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We have now traced the history of Kashgar and of the neighbouring states down to the year 1860, immediately before the last Khoja invasion under Buzurg Khan, and the Kooshbege, Mahomed Yakoob. Before giving an account of that enterprise it is necessary that the reader should know what the past career of the future Athalik Ghazi had been. The previous chapters have, it is hoped, thrown some light on the state of Central Asia, and will assist the student of the question in comprehending how it was that Yakoob Beg achieved success, and what claims he may have to be considered a great ruler, for having done a work that is unique in the annals of modern Asia.

Mahomed Yakoob was born in or about the year 1820, in the flourishing little town of Piskent, in the khanate of Khokand. His father, Pur Mahomed Mirza, had, at various periods of his life, filled positions of responsibility in the government of the towns in which he resided. Thus, a native of Dihbid, near Samarcand, he had migrated to Khodjent, in the reign of Mahomed Ali Khan, with the intention of entering the priestly order. There, although he enrolled himself as a student in a religious seminary, for some reason or other, he appears to have changed his mind, and, instead of entering the Church, turned his attention to secular affairs. He was soon made Kazi of Kurama, a district and town of Khokand, and married a lady of that place. By this marriage he had one son, Mahomed Arif, who has since filled several posts of trust in Kashgar, notably that of Governor of Sirikul; but of late this half-brother of Yakoob Beg seems to have been, either for incompetence or some other reason, under a cloud. Pur Mahomed, or Mahomed Latif, as he was more usually called, changed his residence from Kurama to Piskent, about the year 1818, and he shortly after his settlement in his new abode married again, his second wife being the sister of Sheik Nizamuddin, the Kazi of Piskent. Yakoob Beg was the issue of this marriage. The family of Yakoob Beg’s father seems originally to have come from Karategin, on the borders of Badakshan, but in the time of the Usbeg conquest of that district the father of Mahomed Latif, then an infant, took refuge in Khokand. It is uncertain whether Mahomed Latif was born before their arrival at Dihbid or afterwards; and it is now asserted that he claimed descent from Tamerlane. Whether this was a claim brought forward when his son was advancing in the world or not, it is impossible to test its accuracy. The parents of Yakoob Beg were therefore not without some pretensions, and it would seem that the bad fortune, from which for some generations they had been suffering, was beginning to disappear before the ability of Yakoob Beg raised it to a higher point than ever. In addition to the claims of his father and grandfather as Kazis of an important community, a sister of Yakoob Beg married Nar Mahomed Khan, Governor of Tashkent; and, as we shall see later on, this connection was very instrumental in promoting the interests of the youthful Yakoob.

Piskent, Pskent, or Bis-kent, as it is sometimes spelt, is still a flourishing little community, fifty miles south of Tashkent, on the road to Khodjent. Its inhabitants are a thrifty, good-tempered set of people, who take great pride in the fact that the great Athalik Ghazi, the supporter of Islam, and the reputed terror of the Russians, was one of themselves. In this little settlement there are many Tajiks, and this, doubtless, with other reasons, induced Mahomed Latif, a Tajik himself, to take up his abode there. To the east of Piskent the mountains begin to rise, which stretch onward until they become the Tian Shan and the Kizilyart ranges, and in these elevated regions the Tajik descendants muster in strong numbers. The Tajiks are Persian in their origin, and consequently of the Aryan stock, in contradistinction to the Turk or Tartar ruling class in Western Turkestan. They have, however, for so many generations been restricted to a limited career in the organization of the state, that, quite unjustly as it is, they have come to be regarded as an inferior race. English writers have fallen into this mistake, and have accepted as correct the definition given by the Turks of this subject race. As a matter of fact the contrary holds true, and the Tajik is superior to any of his masters in point of mental capacity. They are represented to still retain the fine presence and long flowing beards which distinguish those of Aryan blood from their Tartar opposite; and in height and strength they quite eclipse every other race of Central Asia. It was of this race that Yakoob Beg was the representative, and, although the greater part of his life was passed in ruling nations almost exclusively Tartar, some of the more prominent among his supporters, as well as the flower of his army, boasted that they, too, represented that master race, whose birth-place was to be found in the Indian Caucasus. The Tajiks still speak a Persian dialect, and their Iranian origin is thereby rendered almost indisputable.

Mahomed Yakoob’s early years were passed at his home at Piskent, and it is said that it was intended that he should follow the profession which his father had repudiated. As a youth he was too wayward to submit to any check on his impulses, and the design of educating him as a “mollah,” if it was ever seriously entertained, was abandoned long before he arrived at man’s estate. He appears to have passed the first twenty years of his life in an idle, uneventful manner at Piskent, and then suddenly to have resolved to seek his fortune as best he might in the troubled waters of Khokandian politics. In 1845, we find him in the train of the newly seated khan, Khudayar, as “mahram,” or chamberlain, and shortly afterwards, by the influence of his brother-in-law, the Governor of Tashkent, nominated a Pansad Bashi, a commander of 500. This was in 1847, about which year he married a Kipchak lady of Zuelik, a village in the district of Ak Musjid. He had three sons, of whom we shall hear more hereafter, by this marriage Kooda Kul Beg, Kuli Beg, and Hacc Kuli Beg. Later on, in the year 1847, he was raised to the rank of Koosh-Bege, or “lord of the family” more intelligibly described as vizier and entrusted with the charge of the important post on the Syr Darya, called Ak Musjid, “White Mosque.” This post he held with credit for six years, until 1853, when the Russians commenced that forward movement, of which we have not yet seen the close. At that time, Russia had not acquired one of the numerous strategic points now in her possession. The Syr Darya then was as far off from her frontier as the Oxus is now. Ak Musjid, built in the lower reaches of the river, and representing a Khokandian outpost of exceptional importance, was the grand obstacle in the path of the Russians operating from Kazalinsk, at the mouth of the Syr Darya. It was resolved, therefore, that this post, which, doubtless, encouraged all the marauders in the neighbourhood to continue their depredations against the Russian caravans, should be wrested from the hands of its owners, and either razed to the ground or converted into a Russian stronghold. General Perovsky was entrusted with this undertaking. The distance from Kazalinsk, or Fort N, to Ak Musjid is not much over 200 miles, along the banks of the Syr Darya. Not many commissariat arrangements were necessary, nor did the distance to march require much time to delay the Russian officer in beginning his operations against the fort. The army with which he appeared before the walls may not have been large in numbers when compared with the armies of modern times, but, in all that makes a disciplined force formidable, it was exceptionally well supplied. The artillery was in greater strength than is usually considered necessary, and the expedition was still more efficient in engineers and cavalry. The garrison of Ak Musjid was, on the other hand, ill supplied, both in provisions and in ammunition, and the fort itself presented, neither in its position nor in its construction, any feature that an engineer officer would have considered calculated to make it capable of sustaining the attack of artillery for twenty-four hours. The Russian lines were constructed in the most approved method; but twice were their approaches destroyed, and twice their mines counter-mined. During twenty-six days the Russian bombardment was fast and furious, and during all that time the Khokandian defence was stubborn and persistent. But all the efforts of the garrison to break through the beleaguering lines were unavailing, and after so long a cannonade little more resistance could be expected from ramparts which were pierced in several places by wide and gaping breaches. The resolute commandant, who had done everything required by the most exacting code of military honour, confessed that there was nothing to be gained by a continued defence, and as it was known that the Russians were making preparations for an early assault, a messenger was despatched without delay to the Russian commander, expressing the willingness of the garrison to capitulate on honourable terms. General Perovsky, who had expected an easy triumph here, and possibly some more extended triumph in farther regions, was indignant at the resistance opposed to him by a paltry place like Ak Musjid, and received the messenger from the fort with ill-concealed impatience. Scarcely bestowing any attention on the letter, couched in humble terms as it was, of the commandant, General Perovsky petrified the astonished emissary with the declaration that on the morrow the fort would be taken by assault. This arbitrary assertion of his power, which was carried into practice, of course successfully, the next day, on an occasion when magnanimity ought to have been shown by the successful general, does not redound to the credit of the officer in question, and throws an instructive light on the latitude left to Russian generals in their instructions, and on the opinion felt for Central Asiatics by the civilizing representatives of the White Czar. To say that General Perovsky was urged to this act of gratuitous tyranny by a desire to obtain a cross of either St. Anne or St. George, is, after all, only to magnify the offence, and that Ak Musjid has taken the name of its conqueror, Fort Perovsky, is the means of perpetuating, not his fame, but his infamy, and the courageous conduct of the defenders. In the winter following its fall Yakoob Beg, with Sahib Khan, brother of the Khan of Khokand, attempted to retake the fort, but the coup proved abortive, and the Russians have never receded from their new acquisition.

Khudayar Khan had been elevated to the throne of Khokand in 1845, by the energy of Mussulman Kuli, a Kipchak chief, of singular astuteness, and aptitude for business. During his tenure of the post of Wazir, Khokand was peacefully and beneficently governed; but, as on every similar occasion in Central Asia, the ruler soon became jealous of the popularity acquired by his minister, although his own position was in reality confirmed by the wise measures of the very man to whom he had conceived a covert hostility. So with Khudayar Khan, the effeminate, and his minister, Mussulman Kuli, in the decade of which we are now speaking; as with Buzurg Khan, the debauchee, but correct representative of the Khojas, and his general and vizier, the Kooshbege, Mahomed Yakoob, in the following. In 1858, Mussulman Kuli was seized by order of Khudayar Khan, and barbarously murdered; and from that occurrence the decadence of this unfortunate ruler of Khokand can be traced until, at last, he became a mere pensioner on the bounty of the Russians. Although Yakoob Beg became, to a certain extent, notorious for his gallant defence of Ak Musjid, it would appear, from his being styled after that event simply “Mir,” or chief, that he had sunk in grade in his official status. It is probable that the chief cause of this was his failure to retake it, and not his ill success in defending it. He was, however, entrusted with the charge of the Kilaochi fort, a post which he held down to the murder of Mussulman Kuli.

Khudayar Khan had an elder brother, Mullah Khan, who had been passed over by Mussulman Kuli, when the state was put in order after the dissensions that arose on the death of the great ruler, Mahomed Ali. Now, on the death of Mussulman Kuli, who had given vitality to the regime of Khudayar, Mullah Khan and his partisans began to intrigue once more. Several Kipchak and Kirghiz leaders joined his cause, and Yakoob Beg at once became one of his most active supporters. Khudayar Khan was deposed, and retired into temporary seclusion. For his services to the new ruler Yakoob Beg was made Shahawal, an officer corresponding to a chamberlain or court intendant. He was soon restored to his old rank of Kooshbege, and appointed governor of the frontier fort of Kurama, the same place of which his father had been Kazi. And in 1860 he came still more to the front, when he was summoned to Tashkent to assist Kanaat Shah, the Nahib of Khokand, in making preparations in case the Russians, who had for some time seemed to be threatening Khokand, should cross the frontier. Mullah Khan was murdered at this time, having held the reins of power but for the brief space of two years, and Khudayar Khan emerged from his hiding place. He was welcomed both by Kanaat Shah and Yakoob Beg; and in return for their support he consented to forget the past. Yakoob Beg, as his reward, received the governorship of Kurama. It was during these troubles that Alim Kuli, a Kirghiz chieftain, appeared upon the scene. He possessed many of the attributes that distinguished his predecessor Mussulman Kuli, and his successor, in the eyes of the people, Yakoob Beg. He had undoubtedly a great capacity for intrigue, but was inferior to the former in administrative capacity, and to the latter in military skill. He now set Shah Murad, grandson of Shere Ali Khan, up as a claimant to the throne, and was speedily joined by Yakoob Beg, who once more abandoned the cause of Khudayar Khan, who, it must be remembered, had always treated Yakoob Beg in a friendly way, and who in their early days had been his boon companion. This conspiracy was unsuccessful, and Yakoob Beg, who had yielded up Khodjent, with the defence of which he had been entrusted by Alim Kuli, on the approach of the forces of Khudayar Khan, took refuge in Bokhara. Here he was favourably received, and resided as a noble attached to the court. In 1863 the Ameer of Bokhara, Muzaffur Eddin, marched a large army into Khokand for the purpose of restoring his brother-in-law, Khudayar, to the throne, for he had again been deposed by the intrigues of Alim Kuli; Yakoob Beg accompanied this force, and once more appears, for the last time, on the troubled arena of Khokandian politics. The Bokhariot army was soon recalled, and Khudayar Khan was left to face the difficulties of his position unaided. In a few months an arrangement was come to between Alim Kuli and Yakoob Beg and other leading nobles against Khudayar. Sultan Murad, who had first been supported and then murdered by Alim Kuli, having been thus effectually removed, this king-maker had set up Sultan Seyyid in his place. Yakoob Beg so far profited by this new confederacy that he was restored to his old offices and perquisites, and sent once more to hold his former post as governor of Kurama. He collected as many allies as he was able, and brought them with him to assist in the capture of Khodjent. On this important town being secured the regent Alim Kuli passed through Kurama on his way to seize and settle the capital, Tashkent. He appointed a connection of his own, Hydar Kuli, with the title of Hudaychi, as governor of Kurama, and took Yakoob Beg in his train to Tashkent. Shortly after their arrival at Tashkent, news came of the Russian occupation of Tchimkent, and the survivors of the force driven out by Tchernaief soon appeared with a confirmation of the intelligence. This was in April, 1864, and until October of that year, when the Russians appeared before the town, Yakoob Beg was engaged in strengthening the fortifications of the capital. When the army of General Tchernaief did appear in the neighbourhood, Yakoob Beg, with a rashness that cannot be too strongly condemned, went forth to encounter it in the open. As might have been expected, the Russians were victorious, and Yakoob Beg was compelled to seek refuge with his shattered forces within the walls of Tashkent. The Russians themselves had suffered some loss, and either awed by the bold demeanour of their old antagonist, or, as is more probable, encountering some difficulty in bringing up supplies, and being unprovided with a siege train, thought the more prudent policy would be to retire to Tchimkent until reinforcements and other necessaries should arrive. Alim Kuli, in the course of a few days after this reverse, arrived at Tashkent in person with a large body of troops, and employed all his energies in strengthening the defences before the return of the Russians. It is very certain that on this occasion, the first on which Yakoob Beg had a command of any consequence, he permitted his natural impetuosity to get the better of his discretion, and that it was the height of madness on his part to enter into an engagement in the open with the disciplined and formidable forces of Tchernaief, when, by leaving that general to undertake the siege of Tashkent, he might have had it in his power to inflict a serious, and for the time conclusive, blow against the Russians when the reinforcing army of Alim Kuli came up. With half his army discouraged by defeat, Alim Kuli found himself restricted to a policy of inaction, through the over-hastiness of his lieutenant. The Russians did not return until after the departure of Yakoob Beg for Kashgar, but when they did they found that Alim Kuli had made every preparation in his power to receive them. On the first occasion they were again forced to retreat after a skirmish which the Khokandians claim as a victory; but in 1865 they appeared before the walls in greater force. Alim Kuli, with a gathering vastly superior in numbers to the Russians, attacked them a few miles to the north of Tashkent, and the fortunes of the day hung in the balance, until the fall of Alim Kuli, who, whilst boldly leading a charge of Kirghiz cavalry, was pierced in the chest by a musket ball. He was carried from the field by a faithful officer, and expired that night in Tashkent. Alim Kuli appears to have been actuated to some extent by a disinterested patriotism, as much as by more personal motives. With his fall, and the departure of Yakoob Beg for another sphere of operations, all hope of a continued state of independence for Khokand was dissipated. After this severe defeat the Russians laid close siege to Tashkent. The Khokandians in their distress applied to Bokhara for aid, and the Russians hastened to occupy Chinaz to intercept it. The Bokhariot army was routed by the Russian army under General Romanoffski at the battle of Irjar, in May, 1866, eleven months after Tashkent had been occupied by Tchernaief. It was during this period of anarchy, with a hostile Russian and an allied Bokhariot force on his soil, that Khudayar Khan once more supplanted the nominee of Alim Kuli, Sultan Seyyid, and at the close of the campaign Khudayar was left in possession of the southern portion of Khokand. This Khan appears to have been of an unambitious nature, for, during his various exiles, he devoted himself to private business with an energy he had never shown in the management of the public affairs, and when he at last sank into private life and became a pensioner of the Russian Court, on the complete annexation of his state, he is said to have acquired not only a happiness, but many virtues unknown to him in his more elevated lot. The unfortunate Sultan Seyyid, after wandering for some years out of Khokand, was, when he ventured to return in 1871, executed. Many of the partisans of Seyyid on the defeat by the Russians, and on the overthrow of his rivals by Khudayar, sought refuge in the mountains of the Kizilyart, whence they proceeded to join Yakoob Beg in Kashgar, where they arrived at a most opportune moment as will be seen.

To return to Yakoob Beg. After his defeat before Tashkent he was employed under Alim Kuli in repairing the defences of that town and collecting troops from the whole district, but his reputation had been lowered by that reverse. There was a certain jealousy between the Kirghiz chief and the Tajik soldier of fortune. Yakoob Beg saw in Alim Kuli an obstacle to his further promotion, and Alim Kuli recognized in the Kooshbege a possible rival and successor. Any excuse therefore to keep Yakoob Beg in the background, or indeed to get rid of him altogether, would be very welcome to Alim Kuli. We hear little more of the unsuccessful general until his departure for Kashgar a few months afterwards. He had to wipe out in other regions and against other foes the stain he had incurred in his encounters with the Russians.

While these events were in progress at Tashkent, an envoy arrived there from Sadic Beg, a Kirghiz prince on the frontiers of Ili and Kashgar. He brought intelligence that his master had availed himself of the dissensions among the Chinese, to seize the city of Kashgar, and he requested the Khan of Khokand to send him the heir of the Khojas, in order that he might place him on the throne. As the facts really stood, Sadic Beg had only laid siege to Kashgar, and, finding that he was met with a strenuous resistance, had recourse to the plan of setting up a Khoja king to strengthen his failing efforts, but of the true state of affairs in Kashgar it is evident that everybody in Tashkent was primarily ignorant. The Khokandian policy had always been, however, to maintain their interests intact in Eastern Turkestan, and to weaken in every possible way the credit of the Chinese. An envoy bringing news of a fresh revolt in Kashgar was, therefore, sure of a friendly reception at Tashkent, even if he did not return with some more striking tokens of amity. But on this occasion the danger from Russian movements was so close at hand, and all the efforts of the state were so concentrated in preparations for defence, that Alim Kuli, whatever he may have thought of its prospects, and however much he may have sympathized with its object, was unable to give the Kirghiz emissary any aid in his enterprise. When, however, Buzurg Khan, the only surviving son of Jehangir Khan, either of his own free will, or instigated, as some say, by Yakoob Beg, offered to assert his claims on Kashgar, Alim Kuli expressed his approval of the design, and gave his moral assistance so far as was compatible with no active participation therein. He, however, gave Buzurg Khan the services of Kooshbege Mahomed Yakoob to act as his commander-in-chief, or Baturbashi. Thus did Alim Kuli free himself from his troublesome subordinate, and despatched on an errand which seemed likely to end in disgrace and defeat, but which really led to empire, the only native whom he dreaded as being capable of supplanting him.

Yakoob Beg had up to this point given little promise of future distinction. He had, indeed, earned the reputation of being a gallant soldier, if a not very prudent one; and in the intrigues that had marked the history of his state for twenty years, he had borne his fair share. But no one would have dreamt of prognosticating that he possessed the ability necessary to win campaigns against superior forces, and then to erect a powerful state on the ruins that fell into his possession. The most favourable opinion would have been, that he would have died manfully as a soldier, and as a true Mussulman. When he embarked in the enterprise of conquering Kashgar, he was no longer in the first flush of youth, but was a man who covered his fiery spirit and great ambition with a cloak of religious zeal and diplomatic apathy. Twenty years’ experience in the most intriguing court in Central Asia had placed every muscle at his complete command, and even in the most disastrous moments in his career, he is always represented as being calm and collected calm in his belief in Kismut, and collected in a persuasion of his own resources. One fact that will account for the slowness with which he advanced into notoriety is that he was entirely dependent on his own capacity for promotion. He had no wealth, no large following, and in the two leaders, Kipchak and Kirghiz, Mussulman and Alim Kuli, he had competitors of almost equal merit with himself, while they each possessed personal power and family connections that placed them far beyond the reach of the hardy soldier and court chamberlain. Some of his detractors had availed themselves of his impecuniosity to circulate stories of his having had dealings with the Russians; but these, although invested with circumstances originating in non-Russian quarters, are probably without any truth. The chief charge, to be taken for what it is worth, is, that the weakness of his defence of the Ak Musjid district, after the fall of the fort, was owing to his having received a large bribe from the Russians. Another is, that in 1863, after his return from Bokhara, he neglected to retard the Russian movements for a pecuniary consideration. In both cases the sum mentioned is very large; and besides the apparent falseness of these rumours, we have only to consider that he was not worth a bribe, and that his opposition to the Russians was marked by all the want of foresight of religious zeal. All these considerations make such rumours appear in their true light; and although we are aware that a follower of Yakoob Beg confirmed, if he did not originate, these charges, it seems to us that the Russians, if there had been truth in the report, would long ago have placed the fact before the peoples of Asia, and required Yakoob Beg when Ameer of Kashgar to have acted in a more friendly way towards his former employers. But the simple reason that Yakoob Beg could not have rendered any service to the Russians worth the thousands of pounds he is said to have received, ought to demolish the whole fabrication. If Yakoob Beg’s life proves one thing more than another, it was that he was a most fanatical Mussulman, and as such hating the Russians, as the most formidable enemy of Islam, with the most intense hate his fiery nature was capable of. This man’s whole life must have been the greatest hypocrisy if he was not genuine in his religious intolerance, and that intolerance rendered any connivance with Russian measures an impossibility. Owing to his early connection with the church, and his maternal grandfather’s high position therein, Yakoob Beg was always distinguished for the strict orthodoxy of his views. Through all his life he seems to have made it his chief object to keep the church on his side. When he was reduced to the most desperate straits in his after life in Kashgar, when some of the most faithful of his followers fell off from him, and when even Buzurg Khan, the man whom he had placed upon a throne, declared him a rebel and a traitor, he never lost heart so long as the ministers of the church held by him; and, on the other hand, they, recognizing the fidelity of their champion, supported him through good and ill repute. Whilst residing at Bokhara “the holy” he had attached to his person several of the most distinguished preachers of Islam throughout Asia, and he had taken all the vows that give a peculiar sanctity to the relations that connect the layman with his priest. It was here that he publicly announced his intention of going on pilgrimage to Mecca; an intention which he repeated on several occasions during his rule of Kashgar, but was obliged, by the position and precarious existence of that state, always to perform by deputy. When he had established himself as ruler, his first measure was to re-enforce the Shariat and to endow several shrines that had been erected to the memory of the chief Khoja saints. It was by such means that he at every crisis of his life had striven to make his interests identical with those of his religion, and when he became a responsible and successful prince his past life stood him in such good stead, that he easily came to be regarded throughout Asia as the most faithful and redoubtable supporter of Islam.

At this period of his life he is described by one who knew him as being of a short but stoutish build, with a keenly intelligent and handsome countenance. He had, during the vicissitudes of his career in Khokand, been so often near assassination, or execution, that the result of the morrow had, to all external appearance, become a matter of secondary consideration to him, and his features, schooled to immobility by a long career of court intrigue, appeared to the casual observer dull and uninteresting. When, however, the conversation turned on subjects that specially interested him, such as the advance of Russia, the future of Islam, or the policy of England, he threw aside his mask, and became at once a man whose views, with some merit in themselves, were rendered almost convincing by the singular charm of his voice and manner. He was honourably distinguished at all times by the simplicity of his dress, and his freedom from the pretension and love of show characteristic of most Asiatics; and at the very highest point of his power he was only a soldier, occupying a palace. As was well said of Timour, the Athalik Ghazi placed the “foot of courage in the stirrup of patience,” and he evidently set himself to copy the great lessons of military success that might be learnt from the careers of Genghis Khan, Timour, and Baber. Such is some account of the commander-in-chief to the expedition of Buzurg Khan. The Khoja, himself, was a man about the same age as his lieutenant, but in every other respect as different as he well could be. Personally a coward, fond of show and every kind of luxury, and of the treacherous, fickle nature that marked his race, he had done nothing during his past life to compensate for the want of the most ordinary virtues. Although he participated in the expedition of Wali Khan, he showed no possession of merit, and in the subsequent occupation that the Khojas maintained in Kashgar during a few weeks, he, perhaps more than any other of his kinsmen, disgusted the people by his open and unbridled licentiousness. Such were the two men who, in the latter days of 1864, set out from Tashkent for the recovery of a kingdom. Of their chances of success few would have ventured then to predict a settlement in their favour; none, certainly, such as was obtained by Yakoob Beg. It is now time for us to relate how they fared in Eastern Turkestan.