The Fall of Otrar is a vivid and surprisingly historically accurate account of events in the 13th century which foreshadowed events of worldwide significance. It is unfortunate that most people in the West are unfamiliar with these events and thus miss the significance of the setting and the drama. No one in the West who has any sense of history has to be reminded of the significance of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon with his legions. Perhaps a bit of historical background will help viewers appreciate this film more.
In the early part of the 13th century, having consolidated the Mongol tribes, Chinggis Khan (popularly but less accurately spelled as Genghis Khan) began his first overtures to the western domains by sending a caravan of several hundred camels carrying great quantities of silk, silver, gold, and other goods to the realm of Khwarizm, whose Shah Mohammed was the greatest power between the Indian subcontinent and Baghdad. The Shah's mother was not Persian but from the Central Asian Turkic Kanglis tribe, which supplied the Shah with his cavalry and provided the primary basis for his power. The Shah and the Caliph of Baghdad were involved in various intrigues against each other and jockeying for supreme influence over the Islamic peoples and lands. When the caravan stopped in the border town of Otrar located along the Silk Road, the local governor could not help himself and killed the merchants and seized all the valuables. When Chinggis Khan sent an ambassador to the Shah with a polite request to right this wrong, the Shah, not yet knowing that he was dealing with the future world conqueror, killed the ambassador and burned the beards of his military escorts. The Mongols considered ambassadors inviolable, and an attack on Chinggis Khan's ambassador was tantamount to an attack on the Great Khan himself. This triggered the Great Khan to summon all of his troops and to lead the first Mongol campaign to the western regions outside of their traditional lands, an onslaught which did not stop until the Caliph of Baghdad was trampled under Mongol hoofs, the Russians utterly defeated, innumerable other foes vanquished, and Mongols consolidated under their rule virtually all of the lands of Asia and Europe from the China Sea to gates of Vienna, creating the greatest land-based empire in history. This Pax Mongolica made possible Marco Polo's subsequent journey to China. Thus, Otrar was the first stop and the calm before this ferocious storm - a storm which perhaps could have been averted - or at least postponed - had the governor not been so greedy, or if Shah Mohammed had righted the wrong.
Having been an avid student of Central Asian history, I was delighted to see a dramatization of this event of world historical significance done not by Hollywood but by a filmmaker whose land has been a central part of this history. The film is amazingly accurate in its portrayal of many minutiae, including the manner of capture of the Otrar governor and his punishment (Chiggis Khan had given strict orders that the governor of Otrar be captured and brought back alive to Mongolia), Chinggis Khan's ecumenical toleration of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, his own reliance on the advice of a Taoist master whom he had sent out from China to his war camp to advise him on matters of the spirit, and his pronouncements including the Mongol chiding of Muslims about the need to face Mecca to pray as "didn't they know that God is everywhere?"
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