Friday, February 20, 2015

Khwarezm's Forgotten Empire

Khwarezm or Chorasmia covered the Amu Darya River Delta (that forms a large oasis) in western Central Asia, it was bordered to the north by the Aral Sea, the east by the Kyzylkum desert, on the south by the Karakum desert, and to the west by the Ustyurt Plateau. The first inhabitants started to settle the region from the V century B.C. Early tribes included the Massagatae, Scythians/Sakas (Samaritans), and the Soghdians  These steppe cultures were an extension of a larger Eurasian series of horse cultures and spanned both Indo-Europeans and Turko-Mongol language families. The area of Khwarezm was under Afrighid and then Samanid control until the 10th century before it was conquered by the Islamic Ghaznavids. During these periods waves of Turkic migrations changed the previous character of the region. On the decline of the Ghaznavids in 1041,  Khwatezm became a province of the rising Seljuk Sultanate.  
In 1077 the Seljuks gave Khwarezm to Anush Tigin Gharchai, a Mamluk of  Kipchak origin. (Mamluks were "slave-soldiers" from nomadic Turkic tribes). Enslaved by Islamic sultans or emirs in their early childhood, they were given an education in  Furussiya "the art of war" which included tactics and strategy and emphasised skills in hand fighting, handling of weapons, hunting, horse-riding, falconry, archery, running, swimming, and other strategic games such as chess, drafts and backgammon. When they came of age they were enlisted in the ruler's army, and formed the heavy cavalry element of it's battle order. Elder Mamluks could rise to become Emirs or governors themselves, and so it was for Anush Tigin Gharchai. Regarded as the first of the Khwarezm-Shahs who ruled Khorezm and at times much of the surrounding region from 1077 - 1231

During Anush Tigin Gharchai rule Khwarezm was nominally as an independent state, but viewed as a client-kingdom of the Seljukid Sultanate. In 1141, however, a joint Seljuk and Khwarezmian army was destroyed by the Kara Khitai Khanate (Karakhanid Turks) led by Yelu Dashi. Allah ad-Din Aziz, grandson of Anush Tigin Gharchai, was forced to submit to their rule. In 1156  Il-Arslan succeeded his father and whilst he continued to rule under the Kara Khitai  they were more and more independent and by the reign of his son Allah ad-Din Takash (1172 - 1200) the Khwarezmians felt confident enough to challenge both the Kara Khitai and the Seljuks openly. A charismatic leader and a talented general he inflicted defeats on the Kara Khitai and declared an independent Khwarezmian State, he then moved against the fragmented Seljuk Sultanate. In 1194 in an alliance with Caliph Al-Nasir he won a great victory over the Seljuks. The Seljuk sultan himself, Toghrul the Third, fell under a storm of Khwarezmian saber-strokes as his army was routed.  After the war, he broke with the Caliphate and was on the brink of  war with it until the Caliph accepted him as Sultan of Khorasan, and Turkestan in 1198. By the end of the 12th Century, the Khwarezmains had developed a reputation for fielding the most deadly heavy cavalry in all of Central Asia - if not in all of the Dar al-Islam.

In 1200 Allah ad-Din Takash was succeeded by his son, Allah ad-Din Muhammad.II (1200–1220)who guided Khwarezm to her brief moment of glory. Taking advantage of the relative anarchy following the Seljuk collapse, he extended Khwarezm's territories far to the south. By 1205 in addition to Khwarezm he was ruling very nearly all of Iran, and had taken the title of Khwarezmshah - King of Khwarezm. At its peak Khwarezm ruled much of Central Asia from the eastern borders of Iraq to the western borders of India. Both settled Persian cities and wild Turkish tribes owed allegiance to the Shah, and sent contingents of soldiers and warriors to serve in his impressive army. Khwarezm was a very highly militarised state; much of the artwork of Central Asia in the early 13th Century celebrates the Khwarezmian Army - particularly its famous heavy cavalry .The Empire reached its highest point in 1212, when Shah Muhammad conquered the territories of its former rulers, the Kara Khitai . But the fires of Khwarezm's triumphs, however brightly they burned - were about to be snuffed out in a quick and decisive fashion, by the most brutal conquerors of them all Ghengiz Khan.
Khwarezm and Mongol Empires in 1220

It is a matter of opinion as to whether Khwarezm's greatest Shah, Allah ad-Din Muhammad was incredibly brave or incredibly stupid (the two have rarely been mutually exclusive). Had he known the fates that befell countries who showed insolence to Genghis Khan, it is very likely he would have behaved differently when a band of Mongolian merchants arrived in the Khwarezmian city of Otrar in 1218. Suspecting they were spies sent by the Khan, the governor of Otrar executed the Mongols. When Genghis Khan expressed his outrage, Shah Muhammad condoned his governor's actions. It was to prove a fatal mistake. In 1220, Genghis Khan took his revenge and began his invasion of Khwarezm, riding at the head of an army of 200,000 troops. Their ranks were swelled by neighbouring Turkic tribesmen who had resented the Kharezm-Shahs for past defeats.
Gengiz Khan on the Pulpit in Bukhara

The Khan's army moved so quickly, that Shah Muhammad did not have time to form a force that could effectively oppose it. He fled to the west, leaving his Kingdom to its fate. Across Khwarezm soldiers and local militias attempted to resist the Mongols, but did not manage to stop or even slow down their murderous advance on the finest cities of the Empire, Samarkand, Bukhara, and finally the Khwarezmian capital of Urgench. Each was sacked and its inhabitants put to the sword. Some historians go as far as to say that the invasion of Khwarezm was the most brutal war the Mongols ever undertook; effectively a genocide.

Shah Muhammad fled in shame and grief to an obscure island in the Caspian Sea, where he died in exile later that year. In the meantime, his son Jalal ad-Din Mangubirdi attempted to organize Khwarezmian resistance against the Mongols. Too late to save any of the Empire's cities, after fighting a rear guard action was able to flee towards India with his army of 5000 heavy cavalrymen. 

In 1221 Jalal ad-Din's army was attacked, enveloped, and nearly totally destroyed by a Mongolian  army led by Ghengiz Khan himself along the banks of the Indus. Less than 700 of his Khwarezmians escaped, including Jalal ad-Din himself. He evaded a detachment of Mongol pursuers only by jumping off a high cliff over the Indus, and swimming to the other side of the River. Genghis Khan is said to have called to his sons and pointing at Khwarazm Shah said, “Look at the brave man.” and remarked "fortunate is the father of such a son!"

Jalal-ad-Din crosses the Indus to escape the Mongols

Jalal ad-Din, accompanied his small retinue of Khwarezmian survivors, fled into exile in Dehli. Ashamed at his defeat, he revoked the title of Shah but still allowed himself to be called a Sultan. He received word not long afterwards that his family had been captured by Genghis Khan, and executed by being drowned in the Indus. His eldest child had only been 8 years old.

He was to spend three years in India, gathering support and plotting to retake his father's kingdom,  returning to Khwarezm in 1224. On his return he found his people - those who survived - filled with hatred of the Mongols, and it did not take him long to gather a large army bent on re-conquest and revenge. He declared a revived Khwarezm state, but it was to last only a year before it was once again defeated by a Mongol army, this time in the Alborz Mountains. Jalal ad-Din and his small army however proved frustratingly hard to destroy. He men once again became nomadic horse-warriors; those who still had wives and children brought them with them. The kingdom of Khwarezm became, if only for a short time, a state on the move. But by late in 1225 Jalal ad-Din captured and settled his people in Tabriz in Azerbaijan, along the western shores of the Caspian Sea. Here, he had a set of hostile neighbours including the Christian Kingdom of Georgia, and the final remnant of the Seljuk Sultanate - the Sultanate of Rum. Jalal ad-Din had again proven to be a charismatic leader whose men were tough and dedicated soldiers. Skirmishing that same year took place between the Khwarezmians and the Georgians along their border which finally erupted into a short war. A larger Georgina force being outwitted by Jalal ad-Din and his cavalry at the Battle of Garni fought in 1225 in the Armenia highlight then part of the Kingdom of Georgia. Next the Khwarezmians moved on the Georgian capital of Tbilisi raising the city. During 1226 they raided through Armenia, skirmishing with both Seljuk and Ayyubid soldiers.

In 1229, he once again decided to enlarge his domain attacking al-Jazirah (Mesopotamia), but was crushingly defeated by Sultan Kayqubad I of the Sultanate of Rum, at the Battle of Yassi Chemen. After the battle Jalal ad-Din fled to Diyarbakir the capital of todays Turkish Kurdistan where not long after he was assassinated. Some accounts say that his killer was a Seljuk or Hashashin, others claim he died in an ambush by Kurdish bandits. His legacy was a mixed one, proud, impetuous, and famously courageous Jalal ad-Din however was in the end unable to overcome the enormous odds he faced. His great personal valour and belief in his people however are still are held in high esteem throughout Uzbekistan in particular Khoresm province.
The story of the Khwarezmians did not end with the death of Jalal ad-Din, if anything, some of their most painful defeats and unexpected adventures still laid ahead.  Upon his death the remnants of the Khwarezmians were driven out of Tabriz by the Mongols joining up with those who had survived the defeat at Yassi Chemen, and formed a mercenary company. For the better part of a decade, the Khwarezmians spent their time pillaging settlements in Armenia, Syria, and Iraq, attacking Seljuk holdings with a special vengeance and loathing. During this time period, they came to call themselves by their Arabic name: the Khwarezmiyyas.

In the early 1240's, the Ayyubid Sultan Salih Ayyub called upon the Khwarezmiyyas to support him in a war against a pretender to his throne, his own uncle Salih Ismail. The wild mercenaries proved impossible to control, however, and apparently on a whim attacked Jerusalem in July of 1244 that was in the hands of Frankish Crusaders. On August 23rd of 1244, Jerusalem surrendered to the Khwarezmiyyas, who proceeded to occupy the Holy City before transferring it into Ayyubid hands.
Battle of La Forbie

Later, in October of 1244 the Khwarezmiyyas were instrumental to the Ayyubid victory over a mixed Muslim and Christian force at La Forbie, to the north of Gaza. It was the largest massacre of crusader knights to take place since the Battle of Hattin in 1187, and it deepened the bitterness between the Khwarezmiyyas and the Crusaders. The sack of Jerusalem and the Ayyubid victory at La Forbie triggering the unsuccessful Seventh Crusade. Jerusalem capture is particularly noteworthy as it ended European control for the next 500 years which was not again reasserted until the defeat of the Ottomans in 1917.

Within time the Khwarezmiyyas however were to fell afoul of their Egyptian employers and by 1246, they were in revolt against the declining Ayyubid state, but were crushingly defeated by Ibrahim al-Mansur. Those who survived were absorbed into the ranks of Egypt's Mamluks, who were soon to enjoy a period of turbulent glory themselves.

Source: (Edited ED)

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