Mongol Empire 1294 CE, at the death of Kublai Khan


1.      Introduction

2.      Mongolian Tribes, Uighurs, the Jurchen, Tanguts, and the Song Dynasty

3.      The Mongol Army

4.      Women in Mongol Society

5.      Conquest of Khwarazm and Khurasan

6.      Mongol Generals and Christian Crusaders

7.      Farid al-Din Attar, the Nafs Scenario, and Yazidis

8.      Hulagu, the Siege of Baghdad, and Mamluks

9.      Ilkhanate of Iran

10.    Rashid al-Din Tabib

11.   The Golden Horde and Later Eras

12.   Timur, the Sword of Islam

13.   Kublai Khan, Emperor of China

14.   Mongol Conversion to Buddhism

15.   Soviet and Mongolian Communist Savagery

16.   Chinese Communist Oppression of Tibet

17.   Tiananmen Square Massacre

18.   Self-Immolation of Tibetan Protesters

19.   Muslim Uighurs and Falun Gong


1.     Introduction

The Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century are currently a popular topic, stimulated by cinema, and covered in diverse internet formats, including recreation games. Toy soldiers are a commercial byproduct. You Tube conveys excitement (and some documentary). Many internet features and blogs do not cite a single book. Military histories offer portrayal frequently loaded in favour of strategy at the expense of other details. The Mongols serving Genghis (Chingiz) Khan definitely were a military phenomenon. There are different ways of confronting the records. Slaughter is not an attractive occurrence. There is nothing wonderful about being hacked to death by a sword or having the skull crushed by an axe. The number of new recruits at that era for the international slave trade is unknown, but was evidently high.

When a Mongol leader stipulated no quarter, the consequence for inhabitants of towns and cities was horrific. Warriors are very popular in the Western "new age" of spirituality lore and magic; the cinema and video vista varies from samurai to fashionable muscular barbarians starring in nonsense plots. Some real life strategies of Mongol warriors did not arouse enthusiasm amongst invaded peoples during the medieval era. The same can be said of Timur and other warlords.

Movie portrayals frequently arouse scepticism. The question of accuracy is prominent in discussions. An early instance was The Mongols (1961), featuring Jack Palance as Ogedai (son of Genghis), with the consuming desire to conquer Poland. This was not Hollywood, but a less ambitious European production, nevertheless falling short of historical authenticity. Even the hairstyle was wrong.

The more recent Mongol (2007) satisfied general audiences but not historians. Sceptical movie reviewers found parts of this colourful Sergei Bodrov epic more reminiscent of pulp fiction than the reality. The film invited critical comparisons with the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan the Barbarian. A punchline in Mongol was highlighted: "All Mongols do is kill and steal." Another word found in critical appraisal is fantasy. There is no commercial demand for history, a situation singularly convenient to entertainment vogue.

Mongol is described by Wikipedia as a "semi-historical epic film." Many American movie reviewers were enthusiastic, recognising that the Asian cast was a substantial improvement upon John Wayne and related improvisations of yesteryear. However, these reviewers were not historians. In contrast, Mongolian reception was sober, detecting factual errors and anomalies. A strong complaint of Western critics is that Mongol glorifies Genghis as a hero. This figure caused a staggering number of international deaths and razed numerous cities to the ground.

Concerning book coverage, an expert in this field reported: “One popularisation [of the Mongols], based on a doubtful and distorted use of scholarly studies, even reached the best-seller lists and influenced serious books on current foreign policy” (Rossabi 2009:xi).

One of the incontestable facts is:

In the mid-thirteenth century, the ‘Great Mongol State’ (yeke mongghol ulus) was the largest contiguous land empire in the history of mankind. It controlled an expanse of territory stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and ruled over a multitude of peoples and states differing widely in language. (Allsen 1983:243)

Former European commentators were often severe in their judgment of the Mongol Empire, which created a high death toll. More recently, the Western coverage moved into glamorising versions of what happened, creating an overlay of cosmetic literary flourishes and commercial cliche.

In the past two decades, however, popular writers, using this and other books, started to portray the Mongols in heroic terms, approaching a hagiography of Mongol leaders such as Chinggis Khan and Khubilai. They depicted Chinggis Khan as the harbinger of the modern world in his attitudes and policies and as a symbol of democracy because of his alleged consultation with the nobility on important decisions and his support of women’s rights…. They tended to ignore the darker and more brutal side of the Mongol invasions. This distorted image of the Mongol Empire, unfortunately, appears to be gaining greater popular acceptance. (Rossabi 2009:xiii-xiv)

A very disconcerting feature of Mongol Empire mentality was the attitude to resistance.  The violence attending invasions was extreme. Partisans of the Mongol Empire tend to justify drawbacks by invoking more positive features resulting from that regime, for instance, economic growth. Whether economic benefits outweigh slaughter is debateable. A basic factor emerges:

In their [Mongol] view, all peoples and nations were potential members of the Mongol-empire-in-the-making, and everyone, after being duly informed of the requirement, was obliged to submit to the Mongol khagan (supreme ruler). Those who failed to do so were considered rebels and treated accordingly. In Mongol terms this usually meant the destruction of the offending state and the partial annihilation and enslavement of its subjects. (Allsen 1983:268)

In more general terms of shamanistic warrior societies of Inner Asia, beliefs can sound very crude. Realism is preferable to romanticism. “Warriors have believed that the massacres committed by them were due to Heaven’s ‘making pressure,’ and that the enemies whom they killed would be transformed into slaves to serve them in the next world” (Baldick 2000:3).

Genghis Khan and his successors assumed the status of “a supreme, heavenly mandated ruler, the Qaghan (later Qa’an, Khan ‘emperor’), a title of unknown origin used by Turkic and Mongolic peoples” (Cosmo 2009:1). The overwhelming legitimation for this status was military. Other dimensions of the Empire situation are expressed as follows:

Their major and minor courts across the different Mongol states remained remarkably open to multiple cultural influences, and the circulation of ideas, technologies, material goods, religions, and even food and entertainments benefited from the eclectic taste and multi-cultural environment that Mongol leaders generally favoured. The Mongols, of course, made choices as to what they accepted and what they rejected, a matter that was made painfully clear to Christian missionaries who attempted to convert Mongols but were far less successful than Buddhist monks and Muslim mullahs. (Cosmo 2009:3)

2. Mongolian Tribes, Uighurs, the Jurchen, Tanguts, and the Song Dynasty

Depiction of Genghis Khan

Temujin, alias Genghis Khan (1162-1227), was an ambitious shamanist who believed he had a mandate from Heaven (Tengri) to conquer other countries. He was a killer from the age of 13. Life in freezing Mongolia was harsh, made worse by savage rivalries between tribes. Enemies could be boiled alive. Genghis hated the Tatar tribe who killed his father; he had every male member of that clan killed.

The Mongolian Plateau was inhabited by tribes such as the Naimans, Merkits, Tatars, and Keraits. Raids for horses and women were frequent activities, with revenge attacks another complication. Some rivals supported the Mongolian aristocracy, while Genghis attracted a broader range of followers, making attempts at integration of defeated tribes. He was nevertheless ruthless, being prepared to decapitate civilian prisoners in the struggle with rivals.

The anonymous and partisan Secret History of the Mongols details the ancestry and life of Genghis. This is the oldest surviving literary work in Mongolian, covering the reign of Genghis and his son Ogedei (Rachewiltz 2004-13). Sources in other languages are a relevant complement. Ascertaining facts is not always straightforward. The myth of Genghis Khan requires a flexible approach. Modern analysts say that Genghis fathered a thousand or more children, a detail which not everyone views with admiration.

In 1206, Genghis (Chingis) Khan united the strife-torn nomadic tribes of Mongolia (about half of that population were Turkic-speaking people). The precarious nomadic existence of Mongolian tribes was transformed into a formidable military force, exacting tribute and gaining wealth through looting. A major target was soon to be China.

Strained relations between Inner Asian nomads and the Chinese were a recurring development, going back to the first millennium BC, when the nomadic Hsiung-nu were enemies of the Han Chinese (Cosmo 2002; see review). One explanation reads: “When the Chinese refused to trade, they [the steppe nomads] organised raids to obtain by plunder the goods they could not secure through peaceful means” (Rossabi 2009:3). However, in the case of Genghis Khan, the ambition of conquest was evidently the foremost consideration.

The shamanistic character of Mongol society was pronounced. Components of this shamanism were ancestor worship, divination, and communication with “spirits” by shamans (called boes or idugens). Major deities revered were Tengri (the “sky god” or “everlasting Heaven”) and the earth goddess Itugen. Shamans were credited with the ability to interpret the “Will of Heaven.” The dominant belief of Genghis Khan, that he had a mission to conquer the world, may have originated from a shaman.

At the quriltai (great gathering) in 1206, the shaman Kokchu was a participant. His presumed magical powers caused him to be held in awe. “He was reported to be in the habit of ascending to heaven on a dapple-gray horse and conversing with spirits” (Grousset 1970:217). Kokchu attempted to exploit his prestige by interfering with the royal family, turning against brothers of Genghis. With the “tacit consent” of Genghis, three soldiers murdered Kokchu by breaking his spine, his death occurring without blood as preferred by etiquette (ibid:218). The shamanist powers had lost to brute force. Genghis appointed another shaman for the royal house.

To the south, in East Turkestan, the Buddhist Uighurs of Qocho submitted to Mongol rule in 1209, with the consequence that their cities were left untouched by Genghis Khan. The Uighurs were a Turkic people originating in the Altai mountains. They were the most literate population amongst the Turks (who included Kipchaks), and far more civilised than the Mongols. Genghis recruited these people into government service. They served widely as government officials, secretaries, translators, and teachers. The Uighurs adapted their own vertical script, in this way producing the first written Mongol language (Rossabi 2014:423-424).

The Uighurs established themselves as a refined military class defending Buddhism. One of the two principal groups of Uighur moved into the Turfan area during the ninth century CE, developing there a sophisticated culture replacing the earlier Uighur shamanist model. This development was facilitated by permanent settlements, marriage alliances with the Chinese, and Buddhist temples. The new Uighur state differed from Altaic predecessors, being based on oasis settlements rather than grazing zones (Samolin 1964:72ff).

Jin Dynasty fresco of a Buddhist Bodhisattva, Chongfu Temple, Shuozhou, Shanxi Province

A very resistant foe were the Jurchen Jin, shamanic agriculturalists. Originally a semi-nomadic people of Manchuria, they infiltrated North China, rebelling against the Khitans who had established the Liao Empire. From 1127 they controlled North China, to some extent assimilating Mahayana Buddhism, a religion which tended to sublimate their martial edge. The Jurchen people spoke a Tungusic language; they were ancestors of the Manchus. The Jurchen Empire fought the Chinese Song dynasty, who withdrew southwards, lacking the same military strength. Chinese sources report that the Jurchen had many shamans, both men and women, who would sacrifice pigs or dogs when treating illnesses. In one of these rituals, a white dog was impaled on a pole (Baldick 2000:10). Realistic practices of shamanism have been obscured in popular literature of the Western new age.

In 1153, the Jurchen made Zhongdu (Beijing) their capital. Two generations later, this city was besieged by Genghis Khan, whom the Jurchen regarded as a barbarian. In 1210, envoys to Mongolia from Zhongdu announced the accession of their new Golden Khan, demanding acceptance of this ruler. Genghis refused, instead invading Jurchen lands. In 1211 the Mongols assaulted the Great Wall of China, with thousands of casualties on both sides. The Jurchen army were soon defeated, their corpses stretching over a distance of thirty miles. Genghis now split his army into three, for the purpose of striking many cities throughout North China. They are reported to have murdered and raped the inhabitants of ninety cities, which suffered the additional calamity of looting and burning.

By now, the Mongols had captured over a 100,000 Chinese prisoners. With a total lack of mercy, Genghis Khan had these people executed. This was a terror tactic designed to support his new plan of negotation with the Jurchen, whom he wanted to pay tribute in return for no further molestation. The Jurchen Emperor moved his court from endangered Zhongdu south to to the city of Kaifeng, where the army was reinforced. Genghis was annoyed at what he considered a betrayal. The Jurchen army were again destroyed.

There followed the siege of Zhongdu in 1215. This large city reputedly harboured a million inhabitants; the figure is tapered to about 350,000 by some modern scholars. Hapless Jurchen prisoners were used as human shields while pushing siege engines to the city walls. Many of these people were killed by crossbow fire intended for Mongols. The siege continued for a year, with starvation and disease resulting on both sides. The desperate inhabitants opened the gates, begging for mercy. The Mongols looted, raped, and massacred. The city was set on fire. Thousands of young women ran in terror to the steep city walls, jumping to their death, fleeing from the flames and invading rapists. No Hollywood scenario could adequately depict the horror of realistic events.

Years later, in 1231, the Mongol general Subutai made a last determined effort to conquer the resistant Jurchen, who now gathered a large army of 300,000 men. The cunning Subutai trapped them in the mountains of Sichuan, where freezing conditions killed many. The Mongols captured the enemy baggage train, causing starvation. The victims were allowed to escape this situation, only to be ambushed on the plain, being massacred within sight of Kaifeng. That city traditionally numbered a million people. The Chinese Song army, from the south, had become allies of the Mongols. This powerful combined force assaulted the walls of Kaifeng, being repulsed by incendiaries that left craters in the ground. Plague appeared in the city, causing havoc. The bloodthirsty Subutai commenced his strategy of massacre; he had been doing this for many years. He wanted to make the agricultural land into grazing fields for horses.

A Khitan adviser exhorted Ogedei Khan (son and successor of Genghis) to prevent massacre, arguing that the city population could provide a useful source of taxes, craftsmen, and soldiers. The persuasion succeeded. Subutai was ordered to avoid slaughter. However, in 1234, the Jurchen Empire suffered termination after further struggle with Song and Mongol forces.

Tangut warriors (Western Xia)

Genghis Khan also relentlessly attacked the Tangut Empire (1038-1227) in north-west China. He reputedly expressed a wish, while on his deathbed, for the Tanguts to be eliminated. This shamanist resolve is not attractive. A modern complaint is that Genghis attempted genocide (Man 2004). The Tanguts had been in strong resistance to his invasions over the years. After the first attack in 1209, the Tanguts had become tribute payers, their subsequent rebellions being brutally squashed. In 1227, the Mongols terminated the Tangut Empire, destroying the Tangut capital of Yinchuan, ruthlessly killing many thousands of civilians, and also the last Tangut Emperor. They destroyed the manuscripts of a far more literate people.

A substantial hoard of related ancient documents was found by Sir Marc Aurel Stein at the Dunhuang oasis in 1907. The well known Mogao Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, dating back to the fourth century, honeycomb the face of a cliff at this old site on the Silk Road in Gansu province. Stein found that the collection was guarded by an unlettered Taoist priest, who was persuaded to open a secret chamber where manuscript bundles rose to a height of nearly ten feet, the volume close on 500 cubic feet. Most of these texts were Buddhist, written in Chinese, covering a period of six centuries. The scroll documents were apparently collected together for safety from local monasteries. Much of the content is in a popular idiom, though including fairly detailed notices of eminent Buddhist monks (Giles 1944:5, 7ff). The Tanguts captured Dunhuang in 1036, the town being destroyed by the Mongols in 1227 (later rebuilt).

The Tanguts are known as the Western Xia, or Xi Xia (also Mi-nyak). They came from Tibet, speaking a Sino-Tibetan language. They are described as a federation of tribes related to the Tibetans. Tanguts were famed as riders, being prominent in the horse trade. They absorbed some Chinese influences. Nevertheless, Buddhism became their state religion. In Tangut society, women could become influential nuns.

The Mongol and Song Empires were subsequently in friction. In 1235, the Song tried to occupy the Jurchen cities, which they now believed to be their property in return for assisting the Mongol invaders. They met with frustration; the Mongols repulsed them. By 1248, the Mongol warriors had killed "hundreds of thousands" of Song people, to quote one version. In the province of Sichuan, they left many cities in ruins. Everywhere they went, the same destruction occurred. The war with the Song Empire continued for many years, ending in a Mongol victory. The very substantial Song capital city of Hangzhou was burned in 1275 by the army of Kublai Khan. Another massacre here occurred. The Mongol army had now killed up to 25 million people in China via war, plague, and famine (How the Mongols Made the World Tremble).

Han Chinese lady in traditional robe

The Song dynasty, famous for Chinese art and culture, is identified with the Han Chinese population, comprising one of the oldest civilisations. The Song era is also noted for the more notorious custom of binding female feet, favoured by the higher classes. Han Chinese princesses were terrified at the prospect of rape from invaders, even while their own men imposed an extremist fashion. The damaged feet were constricted to a length of four inches.

Footbinding later spread to other social classes during the Manchu (Ching) era. Many low class women had to work long hours with this affliction, which was officially banned in 1911. Footbinding is associated with Confucianism, an urban patriarchal tradition presiding over a clear preference for sons instead of daughters (Attane 2013).

Bound feet were out of the question for the vigorous women of the Mongolian steppes. Mongol women could become shamans and archers. However, they did not achieve true equality. In theory, Mongol women were permitted their own property; nevertheless, men generally inherited wealth in the patrilineal system of descent featuring in Mongol society (Rossabi 1979:154).

3.  The Mongol Army

Depiction of Mongol Cavalry

In 1204, Genghis Khan created the keshik (bodyguard), consisting of a few hundred men. In 1206, this elite body reputedly expanded to include 10,000 men. The keshik provided intensive military training, military commanders, and civil administrators. “One key difference between the Mongols and their opponents was the consistency of command among the Mongols” (May 2017,1:80). Genghis Khan imposed upon his army rigid rules demanding obedience, with severe punishments being exacted for lapses. Flogging was a mild penalty. Desertion of duty could result in speedy execution. If one man retreated from his unit of ten, the other nine were also put to death. See further Mongol Warfare and Military Tactics.

The Mongols were very disciplined fighters with stamina, while resorting to tactics that could easily deceive opponents. They favoured surprise attack and feigned retreat transpiring to be a lethal trap. They were masters of the horse, being trained to ride from the age of three. Their horses were small, not the fastest breed, but strong and resilient. The Venetian traveller Marco Polo (1254-1324) records the Mongol habit of remaining on horseback for two days and nights, without dismounting, sleeping in the saddle while the horses grazed. Other nations could not match this equestrian facility. Mongol warriors could travel up to seventy miles a day (and more).

In shamanic ritualism, horses were sacrificed with their owner. At least forty horses were reputedly sacrificed at the tomb of Genghis Khan. A Mongol belief was that these dead horses could take the owner to Heaven, where he could continue riding.

Mongols were adept with the bow and arrow, being able to shoot proficiently while mounted at full gallop. They could shoot arrows over 350 yards (M. Rossabi, "All the Khan's Horses," 1994). This was because the composite Mongol bow (made of wood, horn, and sinew) had a strong draw more powerful than the English longbow (achieving 250 yards). The tension of the Mongol bow required two men to string this serious weapon.

Spears, knives, swords, and axes were also basic equipment. The Mongol sword has been described as a slightly curved scimitar. Some historians believe that the notorious massacres were achieved by slitting the throat, a relatively speedy process. The current cinema and video vogue for Mongol conquest is dramatically visual, but would be less likely to appeal if all the realistic details were conveyed.

The Mongol army was accompanied by extensive herds, including the essential spare horses used for remounts. The soldiers shaved their hair short on the top and back of the head, leaving hair long on the sides, often in braids. They wore light armour made of leather or felt. They were not keen to bathe and never washed clothes. The nomadic lack of hygiene is often criticised today. The Mongol women cooked meals and repaired clothing, but washing clothes was not a recognised duty. “The Mongols believed that the washing and drying of clothes enraged the gods” (Rossabi 2014:327-328). A modern explanation is that Mongols did not wish to waste their precious water supply.

The Mongol army conscripted many men from allies and conquered territories. Uyghurs notably featured in this complement. These extras eventually came to outnumber the Mongols. In the Golden Horde Khanate, the majority of warriors were Kipchaks, a Turkic race (associated with the Cumans, who were frequently their close neighbours). Obscured tribal history is the subject of rigorous scholarly analysis. Ethnic complexities of the Mongol Empire still await final resolution.

Early descriptions convey that Mongol men were generally of medium height, with lean waists, facilitating their equestrian lifestyle. Urban obesity was not regarded as a virtue. However, a deterioration occurred during the Empire phase. Mongols were partial to the fermented horse milk called airag (or kumis), of low alcoholic content, which they consumed in quantity. This indulgence gained notoriety. "Some of the Mongol Khans and members of the elite consumed vast quantities of liquor, including airag" (Mare's Milk). The Empire gave access to wine. Too many Mongol rulers drank themselves to death; short reigns became common. Royal women shared the indulgence, which together with a heavy diet, caused obesity (J. Masson Smith Jr, "Dietary Decadence and Dynastic Decline in the Mongol Empire," 2000).

According to Marco Polo, the Mongol army mobilised between 600 thousand and 650 thousand men in an activity extending to the Middle East and Russia. Modern scholars have frequently tended to dismiss such estimates as fantastic exaggeration. There are nevertheless differences of opinion. A Russian commentator referred to the situation in terms of "a hundred thousand conquering a hundred million." Russia and China are here under discussion. During the twelfth century, the population of China may have been one hundred million. Even today, the Mongol population is only some three million. However, the Mongols gained substantial reinforcements. By the 1240s, the sprawling Mongol Empire included the entire Inner Asian steppe, including the very numerous nomads and mounted archers in that zone. The "Mongol" army not only comprised Mongolians, but also diverse Turks, Tibetans, and Tungusic peoples. To some extent, this army also incorporated Georgians, Russians, and Chinese, to name only a few of the non-nomadic participants (Masson Smith Jr, 1975:272-273).

4. Women in Mongol Society

Mongol woman in traditional costume

"Women played critical roles both in Chingis Khan's life and in the development of the Mongol Empire" (Broadbridge 2018:1). This scenario includes the new Emperor's mother Hoelun and conquered women from other communities (see also De Nicola 2017 for extensions in Iran).

Women managed the nomad camps with their inhabitants, gear, and flocks; the biannual migrations between summer and winter camping sites; and irregular travelling camp movement during military campaigns. (Broadbridge 2018:2)

Marco Polo reported that Mongol women did all the work, while the men were committed to hunting, hawking, and war (Rossabi 2014:327). The women tended the herds and flocks while the men were away hunting; those herds comprised horses, sheep, goats, and cattle (also camels). We know that the men made arrows, while the women made all felt and leather items. Women had the crucial task of setting up the camps of yurts (tents), and also packing up the tents. They drove the essential carts for transport. In nomad society, women shared male athletic pursuits, even wrestling. Many women were expert riders and archers. In a minority of instances, women joined the fighting. A daughter of Genghis Khan led a detachment in the final assault on Nishapur (ibid:328).

At the imperial level, "senior wives ran camps with the assistance of servants and staff" (Broadbridge 2018:2). As the Mongol Empire expanded, the staff increased to thousands. These camps of yurts (tents) were mobile cities, in which women were dominant. Women regularly engaged in trade. During war, they gained portions of the plunder. Large numbers of slaves were transported to the royal camps or tent towns, which became centres of mercantile activity. The Turkic term ordo referred to a camp or court.

In the Mongol Empire of the thirteenth century, some women acquired substantial political influence. Sorqoqtani Beki (d.1252) was reputed to be the most exceptional woman of her time. Chinese historians praised her intelligence and generosity. She was the niece of Ong Khan (Toghrul), an early ally of Genghis Khan. She came from the Kerait tribe, a Turkic community who converted to Nestorian Christianity in the twelfth century. She was married to Tolui (d.1232), a tough fighting man addicted to alcohol. When Tolui died prematurely, Sorqoqtani declined further offers of marriage, remaining a widow. She recognised that the Mongol warrior tendency to exploit Chinese peasants was a disastrous policy (involving much plunder). She employed Chinese advisers in her administration, and favoured the native agrarian economy instead of a Mongol pastoral regime. She thus identified with sedentary civilisation, preferring Chinese tutors for her sons Mongke (d.1259), Arigh-Boke (d.1266), Hulagu (d.1265), and Kublai (d.1294). These offspring were nevertheless trained in the traditional Mongol warrior lifestyle.

Despite her Nestorian background, Sorqoqtani did not discriminate against other religions. She patronised both Buddhism and Taoism, while the Persian historians praise her benefactions to Islam. She gave alms to poor Muslims and funded mosques and madrasas (including the Khaniya madrasa in Bukhara). She employed Muslim artisans and merchants from Central Asia and Persia.

Her son Mongke was married to a Nestorian, though he remained a shamanist in outlook. Hulagu likewise married a Nestorian, a factor which made him sympathetic to that religion. The principal wife of Kublai Khan was Chabi, a Buddhist who influenced official government policy (section 13 below). After the death of Sorqoqtani, her sons became more aggressive. Both Kublai and Hulagu briefly discriminated against Muslims in China and Persia respectively. Kublai and Arigh-Boke were locked in a struggle for power during 1260-64 (Rossabi 1979:158ff).

Women could also be ruthless in their strategies. Sorqoqtani and her son Mongke instigated the trial of their female rival Oghul Qaimish Khatun (d.1251), a Merkit who was regent of the Empire after the death of her husband Guyuk Khan (d.1248). The rival was accused of witchcraft. This victim was stripped naked, tortured, and drowned, being bound in felt so that she could not escape. "Such accusations [of witchcraft] provided a convenient mechanism for disposing of unpopular rivals" (D. Hamil, "Oghul Qaimish Khatun," in May 2017,1:170). The death of this alleged witch benefited Mongke, who became the next ruler of the Mongol Empire. The various royal frictions and rivalries are noted for dividing the Empire created by Genghis.

Meanwhile, Toregene (rgd 1241-46) acted as regent for her son Guyuk, a grandson of Genghis. Toregene was the wife of the Great Khan Ogodei (rgd 1229-41). Toregene increased taxes in her East Asian territories, opposing a minister who adopted the opposite policy of reducing tax. Toregene was here furthering a nomadic tactic, contrasting with her more benevolent rival Sorqoqtani (Rossabi 1979:163-164). The heavy taxation appears to have encouraged corruption amongst tax collectors, who afflicted farmers.

5.  Conquest of Khwarazm and Khurasan

The Arab phase of Islamic Khurasan was a memory by the time the Saljuq Turks took control in the 1040s, resulting in the Khwarazmshah rule, meaning Saljuq vassals who became independent. Persian officials were employed in the bureaucracy. The Khwarazmshahs (or Sultans) eventually rivalled the Abbasid caliph, their empire extending to West Iran during the 1190s. The campaign in West Iran continued until 1217-18, just before the Mongols appeared in Khwarazm (a part of Greater Khurasan). Khwarazm was an ancient Iranian territory south of the Aral Sea, eastward from what became generally known as Khurasan.

The Turkic Sultans created close links with the Oghuz Turkmen and Kipchak tribes to the north of Khwarazm. “Many of these Turkmens were still pagan, and they gained notoriety in Persia for their barbarous violence and cruelty” (C. E. Bosworth, “Khwarazmshahs,” Encyclopaedia Iranica). The Oghuz (or Ghuzz) sacked Nishapur in 1153. Large numbers of Kipchak tribesmen were recruited into the Khwarazm army during the late twelfth century.

The Khwarazmshah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II (rgd 1200-1220) lived in an opulent world of palaces, harems, slaves, and violent soldiers. His army was large, reputedly 400,000,  reassessed today at much lower figures (varying from 60,000 to 170,000). “Khwarazm was a familiar blend of a Turkic military elite ruling an Iranian agrarian and urban population that was already undergoing Turkicisation” (Golden 2009:14). In 1212, the city of Samarkand rebelled, killing thousands of Khwarezmians amongst the population. The Shah retaliated by sacking the city and executing ten thousand inhabitants. He subsequently marched on Baghdad, intending to depose the Abbasid Caliph. The incursion was frustrated by severe weather conditions that decimated his army.

Genghis Khan wanted to expand trade with other countries. In 1218, he sent a large caravan of merchants to Otrar, a city in Khwarazm. The governor Inalchuq, a relative of Shah Muhammad II, murdered the entire caravan of over 400 people, considering them to be spies. This was a convenient excuse to acquire the caravan merchandise. Genghis then sent three emissaries, one of them a Muslim, demanding reparation. The Shah executed the Muslim envoy and sent back the two Mongol envoys to Genghis after burning their beards. This aggressive response was deemed an outrageous insult. The consequence was a dire programme of retaliation.

Reconstruction of Mongol cavalry warrior. Courtesy The Art Science Museum, Singapore

Genghis Khan invaded Khwarazm in 1219, an operation lasting for two years. Genghis divided up his army, sending the warriors in different directions. The Shah soon fled from the dramatic reverses he suffered. His 21-year old son (Jalaluddin Mengubirni) moved south, gaining support in Afghanistan against the enemy.

Historians differ about the interpretation of some events. The Persian chronicler Juvaini (1226-1283) wrote History of the World Conquerer, an important record of Mongol activities. This and other sources feature some exaggerated death tolls, created through hindsight. Inflated numbers become understandable in view of a shock factor. “The death and destruction was on a scale quite beyond contemporaries’ previous knowledge or experience” (D. O. Morgan, “Cengiz Khan,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

The Mongol invasion of Khwarazm and Khurasan is notorious for destruction. The Islamic cities of Balkh, Merv, Nishapur, plus other urban sites, were annihilated. The Mongol army are estimated to have killed between two and four million civilians in this zone (the overall total of casualties, achieved by Mongol aggression from China to Europe, is assessed at 30 million or more).

Otrar was the first Khwarazmian city to be smashed by Genghis. The inhabitants were killed or enslaved after a siege; the offending governor Inalchuq was executed. The Mongol army then moved south across the Kizyl Kum desert, generally considered impassable. The Mongol cavalry were accompanied at the rear by a large herd of spare mounts. They arrived at Bukhara in 1220. The garrison defenders went out to fight, only to be massacred. Genghis allowed his soldiers to plunder. “All the inhabitants were driven out, their property pillaged, and the city burned; the defenders of the citadel were slaughtered” (Y. Bregel, “Bukhara iii. After the Mongol Invasion,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

According to Juvaini, one Turkic group at Bukhara met with severity. “No male was spared who stood higher than the butt of a whip and more than thirty thousand were counted amongst the slain” (Rossabi 2014:424). Genghis is said to have declared: “I am the punishment of God [Tengri]” (Lane 2004:xxxvi). The shamanists from Heaven were certainly ruthless and cruel with their weapons.

One view is that the invaders may have unintentionally set fire to the almost exclusively wooden structures of Bukhara, turning much of the city to ashes. Some of the populace were enslaved, others apparently enlisted into local armies raised to support the Mongol invasion. Neighbouring cities quickly fell to Mongol control, "in most cases more or less intact" (Buell 1979:129ff). The resulting forty years of Mongol rule saw these cities rise again to prominence; the details are sparse (ibid:121). Regaining prosperity, Bukhara is depicted as a centre of Sufism featuring the Kubravi shaikh Saifuddin Bukharzi (d.1261), a figure often credited with the conversion of Berke Khan to Islam (DeWeese 1994:83-87).

Depiction of a Mongol army officer

A notorious Mongol tactic was to use civilians as human shields, including women and children. The prisoners were dressed as Mongol soldiers in an attempt to draw and exhaust arrow fire. This strategy occurred during the attack on Samarkand, the capital of Khwarazm, in March 1220. This city was much bigger than Bukhara, and better fortified. Thousands of helpless people were reputedly involved in the “trick” strategy. Moreover, half the garrison of 40,000 were lured out of the city by an elaborately feigned retreat. The jubilant optimists were slaughtered by formidable warriors wielding swords and axes.

The 100,000 inhabitants of Samarkand suffered a further massacre. However, different versions of this event can be found. A traditional report says that 30,000 artisans and engineers were taken captive for the journey north (Rossabi 2009:7). Genghis certainly looted the city. The Mongol leader used large catapults and other siege engines in his strategy; for this recourse, he needed Chinese experts and Muslim engineers.

Genghis despatched three of his sons north to Gurganj, a wealthy Silk Road trading city on the northern edge of the Kara Kum desert. This site, also known as Urgench (now in Turkmenistan), had existed since the Achaemenian era. The Mongol force is estimated at 50,000. The siege encountered a strong defence, resulting in substantial Mongol losses. The final outcome was a slaughter of inhabitants, the women and children being enslaved.

Meanwhile, Shah Muhammad II was chased through Iran by the Mongol generals Jebe and Subutai. In 1220, the Shah died on an island in the Caspian Sea, his position one of complete defeat. He was reputedly buried in the rags of a servant. He certainly knew by then that his gesture of political contempt had precipitated hell on earth for his subjects. His grim and marauding pursuers moved on into the Caucasus with at least 20,000 men, smashing resistance everywhere they went.

In another direction, Genghis Khan’s son Tolui was despatched to attack cities in Khurasan, here meaning the westernmost territory of Central Asia. At Balkh, the city governors were not prepared to fight, instead surrendering while making many gifts. The Shah’s son Jalaluddin Mengubirni (rgd 1220-31) was an active rebel in exile, the reason given by Juvaini for a dire Mongol order that the inhabitants “should be driven out on to the plain and divided up according to the usual custom into hundreds and thousands to be put to the sword” (Boyle 1997:131).

A complexity is discernible in two Mongol visits to Balkh, leading to different interpretations. The first one, in 1220, was apparently mild because of the surrender. The following year, Genghis returned from Peshawar to Balkh, with a severe outcome. A revolt against the Mongol garrison may have been the reason for massacre. “He [Genghis] commanded them all to be killed” (ibid). Juvaini cites the Quran as an anticipation of this development: “Twice will we chastise them” (Quran 9:102). The Mongols destroyed the city walls. When a Taoist monk from China passed what remained of Balkh a year later, “he reported that not a soul remained” (Starr 2013:447).  The city was in ruins for more than a century.

Depiction of Shah Jalaluddin Mengubirni

A major event was the rallying action of Shah Jalaluddin Mengubirni at the battle of Parwan, about fifty miles north of Kabul. The Afghan location was a narrow valley unsuited to cavalry. The battle was to some extent an archery contest. For the first time Mongol tactics faltered into retreat. The new Khwarazmshah was victorious, killing half the enemy. This event caused a sensation, influencing northern cities to revolt against Genghis, a trend discernible in the sources. However, Mengubirni was obliged to retreat south, subsequently losing a battle at the Indus River in 1221, during the first Mongol invasion of India. The Mongols plundered Multan, but then turned back, defeated only by the Indian heat.

Mengubirni only narrowly escaped the Indus battle. He drowned his women in the river to assist his desperate solitary charge through Mongol ranks. The Mongols then killed all his family and followers. The fate of women in these warrior societies was deplorable. Only the sword and axe counted. Monarchical prestige and victory was paramount.

Meanwhile, at Merv, a large population were protected by walls fifteen feet thick and thirty feet high. The governor surrendered after a struggle. Tolui Khan had promised that civilians would be spared. Nevertheless, he now ordered most of the people to be killed. This would mean about 100,000 or more inhabitants. The exceptions were 400 artisans and some children, who now became slaves. According to Juvaini, each soldier was allocated the execution of three or four hundred people (Boyle 1997:162). About 5,000 civilians somehow survived the plunder and massacre. However, a rearguard body of the Mongol army killed most of these survivors, while also killing refugees fleeing on the road to Nishapur (ibid:162-163). The punitive rearguard tactic was a nasty feature of Mongol warfare.

One reason for the unrelenting severity at Merv was the death in battle of Tokuchar, a son-in-law of Genghis. The widow of Tokuchar is reported to have figured prominently in the massacre. The heads of the corpses were severed and heaped in piles. One pile for the male heads, the other for the women and children. This was evidently intended as another terrorist gesture for public edification. When Tolui moved on to Herat, he left 400 men to kill any survivors they might find. The city of Merv was destroyed, the buildings “levelled with the dust” (ibid:178). Islam had achieved an advanced literary culture. Merv could boast ten libraries, reputedly holding 150,000 books. The illiterate Mongols cared nothing for books, which were totally dispensable items in their programme.

The warlord Tolui besieged Herat and annihilated the entire garrison (reportedly 12,000 men). However, he spared civilians. When the army departed, the inhabitants of Herat killed the Mongol deputies. The invaders returned in 1221-22, mounting a six month siege. The city was afterwards totally destroyed and the entire population massacred. The Mongol leaders sent “search parties throughout the countryside to exterminate any possible survivor” (M. Szuppe, “Herat iii,” Encyclopaedia Iranica). Herat did not recover until the fifteenth century.

Tolui moved on to Nishapur with a large force (of uncertain number). The inhabitants here had lost hope after a harsh winter. They sent their chief qazi (legist) to Tolui, requesting mercy, and agreeing to pay tribute. The cleric was not allowed to return. Instead, the Mongols scaled the city walls and fought on the ramparts. When the victors descended into the city, they killed and plundered, the survivors afterwards being driven out on to the plain. Tolui gave the command that Merv should be destroyed. All survivors were killed, except for craftsmen who were enlisted into the Mongol war machine. “The crafts concerned with the manufacture of weapons were of special interest to the Mongols” (Lambton 1988:344).

Persian painting of Tolui Khan, early fourteenth century

Years later in 1232, Tolui drank himself to death (Rossabi 2009:12), a fate by no means unique amongst the Mongol elite. The source for this version is Juvaini. Tolui was only forty years old at the time of expiry.

At Talaqan, Genghis sent messages demanding surrender. The inhabitants refused. The ensuing battle was indecisive until Mongol reinforcements arrived from the victorious campaign in Khurasan. Now “they took Talaqan by storm, leaving no living creature therein and destroying fortress and citadel, walls, palaces and houses” (Boyle 1997:132).

At Bamiyan in 1221, the favourite grandson of Genghis was killed during a siege. As a consequence, “every living creature was massacred” (P. Jackson, “Mongols,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

Returning to Mongolia in 1222, Genghis enquired about Islamic doctrine at Bukhara. He approved what he heard, except the Meccan pilgrimage, which he considered superfluous. At Samarkand, he ordered that Islamic public prayers should be conducted in his name, as he had now replaced the Khwarazmshah.  The Khan even exempted Muslim leaders (imams and qazis) from taxation (Grousset 1970:244).

Genghis Khan is credited with providing a major boost to international trade. That bounty included the slave traffic. Plunder was an incentive for war. Mongol soldiers looted gold ornaments which they are known to have worn with pride. In relation to the Mongol empire, the nomadic Chagatai Khans remained distanced from urban life. The Khan Baruq (rgd 1266-71) “did not hesitate to order the pillage of Bukhara and Samarkand – his own cities – simply to obtain funds for the raising of an army” (Turnbull 2005:98).

6.  Mongol Generals and Christian Crusaders

Depiction of Subutai

In a distant zone, the Mongol generals Subutai and Jebe attacked West Persia in 1220, leaving widespread ruins. They may have fielded as many as 25,000 soldiers. They sacked the ancient city of Rayy, which never recovered from their attentions. They destroyed Qum, sacred centre of the Shi’ites. They demolished Zanjan, and massacred the population of Qazvin. Hamadan surrendered, the inhabitants being freed from terror by a ransom. A Turkish atabeg (governor) desperately bribed the marauders to spare Tabriz. They moved on to invade Caucasia, where they “cut the Georgian army to pieces near Tiflis” (Grousset 1970:245).

The victorious Mongol generals returned south to Azarbaijan, plundering Maragha. Here they used a favoured Mongol strategy, forcing prisoners to lead the attack and killing these people if they retreated. When Maragha fell, a massacre occurred. The Mongols employed a ruse when departing, to trick those who had escaped into coming back to the city. Then occurred “a whirlwind return of the [Mongol] rear guard, who beheaded them [the survivors]” (ibid). The date was March 1221. Soon after, they returned to Hamadan, where a massacre occurred.

Subutai and Jebe subsequently moved their force back through Caucasia, vanquishing every army, gaining fresh horses, then returning to Central Asia. This expedition involved riding eight thousand miles, “circling the Caspian in one of the greatest cavalry exploits of all time” (Genghis Khan, Lord of the Mongols).

Modern enthusiasm for military history can very easily overlook the agonies endured by victims. A popular name is Subutai, a hero in some internet versions. This general inflicted havoc and widespread death, while living off the land. After causing chaos in Azarbaijan, he ravaged the Georgian countryside, killing many Christians. He destroyed the Georgian army, whom he deceived with a ploy making them believe he was an ally. The Georgians had been planning to join the Fifth Crusade, a topical enthusiasm of the day. Four generations earlier, in 1099, the pious Christian Crusaders massacred the Muslims and Jews at Jerusalem.

The barbarism of the Crusaders shocked even Christians, and the episode would never be entirely forgotten or forgiven by the Muslim states. (Mark Cartwright, “The Capture of Jerusalem 1099,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2018)

The gallant Crusaders were “dripping with blood from head to foot” (ibid), according to a later report from William of Tyre. Jerusalem was systematically looted in pursuit of valuables. The pile of heathen corpses was in danger of spreading much feared disease. Muslim prisoners were forced to burn the bodies in huge pyres, after which these assistants were also massacred by the pious and thieving invaders.

The exiled Jalaluddin Mengubirni, the last Khwarazmshah, was nothing of a pacifist. After his defeat in India, he moved to Iran, engaging in much military conflict. His exploits included the pillage of Tiblisi (Tiflis), the capital of Georgia, whose inhabitants he massacred. Mengubirni also fought the Mongols once more, this time at Isfahan, where he inflicted severe losses upon his opponent despite the Mongol victory. He was killed in 1231, possibly at the hands of assassins.

7.  Farid al-Din Attar, the Nafs Scenario, and Yazidis

The Sufi-oriented poet Farid al-Din Attar was killed in the massacre at Nishapur in 1221. He was aged 78. Attar wielded the pen, not a sword or axe. He might well have regarded violent events at Nishapur in terms of a tragic contrast with earlier developments, when malamati craftsmen had worked in the ninth century bazaar of that city. No killing or plunder, only honest work and due reflection on the deadly nafs or lower self. Self-conceit, pretension, and hypocrisy were here the enemies. The related ethical code of chivalry (futuwwa) substantially amplified the range of significations in the struggle with nafs. “The core value of futuwwa was altruism and self-sacrifice for one’s social group” (Karamustafa 2007:49).

The nafs scenario is generally uncomprehended or overlooked, nevertheless possessing a capacity of extension into more collective events. The nafs element has a giant profile in world history, where constricting and lop-sided personalities impose schemes of martial conquest, genocide, crime, commercial exploitation, technology overkill, and other potentially harmful pursuits.

The Mongol army was not the only agent of devastation in Central Asia. Centuries later, the Soviet invasion scarred the Afghan landscape with “superior technology” of which Mongol horsemen could not have dreamed. During the 1980s, the Soviet army destroyed Afghan villages and irrigation systems, installed millions of landmines, killed vast numbers of Afghans (up to two million), while abducting and raping Afghan women. The Soviet invasion also aggravated dangerous friction among Muslim opponents, thus producing more terrorism. The ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan were destroyed by Taliban zealots in 2001; the task of destruction was delegated to local Shi’ite prisoners who feared death if they did not comply.

The Russia of Vladimir Putin currently has the repute of being a savage country for women, with domestic abuse being notorious. See Russian Domestic Violence (2019).

IS terrorists; Yazidi women protest against IS invasion of Sinjar (courtesy Deccan Chronicle)

The Islamic State (IS) afflicted the Kurds and Yazidis, becoming internationally detested as molesters in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. In northern Iraq, the IS terrorists massacred Yazidis at their peaceful villages, forcing tens of thousands to flee, while abducting thousands of girls and women into sexual slavery. The fate of women at IS hands is a very strong issue.

The German state of Baden-Wurttemburg undertook a commendable project of salvaging traumatised Yazidi female victims from Iraq. Over a thousand of these victims received deeply needed physical and psychological assistance. Their former captors have been described as sadistic monsters. One report describes how they burned nineteen female Yazidi slaves alive for refusing to have sexual relations. This crime occurred in 2016 at Mosul, where the victims were placed in iron cages. The executions were on view to hundreds of people.

A German doctor heard more than 1,400 "horror stories" firsthand from Yazidi women and girls formerly enslaved in Iraq by IS terrorists. The youngest of these victims was eight years old. "IS sold her eight times during the ten months she was held hostage, and raped her hundreds of times." The horrors of rape and torture caused instances of suicide. To avoid repeated ill treatment, one victim poured gasoline over herself and lit a match. She suffered loss of her nose and ears. She was taken to a hospital in Germany, undergoing more than a dozen operations, even then still needing extensive skin and bone surgery.


In 2014, Nadia Murad was one of the Yazidi women in Sinjar captured by IS terrorists. She was beaten, tortured, and raped until she escaped to a refugee camp, later moving to Germany. This affliction was shared by over five thousand Yazidi women. Many of these unfortunates could not escape; some are known to have committed suicide. Nadia Murad subsequently gained the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to inform the international community about the devastation of Sinjar. See also When the Weapons fall Silent: Reconciliation in Sinjar after ISIS.

IS (or ISIS) is reported to have displaced, captured, or killed over 400,000 Yazidis. The militant IS also attacked Christians, Mandaeans, Shia Muslims, and Sufis. A large proportion of their victims are stated to have been Muslims. IS killed thousands of Shia Muslims, while also displacing hundreds of thousands of these people. IS are described as extremist Sunni jihad agitators (ISIS Persecution).

8.  Hulagu, the Siege of Baghdad, and Mamluks

The Mongols conducted their most notorious massacre at the Siege of Baghdad in 1258. This event is told in different modern versions, some with an excised format. A basic detail is that many of the Baghdad inhabitants “and country people who had taken refuge there were put to the sword” (A. Zaryab, “Baghdad ii,” Encyclopaedia Iranica). Others were sold into slavery, a source of revenue.

Hulagu Khan (1218-1265) was the grandson of Genghis. Entering Baghdad after a twelve day siege, he was not feeling sympathetic to the residents, who may have numbered approximately one million. Estimates of the dead vary from 90,000 to hundreds of thousands. Hulagu came with an army of at least 100,000, according to some accounts. The Mongols were supplemented by Turkic and Persian auxiliaries, also 20,000 Christian soldiers from Armenia and Syria.

Hulagu offered the customary (and at times deceptive) opportunity of surrender without bloodshed. The Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustasim declined, sending out a cavalry about 20,000 strong, only to find them annihilated. One version says that the Caliph and his retinue came out of the city, followed by the garrison which laid down their arms. The Mongols killed almost all of them. The Caliph was reputedly rolled in a carpet and trampled by horses. His daughter survived, having no choice in joining a Mongol harem.

A week or more of violence ensued. One section of the population granted exemption by Hulagu were Nestorian Christians (his mother and his favourite wife were both Nestorians). Christians were told to stay in a church for safety. Hulagu’s Christian allies from Georgia were conspicuous in the slaughter of Muslims. A leading general of Hulagu was Kitbuqa Noyan, a Nestorian of the Naiman Turks.

The famed centre of learning known as House of Wisdom was destroyed, along with thirty-six public libraries.

Hundreds of thousands of priceless manuscripts and books were tossed into the river, clogging the arterial waterway with so many texts, according to eyewitnesses, that soldiers could ride on horseback from one side to the other. (The Mongol Sack of Baghdad)

Violence was not new to Baghdad, though not on the same scale as Mongol slaughter. Different zones of the city housed Shia and Sunni religionists, who maintained a quarrel facilitating mobs that frequently resorted to looting, arson, and murder. The Sunni Abbasid Caliph and his officials were viewed by Shi’ites as corrupt and ineffective leaders. The Sunni Caliph had annoyed the Shi’ite contingent with various insults. The vengeful underdogs pledged help to the invaders. Hulagu acknowledged Shi’ite support, even to the extent of posting guards of Mongol horsemen at the shrines of Najaf and Karbala. Many Persian Muslims favoured the Mongols. At Baghdad, the dwellings of eminent Persians were exempt from Mongol pillage, becoming havens of refuge.

Sixteenth century painting of Nasir Al-Din Tusi and his colleagues at Maragha Observatory (British Library)

Hulagu rewarded Shi’ites who assisted him. One of these was the astronomer Nasir al-Din Tusi (1201-74), living at Baghdad in 1258, soon afterwards persuading Hulagu to build an observatory at Maragha (80 kilometres south of Tabriz). Hulagu obliged by endowing Tusi with an expensive observatory at Maragha, manned by a team excelling in scientific research, with the further advantage of an extensive library and advanced instruments (North 2008:204-209). Maragha was now an astronomer's paradise.

Ibn Kathir reports that only Jews and Christians survived the sack of Baghdad. The Jewish Exilarch welcomed Hulagu into the city. The Jews of Baghdad regarded the Mongols optimistically, because they had suffered at least eighty years of persecution under the Abbasids (Kamola 2013:109).

Hulagu created the Ilkhanate, located in Iran and Iraq. He deputed 3,000 Mongols to rebuild Baghdad, an enterprise only partially undertaken. The Persian historian Juvaini, a secretary to Hulagu, was now appointed governor of Baghdad and Iraq. Born in Khurasan, this benevolent official proved loyal to the Ilkhanid regime founded by Hulagu. He has been criticised for his pro-Mongol stance. Juvaini assisted agriculture by creating new villages and irrigation, and also reducing taxes. He presided over the rebuilding of Baghdad, in a process that saw prosperity return to Iran (G. Lane, “Jovayni, Ala-al-Din,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

During the 1250s, Juvaini composed History of the World Conqueror.  “His achievement was to record the events of the Mongol invasions from an Iranian and Islamic perspective” (C. Melville, “Jahangosa-ye Jovayni,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

Hulagu’s cousin Berke Khan, a convert to Islam, was angered by the destruction of Baghdad. This leader of the Golden Horde moved south from Russia to attack. Hulagu countered by going north to Azarbaijan. At Mosul, Arabs and Kurds rebelled. They were besieged by Hulagu, who ordered the ruler to be fatally tied inside a sheepskin and left in the sun, a prey to intolerable heat and vermin. The epilepsy of Hulagu increased; he may have died of a seizure.

In 1260, Hulagu besieged Aleppo, slaughtering the inhabitants of this Syrian city. However, that same year, at the battle of Ain Jalut in Galilee, the Mamluks of Egypt halted the seemingly invincible advance of the Mongols. The Mamluks killed the general Kitbuqa, who had only 10,000 men at the juncture when Hulagu retired his force to Armenia, recognising that his supply line had become exhausted.

Depiction of Sultan Baibars

The ruler of Egypt was Sultan Qutuz, a former slave. Qutuz originated from Central Asia, possibly from a royal family of Turkic origin (he is associated with Mengubirni). He was one of the thousands of victims sold into slavery by the Mongols. Slave markets existed across the Islamic territories. Qutuz was eventually sold to Aybak, the Sultan of Cairo, where he became a mamluk, meaning the slave class trained as elite soldiers. 

Mongol conquest of the Kipchak steppes resulted in many Kipchak slaves. During the 1240s, a substantial number of these people were purchased in Egypt. They became a military class, soon creating the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517). The phenomenon of slave regiments existed from Khwarazm to Egypt, symptomatic of a society in which slavery was pervasive. However, the Mamluk system in Egypt was unique, the regime leaders all being ex-slaves of foreign origin, usually Turkish or Circassian. "Mamluks were purchased from abroad at the age of ten or twelve, were converted to Islam and raised in barracks, where they not only learned military technique but were imbued with loyalty to their masters" (Lapidus 1988:355).

A famous Mamluk name is Baibars (d.1277), a Kipchak Turk (or Cuman) sold into slavery by Bulgarians, later becoming a military commander under Sultan Qutuz of Egypt. Baibars figured prominently at Ain Jalut. After that battle, Qutuz was assassinated. Baibars is strongly implicated; he certainly gained the key role as the new Sultan of Egypt. Acquiring a repute as the ferocious scourge of Crusaders, Sultan Baibars ruthlessly conducted a massacre at Antioch in 1268.

Elsewhere, the Mongols took many slaves to their capital city of Karakorum; these unfortunates were frequently transported to the slave market at Novgorod. Slavery was not unknown in Christian Europe. At the fall of Seville in 1248, the Crusaders took numerous Muslim women as slaves.

Hulagu may have become a Buddhist at the end of his life. When he died, beautiful virgins were sacrificed at his tomb, for the purpose of accompanying him in the afterlife. This was not a Buddhist scenario, instead representing a shamanist custom.

9.  Ilkhanate of Iran

In Iran, the Ilkhanid Khanate, founded by Hulagu, continued under Arghun (rgd 1284-1291). This Mongol ruler may have become a Buddhist. Arghun certainly favoured Buddhism. His final illness “apparently resulted from a life-prolonging drug prescribed by a bakhshi from India” (P. Jackson, “Baksi,” Encyclopaedia Iranica). The quack medicine for immortality was perhaps acquired from the Indian Tantric sector, where such commodities were in vogue. The Turkish word bakhshi derives from the Chinese term po-shih (man of learning). The term referred to a Buddhist lama or scholar, a category who gained influence in Iran during the Ilkhanid era.

Arghun’s son Ghazan Khan (rgd 1295-1304) was reared by bakhshis. However, he converted to Islam at the time of gaining the throne. His capital was Tabriz. Ghazan was converted in the presence of the Kubravi Sufi shaikh and traditionist Sadr al-Din Ibrahim Hammuya (Kamola 2013:175). Hammuya (1246-1322) is associated with the earlier Sufi figure of Najmuddin Kubra (d.1221), active in Khwarazm, and like Attar, a victim of the Mongol invasion.

Kubra became the figurehead of the Kubravi Order. The extent of his actual relation, to varied figures associated with him, is in doubt. For instance, Sad al-Din Hammuya (d.1252) “seems to have stood somewhat apart from the rest of Kubra’s disciples, and to have been shaped as much by a hereditary association with Sufism” (DeWeese 2005:320). Sadr al-Din Ibrahim was the son of Sad al-Din. The father’s association with Kubra, at the very end of the latter’s life, “cannot therefore have lasted very long; little is known of what transpired between him and Kubra” (H. Algar, “Kobrawiya ii. The Order,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

We know of Sufis customarily listed among Kubra’s disciples whose links to him, whether authentic or not, have left few traces even of an association with him, much less of any substantial legacy transmitted from him in terms of doctrine, practice, or communal organisation. (DeWeese 2005:320)

Some disciples of Kubra were never named among his successors in the standard accounts of his Sufi circle. Another factor is rather more disconcerting. “We know of later Sufi lineages that were projected back into Kubra through assertions, found only in relatively late sources, that their founding figures were Kubra’s disciples” (ibid). Caution is clearly required before accepting favoured theories of lineage (silsila). Some reports, about groupings like the Kubraviyya, were shaped not only by Sufi teaching, “but also by the formulation, adaptation, transmission, and manipulation of hagiographical anecdotes, for didactic and celebratory, but also competitive and polemical, purposes” (ibid:321).

Under orthodox Sufi influence, Ghazan destroyed Buddhist monasteries, some of which were converted into mosques. He zealously imposed Islam on the bakhshis. Many of these Buddhists thereafter assumed Muslim identity as a cloak for their own religion. They were apparently permitted to return to their homes in India, Kashmir, and Tibet.

Ghazan Khan and his wife at court, painting from a Mongol manuscript, end of thirteenth century

On a more positive note, the conversion of Ghazan to Islam facilitated a “reconciliation” between the Turko-Mongol elite and the subject Iranian population. Despite warfare, the economy flourished. Various countries were now in contact more than ever before. Travellers like Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta testify to the prosperity in Iran.

Ghazan suppressed revolts with the “utmost severity” (J. A. Boyle, “Mahmud Ghazan,” Encyclopedia Britannica). His religious bias maintained hostility to the Mamluks of Egypt, themselves Muslims. The issue here was control of Syria.

The bakhshis, or bakhshian, are sometimes linked with the qamans or Mongol shamans. Mongol shamans remained politically influential during the succeeding reign of Oljeitu. However, they were overshadowed by Islam. Like his brother Ghazan, Oljeitu (rgd 1304-1316) was originally a Buddhist before converting to Islam. The bakhshis tried to persuade Oljeitu to abandon Islam. This disappointed party “were most probably shamans rather than lamas” (Jackson, Ency. Iranica, article cited).

Another contingent were shamanist Sufis, represented by Baraq Baba (d. 1307/8), now described as a “crypto-shamanic” Turkmen dervish from Anatolia. Baraq Baba was a disciple of Sari Saltuq, a legendary warrior saint who spread Islam amongst the Turks. Baraq eventually moved to the Ilkhanid court at Tabriz, where he apparently served Oljeitu in diplomatic (or possibly espionage) missions. In 1306 he appeared at Damascus, carrying the Ilkhanid banner. His bizarre appearance caused amusement and aversion. He and his companions wore only a red loincloth, plus a turban to which cow horns were attached.

When Baraq Baba returned to Iran, the province of Gilan rebelled at Ilkhanid rule. Baraq was sent as an emissary to Gilan. He was there killed by Muslims who derided him as “shaikh of the Mongols,” whom they regarded as enemies. Baraq bequeathed a short treatise of enigmatic sayings in Kipchak Turkish. He may have been “an early exponent of the potent mixture of Turkic shamanism, Sufism, and gholat-Shi’ism” that inspired the Safavid dynasty two centuries later (H. Algar, “Baraq Baba,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

10.  Rashid al-Din Tabib

Depiction of Rashid al-Din Tabib

The city of Hamadan harboured a large Jewish community before the Mongols came. Rashid al-Din Fazlullah Hamadani (1247-1318) was a Jewish medic (tabib) who became a Muslim at about the age of twenty or thirty (Krawulsky 2011). He produced the first world history, which he compiled in Tabriz at the request of the Ilkhanid monarch Ghazan Khan.

After the death of the liberal Arghun Khan in 1291, mass violence against Jews occurred.  This fact “suggests that Rashid either had converted by that time or else converted out of a sense of self-preservation” (Kamola 2013:116). Rashid gained high rank at the court of Ghazan Khan, a zealous Muslim, whose doctor and confidante he became. Medical practitioners were esteemed at the court.

The near simultaneous death of Qubilai Qa’an [Khan] and conversion of Ghazan Khan have been identified as catalysts of a revaluation among Ilkhanid elites over their place in the Mongol and Middle Eastern cultural worlds. Also, by the time of Ghazan’s conversion to Islam, the Mongols were becoming increasingly acculturated into Perso-Islamic society. All these factors made Perso-Islamic cultural practices, including historical writing, a viable alternative to an increasingly marginalised Mongol tradition. (Kamola 2013:132)

After the death of Ghazan Khan, Rashid became the vizier of Oljeitu (rgd 1304-1316), originally a Christian, subsequently a Buddhist, and eventually a Muslim who adapted to Shi’ism. The Ilkhans, particularly Oljeitu, “distinguished themselves from their Turkish nomadic predecessors, however, by also arrogating supreme religious authority to themselves in the absence of the Caliph” (ibid:131).

Rashid undertook administrative reforms supporting the Iranian population. He acquired much wealth and property in his official role; he was also a philanthropist, building many schools and hospitals with his own funding.

During 1300-1310, Rashid composed the celebrated world history Jami al-Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), in response to commissions from both of the rulers he served. Rashid created his own scriptorium at Tabriz, where his Compendium was produced with lavish illustrations and an elegant Persian nastaliq script (Blair 1995). Numerous scribes and artists were involved. This distinctive work covers the Islamic tradition along with the Persians, the Mongols, the Turks, the Jews, the Franks (Christians), the Chinese, and the Indians.

The project was aided by research assistants. The Kashmiri monk Kamalashri contributed to the chapter on the life and teaching of Buddha. The Compendium “is an official history but it is characterised by a matter-of-fact tone and a refreshing absence of sycophantic flattery, even in the sections on Ghazan Khan himself, though the description of his reign is the main goal and purpose” (C. Melville, “Jame al-Tawarik,” Encyclopaedia Iranica).

Legitimation of his patrons was important for Rashid. He included the Turkic legend of Oghuz Khan, meaning a cycle of stories known as Oghuznama.  Oghuz Khan was the eponymous ancestor of the Oghuz (or Ghuzz) Turks. The Compendium integrates “the legend of Oghuz into the story of Mongol history and the Ilkhanid cultural project through a vocabulary of administrative and court culture” (Kamola 2013:155).

In his magnum opus, Rashid “is remarkably frank about the shortcomings of early Mongol rule in Persia, but he is seldom overtly judgmental, offering little by way of personal opinion and even less of the moralising tone that was a conspicuous aspect of the work of earlier historians such as Jovayni” (Melville, art. cit.).

The Tarikh-i Mubarak-i Ghazani (Blessed History of Ghazan) is celebrated as a dynastic history of the Mongols, while using “significant literary and mythic elements from Turkic, Iranian, and Islamic tradition to cast the Ilkhans within the cultural sphere of the land they ruled” (Kamola 2013:175). Rashid here drew upon books and records, provided by the Mongol elite, to compose his account of the Mongol royal family from ancestors to Ghazan. Rashid is concerned to demonstrate that the Mongol conquest, and the aftermath, amounted to the salvation of Islamic civilisation, not the catastrophic termination by an alien race lamented by other commentators.

The succeeding Sultan was Oljeitu (rgd 1304-1316). Rashid depicts Oljeitu as an enlightened monarch uttering inspired statements. The writings of Rashid “reveal that between 1306 and 1310 Oljeitu learned to perform, and Rashid came to articulate, a new version of kingship less in line with the Kubravi Sufi identity embraced by Ghazan and more heavily influenced by imami (Shia) and emanationist ideas” (Kamola 2013:175).

Rashid encountered problems with powerful rivals at court. A forged letter was used to accuse him of a plan to poison Oljeitu. He proved the document to be spurious. However, soon after the succession of Oljeitu’s son, teenage Abu Sa’id, a rival vizier denounced Rashid, who was now accused of having poisoned the deceased Sultan. Rashid was executed, his estates being plundered.

Only one vizier at this period died a natural death in the web of intrigue. Abu Sa’id Bahadur (rgd 1316-1335) again presided over a prosperous realm. He and his sons nevertheless died of the plague, which caused havoc in the Empire. The cosmopolitan Ilkhanid world now collapsed, splitting into several rival states. After 1335, the Ilkhanid lands “were controlled by innumerable small dynasties of different origins, Mongolian, Turkic, Iranian and Arab” (Manz 1989:11).

11.  The Golden Horde and Later Eras

Mongol victory at Battle of the Kalka River in 1223, painting by Pavel Rhyzenko (1970-2014)

The famed long distance "reconnaissance" expedition of Jebe Noyan and Subutai climaxed with a strong Mongol victory in 1223. At the Kalka River, in Ukraine, they faced a coalition of Rus forces, including Kievan and Cuman. The Rus army may have been no more than 10,000 or 15,000 men, contrary to exaggerated Soviet estimates. The Mongols then returned eastwards to rejoin Genghis Khan.

The third son, and successor of Genghis, was Ogodei Khan (rgd 1229-1241). He granted the status of darqan (protected people) to Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Christians. This did not mean a pacifist rule. In 1236, Ogodei despatched from Mongolia a large army to conquer Russia. The force is reported at 150,000 strong (Rossabi 2009:10). That army was led by Batu Khan (d.1255) and the formidable general Subutai (d.1248). They soon defeated the diverse tribal peoples including Bulghars and Bashkars.

When the Mongol invaders crossed the Volga, the nomadic Kipchak Turks were major targets. In 1238, the Mongol army moved further north and west, looting and burning towns like Ryazan and Moscow. Ryazan was given the option to surrender and pay tribute, but the inhabitants refused, resulting in a battle and slaughter. This proved to be the general pattern, except at Rostov, which escaped destruction after surrender. The inhabitants of Suzdal were captured for use as a human shield. Moscow was little more than a wooden fort, easily burned by the attackers. The disunity of Russian princes was a factor assisting the Mongol victory.

Ruthenians (or Rus) became allies with the Kipchaks, attempting to hold Kiev. The invaders sacked Kiev in 1240, being reported to have slaughtered nearly all the 50,000 inhabitants. The relevant territories became known as Kievan Rus in the nineteenth century. The Kievan society was dominated by Slavic elites, ruling over merchants, peasants, and slaves. Christianity had gained influence in this zone, identified with the nascent Russian Orthodox Church.

The presence of Vikings in this zone was an earlier development. Scandinavian merchants and mercenary soldiers infiltrated East Europe and the Caspian regions; some even reached Baghdad via camel caravans. The early Muslim writer Ahmad ibn Fadlan reports that Rus (Vikings) had strong physiques, blonde hair, prolific body tattoos, and were deficient in ablutions.

Romantic painting The Funeral of a Viking by Sir Frank Dicksee, 1893, courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

The traveller Ibn Fadlan (877-960) met Rus traders in 922, at a camp of the Bulghars on the upper Volga. The Bulghars were a semi-nomadic, equestrian, and Turkic-speaking shamanist people in the process of conversion to Islam. Ibn Fadlan was an emissary for the Abbasid court. His Arabic work Kitab includes the only known description of a Viking ship burial. Despite some controversy, a number of scholars have specifically identified the Rus as Vikings. The Rus (Rusiyya) encountered by Ibn Fadlan probably came from Kiev. According to one interpretation, the Vikings founded Novgorod to the north and took control of Kiev, becoming known to the Slavs as Rus. The Vikings had been in contact with Islam for more than a century before Ibn Fadlan encountered this mercantile warrior community.

The Kitab describes the funeral of a Rus chieftain, a ship burial involving rape and human sacrifice. Ibn Fadlan considered these people in a negative light, and not merely because of their lax habits in personal hygiene. The Rus indulged in “Viking group sex” with slave girls (Lunde and Stone 2011:xxv).  They are described as arriving in boats, accompanied by slave girls whom they traded. “One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on” (Montgomery 2000:9). The Rus were addicted to alcohol, “which they drink night and day – sometimes one of them dies with the cup still in his hand” (ibid:14). This alcohol surfeit was considered by Vikings to be an ideal death.

“The custom of killing slaves and interring them as grave-goods was not uncommon among the Vikings” (ibid:14 note 46). The ship burial described in the Kitab is very disconcerting to sensitive tastes, despite the romantic and popular elevation of Vikings. Two horses were made to gallop and sweat, and then cut into pieces, their flesh flung onto the ship. A drunken slave girl entered one Viking tent (or hut) after another, being raped by each inmate. Six men eventually committed gang rape with the same girl, in the tent where the dead chieftain lay. The men banged their shields so that her screams could not be heard (ibid:19). She was murdered by two men strangling her with a rope, while an old woman repeatedly stabbed her in the ribs with a dagger (ibid). She supposedly wished to die with her owner. The violent sacrifice resembles a form of slaughter associated with the Viking god Odin. The ship was afterwards set alight.

The Vikings emerge as intemperate and predatory slave traders with a partiality for rape and murderous shamanist rites. The Rus king was apparently modelled upon the Khazar khaqan (Khan), surrounded on his throne by 400 warriors who were sacrificed when he died. The Rus merged with the Slavic population by the eleventh century.

The Kipchak Turks followed a form of shamanism; however, some became Muslims and Christians. Many of them joined the Mongol army, while others fled to Hungary. In the extensive upheavals, many Kipchaks sold their children to slave traders, an influential contingent at that era. The Mongols sold many of their prisoners as slaves; these unfortunates were purchased as mamluks (slaves) in Islamic countries (May 2017,1:221-222). Ironically, numerous mamluks gained a new social status as soldiers.

Waves of desperate refugees moved from Kiev to Moscow. Many churches and monasteries were destroyed. The ferocity and size of the invading Mongol army was shattering. The Mongol expedition created a death toll assessed at possibly half a million people. The Mongols declared that they were sent by Heaven; their victories supposedly proved the claim. “The shock of being conquered by the steppe people would plant the seeds of Russian monasticism” (D. Husseini, Effects of the Mongol Empire in Russia).

In 1241 the same Golden Horde invaded Poland. The mutilation of corpses extended to a terror tactic of severing ears. Moving south to Hungary, more devastation followed. Subudai exercised an iron fist against all resistance. Many were killed or taken prisoner. The invaders would sack a town and leave, afterwards returning to kill survivors who had been hiding in ruins or in nearby forests. Many Hungarians died from starvation.

However, Mongol internal political events then caused a retreat to Russia. The timely death of Ogodei Khan probably saved Europe from conquest. The victorious Mongols nevertheless entrenched themselves in Russia, operating as the “Golden Horde” Khanate. The name Golden is generally attributed to the colour of their tents, one possible meaning. Crimea became the lucrative centre of the Golden Horde slave market, trading with the Ottoman Empire and other Islamic countries.

Reconstructed Sarai Batu, the "movie city"

After the withdrawal from Hungary, Batu Khan made his camp on the banks of the Volga, north of Astrakhan. A huge nomad site developed, featuring white felt tents (yurts) made by shearing sheep. There were no farms or private property, but an extensive population of horses and sheep. The rural activities here were shearing, tanning, and the drying of meat. Like nomads in general, Batu was averse to urban living. However, his massive yurt was reputedly able to accommodate thousands of people.

The rural camp soon developed into the Mongol city of Sarai Batu, a mercantile centre with a population of 75,000. This city featured wide streets and numerous bazaars, plus a number of mosques and churches. The population was multi-cultural, the different nations represented by separate quarters. The conquered Russian princes were obliged to visit Sarai to offer tribute in the form of gold, silver, cattle, furs, young male and female slaves. In other respects, the Russian princes had a general freedom to rule their local territory. Unlike some other conquerors, the Mongols were tolerant of different religions.

The Mongols favoured slavery. Unfortunately, they were not the first opportunists in this respect. The classical world and the Islamic world were thriving fields of activity in slavery. Venice was a major centre of slave traffic from the eighth century CE, followed by Amalfi and Genoa (Slavery in medieval Europe). The Genoese and Venetians both undertook slave raids and purchasing from slave markets, this activity lasting until the fifteenth century. The principal demand for slaves came from Islamic countries, but some slaves were taken to Italy. Numerous young women became concubines. The Roman Catholic Church did not prevent this activity. Venetians sold Slavs and other non-Christian slaves in large numbers. Many male slaves were castrated as eunuchs at Venice and elsewhere. "The Genoese, Venetian, and Mamluk slave traders were thoroughly entangled with one another" (Barker 2014:4). The Mamluk slave markets of Alexandria and Damascus are here denoted.

The Vikings were also relentless slave traders, creating a major slave centre at Dublin, where many victims had less value than horses. Dublin traded with Scandinavia, Iceland, and other countries until the twelfth century CE (Slave Trade of Dublin). The Russians continued slavery on a massive scale until 1861.

Berke Khan (rgd 1257-67), a grandson of Genghis, converted to Islam in 1252. Following his example, a number of elite Mongols became Muslims. Berke Khan was the new leader of the Golden Horde, a separate Khanate arising after the Mongol Empire divided, as a consequence of rivalries between major leaders. Berke reigned at Sarai Batu (Old Sarai), founded in the 1240s. The Khans in this Russian sector attracted to their court many ulama and Sufis from Central Asia and Anatolia. A revival of Islamic architecture and theology occurred. The Golden Horde ruled over parts of Russia until the 1550s; however, a substantial contraction of their power occurred by that date. One version reads:

For three centuries they (the Golden Horde) maintained a polycentric empire where religious pluralism and peaceful cohabitation between pastoral nomads and sedentary populations were key to the social balance. (Favereau 2018)

Many Mongols combined their shamanist beliefs with Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism. In China, Kublai Khan favoured Buddhism, a religion less pervasive in other Mongol sectors. To an uncertain degree, the Golden Horde converted to Islam under the influence of Uzbeg Khan (rgd 1313-1341). He is often described as benevolent, to some extent contradicted by the violent nature of his exploits. Uzbeg Khan reacted strongly to the opposition from shamanist Mongols, including his rebellious relative Ilbasan. Mongol shamanism remained influential. The armies of Uzbeg Khan plundered Thrace, reputedly taking a vast number of captives. New Sarai became a commercial centre during his reign; the slave trade flourished because of an alliance with Mamluk Egypt.

Christian missionary activity was strong in this zone until the fourteenth century. “There is substantially less evidence for the Golden Horde of a significant Buddhist presence; Buddhism was a serious rival of Islam, at court at least, in Ilkhanid Iran, but it is not clear that the presence of Buddhists in the Jochid ulus… posed any specifically religious challenge to Islam in the way that Christianity did” (DeWeese 1994:82).

The primary representatives of Buddhism in the Golden Horde milieu “were most likely Uyghur bakhshis, whose religious role was accompanied by their more general political and cultural contribution as scribes at the Mongol courts” (ibid:82 note 22). A rather amorphous term is bakhshi, “at times clearly meaning a Buddhist monk, at times meaning only a scribe literate in the Uyghur script, and in some cases referring to religious ‘specialists’ not of Buddhism, but of the indigenous (shamanist) tradition” (ibid:83 note 22).

This potentially significant word bakhshi “became, in Central Asia, the standard term both for ‘shamans’ and for the ‘bards’ who combined elements of shamanic performance and epic recitation” (ibid).

Muslim sources indicate that Uzbeg Khan eliminated opposing Mongol princes and amirs. Their religion was apparently the native traditions of Mongols and Turks. However, some of these opponents could have been Buddhists, “as may be suggested by the term bakhshi applied to many of Ozbeg’s victims” (ibid:95-96).

Despite complaints about his persecution of Christians and reports of monks martyred during his reign, Ozbeg continued to extend favours to Christian communities in his realm. (Deweese 1994:96-97)

The growth of urban life in this sector links to the same reign. Ozbeg Khan moved his capital from Old Sarai to New Sarai, some distance further down the Volga. One of the Muslims living in New Sarai was Shaikh Ala-ad-Din an-Numan of Khwarazm, who favoured study of the mysticism of Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240). This man was held in high esteem by Ozbeg. The situation amounts to: “A Muslim scholar and Sufi of considerable reputation established in Ozbeg Khan’s capital, with direct and powerful influence over the Khan himself” (ibid:129).

There is no proof that Ozbeg Khan made any proclamation of Islam as an official state religion. His son Jani Beg (rgd 1342-57) supported Islam more strongly (ibid:95). The successor invaded Azarbaijan and captured Tabriz, only to face a rebellion. After his death, twenty-five Golden Horde Khans were in succession within only 21 years, the situation being one of precarious frictions.

Moscow was rebuilt, becoming more wealthy, the rulers annexing nearby towns. After 1328, Moscow was a prestigious tribute collector for the Golden Horde. Mongol religious toleration benefited Moscow and also the Russian Orthodox Church, which had transferred to this city.

The tax-collecting Golden Horde were weakened by civil war and internal dissension. Dimitri Donskoy (1350-1389) was Prince of Moscow from 1359. He succeeded in his attack on the Kazan Khanate in 1376. The Mongol general Mamai then challenged Dmitri, meeting with defeat. Mamai afterwards raised a substantial army, his foe matching the threat at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380.

The martial nature of this society is reflected in the opening episode, at Kulikovo, of single combat between two champions, representing the Moscovites and Mongols respectively. The Russian favourite was a soldier monk. These two warriors killed each other, proving nothing but the danger involved in deadly combat.

Despite suffering heavy losses at Kulikovo, Dmitri was the victor. Nevertheless, Moscow was subsequently destroyed in 1382. Mamai was ousted from leadership by the rival Mongol general Tokhtamysh, who wreaked vengeance on Moscow. The Mongols promised to spare the inhabitants if they surrendered; this pledge is reported as a deception, many thousands being killed. Dmitri prudently pledged loyalty to Tokhtamysh, thereafter finding himself reinstated as chief tax collector for the Mongols. Prince Dmitri was subsequently venerated as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Tokhtamysh is credited with the feat or reuniting Golden Horde territories from Crimea to Lake Balkhash. In 1385, with an army of 50,000, he invaded Iran, capturing Tabriz. He was distracted by an ambition of acquiring slaves. Tokhtamysh is reported to have acquired 200,000 slaves in the Caucasus; the number is probably inflated. These unfortunates included many Armenians. Meanwhile, his rivals in Azarbaijan became allies of Timur, who now annexed Persia. Tokhtamysh returned in anger, only to be defeated. In 1395, the aggressive Timur attacked the Golden Horde, destroying their cities in Russia, including Astrakhan and Sarai. The invader captured the artisans of this Horde, another investment of the war machine. Timur effectively broke the Mongol grip on Russia.

The defeated Tokhtamysh fled to Ukraine, gaining an ally in the Grand Duke of Lithuania. This coalition was defeated by generals of Timur in 1399. Seven years later, Tokhtamysh was killed in Siberia by assassins sent by one of those generals, namely Edigu, a Turkic Muslim chieftain (amir). Over a decade later, Edigu was himself assassinated at Sarai, in 1419, by a son of Tokhtamysh. Edigu had burned many Russian towns in the cause of obtaining the all-important tribute which had lapsed for decades. Turko-Mongol raids in Russia continued until the 1450s, actions that could not stop political ascendancy passing to Russian elites.

The Golden Horde ended by 1502. Fifty years later, the Tatar capital of Kazan was captured by Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584), the first Tsar of Russia. Most of the population were massacred. Over 100,000 people were killed. Islam was by then the state religion of this Tatar Turkic community, associated with the Cumans (and Kipchaks), and a successor of the Golden Horde. The Crimean Khanate retaliated by burning Moscow in 1571, reputedly capturing 100,000 Russians. Ivan the Terrible fled from this humiliation. The Crimean Tatars thereafter engaged in slave raids until the eighteenth century. The oppressive Crimean slave market at Caffa was controlled by the Ottoman Turks, who appropriated vast numbers of slaves.

Circassian lady

Russian imperial expansion, in the late eighteenth century, caused much destruction in Crimean regions and Circassian territories of the North Caucasus. The Circassians were a small nation on the shores of the Black Sea, many of them Muslims (also Christians and shamanists); they spoke very distinctive languages. They lived as a semi-nomadic mountain people with large herds of sheep. Women had greater freedom amongst them than anywhere else in the East. They were early the victims of slave trading conducted by the Genoese, who sold Circassians to the Middle East and Egypt during the fifteenth century. The Genoese had a colony at Caffa, a major slave market. The Circassian community known as Abkhazians became the second largest ethnic slave group in Genoa during the fifteenth century; Tatars and Russians were also represented (M. Pugliese, Genoa and Abkhazia; two centuries of relations 1280-1475). Circassians were also favoured slaves in subsequent centuries, being traded by Tatars. However, slavery also existed amongst the Circassians, as in Russia and Rumania. Many are reported to have entered slavery voluntarily, in the hope of gaining prosperity in more wealthy countries.

Over many years, hundreds of Tsarist raids against the Circassians were motivated by ethnic hatred. During the 1860s, the Russian Imperial army was a vehicle of genocide. By 1864, this Tsarist army had annihilated three quarters of the Circassian population, meaning at least 600,000 people (Richmond 2013). The Russian soldiers destroyed Circassian villages, and sent the survivors to insanitary camps awaiting deportation. Corpses were piled in unpleasant heaps along the coast near Sochi. Many of the ships containing refugees were overloaded and sank. Sick persons were thrown overboard by the crew.

While the bloodstained Russian army officers were callously celebrating their victory and new status appointments, the Circassian people were in a hopelessly afflicted condition, reported by a Tsarist military officer:

On the road our eyes were met with a staggering image: corpses of women, children, elderly persons, torn to pieces and half-eaten by dogs; deportees emaciated by hunger and disease, almost too weak to move their legs, collapsing from exhaustion and becoming prey to dogs while still alive. (Richmond 2013:2)

Tsar Alexander II sanctioned the deportation of Circassians, Abkhazins and Ubykhs. The Tsarist strategy has been described as a unique crime against humanity (Defeat and Deportation).

Deportation of Crimean Tatars in 1944

In 1944, the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) deported the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. Over 30,000 Soviet soldiers coerced Crimean Tatars into rail carriages intended for cattle. The doors were bolted shut from the outside. The number of deported people was at least 180,000. The majority of them were consigned to the Uzbek Soviet Republic, where they were unwelcome. Many of the guards failed to provide food and water for the victims during their journey. Thousands died of starvation, and diseases were contracted. The high mortality rate continued for several years in Uzbekistan, the causes being malnutrition, diseases, enforced labour, lack of medical care, and exposure to an alien desert climate. Soviet reports minimised the death toll. Crimean Tatars say that the deported population was reduced by almost half. The Communist strategy has been described as genocidal.

Other non-Russian ethnic minority groups were also deported from the Caucasus. These victims included the Mongolian Kalmuks, who lived in Mongolia until the seventeenth century, after settling near the Caspian Sea. Their Buddhist temples and monasteries were destroyed by totally intolerant Soviet Communists. Many Kalmuks were killed or sent to labour camps. In 1943 they were deported to Siberia.

Tatar girl in traditional costume

The Soviet Communists commenced a campaign of eliminating Crimean Tatar cultural identity by suppressing the minority language, renaming towns and villages, and destroying monuments and minority artefacts. Objections were violently suppressed. The victims were not able to return to the Crimea until the demise of Soviet rule. Tatar culture had been erased in the country of origin. There are now about 300,000 Tatars, a significant voice in Ukraine.

The Russian dictator Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, persecuting Tatars averse to Russian oppression. Putin restricted freedom of speech, sending many Tatars to Russian jails where they could be tortured and denied medical treatment. According to the United Nations and other sources, the Russian Federation is responsible for mutliple human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, forced disapppearances, and racial discrimination. The military occupation of Crimea caused many Tatars to flee to Ukraine.

12. Timur, the Sword of Islam

Depiction of Timur

The Golden Horde were eclipsed by Timur (Tamerlane), a Turkic leader from Samarkand who emulated Mongol traits. His exploits can arouse strong reactions. Timur was a devout Muslim, one whose cruelty shocked even his own battle-hardened soldiers. He was a successor to the Chaghatai Khanate in Central Asia. His Mongol-Turkic army destroyed many rival kingdoms from India to the Mediterranean. “These conquests were made in the name of the Sharia [Islamic religious law], on the pretext that his enemies were traitors to Islam” (Lapidus 1988:281).

Timur (Temur) was “the last of the great nomad conquerors” (Manz 1989:1). He gained ascendancy within the Barlas tribe, described as Turkicised Mongols converted to Islam. Timur (circa 1336-1405) was not descended from Genghis Khan, but evidently identified himself with the precedent of Mongol Empire. He rose to power in the tribal confederation of the Ulus Chaghatai, of Mongol pedigree. Timur was one of many contenders, changing the ulus (state) into an army of conquest (Manz 1989; idem 1998).

When Timur commenced his career, by 1360 the Mongol Khanates were fragmented. Islam had become the state religion of the disappearing Mongol Empire. His ambition was to control the Silk Road and become another world conqueror, surpassing Alexander the Great. Timur acquired a vast empire, in the process defeating Mamluk and Ottoman rulers. He did eventually control what had formerly been the Chaghatai, Ilkhanid, and Golden Horde territories. Calling himself the Sword of Islam, Timur caused the deaths of an estimated 17 million people.

In 1383, he commenced his campaign in Iran by a massacre at Herat, reducing this city to ruins. Another massacre occurred in Sistan, where some 2,000 prisoners were cemented alive into a wall. Isfahan surrendered to the invader in 1387. However, a rebellion occurred; the tax collectors sent by Timur were killed. The warlord then gave orders for a massacre. Seventy thousand heads were reputedly piled in various zones of the Muzaffarid city. An eyewitness counted more than twenty-eight towers or pyramids, each containing about 1,500 skulls. The Muzaffarid dynasty (1335-1393) were an offshoot of the Ilkhanid rule. The feuding Muzaffarid princes were killed by Timur in 1393, with Shiraz also being looted.

The Sword of Islam declared jihad on the Christians of Georgia, making several invasions of that country between 1386 and 1403. In 1386, the Georgian monarch Bagrat V was converted to Islam at swordpoint, subsequently eluding the oppressor. In 1400, Timur destroyed nearly all the major towns in Georgia. In this feat of destruction, the population were decimated, and the countryside burned. Monasteries and churches were eliminated. Many thousands perished from hunger and disease, quite apart from those massacred. Sixty thousand were enslaved. Another savage invasion of Georgia in 1403 involved the reported destruction of 700 towns. Armenia did not escape these incursions.

Timur became notorious in North India for slaughtering Hindus; his jihad (holy war) in 1398 was evidently for the purpose of stealing the substantial wealth of Delhi, then ruled by the Tughluq Sultans. His excuse was that the Delhi Sultanate indulged in tolerance of infidels. The army of Timur looted all the towns en route to Delhi, taking many Hindu slaves. Before the battle at Delhi, Timur ordered that 100,000 Hindu prisoners must be slaughtered; they were considered an impediment who could revolt.

The intensive plunder and destruction of Delhi lasted for two weeks, another massacre occurring against rebellious citizens who resented molestation. Piles of enemy skulls appeared. A vast treasure of jewels, gold, and silver was obtained. Artisans were taken back to Samarkand, now adorned at the expense of many other cities. Delhi did not recover for almost a century.

The disputed autobiography Malfuzat-i Timuri was composed in the Chaghatai language, and translated into Persian for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The well known Elliot and Dowson English version is often cited as authority. Some scholars have doubted the authenticity of this document, which may be at least partly spurious. The Malfuzat states that nearly 15,000 Turkish soldiers were slaying and plundering in Delhi. “The spoil was so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners – men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, pearls, and other gems…. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account.” The jihadi thieves, slavers, and murderers merit due consideration.

On his return journey, at Miraj, the war criminal Timur and his assistants were “pulling down the [Hindu] monuments and flaying the Hindu inhabitants alive” (Grousset 1970:445) The autobiography of Timur proudly reports, of the same journey, that his army slaughtered many infidels at Hardwar. The occasion was a bathing festival on the Ganges.  The property and goods of the victims, including many cows, were taken as spoil by the bloodstained thieves, who are glorified as “my victorious soldiers” (Bostom 2005:78).

More towers of skulls appeared at Aleppo and Damascus, testimony to the massacred inhabitants. In 1401, Timur severely subdued resistance at Baghdad, where the garrison comprised Turk, Arab, and Mongol soldiers. The population was substantially Christian. Timur again instigated a massacre. His soldiers were instructed to each bring him two enemy heads. The penalty for disregarding this order was death. Soldiers reputedly beheaded their prisoners and wives to make up the required total. The resulting heads were amassed into many large piles or “towers,” a frequent and barbarous feature of this Turko-Mongol Empire. Timur spared the ulama, also the mosques. The spread of disease caused him to retreat. Baghdad did not revive for five centuries.

When the Sword of Islam invaded Turkey, 3,000 people were buried alive at Sivas. This means the Armenian and other Christian soldiers who surrendered. In 1402, the battle of Ankara was lost by the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid, who died as a captive a few months later. Timur wished to restore the Yuan dynasty in China, an ambition curtailed by his own death.

Ibn Khaldun encountered Timur after the siege at Damascus in 1400-01. “Ibn Khaldun remarked on Temur’s impressive intelligence and his fondness for argumentation” (Manz 1989:17). Like many other warlords, Timur had not the slightest conscience about the suffering he inflicted. His military ambitions were attended by some occultist pretensions. Timur “claimed to have direct contact to the spiritual world through an angel which appeared to him and to have supernatural powers in the perception of other people’s motives and plans” (ibid:15). The death toll of millions is no proof of spiritual status.

He cultivated the Sufi shaykhs of Transoxiana and Khorasan to bolster his standing both among his Chaghatai followers and his settled subjects; not only did they [Sufis] attest to his superior spiritual powers, they also served to justify his invasion and conquest of Islamic lands. (Manz 1989:17)

The confusions achieved by orthodox Sufism, in the Timurid Empire outreach, require comparison with earlier Khurasanian recognition of problems caused by the nafs (lower self). Many conquerors and warlords were exemplars of nafs deficiency, often to a staggering degree. Their unbridled ambition and ruthless policy do not amount to spiritual powers.

The verdict of Rene Grousset (1885-1952) is still relevant:

The Jenghiz-Khanite Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century was less cruel [than Timur], for the Mongols were mere barbarians who killed simply because for centuries this had been the instinctive behaviour of nomad herdsmen toward sedentary farmers. To this ferocity Tamerlane [Timur] added a taste for religious murder. He killed for [Quranic] piety. He represents a synthesis, probably unprecedented in history, of Mongol barbarity and Muslim fanaticism. (Grousset 1970:434)

Many hagiographies of Timur were composed in Persian and Turkic. A late eighteenth century version, by an obscure author from Bukhara, reflects the glorifying trend (Sela 2011). “The introduction to this copy is a typical Persian historiographical trope praising God’s supremacy and linking the rise of a ruler, Timur, to divine sanction” (Account of Timur).

A typical monarchical trend emerged at the death of Timur. “His death brought a bitter succession struggle among his sons and grandsons which emptied the royal treasury and reduced the extent of the Timurid realm” (ibid:2). Sufi leaders denounced the indulgent life of the elite classes. Ulugh Beg, the grandson of Timur, was an astronomer and constructed his own observatory. However, in 1448 he massacred the inhabitants of Herat in a further war. A year later, he was assassinated. His father Shah Rukh (rgd 1405-47) gained a better reputation than Timur, patronising the arts and sciences. One of his rebellious relatives devastated the Persian cities of Isfahan and Kirman.

Many helpless Iranian villages were ravaged over the centuries by diverse militant tribes, savage generals, and inflated monarchs, from the Saljuq era to the Qajar period and later. In the twenty-first century, Iraq was afflicted by Islamic State terrorism.

13.  Kublai Khan, Emperor of China

Portrait of Kublai Khan painted soon after his death

Hulagu was outlived by Kublai Khan (1215-94), the grandson of Genghis who established the Yuan dynasty in China. In 1260, Kublai established his capital at Beijing, soon after creating nearby the new city of Tatu. In 1279, his army defeated the Song fleet, meaning that the whole of China was now under Mongol control.  He was the first Mongol ruler “to make the transition from a nomadic conqueror from the steppes to effective ruler of a sedentary society” (Rossabi 2009:xvii).

Kublai adopted a benevolent policy towards Muslims (including Chinese converts to Islam), employing financial administrators from this sector. He also established good terms with Buddhists, employing many literate Buddhist Uighurs. He early received tuition from a Chan (Zen) monk, but found Chan too abstruse, this tradition appearing “to lack any concern for practical affairs, as, for example, when a Chan master had told Khubilai that ‘all things are nothing but the Mind only’ ” (Rossabi 1994:460-1).

The Emperor found that Tibetan Buddhist monks were more practical, especially Phagspa (1235-1280), nephew of a leader of the Sakyapa tradition of Lamaism. Kublai may have been converted to Lamaist Buddhism by his wife Chabi or by Phagspa, who exercised a role as his Tantric teacher. Kublai certainly made Phagspa the State Preceptor (later Imperial Preceptor). This man had control of the Buddhist clergy. To underline a connection between the Sakyapa and the Emperor, Phagspa proposed court rites in which the Buddhist leaders participated. The court supplied funds for new Buddhist monasteries and temples; this arrangement provided artisans and slaves to work in crafts centres and on monastic lands.

Phagspa was commissioned in 1269 to devise a system of writing for the Mongols. He worked at this task for about five years and brought forth a script based on the Tibetan, but after a short trial it proved unsuitable and was soon given up in favour of a system based on the Uighur script…. Probably more than anyone else he was instrumental in getting the Mongols to embrace Lamaism. (Ch’en 1964:420)

Kublai also esteemed “reputed magical powers" of the Taoists, providing funds for Taoist temples. A few Taoist leaders recognised the need for reconciliation with Buddhists and Mongol overlords (Rossabi 1994:462).

In China, a long term conflict (for over a millennium) had occurred between Buddhists and Taoists. This problem renewed when a Buddhist petition, presented to Mongke Khan (rgd 1251-1259), complained that Taoists had occupied 482 Buddhist monasteries, thus increasing their wealth and status. Further, Taoists were still circulating controversial texts depicting the Buddha as inferior to Lao-Tzu. Mongke requested his brother Kublai to resolve the friction between these religious factions. The Mongol leaders presided over a debate in 1258 between Buddhist monks and Taoist priests. Many Confucians scholars also attended the conference at Shangtu palace. The Taoist claim to priority was then officially refuted. Kublai restored over two hundred monasteries to Buddhism and proscribed many offending Taoist texts.

Over twenty years later, the Buddhists again petitioned the court to destroy the Taoist scriptures. Kublai arranged another debate between the rivals. The Taoists had plagiarised Buddhist teaching while relegating Buddhism. The official verdict was that all Taoist texts were to be destroyed except the Tao-te-Ching. Taoists had invented a story that Buddha became a disciple of Lao-Tzu. In this dispute “all sects of Buddhism, even those of Kashmir and Tibet, joined in an alliance against the Taoists” (Jagchid 1979:23-24). As a consequence of Mongol support for Buddhism, the Chuan-chen sect of Taoism collapsed; however, other Taoists groupings survived to gain influence at court, especially the Cheng-i sect. The Taoist struggle with Buddhism “often flared into actual pitched battles between the monks of the two religions” (Life in China under Mongol Rule).

"Kublai ensured that Mongols always gained an advantage in China by officially classing them as superior in rank to Chinese" (Mark Cartwright, "Kublai Khan," Ancient History Encyclopaedia). However, artisans and merchants benefited from his reign, having been previously afflicted with a low social status. Porcelain and works of art were in demand. A boom in trade resulted.

Kublai maintained formidable military campaigns, including unsuccessful attempts to invade Japan. The Japanese samurai proved resistant to the Mongol naval invasions of 1274 and 1281. These were major military expeditions employing an extensive fleet of ships, to some extent hindered by typhoons. The martial aspect of Kublai Khan is sobering:

Hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions were killed during his military campaigns in South China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Japan, Central Asia, and Manchuria, and his troops devastated many regions, both cities and rural areas. The violence in these expeditions was unremitting. To ignore the bloodshed and the colossal damage would be ahistorical and would present an inaccurate view of Khubilai’s and the Mongols’ impact on East and Southeast Asia. Khubilai’s contributions to governance and stability, religious toleration, reassessment of occupations and professions, and Chinese art and theatre should not be overlooked, but neither should the conquests and ensuing horrors be whitewashed. (Rossabi 2009:xiv)

Despite his massive royal power and high celebrity, in his last years Kublai was despondent.  This setback was apparently aggravated by the death of his wife Chabi and the failure of his ambitious campaigns in Vietnam; the Mongol navy was destroyed in 1288. Kublai indulged in alcohol and a heavy diet of meat. He became grossly overweight. He did not learn from Buddhist vegetarianism and non-violence.

As emperor, Khubilai turned his back on the nomadic way of life and enjoyed his life in his new capital. This change in lifestyle may have contributed to the obesity that plagued his later years, making him a martyr to gout and depression. (Lary 2012:59)

Kublai is thought to have been upset by the death of his second wife, the Empress Chabi (1225-1281). This Mongolian woman, of the Onggirat tribe, was a Buddhist affilated to Lamaism. She is strongly implicated in the growth of Chinese Buddhism, which by 1291, had gained 213,000 monks and nuns and over 40,000 temples and monasteries. The liberal Chabi also patronised Muslim officials and Confucian scholars. She strongly opposed the conversion of Chinese agricultural land into pastureland for Mongol herds. She may have been influential in the Emperor's prohibition against forms of prostitution and slavery. She appears to have favoured the Muslim financial minister Ahmad, who in 1282 was assassinated by Chinese officials (Rossabi 1979:167ff).

Depiction of Khutulun

While Kublai Khan chose the urbanised lifestyle, his niece Khutulun (1260-1306) favoured the traditional Mongol ways. She derived this disposition from her father Kaidu Khan (1235-1301), a Chagatai ruler to the west. Kaidu, grandson of Ogodei Khan, opposed the rule of Kublai over the Mongol Empire. A long term struggle of more than thirty years could not alter the imperial ascendancy of Kublai.

Khutulun was reared as a rider of horses, an archer, a wrestler, and a warrior. She reputedly never lost a wrestling match with men. In this vigorous career, she acquired ten thousand horses as payment from the rivals she defeated. Khutulun is mentioned by both Marco Polo and Rashid al-Din Talib, two major sources on the period. Mongol wrestlers are noted for a sturdy physique. Wrestling (bokh) remains a popular sport in Mongolia.

Mongol wrestlers

14.  Mongol Conversion to Buddhism

In 1207, the army of Genghis Khan invaded Buddhist Tibet. A diplomacy of submission and tribute avoided occupation. Over thirty years later, the Tibetans failed to pay tribute as agreed. In 1239, a Mongol army under Godan Khan (a grandson of Genghis) invaded Tibet with a large army.  

The invaders looted monasteries and villages. Many monks of Reting monastery were slaughtered. The Tibetans negotiated via the Sakyapa Order of Lamas. However, contrary to legend, the Sakyapa abbot did not exercise any secular rule in Tibet as a Mongol delegate (Petech 1990). The Mongol leaders opted for indirect domination of a country with difficult mountain terrain.

During the 1240s, the leading Sakyapa monk Kunga Gyeltsen (1182-1251) was taken as a hostage to Godan’s royal camp at Liangzhou. This Lama gained the title of Sakya Pandita because of his Sanskrit learning. He was accompanied by his nephew Phagspa, then only ten years old. They found that Mongol soldiers were killing Han Chinese people by drowning them in a river. Gyeltsen insisted that killing was one of the worst actions, and would invite adverse consequences.

To avoid the destruction of Lamaism, Gyeltsen was obliged to surrender Tibet to the Mongols. However, in the process, he converted Godan to Buddhism. After his death, the shamanist Mongke Khan launched new military campaigns in Tibet during 1252-3. The young Phagspa remained at the court of Godan, learning Mongolian, and gaining protection for the Sakyapa tradition.

A rival of Phagspa was Karmapa Pakshi (1204-83), the second Karmapa Lama in a branch lineage of the Tibetan Kagyu tradition. In 1256, Pakshi retreated from the Mongol court to Amdo. Mongke Khan, the powerful elder brother of Kublai, then invited Pakshi to return to China as a teacher of dharma. Pakshi complied, remaining at the court of Mongke as an effective rival of the Sakyapa tradition. With the imminent death of Mongke, a palace intrigue caused Pakshi to flee. In true Mongol style, the ascendant Kublai Khan killed the successors of Mongke; the new Emperor also captured Pakshi, who was considered a traitor. Pakshi was tortured by burning and poisoning.

The Mongols began to take an interest in Lamaism, rather than in Chinese Buddhism. Reasons often given are that the Tibetans resembled Mongol ruralism more than did the urban Chinese, while the ritual practices of Lamaism were more assimilable to a shamanist people.

The number of Buddhist monasteries increased substantially during the reign of Kublai Khan. The Yuan Khans accepted Tibetan Buddhism, while the Chinese rejected this Tantric religion. In 1368, the Mongols were driven out of China by the Ming army.  The Mongols were afterwards divided between different groups who fought each other. The situation did not change until the time of Altan Khan (1507-82).

The majority of Mongols eventually converted to Tibetan Buddhism. A primary event was the successful missionary journey of the “Third Dalai Lama” to Mongolia in 1578. Mongols subsequently renounced warfare and hunting, being persuaded that Buddhist non-violence (ahimsa) was the way forward. This volte-face is a memorable development for the people who had pushed warfare and plunder to the limits over four centuries.

Altan Khan as representative of Buddhism, early painting

Altan Khan (1507-82) was leader of the Tumed Mongols. A Mongolian history of Altan Khan, the Erdeni Tunumal Sudur, is considered fairly reliable by specialists (Elverskog 2003). This Khan at first continued the aggressive Mongol tradition. He raided Ming China for plunder and herds, targeting Beijing in 1550, later signing a peace treaty. In 1578, Altan Khan welcomed Sonam Gyatso (d.1588), leader of the Tibetan monastic Gelukpa tradition. Coming from Drepung monastery in Tibet, Gyatso remained in Mongolia, initiating hundreds of influential Mongols into Lamaist Buddhism. Altan Khan conferred the name Dalai upon Gyatso, subsequently described as the Third Dalai Lama.

Altan Khan presided over the ordination of nearly two hundred Mongols as monks. The first monastery (at Erdennzuu) in Mongolia now appeared. The Tumed Mongols and their allies became supporters of the Gelukpa monastic system. A new law was passed to prohibit sacrifice of slaves, women, horses, and camels as offerings to the dead. Insult to Buddhist monks was also prohibited. The burning of Mongolian women on funeral pyres of their husbands was likewise to stop. These prohibitions became laws instituted by Altan Khan.

Gelukpa lamas established monasteries along sparsely inhabited routes in Mongolia. They confronted nomadism and shamanism. Their monastic sites provided the nuclei for later urban settlements. Shamanism was the major religious influence amongst Mongolian aristocrats and commoners. The prestige of shamans was closely related to the performance of magical feats. A degree of showmanship was in evidence. The shaman performed cures. His robes were adorned with evocative symbols, also mirrors in which he claimed to see spirits.

Buddhist Lamaism had to adapt to shamanism by defeating the rivals with their own practices. The influence of Lamaism was at first confined to aristocrats. “The major struggles had to be played out in face-to-face confrontation between Lama and Shaman in front of impressionable audiences” (Moses 1977:112ff). Shamanist practices were proscribed by the Code of Altan circa 1577. However, the lasting success of Buddhist Lamas, during the seventeenth century, was created by a tactic of adopting popular elements of shamanism, making these compatible with the monastic institution.

Mongolian shaman with a drum circa 1909, courtesy National Museum of Finland

The shamans strongly rejected Buddhism. Altan Khan was accordingly concerned to ban onggud, meaning the small representations of purported spirits of dead shamans. The intention here was to prohibit sacrifice to these spirits, and to replace this convention with image worship of the Tantric Buddhist deity Mahakala. The new anti-shaman movement also promoted the use of dairy products for ritual offerings, as distinct from the shamanist preference for meat and blood (Ujeed 2009:36).

Neichi Toyin (1557-1653) was a Mongolian Lama achieving a prominent role in the conversion of Eastern Mongols to Buddhism. His opposition to shamanism is notable. As a consequence, Khorchin rulers in East Mongolia arranged a large pile of onggud to which Buddhists were so averse. The pile of shamanist paraphernalia was burned, in the face of public alarm. Mongolian people were afraid of offending shamans and their spirits, being influenced by a traditional belief that the shaman’s personal spirit, residing in onggud, would harm persons who opposed shamans. The elevated shamanic spirits were even feared by shamans themselves (Ujeed 2009:40-41).

Within fifty years of the new laws being passed, most Mongols had apparently adopted Buddhism. Many thousands of Gelukpa monks appeared in Mongolia. An extensive translation of Tibetan Buddhist works into Mongolian was in process. However, fighting continued amongst Mongol aristocrats. Furthermore, the prowess of Sonam Gyatso is strongly related to a political divide in Tibet.

The Sakyapa tradition had lost prominence. The Karmapa lineage achieved power in Tibet during the fourteenth century. From the mid-fifteenth century, a constant struggle for political power ensued between feudalist chieftains of Central Tibet, this friction representing the rival Gelukpa and Karmapa sects. In the late fifteenth century, Gelukpa monks even razed to the ground a rival Karmapa monastery newly constructed near Lhasa (Samten 2007).  This conflict was a major political factor at work in the Gelukpa alliance with the Mongol elite. Altan Khan and Sonam Gyatso exchanged honorary titles, namely Dalai (ocean) and Chos-rgyal (king who rules according to Buddhist law). The Mongol sword remained a useful asset to seize state power at Lhasa (Norbu 1997).

The great-grandson of Altan Khan was declared to be the reincarnation of Sonam Gyatso. The Fourth Dalai Lama was escorted to Lhasa by Mongol cavalry in 1601. However, Lhasa was only secured by the Gelukpa Order in 1642.  Gushi Khan (d.1655) defeated the Tsangpa king who fought for the Karmapa order, a military feat enabling the Fifth Dalai Lama to be installed at Lhasa as theocratic ruler of Tibet. The Gelukpa tradition now ousted the rival Karmapa lineage associated with the Kagyu siddhas. The Dalai Lama became regarded as the Buddha, and as an entity possessing magical powers (Norbu 1997).

Gushi Khan was pitted against the rival Mongol prince Choghtu Khong, a supporter of the Karmapa Kagyu.  The Battle of the Bloody Hill, near Qinghai Lake, was a victory for Gushi; Choghtu was found and killed. Gushi established his Khanate in Tibet, returning to confront other opponents of the Gelukpa. Karma Tenkyong was the resisting pro-Kagyu king of the Tsangpa dynasty, active in Shigatse, where a monastic settlement was a target of siege in 1642.

The Dalai Lama was escorted to Shigatse palace and there seated on the throne of the deposed Karma Tenkyong. The army of Gushi killed 7,000 rebels in the Kong po region. Many Karmapa monasteries were forcibly converted to Gelukpa auspices (Schaik 2011). 

The Manchu Emperors encouraged Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, with the evident intention to regulate that religion. The Lamaist theocracy weakened martial enthusiasm. The numerous Mongolian monasteries now in existence served to constrain the birth rate, a fact evidently pleasing the Manchu Emperors (Ujeed 2009:54-57). The nomads were now subjugated. The Western Mongols were decimated. During the late 1750s, the Zhungar confederation of Central Asia were eliminated by the Chinese emperor Qianlong (rgd 1735-96). This notorious episode amounted to genocide. The Zhungar territory was renamed Xinjiang (Perdue 2005). The Eastern Mongols were brought under the control of the Manchu Ching dynasty. Tibet became a vassal of China.

A trend to Mongolise Mahayana Buddhism was evidenced by Mergen Gegen (1717-66), associated with the Mergen monastery in Urad. This monk wrote in Mongolian a history of Buddhism known as Altan Tobchi. That composition queried other Mongol histories, daring to criticise Genghis and his successors, while also being in reaction to “Tibetan institutional hegemony in Buddhism and the political axis sealed between high Tibetan prelates and the Manchu Emperors” (C. Humphrey, “Placing Self Amid Others: A Mongolian Technique of Comparison,” 2016).

Mongolian Buddhist monks, early twentieth century. Courtesy Uppsala University

By the nineteenth century, “every aspect of Tibetan monastic culture was practised in Mongolia” (Ujeed 2009:49). More than two thousand monasteries apparently existed. Some Lamas supervised large feudal estates like their counterparts in Tibet. Mongolian monk scholars wrote industriously, in the Tibetan language, on many subjects. Towards the end of the Manchu (Ching) dynasty, 40 or 50 per cent of the Mongolian male population had become monks (Ujeed 2009:54). By 1921, about 110,000 monks existed in Mongolia; many of these people lived outside the monasteries. Monastic buildings were often the only fixed structures in a country where felt tents were the common living accommodation.

15.  Soviet and Mongolian Communist Savagery

In contrast to Manchu calculating tolerance, the Communist regime in Mongolia was extremely oppressive. The Mongolian People’s Republic was created in 1924, with the assistance of Soviet military interests. Soviet influence remained strong in Mongolia for many years afterwards. Soviet Moscow launched the Great Purge in 1936-38, killing many victims, including ethnic minorities. Buddhist monks were labelled enemies by the extremist dictator Joseph Stalin (1878-1953). This manic Communist caused numerous deaths in far-flung zones, possibly amounting to 20 million. Mongolia was merely one corner of the Marxist theatre of death and suffering (The Great Repression).

During the years 1937-39, severe repression was exercised in Mongolia by Communist rule. Over 18,000 Mongolian Buddhist monks were executed. Other monks were conscripted into the Mongolian army or forcibly laicised. Over 700 monasteries were eliminated. The scenario was one of torture, execution, and exile to remote forced labour camps. Gold and silver monastic objects were stolen and transported to the Soviet Union, where these were melted down. Military conscription was imposed in a country that had lost the appetite for war. The Mongolian war machine returned in a new guise of “liberation.” The monasteries remaining “were sacked and shut down, and the residual lamas were accused and humiliated, tortured, and in some cases killed” (Humphrey and Hurelbaatar 2013:8).

In September 1937, the population of Mongolia was approximately 745,000. Over 83,000 of these people were Buddhist monks. Less than a year later, only 562 monks were left in the monasteries. Over 40,000 had fled the Communist purge, opting for laicisation. There were 17,000 who still regarded themselves as monks, while living unobtrusively in the countryside. Almost 20,000 were convicted of crimes such as poisoning the people with Tibetan medicine. About 18,000 monks were executed (Kaplonski 2014).

Subsequently, another oppressive Communist campaign “attacked local officials – and indeed anyone imagined to sympathise with traditional Mongolian culture – tracked them down and accused, insulted, beat, imprisoned, and executed them” (Humphrey and Hurelbaatar 2013:8).

The collapse of Soviet Communism, in 1990, served to legalise Buddhism and reopen monasteries. Missionary Christianity acted as a minority rival. Mongolian Buddhism is recognised as a tradition distinct from the Tibetan. "The Mongols often defied Manchu influence, rejected Chinese Confucian culture, and cultivated a uniquely Mongolian Buddhist culture" (Wallace 2015:xvi). Buddhism here assimilated elements of indigenous mindset.

The exceptional hospitality of Mongolian nomads often surprised Western visitors. Mongolia remained a paradise for horses, who outnumbered the human population. Independent Mongolia is one of the last unspoiled regions of the globe.

To the south, Han Chinese settlers flooded Inner Mongolia from the eighteenth century. By 2014, Inner Mongolia hosted 20 million Han Chinese, compared with a minority of about 4 million Mongols. The oppressive Beijing government has forced nomadic people off their ancestral grazing lands. Chinese Communist industrial activity, within Inner Mongolia, has created extensive pollution and damage to grasslands. The Chinese Communists were unable to control their huge population, mushrooming to over a billion.

16. Chinese Communist Oppression of Tibet

Gelukpa monks at Lhasa, 1938

In Western countries, Tibetan Buddhism has been diversely viewed as a corrupt deviation of the Buddha's teaching and as the most important heir of that teaching. A complication were nineteenth century Theosophical fantasies of Tibet as a land of mahatmas living in a region unknown to Tibetans.

Despite the influential monastic institution, conversion to Buddhism in Tibet did not eschew armed conflict. Tibetan armies fought against Ladakh in 1681, against the Dzungar Mongols in 1720, against the invading Nepalese army, and against the British presence in 1904. The strong warrior element in Tibet nevertheless deferred to Mahayana Buddhism.

Traditional Tibet, like any complex society, had great inequalities, with power monopolised by an elite composed of a small aristocracy, the hierarchs of various sects (including incarnate lamas), and the great Gelukpa monasteries. The subaltern members of the society included non-aristocratic laymen, non-Buddhists, and women. (Donald S. Lopez Jr, New Age Orientalism: The Case of Tibet, 1994)

In 1792, the Manchu Emperor Qian-long declared Chinese imperial control over all Tibetan communications with foreign countries. However, Chinese interference in this mountain country remained marginal for several generations. Tibet was never a part of China until the mid-twentieth century, an event very strongly disputed.

In 1950, an estimated 600,000 monks and nuns lived in Tibet. By 1979, most of them were dead, imprisoned, or missing. Over 7,000 Tibetan monasteries were destroyed by Chinese Communists by 1959. Three years later, the Panchen Lama sent a petition to the Chinese government, informing that more than 97 per cent of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed, the number of monks and nuns being reduced by 93 per cent. Furthermore, Tibetan language, dress, and customs were stigmatised as backward. Surviving monks were forced to wear blue Mao suits.

A thamzing female victim in 1958

Anyone who objected to the afflicting colonial situation was subjected to public “struggle sessions” gaining an infamous reputation. These common events were a form of public humiliation. The sadistic sessions frequently included torture, maiming, and even death. A stigmatising placard was very often hung around the victim's neck. The hated word for this barbarity in Tibetan was thamzing.

The physical torture and psychological traumas endured by Tibetans during ‘struggle sessions’ and imprisonment were beyond human comprehension. At least 92,000 Tibetans who were subjected to ‘struggle sessions’ died or committed suicide and around 173,000 Tibetans died in prison or in ‘Reform Through Labour Camps.’ (T. Phuntsok, Revisiting the Cultural Revolution, 2016).

The victims were called "class enemies," a phrase derived from the Communist indoctrination process. They were forced to admit alleged crimes, often before a hostile crowd. Thamzing sessions were very nasty events in which victims were enjoined to repudiate their "reactionary" or "separatist" past and "accuse others of similar 'crimes,' often resulting in extreme brutality and death" (Ardley 2002:xii). Thamzing "killed untold numbers of Tibetans" (ibid:7).

Thamzing was a means of political re-education that aimed to make Tibetans aware of the supposed oppression they were subject to before the Chinese invasion. Artificially engineered class struggles set tenant against landlord, pupil against teacher, even child against parent. The victims of thamzing were allegedly punished by methods including burying alive, hanging, beheading, disembowelling, crucifixion, and shooting. (Ardley 2002:7)

Survivor reports are harrowing. Adhe Tapontsang was imprisoned for 27 years in ghastly Chinese jails for her resistance to Chinese occupation of Tibet. The resistance movement commenced in the early 1950s. The author refers to "the many family members, friends, and strangers whose tortures and terrible deaths she had witnessed" (Tapontsang 2012:x). Communist impositions included the threat: "We will see that you suffer for the rest of your life." The vindictive Communist attitude was shared by female Chinese soldiers. One of these women "repeatedly hit my right eye with her fist, attempting to damage it. I felt tremendous pain and noise in my ears. The woman's anger was probably compunded by the refusal of my former servants to beat me" (ibid:92).

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was a savage exercise in destruction, squashing any form of protest to the imposition of one national identity over another. Many shocked Tibetans are said to have committed suicide at the demolition of their heritage. During the subsequent so-called “Cultural Revolution,” the remaining monasteries were destroyed. Tibetan monks and nuns were forced to marry or sent to deadly labour camps. Tibetan religious texts were described as “poisonous weeds” by the invaders. The only book with an authorised circulation was the Little Red Book of quotes from Chairman Mao. Glorifying portraits of Mao were ubiqitous. This was a programme of total indoctrination and rabid nationalist intolerance.

The Chinese language was elevated as supreme in Tibet, the language of brutalised subjects being dismissed as a virtual crime. Large numbers of ancient Tibetan manuscripts were burned. Religious objects made of gold, silver, and bronze were removed from temples and transported to China, a country whose government favoured theft in a manner similar to Soviets and shamanist Mongols.

The violent Chinese Cultural Revolution (officially 1966-69, but lasting well into the 1970s), was a further catastrophe for afflicted minorities (including Chinese intellectuals, who were relegated to the countryside and prisons). During the 1960s, young Tibetans were easily brainwashed by Communist tactics. The first Red Guards in Tibet included Tibetan students who attended Chinese universities. These young people were taught that Tibetan religious art and scriptures were to be destroyed as the output of “class enemies.” Buddhism was identified in terms of a feudal society requiring to be eliminated. Anyone who objected to this programme of relegation was at risk of public denunciation and the infamous “struggle sessions” which involved beatings and worse. See D. Southerland, "After 50 years, Tibetans Recall the Cultural Revolution" (2016).

The instigator of Red Guard persecutions was Mao Zedong (1893-1976). His Maoist dogma caused millions to suffer afflictions, to be imprisoned, tortured, and killed by the young Red Guards. In 1966, Mao claimed that some Chinese educators were spreading capitalist ideology. That same year, he endorsed the violent tactics of his terror squad, the Red Guards. Beatings with fists and clubs were regarded as perfectly legitimate in the dictatorial society.

A large number of Red Guards were despatched from Beijing to Tibet. They targeted the remaining monasteries and temples. Dynamite and artillery were used to reduce those buildings to rubble. Libraries were looted. Rare books and paintings were burned. The damage is comparable to the sack of Baghdad in 1258, a difference being that the Mongols were lenient with religious minorities, in contrast to Chinese nationalist intolerance.

In 1967, the Red Guards at Lhasa split into two armed rival groups who fought numerous battles. Both parties claimed to be true Maoists. Chaos prevailed, to the extent that Mao himself posted PLA troops in Tibet to regain control during 1968. The Communist soldiers began public executions in a further rule of terror.

Red Guards reading from Chairman Mao's Little Red Book

The full details of Red Guard atrocities are still generally in abeyance, suppressed by the subsequent regime. This corps of young high school recruits and undergraduates were indoctrinated by the Red Book of Chairman Mao. They had no independent thinking ability, being caught in the net of soporific Marxist jargon. Some of them were cannibals. They unleashed their hate for schoolteachers, who were chained, forced to eat nails, and beaten to death with an iron bar. Anything “bourgeois” had to be eliminated. The minions of destruction would daily beat victims to death. Some of the persecuted people in China threw themselves off high buildings to escape Communist hell.


A victim of Red Guards in 1966

Because pet cats, dogs, fish, and even crickets became symbols of ‘bourgeois decadence,’ they were slaughtered in their thousands. Eating human flesh became a macabre proof of loyalty.  The Party’s own investigations tell of students in Guangxi province cooking and eating their teachers and principals. In some government cafeterias, the bodies of executed traitors were displayed on meat hooks, while their flesh was served and consumed. (James D. Banker, Children of the Revolution)

Dissidents were “traitors.” A professor at Peking, a Maoist incendiary, found his role reversed in the Cultural Revolution. “Already in his late fifties, he was imprisoned with other intellectuals in a cowshed with former students as his sadistic prison guards. He was forced to endure constant struggle sessions and beaten and tormented mercilessly by his colleagues and Red Guards” (ibid).

The Red Guards soon became uncontrollable. During 1967-68, the People’s Liberation Army were ordered by Chairman Mao to suppress the Maoist death corps. Further intensive brutality followed in the annals of “liberation.” Many of the Guards were killed in conflicts with the army, while numerous others died in mass executions. Large numbers were consigned to labour camps, a favoured Communist punishment. The realistic number of dead, in the Cultural Revolution as a whole, may have been several million. “Tens of millions more were injured in acts of extreme cruelty and depravity” (ibid).

Public discussion of Mao and the Cultural Revolution was banned in China until the present day, for dubious reasons of propaganda. Tibetans kept the memory of discarded and suppressed history alive. Tibetan monasteries were rebuilt, while police control increased, severely curtailing religious expression.

Chinese agents of violence in Tibet

The continuing violence of the Communist regime, in both Mongolia and Tibet, was a brutal confirmation of the same ruthless tendency appearing in steppe warrior and monarchical societies of former centuries. The Soviet and Chinese Communists added "science and technology" as a mandate for the affliction of humanity. Chinese national interests reigned supreme in the affliction that bled Tibet of natural resources stolen for Communist aggrandisement. Chinese nationalism invented the myth that Tibet had always been part of China; this shallow excuse was convenient for appropriating Tibetan assets. Torture and exploitation were camouflaged by the intensive propaganda (Powers 2016).

Further human rights violations have continued and show no real sign of abating. These include show trials, public executions, torture in detention - the use of electric cattle prods being particularly prevalent - coercive birth control policies involving forced sterilisations and abortions, segregation between Tibetans and Chinese, and the deliberate prevention of Tibetan access to positions of power and responsibility. Tibetan exiles claim that 20 per cent of the Tibetan population - over one million - have died as a result of Chinese occupation.... The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) concluded in two reports in 1959 and 1960 that the Chinese had committed genocide. A further report published in 1997 by the ICJ found that repression had steadily increased during the 1990s. Particular characteristics of the renewed crackdown included heightened control of religious activity and intensive re-education programmes in the monasteries." (Ardley 2002:7-8)

The Communist invaders furthered an extensive population transfer of Han Chinese to Tibet. This activity was classified by the United Nations as an unlawful violation of human rights (ibid:8). The twenty-first century saw many more impositions and victims of detention torture, continually denied by the Beijing government. News of oppression was always missing in Chinese coverage, which preferred to describe protest in terms of terrorist incitement. Many Tibetans were condemned to menial jobs, while the incoming Han Chinese enjoyed a much higher standard of living.

Chinese Communist "re-education" means torture, gang rape, manic indoctrination, and a network of lies to conceal hideous oppression. "Activists claim Tibetan nuns are being illegally detained, sexually abused and brutally gang-raped at 'political re-education' centres" (Tibetan Nuns, 2018).

The sadistic Chinese police and thug soldiers are acting out the policy of Beijing, where the inflated purse of Chinese politicians and allied elites has much to gain from suppressing Tibetan national identity in the harsh colonial system imposed.

17. Tiananmen Square Massacre

The Beijing government preferred to state that only three hundred people were killed at the Tiananmen Square Massacre in early June 1989. Many of these were supposedly soldiers. The Communist elite stated that no massacre of students had occurred in the Square. Instead, the army had cleared the Square without any violence occurring. The massacre was portrayed as a myth invented by the Western media. This Communist exercise in apologetics is strongly contradicted by contrasting reports. The Beijing suppression of detail has relentlessly continued, with strict censorship of Chinese media.

The protest at issue was ruthlessly squashed. At least ten thousand protesters were killed by the military. This information is contained in a secret message to London conveyed by the British ambassador Sir Alan Donald, only a day after the tragedy. This message (British National Archives) was for long obscure, not being declassified until 2017. Donald is reported to have given a later estimate stating the death toll in terms of 2700-3400. This tallies with an early Chinese Red Cross assessment of 2,700 dead. The drastic situation is confirmed by many US Defence Intelligence Agency records. One of these is known to quote a Chinese military source supplying a figure of over 10,000 dead.


Chinese police beating a student protester in Beijing 1989.

Donald relays how the massacre occurred, in a mode far removed from the Communist apologetic version. The death corps were 27th Group Army, who were sixty per cent illiterate. They were fully equipped with tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs), machine guns, tear gas, and flame throwers. Preliminary waves of other soldiers were intended to clear the way for 27th Army, who had orders to spare nobody in the various locations involved. Even soldiers (without guns) were shot and run down by the ruthless 27th Army APCs travelling at forty miles per hour. A 27th officer was shot dead by his own troops because he faltered; his colleagues feared a reprisal from the government if they did not prove relentless (Chilling New Details, 2017).

Other accounts explain that many soldiers were in disguise, and so were not carrying weapons. They wanted to cause a diversion. Some armed soldiers, with automatic rifles, used expanding bullets prohibited by international law. These merciless bullets created larger wounds. The 38th Group Army soldiers even raked apartment buildings with gunfire. City residents were infuriated by the extreme aggression. In retaliation, the people set fire to military vehicles and beat soldiers to death. In contrast, the students maintained a mood of non-violence in the face of provocation. A complication for the military occurred when the 38th were in conflict with the 27th, believing that civilians should not be targeted. Many civilians were shot in the back while fleeing from aggression.

Some apologists have said that nobody died in the Square. According to Donald, the soldiers separated the residents and protesting students at the Square. The very numerous students were under the impression that they had one hour to leave the Square. After five minutes, they were mown down by deadly fire from 27th Army. The APCs repeatedly drove over their bodies. The flattened remains of these corpses were collected by bulldozers and incinerated, afterwards being hosed down drains. The evidence of massacre was thus eliminated.

Donald also says: "Four wounded girl students begged for their lives but were bayoneted." The callous nature of the "no quarter" strategy is stunning. A three year old girl was injured; her mother was shot in rushing to her aid, along with six others trying to help. A thousand survivors of the carnage were told they could escape. This was a ploy, because they were soon mown down by specially prepared machine gun positions. Donald relays: "Army ambulances who attempted to give aid were shot up" by the military, meaning that no wounded could be treated. Death was the order of the day. A Sino-Japanese hospital ambulance also tried to assist, meeting a grim fate. With his medical crew dead, the wounded driver desperately tried to ram his attackers, "but was blown to pieces with [an] anti-tank weapon."

A few of the murdered civilians at Beijing, June 4th 1989. Courtesy AP

Almost a million unarmed protesters were the target of "Liberation." When the soldiers opened fire, many people were screaming. Every shot is reported to have drawn blood. "People were mowed down like weeds" (Facts and Details). Hundreds of bodies were crushed by APCs. Many heavyweight military vehicles ran over student protesters who had linked arms. The destructive machines moved on as if the protesters did not exist. On the ground, lethal soldiers with shields and batons attacked without mercy, clubbing many to death. Bayonets were also in evidence. At the end of the massacre, some military units resorted to torture when arrests were made.

About 200,000 PLA troops (some say more) were sent against the unarmed people, to quell the people, to murder the people. Nobody was to be spared by 27th Army. The "People's Liberation Army" is a hoax. The Communist politicians were and are barbarous murderers of the people, while deceitfully claiming a "people's" paradise.

The protesters were complaining at political corruption and allied problems. The response confirmed that Chinese Communism is a dictatorial scenario of blood and death. The Beijing government suppressed discussion of casualty figures and other relevant factors. The corruption scandals continued, with vicious penalties for complaints. The ongoing propaganda is notorious for asserting a benevolence contradicting the facts of a single party dictatorship.

The government stigmatised the protesters as "violent criminals." That excuse was used to jail numerous survivors. Many workers were tried and executed. Communist China is a country where tens of thousands of state prisoners have died in state custody, a fate that is not enviable in view of the extreme brutality reported in Chinese jails, which are carefully screened from view. According to some reports, Chinese objectors to the Beijing government still disappear mysteriously. There is acute native resentment against the Chinese legal system, favouring forced labour as a penalty, maintained by Chinese Communist capitalism at the expense of workers.

18.  Self-Immolation of Tibetan Protesters

Tibetan events of 2008 included protests and demonstrations commencing in Lhasa. There was friction between Tibetans and Chinese police, and also between Tibetans and Han Chinese civilians. However, the majority of protests were non-violent. The Communist regime imposed a brutal repression in all regions of Tibet. The Chinese gestapo jailed thousands and killed many others. As usual, foreign journalists were banned; any leak of information to the outside world was treated as a crime by the Beijing genocide politicians. Prisoners were derided as "separatists," with demeaning placards hung round their necks to declare this dangerous stigma. Beijing declared a "people's war" on protesters. For a people to be separatist from Communist nationalism and genocide means to be kicked in the gut, tortured, and raped by the gestapo.

The additional hypocrisy of the much publicised Olympic Games was designed to show unity and prosperity. Internal issues were scrupulously censored. Riches for China, detention torture for victims of the super-rich and super-violent Beijing regime. Their bloodstained money was influential in India and Nepal, where police emulated brutal Chinese Communist thugs. The Olympic Games are dope for repression.

The stranglehold of Chinese Communist rule

Several years later, in 2015 news emerged that Beijing had "unleashed a harsh crackdown on human rights defenders in China itself, most recently arresting hundreds of human rights lawyers" (Beijing Winter Olympics 2022). Han Chinese were now amongst the protesters, along with Uyghurs and Southern Mongolians. One topic was the Communist exploitation of the Olympic Games, now regarded by many as a bloodstained event to be avoided by any organisation of integrity. The recent response to further protest within Tibet "has been brutal and ruthless, with reports of armed police attacking and beating peaceful protesters and seriously injuring many more."

Tibetan monk Rigzin Phuntsog set himself on fire near Kirti monastery, at Sichuan province, in 2011. Chinese police put out the fire and then beat and kicked the monk with their customary brutality. He died soon after.

From 2009, the Tibetan response to Chinese suppression has included self-immolation on the part of monks and laypeople (Woeser 2016). Many of these people died of their fire injuries. The first monk to achieve this form of protest was Tapey, a member of the Kirti monastery in Amdo. He was followed by many other Tibetans, including nomads and peasants. They were complaining at diverse aspects of Communist oppression. Tibet became a police state in which private houses were regularly searched. Tibetans could be imprisoned simply for possessing a photograph of the Dalai Lama, hated by Communists.

left: Dorje, aged 18, at Sichuan, 2012; right: monk Tsezung Kyab, aged 27, at Shitsang monastery in East Tibet, 2013, the 106th instance of self-immolation since 2009.

The Beijing government were keen to allow large numbers of Han Chinese into Tibet as settlers, offering them preferential terms over the natives. The Beijing colonial drive engaged in ecological crime and devastation at the expense of the marginalised Tibetan people. A Tibetan account by Tsering Woeser reads:

The ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau is being systematically destroyed. The [Communist] state has forced thousands to leave behind the sheep, grasslands, and traditions of horseback riding which they have practiced for millenia, to move to the edges of towns, where they remain tied to one place. In their wake, a sea of Han workers has arrived from across the country armed with blueprints, bulldozers, and dynamite. They have immediately gone to work on the empty grasslands and rivers, mining copper, gold, and silver, building dams, and polluting our water supply and that of Asia as a whole (in particular, the upper reaches of the Mekong, Yangtse, and Yarlung Tsangpo rivers). The result of this "development" has been widespread pollution and increasing earthquakes, avalanches, debris flows, and other disasters. (Tsering Woeser, Why are Tibetans Setting Themselves on Fire)

The urban blight has so often ruined the landscape. Beijing became increasingly rich, while many Tibetans were miserably poor and stranded from their rightful miliieu. The Mongol warrior overlords of former times were far preferable, themselves being nomads for centuries. Another form of urban dead-end was Stalin, who insisted that the fine horses of the steppelands should be made into sausage meat. The nomads saved many of the horses by letting them run free from urban killers. Better to ride the whole day across open expanses than suffer tenement poverty under urban industrial murderers like Stalin.

Tapey was a Gelukpa monk who reacted to assertive Chinese colonial gestures. His monastery was forced to fly the national Chinese flag over their prayer hall. Only violent Maoism, not prayer. This offensive gesture sparked a protest involving several thousand people. While Tapey was burning, the callous Chinese military police opened fire on him. He fell to the ground with bullet wounds to the legs and one arm, effectively crippled. Internet images showed him surrounded by menacing police, three of whom were armed with guns, and another with a menacing baton. The deceiving Chinese government denied that any shorts were fired. Tapey was taken away in a military vehicle. He was never allowed to return to his monastery. No one knew what had happened to him. His fellow monk Sangko was sentenced to six years in jail for taking photographs of Tapey's self-immolation and sharing those images online.

Chinese detention in Tibet was a horror story of beating and torture for both women and men. The Chinese police and military were monsters of oppression to whom life was meaningless unless their own national brand. Standards were much the same as in Imperial eras of Han China, when a human body could be sawed in half by jailers acting for despotic emperors. Beware all other nations before too many bones are broken in your helpless body by electric batons and other tortures, even while the oppressors wave their national flag.

Drupchen Tsering from Kham was detained in 2011 for seven months. At the end of this ordeal, his body was "covered in scars from torture." Two years later, he self-immolated in Kathmandu, dying of this feat. He was only twenty-five years old.

The heroic run of Jampa Yeshi at New Delhi, 2012

In 2012, the 26 year old activist Jampa Yeshi undertook self-immolation at New Delhi. He was one of the Tibetan exiles in that city. He set light to himself during a protest at the impending visit of the Chinese president Hu JIntao. Yeshe sprinted for fifty yards, while screaming with pain, collapsing by a tree. The dramatic scene occurred in front of the Indian Parliament building. Doctors were unable to save Yeshi; severe burns covered most of his body. The Indian government controversially responded by banning Tibetans from talking to reporters; a Tibetan writer was arrested. The all-important Chinese president was a political factor eclipsing ethical and humanitarian concerns. Hu Jintao presided over relegation of the Tibetan people.

The Indian response to Jampa Yeshi took the form of a police and paramilitary crackdown on Tibetan protests. Meanwhile, Nepal was also influenced by economic links with China. The Nepalese government banned all anti-Chinese protests by Tibetan refugees. In 2011, the abusive behaviour of Nepalese soldiers and police extended to rape. That year, over 600 Tibetans fled to Nepal for haven. Some lost their limbs to frostbite or died in blizzards. Unfortunates were arrested by merciless Chinese border patrols. Some were shot.

Tibetan protesters molested in Nepal, 2011

Over twenty years before, the Nepalese government pledged, via a UN body, to allow Tibetan refugees to travel through Nepal en route to India and to facilitate their journey. Now the Nepalese police were robbing Tibetans and returning them to Tibet at gunpoint, "where they are typically imprisoned and not uncommonly tortured by the Chinese." Nepalese police were guilty of beating, raping, and shooting an uncertain number of Tibetan victims. These violations "were bought and paid for by Beijing" (J. Krakauer, Why is Nepal Cracking Down on Tibetan Refugees). The Beijing government had requested Kathmandu to increase patrols for the purpose of making Tibetan access to Nepal more difficult. Moreover, the paid molesters refused to provide desperate refugees with travel documents enabling them to emigrate to nations offering them asylum. The violence and torture network of China, together with the compliance of Nepal, is abhorrent. UN scruples mean nothing to torturers, murderers, and paid accomplices. Nepalese police were still sending helpless refugees back to Tibet in 2019, handcuffing them as if they were criminals to flee from torture (Nepal Deports Asylum Seekers).

A valid Tibetan complaint is that observing countries have taken no action against the aggressor, being influenced by the economic and military strength of Communist China. The cowardice and lack of integrity matches the nationalist persecution conducted by the Beijing super-rich who profit from misery and degradation. An elite Chinese fashion is to buy antique Buddha figures for large sums of money. Some of these were made in Tibet, but have to be labelled Chinese to sell successfuly to the millionaires and billionaires profiting from ecological catastrophe.

Tibetan woman burning in protest against Chinese seizure of land

An obscure Tibetan woman became well known for protesting against land seizure and the forcible demolition of her home. The victim accordingly committed the act of self-immolation in protest. The report is probably an understatement, in view of the acute Chinese gridlock on any adverse information percolating to the outside world. The aggressor instead prefers to give the impression that wonderful benefits are obtained by everyone.

Meanwhile, capitalist China pursues a startling array of energy, mining, logging, agricultural, and infrastructure programmes on virtually every continent. This activity is causing an unprecedented environmental impact on the planet. The international project decodes to: “wreaking unprecedented damage to ecosystems and biodiversity” (W. Laurance, Dark Legacy of China's Drive for Global Resources, 2017). China is supposedly concerned with promoting green activities. The discrepancy is pressing. The ecological issue is “in many ways being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of environmental degradation” that Chinese policies and corporations are exercising at the global level. China is now the world’s biggest financier, furthering the expensive activity of building controversial hydroelectric dams.

An in-depth report by the Global Canopy Program, a UK scientific group, concluded that Chinese companies and financial organisations are among the worst enterprises worldwide in terms of driving tropical deforestation. The commitment of China to new wind and solar enterprises is evidently compromised. That is because the Chinese strategy “is plowing far more cash into big hydropower, coal, and nuclear energy projects.” These are some of the reasons why super-rich Beijing government eco-talk can be dismissed as opportunist cosmetic for damages.

China is a heavy consumer of illegal timber…. In Western Africa, rosewood forests are being illegally denuded, almost exclusively to feed high demand in China. The impacts are even heavier across the Asia-Pacific region, where native forests from Siberia to the Solomon Islands are being overexploited to feed Chinese timber markets. (Laurance, Dark Legacy)  

While engaged in very substantial commercial projects, China has provided misleading information about Tibet. Relevant to August 2018, a report from Geneva informs: "Today at the United Nations Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, the Chinese government flatly denied its human rights violations in Tibet and other areas of the People's Republic of China, instead painting a rosy picture of personal freedoms that left the body of independent human rights experts in disbelief" (Denials, Smokescreens, and Misleading Information). The Chinese delegation here supplied "many false and misleading answers to pressing questions about the situation of Tibetans and Uyghurs" (ibid).

Since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2013, the [Chinese] government has arbitrarily detained and prosecuted hundreds of activists and human rights lawyers and defenders. It has tightened control over nongovernmental organisations, activists, media, and the internet through a slew of new laws that cast activism and peaceful criticism as state security threats. In 2016, the government abducted and forcibly disappeared several critics in Hong Kong and other countries. The government's highly repressive rule in the ethnic minority regions of Xinjiang and Tibet persists. Despite legislation to protect against custodial torture, the practice remains widespread. (China and Tibet)

China is now building even more coal plants that will serve to increase carbon pollution. The Beijing oppressors will not be able to stop the adverse climate change through torture, violence, and indoctrination.

19. Muslim Uighurs and Falun Gong

The Chinese policy of forced assimilation, first developed in Tibet, was duplicated in Xinjiang, where at least one million Uighurs and Kazakhs have been detained in hideous prison camps because of their ethnicity, culture, and religion. The Beijing pretext for this suppression accuses them of being terrorists. Evil is scarcely the word for this Communist programme, which defies descriptions even in terms of terrorism.

The extensive misuse of surveillance technology is only one symptom of an aggressive Chinese Communist programme serving the coffers of Beijing. The widespread use of torture, for ethnic and religious minorities in China, is a sour reflection upon the governing regime. The use of spiked clubs known as "wolf's teeth" accompanies the "tiger chair," described by former Tibetan prisoners as one of the worst forms of torture (Accelerating Assimilation, 2018). Tibetan nuns are forced to chant the Communist party slogan "Chinese and Tibetans, children of one mother." The reported factor of Tibetan nuns suffering gang rape from Han Chinese police is no convincing reason to believe in the validity of Beijing strategy. Non-Han populations are victims of Beijing cultural genocide.

Chinese Uighur Muslims

The Muslim Uighur minority are targeted by the aggressor at Beijing, an objectionable feat lacking the cosmopolitan tendencies of Mongol conquerors in medieval centuries. The Xinjiang Uighur "Autonomous" Region, in north-west China, became the scene of a mass incarceration programme devised by the Beijing government. Xinjiang is a police state of manic nature. The victimised native population are ethnically Turkic, predominantly Muslim. Tensions were caused by the massive immigration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang. The resultant situation is described in terms of a "vast network of camps, where [Chinese] authorities have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities." Female victims in those camps have been "tortured, denied treatment for health problems, and subjected to sexual and other forms of abuse" (G. Hoja, Female Detainees at Xinjiang Internment Camps, 2019).

Xinjiang now suffers the largest network of internment camps since World War Two. In these prisons, the Han Chinese oppressors force Uighurs to eat pork and drink alcohol, contrary to Islamic tradition. The victims are forced to memorise and recite Communist party songs, and to learn Mandarin. They undergo extremist indoctrination designed to kill their religion. If they resist, they can be dead after torture. Their children are locked up in "orphanages," brainwashed with Communist atheism, Mandarin language, and Han customs endorsed by Beijing. A detailed report on the indoctrination campaign is Exposed: China's Operating Manuals for Mass Internment. One Uighur victim received a ten year jail sentence for wishing to pray and to avoid pornography. A routine imposition is that of Uighur victims being made to sing the Chinese national anthem, like Tibetans (Investigations). There is now incentive for sanctions imposed on China as a consequence of human rights abuse (China Cables). Some well known tech companies have unscrupulously assisted the Chinese surveillance of victims.

Satellite images have revealed the existence of nearly 500 concentration camps and prisons in Xinjiang (some say the real figure is double that number). Beijing calls these places "reeducation camps." Forty per cent of the sites recently discovered were not formerly known or declared. One report describes the police in such camps as using batons, whips of twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, and pliers to pull out nails. Realistic information on torture detention centres is preferable to political lies. Chinese manufacturers are shown to have been selling the products of forced labour. The World Bank has complained of a 50 million dollar education grant for Xinjiang being employed by the Chinese government for detention centres. See R. Perper, Uighur activists say China is running nearly 500 detention camps and prisons in Xinjiang (2019, online).

Reporters inform that the Uighurs are unwanted because they do not fit in with the high commerce Belt and Road Initiative favoured by President Xi Jinping. This international scheme encompasses the route through Xinjiang. The huge inflow of Han Chinese is desired instead, with the clear intention of marginalising the Uighurs. This is ethnic discrimination with a capitalist edge. The assets of Uighur territory are very desirable:

The mineral wealth - in particular oil and gas - of a region almost four times the size of Germany has brought huge levels of Chinese investment, rapid economic growth and large waves of Han settlers. (J. Sudworth, Hidden Camps)

Communist state media spread lies about transformative education in the forced labour camps. People are said to thank the Communist party for changing their views. The reality is widespread reports of torture and overcrowding in the horrific camps (Data Leak reveals how China brainwashes Uighurs). After intensive torture in labour camps, many victims will agree to anything the brutal guards say. There is nothing transformative about diabolical torture.

Jiang Zemin and the victim Cao Jingzhen

The Beijing President Jiang Zemin decided that the recent and peaceful Falun Gong movement, of the 1990s, had to be eliminated; the practitioners were not atheistic. Some analysts describe Falun Gong as a qigong discipline, or even an eclectic version of Taoism and Buddhism; a more general assessment favours description in terms of a meditation movement. In 1999, Zemin launched a massive campaign of suppression. A mass destruction of literature occurred. Many thousands of innocent people were arrested, while lawyers were forbidden to defend them. Hundreds of hostile articles appeared in state-run newspapers. Television was another media for manic suppression. Communism was defined as "science," while the Falun Gong were derided as an evil cult opposed to science.

The Communist internet censorship is notorious. The agenda was that of sadistic Chinese police disabling, disfiguring, torturing and murdering their Falun Gong victims. These police are rapists, as reports attest (Torture of Women). A minimal statement of damage to women is: "Their breasts have been pierced with barbed wire, and they have been gang-raped" (Sexual Torture).

Many reports are harrowing. For instance, a 52-year old Falun Gong woman was handcuffed behind her back, her mouth stuffed with dirty socks and sealed with tape. Cao Jingzhen was punched, kicked, and shocked with high voltage electric batons (Tortured to Death in Hunan Province). She was handcuffed to the steel door of a small, damp cell. A team of police thugs led by the "brigade captain" punched and kicked her, breaking three of her ribs, causing internal bleeding. The savage guards only released her when she was on the brink of death. She died soon after in 2001. The sadistic Communist guards have delighted in torturing to death.

Falun Gong victim Gao Rongrong shortly before her death

The persecution of Falun Gong proved the dictatorial nature of the Beijing government. A well known instance is that of Gao Rongrong (d.2005). Handcuffed to a radiator, she was burned and disfigured by high voltage electric shock batons at the Lungshuan forced labour camp (in Shenyang city, Liaoning Province) in 2004. The vicious guards deformed her spine; she could not stand upright. To escape her torturers, she jumped from a second floor window, sustaining multiple fractures. She was hospitalised, and rescued by friends. Relatives took photographs that shocked the world. The police afterwards abducted her for more torment, this time at Masanjia labour camp. She "was further tortured to a state in which she suffered complete organ failure." At the end, she was mere "skin and bones" hooked to a respirator. She left a testimony including the statement: "They cruelly injure and torture us without any remorse." She was the fifty-fourth Falun Gong practitioner tortured to death in Shenyang, but there were many other sites where such cruelty was the norm, as dictated by Beijing. Some people who refused to convert to Communism were injected with psychotropic drugs in hideous asylums treating them as maniacs.

Chinese forced labour camps have made huge profits from products made by victims. These products were dumped on the international market with no information as to origin, nor the acute suffering involved in manufacture. Some workers became disabled and died; their ranks included women, children, and the elderly. They were made to work all hours by inhuman brutes endorsed at Beijing (Gregory Zu, "Forced Labour in China," available online). They work up to twenty hours per day, making such items as toys, Christmas tree lights, chopsticks, and soccer balls.

Torture of Falun Gong believers is documented for every Chinese province. Large numbers have been tortured or abused in custody. Greedy Western commerce sold internet surveillance technology to China. "As a result, Chinese people are now in jail for posting evidence of torture online or simply downloading articles about Falun Gong" (Violent Suppression of 100 Million People).

The Beijing government has for many years pursued a detestable commercial strategy, appropriating many thousands of human organs from the Falun Gong and the Uighur Muslim minority. A China Tribunal lawyer stated that China was "cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peacable people." The human rights abuse is described by the same lawyer as an atrocity (W. Martin, China is harvesting thousands of human organs, 2019). The Chinese nazi programme is objectionable to the point of requiring firm action against any participation in Beijing commerce. The transplant activity has grossed billions of dollars per year. This enterprise is in the hands of the government and the military (see also the You Tube video How Doctors in China Turn into Murderers).

Livers, kidneys, hearts and cornea are removed from the living, anesthetised Falun Gong adherents with matching blood-types and sold to Party officials. (Violent Suppression)

The China Tribunal report of 2019 informs that a "very substantial number" of prisoners at Xinjiang were "killed to order" by the Chinese government. They were "cut open while still alive for their kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, corneo and skin to be removed and turned into commodities for sale." Furthermore, the United Nations were told that "hundreds of thousands of victims" were involved, amounting to "one of the worst mass atrocities of this century" (ibid). A total of two (or three) million victims in the detention camps left too much scope for the new Nazi criminals of China. Killing the donors of organs is a crime leaving some critics almost speechless.

The hideous crimes were evidently linked to the trillion dollar project known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Commerce at all costs to human life and wellbeing. The super-rich Beijing government is known to have silenced other nations with their bloodstained money. See A. Ma, A trillion dollar reason why China is oppressing more than a million Muslims (2019).

During 2015-16, more than three hundred Chinese human rights lawyers were in danger from the Beijing government (A. Waldron, Dangerous Illusion, 2016). The Communist mindset here included torture, the only way in which the oppressors can win an argument.

The China Tribunal passed final judgment on the human organs issue in June 2019. See also Statement made to the UN (September 2019). The Tribunal has established the extensive Chinese torture and killing of Falun Gong and Uyghurs, a situation continuing today. The conclusion showed that "very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason." Furthermore, the Tribunal also condemned forced organ harvesting in terms of "unmatched wickedness even compared - on a death for death basis - with the killings by mass crimes committed in the last century." In relation to the Falun Gong minority, genocide is the probable crime. The Beijing government is certainly guilty of Crimes Against Humanity. The People's Republic of China is a criminal state. Interaction with that state is accordingly culpable and open to strong criticism. The PLR is a savage molester of ethnic and religious minorities, and might easily treat any other small (or large) country in the same barbaric manner.

Three Communist dictators who have caused indescribable suffering in their Crimes Against Humanity. They gained enormous wealth and prestige at the expense of ethnic and religious minorities, also Chinese workers. Many victims detest the names of Xi Jinping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao.

Many people have now seen online images and documentation concerning the persecuted Falun Gong. The data can cause shock and outrage. The militaristic Chinese Communists are one of the most savage and uncivilised regimes in history.

A visit to China can be very dangerous. In 2019, Simon Cheng, while engaged in a business trip to that country, found himself detained by police. The victim was hung in "a spreadeagled pose for hour after hour." His torturers insisted that that he was a British proxy organising protests in Hong Kong. Such interrogators ignore truth while "inventing a reality that is politically convenient for the Chinese Communist party" (Maya Wang, China's Growing Threat).

In January 2020, Hong Kong authorities denied entry to Hong Kong for Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch. No reason was given for this cordon, attesting the influence of Beijing. Roth warns: "The Chinese government is carrying out an intensive attack on the global system for enforcing human rights." Demonstrating a high standard of human rights outlook, Roth has criticised UN lapses.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

December 2019, slightly modified April 2020


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