Qarquya

Qarquya was an important man in the development of Syria. He truly played his own part in a pivotal time in the history of the region, steering the failing emirate of Aleppo into a new period of peace and prosperity, but his name is unknown in the west.

Qarquya was an important man in the development of Syria. He truly played his own part in a pivotal time in the history of the region, steering the failing emirate of Aleppo into a new period of relative peace and prosperity, but his name is unknown in the west. In defeat he accepted a fate which would largely defend his people from the common strife of the era, and secured the continuity of the Syrian state of Aleppo.

On January 7, 965, Qarquya was appointed governor of Aleppo by the ruling emir of the region: Sayf al-Dawla. At this time, Syria was largely controlled by a powerful Arab, Shia dynasty: the Hamdanids, who governed from the major city of Aleppo. (Unbeknownst to most, there is actually precedence for a ruling Syrian Shiite family in governing a Sunni majority Arab population in the region, a topic of fierce debate today since it is largely considered to be a catalyst in the failure of the modern Syrian state). Sayf al-Dawla had expanded and secured his realm following the collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate, but towards the end of his reign, the government began to capitulate in the face of increasingly competent enemies. He faced not only a series of rebellions lead by powerful members of his administration within his own borders, but also a resurgent Byzantine Empire lead by the soldier-emperors Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes, who would both inflict strategically devastating injuries against Sayf’s emirate. By the time Qarquya was appointed governor, Sayf himself had fled the city, retreating to Martyropolis against an advancing Byzantine army lead by Nikephoros Phokas, which was in the process of conquering and annexing the entire Cilician region, which at that point was under the nominal suzerainty of Aleppo.

On October 29, 965, a rebel force led by the former secretary of Tarsus, Rashiq al-Nasimi, approached Aleppo while Sayf al-dawla was in Martyopolis. After three months, he manged to capture a lower part of the town, but was killed in an attack on the citadel which Qarquya defended, on January 8, 966. Sayf al-Dawla soon returned to the city, where he died on 8 February of 967. He was succeeded by his son, Sa’d al-Dawla, who reached the city on June/July 967, declaring himself Emir.

Around April 968, the same month the rebellion of one Abu Firas failed, an important warrior-poet in Syrian culture, Qarquya convinced Sa’d al-Dawla to leave Aleppo citing imminent dangers. Following this, Qarquya in turn rebelled against Sa’d, proclaiming himself Emir, but he was immediately besieged by a rival whose name is lost to us. Qarquya appealed to the nearby Byzantine general, Petros, for aid, who was then besieging Antioch with Michael Bourtzes. Following the capture Antioch on October 28, 969, Petros and Bourtzes made their way to Aleppo, defeating Qarquya’s rival quickly. They then in turn decided to besieg Aleppo from 14 December to 11 January, accurate perceiving the city’s weakness in the face of an organized army. They successfully defeated Qarquya and his defenders. Following the siege, Petros and Bourtzes arranged for Qarquya and his deputy, Bakjur, to sign the Treaty of Safar, which stipulated that Aleppo, Homs, and the whole “province” would pay tribute to Byzantium, among other terms, while Qarquya would be guaranteed rule over Aleppo as a client, and Bakjur would be designated as his successor.

The Treaty of Safar is an incredibly interesting document. Although it was broken by the Emir of Aleppo, Aziz al-Dawla, in 1020, when he ceased sending tribute to Constantinople, it essentially stayed in place for a whole century, only being fully nullified following the Turkish conquests after 1070. The terms were generally adhered to, including some intriguing points, such as the agreement that neither Byzantium nor Aleppo would persecute religious converts, and the cessation of the movement of foreign Islamic armies through Aleppine territory. This was a document advancing incredibly sophisticated terms for a period so often overlooked by most.

In 975, Bakjur, Qarquya’s deputy, deposed and imprisoned Qarquya and seized control of the Emirate for himself despite his position as heir to the throne. Two years later, Sa’d al-Dawla, the rightful Hamdanid ruler, returned to Aleppo after defeating Bakjur, whom he had exiled to Homs, and elevated Qarquya to his previous post as deputy. Qarquya would maintain his post under Sa’d and died around April in 990 in Aleppo, probably of natural causes.

In hindsight, the Qarquya-Bakjur period of Aleppo (a term which at this point is synonymous with ‘Syria’ since it represents the only independent state in the region), would only be a brief intermittent period in the grand scheme of Hamdanid dominance, which would persist until 1002, however, Qarquya proved himself to be a more influential ruler of Aleppo than most of the Hamdanids, save for Sayf himself, in that he was able to secure a more peaceful future for his people; he guaranteed the continuity of an independent state in Syria which would persist until Turkish conquest, maintaining a tradition of independence for his people.