This article throws light upon the top three Chinese rulers of the Karakhitai dynasty.
1. Yu Lu Daisi:
When the Khitan Emperor Tau Chung, threatened the prince Yu Lu Daisi, for usurping his uncles’ throne, Yu Lu fled with two hundred of his men into the territory of the white Huns and with their help went to Urumchi.
According to the historian Juvaini, the Karakhitais under Yu Lu’s leadership reached Khirgiz territory and settled down in a town which later became the capital of Ogutai, the son of Chengiz Khan.
It is said that Yu Lu was invited by the Turkish Khans to help them against their enemies, the Kipchiaks and Karluks. Yu Lu soon seized Balasagun, the capital of the Karluks, but he allowed the Karluk Khan to rule. The Uigur ruler of Bishbalik accepted his suzerainty without offering any resistance and Yu Lu defeated Arsalan Khan and occupied the Terim valley. The Khirgiz and Kipchiak forces were unable to resist his armies and soon surrendered.
Yu Lu settled forty thousand families in Emil, but in the meantime strife between the Karluks of Antarved and their ruler broke out. Mahmud Khan, the ruler, sought help from Sinjar while the Karluks asked Yu Lu to come to their aid. Yu Lu agreed to mediate in the dispute and peace was restored.
But as Sinjar opposed this the Karakhitais attacked Sinjar and in 1141 inflicted a defeat on him. They also forced the Selzuk army to move as far as Dargam (south of Samarkand) and thousand of corpses floated down the stream after the battle. Sinjar fled towards Termiz and the Karluk ruler, Mahmud who subsequently appealed to Yu Lu for help, also became a fugitive. Yu Lu now became the master of the whole of Antarved and in the same year the Karakhitais gained control of Bokhara. A rumour became current that the King of Khwarezm had also sent an appeal to the Krakhitais for aid, but actually Khwarezm was ransacked by them. By summer, however, Sinjar had regained control of Khurasan.
In Kirmina (Uzbekistan), Yu Lu proclaimed himself the Gurkhan or Khan of Khans, and that is why the Karakhitai dynasty is also known as the Gurkhani dynasty. The great Timur also called himself Gurkhan. After he had been proclaimed Emperor Yu Lu began to wear silk robes and other costly materials. He kept himself completely covered lest his costly dress should excite his peoples greed. Some historians have expressed the opinion that Yu Lu was a follower of Manu, but this seems doubtful, for the Khitan Tartars were mostly Buddhists.
Yu Lu’s forces were highly disciplined. Unlike other soldiers of the time they did not loot the people after victory in battle, but merely collected a war-tax of one dinar from each family. Gurkhan never betrayed his allies. His direct control extended over Saptanada, Kulja and the provinces north-east of the Sir Darya. His empire, however, extended from the Gobi Desert to the banks of the Vakshu (Amu Darya) and from the borders of Tibet to Siberia. The first Gurkhan died in 1143.
The most important of the tribes under the Karakhitai was the Naimun. It was after conquering this tribe that Timur became so powerful, and it was from the Naimuns that Mongol culture was mainly derived.
After the death of Yu Lu, his daughter ascended the throne, but she died shortly after. Her brother, Yelu lie was the next to succeed her but as he was still a minor, his mother became regent.
After killing his sister and elder brother, Chu Le Gu (1143-82), the son of Yelu He, became the ruler. Muslim historians have given lurid accounts of his cruelty and the licentiousness of his life, but if these had been true, the Karakhitai Empire could not have continued to exist so long.
Gurkhan was probably a Buddhist, but as a ruler he treated all religions with equal respect. It was during the reign of Gurkhan that the Nestorian Patriarch, Ilyas, established his metropolis, naming it the Metropolis of Kashgar and Nevakrit. This probably also included the southern part of Saptanada. Under Karakhitais Islam fell into the background, and the Christian and other religions had a chance to breathe freely.
But by this time the majority of the people had become Mussulmans, and many of the local rulers were in the habit of fanning the flames of religious passion in order to promote revolts. In the reign of Chu Le Gu, the Karluk Khan of Khoton, Arsalan Khan, organised a revolt to which he succeeded in attracting a large number of Muslims. He tried to involve the Khitai chief, Shamur Tahang, in the rising but the local Muslim rulers who had a great respect for Gurkhan refused to join Arsalan.
A number of rulers followed Chu Le Gu, but the history of about the next forty years is shrouded in mystery, though it is probable that there was a struggle between rival claimants to the Gurkhani throne.
The Naimun prince Kuchluk who never forgot that his father Tai Wang had been murdered by Chengiz, joined the Gurkhanis. Tai Wang was a powerful Emperor of the Khitan tribe. Kuchluk was accorded a cordial reception at the Gurkhan court and the daughter of the Khan was given to him in marriage. It is reported of Kuchluk that he had been a Christian but out of respect for his father-in-law, he became a Buddhist after his marriage. Meanwhile, Chengiz inflicted a crushing defeat on the remnants of the Naimuns.
The Naimun leaders, Kuchluk and Tuktabiki of the Mergit tribe, were trying to reestablish the power of the Naimuns. Tuktabiki was killed in battle, but his son attacked the Uigurs and tried to make a place for himself there. The Uigur chief, Idigut, joined hands with Chengiz, while the Mergits joined hands with Kuchluk in the Gurkhan Empire.
The Muslim Revolt:
The boundaries of the Muslim kingdoms started from the eastern frontier of the Uigur territory. Although the Muslims were none too happy about the existence of the anti-Muslim Karakhitai, they did not dare making any great move in face of their organised strength.
After the 13th century, when, as a result of the attacks of Chengiz, the Naimun and Mergit tribes began to move westwards the resentment of the Muslim rulers began to grow. There was, however, more than a religious bias behind this because the declining strength of the Karakhitai Empire attracted every Tribal Chief who was anxious to expand his kingdom.
The movement against them began first in Eastern Turkestan, where the Gurkhan had been ill-treating the Karluks. The Gurkhan knew that this revolt would spread in all the Muslim provinces. But it was the strength of the Nomads that led to the success of the movement. The Muslim revolt had begun to gather strength from the time of Arsalan Khan.
In the course of the struggle more than forty thousand Muslims laid down their lives. Buzar was the leader of the rebellious Muslims. Assuming the title of Tugral Khan, he declared himself a vassal of Chengiz Khan, but Chengiz was too busy at that time with his war against China to pay attention to the affairs of the Western provinces;
The conflict with Khwarezm:
When the Karakhitais attacked Bokhara in 1207, all the wealthy nobles of the town sided with the ruler of Khwarezm. But he could not stand before the Karakhitai forces. He asked Malik Sinjar for help only to meet with a refusal, because the latter had for many years been a prisoner.
In 1208, when the king of Khwarezm went to restore peace in Khurasan, there was a’severe earthquake, which caused heavy damage. Two accounts have been handed down by tradition as to the reason for the conflict between the Shah of Khwarezm and the Karakhitai.
The first runs as follows; Khwarezm had been paying tribute to the Karakhitai for many years. In 1210, a Gurkhani collector who was sent round for the taxes, behaved rudely by taking his seat beside the ruler on his throne. Mohammed, Khwarezm Shah, was furious and had him thrown into the river and then proceeded to attack Bokhara and Samarkand.
Osman, the ruler of Samarkand, who had a grudge against the Gurkhan for having refused his daughter in marriage to him, came to terms with Mohammed and introduced his coinage and his “Khutba” (Pronouncement of the name of the ruler after the Namaz in mosques) in Samarkand. Mohammed then crossed the Sir Darya, met the Karakhitai general in battle and succeeded in having him imprisoned and sent to Khwarezm. He easily conquered Utrar and then returned to Khwarezm via Samarkand.
During his absence the Kipchiak Chief, Nadir Khan, plundered the areas near Jand. At this Mohammed marched straight to Jand to take revenge. Mohammed defeated the Kipchaiks but on learning that the Karakhitai had beseiged and attacked Samarkand, he rushed back. In the mean time Kuchluk revolted in the East against the Karakhitai, and as a result they made peace with Mohammed and left. But Mohammed pursued them.
An agreement was reached between Kuchluk and Mohammed that the first amongst them to defeat the Gurkhan would become master of the whole of Turkish territory. It was Kuchluk who met with success. In the battle that was fought by Mohammed, a part of his army went over to the enemy. In the confusion Mohammed was surrounded, but he in disguise managed to escape across the Sir Darya to rejoin his army.
According to the second account, the Karakhitai had not paid taxes for two or three years and the Gurkhan Minister went to collect them. Mohammed was obliged to leave Khwarezm in order to fight the Kipchaiks, but he entrusted his mother with the task of settling matters with the representative of the Gurkhan. She paid up all the arrears and agreed to accept the suzerainty of the Gurkhan. But when he went back the Gurkhan Minister complained that the Shah of Khwarezm was a proud man and did not treat him with due respect.
The Gurkhan was facing a revolt in his eastern provinces and on the plea of suppressing the revolt Kuchluk tried to reorganise his tribe. Gurkhan, finding that Kuchluk was not playing fair, sought the help of Osman, the ruler of Samarkand.
But Osman was annoyed with Gurkhan for his refusal to give him his daughter in marriage. So he preferred to come to terms with the Shah of Khwarezm. The Gurkhan marched against him with a large army and succeeded in defeating him. But Kuchluk’s revolt was successful in the east and Gurkhan had to leave Samarkand.
Not far from Balasagun in Saptanada, although Kuchluk was defeated by Gurkhan his commander, Tavan Ku, was taken captive in Taraz. Left leaderless, the Karakhitai army looted their own territory. Taking advantage of the revolt of the army, Kuchluk won over the soldiers and forced Gurkhan to surrender. However, he treated him with great consideration and respect. Kuchluk married one of Gurkhan’s queens and assumed control of his kingdom, and within two years Gurkhan died.
According to Russian historians the second account is probably nearest the truth.
After the defeat of the ruler of Khwarezm, Samarkand” came under the control of the Karakhitais. Thus the first revolt was crushed. The Gurkhan also did his best to win over Osman and agreed to give him his daughter in marriage. After this, Osman broke off his alliance with the Shah of Khwarezm.
The success of his expedition against the Kipchiaks made the Shah of Khwarezm famous. Although this was not a victory of any decisive significance, it won a great name for the Shah and he began to be known as the second Alexander.
When Kuchluk took over the Gurkhan Empire, Mohammed, the Shah of Khwarezm, told him that the Gurkhan had promised him the hand of his daughter and all his treasure as dowry. But Kuchluk dismissed this as the ravings of a madman.
He turned his attention to suppressing the Muslim revolt. He first of all occupied Kulja where Buzar had set up an independent kingdom. From 1211 to 1213, he ravaged the whole of Eastern Turkestan in order to keep the Karluks in control. Inspite of the severe repression against the Muslims unleashed by Kuchluk, the Shah of Khwarezm was unable to help the Muslims of Kashgar and Khoton or even those of the northen part of Antarved.
In 1214, fearing an attack by Kuchluk on Samarkand, Mohammed advised the people of Isphajab, Shash, Fargana and Kashan to migrate to the South west.
In 1211, Chengiz’s army had reached the eastern part of Saptanada. The Karluk Arsalan Khan declared his allegiance to Chengiz and caused the Karakhitai representative to be murdered.
There are other stories about Kuchluk, Shah of Khorezem and Osman some of them are briefly mentioned below.
Tajuddin Bilga Khan was a cousin of Osman who had ruled over Utrar on behalf of the Karakhitai and who later acknowledged the suzerainty of Shah of Khwarezm. On being punished by the Shah he spent a year in Nasa where his good nature won him considerable popularity. Fearing his growing popularity, the Shah sent an assasin to murder him, while sending for Osman to offer him the hand of his daughter.
Osman, however, preferred to serve under an infidel sovereign rather than under a Muslim ruler. The Shah came to learn that Osman had always been on the side of the Karakhitai and that he had oppressed the Khwarezmians. In fact, in 1212, Osman had ordered a general massacre of all the Khwarezmians in Samarkand.
To take revenge, the Shah attacked Samarkand. The town fell before him and Osman had to surrender to him completely. For three days the sack of the town continued, only the foreign quarter being spared. The Shah wished to spare the life of Osman but on the insistence of the Khwarezmian princess, who was Osman’s wife, he was executed.
Mohammed, the Shah of Khwarezm, sent emissaries to Fargana and other nobles of the Turkish kingdoms, asking them to acknowledge his suzerainty and at the same time stationed an army in Isfajab to stop the advance of Kuchluk. He made Samarkand his capital and built a mosque as well as a palace in that city.
Kuchluk had many virtues both as ruler and soldier, but so far as the Muslims were concerned he was not prepared to show them mercy. That is why he became the object of hatred of all the Mussulmans of Central Asia, while Mohammed, the Shah of Khwarezm, became their hero.
Kuchluk defeated Buzar and seized his capital. When the Mongols reached that place, Kuchiuk retreated from there but not before he had executed Buzar. The Mongol commander put Sukang Tagin on the throne and sent his daughter to the harem of Chengiz Khan.
In 1221, a representative of the Chinese Emperor also resided in Almalik, Buzar’s capital. His functions were (i) to take the census, (ii) to enrol recruits for the army, (iii) to keep the postal communications in order, (iv) to collect taxes and (v) to arrange for the despatch of presents to the Chinese court. He was thus a military commander and a tax-collector as well. When the Mongol army reached the place, Ismail, the Gurkhan ruler of Kashan and Aksikat surrendered to the Mongols.
Chengiz gave orders to his comander Jevey Noyn to advance against Kuchluck, using Ismail as a guide. In 1219, twenty thousand Mongols reached Saptanada on their way to Kulja and Balasagun fell without any resistance. When they reached Kashgar, Jevey issued a proclamation that everyone would be free to practise his own religion. The Mongols did not sack the town, but merely made enquiries about Kuchluk.
The people of Kashgar considered the advent of the Mongols as the blessing of Allah. Kuchluk fled without offering any resistance and died in Sirikul and the untold wealth of Gurkhan fell into the hands of Jevey. By proclaiming the freedom of faith the Mongols won over the Muslims of Central Asia who had been smarting under the yoke of Kuchluk. Thus by the first half of the thirteenth century a new power appeared in Central Asia, which was to found a vast and a powerful empire from the borders of China to the Sir Darya.
After merging Shiknag with Khwarezm, Mohammed sent a number of expeditions against the Kipchiaks. In one such expedition a Khwarezmian forces clashed with a section of army belonging to Chengiz. When Khwarezmshah attacked Turgui province, he learned that the Mongols were advancing towards Kungli (Kipchiak) territory in pursuit of the retreating Mergit tribe. Crossing the Irgiz River, he fought and defeated the Mergit tribe. He then advanced towards the Mongols.
Their commanders, Jevey and Keval, did not want to fight Khwarezmshah. They told him that they had only come in pursuit of the Mergits and had no orders to fight against him. But the Shah replied proudly: ‘I consider all “infidels” as my enemies’ and forced them to fight. The battle was not decisive and before it could be resumed next day it was found that the Mongols had left under cover of the night, leaving their fires burning. However, they had fought so well and with such ferocity that Mohammed never dared challenging them on the battlefield again.