Bahati’s Papers: Why Khwarezm?
Prepared by Bahati Onakghare
A key objective of Cradle Hood is to take the concept of cultural reference points and apply it to the problem of unique individuals who would otherwise lack a distinct identity. The concept was proved by bringing Ilé-Ifè and la belle époque to life. We will stretch the envelope a little by selecting a substantial civilisation that has also been lost. By substantial, I imply ‘sufficient depth of history from which to draw’; and by lost I imply ‘uniqueness’.
The Mongol era of the thirteenth century resulted in the destruction of many peoples and of several Old World empires. The logical choice is the Khwarezmian Empire. It is definitely lost; it has a rich history from which to draw; there is a detailed account of Khwarezm under the Mongols and, as an added bonus, its destruction levelled the civilisational playing field in favour of the West.
Khwarezm is definitely lost.
Khwarezm was systematically destroyed by Mongol armies around the time of the crusades. With ruthless efficiency they plundered and slaughtered their way across and through most of the Middle East (as well as China and Eastern Europe). When a city was sacked, the Mongol army would rape and torture as they pleased. The survivors were then stripped, herded together and systematically butchered. These bloody deeds took the lives of over ninety percent of Khwarezimi civilians. This snuffed out many other Old World civilisations and ended the Golden Age of Islam.
Khwarezm has a rich history from which to draw.
Khwarezm was a trade-centred empire. A list of its cities reads like the itinerary of an ancient Silk-road trader; Balkh, Bukhara, Herat, Merv, Nishapur, Old Urgench, Samarkand…
It had a population of at least thirty million. After Byzantium was sacked by the Fourth Crusade, the average educated Byzantine either went west to Cordoba, or east to Baghdad and the adjacent powerful Khwarezmian Empire – away from crusader stomping grounds.
Khwarezm under the Mongols
Khwarezm under the Mongols was known as the Il-Khanate and was re-populated with people from other parts of the Mongol Empire. It was ruled by Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan and became the base of his operations. In 1260, one year after Hulagu oversaw the sacking of Baghdad (and most of its one million inhabitants slaughtered), he sent envoys to Qutuz, the ruler of Egypt, demanding his surrender:
‘From the King of Kings of the East and West, the Great Khan. To Qutuz the Mamluk, who fled to escape our swords. You should think of what happened to other countries and submit to us. You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have purified the earth of the disorders that tainted it. We have conquered vast areas, massacring all the people. You cannot escape from the terror of our armies. Where can you flee? What road will you use to escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor armies stop us. Your prayers to God will not avail against us. We are not moved by tears nor touched by lamentations. Only those who beg our protection will be safe. Hasten your reply before the fire of war is kindled. Resist and you will suffer the most terrible catastrophes. We will shatter your mosques and reveal the weakness of your God and then will kill your children and your old men together. At present you are the only enemy against whom we have to march.’
(Qutuz responded, however, by killing the envoys and displaying their heads on Bab Zuweila, one of the gates of Cairo.)
When nations and civilisations collapse
Khwarezm also offers an insight into the organised behaviour that takes place when nations and civilisations collapse. The Mongols were ‘the army of God on His earth. He created us from his wrath and urged us against those who incurred His anger’.
Contrast that with more recent events such as Stalin’s ‘Can’t he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?’ army. Victor’s rules applied in both cases. The cruel barbarity of the earlier time resulted in the death of ninety per cent of the civilian population, whereas Soviet German civilian deaths are surely less than twenty per cent.