Otrar - our Troy in Syrdaria valley

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Otrar-tyube, or "hill Otrar" is one of those classic "cakes", flacky clay filled with canned stories of dozen centuries; the great number of those scattered along the Syrdaria valley. The town is visible from afar, because it towers above the flat fields of Shauldersky district by twenty meters.

If you could put the whole Otrar hill in a giant X-ray machine, and do x-ray layer by layer without destroying it, it would be a fascinating journey deep into time. But archeology is like surgery; it is necessary to cut, break or remove something to succeed. Otherwise, science would have only the most superficial, the most recent "cultural layers" to explore.

Large-scale excavations that were conducted at Otrar settlement during the Soviet era disfigured the historic landscape of Otrar - tyube. You can see traces of numerous clearings and pits, chaos of cleared walls that get more guttered after each winter, sprawling heaps of clay that was carried out from the excavations; all of this looks like traces of abandoned, protracted construction. But the proud security label indicates that this is one of the greatest archaeological sites in Kazakhstan; and not only in Kazakhstan.

Although modern domestic historians like to overestimate the historical significance of "their" rarities, do not underestimate them on that basis only. Therefore, I am not afraid to hang on Otrar label of regional Troy. Serious battles happened under these slopes once. Under these shagreen layers, priceless evidences of the early history of Otrar are waiting to be explored.

Otrar is mentioned for the first in the documents dated middle of the first millennium, but under the name Farab. However, some people believe that the whole Otrar oasis was called Farab before. But life in dilapidated state is obvious in this hearth of civilization. There is a speculation that Avestan Kangha rulers (state of notorious turans, which Iranians fought furiously) had here their capital. And this is the second millennium BC!

The connection between Kangha and Kangyui, known from Chinese sources, is obvious. So far, science does not really know who Kangyuis were. Some people confuse them with degenerate Saks; some relate them to the early Turks. In the Steppe, where disappear not only trade caravans, but the whole nations, the name, however, survived through millennia. Let remember Kangly, one of the most influential Kazakh tribes.

Uniquely, the first documentary evidence about Otrar appeared primarily because of the Arabs presence on arena of local history. It is well known that they were not only fanatical warriors of Islam, but also fairly literate, and loved to record everything without relying on memory.

What is about archeology? What gave us stratigraphic dissection of Otrar pie for determination its true age? In general, not so much. The earliest direct evidence, in the form of coins found in one of the lower layers, confirm the authenticity of documentary evidence. However, something else is laying below, it is burned and indistinct, but without residues of construction. Despite the well-known massacre perpetrated by the Mongols (Otrar Catastrophe), life in Otrar faded gradually in the XVIII century without outside interference.

Moments of the history: Al -Farabi and Timur Tamerlane

In the history of Otrar, there were three important episodes that probably have not changed, but definitely influenced on the world history. One of them occurred in 870, although it concerned noone, but the relatives. When a person is born, this fact does not create a palette of relations and a lot of feelings, as someone's death. Person's birth is just a chance. Life is preparation for death. Death is prologue to immortality.

That is why, so little is known about the early stages of life of Abu Nasr Ibn Muhammad who is better known to the world as Al-Farabi. I would like to remind that the name Otrar has replaced the name Farab, but basically, it is the same thing. Childhood and youth of the "Second Teacher", "East Aristotle" are drowned in the darkness of oblivion. No one really know where he was born exactly (oasis united several cities), how long he lived in these places.

Anyway, fame came to this great thinker much later, in the declining years he spent far away from home in Baghdad, Aleppo and Damascus. It is undoubtedly known that he was born here, on the edge of the Islamic cultural ecumene in the distant Farab. This, fact by the way, was not born yesterday. It is enough to recall one of the lost treasures of Otrar - famous library, traces of which are lost in the midst of endless wars and raids. It is possible that this fount of ancient wisdom lies somewhere nearby, hidden by keepers in a secluded dungeon; Otrar must have had an abundance of such places, since it was prepared for defence so good.

The second episode relates to 1219. This is the famous "Otrar catastrophe", which was as a prologue to further movement of the Mongols to the West. Most of Asian cities surrendered without resistance to Genghis Khan. Even Samarkand defended itself only for five days. Perhaps Otrar would have acted wisely as well, but became a victim of big politics. It is became an Arena, where ambitions of two contenders clashed for world domination; they were shaker of the universe - Genghis Khan and Ala ad-Din Muhammad II.

Eventually, the heroism of the Otrar defenders was overcome by the decree of Khwarezmshah. He commanded to destroy the embassy of Genghis Khan that stayed in the city. The Great Khan, in principle, was able to forgive; it was possible to get along with him, but not in this situation. After the trade caravan that stopped in Otrar was destroyed, and the messenger that arrived from the Mongols in attempt to resolve the situation peacefully was killed, Muhammad signed his own death sentence, and at the same time sacrificed Otrar.

However, Otrar represented only a bargaining chip for Muhammad in the struggle with Genghis Khan for possession of the world. Therefore, he left to Cairo Khan, the governor of the city Kypchak, to disentangle this whole situation. Cairo Khan had no other option than to fight to the end (no matter who’s). This ingenuous and brave warrior knew how to fight. Although, Genghis Khan signed the death sentence to the inhospitable city himself, he left his ambitious sons - Ugadei and Chagatai to solve this problem, and went to catch the adversary in his own capital - Urgench.

The Mongols proceeded to siege in September 1219. But the strong garrison, with good stockpiles of food and weapons, vigorously defended the city for nearly six months. And when supplies run out, the army of some Karachi Hadzhib that had been sent to help decided not to try the fate further and opened the city gates. Mongols drove away "like sheep" the inhabitants of the city and plundered everything that they could.

But the defense of Otrar did not finish. Cairo Khan (who had nothing to count on) with the most loyal warriors locked in a citadel and defended the city for the whole month. He was taken only when all his warriors (people say that there were 20 000 men) were killed. Together with two companions Cairo Khan, who was wanted alive, fought to the end. When he was left completely alone, he continued to defend himself with bricks that palace girls picked out for him from the palace walls. (these unknown  girls are worth the admiration!)

Captive Cairo Khan was brought to Samarkand, where he was executed along with the traitor Karachi. Otrar was leveled, as capital of Khwarezmshah - Urgench. Mohammed himself, a loser and no longer wanted by anyone, was hiding in the reeds and deserts for a long time until caught pneumonia and died on some uninhabited island of the Caspian Sea...

And another date of local history became very interesting for many. On February 18, 1405 one event occurred in Otrar that millions of people throughout the Asia wished to witness. Here stopped the impulsively mad life of the great destroyer and murderer (great builder and creator as well). Timur Tamerlane was waiting for the new army for the next raid, this time to China, warming himself with the wine (it was a cold night), but over estimated his powers, overdrunk and died. At least like this popular rumor prosaically summarizes the controversial life of tyrant. Initially his relatives tried to hide the disappearance of the main hero from world arena. Everyone understood that the world he built holds only on his iron will. And everything will collapse overnight. And that fight for the wreckage will be difficult. But news of his death reached Samarkand before the candidates for inheritance.

Perhaps now the reader can understand why Otyrar became the first in the World Heritage List in Kazakhstan. Archaeological Reserve, comprising Otrar -tyube and the surrounding settlements can become a good basis for the tourist route of South Kazakhstan.

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