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Mongol Conquests’ Racial Demographic Impact

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In my previous discussion on whether or not Afghanistan is a “graveyard of empires,” I mentioned the Mongol destruction of Herat. This promoted me to write this particular post, which is based on some recent research that I did on the Mongol conquests and the history of the Tarim Basin (Xinjiang).

I’ve swung back and forth on the issue of whether tales of Mongol destruction are essentially based on the truth with some embellishment or totally exaggerated stories created by their defeated enemies. For a long time, I was inclined to believe that stories about the Mongols were highly exaggerated. I believed that while they did conquer and destroy widely, it was not at a level wildly exceeding the destruction brought on by the average medieval war. On the basis of sympathetic histories which generally exalted the Mongols for building a large and prosperous multi-ethnic empire and obviously exaggerated figures such as the Persian record which states that 1.3 million people were slaughtered in Merv (in modern Turkmenistan), I was initially inclined to believe that the Mongols were no different than previous conquerors. However, after more research on the matter and spending much of the past year learning about Central Asian history, I have to concede that the other side may have a point after all.

The one thing that struck me profoundly during the course of the study of this region was its racial demography. It also seems to be the case that the Mongol level of brutality varied in different areas. China and Korea seemed to have experienced less initial brutality than Central Asia and Iran and there is a good historical reason for that since the Mongols attacked the Khwarezm Empire (which ruled Central Asia and Persia) in order to exact revenge for the slaughter of Mongol ambassadors by Shah Muhammad II. By this time, Central Asia all the way up to Xinjiang in modern China had been inhabited by Caucasian type peoples for several millenniums. The earliest historical inhabitants of Xinjiang seem to be a blond haired “white” people who entered the area around 2000 BC. Mongoloid “East Asia” types, or proto-Mongol and proto-Turkic people only entered this region and Central Asia a thousand years after and did not enter the heart of Central Asia, the Fergana Valley in today’s Uzbekistan (that region was then called Sogdiana) at all.


The majority of the people who lived in Central Asia were thus Caucasians who spoke languages that were related to other Indo-European languages, especially Iranian languages. Persian and related Iranian languages completely dominated this region while Tocharian, another Indo-European language branch was found in Xinjiang. Today, the majority of people speak Turkic languages in this region. This itself doesn’t mean that much demographically. Language can be replaced without a population being genetically or racially altered through a process known as elite dominance. Elite Dominance is a ethnolinguistic situation where a minority imposes its language and culture on a majority population it rules over. This situation is much less common than the minority being assimilated into the language and culture of the majority population but it does occur. It occurred in Anatolia (Turkey) when the Turks arrived. The majority Greek and Armenian speakers of this region mostly converted to Islam and starting speaking Turkish. The fact that there is little racial difference between Turks and Greeks and that Turks do not look like Mongols despite their Northeast Asian origins is indicative of this. Elite Dominance is also thought to contributed to the Arabization of the Middle East as there were never enough “real” Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula to explain the linguistic shift of the Middle East.

Thus, the fact that the majority of Central Asians is not as interesting as the fact that the majority of Central Asians have features that are not primarily Caucasian. While it is true that some admixture is visible, the Mongoloid genetic component is great enough that it shows on the facial features of most Central Asian ethnic groups. It is thought that at least 50-60% of the genes in this region are East Eurasian in origin. Given that the combined population of Mongols and Turks was probably less than the settled Tajiks (Persians) of Central Asia, the Turkic population would have been absorbed if they merely conquered and settled Central Asia. The only factor that explains the shift in the race of Central Asians from primarily Caucasian to Mongoloid is the fact that a larger Mongoloid population assimilated a smaller Tajik population. For this to have happened, millions of Central Asians have to had died or fled Central Asia due the Mongol conquests. This thought lends credence to the claim that the Mongol conquests in some parts of the world were unmitigated disasters. By the time of the Ming Dynasty, China seems to have recovered fairly well but large parts of Central Asia, Persia (Iran) and Iraq were completely wrecked for centuries. Desertification and nomadism increased and cities and trade shrunk. The population of Persia might have fallen by 90% to 250,000 people. If one considers that in 1700, Persia had only 9 million people compared to 40 million in the Ottoman Empire and 150 million in the Mughal Empire (leaving aside even the poorer agricultural output of Iran in general, which sadly  might have been made worse by the Mongol destruction of irrigation in the region), then the long term demographic issues of the Mongol conquest become clearer. If only 250,000 people managed to survive in Persia, probably less than 100,000 might have survived in Central Asia.

It is historically common for peoples to conquer and even destroy one another, but that rarely changes the racial makeup of a region. It did happen in the Americas where enough Natives died for Whites to demographically dominate the New World. But the Mongol conquest of Central Asia is the most prominent example of such a phenomenon occurring in Eurasia, especially in a populated area.


Written by Akhipill

December 18, 2012 at 5:14 AM

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