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Chagatai Khanate

Russian Turkestan




Syr Darja


Turkestanskago Kraia






Chinese Turkestan


East Turkestan





Turkestan is a region comprising parts of the former mediaeval Khwarezmian and Kara Chitai Empires. Kara Chitai was conquered by Genghis Khan (1206-’27) and left behind to his son Chagatai. In the 14th century Samarkand became the nucleus of the empire of Timur Beg. In the 15th century the the region was divided between the Uzbeks and the Khasghar Khanate. In the western part the principalities of Chiva, Bukhara, Kokhand and Badakshan gained a large measure of sovereignty and in the eastern part a Chinese dominion was established.

In the 19th century the boundaries between China and Russia within Turkestan were  established, the western part becoming the Turkestan General Government and the eastern part eventually becoming the Chinese Xinjang Autonomous province.

In 1924, the borders of political units in Central Asia were changed along ethnic lines determined by Lenin’s Commissar for Nationalities, Joseph Stalin. The Turkestan ASSR, the Bukharan People's Republic, and the Khorezm People's Republic were abolished and their territories were divided into five separate Soviet Socialist Republics: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and southern Kazakhstan

The region is mostly desert and semi-desert, with the exceptions of the mountainous east and the river valleys. The major rivers are the Amu Darya, Zeravshan, Syr Darya, Chu, and Ili. Of the five major ethnic groups, most Turkmen, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs were still nomads in 1900, but most Uzbeks had taken up agriculture or urban life, the traditional pursuits of the Tajiks.




The Chagatai Khanate (literally “Chagatai Country/Nation” in Mongolian language) was a Mongol, and later linguistically Turkicized, khanate that comprised the lands ruled by Chagatai Khan (1226-’42), second son of the Great Khan Genghis Khan, and his descendents and successors. Initially it was considered a part of the Mongol Empire, but it later became fully independent.

The Khanate was centered around Lake Balkash and At its height in the late 13th century, extended from the Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea to the Altai Mountains in the border of modern-day Mongolia and China. It covered about today’s Kazachstan, Kirgizistan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan and Xinjiang.

The khanate lasted in one form or another from 1220s until the late 17th century, although the western half of the khanate was lost to Timur Beg in the 1360s. The eastern half remained under Chagatai khans who were, at times, allied or at war with Timur’s successors. Finally, in the 17th century, the remaining Chagatai domains fell under the theocratic regime of Apaq Khoja and his descendants, the Khojijans, who ruled East Turkestan under Dzungar and Manchu overlordships consecutively.

Beginning in the mid-14th century a new khanate, in the form of a nomadic tribal confederacy headed by a member of the family of Chagatai, arose in the region of the Ili River. It is therefore considered to be a continuation of the Chagatai Khanate, but it is also referred to as the Moghul Khanate, since its tribal inhabitants were originally considered to be pure “Moghuls” (i.e., Mongols), in contrast to the mostly Turkic and Turkicised Mongols of Transoxiana.

Chagatayid rule in Moghulistan was temporarily interrupted by the coup of the Dughlat amir Qamar ud-Din, who likely killed Ilyas Khoja and several other Chagatayids. The Moghuls that remained obedient to him were constantly at war with Timur, who invaded Moghulistan several times but was unable to force its inhabitants into submission. A Chagatayid restoration occurred in the 1380s, but the Dughlats retained an important position within the khanate; for the next forty years they installed several khans of their own choosing.


Heraldry of Ma wara’un-Nahr


The national symbol of the Ma wara’un-Nahr empire, when in the Chinese and Mongol tradition,  may have been a sun, the symbol of state a moon, the former a red, and the latter a white disc. These are documented for the Chinese Empire. For the Empire of Genghiz Khan from which the Empire of Chagatai, who was a son of Genghiz, was a branch they are suggested by the sun and moon displayed above the head of Prince Leo of Armenia who paid homage to Genghiz Khan in Karakorum in 1256.

Two pieces of cloth further suggest that the heraldic system of Mahur-ul naher was copied of or inspired by the Chinese heraldic system of the Southern Sung dynasty. The first piece shows dragons and medallions with gerfalcons back-to-back. The dragon is the emblem of the Chinese emperor and of emperors in the chinese sphere of culture in general.

Also a common chinese emblem is the phoenix or feng, which is the emblem of the empress or the head of state. This is shown on another 13th Central Asian piece of cloth.

The gerfalcons are also known from Chinese heraldry. They are the emblem of a commander with imperial powers of a great army. Such a falcon is a he or gerfalcon (Falco rusticolus - Falconidæ) and is also known from the Tang dynasty (618-960). Marco Polo, writing about Qubilai Khan (a colleague of Qaidu, 1270-1304) says that the gerfalcon is the mark of distinction of commanders of an army of 100,000. For that reason we may assume that the cloth with the falcons back-to-back has belonged to the supreme commander of the Ma wara’un-Nahr army.






Reconstruction from:

Medallions with birds back-to-back, the field decorated with dragons.

Piece of textile. Silk. Lampas weave. Central Asia (West Turkestan), 1st half of the 14th c. (70 Í 21.5 cm.). Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin inv. 75, 258. [1]



Phoenix / Simurg / Feng



Textile with Phoenix, Winged Animal, and Flowers,

13th–early 14th century, Central Asia. Silk and metallic thread lampas; 23.7 Í 16.5 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. Howard J. Sachs, in memory of Arthur Upham Pope, 1973 (1973.269)





Medallions with birds back-to-back, the field decorated with dragons.

Reconstruction from:

Piece of textile. Silk. Lampas weave. Central Asia (West Turkestan), 1st half of the 14th c. (70 Í 21.5 cm.). Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin inv. 75, 258. Æ medallions 37 cm ca..


Two Headed Eagle, griffins and lions


Some other pieces of 13th century Central Asian cloth show a two-headed eagle, a griffin and a lion. These suggest that a parallel heraldic system was also in use in the empire. This undoubtedly was the Byzantine heraldic system from which also an eagle was an important part. No such eagle has been found as yet. The Byzantine system may have been practised by auxiliary troops of seljuq or khwarezmian origin.



Two headed eagle, griffins and lions, mid-13th c.


Left: Reconstruction from:

Cloth of Gold with Displayed Falcons, mid-13th century, Central Asia. Silk and metallic thread lampas (nasij); Warp: 57.5 cm, Weft: 18.4 cm. Lent by The Cleveland Museum of Art. Edward L. Whittemore Fund, 1996.297


Right: Textile with winged lions and griffins,

Central Asia, mid-13th century. Lampas weave, gold thread on silk foundation. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund (1989.50). Æ medallions 37.5 cm.


The griffin, of Egyptian and Mesopotamian origin, was the emblem of a Tribunus in Roman, and of a turmachos in Byzantine military hierarchy and occupied a place between the eagle and the lion. Also it was the emblem of an archduke in mediaeval European hierarchy.


The lion was an emblem of military rank common to both the Chinese and Byzantine heraldic systems. Marco Polo states that “As for the commander of 100,000, or the generalissimo of a great army, he has a tablet of gold weighing 300 saggi (1,400 g.) with an inscription such I have mentioned; and at the foot of the tablet is portrayed the lion, and above it is an image of the sun and moon.” This may have been true for such a commander not being the lieutenant of the Emperor, as he bore the emblem of a gerfalcon in addition. In the younger Ming and Qing heraldic systems the lion also occupied the first place.

Whereas the Chinese lion was an emblem of elevated military rank, the European lion was an emblem ranking below the two-headed eagle, the eagle and the griffin and closely related to the function of a count or the military rank of a duke.


The Lion and Sun of Timur Beg


Of mixed origin but not conflicting with the Chinese or Byzantine traditions is the lion-and-sun of Timur Beg. Timur Beg, also known as Timur Lenk or Tamerlane originated from Kesh, a city some 58 km south of Samarcand.


Clavijo, [2] writes about the visit of the ambassadors of the spanish king to Kesh in 1403:

“On Friday they (the ambassadors) were taken to see some great palaces. [....] In front of the first entrance there was another gateway, leading to a great courtyard paved with stones, and surrounded by doorways of very rich workmanship. In the centre of the court there was a great pool of water, and this court was three hundred paces wide. The court led to the body of the building, by a very broad and lofty doorway, ornamented with gold an blue patterns on glazed tiles, richly and beautifully worked. On top of this doorway there was the figure of a lion and a sun, which are the arms of the lord of Samarcand; and though they say that Timour Beg ordered these palaces to be built, I believe that the former lord of Samarcand gave the order; because the sun and the lion which are here represented, are the arms of the lords of Samarcand and those which Timour Beg bears, are three circles like O’s drawn in this manner OOO and this is to signify that he is lord of the three parts of the world. He ordered this device to be stamped on his coins, and on everything he had; and for this reason I think that some other lord must have commenced this palace, before the time of Timour Beg. The lord has these three O’s on his seals, and he has ordered that those who are tributary to him shall have it stamped on the coins of their countries.”


That is to say that the emblem of Timur Beg when Lord of Samarcand (1363-1406) may have been a lion and sun indeed. This emblem can be explained by the fact that his great grandfather Karachar Nevian was a minister of Chagatai..... “he ruled with justice and moderation for many years, and established his own tribe of Berlus round the town of Kesh, near Samarcand. He became Sepoh Salar or general of Chagatai’s forces, and the title was made hereditary in his family.”[3]

This would explain the emblem of the sun and lion in the Kesh Palace, as it corresponds with the title of Beg. Depending of which tradition was followed, the sun was a red disc or a faced sun radiant. 


The emblems of Timur Beg, who was the ruler of an immense empire but called himself a beg for all of his life, were of a different kind. His standard showed a crescent and sun, and his emblem of rank was an eagle of which there were four on the posts of his tent. [4]

Also, his seal with the “three circles like O’s” was of Buddhist origin as it displays the three jewels of Buddhism (tri-ratna or konchog sum) symbolizing the holy triad Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.





In the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire began to expand and spread into Central Asia. The “Great Game” period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907.

Russia was drawn into Turkestan by the need for a stable frontier and the desire to forestall British influence. The Turkestan oblast was formed in 1865, subject to the Orenburg governor-general, from territories recently conquered from the Kokand khanate. These included Tashkent, one of the two largest towns in the region (the other was Bukhara).

In 1867 the Turkestan government-general was established, consisting of two oblasts - Syr Darya and Semireche - responsible directly to the war minister, with Tashkent as its capital.

Further annexations from the Uzbeg khanates expanded the government-general. Bukhara's defeat in 1868 added the Zeravshan okrug, including Samarkand. The right bank of the lower Amu Darya was annexed to the Syr Darya oblast as a result of Khiva's defeat in 1873, and the remainder of Kokand Khanate, dissolved after an uprising in 1875, was annexed as the Fergana oblast in 1876. In 1882 Semireche was transferred to the new Steppe government-general, reducing Turkestan to two oblasts, but four years later the Zeravshan okrug, enlarged at the expense of Syr Darya, was renamed the Samarkand oblast. In 1894 the Transcaspian Region, which had been conquered in 1881-1885 was added to the Governor-Generalship. In 1898 Semireche was returned to the Turkestan government-general.


The Soviet government reorganized the government-general in 1918 as the Turkestan Region of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic.


In 1924 the Turkestan region was abolished. Its northern districts, inhabited by Kazakhs, were incorporated in the Kazakh ASSR of the Russian republic; its eastern districts, inhabited by Kyrgyz, were joined to the Kazakh republic as the Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast. The remainder of Turkestan was divided into the Turkmen and Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republics, the latter's southeast forming the Tajik ASSR.


Russian Turkestan Oblasts [5]


Ferghana Territory / Ферганской области



Arms: Argent, a fess Azure between three silkworms Gules, 2 and 1.

Crown: A Russian royal crown

Garland: Branches of oak tied with a ribbon Gules.

Granted 1890-01-31


The silkworms are for the silk cultivation within the territory, the fess represents the Syr Darja river

Formerly Kokhand Chanate. Today the territory is divided between Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Samarkand Territory / Самаркандской области



Arms: Azure, a pale wavy Argent between two branches of mulberry Or, and a chief Argent, three rings Sable.

Crown: A Russian royal crown

Garland: Branches of oak tied with a ribbon Gules.

 Granted 1890-01-31


The pale is for the Zerafshan river, the mulberry branches are for the silk industry. The three rings refer to the seal and arms of Tamerlane (Timur the Lame = the lame Iron).

Today divided between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.


Semiryechensk Territory / Семирђченской области



SEMIRYECHENSK, a province of Russian Turkestan, including the steppes south of Lake Balkash and parts of the Tian-shan Mountains around Lake Issyk-kul. It has an area of 147,300 sq. m., and is bounded by the province of Semipalatinsk, by China (Dzungaria, Kulja, Aksu and Kashgaria) on the E. and S., and by the Russian provinces of Ferghana, Syr-darya, and Akmolinsk on the W.

Today divided between Kazachstan and Kirgizia


Arms: Gules, a crescent reversed Or and a chief Or, strewn with crowned two-headed eagles Sable.

Crown: A Russian royal crown

Garland: Branches of oak tied with a ribbon Gules.

Granted 1878-07-05

Syr Darja Territory / Cыръ Дарьинской области



Arms: Or, a fess wavy Azure between two wine-leaves Vert.

Crown: A Russian royal crown

Garland: Branches of oak tied with a ribbon Gules.

Granted 1878-07-05


The fess wavy symbolizes the river Syr Darja. Today the territory is divided between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan


Transcaspian Territory / Закаспиской области



Arms: Azure, a clawless Siberian tiger proper, holding a bow with broken string Or; and a base Or.

Crown: A Russian royal crown

Garland: Branches of oak tied with a ribbon Gules.

Granted 1890-01-31


The blason refers to the subjection of the Tekke Turcomans when the Turcoman tiger was robbed of its claws and arms.

By the Kerenski government the crown on the arms was replaced by a two-headed eagle.









ï  Arms of Transkaspian Oblast on a 5 ruble note, 1919.


Today the territory is divided between Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (Kara Kalpak).


Turkestanskago A.S.R / Tуpкecтанскаго A.C.P

Turkestanskago A.S.S.R / Tуpкecтанскаго A.C.C.P

30.04.1918 - 24.09.1920

24.09.1920 - 27.10.1924



An achievement for the region was printed on paper money issued by the State Bank of Turkestan in 1918. It shows the arms of the five composing territories, the arms of Syr Darja,  Samarkand and Ferghana in alliance, crested with a two-headed eagle, and between the arms of Transcaspia and Semiryechensk. 

The two-headed eagle is the eagle of the Kerenski government (March-November 1917), also replacing the crowns on the arms of the oblasts. [6]

On the reverse is the two-headed Kerenski eagle and a crescent and five-pointed star, the first the emblem of the Russian Republic, the second probably the emblem of the Turkestan Council:



The same year however, when a coat of arms of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic was adopted on 20 June 1918, the achievement, the eagle and the crescent-and-star were replaced by the arms and later by the seal of the RSFSR:


50 kopek note, 1918

Showing the arms of the RSFSR of 20.06.1918



The seal of the RSFSR is on Turkestanskago Kraia banknotes of 250 and 500 rubles, issued 1919.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay.


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© Hubert de Vries 2011-05-22

[1] Another piece is: Dragons. Piece of textile. Silk. Central Asia, 14th c. (41 Í 38 cm.) Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin inv. 00, 53. (no picture)

[2] Markham, Clements R.: Narrative of the Embassy of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo to the Court of Timour at Samarcand. London, MDCCCLIX. p. 123

[3] Ibid, p. xiii

[4] Markham, op. cit. p. 143

[5] Ströhl, Hugo Gerard: Russisch-Asiatische Wappenrolle. Die Wappen der Gouvernements, Gebiete und vieler Orte in Kaukasien, Turkestan, der Kirgisensteppe und Siberien. In: Jahrbuch des Heraldisch-Genealogischen Vereins “Adler”. 1901, pp. 80-102, IX Tafeln. Winkler, P.P. von: Gerby Gorodov Gubernii, Oblastei o Posadov Rossiiskoi Imperii s 1649 po 1900 God. St. Petersburg, 1900. (Repr. Planeta, Moskva, 1990)

[6] Neubecker, Ottfried: Sowjetheraldik. In: Osteuropa. 5e Jg., Heft 6. Berlin, März 1930, p.391.

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