached eastward into present-day Kazakhstan and westward into the Caucasus.
Controlling much of the Silk Road, Khwarezm was quite a wealthy empire. According to the history books, Genghis Khan sent a caravan of Muslim merchants to Khwarezm to open trade routes between their empires, and they were massacred by the governor of Otrar, a city in present-day Kazakhstan. When the emperor of Khwarezm refused to apologize or make any sort of restitution, Genghis Khan was provoked to leave his Chinese campaign and invade Khwarezm.
This was the war that earned the Mongols a reputation for brutality. Mongol soldiers destroyed fields and irrigation works in order to compel surrender. They laid seige to city after city, sometimes massacring entire populations of towns that resisted. By 1223, the Mongols had conquered most of present-day Kazakhstan, and the remainder of Khwarezm would come under their control during the annual campaigns of Genghis Khan's successors.
Genghis Khan died in August 1227 and was buried in a secret place in the mountains, probably close to his birthplace near the Onon River. His successors continued expanding their empire until they reached even deeper into Russia, the Caucasus, the Southwest Asia, and Eastern Europe. At its extent, the Mongol Empire was the largest the world has ever known.
Why so much about Genghis Khan and the Mongols in a blog about Kazakhstan? Besides the fact that Kazakhstan lies squarely in the center of the Mongol Empire, Kazakhs are close cousins to the Mongol herders and warriors that reigned in the medieval steppes.
And there will be more on that next time!
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Notice the image of the wolf nursing the baby boy in the lower left corner--does this remind you of a famous European city's founding legend? It looks just like depictions of Romulus and Remus that I saw in Rome. It turns out that the Kazakhs--and other Turkic peoples--have a similar founding myth.
Kazakhs are members of the Turkic linguistic group. This group includes Mongols, Turks, Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Uyghers, Azerbaijanis, and other nations, all of whom share common ancestors from the plains of northern China and Mongolia. The Turkic peoples migrated to the Kazakh steppes in the 5th or 6th century A.D. Notice the representation of the yurt in the upper left corner of this panel and the mounted archers on the right. Both of these are elements of the nomadic Turkic culture that spread across the steppes over the next several centuries. From the 6th century until the area's consolidation under Genghis Khan in the 13th century, the Kazakh steppes and surrounding mountains were inhabited and ruled by a host of different Turkic khaganates or empires.
This was also the period of history in which the Silk Road connecting East and West began to flourish. The buildings in the upper right corner of this panel represent the wealthy and cosmopolitan cities that grew up along this route during this time.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Several of my students, along with some adults, have been asking me questions about Kazakhstan's history. With the caveat that I am not an expert, I will use the Wild Apple Grove share some things that I learned on my trip.
There will be a lot of gaps here, so I would love for my Kazakhstani readers--and anyone else who is knowledgeable--to add to these posts and correct any mistakes by posting comments below.
In Independence Square in Almaty, there stands a series of ten bronze bas-relief panels that tell about the history of Kazakhstan. I will use these panels to frame each of my posts.
The first panel depicts the famous Scythian queen Tomyris receiving the submission of the Persians after defeating Cyrus the Great on the battlefield. According to legend, she asked for Cyrus's head upon her army's victory. When she received it, the legend states that she dunked his head in a bowl of blood, saying "I told you I would give you your fill of blood--now drink it!"
Who were the Scythians? They were among the first great horse-riding pastoral nomadic cultures who lived in the vast Eurasian steppes. They seem to have inhabited the steppes of Kazakhstan, Siberia, and Eastern Europe starting around 1500 B.C. We know some things about the Scythians from the Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote about their wars with the Persians.
Kazakhstan's famous "Golden Man" (Issyk kurgan) was created between 400-200 B.C., during the Scythian period Kazakhstan. The Golden Man was unearthed near Almaty in 1969 and dates to the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. Today he is a symbol of independent Kazakhstan, and there is an impressive statue of him in Independence Square in Almaty.
Tomorrow I'll talk about the successors to the Scythians. Here's a sneak peak: