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Turkmen Historian's Deliberations on the Deep Roots of Neutrality

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SAPARMURAT TURKMENBASHY THE GREAT (1940-2006)

December 12, 1995. This day is written in golden letters in the history of the Turkmen people. It was exactly that day that the United Nations officially recognized the neutral status of Turkmenistan. There are only three neutral states in the world - Turkmenistan, Austria and Switzerland, but it is only Turkmenistan whose neutral status was recognized by the UN.

It should be noted that the idea of neutrality did not come up out of nowhere. The president of state, Saparmurat Niyazov, succeeded in making the Turkmen people's old dream of peaceful life on their soil and good relations with neighbor states come true in the contemporary world. As the Turkmen leader emphasized in his address at the plenary session of the OSCE in Helsinki on July 10, 1992, "Non-interference in internal affairs of other states and positive neutrality are the policy path that independent Turkmenistan will pursue."

Turkmenistan declared a policy of "open doors". The country became a member of the world community, building up its economic potential at high speed. Interestingly, the policy of "open doors" was declared by the medieval Turkmen states many times. In fact, an embassy of the Turkmen-Sephevid state arrived in Venice in 1603 to present a letter of the Shah Abbas I to the European powers. In his letter the Shah said that the Turkmen state's doors in Iran stood open for any visitor from the Christian states. Almost at the same time, Turkmen-Osman sultans adopted a rule: "The Sublime Porte is open for everybody coming to seek protection". However, it was hard to establish a true policy of openness and good neighborhood in XVII century. Treacherous assaults and wars locked a possibility to put into practice all the designs.

A descendant of Turkmen Sultan Makhmud Gaznevi, famous Mubarak Shah (XIII) wrote: "A relevant peace is better than an unreasonable war, because you never know what will be the outcome. And such a peace is better than a victory, because nobody will have to go to war and his army and entourage will be safe. Innocent people will not shed their blood, and a state will not collapse, and its loyal citizens will not be put to the sack and killed... Whatever the superiority of your army over the enemy's army, don't seek an excuse for war. And whatever your formal wish to go to war, don't wish it in your soul. And one should not make a parade of the multiplicity of his army".

Mubarak Shah knew what he said. A storm of war had whirled for centuries on the Turkmen soil destroying civilizations, empires and cities. But a fiery whirlwind could not destroy the people itself. It had just turned Turkmens into warriors, part of whom set out on a long journey to the Asian and European countries. And not a desire for war pushed Turkmens to set on marches, but a war itself made them leave the graves of fathers and peaceful and good life. Are there people at all that would wish a war!? Is it really so that somebody believes that Turkmen women desired a sword in the hand more than a baby wrapped in a diaper? No, no and no! It was a famous forefather of Turkmens, recognized philosopher of antiquity, Scythian Anaharsis who wrote in his letter to "Croesus": "...we keep arms not against others but for self-defense, if need be. And it was true, as soon as Turkmen ancestors - Scaks-Scythians, Massagets, Dakhs, Parthians, Alans, Sarmathes, Huns - appeared on the historic arena, the entire ancient world rushed to describe their just state system. Greek and Roman authors noted their hatred of theft, talked about their respect for parents and virtue of their women. At the threshold of our era Roman historian Pompey Torg wrote about the Turan-Scythians: "The notion of justice was born in their minds. They considered theft the heaviest crime... Oh, if only the rest of mortals had such modesty and abstinence from what doesn't belong to them, there would have been not so many wars all over the world in different times."

In XI century our ancestors founded the Great Turkmen-Seljuk Empire in the lands of Khorezm, Khorasan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, part of Armenia and Georgia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and etc. However, it was not followed by mass massacres and building up the pyramids of human heads as practiced by Chingiz Khan and Timur. Mukhammed Togrul Beg Turkmen - the first Sultan from the Seljuk dynasty exempted the population of conquered lands from paying heavy tolls, and all taxes were annulled for 3 years. Turkmen-Seljuks forbade their worriers on pain of death to devastate new citizens of the Empire. The medieval sources prove that Turkmens were met as liberators everywhere they freed people from exorbitant oppression by local feudal lords. Seljuks were alien to racism. That is why Christians, Jews and Pagans used to adopt Muslim religion by the entire villages and become full-fledged citizens of the new state.

Contemporaries noted that any foreign trader or traveler could freely and without threat to his life and belongings travel across Turkmen lands. The population received wheat for free and hundreds of sheep were slaughtered for distributing among the poor in the years of bad harvest. Mukhammed Togrul Beg Turkmen, whose doors were always kept open for people, was called "the heart of the people".

The medieval Persian historian, Sadr Ad-din Al Khusaini wrote about Togrul Beg's successor - Sultan Alp Arslan Turkmen (1063-1072): "When Sultan Alp Arslan became an independent governor and sat on the throne of the kingdom he spread the wings of justice over his subjects and covered them under a roof of compassion and generosity. He liberated the subjects (of paradise) from the annual two-time payment of the major tax (Al Kharaj Al Asli)."

Alp Arslan's son, Sultan Melikshakh Turkmen, continued his ancestors' traditions. He stimulated by all means grain-growing, helping landowners with grain and implements. He prohibited oppressing non-Muslim population and heavy royalties on Armenian and Syrian population imposed by clerics. Syrian historian of XIII century Kamal ad-din noted that Melikshakh did not take a single Durham by force from his subjects. Persian, Syrian, Arabian, Khorasanian authors wrote about Melikshakh Turkmen as the fairest ruler in the Orient. One Armenian chronicle man Kirakos Gandzaketsi left the following words about him: "He conquered the universe in short time not with the help of war and violence but rather love and peace."

Such reports are particularly valuable for us for they were about Turkmens that represented the various peoples. Foreign authors left many kind words about Turkmen-governors of the Turkmen states, Akgoyunly and Garagoyunly, of the Turkmen-Osman Empire, Sultanate of Delhi and etc.

The Turkmen sultans were perfectly aware that relations of Turkmens with their subjects greatly affected its foreign policy. Retaining the internal structure of the subjected regions, development of trade, non-violent expansion of Islam and keeping the Christian and Jew societies along with the development of the state culture were the major and distinctive features of the imperial diplomacy.

Turkmens were exactly that force that stopped the massacre between different sects in the Muslim Asia and rose to defend the population of the entire East from the Crusaders.

The European knights robed the population and burned the cities under the pretence of saving Christian shrines in Asia. Having encountered a compelling force represented by Turkmens, Crusaders went with all their might for the Christian powers - Byzantine and Bulgaria (and later Rus) that allegedly needed help. It was no other than Turkmens that came to help these countries and, by doing this, saved the Orthodox world. British traveler Edward Daniel Clark wrote in his book "Journey across different states of Europe, Asia and Africa" in 1812: "The common mistake is to view all which is Mislim as barbarian and Christians of that time as more educated than they were in truth. Paying the real attention to history can disclose that Saracens, as they were called, were in fact more educated than the conquered peoples, and there are no evidences that they got moral satisfaction from devastations. Treachery and shameful behavior of Christians (meaning Crusaders - O.G.) during wars in the Sacred Land can be hardly outdone."

However, according to British historian R.Irvin, not only representatives of Turkmen and knight military aristocracy (French, English, German and etc) did not fight each other but also maintained diplomatic and secular relations, and sometimes hunted and competed in sport games together.

Crusaders valued exceptional courage and bravery of their enemies - Turkmens. German Emperor Wilhelm that visited Near East hundreds of years later, in 1898, paid a tribute to the greatness of the Turkmen ruler and general of Egypt Salakh ad-din. He laid a satin flag and a bronze wreath with the inscription on it saying "From one great Emperor to another one" (which is kept in the military museum in London) on his tomb in Damascus.

There are many documents at our disposal confirming that the governments of Turkmen Akgoyunly and Garagoyunly states helped the Armenian clerics to restore their church and helped by all means the Christian clerics of the Caucasus.

Sultans of the Turkmen-Osman Empire did not oppress non-Muslim population as well. After the fall of Constantinople, the capital of the Orthodox church, on May 29, 1453, Sultan Mekhmed II, in his capacity as "the Padishah of Asia and Caesar of the Rome Empire", demanded that a residence of the Patriarch of Greek Orthodox church, Catalicos of all Armenians and Chief Rabbi of Jews be situated side by side with members of Islam inside Istanbul (as Constantinople was called later). It is not surprising that non-Muslim population of the former Byzantine Empire, after seeing Crusaders' riots, put forth a slogan saying "There better be Turks than Romans!"

In the distant and beautiful India, where Turkmens founded a chain of states (the Delhi Sultanate of Kutbshahs and etc), they still remember the just Turkmen rulers. In one of such states, the Empire of Great Mogols, the rule of Sultan Akbar (1556-1605) is exemplary. For a start, let us note that Akbar was a grandchild of the founder of the Babur Empire (died in 1530). And Babur's mother was a Turkmen princess from the Akgoyunly dynasty. The sources indicate that her name was Ulus aga Turkmen. And Akbar's full sister, Salima Sultan Begim, was married to one of the prominent Turkmen general and poet, Bayram Khan Turkmen. The rule of Akbar coincided with religious wars in France when tens of thousands of people died for they offered prayers in French and not in Roman. Jews and Muslim descendants were hunted down in Spain, and the notorious Duke Alba taught Flomand Protestants "the true faith" with "the sword and fire". At the same time, none of the Turkmen states existing at that time (Osman, Sephevid, Mamluk and Mogol) had any war on religious grounds. Akbar declared a "peace for all" policy. His court accounted for best Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jew scientists. Akbar was an old friend of Sephevid's Shah Abbas who also descended from Uzyn Khasan Turkmen Akgoyuny. Sultan Akbar wrote in his letter to Shah Abbas: "We were set from the very beginning to avoid any differences between religions and to view all peoples as God's servants. I should note that God favors all religions, and we have to exert every effort to make peace for all."

It is not by accident that Russian historian L.N.Gumilev related the conquest of all Asia by Turkmens to their exceptional feature to coexist peacefully with various peoples.

By the ill fate Turkmens that founded great empires outside Turkmenistan lost their statehood in XIII century and split into tribes. The people, peaceful by its nature, had to take up arms again to defend its Motherland and its independence for thousand of years. Now that 700 years have passed since then, there again was established an independent state in the land of all Turkmens that declared its neutral course and is pursuing it in practice.

"The national mentality of Turkmens is common to all mankind in its core, says a well-known article of Saparmurat Niyazov that he wrote on the occasion of the opening of the Millennium Assembly of the UN. For many centuries Turkmenistan was a cross-roads from East to West and North to South and played a major role as a Central Asian component in the Great Silk Road from China to Europe that remained for almost a century a road of peace and dialog of cultures of different peoples. All this contributed to the establishment on the Turkmen soil of the specific spiritual atmosphere, intellectual potential that contained a moving force of the cultural progress typical of all civilizations of the old Turkmenistan. This is where openness, peace loving, respect for culture and religion of other nations that is inherited in Turkmens originate from. Neutrality is the natural and logic continuation of the entire inner spiritual life of the nation, the foreign policy of the young state, the course that consolidates the apprehension of its place in the world political arena and historic traditions of Turkmens' relations with outside world."

Ovez GUNDOGDIYEV

Professor, Doctor of History, Head of Department of the State Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of Turkmenistan, Central Asia and the Orient.

Translated and published in the Internet Newspaper Turkmenistan.Ru



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