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Ermek Tursunov: Mamelukes are directly related to us

Ermek Tursunov: Mamelukes are directly related to us - e-history.kz
Famous screenwriter and director Ermek Tursunov gave an interview to National Digital History Portal on his work and direct connection of the Mamelukes with the Kazakhs

We recall that the Kazakh director’s novel "Mamluk" tells the story of As-Zahra Beybars, the legendary sultan of Egypt of the XIII century (Arab Caliphate). The book is the result of extensive research works of the author on the history of the Middle East countries of early medieval period. And at this critical time for the Islam, the world learned about a talented commander Beybars - native of the Great Steppe.

- Have you had to be faced with gaps concerning the history of Kazakhstan at the time of writing the novel?

- Of course, there are enormous gaps, because that history - the science is very malleable and, as a rule, the history is often rewritten in favor of the current government.

With regard to our history, we have even no such direction as Beybars-study, Mameluke-study especially. For example in Syria and Egypt, they exist. Arab historians, mainly Mameluke and Beybars researchers care with respect for the documents stored in their national archives and libraries. And we have a history in common with such sections as Kazakhstan in ancient times, Kazakhstan in the Soviet Union, etc.

Although the Mamelukes have a direct relationship to us, because that Beybars – was Kipchak by his origin, the native of today’s Atyrau region, where was the river Bersh and the Bersh tribe, but it is not the current Bersh, of course. And the very era of the Mameluke’s rule, when they ruled the Arab Caliphate for about 300 years - a large gap in our history.

- With what started the history of the birth of the novel "Mamluk"?

- With regard to the history of Sultan Beybars - sources of 12-13 centuries and in Kazakhstan there is not much literature on the Mamelukes and Beybars in particular.

There once lived a very good writer Maurice Davidovich Simashko, with whom we had a friendly relationship. He wrote the novel "Emshan" and the film “Sultan Beybars” was put on this story. It was a very interesting attempt to film our history. So, Maurice Davidovich infected me with the subject of Beybars. And since my student years, I began to study the subject.

As I was doing research mostly alone, it was probably not of a professional nature as that of professional historians, because their objectives were different – to prepare some solid work, then write a script, and maybe shoot a cinema. So, I wrote the script and in 2008 together with Sergey Bodrov senior we planned to make film, spent a lot of work, studied the location, traveled a lot around the Arab countries, so that was planned a large international project. While the screens just released the film "Gladiator", and then "Troy."

But then the financial crisis began, and all collapsed, but the material was rich, and it was kept on such facts that in the 12th century the Mongols took Yellow Crusade. Buga headed it - hired Naiman. Mongol army then went to Jerusalem - the center of the Arab Caliphate. Mongolian army was invincible at the time, the most powerful, it had no defeat. The Mamelukes, led by Beybars were against them and the battle took place on the banks of the Jordan River in the area of Ain Jalut, which exists to this day. There is still a spring, although Jordan changed its direction. I was there, near Moses Mountain. In general, these are Biblical places.

We drove through the desert, camped near the Mameluke fortresses, for example, and in Jordan were a lot of castles. The Arabs began to build it, the Crusaders then finished, and the Mamelukes restored.

There is a special Mamluk style, and this style is present in Spain, Portugal, the coastal strip, because they were all Saracens, that is, the descendants of the Mamelukes, so, we simply do not know the traces of our forefathers, they need to be studied, it can be displayed in some art materials, then according to the results of all these studies, I wrote a novel and it was immediately translated to Arabic of 50 000 edition copies, it sold for 4 months. Then it was reprinted, and only after about a year and a half the novel was published in Kazakhstan on private money.

And the rights to the script bought the company of Sergey Bodrov and it is my distant dream to film the novel one day.

- Can you tell us more about your work on this project abroad?

- All what was in Kazakhstan on the topic I read, made notes, looked through and waited for the moment when it would become possible to visit the East, namely Syria or Egypt, where also are the main sources. I was given this opportunity. And I was somewhere in the course of 4-5 years for a long time in the Middle East countries - Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Israel - all these lands belonged to the Arab Caliphate, the borders of which were extensive. But the borders of modern map changed. And then I went on the maps of the 12th century, which do not correspond to modern ones. In this and many other issues I was helped by the chief Mameluke researcher of Cairo University Mahmad Muffle, Dr. Manufak - the chief architect of old Damascus, and others. These people - scientists, after Sorbonne, know several European languages.

Beybars is a sacred figure, for example, as Alexander Nevsky for Russians. He is also called Rukn ad-Din - the defender of the faith or Allah warrior. Beybars is a sacred figure and he is buried in Damascus. All in all, his name has 14 titles.

This topic is very broad and extensive for researches; I have long traveled through the deserts, forts, the Mameluke traces. I was in Italy, where the slave market is, where Beybars was bought by Arab door-to-door salesmen and by sea sent in Misr (the ancient name of Egypt). And there he became the Mameluke.

The sources were mainly in Arabic. I was assisted in the translation into English. In the largest libraries and archives of Egypt, Syria enormous chronicles are stored, in which was described every day. For example, "Today Highness Sultan woke up, then had breakfast, went hunting, etc." Everything was described in detail. Work in the above-mentioned institutions required great perseverance and a lot of time. On the other hand, on trip to Damascus I spent a lot of time.

On Beybars there is a lot of literature because he was the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and ruled for 17 years.

- Do they have amazing, previously unknown for you facts about the Mamelukes and Sultan Beybars in particular?

- Of course, there was much interesting and unknown, and these facts literally stunned me.

Firstly, in the Mongol army were about 85% of the Turks. And in the Mamluk Turks were about 90 percent. It turns out that our ancestors fought with each other on the banks of the Jordan under false banners for the Holy Sepulchre. Such things, of course, stagger. It was a bloody fratricidal war, killing about 350 thousand people, at present it is a crazy figure. And the Mamelukes defeated the Mongols, about 3,000 people were taken captive and gave a choice – convert to Islam or execution. Many accepted Islam, but many were also executed, and the descendants of all these Mamelukes are still alive in the Arab world. These are Alans and Ossetians, the ancestors of the Kazakhs. They already integrated into Arab life, they cannot directly communicate with us, but, of course, the roots are here.

Secondly, also is interesting the fact in our historical science - Beybars's eyes were of different colors: one - green, the other - gray. The Arabs clarify that in his green eye was a pupil of two colors with red veins, i.e., it was red and black.

Beybars was a very sickly boy and had to die, no one bought him, and only when all were bought up, the slave owner told to take Beybars for a change, so, he was purchased for the cost of a rooster; they thought he would die in prison, but he survived. According to the legend, it was a good sign that he was bought, since he was labeled.

By the way, all commands in the Mameluke army were in the Turkic language, the attacks were with drums beating, so it was such absolutely I cannot say the Kazakh but strongly impregnated with the Turkic spirit army. And it was impossible to call them slaves, the Mamelukes were among the first mercenary troops, because the Arab Caliphate was a very wealthy state of artisans, merchants, they did not know how to fight, they themselves needed defenders. Therefore, they quite deliberately approached this as a business, they bought small children who quickly forgot their father and mother, and became warriors of Allah. It was such a moral and military discipline to die in battle, the Samurai way. None of the Mamelukes, as a rule, died in his bed, few survived to old age, and it was a very strong, professional army of soldiers, who were specially kept in a closed island Round, in the Nile delta, where they were taken and drilled, like a kind of modern NATO troops. Of course, they were not terrorists, but well-trained killers; it was such a shield, which was behind the Arab Caliphate.

- Could you also tell us about the mystery of the death and burial of Sultan Beybars?

- Yes, in fact he had three graves. He was poisoned, when the caravan set off from Damascus to Cairo, and he died on the 11th day.

With Professor U. Ashim we rented a Jeep and decided to pass on the trail of the caravan, where Beybars slept, made feasts, where he received military parades and was buried. Caravan on the average passes 42 kilometers per day, and we measured out from Damascus 11 days to 42 km, drove and found a village on the map. The village is from the 4th century, where banya is located, near which Beybars died.

According to chronicles, when he went to the banya, he became ill; he called Caravan Bashi and asked whether the Turks were in the caravan. He saw 19-years-old Kipchak boy, whose name was flashed in the annals only once. Sultan Beybars said that the Arabs were everywhere, and he could not trust anyone. "I die, you bury me, but do not tell anyone that you buried me, let the caravan go on, because if they find out about my death, my whole family would be cut. Then go, gallop to Damascus, find there someone from the inner circle, report of my death, and quickly enthrone my son".

Despite the fact that his son was small, he was proclaimed the ruler of the Arab Caliphate and the regent became his closest associate. Then, three months later his body was dug up, as he commanded, and was moved to Damascus and was buried in the throne room at the Qala fortress. While the mausoleum was built, he was lying there. Two years after the construction of the mausoleum he was reburied here. And, thus, he had three graves.

As Maurice Davidovich wrote he disappeared and returned to the steppe, because he needed the smell of grass, feather grass on a beautiful legend, which is not true. He was buried in Damascus, and now some restoration works had been done there. It is very unfortunate that there is a war, I cannot go there, I was in Palmyra and Aleppo, but in general I do not understand how it can be bombed.

- What are your impressions on the preparing material for the novel?

- When you are confronted directly with history, visit places, the stones say themselves, if the places would be simple, but those are the places where every stone has its own history. These are Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed, a completely different aura, atmosphere, energy of these places, I always went there, because time passed, and then you become infected, dig out, and other facts become known - then we saw the mausoleum of Al-Farabi, library of Beybars, sought money for the restoration of historic sites, then restored - it is a colossal work carried out by us.

You wonder the number of people who also helped in the work on this project. They were Syrian Consul in Kazakhstan Samir Derekh, and Syrian friends. The story itself talks to you and from there appear interesting facts which you would definitely not find on the internet.



Main photo of the author

Translated by Raushan MAKHMETZHANOVA

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