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The Qaraqan Empires 黑汗 (Karakhans)

Oct 7, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

The empires of the Qaraqans (Karakhans, Qaraḫān, literally "Black Khans", Chinese transliteration Halahan 哈喇汗 or 哈拉汗, translation Heihan 黑汗), were founded by Turkic-speaking peoples and covered the western parts of the modern Autonomous Region of Xinjiang and the eastern parts of the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan. The Qaraqan empires flourished from the 10th century to 1211, when they were conquered by the Mongols 蒙古.

The dynasty is called the Qaraqanids (Karakhanids), while the own designation was simply "the Qaγans" (al-Khaġaniyya, or al-Khaniyya), as can be seen in the dictionary Dīwānu 'l-luġat at-Turk written by the contemporarian scholar Maḥmūd al-Kāšġarī from Kašgar (pre-Turkic name Shule 疏勒). While qara "black" was an epitheton of the supreme khan, the word ilik was used as a cognomen for sub-khans. This word was later used for the Mongolian Chingisid rulers of Persia, the Il-Khans.

There are unfortunately not a lot of historiographical sources about the history of the Qaraqans. The historian Jamal Qarshī, for instance, quotes from a History of Kašgar, and some information can be found in the book Tazkirat al-bughra, but these stories are often embellished with events belonging to the realm of fiction or are influenced by religious motifs. Coins from the Qaraqan empires also serve as historical sources, but the names of the rulers and their reign dates are often not clear.

It is commonly believed that the Qaraqans had their origin in the Turkic-speaking federation of the Qarluqs 葛邏祿, especially the Chigil 熾俟 and Yaγma 樣磨. Yet there were also some of the nine tribes of the Uyghurs 回鶻 living in the territory of the Qarluq, so that the ethnic origin of the Qaraqans is less than clear. On the other side, the terms bugra 卜格拉汗 and gongtuo 公駝汗, which were common designations of all khans, originated from the terminology used by the Yaγma. The Dīwānu 'l-luġat at-Turk, which is the first Uyghurian dictionary, only says that the Uyghurs lived in the region of Gaochang 高昌 and that they believed in Buddhism, but does not explain their relation to the Qaraqan dynasty.

According to legend, the founder of the Qaraqan empire was Külbilgä Qadir Khan 闕毗伽‧卡迪爾汗 who had converted to Islam. His federation was lead by a khan, a vice-khan and several sub-khans who commanded the chieftains of the various tribes. This federation soon disintegrated and was divided into an eastern empire ruled by the Great Khan himself from the city of Balashagun 八剌沙袞 (modern Tokmak, Kirgizstan), while the vice-khan reigned in Daluosi 怛邏斯 (Talas; modern Jiangbur, Kazakhstan). Sutuq Bughra Qara Khan 'Abd al-Karim (r. 920-956) was the first to systematically convert his people to Islam. At the same time the Arab or Persian script was introduced and replaced the Soghdian script.

Under Sutuq Bughra's son and successor Musa Bughra Khan (r. 956-958) the Qaraqan empire was the largest Muslim country China had direct contact with. The Qaraqans expanded their empire to the west, occupied the plain of the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya and in 992 attacked the empire of the Samanids in Bokhara. In 999 an alliance between the Qaraqans and the Ghaznavid empire in northern Afghanistan brought and end to the Samanid empire.

In 1041 the Khanate split into a western and an eastern part. The western part was reigned by the descendants of 'Ali al-Hasan Tigin and occupied the territory between the River Amu Darya in modern Uzbekistan eastwards to the Ferghana Basin, with the capital at Bukhara. The eastern part was reigned by Bugra Han el-Hasan ben Suleyman (1075-?) and his descendants from Balashagun, but with Kašgar as important religious and cultural center. There was a lot of commercial and cultural exchange between the two Qaraqanid states, and sometimes also territorial changes.

The eastern empire had contact with Song China 宋 (960-1279) along the southern route of the Silkroad. It also advanded towards the east and in 1004 conquered the Buddhist city state of Khotan (pre-Turkic name Yutian 于闐). Five years later the Eastern Qaraqan sent an official envoy to the court of the Northern Song empire 北宋 (960-1126), yet the members of the mission were Uyghurs that were more accustomed to the tributary system of the Chinese empire. Another diplomatic mission was sent in 1063, and the Song emperor was asked to bestow an official title to the Qaraqan, among others the title of "King of Qin 秦", which had been an ancient feudal state in the west of China. At the same time the Eastern Qaraqan empire had contact to the empire of the proto-Mongolian Khitan 契丹 that had founded the Liao dynasty 遼 (907-1125) in northern China. In the eyes of Persianhistorians China consisted of three empires, namely the Song dynasty, the Liao dynasty and the Qaraqan empire. Interestingly enough, the Tangut 黨項 Western Xia empire 西夏 (1038-1227) was not seen as an autonomous state.

From 1132 on the eastern as well as the western Qaraqan empire stood under the domination of the Western Liao empire 西遼 (1124-1211) that was founded by Yelü Dashi 耶律大石 (r. 1124-1143), a descendant of the Liao dynasty. The eastern empire of the Qaraqans was in 1211 conquered by Kücülüg Khan 屈出律可汗 (r. 1211-1218), a Naiman 乃蠻 chieftain who had usurped the throne of the Western Liao empire. Yet a few years later the military machine of the Mongol federation put made the region part of the Mongol empire.

Table 1. Rulers of the Qaraqanid Empire 840-1041
Kol Bilge Qara Khan (r. 850-880?)
Bazir Khan (r. ?-910?)
Sutuq Bughra Qara Khan ʕAbd al-Karim (r. 920-956)
Musa Bughra Khan (r. 956-958)
Suleyman Arslan Khan (r. 958-970 ?)
ʕAli Arslan Khan (r. 970-998)
Ahmad Arslan Toghan Khan I (r. 998-1017)
Mansur Arslan Khan (r. 1017-1024)
Ahmad Toghan Khan II (r. 1024-1026)
Yusuf Qadir Khan (r. 1026-1032)
Suleyman Arslan Khan II (d. 1056; ruler in the east 1040-1056) (r. 1032-1040)
Table 2. Rulers of Kashgar, Kokand and Ferghana 1013-1213
Nasr Tigin (r. 1013)
Mansur Abu'l-Muzaffar Arslan Khan (r. 1013-1024)
Mohammed ʕ​Ayn ad-Dawla (r. c.1041-c.1052)
Ibrahim Abu Ishaq Tamghach Khan (r. c.1059)
ʕAbd al-Muʕmin (r. ?-?)
ʕAli al-Hasan Tigin (r. ?-?)
Husayn Djalal ad-Dunya wa'd-Din (r. 1132-1156)
Mahmud Toghan Khan (r. 1156-1164)
Ibrahim Arslan Khan (d. 1203; ruler in Bokhara 1178-1203) (r. 1164-1178)
Nasr (r. 1178-?)
Mohammed (r. ?-c.1182)
Qadir Khan Djalal al-Dunya wa'd-Din (r. ?-1209)
Mahmud (r. ?-1213)
Table 3. Eastern Karakhans 1056-1212
Seref ed-Devle Ebu-Suja Suleyman ben Yusuf (r. 1032-1056)
Muhammed I (r. 1056-1057)
Husein (r. 1057-1058)
Ibrahim I (r. 1057-1059)
Mahmud ben Yusuf (r. 1059-?)
Omer (r. ?-?)
Bugra Han el-Hasan ben Suleyman (r. 1075-1102)
Ahmed (r. 1102-1128)
Ibrahim II Ilig-i Turkmen (r. 1128-1158)
Muhammed II (r. 1158-?)
Ebu'l-Muzaffer Yusuf (r. ?-1205)
Muhammed III (r. 1205-1210)
Table 4. Khans of Bokhara 1020-1068
ʕAli Tigin (r. c.1020-1034)
Yusuf (r. 1034-c.1060)
Arslan Tigin (r. 1034-c.1060)
Mohammed I (r. 1042-c.1052)
Ibrahim I Abu Ishaq Bori Tigin Tamghach (r. c.1052-1068)
Table 5. Western Karakhans 1041-1212
Ibn Mohammed ben Nasrv (r. 1041-1052)
Ebu Ishak ibn Ibrahim (r. 1052-?)
Sems'uu-Malik Ibn Nasr (r. 1068-1080)
Ebu Suca el-Hizr (r. 1080-1081)
Ahmed (r. 1081-1089)
Yakub (r. 1089/95)
Ibn Mesud ben Mohammed (r. 1095-1097)
Suleyman (r. 1097)
Ibn Mahmud (r. 1097-1099)
Kadir Han Jibrail Ben Omer (Harun) (r. 1099-1102)
Arslan Han II. Mohammed ben Suleyman (r. 1102-1129)
Ahmed II (r. 1129-1132)
Hasan (r. 1130)
Ibrahim II (r. 1132)
Il-Mahmud ben Mohammed (r. 1132-1141)
Ibrahim III (r. 1141-1156)
Ali ben Hasan (r. 1156-1161)
Ebu'l Muzaffer Mesut II (r. 1161-1178)
Ibrahim IV ben el-Huseyin (r. 1178-1204)
Uluğ Sultan Osman (r. 1204-1212)
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