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Country no. 49 on my World Karaoke Tour: avoiding the wrath of Genghis Khan in Mongolia

Me in front of the equestrian statue of Genghis Khan, about 34 miles outside of Ulaanbaatar.

Not every mass-murderer gets an international airport named after him. But Genghis Khan wasn’t a run-of-the-mill genocidal dictator. He was a larger-than-life figure whose massive empire was the precursor to modern-day Mongolia, and who’s therefore regarded by Mongolians as kind of a founding father of their country and accorded commensurate respect. The fact that tens of millions of people died as a direct result of his commands – some as casualties in wars that were fought in his name, and some being outright murdered in extermination campaigns that he initiated – doesn’t detract from the esteem in which he’s held in Mongolia today.

In June 2017, I visited Mongolia’s capital, Ulanabaatar, as well as a couple of areas outside the city. As well, I sought to make Mongolia the 49th country on my World Karaoke Tour, after singing in Nepal and Bhutan during the preceding week and a half. Here’s the story of how my visit went.

Background: a little bit about Genghis Khan

Initially, it must be noted that Genghis Khan – or Chinggis Khaan, as Mongolians refer to him – was not the actual name of the medieval warlord who led the Mongol hordes; that moniker is an honorific meaning “Supreme Ruler.” When he entered this world in 1162, his birth name was Temujin. Although, I have to admit that “Temujin” doesn’t sound nearly as badass as Genghis Khan. 🙂

Regardless of what you call him, Genghis has his defenders and was admittedly a complicated figure. In recent years, some historians have attempted to rehabilitate his image, seeking to contextualize the massive body count that resulted from his policies. For example, this video hails him as a unifier of rival clans. It also asserts that many of the cities that Genghis destroyed only met that fate when they rebelled after surrendering to him – as if their refusal to meekly submit to a warlord’s conquest could justify such wholesale slaughter. As you might have guessed, I don’t go along with the revisionist whitewashing of Genghis’s legacy. In my view, notwithstanding the purported justifications for his conduct, Genghis ranks on a short list of the most brutal and murderous people in history. And that doesn’t even include the melee he incited in a southern California shopping mall in the late 20th century. 🙂

Yet in May 2017, to enter Mongolia, I flew into an airport that proudly bears his name. I mean, what’s next? Pol Pot International Airport in Cambodia? Josef Stalin International Airport in Russia? Adolf Hitler International Airport in Germany? Vlad the Impaler International Airport in Romania?

The airport that serves as the main gateway to Mongolia is named after one of history’s most prolific mass-murderers.

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