4. CULTURAL & HISTORICAL HERITAGES

MONGOLIAN HISTORY: THE TURKIC KHANATE (6TH – 8TH CENTURIES CE)

Nothing better illustrates the dynamics if repeated migrations out of this part of the world over the centuries than the Turks – an Altaic – language people whose ancestral home is in the mighty Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. Fir newcomers to Mongolia and its history, the concept of their movement thousands of kilometers to present-day Turkey is a bit hard to grasp. But in successive waves over the centuries that is precisely what happened, peaking with the modern Ottoman Empire which lasted until the end of World War I.


For some 200 years, starting around 552 CE when Turkic iron miners in the Altai revolted against the Rouran the so-called Turkic Khanate was Asia’s largest and most powerful nomadic empire prior to the rose of Genghis Khan nearly 700 years later in the early 13th century. Known as the Tujue by the Chinese, they were also referred to quickly stretch over the vast Eurasian steppe from the Great Wall of China to the Black Sea and south through formidable mountain passes into Persia and India.


Although still nomads, the Turks quickly recognized the strategic importance of the Silk Road. In return for keeping this lucrative trade link between China and the West open they – and their successors – profited by levying tributes and taxes. The move not only promoted trade and the creation of urban centres, but also propagated the exchange of Island. Importantly, the trade routes also brought the Mongolians their own written language a runic script based on Aramaic and Sogdian.


Within 50 years, however, the meteoric rise of what is called the First Khanate was succumbing to the same perennial internal divisions over successions and fragility of tribe-based confederations that always afflicted Mongolia’s empires. The Turks fell into a civil war and split into eastern and western wings, which the now-reunified Chinese were quick to exploit. In the east, Turks appealed to the Chinese for protection. But when they boldly resumed attacks over the Great Wall, the Turkic capital in the Orhon Valley was attacked and occupied by China. The new Tang Dynasty also launched a massive foray for control far to the west, even clashing with Arab armies coming into the chaotic region from the other direction. By 659, the Chinese had regained control of the Silk Road and now enlisted the Turks to guard this vital link. 


But the Turks were certainly not vanquished. Starting around 680, they revived as the Second Khanate which lasted for another 60 years and was divided into two independent   parts. The Western Turks out of the Altai focused on Central Asia, extending their power and influence to the Aral Sea and down to Transoxiana near Persia. The Eastern Turks ruled much of today’s Mongolia out of the historic Orhon Valley and extending up into the Tuul and Selenge river system to the north and northeast.


Interestingly, all Turkic remains in today’s Mongolia are from this second period with over 40 stelae, many with inscriptions, plus stone statues and gravestones, or balbal, still visible. The most famous are the two monumental stelae – with Chinese inscriptions on one side and runic symbols on the other – inside the black – walled ruins of an ancient Turkic fortress at Khosoo-Tsaidam in the Orhon Valley about 400 kilometres west southwest of Ulaanbaatar. Carved in 732 and 735, they honour Turkic prince Kutlug Tigin (685-731) and his brother Emperor Bilge Khan who riled over a brief “golden age”. Known as Orhon Script, these and inscriptions scattered around the area are the oldest examples of Turkic writing and describe their legendary history, including battles with the Chinese and their liberation under the Bilge Khan.


The importance of these and other monuments to the world’s Turkic heritage is evident in close archeological, cultural and economic relations between today’s Mongolia and Turkey. (Much work has been done at the side and the paved 40-kilometer road to the site from the later Mongol Empire capital at Harhorin, or then-Karakorum, was a recent aid project from Turkey.) After the bilge Khan died in 734, the Second Khanate quickly collapsed.


Resource: Carl Robinson "Mongolia Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky"