Monday, March 26, 2007

Turkey | Mongolia | Golden Horn | Kul-Tegin

Just a few days ago I received a box of new books from Amazon. I get a shipment about once a month. The woman at the post office no longer asks for my ID. When she sees me walk in the door she simply reaches for the box with the big Amazon logo on the side and wordlessly hands it to me. The rush of pleasure I get as I take possession of the box is almost obscene in its intensity. I retire to the nearest French bakery and have a double expresso while I compose myself for the ceremony of opening the box. Finally I take out my black steel Yengisar Knife from Xinjiang which I have brought along especially for this purpose and carefully, lovingly slit open the top of the package. Another swipe of the razor-sharp blade (I had touched up the edge just that morning in anticipation of this event) frees the books from the bonds of their shrink wrap, and like an ardent young lover fondling the breasts of his beloved I take the books into my hands. But instead of two treasures as the objects of desire there are in this case four.

The first one I open is Kurban Said’s The Girl from The Golden Horn.

This is the story of a young Turkish girl named Asiadeh, born in Istanbul, on the Golden Horn. The time is the 1920s, after the fall of Ottoman Empire, and she along with her father are now political refugees in Berlin, Germany. They are nearly destitute, but Asiadeh is able to attend college. The first page begins with her sitting in a classroom in Berlin:
Asiadeh looked up, her gray eyes thoughtful and earnest. “This ‘i’ is the Yakut gerund, similar to the Khirgis ‘barisi.’”

Professor Bang rubbed his long, hooked nose. Behind the steel-rimmed glasses his eyes looked like those of a wise owl. He wheezed sofly and disapprovingly.

“Yes,” he said, “But I still cannot really understand why the ‘a’ should be missing in the Yakut form.” And he sadly leafed through the dictionary.

Goetz, another of his students, whose specialty was the Chinese language, proposed to explain the mysterious “a” form as being a petrified Mongol instrumental. “When I was young,’ said the professor severely, “I too tried to explain everything as being a petrified Mongol instrumental. Courage is a young man’s priviledge.
Now I ask you, who would not be transfixed by a novel that mentions the Mongolian instrumental case on the very first page? I plunged onward, pages flying by like maple leaves in a November gale, until finally on page 50 I read this:
A wild people in the steppes of faraway Mongolia had erected barbaric monuments to their greatness. The people wandered away, but the rough script remained. Weaterbeaten and secret, it looked over the emptiness of the Mongolian steppes into the dark mirror of cold, nameless rivers. Stones fell apart, nomads passed by and looked shyly and fearfully at the half-buried monuments of long-forgotten glory. Wanderers from faraway countries lost their way in the wild wastelands. They brought back to the West stories of mysterious inscriptions. Expeditions set out, skillful hands copied the unknown signs. Then the copies were printed on clean white paper and lay in the quiet rooms of learned men. Dry veined hands caressed lovingly the age-old script, furrowed brows bent over the paper. Slowly the veil of secrecy was lifted, and from the square weatherbeaten symbols sounded the howling of steppe wolves, arose the faraway nomadic people, rose up a wild leader on a small, long-haired horse, came the story of ancient adventures, wars, and heroics. Asiadeh looked tenderly at the rough script. It seemed to her that she was reading the story of her own dreams, desires, and hopes. She sensed something immense, something calling behind the chaos of these primitive forms and structures of words. She sensed the mystic beginning hidden in the oldest sounds of her race. She saw the first people of an emerging tribe as they wandered long ago over the snowy ice-bound steppes, creating the first sounds of a language from the enigma of their souls. Her small fingers followed the lines of the script, and she read slowly, “Sixteen years old was my brother Kul-Tegin, and behold what he did! He went to war against the people of the pigtails and beat them. He threw himself in to the fight, and his hand, the hand of a warrior, reached the enemy Ong Tutak, who commanded fifty thousand men.”
When I had ordered this book I had no idea it had anything to do with Mongolia. Imagine my surprise then to read about not only the Mongolian instrumental case but also the evocative description above of the famous Kul-Tegin Monument in what is now Arkhangai Aimag.

The Kul-Tegin Monument in Arkhangai Aimag
See Text of Kul-Tegin Monument

Statue of eighth-century Turk Warrior in Bayan-Olgii Aimag
See also the Tonyukuk Monuments in Töv Aimag

Last summer internationally renowned adventuress, temptress, and auteur Gunj—our very own Girl from the Golden Horn—visited Mongolia and made a pilgrimage to the Kul-Tegin Monument.