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Battle of Orbulaq
Part of the Kazakh-Dzungar Wars
Date1643 (1643)
Locationriver Orbulaq, Kazakh Khanate (South Kazakhstan)
Result Jangir Khan's defeat of a superior army of Erdeni Batur
Commanders and leaders

Jangir Khan Karasai batyr

Argyntai batyr

Yalantush bahadur (Zhalantos batyr)

Huntaiji Erdeni-Batur

Ochirtu Khan

Ablaï-Taïsha
Strength

600 (Kazakh Khanate)

20 000 (Bukhara Khanate)
50 000

Battle of Orbulaq - a single battle in the series of Kazakh-Dzhungar wars in which Kazakhs led by Jangir Sultan (later Jangir-Khan) and Emir of Samarkand ethnic Kazakh Yalantush Bahadur (Zhalantos batyr) in 1643 defeated a superior Dzhungarian army of Huntaiji Erdeni Batur. The battle was one of the first turning points in the liberation war of the Kazakhs against the Dzhungar invasion.

Background

The scattered Oirat tribes, wandering in the western Mongolia and Chinese Xinjiang by the first half of the 17th century united into a single state, founding the Dzhungarian Khanate. Starting from the middle of the 17th century, the strategic goal of the Dzhungar was to increase the territories for the pastures by joining the lands of the neighboring khanates. An aggressive foreign policy towards Zhetysu and Central Asia aggravated Kazakhstan-Dzhungar relations and often led to military conflicts. The struggle with the Dzhungars was headed by the son of Khan Esim - Jangir-Sultan (1629-1680). Since 1635, Jangir-Sultan, conducted a series of major battles with Dzhungar troops with varying success. In one of the battles in 1635, Jangir was defeated and captured. Being a Chingissid (a Genghis Khan's heir), Jangir was in a privileged position in the camp of Oirat huntaiji, and according to some sources, even marrying one of his daughters. After returning from captivity, Jangir again leads the fight against the Dzhungars. Dzhungars were a military threat not only for the Kazakhs, but also for Middle and Central Asia. The campaigns of the Dzhungar troops showed the perniciousness of Kazakh tribal feuds and intra-feudal strife in the face of the aggressive threat that grew from year to year. In addition, from military standpoint, the Dzhungar Khanate represented a serious danger to the Kazakh clans. Unlike some Asian peoples who have mastered the “arrowed battle”, firearms with wicks and artillery appeared in service of the Dzhungar army as early as the end of the 17th century. For the war with the Kazakhs, the Dzhungars bought weapons and cannons from Russian gunsmiths and cast them with the help of Swede Johann Gustav Renat, a captured sergeant of Swedish artillery. The Dzhungar had a large, at that time, highly organized army, which reached the very maximum of 200 thousands of cavalry.

In 1640, a notorious kurultai took place, where the Kazakh steppes and rich cities of the Bukhara Khanate were chosen as the next target of the Dzungarian campaigns. In the winter of 1643, after short preparation, the expeditionary corps of the Dzhungars, headed by the new huntaiji Erdeni-Batur, his relative Orchita and his brother-in-law Ablai Taisha, moved to the Kazakh steppes.

Course of the battle

Jangir Khan with 600 soldiers was deeply entrenched in the valley of the river Orbulaq in the southwestern foot slopes of Dhzungarian Alatau and waited in ambush until the arrival of the main forces of the Kazakhs in the way of an unknown number of Dzhungar army (estimated at around 50 thousand men strong) led by Erdeni-Batur.[1] Half of warriors organized obstruction in the path and the rest spread out on the cliffs, thereby preparing an ambush on Dzhungars. In this battle, the firearms were massively used by Kazakhs for the first time, and in the first hours of battle Dzhungars lost many marching in avant-garde due to gun fire. Then, the aid troops of the Bukhara Khanate, led by Emir of Samarkand Zhalantos batyr, hit the Dzhungarian arrière-garde from the rear. Erdeni-batur was forced to retreat to Dzungaria.

Problem of location of the battlefield

The battle is known mainly from the notes of G.Ilyin and K. Kucheyev - Russian envoys to the Dzhungar huntaiji. In February 1643, Tobolsk servicemen, G. Ilyin and Kochimberdy Kucheyev, were sent from Tobolsk to Dzhungar Huntaiji Erdeni Batur to South Tarbagatai. Since he had already gone to the reid on Zhetysu, envoys waited for the Huntaiji to return for more than four months. From this campaign, he returned at the end of June, driving about 10,000 captured Kyrgyz. It is from the words of these captives that they got all the details of the battle. Their report to Tobolsk governor says that 5 tumen strong (50 000) Erdeni Batur-led-expedition forces, which set out to Kazakh Zhetysu, suffered major defeat by allied forces of Kazakhs and Bukhara Khanate. Thus, the fact of the battle itself is documented. Unfortunately, Ilyin and Kucheev did not indicate the place of the battle.

Kazakh historian Ville Galiev in his book "Han Zhangir i Orbulakskaya bitva" (Jangir khan and Orbulaq battle), having studied the terrain and existing historical evidences indicated the location of the battle as the Belzhailyau gorge in river Orbulaq valley in Dzhungar Alatau. The Belzhailyau gorge situated in the valley of Orbulaq river is narrow and long. There is a high hill in the middle of it, located across the gorge, which resembles a bulk dam. From the east (Iliy valley) it has a gentle slope, and from the west (Balkhash) it is steep. This is the perfect place to ambush. If you dig trenches along the top of the hill and plant shooters, then the entire western part of the slope and the depression in front of the hill are clearly visible and are perfectly shot through. But many historians doubt that such a major battle could have happened in the Dzungarian Alatau. According to most historians, by the middle of the seventeenth century the territory of Zhetysu was already in the hands of Dzungaria. The penetration of a small detachment of Jangir's warriors deep into enemy territory is theoretically possible, but another 20,000 soldiers of Yalantush (Zhalantos) questions the possibility of battlefield in Belzhailyau. It is highly questionable the huge army of the Emir of Samarkand to overcome about 900 kilometers from the border of the Bukhara Khanate to Belzhailyau. The mystery of the battle between the Dzhungar's Erdeni Batur and the Kazakh's Jangir-Sultan (later becoming Khan) lies in the fact that still no one knows where exactly it occurred.

Controversy over the strength of Dzhungar army

Many historians have expressed doubts about the size of the Dzungarian army. 50 thousand by the standards of that time - a huge amount of human resources. Historians suggest that most probably a mistake was made when calculating and the numbers were greatly overestimated.

Even in the well-known documented battles between the Chinese and the Dzhungars, the latter usually deployed no more than 30 thousand soldiers. For the Dzhungar, it was the Chinese front that was the main one and the most bloody battles were going on there. It was there that the question of the life and death of Dzhungaria was decided. Chinese bogdykhans sought to destroy the Khanate, which constantly ravaged its western provinces (in which, eventually, only Qianglong succeeded in 1758).

Speaking of the strength of the Dzhungar army in Orbulaq, it can be assumed that this is a misinterpretation of the word “tumen” by the Russian envoys. If at the time of Genghis Khan this military unit numbered 10 thousand soldiers, by the time of Orbulaq "tumen" was simply an independent detachment with 2-3 thousand people at most. During the preparation of Zhetysu campaign, Batur-huntaiji invited his relatives to participate the raid - his younger brother Chokur's son Ochirta and son-in-law Ablai Taisha, some Koyu-Sultan and Ombo, son of neighboring Altan Khan. Each of them, apparently, participated with personal tumen.

Most likely, the Russian envoys, believing that the tumen was 10 thousand, simply multiplied it by five. Moreover, they received this information from the prisoners driven from the raid. The Dzhungars themselves would never revealed exact number of their troops, as that considered a strategic information.

Another moment is the interest of the warriors. The more soldiers involved in the campaign, the greater the number of shares. And what to take from the nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyzs except rams and horses? What is the point of warriors risking their lives if they do not get decent reward? Why use so many warriors in the usual raid on peaceful settlements? And if each warrior on a campaign had three horses (as Dzhungars and Mongols usually did) - that makes it 150 thousand horses! How to feed them in the desert Balkhash steppe? All these questions raise doubts about the indicated strength of the Dzhungar army. Some historians agree that a more realistic number of warriors is no more than 10-15 thousand people.

Significance

The plans of the Dzhungar huntaiji to seize Zhetysu have been frustrated. Kazakhs regained the control over the region. Kazakhs won time to prepare for the further advance of the Dzhungars into the region. Jangir-Sultan demonstrated the effectiveness of the new combat tactics of salvo firing from guns by footed soldiers. For Central Asia, it was a revolutionary experience in the use of firearms. Also for the first time in the history of the military art of the Kazakh Khanate, digging of trenches was used.

In tactical terms, the battle in Orbulaq demonstrated the ability of the Kazakh clans to join forces in the face of external threats. For the first time, representatives of three Kazakh zhuzes and Uzbek allies had a successful combat experience working in association.

Jangir Khan proved to be a good commander and a strong strategist. Jangir was awarded the honorary title "Salqam" (High). It is believed that Jangir was well-informed about the armament and organization of the Dzhungarian army (in 1635 Jangir-Sultan was captured by the Kalmyk Taiji Hyundulen and stayed captive for several years), this knowledge, together with his leadership talent, helped the Kazakhs to eventually come victorious in Orbulaq the battle.

It is assumed that the battle affected the Dzungarian society as well. The unexpected defeat led to controversy among the Dzhungar feudal lords, weakening the state in the face of the threat of the long-planned Qing's offensive, which eventually will lead to destruction of the khanate and mass genocide of Dzhungars.

Legacy

There is a granite stone on Belzhailyau hill placed in 1993 in honor of the 350th anniversary of the battle. The names of some batyrs and Jangir Khan who participated in the battle are written there. The heroic feat, happened 375 years ago, during the period of nationwide struggle of the Kazakh people against the Dzhungar invaders is sometimes compared to the Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans effectively stalled the overwhelming army of the Persians. It is planned to organize the museum of the Orbulaq battle by 2019. The battle was re-staged on the Taldykorgan hippodrome during the celebration of the 550th anniversary of the formation of the Kazakh Khanate.[2]

References

  1. Саяси түсіндірме сөздік. – Алматы, 2007. ISBN 9965-32-491-3
  2. Uteshev, Aidar (2015-10-13). "Orbulak Battle Re-Enacted to Commemorate Formation of Kazakh Khanate". http://astanatimes.com/2015/10/orbulak-battle-re-enacted-to-commemorate-formation-of-kazakh-khanate/. Retrieved 2016-07-27. 

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