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Proceedings of the 
International Ministerial Conference on the Dialogue among Civilizations

Delhi, India
9 & 10 July 2003

B. Enkhtuvshin
Vice President
Mongolian Academy of Sciences

The role of nomadic society in the development of world civilizations and the changes in nomadic society are, at present, relatively little studied. This report refers to the interrelated issues concerning the role of nomadic society in the development of world civilizations, the methodology of civilizational research, ways of ensuring intercivilizational consensus in the era of globalization and development tendencies within modern nomadic society.

Insightful study of the nature of nomadic life can affect the understanding of all civilizations and the appraisal of history. Some 14,000-10,000 years ago, human beings transformed into socially organized groups which took seven main forms: small-scale societies, unclassified societies, subsistence societies, classified societies, city-states, nation states and local societies, which distinctively shaped life and cultural development. Nomadic society was not the "barbaric", "savage" and uncivilized society described by some Chinese and European historians of the seventeenth century. On the contrary, as regards civilizational form, this society emerged at the end of the subsistence period and undertook the first two major divisions of labor in the world, animal husbandry and agriculture. The nomads were pioneers in the dispersion of ancient tangible and intangible cultural forms. 

During important phases of world history, the nomads did not pose obstacles to civilization, but on the contrary, served as links between many different civilizations and inspired development. 4000 years ago, after the invasion of the Indo-Europeans, Mesopotamian culture flourished and Toltek and Aztek cities and empires were founded. They were instrumental in developing northwestern Indian Harappian civilization.

The Hunnu nomads made significant impact on human civilization and the development of city-states at the end of classical civilization. They invaded China at the beginning of the fourth century BC, then sacked the Gunta Empire and caused the collapse of the Roman Empire, determining the fate of Indians and Europeans for centuries after. The great push of Mongolian nomads, which continued until the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD, played an important role in the foundation of Mongolian nomadic civilization. The period of the Hunnu Empire gave birth to Mongolian nomadic civilization’s traditions of statehood, nomadic cultural development, trade exchanges, writings and customs.

They secured the famous Silk Road and developed the world trade network which reached Mesopotamian cultural centers from western China, winding through the mountainous and hilly regions of central Asia. Furthermore, the great road linking Rome, Muslim countries and Western Europe was under the protection of nomads. This network was not only a trade route but also a route of interaction between different civilizations. Along this road, city-states were created, and Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity developed peacefully. The nomads used the road to introduce Chinese paper-making technology to Egypt and Europe and modern military technology to Eurasia. Therefore, when the Hunnu state led the first drive of Mongolian nomadic society some 2000 years ago, it made an important contribution to the history of world civilization.

Mongolians created the horse transportation network, which was the most expeditious means of communication throughout the territory of the Empire. Western and eastern traders, tourists, monks, and political and military figures used this network, and the relations between Asia, Europe and the Mongolian Empire flourished as never seen before. Western goods went east; eastern goods went west; coin and paper currencies in circulation increased; and trading centers and ports were created. The free trade policy of the Mongolian Empire strongly influenced interaction among different civilizations, cultures and nationalities. In this sense, the transport network and trading road situated in the Mongolian Empire, which linked the major parts of Europe, Asia and Middle East, served as bridge between many civilizations of the eastern part of the world. 

History provides evidence that new food, inventions and ideas spread along this road. Kharkhorum was the center where intellectuals and artists from all over the empire gathered. Chinggis Khan’s policy was to radically reform the society, to enrich Mongolian nomadic civilization with the achievements of sedentary civilizations, to be open to the rest of the world, to develop comprehensive trade, economic, cultural and scientific relations, to establish an effective state administrative apparatus, to use the knowledge of scholars and scientists in state policy and activities, and to establish the most reliable and operative transport and communication system. Therefore, the Mongolian empire founded by Chinggis Khan played a significant role in the history of world civilization and left an indelible trace upon it. 

Historians have asked how the people who created the greatest empire ever known to us, and who strived to advance the wisdom of the rule of law, could be considered as uncivilized? Respect for democracy in international relations and globalization is gaining momentum. This situation urges Mongolia to preserve its national culture and civilization, to boost its economy and to strengthen its independence. 

Although from second half of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, the era of classic civilizations ended and western civilization increasingly intervened, it is no secret that alternative civilizations were serving another vector of development. The main characteristics of the twentieth century include the shift from international relations policies based on the primacy of capital accumulation and weapon races, to a system based on information networks, and intercivilizational consensus. In this new reality, the development of civilizations will be combined so that global civilization and individual civilizations will come to terms through a consensus based mechanism. 

The future of nomadic civilizations is the subject of ongoing study by scholars and researchers. In the "National Program for the Development of Science and Technology of Mongolia", which was ratified by the government of Mongolia to be implemented in 2010, the main direction of research is to work out the model of Mongolian civilization in the context of globalization. Scholars are debating concepts and definitions of the further development of civilizations in era of globalization. An overall view of the discussions reveals three lines of transformation of civilizations: 

  1. reflections on the paradigm of tradition and preservation; 

  2. criticism of western hegemony; 

  3. the search for new directions. 

As we consider the security of nations and the liberalization of national relations, scientific, technological and religious issues attract more attention. Within traditional understanding, there is a risk of over-epmhasis upon national security leading to low-levels of development. On the other hand, liberalization could also have negative impacts on the development of a civilization. 
Science and religion are the two directions of human intellectual development. We consider it important to pursue technological-scientific policies aimed at least developed countries such as Mongolia in order to combine the trends of globalization with innovation and tradition, for there is no sense in underestimating any of these directions. 

Over-westernization, especially attempts to determine common values for world civilizations according to western civilizations, undervalues the multitude of civilizations, the influences of mutual development and the capacity of any civilization to adapt itself and to develop by coping with emerging common standards. In my opinion, not only Western civilization, but every civilization has its own values. Therefore, the dialogue among independent civilizations must be the driving force for the development of civilizations.