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The Alpamysh, part 20: Karajan and Dost Mohammed’s tragic battle

Karajan, having caught up to his treacherous progeny, begs him to relent. But driven mad with lust, Dost Mohammed refuses, leading father and son into a tragic confrontation.

Note that Dost Mohammed is riding a black horse, whereas Karajan is riding a white one. The imagery is profoundly archetypal: this is a perennial battle, between generations, moralities, and destinies. There is also a strong resonance of the Biblical and Quranic story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, except in this case, the sacrifice must be made. That seems like a pretty heavy demand to be made upon Karajan for the sake of friendship. But remember that much more is at stake in this story than just Alpamysh marring Barchin: an entire social order has collapsed, and Karajan is fighting to bring back justice and order. In this sense, the slaughter of Dost Mohammed, Karajan’s only son, is Christ-like — the high price that must be paid for our redemption.

The dastan paints a complex figure in the form of Karajan. It lionizes the slaughter of Dost Mohammed, yet it indicates here and explores more fully later that Karajan’s decision breaks his heart. In general throughout the Alpamysh, we can sense a deep inner conflict in the main character: not quite Muslim in the fullest sense yet no longer a pagan — in fact, his whole relationship to Islam becomes somewhat pessimistic, as after the death of his son, he has lost all hope in this world — and vacillating between remarkable feats of strength and fragile weakness and laziness. He is the true main character of the dastan, the human being we can relate to, as opposed to the distant and mighty Alpamysh.

Riding on a black horse belonging to [his father], Karajan’s son [heard a cry]. Looking at his flank, he saw with the corner of his eye Karajan himself, who said:

“You are my pearl, apple of my eye;
if you wouldn’t, who would ask how I am?
May your khan father be sacrificed to you!
My only sultan, hear me:
you are my light, crying my wish to God.
If you die, if you were to say, ‘Father, your eternal friend’s [i.e., Alpamysh] horse should not be left behind’,
wouldn’t my wings be clipped?
Rein back your horse, son.
A fast horse races in its time.
The batir wears white armor.
Rein back your horse, do not worry if you fall behind;
Barchin-like girls will be found.
I braid the horse tail before the battle.
My dear son you are mindless, what should I do?
Barchin-like girl will be found from your land,
I will select one for you.”

[Dost Mohammed replied:]

“Dear father, I am not listening to you!
In this struggle, I will not heed you!
Whichever bey’s horse is better deserves to win!
I will not have any other but Barchin!”

Karajan became angry and whipped Baychobar; his son likewise whipped his own mount. The two horses raced, the batirs [atop them] were enraged. The black stones sparked beneath the hooves. Holes were were dug into the sand where the hooves stepped.

[Dost Mohammed's] beautiful-faced, short-haired black horse did not give way. Karajan became very agitated, very anxious. The white armor he was wearing became too small for his body. He could not catch the one ahead. God did not allow satisfaction.

Three hours passed, and still the beautiful faced black horse did not give way. Nearly dead, [Karajan cried out to his horse:] “Apple of my eye, Baychobar!” Baychobar hung his head in shame and grunted in his effort to pass.

[Dost Mohammed] behaved like an adversary. [Karajan cried out to his son:] “Four times I asked, [but] you did not stop, you did not respect me!”

Karajan grabbed his son’s head, his son who was named Dost Mohammed, and thrashed with his other hand. And then, invoking the protection of God, he threw his only one onto the millstone-sized rocks, killing his son Dost Mohammed. [Karajan] got hold of his son’s white sword [and] the winged tulpar [of his son].

If you will have a friend, he should be thus. My lords, he killed his son and his son’s horse. Karajan, born as a batir, performed the duties of a friend.

[He] proceeded, lamenting.

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