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Translation of ‘History of Timurid Dynasty’ in non-Islamic langue

Translation of ‘History of Timurid Dynasty’ in non-Islamic langue

Posted August. 12, 2020 07:36,   

Updated August. 12, 2020 07:36


A group of Uzbekistanis who attended an Islamic event in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province tested positive for COVID0-19 recently. “Are there Muslims in Uzbekistan?” said the mother of Dr. Lee Joo-yeon. This may be an unexpected response from a mother whose daughter completed the translation of Zafar-nāma, a history book about Amir Timur who founded the Timurid Empire, for the first time in a non-Islamic language. The empire began in what’s now known as Uzbekistan.

Lee received her Ph. D degree from the Department of Asian History at Seoul National University in February this year for her paper titled “History of Timurid dynasty, annotated translation of Zafar-nāma written by Yazdi.” I met her on Monday at Café Ima in Jongno, Seoul. She is a student of Professor Kim Ho-dong, an erudite scholar of Central Asia studies who retired in February. Her paper has 1,140 pages, which is about twice the number of a usual Ph. D paper.

Zafar-nāma, which is a spiritual victory letter written by Sharif al-Din Ali Yazdi in Persian in 1424, is the story of Amir Timur. Timur started to expand from Centra Asia in the late 14th century and built a great empire by conquering the Caucasus Mountains region, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Georgia, as well as Anatolia, northern India, and western China.

“The nomadic Turkic peoples were the ruling class in the conquered region while Muslim residents were the ruled class. Timur claimed his legitimacy from the nomads by introducing himself as a son-in-law of the Mongol Empire’s king for having the descendants of the Mongol Empire as his wives while gaining respect from the ruled class by presenting himself as a devoted Muslim.”

In Zafar-nāma, Timur is also called Sahib Kiran, which is a title that originated from the ancient Persian culture and means a figure who is born when Jupiter and Saturn are united and therefore destined to conquer the world.

The victory letter garnered much attention from Europe that it was partially yet minutely translated into French in 1722 and into English in 1723. They looked down Timur from beyond Europe’s eternal adversary Ottoman Empire as a “gimp” while feared him who reminded them of Genghis Khan.

The letter, especially the Persian poems in it, is very difficult to understand. To create a beautiful rhythm, the proper order or pronunciation of words were changed. It also took six months for Lee to learn how to read such poems in Iran in 2016.

Lee first majored in physical science education and later decided to study a double major with history education, which is how she fell in love with the history of Central Asia. Her paper will be published as a book as early as later this year.

“I hope that readers have a chance to learn about an emperor who was good at strategizing and regional study and followed exact routes, not an average nomadic leader who uses violence to kill people as he wishes,” said Lee.

Dong-Yong Min mindy@donga.com