Struggle for East-European Empire 1400 – 1700 : The Crimean Khanate, Ottomans and the Rise of the Russian Empire
By Halil Inalcik
Turkish Yearbook of International Relations, Vol.21 (1995)
Introduction: The empire of the Golden Horde, built by Batu, son of Djodji and the grand son of Genghis Khan, around 1240, was an empire which united the whole East-Europe under its domination. The Golden Horde empire comprised all of the remnants of the earlier nomadic peoples of Turkic language in the steppe area which were then known under the common name of Tatar within this new political framework. The Golden Horde ruled directly over the Eurasian steppe from Khwarezm to the Danube and over the Russian principalities in the forest zone indirectly as tribute-paying states. Already in the second half of the 13th century the western part of the steppe from the Don river to the Danube tended to become a separate political entity under the powerful emir Noghay. In the second half of the 14th century rival branches of the Djodjid dynasty, each supported by a group of the dissident clans, started a long struggle for the Ulugh-Yurd, the core of the empire in the lower Itil (Volga) river, and for the title of Ulugh Khan which meant the supreme ruler of the empire.
Toktamish Khan restored, for a short period, the unity of the empire. When defeated by Tamerlane, his sons and dependent clans resumed the struggle for the Ulugh-Khan-ship in the westem steppe area. During all this period, the Crimean peninsula, separated from the steppe by a narrow isthmus, became a refuge area for the defeated in the steppe. Around 1440 one of the grandsons of Toktamish Hajji Gerey or Giray, entrenching himself in this rich peninsula, succeeded in establishing an independent khanate. He minted silver coins in his name which was an indication of independence and assumed the title of Ulugh Khan. Descending from Toktamish Khan, he and his successors never gave up their right to the imperial patrimony on the whole Golden Horde empire, including suzerainty över the Russian principalities. In actual fact, by this time the Golden Horde was split into three independent khanates, in the Crimea, Kazan, and the Saray region in the lower Volga. The latter, ruling över the Ulugh-Yurd, claimed to be the only legitimate successor to the great khan-ship. Like the secessionist khanates, the Grand Duke of Muscovy, once the Ulugh-Khan’s deputy over other Russian principalities, began to act independently, challenging the Golden Horde overlordship. At the same time, in the western part of the region, Lithuania under Jagellons rose as a powerful state, claiming sovereignty on the patrimony of the Golden Horde in the area and challenging the rising Giray dynasty. Thus, by the middle of the 15th century, in Eastern Europe instead of one dominant imperial power there were newly rising states which eventually came to compete for supremacy over the whole region. Because of their relation to once powerful Toktamish Khan, Giray dynasty in the Crimea seemed to have the best chance to revive the Golden Horde empire under their rule. The khans from another branch of Djodji, in control of the Saray region, embarked upon a long struggle against the Girays. The former made an alliance with the Jagellons while Girays in their turn allied themselves with the Grand Duke of Muscovy to resist the povverful rival coalition. At this juncture the Ottoman power came to support the Crimea-Muscovy axis against the powerful Lithuania-Golden Horde coalition.