Face Music - History: Horsemen – Nomads
      • History of the Horsemen




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- Face Music / Albi

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  • Dzungars – Ölöts and Olöts, respectively
    – 17th and 18th centuries AC
-map sketch:


The Oirat alliance of the tribes Dörbets, Choros and Khoits (Dzungars) made several attempts in order to preserve internal peace. In the years 1616/17 and 1640 AC, respectively, the princes convened meetings to decide upon common action in regard to the Khalka, and they issued several decrees but could not succeed, however, in establishing a permanent form of co-operation among the tribes involved. For example in the year 1625 there erupted a tribal conflict among the Oirats: their nominal leader, Baibagas (died approx. in 1630 AC), the Tajishi of the Khoshut, was defeated by his brother Chokur. The other leaders, on behalf of maintaining unity, tried to conciliate and mediate at the beginning, but later on they defeated Chokur's group at the Ural River in 1630 AC. Internal and external conditions enabled the realisation of a new structure on the occasion of a meeting at the Imil River in the year 1640: Khungtaidschi-Batur founded a new Oirat state and led his horde in 1643 AC into the Ili area (Zhetysu; "seven rivers"). This Oirat group was henceforth called Dzungars (from Jüün Ghar), and they claimed suzerainty of the other groups (Dzungar Empire). His son Galdan occupied Kashgaria (Already in the Early Bronze Age, this oasis of Kashgar had been settled. – This was the time of the Akhtala culture, which was especially related to the Chust culture prevailing in the Fergana Valley. – In the first centuries after Christ, Kashgar was the centre of a powerful realm ruling great parts of the Tarim Basin as well as areas in the west of the Pamir Mountains). Galdan then focused on the Mongolian areas and their suzerains, the Quing Dynasty. In this regard, he failed. In the year 1696 AC the troops of the Qing Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722 AC) were victorious at the Tula near Zuunmod; Galdan's wife was killed, and the Khan probably committed suicide.

At the beginning of the 17th century AC, the Altan Khan pushed the Oirats still farther west, and they even invaded eastern Kazakhstan. This had disastrous effects on the inner-Asian steppes, as these, from then on, were unsettled by frequent battles and fights. Oirats then encamped in the Tarabagatai region (region Xinjiang) and conquered territories along the northern stretches of the Irtysh, Ishim and Tobol Rivers. They established trading relations with the Kazakhs and the cities along the Syrdarja. Caravas even crossed the Siberian steppes until the frontiers of the Tsardom as well as Chinese and Tibetian provinces. There were established the first outposts.

This, however, did not mean the end of the Oirat period. Galdan's nephew and enemy came into power. He made peace with China and instead attacked the Kazakhs and the Kirghiz below Tauke from 1698 onwards. In the year 1717 AC. Tsewangrabtan's army entered Lhasa (Tibet) where he killed the Choshut ruler, Lhabzang. This resulted in a victorious invasion of the Qing army in Tibet in the year 1720. Another Qing army invaded Dzungaria and was in 1720 AC so victorious at Ürümgi (Xinjiang) that Tsewangrabtan was forced to make peace in the year 1724. The Dzungars, however, were victorious against the better armoured Russian army at Zaisan in 1720. Tsewangrabtan mainly focused on his neighbours in the west, with the Kazakh population suffering most. Their defeat at the river Ajagus (at the Lake Balkhash) in the year 1718 initiated the era of the "Great Disaster". But also his relations with the Torghuts of the Khan Ayuki (ruled from 1690 to 1724 AC) were not the best – there a political marriage finally ended in conflict. His policy was further continued by Tsewangrabtan's son Galdan Tsereng (1728-1745 AC), resulting in internal conflicts and finally in the destruction of the Dzungarian Empire in the years 1754-1759 AC by the Qing Dynasty and hence peace and quiet. The Chinese had implemented the Khoit prince Amarsaana, but he then, supported by all tribes, turned against them, was defeated and finally died in exile in Tobolsk (town in the Ural Mountains). In the course of that and afterwards, respectively, the Chinese turned the encounter into a massacre, thereby slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Dzungars in order to prevent new revolts (1757/8 AC). The Ili area and the whole of todays's Xinjiang – Sinkiang territory have been part of China since then. The term "Dzungars" (this is, left wing) was then changed and prohibited by Chinese historians, from then on writing about the Ölöts and Olöts, respectively. The Chinese term for the Dzungarian empire was also used in Europe.

In the middle of the 18th century AC, the remains of the Oirat tribes were defeated by the Chinese and also (whereas to a less extent) by the Russian and incorporated into their empires. Even today there exist some Oirat tribes living scatteredly as well as various dialects of an "Oirat" language – in western Mongolia, in China and in the Kalmyk Republic.

  • The Kalmyks, also known as "Kalmuck", "Kalmuk", or "Kalmyki", is the name given to a western Mongolian people now living primarily in the Republic of Kalmykia. The term was already used in the 14th century by Islamic historians for the Oirats and later on used by the Russians for groups of Oirats settling at the Volga. The most important Kalmyk tribes are the Dörbet, Torghut, and Khoshut. The first two tribes migrated in the early 17th century – when the Oirat confederation started to crumble away - under Khu Urluk († 1643 AC) from their original homelands in Xinjiang towards the west. In the course of this migration they moved through southern Siberia towards the Ural Mountains and settled, from 1632 AC on, initally at the left and later on also at the right side of the lower course of the Volga. The Nogai Horde already settling there was forced to flee to the Crimean Peninsula and consequently to the Kuban River. The most important Kalmyk Khan was Ayuki (he ruled 1670–1724 AC) who had attacked several Russian towns (for example, Kasan) until he was assigned the protection of the Russian frontiers by Tsar Peter I. Due to the expansion of the Cossacks, they were integrated into the Russian Tsardom in the course of the 18th century. Displeased with the Russian rulership, the Torghut migrated along the eastern shore of the Volga under Ubashi Khan (ruled from 1761–1771/5 AC) from January 1771 on back to their own homelands – suffering great losses.


Just as the other Mongolian peoples, they are also followers of Tibetian Buddhism and the tradition of shamanism. There are, however, also some Muslim Kalmyks. Their language belongs to the eastern branch of the Mongolian language division. In Xinjiang – Sinkiang (China) they still have their own script, having its origins in the Mongolian script.

The heroic epic "Dzangar" in twelve chants is one of the most important works in their language, which has been orally handed down from one generation to the next one since the 15th century.
Being nomads and semi-nomads, the Kalmyks lived on cattle breeding, fishing and, sporadically, cultivating land until the 20th century. Today they live between the rivers Volga and Don at the northwestern coast of the Caspian Sea in the Autonomous Republic Kalmykia. Traditional family life has a strong focus on cohesion and coherence. Parents, married children with families and unmarried children form a real extended family. Several of these tribal collectives establish nomad-like village collectives, with some of these, in accordance with their lineage, forming a clan. As a tradition, princes were the leaders of the different clan alliances. Apart from the higher nobility and the subordinate gentry, there were the commoners and the priesthood.

February - July 2009 – Albi - translated by Hermelinde Steiner - November 2009
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