The Legacy of Chinggis Khan in Law and Politics

Prof. Robert D. McChesney

   Indo-Mongolian Society lecture March 28th, 1997 New York University

 

In the course of about sixty years at the beginning of the 13th century a coalition of nomadic tribes under the leadership of the Mongol Chinggis Khan conquered much of the inhabited Eastern hemisphere. From the Korean peninsula in the northeast to Mesopotamia in the southwest from Moscow in the northwest to the Gulf of Tonkin in the southeast. Except for South Asia and Africa there was hardly a town or village within this gigantic territory that was not affected in one way or another by the extensive military activity of the people led by Chinggis Khan.

The sharpest image that remains from that era, of course, is the recollection of conquest, destruction, and loss which has been left to posterity by contemporary writers. I won't get into the debates that have gone on about the record and actual extent of this. What I would like to do instead is try and sketch for you in somewhat broad strokes an aspect of the impact of the Mongol conquests and in particular of the figure of Chinggis Khan that is little known or investigated and that is what we might call the constitutional system introduced by the Mongols either by Chinggis Khan himself or by his immediate successors.                             

 I use this term "constitutional system" somewhat loosely here in the sense let's say of the British constitutional system. That is one without a chartering document but one in which there is widespread consensus about incorrect and correct forms of public behavior. A consensus which in some areas was documented and in others remained more amorphous and subject to interpretation and change as new problems had to be addressed. It is not a constitution in the sense of a document drafted by a group of influentials and ratified in some manner by the people whom it would affect. But it is a constitution in the sense of a body of regulations rooted in a remembered and somehow sanctified past that governed the rules of the game for participants particularly in the political process.

 It was based on something called Chinggis Khan's Great Yasa or Yasaq which came to be called in English the great code of Chinggis Khan or great law of Chinggis Khan. The issue of whether or not Chinggis Khan promulgated such a code has become a matter of some scholarly debate which I think is worth recapping for you here briefly. The earliest source on the Yasa as a compiled code is the mid-thirteenth century writer Juvaini writing about thirty years after Chinggis Khan's death. At the very beginning of his large work, Juvaini has a section entitled "The Regulations Qawa'id” which Chinggis Khan set forth after his rise to power and the Yasas (ordinances) which he instituted. In this somewhat rambling chapter Juvaini tells his readers that "Chinggis Khan established a rule for every occasion and a regulation for every circumstance while for every crime he fixed a penalty”, (This is Boyle's translation of the chapter). Further Juvaini says Chinggis Khan ordered that these Yasas and ordinances were to be written down on scrolls and these scrolls were to be called the Great Yasa book (This is not Boyle's translation, in the Persian its Yasa nama-i Buzurg). Juvaini never saw, nor does he say he saw, the scroll or scrolls nor is there any record of anyone else ever having seen them. Juvaini then goes on to describe Mongol customs and things which Chinggis Khan prescribed as well as orders he issued but does not actually say that these were part of the Yasa nama-i Buzurg or the Great Yasa. He prefaces his remarks about them with the reassurance that "Many of these ordinances are in accordance with the Sharia, the Muslim law” and among them he includes the hunt, the way in which the personal guard of the Khan was organized, how the army was to be inspected, penalties for unauthorized leave, and a system of post and various matters of taxation. He doesn't say when this Yasa nama-i Buzurg was promulgated or under what circumstances.

 As time passed other writers borrowed heavily from Juvaini, often without acknowledgment and embellished and augmented his not very telling remarks. Not only did the later writers choose to systematize his data into what they imagined the Great Yasa to be, they also gave a time and place when it was done. This tradition of augmenting and systematizing the very scanty and unsystematic evidence of Juvaini found its way into European scholarship in 1710 with the publication of Petis De La Croix's History of Genghis Khan, first in French and then twelve years later in English. The author describes the great assembly or Kurultai of 1206 at which the Mongol Temuchin was given or adopted the title of Chinggis Khan meaning Oceanic Ruler. Writes Petis De La Croix, "When he had thanked all those present for the marks of love and respect they showed for him, being sensible that the chief duty of a prince is to establish good laws, he declared to them that he thought to add to the ancient laws some new ones which he described and commanded that they would observe.” Petis De La Croix then goes on to list twenty-two provisions of the Yasa. This formulation by Petis De La Croix that Chinggis Khan deliberately promulgated a constitutional code in 1206, pretty much held sway in the scholarly community until the 1970's and reached its systematized form in Riasanovsky's " The Fundamental Principles of Mongol Law” and George Vernadsky's "The Contents of Genghis Khan's Yasa”. This is from Vernadsky, "As to the date of the promulgation of the Yasa both Rashid ad-Din and al-Maqrizi, (a Mamluk historian) refer to the time of the great assembly in 1206 summoned by Temuchin after his victory over the Naimans and Merkits. This by the way, this moment is quite decisive in unifying the nomadic peoples under his banner and providing him with the army which then became an army of conquest outside Inner Asia. This reference seems to be acceptable. It was at this assembly that Temuchin was officially proclaimed emperor (great khan) and assumed his title Chinggis. It was likewise at this date that both the military and the administrative foundations of his empire were laid. Consequently it was most likely in this year 1206 that the compilation of Chinggis Khan's Yasa and Bilig, which were his sayings, compilation of his sayings, were set forth.

 Vernadski then goes on to describe two purported revisions to the code, "The expansion of the Mongols to China beginning in approximately 1211 and to Turkestan (from 1219) resulted in transformation of the local Mongolian khanate into a world power. It was accompanied by a reconstruction of the whole system of administration. Chinese, Uighur, and Persian traditions have each in turn contributed their patterns to the organization of Chinggis Khan's empire. For this work Chinggis Khan had at his disposal the best brains of Chinese and Uighur statesmanship. It is possible that the original version of the Yasa was somewhat revised at that time to adjust it to the needs of the expanded empire. The first revision of the Yasa great code might have taken place at the Kurultai of 1218 which approved the plans of the proposed campaign against Turkestan.  By 1225 the revisions of the code was complete.” This latter part, about the revisions of the code appears to be pure speculation. In the 1970's this formulation of a Great Code with several revisions turned out to be a house of cards that came tumbling down when David Ayalon a specialist on the history of Egypt in the Mamluk period that is the 13th through the 15th century, began a critical examination of the sources on the Yasa, (since one of the main sources was a famous Mamluk historian al-Maqrizi) and in a brilliant series of articles Ayalon showed that all the Islamic sources Persian and Arab alike had come from this section of Juvaini that I mentioned above with the addition of their own imaginative creations. In an article published in 1986, David Morgan of the University of London took Ayalon's work one step further to raise the question, was there ever a Great Yasa of Chinggis Khan? Juvaini's certainly indicates it when he speaks about a Yasa nama-i Buzurg but gives no evidence that he actually seen it. This Mongol Secret History written about about 1230 is another early source for Yasa written sometime, one believes, in the Year of the Rat - either 1228 or in 1240 - but it makes no mention of such a code. It's a very odd thing, as both Ayalon and Morgan point out, that a work so important to Chinggis Khan and his successors should have left out any reference to such a code. It does however make several uses of the word Yasa in the following contexts, as a rulers directive, not always Chinggis Khan by the way, as a legally binding precedent and as normative law the infringement of which entails severe, usually capital punishment. "Since Yasa is the law of the ruler, i.e. the law of the state it can by extension mean governance or rule as well”, I am quoting here from the Mongolist Igor de Rachewiltz. None of these things can be identified as an ambiguous reference to a great code. The answer apparently or at least according to de Rachewiltz as to whether or not Chinggis Khan promulgated a great code lies in Chinese sources. In 1291 the Yuan Dynasty promulgated the Ch'ing-yuan new code to satisfy in part the longing of Chinese bureaucrats for a codification of the legal customs of the Mongols within the rich heritage of Chinese judicial administration.The process leading to the 1291 codification was studied by Paul Heng-chao Ch'en in a monograph published in 1979 called, "Chinese Legal Tradition under the Mongols”. De Rachewiltz used Ch'en's work to suggest a very plausible modification of Morgan's thesis that there was no great code promulgated by Chinggis Khan. The Chinese sources do point clearly to a Great Yasa which was promulgated according to them in 1229 at the accession of Ogedai and it is de Rachewiltz's reasonable contention that Ogedai not only publicly declared that he would uphold his father's decrees or Yasas but also formally proclaim in essence a formal promulgation of them. Ch'en concluded, "that the Yasaq was a collection of rules and instructions given by Chinggis Khan in response to the needs of specific circumstances and was later formally promulgated in 1229. Although it was not a systematically organized legal work the Yasa provided the Mongolian ruling clans with guidelines for the administration of government. The Yasa did not apply universally as a code to all tribes under Mongolian domination but by virtue of its authoritative character it did serve as a principal legal source in China for the period following the fall of the Sung Dynasty. Because Chinese society soon proved too complicated for Mongolian customary law to deal with the application of the Yasa to Chinese cases its use gradually diminished and by the end of the thirteenth century the Yasa as a source of law appeared to be of minimal significance,” end of quote by Ch'en. So much for the Chinese side of it.

 

   Another region where the Yasa made enough of an impact to leave traces in the written record was the Mamluk kingdom Egypt and Syria. There and especially in the early and mid-fourteenth centuries, Mamluk amirs who knew Mongols and Mongol customs introduced Mongol practices into the organization of the sultan's bodyguard. The Mamluk historian al-Safadi who died in 1363 wrote about one such amir, "He knew both the spoken and written Mongol language and was versed in Mongol manners. He used to act as judge for members of the bodyguard within the Sultan's house according to the Yasa and Yasaq which had been established by Chinggis Khan. He knew the biography of Chinggis Khan and used to read and consult it repeatedly. He knew the Mongol families and their lineage and origins. He learned by heart the Mongol histories.”* But aside from the reference to the bodyguard there is little evidence that Chinggis Khan's code had much influence in Egypt or Syria. Al-Maqrizi, who died in 1440, and Ibn Taghri Birdi, who died in 1470, both claim however that the Yasa was strong in the Mamluk sultanate from its very beginning. But Ayalon through his painstaking research on all Mamluk and related Ilkhanid sources for the period has shown how Al-Maqrizi and Ibn Taghri Birdi both distorted and altered their sources. He does not however and I think that this is - crucial give us reasons why they might have done so and why they would have thought it first credible  to do so and second, important, to insist on the influence of the Yasa.  (*quoted by Ayalon in "Great Yasa” IV pg. 135)

 

 

    All of this though fascinating in its own right does not address a crucial point and that is the survival of Chinggis Khan's legacy as a law giver for as long as 700 hundred years after his death in some areas that came under Mongol control at one point. Nor do the students of the Great Yasa address the usefulness of the idea of a Great Yasa in the political life of many regions of the Middle East. Indeed I think it ought to be asked, was the elaboration and perhaps even outright creation of the idea of a great code of Chinggis Khan part of a continuing public discourse about law and authority in society? What were some of the assumptions of that debate and in what regions and on what institutions did that debate have a marked impact and is that dialogue still going on in Central Asia today?

           For the remainder of this talk I would like to touch on some of the instances and contexts in which this debate gets recorded. Much of the debate must have taken place and never been recorded but we get some little tidbits here and there that are very suggestive about what was going on. I am going to begin with the situation of the Golden Horde which was the division of the Mongols furthest to the west assigned to the line of Jochi the oldest son of Chinggis Khan and headquartered on the lower Volga River. In 1312 the reigning Khan of the Golden Horde died. Two factions immediately emerged to claim the Khanate, one backing the claims of the deceased Khan's son and the other backing the claims of Ozbeg Khan, a recent convert to Islam and the man to whom the entire conversion of the Horde becomes attributed. The story is told by an Iranian Jamaladdin Qashani, author of Tarikh-i-Uljaytu Sultan who was a contemporary of Ozbeg Sultan writing about four years after the events being described "On the Khans death the leading figures of the Golden Horde gathered to choose a successor. The faction backing the Khan's son said, that before placing the son on the throne it was necessary to get rid of Ozbeg Khan whom they considered an enemy of the state primarily because he was continually demanding they convert to Islam. Ozbeg Khan hearing of the Khan's death traveled to the capital and demanded his khanate be recognized and the military submit (meaning both), Obey him and accept Islam. The chief of the rival faction then reportedly said, "Oh Padshah you demand Islam from us but how can we obey? What complaint do we have with the Yasa and Yasuun of Chinggis Khan that you summon us to the old Sharia of the Arabs?” Ozbeg Khan then killed the man on the spot, the story goes.  The other amirs in retaliation conspired to kill him, inviting him to a banquet where on a signal he would be attacked and killed. But one of the amirs in attendance informed Ozbeg of what was planned and so he left the banquet on the pretext of the needing to relieve himself and fled on a fast horse, returning later to attack, seize, and kill all the hostile amirs and ascend the khanly throne and make the amir who betrayed the others his closest confidant. This is a very rich story in the narrative elements that it contains and we find all sorts of things that we find in many, many other stories. The banquets which people go to unsuspecting that their heads are about to be taken off at least in stories. Over and over again they go to these banquets. The ruse of going out to relieve yourself and thereby foiling the plot, and the issue of betrayal, particularly of the Chinggisid way on behalf of Islam comes up over and over again.  One of the elements, the one I want to focus on here is the element Juvaini had already introduced in 1260, and it is central to the tension over the legacy of Chinggis Khan as a law giver in the Islamic world. This is what is called here the "old Sharia of the Arabs,” the Islamic way or Islamic law, obedience to and regard for which is the touchstone, in literary sources, of the justice and goodness of a ruler. In the 1260s when Juvaini said that these ordinances of Chinggis Khan were harmony with the Sharia he wanted his readers to know that the regulations were the regulations of a good ruler. Here however Qashani wants his readers to understand that the Yasa of Chinggis Khan is antithetical to the Sharia, its adherents are Islam's enemies, and its enemies are Islam's heroes.  It is my contention that the durability of this dichotomy, is largely dependent on the meaning that Yasa retains for a significant proportion of the population over time. Without it having that meaning, without it continuing to resonate amongst part of the population I don't believe it could have, or would have, the kind of significance in literature that it does.

 

    Lets jump ahead a century, from 1311 to the early 15th century. Much has happened in the meantime besides the Black Death. The Mongol Empire has broken up, the descendants of Chinggis Khan who held the Khanate have all but disappeared from political influence. The Chinggisid successors have all been Islamacised by this time, but the legacy of the great world conqueror as lawgiver still lives. The time is 1411, and the place is Herat. It is six years since the death of Tamerlane and during that brief period much of what was conquered by him had been lost. Tamerlane after all is a Chinggis Khan redux in terms of his conquests, his career, and his pattern of government. His sons and grandsons hold sway over a new empire, but one which they will spend a good deal of time and energy fighting each other to control. One of his sons, Shah Rukh, who is in charge of Heart, sometime during the months of March or April of 1411, according to a writer "abandoned the Mongol law court and gave up the Mongol customary laws in favour of the Sharia”. He did this we are told by introducing prohibition, that is no more alcohol in Herat, by getting rid of the symbolic Chinggisid Khan who sat at his right hand, and by purifying the tomb of his father Timur in Samarkand of its non-Islamic elements. We don't know precisely what those non-Islamic elements were thought to be. The man who wrote this was a Hanafi preacher and a specialist in the science of Hadith, a man named Jalal al-Din Qa'ini. He had already been sent as a propagandist into the mountainous regions west of Herat called Kohistan where remnants of the Ismaili heterodoxy still lived after they were more or less wiped out by the Mongols in northwestern Iran. His job at this point was to either convert them to Hanafi Islam or to do an ethnic cleansing of the region. He was by all accounts a hardliner on Islamic issues and it is more than likely that the Chinggisid elements that were evident at court life, maintaining a household of a separate symbolic Khan, and in daily life, the hunt and the alcoholic binges which the court was famous for, were extremely offensive and perhaps threatening to him. Whether Shah Rukh actually did what Qa'ini says he did in a book which Qa'ini wrote even for Shah Rukh is really, I think, immaterial. Clearly the Islamist wanted him to do it, advised him to do it, but his views, I think represent only part of the spectrum of political thought that governed Shah Rukh. Tamerlane himself was no less a Muslim in the eyes of his documenters, but was also a zealous guardian of the Chinggisid political legacy. Being himself not an agnatic, not a direct descendant of Chinggis Khan, he could not claim to be sovereign. He maintained however a genuine Chinggisid descendant for ceremonial and ideological reasons, not unlike the way in which the English maintain for million and millions of pounds a year, a symbolic and ideological monarch and royal household. The Chinggisid Khan often referred to by modern historians as a puppet should perhaps better be referred to simply as a symbolic head of state. Timur never adopted as far as we know the titular of ultimate sovereignty, khan, khaqan, qa'an, and so on nor for that matter did his sons and grandsons. They used titulature which is more reminiscent of Iranian kingship, shah, padshah, as well as sultan which recalls Turkish kingship. They used terms like shah, padshah and sultan, and they called themselves in their titulature Mirza invariably which is an abbreviated form of the word Amirzadeh or son of the Amir, meaning the son of Timur, or grandson or great grandson.

 

    From 1411 we jump forward another hundred years when one of the last Timurids in Central Asia, Babur, the son of Umar Shaykh, is compiling his memoirs. Babur is a politician and a born again Muslim, at the age of forty he saw the light and gave up partying and drugs and alcohol, although he is not self righteous about it. From him we get a rather different and more pragmatic view of the survival of legacy of Chinggis Khan. To him, the way, the Chinggisid way, and the law is more a matter of respect and regard for the past for ones ancestors and their beliefs and for behavior which is considered still acceptable though without sanction in the Sharia, the Islamic law, and probably he was under continual pressure from people like Qa'ini to drop all this Chinggisid nonsense.  In a couple of places in his memoirs, he explicitly refers to the legacy. He speaks of it in one place in this fashion, " Our forefathers over a long period of time respected the Chinggisid Tura or Yasa doing nothing opposed to it whether at court or at a social gathering. Though it has no divine authority so that a man must obey it of necessity, still good rules of conduct ought to be followed.” For him it's a matter of manners, good breeding, doing the right thing. It is not an issue that challenged the authority of the Sharia at all. But then again he wasn't a Shariest, nor was he a zealot on ideological issues. We don't know whether he is simply expressing his own views at a moment in life when he is feeling particularly mellow, whether he is reflecting the views of his contemporaries, or what. Certainly the whole issue had not receded into one of a vestige of nostalgia for a distant past by his time. It remained very much alive in the 16th century and indeed was rejuvenated by the coming of a new Chinggisid political organization to assume the mantle of the past in the name of the Jochid line of Chinggis Khan.

    With this group of Shibanid lineage out of Jochi, actually two Shibanid lineages, one of which was centered just south of the Aral Sea in the delta of the Amu Darya and the other which took over the oases of Central Asia: Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Balkh, Herat, Shahkin Sabz. It was this group which revived or lent new weight to Chinggisid law and Chinggisid institutions. Ayalon, in concluding his remarkable study on the Yasa of Chinggis Khan and assessing its impact on Mamluk Egypt wrote, "Later Mamluk historians especially Al-Maqrizi and Ibn' Taghri Birdi claim that the position of the Yasa had been very strong in the Mamluk Sultanate since its inception.” "…what is absolutely certain is that the Yasa even if it played some role under the Mamluks could not maintain the same power for long, the Yasa and other Mongol customs and institutions must have been losing ground in the territories governed directly by the Mongols, how much more so outside these territories”.

   But I think Ayalon is seeing this in rather narrow terms, that is he is seeing a law which carried the same meaning over time and would have been as recognizable to a Bukharan writing in the 17th century as it was to a man from Tabriz writing in the early 14th. This tends I think to shift Yasa from the realm of law to that of something approaching divine revelation.

 

    Perhaps a more reasonable assumption would be that for the word and concept of Yasa or Chinggisid law to have remained in the public discourse and more than that to have been controversial must have meant that it had significant meaning for a significant part of the population. If the rise of the Shibanids represents, as I am convinced it does, a rejuvenation of the Chinggisid law and way in political life, then not only did it not lose ground in the 16th century but actually substantially regained it. Not by the way very long after Al'- Maqrizi and ‘Ibn Taghri Birdi passed from the scene.

     In his study of the compilation of the extensive geneological tables of the Timurid house known as Mu'izzal-ansab, John Woods proposed that as the family's view of its past and its role in the world evolved, the traditions about its genealogy also evolved. This is probably a more useful approach to the issue of Yasa and how let's say, a person in the 16th century referring to it might have conceived it. We find several telling examples of this in the late 16th century relating to the ruling Shibanid house, the Jani-Begid from some perspectives at the peak of its power at this time and from others suffering a crisis of identity that would soon contribute to its downfall. The chronicler, with no apparent sense of anachronism or irony reports that Abdallah Khan l1 who was Khan from 1583 to 1598 went to the Idgah, a large open area for the festival prayers outside the city, to perform the prayer at the end of the month of the fast.  He did this, according to the chronicler Hafiz Tanish and I am quoting this chronicler, "In accordance with the Yasa of Chinggis Khan”. It's hard to imagine Chinggis Khan a non-muslim going out to the Idgah to perform the Muslim prayers. But there is a story in Juvaini that after the capture of Bukhara in 1221 Chinggis Khan did indeed go out to the prayer ground and mounted the pulpit there not to pray, but it was to round up the wealthy of the city in order to confiscate their money.

    So Yasa as a concept of authoritative practice was flexible and I think should be seen as flexible. Had it not been, we assume, it would not have survived.

 

    In the oases of what is now Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and the little kingdom of General Dostum in northern Afghanistan the beginning of the 16th century saw more than a revival the spirit of the Chinggisid Yasa, it saw a reinvention of it. First there was the reinstitution of the Chinggisid Khanate, certainly an ancient steppe institution but one that by this time was inextricably bound up with the memory Chinggis Khan. The khanate had certain characteristics which I will just briefly touch on, it is easy to find this information elsewhere. One feature is that the khan must be the senior member of the clan. This does not seem to be something specifically Mongol, but appears to have been picked up elsewhere and by this time was institutionalized. We know this not because people in Central Asia recorded it but because there was a visitor who came in 1507, and stayed until 1509 fleeing the Shiite takeover of Iran his name was Khunji and he took refuge at the court of Shibani. He notes in his book in which he writes of his experiences there, "They call all the descendents of Chinggis Khan sultans and the one who is eldest is designated khan.” So seniority is one feature. The second characteristic that the Khanate revives is the idea that sovereignty, rests not in an individual or an individual's line, but in a clan, a whole clan. The clan therefore has a right to control the territory over which it reigns and from this we have the phenomenon of the appanage system in which individual members of the clan, the male members of the clan who have reached their maturity, are entitled to a share of the territory.

 

    So we have the issue of seniority, secondly the issue of appanage rule, of corporate rule of the territory. Somehow Central Asia in particular lent itself to this by virtue of the oases system. That is we have small areas of concentrated populations scattered over a fairly large area. We see in the revival of the Khanate also a clearer articulation of the tension between the partisans of the Chinggisid way and the Islamic way or Islamic law. On the one hand it is possible to find in the written record examples of the melding of the two. We find this interesting description of the enthronement or accession to the khanate of the same Abdullah Khan whom I mentioned before. He gets news of the death of his father and a group of his amirs consult and decide that he is eligible to succeed to the khanate, even though actually he is not the eldest at this point. The story starts from here, "At this point a group of amirs turned to Sa'id ul-Din Juybari, a sufi sheikh saying, "It is the custom of the great khaqans and the noble sultans that whenever a person is recognized as deserving of the royal throne they set him on a piece of white felt and they lift him up. So the khoja brought a white felt carpet whose owner, while performing the hajj pilgrimage, had baptized with the water of the sacred well Zamzam. They seated the royal personage on the carpet and with three other people (all of whom are named in the text) this holy man grasped the carpet and together they raised him up to rulership.” Now the accession of a khan to rulership by virtue of sitting on a white felt carpet is a nice steppe image and we now have it Islamicized by the baptism of that carpet or the sprinkling of that carpet with water from the well of Zamzam in Mecca. But it's a very problematic story of course, and not whether this represents the actual practice of enthronement. What's problematic is that the whole process had to be explained to this sufi sheikh. He had been born and raised in the region, he had seen khans come and go, so presumably he knew how it was done, and what was involved. But I think in writing up the story it was essential to somehow distance the figure, distance Islam, in the mind of the writer from this practice which can only be considered un-Islamic.

   

    We see the same thing in a story written about fifty years earlier by a famous member of a Mongol tribe, the Dughlat, Mirza Haider. A work that has twice been translated into English. He presents himself throughout the narrative as firmly on the side of the Sharia, as a proponent of the Islamic way. And one of the stories he tells in his book is about an ancestor of his, a man named Amir Khudaidad. He wishes not unreasonably to present him in the most favorable light he can but it must have been known that he betrayed his master a Chinggised named Wais Khan, who ruled over the Turfan oasis which is now in northwestern China in the mid-fifteenth century. According to the story that his descendent Mirza Haider tells, when Amir Khudaidad reached the age of ninety-seven he felt the need to make the pilgrimage, seeing his time must have been drawing near. But his master refused to let him go. So he turned his back on him, betrayed him, and joined Ulugh Beg who was the ruler at Samarkand at the time, a Timurid, who had also just by chance been fighting with Wais Khan and other Chinggisid Mongols of that region. That is one part of the story. At Samarkand Ulugh Beg said to Amir Khudaidad, "No one knows the Chinggisid law like you, please teach me all its rules for I need them to rule my kingdom.” The Amir then said,  "We have long since cursed and abandoned the Chinggisid code and adopted the law of the Prophet, but if you with all your knowledge of the law”, (and Ulugh Beg of course was well known as a scholar) "still consider the Chinggisid code worthwhile to learn then I will teach it to you and myself apostatize.” I think it's a wonderful story with many nuances; this imagined figure of Ulugh Beg, the rehabilitation of family honor through showing loyalty to the Islamic way against the Chinggisid way, and so on. But I only really use it here to bring your attention to this issue of the tension that underscores and signifies the durability of the Chinggisid way.

 

    Almost a century after Mirza Haider wrote, that is in the, 1630's, a historian at Balkh, Mahmud the son of Amir Wali provides another extraordinary glimpse into the living tradition of Chinggised law in practice. With his depiction of court life, ceremonial rankings based on remembered positions in Chinggis Khan's army, four hundred years later. He has a separate section on the tribes, of the Dasht-i-Qipchak. This region, by now a mythical one, is actually the area today called the Kazakh steppe. But by 1630 it had a certain mythic quality as an original homeland for the people who lived in the oases. There is only one copy of this work, it is in London and its a very difficult read. Mahmud was a mainstream Muslim, he was not a zealot particularly but a man of his time and comfortable with its religious practices which included shrine pilgrimage and in the seventeenth century what was probably the equivalent of the 1960's hippy treks from Europe to Nepal. This was going to India, and going to India and backpacking or the seventeenth century equivalent of backpacking from shrine to shrine around India and then returning to what must have seemed a more boring life in Central Asia. Anyway he had done all this by the time he came to write his book. He has left us a section in his book which is subtitled - the great deeds blessed virtues, and refined characteristics of the man who was of the sponsor of his work and held Balkh in the early seventeenth century. In this section he gives a long and difficult disquisition on the issue of law in society in which he makes a number of points. Including this, one, that customary law is antithetical to Sharia. (He gives customary law the name of yasa and yusun). He said it is known as yasa and yusun to the Mongols and tura to the Uzbeks. This type of evil innovation had in his time, he said been promoted by politicians to the detriment of the prescriptions and proscriptions of Islamic law. When his patron came to the throne however he strove among other things to undermine the foundations of customary law. This is a complete replay in 1630 of the Shah Rukh story of 1411, the same issues are coming up again, the same kind of response, with the kind of variation which one would expect from local conditions. But the issue of the pull and the power of the Chinggisid yasa is still there. But as I said he said he is not a particular hardliner on this, he brings it up to make a point about his patron being a good Muslim ruler. So he goes through this obligatory rant against the Yasa and then proceeds to describe in great detail all the Yasa institutions and practices as he understood them that were still being observed in early seventeenth century Balkh. These included such things as kumiss drinking and the way in which kumiss should be drunk. Also how a quiver should be worn when a man, particularly a man expressing repentance to his ruler, appears before him. Then a lengthy section, a very difficult section on court protocol, where people sat, and next to whom. The derivation of those ranks, is not from anything Islamic but entirely from the history of the Mongols and the Mongol army under Chinggis Khan. He doesn't seem to have a problem with this, he gives us on the one hand his little diatribe against customary law, but then proceeds to tell us all of the things which have survived. There doesn't ever seem to be between these two a full melding and synthesis of the traditions. Each one had its own jurisdictional niche. In the public discourse about these two legal worlds, the lines are clearly drawn, the differences are in black and white. One is good, one is bad. In private however outside the texts, one imagines there is a much more subtle process going on, in which things work side by side - one recognized as having jurisdiction in one area and the other in another.

 

    Certainly with the passing of time these Yasaist or political institutions faded in importance. The Chinggisid lineages disappear in Central Asia, and some of them moved to India. The Yasa may therefore have declined simply because it became less important, certain terms survive as late as the end of the nineteenth century in Afghan Persian meaning a person has been brought to justice, usually meaning final justice. The twentieth century I think has witnessed an ideological, break of about 70 years during which a new conqueror, a new mandate, a new system of law and ideology, the period of Russian Soviet power attempted to eliminate both aspects of the old Yasa-Shari'a. What the long term effects of the post-Soviet debate will be I don't know. I like to think that there are still some elements today of Yasa and Sharia that will persist and come to the fore again, who knows. Anyway that is where I will stop and leave the rest to your questions and imaginations.