Monday, September 5, 2016

Agarau Adedayo writes


the night falls
on the soil that wears our spirit;
owls shall perch on the wings of the wind
with songs that flutter past their beaks

this song shall have no lyrics
we shall tap on beat and shall still lose counts
this song shall have no rhythms, no rhymes
no words to qualify the smell of blood— the fire that burns

we shall hear lamentations of children in this song—
echoes that hold our homes in bizarre—
fathers shall walk down dark street
mothers shall leave their wrappers here

this song shall stand like a prophet
that sees the height of a dreadful night
this song is a rock that calls our soul to salvation

this song…

Hulegu's Siege of Baghdad (1258)


  1. The name of the capital of Iraq is a Middle Persian compound: Bagh ("god") + dad ("given by"). As far back as at least 2000 BCE, Assyrian and Babylonian records mentioned “baghdadu,” and in the 6th century BCE, Nebuchadnezzar related how he rebuilt the old Babylonian town by that name. The site has been populated for millennia, and several Assyrian Christian villages (including a Persian hamlet called Baghdad) existed there in the 8th century when the 2nd Abbasid caliph, Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad “al-Mansur” decided to found a new capital there; he named the city Madinat al-Salaam (City of Peace), but the old name persisted unofficially, and by the 11th century "Baghdad" became almost the exclusive name for the metropolis. It quickly became a significant cultural, commercial, and intellectual center and was regarded as the largest city in the world, with an estimated population of 1.2 million.

  2. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Abbasids began to develop links with the expanding Mongol Empire in the east, even as Turkic or Mamluk warlords gained political authority over the caliphs. The last effective caliph, al-Nasir li-Din Allah (1180-1225), sent Crusader prisoners of war as tribute to Genghis Khan in an effort to form an alliance against Muhammad II of Khwarezm, but in 1236 Chormaqan led a Mongol force against Irbil, and raids there and elsewhere in the caliphate became nearly annual occurrences, perhaps even as far as Baghdad. By 1241 the Abbasids were sending annual tributes, and sent envoys to the 1246 and 1251 coronations of Güyük Khan and Möngke Khan as khagan. Güyük insisted that the caliph al-Musta'sim-Billah Abu-Ahmad Abdullah bin al-Mustansir-Billah go personally to his capital, Karakorum, and fully submit to Mongol rule, but he refused. In 1257, Möngke resolved to establish firm authority over Mesopotamia, Syria, and Iran and gave his brother, Hulagu Khan, orders to compel the submission of various Muslim states, including the caliphate; though not seeking the overthrow of al-Musta'sim himself, Möngke ordered Hulagu to destroy Baghdad if the caliph refused to submit in person and to provide military troops to reinforce Hulagu's campaign against the Ismaili states of Iran; as a result of victory, Hulagu would form his own subordinate Ilkhanate (the Hulagu-yn Ulus). Hulagu conscripted 10% of the male adults in the empire, perhaps 150,000 troops, supplemented by Persian and Turkic auxiliaries, Christian forces from Armenia, Georgia, and the Frankish Principality of Antioch, and about 1,000 Chinese artillery experts. Hulagu first subdued the Lurs of western Iran, the Bukhara, and the remnants of the Khwarezm-Shah dynasty, then took Alamut, the stronghold of the Nizari Ismaili fida'i (the Hashashin [from “Assassiyun,”"those faithful to the foundation"] who, over three centuries, had assassinated two caliphs and many viziers, sultans, and Crusader leaders).

  3. But al-Musta'sim both refused to accede to the Mongol demands and neglected to summon reinforcements or strengthen his city walls. After defeating an attack by 20,000 Abbasid cavalry, Hulagu besieged Baghdad, constructing a palisade and a ditch around the city. Al-Musta'sim attempted to negotiate, but Hulagu refused and murdered 3,000 notable citizens who sought a separate peace. After a 13-day siege, Baghdad surrendered; the Mongols entered the fallen city three days later, beginning a week of massacre and destruction. According to “Wassaf al-Ḥaḍrat” (Court Panegyrist), the 14th-century Persian historian Abdallah ibn Fadlallah Sharaf al-Din Shirazi, "They swept through the city like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror...” At least 90,000 people who tried to flee were killed, though Hulagu’s Nestorian Christian wife interceded to spare Christians, and Hulagu gave the royal palace to the Nestorian catholicos. Al-Musta'sim was captured and forced to witness the destruction of his capital before the victors rolled him up in a carpet and trampled to death by horses (Marco Polo claimed he was locked in a tower with nothing to eat but gold and “died like a dog”); all but one of his sons was killed, marking the end of the Abbasid dynasty. The Mongols looted and destroyed mosques, palaces, hospitals, and other buildings, including the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma), the most important library and astronomical center in the Muslim world, and slaughtered the associated scholars; survivors said that the Tigris ran black with ink and red from the blood. In the words of Steven Dutch, “Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow.” Hulagu had to move his camp upwind due to the stench of death. In 1259 he took Damascus and Aleppo and marched to the shores of the Mediterranean. Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for centuries, though under the Ilkhans it became an economic center. However, after becoming the capital of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia in 1938, it began to recover some of its former prominence. Despite the American-led military assault and occupation that began in 2003, and the theft of its antiquities and destruction of its infrastructure, the city’s population in 2011 was over 7.2 million, making it the second largest Arab city (after Cairo, Egypt), and the second largest in Western Asia (after Tehran, Iran). Though the American actions in Baghdad pale in com parison to those of the Mongols, the consequences were similarly dire: the unraveling of Sunni Muslim stability throughout the region, the unhindered rise of Shia Iran as the main regional power, the proliferation of radical terrorist organizations, and massive dislocations of local populations that threaten to reverse decades of European political and economic progress.


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