Jasper Becker, Independent (UK), Jun. 26
For 700 years everyone who was anyone in Asia boasted of having the blood of Genghis Khan running through their veins. The claim was made by everyone from Tamerlane down to Count Dracula, everyone that is except the Mongols.
Some 17 million people in Asia are estimated to be the direct descendants of Genghis Khan, but in his birthplace, his name and lineage disappeared in the 20th century. It is only now being recovered, reversing an act of revenge that Lenin and Stalin inflicted in revenge for the suffering of the Russians under the “Tartar yoke”.
Russian Communists seized control over Mongolia in 1921 and four years later ordered the population to burn genealogical tables and use just one name. Over three generations everyone forgot which tribe they belonged to, and whether they had noble blood or not.
Tsagaankhan Khuntaij, a harassed official in the office of the registrar in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, says that is now changing. “Today everyone is rushing to register themselves as a member of Genghis Khan’s clan,” he said.
Yesterday was the last day to meet the deadline and register a family name to qualify for new national identity card. Without the card, voters are disqualified from participating in the national election, which being held tomorrow.
In the past month 50,000 out of population of 2.5 million have registered their name, the last dash in a three-year effort to rename everyone. For weeks there have been long queues outside Mr Khuntaij’s office, day and night.
The official, whose new name means viscount, said that 19 per cent of the population had decided to appoint themselves members of Genghis Khan’s clan, the Borjigid. The name comes from the clan totem and it means “wolfmaster”, after the blue-grey wolf from which all members claim descent.
“Of course, this is most prestigious name, so everyone wants to be associated with the founder of the Mongol nation,” said Mr Khuntaij, who also chose to give himself an aristocratic name, but one to recall the Tsogt Taiji, the khan who conquered Tibet in the 16th century.
Almost every conqueror in Asian history claimed to be of the Khan’s lineage. His “descendants” included the Shahs of Persia, the Khans of the Golden Horde who ruled Russia, the Manchu emperors of China, and India’s Moghul emperors. It is even said that Lenin had Mongol blood.
But when the Soviets set about making socialist man out of the feudal nomads they found in the 1920s, they tried to execute the entire Mongol nobility, most of whom claimed direct descent from Genghis Khan through detailed genealogical tables held by each family. “It was purely for political reasons, to eliminate their influence and destroy the status of their children,” said Zhambaldorjin Serjee, director of the State Central Library. Between 1922 and 1940, nearly 100,000 out of the population of one million were executed or disappeared in the Gulag.
“My parents were among those killed, so I don’t know my own proper family name,” said Nambar Enkhbayar, the Prime Minister and leader of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. His party was returned to power in a landslide vote four years ago and he is now hoping to retain a narrow majority over the Democratic Alliance.
After the Mongols ended Communist rule after pro-democracy demonstrations in 1990, the country set about re-asserting its national identity. Under the Russians it had been forbidden to talk about Genghis Khan; not even the national history museum had dared mention him.
There was a great upsurge of nationalistic and racial pride. “Individuals began to search for their roots. People were encouraged to freely pick their own names,” said Mr Serjee, who wrote a guide on how to trace the family name.
He provided 1,260 family and clan names for people to choose from and described the methods available for researching ancestral names, such as archives listing the names of soldiers who served the Manchu emperors in Beijing. His guide also includes maps showing where certain clans or families predominated.
He discovered his real family name, Besud, by visiting the place where his parents where born and consulting local elders. “There are not many people on the steppes so everybody knows each other well,” he said.
There is no Mongolian Debrett’s or Almanach de Gotha. Most people relied on memorising the name of each member as far back as seven generations, but in the archives he found one table of the Sholoi Khan that dates back 350 years. By 1905 the document listed 11,960 names arranged in a series of widening circles. The reliance on single names, even in a country as small as Mongolia, has created many practical difficulties. Police records list 10,000 women called “Altan Tsetseg” (Golden Flower) and another 10,000 named Naran Tsetseg (Sunflower).
It was a big problem in rural areas when it was difficult to travel and find spouses from a different blood line. Mongolians say that the confusion led to a lot of inbreeding. “In one place around here, none of the children was smart enough to graduate from school,” said Naranchimeg, a radio broadcaster who lives in the southern Gobi desert. Some people have chosen to call themselves after a favourite place; a river, valley or mountain. Some have called themselves Mr Writer or Mr Hunter or Mr Policeman. The Defence Minister, a cosmonaut in 1981, decided to call himself Mr Cosmos (Sansar).
Still, at the Registrar’s Office, Mr Khuntaij is not so sure the scheme to return to the use of two names is going to work. “We will have to see after another 100 years what happens when so many people have one name,” he said. “And I am not sure that people are using these names yet.” Not even he could remember the family name chosen by the Prime Minister himself. Everyone still just calls him Enkhbayar.
Yet many of those new “wolfmasters” might have correctly named themselves, if only by accident, for it looks like Genghis and his sons did indeed sow so many wild oats. Geneticists have begun tracing a variant of the Y-chromosome (transmitted only through the male line) in the DNA of a huge number of men in the region, estimated at 17 million, who appear to share a common progenitor dating back to the 13th century.
Comments from Readers
I sincerely hope Europeans have this same indomitable spirit when our history is crushed by leftist hordes. Good for the Mongolians.