When the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were identified I was struck by the name of the older brother: Tamerlan Tsarnaev. I remembered that Tamerlane was a historical figure and wondered about the background of the name. A quick consult of the interwebs showed that Tamerlane, Timūr-e Lang, was an Uzbek ruler from the 1300′s. Edgar Allen Poe published a poem about Tamerlane in the 1800′s. Further reading found some odd parallels between that Tamerlane and the one who died in Boston.
Both men were born into violence in Central Asia. Tsarnaev’s family were ethnic Chechen’s and he was born in Kyrgystan. As a teenager he and his family fled to the United States to escape the instability. As a boy Timūr-e Lang was taken prisoner by the invading Mongol army and carried away to another city: Samarkand. As the crow flies they grew up only 600 miles apart, separated by the Caspian Sea.
Both men perpetuated that violence, albeit on a vastly different scale. Timūr-e Lang was a warlord and “envisioned the restoration of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan” and put many cities to the sword. According to the Wikipedia, his campaigns were responsible for killing as much as 5% of the world’s population.Tamerlan Tsarnaev turned to pugilism, becoming a Golden Gloves boxer and expressed a desire to compete on the Olympic team. In 2009 he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. The Boston Marathon bombings and resulting death show that his violence departed the ring and became part of his life.
Tamerlan and his namesake also embraced Islam fully and used it to further their beliefs and goals. Timūr-e Lang referred to himself as the Sword of Islam, promoting religious education and converting the lands he took over. It is said that he used Islam to justify his rule and his conquests. This parallels the Christians during the Crusades. While his motives have not yet been identified it is apparent that Tamerlan was fully engaged in a militant brand of Islam at the time of his death. Russian intelligence saw him as sufficiently radical to warn the United States. He had opinions strong enough to get him kicked out his mosque, to have his wife convert to Islam, to bring his younger brother into the fold.
Perhaps Edgar Allen Poe saw some of this when he published the epic poem Tamerlane. Although the poem is mainly about love some of the violence was captured here:
I wrapp’d myself in grandeur then,
And donn’d a visionary crown-
Yet it was not that Fantasy
Had thrown her mantle over me-
But that, among the rabble-men,
Lion ambition is chained down-
And crouches to a keeper’s hand-
Not so in deserts where the grand-
The wild-the terrible conspire
With their own breath to fan his fire.
Tamerlane, Edgar Allen Poe
Poe published “Tamerlane and Other Poems” in 1827 under the pseudonym “A Bostonian”: strange parallels indeed.