Causus Belli: A Historical Lesson

NewsCentralAsia, Asia
July 30 2004

Causus Belli: A Historical Lesson

Dr. Begench Karayev, Fulbright Scholar, Indiana University

It could be possible to attribute the contemporary global upheaval to
clashing civilizations and cultures but a very clear and present
danger actually emanates from the lofty ambitions and raging
arrogance of some power players and decision makers. Their
declaration to engage in a long war with the `enemies of
civilization’ falls very short of any real justification. Sometimes
it appears that the `enemy’ is a product of their paranoid
imagination. In any case, it is difficult to accept their identified
foes as `enemies of civilization.’

An impartial assessment would suggest that the authors of the Causus
Belli are probably themselves the enemies of civilization, the
civilization that they claim to defend.

History shows that justice may be a murky concept, arrogance never
goes unpunished, and sometimes the efforts to bring peace to hostile
communities may result in tragedy for peacemakers at the hands of
their own subjects or companions. Even some prudent emperors and
fearless warriors have fallen victim to this phenomenon.

Some war planners with their incomplete knowledge or incorrect
understanding of history may be expecting a peaceful Muslim Europe
and democratic Greater Middle Eastern region as a result of their
grandiose plans but they need to remember that war has a way of
getting out of hand and end result can usually be unexpected and

We find an important lesson in the Christian-Muslim wars near the end
of eleventh century. The heroes of the epoch are well known to
historians although the politicians may not be quite familiar with
them. They were Alp Arslan and Romanus IV Diogenes, the first one a
Turkmen Seljuk emperor and the latter the Emperor of Byzantine.

In 1070, Alp Arslan invaded Armenia and captured the town of
Malazkirt, north of Lake Van. In the spring of 1071, he besieged and
took Aleppo, which was held by the independent Arab prince, Mahmood
ibn Mirdas, but the Sultan allowed him to remain in the city as his
vassal. At the same time the Emperor Romanus Diogenes crossed the
Euphrates and marched to Malazkirt where he divided his army, sending
Norman contingent under Crusader Roussel de Bailleul to hold the
fortress of Khilat.

According to historians, Alp Arslan first invited the emperor for
negotiations but Romanus replied haughtily that he would dictate
terms of peace in Rei. On Friday, 19th August, 1071, Alp Arslan
prepared for battle. As soon as he came in sight of the enemy, he
dismounted and implored God for victory. The Turkmens then fell upon
the Byzantines with all their fury. Romanus had drawn up his army in
line. The Turkmens, however, according to their usual tactics,
refused to close and remained at a short distance from the heavy
Byzantine formation, into which they poured continuous streams of

Romanus, with the main body of the front line was surrounded. The
Turkmens closed in, still shooting. Eventually the Byzantines were
overrun and Romanus Diogenes was taken prisoner. Alp Arslan behaved
towards his defeated enemy with chivalrous courtesy. After a brief
period of detention, the emperor was released, weighed down by the
conqueror with valuable gifts.

While the ruthless Turkmens treated the unhappy Romanus with
courtesy, the action of his compatriots was less chivalrous. The
politicians of Constantinople were quick to seek their personal
interests from the national disaster. No sooner did the news of the
disaster reach Constantinople than the courtiers seized power by
raising to the purple the young son of the previous Emperor
Constantine Ducas. The new emperor assumed the title of Michael VII

When Romanus Diogenes returned to Byzantine territory, he found that
he had been deposed already. Endeavoring to raise an army, he was
defeated and carried as a prisoner to Constandnople, where his eyes
were torn out with such brutality that he died as a result of the

But the young Emperor Michael Ducas in the face of threat from Norman
Crusader Roussel de Bailleul made a fateful decision. Afraid that
Roussel would attack Constantinople, the emperor appealed for help to
the Seljuks. While the chivalrous Alp Arslan had marched away to
Trans-Oxania after releasing Romanus, his nephew Sulaiman ibn
Qutlumish now concluded an agreement with Michael Ducas to come to
his assistance against Roussel. The Normans were overwhelmed by the
combined armies of the Byzantines and the Seljuks.

The indomitable Roussel, however, continued the struggle, repulsing
his pursuers. A new Byzantine commander, Alexius Comnenus, was sent
against him, working in close co-operation with the Turkmens. At
length Roussel was handed over to Alexius Comnenus. This incident, in
which Alexius Comnenus, who was later to be Byzantine emperor,
co-operated with Turkmens against Normans, should be borne in mind.

After some time sultan Alp Arslan marched to Trans-Oxiana. In the
fall of 1072 the sultan’s army crossed the Oxus on a bridge of boats.
A prisoner was brought before Alp Arslan for questioning, but
suddenly broke away from the guards and plunged a dagger into the
sultan’s breast before the escorts could intervene. In the context of
the historical situation of those times it seems that Alp Arslan fell
victim to a treacherous plot hatched by the participants who were
discontented with the results of his strategy regarding Byzantine.

Some reflections about it appear to coincide with another version of
the death of Alp Arslan. It is said that before he could cross the
Oxus with safety it was necessary to subdue certain fortresses, one
of which was for several days vigorously defended by the governor,
Yussuf Kothual, a Khorezmian. He was, however, obliged to surrender
and was brought as a prisoner before the Sultan, who condemned him to
cruel death. Yussuf, in desperation, drew his dagger and rushed upon
the sultan. Alp Arslan, the most skilful archer of his day, motioned
his guards not to interfere and drew his bow, but his foot slipped,
the arrow missed the target and he received the assassin’s dagger in
his breast. The wound proved mortal, and Alp Arslan expired a few
hours later, on the 1st of December 1072.

As he lay dying, Alp Arslan is alleged to have said to his intimates,
“I have never engaged an enemy without first begging God for victory
– but yesterday I rode to the top of a small hill, while the earth
shook beneath the boots of my troops. I felt myself swell with pride
and said to myself, `I am the king of the whole earth. No one can
stand up to me’. So God overthrew me by the weakest of his creatures,
a prisoner-of-war under escort. I beg God to forgive me for my sin of

History continuously hammers home the lesson that arrogance does not
go a long way.

He died at the age of forty and was buried in Merv. The following
epitaph was inscribed on his tombstone:

“Thou hast seen Alp Arslan’s head
In pride exalted to the sky,
Come to Merv and see how lowly
In the dust that head doth lie”

In Turkmenistan calendar the month of August has been renamed as Alp
Arslan. It is a gesture of gratitude from the people of independent
Turkmen state of 21 century – Motherland of Great Seljuks to the
glorious Turkmen hero of the Middle Ages.

About the author: Dr. Begench Karayev is currently on Fulbright
Scholarship at Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. He holds a Ph.D.
from Moscow in political theory and is the author of monographs:
`Traditional and modern in political life of the contemporary Central
Asian society. Experience of political analysis’ (in Russian, 218p.,
Moscow, 1996) and `Policy analysis: problems of theory and
methodology. Experience of researches of contemporary Central Asian
society (in Russian, 176 p., Moscow, 1994). Before joining the
Fulbright Scholar Program Dr. Karayev served for more than seven
years as a senior diplomat in the Foreign Service of Turkmenistan.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress