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The rise of Russia, the fall of the Golden Horde, and the resilient Chaghatayids

Monday, May 19, 2008 

The rule of Husayn Bayqara (1469–1506) coincided for the most part with that of Ivan III (1462–1505), the knyaz or prince of Moscow (or Muscovy, to use the contemporary English name of the principality).If the Timurid’s reign shone with the sophistication of cultural life in Herat, the Muscovite’s stood out for different reasons: definitive emancipation from the “Tatar yoke” in 1480, and rapid unification of other principalities under that of Moscow. By the time Ivan III’s grandson, Ivan IV “the Terrible” (1530–84), ascended the throne in 1547, Muscovy had become Russia, a nascent empire ruled by an ever more powerful tsar.

The rise of a unified Russia was mirrored, in reverse fashion, by the decline of her erstwhile Mongol suzerain. The Khanate of Kipchak, the “Golden Horde” of the Russians, had already been dealt a heavy blow when Timur devastated its capital city Saray and other economic centers in 1395, and it was in due course rent asunder by mutual rivalries that by 1466 produced four separate khanates: the “Great Horde,” a paltry remnant of the once mighty khanate, located to the west of the lower Volga; and the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan and the Crimea. In 1502 the ruler of the last-named khanate, Mengli Girey, did Russia’s work at her adversary’s expense, for he destroyed what was left of the “Great Horde,” thus removing the one unit that might have attempted a reconstitution of the Golden Horde.

The Mongol rulers and people of the three remaining khanates had by then adopted Islam and become Turkicized, and were carrying on lively relations with other Islamic countries, especially with Central Asia and the Ottoman empire. The Ottoman Turks in 1475 seized the southern fringe of the Crimea and subsequently extended their suzerainty over that khanate; and in the sixteenth century they made attempts to establish a cooperation, a kind of “common front,” with the Shaybanid Uzbeks. The new alliance was directed primarily against Shii Iran, but for a brief period, under Sokollu Mehmet Pasha – grand vizier from 1565 to 1579 – its target was also Russia. This far-sighted Ottoman statesman was rightly concerned: Ivan IV had in two vigorous campaigns destroyed the khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556) and annexed their territories, an unprecedented reverse at a time when no obstacles to constant expansion of the Dar al-Islam led by the mighty Ottoman empire appeared possible; worse still, the conquests created almost overnight a new and powerful neighbor for the Ottoman and Central Asian Turks. Sokollu conceived the bold plan of digging a navigable canal from the Don to the Volga rivers and thus making it possible for Ottoman ships to reach the Caspian Sea. The project was attempted in 1569 in cooperation with the Crimean Tatars, but lack of enthusiasm both at the empire’s center and at the khan’s court stymied the work until it was abandoned with the approach of winter. Had it succeeded, the Turks might have been able to liberate Astrakhan; and had they subsequently adopted an expansive policy in competition with Muscovy for the still Turkic and sparsely populated Kipchak steppe instead of engaging in interminable and ruinous wars against the Habsburgs in the Balkans or Venice in the Mediterranean, their empire might have ultimately fared better. If Sokollu Mehmet feared Russia, however, few of his co-religionists shared his apprehension, and for some time to come her behavior seemed to prove them right. The Russians appeared contented with having reached the Volga estuary and the shores of the Caspian, but otherwise did not press their advantage farther south toward Ottoman or Shaybanid possessions; instead, their expansion took an eastward tack, beyond the Ural mountains into the vast expanse of Siberia. The only serious resistance, that of the Khanate of Sibir, which the Russians attacked for the first time in 1582, collapsed by 1600 with the death of its khan Küchüm. By 1649, the Russians reached the Pacific and anchored their presence there by constructing the fortification of Okhotsk; and a mere three years later they staked out their ownership of Siberia against possible Mongol or Chinese claims by erecting, in the continent’s geographical center, the fortress of Irkutsk. It was the most grandiose growth of a continental empire ever – with the notable exception of Genghis Khan’s; but fundamental structural differences separated the two, for the Mongol Empire was little more than a frail artificial edifice, whereas the Russian empire was to become solid as a rock.

Closer to home, Russia waited for another age before annexing the Crimea in 1783 and conquering Central Asia between 1865 and 1884; the latter conquest, however, began in the eighteenth century, if we include northern Kazakhstan in this area. Each step had its special characteristics and internal as well as external ramifications. The Siberian expansion appears at first sight to have been almost elemental, undertaken by the spontaneous dynamism of Cossacks and merchants. It was methodically propped up by strategic or logistical settlements, however; above all, Moscow just as relentlessly extended firm government control over the freshly acquired possessions, thus becoming a permanent neighbor of much of Inner Asia as conceived of in this study.

Until directly attacked by Russia, however, the people of Inner Asia remained absorbed in their more immediate goals and conflicts. The Kazakh khans, despite witnessing the expansion of the infidel giant to the north and his absorption of the khanate of Sibir, had their sights turned chiefly southward toward the Syr Darya and Ili and the territories beyond these two rivers. Their khan Qasim (1511–23) was the first personality under whom the recently formed nationality acquired the more discernible structure of a khanate. From then on and for the rest of the sixteenth century, his successors would usually hold on to the northern bank of the Syr Darya and to such cities as Tashkent and Sayram, except for periods when the campaigns of the Shaybanid Abdallah II made them withdraw deeper into the Kazakh steppe. Haqq Nazar (1538–80), on the other hand, made significant inroads into Moghulistan, especially into the Issyk Kul area, where he and his Kazakhs struck up friendly relations with Muhammad, leader of the Kyrgyz. Qasim and Haqq Nazar could with some legitimacy claim to speak for all Kazakhs. From the seventeenth century until the Russian conquest in the nineteenth, however, these nomads only seldom and for brief periods recognized the authority of a single khan; usually they formed three separate tribal confederations or “Hordes,” thus called by the Russians (“Orda”) but known as “Jüz” (“Hundred”) in Kazakh: the Lesser Horde in western Kazakhstan, the Middle Horde in central Kazakhstan, and the Greater Horde in southeastern Kazakhstan (more or less coterminous with Semireche).T his fragmentation could not but undermine their power to resist subsequent incursions by the Kalmyks and eventual conquest by the Russians.

The Shaybanids had mostly peaceful relations with the Chaghatayids of Moghulistan and Kashgaria, but only after the latter had given up their ambitions in Fergana, an area claimed by most rulers of Transoxania; this rivalry caused an initial conflict between the two dynasties, which ended in 1508 with the capture and execution of Mahmud, the khan of Altishahr (Kashgaria), by Muhammad Shaybani. Mahmud’s elder brother, Ahmad, the khan of Moghulistan, had meanwhile died in 1503, and it was his two sons, the aforementioned Mansur and Said, who would propel the dynasty to a relatively successful reign in Sinkiang for several more generations. Mansur Khan (1503–43), a devout Muslim, spent his chief efforts on a jihad eastward into the grey zone of lingering Buddhism and Mongol and Chinese claims, as for example were the oasis towns of Hami (Qomul) and Tunhuang. He also endeavored, on the home front, to quicken the conversion of those of his subjects who still remained alien to Islam, chiefly the Kyrgyz. Said Khan (1514–32) meanwhile directed his efforts southward toward Ladakh; he was assisted in this by Muhammad Haydar Mirza, the aforementioned Dughlat emir and historian who subsequently also served Said’s successor Abd al-Rashid (1532–70).A break soon occurred between the latter two, however, and resulted in Haydar Mirza’s retreat to India in 1541, where he entered the service of Babur’s son Humayun and was given the task of governing the province of Kashmir.

Abd al-Rashid became preoccupied with events in northwestern Moghulistan, the area of the Tianshan mountains around lake Issyk Kul and the lower Ili region. It was thither that the Kazakh khan Haqq Nazar, as we have mentioned, directed the thrust of his campaigns. Haqq Nazar was unopposed by Mansur Khan’s successor Shah Khan (1545–70), who was too preoccupied with his brother Muhammad’s rebellion farther east. The latter complication illustrates the weakness of this diminished resurrection of the Chaghatayid principality, its breakup among family members who seldom displayed a concord of the kind that had produced a minor “Chaghatayid renaissance” under Mansur Khan and Said Khan. Moreover, their successors gradually lost control of northern Moghulistan, an area increasingly overrun by Kazakhs and Kalmyks, so that only Sinkiang proper – Kasgharia and Uighuristan – remained their principal possession. There their rule tended to split up into three segments whose urban centers were usually: (1) Aksu, the northwestern fringe of the area and, although reckoned as one of the cities of Altishahr, also viewed as part of Moghulistan; (2) Kashgar or Yarqand (Altishahr); and (3) Turfan (Uighuristan). Kashgar, which like Turfan enjoyed a special status for a variety of reasons – as an ancient intersection on the Silk Road and gateway to Transoxania, as a time-honored capital of regional kingdoms, and as the residence of venerated religious personalities with their tombs nearby – was an ancient city with a recurrent political role. It was thither that in the 1530s the aforementioned Makhdum-i Azam sent from Bukhara his emissaries who founded a dervish lodge and a dynasty of religious leaders who would in due course usurp temporal power from the Chaghatayids themselves. 

Posted by Mitch Williamson at 1:34 PM 

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