- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Mongolians honored their conquering hero, Genghis Khan, yesterday on the 840th anniversary of his birth by holding a national celebration of festivals and art exhibits.

In connection with the national celebration which continues for the rest of the year the Mongolian Embassy in Georgetown at 2833 M St. NW is exhibiting art and models of traditional housing to teach Americans more about Mongolia.

The purpose of the Genghis Khan exhibit is to make Mongolia more familiar to Americans, said Ambassador Jalbuu Choinhor. The exhibit illustrates the life of Genghis Khan and depicts some of Mongolia's dramatic scenery.

"We would like to have Genghis Khan and Mongolia known to Americans," said Tserendorj Jambaldorj, a spokesman for the embassy.

The Mongolian warlord, whose conquests extended from present-day Korea to Hungary, was born in 1162, son of the Kiyat-Borjigid tribal chief Yisugei. He originally was named Temujin, after a rival chieftain his father had captured.

After his father's death and the breakup of his forces, Temujin was successful in his attempt to unite the divided Mongolian tribes of central Asia into one nation through war, beginning in 1189. It was not until 1206 that he took the name Genghis Khan, which means "emperor of emperors," and it was in the next century that his grandson, Kublai Khan, overthrew China's Ching dynasty.

Genghis Khan often has been portrayed as a ruthless barbarian, but that is not the whole story, said Mr. Jambaldorj.

Mr. Choinhor says there is evidence of the development of a legal system and scientific improvements under Genghis Khan's rule, though inaccurate portrayals have lead to negative images of the warlord in the West.

He is a source of great pride for the Mongolian people, said Mr. Jambaldorj. "Many still have paintings of him in their houses."

Celebrating Genghis Khan's birthday was illegal under communism, which had a universalist ideology and discouraged ethnic pride. In 1962, some Mongolian government officials tried to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Genghis Khan's birth, and their posts were eliminated.

"Some tried to celebrate, but they were ousted and they had a difficult time. The communist regime, the Russians, simply didn't like it," said Mr. Choinhor.

Mongolia, long a province of China, became independent in 1921 but soon came under Soviet influence. From early on, Soviet officials sought to prevent nationalistic tendencies among Mongolians.

Genghis Khan was portrayed as a feudal tyrant unworthy of praise or respect.

"But he was in the heart of every Mongolian, even when we were not allowed to celebrate," said Mr. Choinhor. "For every Mongolian, he is the father of the nation," he said. "We are very proud of the father of our nation."

If Genghis Khan were to return today, he would find Mongolia changed, but not entirely.

While the country's capital, Ulan Bator, is filled with tall, Soviet-style block architecture, the countryside looks much the same as it did 800 years ago. The wide-open steppe is populated by herders who still live in round, felt tents called "gers."

Its geography explains why Mongolia is one of the few nations of the 21st century that have retained so many traditions. With a short growing season and fierce winters, it never became populous despite a vast territory twice the size of Texas.

Mongolia has about 2.3 million people, perhaps no more than when Genghis Khan founded his dynasty .

Developing an industrialized economy is the biggest challenge for Mongolia, Mr. Choinhor said.

"The challenge is how to change the way of life in rural places, how to change the mentality of people who just wait for good weather."

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