Despite enduring years of adverse and highly critical propaganda and entrenched negative attitudes from both the scholarly world and the general public, the Mongols and successors of Chinggis Khan have continued to hold the world’s rapt attention and interest. However, the Chinggisids have in recent years and especially since 2001 and the publication of Thomas Allsen’s Culture and Conquest, benefited from a spreading positive re-evaluation by the academic community and revisionist researchers, which amounts to a fresh assessment of the Chinggisid domination of western Asia. It is now acknowledged that they enjoyed a constructive, generally positive relationship with much of the Muslim world. Relations with Iran were particularly strong, so much so that it was Iranians who invited Hulegu and the Chinggisid army to come to the west in 1254 and who actively cooperated in the establishment of the Ilkhanate. The state of Iran had ceased to exist after the Arab invasion of the region in the 7th century, and in its place, Greater Iran became a collection of often warring statelets: Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Fars, Iraq al-Arab, Iraq al-‘Ajam, Sistan, and Jabal, to name a few. After Hulegu crossed the Oxus, c. 1254, he revived the idea of Iran, and the Ilkhanate essentially became the basis for what eventually became the modern state of Iran.
From 1220 to 1254 Iran had existed in a state of anarchy, loosely under the control of Chinggisid military governors. Iran’s city-states were peripheral to an empire to which they paid taxes but from which they derived few advantages nor enjoyed any of the benefits to which their taxes should have entitled them. The delegation sent from Qazvin to Mongke’s coronation requested the Great Khan to send a prince of the blood to rule Iran and to replace the inept military governor. The delegation wanted Iran to be absorbed by the empire so that the country could benefit from joining a global community and a global market. Chinggis Khan had initiated the world’s first experience of globalization, and Iran wanted to be part of that experience. The Ilkhanate (1258–1335) was a Persian renaissance and established Iranians once again as key regional players. Although the ruling family remained ethnically Mongol, the government was multiethnic, and the country was multicultural. In 1295, when the seventh Ilkhan, Ghazan, ascended the throne and announced his submission to Islam, his act signified the union of Turk and Tajik, of “steppe and sown,” of Iran and Turan, of Persian, Chinese and Turkish cultures, and the coronation of a king of and for all Iranians. It was immaterial whether his conversion was sincere or just politically astute. What was important was his proclamation of becoming a legitimate Iranian king duty bound to serve all his people, whether Turk or Tajik, and that his reign was hailed as the start of a golden age, as well as being a high point of relations with the Yuan regime in the east. The Mongols never left Iran, but simply assimilated.
The Ismailis are one of the largest Muslim minority populations of Central Asia, and they make up the second largest Shiʿi Muslim community globally. First emerging in the second half of the 8th century, the Ismaili missionary movement spread into many areas of the Islamic world in the 10th century, under the leadership of the Ismaili Fatimids caliphs in Egypt. The movement achieved astounding success in Central Asia in the 10th century, when many of the political and cultural elites of the region were converted. However, a series of repressions over the following century led to its almost complete disappearance from the metropolitan centers of Central Asia. The movement later re-emerged in the mountainous Badakhshan region of Central Asia (which encompasses the territories of present-day eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan), where it was introduced by the renowned 11th-century Persian poet, philosopher, and Ismaili missionary Nasir-i Khusraw. Over the following centuries the Ismaili movement expanded among the populations of Badakhshan, reaching a population of over 200,000 in the 21st century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ismailis suffered a series of severe repressions, first under local Sunni Muslim rulers and later under the antireligious policies of the Soviet Union. However, in the decades since the end of the Soviet period, the Ismailis of the region have become increasingly connected with the global Ismaili community and its leadership. While many aspects of the history of Ismailism in the Badakhshan region remain obscure and unexplored, the discoveries of significant corpuses of manuscripts in private collections since the 1990s in the Badakhshan region have opened up wide possibilities for future research.
The history of Modern Palestine begins somewhere in the 19th century. Writing it, or about it, is a huge challenge. It is very hard to distinguish between the history and the historiography of the country, as it is narrated to this very day, including by scholars, in two diametrically opposed ways. Even the term modern Palestine itself is a contentious one, let alone the history of the country itself.
The history of Palestine cannot be dissociated from that of Israel, one of the few states in the world whose modern, indeed, its contemporary history is still contested and highly charged. Therefore, the historiographical research on Palestine is inconclusive.
The best way of approaching such complexities is recognizing the prevalence of more than one narrative about the country’s past and present realities as well as acknowledging the dynamic and dialectical relationship between the competing narratives. Thus, the pendulum keeps oscillating in favor or against the validity and acceptance of the two major competing narratives about the country’s history: the Israeli Zionist one and the Palestinian one.
In such a world, the historian’s own positionality is as much a factor in the story he or she tells as is the evidence itself. For this reason, the history of modern Palestine, in particular, cannot be easily presented as an entry to an encyclopedia. Any scholarly work on such a place will reflect, despite all the attempts at professionalism and fairness, a certain moral as well as an emotive position. An intelligent reader could easily detect within a factual presentation, where a more subjective commentary is proposed.
It is not only the personal views of the historians that affect the analysis of the country’s history, but also the changing balance of power between the competing narratives that plays a crucial role in the way articles like this one are written. This balance of power has changed in recent years. In crude terms, one could say that scholarly works around the world on Palestine reflected the Zionist narrative until the 1980s and were far more critical toward this narrative ever since.
From the Israeli Zionist narrative, the history of Palestine is closely associated with the history of the Jewish religion. Thus, this narrative begins in the biblical times, when the Jewish nation was born as a monotheistic religion on the land, which today is Israel and Palestine. It continues with the expulsion of the Jews by the Romans around 70 AD and defines Jewish life ever since as life in exile. The modern history of Palestine commences in 1882 with the return of the Jews to their homeland after centuries of neglect that left the county arid and derelict for centuries: in fact, until the arrival of Zionism. The Zionist immigration is thus depicted as a “return” to an ancient homeland on the one hand, and as an act of modernization, on the other. The arid, desert-like country was bloomed, and the new arrivals founded a democratic state, the only one in the Middle East. The native people are described as semi nomads without any sense of national or even ethnic aspirations. Their rejection of Zionism is therefore attributed to their primitivism or to the incitement by others: namely Islamic leaders, Arab tyrants, or anti-Semitic gentiles.
This would be the explanation for the attempt by the Arab world to defeat the Jewish state in 1948, after it was recognized by the international community (through the United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 181 from November 29, 1947), which accorded roughly half of the country to the local Arabs who rejected what par this narrative was as a just and fair solution.
The history of Palestine ever since 1948, from the perspective of this narrative, is exclusively the history of Israel, which moves between endless and hostile attempts to wipe Israel out by military force—in several recurring regional wars and recently Islamic terrorism—and a wish to find a solution to the bits of Palestine Israel occupied in 1967—the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A lack of Palestinian leadership, internal Israeli debates about the future of the occupied territories, and international diplomatic incompetence are provided as explanations for failing to end this conflict.
The Palestinian narrative, on the other hand, depicts a society that at least since the 7th century lived a normal and organic life as the indigenous people of the country. Contrary to the Zionist maxim that Palestine was a land without people waiting for the people without land, the Palestinian historiography reveals a vibrant society, mostly rural but with a dynamic urban center that survived foreign and regional occupiers. The one disruption it could not cope with was the arrival of Zionism, depicted in this narrative as a colonial movement that eventually led to the Nakba, the 1948 catastrophe. Ever since that year, the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland through the agency of the PLO, which in the late 1980s was willing to partition the country into two states but was not reciprocated by any goodwill on the part of Israel. This is a narrative of dispossession on the one hand, and a liberation struggle that still continues today, on the other.
Ever since the 1980s, the scholarly world tends to accept the basic arguments included in the Palestinian narrative, not least because there are quite a few Israeli historians who endorsed them. Thus, the Palestinian narrative ascended not just as the “other side” of the story that was silenced, but also appeared as the more universal one among the two. It became the narrative of the human rights’ agenda in which the Palestinians were depicted as victims of settler colonialism and the Zionist movement, and later the state of Israel, as colonial victimizers. This is a work in progress and recent scholarship is not content with such a simplified dichotomous historiographical approach. This new updated look on human history, from a moral and not just factual point of view, still requires a paradigm that would help the historian to make sense of a complicated reality.
The narrative thus chosen for this article reflects these historiographical developments. It narrates the history of Palestine as the tale of an indigenous population that since the 630s was ruled by Muslim dynasties (apart from a short period of a Crusader conquest), until it was colonized by a settler colonial movement arriving there in 1882.
The colonization effort expanded and grew during the period of the British rule (1918–1948). It resulted in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel over 78 percent of Palestine and the transformation of half of the Palestinian population into refugees. These two outcomes affect the modern history of the country ever since. This year, 1948, was a miraculous year for the Zionist movement and a disastrous year for the Palestinians. The Israeli attempt to maintain its 1948 achievements and the Palestinian struggle to rectify the 1948 catastrophe inform both the history and historiography of Israel and Palestine. This is not a closed chapter in our modern global history; it is an ongoing story that has wider implications for the history of the region and the world at large.
Fred H. Lawson
Modern Saudi Arabia emerged in the 1920s as the successor to a collection of local political entities on the Arabian peninsula, whose histories are only starting to be investigated. Existing studies of Saudi history emphasize the actions and objectives of successive rulers, most notably the founder of the kingdom, 'Abd al-'Aziz bin 'Abd al-Rahman Al Sa'ud, and his sons Faisal, Khalid, Fahd, and 'Abdullah. Popular responses to the rise and consolidation of Saudi rule have received little sustained attention. Equally lacking is an objective analysis of the pivotal period of the late 1950s, when elite and mass movements for political reform took shape. Instability during this period is generally attributed to the personal failings of King Sa'ud bin 'Abd al-'Aziz, rather than to conflicts among influential social forces. Current scholarship explores the emergence of radical Islamist movements in the Sunni and Shi'i communities alike.
By the late 19th century, when much of Islamic Central Asia was conquered by the Russian Empire, the region was home to tens of thousands of slaves. Most of these slaves were Shiʿa Muslims from northern Iran, though the slave trade also ensnared many Russians, Armenians, Kalmyks, and others. Slave labor was especially commonplace in the Sunni Muslim domains of Khwarazm and Bukhara, where enslaved people constituted a substantial proportion of all agricultural workers, domestic servants, and soldiers. Slaves also labored in many other roles, and an individual slave could be tasked with a variety of jobs. Slaves served, for example, as concubines, craftsmen, miners, herdsmen, entertainers, blacksmiths, calligraphers, and even, in rare instances, as government officials.
Before the 16th century, the majority of the slaves in Central Asia—defined here as the region extending from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea through Xinjiang, China, and from southern Siberia to northern Iran—seem to have been trafficked to the region from India. This changed in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a significant number of Iranian war-captives were brought north and enslaved during the course of numerous armed conflicts between the Central Asian Uzbeks and Iranian Safavids. Many of these slaves evidently labored on the region’s rapidly expanding agricultural estates.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, frequent Turkmen raids into northern Iran resulted in tens of thousands of Iranian Shiʿas being captured and funneled into a booming slave trade in Khwarazm and Bukhara. Further north, a much smaller number of Russians were seized and sold into slavery by Kazakh nomads along the steppe frontier.
The region’s slave trade declined in the late 19th century and seems to have remained dormant throughout the Soviet period. The post-Soviet period has witnessed a resurgence of human trafficking throughout Central Asia. In recent decades, local governments and international organizations have labored with mixed success to combat a new kind of slave trade, as Central Asian victims are trafficked by criminal cartels to neighboring countries, or to other regions of the world, for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.