One of the most famous and charming characters in History was undoubtedly Gengis Khan, almost mythic figure leading a nomad army from the Mongol steppes to the conquest of Eurasia. He built an empire vast more than 30millions square meters, submitted countless people and took cities then considered as impregnable. Into chronicles of the time Gengis Khan was described as a relentless destructor in charge of a legion of demons. However, the formidable warrior is a much more complicated figure and his empire has been more than a barbarian domination based on violence and terror.
A number of historians more and more tend to consider the importance of Mongol empire for countries it entered in contact with, representing an element of modernity and development. This is the thesis of an interesting book as Gengis Khan and the making of the modern world, written by Jack Weatherford. In its opinion Gengis Khan has been essential in dismantling the ancient feudal social structures and in the grant rights as religious freedom. Mongols have been carriers of several innovations as introduction of postal system, diplomatic immunity and banknotes, something definitely away from stereotypes we are used to.
Gengis Khan is also in the middle of another contemporary linked issue: the construction of the Kazakh national identity after Central Asian colossus regained its independence. In Kazakhstan Gengis Khan is considered a real hero, often glorified by the late President Nazarbayev and getting a lot of attention in promoting Kazakh history and culture. Arman Yevniyev, minister of agriculture, has some time ago publicly declared the renowned conqueror is an inspiration and a model for Kazakhstan in business conquest of neighbour countries that need to be taken.
Kazakhstan and Mongolia don’t really have many commercial relations, with Mongol economy more geared toward China, Russia and Korea. To link these two countries there’s Gengis Khan, since populations of both countries consider themselves his heirs. In the last few year hundreds of Kazakhs sent their genes to an American laboratory specialized in studying DNA, with the goal to trace a bloodline from Gengis Khan. The need to make him a Kazakh hero, to contrast the Uzbek myth of Tamerlane threatens to complicate the diplomatic landscape of Central Asia.
In Mongolia live around a hundred thousand people of Kazakh ethnicity and language, especially in the western region of Bayan-Olgii. Their relations with Ulaanbaatar are not simple, just think that, at the time of Kazakhstan independence in 1991, almost half of the Kazakh population of Mongolia leave the country to reach the new born state. The nationalistic politics of Kazakh authorities is a diplomatic threat given that Mongolia (where the name of Gengis Khan is present everywhere from the international airport to the beer…) certainly isn’t going to leave to the neighbouring country one of the most important and loved symbols of its identity; a returning word.
A book truly representing this tendency to nationalism in Kazakhstan is The Turkic saga of Genghis Khan & the KZ factor of Kairat Zakiryanov. The author is a polyvalent one: inter alia math teacher and President of Kazakh academy of sport and tourism, but above all Zakiryanov is a tirelessly scholar of culture and history of Kazakhstan, to whom he has devoted a number of works. Reading this book is extremely interesting, at the end you’ll be submerged from the amount of data and evidences Zakiryanov brings in support of his thesis: namely practically everything has a Kazakh origin.
The book is well written, with a style enveloping the reader and cradling him in the author’s dream, which is to demonstrate Gengis Khan was of Kazakh heritage, like all Mongols of his time. The underlying thesis is in fact this: the current Mongol populations don’t derive from the Mongols warriors terrorized Europe but from eastern tribes occupying a left empty country. The works of Zakiryanov deserve yet some surprises, as the discovery that Kazakh have been – to take just some example – Napoleon, King Arthur and Confucius! However, once “calibrated” the book reveals itself very enjoyable to read.
As I said, the author supports his thesis with an amount of data, sometimes really a long list, facing a lot of different research fields as linguistics, history, anthropology and genealogy as well. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is surely the descent into the world of the so many Mongol and Kazakh family clans, of whom Zakiryanov possesses a thorough knowledge. To decide whether or not he’s persuasive is task of the reader but, for sure, this is a must-have book for the lovers of the Mongol history and the life of Gengis Khan, maybe Kazakh maybe not; a mystery to unravel.
Another mystery to unravel concerns the burial of the Mongol (or Kazakh?) ruler. Expeditions are reaching Mongolia for years looking for the holy place where Gengis Khan would be buried. According tradition this location would be the Burkhan Khaldun mountain, in the Khentii province, the same in which the conqueror was born. When he died, in 1227, the oceanic khan (this the meaning of Gengis Khan) would be escorted to these mountains by a funeral procession of one thousand warriors that to keep it a secret killed every life form met along the way
The legend about the burial of Gengis Khan is part of the Mongol people culture. In the 1990 the Mongols opposed one of the first expedition arriving to stop it. Someone thinks Mongols don’t want the finding of the grave of their hero also by reason of a curse, similar to that one associated to the tomb of Tamerlane whose finding coincided with the Nazi invasion of URSS. Today the deemed sacred zone of the Burkhan Khaldun mount is also a protected natural area, which makes researches more difficult. A worthy book about the topic is Gengis Khan. The mystery of the last trail written by Ippolito Marmai.