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Genghis Khan in London

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 14:43 UK time, Thursday, 26 April 2012

You might have heard about the installation of  the Genghis Khan monument in Marble Arch, London. See here

Obviously it quickly became a matter of controversy.

I was invited to one of the radio programmes to take part in a discussion, where I meant to argue the case for artistic freedom. I declined the invitation.

As a writer I am very much interested in the figure of Genghis Khan and even wrote about him in one of my novels.

Being an Asian, you can't escape this medieval ruler who shaped the history of the continent for many subsequent centuries after him.

To give you a couple of examples from our part of the world, Tamerlane the Great - another great medieval Asian ruler -  came to power claiming that he was an in-law of the dynasty of Genghis Khan. Without this relationship, he understood that his power would be illegitimate.
Even when he conquered half of the ancient world from Turkey through Russia and to India, he didn't dare change the rulers of the 'Ulus' or kingdoms, set up by Genghis Khan.  This shows exactly who had the upper hand in that vast pan-Asian empire and so strong was the legacy of Genghis Khan.

Another of my compatriots, Babur-shah - a founder of the Great Moguls Empire in India - didn't identify himself as Timurid (although he was a great grandchild of Tamerlane) but related himself to his more distant ancestor Genghis Khan, which was reflected in the name of his Empire.

As an outstanding ruler Genghis Khan left his legacy in many spheres from law to military tactics.
Moreover,  his legacy is present even in todays world: physically, among our contemporaries, up to 8% of the Asian male population are considered to be direct descendants of Genghis Khan.
So there are many fascinating things to be told about him.

But why did I decline the invitation to make his case then?

We also know from historical sources that Genghis Khan was one of the most ruthless conquerors  this world has ever seen. He wiped out whole cities and their entire populations in Khwarezm, Russia, Iran and China. Mountains of ashes and skulls were left after his hordes passed through - country after country. Bloodshed and terror, which this merciless nomad brought to the flourishing cities and towns, is still remembered by many nations in their songs, poems and legends. According to historical sources up to 40 million people were killed because of the Genghis Khan invasions.

Yet one can argue that this ferocious forage was the rule of the game at that epoch, that all medieval rulers both in the West and the East were savage fighters. More sophisticated apologists may even say that he not just destroyed, but also united the world under his power.

But not all means are justified by the end.

There is also another point, which I notice quite often around me; We easily accept moral values when they don't apply directly to us.

If I were a Han Chinese, I would be happy to discuss the idea of federalism in Russia, but probably not mention Tibetans or Uighurs. If I were a Russian I'd be more than enthusiastic to debate a possible partition of Afghanistan, but not mention Chechnya or Dagestan. The same would be the case were I a Turk, with regards to Kurds or an Uzbek with regards to Karakalpaks, and so on and so forth.

I make just some geopolitical points, but the same attitude could be extended to any of our belongings or identities.

But as Socrates famously said: Amicus Plato, sed magis amica Veritas, or Plato is my friend, but truth is a better friend...

I think that was the visceral thinking behind the decision not to make an apology, in the Greek sense, for the ruler who might have even been one of my ancestors.


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