If a nation does not know its history, if the country loses its history, then its citizens have nowhere to go.
Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

The Great Silk Road in the epoch of the Arab empire

In 9th −10th centuries extraction of precious stones and ores in the mines of Central Asia was the highest one.

In 9th −10th centuries extraction of precious stones and ores in the mines of Central Asia was the highest one. It was at that time that a huge amount of dirhems coined in Taraz, Sairam, Turkestan, Otrar, Sygnak and other towns of the Silk Road was emitted and came to markets. Caravan trade achieved unprecedented growth.

A great deal was described by Arab guide books.

.. .The small light swayed and glimmered. Only then did the writer notice that the twisted plait of the wick had burnt down and was about to go out. Putting aside the pen (kalam) the man snuffed the candle, adjusted the wick. The flame became steady and bright. Then the man examined his kalam, made a fresh skew cut on the thin reed, cautiously splitted the point. Then he fixed on his knees a small plank with a square piece of rice paper, sighed and went on writing.

“The distance from the town of Shasha to Gazzerd”, ran the Arab intricate ligature, “is seven farsahs*. From there four farsahs away you find Ispidzab in the desert then again four farsahs away you see Tarab. In the desert there are two large rivers the Mava and the Yuran. Then you can reach Tamtadz with wells serving you as landmarks in the desert”, the writer thought for a moment and with certainty added, “it is at a distance of nine farsahs”. In order to make sure he consulted his note-book which he regularly filled in with cryptography (that was clear only to him) as he followed one of the caravans. He was right, it was written in his diary “nine farsahs”. He had a tenacious memory, that of a professional learner of somebody else’s secrets. The writer was self-satisfied but in a moment his face showed something like irritation: why he should allow himself to be distracted by checking up because all that he needed he remembered in detail and now he should write day and night — the work is to be done in good time. Then he wrote from memory. His kalam moved very quickly. “At Tamtadz there is a large river and reeds and farther with the help of wells you reach Abarzaz, having passed four farsahs, and nearby you see a hill throwing out a Thousand springs. Their waters get together into one river and flow not towards west, as all the other rivers do here, but in the opposite direction — to the east. So it is called Barkuab — ‘Flowing backwards’. One can see tamarisk thickets and swamps along its banks. It is a good shooting place for black pheasants”.

“Well, we had a nice shoot there”, he said to himself. But then he fought back the thought and started moving his kalam from right to left with greater zeal than before. “After the ford you see the foot of the mountains “the Wetstone”. He remembered the panorama of a deep quarry. Bare-backed slaves pottered far beneath, cutting out flint millstones with their hacks and chisels. Then the millstones were sold at the Flour bazaar in the merchant town of Taraz. The writer smiled ironically, thinking that if he stopped his writing like that he would not be able to finish his description and would easily find himself in the same quarry under the overseer’s whip; the emir did not like it when his orders were not fulfilled in good time or half-done. . .

The writer’s name was Kurasha ibn Dzabar, he was a clerk of the court of the Bagdad emir Muiizz Ahmad Buveihid and now he was fulfilling the ruler’s wish to compile a voluminous “Kitab-al-haradz” guidebook on ruling over the state and finances. It was the year of 323 hidzry which corresponded to the year of 945 A. D. by the Europeans’ Calender.

The assiduous vakil worked at the guidebook very hard, describing in a detailed way all the settlements, the distance between them, the characteristics of the surroundings, which were not subject to tax collectors of Bagdad.

“The Wetstone Mountains stretch for three farsah up to Shavgar. Farther on you see pastures and populated areas bordering with Taraz. On the right of Taraz there are mountains, on the left — Warm sands where there are winter places of the Karluks’ livestock. After the Warm Sands comes a desert of sand and pebbles, with jackals in it, it stretches up to the border of the Kimaks. There are a lot of fruits, clover and onion in the mountains. The distance between Taraz and Kulan by the desert also named Kulan is fourteen farsahs. The distance from Kulan to a rich village of Mirki is four farsahs from Mirki to Ashpary by desert — also four farsahs”.

One has to guess the purpose of the description of someone else’s lands but now we would say that the travel notes by Dzafar are excellent, at the same time they give a good food for meditation.

“The distance from Suyab to Upper Varsakhan on the border with Kashgaria is of fifteen days by caravan across pastures and waters, whereas for Turkic post it is of three days”.

This extract is noteworthy because we can get a clear idea about the means of conveyance of the people in old times. If it was a caravan, it moved slowly across “pastures and waters”. Quite another thing if it is post. Its speed was five times as large. The author mentions the fact that it was Turkic post. It means that the Turks were its creators. The highest speed at that time was that of a (running) gallopping horse. Thus a special well-organized service was necessary to provide for regular and quick delivery. Is it not from those days that the Russian coachmen’s races took their origin and were kept till railway lines and automobiles appeared?

Let us go on with our meditations. If there was a wellorganized dynamic system of communications, the Turkic post, then it is quite natural to suppose that there were users. So if the post was used regularly, then there were people who were able to make up a written message and those who could read it. The post service reached the border; it means that communications functioned not only within the limits of the territory populated by one ethnic group but it was of international character. Dzafer writes about it without any surprise, so a thousand years ago the post service was an ordinary thing. It was quite usual to correspond in Turkic. In the IX-XI-th centuries the Turks not only served in the troops of Mussulman rulers, were in charge of their state affairs, but became founders of many Turkic dynasties beyond their historic country boundaries.

The Mamelukes’ leader Aibak became the founder of the Mameluke House (1250-1390). The triumphant Mamelukes Kutuza and Beibarsa were considered in the Mussulman world as destructors of pagan Mongols and crusaders. There were close commercial contacts with Christian powers of the Mediterranean and India.

The great Seljuk Turks (1038-1194) spread their power from the Caspian and the Aral Seas to Afganistan and the Transcaucasus, to Palestine and the Near East.

The most powerful and long-lived Turkic dynasty in Central Anatolia were the Karamanide Turks (1256-1483). In the south Kharasan, Afganistan and Northern India were ruled by the Gasnevides (977-1186). The founder of the dynasty was Nasir addaula Sebuk Tegin, a military leader of Turkic slaves. The founder of the Great Mongols’ empire (1526-1858) was Babur, a Chagatai Turk.

Turkic representatives could be found in ruling dynasties in the state organs, in the army, among the courtiers. Correspondence was carried on not only between states. Rank and file warriors who came from one and the same aul did their military service in different places, one — on the Nile, another — on the Indus. They sent messages to one another. The post service had enough work not only in the time of Dzafar but afterwards too.

Let us come back to Dzafar’s writings in which everything is recognizable. The town of Shash is Tashkent, Kazgerd — now the settlement of Shaparkhana on the Kazgurt Mountains which as legends say caught Noah’s Ark when it was ploughing the waves of the Flood.

We already know that farsah is a linear measure. Having done some arithmetic operations and knowing for certain that Ispidzhab — now Sairam, Taras — now Dzhambul, it is possible to identify the sites of ancient towns with present-day populated settlements. For example, Kulan is to be found near the village of Lugovoye, Ashpara — near the village of Chaldovar, the rich village of Mirki is the same Merke now. The Mava and Yuran rivers are most likely to be the present-day Mashat and the Sairam-su. The hill throwing out a thousand streams gave the name to the present-day railway double track station Mynbulak and the river flowing backwards is none other than the Ters, i. e. opposite- directed. One of the villages at the Wetstone Mountains is now called Kremnevka (flint) and in depressions between barkhans of the Warm sands Muyunkum shepherds still find green feed and shelter for their sheep flocks in winter.

* 1 farsah = 6 kilometers or distance covered by an ass loaded with an average pack per 1 hour

Rakip Nasyrov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.