Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Savitsky Art Museum Collection - Nukus

“Crimson Autumn” (1931) by Ural Tansykbaev

Two of the iconic pieces from the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art named after I.V. Savitsky

The Bull (1929), Vladimir Lysenko (1903-1950ies), 141.5 x 109.5 cm. Collection of Nukus Art Museum named after Savitsky, Karakalpakstan,

The Museum hosts one of the biggest collections of Uzbek and Russian avant garde art of the 20th century in the world.

The collection has some 90,000 items, including graphics, paintings and sculptures, as well as thousands of artifacts, textiles and jewelry, ranging from the antiquities of Khorezm’s ancient civilization to these great avante-guard works of the 1920ies and 30ies and those of contemporary Uzbek and Karakalpak artists.

If your coming to Western Uzbekistan to see the magnificent historical and architectural heritage make sure your Itinerary also includes a visit to Nukus the capital of Karakalpakstan and home of this fascinating art museum.

For more information see

Film Review - The Desert of Forbidden Art (Go to Film Review Desert of Forbidden Art or go to top right hand side of blog). Learn about the history behind how Igor Savitsky and his collegues established this remarkable collection in Nukus.

Horse Armour - Cataphracts

Idem and M. M. Mambetullaev, “Ostrak iz Khumbuz-tepe” (An ostracon from Khumbuz Tepe), in Pamyatniki istorii i literatury Vostoka (Monuments of the history and literature of the Orient) Moscow, 1986.

Archaeological art - The armored horse

Historically, the steppe nomads of western Central Asia are believed to be among the first to adopt horse amour (Cataphracts) for their cavalry. The Aral Sea and Khwarezm regions in particular being significant in fostering the development of Cataphract-like cavalry during the 1st millennium BC.

Classical sources seem to refer to two types of Armour being known to the Sakasand the Massagetae (the original steppe peoples) of Central Asia. One type was scale armor described as “coats of iron scales resembling fish scales” (Herodotus) the other a lamellar armor “the coat of armor made of iron plates fastened to each other in rows” (Q. Curtius Rufus). Herodotos also stating that the Massagetae of the Aral region used war-horses with bronze breastplates.

Archaeological finds such as this representation above showing a terracotta fragment found at Khumbuz-Tepe, in the lower Amu-Darya valley, late IV or early III BC confirming these ancient written sources.


Herodotus, (born 484 B.C?, Halicarnassus, Asia Minor [now Bodrum, Turkey —died
430–420 B.C), Greek author of the first great narrative history produced in the ancient world, "The Histories". The Greek researcher and storyteller Herodotus of Halicarnassus was the world's first historian. In The Histories, he describes the the History of the Greco-Persian Wars from the expansion of the Achaemenid empire under its Kings Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius I the Great, culminating in King Xerxes' expedition in 480 BCE against the Greeks, which met with disaster in the naval engagement at Salamis and the battles at Plataea and Mycale. Herodotus' remarkable book also contains excellent ethnographic descriptions of the peoples that the Persians conquered, fairy tales, gossip, legends, and interesting facts.

Quintius Curtius Rufus, (born?, died 53 CE): Roman senator and author of an important History of Alexander the Great. Originally, the History of Alexander consisted of ten books, and although the work was very popular in the Middle Ages (it is known from more than a hundred manuscripts), the first two books are now lost. They contained the events between the accession of Alexander and the death of the Persian commander Memnon of Rhodes. The third manuscript starts when the Macedonian army marched through Phrygia, in the spring of 333 BCE; the last book ends with the burial of Alexander's body in a golden sarcophagus, which was later brought to Egypt in 331 BCE.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The last of the Khwarezm Shahs

Jalal ad-din mingburnu the last Khwarezshar

A Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turkic Mamluk origin the Khwarezm Shahs were the rulers of the Kwarezmid Empire (at some stages just the Khorezm oasis and at times much further afield - see map) from about 1077 to 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuks (1), then of the Kara-Khitai (2) and later as independent rulers, right up until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

In 712, Khwarezm having been conquered by the Arab Umayyads came under Muslim suzerainty. In the year 995, the Ma'munids of Gurganj violently overthrew the Afrighids of Kath who had ruled Khwarezm for nearly 700 years and assumed the traditional title of Khwarazm-Shah. Briefly, the area was under Samanid suzerainty, before it passed to Mahmud of Ghazni (3) (East-Central Afghanistan) in 1017. From then on, a series of Turco-Mongolian invasions and long rule by Turco-Mongol dynasties supplanted the Iranian character of the region.

In 1041 following a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040 almost all the Ghaznavid lands in Iran and Central Asia were lost to the Seljuk Turks (originally nomadic tribesmen of Inner Asia). They soon after taking control of the province appointed the first of what became a succession of military governors to rule Khwarezm.

In 1073 the Seljuk's Sultan Malik sent an army under a turkic slave soldier Anushtigin to recover territory in today’s northern Afghanistan temporarily seized back by the Ghaznavid Ibrahim bin Mas'ud. Anushtigin on victory was subsequently made the sultan's tašt-dār ("keeper of the royal vessels"), and, as the revenues from Khwārezm were used to pay for the expenses incurred by this position, he was made governor of the province in 1077.

The details of his tenure as governor are unclear, but when died in 1097 initially the Seljuk sultan Barkiyaruq appointed Ekinchi. However after only a short period of time, however, he was killed by several local amirs that had risen in revolt. After his death the Seljuk sultan Barkiyaruq's military commander, Habashi ibn Altun-Taq appointed Anushtigin's son, Qutb al-Din Muhammad governor of Khwarazm. Habashi putting down the revolt by two Seljuk amirs, Qodun and Yaruq-Tash, who had killed the previous governor of Khwarazm, Ekinchi, and wanted to rule the province themselves. Qutb al-Din Muhammad appointment stopping an attempt by Ekinchi's son, Toghril-Tegin, to take control of the region.

Qutb al-Din Muhammad would became the first hereditary Shah of Khwarezm assuming the title Khwarezmshah, thus initiating a line of rulers who would oversee the province of Khwarezm and later the Khwarezmid Empire for the next 130 years.

During his lifetime, Qutb al-Din Muhammad remained loyal to the Seljuk ruler of Khurasan, Sanjar. In 1113 or 1114 he helped a fellow Seljuk vassal, the Karakhanid Arslan Khan, stifle turmoil caused by the discontented religious classes in his realm. He also participated in Sanjar's military campaign against the Great Seljuk Mahmud II, who ruled in western Iran and Iraq. In 1119.Qutb al-Din Muhammad died in 1127 and was succeeded by his son Atsiz.

Atsiz rebelled against his Seljuk overlords in 1141-42, despite being defeated in battle, he managed to keep control of Khawarezm, whilst remaining a vassal of Sanjar.

Around this time the Kara Khitay impinged on Khawarezm from the east and they like the Seljuks demanded tribute. Atsiz's son Arslan became Khawarezmshah in 1156. A year later the great Seljuq Sultan Ahmed Sanjar was killed and Seljuk power in the province of Khwarezm waned.

The new Khawarezmshah Arslan still paid tribute to the Khara Khitai but had a much freer hand with the decline of the Seljuks and in 1158 he invaded Transoxiana, thus giving rise to the naasent Khwarezm Empire. An invasion of Khorasan (now north east Iran) was aborted.

Arslan's successor, Ala ad-Din Takesh, pursued his father's expansionist policies in Northern Khorasan while continuing to recognise the suzerainty of the Khara Kitai. To aid in his wars of expansion in Khorasan and elsewhere he sought the aid of Kipchaks, Oghus and other tribesmen who nomadized around the Aral Sea to the north of the Province of Khwarezm; amongst whom were  ancestors of the peoples now living in Karakalpakstan. (ED; Most Turkic peoples still followed the ancient chthonic religions of the steppe and only afterwards converted to Islam).

In 1194, the last Sultan of the Great Seljuq Empire, Tughrul III, was defeated and killed by the Khwarezmshar Tekish, who also took the opportunity to free himself of his Kara Khitay suzerains.

The Khwarezmid Empire 1190-1221

In 1200, Takish died and was succeeded by his son, Ala ad-Din Muhammad. Soon after his father’s death, Muhammad began further military campaigns to expand the Empire. He continued his fathers takeover of Khorasan and expanded his empire into what is now northern Afghanistan. By 1205 he had conquered almost all the remaining parts of what previously had been the Great Seljuq Empire, ruling a huge territory spanning from the Syr Darya almost all the way to Baghdad.

Yet all was not well, as first and foremost, off in the east loomed the ominious figure of Gengiz Khan and his Mongols. Khwarezm had been waring with the Kara Khitay for much of Muhummads reign however he only managed to win a decisive battle against them in 1210.

Then in a lightning strike in 1212 a flying wing of Gengiz Khans army led by his son Jochi captured and executed the Kara Kitay sultan the so called "pretender" Gur-Khan Kutluk and Kharwarzm found that the neighbouring lands to the east were now under Mongol rule.

Despite this in 1217 Muhammad ad-Din set upon further expansion to the west. Having conquered all the lands from the river Jaxartes to the Persian Gulf he demanded formal recognition as Shah from the Caliph an-Nasir in Baghdad. When the Caliph rejected his claim, Ala ad-Din Muhammad proclaimed one of the descendants of Ali, son in law of the Prophet Mohammed as Caliph (whom the Shiites had always considered the prophet's legitamate heirs, as opposed to the Sunni Abbasids) and marched towards Baghdad to depose an-Nasir and replace him with this Shiite sayyed, Ali Molk Termedi, thus stoking up age old sectarian rivalries and earning the emnity of his own Sunni majority.  (ED: Nothing really ever changes - today in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Bahrain the same sectarian discord has once again flared up.) However, when crossing the Zagros Mountains, the Shah's army was caught in a blizzard and thousands of his soldiers died and with the army decimated his generals had no choice but to return home.

In 1218, a small contingent Mongols crossed the border in pursuit of an escaped enemy general. Upon successfully retrieving him, Genghis Khan made contact with the Shah. Having only recently conquered two-thirds of what would one day be China, Genghis Khan was looking to open trade relations, but having heard exaggerated reports of the Mongols, the Shah believed this gesture was only a ploy to invade his land (ED: he may well have been right!). Genghis Khan then sent his emissaries to Khwarezm (reports vary - one stating a group of 100 Muslim merchants with a single Mongol leading them, others state 450) to emphasize his hope for a trade route.

The Shah, in turn, had one of his governors openly accuse the trade party of spying, seizing them and their goods. Trying to maintain diplomacy, Genghis Khan sent an envoy of three men to the Shah, to give him a chance to disclaim all knowledge of the governor's actions and hand him over to the Mongols for punishment. The Shah executed the envoy (again, some sources claim one man was executed, some claim all three were), and then immediately had the entire Mongol merchant party (Muslim and Mongol alike) put to death.

These events led Genghis Khan to retaliate. He gathered a mighty force of 120,000 to 150,000 men and crossed the River Jaxartes in 1219 launching a multi-pronged invasion of Khwarzm sacking first the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Otrar and then soon after Muhammad's capital Urgench.

Ala ad-Din Muhammad II fled the battle before the city fell with his valuables leaving his people to be slaughtered (virtually every man women and child in the city were killed). He too was to perish himslf soon after, dying on his way south to seek refuge in Khorasan in mysterious circumstances on an island in the Caspian Sea near the current day port of Abaskun (some reports say he died of pleurisy, others of thirst after being abandoned by his retainers).

Following the death of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II his son Jelal ad-Din Manguberdi came to power.

The last of the Khwarezm Shahs - Jalal ad-Din Manguberdi (Reign 1220–31)

Jalal ad-Din (or Jelal ad-Din) Manguberdi (Turkish: Mengu verdi; Godgiven) was to be the last ruler of the Khwarezmid Empire.

Shah Muhammed had given his son Jalal ad-Din the rule of lands taken from the Ghurids. Following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm he and his small army of 5,000 had retreated from Samarkand towards the Hindu Kush, where he began to muster additional troops to face the Mongols.

In a remarkably short period of time Jalal ad-Din built up a large force (in coalition with local tribesmen from today’s Northern Afghanistan) which were able to defeat a much larger Mongols force under General Kutikonian at their first engagement at Parwan in 1221. This battle being notable for being the first and only defeat inflicted by any army on Gengiz Khan forces during his lifetime.

The coalition Manguberdi built however quickly broke up. Legend has it that this was caused by a dispute between his father in law and a local chief over a magnificent white horse taken as booty from the Mongolians. It is said that as Munguberdi sided with his father-in-law and that the proud tribesmen departed that same night (leaving their camp fires burning) despite being completely exhausted by the day's fighting. Finding himself without more than half of his fighting strength gone Jalal ad-Din began to retreat the very next day towards the east.

Soon after Genghis Khan and an army of 50,000 Mongols once again met Jalal-ad-Din's army at Bamian destroying a large part of his forces. No longer having sufficient resources to last another battle, he and his remaining troops headed towards the Indus River to seek refuge in India. The Mongolians however continued to pursue Jalal ad-Din and the two sides met again in a famous battle on a site just to the north of the present city of Kalabagn (beside the Indus river). Genghis Khan forces inflicting a defeat on his remaining forces in what is now referred to as the Battle of the Indus.

Tales of heroism by Jalal-ad-Din and his men from this battle have reached epic proportions. Tradition has it that though they where outnumbered fifty to one, they fought off the Mongols and Manguberdi and some of his men were able to escape over the Indus River into India.

Manguberdi escape over the Indus River (across which his horse swam)

Jalal ad-Din Mangbuberi was then to spend the next three years in exile in India before gathering an army and returning to Persia. However he was unable to consolidate his power there for long and in 1224 his forces were once again defeated in battle by the Mongols in the Alborz Mountains. Escaping he led his defeated army over the Caucasus, and in 1225 they captured Azerbaijan setting up their capital in Tabriz.

Although initially forming an alliance with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm against Mongols, he later on, for reasons not fully understood, changed his mind and began hostilities against the Seljuks and the next year his forces attacked Georgia and sacked Tbilisi.

In 1230 his army conquered Ahlat in the Armenian highlands (in what is now Bitlis Province, Turkey then an important cultural city of the era) from the Ayyubids. This battle however results in an alliance between the Seljuks and Ayyubids against him.

Manguberdi army allying themselves with those of Jahan Shah, the rebellious Seljuk Governor of Erzurum fought a combined Seljuks and Ayyubids force at a location west of Erzincan on the Upper Euphrates known as the battle of Yassi Chemen (In turkish Yassıçemen). The Seljuk-Ayyubid army commandered by the Seljuk sultan Alaaddin Keykubat I.

Jalal ad-Din's forces start the battle well, initiating their attack before the merging of Seljuk and Ayyubid armies. However it was too late as the Ayyubids had already sent a reinforcement of over 10,000 to help the Seljuks. The battle continued for three days and nights. An able commander, Jalal ad-Din forces almost defeated Seljuk-Ayyubid alliance in the first day but by the third day forces were themselves defeated.

This battle was to be Jalal ad-Din’s last. He had lost most of his army and was soon after killed in an ambush in Diyarbakir, Kurdistan by local assassins. (ED: Kurdistan is still a very dangerous place). In the ensuing confusion his short lived principality of Azerbaijan being captured by the Mongols.

Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu's followers however remained loyal to him even after his death and they continued to raid the Seljuk lands of Jazira and Syria over the next several years, calling themselves the Khwarezmiyyas.

Ayyubid Sultan Salih Ayyub, in Egypt, later famously hired their services against his Uncle Salih Ismail. The Khwarezmiyyas, heading south from Iraq towards Egypt, invaded Christian-held Jerusalem along the way capturing the city's citadel, the Tower of David. On July 11, 1244 Jerusalem surrendered and they began to expel much of the remaining Christian and Jewish population from the city. This was to trigger a call from Europe for the Seventh Crusade, but the Crusaders would never again be successful in retaking Jerusalem.

After being conquered by the Khwarezmian forces, the city would stay under Muslim control until 1917 near the end of WW 1, when it was taken from the Ottomans by the victorious British and Commonwealth forces (including Australia's famous Light Horse Brigade who played a key role in its capture).

After taking Jerusalem, the Khwarezmian forces continued south, and on October 17, 1244 fought on the side of the Ayyubids at the Battle of Harbiyah, northeast of Gaza, killing the remains of the Christian army there, including some 1,200 knights.

It was the largest battle involving the crusaders since the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187. The remains of the Khwarezmiyyas served in Egypt as Mamluk mercenaries until they were finally beaten by Mansur Ibrahim some years later. Other Khwarizmi war captives assimilated into the Mongols, forming the modern Mongolian clan Sartuul.

Order of the Republic of Uzbekistan "Zhaloliddina Manguberdi"

To this day Jalal ad-Din Manguberdi the last of the Khwarezm Shars has a special place in the hearts of the people of Khoresm for his valiant efforts in standing up to the mongol invaders and is considered one of the great heroric figures of Uzbekistan (See contemporary military medal above).


1. The Seljuqs (also Seljuk or Seljuq Turks) were a Muslim dynasty of originally Oghuz Turkic descent that ruled parts of Central Asia and the Middle East from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. The dynasty marked the beginning of Turkic power in the Middle East. The Seljuks are regarded as the cultural ancestors of the Western Turks, the present-day inhabitants of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

2.The Kara Khitans were a central Asian khanate with its capital at Balasaghun, now in Kyrgizstan. It was founded by the Khitan ruler Yeh-lü Ta-shih when he conquered the Kharakhanid Turks in 1137. In 1141 Yeh-lü consolidated his conquest by defeating the Great Seljuk sultan Sanjar near Samarkand. The Khanate was weakened in about 1200 by attacks from the Khwarezm shahdom and in 1218 it collapsed precipitately when the Mongols invaded. The governmental institutions of Kara-Khitai were taken over by the Mongols to form the foundations of their own imperial administration.

3.The Ghaznavid Empire was founded by a dynasty of Turkic mamluk (soldier-slaves) origin, which existed from 975 to 1187. The Empire was governed from the city of Ghazni (in today’s Afghanistan) and ruled much of Persia, Transoxania, and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent. Due to the political and cultural influence of their predecessors - that of the Persian Samanid dynasty - the originally Turkic Ghaznavids had become thoroughly Persianised.

4.Qipchaps are an ancient Turkic people, first mentioned in the historical chronicles of Central Asia in the 1st millennium BC. The Kipchaks constituted a majority of the khanate of the Golden Horde comprising present-day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Kipchaks have transformed, to a degree, into modern Kazakh and Kyrgyz populations and are also an element of the peoples who make up Uzbekistans' Uzbek and Karakalpak populations.


Grousset, Rene, The Empire of the Steppes, Rutgers University Press, 1991