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Map of the Turkmenistan/Iran/Afghanistan Frontier Region. Turbat-i-Haidari is located just to the SSW of Meshad.

The Qarais, a Turkic tribe with an unusual history that includes a Christian heritage and two periods of standing on the verge of historical prominence, have so far escaped the notice of rug scholars. They are the dominant tribe of the Turbat-i-Haidari district with their headquarters located in the town of Turbat-i-Haidari, approximately 100 miles south of Mashhad in Khurasan, Iran.

Illustration 1. Qarai Main Carpet, 5'2x11', Courtesy of George Gilmore, Photo by Dennis Anderson
A Brief History of the Qarai Tribe
The Qarai1 (pronounced Kara-ee) were a fair-complected Turkic race2 "of the pure Turanian type" prior to becoming Mongolized in the 13th century. Translated, their name means "black tribe,"3 "a set of marauders who are well named" according to one 19th century (1830) observer.4 In the 12th century, the Qarai occupied the area around Qarakum in outer Mongolia. The tribe was a diverse collection of Nestorian Christians, Moslems, and vestigial shamanists. In the second half of the century they emerged as the most formidable tribe in the region under the leadership of Toghril Khan, a priest chief whose place in history was insured by his relationship with a young Mongol named Temuchin, later Genghis Khan.
Temuchin was a poor member of an insignificant Mongol tribe protected by and allied with the powerful Qarai. He parlayed his inherited good relationship with Toghril and his own courage and genius into a series of military exploits that gained him the support of the scattered Mongol tribes, allowing him to reassemble them under his command. As a result of these events, he was granted the title "Genghis Khan." After consolidating their power, the Mongols defeated the Qarai in 1203 A.D. and supplanted them as the dominant tribe in outer Mongolia.5
Though the power of the Qarai was broken after this defeat, their influence continued during the Mongol expansion. Genghis and his sons married into the Qarai royal house and appointed several of the tribe's leaders to important administrative positions.
The Mongol conquest created a division of the Qarai tribe. A portion retained its territory in the homeland.6,7 Another segment of the Qarai tribe accompanied Hulagu on his conquest of Persia (1256-59) and occupied Azerbaijan. After the decline of the Mongol dynasty, the tribe emigrated to Turkey.8
In the latter part of the 14th century Timur (Tamerlane) moved 40,000 families from Turkey to Samarqand, of which 12,000 subsequently separated and moved into Khurasan.9 In the early 16th century Shah Ismail Safavi settled part of the Qarai in Marv and Herat10 as a buffer against invasions from the Uzbeks of Khwarezm (Khiva), but these families later returned to the highland valleys south of Mashhad where they lived a disorganized and inconsequential nomadic existence for 200 years.
In the second quarter of the 18th century, the Persian monarch, Nadir Shah, reunited the various western factions of the Qarai tribe under Najuf Ali Khan and granted them a district in what is now known as east Khurasan. When Najuf Ali met a premature fate, the leadership of the tribe was seized by Ishak Khan.
Under the fair and capable command of Ishak, the tribe became the premier force in Khurasan, establishing its base at Turbat-i-Haidari which grew into a cultural and commercial center in the latter part of the 18th century. Ishak's illustrious career ended in 1816 when he was treacherously murdered by the Qajar prince, Mohammed Wali Mirza, Ishak's puppet governor at Mashhad.
Ishak was succeeded by his son, Mohammed Khan, who was the product of Ishak's marriage with the daughter of Najuf Ali. Although the Qarai remained powerful enough to maintain their independence from the Qajar central government, their means of livelihood changed dramatically. They had been administrators, traders, soldiers, landlords, and shepherds under the father but quickly sank to banditry under Mohammed. For many of the Qarai tribe, this era proved to be the precursor to their eventual devolution to becoming the equivalent of Baluchs.
Mohammed Khan was the last independent ruler of the Qarai. His successors, Sarhang Ali Muhammed Khan and later Sultan Abdur Reza Khan, ruled under the subjugation of an appointed Qajar governor,13 a state of affairs that promoted further decentralization of the tribe. Population estimates show that of the 12,000 families transferred to Khurasan 7,000 to 8,000 were present in the second quarter of the 18th century, with a decline to 5,00015 a century later and a total of only 3,000 families by the end of the 19th century.16
Significant Chiefs of the Qarai
Toghril, 1150? -1203 A.D.
Toghril's light was eclipsed by his Mongol protege, Genghis Khan, so accurate historical references concerning him directly are scant, though inaccurate information abounds, especially in relation to his religion. It is true that he was both the chief of the Qarai tribe and a Nestorian Christian priest, as were most of the leaders of his tribe.
In 1194 A.D. the Tsin emperor of China bestowed the title of Wang (or Ong) Khan upon Toghril in appreciation of his heroics in a military campaign undertaken in alliance with the Manchurians against a border tribe known as the Buyr-Nurs. The sound of his title, similar to "John," became just that by the time reports of him had traveled to the West.17 Europe at this time was in a state of near religious hysteria over the various fates of two current crusades and seized upon the idea that Prester Johnl8 presented hope as a Christian prince ally who would bring a third front to the Christian-Moslem war in the Holy Land. Needless to say, this mysterious saviour from the East never materialized.>P> In his lifetime Toghril built the Qarai into the dominant tribe of outer Mongolia. In 1202 A.D. he defeated Genghis Khan in battle and was at the point of extinguishing the young Mongol's career the next year when he was surprised by a last desperate attack from his beleaguered protege and routed. This resulted in his death at the hands of an enemy tribe while fleeing from his defeat by the Mongols.
Ishak Khan, 1750?-1816 A.D.
Ishak overcame extraordinary odds to establish himself as a leader of the Qarai. The son of a Tajik servant to a Qarai Khan, Ishak inherited a social position that was inferior to even the lowest member of a military tribe. His father gained the attention of the leader of the Qarai tribe, Najuf Ali, and was appointeduzbashi or centurion. Consequently, Ishak was granted the position of Yessawul (mace bearer) to Najuf Ali and used this position to convince the chief of a need for a caravansarai in the then small village of Turbat-i-Haidari. While undertaking this project the ambitions of Ishak began to manifest themselves. As Ishak's project grew, he slowly converted the caravansarai into a fort while simultaneously fomenting quarrels and divisions within the tribe through various intrigues. His plan culminated in Najuf Ali's being murdered by his own officers with the chief's sons fleeing Khurasan.
The subsequent turmoil within the Qarai tribe brought discontented refugees from the feuding intertribal factions to seek sanctuary in Ishak's fort at Turbat. Ishak's even-handed government in these circumstances gained him a large base of adherents. He then married the daughter of Najuf Ali and entered into an alliance with Ahmed Shah, the founder and monarch of Afghanistan. These maneuvers gained him the leadership of the tribe.
The struggle between the Zand dynasty of Shiraz and the emerging Qajar tribe of Astarabad in the north left Persia without an effective central government after Nadir Shah's death in 1747. Throughout most of the second half of the 18th century, Khurasan was, in effect, an independent kingdom, a situation that allowed Ishak to implement his policies unimpeded. He built the Qarai into the most formidable tribe in east Persia and developed Turbat-i-Haidari into a large cultural and commercial center that became the hub of travelers and caravans from Samarqand, Bukhara, Herat, and India.19
In 1794-95, Aqa Muhammad Qajar overcame the Zand heir apparent, Luft Ali Khan, and unified Iran. The next year he visited Khurasan with the purpose of subduing the independent chiefs of this region. Either out of respect for Ishak's power or consideration for his good reputation, the Shah avoided a possible serious confrontation with the Qarai chief by foregoing the requirement for hostages and tribute that he had forced on the other Khurasani chiefs.20
Aqa Muhammad's successor, Fateh Ali Shah, sent the shahzadeh, Muhammad Wali Mirza,21 to Mashhad to serve as governor of Khurasan. Ishak Khan joined his service and assumed the positions of Sirdar (commander of the armies) and Vazir (prime minister). The influence of Ishak completely overshadowed that of Muhammad Wali, a state of affairs that aroused Ishak's ambitions. He initiated a conspiracy with the chiefs of Kabushan (Guchan), Radcan, Chinneran, Qain, and Tabas to unseat the governor and assume the reins himself.
The plan was successful and Muhammad Wali was placed under house arrest. After plundering Mashhad, Ishak's co- conspirators began quarreling over the spoils and challenging Ishak's right to accession. Ishak assembled those still loyal to him and restored Muhammad Wali to office. In an attempt to make amends he gave the governor one of his daughters in marriage.
Ishak undertook a visit to the court in Tehran where he convinced the Shah that Muhammad Wali was incompetent. Fateh Ali accordingly issued afirman(royal order) declaring Ishak as the Hakim of Mashhad, thus relegating the shahzadeh to the position of ornament.
In his turn, Muhammad Wali sneaked off to Tehran. There, he represented Ishak to be an ambitious and dangerous man whose progress needed to be checked. The Shah became convinced and ordered Muhammad Wali to execute Ishak.
Muhammad Khan, c. 1790-1850
At the time that Ishak married Najuf Ali's daughter and assumed the leadership of the Qarai tribe, he reconciled their objections to his race and heritage by honoring her above his other wives, educating her sons, and declaring that the eldest should be heir to the throne. The eldest son was Muhammad, a man who was undeniably intelligent and capable but who belied his education by the manner in which he chose to govern.
The Qajar central government attempted to conciliate the new ruler of Turbat by recalling Muhammad Wali Mirza to Tehran, dishonoring him while there, and sending Hasan Ali Mirza Shoja in his place. Hasan Ali ventured to Turbat to attempt to placate Muhammad Khan for the treacherous murder of his father. The essence of the lies exchanged at their meeting was that Tehran denied any implication in the murder of Ishak while Muhammad professed allegiance to the Qajars. The deal was sealed with Muhammad granting his sister to Hasan Ali Mirza for marriage.22
After Hasan Ali's departure Muhammad aligned himself with Bunyad Beg Hazara and began a career of depradation and slave dealing. This latter practice gained him covert alliances with the Khan of Khiva and the Emir of Bukhara, a situation that did little to enhance his reputation in Tehran. In 1832 the crown prince, Abbas Mirza, after subduing the Salor of Sarakhs, turned his attention to Muhammad Khan and his renegade tribe. Under the guise of using Turbat-i- Haidari as a staging ground for his army's invasion of Herat, Abbas moved the royal forces into the Qarai district where he deceived Muhammad into a meeting that resulted in his capture.
The independence of the Qarai tribe and the district of Turbat-i-Haidari ended with Muhammad Khan. The governors of the district were thereafter no longer of the Qarai tribe but of the Qajar tribe. The chief of the Qarais traditionally served alternate terms of naib and vazir to the Qajar governor for the rest of the 19th century. Muhammad Khan died comfortably, a prisoner in his own house in Tabriz.
The District and Town of Turbat-i-Haidari Prior to the burial of Sheqkh Kutb al-Din Haidar, the town and district was known as Zawa. Evidently no town existed before the 11th century because the Arab geographer, Muqadassi,23 who visited in the l0th century, describes it as a rural district that did not have any towns. The burial of the saint, said to be Uzbek24 from Balkh25 or Bukhara,26 resulted in a fired brick, domed mausoleum being erected early in the 13th century. A town must have existed at this time for it is mentioned that a Mongol scouting party led by Sabutai approached a town called Zawa in Khurasan in the year 1221 to request provisions for his men. The citizens refused his request and closed the gates to his party. Sabutai elected to move on but at that instant the citizens of Zawa began to hurl insults and blow trumpets at the Mongols. Sabutai turned around and stormed it for three days, gained entrance and massacred the inhabitants while burning the place to the ground.

by Michael Craycraft

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