ANU Students in Mongolia: Post No. 3 ‘Kharkhorin or Karakorum’

Kharhorin or Karakorum

By Abhijeet Swami

Since the 1990’s there has been discussion to shift the capital of Mongolia to Kharkhorin from the current over-polluted capital of Ulaanbaatar. Historically, Kharkhorin was the centre of empires that had a significant impact across Eurasia.

The plain on which Kharkhorin (earlier Karakorum) is situated extends 30 kilometers or more between two east-west running ridges. No landform obstructs the sun as it travels along its length. The Orkhon river follows the base of mountains to the north. It is summer and the grass is plentiful. Availability of grass, water and space made the Orkhon valley an appropriate site for the encampment of an army, or for the establishment of a large city. It is not surprising that this valley is a place of ceremonial significance and that Mongols and nomadic leaders desired capital cities and empires to be built there.

Southern bank of the Orkhon and floodplain. Photo: Abhijeet Swami.

Turkic people first established a tradition of rule from this valley in the early 8th Century. Mortuary monuments to the Turkic leader Bilge Khaghan and his younger brother and commander Kül Tegin were found about a ‘day’s ride on horseback’ north of the ruins of Karakorum’.[i] Uighurs established the next empire (744-840) in the region and their capital, Khar Balgas, was also less than a day’s ride on horseback from Kharkhorin.

Kharkhorin became an imperial city in the second half of the 13th Century.[ii] Permanent buildings were established around 1235 and did not cease being built until the 1250’s. For longer than a decade, 1500 workers were building the city walls, until they were dismissed by Mongke Khan in 1251, who then ‘resettled’ 500 craftsmen families to build a palace.[iii] When Friar William arrived from France in 1254, although he was not impressed by the dimensions of the city or the palace, he saw twelve temples devoted to the faiths of different peoples, two mosques, and a church; as well as grain, sheep and goats, cattle and wagons, and horses being sold at the four gates of the city.[iv] The city became a centre of art production, where ceramic, metal, glass, wood, bone and birchbark objects were produced by artisans from around the empire for use and exchange.

But it was not easy to maintain the city in a place of savage winters and vast distances: freezing and thawing of the ground damaged infrastructure; raw material had to be imported from the far reaches of the empire; and the climate was not suitable for growing sufficient food. Indeed, Ogedei Khan issued a Yasa, which commanded that 500 wagonloads of food and drink should arrive at Kharkhorin every day.[v] This Yasa was a source of grief to generations of oxen, who pulled these big wagons from northern China.

Kharkhorin was destroyed by Ming troops in either 1380 or 1388 after lasting through violent sieges during the intervening years.[vi] Since then floods and rains have moved the earth so that the remnant city is now entirely under ground. When I visit, it is the time when the rains fall but I can see it is still possible to wade across the river. Widespread debris on the south bank and the high-water mark on the north bank indicate that the river can rapidly become deep and fast flowing. Four granite stone turtles, as foundation stones, used to face towards the cardinal directions. One of these turtles survives, as it was moved onto the mountain above Kharkhorin. An information board next to this turtle advises that the turtles were placed there to ensure a long and peaceful life for the city, to seek protection from floods and protection against invading enemies.

Turtle at Kharkhorin. Photo: Einalem (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Moving the capital from Ulaanabaatar to Kharkhorin would be an expression of Mongolian nationalism, while it would also relieve congestion and pollution in the current capital of Ulaanbaatar. Judging by the many permanent structures built on the floodplain, flooding may have become less of a problem today, perhaps due to climate change.[vii] From experience with the worsening conditions in Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts, the Mongolian government could plan to better accommodate future migrants in the city from the surrounding countryside. National debt and a small economy, however, may not allow construction of a socially-inclusive city. Development of Kharkhorin into the capital city at a future date is a possibility, given that it is a suitable place for settlement and connected to Ulaanbaatar by a sealed road. Yet Kharkhorin’s historic legacy alone may not be sufficient to draw migrants, or employment as infrastructure and maintenance will require significant government investment.

 

[i] Skaff, J.K. and Honeychurch, W. 2009. ‘Empire building before the Mongols: legacies of the Turks and Uyghurs’, In W.W. Fitzhugh, M. Rossabi & W. Honeychurch (eds.) Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire, The Mongolian Preservation Foundation and Smithsonian Institution, Seattle, pp. 84-89.

[ii] Erdenebat, U. and Pohl, E. 2009. ‘The crossroads in Khara Khorum: excavations at the center of the Mongol empire’, In W.W. Fitzhugh, M. Rossabi & W. Honeychurch (eds.) Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire, The Mongolian Preservation Foundation and Smithsonian Institution, Seattle, pp. 136-145.

[iii] Pohl, E. 2010. ‘The excavations in the craftsmen-quarter of Karakorum (KAR-2) between 2000 and 2005- stratigraphy and architecture’, In J. Bemmann, U. Erdenebat & E. Pohl (eds.), Mongolian-German Karakorum expedition, Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden, pp. 63-136.

[iv] Rubruck, W. 1990. [13th Century], The mission of Friar William of Rubruck: his journey to the court of the Great Khan Mongke 1253- 1255, trans. P. Jackson, The Hakluyt Society, London, p. 221.

[v] Al-Din, R 1971, The successors of Genghis Khan, trans. J A Boyle, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 62-63.

[vi] Pohl 2010, pp. 132-134.

[vii] Already Mongolia has warmed by 2.14 degrees Celcius, water bodies have become smaller or have disappeared and there were 57 days of dust storms in 2007, compared to 18 such days in 1960 (Ministry of Environment, nd, Climate change in Mongolia: outputs from GCM, Government of Japan, viewed 6 September 2018, https://www.env.go.jp/earth/ondanka/pamph_gcm/gcm_mongolia_en.pdf).

ANU Students in Mongolia: Post No. 1. ‘Mining & Dining’

As part of an ANU Mongolia Institute course, twelve students traveled to Mongolia to participate in the intensive study tour ‘Modern Mongolia: challenges to the environment, economy and empire’, coordinated by Prof. Li Narangoa and Dr Jack Fenner. MongolInk will feature a series of posts written by students during their field experience in Mongolia in July 2017. The first post is by Savanna Pilgrim.

Visiting Baga Nuur mine. Photo: Savanna Pilgrim

Mining & Dining: Thoughts about female employment in the Mongolian mining sector from the Baga Nuur cafeteria

I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of ANU students who visited Mongolia on a winter school field trip, exploring the country that is modern Mongolia. On July 5, as a group, we made our first trek out of the big city of Ulaanbaatar towards the yet-to-be explored Mongolian countryside. After an hour of driving our view of green mountains and valleys was interrupted by what some in the group dubbed ‘Mongolia’s Uluru’, or what is otherwise known as the Baga Nuur mine. We were visiting the mine site, one of the country’s largest, to learn more about mining within Mongolia and the ways in which it has been relevant to the economic development of Mongolia in the past, in addition to how it will be important in the future.

 

As a part of the trip, we had each chosen a research area to explore, of which mine was female participation and equality in Mongolia’s post-socialist era. The relevance of this topic was clear to me when we were dining with the Mongolian miners in the mine’s cafeteria; whilst the room was bulging with male miners there appeared to be very few female miners. The reality of the gender divide of workers at the mine was made clear later in our tour when a guide informed us that, of the mine’s 1100 employees, only 150 of them were women. That is a participation rate of one female to seven males.

 

Female employment and participation in the Mongolian mining sector is interesting to considering for a number of reasons. Both historically and contemporarily Mongolia is a country that is typically discussed as having high gender equality. In many respects this is true, particularly in equal employment and education access terms. Women make up over 60% of university students, and go on to dominate fields, such as medicine and legal practices (Rossabi 2005). Mining, however, is very different. In 1999, the Mongolian Labour Law was enacted and Article 101.1, which prohibited female employment in a number of ‘dangerous’ sectors, including mining. This law was in spite of Mongolia’s 1999 signing of and commitment to the United Nations’ Convention Against Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in which economic rights are specifically codified (Ellis & Ellison 2015). This deprivation of employment rights within the mining sector is significant given that Mongolia’s mining sector is the nation’s fastest growing and highest paying industry. The mining sector currently makes up over 80% of the nation’s exports and 30% of government revenue, whilst miners make 2.5 times the national average monthly wage (Mongolian Economy Journal 2014). The ban on female participation in the field specifically excludes women from access to this area of flourishing growth and employment, based on a view of needing to keep women ‘safe’ (Khan 2013).

 

The Labour Laws in regards to female employment were reversed in 2008 by Mongolia’s federal parliament (Khan 2013, 8). This theoretically granted women greater access to the mining industry and the large-scale economic benefits the sector provides. Yet, despite the opening of economic opportunities, the female employment rate in the Mongolian mining sector is only currently between 5-10%. This is despite the fact that university graduates in geology (the main group employed in the mining sector) are overwhelmingly women (Ellis & Ellison 2015). Why is there such low female representation in the sector? International Labour Organisation (ILO) research suggests that women are not encouraged to work in mining, despite the economic benefits it could have, due to ongoing social pressure for women to be protected from ‘unsuitable’ and ‘unsafe’ jobs. Furthermore, ILO studies show that mining companies in Mongolia claim they prefer male candidates for jobs and prefer women to fill service, support and administrative positions (Khan 2016).

 

Given Mongolia’s reputation, as being a largely gender equal country, it would be encouraging to see action taken to rectify this ongoing issue of lack of female employment within the mining sector. Khan (2013) suggests the industry should: 1. Enforce the Law on Gender Equality (2011), 2. Promote a healthy and safe workplace environment for all individuals, 3. Enforce sexual harassment laws and create awareness of respect for gender equality, and 4. Create a mandate for companies to report employment practices and policies. Through such changes it could be possible for increased gender equality to occur within Mongolia’s mining sector.

 

With Mongolia’s mining sector predicted to only continue to grow in the decades to come, it would be disappointing and limiting to continue to see a lack of female employment in a sector where women have the rights and skill capacity to work. It will be interesting to see what changes occur in the future.

 

SOURCES:

Ellis, E. & Ellison, M., 2015. “Women in mining: will Mongolia’s proposed new Labour Law encourage greater participation by women?” https://www.expertguides.com/articles/women-in-mining-will-mongoliasproposed-new-labour-law-encourage-greater-participation-by-women/arlillic (accessed 7 July 2017).

Khan, T., 2013. Mongolia: Raising Female Participation in the Large Scale Mining Sector (No. 16499). The World Bank.

Mongolian Economy Journal. 2014. “Average Wage stands at MNT 760 000” http://mongolianeconomy.mn/en/i/6014 (accessed 7 July 2017).

Rossabi, M., 2005. “Women in Modern Mongolia” http://asiasociety.org/education/women-modern-mongolia (accessed on 15 June 2017).

Susanna Pilgrim is a fourth year Bachelor of International Relations/Arts student. She also works at the ANU as the Coordinator of the ANU Learning Communities, a student-led group, which seeks to engage both the ANU and broader Canberra communities in ongoing community-focused learning and development opportunities. 

 

 

ANU Mongolia Update in Ulaanbaatar, 2016

Audience at Mongolia Update 2016
Audience at Mongolia Update 2016. Photo: Itgel Chuluunbaatar.
Prof. Li Narangoa introducing former Mongolian Ambassador to Australia, Batbold.
Prof. Li Narangoa introducing former Ambassador to the UN, Enkhsaikhan Jargalsaikhan. Photo: Itgel Chuluunbaatar.
One of the speakers, MP of Environment and Green Development, Oyun Sanjaasuren.
One of the speakers, MP of Environment and Green Development, Oyun Sanjaasuren. Photo: Itgel Chuluunbaatar.
Christian Sorace asking a question from the audience
Dr Christian Sorace asking a question from the audience. Photo: Itgel Chuluunbaatar.
ANU Mongolia Update
Mr Amargargal Rinchinnyam, MP and former Prime Minister of Mongolia.
Current and former members of the ANU's Mongolia Institute
Current and former members of the ANU’s Mongolia Institute
Former postgraduate students who studied at the ANU
Former postgraduate students who studied at the ANU