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IRAQ-The 3rd Millennia Theatre of War was Aryan Rann-Bhoomi in 2nd Millennia BC


Paper No. 648                                                 31.03.2003

by K Gajendra Singh

This US led war against Iraq, declared outside the UN Charter by secretary general Kofi Annan, might be a new war or continuation of the 1991 Gulf War.  The 1991 war might or might not be the mother of all battles as described by president Saddam Hussein.  But this war might end up as the mother of all battles in its ramifications for this century.  Will it bring back might is right and the law of the Jungle?

However the civilizations which flourished in Mesopotamia, between the river valleys of rivers Euphrates and Tigris and their tributaries in Iraq, Turkey and Syria and in Iran certainly remain the mother lode of all civilizations.  It is from them that the Egyptians and the Phoenicians borrowed and from them the Cretian civilization took shape, mother of the Greek civilization; basis for European and Western civilizations.

But now a days it is the cities of first millennia Islamic culture and civilization which are attracting the attention of international media and in the cross wires of warring machines, bringing home on TV screens daily historic and revered names like Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Kerbala, Kut, Mosul, Kirkuk, Nasiriye and Ninenveh to name few of them. Flourishing civilisations have always attracted barbarians and savages, who have prevailed by sheer brutal force i.e. chariot riders, horse riders, mobile military and tanks and now helicopter gun ships and inaccessible and invisible air machines raining terrible deaths and destruction.  But before the centers  of Islamic culture and civilization emerged, centers of ancient civilizations had existed earlier.  With corporate chieftains ruling a country which has graduated from savagery (against red Indians and African black slaves) to high-tech, it is hoped that these invaluable cities, sign posts and remains of progress in human civilisation and culture would not be damaged and destroyed.  For example, during 16th to 13th century BC, the dynasty of Aryan Mitannis flourished in the rich and grain growing valleys of the rivers Balikh and Khabur, tributaries of the Euphrates.  The upper Mesopotamia region around the middle reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris was rich agriculture land and therefore, much sought after.  Throughout history, because of its excellent location, for caravans bringing goods from India and the east, for connecting the Arabian desert to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, it was much fought over.  It is now divided between Turkey, Syria and Iraq with Iran not far away.

Mitannis perhaps came to this region through the Caucasus and had splintered off in the Eurasian steppes from the main stream of Aryan tribes, who had continued on to Iran and then to India.  They became the ruling chariot riding aristocracy among the confederation of Hurrian, Hanigalbat and other states of the region which extended from the Zagros mountains in Iran through Assyria, upper Mesopotamia and Syria to the Mediterranean.  Information on Mitannis and their kingdoms first surfaced at the end of the 19th century when letters from a Mitanni King sent to his Pharaoh son-in-law were discovered at El Amarna and deciphered.  The Egyptians called the Mitannis Naharinas.  The other extensive and important source material was discovered in early 20th century at Bogazkoy 250 km north east of Ankara, the stronghold of Hittites.

Among the documents discovered were treaties between the Hittites and Mitannis in which reference was made to the Indo-Iranian gods Indra, Natasya, Mitra and Varuna and a treatise on horse training and chariotry in Hittite written by Kikkuli, a Mitanni who used ancient Vedic Sanskrit technical terms.  This also confirmed Mitannian superiority in matters of horsemanship.

The Egyptian Pharaohs had requested the Mitannis time and again for horses and chariots.  Other places where cuneiform documents in Akkadian and other languages throw light on Mitannis are Arraphka, Nuzi (near Kirkuk), Alalakh, a river port on Orontes (on the Turkish -Syrian border near Antioch), Ugarit (Ras Shamra in Syria) on the Mediterranean, Mari on the river Euphrates. Antioch (Antakya in Turkey) was the capital of Selucus Nikator's empire, Alexander's infantry commander against Porus in India, but when he tried to reclaim Alexander's domains he was defeated and fobbed off with 500 elephants by Chandra Gupta Maurya.  Ugarit was perhaps one of the greatest international sea ports of that time for, owing to its location, it controlled trade between Syria, its hinterland and the East with the Aegean and the Mediterranean, with merchants and sailors from Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Mycene and other places mingling here for trade and commerce. Documents from Nuzi describe certain social and religious traditions which are reflected in Hebrew legends recorded in the Old Testament.

The fact that the gods in the Treaties are Hindu Vedic Daivya gods, Indra and Natasya along with Assura Iranian gods Mitra and Varuna, shows that the Aryan division into Iranians and Indians had  not yet taken place. Later on most of Daivya worshipping Aryans continued on to India and most of Assura worshipping Aryans stayed behind in Iran after some recriminations, each calling the others gods devils.  Limiting the use of Indo-Aryan gods to the Treaties perhaps indicates that only the rulers were of Indo-Aryan origin.  There is also some evidence that the Royals were cremated.  The chariot riding shock troops were called Marijannina linked with old Indian Vedic i.e.  Marya=youngman, old Avestan= a member of a group.  Later this land owning aristocratic group became hereditary, i.e. even without owning chariots.  The technical terms used in horse training and chariotry like aika wartanna, navartanna etc (one turn , nine turns ) are like ek vartanam, nava vartanam as in Vedic Sanskrit.  A Hurrian text from Yorgan Tepe uses Indo-Aryan words to describe the colour of horses, i.e. babru (brown ) parita (grey ), pinkara (reddish ) etc.

The beginnings of the Mitannis arrival are shrouded in mystery, but it seems that they took advantage of the collapse of the Empire established by Hammurabi (who gave the first code in human history, ie to protect the weak against the strong).  There are reasons to believe that the kings of the Ashur between 1500 BC to 1360 BC were the vassals of the Mitannis.  The Mitannis also crossed the Euphrates and exercised influence over the Amorites and Canaanites in the South i.e. Palestine and Israel.  The first and most important Mitanni king was Saustatar (1450 BC to 1440 BC).   Other important kings  were Artatama (1440-1420),Vedic rta -dhaman= whose abode is the Rta, Shutarna (1420 to 1395), Artashumara (1395 to 1385), Tushratta = Vedic Tvesh- ratha, one whose chariot moves forward violently( some echo of Dashrath ) and Sattiwaza; in old Indo-Aryan sati-vaja = acquiring booty, old Vedic vaja -sati.  While the etymology of names of all Mitanni kings has not been done, they are very different from Hurrian names. Rulers with similar names ruled in south Syria and Palestine.  Shaustatar ruled around the same time as Pharaoh Thuthmosis III. In fact he made Thuthmosis's drive to conquer Syria, very difficult by supporting the small states there. This led to mutual respect for each other. Later the Mitannis signed a peace treaty with the Pharaohs in order to counteract the Hittite threat from the North West.  This state relationship was cemented with a Mitanni princess being married to a Pharaoh, but only after 7 requests had been received. Shaustatar's son Artatama sent his daughter Mutema as wife to Pharaoh Thuthmosis IV, grandson of Thutmosis III.   Artatarna's successor Shutarna's daughter Gilukhepa was married to Amun hotep III.  She went to her husband in style accompanied by 317 Mitannian maidens.

Next, Tushratta gave his daughter Tadukhepa to Amun hotep IV, who also married Gilukhepa, youngest in his father's harem.  It is generally believed that Gilukhepa was no other than the beautiful and famous Nefertiti.  It is known that Nefertiti fully supported her husband' s efforts to bring in monotheism.  It was from Egypt, where Moses was born and brought up that he led out the Jews with the idea of one God Jehovah.  The last semi-independent King was Mattiuzza, who was installed on the throne following a palace coup after the murder of Tushratha.  He became a vassal of the Hittite king Shuppiluliuma who gave his daughter Mursil in marriage to Mattiuza.  Thus the Mitanni dynasty came to be connected with both the Pharaohs and the Hittites.  But after the alliance with the Hittites, the Mitannis were reduced to a smaller state with limited independence.  As the Mitanni power declined relations with the Pharaohs withered away.  Some of its later kings were Shattwara and Wasasatta.  Small Mitanni states lingered on for years.  The Assyrians took advantage of the situation to assert their independence. They even raided the Mitanni capital Wassukkanni and took back the golden and silver gates which the Mitannis had brought from Assyria 200 years ago.  Assyrian king Ashur Uballit I (1365 BC to1338 BC) ended the Mittani independence completely by defeating Shuttarna II.  Over 14,000 Mitannis were blinded.  After this defeat, the Mitannis either got absorbed in the region or some of them went up north to form part of the Urartu Kingdom.  Something like that had perhaps also happened to another Indo Aryan people the Kassites, who had ruled earlier over Assyria for nearly 5 centuries, but apart from 300 words of their language and 30 odd gods not much is known about them.

In the Kingdom of Mitannis, also known that of Hurrians, the latter probably formed the majority, ie the other backward classes of those days.  The Hurrians, whose language is neither Indo-European nor Semitic, were a non-Indo-European people and are believed to have come from Armenia and present day north east of Turkey.  They were well distributed in the region, even in the Hittite areas.  They were culturally well developed and their religion and other practices were adopted by the Hittites.  The Hurrians also transmitted the Assyrian culture to the Hittites. Perhaps it was too early for the castes to emerge, but the Mitannis certainly appeared to be like the Kshatriyas; a word which comes from ratharias charioteers ( Rath chariot) , having superimposed themselves over the Hurrians.  The Mitannis used Hurrian language but inducted into it Indo-Aryan vocabulary, as the Turks did in Persia, India in a way and elsewhere, ie using the language of the subjects, but retaining the military terms.

Most of the time the Mitannis had adverse relations with Indo-European Hittites in Bogazkoy, nearly 250 km north east of Turkey’s capital Ankara.  They generally had close familial relations with the Egyptian Pharaohs.  The Hittites were an Indo-European people, the first to break away from the proto Indo-Europeans, who probably originated from the Black Sea coast of Russia and Ukraine.  They had reached Asia Minor at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC via the straits of the Bosporus and established a magnificent and impregnable capital at Hattusa, ie Bogazkoy next to Cappadocia (with its mysterious honeycombed underground cities and lunar landscape with eerie tall chimneys in which the earliest Christian communities had built their churches).  The name Hittites (referred as such in the Bible) is taken from Hattis, an indigenous people, whom the Hittites had displaced and who then formed the lower sub-strata.  The Hittites called themselves Nes and their language Nesiti.

The Hittite King Hattusilis (reign 1650 to 1620 BC) consolidated the Kingdom and extended its control over most of Asia Minor and Northern Syria.  His grandson Mursilis I raided down along the Euphrates river and destroyed the Amorite dynasty of Babylon, then one of the most cosmopolitan, rich and cultured cities.  The austere highlanders felt out of place and far away from Hattussa and returned to their capital.

Then for some time they got embroiled in their own affairs and re-emerged as the new Empire in the 14th century BC.  Under Suppililumas I it reached the height of its power, extent and culture.  Tusharatta, the last independent   Mitanni King, defeated the Hittites first time around, but Suppililuimas I then went north and east, taking Wassukkanni by surprise.  Tushratta escaped to Carchemish, but the Mitanni power was broken and its glory came to an end. Suppliliumas put his sons as kings of Aleppo and Carchemish.  Hittite king Muwatallis (1320 to 1294BC) fought at Kadesh (in Syria) in one of the greatest tactical battles of ancient times against Pharaoh Ramses II.  It was probably indecisive, even though the latter claimed a victory.  Later a peace treaty was signed and a marriage alliance concluded. The Hittites were tolerant in their religious outlook and their polytheism contained indigenous Anatolian, Syrian and Hurrian divinities.  The Hittite  King, deputy of the storm god, was also the commander in chief, chief judge and after death became a god.  The earliest Indo-Aryan writing in India occurs around 300 BC on Ashoka pillars, but it is really Prakrit.  The ancient Sanskrit of Vedas, though transmitted orally was probably written down by 6th century BC. Thus the earliest written archaic Indo-Aryan/Indo-Iranian language has been found in Asia Minor and Syria.  The Hittite language is the earliest known extinct form of Indo-European language and the older Hittite texts (from 1650 BC to 1595 BC ) are the earliest texts found so far. In the later forms (1400 BC to 1190 BC) are to be found the Treaties and Treatise mentioned earlier, which are some times on display at the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul along with other historical treasures, literally a sweep through time and history.

But for a full and authentic account of the times and lives of the Mitannis and pre-Vedic Aryans, we have to wait till Wassukkanni is located, dug and its findings deciphered. Unfortunately, none of the sites of the Mitanni Kingdom itself has been located.  Knowledge about the Mitannis is based on information from sites in El Amarna Egypt and Bogazkoy in north-west Turkey.  Wassukkanni was once thought to be Rais el Ain in Syria, just 80 kms east across from Harran, where Patriarch Abraham had halted on way to Palestine (he is believed to be buried in Hebron ) from Urs in Iraq.   But the Akkadian cuneiform tablets found at Amarna, when subjected to tests did not match. Wassukkanni is now believed to be up north in south east Turkey between Mardin, and 100 km up north Diyarbakir (ancient Amida) now a Kurdish city, an area this writer has traversed many times in early 1970s and 1990s.  USA had wanted Diyarbakir, Mardin and other neighbouring bases for its troops, to open a second front against north Iraq.  But the Turkish parliament did not agree.

It was at Zile, northeast of Ankara, that Julius Caesar proclaimed veni, vidi,vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) after his unexpected quick victory over Pharnaces II, whose father Mithradates VI had given a tough fight to the Romans.  The name Mithridates (gift of Mithra), was a popular name in the region, and came god Mithra.

The Greek Hellenic world had come in contact with the sophisticated religions and philosophy of the East, including Mithraism, after the small town boy Alexander and his hordes cut a swathe of victories across the Achaemenian Empire.  They also learnt about state protocol and the divinity of the emperor. Coming into contact with neo-Platonian and other ideas, Mithraism flowered between the 2nd and 4th centuries in the Roman world and became a very popular religion among the Roman aristocracy, military leaders and soldiers, traders and slaves with powerful patrons among Roman emperors, like Commodus, Septimium Severus, Caraculla and others.  Diocletian built a temple for Mithra near Vienna on Danube as "the Protector of the Empire".

Along the Rhine, Danube, Euphrates and in Roman north Africa, where Roman legions used to camp, there are ruins of hundreds of underground Mithra temples, with the slaying of the Cosmic Bull symbolizing the creation of the universe and fertility.  (Perhaps the Spanish sport of bullfighting originates from it). As the god of Light and Sun, contract, loyalty and justice, Mithraism was organized (but open only to men, being an Aryan patriarchal religion) in a graded hierarchy, with novices ascending up the highest seventh level - something like Buddhist /Hindu sanghas (orders).

Various astronomical symbols, still indecipherable, with their meanings transmitted orally from teacher to pupil in Aryan/Avestan tradition, still remain unknown.  One can speculate that they were similar to levels in meditation for final unity with God. Celebrations for Mithra's birthday on December 25, the sun's solstice, was so popular in the east that Christmas celebrations had to be shifted to this day from January 6 to make it acceptable among the masses. Christianity also took over many of the rituals and symbols of Mithraism, like baptism, resurrection and prayers in honor of the sun. But for the 312 AD victory at the Milvian Bridge under the banner of the Cross, after which Constantine opted for Christianity, leading to the decline of Mithraism, it is conceivable that Mithraism might have spread and become a world religion

Instead of doing the diggings at Ayodhya, for negative and narrow political electoral aims which only promotes divisions in Indian polity, Indians and non resident Indians, many among the latter have helped fund Chairs of Indian studies in USA, should establish a Chair for search of Wassukkanni and study of its archeological discoveries. To reclaim and proudly flaunt ancient Indian Aryan culture and civilization to the world. 

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war ), Romania and Senegal. He has traveled to most of the places mentioned in this article. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-TurkicStudies.