Sana'a, May 18, 2010
I have been off line for ages. And I haven't been following Ibn Battuta either, although recently in Bukhara I did see Saifuddin Bukhari's tomb which he mentioned, and which I had never had the time to visit before.
"We lodged in Bukhara in its suburb of Fath Abad, where there is the tomb of the learned shaikh and pious ascetic Saif ad-Din Bakharzi. He was one of the great saints. This hospice where we lodged, to which the name of this shaikh has been given, is a large institution with vast endowments from which food is supplied to all comers, and its superior is a descendant of the shaikh's, namely the much-travelled pilgrim Yahya al-Bukharzi. "
The tomb I saw was enlarged in the 15th century so is now grander than in Ibn Battuta's time. But there was nobody there, the door was locked and we couldn't find anyone to ask for the key. Next door to it, not there in Ibn Battuta's time, is the mid-14th century mazar of Buyan Kuli Khan. Its tilework is in a rather parlous state but what there is, is out of this world. We couldn't produce such beauty now because the powdered turquoise and lapis required and the cutters needed to cut the mosaic would bankrupt China. Unfortunately I couldn't produce an image that did it justice .
Mountain resort of Chimgan
As we couldn't get to Kyrgyzstan we went north of Tashkent instead to what is now a winter and summer resort. In Soviet times it was a favored spot for workers' sanitoria.
The Ferghana Valley is the most densely populated part of Uzbekistan with approximately 10 million people living in an area about 200 miles long and 100 miles wide. This is as far east as Alexander the Great got, it is where the 'heavenly horses' of the Han Emperor Wudi, came from, Babur, founder of the mighty Moghul Empire was born here and it is also where Islam gained its strongest hold. In 1916 the Basmachi revolt was born against Tsarist Russia when they ended the practice of not requiring Muslims to join their armies, during WWI.
It continued against Soviet rule and by 1920 was supported by a sizeable portion of the inhabitants of the Ferghana Valley. (Basmachi means 'bandit'.) The movement gained impetus in 1921 when a former Turkish war minister Ismail Enver, who became known as Enver Pasha, decided to join them and make of it a pan-Turkish, pan-Islamic movement with the goal of forming an Islamic state. While he managed to turn it into a more efficient fighting force they were no match for the Soviets, and after a series of military setbacks he was killed in battle in 1922 after which the movement became little more than a guerilla movement.
Beautiful painted ceiling in traditional Ferghana style, Kokand
The revolt was over by 1926 and by 1934 they were eliminated across the whole of Turkestan, with some former leaders becoming communist party members. The Soviets closed most mosques and madrasas, not just in the Ferghana Valley but in all of their territories just as they did churches, synagogues and Buddhist temples, and turned many of them into museums of 'atheism'. In 1991 after independence some started opening up again. But this time many of them were funded with Saudi money. Several rich merchants and businessmen from the region had fled with the arrival of the Bolsheviks and some had ended up in Saudi Arabia. But this was Wahabbism, and the Uzbek government reasserting the state's secular rule, closed the mosques and madrasas once again. Again they have been turned into museums, this time of silk carpet weaving and cotton stamping, long time traditional crafts of Uzbekistan.
The provincial museum in the town of Ferghana has some quirky items; furniture belonging to General Skobolev, the talented Russian general who played a large part in the conquest of Central Asia and who was Ferghana's first governor, Tsarist-era death warrants for convicted rebels of the Marghilan Revolt in 1916 and accompanying photos of them dangling at the end of a rope, costumes, jewelry and weaponry, stuffed eagles, Soviet-era propaganda, and a marvelous 3D map of the valley.
Kokand was the third of the triumvirate of khanates, the others being Khiva and Bukhara. Powerful during the 19th century, internecine rivalry combined with Russian expansionism ended its days in 1876. The last Khan Khudayar who died in exile in Russia, built himself a glittering palace which he occupied for less than 3 years. The pavilioned harem at the rear of the palace is currently being re-built. Khodayar Khan's father, Shir Ali, was installed as Khan after the debauched Madali Khan was killed by the even more debauched Bukharan Khan, Nasrullah, who among other things, assassinated every potential family rival for the throne and is said to have had his wife and daughters murdered as he lay dying.
Back in Tashkent the city was getting ready to welcome delegates from the Asian Development Bank. Tashkent gets short shrift which is a pity and a mistake, as it was entirely re-built after a 1966 earthquake virtually destroyed the fourth largest city in the then Soviet Union. Today it is a leafy green city of broad, tree-lined avenues and a multitude of parks, fountains and statues. Trams trundle along, a metro connects the four corners of the city, and Western-brand high-street fashion emporia sit among museums and the studios of master ceramicists, silkweavers and cotton fabric dyers and stampers.
After the relative calm of Uzbekistan I was plunged into an unfamiliar tourist stampede; in Istanbul I counted 37 tourist coaches parked along the Hippodrome, I waited an hour to view the treasures at Topkapi and viewed the Harem when everyone else was at lunch. Nonetheless Istanbul sparkled under clear blue skies and visiting Aya Sofya, Topkapi and the Sultanahment mosque was, despite the madness of the crowds, quite mesmerizing. I stayed at the Hotel Arcadia where the view from the upper floors must rank among the finest in the city.
Ibn Battuta traversed Turkey in its entirety. At the time of his visit, Istanbul was still known as Constantinople and was a Christian city under the Byzantine Emperor, Andronicus III. He made a rare foray into the Christian world to escort the pregnant wife of Uzbek Khan, Muslim Khan of the Golden Horde in the Crimea, who was the daughter of the Emperor and wished to return to Constantinople to have her baby. Bur more on Ibn Battuta's trip to Turkey later as he would say.
Ertogrul Gazy Mosque, Ashgabad
Ertogrul Gazy was the father of Osman, founder of the Ottoman Empire. Note the similarity of minaret style. Ibn Battuta visited Turkey in the 1330s during the time of Osman and witnessed firsthand the beginnings of what would become the Ottoman Empire.