“Mongolians are very truthful, friendly and warmhearted people”


The following is an interview with Ts. Sanchir, President of Tasam, an NGO focused on cultural anthropology.

-How is your research going?
-It is progressing well.
-What places have you travelled to this year, have you encountered any other unique cultures?
-Yes, I want to emphasize this topic. For the independent Mongolia, our history and culture are the most valuable topics that must be addressed first. The conquests and events during the Mongol Empire are sometimes viewed negatively.
There are native Mongolians who have managed to preserve our old culture and lifestyle, living scattered all over the world. Also I should tell you that the Mongol Empire’s most valuable and sacred possessions are among these populations. For us, we conduct our research and work in a somewhat “closet” society, as in communist countries or the ones with strong Muslim influence. We find the most valuable and interesting, culturally significant Mongolian artifacts there.
It has been exactly 10 years since we began our adventure. During this time we have travelled over 450,000 kilometers. The last trip we made was to the southern end of Khublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty; which is the modern island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Additionally, we travelled to modern countries which used to be lands of Tsagadai and Zuchi’s Empire – Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan and Kazakhstan. In those countries, we took photographs of Mongolian descendants and their culture, lifestyle and existing memorials. To name one, we visited the Khalimag people living in Kirgizstan, by a river that is (in some old documents) named “Ishgen Khul,” with a population of 10,000. Some of them still had family names which were from tribes like Khereid and Naiman – over 800 years old.
-Can you tell us approximately how many Mongolian descendants live in the world today? Did most of them preserved their culture and lifestyle as it was during the Mongol Empire? Do they speak Mongolian?
-According to the world’s researchers and experts on Mongolian people, there are approximately 12 million people in the world who have Mongolian culture; or wear Mongolian clothes, speak and write the language and live the lifestyle. Sometimes, researchers would add an additional 6 million Hazara people. Hazara people live in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India. The exact numbers may differ depending who is calculating it.
True Mongolian character, which we should never forget, is that they are very truthful, honest, trustworthy and very friendly people; as written in numerous Italian, French and Persian sources from 800 years ago. These characteristics apply to every scattered Mongolian descendant in the world today.
In the past 10 years, we have travelled to over 30 countries for photographs. The first astronomy center in the world was first built by Munkh Khan in Iran, which still exists today, and the second one was built by Khublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty in its capital city, Dadu. Today, the third one exist in Uzbekistan, which was built by the order Ulegbekhi, a grandson of Tumur Khan.
Every Mongolian should be proud of historical sites such as these. I don’t think it is enough to tell about our adventures just once, so we make it a priority to make these facts known by as many people as possible.
-Are there any recurring difficulties you face on your travels abroad? For example, getting a visa?
-Of course, it is not easy. Throughout ten years of travels, we spent 10 months in trains, three months in tents and one month in airplanes and a significant amount of time in cars. We try to take the cheapest and most convenient travel method.
In some Islamic countries, there is civil unrest and sometimes even war and we all have to figure out how to work in places like those.
But what encourages and gives us strength are the Mongolian descendants we meet on our travels. When we leave they would always say words of wisdom from their hearts and truly wish that we come back, saying, “be well on your travels and come back soon.” All of these words make it impossible to stay put in Mongolia.
Just recently, we pictured Mongolians in China as traders in Erenhot and Mongolians in Russia as freelance traders in Irkutsk. But we, through books, newspapers, TV features and other media outlets, always try to illustrate and show how the scattered descendants of medieval Mongolian people have preserved their culture and language for hundreds of years. It is amazing how they managed to preserve and honor their lifestyle for so long.
-Do they speak Mongolian or do they speak the language of their respective countries? How do you communicate with them?
-In the first few years we had difficulty understanding each other. Mongolian descendants in China speak old medieval Mongolian language, in short, they speak the language in which “The Secret History of the Mongols” is written in. Whoever writes traditional Mongolian can communicate with them easily. Sometimes it would take half a day to understand each other. There are many instances where we understand each other through traditional Mongolian sayings, compliments and praises. In Islamic countries, Mongolians there have significantly lost their culture and language. It is not their fault, it is a matter of time and up to the current society they live in.
-Tell us about the Dunsians, do they speak and write Mongolian?
-This group of people was left behind in the Gansu Province of China during the Mongol Empire. This Province belonged to Yuan Dynasty. Gansu means ‘bitter and dry.’ This land has nothing but desert and mountain. It is said that to cross this dead land Mongolians suffered greatly, spending most of their livestock. The Emperor of that time left his battle-worn, injured and sick soldiers and people to rest there before going any further into the desert.
Today, there are over half a million Dunsians living in Gansu Province. We have visited them the most. When we visit them, they would talk about folklore, legends and stories about other Mongols neighboring them in nearby provinces. Before we leave, they would ask us to meet them. The white Mongols and Dunsians live in a restricted area, so not many people go there. I think we were the first foreigners to visit them.
Since they live in a closed areas, they are poor and uneducated. There are many different tribes or groups of Mongol descendants living in China, and they have significant culture and language artifacts preserved today.
-What do you feel when you finally arrive in Mongolia, after coming from abroad, having met all those Mongolians in foreign countries?
-I feel, after seeing variations of Mongolian culture abroad, that we have little respect for our culture and tradition; we have forgotten most of them. Instead of living in our independent nation in peace, we complain about pollution, traffic congestion and other whatnots and hope to leave for a different country. It must be really hard to live in a place when you know it is not their land.
-Do Mongolian-descendent women in Islamic countries wear head-coverings (yashmak)?
-Yes, they would follow the tradition or religion of the countries they are situated in. Some women would remove them when we visit, out of respect for fellow Mongolians.
-Do you bring souvenirs or gifts for them?
-Yes, of course. The gifts we bring are extremely valued. Sometimes they would give us books they have written.
-When will you be travelling next?
-We plan to visit Iran soon.
-When did you start travelling?
-B. Tseren is a cultural anthropologist who founded the Tasam NGO. She first heard about the Dunsians in Gansu Province of China while studying there, and paid them a visit. They said that they were the remnants of Mongol soldiers and accompanying people that were left by the main Mongolian army. The next time she visited, I was with her. There were Mongolians living there, and we were one of the few people who knew. We thought that it was important to let the world, and other Mongolians, know about this and we decided to do just that because I felt that we really do owe them something.
So after three months I quit my job and I began travelling for this purpose. Our travel routes are not on any official maps, so the first few years we had to take notes on ourselves as it was difficult to keep track of them, and we may forget the routes later.
If one day history truly values our work and acknowledges what we have done, it is important to mention that B. Tseren has started all of this. She is honored for bringing all this to the public awareness.
-How do you finance Tasam, especially during travels abroad?
-Although our travel costs add up to tremendous amounts, we never asked help or any other assistance from anyone. Financially, it is a tough task to travel abroad. In some countries we set minimum amount of cash required, say for example, USD 5,000 in some countries. We have a small leather workshop, and we have financed 10 years’ worth of travels from here. Over the years, our road, goal and visions have expanded, and our viewers have also increased too; which also has more people expecting more from us. Due to financial reasons, not every trip can be made into a whole book. It is expensive to have a professional photographic team with us for our travels. But none of our travels were delayed or otherwise problematic because of money; for ten years we did best with what we have.
If we collected ten years’ worth of revenue, it would have added to several houses and SUVs. We have recently printed a major work on our travels, and will be in bookstores this Saturday.

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Posted by on Sep 24 2012. Filed under Топ мэдээ. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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