Mongolia: Discovering the peoples from the steppes – diving into their history


Mongolia – The mysterious peoples from the steppes

Huns and Attila, Turks, Chinggis Khan and his horsemen conquering Europe and Asia, the Moguls in India, the emperors in China – to connect up the links between all these fragments of knowledge about Mongolian history, Ursula and I spend a sunny afternoon in the garden of my mountain apartment. We felt like back in our school days some 40 years ago, when ploughing through the guide books (Dumont, Lonely Planet and more) and when surfing through the Internet with Drs Google and Wikipedia. This is what we found – and we may have misinterpreted some of the complex facts while trying to make a short overview.

Three invasions by the peoples from the steppes

(1) The Huns and Attila around 400 AD left their steppes. In 450 the empire of Attila stretched from Korea to Germany.
(2) Turkish/Uighur tribes blended their nomadic life and agriculture. There are ruins of their small cities in the Orkhon valley and a monument near the Lake Ögoi reminds of Bilge Khan, their greatest leader. Their empire reached out to the Meditarranean. It existed until around 840. The Uighurs were then expeled by Kyrgyz tribes (also Turkish) and migrated to the east, where they controled part of the silk road for the next 1000 years.
(3)  In the early 13th century, Chinggis Khan unified the rival Mongolian tribes. He built an army of horsemen (9×10’000 and a personal guard of 10’000). Chinggis Khan and later his son and successor Ögodoi Khan conquered an empire from Korea to Hungary and from India to Russia. Ögodoi founded the capital Karakorum in 1241.

Around 1270, Kublai Khan divided Mongolia  into four regions called khanats. First Central Mongolia, second China (where Kublai Khan created the Yuan dynasty described by Marco Polo; Kublai’s dynasty lasted until 1368), third Russia (the Golden Hordes, later beaten by Dimitrij Donskoj in 1380), and fourth Persia (converting to the Islam and around 1500 creating the Mogul dynasty in Northern India).

In the second half of the 14th century, most of the Mongolian rulers had retreated to Mongolia, both from the West as well as from China. The now rival tribes were unified once again by Mongolia’s greatest queen, Manduhai. The Mongols revere her even today.

Adopting the Tibetan buddhism

In 1585 Altan Khan founded the monastery (khid) of Erdene Zuu, after having coverted to the yellow hat buddhism influenced by Phagpa, a Tibetan buddhist.

Under Manchurian/Chinese rule

The Mongols supported their neighbors, the Manchus, to conquer China and establish the dynasty of the Quing. Nevertheless the Mongols became a people colonised and oppressed by the Chinese. The Quing were overthrown in 1911. They were the last dynasty of Chinese emperors.

Revolutions and Sowjet rule

Until 1990, Mongolia was mostly a Sowjet state. Their prime minister Gender bravely opposed Stalin and defended the monasteries, but he was executed and his successor then destroyed them. Mongolia used the cyrillic alphabet.

Transition and democracy

In 1990, Mongolia (“outer” Mongolia) became independent and successfully established democratic rules. The former president has just been confirmed in the elections of July 2013 – he belongs to the democratic party.

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