1948, some twenty thousand Kazak families, with their herds of camels, sheep
and horses and all their possessions, set but from Sinkiang Province on a
tragic but unwavering exodus from their communist-dominated country.
addition to continual attack and pursuit by communist troops, the nomads
suffered intense and dreadful hardships on a journey which took them across
waterless deserts where their animals died of thirst, into the icebound Tibetan
uplands without food or shelter, over mountain passes eighteen thousand feet
above sea level and across vast stretches of trackless, hostile land.
years later, less than a quarter of their original number finally straggled,
exhausted but undaunted, into East Kashmir. Here they found shelter, but
it was only a temporary respite and more of these gallant people were to die
before the rest found sanctuary and the chance to build a new life in Turkey.
author tells, for the first time, the story of this mass migration which
has its only parallel in the Exodus of the Israelites. He describes in full
the events which led up to it, and the people who took part in it. The book
closes with a picture of the Kazaks beginning to rebuild their shattered way
of life after one of the most harrowing, yet inspiring, experiences ever recorded.
By the same Author
BENES OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA
by GODFREY LIAS
LONDON EVANS BROTHERS LIMITED
First published 1956
Coverted to e-text in August, 2002 by pratyeka in Sydney, Australia.
in Great Britain
Clarke, Doble & Brendon Ltd., Oakfield Press, Plymouth Z. 5337
||Birth of a Hero
||Osman leaves Home
||Osman Batur Grows Up
||Early Life of Ali Beg and Hamza
||The Kazak Way of War
||Disaster at Gezkul
||Over the Roof of the World
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|A Kazak "falconer" with his eagle
|Typical Kirei Kazaks
|The mountains and plain of Barkul
|Camels on the march
| Ali Beg holding the half
five-dollar bill given him by Douglas
| A Communist delegation
at Hami, November, 1949, to demand the surrender of Osman Batur
| Tien Shan glaciers
| A likely spot for an ambush
| The city wall of Kami (Kumul)
| Osman Batur
| Mulia and Ali Beg with Hamza and Hassan
| Kazak camels in summer
| Kazak camels with their fully-grown winter
| A group of Kazak women and children in Turkey
| The President of Turkey, Celal Bayar
| The Turkish Minister of State in charge of
Refugees, Osman Kapani Devlet Vikili
| A Kazak summer encampment in the Altai Mountains
| Tien Shan landscape
| A Kazak encampment in winter
| Ali Beg with some of his colleagues
| Ali Beg's map
| Karamullah, Hussein Tajji and others singing
the Schoolboy Song
| The Dance of the Black Stallion
| The Dance of the Roebuck
The People in the Story
between the Arctic and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean and the Sea of Japan,
stands a range of mountains called the Altai. From its lush valleys and grassy
uplands have sprung races and leaders who have spread far and wide across
Asia—to Peking, Delhi, Samarkand —and even to the very heart of Europe. Many
of them are names which, according to the point of view, strike terror and
contempt, admiration and pride. Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Moghul Emperors,
even Attila are among those the Kazaks and Mongols of the Altai claim as
who followed such leaders were, like the leaders themselves, hardy, confident,
ambitious, ruthless, hospitable men, and so, today, are their descendants.
Ready to ride forth, even to the ends of the earth, to win renown in the
service of a man of action; equally happy to ride recklessly, hawk on wrist,
through their own beloved mountains, moving their felted tents up or down
the alpine valleys each spring and autumn and caring for their innumerable
flocks and herds, heedless of the world outside, even of the Great Silk Road
between China and the West along which Marco Polo rode five hundred years
ago almost past their very tent doors.
But the world has grown smaller in the centuries which have ridden past the Altai since Marco Polo's day, though the Altai folk knew and cared little about this contraction till the outside world gradually began to hem them in towards the end of the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, they themselves had grown and multiplied, expanding instead of contracting, and their belled flocks and herds of two-humped camels, fat-tailed sheep, goats, cattle and their beloved horses had done likewise. The Mongols spread mainly eastward. Most of the Kazaks went westward into what is now Soviet Kazakstan—an area almost as big as the whole of Europe the right side of the Iron Curtain—but some turned southward over what is called Dzungaria and up into the huge mountain chain known as the Tien Shan, or Celestial Mountains.
The traditional home of the
Sinkiang was re-named The Autonomous
Uighur Republic in August, 1955
true story is mainly about the southern group of Kazaks whose traditional
home happens to be in an area over which the Russian and Chinese imperialisms
have been quarrelling for centuries. By the beginning of this century, the
dividing line between them ran along the Altai Mountains and to the north
of the Tien Shan. But neither the Russians nor the Chinese were content to
leave it there. On both sides of this still debated frontier, across which
the Kazaks once roamed freely and as the rightful owners, lie rich deposits
of gold, wolfram, coal, copper and other metals, probably including uranium.
Moreover, both the Altai and the Tien Shan and their subsidiary ranges support
very many cattle and sheep.
past, the Kazaks used to play off one greedy set of imperialists against the
other. The system worked well at first but when the Bolshevik tyranny usurped
the functions of the Tsarist one, it began to break down. In less than fifteen
years after the establishment of the Communist regime in Russia, the Communists
gained economic, and then political, control of the Chinese province of Sinkiang
in which the 800,000 Kazaks of our story were living. With only a brief interval
they have been in control ever since.
for the past quarter of a century, the Kazaks of the Altai and Tien Shan
have been fighting a gallant but hopeless battle. Instead of meekly submitting
when the intruders came into their homeland, they took up arms and tried
to drive them out. Fighting, of course, is in the Kazaks' blood, and there
is no gainsaying the fact that they love it. But this time they were fighting
not for gain or glory, but for their way of life. And when they could fight
no longer, many of the survivors braved known and unknown terrors in the
arid deserts and stark mountains of the Takla Makan and Tibet rather than
submit. Many perished on the way. But some, not more than about 2,000, won
through to Kashmir and in due course were invited to make new homes in Turkey.
It was there that they told me their story. Indeed, I went specially to try
to persuade them to tell it to me because it is one which, while it was happening,
the Communists managed to conceal from the outside world. I soon began to
understand why they wished to do so.
listened to what the Kazaks had to tell, I found my thoughts continually harking
back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses; to David and Jonathan; to Elisha, Jeremiah
and other familiar Biblical characters. There is—or was—a very great similarity
between the Kazak way of life and that of the ancient Hebrews, although the
Kazaks are Moslems, like the Turks, and have been since before the fourteenth
century. They also claim to be of common origin with the Turks, and some
of them certainly look Turkish, but most of them are nearer to Mongols in
appearance. Their way of life, however, has been handed down from die days
when nomads all over Asia moulded their lives on one common pattern so that
it has much in common with the life of the Old Testament patriarchs and the
Bedouin tribes of the present day as well as with the Mongols and with the
Goths and Huns who swept through Europe in the so-called Dark Ages the name
of which always makes me wonder what our own age will be called when it has
passed into history.
as I know, the Kazak version of nomad life has never been described for English
readers and I have therefore tried to write the epic story of their adventures
and sufferings, not as an outside observer, but from their own standpoint:
to show, before their way of life is forgotten, what manner of men they were—and
still are at heart—and what kind of lives they used to lead until the blight
of Communism fell upon them. When they were treated as an inferior colonial
race, they resisted, as we ourselves did when Hitler tried to treat us in
much the same fashion. So, of the 800,000 Kazaks who lived in the Chinese
Province of Sinkiang—or East Turkistan, as the non-Chinese inhabitants prefer
to call it—at least 100,000 are now dead.
meagre accounts of the great Kazak epic which were reported when the survivors
of their final exodus reached Kashmir betokened an unusual steadfastness
of moral purpose and defiance of odds comparable in their own different fashion
with the determination shown by the Pilgrim Fathers when they decided to
leave England and build a new society across the Atlantic, and with the stubborn
courage of the Children of Israel when they defied Pharaoh and journeyed
forth into the wilderness under Moses, and also with the gallant Ten Thousand
Greeks whose escape from another part of Asia was immortalised by Xenophon.
When I learned that the Kazaks did not feel they could settle happily in
Kashmir and were about to move to Turkey at the invitation of the Turkish
Government, I decided to go to Turkey myself to learn why they staked their
lives on such a desperate venture and what had befallen them during their
2,000-mile journey to freedom.
story really begins at the close of the nineteenth century, in 1899, the
year in which Osman Batur, Osman the Hero, was born; the Year of the Boar
according to the day of reckoning the Kazaks borrowed from the Chinese. In
those days, the Kazak tribesmen were still living very much as they had always
done, not merely since the days of Genghis Khan, but since the time of Abraham
and Isaac. Abram, as he then called himself, agreed with Lot whether their
tents should be pitched to the right hand or to the left, in the plains or
in the mountains of Judaea. The Kazaks similarly divided among themselves,
and with their Mongol neighbours, the Altai and the Tien Shan Mountains and
the habitable parts of the low-lying land of Dzungaria between these mountain
ranges even though, as in the time of the Hebrew patriarchs, there were other
folk living on the same land and cultivating parts of it. And, still like
the Hebrew Patriarchs, the Kazaks moved their tents according to the season.
journeyed up into the hills—much higher ones than those of Judaea—during
the spring and summer, when the mountain pastures were green and succulent
to the very snow line, ten to twelve thousand feet above sea level. They came
down again to the more sheltered camping grounds on the edge of the vast
steppes and deserts of Central Asia when the cold winds of autumn brought
fresh snow. Beholden thus only to God, and to their flocks, for their daily
food, and even for their dwellings and clothing, the Kazaks roamed the countryside
as they pleased, often with hawks on their wrists, like our own ancestors
in feudal days. And as they rode, they sang haunting, many-versed melodies
each stanza usually ending with one prolonged note which echoed back and
forth between the hills like the swell of an organ.
of the Kazak refugees who are now in Turkey, but not all, belong to the Kirei
tribe of Kazaks which sports a little cluster of owl's feathers in its tumak,
or hat, to distinguish it from other Kazak tribes. The whole Kirei tribe
is numbered in hundreds of thousands, but mostly it used to live in small
units or clans, until the Communists decreed otherwise. Each of the little
groups numbering, say, a hundred families—three or four hundred people—-had
its own chieftain. For the most part they were rich in animals if not money,
and a group of that size frequently owned, partly as individuals and partly
in common, as many as ten thousand sheep, two thousand cattle, two thousand
horses and a thousand camels. So the air round a Kazak encampment was filled
with sound: the bleating of countless sheep and lambs, the lowing of cattle,
the belly-grunts of camels. Mingled with these pastoral noises were the clangings
of deep-toned camel bells, the coppery clash of cowbells and the tinny tinkle
of the little sheep bells.
the Kazaks broke camp, every healthy adult animal was pressed into service
to carry the group's multifarious belongings, including the babies till they
were old enough to straddle, first a sheep, then a cow, and finally, a horse.
Thus at an early age every Kazak boy and girl became a skilled rider. Many
of the boys fought their first fight against Chinese or Communists before
they were ten, although the most famous of all the modern Kazak leaders,
Osman Batur, whose name has already been mentioned, did not go into action
for the first time till he was twelve.
Batur's teacher in the art of fighting was a guerilla leader named Boko Batur,
whose name is as familiar to the Kazaks as Robin Hood's is to us, though
few outside East Turkistan have ever heard of him. In Boko Batur's time in
the days of the Manchu Empire, the Kazaks fought against the encroachments
of the Chinese tax-gatherers who seized their beasts and called it taxation,
and against the Chinese immigrant farmers who sought to drive them off the
land which had always been theirs and farm it. Later the fight developed
into a struggle against the attempts of Chinese and Russian Communists who
tried to order Kazak lives on Marxist lines, herding them into collective
farms or taking them as fodder for the wheels of industry in Soviet-owned
mines and factories.
I asked Hussein Tajji, one of the chieftains now living near Develi in Turkey,
why he had left his homeland, he replied:
is better to die than to live as an animal. An animal looks to man as though
he were God. It is not right that a man should look to other men in such
a century earlier, another Kazak leader, Kine Sari, used much the same words
when the Russians bribed a Kazak to try to trick him into accepting terms
envoy, as the story goes, said:
the horned ram, even though he be the leader of a mighty herd, defeat the
who sets a snare for an evil purpose, leaves his manhood therein. Is it not
better to die in battle, or perish in the waterless desert, than to accept
dishonour and live as a slave?"
faith, the Kazaks of our own time girded their sword-belts and hand grenades
round their waists, slung their rifles and machine guns—when they had them—over
their shoulders and mounted their horses to give battle. They were no longer
intent to conquer Asia and beyond as in the days of Genghis Khan and Attila
and Tamerlane; they were putting up a last fight to save their cherished
way of life from being destroyed by the two most powerful imperialisms Asia
has ever known—more powerful than Genghis Khan himself and more ruthless—the
Soviet Union and China. The fact that the Kazaks stood no chance whatever
of succeeding against such foes did not deter them for one moment. They felt,
like Hussein Tajji and Kine Sari, that it was better to die than to live
began as a battle against Chinese nationalism and turned into a battle against
Communism, Chinese and Russian combined, went on spasmodically and with growing
bitterness in the years between 1930 and 1951. In the latter year came the
climax: the exodus to Kashmir across the grim Takla Makan desert and the
inhospitable mountains of North Tibet. The final phase, so far as we are
concerned here, followed fifteen months later, in 1953-4: the journey by
air, land and sea from Kashmir to Turkey. There, thanks to the generosity
of the Turkish Government, the Kazak refugees now have roofs over their heads,
though I suspect they would rather have tents.
I tell the Kazak story, it is necessary to introduce some of the principal
characters from whom I learned it. First, there is Ali Beg. In his native
land Ali Beg was a chief. Turkish law does not recognise such a rank, holding
that all men, except perhaps officials, are equal. Ali Beg, however, cannot
help being one of those individuals who is more equal than others. Anyone
who has visited Ali Beg at his home in Salihli can see for himself that he
is still the head of the little Kazak community of some three hundred families.
Living near him is his war-time colleague and assistant, Hamza. Between
them, Ali Beg and Hamza provided most of the information in this book about
the Kazaks' long struggle against the Communists, in which they have played
a leading part during most of their lives. I offer them my grateful thanks
and my profound admiration as well as my sincere apologies if I have misunderstood
them, or inadvertently misrepresented their views. And may I, at this point,
also pay tribute to the English friend who accompanied me to Turkey and
who acted as an interpreter in more ways than one, and to Douglas Carruthers,
Gold Medallist of the Royal Geographical Society, who so generously placed
his unrivalled geographical knowledge of Central Asia and his unique collection
of photographs at my disposal. Finally, thanks are due to Hassan, Ali Beg's
son for much useful work as a translator.
Beg, in the days of his prosperity, had three large tents, one for each of
his wives. All were made of the felted hair of his own sheep and, because
he was chief, they were white instead of black or brown or grey like those
of most of his followers. When he moved from his winter to his summer quarters
and back again in the autumn, each tent was taken apart and each section,
weighing well over a hundredweight, was rolled round its wooden framework
and laid on the back of a camel or an ox. There were ten or twelve sections
to each tent and, when all the sections were laced together with broad embroidered
strips of webbing, the circular space they enclosed measured some thirty
feet across. In the middle, under the round aperture through which the smoke
escaped, was a great iron pot which five or even six men could only just
hoist on to the back of Ali Beg's strongest camel. In those days, Ali Beg
was a "ming-bashi," or ruler of a thousand families, and the tally of his
own personal flocks and herds ran into five figures. The group of which he
was the head, owned and tended about three hundred thousand sheep, fourteen
to fifteen thousand mixed cattle, nine to ten thousand milch cows and, perhaps,
a thousand camels besides horses enough and to spare for every man and woman,
boy and girl.
Beg and Hamza were near neighbours in their original homes. Seeing Hamza
for the first time, one would not think that he is a veteran of no less than
a hundred and sixteen hand-to-hand battles against his people's enemies. He
is still only thirty-three but first went to war at the age of ten, by the
side of his eldest brother, Yunus Hajji, who was more than twenty years his
senior. Physically, he is a little smaller than Ali Beg but mentally he is
alert enough to have reached the equivalent rank of Colonel by the time he
own land of East Turkistan, Ali Beg, Hamza and their followers ate mostly
curds and cheese during the summer and flesh during the winter, as well as
bread throughout the year. Kazak housewives pride themselves on their skill
in preparing milk products of which they know at least twenty-six varieties,
from the hard, almost stone-like, sheep's cheeses which they chew as appetisers
before a feast, to the "koumiss," or fermented whey, skinfuls of which are
carried on a journey and also drunk on festive occasions.
is most prized when made from mares' milk. But usually it is prepared from
the milk of any animals that happen to be able to supply it when it is needed.
In pre-Com-munist days, it would have been a very poor Kazak family which
did not have at least one skinful of koumiss hanging on a hand-embroidered
strip of webbing inside the tent. A stick, shaped like a small paddle, protruded
from the mouth of the skin, and every time a member of the household passed,
she or he moved the paddle vigorously up and down to promote proper fermentation.
of the refugees in Turkey who deserves special mention is the man who first
told me about Osman Batur of the Altai Mountains. His comrades call him Karamullah—Kara-mullah
the Bard. Just before I met him, Karamullah composed an epic poem in honour
of Osman the Hero and we invited him to record it on our little portable
tape-recorder in a hotel dormitory-bedroom at Develi, the small market town
in the very heart of Turkey—four hundred miles from the settlement at Salihli—where
there is another batch of Kazak refugees, totalling altogether some seven
to eight hundred people.
sang part of his saga, intoned part and spoke the rest. The setting in which
he did so was about as incongruous as it could possibly be. At home in East
Turkistan, Karamullah would have been seated in the place of honour in the
chieftain's tent with the great cooking-pot simmering gently on the cow-dung
or wood fire and the acrid smoke swirling gently towards the top of the felted
tent before escaping into the keen night air through the aperture at the
top. Every now and again, the tent flap would have been lifted and men and
women, boys and girls, would have slipped in, each to the humbler or grander
place appropriate to their social position and each leaving their outer shoes,
which they call caloshes, just inside the threshold. Then they would have
seated themselves to listen cross-legged, silent and wide-eyed on the cushions
and mats and lovely home-woven carpets which lay on the felt-covered earth
all round the central fire.
audience at Develi consisted of half a dozen Kazaks, refugees like himself
and clad, like him, in shapeless and nondescript European clothes, the gift
of Turkish sympathisers. In addition, there were a Turkish doctor of philosophy,
a Turkish lady professor of linguistics, her husband who is a lecturer at
the same university as his wife, their joint assistant, my Kazak-speaking
colleague from England who was operating the recorder, and myself. Instead
of the silent tent-flap there was a wooden door which creaked raspingly on
its hinges as people came in or went out. Every now and then a lorry snorted
noisily past the window, or a cock started to crow, and we heard all these
extraneous noises reproduced much too faithfully when we played the tape
back for Karamullah and his friends to hear.
summer homes in East Turkistan, the Kazak encampments were too far away from
the roads to be plagued by back-firing lorries, though in later days these
contraptions often passed their winter quarters. Generally they were Russian
Communist ones filled with loot from East Turkistan—or tribute, if you prefer:
live animals and wheat requisitioned from the owners without payment, or,
perhaps, gold and wolfram won by forced labourers from the bountiful deposits
in the Altai.
song that Karamullah sang about Osman Batur was filled—like all Kazak poetry—with
incomprehensible allusions to ancient history and legend which the rest of
us could not understand. There was one line, for example, about "He who wears
the Golden Caftan" over which I pondered for a long while. Then, a few weeks
later, when I was visiting a museum at Konya containing relics of the Moslem
sect known as the Whirling Dervishes, near which another group of Kazak
refugees was to settle shortly, I noticed that the founder of the sect six
or seven hundred years ago used to wear a Caftan, or special shirt, over
his cuirass, which was supposed to protect him from the weapons of his enemies.
Unfortunately Osman's caftan, if he ever wore one, did not possess that
virtue. He certainly bore a charmed life for many years. But the Communists
captured him in the end and he is dead.
it is only five years since Osman Batur died, legends about him are already
current among the Kazaks and we may be sure they are being told secretly
today in many Kazak households behind the Iron Curtain. His admirers have
even named an era for him, speaking of "the 40th year of Osman Batur," as
we would say, A.D. 1939, the year the second World War started. Nevertheless,
some of the refugees chaffed Karamullah about his saga, accusing him of having
credited the Hero with feats of arms and of courage which were really performed
by others. Some of these feats appear in this story and, if I have mistakenly
attributed them to the wrong man, there is nevertheless, ample testimony
that they were actually performed. They do, therefore, rightly belong to
the great Kazak epic which is a much bigger thing than the exploits of any
single individual because it is the story of a whole nation.
a bard sang his songs, he sometimes accompanied himself on the dumbri, which
is a long wooden instrument rather like a guitar but with only two strings.
Plucked by the fingers of a master, like Karamullah, each string of a dumbri
often seems, though I cannot understand how, to be producing two notes at
once, and in such hands each note always sings on sturdily till the next
plucking of the string. I heard it played a number of times at Develi, sometimes
very well and sometimes indifferently. There was one particularly enchanting
little air which Karamullah played—plaintive and sweet and nostalgic. He said
it came from the Altai but he did not tell me its name.
Kazaks can play the dumbri and most of those we met in Turkey could not only
sing but write their own words to the music. We brought back recordings of
several newly composed songs of this type, set to traditional airs which
date back many hundreds of years. But more often than not the words were written
by those who sang to us—men like Karamullah ; two of Ali Beg's three wives;
boys and girls from fifteen to seventeen years old. We also brought one air
from Salihli played on a curious instrument known as the Sibizka, a plain
hollow pipe with three holes in it. The player inserted his tongue into the
top of the pipe to form a kind of mouthpiece and while playing the air at
one side of his mouth, droned out a bagpipe-like accompaniment from the other.
In this mysterious fashion he produced a perfectly lovely and most unusual
melody which represented the flowing of the Kara-—Black—Irtysh, the great
river which rises in the Altai Mountains and flows right across the wide
steppes of Soviet Kazakstan and Siberia where it joins the river Ob on its
way to the Arctic.
as I know, all the Kazak music recorded for us in Develi and Salihli is new
to the free world except possibly one song which the Russian Army used as
a marching song during the war. Among the others is one called The Flight
of the Heron, which was sung by Kadisha and Mulia, two of Ali Beg's
wives. Herons are birds of doom to the Kazaks so the song is a sad one.
So, unhappily, is the Lament sung for us by a little girl of ten
or thereabouts to commemorate her father who had just died. Yerim Tau—The
Mountains of my Country— is a nostalgic composition which brings in
the Kazak names of all the loved peaks of East Turkistan. Another song which
Mulia sang into the microphone is called Gone with the Wind, but
of course it has no connection with the book of that name. Karamullah and
some of his friends rendered the Schoolboys' Song, which begins with
the line: "In the name of God I bring you learning." The airs of the songs
called This Changing World and O World, were probably composed
about the time of Henry VIII but the words were written specially for our
benefit. I must confess that I am rather sorry the Kazaks are so fond of
writing new words or verses for their traditional music. No doubt it is
good for their imagination. But it means that the old ballads based on the
exploits of their past heroes tend only too often to disappear.
Karamullah the Bard had recorded his saga, I asked him to write it down in
the Arabic script which the Kazaks normally use and then invited him and
his friends to lunch. If I had been his guest in his tent in the Altai Mountains
we would all have dipped die fingers of our right hands into the dish—and
burnt them in the process if we were unused to eating Kazak fashion. But
at Develi we all used knives and forks and the Turkish restaurant proprietor
brought us the food plateful by plateful. When we had finished, Hussein Tajji
who was sitting on one side of Karamullah—I was on the other—began to poke
fun at the Bard. Karamullah bore it silently, evidently enjoying it as much
as anybody, till we rallied him for not answering back- Then he said quietly:
pay him three times over if only he would lend me his hat."
was a huge cowboy's ten-galloner which sat strangely on Hussein Tajji's thin
mongol-type face with its grey-blue eyes and its short sparse dark beard
which is still without a white hair though he is over sixty.
is a younger man than Hussein Tajji by at least ten years. But, unlike his
friend, he has lost all his front teeth as a result of his privations. No
doubt his real name is not Karamullah, which means Black Priest, but Kerim-ullah,
Bounty of God. Whether he got his nickname because of his unusually swarthy
complexion or because, being really a mullah, he is reputed to have a knowledge
of the black arts, I cannot say. But, being a sincere Moslem, he would certainly
not wish to be regarded as a dabbler in necromancy though some Kazak pseudo-mullahs
used to practise it, in emulation, no doubt, of the Mongol priests who, being
of another faith, have no such qualms.
Tajji, as we shall see in due course, left his original home at Barkul under
Communist pressure more than twenty years ago and settled near a lake called
Gezkul which he pronounces: Gaz-cool. The second syllable actually means
"lake," and the first represents the distance from the fingertips to the forearm,
and also a ruler. So every Kazak, without seeing it, would know that Gezkul
is a long, narrow, straight stretch of water shaped like a ruler. Most Kazak
names are descriptive and self-explanatory to those who understand their
tongue. The one I like best is Twittering Bird Valley. But such names have
one big disadvantage. They tend to recur in all sorts of different localities
many miles apart causing confusion in these days of rapid travel though mattering
less to nomads who normally revolve in a small orbit.
Hussein Tajji was living in his felted tents in Barkul and Gezkul with his
wives and children and retainers, he had a friend who lived near him named
Sultan Sherif. I met Sultan Sherif while he was still in the "hospitality
centre" near Istanbul where the Turkish Government houses the Kazak refugees
before settling them on the land.
introduced to him by another refugee from East Turkistan, Mohammed Emin Bugra,
who now has a lovely house of his own on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus
opposite Istanbul. Mohammed Emin is not a Kazak but a Turki, most of whom
are farmers or merchants who have lived in East Turkistan as long as the
Kazaks and are far more numerous. But Mohammed Emin's father was Emir or
Prince, of Khotan, and he himself was at one time Deputy Chairman of the
provincial Government of Sinkiang as the Chinese call East Turkistan. He
managed to escape to Kashmir just before the Communists regained control
of the Government of the Province in 1949. He knows, to his cost, the political
intrigues which led to their doing so, and which play their part in the story
of Kazak resistance.
Beg, Hamza, Karamullah, Hussein Tajji, Sultan Sherif and Mohammed Emin are
still alive. The rest of those who took a leading part in the struggle to
save East Turkistan and whose names and actions are written in this book,
and in the hearts of their compatriots are, almost without exception, dead.
Birth of a Hero
and death happen too frequently in and all around the Kazak felted tents
to call for either comment or the making of a written record. It is in the
nature of things that lambs, calves, camel colts, and the foals of mares should
arrive punctually, time after time, in their proper season. Children arrive
just as naturally and almost as punctually, though at any season of the year.
For a while the children, like the young animals, are the objects of special
parental care and loving devotion. But parents have much work to do in a
pastoral community. So the young are left more and more to then- own devices
and soon launch out into a succession of experiments in which frequent errors
yield unforgettable lessons and instil in the young a healthy and watchful
attention to the behaviour of their elders.
it is that in the Kazak tents, a record is kept of annual festivals and fasts,
such as Courban Id and Ramadan, but not often of such commonplace events
as birthdays. So there was no one among the Kazak refugees in Turkey who
could tell me on what day, or even in which month, Osman Batur was born, though
all of them knew the year. His father and mother are long dead. His three
brothers and his sister— if any of them are still alive, which is unlikely—would
not know, for he was the firstborn. His friends declare that he never talked
about the matter himself and the event was not recorded in a registry of
births for there were no such things in this distant part of the Chinese Empire.
All we know is that he was born in 1899, the year the Boer War started.
father, Islam Bai, was not merely a herder and breeder of animals but also,
and rather exceptionally, a "dry" farmer who lived in the Kuk Togai district
of the Altai not far from where the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian jurisdictions
meet. As a "dry" farmer, Islam Bai was free to go where he listed while the
crop was growing instead of being tied to his plot by the need of irrigating
it like the "wet" farmers in the plains who depended on irrigation.
each spring, Islam Bai broadcast ears of wheat over the land after he had
scratched its surface with an iron-tipped plough drawn by a team of his own
cattle. Then he betook himself with his family and felted tents, his flock
and his herds and his servants up into the alpine pastures of the Altai,
leaving the seed to the winds and rain and sun and the will of God to fructify
and ripen against the time when he would return to see what there was to
therefore, he and his wives, one of them being great with child, pitched their
tents as usual in the Altai Mountains as Abram did in the hills which afterwards
became the hills of Judaea. We do not know exactly where their encampment
was but it may well have been in the Tokuz Tarau—the Valley of the Nine-Toothed
Comb—a meeting place of streamlets bubbling down from nine clefts in the
towering hills and bringing ice-cold water from the upper Altai into the
broad valleys of mingled forest land and pastures where Islam Bai's group
of about one hundred families lived throughout each summer.
are many valleys named Tokuz Tarau in East Turki-stan just as there are many
lakes called Kuk Su or Blue Sea, and Kizil Uzun or Red Stream. There is
also one Pass of the Venerable Wind—which the Chinese call Lao Feng-kou.
The Pass of the Venerable Wind carries one of the three main roads from Soviet
Kazakstan to Urumchi the capital of the Chinese province of Sinkiang. In
the days of the first pro-Soviet Governor of the province, Chin Shu-jen,
a lorry carrying Chinese soldiers broke down at the top of the Pass and,
while the driver was trying to find the cause of the trouble, the Venerable
Wind piled snow upon him and upon the lorry and its occupants and froze all
to death. The bodies were not recovered till the snows melted several months
later. Legend says that the Pass of the Venerable Wind has often done worse
things than that and declares it to be capable of such feats as blowing whole
caravans into the lake which lies below it.
the time came for Islam Bai's wife to be delivered. When her pains began,
she sent a servant with a message to her mother, who rode over from her encampment
in a nearby valley, stretched a rope tautly across the inside of Islam Bai's
tent, which she called an "aool," and told her daughter to kneel in front
of it, putting her two arms over the rope up to the armpits, and then to
relax and press forward alternatively with her body. As the pains grew more
intense, the mother fetched a lambskin bottle and gave it to her daughter
to hold, telling her to blow into it strongly each time she pressed forward.
Finally, when the mother saw that the time was near, she asked Islam Bai
to give her some pieces of rough felt and placed them under her daughter as
the girl half-rose from her knees while pressing on the rope. After he had
brought them, the mother told Islam Bai he was no longer wanted and beckoned
him to leave the tent till the child was born.
Bai waited outside until a tiny shrill cry mingled with the murmuring of
the north wind in the forest trees; drowned the chattering of the stream as
it gossiped with the pebbles, and finally faded away amid the bleatings and
lowings and the bells of his animals. When Islam Bai heard it, he lifted the
flap of his tent, tapping each of the heels of his caloshes off in turn against
the toe of the other foot in order that he should not soil the carpets of
his aool when he entered. As he went in, he stooped low lest he should bring
ill-luck upon his household by touching the wooden frame of the opening, and
he stepped wide and high for the same reason lest he should stumble over the
Islam Bai looked inquiringly at his mother-in-law who nodded her head to
show that all was well. Then he said to his wife:
shall we name the child? Shall we leave the decision to God and name him
after the first living creature, whatsoever it be, that my eyes light upon
when I go outside the tent? Or shall we choose a name for him ourselves out
of the Holy Koran?"
Bai's wife knew what to answer for she and her husband had discussed the
matter very often in the days before her time came. She chose the second method
and the child was called Osman. The other name by which his fellow-country-men
came to know his Batur—Hero—did not become his till 1942 when they awarded
it to him by acclamation and gave him the Liberation Medal at the same time.
Nevertheless, in his infancy, his mother often used to gather him in her
arms and say to him after he had fallen and hurt himself: "There! There! Batur!
Batur! Don't cry! Be a hero!"
as Osman had received his name, Islam Bai, in accordance with custom, went
outside his tent again and killed a sheep. He first took the entrails to
his wife's mother who seethed them in milk to make a thick broth with which
to nourish her daughter's body and fill her breasts with milk. Afterwards,
when he had skinned the carcase, his mother-in-law cut it up and simmered
it in the great iron pot which stood over the fire in the centre of the tent.
Until his wife had consumed the whole carcase her sole duty in the tent
was to nurse her baby.
Osman's grandmother had washed the little boy all over in warm water from
the great copper kettle which took its turn with the seething pot on the
iron tripod over the fire, she dried him with a cotton cloth and then encased
his tiny body in a single garment of thickly-wadded cotton quilting which
had a wide open slit up the back. She then placed him in a wooden rocking
cot with pieces of soft felt under him which were afterwards either washed
or burnt as was appropriate. Except when he was being nursed, Osman lay in
his rocking cot all the time until he was big enough to learn to crawl. And
long after he had reached the crawling stage, his arms were always bound to
his side when he was lying in his cot. If you had asked his mother why she
did not want him to suck his thumb, or lie with his arms over his head, she
would have replied, rather pityingly, that it was well known that a child
slept more peacefully with its hands by its side and that putting its hands
over its head was liable to cause convulsions. And if you had suggested to
her that it might like a dummy, she would have been really horrified.
she was right or wrong about such matters, Osman grew and nourished. His
mother's milk was ample so that he did not have to be held between the hind
legs of a nanny goat to supplement it. Indeed, his mother went on suckling
him for more than two years believing, though mistakenly as it turned out,
that she would not conceive again while she was doing so. As soon as his
first teeth showed through his gums, she gave him a mutton bone to gnaw and
he had a crust of bread as soon as his fingers were able to close round it.
As he grew older, he drank cows' milk and goats' milk from his eating bowl
which his mother held to his lips as he sat on her lap. Sometimes his mother,
but more often his father, gave him a piece of sugar broken off with a knife
from the great cone-shaped loaf which Islam Bai had bought from an itinerant
Chinese merchant, but which actually came from Tsarist Russia.
Osman started to crawl, he was left just as much to his own devices as when
he had been lying in his cot. His mother was too busy doing her share of
the household chores to watch over him, and his father spent most of his days
out of doors, generally with his animals, but sometimes hunting either with
his shotgun or, more often, especially in winter, with his hunting eagle.
Occasionally he went away for two or three days. So Osman, like all Kazak
children, had to fend for himself, getting into, and out of, mischief and
danger as best he could. Perhaps his parents believed that the amulet which
the Mullah placed round his neck soon after he was born would protect him.
The amulet was made of two pieces of cloth sewn together and contained his
name and a verse from the Koran. It was tied on with string and Osman wore
it all his life. It would normally have been buried with him, but the Communists
who killed him severed his head from his body and did not bury either part.
teaching himself to stand upright and walk, Osman's greatest danger was from
the open fire which burnt continuously in the centre of the aool, and from
the iron cauldron, or the kettle, hanging over it. If his unsteady footsteps
had made him lurch against the tripod, or seek to save himself from falling
by grasping the vessel on the fire, he might have been scalded or burnt,
even to death, as indeed happened to some of the other children of Islam
Bai's group. But the amulet, or Providence, though not his parents who were
too busy, watched over him.
other precaution Osman's mother took as soon as he could walk beyond the
tent door. That was to tuck a crust of bread securely into his coat in front
of his heart so that he would not starve to death if he wandered beyond the
encampment and could not find his way back. For the same reason, his sister
had a little tied-on bag filled with parched corn. Even in Turkey today,
the Kazak mothers observe this ancient custom. Parched corn has been the
nomad's "iron ration" at least since the days when Jesse sent David with
an ephah of parched corn for his three brothers who were fighting in Saul's
army against the Philistines, and ten cheeses for the captain of their thousand.
first thing that Osman did as soon as he could toddle out of his mother's
tent was to make friends with the dogs which slept under its lee and gave
warning when a stranger was approaching. I think his father and mother would
have stopped him if they had noticed. Dogs, according to the Moslem law,
are unclean, and for good reason in that part of the world seeing that for
countless generations they have been the only disposers of camp refuse and
ordure. But Osman's parents had their work to do, so they were generally not
there to see the dogs, having finished scavenging, come and lick Osman's face
when he held out his arms to them.
Osman was wandering further afield to where some of his father's lambs and
sheep were tethered. Sometimes he went simply to play with them. Sometimes
his parents sent him to take them their food. Before long, he was climbing
on to their backs. If he fell off, he laughed or cried and climbed up again.
long before Osman was able to do such things as these, summer was beginning
to wane and it was time for Islam Bai to leave the Valley of the Nine-Toothed
Comb to see whether God had caused his crops in the Kara Irtysh valley to
prosper during the sower's absence. In a good year, Islam Bai could expect
to harvest one-hundred-fold, and more, from the short stocky Altai wheat,
though its straw is seldom more than a foot high. In a bad year, he would
have to sell animals in the market and buy grain from the millers in the
towns to whom he generally took his grain to be ground into flour unless,
as is possible, he owned one of the rare water-mills which Kazaks have erected
in some places.
no doubt, to see what God had provided in that first year of Osman Batur,
Islam Bai and his wives and their servants took down the felted tents, slipping
the simple knots in the strips of webbing which held the felt taut against
the trellised wooden framework. Then they removed the upper poles from their
niches in the trellis beneath and the circular frames which held the poles
together, rolling the half-inch-thick pieces of felt round the trellis and
tying them into neat bundles with the webbing. Meanwhile, the women were
making sure that the great metal-bound wooden chests in which the nomad families
carried their bedding, their carpets, their ceremonial clothes, their documents
and their books, among which was a copy of the Koran, were securely fastened
and made as waterproof as possible in case they should fall into the water
when the animals which carried them were crossing a stream. The cauldron,
too, which weighed the best part of a hundred and fifty pounds, had to be
hoisted on to the camel which Islam Bai himself had carefully chosen as the
fittest to bear such a burden. Finally, Osman's cot, with Osman himself securely
strapped inside it, was lashed between the humps of another camel, though
sometimes his mother carried him in a cloth sling on her breast.
rest of the family's belongings were divided between the other animals: camels,
cattle, sheep, goats, and horses, each being laden according to its strength.
Then, when everything had been done—and it generally took about one hour
to break camp when there was no need for haste—Islam Bai, his wives and servants
mounted their riding horses and the cavalcade started. How many of the other
families in Islam Bai's group accompanied them, I cannot say; none unless
they, too, were "dry" farmers. Those whose sole occupation was to tend their
flocks stayed in the Valley of the Nine-Toothed Comb till the winds of late
autumn and the early prospect of frost and snow told them it was time to
follow Islam Bai to their usual winter quarters.
doubt, some of Islam Bai's personal followers and servants also stayed in
the upper valley to care for the beasts he left behind. When his herdsmen
brought their charges down in due time, Islam Bai, following the ancient
Kazak custom, did not count them; he asked instead:
is the black ewe with the white forehoof? And the dun cow with the up-pointed
right horn? And the ring-streaked and spotted she-goat?"
ewe was taken by a wolf and the cow put her left fore-hoof into a cleft between
two rocks, breaking the bone so that we had to slay her. As for the ring-streaked
and spotted she-goat, she was a grisly animal so, when we needed meat, we
chose her for the slaying."
Islam Bai believed what his servants told him, he answered:
is the will of God!" But if he did not, he said: "We will go into that later."
Then there might be a quarrel and blows and perhaps the dispute came in the
end before the Kazi, or judge, of the group for settlement.
Osman grew bigger, his wanderings became correspondingly more adventurous.
He had few toys and maybe none at all, except a knife, which was much more
to him than a toy. But he was soon galloping around the encampment, riding
a stick. Sometimes he linked his arms round a playmate's middle and they
galloped together. Such games generally ended with a bout of wrestling, half
of it fun and the other half a trial of strength and skill by which the boys
established their standing among themselves. Osman, whose father was a Djuz-bashi,
or ruler of a hundred families, had also a certain position by virtue of ancestry.
But Osman's main claim to obedience and respect, especially after he reached
his 'teens, lay in his own personality. It is said of him in this connection
that from his early youth, he was universally regarded as exceptional.
all Kazak children, Osman was brought up the hard way. In his father's tent
where he ate and spent much time— he slept in the tent which belonged to
his mother—he had few rights except to listen and obey instantly if his father
gave him an order. If he ever forgot himself when excited and let his tongue
betray him into speaking without being spoken to, his father might reach
for his riding whip which hung with the family's bridles and saddles on the
left side of die tent door.
often, however, he called to the boy's mother and said:
It seems that a pig, or maybe a dog, was hanging round my aool while I was
out tending my flocks about nine months before this thy son was born. Otherwise,
whence can have come his beastly manners, speaking when he has not received
occasions, Osman went to bed without his supper as, indeed, other little boys
used to do nearly fifty years ago whose homes were built of bricks and mortar
instead of felt, and who slept on iron bedsteads with mattresses instead of
on three or four layers of quilt laid on the bare earth in the humblest place
in the tent nearest the door.
of such corrections, we are told that Osman loved and respected his father
who taught him many things as they rode or walked together in the mountains.
On such occasions Osman could ask freely whatever questions he liked. Most
of them, naturally, were about animals. He soon learned to recognise all
the wild beasts with which the Kazaks shared the unenclosed land, as our
own ancestors shared theirs before the village common land became private
Osman was nine or seven or five—we know for certain only that it was not
when he was eight or six or four— the Mullah was asked to come and circumcise
him. Afterwards there was a great feast to celebrate the passing of this first
milestone in the child's life. Another milestone was reached when he was
eight and his father sent him to the Kazak tent school. Like the tent in
which Osman lived, the school tent was called simply "Aool." So, to distinguish
the one from the other I shall spell the school tent with a capital A though
there are no capital letters in the Arabic script, which the Kazaks normally
Aool which Osman attended was the usual communal affair maintained by the
group of which Islam Bai was the head. It had no furniture except some mats
on the ground and there was a bare minimum of equipment. Almost every Kazak
encampment had one lest the children should have to go to a school maintained
by the Chinese, where the teaching would be in the Chinese tongue and the
teachers themselves would not be Moslems. This attitude was shared not only
by the Kazaks but by all the other racial groups in East Turkistan— Turkis,
Mongols, Kirghiz, Tartars, Uzbeks—from whom the Kazaks have generally held
aloof, especially since the beginning of the twentieth century.
at the age of eight, went to the Aool where the Mullah who had circumcised
him, and who combined the offices of priest and schoolmaster, taught him
first to repeat verses from the Koran, which is in Arabic, and then how to
understand, read and write them. Later, the children learned other things:
the history of Genghis Khan and Attila and other more recent Kazak heroes
such as Boko Batur who was still very much alive. Then there was arithmetic,
geography and, most important of all, how to write poetry and recite it. Many
of the old songs and poems in which the history of the past was enshrined
had innumerable verses and Osman and his fellow-pupils often used to be made
to repeat alternate ones in their tents in the evening while their parents
listened, prompted perhaps and, finally, applauded the one who was able to
go on the longest. Girls were often better than boys at memorising, but Osman
almost always out-remembered even the girls.
from the beginning of their schooling, the children learned to set their
own words to the old music the Kazaks love. The new verses are always full
of allusions to older ones and to the customs of a bygone age which makes
them hard to understand. But while I listened to Kazak boys and girls in Turkey
singing songs with words they had written themselves, I often found myself
wondering how boys and girls at home would get on if they were called upon
to do the same thing with, let us say, Elizabethan music; or any music, if
it comes to that.
of the first songs Osman and his fellow students learnt was the Schoolboys'
Song in which the scholars declare:
the name of God, we greet you, O Doctor, Not one wrong word is found in your
teaching, Not one wrong word in your students' mouths."
Mullah who taught Osman was a stern task-master but Osman himself was an
eager pupil. Soon he could sing a song, and write a poem, as well as ride
a horse, better than anyone else—adult or adolescent—in the little group of
families which voluntarily accepted Islam Bai's leadership. His fame in these
directions was spread to other Kazak communities in the Altai by wandering
bards, like Karamullah, and by the frequent guests to whom Islam Bai dispensed
hospitality. Before long, he became known throughout the region as a "spiritual"
boy, an unusual description in the mouths of tent-dwellers whose lives were
spent in animal husbandry and who had no knowledge of, nor interest in, metaphysics
except insofar as their innate and unspoken determination to preserve their
traditional way of life had a metaphysical foundation. But the word, spiritual,
was used deliberately by almost all Osman's former comrades in Turkey. I
think that when they used it, they were referring to such things as his love
for the Kazak way of life, his respectful devotion to his parents, his protective
care for his own family and those dependent upon him, and also his capacity
to inspire confidence among his followers. Perhaps, too, they included the
ruthless hatred he felt for his people's enemies—first, in point of time,
the Chinese but first in point of intensity, the Communists, whether Chinese
or Russian, who did not merely seek to milk them like cows and sheep as the
Chinese nationalists had done, but to kill their individuality.
in his youth, Osman's hatred was only for the Chinese because there were
no Communists in those days. He used to listen eagerly to the tales of Kazak
heroes who had fought the Chinese in the past and, as is always the way with
patriotic songs and stories, defeated them. I am sure that Osman used to
dream of emulating these heroes.
day when Osman was eleven or twelve, there was a stir outside his father's
tent and one of Osman's younger brothers, knowing that for once he could
interrupt his elders without risking reproof, rushed in shouting: "Boko Batur
is coming! Boko Batur is coming!"
knowest thou that it is Boko Batur, noisy one, having never seen him?" asked
is his horse—the one of which we have heard tell at story time—jet black without
a white hair on its body. And the rider is wearing Boko Batur's plum-coloured
tumak on his head with the Kirei owl's feather floating in the air above
it. And there are a score of armed men riding behind him. Who but Boko Batur
would come thus attended, yet in peace?"
tent watchdogs were barking loudly by this time, so Islam Bai rose to his
feet while his wives rummaged hastily in the metal-bound wooden chests for
their husband's ceremonial tumak and long embroidered brocade gown and for
their own best head-dresses.
as Islam Bai was suitably arrayed, he strode to the tent door and held the
flap wide open, saying as he did so:
O welcome one. Thy coming strengthens us."
he waited for Boko Batur to dismount.
Osman leaves Home
a guest arrived at a Kazak tent forty years ago, and, indeed, until the Communists
decided that the past was only fit to be destroyed, he was always accorded
the traditional reception which still remained much the same as in the days
before history began and exactly the same as it has been since the Kazaks
were converted to Islam between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Consequently,
though there is no actual record of Boko Batur's entertainment in the tent
of Islam Bai, we can reconstruct the scene without difficulty.
aleikum—Peace be with you," said Boko Batur, as he stooped to enter the tent,
lifting his feet carefully to avoid touching the threshold and taking care
that his long coat should not brush against the doorposts as he stepped inside.
Then he tapped off his caloshes, one foot against the other, leaving them
by the door before entering the main part of the tent.
on you peace," Islam Bai answered, taking Boko Batur's out-stretched hand,
first in his right hand and then in both. After that, the two men touched
their own foreheads, lips and breasts with their right hands before sitting
down together facing the door. Altogether, sixteen conventional greetings
were exchanged and when host and guest had finished exchanging them with
one another and their respective male personal attendants, all squatted down
in a circle around the fire in the correct order of precedence, after which
each one placed his two hands together, palms upward, and muttered a prayer
from the Koran. Finally all repeated together the words: "Allahu akbar!—God
is great!" As they spoke them, they raised their hands with a sweeping movement
which ended with stroking their beards.
presence of such a guest gives us courage," Islam Bai remarked when they had finished.
"Here, imp of Satan," he went on in a different tone, turning to Osman who
was standing just behind him. "The lad has no manners or he would know that
a son greets his father's guests as befits them."
did know. He also knew that his father's reproof was no more than a figure
of speech. But he came forward rather timidly all the same for Boko Batur
was a famous figure of whose deeds he had heard almost every day since he
could understand what was said around him. Nevertheless, he looked Boko Batur
in the eyes without blinking and greeted the guest in the same way that
his father had done though when he said: "Allahu akbar!" his voice was almost
no doubt, is the lad of whom I have heard speak in the tents of my friends,"
said Boko Batur, keeping hold of Osman's left hand and pulling him forward
so that he could look at him. "It is said of him that he has strength and
wisdom far beyond his years and that he is destined for a great future."
boy is a fool," replied his father. "A good-for-nothing, a scamp. Run away,
idiot, and see to our guest's horse."
not such a guest," Osman boldly pleaded, "of much more importance than even
the horse of such a one? May I not stay and see that the stallion's master
my life!" boomed Boko Batur. "Didst hear what the lad said? Wai! Wai! And
he is not yet a stripling!"
are in the care of fathers," Islam Bai declared. "Little lads, like this
saucy one, have lowlier tasks. And it is meet that they should do as they
Osman, knowing that his father's apparent chiding hid approval, and well-pleased
with Boko Batur's exclamations, ran out of the tent to take charge of the
big black stallion.
found that one of Boko Batur's servants was leading it up and down in accordance
with the invariable Kazak custom, in case its legs should stiffen after it
had been ridden for a long period. So Osman took the reins from the servant
and then, greatly daring, climbed up into the saddle.
yapramai!" ejaculated the groom who was standing nearby. "It is a miracle!
The master's beast throws him not. Never before have I seen it brook another
rider. Verily the lad is destined to be a leader
of men as well as a rider of proud horses."
his servant's exclamation from within the tent, Boko Batur came to the tent
ha!" he called. "So thou wouldst ride mine own beast, audacious one."
thought but to cool him down before watering and feeding him," said Osman
is well that he did not bite thy backside when thy foot touched the stirrup,"
laughed Boko Batur. "That he did not, is a sign that I did right to come."
I ride him now to the watering and feeding?" asked Osman a little more boldly.
nay," replied Boko Batur loudly, with perhaps a covert glance over his shoulder
to make sure that his host was listening. "Water him not and feed him not,
for I must be away before nightfall."
Nay!" expostulated Islam Bai in a horrified voice. "To depart so soon would
shame my hospitality. . . Wife!" he called over his shoulder: "Bring swiftly
the tea and bread, for our guest is discomfited by its being delayed. Bring
it, I say, lest we be shamed by his departure."
Islam Bai's Baibicha, or Chief Wife, brought copper bowls filled with salted
tea and slices of the traditional salted bread, in a cloth knotted at the
four corners, like the cloth filled with all manner of beasts for food which
Peter saw in his vision being let down to him from Heaven. And, seeing it,
Boko Batur suffered himself to be led back into the tent where he sat down
again in his appointed place of honour and made ready to eat, protesting
as he did so that he was not worthy. But he took the bowl of tea from the
hands of Islam Bai's wife and drank it, sucking the liquid in noisily through
his teeth and, between gulps, soaking pieces of the hard bread before putting
it into his mouth.
I now bid Osman water and feed the stallion?" Islam Bai asked when Boko Batur
had broken bread and drunk tea as custom prescribed. "For it is ordained
that when a horse's labours for the day are ended, he shall be watered and
then fed so that his strength shall return for the tasks of the following
bounty of such a host is beyond praise," murmured Boko Batur.
if it be convenient, let the flock now be inspected so that a beast may be
slain and my women make ready the evening meal," Islam Bai went on.
should be killed for this wanderer," protested Boko Batur. "Did I not say
that I must be away before nightfall?"
did I not reply that so swift a departure would shame my hospitality?" Islam
Bai reminded him. "And it is known that a horse should not be worked after
it is watered and fed."
shame such a host is to injure oneself," declared Boko Batur, ignoring the
remark about his horse. "Be it therefore as is most convenient to the host."
shouted Islam Bai, striding to the tent door. "Give the black stallion water
and food seeing that his owner abides here this night. Fetch grain from the
sack but lead the beast first to the river so that it may drink fresh water.
And while the stallion is being watered and fed, let the pick of the yearling
ewe lambs be brought to the door of the tent so that the guest may choose
which he shall eat this night."
took the black stallion to the river, riding it there proudly instead of
leading it as his father had said. And Boko Batur's servants marvelled, for
the beast had never let them mount it. Nor would they have dared to try. None
had been on its back before save Boko Batur only.
in the tent, emptied now of Boko Batur's retinue, the guerilla chieftain
was still protesting.
yapramai!" he declared roundly. "No animal should be killed for me. Did not
I and my bodyguard eat our fill before I left my encampment at dawn this
very day to visit the tent of my friend?"
is for the eating," maintained Islam Bai doggedly. "And the belly for filling.
He who fills not the belly when there is opportunity, hungers the more in
the days when he must fast."
it is unworthy in a guest to cause toil to his host's household," Boko Batur
the work," interposed Islam Bai's chief wife, "Better by far than the tears
we women would shed if a guest, and one such as this one, should depart with
his belly empty or even if it were filled with food which is unworthy of
finally, Boko Batur suffered himself to be led to the tent door where the
sound of many bleatings showed that the yearlings were already assembled.
is for the guest," declared Islam Bai. "But Hata-num—my wife—has spoken truly.
If a guest in his modesty choose a beast which is not worthy either of himself
or his host, then the host is bound to keep his eyes closed until a better
choice has been made."
such a host," said Boko Batur, not without a glint of satisfaction, "What
can a guest do but choose the flower of the flock?"
saying, he placed his hand on the head of a well-grown ewe lamb which was
at once led away to be slaughtered and made ready for the evening meal.
also for those who came with thee," said Islam Bai. So, because these numbered
twenty, Boko Batur placed his hand on three more ewes and, when Islam Bai
protested that this was not enough, on the heads of three more. And when
the day ended, there was not much left of all the six, for the Kazaks are
very hearty eaters.
changeless laws of hospitality having thus been observed on both sides, Islam
Bai led his guest back into the tent and the two men seated themselves again
side by side on their cushions on the gaily-coloured home-woven and home-dyed
carpets opposite the tent door while the women cut up the yearling and placed
it piece by piece to simmer in the great cauldron, keeping the head to be
roasted and eaten with rice after the carcase of the beast had been disposed
of. Presently Osman came silently in, having finished his task of seeing
to the stallion. He seated himself as unobtrusively as possible near the
tent door on the other side of the fire but where he could both see and hear
his elders without attracting their attention. But he had not been there
long before he realised suddenly that he himself was the subject of their
is a boy by the tent door," he heard Boko Batur say. "I would learn what
manner of lad he is."
is more foolish than most," Osman's father answered. "There are few in this
valley who exceed him in folly whether it be playing tricks on horseback,
climbing out of the saddle and under the horse's belly and so up again into
the saddle on the other side while the beast is at full gallop; or whether
it be in swimming across a flooded stream or composing ridiculous verses
behind the Mullah's back in the Aool."
Wai! All that is foolishness indeed," laughed Boko Batur. "There be many
who can climb under a horse's belly at full gallop and some who can snatch
a grown sheep from the ground as they ride past it and many who swim and many
who write verses. Yet there are few who can do all these things well. . .
Come hither, Osman, and seat thyself by me. Now, tell me, what else canst
thou do? Canst shoot yet with a gun? Canst strike off the head of a sheep
with a single stroke of a sword? How many rings canst thou discern around
Saturn or the moons circling Jupiter? . . . Nay, friend," he ended, seeing
that Islam Bai was about to answer. "Let the lad speak for himself. Then
I shall know whether the tales I have heard about him are truth."
things are better done than spoken of," said Osman. "And how can a boy do
them as he should until he has the right teacher?"
Allah! Though I say it to his father's face, and his own, his like will never
be born hereafter. Rumour for once speaks the truth. I would talk more of
this matter after we have eaten."
these words into Boko Batur's mouth at such an early stage in his friendship
with Osman is perhaps to draw a bow at a venture. But it is not a very long
bow for it is on record that he used them about Osman on a number of occasions.
We also do not know exactly at which of Boko Batur's visits to Islam Bai
he made the proposal which follows, though it is quite certain that he made
it is never the Kazak habit to talk of serious matters before dinner, so
that after Boko Batur had intimated he had something serious he wished to
speak about, the conversation drifted to lighter topics, and Osman, realising
that he was no longer wanted, crept silently back to his lowly place by the
door. There he sat, trying to listen attentively while his elders, ignoring
him completely, talked about their flocks, the hunting, the coming harvest,
the affairs of their followers, the news about the inconvenient outside world
which was beginning to hem them in. This last topic inevitably turned the
conversation round to the Chinese.
it true that the Kitai have put a price on the head of Boko Batur?" Islam
Bai asked, taking care to avoid his guest's eyes.
I have been told," Boko Batur answered carelessly. "If it be true, it is
good. Threatened men always live long."
heard that it is ten thousand taels."
was about £2,500 at the rates current in 1911, when a horse could be bought
in East Turkistan for as little as ten taels.
is a lot of money. Has he no fear that someone might betray him for so great
own men would not. They know that the Kitai would pay the money into their
hand to fulfil their promise, and then slip a rope round their necks before
they reached the door. And no other man, or woman, will have the opportunity
to earn the blood money—or, if they have it, will dare to use it."
many know where he spends this night?"
Batur looked round carefully before replying in a lowered tone:
those who saw him enter the tent of his blood-brother."
said Islam Bai, looking round in his turn. "It would be an evil day for both
of us if an eavesdropper heard us speak of a bond that is secret between
our two selves and besides us known only to the Mullah who mingled our bloods
in the bowl as we swore the covenant with one another."
is one whom I would wish should know of it; and it shall be explained why
I wish it later."
lad who is straining both his ears to hear us, over by the tent door. But
let us not speak more of it till we have eaten. When the belly is full, the
heart is contented. That is the time to speak to a friend what is in the
heart. Words are ever big and boastful when there is overmuch room for them
to puff themselves out with wind in the stomach."
the story goes beyond what is actually recorded. But it is unlikely that
there would be a definite record that any two men were actually joined in
this most sacred of human relationships for, if there were, its usefulness
would be destroyed. So far as Boko Batur and Islam Bai are concerned it would
have been inconceivable that each did not have a blood-brother. And it is
highly unlikely that Boko Batur would have treated Osman in the way he did
unless he had stood in that relationship with Osman's father.
is the closest bond between two individuals in the Kazak scheme of things;
closer than being born of the same womb; closer far than that of husband
to wife which, under Islamic law, can be dissolved by either the man or the
woman repeating thrice in the hearing of others, the three simple words: I
divorce thee. It is as close, in fact, and very like, the covenant which knit
the soul of Jonathan to the soul of David so that Jonathan loved David as
his own soul—a threefold bond binding bodies in service one to the other and
souls which the Kazaks as Moslems believe will meet in paradise when their
bodies are dead and, finally, knitting together the portions God has bestowed
upon them of His Spirit which, according to Moslem belief, returns at death
to God who gave it.
may picture the two men as blood-brothers falling silent while the womenfolk
continued their preparations for the meal and letting their thoughts drift
back to their youth when the Mullah brought the bowl, made an incision in
their two wrists and then bade them repeat after him the words of their covenant.
A young cockerel, pinned by the skin of its throat, squawked lustily but
without struggling, as the two young men did so, but no-one outside the tent
thought anything of it because cockerels often played a similar part when
the inmates were reciting the Koran or saying their prayers.
when the blood-brothers had dipped their thumbs in the bowl and embraced
one another, one of them released the cockerel which scuttled away as soon
as the tent flap was thrown back and the two men went about their business
as though nothing had happened. But from that moment, each, could demand of
the other shelter for a night when pursued by his enemies and the best horse
to escape on the next day, as well as succour, whatever the risk, when in
danger during a battle. And each could also expect the other to tell him the
truth without prevarication or holding back, provided no one else was present
when the question was asked.
such were their dreams, there is no doubt that both Boko Batur and his host
came out of them when the womenfolk brought steaming bowls filled with the
broth and flesh of the yearling and gave it first to Boko and then to Islam
Bai. Before they started eating, however, warm water was poured over their
hands at die door of the tent, after which all murmured the meal-time prayer.
Then huge pieces of flat bread were handed round after which all dipped their
right hands into the great dish when they needed more meat and sucked the
unseasoned broth from the bowls through their teeth to wash the meat down
just as Boko Batur had washed down his bread with the tea when he first arrived.
After they had eaten their fill they again washed their hands in water poured
over them by one of Islam Bai's servants and wiped them dry on the long
cotton towel Islam Bai had spread across their knees before they started
to eat. Finally, the servants cleared the remnants of the meal away and
took it outside to finish in company with Islam Bai's children, while the
women brought in fresh bowls of tea flavoured this time with cinnamon and
sugar as well as with salt. As they noisily drew the hot liquid in, they
emitted the other more staccato punctuations which Kazak good manners shared
with those of Dr. Johnson and his contemporaries as proof that the meal has
been both ample and delicious.
firewood, lazy one," commanded Islam Bai to Osman as the elders settled themselves
down on their cushions to relax. "Have I ever to bid thee build up the fire
and blow it into flame with the bellows so that we may see? Even a wild
beast would know that the
evening is upon us and that it grows dark."
whispered to his brothers and they fetched arms-ful of firewood from the
pile behind the tent. While one of them laid it carefully on the cow-dung
embers above which the yearling's flesh had been cooked, another blew it
vigorously with the bellows till the tent was filled with flickering tongues
of flame from which long, fantastic shadows leapt unceasingly, like streaks
of darkened lightning, and dashed themselves noiselessly to pieces against
the thick felt walls.
Islam Bai considered that the flames were high enough so he called to Osman
to cease from feeding them. Boko Batur then called Osman to him and when
Osman obeyed and stood respectfully before him he said:
down here, by my side."
sat down and waited and there was a long silence. At last Boko Batur placed
his hand on the boy's head and said:
was talk before we ate that a price has been put on my head: is it not so,
O my brother?" he added, turning to Islam Bai.
was such talk," Islam Bai agreed.
who are threatened live long, as I have said already, because God causes
them to walk warily. But death comes to all when God wills."
God forbid that death should come to those who are now with us in this tent,"
said Islam Bai, "and may none of them die before he be full of years."
his wives echoed: "May God forbid it."
is in the hands of God," Boko Batur commented. "But a wise man, especially
if he be the leader of thousands as I am, looks forward and makes his plans
lest the day should come unawares when his followers are without a leader.
Is not that so, O my brother?"
Boko Batur continued, "is from God and not from man. Nor does it always bless
the fruit of a leader's loins. A man's son, and likewise his daughter, may
lead his father's clan, and it may be the whole tribe, in times of peace.
But to trust the
fortunes of war to him unless he be fitted is an offence to God."
is God who teaches the mettled stallion to stand before his flock of mares
and their foals when danger approaches in the mountains," said Islam Bai.
is well said," agreed Boko Batur. "I have no such stallion who would care
for my flock if I were taken from it," he went on, turning Osman's face towards
him. "Is this lad a stallion of such mettle? What thinkest thou, O father
Bai grinned suddenly and unexpectedly, mischievously even.
he is not a gelding I know," he answered. "More than that, it is not for
me, his father, to say. Besides, his years are no more than twelve."
is old enough to come with me so that I may find out," said Boko Batur.
sayest thou, boy?" asked his father.
it be my father's will, and Boko Batur's, I will go gladly."
to what I have to say to thee, for it is not a little thing that we are discussing,"
said Boko Batur. "Thy father knows well that since the days of Genghis Khan,
nay, since the beginning, we Kazaks have roamed these mountains, paying
tribute to none and owing allegiance to none, save to God and to our chosen
chieftains. Then, from beyond the Gobi desert, came foreign infidels seeking
to enslave us. Thy father knows, and our enemies know even better, that
I have been fighting a Jehad—Holy War—against the Kitai these twenty years
and rousing our people to fight them likewise. One day, we shall drive them
back into the desert where they belong and we shall destroy them there though
they be as many as the sands of the Takla Makan."
Batur paused for a moment and then went on:
father, O Osman, is a man of peace and I am one who lives by fighting and
who loves it. But we both love our nation, he in his way and I in mine. And
more than he loves peace and I, war, we love one another, even since we
were lads, like thee. Last night, it came to me as I slept that there
was one in this tent who
possessed his father's skill in the ways of peace, yet to whom I might teach
my skill in the paths of war. Then, when I am gone, the fight could continue
under one head instead of two, or many more than two as our way has ever
been. And when I awoke, the day was breaking and it was my fancy to come here
to see and I came."
there was silence for a time and it was Osman's mother who broke it.
the days that are to come, they shall call my son 'Batur,' as today another
is called by that name. Take him and teach him, and if he be not worthy let
him return to his father's tent."
I am not found worthy, I shall never return," said Os-man. "I would rather
grown-ups talked far into the night after it was decided that Boko Batur
should take Osman with him to be trained as a guerilla leader. Osman, meanwhile,
returned modestly to his place among his brothers, replenishing the fire
when it needed it, but taking no further part in the conversation. All the
pros and cons had to be weighed: especially how to prevent suspicion falling
on Islam Bai that his son was fighting the Chinese; how to prevent the Chinese
from seizing Islam Bai and torturing him to make him say where Boko Batur
listened eagerly and in silence. He heard Boko Batur, and by no means for
the last time, voice his searing hatred of the Chinese officials; their exactions,
their greed for the gold and other mineral wealth lying beneath the surface
of the Kazak homeland, their cruelties to those who fell into their clutches
unless such people were rich enough to buy their freedom. Then Boko Batur
turned to denounce the extortionate prices charged by the Chinese merchants,
the way Chinese immigrants stole the Altai land so that its rightful owners
were cooped within ever narrowing boundaries instead of being able to roam
freely where they would, none gainsaying them, as their forebears had done
since time began.
listened his heart burned within him. Under Boko Batur's influence he grew
to hate the Chinese with a bitterness which deepened as the years passed.
When the Chinese danger began to merge into the wider menace of communism in the 1930's, Osman's
distrust of Chinese nationalism made him hesitate to ally himself with the
nationalists against the Russian and Chinese Communists. From his point
of view, the one was as great a danger to the Kazak way of life as the other.
hard to criticise him. The Chinese held out no future for their subject races,
except to become Chinese. Even forty years later, in June 1952, Dr. Chu Chia-hua,
a former Vice-Premier of China could still write from exile in Formosa to
the Turki leader, Mohammed Emin Bugra, who by then was a refugee in Istanbul:
only Sinkiang (the Western Dominion) itself lies in China but even much territory
beyond once formed part of the Chinese Empire. That is why all the Chinese
people consider it as a sacred inheritance. . . The Chinese blood is a mixture
of many stocks. . . The concept of One-Family-Under-Heaven is not a mere
rhetorical flourish. . . but serves as a criterion of our daily conduct.
the Lives of Eminent Monks, there is an interesting account of how Jumolosh,
a Sinkiang monk, went to the Court of one of the short-lived kingdoms in
the age of the Barbarian invasions and how the king of that period presented
him with ten beautiful Chinese maidens in order to perpetuate the best qualities
of his mind through their descendants. . . Jumolosh's descendants, if any,
by his pretty wives must have been absorbed into Chinese society and formed
part of the Chinese stock. . .
modern Chinese race is the offspring of many racial elements which accounts
for the brilliance of the Chinese civilisation and the continued vigour of
the Chinese people. . ."
Emin Bugra replied that "the language, religion, script and other characteristics
of the Turkic, Mongolian and Tibetan nations now under Chinese domination
have nothing in common with the Chinese. . . Turkistan lies beyond the natural
boundary of China in a distinct geographical area with ninety-six per cent
of its population Turkic.
it should be independent. . . There are more than eight million Turks made
up of Turkis, Kazaks, etc. . . And there are more than ten free nations in
the world with less than one million inhabitants and twenty with a population
less than that of Turkistan."
in brief, is why Osman Batur hated and fought the Chinese. And it is why
he, Ali Beg, Hamza and the rest subsequently fought against the Russian and
Chinese Communists who sought to destroy their Kazak individuality.
morning after Boko Batur offered to train Osman as his successor in the holy
war, Islam Bai and his family and their guest rose as usual at daybreak for
the first prayer of the day, and, an hour or so later, Osman with his sleeping
kit tied across his saddle, rode out of the encampment with his new guardian
and teacher. He had finished with the Aool and was to learn henceforth in
the school of practical experience.
not difficult to imagine his feelings. Ever since he could understand grown-up
language, he had been hearing about Boko Batur's exploits. The guerilla leader
had been the favourite topic of conversation whenever a visitor was entertained
in Islam Bai's tent. Wandering bards had sung long ballads they had written
in his honour and Osman's schoolmaster, the camp Mullah, had taught Osman
himself to write them and then sing them using the same music as the bards,
the beloved melodies of the long-distant past.
in Osman's eyes, there must have been almost a visible halo round Boko Batur's
head, and the sweet savour of dedication to a holy cause in his own nostrils,
as they rode together towards the upper Altai valleys. Though we do not know
exactly when this was, or where they went, I believe it was already late
autumn and that the snow-line was beginning to descend towards the place in
which Islam Bai had his winter encampment. But, whenever it was, and wherever
they went, it was towards the snow-line, for Boko Batur always chose hiding
places deep in the mountains which his enemies would have difficulty in finding.
therefore, they were riding towards the snow-line, Boko Batur in front, turning
their horses' heads this way and that by pressing with the knee and lifting the
beasts' heads gently with the slender reins which bear eloquent testimony
to the way in which the Kazaks regard their horses. They have a proverb:
"A good horse needs not the whip."
way led them across browning meadows and among trees where it seemed at times
that no path existed. Boko Batur, looking back once to see how Osman was
faring, grinned and said:
thou canst find the way back?"
sir. But my horse could."
said Boko Batur briefly. But a few moments later he turned again and added:
the horse on a road he knows. But a day comes when a new road must be found
or an old road shown to a new horse. He who follows in my footsteps must
learn how to find it and teach others, as well as his horse, how to find it."
did learn. When he grew to manhood and the mantle of Boko Batur had fallen
on his shoulders, it was his boast that after a battle he could slip away
into one of his secret hiding places and all the Chinese troops in the three
provinces of Sinkiang, Chinghai and Kansu could not find him though sometimes
they came within earshot, and also gunshot, of him. But times changed by
degrees and before the end his enemies started to hunt him with aeroplanes
from which it was less easy to hide, though sometimes even the planes failed
to spot him. But aeroplanes were rare till the second World War.
rode on, sometimes by Boko Batur's side now,' but more often in his wake,
his keen eyes noticed the almost imperceptible signs which showed they were
approaching an encampment: pieces of rock worn smooth by the passage of many
animals, small strands of wool caught on a bush, sheep's droppings.
been here before?" Boko Batur asked.
"Thy father has."
Osman understood for the first time why his father had left the encampment
sometimes in the early morning and not returned till the following day, or
even the day after that. It was a lesson to him to keep his own counsel lest
a friend or relation
should inadvertently betray a secret. Secretiveness is a typical Kazak trait,
made necessary by the conditions in which they lived. But it also made it
hard for others to co-operate with them and even for them to co-operate with
one another. In Osman's case, the difficulty was enhanced because he preferred
to remain silent rather than tell a lie, which was by no means true of all
the eighteen months which followed, Boko Batur took Osman on many forays
and taught him many things a guerilla leader should know: how to shoot first
hares, and then men, firing from the hip at full gallop; how to sit loose-legged
and relaxed on horseback for twenty hours at a stretch and be off again on
the same horse for another twenty hours after only four hours rest. In later
years, Osman thought nothing of riding 300 miles at the head of his bodyguard
within the space of one week.
instilling courage and endurance into him, Boko Batur taught him how to lead
a successful foray, by curbing his followers' excitement and letting the
main body of the enemy go past unsuspecting then dashing out to cut off the
rearguard and racing back into the shelter of the friendly Altai before the
main body could turn. In the hills themselves, wherever the passes were narrow
enough, Boko Batur used to block the road in front of a column or a caravan
and then roll rocks on it from above till it turned and fled, only to find
that the road had been blocked behind it after it had passed.
is a good life, Osman, my son," Boko Batur told him often. "O my life!" he
used to add with a great belly laugh which nearly rolled him out of his saddle.
"To steal up unawares behind the enemy and steal the ammunition he meant
to pump into your vitals; then gallop off and be out of sight before he has
had time to load his rifle. Thou wilt enjoy it, Osman."
Batur's own zest for the thrilling excitements of guerilla life stands out
like a beacon from the legends and stories which have sprung up round his
memory. When he took Osman to be his pupil he had been ranging far and wide
across Chinese Turkistan and beyond for many years seizing every opportunity
he could to twist Manchu pig-tails and pull their legs, too. He is reputed to have been
immensely strong and, though the Chinese captured him several times, they
never succeeded in holding him for long. Sometimes they fettered him and
put iron handcuffs round his wrists, but he snapped the iron, and his fingers,
and was away before his captors or gaolers could pick up their rifles. It
is said that once they tied him up, manacled and fettered as usual, in the
skin of a freshly-killed bull and it took them some time to find an animal
that was big enough. Boko Batur lay trussed in these unsavoury surroundings
for a considerable time: one account says for six months. But one morning
when his gaolers went to feed him, only the skin was there.
can picture Boko Batur telling Osman about such escapades as they sat together
in the firelight of the aool before they went to sleep. Osman listened enthralled.
But instead of teaching Osman to emulate them, Boko Batur's puckish and foolhardy
feats showed him that the struggle for independence called for caution as
well as courage. He learned the paramount importance of not letting his
tongue run him into unnecessary danger and the sad necessity of being always
on the watch for traitors. The fact that Boko Batur's incarceration in the
bull's skin was due to his having been betrayed by a Turki renegade named
Ismail counted more in Osman's eyes than the strength which enabled him
to regain his freedom in the end. Strength, in Osman's eyes, is the gift
of God and so is wisdom, and it is the duty of him who possesses them to
make sure that he uses them both well. And God protects those who do so.
learning Boko Batur's way of making war, Osman also learnt how to cross the
Chinese frontier into what in those days was still Tsarist Russia—or "Rassi"
as Boko Batur called it—without being challenged by the Chinese frontier
guards. Once across, they could journey without fear, for Boko Batur had
many friends among the Russian officials. Sometimes they went north into the
reindeer districts of southern Siberia. On at least one occasion they went
as far as Alma Ata, the lovely capital of what is now the Soviet Republic
of Kazakstan, where the orchards and climate are renowned throughout Asia. When they went
back to the Altai, they took with them a long string of newly-acquired camels
laden with weapons and ammunition which the Russians gave them. Then, as
also later when the Reds took over from the Whites, it was Russian policy
to make as much trouble as they could for the Chinese in Sinkiang because
they coveted the province —and still do. There is a strip two hundred miles
wide along this frontier to which Moscow has never abandoned the claim originally
made by the Tsars. The Soviet Government occupied part of this strip in 1946-7
and still holds it. The Soviet claim to the other parts has not been officially
withdrawn, though at the moment it is in abeyance. There is gold in this
region, and wolfram, and, if the Kazak refugees in Turkey are right, uranium.
Some of them add that the Russians want to erect an atomic plant there, and
others that they have already done so.
the aid of the weapons the Russians gave him, Boko Batur suddenly launched
a full-scale insurrection against the Chinese. He first called a "Hur Altai,"
which has been the Kazak name for a Council of War since the days of Genghis
Khan. To it he summoned all the captains of thousands and of tens of thousand
of the Kirei Kazaks in the Altai, Tien Shan and Barkul. Many of those summoned
did not come, either from jealousy or apathy or because the hand of the Chinese
tax gatherer had not yet fallen heavily on them and they had still no fear
that they would be assimilated into the One-Family-Under-Heaven. Nevertheless,
Boko Batur was able to muster a force of nearly ten thousand.
campaign which followed was a disaster. There was a battle near Kukuluk on
the southern slopes of the Tien Shan Mountains, the precursor of another
similar encounter about which we shall hear in its proper place. Then at Karashahr,
before setting forth on the perilous crossing of the Thirsty Mountains, Boko
Batur called his fourteen-year-old disciple to him and said:
back now, I pray thee, and leave me, for thou art needed among thy people."
Osman, almost like Elisha, said:
God liveth, and while my soul is in my body upon earth, I will never leave
Boko Batur, loving him, replied:
but thy people need thee, for, as I have prophesied: After thee shall none
be born like thee and if thou wert to die, thy people would be like sheep
lacking a shepherd."
return with me, O my father," Osman pleaded. "For I will never leave thee."
my son. My work is finished. I go now to spy out the land so that if at any
time a trap begins to close on thee at home, there shall be a place of refuge
for thee. I brought thee thus far but to show thee the way."
the leader and his disciple had parted Boko Batur retreated across the dreaded
Thirsty Mountains, to Gezkul, the lake which is straight and narrow like
a ruler. His last battle was fought on the shores of another lake nearby,
the name of which is Achik-kul. His irregulars were no match for the Chinese
regulars when it came to a pitched battle and the end of the fray saw the
Kazaks scattered beyond hope of recovery. Among the dead were Boko Batur's
first wife and his youngest brother, Shuko Batur, who were buried close to
the scene of the battle. Their friends and Boko Batur set memorial stones
over their graves which were still there in 1950. If they have not been removed
since, any nomad Kazaks who are still in this neighbourhood would no doubt
show a visitor from the West these monuments, for the memory of Boko Batur
and his family is still held in very great honour. But it is probable that
the graves have been obliterated by the Communists with the object of obliterating
the memory of those who were laid to rest in them.
the battle, Boko Batur gathered together five thousand of his people with
their flocks and herds and families and led them into the wilderness to seek
new homes beyond the reach of the Chinese Central Government. They set forth,
not all together as the Children of Israel did, but in small groups organised,
however, just as the Children of Israel were after Jethro, the priest of
Midian, had told Moses, his son-in-law, how to organise his followers, namely
in thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
returned to his father's tent in the Valley of the Nine-Toothed Comb and Boko Batur
journeyed on with his followers towards the south, across the wilderness
of the vast Takla Makan desert as well as the forbidding Thirsty Mountains
whose name speaks for itself. Many fell. But the majority, and Boko Batur
among them, struggled through over the desert, to Achik-kul first and then,
after the battle, over the mighty Kunlun Mountains to Tibet. They thus blazed
a trail which Kazaks have followed at least three times since, in spite of
the sufferings they endured on each occasion.
Boko Batur's intention to go to Turkey, but when he reached Lhasa, the claws
of the Chinese dragon reached out and caught him. His head was severed from
his body and exposed many days later on a long pole at one of the gates of
Urumchi, the capital of Sinkiang, more than a thousand miles from where it
had been cut off. It remained there while kites tore away the last vestiges
of its flesh and the sun and wind shrivelled it and there was nothing left
but a skull. Then the authorities threw it away and placed another skull
in its stead.
of the people who were with Boko Batur, some remained in Tibet and took wives
among the people of the country and reared families which are still living
there. A few crossed the Himalayas into India, but the majority trickled
back to their own homes.
Osman Batur Grows Up
he was only fourteen years old, Osman Batur went back to his father's tents
in the Valley of the Nine-Toothed Comb, not merely as a seasoned guerilla,
but as the prospective successor to the most renowned guerilla leader of
the time. During the eighteen months of Boko Batur's tutelage, he had learnt
the tingling thrill of galloping madly into battle, rifle at his hip, using
his hands to fire and reload while he controlled his horse with his body and
legs— even, somehow, when he turned round in his saddle to fire at his pursuers
as he galloped away after the quick raid was over and the signal had been
given to scatter and withdraw. More than once, he had been put in charge
of a ten, and even of a fifty. But more often he had simply kept as close
as he could to Boko Batur's coal black stallion so that he could learn how
Boko Batur led his men and controlled them during the battle. Strategically,
Boko Batur's favourite policy was to harry; to strike a swift blow and get
away into the mountains so as to strike another in some far distant spot
where the Chinese were least expecting him. On such occasions his fighting
men were unaccompanied by their families and flocks. And being without baggage
except for the ammunition they could carry on led horses, they could, when
pressed, travel a hundred miles in a day if necessary whereas the Chinese
thought they were doing well when they covered thirty. But in the end, probably
at Russian instigation, Boko Batur had tried to mount an offensive for which
he had neither the weapons, the transport nor the right men. In their native
mountains, the Kazak horsemen were a formidable foe: mobile, daring, agile,
and able to use their knowledge of the ground to the best advantage. But
it was they who were at a disadvantage in a pitched battle and they were quite
unable to undertake a siege of a walled town; and there are many such in
was why, in 1913, it was not long before Boko Batur found himself faced with
the grim alternatives of surrender, which inevitably meant death, or flight.
For his men the choice lay between slipping away into hiding until the Chinese
forgot about them or following their leader wheresoever he might go. That
has always been the Kazak way. And it was a free choice, made individually
by each fighting man who knew that if he chose the second alternative it
would mean plucking up his tents and his roots and going with his whole family,
his wives, his children, his flocks and his herds on a journey of not less
than a thousand miles during which they would be in peril the whole way,
sometimes from the Chinese and Tibetans, but much more often from the desert
wastes and mountains through which their path lay.
Batur was unlucky to have reached Lhasa at one of the comparatively rare
periods in Tibetan history when Chinese influence was strong. I think he must
have sensed that there was danger when he ordered Osman to return to the
Altai. Otherwise he would surely have taken the boy right to the promised
land instead of sending him home.
started on his homeward journey from near Kara-shahr, a walled city by a
lake on the southern fringes of the Tien Shan Mountains. Karashahr is about
three hundred miles from where Osman lived, and we are told that the journey
on horseback took him a week. On his way he passed the famous city of Turfan
which lies in a depression nine hundred and sixty feet below sea level. It
is so hot in Turfan that men and women can only cultivate their fields at
night. But Turfan's grapes are nearly two inches long and have the reputation
of being the sweetest and juiciest in all Asia. So have its melons.
track, such as it was, lay partly through cultivated land and partly through
open steppes and deserts. In places, the going was over stony ground where
the track was hard to pick out though it was marked at intervals by skeletons
of camels, horses and other animals which had fallen down and died— to the
delight of kites and jackals which were constantly on the watch for such
happenings. Sometimes there was a heap of stones by the side of the path,
betokening that a human traveller had also fallen by the wayside and been
buried. Any lone
voyager, even an experienced one, had to have his wits about him when journeying
along such a road and, for the fourteen-year-old Osman it was doubly necessary.
He already had a reputation and if some inquisitive Chinese official or soldier
had seen him and asked him to explain what he, a very young Kazak, was doing
all alone so far from home, he might have found it difficult to answer.
So it must have been with some trepidation that he visited a walled town
and the markets in order to buy food for himself and his horse. No doubt,
his anxiety diminished as he went on day after day without getting into
calf was killed for him when he reached his father's tents because that is
not the Kazak way. Nor did his father congratulate him on his skill in finding
the road and avoiding his enemies—indeed, Islam Bai would have thought him
a fool if he had not been able to do so. Besides, Islam Bai had to be careful
not to arouse speculation about his son's absence lest a traitor, or even
a mere idle gossiper, should give the secret away to the Chinese.
took his place again in his father's tents as though nothing out of the usual
had been happening to him during the preceding twenty months. Every now and
again after he got back, strangers rode up to the encampment whom he recognised
but without saying so. His father entertained them with traditional Kazak
hospitality and they rode away again the next morning having said nothing
during their visit which might give the impression that they and Osman had
ever met before, yet leaving with him the knowledge that when the day came
they would rally to his side and resume the fight against the Chinese. Osman
stored up their names and usual whereabouts in his memory where it was safe
from prying eyes, and did not write them down on paper. He distrusted paper.
from one such traveller that Osman first heard that his beloved teacher had
been beheaded. It is told of him, though on what authority I cannot say, that
when he heard the news, he swore an oath to revenge Boko Batur's death a
thousand-fold. Certainly he made it his policy in later years to root the
Chinese out utterly from the land of East Turkistan and to show no mercy
to them regardless of sex or age and making no covenant with them: treating them in
fact as Moses instructed the Children of Israel to treat the inhabitants
when they invaded the land of Canaan. Whether Osman adopted the policy first,
or the Chinese, is doubtful. But it was one which both sides found it hard
to abandon even after 1944 when East Turkistan, like China itself for that
matter, was making its hopeless bid for independence against the combined
forces of the Chinese and Russian Communists.
the first few years after his return, Osman lived the ordinary life of a
young Kazak lad, helping his father, joining in the games and contests with
other lads of his age, rounding up the semi-wild horses in the hills and branding
them with the mark which had been issued by, and was registered with, the
local Chinese government officials. He also learnt how to train the hunting
eagles his family kept to catch the Altai foxes they needed for the skins
with which they lined their clothes. He used to shear his father's sheep,
too, not as we do in this country once a year when the wool is at its best,
but when the price was high in the local bazaars or when the family needed
felt. On such occasions, Osman used to get one of the servants to catch and
hold a sheep which had not been clipped for a long while and then cut its
fleece off as best he could with the primitive shears which were rather like
the simple spring clippers gardeners sometimes use on small patches of grass.
It was a slow business and not exactly economic from our point of view for
it seldom took Osman less than an hour to "shear" a single animal. But time
and money are not synonymous in the Kazak way of life, as the proverb says
they are in ours.
Osman was about sixteen—as with his birth there is no record of it—his father
told him it was time to think of marriage.
myself," Islam Bai said, "and, as is meet, thy mother also, have given much
thought to the matter. It is right that thou, our firstborn, shouldst wed
when thou art of an age to raise up seed so that our line dies not out."
there a suitable maiden?" Osman asked.
in our encampment as thou thyself well knowest," Islam Bai answered. "But
there is one who is of good report, the daughter of Bai Mullah who is of
our tribe but not of our clan. She is also one of many daughters so that
her father will not demand a big marriage payment for her."
not Kaini within the prohibited degrees?" Osman asked. "For it would be a
sin to marry such a one. Is it not written that he who marries one of common
ancestry with himself commits adultery?"
our tribe, as thou knowest, if there be no common ancestor within four generations,
it is lawful," Islam Bai replied. "And what says the proverb: 'He who cannot
name his ancestors to the seventh generation is an apostate.' Up to eight
generations Bai Mullah and I have no common ancestor, not one."
let an honest man be chosen to act as intermediary," said Osman. "For it
is also written that it is for the parents to choose a bride and for the son
I married thy father," interposed Osman's mother, who had been listening
without joining in the conversation, "I worked as serving maid in his mother's
tent for a whole year before the marriage. Thus, when the Mullah asked us
two whether we believed we could be happy together, both could truly answer
shall be the same for thy son Osman, O my Baibicha," Islam Bai promised.
"The girl shall be serving maid in thy tent until the marriage. But see that
there is no foolishness between them lest I should have to pay the marriage
price for one who knoweth not her duty. For if she should not please, she
shall return a virgin to her mother and there will be no ill-feeling on either
side. And if she finds favour, let them be married."
suitable man was sought out to act as marriage broker. He spoke first long
and meticulously with Islam Bai and then went to the tent of the girl's father
to learn how much he wanted in camels, cattle, sheep or horses for his daughter's
hand. Bai Mullah lived some thirty miles away and each visit required much
tact and skill on the part of the negotiator for the seller was determined
not to be caught, like Laban, accepting feeble cattle for his daughter's
dowry. So the bargaining was rather a slow affair. But it was finished in
the end, though only tentatively, because Kazak custom allows either party
to withdraw if the
prospective bride and bridegroom dislike one another or the girl is no longer
a virgin when the day for the marriage comes. In that case, whoever has
seduced her is expected to marry her.
however, found favour from the start, not only with Osman himself but with
all in his father's tents. She could read and write and compose poems as
well as sing them. Besides, she was industrious and clever not only with her
fingers but also with the rather battered old Singer sewing machine which
some Kazak patriarchs acquired for the use of their wives even as long as
forty years ago.
not know how old Osman's first wife was when he married her nor how many other
wives he had before he died. It is certain that he never had more than four
at any one time, for that would have been a breach of the Islamic law to
which he adhered strictly throughout his life. But his religion permitted
him, like Jacob, to have concubines as well, and his wives would have seen
no harm in it if he had. One of his wives was his chief wife who lived with
him in his principal tent. Each of the other wives, but not their handmaids,
the concubines, had her own tent and both Osman and they would have thought
it shameful if two of the wives had to share a tent.
the moment of her arrival, Kaini began to busy herself with making the sleeping
quilts, the carpets, the embroidered webbing and the ceremonial clothes she
would need after marriage. Meanwhile Osman's father and mother and the servants
were making ready the things which custom required that the bridegroom's
parents should supply. They sheared many sheep, cleaned the wool by washing
it in the stream near which their tents were pitched, and then laid it on
the ground so that they could tread it into felt of the right thickness—about
three-quarters of an inch—for Osman's new tent. Each section of the tent was
made separately, the wool for it being first arranged in the required shape,
but larger than the required size to allow for shrinkage. Then the wool was
sprinkled liberally with water after which the men trod it patiently with
their bare feet for hour after hour and day after day, adding more wool when
necessary until it was thick and compact enough to be impervious to wind and
rain. Osman, being a chief's son, and then a chief in his own right, always
lived in a white tent. Those of lesser rank lived in black or grey ones.
the marriage day arrived, the Mullah asked the groom and the bride whether
they would be happy with one another and both answering "yes," he pronounced
them man and wife. That night, after a feast attended by the bride's family,
as well as Islam Bai's, and no doubt the Mullah, the newly-married couple
slept in a tent of their own for the first time. And, from the next morning,
Islam Bai's personal servants and retainers took no orders from Osman until
Islam Bai was dead, nor did Osman give them any.
had only been married a few months when what seemed nothing but a tiny cloud
appeared on the passes through the Altai mountains. It sprang from an explosion
four or five thousand miles away which destroyed the Tsarist tyranny and
put a more sinister one in its place. Not long after the so-called October
Revolution in 1917, which really took place in November according to our calendar,
a thin trickle of Naiman Kazaks from Kazakstan began to flow over the Russo-Chinese
border. The refugees came in small groups bringing their flocks and herds
with them. Some toiled over the border at Kuldja far to the south-west of
the Altai; others trekked past the Tarbagatai Mountains where the way into
Dzungaria is easy; others came along the valley of the Black Irtysh; and
some came over die downs and uplands of the Altai itself.
slow infiltration went on at camel pace, which is about three miles an hour,
for more than a year, and while it lasted about a hundred thousand Kazaks
from what was now the Soviet Union entered East Turkistan because Communism
was already threatening their traditional way of life. With them were several
millions of their domestic animals: camels, cattle, sheep, goats, horses.
The exodus stopped in the end because the Communists, under Lenin, suddenly
began to pose as the champions of the smaller nationalities and the subject
races in Central Asia. It began again ten years later when Stalin started
his drive to collectivise farming and to drive unwanted individual peasants into mines
and factories. This time, not less than a quarter of a million Kazaks trekked
south and east into East Turkistan with their families, their flocks and
herds with disastrous results to animal husbandry in Kazakstan, which is
the second largest republic of the USSR. Many families of both migrations
went back to Soviet Kazakstan within a few years, especially after the Russian
Communists followed them into East Turkistan during the governorship of Sheng
Shih-ts'ai, which began in 1933. But some remained. Some also went on to
Tibet and India though without anyone opposing them. Those who went to India
found the climate too much for them and many died.
doubt, Osman saw many of these exiles trekking into Chinese territory in
the vain hope of saving their way of life from Communist tyranny. But their
arrival, and the reason for it, did not make much impression on him; nor,
indeed, on any of the Kazaks who had been brought up under the other tyranny
which was Chinese. In Osman's eyes, and in the eyes of most of his associates,
the Chinese whom they had always had with them, were still the enemy, and
the Russians, friends. What sort of friends, they only learnt later.
Early Life of Ali Beg and Hamza
two hundred and fifty miles south of Osman's birthplace in the Altai
mountains, there is a town called Manass where the local Kazak
nomads and the Turki and other farmers, go to buy and sell. It used to have
about forty thousand inhabitants before it was hit by civil war, and it lies
about fifty miles west of Urumchi, the provincial capital, along the road
to the Soviet border which forks into three just beyond it.
is also the capital of the district to which it gives its name. Running through
it, is a river, also called Manass, which rises in the great mountain chain
of the Tien Shan to the north of which Manass town is situated. After teeming
down the precipitous upper reaches of the mountains in a thousand glacier-fed
torrents, the river emerges from the hills only a few miles from Manass
town and spreads itself out in a broad bed spanned now by a long wooden-topped
bridge of no less than nine arches. In the course of only a few miles among
the mountains it descends more than ten thousand feet, for Manass town is
only about two thousand three hundred feet above sea level, seven hundred
feet lower than Urumchi which stands at three thousand feet. Behind both
places tower the great peaks and serrated ridges of virgin snow of the Tien
Shan, or Celestial Mountains, culminating south east of Urumchi in Bogdo
Ula, the Mount of God.
of its size, the Manass river never reaches the sea but soon peters out in
marshes and vast expanses of reeds which grow twenty feet high and provide
shelter where a man must walk warily lest he should be mauled by a wild boar,
or, if he is unlucky, by a tiger anxious about her mate or her litter. But
by way of compensation, the reeds also provide ideal cover for men on the
run from the claws of authority as well as for ambushes when those same men
on the run wish to retaliate; as indeed they have been doing at frequent intervals
all through the fifty years which this chronicle tells.
the moment, however, we are concerned, not with the lower part of the Manass
river but with one of its main tributaries, the Kizil Uzun, which is formed
right against the hoary chest of the mountains by the confluence of a dozen
or more minor streamlets, each some twenty to thirty feet across but only
about four feet deep. The sources of the Kizil Uzun are in the great glaciers
of three giant sister peaks which lie close together at a height of some
twenty thousand feet overlooking the northern plain on which Manass itself
lies, sixteen thousand feet below them though they are less than fifty miles
the waters of the Kizil Uzun, being glacier-fed, run crystal clear. But after
rain, its various component parts turn, symbolically, blood red from the
colour of the laterite on the hillsides which feed them. Hence the name, Kizil
Uzun, the Red Stream.
valley of the Kizil Uzun is rich with an abundance of high, sweet grass and
there, except when Chinese soldiers drove them away, as they did from time
to time, Kazak nomads pastured their flocks, migrating during the summer
months to the upper part of the valley and then back to the lower reaches
for the winter, just as their kinsfolk in the Altai used to do. And here,
on the banks of the Kizil Uzun, was born in 1908, Ali Beg and, in 1922, Hamza,
two of the leaders who, later on fought by Osman Batur's side for Kazak independence.
Beg's early years were comparatively peaceful. His father, Rahim Beg, was
a tribal official whose business was not to fight the Chinese but to argue
with them, and perhaps bribe them to abate their demands for taxes. He brought
his sons up in the traditional Kazak manner and Ali Beg therefore went to
the tent school kept by the Mullah at the age of ten. He had been set to
mind his father's sheep even earlier and went on doing so till, like Joseph,
he was at least seventeen.
early upbringing was very different. His father died when he was seven leaving
him to the care of an elder brother, Yunus Hajji, who had been captain of
a thousand under
the great Boko Batur and who, in consequence, was in close touch with Osman
of the Altai.
Hajji did not follow Boko Batur to Tibet; perhaps because the lure of guerilla
warfare remained too strong within him and he preferred its blood-stirring
thrills to the more humdrum pleasures of a problematical earthly paradise
beyond the deserts and mountains where he could tend his flocks in an atmosphere
of perpetual peace. So Hamza's early days and, indeed, the first thirty years
of his life, were passed in an atmosphere of almost continuous upheaval.
Though he went to the tent school the year his father died, he had to leave
it within three years for, when he was ten, in 1932, his brother joined the
mixed groups of local Moslems which were in revolt against the Chinese provincial
Government. Guerilla warfare, as practised by the nomad Kazaks, involved not
only the fighting men, but also the women and children, the greater part of
their flocks and herds and even their homes, which they carried with them
wherever the course of the campaign took them.
for two years, from the age of ten till he was twelve, Hamza was constantly
on the move. And sometimes, like his brother, he armed himself with a captured
rifle, or a revolver, or even a sword and joined in the fighting himself.
Equally important, he learnt how the great felt tents could be dismantled
and loaded with all their contents on to the backs of camels and cattle in
less than fifteen minutes when there was need for haste to avoid falling
into the hands of the enemy. He also learnt to keep his rifle, ammunition
and sword, as well as his bridle and saddle, within reach of his hand wherever
successful little Hamza was as a guerilla, in spite of his tender years,
may be judged from the fact that he earned for himself the nick-name, Ushar,
which means literally, Intelligent Fly-er, in other words: Quick off the mark,
as a fly is.
told the story, as he remembered it, of why his brother took up arms on this
occasion. The Chinese Governor of Sinkiang, Yang Tseng-hsin, against whom
Boko Batur fought in vain, was murdered in 1928 by Chinese rivals. He had
been regarded by the Kazaks, much as Tom Brown regarded his headmaster—as
"a beast, but a just beast"—or if not quite that, as a beast whom it was
advisable to treat with respect. But the regime which was established
after his death soon began to oppress the Kazaks and other local Moslems,
such as the Turkis and also the Tungans who were not Turkic but Chinese.
There was trouble, too, in the other north-western provinces of China bordering
on Sinkiang, where a Tungan general, Ma Chung-yin, raised the standard of
revolt in 1929 with such success that at one time he actually proclaimed an
independent republic of East Turkistan and asked the Great Powers to recognise
it. Before long, his troops were at the gates of Urumchi, though they failed
to capture it.
Hajji was close enough to the scene of action to be able to feel the pulse
of war drumming against the thick felt of his tents on the bank of the Kizil
Uzun. And the idea of independence fired his hot blood. General Ma was a
Tungan, which meant that, though Chinese, he was also a Moslem. Yunus Hajji
felt that, from the Kazak standpoint, a Chinese Moslem was better than a mere
Kitai. So he gathered his followers, his family, Hamza included, and his
flocks and set out to join in die fight for independence, alongside rather
than under General Ma Chung-yin.
name "Ma" which means "horse" is found chiefly among the Chinese Moslems,
and there will be other generals called Ma this or that in the course of
our story. This particular General Ma was also known as "Big Horse," and his
exploits were important enough to leap the desert and mountain barriers around
this part of China and penetrate to the outside world. But mostly they lie
outside the scope of this book, which is only concerned with them insofar
as they affect the Kazak fight for independence.
Yunus Hajji joined the insurgents in 1932 he sent messages to urge Osman
of the Altai to do the same. Osman was now thirty-three, some years younger
than Yunus Hajji, but much further away from the fighting, so that the sound
of the guns did not reach him to stir his fighting spirit. Consequently, he
was able to weigh the pros and cons in an atmosphere of detachment. He therefore
saw General Ma in exactly the opposite light to Yunus Hajji. To Osman the
important factor was that General Ma, though a Moslem, was a Kitai. Osman
could not bring himself at this stage to accept Chinese help, much less leadership, in the
Kazak fight for independence. I am not sure that he ever quite accepted it.
Nor, in a sense, did Yunus Hajji, who fought his own fight against the Chinese
Government without very much regard for what Big Horse Ma was doing.
particular rebellion is noteworthy for being the first in which the hand
of the Soviet Government can be plainly traced though, of course, it was very
far from being the first which the Russians had instigated on Chinese territory.
In this respect, Red Moscow inherited and built upon the policy of White
St. Petersburg and only its methods were new. Many Russian Whites fled into
the Chinese province of Sinkiang to escape from the Reds when the Tsarist
regime collapsed. Very soon they found themselves torn between their love
of Russia and their hatred of Bolshevism because Moscow's policy was an ingenious
mixture of the two. So the presence of the White Russians sometimes helped
the Soviet Government in its plans to get control of the province and hindered
it at others. This fact needs to be mentioned here because it helps to form
the background against which the Kazak story was enacted. By 1934, that is
to say, within two years of Yunus Hajji's taking the field to strike a blow
for Kazak independence, Apresov, the Soviet Consul General in Urumchi, was
the most powerful man in the province. The man who organised the secret police
with which the Chinese Governor terrorised the country was a Russian named
Pogodin. Under these two men, there came into being a whole network of Communistic
institutions under Russian "advisers," some of whom had come over the Chinese
border as Whites, and quite simply as "experts" lent by Moscow. None of course
described themselves as "Reds."
Horse Ma was driven back from the gates of Urumchi in 1932 because the murdered
Governor Yang's successor, General Chin Shu-jen, without telling the Chinese
Government, made a secret agreement with the Soviet Government under which
he received arms in exchange for permission to install "advisers" in various
branches of the provincial government and for the grant of special trading
concessions to the Russians. Thus the many White Russian soldiers who were
fighting on General Chin's side against Big Horse Ma were actually armed by Red Russia.
Before very long they were controlled by Red Russians, too.
at the very same time, the Soviet Government was also secretly supplying
arms to Big Horse 'Ma and doing its best to build up the national consciousness
of the Kazaks, Turkis, Mongols and other East Turkistani races into a political
as well as military weapon to be used against the Chinese. Just as Tsarist
Russia supplied arms to Boko Batur, so Communist Russia was now supplying
them to Yunus Hajji and Osman.
secret agreement with General Chin evidently did not give the Soviet Government
as much as it wanted, for he was overthrown in his turn on April 12, 1933.
In the following year, Big Horse Ma was encouraged by Moscow to renew his
siege of Urumchi whereupon the new Chinese Governor, Sheng Shih-ts'ai, hastily
followed his predecessor's example and asked Moscow, not his own Government,
for help. The Soviet Government opened its mouth much wider this time and
an agreement was signed which virtually turned the Chinese province of Sinkiang
into a Soviet colony. At the same time, Sheng made a proclamation to the
local races promising to remedy their grievances.
the Kazaks soon found their grievances multiplying instead of diminishing.
Thirteen thousand Chinese "volunteers," fugitives from Manchuria who had
fled into Siberia to escape the Japanese, crossed the Soviet-Chinese frontier
into the Altai and other northern districts where most of the Kazaks lived
and began to "pacify" them in the name of Governor Sheng whom the Kazaks blamed
for their behaviour, although they had been trained and armed by the Russians.
And while this was happening in the out-lying parts of the province, the
provincial government itself was rapidly coming under complete Russian control
so that the Kazaks, who are the most individualistic race on earth, suddenly
found themselves face to face with Communism foisted on them by Communist
advisers of a Governor who spoke in the name of the Chinese Kuomintang which
was anti-Communist. It is not surprising that they felt bewildered and did
not at first realise what was happening.
in fact, several years before the Kazaks began to see that the Russians were speaking
with "two mouths," as the Kazak phrase goes, and that each mouth had an entirely
different language. One spoke through "advisers" in Urumchi in the name
of the Chinese Governor, Sheng, and gradually changed the administration
of the province into a Communist one. The other mouth secretly whispered rebellion
against the provincial authorities into the willing ears of the local races
through traders and Russian agents who promised help in driving the hated
Yunus Hajji and other Kazak leaders were fighting-men, not politicians. But
it gradually dawned on them that they were being deceived and that the Soviet
Government was simply using them as pawns in a policy of bedevilment designed
to create such chaos that the Russians would be justified in taking possession
of the whole of East Turkistan and its riches in the name of law and order.
In other words, the Soviet pose of friendship towards the local races was
a callous fraud perpetrated with the sole object of promoting Communism.
Hajji and little Hamza fought against the Chinese on die side of Big Horse
Ma, though independently, for two years: from 1932-4. During this period,
Yunus remembered how Boko Batur's guerillas had failed to stand up against
regular soldiers in a pitched battle and began to drill his followers on
the Chinese pattern. I think what reminded him was the way General Ma's troops,
who were mostly regulars, set about besieging a town. So Yunus tried to organise
his own followers to fight in formation and thus give a good account of
themselves against the Russian-trained "volunteers" employed by Governor
Sheng. But the free Kazaks never mastered this type of fighting, though the
levies raised later on by the Soviet Government in Kazakstan did and so did
the other Kazak levies recruited by Moscow agents in the Kuldja district
of Sinkiang which is close to the Soviet border. In its proper sequence,
we shall hear how the Soviet Government trained enslaved Kazaks to fight against
the free Kazaks on what, legally speaking, was Chinese territory. It is
a story which throws much light on the way Communism has been built up in
end of 1934, the Chinese provincial Government under Governor Sheng had broken
the back of General Ma's rebellion, thanks to the arms, "volunteers" and
"advice" fraternally offered to Sheng by the Soviet Government. General Ma
himself, in spite of the way he was defeated, sought refuge in Soviet Turkistan.
After that, he disappears from the scene. Some of the Kazak refugees in
Turkey say mat he became an officer in the Russian Army, but we do not know
this for certain, though it is quite likely.
the revolt collapsed, Yunus Hajji and Hamza, who was now twelve, returned
to the Kizil Uzun and Hamza went back to the tent school. Most of the other
Kazak malcontents followed their example. But two of them decided after a
while that their old homes were becoming too uncomfortable. So, in 1936,
they plucked up their tents, mustered their flocks and herds as Boko Batur
had done before them, and set forth from their homes on the plain and mountains
of Barkul in the eastern Tien Shan Mountains to seek fresh pastures where
they could live in peace. Their names are Hussein Tajji and Sultan Sherif,
and we have already met them in Turkey. But when their migration started
neither they nor most of their followers, who numbered perhaps fifteen thousand,
thought they would go further than to the boundary of Sinkiang, or perhaps
Tajji and Sultan Sherif travelled almost due south, past the town of Hami
which is also called Kumul and is the first town in Sinkiang after crossing
the great Gobi desert from China. Then they traversed the great Takla Makan
desert which is by no means all sand, though most of it is barren today with
dead cities dotted about to show that it was not always thus. Like Boko
Batur, they came eventually, as we know, to the lake of ill-omen called Gezkul,
because it is long and straight like a ruler. There they found good pasture,
though not so good as at Barkul, over a wide area round the lake both in
the Timurlik district which lies north and west of the lake and the Khan
Ambal Mountains in the province of Chinghai to the east. Moreover, they found
that the market town called Tung-huang, where are the far-famed Caves of
the Thousand Buddhas to which pilgrims go from many parts of China, lay just
across the border in the province of Kansu.
Kazaks, being nomads, had three provinces to choose from—Sinkiang, Kansu and
Chinghai—whenever the Chinese authorities in one of the three became too
insistent about such matters as, for instance, payment of taxes. On such occasions
the Kazaks could betake themselves with their tents and beasts into the jurisdiction
of one of the other provinces whose officials had nothing to do with those
whose attentions were unwanted. Hussein Tajji and Sultan Sherif lost
most of their beasts either in fighting near Barkul or while crossing the
Takla Makan, but they soon grew rich again in camels, sheep and horses, much
richer than when they had lived in Barkul. The City of the Caves of the
Thousand Buddhas, Tung-huang, though more than seventy miles distant across
the mountains, was a convenient market where they could sell and buy all
that they needed, being a place of pilgrimage though it was also more than
seventy miles from the nearest main road.
fifteen thousand Kazaks who accompanied Hussein Tajji and Sultan Sherif from Barkul,
some five thousand left Gezkul later in small groups intending to go to
India, but I do not know how many got there nor which way they went; possibly
across Tibet and Nepal via Lhasa and Khatmandu, but more probably via Khotan,
Yarkand and Kashgar and the Karakoram Mountains. Of those who remained
near Gezkul restless
and home again;
others went back and forth to visit friends who in turn visited them. Thus
there was contact, though not very close, between the Kazaks in Gezkul and
those far to the north in the Altai Mountains and the Tien Shan. Karamullah
the Bard was one who went to Gezkul and who also went as far as India. But
he told me he did not like India, which was damp as well as hot, so that
many of his compatriots died there of malaria, typhoid and cholera. He therefore
returned to East Turkistan and remained there till 1950 when the march of
events forced him to choose between going back once more to India or accepting
Communism. It did not take him long to make up his mind. Hussein Tajji and
Sultan Sherif had made up their minds in 1936 without realising that the
enemy was Communism. Then they found themselves faced with the same alternatives
as Karamullah fifteen years after making their first decision. As soon as
they understood clearly what effect Communism would have on their way of
life, they at once came to the same conclusion as Karamullah.
thirteen years must pass, however, along the old Silk Road across the Takla
Makan before Gezkul, Timurlik, the Khan Ambal Mountains and Tung-huang have
a part to play in the developing Kazak drama, though when the time does come,
the part they play is a decisive one. But we go back now to 1934 and to the
Kizil Uzun, seven hundred miles from Gezkul, to see Hamza, the Quick-Witted,
being a seasoned guerilla fighter of twelve years old, pleading with his brother
Yunus Hajji, to send him to a more go-ahead school than the Aool run by
the Mullah in the mosque tent in their own encampment. Eventually Yunus
Hajji agrees and sends Hamza to Manass where a Kazak teacher named Abdul
Latif has a tent on the bank of the Manass river and gives pupils instruction
"in the name of God" as enjoined in the Kazak Schoolboy Song. Hamza is a
sincere Moslem but his heart has begun to yearn for something wider than a
purely theological approach to history, geography, mathematics, and learning
generally. So, presently, he moves again: this time to a school in Manass
town run by Abdul Aziz, who was not a Kazak but a Turki.
Aziz's nationality was a sign that the two-mouthed Communist policy was not
working exactly according to plan. The policy was still completely successful
in turning the local races against the Chinese. But it was also turning them
towards one another, making them realise that all the non-Chinese inhabitants
of East Turkistan, who numbered more than ninety-five per cent of the total
population, must pull together if they were to gain their independence. This
was not at all what the Soviet secret agents meant when they urged the local
races to build up their national consciousness, so they began to try to
foment discord between the various national groups themselves as well as
between the groups as a whole and the Chinese. Moscow knew that the more
the Turkis, Kazaks, Mongols, Uzbeks and others learnt to cooperate with
one another, the more difficult it would be for the Russian Communists to
swallow them after the Chinese regime had been eliminated.
Aziz not only taught the Islamic religion to his pupils but gave them secular
instruction as well. After the agreement which Governor Sheng concluded with
the Soviet Government in 1934 the schools were no longer allowed to teach
English as they had been doing, and new vernacular textbooks were also introduced
throughout the province. All of them were of Soviet origin although the
Sheng-Soviet agreement was scarcely a year old. In other words, the
Soviet Government had worked out its policy for communising the Chinese province
of Sinkiang long before the Sheng-Soviet agreement was signed.
new textbooks were carefully edited so as not to offend the susceptibilities
of Kazak, Turki, and Mongol teachers and parents by inculcating Communism
openly. But they never missed an opportunity of contrasting the benefits
of the Soviet system with the evils of the capitalistic system under which
the inhabitants of East Turkistan were now given to understand that they were
example, the text books told twelve-year-old Hamza and his fellow pupils
the story of the sinking of the Titanic more or less as follows:
upon a time there was a great ship, the greatest that the world had ever
seen. It belonged to some English capitalists and they had put a band on board
the ship so that there should be very much joy and laughter among the passengers.
With the passengers thinking of nothing but pleasure, the crew, too, became
careless of its duties and grew lax, living only for enjoyment instead of
carrying out its duties.
suddenly, in the middle of the night, the great ship ran into an iceberg.
The band quickly stopped playing wild dance tunes and started to play religious
music instead. But it was no use appealing to God. The ship went down to
the bottom of the ocean in a few minutes and only a few of the richer capitalists
on board managed to buy seats in the boats and save their lives. The rest
of the passengers and crew were all drowned.
sad fate should be a great warning to us not to accept capitalism. No Soviet
captain and crew would have been guilty of the errors which took the Titanic
to the bottom of the ocean with the loss of so many precious lives."
tales of this calibre were mixed with accurate scientific teaching. Thus
Hamza learned for the first time from Abdul Aziz's Soviet textbooks that the
world is round. At first he was incredulous and went to consult the Mullah
who gave him religious instruction. The Mullah warned him earnestly
against accepting such
a theory which he declared was sacrilegious.
out into the plain," he told Hamza, "and look for yourself. You will see
with your own eyes that the earth is flat. He who walks far enough will, after
many days, reach the edge and if he does not turn back quickly he will fall
on the subject waxed hot and furious not only among Abdul Aziz's pupils but
among their elders as well. At that time, 1935, there were still some West
Europeans and Indians living in East Turkistan. One of them happened to
be in Manass, so his Kazak and Turki friends asked him for his opinion. He
told them that people he knew had sailed in ships right round the globe and
come back safely to their starting point, so the local Moslems decided that
the textbooks were telling the strict truth and their belief in Soviet infallibility
in other directions was thereby strengthened.
stayed at school in Manass for two years, till 1936, the year Hussein Tajji
and Sultan Sherif went forth from Barkul and pitched their tents by the lake
which is like a ruler. In that year the Kazaks of the Tien Shan again rebelled
and Hamza soon found himself in the thick of the fighting once more. This
time Ali Beg, who had hitherto been an official in charge of the tax problems
of his group, threw in his lot with the insurgents and became deputy leader
of ten thousand under Yunus Hajji himself. Governor Sheng, when he heard
it, fined Ali Beg one million taels, a sum which represented perhaps five
thousand horses, or two thousand camels, or four thousand cattle or thirty
thousand sheep. Naturally he could not pay it. But the Moslems of Manass,
Turkis as well as Kazaks, sympathised with the insurgents, so they collected
the money between them and paid on Ali Beg's behalf.
on secretly by the Russians, the revolt spread far and wide and, this time,
Osman of the Altai joined in too. One of the focal points of the revolt,
however, was in Manass, where three men directed operations: one a Kazak named
Baimullah. (not Osman's father-in-law), the second a Mongol named Ge-gen a
"Living Buddha" from the Altai Mountains; and the third a Turki farmer named
Ismail Hajji, whose "chuang-tsu," or big farm, lay athwart the roads to and from Soviet
Kazakstan which met, and separated, near the great Manass Bridge.
Hajji's house overlooked the main road junction and enabled him to watch
all the comings and goings between Urumchi, fifty miles to the south-east
and the Soviet border two hundred miles to die west and north-west. Moreover
there were those tall beds of reeds nearby so that if danger threatened, Ismail
Hajji and his two fellow-conspirators could slip away into safety—barring
the presence of a wild boar—in a matter of minutes. So, although Governor
Sheng's soldiers often came and went within sight of the rebels' headquarters,
they did not succeed in catching the leaders. Indeed, they do not seem to
have known that the leaders were there.
Hajji himself was an oldish man, rather short, with a narrow chest and not
much flesh on his rather frail bones. His thin, ascetic face was fringed
with a short, black beard. But though he looked a weakling, he was an ardent
nationalist and a kindly, cultured man to whom no fellow-Moslem of whatever
race appealed for help in vain. Yet he was not a fanatic, as his friendship
with the Mongol, Gegen, proved. So, here again was evidence that Soviet propaganda
was overreaching itself. The third member of the triumvirate, Baimullah, was
further evidence in the same direction for he was a Kazak, the acknowledged
political head of the Altai and Tien Shan Kazaks at that time.
Hajji, besides being a farmer who cultivated his own land, was also the owner
of some twelve thousand sheep, most of which he rented out to others to
care for on the usual basis: that is to say, he expected the renter at the
end of the year to return double the number he had originally taken over,
keeping the wool and cheese, and any extra animals which had been born during
the period. Some three thousand of Ismail Hajji's sheep were rented in this
way to Ali Beg and Yunus Hajji's group of Kazaks in the Kizil Uzun, thus
providing excellent and legitimate "cover" for the triumvirate's other activities.
the time the three leaders were conferring, lorries, many containing Chinese
soldiers, were passing close to the house en route to and from Urumchi. Generally
the lorries were Russian ones carrying, among other things, arms for the
Chinese and also for the insurgents. More often, perhaps, they were filled
with Russian technicians and equipment for the construction of the great
new through road from the Soviet frontier to Lanchow which lies across the
Gobi desert and nearly fifteen hundred miles away. From Lanchow it continued
to Chungking, the one-time capital of China. The sector which concerns us,
the one as far as Lanchow, was finished in 1938 and was built and also maintained
and controlled by the Soviet Government, not the Chinese Government. Lanchow,
the capital of the province of Kansu, at which this sector ended, is on the
second greatest Chinese river, Hwang-ho, which empties itself into the Yellow
Sea, south of Peking. Lanchow itself is almost two-thirds of the way from
the Soviet border to the Pacific Ocean. So, already in 1938, Soviet influence
was firmly established in the heart of the Chinese Republic.
a hundred thousand Kazaks, Turkis, Mongols and other Turkistanis were conscripted
to build the new highway which, however, is not a highway in our sense of
the word. Indeed, its principal difference from the old caravan trail which
it replaced was that it followed a permanent track instead of petering out
at frequent intervals. Also it crossed streams, and dry watercourses which
suddenly turned into torrents after a storm, by bridges instead of fords.
When it was finished, although unmetalled, it soon carried hundreds of lorries
and motor cars each week along a route which previously had been a perilous
adventure, and it shortened the normal time needed to reach the Soviet border
from Chungking, Nanking and Peking by several weeks. Before the road was
opened, it was quicker to go to Urumchi from Peking via the Trans-Siberian
and Turk-Sib railways of the USSR than across the Gobi desert.
if the new Russian-built road brought China proper closer to the outlying
Chinese provinces, it also brought the interior of China that much nearer
to the USSR. And it brought the westernmost province of all, Sinkiang, with
all its vast undeveloped resources, within a hairsbreadth of becoming part
of the Soviet Empire. Even
today, in spite of the outward friendliness of the Chinese and Russian regimes,
both know that there is still that strip some two hundred miles wide between
Kuldja and Tarbagatai along Sinkiang's northern frontier where it has so far
been impossible to delimit the border because both China and the Soviet Union
claim the whole area.
in 1936, the road was not yet finished, and Russian designs on Sinkiang had
not yet become clear. So, the keen-eyed watchers who were ostensibly minding
sheep outside Ismail Hajji's farm, hailed the Russian lorries and their
occupants as friends. In addition to the lorries, there were long strings
of camels laden with wheat, tea, salt and probably opium either on their
way to market at Manass or bound for some more distant destination. Going
towards the Soviet frontier, either at Tarbagatai which is also called Chuguchak,
or at Kuldja, also called Hi, were similar caravans mostly laden with wool.
Sometimes long straggling droves of cattle and sheep went in the same direction,
for the Soviet policy of collectivisation had decimated the animal population
of the USSR, and the Government was already taking immense quantities of
livestock from the population of East Turkistan, mostly as payment for helping
the Chinese Governor, Sheng, suppress the rebellion which the Soviet Government
Ismail Hajji's house, the three leaders were generally discussing the problem
of the "Red Beards," the remnants of the Chinese forces which the Japanese
had driven out of Manchuria and which had recently entered East Turkistan
from Soviet territory via the Altai, Kuldja and Tarbagatai which is between
the two. Ali Beg and Hamza are now convinced that the Red Beards were specially
trained by the Soviet authorities for subsequent employment in East Turkistan,
some in the use of military weapons suitable for mountain warfare against
the Kazaks and others in the more subtle weapon of propaganda. Actually,
the brutalities committed by the Red Beard soldiers neutralised the effectiveness
of the propagandists.
Kazaks immediately came into conflict with the Red Beard soldiers because
they, almost alone among the East Turkistanis, always gave back blow for
blow and had weapons with which to do so. By degrees the Kazaks came to regard
the Red Beards as the agents of Communism and to hate them for that reason
as well as for their cruelty. Yunus Hajji was one of the first Kazaks to
see their political significance, but not for some years, nor in its relation
to the Soviet Union, but simply in regard to the brand of Chinese Communism
represented by Sheng. And by that time Communism was firmly entrenched in
A Kazak "falconer" with his eagle
Typical Kirei Kazaks
The mountains and plain of Barkul
Camels on the march
The Kazak Way of War
arrival of the Red Beards from the USSR was a very different matter from
the long, slow processions of migrating Kazak tribesmen coming from the Soviet
Union with their top-heavy unwieldy camels laden with tents and chests, their
countless cattle, sheep and goats, their droves of shaggy horses seeking
only unoccupied pasture land. The Red Beards came as soldiers organised and
trained, wearing Soviet-made uniforms and carrying Soviet-type rifles and
machine guns. Even so, it was years before the local population began to blame
the Soviet Government for their presence. The Red Beards were, after all,
Chinese and they were in the service of the Governor who was also Chinese
even if he did have Russian "advisers" working for him. So the Kazaks fought
against the Red Beards at the beginning simply as the worst type of bandits
the Chinese Government had ever sent to their country: brutes who shot down
without mercy not only those who resisted them but also many other hapless
people just for the fun of seeing them die.
stole our beasts and raped our wives and daughters before slaying them,"
said one of the Kazak refugees in Turkey. "Nor could even the local Chinese
understand what they said because they came from Manchuria where men speak
an uncouth dialect. They were murderers and cut-throats as well as thieves.
And if a man, smiling at them, showed but a single gold tooth, they slew him
for the gold that was in it."
Hajji, Gegen and Baimullah sat smoking their long, cardboard-ended Russian
cigarettes and drank cup after cup of brick-tea, they talked long and earnestly
about the problem of exterminating the Red Beards against whom the whole
country was seething—to Governor Sheng's dismay and the secret delight of
his Russian advisers. The triumvirate came to the conclusion, regretfully,
that they could not match the Red Beards in the field. So the conspirators
made other plans, and circulated them secretly to the Altai, to Kuldja, to
Tarbagatai, to Turfan, and even to Hussein Tajji and Sultan Sherif at Gezkul,
which the Red Beards apparently did not visit. Whenever a party of Red Beards
left its barracks, its route was to be notified with all speed to the secret
leaders of the revolt so that it could be ambushed. Whenever a Red Beard
walked through an inhabited place by himself or with one or two companions,
he was to be shadowed and stabbed from behind, or stoned from above, as opportunity
tactics had their effect but brought reprisals. So the trouble spread, and
before long the peaceful Chinese merchants and farmers who had lived among
the inhabitants of East Turkistan for many years—even, in some cases, for
generations—found themselves involved in the blood feud against the Red Beards.
measure that relations between the Chinese and the subject races grew ever
worse, Russian hopes of gaining control of East Turkistan increased. By 1939
they had established garrisons in various places especially along the new
highway as, for example, at Kami, which is on the south side of the long
Tien Shan range and more than seven hundred miles as the crow flies from
the Soviet frontier. In March of the same year a few months before the World
War started, the Russians instructed the Chinese provincial Government to
issue edicts ordering all foreigners except, of course, Russians, to leave
East Turkistan. Practically all to whom the edicts applied were either British
or Indians. So, in early spring, 1939, thirty-three hapless traders, nearly
all of them Indians, and among them nine women and twelve children, were
forced to trek across the sixteen thousand feet passes of the Pamirs at the
coldest season of the year. They arrived at Gilgit, said The Times, frost-bitten
in 1936, Russian or Soviet intentions were still a secret and the East Turkistanis,
especially the Kazaks, had their attention fully occupied with the Red Beard
menace. To the Kazaks who lived in the countryside fell the chief burden
of setting ambushes to catch the Red Beards on the march. I have no account
of an actual ambush at this time, but Hamza explained how his brother, Yunus Hajji, taught
him this branch of Kazak fighting. Yunus learnt it from Boko Batur who also
taught it to Osman. Osman's son, Sherdirman, was still using it against Soviet
and Chinese Communists in 1953 and there is some reason to believe he may
even be doing so as I write in 1955.
recorded his account of Kazak ambush tactics on our tape "Reporter" and what
follows is a shortened version of what he said:—
always chose our tactics according to the ground. In the open we broke cover
on horseback galloping into the enemy from the rear if possible and firing
from the saddle as we went. In the mountains, we left our horses with the
women and children while we hid behind rocks and bushes. I never used any
but picked men to make the actual attack and I chose their horses too. The
men were always told to shoot to kill—not the horses but the riders if they
were mounted and the drivers, not the occupants, of lorries. We never took
prisoners because, being always on the move, we had nowhere we could keep
the hills, we aimed with the help of the two long prongs which we always
fasten to our rifles. In the open we fired from the saddle. Though we tried
to make our first attack from the rear, we also followed this by sending in
riders from as many other directions as possible. They all had orders to
get to close quarters if they could and finish the engagement off with swords.
In the later stages of the campaign, swords became scarce and we were obliged
to use wooden clubs with nails in them. They were nearly as deadly as swords
when one learnt how to swing them.
the mountains, our object was always to attack in a narrow gorge—there are
plenty of these both in the Altai and Tien Shan—and we invariably blocked
the escape route with a small mobile force of five or six men after the enemy
had passed. In the open, we sometimes used to send out small groups on horseback
with orders to turn and gallop away—in the direction of our ambush—as soon
as the enemy started to pursue them. If the enemy fell into the trap we
let them go right past and then fired into their backs and charged from
the rear. Another
favourite ruse was to set fire to a Chinese farm, evacuate the neighbourhood
immediately we knew that the local Chinese garrison was on its way to catch
us, and then ambush the column as it was going home after failing to find
to Hamza, the Kazaks' greatest problem was always shortage of weapons and
ammunition. "Naturally we carried away every usable weapon we could lay our
hands on," he said. "But even so, we often had to use home-made guns, made
out of pieces of iron piping we bought in the bazaars. Many of our bullets
were home-made, too. There was a good deal of lead to be had and we used
to melt it down over our fires. Such bullets carried pretty true up to a
hundred and fifty yards or so, which was generally all we needed. But our
home-made guns sometimes burst, killing those who were using them."
said: "When ambushing lorries, I never used more than one man to each lorry.
The party was under strict orders not to fire till I did and, as I have mentioned
already, we only shot the drivers, not the occupants. We used to lie alongside
the road so that we could scarcely miss even though we only made attacks
of this kind at night-time. When the driver was hit, the truck generally
went careering on out of control and ended by overturning. This either killed
or disabled most of the occupants, but if there were any able-bodied ones
still left, we picked them off one by one and let the rest go. We seldom
suffered any casualties in such attacks. If there were more arms than we
could carry away with us, we buried them and smashed or set fire to what
we did not want, big guns and heavy mortars and things like that which are
quite useless without wheeled transport, and we would not have been able
to get carts along the mountain tracks even if we had had them."
ambush was prepared with the utmost care. First the Kazaks watched the enemy
for days to ascertain his habits. They often staged a feint attack fifty
miles away on the previous day and then rode all night to mount the real one.
Cases are on record when a Kazak guerilla has ridden the same horse
over a thousand miles in less than four weeks when the
importance of careful reconnoitring was greatly stressed several times in Hamza's account.
Knowing how the enemy is likely to act is, in his opinion, much more than
half the battle.
"That is how we hunt wild animals,"
he concluded; "and that is just about what
our enemies were."
it is not quite so simple as that. Hunting wild animals is a sport and every
Kazak loves it. In the past, he regarded war as a sport, too—a thrilling
contest of wits and skill between individuals. But the Chinese, especially
the Communists, introduced a different kind of warfare, one based on propaganda
and torture, on taking innocent hostages to compel brave men to surrender,
on poisoning water wells so that the beasts and human beings who drank there
died in agony, or were faced with the dreadful choice of perishing miserably
of thirst or surrendering and being executed.
there is no doubt in my mind that Hamza and Ali Beg and Yunus Hajji and Osman
enjoyed many of their battles at least as much as they enjoyed hunting. This
is why the Communists found them such formidable opponents. Hamza himself
had fought no less than a hundred and sixteen engagements by the time he
reached Kashmir in 1951 at the age of twenty-nine. Most of them ended with
hand-to-hand encounters in which swords were of more use than rifles or automatics
for the simple reason that there was no time to reload.
loved of all sports was hawking, though the birds the Kazaks use are neither
hawks nor falcons but eagles standing two to three feet high and often with
a wing-spread of over six feet. Well-to-do Kazaks, and many who were less
well-to-do, used to carry a hooded eagle on their gauntleted wrists which
they supported on a stick stuck into a special hole in the saddle.
however, was not a sport to be enjoyed alone and friends were generally invited
to share in the fun. The Kazak story would not be complete without a description
of a hawking party, partly because it was a feature of their way of life
and partly because it epitomises and illustrates Kazak guerilla tactics
in battle. So let us join Ali Beg, Yunus Hajji and young Hamza on a hawking
expedition in the Tien Shan and see for ourselves what happens.
sun has just risen as the little cavalcade sets forth laughing and joking
in a ragged line behind the eagle-owner. There are white clouds round 'the
waists of the Three Sisters whose white-capped heads tower invisibly right
above them. Maybe it will rain later in the day—it usually does on the northern
slopes of the Tien Shan where there are very many thunderstorms in the summer,
and days of steady snow in the winter, although on the other side of the
range, scarcely a hundred and fifty miles away to the south, are the terrible
Thirsty Mountains where rain practically never falls at all.
the horses bear their riders up the twisting tracks over the hillside, someone
starts to sing. The eagle stirs a little uneasily on its master's wrist at
the first notes, but its eyes are hooded so that it cannot see to fly away.
Besides, by now it has been long enough in captivity to know and trust its
master. So it simply digs its talons a little deeper into the leather gauntlet
on which it is sitting and gives its undivided attention to the task of
not letting its balance be upset by the movement of the horse.
befits a happy occasion, the song is generally a gay love song or a ballad
and soon everyone is joining in. But sometimes, the singer sings a song he
has composed himself—the words, not the music—in which case everyone listens
for the joke which is almost bound to come in each verse and then joins
heartily in the chorus:
goes rolling across the great moraines and woods on the other side of the
narrowing valley and is tossed back and forth till the echoes are drowned
in another stanza.
much farther are you going to take us?" shouts someone from the rear, when
the party has had its fill of singing. "My horse is not shod for riding
over glaciers—not at this time of year."
you see," suggests another. "His eagle has had so many failures lower down,
he has to take us where the hares and foxes haven't met it before. Otherwise
the bird wouldn't dare show its beak."
got it wrong," says a third. "He wants to get us up in the clouds so we won't
see the poor thing miss."
eagle owner smiles but does not answer. For the whole of the preceding week,
the keen eyes of his retainers have been reconnoitring the mountain valleys,
first marking down in their minds likely spots in which a fox, or maybe a
wolf, might be found in the open at the right time of day.
they think they have found one, they report back:
in Twittering Bird Valley beyond the open meadow by the side of the little
blue lake, a vixen leads her cubs to the waterside each morning two hours
the Vale of Ravens where there is a tall pine tree with an open space round
it, a lone wolf basks in the sun till an hour before noon."
big is the wolf?" asks the eagle-owner.
is eight spans from the muzzle to the base of the tail—a gaunt beast and
its hide is rough and scarred."
thou that I will fly my eagle at such a scarecrow? Or at a vixen with her
cubs? Shame on ye both!" shouts the bird's owner. "Find me a worthier quarry
or it shall go ill with the pair of you."
retainers try again. And this time one returns with the news that a full-grown
wolf with no mate following behind it trots each morning across a meadow
at the bottom of a valley, the narrow sides of which are covered by gaunt
rocks and low bushes.
is good," says the owner of the eagle. "I will go and see." And, having reached
the spot, he notes carefully the time at which the wolf appears and marks
in his mind whence it came and where it is going. Then he seeks out a cleft
in the rocks high above the meadow from which he can launch the eagle at
exactly the right moment before the wolf disappears from sight behind a boulder.
Finally, he finds a place in which to leave the horses out of sight or smell
of the wolf, estimates precisely the time needed to reach his vantage point
from where the horses will be tethered and returns home to fix the day and
time of starting and to invite his friends.
the party reaches the spot the eagle-owner has pre-selected and he dismounts,
whereupon if there has been singing it ceases immediately and everyone follows
his example. He points out to them where the strike is to be made and then
they all melt into the hillside climbing noiselessly to high vantage points
overlooking the place chosen for the encounter.
a time, there is utter silence except for the occasional shriek of a bird
high above them, or the bleat of a mountain goat or the shrill, piercing
whistle of a marmot. Then, suddenly, a long grey shadow appears on the green
grass loping lazily down the tortuous, narrow track from the distant col at
the head of the valley. "By Allah!" say the watchers to themselves. "A wolf!
No cub either, but a full-grown male in the prime of life, moving without
haste and not a finger's-breadth less than ten spans! A formidable beast,
indeed! Will the eagle be launched at such a quarry? Which will win if it
are not left long in doubt. The eagle, unhooded suddenly, rises into the
air and looks around for an instant and then sees the wolf. The great bird
is ravenous after two days of fasting and does not hesitate but swoops, swoops,
down, down, not like a stone or a bullet, but with silently flapping wings,
remorselessly, unerringly, a winged avenger, fearless, sure-winged, implacable.
As the wolf moves forward unsuspectingly, the eagle strikes its great talons
deep behind the beast's head. Knocked over sideways by the force of the impact,
it rolls over, gnashing and biting, trying to use claws and teeth on its
assailant while the eagle strikes furiously for the wolf's eyes with its
curved beak. In a matter of moments, the fight is over and the wolf is dead.
there is a wild scramble by the watchers. All leap to their feet and race
for their horses—rather breathlessly, some of them, even though it is downhill,
for Kazaks are always more at home on horseback than on their feet. However,
in an incredibly short time they mount and gallop to the scene of the combat where they find the
owner of the bird has already re-hooded his eagle and is busy skinning the
wolf. When he has finished doing so, he unhoods his bird again and lets it
gorge itself to the full on the wolf's carcase.
bird," comments one. "Wai yapramai! The wolf was dead in three minutes, and
slain by the eagle alone without the help of hunting dogs."
of course it was," agrees someone else. "With such a bird and such a trainer.
Nevertheless, look at the size of the wolf. See! the skin measures nine and
a half spans from muzzle to the base of the tail."
not the eagle measure as much and more from wing to wing?" asks another jealously,
knowing that he would not dare to set his own bird at anything larger than
than thou dost from outstretched fingers to fingers." laughs someone. "Verily,
if that eagle were matched against thee, I know which would be the winner
even if thou hadst a sword in thy hand for the contest."
is ill-said by one who lost the joint of his first finger to the beak of
an eagle," replies the other.
such a mishap is unusual, it is one which could easily happen through carelessness.
The captured eagle respects only its own master who treats it, first with
deliberate cruelty and then, when it has been trained, with the utmost care
and attention. So an understanding is established between the two, and on
the side of the man at least, it often develops into real affection. But
the bird, even though it accepts its master, remains suspicious of all others.
To them it is still wild, intractable, savage, dangerous.
eagles are caught in the winter. The hunter first makes a snare of white
string, twenty strands, each with another twenty joined to it by running knots.
He lays this snare on the ground and then, when the first snow covers it
completely, he ties a live chicken nearby. The chicken squawks, the eagle
swoops, and, when it tries to rise again with the dead chicken in its talons,
the nooses run together round its legs and it is helpless. The snare-setter
rushes up, throws a cloth over the struggling bird and then, with both hands
well gauntleted, fixes a hood over the eagle's head so that it cannot
see to fly away when he releases it from the cloth and the snare.
next stage is to drive two stakes in the ground and tie a length of string
between them. One end of another, shorter, piece of string is attached to
the eagle's leg and its other end to one of the stakes. As the string round
its leg is too short to allow the unfortunate bird to sit on the ground,
it is thus forced to try to keep its balance on the first piece of string,
otherwise it would soon be hanging head downwards in space. It is kept like
this, hooded, for literally days and nights on end —ten is about the maximum—until
the trainer is sure dial it is too tired to fly away. Occasionally its captor
unhoods it and gives it a mouse, or a hare, and a very little water; not
enough of either food or drink to satisfy it but enough to keep it alive,
and whet its appetite for more.
its captor thinks he can safely do so, he rehoods the bird and lets it sit,
still tethered, on his gauntleted wrist while he rides round the encampment.
If it behaves itself, he gives it a much thicker piece of string to sit on
when he goes home, then a stick, and, finally, it is promoted to the branch
of a nearby tree. But he always keeps it tethered for he knows it would
fly at anyone but himself—which, in general, is what he wants, for it prevents
anyone trying to steal it. Moreover it must remain savage or it would not
great day comes at last when the eagle's owner takes it up into the hills
to make its first strike. He does not feed it for two whole days beforehand
and he is careful to fly it at a quarry which is not too far away. Thus he
is able to get to the place before the bird has eaten its fill. By the time
he arrives, the eagle is already tearing its prey to pieces and ravenously
devouring the raw flesh. But, as it knows its owner and is busy eating, it
allows him to approach without flying away. He re-hoods it, quickly skins
the animal—he needs the skins to line his clothes with—and then gives the
carcase back to the eagle. Surprisingly soon, the bird learns that it will
always be allowed to eat what it has caught and from that moment a bond is
established between man and bird which lasts till one or the other dies.
against the Red Beards flickered up and down East Turkistan for several years
but, by 1938, the flames had subsided sufficiently in the Tien Shan area
for Hamza to be able to return to school, although in the Altai the fighting
increased in intensity. Osman ranged through the mountains, hitting the Chinese
whenever and wherever he could, staging ambush after ambush at the head of
his picked band of guerillas till he became a veritable nightmare to his enemies.
His incomparable knowledge of the numerous impregnable hiding-places in the
upper Altai, where few except Kazaks and Mongols had ever been, enabled him
to evade capture when the Chinese came after him in force and he inflicted
heavy casualties when they were entangled in the narrow valleys and ravines
and by surprise attacks in more open country. He led these himself, galloping
into the enemy's ranks well in advance of his men, firing his machine-gun
from the waist as he charged. He did not shoot, as one might think, at random,
but actually picked off individuals with short bursts of two or three shots
beginning with any officers he could see. His marksmanship was so deadly
that it is now as legendary among the Kazaks in East Turkistan and Turkey
as William Tell's became among the mountaineers of Switzerland. He seems to
have come through these engagements without more than an occasional scratch.
men gave him the kind of devoted service the Kazaks have always given to
such a leader. They regarded him as a true successor, not merely to Boko Batur,
but to Genghis Khan himself. Courageous, ruthless, chivalrous, suspicious,
proud, he never asked others to do anything he did not dare to do himself.
His followers felt that he would never swerve from a course of action he
held to be right, never spare either himself or his enemies, never compromise
with an opponent,
a friend, a cause or his conscience. They did not realise that he had appeared
on the stage of history half a century too late. As a cavalry leader he was
unique. But in the end he had to take his horsemen into battle against armoured
cars, tanks and aeroplanes. Even so he put up a good fight, as we shall
see in due course.
in the Tien Shan, Yunus Hajji, Baimullah, Ali Beg and other Kazak leaders
were turning their thoughts to politics. At first this brought disaster.
In 1939 at about the time the second World War started, Governor Sheng, acting
as usual on Russian advice, suddenly relaxed his terror and offered to let
the Kazaks appoint local officials so that they could manage their own affairs
such as schools, taxation and the allocation of grazing lands. Many Kazaks
accepted with alacrity, not realising that Governor Sheng was simply scattering
offices as ground-bait in the same way as they themselves used chickens to
snare eagles. When the new officials had taken up their duties, Sheng sent
out his secret police and rounded them all up on the pretext that they were
members of the "Halk Azad-lik Aluremo"—the People's Freedom Party—the very
name of which shows that it, as well as Governor Sheng, was under Soviet
arrests had the familiar Communist ring about them. At dead of night, a party
of secret police surrounded the house or tent of the man they wanted and
shouted to the inmates to come out, which most of them did in their night
clothes. Then the women and children were hustled back, none too gently, while
the wanted man was fettered and manacled and then pitched head first into
the waiting car and driven to the prison without being allowed to dress. In
some cases police agents ransacked his house, not always raping the women
and not always thinking it necessary to "plant" incriminating papers, though
both happened sometimes. But at that time membership of PFP was not illegal—after
all, it was founded under Soviet auspices—so no one had troubled to conceal
the fact that he belonged to it. Evidence of treasonable activities therefore
was only planted when the wanted man was considered really dangerous.
races besides the Kazaks were involved in the round-up: Turkis, Mongols,
Uzbeks and the rest. But there were leaders who managed to escape the snare,
generally because they had carefully kept themselves in the background when
less cautious folk accepted Governor Sheng's offer of jobs at its face value.
Among those who remained at liberty were both Ali Beg and Yunus Hajji and
also Ismail Hajji, the Turki farmer whose house had been used by the local
insurgents to plot the campaign against the Red Beards. But Sheng caught Ismail
Hajji in the end. He was arrested and released, then re-arrested and tortured
until he died. His two confederates, Gegen the Mongol "Living Buddha" and
Baimullah, the Kazak, both received a cordial invitation to go to Urumchi
as Governor Sheng's guests. Like others, they went, suspecting nothing, and,
in the midst of the princely festivities, apparently arranged in the guests'
honour, executioners suddenly intervened and put them to death.
mantle was placed, secretly, on the shoulders of Ali Beg. But in 1940, about
the same time as the fall of France, he too was arrested and taken to Urumchi,
where he remained under house arrest for 18 months. During this time, Chinese
guards accompanied him wherever he went and spent the night in the room in
which he and his principal wife slept. There was a bed in the room and the
guards occupied it. But Ali Beg had slept on the floor of his tent all his
life, so this was the least of his trials.
before Ali Beg's arrest, Yunus Hajji went to Urumchi as a delegate to a conference
called by Sheng. He took Hamza with him so that he could continue his schooling
in Urumchi, and he actually stayed there two years in spite of the reign
of terror which was going on all round them. There were white boxes placed
invitingly at street corners and people were encouraged to put anonymous
accusations into them. Sheng's secret police did not trouble to inquire whether
the accusations were true or false, so no one knew from day to day, or even
from hour to hour, whether the secret police would not hammer on his door
and arrest him for some offence he had probably not committed. Arrest was
followed by torture, during which the unfortunate victim racked his brains
to think what enemy might have denounced him. Having thought of one, he denounced him too and
soon the tally mounted up with the inevitability of a chain letter till
it involved many thousands of innocent persons. Ali Beg and Hamza estimate
that not less than ten thousand hapless people were done to death in this
way alone in each of the nine years Governor Sheng's reign of terror lasted.
1939, just before Hamza went to Urumchi, Sheng's Russian advisers decided
that religious instruction should be abolished in the province. So, throughout
his two years in the capital, Hamza received secular instruction only. He
did not like the change, but he blamed the Chinese for it, not the Russians.
But seeds of doubt about the Russians were beginning to germinate. The text-books
he used were compiled under Russian auspices, and the Soviet Union was a
Communist State. Some of his school-mates were now Communists, even some
of the Kazaks. And when they left school, they immediately got good jobs
in Sheng's provincial Government. Hamza—Uchar, the Quick-Witted—began to
ask himself whether Communism was really of two different kinds: one Chinese,
which was bad, while the other, Russian, was good; one which backed the local
nationalities against the Chinese and the other which backed the evil tyrant
Sheng, who trod on the necks of the subject races. Or was it that the Communists
spoke with two mouths in public but secretly pursued only one object? And,
if this was what they really were doing, which mouth was to be believed?
indeed difficult for anyone to know what to believe in those days. For example,
had Sheng meant well or ill in August, 1939, when he invited all the different
races inhabiting the province to send delegates to Urumchi to work out a
new basic law whereby everyone should be justly treated? At least it was
an invitation which could not be ignored because that would enable Sheng
to say: "Well, I offered you freedom and you would not come to get it."
due course, therefore, some three thousand delegates, Yunus Hajji among them,
arrived in Urumchi on the appointed date and were entertained sumptuously
at Governor Sheng's expense. Then, as a preliminary to the discussions, and
to ensure (so he said) that they were carried on in an atmosphere of peace,
Sheng ordered each delegate to write a letter to those who had chosen him
and to say in the letter that all weapons must immediately be surrendered
to the Government.
do not know how many delegates did as Sheng bade them. I only know that very
few, if any, of the Kazaks did. Nor, if they had done so, would any arms
have been handed over in consequence. In any case, the three thousand delegates
were still in Urumchi in the following April and they had not yet begun
to consider the draft of the new basic law. Then, in April, 1940, Sheng
arrested eighteen of the three thousand, including Yunus Hajji, and when
the delegates were at last allowed to go home in the winter of 1940-1, the
eighteen did not accompany them. Nor were they ever again seen alive.
was one Kazak in Urumchi who might possibly have been able to say what happened
to them. He was employed as a lorry-driver by Sheng's secret police and one
of his jobs was to carry away the corpses of those who had been executed,
generally by shooting the victim in the back of the neck, and dump them outside
the city boundary. In addition to his salary, which was not large, he earned
considerable sums by telling the relatives of missing people where he had
deposited the bodies of their loved ones.
hot summer's day, he happened to be transporting some of Sheng's executioners,
alive, instead of the dead bodies of their victims, when his engine gave
out in a desolate place, far from any habitation. While he lifted the bonnet
and tinkered, which all drivers in East Turkistan love to do because it enables
them to show off their skill with machinery, his nine passengers sought a
cool spot in the shade and soon they were all asleep. The driver finished
his repairs and then went over to the nine executioners and cut their throats
one by one. Having done so, he drove back to Urumchi where he reported that
the lorry had been held up in the mountains by a party of Kazak brigands
who had slain his passengers with their swords but had spared him because
he was a Kazak. And when his employers sent to the spot seeking confirmation,
the kites and vultures and jackals had completed the work the driver began
so that it was impossible
to disprove what the driver had said; and his employers believed him though
no one else did.
name of this macabre individual was Qali, and even his fellow-Kazaks find
him hard to place. Some said he was a spy because he worked for Sheng for
wages. Others said:
he was a spy because he took money from Sheng, what was he when he took money
for having told us what Sheng had done to our dear ones? And for whom did
he spy when he took no money at all for slaying Sheng's executioners, except
what he found in their pockets after killing them, which doubtless was not
shall have another brief opportunity of weighing Qali's character later on
when he suddenly appears from nowhere at a critical moment in the Kazak struggle.
Whether we shall be any wiser then is another matter.
who was at school in Urumchi when his brother was arrested, did not employ
Qali's services. But, as soon as it was clear to him that Yunus Hajji was
dead, he left the capital as unobtrusively as he could and made his way back
to Kizil Uzun. Hamza himself was now of an age, nineteen, to have been in
mortal danger if Sheng's secret police, or rather, the Russian Pogodin's,
had suspected him, as is the usual way with Communist secret police, simply
because they more than suspected his elder brother. But Hamza, fortunately,
knew better than to speak his mind openly at school and the very fact that
he was attending a Communist-controlled school, and receiving political instruction
at it, told in his favour. So although he was Yunus Hajji's brother, he
was not arrested and got home safely.
of going straight back to Kizil Uzun, Hamza went first to take counsel of
Ismail Hajji, choosing a moment when the three roads were free of traffic.
The old man was still there, though weak and ill from the sufferings he had
undergone at the hands of Sheng's inquisitors. He advised Hamza to keep clear
of Manass where there were white boxes at street corners as in Urumchi. Hamza
therefore returned after nightfall to his own tent by the banks of the Kizil
Uzun where his friends immediately set a watch day and night overlooking
the track from
Manass so that he could be warned in time if strangers were approaching. But
Ali Beg holding the half five-dollar bill given him by Douglas Mackiernan
A Communist delegation at Hami, November, 1949 to demand the surrender of Osman Batur (third from right)
Tien Shan glaciers
A likely spot for an ambush
The city wall of Hami (Kumul)
time later, Ali Beg returned unexpectedly to Manass. So Hamza sent him a
message to find out whether it would be safe for them to meet. The friend
who took it was a little dubious when he came back.
has come to Manass as a Ming-Bashi, the Captain of a Thousand—in the pay
of that butcher, Sheng," the friend told Hamza. "It is to fear that the Kitai
have indoctrinated him after their fashion and that he is in their pay, though
who could blame him if the choice were between accepting their doctrine and
is the gossip of the bazaars which is not worthy to be credited by true believers,"
said Hamza contemptuously. "Was not I in Urumchi when Sheng's torturers
held him captive in a house and interrupted even his prayers lest he should
be speaking, not to God, but to a confederate concealed beneath his window?"
thou not thyself learning at a Kitai school during that time?" asked the
friend suspiciously. "And maybe they taught thee Kitai ways together with
maybe my brother, Yunus Hajji, was likewise in Kitai pay," Hamza interrupted.
"Maybe, too, that he was arrested because of it."
said the friend. "Of thy brother, none can hold doubts in his mind. And as
for thee: art thou not his brother? But this Ali Beg: was not his father,
Rahim Beg, a mediator betwixt our people and the Kitai? And did not the son
succeed the father? And doth not the son now hold office under Butcher Sheng
who has taken thy brother away and we know not what has become of him?"
thou sayest about my brother is true," Hamza agreed. "But was not Ali Beg
his deputy Tumen-Bashi, or Captain of Ten Thousand, in the days of our fighting
against the Red Beards before Ali Beg was taken to Urumchi a captive? And
is not Ali Beg known throughout the district as a true patriot against whom
Sheng set a fine of a million taels which the people paid voluntarily seeing
that he was not able?
I will hear from his own lips, not thine, why he has come to Manass as envoy
of Sheng the Butcher."
Hamza did not think it wise to send to Manass again. However, in a short
while the new Ming-Bashi himself sent a message asking Hamza to go to see
him. Though the messenger had no word to say in explanation of the invitation,
Hamza went at once. And when he and Ali Beg met, they embraced, placing their
right cheeks against one another and shaking hands in the conventional manner
as they did so, murmuring also the prescribed words "Allahu akbar! God is
great!" and touching forehead, lips and breast with their right hands after
the salutation, as is the way between those who follow Islam. Both were
still young men; Hamza nineteen and Ali Beg thirty-four. From that time
on, their fortunes were inextricably intertwined.
sure that there were no eaves-droppers—the concealed microphone had not yet
come on the scene in that distant part of the world—Ali Beg told Hamza his
plans. He emphasised that he had to walk very warily. During the eighteen
months he had spent under house arrest in Urumchi, he had been "indoctrinated"
by day and much of the night. Except that in his case there was no actual
physical violence —evidently Sheng put his potential value too high for that
sort of persuasion—the method was exactly the same as has now become only
too familiar to us through what was done to our own soldiers who were unfortunate
enough to be taken prisoner in Korea. Lectures, essays, the learning by
heart of long statements of Communist policy, answering a ceaseless fire
of questions on Communist theory and practice, forced "confessions" of past
errors: such things, and others like them, had gone on for hours, days,
weeks, eighteen months on end. Blessed with a splendid memory, like most
Kazaks, and a "poker" face, Ali Beg ultimately convinced his mentors that
he had swallowed all they told him.
by this time, Sheng was getting worried because of what was happening thousands
of miles away from East Turkistan. It was October, 1941, and the Soviet armies
in Europe were in headlong flight before the victorious Germans. Hundreds
of thousands of disillusioned Russians were eagerly surrendering,
hoping that Hitler would
free them from the Communist terror. Sheng saw that Hitler's forces were
daily getting nearer to Asia and that the whole Soviet system appeared to
long, he decided to change sides. This involved adopting a new policy towards
the local races on the one hand and towards Nationalist China on the other.
One of his first moves, therefore, was to send for Ali Beg, who went to the
meeting expecting that he would not return alive, for he remembered what
happened to Baimullah and Gegen when Sheng appeared to show them favour, and
what had happened later to Yunus Hajji. But, instead of receiving the usual
bullet fired without warning into the back of his neck, he heard Sheng offer
him the post of Ming-Bashi—equivalent to local governor —over the Manass district
in which he was born. Scarcely daring to believe his ears, and wondering whether
the offer was a trap, he asked what his duties would be. Sheng answered that
he would have a free hand to appease the local inhabitants and make them
contented with the regime. Ali Beg knew that it was an impossible task, but
it was a better life than house arrest and indoctrination in Urumchi and
would give him an opportunity to organise opposition to Sheng. So he accepted.
efforts to set himself right with the Chinese Nationalists whose authority
he had flouted consistently for seven years were also successful and Madame
Chiang Kai-shek herself actually flew to Urumchi to attend the celebrations
Sheng arranged in honour of the reunification of the province with China.
In fact, Communism in the Province of Sinkiang was now in full retreat. Soviet
influence retreated too, though nothing like so far.
local population was slower than the Kuomintang to accept Sheng's recantation.
One day, Ali Beg sent an urgent message to Hamza to come to see him. Ali
Beg was living in a house at Manass at this time, and when Hamza arrived he
carefully closed the door and windows after they had embraced and exchanged
the conventional Moslem greetings.
waited, as was right and proper, for the elder man to speak first.
brother is dead," Ali Beg told him. "He was found strangled. Sheng's wife
is the will of God," said Hamza. "And on Him be praise. But how did Sheng
himself escape? Are not his crimes greater far than those of the brother,
and the woman?"
is indeed truth," Ali Beg agreed. "Maybe he was too well guarded."
God bring the day of his retribution nearer," Hamza declared devoutly. "He
is a murderer of hundreds of thousands. On such God doth not shower mercy
brother of the Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung himself was an official
under Sheng at this time and died in the same way in 1942. Sheng himself
stayed on as Governor for another year. Then he was invited to return to Chungking
so that he might become Minister of Agriculture in the Central Government.
Neither Ali Beg nor Hamza could tell me how long he held this position. They
say that, after a while, he "disappeared." This is not Sheng's story so we
may leave it at that.
the two years Ali Beg nominally served Sheng as Ming-bashi of Manass, he
was secretly devoting all his energies to building up the Kazak national movement
and making friends, regardless of nationality, with Turkis, Mongols and others
who were doing likewise. His aim, at that time, and theirs, was to win independence
for East Turkistan through political co-operation from which even the Chinese
were not barred if they were ready to support the idea of local self-government.
Osman Batur in the Altai, on the other hand, was rapidly carving his way
to freedom by force of arms, not caring in the least whether the Chinese
he was fighting were Communist or Nationalist so long as they were Chinese.
Nevertheless, he and Ali Beg were in constant touch with one another, mostly
through Hamza, although their paths at this time were by no means parallel.
in the background, the Soviet Government still found time and means, in spite
of Hitler, to egg the Kazaks, Turkis and Mongols on against the Chinese,
and the Chinese against the local inhabitants. But it was steadily losing
ground in both directions and continued to do so even after Stalin's "crowning
mercy" at Stalingrad turned
the tide of war away from Russia's Asiatic empire. In 1943, the Anti-Imperialist
League which Sheng had established on Moscow's orders to under-mine British
influence was dissolved and, for the first time in history, British and American
Consulates were opened in Urumchi, at the request of the Chinese Government.
Kazaks did not know at first what to make of the decline in Russian influence.
For years, they had counted on Russian support for their national movement
against the Chinese, including the brand of Communism which the Chinese Sheng
tried to force down their throats. They had been carefully taught by Russian
agents to regard the Russians as friends. It was from the Soviet Union that
they received, though mostly through Chinese merchants, such things as tea,
sugar, tobacco in exchange for their surplus livestock, wool and hides.
The Kazaks, like the other local races, were on friendly terms with the
Russian lorry drivers and engineers who used and maintained the roads. And
they very much preferred the Russian garrisons which had unostentatiously
been established in many towns to the Chinese Red Beards. When the Russian
garrisons moved out in 1943, many people feared that their departure would
mean another reign of Red Beard terror. It was three more years before they
understood that the reason the Russians came in the first place was to enable
the Communist yoke to be clamped over their shoulders and that Communism and
Red Beardism were one and the same thing.
in 1943, when Sheng's successor, Wu Chung-hsin, arrived from Chungking, most
of the Kazaks received him coldly, though he came laden with promises of
better treatment and reform. Sheng's title was Tupan or Military Governor.
Wu Chung-hsin was styled, simply, Provincial Chairman. He had had an English
education and is often known as Chaucer Wu. He announced at once that he had
come to give local independence to everyone, Kazaks, Turkis, Mongols, Uzbeks,
under officials of their own choosing. Hamza was one of those who took his
proclamations seriously. He had just published a pamphlet inveighing against
Communism. Full of hope and enthusiasm, he sought office at once. As one
of the few Kazaks who
could speak and write Chinese fluently, he was, or should have been, indispensable
to both sides.
was inspired by burning indignation at the crimes committed by the Chinese
Communists, especially the Red Beards, against the people of East Turkistan.
He denounced them for abusing the ancient and unwritten laws of hospitality
by murdering guests who had just been given food and drink and by murdering
the hosts to whom they themselves had gone as guests. He accused them of
stealing under the pretext of levying taxes; of waylaying travellers and killing
them simply for petty gain; of subjecting people to revolting and indescribable
tortures with the object of extracting money or information; of accepting
and manufacturing false witness against innocent people. He concluded by
calling on his countrymen to wipe every Chinese Communist off the face of
pamphlet, in fact, was a vigorous call to action against Communism in practice.
He was not concerned with Communist theory which he judged by its fruits.
And he did not yet realise that in spite of Governor Sheng's nine years'
reign of terror, the fruits of Communism were still far from ripe.
Kazaks besides Hamza ranged themselves behind Chairman Wu in the hope of
building East Turkistani freedom by stages in peace. New and strange names
begin to come into our story in consequence. As most of them are quite unknown
outside Central Asia, I shall try not to bring in more than are absolutely
necessary. Yet the newcomers are not unimportant for they held in their hands
the fate of a country as large as Great Britain, France and Germany together,
though its inhabitants numbered at most 8,000,000. Perhaps that is not quite
accurate. The fate of East Turkistan was ultimately settled in Moscow and
Nanking. But the people of East Turkistan came within a measurable distance
of becoming the arbiters of it themselves.
the politicians, especially the Chinese, talked in Urumchi, Osman went on
fighting. His exploits in saving his people from the Red Beards had earned
him the title of Batur which was now universally bestowed on him. Thanks
entirely to his efforts, the Altai was practically cleared of Chinese, and
on June 22, 1943, the people
of the Altai, Mongols as well as Kazaks, acclaimed Osman their Khan, or Prince,
thus establishing him as the legitimate successor of Genghis Khan the Great
and apparently fulfilling Boko Batur's prophecy that he was the chosen one
of God to lead his people to freedom.
Batur accepted the title of Khan at a special ceremony at Bulghun, a meeting
place of three roads coming to the Altai from the USSR, Mongolia and Urumchi.
A river runs through it to a near-by lake on the shores of which there is
good pasture for nomad flocks and herds. No doubt the place was chosen because
delegates attended not from East Turkistan only, but also from the USSR and
Mongol representative was Marshal Choi Balsan, head of the Communist republic
of Outer Mongolia. The two representatives from the USSR were Kazak chieftains
from Kazak-stan. All three were accompanied by imposing bodyguards clearly
designed to impress Osman Batur with the might, and generosity, of the Soviet
Balsan was described to me as a round-faced, rather rotund man of medium
height, clean-shaven and wearing, not his usual marshal's uniform, but a long
orange robe of silk which stretched from his neck almost to his ankles and
which was held close to his ample middle by a cloth girdle. As was still normal
for Mongol notables in those days, he wore on his head a peculiar kind of
high homburg, made in England and exported to Central Asia via the bazaars
of Calcutta. Indian merchants took camel loads of them mostly to Lhasa across
Nepal and then on to die Tibetan-Sinkiang frontier, where local merchants
bought them. Formerly this transaction took place at Khotan and other East
Turkistani cities, but the Communists closed the frontier in 1939. The merchants
who bought the hats from the Indians carried them, again on camels, to Mongolia.
two Kazaks, whose names were Kassin and Sultan, were dressed much as Osman
Batur himself except that the soft puce velvet "tumaks" on their heads had
no jaunty little cockade of owls' feathers sticking out from the top because
this was not the badge of the Naiman tribe of Kazaks to which they belonged.
And there was a wider brim of soft fox fur round them. But all three fur-lined
ear flaps were tied under the chin in just the same way and there was not
much difference between the long fur-lined coats of flowered silk brocade
ornamented with gay embroidery. The three Kazaks wore narrow black leather
sword belts with long curved swords in them—treasured weapons handed down
from generations of ancestors and made of fine steel inlaid with silver and
gold, like the swords of Damascus, but the work of Kazak smiths who from time
immemorial have wandered from encampment to encampment plying their trade
with primitive implements and superb skill. The Kazak chiefs wore loose caloshes
over their knee-high leather boots. This made them walk in what seemed rather
a slip-shod fashion. But they did not look slip-shod when they arrived on
horseback at the head of their bodyguard of some fifty to sixty armed men,
all dressed much as the chiefs were but with less magnificence.
ceremonial greeting between the four notables and their respective retinues,
was a lengthy affair, complicated by the fact that Choi Balsan was not a
Moslem. He had been brought up a Buddhist, so the three Kazaks could not greet
him as they would normally greet one another, with the traditional greeting:
"Salaam aleikum—Peace be with you!" and receive the reply: "Wa aleikum es
salaam—And with you peace!" The other sixteen conventional phrases of greeting
were also based on the Kazak Islamic heritage. They therefore had to say
to Choi Balsan something courteous but non-committal, such as: "Have you
come peacefully?" and "Is your health good?" When they had done so, Osman
Batur motioned Choi Balsan to enter the vast ceremonial tent in which their
conference, and the feast after it, were to be held.
is for the chief guest to enter first," he said politely. "Be pleased to
Nay!" protested Choi Balsan vigorously. "These two are more worthy than 1.1
may not precede them."
it cannot be that I should be the first to enter," replied Kassin as the
senior of the two Kazak visitors. His companion, Sultan, echoed the words
a moment later.
after more parley, Choi Balsan at length suffered the two Kazaks to take
an arm each and usher him with smiles into the tent. Fortunately, the tent door was
amply wide or they might have had difficulty in not touching the sides which
would have brought ill-luck to the deliberations. Or, maybe they did touch
the sides on this occasion.
men guarded the tent while the four chieftains conferred together. But, before
the parleys actually began, Osman Batur's servants offered the traditional
tea and salted bread. And as all noisily drank the strange compound of tea,
milk, salt and butter, they held pieces of sugar Russian-fashion at the side
of their mouths, and let the liquid absorb sweetness from them before they
swallowed it. And each of them gave die business ends of their funnel-mouth-pieced
Russian cigarettes a twist before lighting them, lest the dry tobacco should
communique was issued to the press about what went on behind the thick felted
walls of Osman Batur's tent at Bulghun. Indeed, this is the first time an
account of the proceedings has been published. Choi Balsan, who was a Communist
by profession though not necessarily by conviction, started by warmly congratulating
his host on his success in freeing their Altai—the Kazaks' and Mongols'—from
the Chinese. He blandly ignored the fact that the Chinese whom Osman Batur
had expelled were in the service of the Communist provincial governor, Sheng,
a puppet of the Soviet Government. Choi Balsan then went on to suggest that
Osman should not stop at the virtual independence he had achieved but should
set the seal on it by proclaiming an independent Republic of the Altai with
himself as its first President. He hinted, very cautiously, that the Soviet
Government might possibly be ready to let him incorporate the Altai province
of Siberia in the new state, adding that it would certainly give Osman all
the weapons and other help he might need to make the new Republic secure
against any "aggression" on the part of the Chinese Nationalists. The Mongol
subtly added that, when the Altai was independent, its vast resources could
be used exclusively for the benefit of the people of the Altai, of whom Kazaks
and Mongols formed the great majority. He did not think it necessary to point
out that, as the new republic would be entirely land-locked, its trade
would be at die mercy of
the rulers of die Soviet Union seeing that China would naturally refuse
to acknowledge the Altai's right to independence and would do all in its
power to strangle its trade with the outside world.
Batur stroked his beard but did not commit himself to a definite answer at
this stage of the proceedings. But it was clear that the idea attracted him.
It was true that he had driven the Chinese out. It must have been pleasant
to feel that the homeland of Genghis Khan was now his to do what he liked
with, and whether his title was President, Khan or Emperor signified little.
Had not Genghis Khan conquered half the known world after making himself
master of the Altai which, now as then, was the central hub round which the
world revolved—whether on its axis or as a flat spuming top made no difference?
Khan had done these things, why not Osman? And had not Boko Batur prophesied
culminating point in his career, Osman Batur looked remarkably like Holbein's
famous picture of Henry VIII, though his face lacked Bluff King Hal's arrogance
and signs of good-living. Standing just over six feet in height, broad in
proportion, short-necked and dark-skinned, with deep furrows between his
eyes which were generally half-closed, he carried his character in his face:
a man of action and decision, not to be trifled with, suspicious, opinionated,
ruthless and without fear; a man to be trusted both by foe and friend; a
man with a mission yet without personal ambition beyond his stern determination
to fulfil his life's purpose.
a man was by nature more cautious when battling with words than with weapons
of war. So, when Choi Balsan ended his glowing picture of what the future
held for him if he trusted it to the generosity of Stalin, he still gave
no definite answer. Choi Balsan therefore went on to describe the huge quantities
of consumer goods which, he said, the Soviet Union was holding on the other
side of die frontier so that they could be exchanged against the hides, wool,
livestock and mineral wealth of the Altai as soon as it was certain that
the benefits of the exchange would go only to the people of the Altai and
not to the Chinese imperialists. He added that the elimination of Chinese influence would
enable die Kazaks and Mongols of the Altai to regulate their own affairs
without Chinese interference. This was a shrewd argument: there were constant
disputes between the two nomad races about grazing rights.
may have reflected that Kassin and Sultan, being from Soviet Kazakstan, were
the right people to speak about the consumer goods said to be available in
their country. But they held their peace and, when Choi Balsan appealed to
diem for confirmation of his remarks about the USSR, as he did sometimes,
they mostly nodded their heads in agreement.
that night, after die feasting was over, Kassin murmured to his host beneath
his breath as the guests were taking their leave that he would fain have
speech with him privately after Choi Balsan was safely out of die way.
for religious reasons, die tents occupied by the Mongols were at some distance
from those of die Moslems so that there was no difficulty in arranging for
Kassin to visit Osman secretly during the hours of darkness. When die two
men met, it was obvious that Kassin was embarrassed. Like Choi Balsan, he
had received his instructions from the Soviet Government before he was sent
to visit Osman Batur officially outside Soviet territory. But he was a Kazak,
and not only that; he was actually the grandson of die Kazak hero, Ablai
Khan, who had fought against the Russians in die early nineteenth century
and had resisted diem successfully for many years before they were able to
defeat him. So Kassin was secretly determined to make Osman Batur understand
what lay beneath the surface of the fair words Choi Balsan had spoken.
two men sat and talked, very quietly lest their words should penetrate through
the thick felted walls, Kassin unfolded die sorry and shameful tale of broken
Soviet promises to die 3,500,000 Kazaks of Kazakstan: how, when the Reds
were fighting the Whites in die early days of the Russian Revolution, they
posed as champions of the smaller nationalities, like die Kazaks, but they
went back on their word the moment die Tsarist danger was overcome, and started
to Russianize die Kazaks and other Asiatic races in the Soviet Empire. Next
he told how Kazak hopes were raised again when Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy
in 1923 because it offered security not only to small farmers but also to
the nomads engaged in animal husbandry. Once again, and only five years
later, the nomads had found that the Russians had lied, for they took away
the animals despite their previous promises and even forced the people to
languish in collective farms and in mines underground instead of letting
them roam as free men in the fresh air of heaven. About this time, too,
the Soviet Government had begun to deny Moslems the right to teach and learn
their religion, trying to turn the children into godless talebearers who
would inform against their parents if they continued to pray in the manner
of their forefathers; trying, also, to destroy the Kazak language and the
age-old way of life the Kazaks had inherited from their remote ancestors
including Genghis Khan himself.
concluded by telling Osman that the Kazaks under Soviet rule had never seen
the vast quantities of consumer goods Choi Balsan had said were waiting to
flow into the Altai. Indeed, far from being richer, they were much poorer
because the Soviet Government had taken their livestock, and their livelihood,
from them, calling them kulaks, or rich peasants, though they had no wish
to be peasants but desired to keep to their nomad ways as herdsmen and shepherds.
Batur as usual said little. And when Kassin ended, there was a silence, after
which Osman said:
I have heard today the words of a scion of his ancestors. But if the Russians
remember thy lineage, it may be ill with thee when thou goest back. There
is enough here, and to spare, for both if thou wishest to remain."
is on the knees of God whether a man lives or dies," Kassin answered. "And
am I not the servant of my people as well as their chief? Who am I to stay
in safety and leave them when times are evil? Yet God rewards those whose
thoughts deserve it, and He will reward thee."
while after, Kassin rose to go and when Osman bade his visitor depart in
peace, Kassin went back to his tent rejoicing.
next day Choi Balsan pressed Osman Batur to give a favourable ear to his suggestions,
but Osman refrained from doing so and the talks ended inconclusively.
the talks there were sports. Individual champions of the two races challenged
one another to wrestling matches. The contestants stripped to the waist round
which each bound a "belbagh" or strip of cloth, which his adversary then
grasped with both hands while pushing or pulling his opponent and trying to
trip him. Or else they gripped one another's shoulders while bending forward
at right angles from the waist. The winner was the one who forced his opponent
to break his hold on the belbagh or the shoulders, regardless of whether
his shoulders touched the ground or not. The match was judged by the onlookers
who rushed to and fro and round and round in their excitement, yelling advice,
cautions, encouragement and rebukes to the wrestlers. But though the onlooking
was almost as strenuous as the wrestling, the judgments were generally fair,
for the rules were simple.
the wrestling was on horseback. But the rules were much the same. He who
first was forced to break his hold, lost. In such contests, a good horse was
essential seeing that the rider had his two hands busy with more important
things than the reins. But Kazak horses, and Mongol ones, have an almost uncanny
way of anticipating their master's movements and, if they feel he is toppling
to one side, they immediately try to save him.
horse-racing aroused even more excitement than the wrestling. A race attracted
some thirty to forty competitors, each one of whom had put his horse on short—or
even no—commons for three days before the race. The starting point was in
a grassy valley, free from loose stones, and the "course" ran up the valley,
quite steeply at times, for a distance of about five miles. The spectators
were on horseback themselves and they all assembled at the starting point.
As soon as the race started, they dashed off in hot pursuit of the competitors
and it has been known for some of the spectators to reach the finishing
point before them. The prize was a silver "yambu" or 'shoe," a coin in great
demand by the maidens who use them to sew on to the shawls which cover their
heads and shoulders after they are married.
light interlude to the more serious sports, a girl and a boy were chosen and
each set upon a horse. The girl was given a whip and the boy a few yards'
start. At a word from Osman, the boy galloped off with the girl after him.
In such contests the girl's mount is generally a little the fleeter of the
two so the boy can only escape her whip by superior horsemanship and cunning.
He constantly makes sudden, unexpected turns trying to hoodwink the girl
into thinking he is going one way and then dashing off in the other. Or he
pulls up suddenly, slipping sideways almost under the horse's belly as he
does so, in the hope that her whip will not be able to reach him as she flashes
contests there are no prizes. The girl knows that if she succeeds in laying
her whip roundly about the boy's shoulders, she will have achieved a success
that rarely comes. And the boy knows that the spectators will jeer at him
if he fails to escape: indeed, his comrades will twit him with it almost
daily till the day of his death unless in the meantime he has wiped out the
disgrace by some unusual feat of courage or strength.
was another attraction. With scarcely an exception —at any rate so far as
the Moslems were concerned—all those present would have regarded any woman
who danced in public as immoral and, in fact, the traditional Kazak dances
are performed by men. Generally they tell a story as, for example, the birth
and growing up of an animal. But the piece de resistance on this occasion
was undoubtedly the Dance of the Roebuck. The solo dancer who performs it
must dance all the time on his head and only use his hands to balance himself.
He twists and bends his body and legs in time to the music but he also contracts
his neck muscles and his shoulders to lift head and hands from the ground
as the rhythm demands. One of the Kazak refugees in Turkey danced the Dance
of the Roebuck for me at Develi while Karamullah accompanied him on the
dumbri. The dancer on that occasion was an oldish man and the strength of
his neck muscles had departed so that his head never left the ground. But
he was still fully equal to the Dance of the Black Stallion which is a similar
dance performed on the feet.
die sports there was more feasting and the following day, Choi Balsan, Kassin
and Sultan went their respective ways. Soon after Kassin and Sultan reached
their homes in Soviet Kazakstan, Beria's secret police arrested them. Not
many months later, Kassin was executed, but Sultan was released.
Soviet Government did not immediately challenge Osman Batur's rebuff to their
emissary. Its hands were still too full with the Germans to use force against
him. So the Russians turned their attention to other parts of the province
and concentrated once more on secretly promoting resistance to the Chinese
provincial Government. This was not difficult seeing that Chairman Wu's
promises of local autonomy had not been carried out. Soon, therefore, the
whole of East Turkistan was again seething with unrest as in the days of
smoke burst into flame in November, 1944, when there was a sudden flare-up
among the Kazaks in the Kuldja region. Kuldja itself is about fifty miles
from the Soviet frontier on the road between Urumchi and Alma Ata, capital
of the Soviet Republic of Kazakstan. Many Kazaks lived there, and they listened
eagerly to Russian agents who promised Soviet aid to make them independent
of China. Kuldja is the centre of a well-populated area containing perhaps
as many as 160,000 inhabitants. The Kuldja district is also called Hi and
sometimes Ining, and first one of these names and then the other crops up
in the record with disconcerting irregularity. It is a convenient place for
conferences and not less than four Hi agreements were concluded during the
fifty years of this chronicle and perhaps there were others which Ali Beg
and Hamza did not mention. Generally, the talks at Hi were between the Chinese
provincial Government and the Russian Central Government as, for example,
when Governor Sheng handed over control of the province to the Russians
in 1934. But there was one Hi agreement, fraught with great and unexpected
consequences, which the Chinese authorities negotiated with the local races
of East Turkistan as a direct consequence of the Russian-sponsored revolt which
began in November, 1944.
Mulia and Ali Beg (on horseback) with Hamza and Hassan
Kazak camels in summer
Kazak camels with their fully-grown winter "coats"
leader of the revolt was a man named Ali Han Ture, who managed, with Russian
help, to collect as many as twenty-five thousand followers. Most of them
were Kazaks though Ali Han Ture himself was not. Prompted by Moscow, he proclaimed
the independence of the Kuldja district and the district of Tarbagatai, which
is between Kuldja and the Altai. Then he sent messengers far and wide, to
Osman Batur, to Ali Beg in Manass, and other Kazak leaders as far afield
as Hussein Tajji at Gezkul, calling on them to follow his example.
a few months the whole of East Turkistan north of the Tien Shan Mountains
was in revolt and the Chinese were hard put to it to retain their hold even
on the walled towns. Osman Batur, of course, had already made the Altai virtually
independent. But the Kuldja revolt seemed to open up the prospect of freeing
the whole of East Turkistan, which was a very much greater matter.
Beg waited for awhile after receiving Ali Han Ture's proposals. But on May
19, 1945, just two weeks after the war ended in Europe, he too raised the
standard of revolt, having first consulted Osman Batur on the subject. Hamza
immediately left his post in the Chinese administration and joined him. Ali
Beg sent him post haste to Kuldja to discuss future plans with Ali Han Ture.
It took Hamza nearly four weeks to get there though the distance is under
three hundred miles. The whole of the intervening country was in a state
of turmoil with desultory fighting in progress everywhere, though much of
the area was both barren and uninviting. The first stretch of road lay through
a vast marsh and the next through a belt of mountains, after which Hamza
came to the Hi river which runs past Kuldja and empties itself into Lake
Balkash in Soviet Kazakstan.
deliberations with Ali Han Ture centred round one simple question: How can
we wipe out the Chinese? The two men tacitly accepted, without needing to
discuss it, the basic proposition that there was no discernible difference
between Chinese Communist and Chinese Nationalist. Both were the enemies of the peoples of
East Turkistan and both must be eliminated.
Han Ture, who was many years Hamza's senior, was the nominee of the Russians.
So there can be no doubt that the Russians knew of and approved the policy
of exterminating the Chinese though they did not necessarily originate it.
But the bitter hatred aroused among the Kazaks by the atrocities of the Chinese
Communist, Sheng, was certainly Russian-inspired in two senses: firstly
because Sheng, though nominally acting in the name of the Nationalist Government
of China, was actually controlled by the Soviet Consul General in Urumchi,
Apresov: secondly, because the Russians were continually egging the local
races on to destroy the Chinese root and branch from 1934 onwards, and perhaps
to be added that, while the Soviet Government was helping Ali Han Ture and
the Kazaks to revolt against the Chinese Government, it was actually negotiating
the Sino-Soviet Pact of August, 1945, with Chiang Kai-shek. The Soviet representatives
admitted during the discussions that the province of Sinkiang was part of
massacre of the Chinese began at Kuldja on July 3, 1945, almost immediately
after Hamza returned to Manass from his talks with Ali Han Ture and five
weeks before the signature of the Sino-Soviet Pact. In a few days not one
of the hated Kitai remained alive in the whole triangle between Kuldja, Tarbagatai
and Manass. Every Chinese soldier and civilian, farmer and official, trader
and craftsman, man, woman and child was marked down for slaughter and hardly
town itself was held by Chinese troops, and the Kazaks, with Ali Beg and
Hamza, were on the western side of the river. Indeed, apart from the Chinese
garrison, the town was practically empty, almost all the inhabitants being
Moslems who had fled to avoid reprisals by the Chinese. The Kazak insurgents
did not feel strong enough to force the great Manass Bridge to capture the
town. Indeed, they feared that the Chinese might cross the bridge to attack
them. The Chinese, likewise, did not dare cross the bridge and feared lest
the Kazaks should do so.
happened that Qali, the serf-appointed executioner of executioners, was in
Manass at the time. He was still employed by the Chinese police although
the Russian head, Pogodin, had gone and his Soviet-modelled Pao-An-Chu, or
secret police force was now impeccably nationalist. So Qali had been ordered
to take his lorry, filled beyond its capacity with drums of Russian petrol,
to replenish the supplies of the Chinese garrison in Manass town.
Qali heard that the Chinese commander was fearful lest the Kazaks should
cross the bridge, he went to him and said that he was ready to burn it, or
rather the baulks of timber which formed the roadway over it, not the great
piers, which were of dressed stone. But the commander must give orders to
the soldiers not to shoot while he was making his preparations. The commander
was pleased that a Kazak should make such a proposal and, when the troops
had been ordered not to fire, Qali drove his lorry across the bridge to the
Kazak side of the river. The Kazaks, seeing that he was alone and that his
lorry was filled with petrol drums, not soldiers, let him come on and did
not fire at him.
as Qali was across, he stopped his engine, climbed down from the driver's
seat, and asked to see the Kazak commander at the bridge.
it be thy wish, and with the help of God and these drums of petrol," he said,
"I will burn the bridge so that the Chinese cannot cross it. Then shall
the Kazak armies feel safe and I shall have merit in their eyes. And, moreover,
the Chinese will not have die petrol, which is Russian."
the bridge be burnt," said the Kazak commander at the bridge. I do not know
went back to his lorry, drove it off the bridge, turned it round and then
drove it back towards the Chinese end of the bridge, stopping every few yards
to broach a drum and pour the fifty gallons of petrol it contained over the
timbers of the bridge. And when he reached the Chinese end of the bridge
all the drums were empty except one. Qali used this to soak rags which he
lit with a match and threw on to the bridge. The wind did the rest, to the
great satisfaction of both sides and the pride of Qali.
is the last we shall hear of Qali except that when the Communists regained
power in Urumchi in 1949, he went back to their service.
1945, Osman Batur followed the Kuldja example and carried out a "purification"
of the Altai. But this operation was on a much smaller scale because most
of the Chinese who lived there had already been wiped out during the campaign
against the Red Beards. But there may have been some new arrivals who suffered
for their optimism. After Governor Sheng returned to the Kuomintang fold,
and then to the Chinese capital in 1943, many Chinese refugees from the famine
area in Honan and other refugees who had fled from the Japanese in 1938 made
their way across the Gobi Desert along the new Soviet-made highway on foot,
on camel-back, on rikshas and carts hoping to people China's westernmost province,
as the Americans peopled the Middle West during the latter half of the nineteenth
century. The Chinese authorities in Urumchi gave them land and money, obtaining
both from the local population which was not consulted. We do not need to
ask what the local population, which demanded independence, thought of this
new influx of the hated Kitai. Indeed, the new arrivals were one of the main
reasons for the immediate success which attended Ali Han Ture's rebellion.
there were plenty of other reasons, the offspring mostly of the previous
decade: Sheng's white boxes for denunciations; his introduction of the corvee
system to build the Soviet highway; so-called public works which served Communist
interests but were disliked by the local inhabitants who constructed and
paid for them; wholesale arrests; unfulfilled promises of local self-government
and, above all, the crimes committed by the Red Beards.
Beg and Hamza told me of some of the atrocities they saw with their own eyes.
For example, when Chinese settlers aided by Red Beards raided the Moslem
quarter of Manass, they killed all the men, and broke the legs of the women
and children to prevent them running away to give the alarm. Then they raped
the helpless victims regardless of the screams from the pain of broken limbs.
Finally they ransacked the houses and made off.
the Red Beards roamed the country wiping out Kazak and Mongol encampments
and Turki villages in this fashion, Sheng's Russian-trained secret police
combed the towns for victims and did at least a hundred thousand of them
to death, torturing even more, and extorting bribes and ransom money from
the relatives. The rebellions which followed these deeds took even greater
toll of the civilian population. Whole regions were devastated and tens of
thousands died miserably of starvation and disease. Such was the terrible
background against which the massacre of the Chinese by the Kazaks in the
summer of 1945 has to be evaluated.
brief discussions with Ali Han Ture had other consequences besides fixing
the date for exterminating the Chinese. Ali Han Ture told him frankly that
the Russians were helping him, and no doubt he believed that Hamza would
feel reassured at hearing it. Hamza did not undeceive him. But he and Ali
Beg, and probably Osman Batur too, in his own fashion, were now working to
establish a free, democratic and united republic of all the indigenous races
of East Turkistan. This involved cutting loose from the Russians as well as
from the Chinese. The Kazak leaders were counting on the war having left both
States too weak to interfere. But if Ali Han Ture had rebelled simply because
the Russians had ordered him to do so, it looked as if the Russians thought
themselves strong enough to recover the hold on the province which had slipped
from them in Sheng's time when Hitler attacked them. If that were really
so, East Turkistan's chances of gaining independence were not bright.
way back to Manass from Kuldja, Hamza pondered the matter deeply. Could the
free world help them? American and British Consulates had been established
in Urumchi. But both countries were a very long way off, across the highest
mountains in the world, or across the vast Gobi Desert, whereas the Soviet
Union was less than fifty miles from where he and Ali Han Ture had been conferring.
He remembered that the Russians actually occupied Kuldja for a while during
General Big Horse Ma's rebellion, though later they had handed it back to
the Communist Sheng.
area liberated from the Chinese by the July massacres consisted of three districts which,
together, covered an area almost as large as England, Wales and Scotland.
Everywhere from Kuldja to the Altai the news was received with delight and
anticipation as being a decisive step in the direction of independence. Town
after town struck its own Liberation Medal on which were emblazoned the
five stars and crescent of the Republic of East Turkistan which was to be
brought into existence. Ali Han Ture presented a special medal to Ali Beg,
who at once returned the compliment. Manass, Tarbaga-tai and other towns distributed
similar emblems to Ali Beg, Hamza and Ali Han Ture.
while Osman Batur was purging the Altai, Hamza attended a conference on the
one topic which was uppermost; how to eliminate the Chinese from the other
parts of East Turkistan? Ali Han Ture was represented by his brother, but
Osman Batur seems to have held aloof. After four days the delegates came reluctantly
to the conclusion that the time for action was not yet ripe. By now, there
were ten thousand Chinese regulars in the province and they were reasonably
well armed, which was more than could be said for the Kazak irregulars who
constituted about three-quarters of the whole force at the rebels' disposal.
Modern weapons were scarce except among Ali Han Ture's troops, no doubt because
the Russians were not quite certain that such arms would not be used against
themselves. So the Kazaks were armed with bits and pieces captured, stolen,
bought from any source which presented itself. Some carried home-made guns
made from pieces of piping. Home-made ammunition was even more common. Most
of the Kazaks had hand-grenades and swords, or billets of wood studded with
nails instead. But none had uniforms. None were paid. They lived, in fact,
as they did in peacetime on the increase of their flocks and herds which
often moved from place to place in the wake of the fighting men or, if left
behind, provided the cheese and curds, and also the clothing, which the fighting
men carried with them and wore while campaigning.
positive decision was reached besides the negative decision to postpone the
attack on the Chinese: it was agreed that Osman Batur should be invited to
become Commander--in-Chief of all the Kazak forces. What Ali Han Ture thought
of this is not known, seeing that he had some twenty-five thousand men under
him which was at least twice as many as Oman Batur. But he accepted the decision
and soon the two men met to discuss how their forces should be disposed to
safeguard the newly-liberated districts and the Altai until the Kazak forces
were ready to take the offensive.
two men disliked one another at sight. Osman Batur was a devoted patriot,
intensely religious, and he regarded himself as having a divine mission to
drive the Kitai out of his country. Ali Han Ture was not a Kazak nor did
he consider himself as having any mission in life other than his own advancement.
Seeing no hope of preferment by joining the Chinese and becoming a member
of their One-Family-under-Heaven, he was trying to get himself chosen as
Chairman, or at least deputy Chairman, of the province of Sinkiang by using
Russian shoulders to boost him upwards. Osman Batur, thanks to what Kassin
told him at Bulghun, suspected Russian motives. But he still thought the
Russians might be made use of in his war against the Chinese. So the common
ground between Osman and Ali Han Ture was extremely small.
they managed to agree on the immediate military dispositions to be taken.
They would avoid pitched battles, harry the enemy when and where they could,
and establish strong points to keep the Chinese out of the three liberated
districts. Hamza, who was acceptable to both of them, was promoted colonel
and put in charge of the sector between Manass and the Yulduz Mountains,
where he also acted as political officer. Ali Beg was made prefect of Sha-wan,
or Sandy Bend, which lies to the north-west of Manass on the road to the Altai.
surprise, however, the Chinese, instead of trying to exact retribution for
the massacres, invited the East Turkistanis to a conference at Hi. Whatever
the individual Kazak leaders thought about it, they had no option but to
accept because all the other local races at once agreed to send delegates.
Provisional agreement with the Chinese was reached on January 2, 1946. But
it had to be referred to the Chinese Central Government for ratification so
that it was not until June 6, that the eleven-point Hi agreement was
actually signed. Then, suddenly, the local races found themselves in charge—at
any rate, on paper—of their own local affairs. The provincial chairman was
still Chinese, but of the Ministers and their deputies, eighteen were to be
of local nationality and only twelve Chinese. There was also to be a provincial
Assembly to which the various local races were to send delegates. In due course,
they actually did. With the new provincial Constitution they also got a new
Chinese Chairman, General Chang Chih-shung, in place of Chaucer Wu. And they
were granted the right to raise a local "army" of six regiments, most of
whom were Kazaks.
almost too good to be true, and it was. On August 16, four Soviet officers
from the border town of Khorgos came across the frontier in uniform and paid
a polite call on Ali Han Ture at his home in Kuldja. At the end of their
visit, they cordially invited him to lunch with them at Khorgos. Ali Han
Ture accepted and drove off with the officers in their car. He never returned.
Kazak refugees in Turkey could not tell me what happened to him. They knew
that he was accused of "pan-Turanism," the cause for which the Turkish general,
Enver Pasha, laid down his life in Soviet Caucasus after the first World
War. But they could not say whether he was convicted; nor whether he is alive
today or dead.
of course, quite true that well over ninety per cent of the inhabitants of
East Turkistan, which forms part of the Chinese Empire, speak a Turkic language
just as not far short of ninety per cent of the people who live on the northern
shores of the Mediterranean speak a Latin language. About ninety per cent
of the peoples of West Turkistan, which is part of the Soviet Union, are
also of Turkic origin. But the Kazaks are sure there is not a shred of evidence
that Ali Han Ture was plotting to liberate the Turkic peoples under Soviet
rule. He was simply trying to free those under Chinese rule and he was doing
this at the suggestion and with the help of the Soviet Government itself.
But his successes had brought the East Turkistanis—Turkis, Mongols, Uzbeks,
as well as Kazaks —nearer to gaining independence than the Soviet Government
found convenient. This not
only made the races less dependent on the Soviet Government but might awaken
ambitions and dormant longings in the hearts of the colonial races under
Soviet domination in the Caucasus and Soviet Kazakstan.
Han Ture's growing independence also interfered with the policy of elevating
another Chinese puppet of the type of Sheng to rule the province of Sinkiang,
thus paving the way for the return of Soviet advisers, textbooks, secret
police, and monopoly of foreign trade, so that the province could either be
absorbed into the Soviet colonial empire or formed into a puppet State like
Outer Mongolia under Choi Balsan. Ali Han Ture, instead of promoting such
a policy, had helped to negotiate an agreement which set East Turkistan far
on the road to independence under the aegis of Nationalist China. So he was
Han Ture was abducted just two and a half months after the Ili Agreement
between the Chinese and the Turkistanis was signed. Scarcely two weeks later
Russian and Mongol troops invaded the Altai. So far as the Mongols were concerned
there was, perhaps, a plausible excuse: the Altai district was part of Outer
Mongolia until 1922 when the Mongols finally separated from China. Many
Mongols still lived there— and, for that matter in other parts of Sinkiang
too. But the Soviet Government had voluntarily admitted that the province
was part of China when negotiating the Sino-Soviet Pact of August, 1945,
which was signed less than a year before the invasion of the Altai began.
The Chinese, and the Turkistanis, naturally assumed that the Soviet declaration
referred to the province as it existed in 1945. Certainly the Soviet negotiators
did not trouble to undeceive them and it soon became apparent that Moscow
had its own ideas about where the frontiers of Sinkiang should be, and not
only in respect of the Altai.
the arrival of the Russian and Mongolian troops in the Altai was preceded
by the advent of some five hundred Russian lorries which began to come across
the frontier daily to collect wolfram, without permission, though quite peacefully.
The local Kazak tribesmen who were pasturing their flocks in the neighbourhood
noticed one morning that the lorries were disembarking soldiers instead
of workmen. The tribesmen hastily rounded up their beasts and drove them
back to their encampment where they hurriedly dismantled the felted tents,
loaded them and their other belongings on to the backs of camels and cattle,
and made their way southwards, sending swift messengers on horseback to
warn Osman Batur of the invasion. They themselves, and thousands more, made
their way to join the eastern branch of the Kirei Kazaks in the range called
Baitik Bogdo, where there are many wild sheep as big as donkeys and with
huge, coiling horns which are sometimes nearly a foot in diameter at the
base. The northern slopes of the Baitik Bogdo are well-wooded and watered
and with good pasture, though the southern slopes are almost waterless and
invasion of the Altai on September 7, 1946, and the abduction of Ali Han
Ture, opened the eyes of all the Kazak leaders, and indeed of all Turkistan,
to Soviet intentions. The result was that, for the first time in history,
the Kazaks and other local inhabitants were ready to make common cause with
the Chinese authorities and fight as the allies of China against the machinations
of the Soviet Government and Choi Balsan's puppet State of Outer Mongolia.
No longer did the Kazaks wish to prevent Chinese soldiers from crossing the
Manass river, and both sides were suddenly eager to repair the burnt bridge.
the Chinese themselves were not united. Many of the officials still thought
of the Kazaks as mere bandits and horse-thieves with whom no decent person
should associate. Some local officials actually joined the Communists rather
than do so. Others refused to honour the Hi agreement which their Government
had signed. Only a handful were loyal to it. By this time, too, the star
of the Chinese Communists was rising steadily—and not only in the north-western
province of Sin-kiang—thanks to increasingly open help from the Soviet Union
given in spite of the signature of the Sino-Soviet Pact only a year earlier.
the next phase in the Kazak story begins. From fighting the Chinese, they
have temporarily faced about and are now convinced that their enemy is Communism;
and whether it is Chinese or Russian Communism is henceforward
as immaterial to them as in the days when they regarded Chinese Nationalists
and Chinese Communists as equally their enemies. From 1946 onwards we shall
see them trying desperately to defend their way of life, first against attacks
from the north and west, instead of from the east, and then, as Communism
sweeps over China, from the
east as well. Their forces never number more than about thirty thousand men
and, for the most part, it is a running fight which involves the women and
children and beasts as well as the menfolk because it is impossible for nomads
to leave them behind. For arms, as we have seen, they have some rifles, some
machine guns, and a considerable number of hand grenades, but never enough
of anything for everybody. The rest have swords or pieces of wood
with nails in them. The Communists
have artillery, armoured cars, tanks and aeroplanes. But the Kazaks go on
Batur hurried north at once to try to stem the Soviet-Mongol invasion of
his beloved Altai, about which the Chinese authorities hi Urumchi seem to
have done precisely nothing. But Osman's guerillas, who had coped successfully
with Sheng's Red Beards, found the new enemy a very different proposition.
Before long, the Kazak fighting men were forced to withdraw to the Baitik
Bogdo Mountains, like the Kazak tribesmen who had observed Russian soldiers
coming to mine wolfram. There Osman stood at bay, with snowy mountains thirteen
to fourteen thousand feet high towering behind him as he guarded the roads
by which the enemy could approach. He drove them back in disorder several
times, but when he tried to pursue them they were too strong for him and
the affair rested thus for over a year.
at Kuldja, the Russians were using subtler methods. Almost before the news
of Ali Han Ture's abduction became known, a number of Russian officers and
N.C.O.'s crossed the border and assumed control of his army, though they
left it under the command of a Kazak named Ishak Beg, who was in their pay.
In a matter of days, they had started to purge the "unreliable" elements and
indoctrinate those who were left. They also promised to issue uniforms, pay
and rations which the Kazak soldiers had never received before. At first the
promises were received with incredulity. But when they were kept, there was
corresponding elation. Within a year, Ali Han Ture's very irregular and nondescript
Kazak guerillas had been transformed into a disciplined force to which the
Russian High Command felt justified in issuing, even at that early stage,
a modest quantity of modern weapons.
these steps were being taken, the Russians made use of the Hi Agreement itself
to extend their influence in other parts of the province. The provincial
Assembly for which the Agreement provided was now actually in being. So the
Russians sent hand-picked representatives from Kuldja with instructions to
throw sand into the new political machine in the manner which Communist members
of legislatures elsewhere have made distastefully familiar, though in Urumchi
their opportunities were far greater, because the adbuction of Ali Han Ture
had changed nothing in the legal relationship between the Kuldja district
and the rest of the province. It had simply given the Communists a legal
means to manipulate the set-up in an attempt to compass die destruction of
the existing regime.
the fact that Kuldja, though now under Soviet domination, remained part of
the Chinese province of Sin-kiang, also allowed the Kazaks who lived there
to keep in touch with their kinsfolk elsewhere. Hamza, therefore, was able
to come and go more or less as he pleased, so long as the Russians did not
regard his visits as dangerous. No doubt they knew he had received a Communist
education and perhaps this fact made them imagine that he would go over
to their side. If so, they were wrong. His schooling had precisely the opposite
effect. And, as he went backwards and forwards between his post in the Yulduz
Mountains where his men now faced westwards towards the Russians instead
of eastwards towards the Chinese, he used his opportunity to observe what
the Russians were doing to Ali Han Ture's army. His brother, Yunus Hajji,
had tried to train Kazak tribesmen to fight in formation instead of as a
bunch of individuals and had not had much success. Would the Russians succeed
where his brother failed? After a time Hamza had to admit that it looked
as if they would. He found this extremely disturbing. His own men were loyal
but they had practically no modern arms, no pay and no uniforms. The Russian-trained
Kazaks had all three, and, only too evidently, liked them.
Russians had discovered why Hamza continued to visit Kuldja they certainly
would not have left him at liberty. After the abduction of Ali Han Ture,
Ali Beg called a secret meeting of Kazak leaders in the mountains above Manass
to consider how to combat the growing menace of Communism. The delegates
assembled on October 21, 1946, and agreed, firstly, that they must co-operate
fully with the Chinese Nationalists—if the Nationalists let them—and, secondly,
that they must organise anti-communist propaganda among the Kazaks who were
subject to Russian influence.
on the first point were entrusted to Janim Khan, a Kazak chieftain of whom we shall hear
again. By the end of February, 1947, Janim Khan succeeded in persuading the
commander of the Chinese forces in Urumchi, General Sung Hsi-lien, to make
the Kazaks a present of five hundred rifles, four machine guns, forty thousand
rounds of ammunition, two thousand hand grenades, and one wireless set.
When telling Hamza about this gift, Ali Beg added with a grin that, in handing
over the wireless set, General Sung stipulated that a Chinese operator went
pointed out to Ali Beg that all Ishak Beg's men now had rifles and he did
not know how many machine guns in addition. He added that Ishak Beg had at
least twenty-five thousand men under his command, most of them being Kazaks:
some of them from East Turkistan and the rest from Soviet Kazakstan which
lay just across the frontier.
as the disparity of arms was concerned, there was nothing the Kazaks could
do about it. General Sung was doubtless in the same position as they were.
American arms were pouring into China at this time and some actually went
by air through Urumchi. But their allocation was under the control of the
Chinese Central Government and its American advisers in Nanking, several thousand
miles away from Urumchi. Moreover, most Chinese officials did not trust the
Kazaks. So General Sung literally took his courage, and his future, in both
hands when he gave arms to people whom his colleagues thought of as brigands.
propaganda field, Ali Beg and his friends considered themselves fortunate
in managing to produce successive numbers of a clandestine "Review" which
they multigraphed and distributed with the utmost secrecy especially in the
area controlled by Ishak Beg's forces. Hamza was responsible for the Kuldja
area and another Kazak, Kainesh, in the Tarbagatai area. It was a very dangerous
assignment for both of them, for obvious reasons. But neither was caught.
1947, Hamza left his sector in the Yulduz Mountains to attend the installation
of a new provincial Chairman in Urumchi. Ali Beg and Janim Khan were there
too, but not Osman Batur, who was too busy trying to cope with the Soviet-Mongol
invasion about which the Chinese Military authorities still took no notice. The new
head of the provincial Government was not Chinese but a representative of
the local races. He was a Turki named Mahsud Sabri, a merchant well-liked
and respected by all sections of the community. Another Turki, Mohammed Emin
Bugra, whose name we have heard before, became Deputy Secretary General.
Two Kazaks—Saalis, whose name is new to us, and Janim Khan were respectively
Secretary General and Minister of Finance. None of the other Ministers come
into our story. Altogether there were now twenty-five Ministers and Deputy
Ministers: fifteen local men and ten Chinese. Both Ali Beg and Hamza are
convinced that some of both groups were in Russian pay but they did not name
anyone. To get the new Ministry off to a good start, all political prisoners
were set free and it was announced that the Chinese military forces would
be available henceforth to help in the suppression of what were euphemistically
called "borders incidents," meaning, no doubt, such intrusions as the Soviet-Mongol
invasion of the Altai.
the best comment on the second announcement is the fact that the outgoing
Chinese Chairman, General Chang, was now elevated to the lofty post of Director
of the Generalissimo's Pacification Headquarters for North-West China. The
Generalissimo in question was actually Chiang Kai-shek, though one might
be forgiven for thinking from the title that it was Stalin. In the end, it
was. Meanwhile, the emphasis was all on pacification.
Director Chang made his headquarters at Lan-chow, capital of the neighbouring
province of Kansu, to which the Russians and Sheng built their highway across
the Gobi Desert in 1938. Lanchow was thus on the only direct line of communication
between Urumchi and the Chinese capital which by now was at Nanking. Before
long, the Kazaks had reason to believe that Chang was keeping a watchful
eye on intending visitors to and from the province of Sinkiang in order to
ascertain which brand of pacification they stood for. Before very long, but
not yet, Chang refused to allow those who stood for co-operation between the
Turkistanis and the Chinese to pass Lanchow—in either direction. When he
did so, the province
of Sinkiang was entirely cut off from the rest of China, but not from the
as the new Ministry had been installed, Ali Beg and Hamza hurried back to
their posts and a few days later Hamza paid another visit to Kuldja, where
he found the Russians and their employees still outwardly friendly although
they were engaged in bitter fighting with Osman Batur only some two hundred
miles away. But Hamza was convinced that the Russians intended to launch
an attack in the Manass area before long. However, the free Kazaks could only
wait and hope that before the attack came the Chinese would provide them
with enough arms to repel it.
days after Hamza's return from Kuldja, he and Ali Beg were in Urumchi again
to discuss the question of arms with General Sung and the two Kazak Ministers,
Saalis and Janim Khan. The Kazaks asked General Sung, whom they trusted in
spite of the incident of the wireless operator, to incorporate the Kazak
irregulars in the Chinese regular army, thus solving at one stroke the problems
of arms, uniforms and even pay—for which Janim Khan as Finance Minister was
ready to supply the funds. General Sung was sympathetic and no doubt knew
that the suggestion was sound. But such a radical departure from precedent
was beyond his competence. He could only agree to refer it to Nanking with
his recommendation and request that a favourable answer should be returned
before it was too late.
Beg and Hamza had to return to their respective stations uneasily conscious
that if the Russians ordered their indoctrinated Kazaks to attack there was
nothing to stop them getting to Urumchi itself if they wished unless the
rank and file refused to fight against their fellow-countrymen. Both felt
that this was unlikely. Disciplined troops do not readily disobey orders.
Indeed, it might happen instead that some of the free Kazaks would refuse
to fight against their own kith and kin, especially when the latter were well
armed and they themselves were not.
were made worse by the news from Osman Batur. Tired of abortive attack and
counter-attack between the Altai and Baitik Bogdo, the Russians built a road
from Mongolia across the wild country on Osman's western flank, and their
men were now threatening to cut him off from his friends in Manass and Urumchi.
There was nothing to do but evacuate the Baitik Bogdo as he had evacuated
the Altai. So once again, the Kazak nomads drove their beasts southward—this
time to the main Tien Shan range. Osman made his headquarters at a place
called Kizil Chala Bel, the Red Waist, near Kucheng. But mostly this region
is a place of sand-dunes where there is only water in winter when the sand
is covered with snow.
A group of Kazak women and children in Turkey
The President of Turkey, Celal Bayar
The Turkish Minister of State in charge of Refugees, Osman Kapani Devlet Vekili
so we have reached another stage, Hussein Tajji's move from Barkul to Gezkul
being the first, in the great Kazak retreat. Though some of the tribesmen
may have returned to their traditional homes in the Altai after their leaders
were killed, most of them have now been permanently displaced by Mongols
who have accepted die regime imposed by Choi Balsan and his like. Most of
the Kazaks are out of the Baitik Bogdo Mountains too. And, without doubt,
the Mongolian and Soviet frontiers in these parts have moved south at China's
expense, though how far it is impossible to say because even the fact that
they have moved at all has never been publicly stated—at least, not to Ali
Beg's or Hamza's knowledge. The frontiers moved in fact, but not in law,
when Osman Batur, incongruously fighting China's battles as well as his own,
evacuated the Altai in September, 1946. At that time, the Russian-sponsored
drive of the Chinese Communists against the Chinese Nationalists in other
parts of China had not developed. Osman Batur was driven out not by Chinese
Communists but by Soviet and Mongolian regular troops who took forcible possession
of Chinese territory in the Altai and elsewhere, with air support, less than
thirteen months after the Sino-Soviet Pact of Friendship was signed and without
either side denouncing it. So far as Ali Beg and Hamza could tell me, the
Chinese Nationalists did not even try to keep the Russians and Mongolians
out, and the only opposition at that time came from Osman Batur and his Kazak
1947, the long-awaited clash between free and indoctrinated Kazaks took place
not far from Manass. But it did not quite follow the expected course. The
material benefits with which the Communists hoped to bribe the Kazak
levies into accepting indoctrination
failed to wean a surprising number from their innate love for the Kazak
way of life. Stimulated, too, by the little multigraphed "Review" distributed
by Hamza and Kainesh, no less than eight thousand of the "indoctrinated"
Kazaks—three regiments out of nine—suddenly mutinied rather than attack their
free kinsfolk and betook themselves, with their arms, to the other side.
Hamza received them joyfully and led them across the Manass river where they
helped to repel a surprise attack launched on Ali Beg's forces by the other
six regiments. Fighting went on for several days before the attackers were
finally driven off, and there were very many casualties on both sides.
hard for us to realise, used as we are to a tidier form of warfare, that both
the free and the indoctrinated Kazaks were at the time, and remained afterwards,
in normal relations with the provincial Government. Kuldja did not cease
sending its hand-picked representatives to the provincial Assembly at Urumchi,
although the effective frontier between China and the Soviet Union had moved
forward so that the area they represented was virtually no longer in China.
In some places the effective frontier jumped as much as two hundred and fifty
miles. It remained there after the Chinese Communists drove the Nationalist
leaders to Formosa and, for all Ali Beg and Hamza. know, it is still
however, the Kuldja delegates were as assiduous as ever in their attendance
at the provincial Assembly at Urumchi. They came to be known as the "Hi rebels."
It was not yet thought desirable for them to call themselves Communists,
but already they were more than fellow-travellers.
all the Kazak inhabitants moved out of the Kuldja and Tarbagatai districts
when these events happened, though some did. The free Kazaks still held the
northern slopes of the Tien Shan Mountains and they could still communicate
freely with Osman Batur in his new headquarters at Kizil Chala Bel. But the
whole of the Altai was now denied them and they could not venture out of
the northern foothills of the Tien Shan except to the east of the Manass river.
Many Kazaks had camping grounds in this region, so its loss was a very serious
of the fact that their living space was shrinking, all the free Kazaks remained
full of optimism. This was partly because permission had at last been received
from Nanking to integrate the Kazak troops into the Chinese regular army.
The Kazak contingent was placed under the command of Osman Batur who at once
summoned Hamza to join him with the three regiments which had come over from
the Russians. Hamza himself now acquired the rank of Colonel in the Chinese
regular army at the age of twenty-five.
reinforced, Osman Batur felt strong enough to make another attempt to drive
the Russian and Mongolian invaders out of the Baitik Bogdo and Altai. It
was winter and the Kazaks, including the ex-indoctrinated ones, were accustomed
to moving about the country on their horses whatever the weather, so Osman
decided to send his men forward to gain as much ground as they could. Moreover,
he knew that his followers would need the uplands when summer returned, for
they could only pasture their stocks in the lowlands during the winter.
once, he does not seem to have led his men into battle himself and they were
under the command of his son, Sher-dirman. On December 7, 1947, while they
were attacking a position eight days' riding away, a small detachment of
about a hundred enemy cavalry surprised Osman himself near Kucheng.
story has become a Kazak saga. Osman Batur was not at that time living in
his felted tent but in a house. It was a one-storey building surrounded by
a mud wall over a yard thick which had one heavily-barred gate in it to
give access to the house. Osman, happening to look through a window about
nine o'clock one morning, saw armed men trying to open the gate. Till that
moment, he had no idea that the enemy was in the neighbourhood and, indeed,
it turned out afterwards that, except for this raiding party, the whole area
was clear. But Osman himself had so often staged just this kind of attack
that he was never far from his rifle. Two of the would-be intruders fell,
both shot through the head before they had time to run. The others scattered
Osman in the house were his wife, their six-year-old daughter and a servant who was
also a trained machine-gunner and who, fortunately, had his machine-gun with
him. The house was in a lonely spot and the chances of anyone coming to
the rescue were practically nil. Osman's wife had an automatic pistol. He
himself had his rifle and there was plenty of ammunition. During daylight
it was unlikely that the enemy could get over the wall or through the gate.
After dark it would be a different matter.
could not pierce the mud wall so the three adults and the little girl patrolled
round it poking their heads over it at intervals to make sure that the enemy
was not preparing to scale it or tunnel through. Each time the defenders
showed themselves they were fired at, and two unlucky shots severely wounded
the machine-gunner and killed the little girl. They were able to bury her,
but not deeply because of the frost, and they propped the wounded machine-gunner
up in a place from which he could still fire at anyone who tried to force
the gate. Meanwhile Osman and his wife managed to re-shoe two horses with
the spiked nails which enable them to keep their footing on ice and frozen
snow. At intervals Osman looked over the wall and took quick shots at anyone
who showed himself. His followers say that he was never known to miss and
we may at least assume he did not often do so on this occasion.
soon as Osman and his wife judged that it was dark enough, they bade farewell
to the machine-gunner who was too badly wounded to be moved, saddled their
horses and, suddenly throwing open the gate, galloped away across the snow
which covered the ground. A few of the enemy tried to follow them. But Osman,
turning in his saddle, brought several of them down with his rifle, and the
rest gave it up. Looking back when they were out of range they saw that the
house was already in flames.
Osman returned, a few days later, he found nothing but a charred ruin under
which was the body of the machine-gunner. But for some unaccountable reason
the enemy patrol was still in the neighbourhood, so Osman Batur's bodyguard
pursued it and killed several. Some were Mongols, some Kazaks in Russian
uniforms, and some just Russians.
the attempt to kill, or more probably, kidnap, the Kazak leader failed, the
attack sent his men scurrying back from the Altai to protect him. There
is reason to believe the attack was planned by pro-Russian elements in Urumchi
where it was announced that Osman Batur had been killed on the very day the
attack took place. In the ordinary course of events the news could not possibly
have reached the capital for several days. The episode at least shows, fairly
conclusively, that the Communist spies were well-informed. Ali Beg was finding
the same thing near Manass and both he and Osman Batur very soon had good
reason to believe that there were a number of spies among the three regiments
which had come over to the free Kazak side.
method the Kazaks contrived for dealing with such people takes us back once
more to Old Testament times and specifically to the treatment meted out by
the King of Babylon's army to Jeremiah whom they took and cast into the dungeon
of Malchiah the son of Hammelech. The Biblical record goes on:
they let Jeremiah down with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water
but mire so Jeremiah sank into the mire.
Kazaks made those whom they suspected of Communist leanings dig pits, as
dungeons, for themselves. There was, therefore, no need to let them down with
cords. But I think cords were necessary to pull the suspects up again when
they had spent long enough, handcuffed, in the mire to make them ready to
confess their errors and name their accomplices. It was no doubt a rough and
ready, as well as a primitive, way of correction, liable at times to trap
the innocent as well as the guilty. But in both respects it compares favourably
with the methods used by their adversaries, the Communists, which included
mental, as well as physical, tortures. Moreover, the usual Communist way
was to shoot a victim finally in the back of the neck whether he confessed
or not, and whether he was guilty or innocent. Dead men cannot talk. The Kazaks
executed some of those committed to the pit-dungeons and some whom they caught
in the act and they did not trouble to bring such to trial. The rest were set free. People
in desperate straits, and the Kazaks knew what faced them if they surrendered
are forced to adopt desperate remedies. The Kazaks knew that Communist spies
jeopardised their way of life. They uncovered a good many but not enough.
April, 1948, Hamza was chosen, together with Osman Batur's son, Sherdirman,
to represent the Kazaks at the celebrations in Nanking in honour of the re-appointment
of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek as head of the Chinese State. Hamza was
now twenty-six, and Sherdirman a year or two his senior. Hamza spoke Chinese
fluently, but not Sherdirman.
it was possible to get away from the festivities, Sherdirman and Hamza spent
much of their time in Nanking conferring with General Pai Chung-hsi, the
Chinese Minister of War, who had a plan to unite all the Moslems in China—
particularly the non-Chinese Kazaks and Turkis with the Chinese Tungans—and
organise them as the western flank of a combined offensive against the Communists,
who were daily gaining strength, owing partly to the active help of the Soviet
Government and partly to divided counsels in Nanking. All the Moslem delegates
from the north-western provinces strongly supported General Pai and pledged
the full cooperation of their peoples. But they soon realised that General
Pai was steadily losing favour in the councils of the Kuomin-tang, whereas
a group round the Generalissimo which favoured "co-existence" with the Communists
was rapidly growing more influential. The Moslems from the north-western
provinces, especially those from Sinkiang, did their best to explain what
co-existence had meant in their own case: Sheng's secret police; Red Beard
atrocities; enslavement; virtual surrender of the province to the Soviet Government;
the abduction of leaders who would not co-operate in such a policy; religious
persecution; the destruction of family life.
grey-beard once explained the matter to me in a parable, saying:
Co-existence is like unto a cuckoo
which claims the right for her egg to lie peacefully beside those of
another bird in the nest of that other one. Then, when the cuckoo's chick
is hatched and is of an age, it shouldereth out of the nest the other bird's
chicks with which it hath co-existed till its strength sufficed and they fall
to the ground and are killed. So the young nestlings are at peace, being dead,
and there is peace again in the nest."
in Nanking, according to Hamza, the talk was all of political combinations,
not of resolute action such as the Kazaks understood. So, when Sherdirman
and Hamza returned to Urumchi after two wasted months in the Chinese capital,
they reported to their leaders that there was nothing to hope for from the
chaffer and bargain, one with other, and love talking like merchants in a
bazaar. Most are for sale themselves if the offer be high enough. If they,
and some of their American advisers likewise, had lived under Sheng for nine
years, as we did, they would know that the Communists bid high but take
back all when they are ready and when the bribe hath served its purpose.
But in Nanking they would not heed when we told them of such things."
first blow fell when the two young Kazaks had scarcely been back home a week.
Orders came from Nanking recalling General Sung Hsi-lien and appointing General
Tao Tzu-yo to command the Chinese garrison in his place. Hamza and Sherdirman
interpreted this as meaning that General Pai, the Minister of War, had lost
in the battle of words which passed for action among the Kuomintang politicians
and that the policy of joint action against "border incidents" inaugurated
under General Sung was to be replaced in East Turkistan by one of appeasement,
although this was precisely the part of China where the Soviet Government
could—and did—help the Communists most easily.
may we expect from this Tao?" Ali Beg asked Hamza. "General Sung we know,
and he hath dealt well with our people giving us arms, though not many because
he had few, and trusting us. But what will this Tao do?"
us give the arms back again," Hamza replied bitterly.
then maybe give them to the Communists lest they be angry at our having possessed
he asks, I shall know what to answer," said Ali Beg. General Tao did, indeed,
do exactly what Hamza predicted. He explained that the order under which
the Kazaks had been admitted into the Chinese regular Army had been misunderstood
by his predecessor, General Sung. The Hi Agreement, General Tao went on,
gave the local races the right to recruit their own local army. It did not
say this local army was to be part of the Chinese Army. That being so, the
arms must be returned. And the uniforms. If the Kazaks needed such things,
they should get them from the provincial Government. But, he pointed out,
a peaceful settlement of the differences between the Communists and the Kuomintang
was in sight so that the arms were not really necessary.
be added at this point that General Tao remained in Urumchi when the Communists
assumed power and that he was given a high office by them.
time of Tao's arrival in Urumchi, fighting was still going on between Osman
Batur's Kazak regiments of the Chinese Army and the Soviet and Mongolian invaders.
Osman Batur was in fact leading the Chinese Government's forces in the field
against the invasion with General Tao as his commander-in-chief. Moreover,
at the moment when Tao said that the Kazaks were no longer part of the Chinese
regular forces, the Soviet Government had just cordoned off the Altai district
with its rich deposits of minerals and sealed the border lest prying eyes
should learn too much about Soviet mining enterprises on Chinese territory.
to Ali Beg and Hamza, the Soviet Government is still occupying the Altai
(which it has incorporated in the Altai province of Siberia), and most of
the Kuldja and Tar-bagatai regions too, in spite of the fact that Chiang Kai-shek
has been driven out of China and the Communist Mao Tse-tung rules there in
Tao's behaviour soon convinced all the local races of East Turkistan that
they could no longer count on the Kuomintang Government and they began to
draw closer to each other in consequence. So it is worth recording that in
Ali Beg presented the Ablai Khan Medal to Mahsud Sabri, the Turki Chairman
of the provincial Government, who was the first non-Kazak recipient of such
an honour. But even more significant is the fact that the medal he received
was not, as in 1945, called simply a Liberation Medal, but was named after
Ablai Khan, famous in Kazak history for his fight against the Russians in
the early nineteenth century.
months after Mahsud Sabri got his medal from the Kazaks, the Chinese co-existers
engineered his removal from the post of Chairman. Henceforward, for all practical
purposes, the province of Sinkiang was no longer under the control of the
Central Government. The arbiter of its fate was now General Chang, Director
of the Generalissimo's Pacification Headquarters for North-West China. General
Chang himself, like General Tao, was evidently convinced that the Communists
would soon be in control. Both made their arrangements accordingly. Indeed,
Ali Beg says he is convinced that General Chang asked that General Tao should
be appointed to Urumchi because "he got on well with the Russians."
Sabri's successor as Chairman was Burhan Sha-hedi, of whom no more need be
said than that, like Generals Tao and Chang, he remained in office when the
Communists occupied Urumchi and openly took over the government. Almost the
first action taken by Burhan Shahedi as head of the province, was to declare
both Osman Batur and Ali Beg to be enemies of the State. But apparently he
was not yet strong enough to act in the manner that such a declaration implied
and the representatives of both men came and went in Urumchi without interference
and were in close touch with those Moslem members of the provincial Government
who were loyal to the cause of Turkistani independence. Among these the
most prominent were the Kazak chieftains, Saalis, the Secretary General,
and Janim Khan, the Finance Minister, whose names are greatly honoured by
the Kazaks for reasons which will appear in due course.
the advent of General Tao and Burhan Shahedi in November, 1948, the shadow
of what was coming lay plain across the future. The year, 1948, was an eventful
one in other places, far removed from East Turkistan, for it was in 1948
that the Soviet
Government engineered the Communist coup d'etat in Prague and allowed
the Communist Parties in Hungary, Rou-mania, Bulgaria and Poland to throw
off the incubus of non-Communist parties with which they had been co-operating
since the Germans were driven out. In short, while the Communists in Europe
were ending the era of co-existence by either swallowing their fellow nestlings,
or pushing them out of the nest, the Communists of China were making ready
to do the same.
1949, the Communist menace to Kazak and Turki freedom was a shadow no longer
but a swiftly approaching reality. Ali Beg therefore decided once more to
try to establish a common anti-Communist front among the Turkistani Moslems
including the Tungan regiments which were still part of the Chinese regular
army. Their commander, General Ma Cheng-hsiang, welcomed the idea but said
that now General Pai was out of favour in Nanking, it would be necessary to
move cautiously. He confirmed what the Kazaks already suspected, that the
Chinese Pacification Director, General Chang, whose headquarters were in
Lanchow, was preventing anti-pacification officers from passing through Lanchow
in either direction lest they should tell the truth to Generalissimo Chiang
Kai-shek in Nanking or undermine the authority of General Tao in Urumchi.
Thus, Urumchi was to all intents and purposes cut off from the rest of China
by land and air. No-one whose views on co-existence differed from General
Chang's and General Tao's could hope to get past the invisible curtain.
Tao's spies soon heard of the talks between the Kazaks and the Tungans, and
General Ma was immediately given peremptory orders to break off relations
with the Kazak brigands who had been declared enemies of the State.
Ma, being Tao's subordinate, was obliged to do as he was bid. However, during
the nights which followed, many Tungan rifles and machine guns as well as
ammunition and hand-grenades found their way somehow into sacks of wheat
which were afterwards loaded openly on to the backs of camels and carried
past Tao's sentries at the city gates in broad daylight. The drivers took
the road to Manass, but before the beasts reached the town, which was controlled
by Tao's forces, the leading camel was turned aside on to a track which led
up into the mountains and the other beasts, being tied to their leader by
a string as the nomad custom is, followed where their leader took them. The
other strings of camels followed the first, and their drivers let them for
all the drivers were Moslems, though mostly not Kazaks, and hated the Communists.
But most of them were also simple men ready to bow their necks to whatever
yoke was put on them. When the illicit cargoes had been extracted by Ali
Beg's men, the wheat was poured back into the sacks and the caravan returned
to the main road.
General Ma's emissaries journeyed secretly to Ali Beg's headquarters in the
mountains to discuss how to repel the expected Communist advance. Turki representatives
were there too, and the discussions went on for many hours. There was snow
on the ground for it was still only March. But inside the felted tents it
was warm and there were yearling lambs in plenty for all to eat. Yet there
was an atmosphere of constraint. Each one present was wondering within himself
whether his neighbour could be trusted or whether he was secretly a Communist
or whether, what was even worse, he would go back to Urumchi and reveal
what the council of war had decided in the hope that, if the Communists
won, he would save his own skin by doing so.
much thought and argument, the joint Kazak-Turki-Tungan council of war agreed
that their forces should be concentrated between Karashahr and Toksun, which
are on the southern slopes of the Tien Shan Mountains facing distant Lanchow
and the expected route of the Communist advance. For the Tungans this was
easy because most of their armed men were in Urumchi and there was a road.
For the Turkis, too, it meant little because they had few fighting men anyway.
But for Ali Beg and the Kazaks under his leadership it meant leaving their
traditional homes which were on the northern side of the Tien Shan. It was
true that Ali Beg and Hamza had already moved away from the valley of the
Kizil Uzun when the battle of Manass was fought between the Kazaks and
the Chinese during the revolt of 1944. But they had remained on the northern slopes
of the mountains and had been able to return. Now they must cross to the other
side of the range and seek entirely new homes and pastures for their flocks
and herds in a district where the rainfall was much less than on their own
side of the mountains. And who, this time, except God, knew when they would
Beg drew a rough map of the route they followed in this first stage of the
long exodus which, though they knew it not, was about to begin. His son,
Hassan, who speaks and writes English—he learnt it in Kashmir—wrote in the
names in Latin characters at his father's direction. The trek started in mid-April
when the snow had melted sufficiently to let the Kazaks drive their heavily-laden
beasts over the formidable watershed, which runs like a wall 15,000 feet
high for 150 miles, with scarcely a break in it through which they could
pass. To the east as they journeyed, were those three giant snow peaks rising
to twenty-one thousand feet above sea level which had watched over them and
their flocks, and their hawking parties, ever since they could remember.
much of the way there was no road and it was hard going for the beasts with
all the tents and household possessions, including Ali Beg's great cooking
pot of iron which as we know, required six strong men to hoist it on to the
back of a camel. On their way, they passed through the Karatau— Black Mountains—which
are part of the Tien Shan range, Zorimti, Usti, Ush Tasir Kai and Kukuluk,
of which, so far as I know, only Kukuluk is marked on the maps. It was at
Kukuluk that Boko Batur fought his last battle but one against the Chinese.
Its name means the Place of Grass and it is in the Kuk Tau or Blue Mountains.
Near Kukuluk they came to the road which runs from Urumchi to Turfan which
claims to be the lowest inhabited city in the world, being nearly a thousand
feet below sea level.
Beg had scarcely reached Kukuluk when news was brought to him that two of
the most important Turki leaders. Isa Beg and Mohammed Emin Bugra, respectively
Minister of Reconstruction and Deputy Secretary General, had fled from Urumchi
in secret believing the situation to be hopeless. Both men had been expected
to join the common front against Communism so their departure was a serious blow.
With them went about four hundred other Urumchi citizens and their families.
The party had no arms and when a patrol of about fifteen Chinese Communist
soldiers came upon them near the frontier of Kashmir, it induced most of them
to turn round and go home again. Isa Beg and Mohammed Emin, however, refused
to go back and were allowed to continue on their way to freedom with their
families. It was still only April and the Kara-koram Mountains, where the
road runs over passes eighteen thousand feet above sea level, were deep in
fresh snow. They got through somehow, though Mohammed Emin's daughter died
of cold. He and his wife and son went first to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir,
where they lived for several years and then moved to Istanbul. Isa Beg ultimately
went to Formosa. If you ask how it was they were unlucky enough to meet a
Communist patrol nearly one thousand miles from where the nearest Chinese
Communist Army was operating, the answer is that the distance to the Russian
border is scarcely fifty miles.
of Turki co-operation in the common front against the Communists having faded
suddenly in this way, Ali Beg called another council of war on April 15,
1949. This time it was a true "Hur Altai" after the Genghis Khan pattern,
for only Kazaks were present. The Hur Altai chose Ali Beg as their leader
and agreed that he should go at once to see Osman Batur at Kucheng and try
to arrange joint action so that both the roads from the east to Urumchi could
be blocked against the Communist Eighth Route Army, which, by now, was massing
in Kansu for its advance on Sinkiang.
this time, Tungan co-operation in the triple anti-Communist front also began
to grow nebulous. Before Ali Beg left on his mission to Osman Batur, a Tungan
representative came to see him saying that General Tao was threatening to
disband the Tungan regiments in the Chinese Army and make them surrender
we let him take our arms," he declared, "tens of thousands of our people
will be massacred. So we shall not obey. Let us rather join together, our
people and yours, and fight. Is it not better to die fighting than crying
for mercy which is not granted?"
Beg agreed, but he knew the Tungans faced the alternatives of obeying Tao
or mutinying, for Tao was still the official representative of the Nationalist
Government of China. The Tungans were Chinese as well as Moslems. They had
rebelled before in the days of General Ma Big Horse and had suffered very
severely. So Ali Beg wondered, but not very hopefully, what they would do
this time. They were in a very difficult position and their homes were mostly
in the provinces of Chinghai and Kansu, seven to eight hundred miles away.
In the end, their generals fled with their families. The junior officers
and men were ultimately taken over by the Communist Eighth Route Army and,
after indoctrination, employed on garrison dudes. But some mutinied, burning
their barracks and then going over to the Kazaks with their arms and supplies.
the Kazaks alone were left of the common Moslem front. Their numbers had
dwindled by this time from about forty thousand at the time of the Kuldja
revolt to perhaps fifteen thousand fighting men, certainly not more, and against
them was the steadily growing strength of the Chinese Communist Party, represented
by the famous Eighth Route Army, armed and backed by the Soviet Union. There
was also the indoctrinated Kuldja Kazak Army of about fifteen thousand which
was under direct Russian control. Finally, there were the Chinese troops
under General Tao who appear to have numbered about ten thousand, most of
whom were prepared to fight on whichever side their officers bade them. But
in spite of such odds, and uncertainties, the free Kazaks did not flinch.
time Ali Beg went to visit Osman Batur in his tent near Kucheng in May, 1949,
it was already clear to both leaders that they could rely on none but their
own Kazaks, seeing that General Tao's intention to side with the Communists
was now perfectly plain. So they agreed that Osman Batur should also move
from Kucheng to the Karashahr-Tok-sun region where there was summer grazing
and they could retreat still deeper into the Tien Shan Mountains if heavily
attacked and, judging from past experience, hold out there till their enemies
were tired of looking for them.
when Osman Batur tried to move south-westwards towards Karashahr he found
that General Tao's forces barred his way. Rather than fight a running battle
in open country where many of his flocks and herds would have been lost, he
decided to turn south-eastwards and go to Barkul, which means "the Lake of
Leopards" where there is a sheltered basin amid the mountains at the eastern
end of the long Tien Shan range and where Hussein Tajji and Sultan Sherif
had lived before they migrated to Gezkul in 1936. Barkul lies to the north
of the walled town called Hami, or Kumul, from which the Russian garrison
was withdrawn in 1943. Hami is not far from the frontier of the province of
Kansu in which the Eighth Route Army was making ready for its advance into
Sinkiang. Barkul is actually close to one of the two roads along which the
Communists could come and Karashahr is not far from the other. The mountains
around Barkul rise to a height of nearly 15,000 feet and there is both summer
and winter grazing among them.
Ali Beg was conferring with Osman Batur at Kucheng, the two leaders agreed
that Ali Beg on his return to Urumchi should visit the American Consul, Hall
Paxton. It was a dangerous mission so far as Ali Beg was concerned because
the provincial Government had declared him to be an enemy of the State.
It may have been just as dangerous for Mr. Paxton's diplomatic status for
him to receive such an officially disreputable character, but he agreed to
do so. Ali Beg is reticent about the meeting—all the more so as Hall Paxton
died soon after leaving Urumchi in the summer of 1949 shortly before the
Communists took over. But it can be assumed that the Kazak leader inquired
whether there was any possibility of getting from the free democracies the
one thing the Kazaks felt they needed—arms. He and Osman Batur were still
confident, like Sir Winston Churchill when the clouds were very black during
the war, that if they received the tools they could finish the job. But it
is one thing to send supplies across an ocean, even an ocean infested by submarines,
and quite another to send them to the very centre of Asia two thousand miles
from the nearest friendly seaport, which was Karachi, and over the highest
and most intractible mountains in the world.
utmost that Hall Paxton could offer freely was sympathy and advice. He could
not even offer the money which might have enabled the Kazaks to buy arms—even
perhaps from their opponents. But at that time Urumchi was already cut off
from the outside world. The American, and British, representatives no longer
had a courier service and the ordinary mail was subject to scrutiny by General
Chang's Pacification Headquarters at Lanchow.
advice Mr. Paxton gave Ali Beg doubtless included a strong plea that the
local races should sink their differences and pool their resources, in which
case they were sufficiently numerous to put up a strong resistance. But such
advice came too late and was directed to the wrong address. The Turki will
to resist had already collapsed when Isa Beg and Mohammed Emin Bugra left
the country. One or two Turki stalwarts still remained, notably a man named
Yolbars of whom we shall hear more in due course. The Tungans were rapidly
approaching the same condition of impotent despair as the Turkis.
1949, not long after the secret talk with Hall Pax-ton, Ali Beg decided to
abandon the fruitless efforts to build a united Moslem front and to approach
the non-Moslem Mongols of whom there were many in the Karashahr-Toksun district
where he and his people were now living. The principal Mongol leader in the
neighbourhood was the Wang of Kara-shahr, a paramount chief of considerable
such a man, strict observance of long-established protocol was essential.
So before making a move, Ali Beg called a Hur Altai of the thirty Kazak chieftains
who had accepted his personal leadership. They debated first the basic question:
If we fight the Communists have we any hope of winning? This was answered
in the affirmative.
second question involved the action to be taken in the event of defeat and
there was general agreement that in this case the Kazak tribesfolk should
take their flocks and herds across the Takla Makan Desert and proceed to
Gezkul where Boko Batur had fought his last fight and where, in 1936, Hussein
Tajji and Sultan Sherif had found refuge and had remained unmolested almost
ever since. The council of war felt that in this remote spot they would be
too far away for the
to bother about them and that, afterwards, when the tyranny had ended, as
all tyrannies finally do, they would be able to return to their original
homes. Such things had happened before on many occasions in the days of their
ancestors. But not this time.
reached these general conclusions, the council of war turned to the more
immediate question of seeking the Wang's co-operation. They decided to entrust
the mission to Ali Beg and minute instructions were drawn up both on matters
of etiquette and on practical issues. He was to take with him two of the finest
horses that were available and present them to the Wang. If the Wang failed
to give him two equally good ones in return, he must consider his mission
at an end. If, however, these preliminaries were satisfactorily arranged,
the next step must be the exchange of binding oaths. Thus, the Wang would
be expected to swear with his mouth on the muzzle of a rifle and with a bullet
on his head. Again, if he would not do so, Ali Beg was to make a suitable
excuse and return home without divulging anything about the military disposition
the Kazak leaders had in view. The council of war debated this point at
length. Some thought it would be foolish in any case to tell the Wang how
many men the Kazaks could put in the field and how they planned to use them
against the Communists. Others argued that if they wanted the Wang to tell
them how many troops he could supply and how well they were armed, they
must give him similar information about their own forces. So Ali Beg was
empowered to tell him.
Wang received Ali Beg cordially and the exchange of presents and oaths was
completed to the mutual satisfaction of both sides. The Wang told how many
men he could supply and Ali Beg agreed to let him know when they would be
required. Until then, the Wang was to do nothing.
the time came, he still did nothing, though not from treachery, but simply
because events moved too fast.
visit to the Wang took place on June 8, 1949, after which there was a short
lull on the surface while the Communists worked out their plans for taking
the province over. There was to have been another meeting with Hall Paxton
on August 5, at which all
the leading Kazak chieftains were to have told him of the progress of the
united resistance movement. But at the last moment Osman Batur sent word
that he could not come so the meeting was postponed. Mr. Paxton left Urumchi
for good shortly afterwards, leaving the Vice-Consul, Douglas Mackiernan,
Beg is not certain why Osman Batur failed to attend. It is possible that
he mistrusted someone who had also been invited. But it is more likely that
he was unable to get through the network of guard posts and patrols established
by Tao's Chinese troops. The pacification forces stopped whom they would
and let co-existers past. They captured at least one of the messengers Ali
Beg sent to tell Osman Batur about the plans of the Karashahr group. How much
the poor wretch disclosed under torture is not known. But it is certain that
the Communists had a very efficient spy service and were always well-informed
about Kazak intentions and movements.
August, 1949, came at last to an end, only the date on which the Chinese
Nationalist regime in Urumchi would be suppressed remained uncertain. Burhan
Shahedi, the provincial Chairman, and the other secret Communists in the provincial
Government had thrown their masks aside and were openly preparing for the
arrival of the Eighth Route Army. All anti-Communists who could afford to
do so had fled or were on the point of leaving. Those who had decided to
remain woke each morning with fear in their hearts about what the day would
bring. Many shops were closed. Many houses were empty. More would have been
if their owners had known which way to go.
the Kazak Ministers, Janim Khan and his son, Dalil, chose to join Osman Batur
at Barkul but did not tell even their friends that they were leaving. Somehow
they succeeded in getting there safely with a small band of armed retainers.
Osman Batur found another ally in Yolbars, the doughty Turki who had gathered
round him a mixed band of anti-Communists, some Turkis like himself, but
mostly Chinese soldiers who deserted from Tao's pacification forces rather
than accept Communism. Yolbars himself was over seventy but his age had certainly not
impaired either his vigour or his determination.
the exception of Janim Khan, most of the Kazak notables remained in Urumchi
which was conveniently close to the Tien Shan Mountains in which they had
decided to seek shelter when the Communists seized power.
in the city mounted steadily as the early days of September went slowly by.
Why did the Eighth Route Army delay its coming? When it did arrive would
it act like Sheng and his Red Beards? Would it bring back with it Sheng's
Russian-trained and Russian-controlled secret police with the white boxes
for anonymous denunciations? What would happen to private trade and private
property which Sheng had not dared to suppress? What would happen to private
people, those who had never taken part in politics as well as those who had?
Would the new masters re-introduce forced labour for public works which had
caused such resentment in Sheng's day?
words, for a considerable time before the Communists actually came, all hope
of keeping them at bay had left the people of Urumchi. It was only the Kazaks
in the mountains outside who still had the will to resist. And many of the
Kazaks now thought chiefly of making such a nuisance of themselves that the
Communists would finally decide to come to terms with them instead of insisting
on unconditional surrender.
Communists' first move was one nobody anticipated. Proclamations were suddenly
posted throughout the city ordering every inhabitant to go out along the
main road on the following day to greet the Eight Route Army on its arrival
at the Russian Airport. Anyone found in the streets, or at home, after 10
a.m. without a special police permit would be summarily shot without trial.
time there were three airports at Urumchi, named respectively: Chinese, American,
and Russian. The Russian airport lay to the north-west at a distance of over
six miles from the city gates. The normal population of the capital was about
a hundred and fifty thousand, and though those who feared for their lives
had mostly gone, probably a hundred and thirty thousand still remained. So,
from the early hours of the morning, the road to the airport was packed
with people patiently trudging along: old and young; men and women, often
carrying babies; healthy and infirm; rich and poor. It was early September
and as the sun rose higher, the atmosphere, by now chokingly full of dust,
became unbearable. There was no wind and the dust stirred by tens of thousands
of shuffling feet hung as a heavy cloud settling on clothes, throat and lungs
as the masses toiled to the airport to greet the liberators.
crowds waited at the airport all day but the Eighth Route Army did not arrive.
At last the people were allowed to go home again, and when they got there,
tired and very thirsty, fresh proclamations warned them to go back to the
airport on the following day, when the same thing happened again. But on
the third day, the Eighth Route Army—or, rather, its advance guard—really
did come. Some two hundred Russian-type Dakotas with Russian pilots maintained
a shuttle service till they had disembarked four to five thousand Chinese
Communist troops and their wholly Russian equipment. As each plane taxied
in and disgorged its contents, the assembled masses dutifully cheered the
liberators, their voices, but not their hearts, responding to the call of
the official cheer-leaders. There was nothing else they could do unless they
wanted to be shot. Cine cameras were busy among them, so that silent mouths
and glum faces, and hands without flags, would have been spotted instantly.
And three days of the human tide's ebb and flow between the city and airport
had damped the ardour of the very few who might have tried to lead a hostile
Communists already in Urumchi had not been idle during the three days of
compulsory pilgrimages. Trusted members of the Party and police had worked
through the city, house by house, seeking malingerers, incriminating documents
and, of course, valuables. With the information, and funds, thus obtained
the Chinese Communist Party was able to take the next steps in the pacification
of the province. How many unfortunate people were shot or bayoneted for having
disobeyed the order to attend at the airport, or because incriminating material
was found, or planted, in their houses, is not known.
probable that whoever stage-managed the proceedings was a student of Kazak
and Mongol history, for the method of forcing the inhabitants of a captured
city to come out en masse to greet their conquerors was frequently
employed by Genghis Khan. Edward III, who was Genghis Khan's contemporary,
used a modification of it when he made the burghers of Calais come to sue
for mercy with chains round their necks. But the Communists, in making the
unfortunate masses of Urumchi show their submission three times, outdid even
of the Eighth Route Army's arrival spread quickly through the surrounding
country. Ali Beg heard of it at Cumush near Kukuluk in a matter of hours
and at once sent Hamza, and his co-distributors of the anti-Communist "Review,"
Kainesh, with fifty horsemen to a pre-arranged rendezvous from which he was
to send trusty messengers to certain Kazak leaders in Urumchi to inform them
that he was waiting for them. Five of these leaders have a part to play
in our story: Saalis and Janim Khan, both members of the provincial Government
whom we have already met; a rich merchant named Adil, and Abdel Kerim, a
historian. The name of the fifth is Khadawan, wife of an aged Kazak paramount
chief who was known to everyone simply as "Khadawan's husband" because she
wielded his authority over his tribe, and succeeded him when he died. Altogether
there were perhaps fifteen to whom Hamza and Kainesh sent messengers. All
were to bring their families with them and their armed servants and retainers
and their valuables, if they had hidden them successfully from the prying
eyes of the Communist searchers.
rendezvous was at Pei Yang-kou, a pleasant little alpine resort in the mountains.
Hamza did not know whether Tao's pacification army, or even the Eighth Route
Army itself, might not have got wind of his presence and come to intercept
him. So he posted sentries outside the little town to watch all possible
routes and then sat down to wait.
invited refugees trickled in family by family until all were there except
Janim Khan and Khadawan. Saalis brought a number of White Russians with him—men who knew
they were doomed if the Communists caught them.
many hours news came at length that Janim Khan and his son Dalil, had gone
secretly with his followers to join Osman Batur at Barkul, telling no-one
that they were doing so. Hard on the heels of the messenger who brought this
information came another to say that Khadawan had decided to stay in Urumchi.
as much," said Hamza. "Did we not know that someone was betraying us to the
Communists? Now it is clear who the traitor was."
it is merely that she is too fat to ride," remarked Kainesh philosophically.
"Save when she rides rough-shod over her husband, which is all the time."
he not too old to care or even to notice?" Hamza replied. "But we waste our
time talking of them. Let us be gone before the enemy come upon us."
are fifty," Kainesh said. "Enough to rout a thousand."
said Hamza. "But we came not to fight. Of fighting we shall have our bellies-ful
is in the hands of God," declared Kainesh, as they rode away.
party got safely back to Cumush without interference and in a few days news
reached Ali Beg that Khadawan had indeed thrown in her lot with the Communists,
taking not only her husband but the whole tribe of which they were joint
heads into the enemy camp. It was a grievous blow, considerably reducing the
number of fighting men at Ali Beg's and Osman Batur's disposal. She was the
only prominent Kazak leader to submit tamely without a struggle. Maybe Kainesh's
contemptuous exclamation was not far from the truth. The Kazak refugees describe
her as a mountain of a woman and maybe she knew she could not have endured
the strains and stresses of active campaigning. No doubt the Communists found
her co-operation extremely useful for she was still alive, and apparently
in a position of authority over her tribe, as late as 1953.
surprise, the Kazak refugees in Turkey were not prepared to criticise her.
a man doth, and likewise a woman," one of them explained, "is between themselves
and God. Maybe, if we had been in her place, we would have done what she
did. But God alone knoweth and He alone shall be her judge."
if they had defeated the Communists, the Kazaks would certainly have killed
Khadawan if they had caught her.
was right when he told Kainesh that they would soon have their bellies-ful
of fighting. Even before the take-over in Urumchi was completed, the Chinese
Communists began to assume control in the other parts of the province—those
already under Soviet or Mongolian occupation excluded. As their underground
elements were already firmly established, the rest of the province also fell
into their hands without a fight, except where there were Kazaks.
fighting was needed, it soon became evident that the Eighth Route Army was
almost as much out of its element in the mountains as the Red Beards had
been. So the take-over, like the arrival of the Communists at the airport,
soon became a combined operation with the Eighth Route Army concentrating
on the walled cities and the Russian-led Kazak levies from Kuldja dealing
with the countryside, especially the mountains. Ali Beg and Hamza could not
tell what role, if any, was given to Tao's pacification troops, but it seems
probable that most of them were absorbed into the Army after suitable indoctrination
and, of course, when doubtful elements had been purged.
who were still in Urumchi at that time say that the towns gave in without
a struggle and it was only the Kazaks who put up a real fight. The fact that
the task of subduing them had to be given to the Russian-led troops suggests
that the Eighth Route Army was mainly concerned with indoctrination. It
was also a compliment to the military ability of the Kazaks. The Chinese
knew from bitter experience that in mountain warfare they were no match for
the elusive nomads. Boko Batur, Yunus Hajji, Osman Batur were nearly always
victorious when fighting against Chinese regulars in their native hills.
It was only when the nomads ventured, or were forced, into more open country
that they were defeated.
Communists could not afford to risk a military set-back which might have
involved an irreparable loss of political face. Nor could they afford to leave
the free Kazak force alone till a more convenient occasion. They felt obliged
to tackle it as soon as they could and defeat it wherever it was while the
Eighth Route Army continued its political campaign. So, before long, the
Russians made themselves responsible for wiping out the free Kazaks, using
for that purpose the Kazak levies they had first helped Ali Han Ture to raise
and then taken over from him when he had exhausted his usefulness. These
men, some of whom came from Soviet Kazakstan and the rest from the Kuldja
and Tarbagatai districts of Sinkiang, were now a highly trained and well
equipped force of some ten thousand to fifteen thousand men, thoroughly expert
in mountain warfare and armed with modern weapons. They had armoured cars
and tanks, mountain guns and the co-operation of a certain number of aeroplanes,
mostly, if not entirely, piloted by Russians.
first attacks on Ali Beg's forces near Kukuluk were launched in early October,
1949—about one month after the coup d'etat in Urumchi. They took the
form of a series of assaults by small bands of picked troops whose aim was
to edge the free Kazaks out of the mountains and into open country. Fighting
went on without cessation for more than seventy days during which attack
and counter-attack followed one another in quick succession and there were
a considerable number of casualties on both sides. The Kazaks had not expected,
and could not have prepared in any case, for warfare of this kind, and their
ammunition began to run low. As usual they tried to replenish their stocks
by raiding enemy supply columns, and though they were often successful they
did not find it nearly so easy as in Sheng's days.
from ambushes of this kind, the fighting was all in the mountains. There
were ambushes here, too, but mostly each side concentrated, not on outflanking
its opponents horizontally, but on climbing ever higher and faster up the
steep hillsides so as to be able to fire down on the enemy, or roll
boulders on him if there
were no bullets left. So, day after day, rival groups of breathless men raced
desperately upwards from vantage point to vantage point on opposite sides
of the same valley, or tried to creep round the back of a hill unnoticed
and get to the top of it before an opponent who was climbing it from the
these feats of mountaineering ended in a stalemate and both sides climbed
down again without exchanging a single shot. The massive peaks of the Tien
Shan towered above them and, so high did the free Kazaks climb on some occasions
that they found themselves actually able to fire down on Soviet aeroplanes
which were searching for them in the valleys beneath. On one auspicious day
they brought down two planes by rifle fire from above. Most of the planes
they saw appear to have been reconnaissance machines and, in time, the free
Kazaks came to regard them with something near contempt, though they admitted—as
Froissart said the English did of the cannons used against them at Crecy—that
they were useful to frighten horses, and other animals too.
the two sides used similar tactics, their strategic objectives were entirely
different. The Communists wanted to drive the free Kazaks out of the mountains,
and the Kazaks wanted to stay there. Again, Ali Beg's order was: "Shoot to
kill. And if the man be mounted, see that ye kill the man and not his beast.
We cannot cumber ourselves with prisoners for we are constantly on the move
and where would we keep prisoners if we took them? But a man's arms and
his accoutrements, yea, and his horse too if he be mounted: they are of
value, for we grow short of all three."
Communists, on the other hand, did not shoot to kill, for they did want prisoners.
In particular, they wanted to capture the free Kazak leaders because they
knew that the leader-less men would be like sheep without a shepherd and
either surrender or make their way back to their old homes with the object
of taking up their old lives as though they had never been away. Moreover,
a live leader in captivity was of greater value to the Communists than one
who had been killed on the field of battle. There was always hope, though
it almost invariably came to nothing, that a captured leader might be
persuaded, or cajoled, or
forced, to go over to the Communist side. And even if he did not, false
statements could be issued in his name asserting that he had made his submission
and advising his followers and friends to follow his example.
a prisoner, whatever the sex, was not only a potential source of information
but also a hostage who could be used to try to induce relatives to surrender.
So, when first captured by the Communists, a prisoner was usually well treated
and given good food and decent quarters. As the prisoner's usefulness diminished,
so did the standard of his comfort. If he, or she, was unco-operative, the
usual Communist methods of dealing with a political opponent were employed.
And, finally, when the Communists reached the conclusion that the captive
was politically valueless to them, they settled whether he should be killed
or sentenced to hard labour by weighing up his behaviour before he was captured,
regardless of any promises of clemency they had made to him in the meantime.
captured is, of course, one of the hazards of war and the Kazaks so regarded
it. But the Communist policy of seizing hostages, and of using prisoners
as hostages, made them furiously angry. Times without number, the free Kazaks
received written messages or heard distant voices calling to them saying
that the family of such a man was in the hands of the Communists and that
if the man named did not make his submission by a given date, his wife would
first be executed and then his children one after the other, at intervals
of a week. Therefore (the voice or the message told him), if he wished to
save their lives, and in particular the lives of those most dear to him, he
had no time to waste.
the campaign started, the threat often worked. But soon it came to the free
Kazaks' knowledge that a man who surrendered to save his relatives was first
treated as an ordinary prisoner of war and then, when the Communists had
extracted from him all the information they wanted or could get, they proceeded
to kill him and his relatives too. The Kazaks gave no quarter after making
this discovery, and the "Shoot to kill" order became a very grim reality.
Nor were there any more voluntary surrenders.
the Communists persisted in their efforts to secure hostages and, not long
after the fighting started, the Kazaks found that their enemies were no longer
directing their attacks against the fighting men, but were trying to separate
the fighting men from their families and flocks. If they succeeded, they
left the fighting men alone and turned to deal with the women and children,
and after seizing them as hostages, drove off the fighting men's food supply.
So the character of the campaign began to change. Instead of small groups
of men at grips with one another and trying to outflank one another perpendicularly,
the Soviet air force began to mark down the free Kazak encampments and, having
done so, drove the occupants away from the men and the men from the encampments.
They were not altogether successful, but they did manage to put the free
Kazaks on the defensive, forcing them to stand their ground in order to protect
their children, womenfolk and flocks instead of luring the enemy after them
into an ambush as they had done so often and so successfully in Sheng's time.
aeroplanes for eyes, the Communist ground forces refused to be lured away
from what Fluellen at Agincourt called "the poys and the luggage." However,
the Kazak women and children knew how to defend themselves better than the
unfortunate "poys". The Kazak women knew how to handle firearms and so did
all the children of both sexes except the very youngest.
dastardly aspect of the campaign in the eyes of the free Kazaks was the Communist
policy of poisoning water supplies. As soon as the campaign started, indeed,
possibly before, the Communists prepared lists of all known wells, springs
and streams in the area occupied by the Kazaks and then garrisoned them
one by one until they had no more men to spare. After that, they simply poisoned
the water unless it flowed too fast for them to be able to deny its use
to the nomads and their animals.
Kazaks, poisoning water is a sin against God as well as against man and beast.
The Kazak, when he has drunk his fill at a well, lets down the bucket again
and draws for whomsoever shall come after, be he friend or foe. He regards
water as the gift
of God and firmly believes that evil will come to those who offend against
Him by preventing even an enemy from drinking his fill when he is athirst.
The wickedness of the Communists in poisoning the water so that neither friend
nor enemy, man nor beast, could drink of it, strengthened the faith of the
free Kazaks to endure what was to come. They were now certain beyond a peradventure
that the enemy were of their father, the devil, who, as we and they both
believe, hath but a short time.
dint of hard fighting and their knowledge of the mountains, Ali Beg's forces
successfully avoided major disaster during those two and a half months of
furious skirmishing around Kukuluk. By then it was December, 1949, and the
winter season, even more than their enemies, drove the Kazaks out of the
high ground which by now was covered with deep snow. On the lower slopes they
were at a disadvantage. Armoured cars could be used against them and the
Communists had already occupied, or poisoned, all the chief sources of water.
Soon the Kazaks found themselves forced to attack fortified positions in
order to get enough water for their animals. They succeeded in capturing some
but it cost them more casualties and ammunition than they could afford. The
time, in fact, was at hand when they must either give in or evacuate the
Tien Shan altogether.
thought of giving in never occurred to them. But they anxiously considered
the other alternative—or rather, they considered when they should adopt it,
for, as you will remember, they had already decided where to go when they
were discussing whether to make an alliance with the Wang of Kara-shahr.
The moment had arrived when, under their compact with him, the Wang was bound
to enter the fight against the Communists. But Karashahr town was now firmly
in the hands of the Eighth Route Army and he could not do as he had promised.
with heavy hearts, the Kazaks prepared to journey south to Gezkul. They could
not go back to Manass and the much-loved Kizil Uzun because the road was
blocked by snow, so that even if they had wished to take it they could not
have done so. But
the road they had intended to follow to Gezkul lay across the main road from
Karashahr to Turfan, both of which were now in the hands of the Eighth Route
the end, the Kazaks split up into small groups, each of which travelled by
whatever route seemed best to its leader and relied on its insignificance
to slip through unmolested. Any estimate of how many succeeded and how many
failed would be mere guesswork. It can only be said that some of the groups
got through almost intact; some did not get through at all and some suffered
severe losses but nevertheless arrived in good heart.
Beg's personal following consisted of about four hundred. As this was much
too large a number to follow any of the recognised tracks undetected, Ali
Beg, like Boko Batur before him, decided to go through the dreaded Thirsty
Mountains where the average rainfall is about two inches a year and there
is neither food nor water for man or beast. The way to, and through, the
Thirsty Mountains was known to be unguarded—probably the Communist leaders
took it for granted that no one who attempted the passage would get through
alive. But Ali Beg, knowing that the Communists sought him especially, believed
that the most dangerous-seeming route would be safest and those who followed
him did so of their own free will.
set out on December 21, 1949, so that, mercifully, it was winter and the
sun was not in his strength. Yet as they journeyed on day after day towards
the south-east, the men and women and especially the children, became very
thirsty and the beasts likewise because they were six days without any water
at all and because of the endless salt under their feet. The salt rotted the
horn of the horses' hooves so that the shoes fell away and it tore the camels'
feet till they bled so that the Kazaks had to stitch great pads of horse
leather on to them. The glare from the salt, and the cold salt-laden wind,
inflamed the eyes of men and women, and especially the children, as well
as of the beasts. Lips became cracked and bleeding though they wrapped cloths
round their faces. And then there came a haze all round them making it hard
to find the way. Among those who died was Ali Beg's eldest brother, Attel
Beg Mullah. He wandered somehow from the others and though they called to
him and searched for him they never found him.
A Kazak summer encampment in the Altai mountains
Tien Shan landscape
A Kazak encampment in winter
Ali Beg (centre) with some of his colleagues. Kainesh is sitting on his left and Hassan standing behind them. Hamza is on the extreme left
not the Kazak way to give harrowing details at any time and their sufferings
on this occasion must therefore be left to the imagination. As I write I
have in front of me a letter, in English, from Kainesh, to whom I wrote asking
him to send me full details about the crossing of the Thirsty Mountains.
This is what his letter says:
the time of our crossing we have suffered much by the waterless. We have
used the urine of men and women, the blood of animals instead of water. By
the waterless we have lost many of our animals except camels."
written that much, he changed the subject.
emerging from the Thirsty Mountains, the party came in due course to Ying-pan,
the Empty City, where they rested for a while. Ying-pan was founded in 1736
by a Chinese Emperor named Chien-lung as a garrison town shortly after the
New Province of Sinkiang was annexed to the Chinese Empire. But when Ali
Beg went there it had long been deserted, maybe for as many as a hundred years.
Yet its mud houses were almost as good as when they were built over two centuries
before. A river runs near Ying-pan making it a convenient resting place for
people wearied with much fighting and the hardships of the Thirsty Mountains.
And as the Empty City lies many miles from any inhabited places, there was
little danger of surprise.
Ali Beg and his followers were in Ying-pan regaining strength for the journey
which lay before them, his sentinels reported that a Kazak named Emin Ta
Mullah had come and wished to speak with him alone. Ta means great and Emin
is equivalent to our own Amen, while Mullah means Priest. Emin Ta Mullah greeted
Ali Beg cordially and, when he had drunk tea and eaten the salted bread,
he explained that the Communists had sent him to offer Ali Beg terms promising
him good treatment and an honourable position if he joined them.
verily," concluded Emin Ta Mullah, "the offer is not for spurning. Is it
not better to live than to die?"
not know whether Ali Beg remembered Kine Sari's answer to the emissary who
had come from the Russians a hundred and fifty years previously to persuade
him to surrender: "He who sets a snare for an evil purpose, leaves his manhood
therein." But Ali Beg uttered no such rebuke to Emin Ta Mullah. Instead he
reminded him of the evil deeds committed by the Communists against the Kazaks
in the time of Sheng; of the treachery of the master Communists, the Russians,
against Ali Han Ture; of the cruelties against innocent people when the
Eighth Army vanguard arrived in Urumchi; of their hateful methods of waging
war and their sin against God and man and beast when they poisoned the wells.
Ali Beg concluded:
a perjurer to be believed when he swears to treat a man honourably? As I
live and God liveth, I will not sell my soul for honours from murderers and
thieves. Go back and tell them what seemeth good to protect the teller from
harm. But though we be as thou seest: wanderers shut out from our homes and
having barely saved our lives in those mountains yonder where no water is,
yet while there is life in me I will not yield, nor will any that be with
Ta Mullah nodded his head slowly but did not speak. And when the silence
had lasted a long while, Ali Beg said: "Bide with us this night if it pleaseth
thee and to-morrow let each take his own way in peace." Emin Ta Mullah answered:
and freedom are from God. Whithersoever thou goest to-morrow I will go with
thee, for who am I to fight against God on the side of these Communists?
Moreover, if I went back, maybe they would kill me for returning with my mission
night, a messenger came to say that Communist soldiers were on the way to
intercept Ali Beg's party. So early the next morning, he and his followers,
and Emin Ta Mullah, were obliged to set forth again towards the south, though
both they and the beasts which remained were very weary, and were scarcely
able to bear the weight of the loads which were transferred to them when
one of their number collapsed from lack of food now rather than water. The
horses, in particular, suffered from eating leaves which were impregnated
with salt. Their tongues became black and swollen and many died. Others were
saved by having their tongues pierced with a needle which released a flow
of black blood and gave instant relief so that a horse which seemed on the
point of death was at once able to go forward and even carry a load, though
not a rider, who now walked, staggering, by the beast's side, carrying a
load himself, and the women carrying them also, in addition to their babies,
so that they should not lose all their possessions. Moreover, the mist still
lay over the land making it hard to find the way so that Ali Beg's party straggled
hither and thither, some, including Ali Beg himself, being obliged to cross
the Tarim in order to return to the right road.
river was covered with ice when Ali Beg crossed it. But the ice was not thick
and when he and his party had reached an island between two of the river's
channels, they found there was open water between them and the far bank.
It happened that there was much long grass on the islet but no trees.
Beg ordered his followers to gather great bundles of the grass and bind it
with twine and webbing into rope. The work of binding had to be done very
carefully after the long grass had been laid unevenly on the ground and
twisted so that the rope should not part in the middle when it took the
strain of many people holding on to it when they grasped it while crossing
rope rapidly grew longer and longer till it seemed that its length would
it now reach across, think ye?" Ali Beg asked the ropemakers.
will reach," they declared. "But where is the swimmer who can take an end
of the rope to the far side? For though the distance is not great, the water
is very cold."
the bed of the river will shelve before he reaches the bank," one suggested.
"Then he will be able to walk instead of swimming."
rests in the hands of God," said Ali Beg. "But the task of providing a rope
which is long and strong enough rests on our shoulders and we have fulfilled
it. So let a swimmer be found forthwith and let him start while there is
was no tree trunk or rock where the water shallowed on the far side
of the river to which the swimmer could make the grass rope fast. So when
he reached the other side he tied the rope firmly round his naked body and
leaned backward to hold it taut while another man hauled himself across moving
hand over hand along the rope with his legs and most of his body dangling
in the water. With two strong men to hold the rope at each end, Ali Beg
judged that it would be safe for the rest of his company to begin the crossing,
though most of them could not swim. One by one, all the men and women and
the children who were big enough, stripped off their clothes and bound them
in bundles on their backs and then took their turn to grasp the grass rope
which the strong men on either bank strained and strove to keep above the
surface of the water. But in mid-stream the rope inevitably sagged into the
water and then the crossers, some of whom had babies strapped to their breasts
as well as bundles on their backs, were hard put to it to keep their heads
out of the water so that they could breathe. Yet slowly and gaspingly, and
with the help of God, all came eventually to safety.
next problem was to get the animals across: the sheep, goats, camels, cattle,
horses, of which there still remained many in spite of the losses in the
Thirsty Mountains. But let Ali Beg tell this part of the story himself.
chose a man who had a very strong horse. After taking off all his clothes,
he mounted his horse which was not saddled and rode forward on it into the
water leading another horse behind him. The other animals, seeing the led
horse enter the water with no rider on its back followed it without being
driven. When they entered the water we did not know whether they could swim.
But they all swam extremely well and we did not lose a single beast during
the crossing nor any of our goods which were on their backs. We tied sheep's
bladders filled with air on to some of the animals whose loads were heavy."
even Ali Beg's giant seedling pot which weighed more than a hundredweight,
survived to feed him and his family for yet other days.
Beg said he crossed the Tarim not far from La-wang, which is one of the many
empty cities in the Takla Makan. La-wang is not like Ying-pan, the Empty
City in which Ali Beg rested after crossing the Thirsty Mountains. He saw
nothing in La-wang save its crumbling city walls and pathetic heaps which
had once been houses. But there were many gaunt tree trunks, thrusting their
naked branches towards the sky. He added, surprisingly, that La-wang was evacuated
because the Tarim first covered it with water in the course of an unprecedented
flood after which it changed its course and left the city waterless. All
the other dead cities whose bones have hitherto been discovered in the Takla
Makan perished simply through lack of moisture.
point in their journey they came near the village of Lop which gives its
name to Lop Nor, the lake which, years ago, Sven Hedin described as the "wandering"
lake because it changes its position every few hundred years when the Tarim
which drains it grows tired of its old bed and, having silted it up, carves
out a new one more to its liking so that the cities and vegetation which
flourished along the old bed die of thirst. The Kazaks turned quickly away
from the village of Lop because their scouts brought word that the Communists
had already occupied it. And they avoided the lake because the water is too
salt to drink and the shore is so spongy that a man, or beast, approaching
it sinks to his belly and a man deems himself lucky if there is one nearby
who can drag him out.
they had passed Lop, the land began to tilt gradually upward as they approached
the Altyn Mountains which are the northern arm of the Kunlun Mountains of
Tibet. But they were glad to climb because they knew they were nearing the
end of their journey across the Takla Makan desert and that soon they would
reach the home of Hussein Tajji who pastured his flocks near Gezkul, the
lake which is long, straight and narrow, and which stands more than 8,000
feet above the level of the sea.
Tajji received them kindly, telling diem in the true Kazak way, and meaning
it, that he was their host and they his guests, therefore all his possessions,
his camels, cattle, horses and sheep, were at their disposal to relieve their
needs. For it is the custom among the Kazaks that if a man be poor, he may pitch his
tent near one that is rich and the rich man shall place in his care, let
us say, forty ewes, and at the end of a year, after the forty have lambed,
the poor man shall return eighty sheep to his benefactor and keep whatever
be left for his own. Ali Beg himself had brought money with him on his camels,
as well as his great cooking pot, so he was able to buy outright from Hussein
Tajji and his friend, Sultan Sherif, as could others of his party, like Hamza
and Kainesh and Emin Ta Mullah. But those who had no money received animals
without payment. The winter was nearly over and spring was at hand bringing
with it the annual miracle of natural increase in new-born lambs, foals, calves
and camel colts. Within two months, therefore, or maybe three, those who
came destitute from the long battle at Kukuluk had beasts of their own and
Hussein Tajji was certainly no poorer, though if they had not come he might
have been even richer. But that was on the knees of God.
spring days approached, however, Ah' Beg and the other newcomers grew uneasy.
It seemed to them that Hussein Tajji was shutting his eyes to the dangers
which surrounded them, having lived for so many years in a kind of shangri-la
far from the clash of Communist ideology against the Kazak way of life. Their
fears were confirmed when they heard what two of Hussein Tajji's men said
after returning from Tung-huang, which was their market town and also the
town near which are the famous images of the Thousand Buddhas mouldering slowly
away in their caves on the perpendicular sides of a crumbling cliff. The
two men told how the Communists had just come to Tung-huang and, hearing that
two Kazaks from Gezkul were in the town, had sent for them and welcomed them
heartily saying that the Kazaks had nothing to fear from the new regime. After
feasting them, the Communists bade them return to their tents and carry with
them an invitation to their chief to send delegates—the more the better—to
a meeting of "people's representatives" from all parts of north-west China
to be held in Lanchow, the capital of Kansu. The two men added that the Communists
had told them it was quite safe for all the Kazaks to visit Tung-huang provided
they wore badges and they showed those the Communists had given them both for
themselves and to hand to their friends.
Beg looked at the badges and saw that they were pictures of Mao Tse-tung,
the Communist leader. He went at once to Hussein Tajji and warned him that
the badges were a trick and that if any man should go to the meeting of people's
representatives at Lanchow he would either never return or would bring with
him Communist troops to confiscate every beast that the Kazaks possessed.
He reminded Hussein Tajji of the three thousand delegates who had been called
to Urumchi in Sheng's time and then ordered to write letters bidding everyone
surrender his arms to the Government, and when no arms were surrendered
eighteen leaders among the delegates, one being Yunus Hajji, had been arrested
and afterwards murdered.
Tajji, who had been untroubled by politics for more than ten years, was not
wholly convinced by what Ali Beg said but agreed to call his elders together
to discuss the matter. Some of the elders sided with Hussein Tajji and some
with Ali Beg and, finally, it was decided to send forty armed horsemen to
Tung-huang to make inquiries and bring back a report.
the Forty had gone, Ali Beg told Hamza and Kainesh to set guards secretly
on the mountain roads between Gezkul and Tung-huang and see that no one came
or went through the passes without their permission. In a few days, a
messenger reached the posts, coming from Tung-huang, and said that the
leader of the Forty had bidden him tell Hussein Tajji that he and his men
had been kindly received and that the leader of the Communists had praised
them, saying that their presence showed that the Kazaks were beginning to
understand the revolution. The messenger said further that the Forty had been
offered lorries to take them and other delegates to the meeting of people's
representatives at Lanchow because it was too far for them to go there on
horseback, being about five hundred miles. He added that he had been told
to warn the Kazaks around Gezkul that none would be admitted into Tung-huang
unless they wore the badges containing Mao Tse-tung's portrait and that none
might enter carrying arms unless he had a special permit from the Communist
commander at Tung-huang. Anyone disobeying this order, said the messenger,
would be shot on sight. He concluded by saying that as he rode towards Gezkul
he found the passes near Tung-huang guarded by Communist troops.
they would disarm us first and enslave, or kill, us afterwards," Hamza observed
to Kainesh when the messenger had ended. "Just as Sheng tried to do when
he slew my brother. Henceforward, it is better that we let none past who will
not tell us his business, whomsoever he may make himself out to be."
this one?" asked Kainesh, glancing towards the messenger. "Shall he pass
or shall he remain?"
him pass," said Hamza, "for he hath told truth, though not understanding
it, and there is no Communist guile in him. Maybe when Hussein Tajji hears
that none may bear arms, he will understand what is afoot."
next messenger who essayed to pass was not from the leader of the Forty,
nor was the next, though both purported to be. Hamza and Kainesh questioned
them closely and, when they either refused to answer, or answered evasively,
it became clear that they were agents of the enemy with whom Hamza and Kainesh
were already at war though not yet Hussein Tajji. Both declared that the
Forty had sent them to bid the Gezkul Kazaks surrender their arms because
there was now peace throughout China. Hamza and Kainesh, having heard what
the first messenger said about arms, were certain that both men lied. So they
shot both of them as spies.
days passed and no more news came from the Forty, anxiety mounted among Hussein
Tajji's Kazaks. Soon, the wives and families of the missing men were clamouring
incessantly outside Hussein Tajji's tent saying that spies should be sent
to Tung-huang to make secret inquiries about the Forty. Hussein Tajji, who
knew nothing of the watch kept on the hills, took counsel with Ali Beg and,
like Joshua at Shittim, they decided to send two carefully chosen men to
view the land, even Tung-huang. The two Kazak spies, however, were armed with
hidden automatics and wore Mao Tse-tung medallions to avert suspicion from
Communist agents. Before they started, Ali Beg gave them careful instructions
so that they could avoid the Communist posts in the mountains outside Tung-huang
and also warned Hamza and Kainesh to let them pass without interference.
by God's will, the two men entered Tung-huang at the very moment that lorries
with the Forty in them were about to drive out through the gates of the town.
Their arms had been taken from them and, though they were not in chains,
they looked as men who were going to their execution. The lorries happened
not to be moving and the two spies went close to them and called out to the
Forty in the Kazak tongue, knowing that the armed guards, being Chinese, would
not understand it. The leader of the Forty, answering them, said:
bade us send messengers to Gezkul to tell our brethren and Hussein Tajji
that they should surrender their arms and come to Tung-huang to pledge fealty
to the new State. And when we said that we would not, they told us that the
messengers had gone already in our name and that if they did not return having
obtained the surrender of the arms, our lives would be the forfeit because
of the word we had pledged that the arms would be given up. But we pledged
no word though the Communists told us that the messengers had orders to say
that we had done so."
two men asked whether they could do anything to save them, saying that they
had automatics though it would be folly to use them inside the gates of Tung-huang.
said the leader of the Forty. "It cannot be that they will kill us when the
crime of which we are accused is one which they themselves committed, not
we. But whether they kill us or no is on the knees of God and it is better
that you two die not with us but go to tell our wives and our comrades what
is the truth about this business."
in peace," the two men called as the lorries moved off. "And return in safety.
And, as for us, we will do as you have asked."
happened to the Forty is not known. None of them returned to Gezkul nor did
any news ever come of them. It is possible, therefore, that the Communists
carried out their threat to execute them. It is also possible that they sentenced
them to work among the
gangs of prisoners who were already engaged in building the roads and bridges
and factories which are the objectives and criteria of Communist advancement.
For those who love the Kazak life, such a sentence was a sentence of death.
two men lost no time in getting back to Gezkul. When they had told what they
had seen and what the leader of the Forty had told them, the wives of the
missing men tore their faces with their finger nails till the blood flowed
freely and rushed to Hussein Tajji's tent demanding vengeance. Their friends
pacified them with difficulty. From that day, there was no doubt among Hussein
Tajji's men that they must fight even as others had done in the Altai and
Tien Shan, at Kukuluk and Kucheng. So the patrols and guard posts in the
mountains were multiplied and before long there were a number of minor clashes
with Communist patrols from Tung-huang, but nothing serious as yet.
15, 1950, an unexpected visitor arrived in the Gezkul area: Douglas Mackiernan,
the American Vice-Consul, who had disappeared from Urumchi mysteriously on
the very day that the Eighth Route Army vanguard entered it, namely, September
11, 1949. Urumchi is, at most, fourteen days distant from Gezkul on horseback
and leading camels, which is how Mackiernan was travelling, but he had been
five and a half months on the journey. Where and how he spent the intervening
five and a half months is not known to Ali Beg, or maybe he knows but would
not tell me because he has a.rule not to speak of other people's business.
An American named Frank Bessac who was with Mackiernan said in an article
in Life that they spent the winter in camp but he did not give details.
who knew Ali Beg well, said that he wanted to buy beasts to carry his gear.
He also asked for guides to show him the way to the Tibetan border which
lay some two hundred miles to the south, as the eagle flies though not by
any means as the track runs through the Altyn Mountains. Ali Beg agreed to
supply both and then told Mackiernan of the fighting round Kukuluk and his
journey across the Thirsty Mountains. They spoke too of what the future held
in store for the Kazaks,
and I think that Ali Beg asked the Americans whether there was any prospect
of help reaching them across the Himalayas. I am sure he told him that the
Kazaks were determined to resist to the death, if need be.
his departure, Mackiernan tore a five-dollar bill in half, giving one portion
to Ali Beg and keeping the other after they had put their thumb marks on
both pieces. Then they wished one another God-speed and the two Americans
went on their way with fifteen fresh camels, one horse and two guides provided
by the Kazaks. The guides returned after one week saying that they had gone
with the Americans for three days taking four to return as there was no need
for haste. They had parted, they said, before reaching the Tibetan border
because Mackiernan told them their services were no longer needed.
story is correct, Mackiernan's decision to send them back was a major disaster.
The two Kazak guides had orders from Ali Beg to lead the Americans into Tibet
by a route on which there were known to be no Tibetan frontier guards. On
the route the Americans actually followed, there were guards and, as Ali
Beg learnt much later, they shot Mackiernan dead, not having received orders
sent by the Dalai Lama to admit him. They did not harm Frank Bessac.
Ali Beg whether he thought Mackiernan's death was an accident or whether
Communist machinations were responsible for the fact that the order did not
reach the frontier post, seeing that, according to the official statement
issued in Lhasa, all the frontier posts in the vicinity had received the order
except the one at which Mackiernan was killed. Ali Beg was not prepared to
give a definite answer. Nevertheless, he was greatly surprised at the time
when the Kazak guides returned before completing their task since he and
Mackiernan had agreed that the guides should lead the Americans across the
frontier. Therefore he wondered whether their return had been engineered by
a Communist agent among those who were with Mackiernan and Bessac. There is
no doubt that there were Communist agents in Tibet itself, although at that
time the country had not yet been completely occupied. But it would have
been easy for Communist agents to prevent one particular frontier post from
receiving the Dalai Lama's order to let Mackiernan enter Tibet. Moreover,
if the post had received no order of any kind regarding Mackiernan, why did
the guards shoot only one of the two Americans and not both? The most likely
explanation is that the frontier post was not expecting Bessac but had orders
to kill Mackiernan because he knew too much about the affairs of Sinkiang
and the way the Communists captured the province.
leaving Mackiernan told Ah' Beg that he should keep his half of the five-dollar
bill and present it to no-one but a certain American official in Delhi who
would make him suitable recompense for the help he had given. But when Ali
Beg heard that Mackiernan was dead, he did not wish to present his half of
the note, preferring to keep it as a memento of the giver. He still has it—and
not very much else except his ceremonial clothes.
worth noting that the place at which Ali Beg was to present his half was Delhi.
That is to say, Ali Beg had already made up his mind in April, 1950, that
the Kazaks should fight their way out from Central Asia unless help soon
reached them from outside.
now it is time to turn to Barkul, where Osman Batur had gone in May, 1949,
when Tao's pacification troops prevented him from going to Karashahr. The
Communists left him alone until they had ended the battle of Kukuluk and
then they sent a force to lay siege to his encampments where were also Yolbars,
the Turki, with his mixed following of Turkis and Chinese, and Janim Khan
with his Kazaks and White Russians. Except that the weapons were mostly modern,
there is much in the way the siege was conducted that recalls the siege
of Jerusalem by Rabshakeh, the general of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib,
in the days of Hezekiah. Thus, Hezekiah's general, Eliakim, was highly indignant
when Rabshakeh appealed to the people of Jerusalem in their own language
calling on them to surrender. The Communists hired Kazaks to appeal to the
Kazaks to surrender using the Kazak tongue and calling upon individual defenders
by name. Rabshakeh promised the beleaguered Jews that he would take them
away to another land "like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread
and vineyards, a land of olive oil and honey that ye may live and not die."
The Communists promised the followers of Osman Batur, Yolbars and Janim Khan
comparable material benefits under a planned Marxist economy coupling the
promises, however, with sinister elaborations of the way the defenders and
their relatives would die if they refused to accept what the Communists offered
Batur and his men held out against the Communist attacks, both military and
psychological, for nine months, although they were steadily pressed into
a smaller and smaller space. The fighting began when the Eighth Route Army,
aided by some local levies, attacked Yolbars, who was holding Ta Shih-tou,
which is a pass through the mountains south-west of Barkul. The pass links
the two roads known as the North and South Roads, which in turn link East
Turkistan and China, meeting at Kami before crossing the Gobi Desert. The
attackers were mechanised and soon drove Yolbars out. But when he joined
Osman Batur in the plain of Barkul, they in their turn drove the Communists
back three times with great slaughter, whereupon the Communists withdrew the
ill-clad Eighth Route Army and brought up the Russian-led Kazaks, giving them
aircraft with Russian pilots who bombed every Kazak encampment they saw.
Communists then closed all the exits from the Barkul area and sent "explaining
parties" under armed guard to all the encampments they could reach without
coming into contact with Osman Batur's fighting men. The explaining parties
escorted the peaceful inhabitants of all encampments with their families
and beasts to concentration camps at Kucheng. When this became known every
encampment resisted the explaining parties, whereupon it was wiped out and
the "victory" over the rebels was solemnly recorded in the Communist newspapers
as a major success for the patriotic forces.
exhausted the possibilities in this direction, the Communists made a grand
sweep across the Barkul plain hoping to destroy Osman Batur's fighting forces.
They failed again, and asked the Soviet Government to send trained Russian
troops with tanks and heavy artillery. Even so, the defenders continued to
hold out for two months. At last, some of them melted away into the Gobi
Desert and I do not know what became of them. But the rest stayed by Osman
Batur who, incredibly, managed to break through the Communist cordon and
take his men and those of Janim Khan and Yolbars, with their families and
tents, their flocks and herds, first across die mountains and then over nearly
five hundred miles of open country, past several walled towns with Communist
garrisons, to Khan Ambal Tau, the mountains of Khan Ambal. They arrived
early in September, 1950. None of my informants in Turkey were with Osman
Batur during this feat of arms and this part of Asia is practically unexplored
so I cannot describe the country. But there is no doubt that Osman Batur
led his followers across it.
before he arrived in the Khan Ambal Mountains the Communists became more
active round Gezkul and there was a serious battle at Mount Sadim in which
many were killed on both sides, Ali Beg's brother, Zeinul Hamid, among them.
But the Communists lost so heavily that they did not make another attack for
Yolbars reached Gezkul he said that he had come to the conclusion it was
time to leave Turkistan and join Chiang Kai-shek who, by now, had reached
Formosa. He said that with the whole mainland of China in the hands of the
Communists it was foolish to remain in north-west China seeing that, all told,
the Kazak fighting men around Gezkul numbered no more than four to five thousand.
Ali Beg was inclined to agree with him. But Osman Batur and most of the rest
preferred to remain, believing that they were so far from the other inhabited
parts of north-west China that the Communists would leave them alone.
Beg would not desert his comrades. Yolbars was determined to go and, as he
was over seventy years old, no one thought the worse of him. Nor did they
feel that his Chinese followers understood enough about Kazak ways of war
to be a great loss if they went with him. Saalis, whose men were mostly
White Russians, also decided to go with Yolbars. So did Adil, the rich Kazak
merchant, Abdel Kerim the historian, and Emin Ta Mullah who had gone to
persuade Ali Beg to surrender and was himself persuaded to revolt. All
three were alone except for their families.
these men departed soon after Osman Batur's arrival from Barkul, Ali Beg
wished them God-speed and sent letters by Yolbars to Generalissimo Chiang
Kai-shek, and also to General Eisenhower, hi which he said: "If no help reaches
us, we can hold out here for one year, no longer. If no help comes, we will
fight our way out."
Disaster at Gezkul
Batur's fighting retreat at Gezkul ended another phase in the Kazak struggle.
In the springtide of their success during 1944-5, the free Kazaks had virtually
liberated the whole of the traditional Kazak pasture lands: the Altai, Tarbagatai
and Kuldja, the northern slopes of the Tien Shan and the country between.
With the Soviet Government's open intervention there had been a series of
ebbs. First the Altai went, then in succession Tarbagatai and Kuldja, Baitik
Bogdo, Kucheng, the Tien Shan, Kukuluk. Finally, with the loss of Barkul,
the free Kazaks were confined to an area, far away from their traditional
homes, which they had occupied for the first time, as a convenient place
of refuge, only thirteen years previously. Its perimeter was a bare two hundred
and fifty miles, scarcely half as big as the administrative county of London.
It was bounded on three sides by arid or semi-arid deserts and a range of
mountains. On the fourth stood a ruthless and implacable human enemy, knocking
hungrily at the door, not daring to leave the Kazaks alone lest their freedom
should contaminate the minds of the enslaved peoples around them.
was quiet for a while in this contracted living space after Osman Batur's
arrival. Occasionally aeroplanes droned overhead. More frequently, Hamza
reported that his outposts had been in contact with Communist patrols which,
however, retreated after exchanging a few shots and did not wait to be attacked.
Sometimes, but not very often, peaceful travellers made their appearance on
horseback or camel-back — or, at least, travellers who seemed to be peaceful.
Such people were always closely questioned before being allowed past the outposts.
But now that everyone in the Gezkul encampments was fully awake to the dangers
of Communist infiltration, it seemed less important to keep Communist agents
at a distance and much more important to try to learn something about what
was going on outside the free Kazak perimeter.
Ali Beg's map
Karamullah, Hussein Tajji and others singing the schoolboy song. "In the name of God, I bring you instruction..."
The Dance of the Black Stallion
The Dance of the Roebuck
the incident of the Forty, it was not considered safe to visit Tung-huang.
Once or twice, some of Hussein Tajji's men ventured into it but it was a
hazardous undertaking and the results were not commensurate with the risk.
Not only must the adventurous ones avoid the Communist outposts, which were
there for the express purpose of preventing contact between the free Kazaks
and other people, but it was also necessary to pass the suspicious scrutiny
of armed guards at the gates of the city who were on the lookout for malcontents,
arms and anyone who could not give a good, or at any rate plausible, account
of himself. And when all these difficulties had been surmounted and the venturesome
ones were at last inside the walled town, they must ever be on the alert
for acquaintances who might denounce them in the hope of acquiring merit
in the eyes of the Communists. Nor were the inhabitants anxious to give information
even to friends lest it should come to the ears of the Communists that they
had done so.
the grazing grounds was mostly desert, so the Kazaks, being shut off from
the north by the Communists and mountains, were in a little world of their
own as, indeed, they normally loved to be. But this time their world was
coveted by greedy men who were plotting to take it from them.
months of righting had left the free Kazaks even shorter than usual of weapons
and ammunition. Hemmed in by Communist outposts, it was no longer easy for
them to raid supply columns as they had so often done in the past. Once again,
they were forced to fashion make-shifts in their encampment, especially the
fearsome-looking round bullets, of solid lead, often half an inch or more
in diameter, to fit their homemade guns. By all international rules these
bullets were dumdum and illegal. But the choice before the free Kazaks was
between illegality and utter defencelessness in the face of an enemy who
obeys no laws except those which serve his purpose. The Kazaks had no intention
of being utterly defenceless.
Osman Batur's arrival, command of all the Kazak forces in the field passed
to him. But command of each group remained with the group leader who obeyed
Osman Batur if he wished, but also felt free to act independently. Almost,
possibly quite, without exception, however, the basic policy was decided
by voting at the Hur Altai, or War Council, and its execution entrusted to
Osman Batur whose instructions were then binding on all.
basic issues of policy remained, as always, the question whether the free
Kazaks could hope to hold out against the Communists where they were, and
if not, what their next move should be. Ali Beg, relying on the reports of
growing Communist strength which reached him from Hamza's outposts in the
mountains, was in favour of leaving Gezkul as soon as winter was over and
making their way to India across Tibet, preferably with the consent of the
Dalai Lama but using force if he refused to let the people go through. Osman
Batur and Janim Khan believed they could hold out indefinitely in the Gezkul
area, or, if not indefinitely, at least until the general political situation
changed again which, in their experience, it was certain to do before very
long. They argued that the usual ebb and flow of Chinese political forces,
and, still more, the familiar clash of personalities, would ultimately bring
about the downfall or disruption of the Communists and enable the Kazaks
to return to their own homes and resume their normal existence.
Beg did not agree. He was impressed by the fact that, the Chinese and Russian
Governments were actually working together. He did not—does not—believe they
will always do so or even do so for long. But he told his colleagues that,
while this co-operation lasted, they had no hope of resisting the combined
forces of two such powerful opponents. In his view, therefore, the right
course was to put themselves beyond the reach of the Communists before it
was too late—as Yolbars and the others had done five months previously.
the only alternatives the free Kazaks debated were to stay where they were
and fight it out and to fight their way through the hostile forces around
them; natural obstacles like the Takla Makan Desert, the Altyn and Kunlun
Mountains and the trans-Himalayas; human ones, including not only the Communists
but also the Tibetans if they proved unfriendly. By this time the free Kazaks
numbered all told no more than three to four thousand men, women and children.
Xenophon and his Ten Thousand Greeks, stranded in Asia Minor, were nearly
three times as numerous and did not face a tithe of the dangers which confronted
them if they decided to fight their way out in the teeth of the combined
forces of the two greatest powers in Asia, and through the most formidable
natural obstacles in the world.
wonder then that Osman Batur, Janim Khan and most of the other leaders held
back from launching their followers on such an enterprise. Resistance might
well seem the lesser evil, especially to Osman Batur himself, who was influenced
by his belief that he was the instrument of destiny to fulfil the prophecy
of Boko Batur: "One day we shall drive the infidels back into the deserts
where they belong and we shall destroy them there though they may be as many
as the sands of the Takla Makan."
and discussion about what to do and how best to do it went on intermittently
throughout the last three months of 1950 and January, 1951. Traditionally,
the first day of winter in East Turkistan is on November 11, but snow sometimes
comes earlier and, with its arrival, campaigning becomes more difficult.
The horses have to be re-shod with special spiked shoes—like those which helped
Osman Batur to escape from the ambush near Kucheng—otherwise they cannot
keep their feet on the ice. The flocks and herds can no longer find enough
pasture on which to graze and are fed mostly on hay carried to the winter
encampments during the summer.
except for raiding and reconnaissance parties which carry their supplies
with them, the Kazaks normally preferred to stay quietly in their tents during
the winter. Nor were the Chinese usually eager to fight during that season
because the snow impeded the movement of their supplies and their soldiers
often had no winter uniforms. This was true of the Communist Eighth Route Army
in 1950-1 as well as of Sheng's troops between 1933 and 1943 and those of
the Kuo-mintang. Nevertheless, Hamza's men still kept watch on the tracks
across the mountains though they had been forced to withdraw from their more
distant positions by a series of local attacks during the previous summer.
After Osman Batur's arrival in September, 1950, the attacks gradually died
down and the front was quiet throughout November, December, and January.
Hur Altai had just begun when the Communists attacked suddenly from all sides
on the morning of February 1, 1951. The chiefs in their council tent heard
the staccato flurry of distant rifle shots and the tigerish purr of machine
guns followed by shouts outside the tent: "The Communists are here! The
Communists are here!" They seized their arms which lay by their sides and
rushed out of the tent. The men too rushed to their horses and in a matter
of moments chiefs and men were galloping, either to join in the battle on
the spot or towards their own encampments some of which were near at hand
and some fifteen to twenty miles away. The women and children, without orders,
quickly dismantled the tents or rushed to round up the animals, leaving
the tents till they could return—if they ever could return.
Communists had achieved complete tactical surprise, yet every Kazak encampment
was on the move, with or without the tents themselves, within ten minutes,
making for the nearest mountains in spite of the snow. Round each encampment
was a steadily widening screen of fighting men, sniping at the enemy cavalry
and camelry, hustling their own frightened beasts back into the flocks and
herds from which they were trying to stray and urging them away from enemy
armoured cars. Indeed, but for the fact that the Kazak leaders happened to
have been all in one place at one time instead of among their own men, the
attack would almost certainly have been a complete failure. The Communist
force was not a big one—the refugees in Turkey put its numbers at about three
thousand of all arms, infantry, cavalry, camelry .and armoured cars. But
the most dangerous and mobile part of the attacking force, the armoured cars,
could only manoeuvre successfully in open country, and most of the Kazaks
together with their tents and animals were already in the mountains within
an hour or so after the attack was launched.
usual, the Communists avoided getting too closely involved with the Kazak
horsemen and sought to cut off the leaders, the families and the animals.
They failed almost entirely to catch the families and at least fifty per
cent of the animals were extricated too. But they were only too successful
in trapping leaders.
seventeen-year-old daughter, Az-Apay had ridden with her father to the Hur
Altai, though his son, Sherdirman, had stayed at their encampment in the
Khan Ambal Mountains, many miles away. Father and daughter galloped off as
soon as the alarm was given. She was about two hundred yards ahead, passing
through a narrow defile, when Osman Batur saw many Communist soldiers rise
out of an ambush and pull her from her horse. The Communists numbered not
less than two hundred, but they turned to flee as Osman Batur galloped towards
them, quite alone, firing his machine gun from the hip. How many he killed
at this moment cannot be estimated, but none who was still alive waited for
him. His daughter was unhurt when he reached her, though her horse was dead.
As he reined in beside her, she jumped up behind him and they turned and galloped
away. Soon they came to the lake, and Osman decided to ride across its frozen
surface. But the ice was uneven and his horse fell on it, throwing its riders
and breaking its own leg.
had his machine gun and his daughter an automatic. They killed the horse
and, lying on the ice behind its dead body, held the enemy at bay for hours,
hoping for succour. None came, for their friends did not know where they were.
The ring round them contracted slowly as the Communists crept closer, holding
their fire because they had been ordered to take Osman alive. At last they
were near enough to make a concerted rush from all sides, disregarding their
losses, which the Kazak refugees say numbered more than two hundred
killed. But during the
final rush Osman Batur and Az-Apay fired their last rounds of ammunition
so that they had no option but to surrender.
bound his hands behind his back, tying a stone weighing a hundred "chin,"
which is about one hundredweight and a quarter, to them. Then when they were
ready to go they hoisted him on to a horse, tied his legs together under
its belly and so took him to Tung-huang more than fifty miles away. There
they tortured him for many days and nights and sometimes paraded him, bound,
on horseback through the streets with a placard in front and behind which
proclaimed: "He boasted that he would deliver Turkistan from the Chinese but
he has not done so." But they had omitted to gag him so Osman shouted to
the bystanders as he rode along: "I may die, but so long as the world lasts,
my people will continue the struggle."
he was taken to Urumchi where, in due course, the Communists staged a carefully
planned public execution to strike terror into the minds of the people. First
they carried him through the main streets on a lorry with his face blackened
as a mark of shame and they hung another placard round his neck bearing
a new variant of the earlier accusation: "He said he would deliver Turkistan
from the Chinese but in fact he sold out to the British and Americans." Then
they took him to Shui Mo-kou, which means the Valley of the Water Mills,
where representatives from every class had been ordered to go so that they
could watch him being decapitated. Among them were children from every school,
people of every trade and profession.
Mo-kou is a place of hot springs and marshes in a narrow fold of rolling
hills, little children of the massive mountains behind them. The springs are
reputed to have healing qualities and special bath houses have been built
over some of them. Others are used by local people who wash clothes in them,
and a few are harnessed to grind wheat into flour for the city's daily bread.
There are coal mines in the vicinity and some iron ore mines, too. After the
1948 coup d'etat, the Soviet Government started to build three blast
furnaces there, though
whether for its own use, or for the Chinese, is not yet certain. In addition,
Shui Mo-kou is the site of Urumchi's main arsenal, all around which are
barracks, camps, and parade grounds.
Batur and his daughter were captured on February 1, 1951, and it was not
until the following August that he was executed. The Communist newspapers,
in describing the scene, said that the people of Urumchi attended voluntarily,
in their thousands, to watch the end of the traitor who had tried to sell
them to the capitalists. My informant on this matter was there at the time,
and he assures me that the people went because they had no choice. He believes
that the Communists staged the spectacle because they were afraid of a rising
and wished to make certain that everyone should know what happened to their
opponents. Consequently, not only was the place of execution thronged with
special compulsory delegates but the streets with compulsory spectators. And
the throngs were plentifully besprinkled with secret agents of the People's
Police. My informant says that it is possible those present were overawed
but he is convinced that the vast majority hated the Communists the more for
their cruelty though no one dared weep lest the People's Police should arrest
neared the place of his execution with his blackened face and the contemptuous
placard round his neck, he passed a factory at which girl political prisoners
were making uniforms for Communist soldiers. One of them was his daughter,
Batur was not the only Kazak leader the Communists captured during their
successful surprise attack at Gezkul. Another was Janim Khan, the former Finance
Minister of Sinkiang. I have not been able to get any details of how he fell
into Communist hands. But he was also executed after the usual period of
torture during which his inquisitors tried to make him disclose information
about alleged secret associates. And, as a matter of course, they did their
utmost to induce him to appeal to his family and his followers to give themselves
up and save all their lives. He did not do so, though I doubt if his words
would have had any effect even if he had. Every Kazak, indeed every inhabitant
of the province, knew by now that the submission of a prisoner's
family made no difference whatever to his own fate.
informant who described the execution of Osman Batur told me that when Janim
Khan was taken to the place of execution, he bore himself with great dignity.
Unlike Osman, however, he was known personally to many in Urumchi by reason
of the office he had held. His friends did not dare to stage a demonstration
in the hope of saving his life, either in the city itself, or at the place
of execution. But when night fell, and the daytime mists on the sides of
the mountain had dissa-pated it was seen that they had set fire to the forests
on the hills above the capital and the whole sky was wreathed in a funeral
pall of dark smoke for many days till the fires finally burnt themselves
out or were quenched by rain, after destroying many thousands of acres of
valuable building timber. So fearful were the Communists of a rising of Kazaks
still in the neighbourhood of the capital, that all roads were patrolled for
several weeks afterwards.
Khan's son, Daleel Khan, and Osman Batur's son, Sherdirman, both escaped
when their fathers were captured at the fatal battle of Gezkul. Daleel Khan
made the perilous crossing of Tibet, though I do not know by what route, and
reached India safely. I believe he still is there. Sherdirman, on the other
hand, stayed in East Turkistan. He, too, is still there. What is much more
surprising is that he was able to go on fighting long after his father's death.
of this comes from the Communists themselves. In August, 1953, eighteen months
after the disaster at Gezkul, some of the Kazak refugees in Kashmir were
listening to the wireless in the communal Turkistani hostel in Srinagar, when
they were electrified to hear a Communist announcer in Urumchi read a news
item which declared that Sherdirman and his two younger brothers had accepted
the generous offer of an armistice made him by the Communists so that peace
once more reigned in Sinkiang.
that moment, Osman Batur's friends in Kashmir had not known whether Sherdirman
was alive or dead and they were greatly heartened by the announcement.
Allah," said one of the older listeners. "If Sherdirman is still alive, it
is certain he has not submitted to his father's murderers. The announcer
lied. Now we know that Sherdirman lives and the Communists have failed to
subdue him because the lad is the true son of his father. Moreover, we know
the Communist methods. Therefore we know they have broadcast that he has submitted
in the hope that it will cause dismay among the ignorant. And why should
they do such a thing unless it be that he has had many successes and they
fear lest he should have even greater ones?"
Sherdirman is still fighting," said one of the younger men "should not we
who are of an age to fight, return to join him?"
elders nodded approvingly.
is well said, though without prudence, for how would ye go?" one of them
replied. "The Indians have taken our arms and the people of Tibet have no
love for our people. And their country is garrisoned by Communist troops.
Moreover, if ye essayed another way than that we came by, the frontiers facing
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal are all closely guarded by Communist soldiers
lest we exiles should return to stir up trouble. And the Indians guard their
own frontiers with the Communists lest the Communists should accuse them of
employing us to cause them trouble."
are few inhabitants along the road by which we came," said the eager one.
"And we are strong, though few: able to cope with our foes and the tutuk-iss—the
fog-swelling —and the mountains and the snow and ice along the road."
is not to be thought of," was the verdict of the elders. "For, if ten essayed
it, one at the utmost would win through seeing that we have no arms which
the Indians took from us because we came into their country as political
refugees. Nay, we must bide our time. But the day of vengeance will dawn and
we shall be ready for it."
frontiers of Sinkiang, and, indeed, of the whole of China, are closely sealed
today, not only against the return of the Kazak exiles, but also against
free inquiry by unprejudiced observers from the free world. So, it is impossible
to know for certain whether the refugee's surmise was correct, or whether
the Chinese Communists, impressed by the difficulty of subduing the inhabitants
of this distant region have actually granted autonomy to Sinkiang as they
claimed in an official announcement published in August, 1955, exactly two
years after die announcement that Sherdirman had accepted an armistice. The
later announcement told of the establishment of an "autonomous Uighur Republic
of Sinkiang" with local self-government for the various racial groups including
the Kazaks. Uighur is another name for Turki so that, if the proclamation
could be taken at its face value, it would mean that the local races had at
least been given the right to manage their own affairs, independently of
Peking—or Moscow. But if this had really happened, their first act would
have been to abolish Communism so that there is not the slightest doubt that
"autonomy" means nothing more than the right to do as they are told.
that as it may, it is clear from the radio announcements of August, 1953,
that the Communists failed to catch Sherdirman in the Khan Ambal Mountains
after their surprise attack on February 1, 1951. It is equally clear that
he kept together a big enough following to remain a thorn in their flesh
for eighteen months—a big enough thorn to make them offer a compromise—in
spite of their overwhelming superiority in man-power, weapons and equipment.
That, in itself, involves no mean feat of arms. Every weapon, every bullet,
used by Sherdirman and his followers had either to be made at home or captured
from a dead enemy or a raided convoy. Aeroplanes were constantly on the watch
to see where he was hiding. He had to keep together, not merely a fighting
force, but the flocks and herds and tents his men and their families needed
for sustenance and shelter. He could never have a moment's respite but must
be ever on guard against surprise— and against enemy agents. I think that,
when better times come again, a Kazak bard will write the Saga of Sherdirman,
as Karamullah, the bard now living near Develi on the central Anatolian plain in Turkey, has
written the saga of Osman Batur.
cannot say whether the Osman Batur saga is a great poem from the Kazak standpoint
and I know that some of Karamullah's own comrades say it is inaccurate. But
it throws useful light on die Kazak habit of mind which upheld them through
dangers such as have seldom fallen to man. It is, in a fashion Osman Batur's
epitaph, And may Sherdirman's epitaph, when the time comes to write it, tell
how he fulfilled the prophecy of Boko Batur, and his own father's hopes,
that though the enemies of the Kazak people were as numerous as the sands
of the Takla Makan, he drove them out of his beloved country into the deserts
across which they came to steal it.
battle of Gezkul which began with the capture of the free Kazak commander-in-chief
and one of his principal lieutenants went on continuously for three days
and nights and ended with a Communist withdrawal. The remaining leaders, especially
Ali Beg with his two lieutenants, Hamza and Kai-nesh, galloped hither and
yon, co-ordinating the efforts of the Kazak horsemen, fixing a rendezvous
at which they would strive to meet in the mountains, taking succour to the
hard-pressed, charging the slow-moving Communist camelry whenever they saw
an opportunity, salvaging their own tents, rounding up their scattered flocks,
Beg's wife, Mulia, staged one ambush entirely on her own. When the Communist
attack began, the women and children in her encampment had no time to dismantle
the tents but only just time to make a dash, first for their children and
then for their horses. As Mulia herself was about to follow the rest, she
saw a young child who had been left behind. Stooping low from her saddle,
she caught it up with her free hand and then made off after her companions
with Communist cavalry in hot pursuit. Mercifully she was not hit, though
afterwards she found several bullet holes in her clothes.
the women's dash for the mountains was not the wild flight it seemed to be
but a perfectly executed though unplanned retreat, for they rode by a roundabout
route to where the greater part of their own flocks and herds were feeding
in the mountains. By the time they got there, they had outdistanced the
pursuit so Mulia and one of the herd-lads decided to see if they could get
back to the encampment unobserved and salvage some of their belongings. Having
reached it, they found the enemy had not yet looted the tents. They also
found two machine guns and some ammunition, so they decided to stay in the
camp and see if they could not pay back the enemy's surprise with interest.
In due course the enemy, having missed those they pursued in the mountains,
came back to loot the encampment. Mulia and the lad let them come almost
up to the tents and then let fly with both machine guns, driving them back
to the nearest cover in considerable confusion and inflicting a good many
casualties in the process. The Communists sniped at the two
impromptu machine-gunners for about five hours but made off in the end when
Ali Beg returned with some of his men. Thanks to Mulia's initiative all their
belongings were saved, including Ali Beg's famous cooking pot.
the Kazaks were at last able to take stock of the situation, they found that
their losses in men were not heavy. Thanks to acts of individual initiative
and resourcefulness such as Mulia's, they even saved most of their tents
and household possessions and at least fifteen thousand animals: camels, cattle,
sheep and horses. It seems less incredible that they should have done so
when we remember that even the women and young children were fighters not
given to panic in any circumstances, not bucolic in temperament, even though
shepherds by lineage, but quick thinkers, as well as untamable ones.
possible, of course, that the Communists withdrew because they believed that
the Kazaks would disintegrate after the capture of two of their principal
leaders. But as both of these were captured at the first surprise, not towards
the end of the three-day battle, I think the obvious explanation is the true
one: the Communists had had enough.
When the remaining Kazak leaders
had an opportunity to take stock, they realised at once that the
only course of action was to enter Tibet and fight their way to India if the
Tibetans would not let them pass. They agreed that it would be impossible
to travel en masse—there were still nearly three thousand men, women
and children and the animals and tents in addition, for they neither could,
nor would, leave them behind. In the narrow valleys and ravines of the mountains
through which they would have to pass, such a company would form a column
many miles long with no hope of scattering if attacked by Communist aeroplanes
or ambushed from the cliffs overlooking the track. Moreover, the tail of the
column would have difficulty in keeping touch with the head when crossing
a pass unless the whole moved very slowly. Finally, it was still only February
and the worst part of the Tibetan winter was still to come. The problems of
food and fodder would be bad enough at any time, even for comparatively small
parties. For a large one they would be insuperable.
the remnants of the free Kazaks banded themselves together, each man round
the leader of his own choice, and set forth in small groups towards a completely
unknown future rather than submit to the Communists. Hussein Tajji's simple
explanation has already been quoted once but it will bear repetition: "It
is better to die than to live as an animal. An animal looks to man as though
he were God. It is not right that a man should look to other men in such
Ali Beg, Daleel Khan, Sultan Sherif and Hussein Tajji himself broke camp
one after other and guided their parties and flocks due southward through
the Altyn Mountains along paths they knew towards the grim and massive Kunlun
Mountains which they knew not, except that on their farther side was the
unknown land of Tibet across which they must pass to reach India. Each party
had its own individual adventures and chose its own route. Like those who
slipped through the Communist lines when leaving Kukuluk fourteen months previously,
some were lucky in Tibet, getting through almost unscathed and finding both
the Tibetans and their mountains not unfriendly. Others lost up to fifty
per cent of their strength in men, women and children, and almost all
their animals. All hated to leave their homeland, realising that in all probability
they would never return. But none dreamed for one moment of turning back.
Beg's personal party consisted this time of two hundred and thirty-four people,
among whom were Hamza and Kainesh with their wives and children and Ali
Beg's three wives, his six children and his only surviving brother, Zeinul
Hamid. Of the others, about a hundred and forty were men and the rest women
and young children. With them were several thousand sheep, several hundreds
each of cattle and horses, and about sixty camels, one of which carried—but
you have guessed it already—Ali Beg's more than family-size cooking pot.
party set out from the lake that is shaped like a ruler at the end of the
first week in February—only four days after the battle of Gezkul ended—and
took the road which Ali Beg had recommended to Douglas Mackiernan. They had
their first encounter with Communist troops the day after they started and
their last while they were waiting on the frontier of Kashmir for permission
to enter. They reached the Indian frontier on August 18, 1951, six and a
half months after they left the lake called Gezkul. During the interval, they
journeyed not less than nine hundred miles over the most barren and inhospitable
part of the roof of the world, fighting several battles and many skirmishes
on the way and battling, too, almost all the while against natural difficulties
which only those who have attempted the conquest of Himalayan peaks like
Everest and Kanchenjunga have ever experienced.
Over the Roof of the World
who did not know them, the Kazaks setting forth from Gezkul must have looked
an easy prey to a determined attack. Thousands of sheep, many of them almost
ready to lamb, straggled irregularly over the countryside on either side
of the path nibbling at any stray brown tuft of herbage which showed through
the snow. Scattered among the sheep were oxen, cows, bulls, mostly with loads
of household goods on their backs. Unladen brood mares ambled along, some
with foals tagging at their heels. There were stallions too, many of them
jealously watching their own flock of mares and foals. Finally there were
strings of shaggy two-humped camels in their thick winter coats, tied one
behind the other by their nose strings and carrying on their backs great
loads of ammunition; spare weapons; sections of the familiar felted tents,
each rolled carefully round its wooden framework; brass-bound wooden chests
containing spare clothes, treasured papers and perhaps a book or two, especially
the Koran. And there was one camel, bigger, taller and stronger than all
the rest, which proudly carried Ali Beg's cooking pot and nothing else.
these many beasts were men, women and children on horseback, all except the
very young, carrying hand grenades and rifle or machine gun or automatic
and all skilled in the use of whichever kind of weapon it was, if he, or she,
were over ten. Outside this sprawling and seemingly vulnerable heart, rode
a screen of mounted men, in front, on both flanks and in the rear, all of
them as far distant from the slowly moving-beasts as the nature of the ground
and the depth of the snow dictated.
Beg's choice of a route during this final stage of the great exodus took
him deliberately away from frequented roads and inhabited places lest he should
lead his followers into a Communist ambush. The general direction was towards
the south and through the Altyn Mountains which lead to the great Kunlun
Mountains on the northern border of Tibet. He knew that behind these mountains
lay the great plateau of Tibet which mostly lies at 12-15,000 feet above
sea level. But from the moment he left Gezkul he was in country which has
never been mapped, and very seldom traversed. Indeed, he himself says that
he is sure no one even went this way before excepting only us."
became evident that when the Communists withdrew after the battle of Gezkul,
they left patrols to see what the Kazaks intended to do. Ali Beg's party
nearly fell into an ambush laid by one of these patrols at the very outset
of the journey. Fortunately, Ali Beg, scanning the hills in front through
his field glasses, became suspicious of what might lie behind the rocks on
either side of the path where the valley narrowed some distance ahead of
them. He sent a few men forward to investigate and when they began to climb
the hillside to get above the rocks, they flushed a covey of some twenty
Communists who ran to their horses up the valley and made off after a few
shots had been exchanged. Ali Beg did not pursue them and presently they
halted, evidently intending to keep the Kazaks under observation.
a while, however, they turned off the track into a side valley and Ali Beg
was obliged to send men after them lest they should attack his party from
the flank as it went past. But the Communists made no move until the Kazaks
had all gone by. Then they came out of their side valley and followed them,
though at a respectful distance.
patrol hovered disturbingly in their rear for several hours as the Kazaks
shepherded their heavily-laden beasts southward. Ali Beg, Hamza and Kainesh
were seemingly quite unconcerned about the patrol's presence now that it
was behind them and their followers were indifferent too, taking their mood
from their leaders. The ground was becoming more broken again by this time
and presently the sides of the column were obliged to close in on the centre
as they entered a narrow valley.
is a good place," Ali Beg remarked.
is good," Hamza answered. "Perhaps too good, especially as it is the first
good place we have passed. If, because they suspect, they reconnoitre, we
shall have our trouble for nothing. And they will never give us another opportunity."
Beg and Kainesh agreed, so the Kazaks set no ambush at this spot, nor at
the next suitable one. But at the third, Ali Beg said to Hamza:
many men are needed?"
no more," said Hamza. "But let another five be posted on the crest of the
hills on either side of the road, lest there be another way that we know
not. Then if the Communists go there, suspecting the ambush, they will fall
into another and go not down again."
is well thought of," said Ali Beg.
chose each of the fifteen men personally, and the rest of the party went
forward, greatly cheered by the knowledge that something was afoot. Presently
someone began to sing and the familiar long-drawn final note of a hunting
song was soon bouncing back and forth from the naked rocky sides of the valley.
singing stopped abruptly about half an hour later when there came the sound
of rifle fire from the valley of the ambush. It lasted about three minutes
only, perhaps even less.
few shots," Kainesh observed. "Either the trap failed or all fell into it
and are dead."
whole party had stopped now, as well as the singing, though without orders,
and a minute or so later they saw Hamza with three of his five men galloping
went the hunting?" Kainesh asked as Hamza reined in his horse.
rode forward with two men behind and two in front who looked neither to their
right nor their left," said Hamza laughing. "We let the first two go by
and the main body, who were sixteen, likewise, hoping that the last two
would also ride into the net. But the two in front were out of our sight
and the main body already past us and the last two had lagged so far behind
that I was obliged to fire before all the birds were netted. We could not
miss at less than two hundred paces. Three fell at our first firing, being
bunched together. The other thirteen leapt from their horses and tried to
hide in rocks by the side of the track but there was no cover and there was
soon an end. The two in the rear turned their horses about at the first sound
of shooting and escaped."
the twain in front?" Ali Beg asked.
I know not where they can be," Hamza said, "If ye have not seen them."
came not this way," Kainesh told him. "Therefore must they have turned aside
off the road when they heard the shooting. And whichever side it be, they
will fall into good hands ere long, for have we not five good men on each
of thine own men are lacking," Ali Beg said to Hamza. "Is all well with them?"
are sixteen horses and sixteen rifles and I could not cumber my men with
bringing them lest we should meet the two Kitai," Hamza explained.
six men and bring the booty," Ali Beg said to Kainesh. "The accoutrements
also and the clothing if they be worth preserving. For we have draught animals
enough to carry them and who knows where this business will end and what
we shall have need of before it is finished?"
Hamza the fighting and to me the chores," Kainesh grumbled though laughing,
as he rode away. "Next time let it be my turn."
more shots rang out a little later and soon afterwards the two hillcrest
parties galloped up, one of them with two captured rifles and two horses.
out of twenty," commented Ali Beg to Hamza. "It is a good bag. Yet twenty
would have been a thousand times better, for the two who fled will tell which
way we have gone. I would that I had left ten men with thee instead of five.
Then the two could have been pursued."
is the will of God," Hamza replied. "And He alone knows if we could have
caught up with them. Moreover, ten men with ten horses are more easily detected
than five men with five horses. It might have been that with ten, all our
enemies would have escaped our ambush and there would have been fighting in
which some of our men were slain unless God had willed it otherwise. Furthermore
it is near night. The twain will not reach their fellows till tomorrow's
eve at the earliest and maybe not till the day after. So we have three days,
maybe four or five, before they can catch up with us and who but God knows
what will happen in even three days?"
is the truth," Ali Beg agreed. "And to God be the praise that we are safe
for this night and tomorrow night also, unless there be other parties ahead
of us and that is not likely."
turned out, however, they were spotted by a reconnaissance plane the next
afternoon so that the escape of the two men became of no consequence. The
plane dived and machine-gunned them but it happened that the ground was open
so the Kazaks had spread out and the bullets did not even wound one of the
animals though they scared a few. The Kazaks blazed back and some claimed
to have hit the plane, but, if they did, it was not in a vital spot for
presently the pilot zoomed upward and made off. Ali Beg and Hamza were relieved
when they saw the direction, which was behind them, suggesting, though not
proving, that there were no Communist bases on either flank nor in front
of them in Tibet. But they kept careful watch, none the less, because they
knew their position could be reported by wireless, enabling patrols to be
sent to intercept them.
the next ten days or so, Ali Beg's party were attacked on the average once
every two days, sometimes from the ground and once from the air. They claim
to have brought down one plane, losing some beasts, but no men, in exchange.
The ground forces which attacked them were small, never more than twenty
to thirty men apiece and, except once, they were on horseback, not in lorries
or armoured cars. Also they were Kitai, not enslaved Kazak levies from the
Kuldja regiments, so that they were more easily dealt with.
exception was when the rearguard saw two lorries filled with soldiers coughing
along the track behind them. The surface was very bad so that the drivers
were obliged to watch the way itself and not the sides. And the soldiers
in the lorries were tired with much jolting for many hours. So when the Kazak
rearguard which, as it happened, consisted of two men only, shot the drivers
with automatics from behind rocks within three or four yards, the lorries went out of
control, overturned and caught fire. The occupants were all killed, mostly
by the flames and the overturning, but two or three by bullets. Mostly their
weapons were destroyed too. But the rearguard salvaged two or three automatics
and a fair amount of ammunition both for automatics and rifles before riding
on. And as they went, one said to the other, laughing.
is well there were but two lorries, one to each."
the other replied:
automatic carries six bullets and so doth thine. What matter if there had
been twelve lorries, or maybe ten in case two shots went astray? And if,
perchance, some of the lorries had been too far to the rear so that they were
out of range, we could have destroyed the front ones and run to our horses
and ridden away before those in the rear lorries knew what had happened to
those in the front ones."
skirmishes with the Communist cavalry, the Kazaks lost several of their number
killed—not all of them men, for women and girls were fighting now, as Mulia
did at Gezkul, beside the men and boys, leaving the little children to take
care of the animals as best they could. The little children's best proved
more than equal to the problems which presented themselves, as will be told
in its proper place.
fighting ceased when the Kazaks left the Altyn range and climbed the south-eastern
arm of the formidable Kunlun Mountains where the Communists did not follow
them either because they did not dare or because they believed the Kazaks
would never emerge on the other side. But they did get through, and almost
without loss, though it was the worst month of the Tibetan winter, February.
When the ice was very bad and the beasts were in danger of breaking their
legs through slipping on the treacherous surface, the Kazaks spread rugs
and pieces of felt for them to tread on and thus most, though not all, came
through safely. But it was slow going, and very hard, both on man and beast,
especially the children. Yet no one thought of turning back.
Beg and his son, Hassan, wrote down for me the names of the places they passed
after leaving Gezkul: such names as Oshakti, Ozinkul—which is evidently a
lake—Mahmut Kalgan, Jinishkesov, Sarjun, Tibetishi, Sinkir. I have not been
able to find these names on any map except the rough one Ali Beg drew for
me himself, and I think they are mostly names given by the Kazaks themselves,
much as Abraham named Beersheba because he swore an oath at the well there,
and Jacob called the name of the place Peniel because it was where he had
seen the face of God.
the Kazaks reached the high plateau which fringes the southern slopes of
the Kunlun Mountains, they saw Tibetans watching them from the sky-line. Ali
Beg at once sent Hamza forward with a patrol to try to make contact with them
and, if possible, friends, but the watchers fled before he reached them. However,
Hamza located a village in the distance and that evening Ali Beg sent some
men to see if they could persuade the inhabitants to supply guides. The men
came back with two who led Ali Beg's party next morning to a much larger
village. But its inhabitants were surly and refused even to sell food and
fodder though the Kazaks could see that they had enough of both in spite of
the fact that their life seemed in the words of Ali Beg to be "like that of
people of the Stone Age of ancient times." Then, as they parleyed, Kazak scouts
saw men gathering on the outskirts of the village with arms in their hands,
evidently making ready to attack. So the Kazaks, being too few in number
and in too exposed a place to wait for their onslaught, attacked the Tibetans
without delay and, having put them to flight without difficulty, took what
food they needed and then set fire to the village which by this time had
emptied itself of inhabitants. They proceeded on their way with the two Tibetans
who had taken them to the village still guiding them.
guides undertook to lead them to the road which Ali Beg hoped to follow to
Lhasa, where, indeed, he knew that Saalis and Yolbars had planned to go
when they left Gezkul in September, 1950. At that time the Communists had
not yet occupied Tibet, though some apparently arrived about the same time
as Saalis and Yolbars. But when Ali Beg got there in late February, 1951,
he did not know that the Communists were already in the country and he therefore
followed the two Tibetan guides without misgiving, hoping that the road would
lead him and his party,
first to Lhasa and then across the waist of Tibet to Nepal and so to India.
guides led the way into open country where the wind had swept the snow away,
so that even in late February there was some grazing for the beasts and the
way itself was not too steep or arduous. Nor was it very cold although the
altitude was at least 12,000 feet. Presently they reached a place of high
reeds. Ali Beg, coming as he did from Manass where the reeds were much the
same, began to grow anxious about what the reed-bed might contain and, when
he saw some of the camels flounder into an unfrozen swamp, he became suspicious.
He galloped forward to see whether they should proceed or turn back and,
as he did so, shots rang out from among the reeds. Then he saw the two Tibetan
guides urge their horses into a gallop, towards the ambush instead of away
from it, so he shot them both before they were able to escape.
their mischief was already done. Ali Beg's half-brother, Zeinul Hamid, was
on the edge of the reedbed when the shooting began, guiding and guarding
a string of twenty camels on which were most of their joint personal possessions.
The leading camel was killed at the first burst of firing. By ill-fortune,
the twine attaching its pack to the nose of the beast behind did not break
as it should have done. Consequently the second camel stood still, waiting
for the leader to move which it could not do, being already dead. And while
Zeinul Hamid hurried to cut the string, or break it, he too fell, with a
bullet through his leg.
Beg galloped to help him, bullets snapped past him and he felt several sear
through his clothing. Yet he reached his brother unscathed and managed, though
not easily, to drag him up on to his own horse: His brother sat there clasping
his hands round Ali Beg's waist while, leaving the string of camels, they
galloped back to safety.
Tibetans had held their fire a few moments longer, they might have wiped out
the whole party. As it was, there were not many casualties among the Kazaks
though Zeinul Hamid died of his wound a few days after. But Ali Beg lost
practically all his personal possessions, including the cooking pot which
was carried by the leading camel. And when he had time to examine his clothing
after the engagement, he found that it had been pierced by no less than six
bullets. He himself was not wounded, or even scratched.
reed-bed was in a valley with hard, dry ground close by leading to a range
of hills beyond which was the road. Immediately the shooting began, most
of the column turned on to the high ground without waiting for orders and
soon most of it was out of range. Ali Beg called a halt as soon as the firing
ceased in case the dozen or so members of the party who were missing should
come up bringing more beasts with them. Soon most of them did so. But two
did not come the father and mother of a little boy named Abdul Mutalip aged
this mishap, Ali Beg decided they would never again rely on Tibetan guides
but on his compass and a sheet torn from a school atlas. He had picked the
sheet up after the battle with the indoctrinated Kuldja Kazaks near Manass
in September, 1947, and put it into his pocket, he did not know why. When
he told me the story I asked to see it but he said the Indians had confiscated
it as military equipment when he crossed the frontier—the compass also and
his field glasses. Later he sent me a copy of the map, drawn from memory,
and with more names, all except one written in Latin characters by his son,
Hassan. The one name is Gebel Toussoun, which Ali Beg wrote in Arabic characters.
"Gebel" in Arabic means "hill" but I have not been able to find a Gebel Toussoun
on any map. The names on the original sheet were also in Arabic characters.
There were not very many of them but the map showed the mountains and the
course of some rivers enabling Ali Beg to get a rough idea of the direction
he should take.
to the top of the hills which bordered the valley of the reeds, Ali Beg saw
the road in the distance and on it bodies of armed men going in the direction
of Lhasa. Recognising them at once as Communist soldiers, Ali Beg realised
that the two Tibetans had planned a double treachery, first the ambush by
their own people and, if that failed, to deliver the Kazaks into the hands
of the Communists. Thanking God for the escape, he turned his horse's head
back into the valley as soon as he had ascertained the general direction
of the road. From that
time on, the Kazaks travelled towards the west instead of the south, making
for Kashmir instead of Lhasa.
to the main body, Ali Beg found a friendly altercation in progress between
Abdul Mutalip, the nine-year-old orphan, and the grown-ups of the party.
With the death of his father and mother, little Abdul Mutalip, as the sole
surviving member of the family, had become the owner of his parents' flock
consisting of a horse, two cows and about a dozen sheep.
troubleth the lad? Ali Beg asked.
but ask for thyself," replied one of the grown-ups. "For, verily, he seemeth
to have lost his wits as well as his parents."
I not now the head of my father's house?" demanded Abdul Mutalip before Ali
Beg had time to question him. "And are not those beasts yonder mine?"
said Ali Beg.
speak to these men that they hinder me not to do what I will with mine own,"
said Abdul Mutalip.
none shall hinder thee," Ali Beg told him, wondering what was coming. "What
wouldst thou do with them?"
my father and mother had fled before those Communists by themselves," Abdul
Mutalip explained; "Instead of with so many others, the Communists would
not have noticed so small a company and my parents would still be alive. Therefore
will I march no more with this company, neither I nor my beasts but we will
travel by ourselves. Thus shall I and they escape being killed by the Communists
in the next battles and we shall come safely to India."
how wilt thou find the way?" Ali Beg asked.
can I miss it when travelling in the wake of so many?" countered Abdul Mutalip.
if the Communists, or it may be the Tibetans, see thee, they will kill thee
and we shall not be nigh to succour."
succour avail to save the lives of my father and mother?" asked Abdul Mutalip
Beg pondered awhile before answering. Theirs was a perilous adventure, anyway,
and they were all in God's hands whether they travelled together or alone.
If it was His will, they would come to safety, including Abdul Mutalip. And
if they came not,
it was His will likewise. Moreover, would not the lad soon tire of being
alone and rejoin his comrades—if not in one day or two, at any rate within
a week? And meanwhile the distance between diem would not be so great, maybe
not more than a mile or two.
die end, Ali Beg said to Abdul Mutalip:
is good. Take thy beasts if thou wilt and go as it pleaseth thee. And when
thou hast drunk thy fill of loneliness, rejoin us. Meanwhile go with God."
ye likewise," replied Abdul Mutalip. "And peace be with you."
Abdul Mutalip went back to his horse and his tiny flock. And when the rest
of the party moved on, he remained and when the beasts tried to follow because
that is the way with nomad flocks, he restrained them, riding his father's
horse and turning them back till the others were out of the beasts' sight
though he could still see them, being on horseback.
older folk looked back often as they went forward without him, especially
the women, and some shook their heads. But others said:
be! Is he not in God's hands, just as we are ourselves?"
journeyed on day after day, the Kazaks talked often about Abdul Mutalip saying
one to the other: "He is only a mile behind today. Maybe he grows lonely
and will rejoin us on the morrow." Or, "Today there are two miles between
us. Maybe he grows tired or his beasts are sick or his horse is lame. Think
ye that we should go back and help him?"
let be! Let be! How can we help him seeing the case we are in ourselves?
Leave the issue with God."
there were those who rode over occasionally to ask Abdul Mutalip how he fared.
He always replied cheerfully to their inquiries, saying: "As thou seest,
I and my beasts are well," or, "One of the sheep is dead because it lacked
fodder but the rest still go forward."
it is with us," the inquirer would reply. "And it is worst with the sheep
because they will not eat flesh though the cattle and the camels eat it and
the horses sometimes."
so it went on till at length the men were too weary to trouble any longer and the time
came when Abdul Mutalip lagged out of sight and they decided that his strength
had failed him, as theirs was beginning to do. And those who still had strength
to remember him, mourned him as dead. Meanwhile, March had come and with
it high winds piling snow in greats drifts which left some places clear so
that they could go forward but made it harder to find grazing. Also they moved
slowly because they and the beasts were weary after crossing the Kunlun Mountains
and they wished to regain strength for the journey ahead which, as Ali Beg
knew from the map, lay across the watersheds instead of along the course
of the rivers. Therefore the party would need to be in good heart and condition
because the way would be hard, being very steep in places, very barren and
inhospitable and very high, making it difficult to breathe.
journeyed first through sparsely inhabited country and all die Tibetans they
met were hostile. Some were villagers and some nomads, but the Kazaks no
longer tried to make friends with any of them and treated all alike as foes—
as the Children of Israel were told to do when entering the Promised Land
after their forty years in the wilderness. So, when the Kazaks needed food
or fodder, they took it. I think, too, that if they came across any domestic
animals, but not yaks, they took them too, especially sheep. Once or twice
about this time they saw other small groups of Kazaks from Gezkul, making
for Kashmir like themselves. But after the leaders had sent greetings of
peace to one another, each party went its own way, still considering it safer
and better to travel in small bodies than in large because they attracted
less attention and mere was more food for the beasts. All were confident that
they could beat any enemy in battle. Sometimes a few individuals transferred
from one body to another so as to be with friends or relations, or because
they had quarrelled with companions, but not often.
Beg's party travelled in this manner for about a month and I think they enjoyed
themselves after a fashion. The mountains were an endless source of wonder
to them: huge, towering, forbidding, unending, black rocks, often but not
always, tipped with snow and entirely tree-less though there were many wild
animals: asses (which Ali
Beg called zebras) bears, goats, sheep, (no doubt die mighty Ovis Ammon
which stands higher than a small donkey) wolves, foxes, and many others
of which he did not know the names. There was also one which he called a
wild cow, but which was probably a yak. It was a mystery to him how the
herbivorous animals managed to keep alive for there was very little grass
or herbage after the first few weeks, except in isolated places far apart
from one another.
the black stone was a kind of basalt. But, whatever it was, evidently it
contained deposits of free minerals and Ali Beg says that some of them were
being worked. He described one as "a stone which glowed at night like a lamp."
Tibetan inhabitants became fewer as the Kazaks journeyed towards the setting
sun and none now waited for their coming so that food and fodder were there
for the taking when they needed it. In the more open plateau country, the
wind raised few drifts but swept the snow from the dry grass. Also, the Kazaks
came to many lakes so that there was enough water at this stage. But there
were no trees, or scarcely any, until they were nearing the frontier of
Kashmir. Firewood being unobtainable, they used the dung of their animals
for fuel. The men sometimes went on hunting expeditions among the mountain
ravines bringing back deer and wild asses across their saddles, and hares
for the animals to eat so that there was no lack of food for man or beast,
though the beasts ate flesh very unwillingly and some not at all.
May, 1951, when it was already summer, they came suddenly upon a large Tibetan
village and at once moved forward to attack it as their custom now was. It
was empty of inhabitants when they reached it so they took what they needed
and continued their journey. They were nearing the end of the plateau country
by this time and were mounting steadily into country which became ever higher,
more rugged .and more barren, if that were possible, till they were travelling
with their beasts at not less than 18-20,000 feet above sea level, only a
little below the height at which the Everest climbers found climbing impossible
without oxygen. But no one except the Kazaks, and perhaps a few Tibetans,
has traversed this region so the exact altitude cannot be stated.
days after passing the empty village, the Kazaks came to a defile which turned
out of the main valley but had a good path which it seemed would lead to
another and higher plateau where they might find grazing. Ali Beg happened
to be with the scouts as they were about to enter the defile and he began
to feel uneasy. The hill at the side of the defile was not steep so he rode
up it to see if he could overlook the path below. Having found a suitable
spot, he examined the path carefully through his field glasses seeing nothing
untoward, and then turned to rejoin his party.
turned, hidden Tibetans opened fire on him and immediately several hundred
soldiers dashed out of the defile below on horseback waving drawn swords
and shouting as they galloped towards the long straggling line of Kazaks.
attack was entirely unexpected but the Kazaks were ready for the charging
horsemen before they arrived. The men and boys turned their horses towards
the enemy, waving their own swords and nailed billets of wood while the women
and children, unbidden, turned the beasts away from entering the defile and
shepherded them past it along the main valley. Thus in a matter of moments
there was a screen of mounted men between the Kazak column and the charging
Tibetans. Long before Ali Beg had ridden back down the hill, his men had
counter-charged and were among the Tibetans.
battle which followed was a real old-time cavalry melee such as Genghis Khan
and the Golden Horde loved: a wild charge into and through the enemy's ranks,
a hasty reforming on the far side and then back once more—slash, parry,
slash again, aiming always at the man and not at his horse. Clothes were
thick on both sides and it took a shrewd blow to cut through them—indeed,
the nails were often more effective than the swords. Unhorsings were many
and casualties, comparatively speaking, few. The Kazaks admit to only three
killed, though many more were wounded, in the course of a three-hour battle
in which they were heavily outnumbered. They claim to have killed at least
a score, disabled twice or thrice that number and captured many horses and
weapons. In a sense, the horses captured themselves because when one lost
its rider it generally followed the horse of his vanquisher. The picture of the unwounded,
riderless horses galloping up and down the battlefield, neighing, snorting
and bewildered, in the wake of still-embattled warriors adds not only a touch
of fantasy to the grim savagery of the scene, but perhaps throws fresh light
on the campaigns of the Kazak and Mongol horsemen who rode victoriously to
Peking, Delhi, and, indeed, across most of Asia and Europe in the Middle and
Dark Ages. It also provides a glass through which to view the mass destruction
methods of the twentieth century which wipe out man and beast and change the
very face of the earth.
yelling warriors rode up and down slashing and cutting at one another from
their saddles till the light faded when the Tibetans withdrew, leaving the
Kazaks in triumphant possession of the battlefield. The victors bound up
their wounds as best they could after bathing them in urine to prevent festering.
Then they buried their three dead comrades, selected the best of the Tibetan
weapons to add to their own stocks, destroying the rest, tied the best of
the captured Tibetan horses to their own, and set off to rejoin their womenfolk
who were waiting for them in the main valley.
Beg said that the Tibetans mostly kept their distance after this encounter.
But their scouts were seen on the skyline day after day, watching the way
the Kazaks went and, as it transpired later, reporting their whereabouts
to the Communists who by this time were steadily occupying the Tibetan countryside
having already occupied Lhasa.
first sign that the Communists were in the neighbourhood was when the Kazaks
suddenly found they were being followed by Communist ground troops, acting
on this occasion, at any rate, in full co-operation with the local inhabitants
who doubtless regarded the Kazaks as an even worse infliction than the Communists.
Yet judging from the fact that some of the other Kazak refugees from Gezkul
were well received by the Tibetans it is possible that Ali Beg's party was
mistaken for Communists when it entered the country. If so, the Communists
profited fortuitously, and undeservedly, from a genuine and unfortunate misunderstanding.
Beg's first encounter with the Communists in Tibet nearly involved his party
in disaster and they were only saved by their incomparable knowledge of mountain
warfare and by what we usually call good fortune and they, the will of God.
The road they were following at the time lay between high hills with a succession
of three passes leading from one valley to another. They toiled up and over
two without being molested and were in a ravine on the way to the third
when Ali Beg, whose extra sense had again sent him alone some distance ahead,
rounded a corner to find the way blocked with stones.
his horse and was away in an instant without needing to investigate. Indeed,
he was fifty yards down the road on his way to the main body before the first
shots were fired behind him, and none of them touched either him or his horse.
As he reached the main body, the sound of firing came from the rear and presently
a prisoner was brought in, the only survivor of a small Communist patrol
which the rearguard had spotted and ambushed. Keen eyes had detected from
afar that he was neither a Kitai nor a Tibetan but a Turki—a native of their
own land of Turkistan. So the rearguard deliberately spared him hoping to
get information from him. After the prisoner had looked about him fearfully
and realised that there were no living Communist soldiers in sight, he talked
freely. He said there was a large Communist force nearby with tanks, armoured
cars and aircraft and that a detachment of this force was even then coming
along the road behind him to trap the Kazaks in conjunction with the Tibetans.
Ali Beg saw the man and heard his story he was inclined to believe him though
he learnt later that there were neither tanks nor aircraft nearer than Jeykundo,
several hundred miles to the east. He offered the captured Turki the choice
of remaining with them, as Emin Ta Mullah had asked to be allowed to do,
or returning to his unit among the Communists. The man said that his family
was still in Turkistan and there were none among the living Communists who
had seen him captured so that he would not be suspected of having given information
to the Kazaks and he therefore wished to go back hoping one day to be with
his family again.
Kazaks bade him go with God and he went, wishing them Godspeed in his turn
for, like them, he was a Moslem.
Kazaks were now beset both in front and rear, and there were high cliffs
on each side of the road so that they were seemingly trapped, though they
had no intention whatever of admitting it. Ali Beg called Hamza and Kainesh
to him and told them of the road block ahead saying that he believed it had
been put there by the Tibetans, not the Communists.
twain be younger men than I," he went on. "Therefore take twenty men each,
unmounted, and see that ye choose them that be strong and active. Climb with
them up the two hills ye see ahead one on either side of the way, but keep
out of sight from the dip in the hills where is the road block. . . . How
long think ye that it will take to station yourselves above the dip without
being seen by those who made the road block?"
two hours and half an hour, not more," Hamza and Kainesh agreed after a moment's
take three hours lest there be an obstacle that cannot be seen from here,
or there is need to detour to avoid being seen by the Tibetans. Then, when
ye see our column with the animals near the corner of which I told you after
which the road is blocked with stones, spring the ambush above the Tibetan
ambush and entrust the outcome to God. And while ye make ready to do this,
I will take yet another twenty men to reinforce the ten of the rearguard
and hold the Communists back till the road ahead is cleared."
while Hamza and Kainesh led their detachments on foot to out-climb the ambushers
in front and clear the road, Ali Beg and his men hastened back along the
way they had come trusting in God that they would reach the top of the middle
pass before the advancing Communists overwhelmed the ten men of the rearguard.
They did so, but only just. Tethering their horses below the crest, they
hurriedly clambered up the steep hillsides on each side of the path, taking
care not to be seen, and joined the ten who had already taken up their positions
in the rocks ready to pick off the leading files of the advancing enemy and confident
that they could at least delay his oncoming before being obliged to retreat.
Communists advanced warily because they already knew from the Turki of the
fate of the patrol. But they saw no reason as yet to occupy the pathless
and precipitous hillsides above the way, so they came on with only an advance
party on the path itself and the main body of infantry not far behind—the
way was impassable for vehicles. Ali Beg let the advance party come within
fifty paces before firing the shot which was the signal for his men to shoot
also. The advance party consisted of twenty men only and was practically
wiped out at the first volley. Those who did not fall started to run for cover
when the Kazaks began to fire at them but there was little cover except among
the main body and they threw the whole column into confusion when they reached
it. Seeing it, some of the Kazaks jumped like mountain goats from rock to
rock far above and, finding some loose stones, rolled them down on the Kitai,
completing their discomforture, and overwhelming many. The rest withdrew
hastily out of range to reorganise before attacking the pass again on less
haphazard lines. And when they did so, there was no one there, except their
own dead. Had they gone faster, they might have caught up with little Abdul
Mutalip, but God was with him and he escaped.
Beg left half his thirty men at the head of the pass with orders to hold
it if the Communists rallied while he himself hurried back to the main body
with the rest. He found it still moving very slowly towards the head of the
third pass with a screen composed mostly of women and boys out in front in
case the Tibetans should attack before Hamza and Kainesh outclimbed the ambushers
and put them to flight. Telling his fifteen men to join the screen and to
press on towards the head of the pass as soon as they heard firing ahead
of them, but carefully lest there should be Tibetan sharp-shooters above them,
Ali Beg found himself a vantage point from which he could use his field glasses
to make sure that the enemy could not come at him from a flank. It was a
clear day and the grim mountains all round were bare except for patches of
snow. Ali Beg saw no sign of any paths except the one on which the Kazaks
were journeying, so if he had felt afraid before, which is doubtful, he certainly felt
no fear thereafter.
he heard the sound of firing from the head of pass three. With the help of
his field glasses he saw the explosion of hand grenades which Hamza's men
were dropping on the Tibetans and then the scurry of frantic men as the
Tibetans, who had never met hand grenades before, jumped from boulder to
boulder seeking cover from which to fire at their assailants only to find
themselves exposed to Kainesh's men who shot them from behind. The pass
being narrow, the Tibetans who were screened from Hamza's men were in full
view of Kainesh's and vice versa. They did not wait to be picked off one
by one by unseen assailants and the second battle, like the first, was over
in a few minutes without the Kazaks having suffered a single casualty. They
immediately went forward again sending messengers to bid the rearguard give
up its watch and follow the main body though at a suitable distance so that
it could give warning if the Communists re-appeared. They did not re-appear—at
least, not then.
were five or six clashes with the Tibetans and two more with the Communists
while the Kazaks were crossing Tibet. All of them occurred within the first
two-and-a-half months. All the time, the party went steadily forward averaging
about fifteen to twenty miles a day. But it was now approaching the region
in which progress was impeded by mountain mists which engulfed everything
for days on end, setting tempers on edge and making it impossible to stir
from the encampment lest the one who did so should never find it again.
could not see so much as a hand in front of our faces," said one of the refugees.
"Even to go from one tent to another, we had to call to each other lest
we should lose the way."
means all had tents by this time and those without used to lie huddled up
in the lee of the camels and cows for warmth and protection. Some, especially
the children with no beasts to ride and no parents to look after them, grew
so weary that they sometimes dropped behind when on the march, but mostly
they caught up again after the party had halted for the night.
mist was full of ice particles which seared the lungs like fire with each
breath and the air they swallowed was so thin and mean that men and beasts
gasped with the slightest exertion. There was no fodder left for the animals
and the Kazaks therefore tried to feed them now on raw meat, instead of cooked,
eating it raw themselves too for lack of fuel or because they could not
light a fire with knives, flint and tinder owing to the mist. Many of the
animals refused the flesh and died, but some took it, mostly camels and
horses. The mists brought great bouts of coughing to man and beast causing
tears to run from the eyes and making white furrows down cheeks blackened
with grime and exposure.
mists always cleared suddenly as the sound of a rushing wind rent the grim
stillness of the mountains. The wind was icy but it brought the sun which
warmed everyone's spirits as well as their bodies. Every fit person went
to work at once collecting dung to dry for fuel, rounding up the beasts in
readiness for the day's journey and, if any felt strong enough, going out
into the mountains, though not too far lest the mists should return, to shoot
antelope and gazelle for food. But though it was summer, there was not much
pasture for the beasts and those which survived the mists grew very thin.
If one stumbled and fell it did not rise. And if a fallen beast was one which
carried a load, it could not be shared with those remaining because they had
no strength to take it. So tents and household possessions were left behind
one by one although some were brought right through to Kashmir.
high altitude and the mists brought a special sickness which the Kazaks,
not knowing its name, spoke of as "Tutuk-iss," the fog-swelling. Besides a
sudden distension of the stomach such as is seen in victims of famine, the
fog-swelling was accompanied by copious bleeding from the nose. The Kazaks
have remedies of their own for most of the troubles which are prevalent in
their old homes, especially the sicknesses which attack animals, but they
had no cure for the tutuk-iss and more of the party died from it in Tibet
than from fighting. Ali Beg lost five of his children from tutuk-iss but his
three wives and his eldest son, Hassan, came through safely.
end of July, the Kazaks were at last descending slowly to lower levels and, early
in August, signs began to appear which told them they were approaching a
region which was inhabited. The lower slopes of the hills were no longer
naked but clothed in trees and grass which brought tears of joy to their
eyes, though it also brought labour because they knew that if they let the
starved beasts eat too much they would die.
they came to a road which ran, roughly, east and west instead of north and
south, and Ali Beg decided at once to follow it. On August 18, 1951—a hundred
and ninety-three days after they had left Gezkul—they found themselves close
to the frontier of Kashmir near a place called Rudok, which is on the direct
road between Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, and Lhasa.
the Kazaks reached the frontier, Ali Beg went forward joyfully to explain
to the Indian frontier guard who they were and ask permission to enter Kashmir.
The officer in charge replied that he must first see their papers.
we have no papers," said Ali Beg, through the interpreter. "We are Kazaks,
political refugees who have escaped from Sinkiang after many battles against
Indian officer was not impressed.
he reiterated, "without papers it is impossible for you to enter India. How
do I know that you are what you say? How do I know who you are?"
the Communists are pursuing us," Ali Beg said. "Will you let them catch up
and kill us?"
Indian replied shortly that he knew nothing about the Communists who had
not yet appeared on his sector of the country. Looking over the ragged, unkempt,
armed band in front of him, he saw that they were obviously not Tibetans
and equally certainly not Chinese. The Rudok road was not the normal one by
which people from Sinkiang would seek to enter India. Moreover, the Tibetans
had warned him about a band of brigands who had entered Tibet from the north
and had pillaged many villages, killing the inhabitants and carrying off women
and valuables before turning westward toward Kashmir. He concluded that Ali
Beg's party were the brigands in question.
are bandits, not political refugees. Go back whence ye came. Ye may not enter
India. Nor will I allow you to remain near the frontier."
are no bandits," Ali Beg replied. "And indeed we are political refugees as
I told you, though we have had to fight our way through Tibet to reach this
place and this may have seemed banditry to the Tibetans though there was
nought else we could do seeing that they refused to help us or let us pass."
the Indian officer still refused to listen and in the end Ali Beg went back
to his party saying as he left:
we die now, our blood will be on your head."
refusal to let the Kazaks enter Kashmir was the more bitter because it was
completely unexpected though I feel it was inevitable, indeed justifiable,
in view of the Tibetan warning. Fortunately, the Kazaks did not try to force
their way in as they had forced their way out of Sinkiang and through Tibet.
They simply withdrew about a mile from the frontier, though still within
sight of it, pitched what felted tents they had left and sat down to wait
and recuperate. During the next few weeks, several other parties of Kazaks
from Gezkul arrived and sought admission—with the same lack of success. None
of them took the Indian officer's advice to turn round and go home again.
course, the Communists arrived, too. Keeping their troops well in the background,
out of sight, they sent political emissaries to make contact with the Indians
and "explaining parties," composed of natives of Sinkiang province, to approach
the Kazaks and try to persuade them to return home, making the usual promises.
Some of the Kazaks who had been with Osman Batur at Barkul had actually met
explaining parties before and knew all about them—too much to believe a word
they said. All the other refugees knew quite enough. So they listened to
the explainers and did not molest them but no one accompanied them when they
followed a period of uneasy quiet and, during it, before the inevitable explosion,
little nine-year-old Abdul Mutalip suddenly walked into the encampment having
been about five months on the road, all alone since he had separated from
Ali Beg's party. His horse was still alive, and one sheep, though neither
was nearly so much alive as their owner who had travelled on his own over
mountains and valleys, streams and rocks and occasionally ice and snow, which
were the worst for his short legs, for not less than six hundred miles, mostly
at an altitude of twelve
to fourteen thousand feet above sea level and sometimes more than twenty
thousand. Quite a number of other orphaned boys and girls too, lagged unnoticed
at various points on the journey because everyone was weary and had much
ado to look after himself and his own family. Usually, though perhaps not
always, such stragglers had caught up again when the party halted for the
night or, at most, after being absent for two or three days. Abdul Mutalip
had journeyed alone of his own free will. Even the Kazaks, who are used to
what we would regard as youthful prodigies, regarded his feat as a miracle.
Abdul Mutalip stayed behind, he was wearing a man-size knapsack filled mostly
with bread and dried corn. He carried a knife, too, in a sheath tied to a
leather belt round his waist. With the knife and a stone, he was able to
light a fire when he could find dried grass, or leaves or rotten wood and
it was real child's-play for him to shepherd his little flock in the wake
of Ali Beg's party. He saw the slowly moving column sometimes though less
often as the days passed. And when he could not see them in the flesh, there
was always signs to show him the way: the marks left by the animals' hooves
on the rocks and hard earth, the sheep-droppings which were too small to
have been collected for fuel. He had known such signs from infancy and knew
how to read them, just as many children of the same age in the free world
know exactly how to drive a motor car simply from watching their parents.
for him, some of the animals he was following had been too weary and spent
to go on and the keen thin, high air had preserved their bodies, nor had
the beasts or birds of prey devoured all of them. So he was able to refill
his knapsack from time to time and feed his beasts with flesh which he cut
off with his knife. Sometimes he roasted it but more often he and his beasts
ate it raw. At night he generally tucked himself into a crevice between two
rocks sleeping more soundly when he could do so because he knew no marauding
beasts would be able to get at him, though once they stole one of his sheep.
His outer clothes were made of sheepskin with the wool inside and, being used
to cold anyway, he seldom felt it. When the ice-mists came down, he also
felt secure because not even a night-hunting beast could see at such a time,
so he slept and ate and slept again. But when the great wind tore the mists
away, it took the sheep's pellets too, making it harder to find the trail.
I think his worst moments were when he came to a path running north and south
across his path because he did not know whether he would meet Tibetans on
them. But I doubt if he was afraid, even then, only more vigilant.
miracle of Abdul Mutalip heartened the Kazak refugees greatly. They told
one another that it could not be the will of God, having brought him thus
far in safety, to let him die now in sight of the haven they and he had come
so far to find.
he very nearly did die, and the others with him. One night, the Communist
troops attacked without warning, catching the Kazaks unawares as at Gezkul.
But a Kazak such as they always slept with his rifle and ammunition belt
within reach of his outstretched hand, and he could find it in the dark as
easily as in the light. Grabbing weapons and clothes, the men ran out of their
tents and sleeping-places making for the hills where they hid till daylight.
On this occasion the women and children seem to have stayed in the encampments
and, for once, the Communists left them alone and went after the men. But
when the light came, the Kazaks were the highest on the hillsides so they
counter-attacked immediately, driving the enemy off, killing many and capturing
their arms including two mortars with some ammunition.
Communist attack, and the way the Kazaks dealt \vith it, evidently impressed
the Indians and when Kazak emissaries went once more to the frontier to point
out what would happen to them if they were not allowed to enter Kashmir,
the officer in charge agreed to consider their request provided that they
first surrendered their arms as a guarantee of their peaceful intentions.
The emissaries accepted joyfully and a time was arranged at which the arms
were to be surrendered. When the appointed hour came, the Kazaks presented
themselves at the frontier where the Indians accepted their arms, including
the two captured mortars, but declared that they could not yet admit the Kazaks,
not having received permission from Delhi. But they promised they
would do so later.
crestfallen at this new delay, the Kazaks were on their way back to the encampments,
without their arms, when they saw the Indians signalling to them.
let you in," the officer in charge explained when they reached him, "till
I receive permission to do so, as I have already said. But also we cannot
protect you outside our own territory. Therefore it will be best for you
to have wherewith to protect yourselves. Take your arms back, for you may
need them this very day."
the warning was simply shrewd anticipation or the result of a good intelligence
service cannot be stated, but the Communists actually did attack again within
a few hours. The battle which followed was fought within full view of the
Indian frontier. It began with the capture of eleven Kazaks by the Communists
who immediately cut off their heads. But the Kazaks drove their enemies off
in the end, getting above them as usual and then shooting them down without
danger to themselves and taking full toll for the murder of the prisoners.
But among the eleven who were beheaded was Mohammed Turdi Kari, a saintly
Mullah who could recite the whole of the Koran from memory without fault
or hesitation beginning at any sura, or verse. The Koran is almost the same
length as the New Testament, so that this was no mean feat and his reputation
both for piety and intelligence had spread far and wide among his people
and his loss was greatly mourned.
battle was the last. The Indian commander of the frontier post no longer
needed to be convinced of what would happen to the Kazaks if their entry into
Kashmir were further delayed. Eleven heads had been seen to fall from the
bodies of bound prisoners under his very eyes. Indeed, the Kazaks say that
the grisly scene was actually filmed by the Indians so that they could prove
to others what the Communists had done. So the frontier was opened and the
Kazaks who had survived the fighting with the Communists at Manass, Kuku-luk,
Kucheng, Barkul, Gezkul and along the weary way through Tibet, were safe
at last, safety having been the last thing they thought about. How many died in the
fighting or in the terror or from famine and exposure during the eighteen
years of their struggle against the Communists from the time of Sheng to
that of Mao Tse-tung, will never be known, but I think it cannot have been
less than a hundred thousand.
the survivors crossed the frontier on October 10, 1951, they were allowed
to bring with them what was left of their flocks and herds, tents and other
personal possessions, but they laid down their arms and military equipment
at the frontier. So Ali Beg lost not only his field glasses, compass and
map, but also his sword which the tradition of his family declared to have
been a gift from Genghis Khan himself.
party spent altogether fifty-two days waiting on the Tibetan side of the
frontier before being allowed to enter Kashmir, although Mohammed Emin Bugra,
the Turki leader who was living in Srinagar, hurried to Delhi to appeal personally
on their behalf to Mr. Nehru himself, as soon as he heard of their arrival.
They fought six battles with the Communists between Gezkul and the Indian
frontier and two more while waiting for permission to cross. They also had
three clashes with Tibetans. Of the two hundred and thirty-four persons who
set out with Ali Beg from Gezkul, a hundred and seventy-five came through
safely. They lost eleven hundred sheep, sixty horses, thirty-seven cows and
forty-five camels in the fighting and from malnutrition and sickness, apart
from those they killed for food. I was unable to get accurate figures for
the other groups but I estimate that about two thousand eight hundred Kazaks
started from Gezkul and between fifteen hundred and eighteen hundred reached
Kashmir. Some of these are still in India. On the other hand some Kazaks
who had been living in India and Pakistan for years joined the Gezkul refugees
when they went to Turkey where other Kazaks from East Turkistan went as
many as twenty years ago and have become quite prosperous, though not as
shepherds but as merchants.
crossing the frontier, the Kazaks went by road to Leh where the Indian general,
Mohadi Sen, met them personally and offered to take them by air to Srinagar.
I do not know whether
he expected them to refuse because they were frightened of aeroplanes, only
knowing them as instruments of destruction. But all accepted except twenty
who volunteered to take the animals and tents by road to Srinagar. When
the Kazaks reached the Kashmir capital, those who had no tents were accommodated
for a while at the Safa Kadel Serai, or the inn of the Seventh Bridge as
it is generally called in English. But they found all the rooms in it were
occupied by Turkis, many of them wealthy refugees who had fled from their
homes in time taking some of their wealth with them and reaching safety without
fighting. Consequently some of the Kazaks had to live for a while in the
open courtyard. It was already October, and very cold, and they had no fuel.
Also, they were still suffering from the effects of their journey across
these matters were straightened out in the end but the Kazaks did not feel
they could settle down happily in Kashmir, although the people were Moslems
like themselves. Everyone was uneasy there owing to the dispute between India
and Pakistan about which of the two should govern the country, a question
which the Kazaks felt was one for the people of Kashmir and not for either
Indians or Pakistanis. Yet, at that time, the Kazaks had nowhere else to
go. The chiefs—Ali Beg, Daleel Khan, Hussein Tajji and others who do not come
into our story—used to discuss the matter often, coming always to the conclusion
that they must be patient and wait, especially as Ali Beg, soon after his
arrival, had sent letters to President Truman and to Mr. Churchill calling
their attention to the plight of the Kazak nation.
the Kazaks were thus waiting and wondering, news reached Ali Beg from Calcutta
that Abdu Satr, the son of Saalis, and twelve years of age, had arrived there
in September, ] 951, but without his father and mother who were both dead.
With him, the letter said, were Abdul Ghanim, son of Adil the rich merchant,
and also twelve years old, and Toktogan, aged nine, the son of the historian,
Abdel Kerim, whom Hamza had been sent to fetch, and Adil too, when the Communists
occupied Urumchi and who had gone with Saalis and Yolbars, the Turki chieftain,
and Emin Ta Mullah when they left Gezkul for Lhasa in September, 1950.
Beg at once sent a letter to Abdu Satr inviting him and the two other boys
to join him in Kashmir. They accepted gladly. When they arrived Abdu Satr
told the story of how all three had lost both their parents and how they
themselves escaped and finally reached Calcutta.
story is an epic in itself and the Kazak bards in Kashmir made it into a
saga which, by rights, should be sung in the flickering light of a dung and
wood fire of an evening inside a tent and handed down thus through generations.
But the song is too full of historical allusions to be comprehensible to
people like ourselves, so I have used only the simple story, as told to Ali
Beg by Abdu Satr himself, from which the saga was elaborated. Before telling
it, I will repeat once more that Abdu Satr and Abdul Ghanim were both twelve
years old, and Toktogan nine, when the events in the drama took place.
travelled for one month after leaving Gezkul," Abdu Satr said, "and saw nothing
of the Communists. Then it became very cold and there was much snow so that
we could not go forward.
of those with the party which followed Yolbars were Chinese, though not all,
and among my father's followers were some White Russians as well as his
own men who were Kazaks. Now, there were beasts my father and Yolbars had
brought with them and when it was necessary to kill some that we might eat,
there was a quarrel and one of Yolbar's men came into my father's tent while
he bent over the fire and shot him with a pistol in the back, wounding him
mortally. My father cried out and Abdel Kerim and Adil who were in tents
nearby ran to him to see what had happened and the man shot them both dead.
Then Emin Ta Mullah went to Yolbars in a rage, holding a German automatic
in his hand and pointing it at him, calling him a fascist, which is the worst
thing a man can be, because he let this thing be done. Men of Yolbars following
seized Emin Ta Mullah from behind and, having bound him, killed him with
a sword. Then the wives of these four men fell to screaming and tearing
their faces with their finger nails till the blood flowed and, at the sight
of it, they picked up knives, meaning to kill Yolbars because he had
not prevented the slaying
of their husbands. But Yolbars' servants shot them all and two of Adil's
sons also who were fourteen and fifteen years old.
father, Saalis, being still alive, though mortally wounded, called me to
him and gave me his automatic, telling me to run to the mountains and hide.
But I feared to do so in daylight lest I should be seen and brought back to
be shot likewise. So I went to Abdel Kerim's tent where I found Toktogan,
and Abdul Ghanim. And when darkness came, we three crept out of the encampment
on foot through the snow which was very deep taking our fathers' automatics
with us. More snow fell that night, covering our traces, so when we
had gone far enough we crawled under a rock to sleep, knowing that Yolbars
and his men would not be able to find us.
next morning we saw Yolbars searching for us and heard him calling us by
name to return, saying that he would not harm us and that he was sorry for
the slaying of our parents. But we did not go and he did not find us.
evening came we were hungry, having taken nothing with us but a little bread
and having eaten all of it. The night was dark, and it was without moon,
so we crept back-to the encampment. When we went to the tents in which our
parents lodged when alive, they had been burnt and our parents' bodies lay
beneath them, unburied, though maybe it was because the ground was frozen
very hard. There was no food in the burnt tents, so we crept very quietly
into other tents till we had found enough. Then we loosed three of our own
camels and, mounting them, rode away."
boys rode all through that night in spite of the absence of a moon and all
through the next day till the evening. Then they halted for a while, two
keeping watch while the third slept because they were afraid that if one watched
by himself he might not be able to stay awake. They were on their way again
before daylight and rode on all through the second day, and a third. On the
fourth, they came to a frozen river which the camels refused to cross, so
they followed the course of the river downstream, not knowing what else to
do or where it would lead them.
round to see if they were being followed, they saw Yolbars behind them, alone,
and also riding a camel. He shouted to them to stop, promising them again
that he would not hurt them. But they urged their camels the faster and
Yolbars, seeing the gap between them widening, fired a shot from his rifle,
hitting Toktogan's camel, wounding it and bringing it down. While Toktogan
was extricating himself from the dying beast and climbing up behind Abdu
Satr, Abdul Ghanim emptied his automatic at Yolbars but the range was too
great and Yolbars still came on but without firing again.
desperately beating the two remaining camels, the three boys at last got
them to cross the frozen river where they ran into the arms of ten Tibetan
soldiers of the Dalai Lama who disarmed them and then went after Yolbars whom
they soon caught and disarmed likewise.
told the soldiers by signs, for we did not understand their tongue," Abdu
Satr said, "that we feared to be with Yolbars lest he should do us some injury.
So they kept us apart and were kind to us, saying that they would take us
to Lhasa where the Dalai Lama would decide what should happen to us. We
were content, seeing that our parents were bound for Lhasa when they were
slain. And when we reached Lhasa and were riding through the streets on
our beasts, thirty-five White Russian soldiers escaping from Tur-kistan passed
by and called out in the Turki language to know whose children we were.
I said: 'I am Abdu Satr, son of Saalis.' One of the Russians shouted: 'Saalis?
Saalis is my friend. Where is he?' and when I told him, he told the others
and they all shouted together: 'Where is that man, Yolbars, for we would
kill him.' So I pointed to him as he rode behind me and they rushed at him
all together. But the Tibetan soldiers resisted and others joined them and
began to take away the Russians' weapons. Then the Russians resisted in
their turn, not wishing to lose their arms, and they fled out of Lhasa swiftly,
shouting to us that they would see us in Calcutta. But I cannot say whether
they ever got there."
three Kazak boys seem to have been lodged in a private house, not in a prison,
after their arrival in Lhasa. In due course, the Dalai Lama sent for them. An old
Kazak named lisa Khan who had fled to Tibet with Boko Batur in 1913 was called
in to act as interpreter.
Satr described the Dalai Lama as being "a young boy, like me." He was very
friendly and began by asking the three Kazak lads where they were from. Abdu
are from Urumchi. Our fathers were slain by Yolbars who has taken all our
goods and our camels, everything. As we fled from him, your soldiers found
us and saved our lives but they have taken our automatics."
this, die Dalai Lama ordered Yolbars to be brought and, when he arrived,
the Dalai Lama, according to Abdu Satr, asked him simply:
did you kill these boys' fathers?" Yolbars replied that he knew nothing about
that but that perhaps his men had quarrelled with them and slain them, though
not with his consent. So the Dalai Lama went on:
that be. But where are their fathers' goods, their gold, camels and their
other possessions? Are they in your hands or in the hands of these boys?"
said that they were in his charge, and the Dalai Lama then said:
all to me and hand it to the boys in my presence so that I shall know that
nothing be missing of all their fathers' possessions."
Yolbars sent and fetched their goods from his tents which by that time had
reached Lhasa with his son, Yakub, and he handed over everything in accordance
with the Dalai Lama's order.
the Dalai Lama was still angry," Abdu Satr went on, "and ordered that Yolbars
should be executed. So Yolbars withdrew hastily and returned later wearing
a red robe and declaring that he had been converted to Buddhism, whereupon
the Dalai Lama relented and Yolbars was pardoned."
also have left Lhasa in a hurry because, according to Abdu Satr's story, Communist
troops arrived from Lanchow about this time. Someone told them about the
three Kazak boys
and the Communist commander sent for Abdu Satr and asked him:
killed your father?"
Satr told him and the Communist officer said:
your father had not fled with that Yolbars, he would have been a great man
today in his own country. Come now with us and we will send you back to Urumchi,
and the greatness that Saalis would have had if he had stayed shall be yours
when you are older."
Satr made no answer and the Communist officer called a junior officer and
bade him fetch Abdul Ghanim and Toktogan and care for all three and guard
them till they could be sent back to Urumchi. But it was the winter season
and the roads were unfit for travel so they remained in Lhasa, being now
in effect prisoners of the Communists. But they were still under the Dalai
Lama's protection and lived unmolested in the house he had lodged them in
when they first arrived. They were also allowed to go where they would in
the city during the daytime.
that there were some merchants from India in Lhasa and one of them who had
been to East Turkistan in earlier times spoke to Abdu Satr, though haltingly
because he did not speak much Turki. The boys told the merchant about his
father, Saalis, and how he died and also about the coming of the Communists
to Urumchi. And later, but not till he felt he knew what kind of man the
merchant was, Abdu Satr asked him to take the three boys back to Calcutta
with him when he returned there in the spring.
merchant said he wished he could but it was too dangerous. He explained that
he was naught but a merchant, not a politician or a spy or a soldier, and
he dare not risk the trouble that would come upon him if he were caught smuggling
out of Tibet, not merchandise, but three young lads by whom the Communists
seemingly set great store, seeing that a guard had been put over the house
in which they were lodged. So Abdu Satr let the matter drop and did not
mention the subject again though they often met and talked about other things,
including the merchant's plans for returning to Calcutta and die merchandise
he would carry with him when he went and whether he intended ever to come back
again to Lhasa.
spring came and it was time for the merchant to start on his journey, he
said goodbye to Abdu Satr, telling him that he was leaving in three days and
wishing him well as they would not meet again. Abdu Satr said goodbye too,
and then went quickly back to Abdul Ghanim and Toktogan saying that the time
had come and they knew what to do having discussed it together so often.
That night, the three boys, who slept together in one room, climbed first
on to one another's shoulders so that they could reach the window which was
high above their heads and then let themselves down noiselessly into the
street. They had worked out beforehand a way by which they could leave the
city without being challenged and before morning they were miles distant,
having run most of the way because they had taken nothing with them except
food to last them three or four days and perhaps a little of their fathers'
gold which the Dalai Lama had recovered for them from Yolbars. But if so,
Abdu Satr did not mention it when telling the story and they would, in any
case, have had to spend all, or nearly all, of it in getting to Calcutta first
and then to Kashmir.
daylight came, they left the road they were following and hid, but keeping
the road in sight because Abdu Satr knew from his careful questioning that
it was the one by which the merchant planned to travel. But he also knew
that it was not safe to wait there for the merchant to catch them up lest
he should be followed by Communist searchers who would take the boys back
to Lhasa first and then to Urumchi, if they found them.
nightfall the three went forward again, though slower than before because
they had three days' start of the merchant and his caravan. On the third
night, having seen no sign of pursuit either during the nights or the days,
they went slower still and on the fourth night they stayed in the same hiding
place in which they had passed the previous day. Two of them watched now while
the third slept, just as they had done when escaping from Yolbars. But the
weather was pleasant and the sun warm so that they enjoyed themselves after
a fashion knowing that every hour that passed made discovery less likely,
and indeed they already felt certain that the adventure would end happily.
six days before the merchant caught up with them. And when Abdu Satr, coming
out of his hiding place, went to him and asked for his protection, the merchant
was angry for a moment. Then he kissed the boy and clapped him on the shoulder
saying it was well that they had not met sooner for the Communists had indeed
searched his caravan though before it was a day's journey from Lhasa. He
added that the men with him were trustworthy so that the boys now had nothing
to fear, and, very soon, all three were dressed in Indian clothing. So the
adventure really did end happily for them and they arrived in Calcutta in
September, 1951, a few weeks before Ali Beg was allowed to enter Kashmir.
Abdu Satr had finished telling the story of his father's death and his own
two escapes, Ali Beg asked him why he had not gone back to Urumchi as the
Communist officer suggested who offered to give him the position and possessions
which his father, Saalis, left behind when he left with Yolbars.
Satr replied instantly:
my father had wished me to remain in Turkistan, he would not have taken me
story of the three young Kazak musketeers, Abdu Satr, Abdul Ghanim and Toktogan,
is not only a fitting climax to the Kazak epic but also an unmistakable sign
that the Kazak nation, in spite of all it has undergone and suffered, is
still irrepressibly and gloriously alive. The men whose lives, and deaths,
fill these pages, have bred a progeny in which the heroic strain—the Batur
element—is at least as strong as in the veins of their forebears. As they
would say themselves, it is on the knees of God whether their blood is now
to be transfused into other races or whether the march of historical events
will rid the Kazak nation of the hated and turbulent incubus of Communism
with its own cruel and arrogant brand of stereotyped colonialism and enable
the Kazaks to develop their own inimitable brand of individuality which marks
the fifty years with which this book is concerned.
rest of the Kazak story is soon told—indeed, we have heard most of it already,
though not quite all. After fifteen weary months in Kashmir, where the free
world briefly recorded their arrival and then forgot their existence, the
Kazaks received a generous offer of homes from the Turkish Government, and
the United Nations then provided the funds to transport them by land and
sea to Istanbul. There the authorities screened them carefully to make sure
none of them harboured the virus of Communism, taught them Turkish which they
learnt in the space of a few months although it was written in Latin characters
and they were used to Arabic ones. Finally, in 1954, the Kazaks were distributed
to the various settlements in which the Turkish Government offered them free
houses as well as free land, ready ploughed and sown, and free of all taxes,
provided they would stay on it and cultivate it for ten years.
Kazaks who have gone to Develi, which is near the city the Turks call Kaiseri
and St. Paul called Caesarea, have accepted the offer—among them Hussein
Tajji, Karamullah the Bard, Kainesh, young Abdu Satr, to name only those who
are known to us. Those who have gone to live at Salihli with Ali Beg and
Hamza asked permission to work as navvies instead of becoming farmers and
to save what they could of their wages to buy sheep and cattle. The Turkish
Government wisely agreed, knowing that the Kazaks are more skilled than almost
any race in the world in the care and rearing of domestic animals. A dam is
to be erected near Salihli soon to serve a new hydroelectric project—indeed,
work was due to begin in April, 1955. Many manual workers will be needed while
it is being built and this means that for the next five years at least the
Salihli Kazaks will be able to earn good wages. By that time, they hope to
be in a position to become shepherds again.
when I visited them in November, 1954, three months after their arrival,
they had already managed to collect a flock of sheep although the cash allowance
which the Turkish Government is able to pay to those out of work is less
than one shilling a day in English money. I did not inquire where the sheep
came from because Kazaks do not think their guests, or anyone else, should
show curiosity about their affairs though their hospitality makes them ready to slay the
last ewe in their flock, if need be, for their guest's entertainment. My
friend who went to Turkey with me and who speaks the Kazak language spent
ten days at Salihli as Ali Beg's guest, and Ali Beg was very angry indeed
when he suggested repaying the hospitality by a gift of food.
because of the laws of hospitality which must not be broken, I cannot say
where the sheep came from but perhaps some kindly, and wise, Turkish resident
at Salihli knowing, as Ismail Hajji of Manass did, that the Kazaks would
care for his sheep better than he could himself, placed some in their charge
to the mutual benefit of both parties. But I do know that the flock numbered
one hundred ewes and a ram or two at the end of November, 1954, since when
there has been a lambing season so that it is now without doubt much larger.
The flock is cared for by one Kazak shepherd and his family, chosen by all
the rest at a special meeting. The sheep were placed in his care for a year
at the end of which there will be a reckoning and he must give back twice
the number of sheep he received, keeping for himself any above that figure
and also all the wool and the cheese produced during the term of the agreement.
Many ewes bear twins and some triplets so the shepherd should have had at
least fifty sheep of his own at the year's end in September, 1955. After
that, who, save God, knows how many the Salihli Kazaks will have?
people like Ali Beg and Hamza who held executive posts in Sinkiang Province,
the problem is much more difficult than for the shepherd and the navvies.
Frankly, I do not know how they will solve it nor, as you have heard, do
I feel that I can ask without giving offence. So I can only say that I am
quite sure they will solve the problem somehow. Meanwhile, Ali Beg, who, as
we have also heard, lost five children of his own in Tibet through the fog-swelling,
has acquired some forty more by adoption because they became orphans while
they and their parents were under his charge during the great exodus. Some
of these adopted children are, no doubt, of an age to be able to fend for
themselves by now. But Ali Beg holds himself responsible in his own sight
and the sight of God—although
Turkish law is silent on the matter—for all of the forty children who are
still too young to earn their own living. If any must go hungry, it must
be he first, then his own family, and the adopted children not at all if
he can help it.
I do not think that any of them—he, his family, or the adopted children—will
actually go hungry, though they may not see much more than bread on their
plates, and broth, for a while, certainly very little meat and other luxuries.
But I have no knowledge of how Ali Beg will carry out his self-imposed obligation.
sure, however, that the free world has an obligation of its own to Ali Beg
and Hamza and, indeed, the Kazak refugees as a whole. I am sure, too, that
in meeting this obligation, the free world will do itself not only justice,
but a service. The Kazaks have fought a very great fight for an ideal, through
blood and sweat and tears beyond what we ourselves experienced during the
second World War. They have seen with their own eyes the strength and weakness
of Communism in the heart of the vast and uneasy Continent of Asia where
the secrets of Communist colonisation are so closely guarded today against
the intrusion of free ideas.
Kazaks have a culture of their own which is not based on material riches
although they themselves were often rich. Their way of life endowed them with
endurance and courage far beyond the ordinary. And they have a great love
and admiration for the free world, knowing not a little about it though the
free world knows almost nothing about the Kazaks.
for a brief interval between 1943 and 1948, the Kazaks, and indeed all the
East Turkistanis, have been almost entirely cut off from the free world since
1930 both by the facts of geography and the political factors described in
these pages. But in the days before Governor Sheng, when English was taught
in the schools, they acquired a touching confidence in the strength and
integrity of Great Britain and America.
a letter in front of me written by Ali Beg's son, Hassan, on behalf of his
father who does not know any English himself. No doubt the proverb he quotes
dates from those days before Soviet interference became a menace to their
used it ourselves a good deal, though in a slightly different form,
fifty years ago, but not so often now.
have a proverb in Turkistan," the letter says, " ' The sun rises in the land
of England and sets in the land of England.' Our people know that England
is an honest land, a strong land, culturally, economically and politically.
We beg that you will tell the people of England about our sufferings..."
one does not expect a race of nomads to write like that. But that is what
Ali Beg told Hassan to say. And let there be no mistake: he was not asking
for charity but simply for sympathy and understanding.
my Kazak-speaking friend was about to leave Salihli after his ten days there,
Ali Beg said to one of his three wives:
and prepare the farewell meal." And to the other two: "Go and write the farewell
poem. He has asked for poetry. Let him be given poetry."
Kadisha and Mulia went to write their poem which they did in a couple of
hours or so. As usual it is too full of incomprehensible allusions, and also
too long, to quote in full—there are thirteen verses altogether, consisting
mostly of references to Kazak history. But I have a recording of it and here
is a free rendering of two of the verses:
live your free country, Mr. Churchill and your might! Set our country free
from Communism's blight. Decide to help us now. This is our farewell song
to you, O Knight of the Golden Comb,
left your own country specially to visit us in our new home.
name, O England, is very great, your honour greater. The history of your
might is longer than a thousand years. The ends of the whole earth within
your arms finds shelter. Now, hope is strong within us that our country will
be freed, O Knight of the Golden Comb,
left your own country specially to visit us in our new home.
last lines are a refrain which is repeated at the end of each verse. The Kazaks
say that the Order of the Golden Comb was founded by Genghis Khan the Great
and, if so, is almost exactly the same age as our Order of the Garter which
Edward III founded in 1348. There, of course, the parallel ends for the Order
of the Golden Comb lapsed long ago and the title is now simply used as a
compliment to an honoured guest.
a poem and, indeed, such a people, pose a challenge and provide an opportunity.
In spite of all that has happened, the Kazak refugees still believe that
their country will be free again. They are an Asiatic people whose
necks are still unbowed after all the years during which the Chinese and the
Communists tried to force their yoke upon them. They know the strength and
the weakness of the Communist system in Asia. They understand how it obtained
its hold and how that hold can be loosened. Their exploits provide tangible
evidence that the heart of Asia, where is the centre and core of Communist
power, is full of men and women who are bitterly opposed to everything that
Communism stands for.
the first World War, Godfrey Lias was Captain and Adjutant, 11th
Battalion Duke of Wellington's
Regiment and Instructor at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. At the
outbreak of the second
World War, he joined
the Foreign Office News Department. Later, he was British representative
on the Inter-Allied Information Committee, the official publicity organ
of the Ministries of Information
of the Allied Governments
in London. In 1944,
he joined the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office as
Director of the Czechoslovak
one time, Godfrey Lias was an Assistant Master at Victoria College. Alexandria,
Egypt, and then Head-master at the M.A-O Collegiate School, Aligarh, United
Provinces, India. He took the History Tripos at King's College, Cambridge,
and in the period between the wars was Diplomatic Correspondent of the Christian
Science Monitor, during which time he was awarded an O.B.E. for political
and public services.
recent years he has been Correspondent of The Times, Economist and
Christian Science Monitor in Prague, from August 1945 until he was
expelled by the Communists in July 1949, then in Vienna until June 1953,
when he returned home.
Lias is the author of / Survived (see back of this jacket), Benes
of Czechoslovakia and translator and editor of Benes' Memoirs—Pameti
—(Allen & Unwin).
By the same author
is the true story of "Pepi", an Austrian medical student who, as an officer
in the German Army during the last war, was captured by the Russians at the
Battle of Stalingrad.
time, the Russians were notorious for their habit of shooting officers in
the heat of capture, so Pepi concealed his rank until he had been sent to
the infamous Yelabuga Camp. From here he later contrived to escape together
with two companions and attempted to get home by the highly unorthodox and
dangerous method of enlisting in the Russian Army. He did, in fact, manage
to get as far as Berlin and was making his way westward when he became involved
in a civilian brawl, was arrested, and sent back to Russia. The rest of his
story describes his life in various prisons and slave camps, his many and
daring attempts at escape (one of which resulted in his reaching Helsinki
only to be handed back to the Russians) and his experiences both grim and
gay during his ten years inside the Soviet Union.
knowledge of the language and his powers of observation enabled him to store
up a mass of information about the everyday lives of the ordinary people
under the Russian regime. He was frequently moved from camp to camp and in
this way saw and heard far more than most prisoners could have done. This
account of ten long years, told to Godfrey Lias when he had returned to his
native Austria, provides a human and absorbing document.
revealing . . . a valuable document on modern Russia, not least because it
avoids the beaten track of propaganda. . . ."—Sphere
and uncensored glimpses of the Soviet peoples at work ... takes us into the
midst of Soviet life."—Times Literary Supplement
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