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What Is a Kuriltai?

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Modern Mongolia preserves the word kuriltai, which was also used in Genghis Khan's time.

A Mongolian honor guard stands in front of the parliament building or Kuriltai in Ulaan Baator.

Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images
Definition:

Kuriltai: An assembly of Mongolian or Turkic clans, sometimes called a "tribal council" in English. Generally, a kuriltai would meet for the purpose of making a major political or military decision, such as the selection of a new khan or the launching of a war. Ordinarily, the nomadic Mongols and Turkic peoples lived scattered across the steppe-lands, so it was a momentous occasion when a chief called for a kuriltai.

Famous examples of kuriltai include the 1206 assembly that named Temujin as "Genghis Khan," meaning the "Oceanic Ruler" of all the Mongols. Genghis's grandsons Kublai and Arik Boke held dueling kuriltai in 1259, in which both were granted the title "Great Khan" by their followers. (Of course, Kublai Khan eventually won that contest.)

Modern Kuriltai:

In modern usage, some Central Asian nations use the world kuriltai or variants to describe their parliaments or for conferences. For example, Kyrgyzstan boasts a National Kurultai of Kyrgyz Peoples, which deals with inter-ethnic strife, while Mongolia's national congress is called the Great State Khural.

The word "kuriltai" comes from the Mongolian root khur, "to gather," and ild, meaning "together." In Turkish, the verb "kurul" has come to mean "to be established."

Pronunciation: huh-rill-TIE
Alternate Spellings: khuriltai, kurultay, qurultay, qoriltay, huruldai, kurul, khural
Examples:
"In the vast Mongol Empire, each of the ruling Hordes had separate kuriltai, since it was generally impractical to gather everyone together from across Eurasia."
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