The Selzuks of Central Asia!
The Selzuks were a nomadic people inhabiting the regions north of the Sir Darya. They were also known as Turkmans and the region once inhabited by them now forms part of the Soviet Socialist Republic.
A branch of the Aguz, they spread in the course of their wanderings to the northern banks of the Sir Darya. Apart from the Arab, Samani, Saffari and Taheri rulers all the other Muslim rulers in Central Asia were of Turkish origin.
The similarity in language points to the Uzbeks, Turkmans, Khirgiz and Kazaks having sprung alike from Turkish stock.
They can be divided into three parts:
(i) The Northern Turks—the Yakuts of Siberia,
(ii) The Eastern Turks —the Sinkiang Turks, Uzbeks, Kazaks are Kufa Tatars,
(iii) The Western Turks—Osman Ali, Azerbaijanians and Turkmans.
A branch of the Turks left its original homeland in the Altai mountains and advanced into Turkestan,’ driving out or absorbing the Scythian and Sogdhian tribes inhabiting these regions. Among these Turks were the Selzuks and the Chingiz Mongols.
The Sulzuks acquired that name from Selzuk Turk their first Muslim Chief, although they were equally well-known as Turkmans.
The Western Turks, of whom Turkmans were the majority, brought Asia Minor and Armenia under their control, while another branch of the Western Turks, the Osmani Turks, brought about the downfall of the Byzantine Empire, made Constantinople their capital in the 15th century and later extended their rule over Eastern Europe.
In 956 A. D. a branch of the Aguz tribe settled in Zand and their chief, Selzuk, had two sons. One of them, Mikhail, was the father of Tugral and Chakir, while the other was the father of Yusuf. Tugral, the elder, was the chief of the Turkman tribe, but as a soldier, Daud (Chakir), the younger brother, was the more able.
After driving Masaud out of Khurasan, Tugral put an end to the Dailmi dynasty and assuming control of the whole of Iran, extended his empire up to the borders of the Roman Empire and even forced the Emperor of Contsntinople to come to terms with him. Tugral’s army consisted of the brave Turkman nomads who carried their tents and their families with them when they went to war. By 1048, the Selzuks had established their sway over Azerbaijan, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.
Thus the counter- offensive of the Turks began and Turkish rule gradually spread over Arabia as well. Unlike the Arabs, however, the Turks did not developed a new culture and civilisation, but they only unfolded destruction and devastation. Arab influence resulted in making Balakh, Bokhara, etc., centres of Arab learning and culture, while Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey became Turkish- speaking regions.
In 1055, Tugral entered Baghdad and helped Kuyam to become the Caliph. In 1063, he died before he could complete his marriage with the Caliph’s daughter. His brother Daud had predeceased him so that Daud’s son, Alp Arsalan, succeeded to the title.
The historian Idrisi, while appreciating the merit of Tugral, Alp Arsalan and Malikshah, draws a distinction between the rulers and their subjects. “The rulers,” he writes, “were intelligent, bold, just and virtuous, but their subjects were cruel, wild and lacking in intelligence.”
Turkman chiefs lived the same simple lives as those led by their soldiers and participated in all their activities. Even after the Selzuk chiefs became Sultans, they did not abandon their simple ways. For instance, they discarded the practice of appointing Royal Informers (Sahib Khabar) because, as Alp Arsalan explained, the informer would try his best to turn friends into enemies and enemies into friends. Gradually, however, the influence of the corrupt court was bound to make itself felt on the Selzuk Sultans.
The Selzuks remained uneducated till the last. Their greatest ruler, the famous Sinjar, was illiterate like Akbar. Their affairs were looked after by their ministers. Although these Turks ruled over civilised peoples, they themselves continued to be nomads. They considered the ways of civilisation smack of cowardice.
There had always been conflict even between the common Turks and the peoples over whom they ruled, and the Turks considered the subjects inferior beings. Women had considerable influence in their society which reached its peak during the reign of Turkan Khatun.
Alp Arsalan (1063-73):
After the death of his uncle, Alp Arsalan became master of a vast kingdom which spread from the Vakhshu to the Phurat and from the Caspian Sea to the Gulf of Persia. He made Nizamulmulk, his minister, the Kautilya of the Islamic world. Born in 1018 in Tus, a town in Khurasan, Nizamulmulk was educated in Neshapor, where Omar Khayyam and the Ismaili teacher Hasan Khabbah, were his class-fellows. At first he served the Ghaznavis, but afterwards became the minister of the Selzuks and remained Chief Minister for thirty years. He was just, tolerant and a great patron of arts.
It was during the reign of Alp Arsalan that the Turks first attacked the Roman Empire and ravaged the whole of Armenia. In 1072, Alp Arsalan started on a campaign of conquest with an army of two hundred thousand men. He was, however, murdered by the ruler of Berzam, who bore a grudge against him. Taking advantage of this the Karakhani ruler of Termiz, Shamsulmulk, seized Balakh. Its governor Ayaz, the son of Arsalan, had already fled from the city.
Malik Shah (1073-1092):
As soon as he came to the throne, Malik Shah, the son of Arsalan was called upon to face the Karakhanis in battle. In 1073, he attacked Alp Tagin, the ruler of Samarkand and the latter was forced to sue for peace. From that time till 1079, Malik Shah had no trouble with the Karakhanis.
After that, under the plea of rescuing the common people from the oppression of the Karakhanis, he attacked and seized Bokhara and Samarkand and their ruler, Ahmed, was made a captive. He then attacked Kashgar, and forced the Khan to accept his suzerainty.
Thus did Malik Shah’s rule extend from the borders of China to the gates of Constantinople. During the first five years of his rule, he had to engage in warfare, but peace prevailed during the last fifteen and in this period culture, literature and commerce flourished.
The reign of Malik Shah is one of the glorious periods of Islamic history. He was an able general and Nizamulmulk, his minister, was an efficient administrator who contributed to his greatness.
Meanwhile Hasan, son of Sabbah, had founded a powerful Ismaili sect, the followers of which were so adept in killing people at the behest of their master that the word “assassin” (from Hasan) has come to be a synonym for the secret killer. It was one such agent of Hasan, who murdered Nizamulmuli in 1092, because Hasan was jealous of the growing power of his former classmate. Malik Shah did not survive him long, but died the same year, at the age of thirty eight.
This was a period when statesmen like Nizamulmulk, poets like Omar Khayyam and philosophers like Ghazali, were born. Coming from a family of weavers, Mohammed Ghazali was born in 1059, in Tus. The great poet Firdausi was also born in that town. In Ghazali’s family there was not much learning, for his parents were illiterate.
But this was a period when learning and culture were proud possessions. So Ghazali was sent to school. His teacher was Abul Malik Harman, of Neshapor. After completing his education in Neshapor, Ghazali went in 1091 to Baghdad and there he was given a royal reception.
After the death of Malik Shah, his queen, Turkan Khatun persuaded the Emirs and nobles that her four-year-old son, Mahmud should be allowed to succeed as the ruler. She also demanded of the Caliph that the “Khutba” be read in Mahmud’s name. The Caliph, unwilling to accept this demand, sent Ghazali to persuade the queen to give up this claim and he succeeded in his mission.
Although a devout Muslim, Ghazali’s deep study did not permit him to remain dogmatic in his beliefs and, like Shankaracharya he tried to give his ideas the cloak of the Sufi Vedant.
The Selzuks too followed the Islamic practice of promoting their slaves to important positions. Malik Shah had made his slave, Balk Tagin, the Governor of Khwarezm and he in his turn made his slave, Nush Tagin, the Governor. He was the founder of the famous dynasty which produced Chengiz Khan.
Mahmud I (1092-1094):
Mahmud was the youngest of his father’s sons and at the time of his father’s death was only four years old. But his mother, Turkan Khatun, being a woman of extraordinary ability, succeeded in getting him installed on the throne and she even obtained the Caliph Muktadir’s blessings for him. Her eldest son, however, entrenched himself in Ispahan, with the result that the Khatun herself had to take the field against him.
With the help of Muvaiduddaula, Burkiyaruk, the elder son was on the point of defeating her, when the Khatun negotiated an agreement with him under the terms of which he agreed to surrender Ispahan in exchange for a large sum of money. With the death of the Khatun and her infant son, Burkiyaruk got his opportunity and seized the throne. By this time Muktadir too died.
Burkiyaruk, the sixteen-year-old son of Nizamulmulk was able to get the throne with the help of Muvaiyaduddaula. The Caliph Mustzahir also recognised him and accorded him a warm welcome when he visited Baghdad. The eleven years of his rule were mostly spent in warfare.
Burkiyaruk appointed one of his brothers, Mohamed to the Governorship of Azerbaijan and another, Sinjar, to that of Khurasan. He himself preferred to stay in Baghdad, but in 1104, during one of his journeys from Ispahan to Baghdad he died. He wished that his son, Malik Shah, should succeed him, but his brother Mohamed attacked Baghdad and made the young Sultan a captive.
The thirteen years of Mohamed’s reign were also spent in warfare. The religious war with the Christians had started. The Selzuk Empire spread up to the shores of the Mediterranean. Jerusalem, the sacred city of the Christians, had long been under Muslim rule and was now part of the Selzuk Empire, but by this time most peoples of Europe had been converted to Christianity. Thus the Crusades began. Mohamed’s generals spent almost all their time in repelling the crusaders. Mohamed died in 1117, in Ispahan.
Mahamud II (1117) was only a nominal ruler, real power vesting in his uncle, Sinjar. The latter allowed his nephew to rule Iraq, but stipulated that the edicts from the mosques should contain the names of both of them.
This arrangement too did not last very long.
Sinjar was the last of the Selzuk Sultans and the most powerful. For twenty years he had been Governor of Khurasan and for the next forty years he was Sultan of the vast Selzuk Empire.
Nush Tagin, one of the slaves of Selzuk, had grown somewhat powerful and had given his son, Kutubuddin, an excellent education. After the death of his father in 1097, Kutubuddin assumed the title of Khwarezmshah. Just at this time the Karakhanis began to attack Antarved. Kutubuddin put up a fierce resistance but ultimately had to yield to them. The Karakhanis returned to their capital, Kashgar, and after the death of Kutubuddin, Atsiz, his son ruled Khwarezm.
For many years, Atsiz had served under Sinjar in Merv, but when the nobles of Sinjar’s court began to grow jealous of the increasing influence of Atsiz he sought the permission of his master to return to Khwarezm. The historian, Jubeini, narrates how Atsiz, feeling that Sinjar was growing cold towards him as a result of the intrigues of some of his courtiers, decided to revolt.
In the autumn of 1138, Sinjar charged Atsiz with having massacred” the Muslims of Zand and Mankishlak, who had always loyally defended Islamic provinces against the infidels. In return, Atsiz arrested the officers of the Sultan, and confiscated their property. The Sultan marched against him and succeeded in defeating him.
During the battle Atsiz’s son was captured and Sinjar immediately beheaded him and sent his head to Antarved. After the battle Sinjar appointed his nephew, Sulaiman, governor of Khwarezm and returned to his capital, Merv. Atsiz seized this opportunity to return to Khwarezm, and, taking advantage of the local discontent against Sinjar, rallied all the people around him and had Sinjar’s officers killed.
Sulaiman fled to his uncle for safety, but Sinjar again forced him to submit and swear an oath of loyalty to him. Within a few months Atsiz had forgotten all his pledges and Sinjar was forced to resume his attacks on Khwarezm. The fierce battle between Atsiz and Sinjar led to the penetration of Antarved by the Karakhitais and ultimately brought about the downfall of the Selzuk Empire and the death of Sinjar himself.
In 1141, Mahmud Khan of Antarved sought the help of Sinjar against his Karluk soldiers. The Karluks, in their turn, sought the help of the Karakhitais. The Gurkhan was in favour of effecting a reconciliation between Mahmud Khan and his soldiers, but Sinjar stood in the way. So the Karakhitais launched a full scale invasion of Antarved.
In September 1141, the armies of Sinjar were routed in the deserts of Katwan. Sinjar managed to escape to Termiz and the whole of Antarved fell into the hands of the Karakhitais. One of the nobles of Bokhara, Sadre-Jahan, who claimed descent from Omar, offered a stiff resistance to the Karakhitais, but he was defeated and the Karakhitais appointed Alp Tagin, Governor of Bokhara.
The defeat of Sinjar at the hands of the Karakhitais led to the belief that it was Atsiz who had sought the help of the Karakhitai. But this is not true, because the Karakhitai looted the territories under Atsiz also and forced him to accept their overlordship. Atsiz declared that the defeat of Sinjar was the punishment meted out to him by Providence for the ingratitude shown to his most loyal servant, Atsiz.
The establishment of the rule of the Karakhitais over Antarved was an event of great importance for it marked the end of four centuries of Islamic domination over Anturved. By this time Sinjar had grown very weak. Atsiz confined his activities to looting and pillaging Merv and Neshapor.
On the 29th of May 1141, Atsiz was in control of Neshapor, but sometime later in the same year Sinjar again occupied Khurasan and Atsiz had to acknolwedge him as his sovereign.
In November 1147, Sinjar attacked Khwarezm for the third time. After a seige of two months he succeeded in taking Hajarasp and advanced towards the capital of Atsiz. At the request of Atsiz, Ahuposh (the priest wearing deer’s Skin) who cammanded a great respect consented to mediate and once again Sinjar agreed to forgive Atsiz provided he came personally and acknowledged him as his master. Atsiz went to Sinjar, but his behaviours were rude and insulting. Sinjar, however, decided to ignore the insult and returned to Merv.
Unsuccessful in Khurasan, Atsiz turned his attention towards Sir ‘Darya, where the Karakhanis taking advantage of the preoccupation of Sinjar elsewhere had seized Zand. Atsiz imprisoned Kamaluddin, who was ruling oyer that region and appointed his elder son, Abul Fateh II Arsalan, governor of Zand, thus the tradition that the eldest son of the Khwarezmshah should be the Governor of Zand had its beginning.
In 1153, Atsiz felt that because Sinjar had been defeated by the Guz, who were looting his capital Marv and other towns like Neshapor, conditions were ripe for a successful assault. Sinjar was being held captive by the Guz, but a part of his army under Mahmud Khan was continuing the resistance against the Guz.
Atsiz allied himself with Mahmud and marched towards Khurasan, but when he reached Sheheristan he learnt that Sinjar had escaped from prison and reached Termiz. Atsiz promptly offered Sinjar his felicitations on his successful escape and sent him his pledge of loyalty.
Atsiz was probably aware of the growing threat to the Islamic world from the Karakhitai and in his heart of hearts wanted to consolidate the forces of Islam. But this was no easy task. On the 30th of July 1156, he died of a paralytic stroke. At the time of his death he was a vassal of Sinjar Sultan, but he had laid the foundations of a powerful kingdom in Khwarezm. He had taken back Zand and Mankishlak and forced the Northern Nomads to submit to him and with the help of Turkish mercenaries he laid the foundations of an indpendent kingdom. His successor added to this strength.
In 1157, Sinjar too died, but his glory had ended even before his death and even with the help of Atsiz he was not able to revive it. The star of the Karakhitais was in the ascendent in Central Asia and the strength of the Khwarezmshah was also increasing. To the South, the new Gori dynasty had established its rule and succeeded in conquering India. After Sinjar, some Selzuki rulers continued to rule over some parts of Western Asia.
1. Kirmani Selzuk (1041-1187),
2. The Syrian Selzuks (1094-1117),
3. The Selzuks of Iraq and Kurdistan (1117-1194),
4. Selzuks of Asia Minor (1077-1300).
After the death of Sinjar, II Arsalan, the son of Atsiz, became an independent ruler in Khwarezm.
It was during the rule of the fourth Karakhitai Gurkhan that the Karakhitais occupied (1143-1182) Antarved. After defeating Sinjar they extended their boundaries up to the Vakhshu. Atsiz had accepted the suzerainty of the Kharkhitai, and even after him almost all the succeeding Khwarezmshahs accepted the Karakhitai as their masters right up to the time of downfall of the Karakhitais in 1218. II Arsalan, the successor of Atsiz, tried to shake off the yoke of the Karakhitai but without success. As he had first to contend with the Selzuks and later with the Goris, he was forced to seek the help of the Karakhitais.
At the time of his death, II Arsalan handed over the kingdom to his younger son Mahmud, whereupon the elder, Takash, sought the help of the Karakhitai and seized the throne. Mahmud took refuge with the Goris and from there went to the Karakhitai queen and said, “The people of Khwarezm want me as their ruler.”
The queen, who was annoyed with Takash, took advantage of this opportunity and sent her help to Mahmud. Takash realised that it would be useless to go against the Karakhitais, and he agreed to pay tribute to them. His heir, Mohammed Alauddin, learnt the same lesson when he tried to attack the Karakhitais and received a severe trouncing at their hands. He scored some success the following year, not on the strength of his own forces, but for attack of Chengiz Khan.
During the rule of the Karakhitais, Governors were appointed by Gurkhan over different parts of Antarved; but it was through the Khwarezmshah that they ruled over Khwarezm. The Karakhitais were Buddhists by faith and their culture was Chinese. They were friendly towards the Christians and other sects, but were hostile to the Muslims. This was not without reason, for in the course of the three or four centuries of their rule, the Muslims had proved themselves absolutely intolerant of others.