Thursday, January 27

Altun Bishik's Father

Beyond Kamchik Pass, the ribbon of road leads down into Kokand (Qo'qon in Uzbek). The charcoal fog yields up the valley only grudgingly; only here or there does a bend in the highway reveal the green of Ferghana or the gold of her gravel. Even past mid-day, when we are finally across the mountains, down on the valley floor and rattling towards town, the villages remain tucked under a grey quilt, reluctant to emerge this cold day.

There is a popular theory that Qo'qon comes from 'cocoon', since Kokand was the destination of the first westbound Chinese caravan carrying silk in 121 BC. The etymology seems too neat; I wonder if it is not more related to kent/kand/qand (town), i.e. Ko-kand, like Samarkand, Tashkent, Shymkent or Kand-i-Badam.

Once in town, Nosir pulls up at a petrol pump with a detached chaikhana. He will proceed to Andijon to meet us there later, meanwhile Natalya and Abdul-Malek have the van ready and lunch ordered.

As fog lifts, the cathedral windows of the chaikhana let in streams of reddish light. This is far off the beaten track -- we will see only one other traveler during our entire time in Ferghana, at several stops people will come up to thank us for coming their valley -- the owner bustles us into a private room at the back, away from the stares and frank questions of his other customers.

Since Tashkent saw bombings in 1999 from purported Islamic radicals, Uzbekistan has moved to seal the Kyrgyz border unilaterally (see the wiki on Uzbek-Kyrgyz barrier.) In the political conflict over the ousting of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April-June 2010, 200 people were reported to have been killed during clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Osh and Jalal-Abad, and 2000 more were injured. Between 100,000 and 300,000 Uzbeks were ethnically-cleansed out of the Osh area into Uzbekistan, causing a major humanitarian crisis. The result of this has been an effective rupture of economic relations between Ferghana and China. The cheap everyday Chinese goods are now in the domain of the black market; the wiki article on Kokand claims "the black-market provides nearly 75% of the income generated within the borders of the city."

We finish a leisurely lunch. Abdul-Malek walks up nonchalantly to a lawn being laid out, and half-inches a length of plastic rope to secure Mr. M's car-seat. We then head toward the house-and-harems of Khudayar Khan, the last independent ruler of the Emirate of Kokand.

In 1494, Umar Sheikh Mirza, ruler of Ferghana and fourth-generation descendant of Timur, went to inspect a pigeon-cote on a cliff and collapsed into the precipice with his beloved flocks of souror and toghi. His son Zahir-ud-din Muhammad writes in his autobiography:

"In the month of Ramzan of the year 899 (June 1494 AD) and in the twelfth year of my age, I became the Padshah in the country of Ferghana."

For the first 22 years of his life, Babur was more fugitive than ruler. Twice he captured Samarkand, and twice lost it. The second time, in 1500, he barely escaped with his wife, mother and a few companions. His worst enemy was his uncle from his maternal side, the auzbeg (i.e. Islamized Mongol) warlord and descendent of Batu of the Golden Horde, Muhammad Shaybani Khan. Babur half-derisively and half-admiringly calls Shaybani Khan "Wormwood", a pun in Turkish; but in their exchanges, Shaybani was to have the last laugh when he captured Babur's eldest sister Khanzada.

Haunted by Wormwood Khan, and betrayed by his own kinsmen, the wandering Babur made a sudden decision in the summer of 1504 to occupy Kabul. From this base, he extended his kingdom to Kunduz, Ghazni, Balkh, Khandahar and Herat ('a city where sex, opium and wine dictated the measure of man'). In April 1510, the defeat and death of Wormwood Khan in the Battle of Merv, at the hands of Shah Ismail (founder of the Safavid Dynasty, political Shia Islam, as well as the Azerbaijani language) of Iran, provided Babur a God-given chance to retake Samarkand. He entered the city for the third time after an absence of nine years, but his triumph lasted less than nine months. After losing the Battle of Kol-i-Malik, Babur was forced to evacuate, again, to Hissar and Kabul.

One of the stories recorded about Babur's final departure from Samarkand, in both Niyaz Muhammad Khukandi's Tarikh-i-Sharukhi and Nalivkline's Khanate of Khokand, says (quoted here):

When Babur left Samarkand in 918 AH (1512 AD) after defeat by the Auzbegs, one of his wives, Sayyida Afaq who accompanied him in his flight, gave birth to a son in the desert which lies between Khujand and Kand-i-badam; that Babur, not daring to tarry and the infant being too young to make the impending journey, left it under some bushes with his own girdle round it in which were things of price; that the child was found by local people and in allusion to the valuables amongst which it lay, called Altun Bishik (golden cradle); that it received other names and was best known in later life as Khudayan Sultan.

Babur mentions he had several children who did not live past infancy, but provides no more detail about Altun Bishik. (In the Baburnama, the text breaks off abruptly after the events of 914 AH or 1508 AD, to resume with the events of 925 AH or 1519 AD, i.e. a hiatus of 11 years around the purported birth of Altun Bishik.)

In the 1700s, the Khans of Kokand rose out from amongst the successors of Shaybani Khan, born of quarrels between Bukhara and Ferghana. Wishing to legitimize their rule over Kokand through a connection with the great Timur (Chingiz and his descendent Shaybani were not loved in these parts), the Khans of Qo'qon connected their genealogy with Babur, through Altun Bishik. It was claimed that Shahrukh, the Shaybanid emir of the Minglar Uzbeks, was really of the hidden line of Altun Bishik, and therefore heir to Babur and Timur.

Yet this is only half the story. If the Emirs thought that their legitimacy sufficed from this explanation, they would have soon run into questions like that from Mr. M who (additionally conflating baba with babar) wants to know what happened to Altun Bishik's father. Did he not come back looking for the child? From a recent paper on the other part of the tale:

It is reported that later on, Babur, who had established his rule in India, sent men to look for his son he once had left behind in Ferghana. When the messengers finally found Altun Bishik and identified him by the signal objects already known to the reader, and when at this moment the clans who were raising the boy realized that their ward was a direct descendant of Amīr Tīmūr, they harshly refused Babur’s request that the child be returned to him. They thought that they would themselves need a descendant of the great Amīr Tīmūr who later on would help them to establish in Ferghana an independent state of their own. Babur’s envoys returned to India, told him about what they had seen and heard, and comforted their ruler as much as they could by saying that his son was growing up under the guardianship and protection of the people itself and that he gave hopes of taking over in the future a high position in society.

After getting married Altun Bishik took up residence in Akhsi where he lived the rest of his life, highly respected by the people and earning the rank of
biy. According to tradition, Altun Bishik died in 952/1545. His son Tangri-yār became the ruler of Ferghana, but his title was biy rather than khan. This was the title all his descendants carried down to ʿĀlim Khān included.

Thus the Qo'qon Xonligi came into existence. In the first half of the 18th century, the khanate expanded to fill Ferghana valley again, and looked towards Kashgar and Xinjiang. In the second half, as Manchu power reached its zenith under the Qing dynasty of China, they were tamed by Emperor Qianlong and forced to pay tribute. After the death of Qianlong, the Khanate shook off the Manchu yoke, and Jahangir Khoja even managed to wrest Qashgar from the Chinese for a few years, visiting that most terrible of humiliations on the captured Manchu garrison: cutting off of queues (pigtails.) The slave markets of Bukhara now got a regular supply of cheap merchandise from China.

The rulers of the khanate took the usual path through tyranny and debauchery. One notable export was Yaqub Beg (Atalik Ghazi or Infidel-Slaying Father), who started from governorship of Kashgar, and expanded to independent rule over the entire Tarim Basin, imposing a harsh Islam on his subjects Chinese or Turkic. Eventually, Qing forces overcame Yaqub Beg in Xinjiang; his son and grandsons were castrated and turned into eunuchs to work in the Imperial Palace. If you have seen Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, you probably remember them (so to speak) playing with little Pu Yi.

Khudayar Khan, the last Emir, became a vassal of the Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1868, his independence lasting about a decade longer than his distant Timurid (thanks to Altun Bishik) cousin Bahadaur Shah 'Zafar', the Last Mughal. Zafar ended his days writing ghazals in Rangoon; Khudayar decided to build a grand palace, which needed much taxes levied and rebellion incurred thereby. One imagines him 'sitting' at his 'throne' room (there were no thrones in the khanates; typically the ruler rolled around on a pile of cotton-stuffed mattresses or tusshaq, nibbling on grape or pomegranate) for Royal Audiences. A day of the week was reserved for appointments with his vast clan. The khush-beg (main minister) would interview prospects in the waiting room and brief the Emir: the next one in is your wife's third half-brother Muhammad; if you remember he has three sons, the eldest one has not yet paid up last season's tax. One imagines the Emir's countenance take on a scowl as he contemplated triangulation between (or strangulation of) wife, half-brother-in-law, and tax-cheat.

The visiting American diplomat Eugene Schuyler wrote that, as of 1873, the Russians had left Khudayar Khan to administer his own justice:

When a criminal is to be put to death -- and executions are very frequent there -- he is taken through the streets of the bazaar, the executioner following behind him, while the crowd hoot and pelt him with stones. Suddenly, without a word of warning, when the executioner thinks the spectacle has lasted long enough, he seizes him by the head, thrusts the knife into his throat and cuts it, and the body sinks to the ground, where it is left for some hours before it is carried away and the blood is covered with sand.

Insurrections against his oppressive taxes forced Khudayar Khan into exile by 1875. A brief rebellion ensued, after which the Russian Major-General Skobelev appeared at Namangan. Lining up sixteen artillery pieces outside the city, he proceeded to shell the rebel positions. After a sufficient "softening up", Skobelev's infantry stormed the town, much of which had been destroyed during the artillery barrage. In his report, the Russian general claimed 3,800 rebels had been killed while the Russian loss was placed at six killed and 32 wounded. The Russians turned residents and refugees out of the few remaining buildings into the cold, and occupied them due to an ostensible lack of barracks space.

The rebels of Kokand made a last stand at Andijon. After being shelled for a week in January, 1876, Andijon surrendered. Skobelev reported that the Kokandian losses had been "immense", compared to 2 Russian dead and 9 wounded. By March, Tsar Alexander II proclaimed that he had "yielded to the wishes of the Kokandi people to become Russian subjects". A Russian town of New Margilon was established, and Ferghana passed into Russian Turkestan.


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