You are here

The Last Khan

From the world premiere exhibition Genghis Khan
From the world premiere exhibition Genghis Khan

I want you to imagine with me, a strong breeze over the Mongolian steppe, fanning flames aloft to the Sky Father Tengri, as the great chieftain Temujin raises his sword towards the vast blue expanse above, receiving the blessing of his ancestors to become Genghis Khan, and with it, Tengri’s holy mandate to rule the world of men. The Mongol tribes unified under one banner, set forth on a 21 year campaign alongside their fierce and ruthless, yet glorious leader to conquer and spread the word and rule of the Mongolian horde to the far reaches of the world, simultaneously carving a legacy into the stone of our history.

And conquer they did, from the Pacific ocean, to the Carpathian mountains, from the northern reaches of modern day Russia, to the Indian subcontinent their culture, gods, and rule spread forever changing the history of the world. In relevance to Russia, many of the nation’s earliest rulers and heroes served, contended with, or were even related to, Batu Khan’s Golden Horde.

General Subutai and General Jebe defeat the Kievan Rus'

Russia’s history with the Mongols began with the defeat of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the route the Great Khan’s generals took on their way home to Mongolia. Subutai, one of the Khan’s most trusted and valuable generals, suggested the army be split into two parts on their journey home, to scout out and pillage different places on their return to Mongolia. Genghis and the main body of the army, raided through Afghanistan and Northern India, while Subutai and Jebe went through what is now Georgia, the Caucasus, and modern day Ukraine and Russia with their contingent of 20,000 elite horsemen.

The extent of the Mongul Empire

Together, Subutai and Jebe faced off against the local tribes of Cumans, Kipchaks, and Bulgars, as well as the Kievan Rus’ army of 80,000 men led by the princes Mstislav the Bold of Halych and Mstislav III of Kiev respectively. Subutai offered the slavic princes peace, yet they refused in the disrespectful manner of executing Subutai’s emissaries. At the Battle of Kalka River in 1223, Subutai payed them back in full for their disrespect by defeating the much larger army of the Kievan Rus’, and giving the princes’ kingdoms peace, but not sparing them for their actions. Subutai granted the leaders of the opposition a traditional bloodless execution, by crushing them to death.

Subutai and Jebe’s excursion set the stage for later invasions from Batu Khan and his Golden Horde to conquer further west into modern day Hungary, Romania, and parts of Austria, as well as north to Moscow and the St. Petersburg region. Which in turn established the ruling class of Mongolians over the Tartars, Rus’ and other peoples of the region for hundreds of years to come.

Mohammed Alim Khan (photo by Sergei Prokudin-Gorski)

However, the Mongolian empire split into many factions, and after numerous civil wars, power grabs, assassinations, and revolts, the golden horde was no more, leaving only pockets of regions to be ruled by the great khan’s descendants. The last of Temujin’s line to ascend a throne, was none other than Emir Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan (image above) of the Emirate of Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan, of which contained the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara respectively. The Emirate at the time, was a protectorate of the Russian Empire, allowing the crown prince Mohammed to study modern military tactics and politics in St. Petersburg, before returning home at the age of 16 to help his father rule in 1896. He served as the governor of the Nasef region until his father’s untimely death in 1910. On the 3rd of January 1911, he was coronated as the 8th and last Emir of Bukhara. He began his rule by reforming the old system of bribes and gifts to his officials and to himself, and changed the imposing taxes set upon the population on behalf of his administrators.

Even though he is not well known, he did some very interesting things. He visited the Romanov family in 1913 to celebrate their 300 year reign, where he received gifts made by the renowned artist Faberge, among other items. His summer palace, the Sitorai Mohi Hosa, or the Sun and Moon Garden, was the first place to have electricity in Uzbekistan. He reinstated the harem system, having upwards of 100 wives, and housed them in his summer palace, and would choose which one to bed with that night supposedly by throwing an apple to her.

The Ark of Bukhara

Despite the splendor of his rule, quarrels and disputes broke out among the local population, between the reformists and the traditionalists, eventually the traditionalists won and exiled the reformists to Moscow or Kazan, buying the new ruler time on the throne. However this was not destined to last, as Bukharan reformists informed the Bolsheviks of the people of Bukhara, and their imagined willingness to revolt. The Bolsheviks came with an ill-equipped and poorly trained contingent of the Red Army in March of 1918, and demanded the Emir open the gates of Bukhara and surrender his power over to them. He responded by having the emissaries killed along with hundreds of Bolshevik supporters in the surrounding region, and drove the rabble army before him back to the Soviet safe haven in Tashkent.

2 years passed, and the Russian revolution died down, allowing for more forces to be sent from Moscow to the Central Asian region. The Soviets commenced their attack on the Ark of Bukhara, the main fortress for the city, and after 4 days of fierce fighting, the Soviets succeeded in destroying the walls to the stronghold. The red flag of the Soviet Union was atop the Kalyan Minaret, and the Emir was forced to go into hiding, seeking refuge in Tajikistan, and finally in Kabul Afghanistan. Thus, the Soviets ended his family’s hundreds of years rule over Bukhara and Samarkand.

Bukhara as it appears today

Years later, his own son, Shahmurad, disowned him. Switching over to the Soviets and joined the Red Army in 1929. Shahmurad would never ascend any throne, but would die at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War. Leaving the last heir of Genghis Khan, no longer a ruler of his homeland, exiled to Kabul in shame.His life ended however on the 28th of April, 1944 in Kabul Afghanistan. With no heir to take on his name and title, no lands to pass on, only his daughter and her family survived him. Shukria Raad Alimi was working for Radio Kabul at the time, however she fled Afghanistan with her husband and 2 children when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. From Afghanistan, she fled to Pakistan, whereupon she migrated to Germany, and later the United States. In 1982 she joined the VOA (Voice of America) where she still works to this day and has her own broadcasting show for Afghani women in the Dari language.

And so is the tale of the last Emir of Bukhara, the last of Temujin’s line to rule a nation. From early glory, to his final days spent in house arrest in Kabul, Said Mohammed ruled as his ancestors before him in the style and fashion he was taught from his birth in 1880 until his last day as Khan in March of 1920. The effect of his lineage’s rule, and his own ascension to the throne, influenced millions of people across the globe, the results thereof are still felt to this day. The history is deeply rooted in our society today, and Russia’s past is sown with the seeds of the Khan’s and their vassals the Kievan Rus’. Yet, no longer do the Steppes and plains of Russia shake and rumble with the force of thousands of horsemen. But we can still see the hoof prints if we look hard enough.