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Dewashtich, the last tuler of Penjikent


Dewashtich was a great hero to local Tajiks as the last ruler of the Sogdians, the ancient people of Tajikistan before they were conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century.

Little would be known about him, but for the chance find in 1932 of his correspondence at Mount Mugh in the Zarafshan valley. Written in Sogdian, this included secret letters between Dewashtich and his spies and allies, and also invading Arab commanders. There was also economic data about the area around Mount Mugh. Scholars have studied these documents and by comparing them with the main Arab sources, particularly the Annals of the Arab commentator al-Tabari, have been able to reconstruct the chronology of the last months of the rule of Dewashtich, lord of Penjikent and self proclaimed king of Sughd.

Dewashtich had a very brief reign. He was a Sogdian aristocrat who fought against the Arabs. He ousted Ghurak, king of Sughd, who appears to have wanted to appease the Arabs. Dewashtich won the recognition of the Sogdian aristocracy and was proclaimed king at the end of the summer of 721.
The Arabs began moving east from their heartlands after the founding of their religion in 622. By the middle of the century they had entered Central Asia and took Samarqand (a Sogdian city) in 712. Then, slowly, they began to make inroads into the Zarafshan valley leading to Penjikent. However, the Sogdians and their allies the Turks waged an effective guerrilla campaign against the Arabs. Dewashtich was master of the situation.

But in 722 a new and harsh Arab commander Said al-Harashi arrived in Samarqand. The Turks abandoned the Sogdians, who divided into two groups, one staying in the Zarafshan valley and the other moved up into the Ferghana valley, hoping to settle there. Al-Harashi first pursued the northern group of an estimated 14,000 Sogdians to Khujand, where, according to al-Tabari, they surrendered on the promise they would be allowed to return to Sughd. They were massacred.

In July 722 the Arabs moved south across the Shahristan Pass, along the Zarafshan River, and opposite Dardar turned up into the mountains. They surprised and defeated the Sogdians at Kum. Dewashtich retreated to Mount Mugh, was captured and according to al-Tabari crucified - in Islamic law the punishment inflicted on highwaymen. The Arabs moved down the valley and completed the siege of Penjikent.