Dr. May Mingles With the Mongols at Chinggis Khan’s 850th Birthday Party
What if the person whose birthday was being celebrated wasn’t even there?
In fact, what if he had died over 850 years ago?
Dr. Timothy May, head of the History & Philosophy Department at North Georgia, certainly says it is worth the trip as he recently returned from Mongolia on a trip to celebrate the birthday of the celebrated Mongol warrior Chinggis Khan.
Chinggis Khan united the Mongol tribes under his banner and led them on a campaign to rule the world in the early 13th century. The great Khan took over much of China and Central Asia before his death in 1227 and his descendants would go on to conquer huge swaths of Southern Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
In the Western world, we use the name Genghis Khan instead of Chinggis Khan due to a peculiar translation from Mongolian to French and then to English in the 17thcentury, according to May.
The name is important to pronounce correctly, he said, because it is seen everywhere in Mongolia.
“You will land at the Chinggis Khan airport, drive on Chinggis Khan Avenue, change money at the Chinggis Khan bank, stay at the Chinggis Khan hotel, drink Chinggis Khan beer or vodka (both of which are delightful) all the while using money with the visage of Chinggis Khan on every bill above 100 tugriks,” May said.
November 16 marked the 850th anniversary of Chinggis’ birth, which was celebrated with ceremonies and conferences in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar. Businesses shut down for the day in to honor Chinggis and there were several television performances that included song and dance.
Although this is a new holiday that does not yet have much tradition attached to it, the Mongolian government plans to make the celebration an annual occurrence, according to May
About 100 scholars were asked to participate in the events and May, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Mongol Empire and the only American present, was the plenary speaker.
But how did North Georgia get such a renowned expert in Chinggis Khan and the Mongols?
Well the answer is simple: May said he was offered the job and accepted. And as for why he has chosen to study the Mongols? He read a book on Chinggis in grade school and decided to pursue studying Mongols in college.
Main topics of discussion during the conferences concerned the impact that the Mongols had on globalization and of course, the life of Chinggis Khan himself. Along with the scholars were many foreign dignitaries that came to honor Chinggis. The country’s president, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, was present for the conference and personally met with Dr. May.
To honor the past exploits of Chinggis Khan, ceremonial guards, all fully dressed in the battle regalia of the 13th century, marched in formation through the streets of Ulaanbaatar to a grand pavilion decorated with the likenesses of some of the great generals and khans of the Mongols.
There we birthday ceremonies in places other than Mongolia. In Afghanistan, Mongolian soldiers serving with Coalition forces held a festival to honor the father of their country. Soldiers performed drills and had sporting competitions during the celebration on post.
In Atlanta the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is currently hosting an exhibit on the Mongols and Chinggis until January. May spoke there Nov. 11 and helped plan the exhibit.
The whole celebration and summoning of international scholars was organized by the Mongolian Foreign Ministry and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.
A similar event to honor Chinggis was planned in 1962, but was condemned by the Soviet Union. The Soviets would not allow any national heroes, even those long dead, to act a rallying point for the Mongolian people.
“Many scholars were purged from their positions, some were killed, and some imprisoned,” May said. “The other keynote speaker, Biru, is the only scholar who is still alive from the 1962 conference.”
May added that “It’s a bit amazing when you think about it. Fifty years ago, no one would have thought that this was possible.”