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96 posts categorized "Middle East"

26 June 2017

A Rainbow in Stormy Skies: LGBT Writing in the northern Middle East

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On May 28, 2013, a small group of environmentalists gathered at Istanbul’s Gezi Park to protest the removal of trees. The police’s brutal response sparked the indignation of the city’s residents, and soon Gezi Park was flooded with ordinary citizens and activists. They voiced a number of grievances, chief among them the government’s refusal to engage with citizens about urban planning. The protests lasted for weeks, and the makeshift camp erected in the Park featured a dizzying array of groups: ecologists, Armenians, Kurds, Zazas, Alevis, Communists, syndicalists, anti-capitalist Muslims and LGBT rights organizations. The diversity of identities on display brought into the open the complex and sometimes confusing imbrications composing individuals’ self-identification in contemporary Turkey. Since the 1980s, sexual identities have played an increasing role in this construction, and over the last decade the stories and struggles of Turkish sexual minorities have been featured in a number of different media.

Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet Women with Mustaches
Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet ©Metis, 2011 and Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards ©University of California Press, 2005.

To be certain, homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism and cross-dressing are far from new concepts to Turkish culture. Same-sex intercourse has been legal in Turkey (and the Ottoman Empire, its predecessor state) since 1858; 110 years before the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain. The topic of gay and lesbian relations in Ottoman society and its imagining among Orientalist writers  is particularly popular among Western scholars.

While Turkish authors do treat similar subjects within their works, contemporary issues of social, political and economic equality, as well as the battle against discrimination, are more likely to be explored within Turkish academic publishing. Scholars Cüneyt Çakırlar and Serkan Delice, have been particularly active in their writings, whether in collections of contemporary Turkish studies on gender, queer identity and politics or in their participation in the Queer Düş’ün series by *SEL Yayıncılık, which seeks to bring English-language Queer writing into Turkish. Other writers, too, address difficult issues, whether theoretical or practical. Evidence of such comes to us from works such as Neoliberalizm ve Mahremiyet: Türkiye’de Beden, Sağlık ve Cinsellik (Neoliberalism and Intimacy: Body, Health and Gender in Turkey), where we find Cenk Özbay’s study of neoliberal sociology and the case of rent boys, as well as Yener Bayramoğlu’s look at heterosexism and homosexuality within contemporary advertising.

Despite the early legalization of same-sex relationships in Turkey, social stigmas remain. Istanbul’s pride parade has been routinely attacked and/or banned in the past five years. Images of police brutality as a response to attempts at organizing celebrations appear frequently on social and mainstream media. Social and political pressures notwithstanding, those who refuse to conform to gender and sexual norms are still very much visible in Turkish culture and society. The image of the transvestite, in particular, is an exceptionally poignant one in referencing Turkish LGBT communities. The novels of Elif Şafak, one of Turkey’s foremost female novelists, routinely feature LGBT and transvestite characters. Şafak herself has spoken out about LGBT issues in Turkey in the English and Turkish media is filled with the sort of fluid concepts of gender and sexuality that provide three-dimensional, realistic portrayals of LGBT people in Turkey today. Transgendered people find their way into other media, too, including graphic novels, such as Büşra, a wry, satirical look at piety, political power and hypocrisy in the first decade of the 21st century. Even more striking are the novels in Mehmet Murat Somer’s series Hop-Çiki-Yaya, which feature a cross-dressing amateur detective who often interviews her clients in drag. Somer’s works are bold and flamboyant in both their characters and their treatment of a number of topics that would be considered taboo in most countries: transgender sex work; married heterosexual men having sex with men; and the interactions of religion, tradition and sexual identity.

In many ways, Turkey offers the most liberal of régimes with respect to sexual minorities. Among its immediate neighbours, consensual sexual relations between men are permitted in Greece, Bulgaria, Armenia and Azerbaijan, while they continue to be illegal in Iraq, Syria and Iran. Among the former group, only Greece and Bulgaria offer legal protection from discrimination. Despite this, authors, activists and artists producing in Armenian, Persian and Kurdish all continue to address LGBT issues and the struggles for recognition and acceptance across the region.

Mehmet Murat Somer The Prophet Murders Me as Her Again
The Prophet Murders
, the story of two murders at a transvestite club ©Serpent’s Tail, 2008; Me As Her Again, Nancy Agabian’s autobiographical work ©Aunt Lute Books, 2008

While homosexuality, lesbianism and transgenderism continue to be highly stigmatized inside Armenia proper, gay and lesbian issues are nonetheless present in Armenian literary and cultural circles. An example of one pioneer in this realm is the writer Armen of Armenia, whose trilogy Mayrenik’ Drash (Mommyland) tells the tragic story of three LGBT men in Armenia. The novels are unique in their presentation of the complexity of queer existence inside the Republic of Armenia, and the demands placed upon gay and bisexual men by the institutions of the military, the church and patriotism.

An estimated 7 to 10 million Armenians live in the diaspora, and among them are a number of writers who address the complex relationship between sexual and ethnic identity. Nancy Agabian, an American-Armenian author, has been particularly active in this respect. Agabian’s Me as Her Again, published in English in the United States, provides a moving vignette of the life and struggles of lesbians in the Armenian diaspora. In it, Agabian explores issues relating to sexual, gender and ethnic identity, interweaving the trials of a woman expressing her sexuality with those of an Armenian recovering her family’s buried past in Anatolia.

South-east of Armenia, the regional juggernaut Iran presents an even more complex case. Homosexuality remains illegal and punishable by death in the Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, gender reassignment is permitted according to a legal decision by the régime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. Social stigmas around transgenderism are still rampant, and considerable confusion between gender and sexuality causes no end of distress to a great number of people. Nonetheless, homosexuality, lesbianism and transgenderism appear in many English- and Persian-language publications by authors in Iran and in exile. Academic works about LGBT relationships and the fluidity of gender in Iran are numerous, including the wryly-titled Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards  by Afsaneh Najmabadi. Although this work is a historical analysis of these concepts in Iranian society, Najmabadi has also turned a critical eye on the contemporary period with her study Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-sex Desire in Contemporary Iran. Najmabadi is currently based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her long history of activism in Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States demonstrates the saliency of issues of gender and sexuality for Persian-speakers throughout the diaspora.

Such topics come up in a myriad of different narrative products. Early 20th century poetry, such as that of Iraj Mirza, featured homoerotic themes similar to those in earlier Persian poetry. To paraphrase Najmabadi, sin was the realm of deeds rather than thoughts, and a man extolling the beauty of another man or boy was not necessarily deemed to be off bounds for Sufi and other poets of the Qajar period. By contrast, the historian Ja’far Shahri claims that it was modernization and the social change of the early 20th century that brought about a conscious “corruption” of the city of Tehran and a gradual hardening of attitudes about sexual and gender norms.

Professing Selves  The Moonlike
Professing Selves, on the complex and often problematic construction of gender identity in Iran today ©Duke University Press, 2013; The Moonlike, Behjat Riza’ee’s fictionalisation of a gruesome murder in Rasht that follows upon a forbidden love affair between two young women ©Bra Books, 1992

Among exile groups and communities, LGBT issues are alive in both magazines and monographs. As early as 1991, Bra Books in London published The Moonlike by Bahjat Riza’i, a barely fictionalized account of a lesbian affair gone wrong, ending in an honour killing near the city of Rasht in northern Iran. The Paris-based publisher Naakojaa most recently released a translation of the French graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour, which became a hit movie in 2013. This follows on its translations of Gore Vidal, the legendary bisexual American author. France has also provided us with filmic expressions of LGBT love in Iran with the 2011 movie Circumstance, by Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz. The film explores an illicit relationship between two young women in contemporary Tehran, and the various legal, political and socio-economic barriers that come make their love impossible.

Finally, the issue of gender and sexual identity within Kurdish sources is among the most difficult to piece together. Kurdish publishing is largely in its infancy, as the use of the language for mass publications in the regions in which Kurds live became a possibility only in the 1990s. Since then, identity construction, democratization, gender and income equality and the instability of an existence amongst seemly hostile nation-states has loomed large for many Kurdish writers. Despite this, there are instances of LGBT issues coming to the fore among Kurds at home and in the diaspora. In Turkey, Kaos GL has devoted a portion of its activities to bringing Kurdish-speaking members of sexual minorities out of the shadows. Whether endowing their Kurmanji-speaking readers with a new vocabulary to describe themselves and their communities in a positive and stigma-free way, or publicizing the efforts of a film director to bring to the screen the story of a Kurdish trans-woman living in rural Anatolia, Kaos GL has been forceful in bringing issues of sexual identity to the fore within the broader landscape of Kurdish social change.

In Iraq, Kurds have benefitted from more than 25 years of virtual and legal autonomy from Baghdad to build their own cultural institutions. The result has been a new confidence in self-expression, but one that is not always accepting of sexual minorities. Indeed, a number of campaigns regarding LGBT rights in the region – whether initiated by foreign bodies or domestic ones, such as the NGO Rasan – have been met with vociferous opposition. It may indeed still be too early for the publication of Kurdish LGBT fiction and non-fiction on the scale seen in other cultures across the region, but the seeds have undoubtedly been sown.

Among these various movements and trends, the British Library’s Asian and African collections remain committed to reflecting the diversity and richness of expression from across the Middle East. In doing so, we hope to provide students, scholars and the curious with a window onto the struggles and triumphs of a myriad of communities.

I would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance in connecting me to LGBT authors and publishers across the region: Armen of Armenia, Cüneyt Çakırlar, Kyle Khandikian, Hakan Sandal and Ayaz Shalal.

Michael Erdman, Curator, Turkish and Turkic Collections
 CC-BY-SA

Meanwhile don't forget to visit the exhibition Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty which is currently open at the British Library until 19 September 2017.

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty

22 June 2017

The Flotilla Tour of 1933: a Demonstration of British Naval Power in the Gulf

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On 29 August 1933 the acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, received a letter from the Political Agent at Kuwait, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Dickson, informing him that there were strong rumours circulating in Kuwait that a Persian naval officer had hauled down the British flag at Basidu, the naval station for the British Persian Gulf Naval Squadron.

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‘The Coast from Bushire to Basadore, in the Persian Gulf, Surveyed by Lieuts. G.B. Brucks & S.B. Haines, H.C. Marine 1828. Engraved by R. Bateman 43 Hart St. Bloomsbury’ (IOR/X/3630/27)
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On 7 September 1933 Loch sent a circular telegram – addressed to the Senior Naval Officer in the Persian Gulf and the British Political Agents at Bahrain, Kuwait and Muscat – confirming that the British flag had been hauled down by a Persian officer, but that only a few days later, as soon as it was made aware of the incident, HMS Bideford had landed an armed party at Basidu and the flag had been rehoisted. Loch’s telegram further stated that His Majesty’s Chargé d'Affaires to Persia had been informed by the Persian Government that the officer had acted without authority, and that it had issued stringent instructions to its Navy to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

In a second circular telegram, issued on the same day, Loch requested that his previous message be translated into Arabic and distributed to the Arabian coast rulers, ‘who should be requested to give copies to all their notables, and by all other possible means to make it public.’ Loch concluded this telegram by stating – for the Political Agents’ personal information only – that the Royal Navy’s First Destroyer Flotilla was expected to arrive at Henjam on 15 September, for the purpose of displaying the British flag along the Arabian coast of the Gulf. An amended version of the message intended for circulation was issued the following day. In further correspondence with Dickson, Loch stressed that care should be taken to avoid linking the arrival of the flotilla with the incident at Basidu, and to avoid any suggestion of it being a threat to Persia.

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Message issued by acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, for public distribution, 7 September 1933 (IOR/R/15/5/173, f 52)
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The fact that the swiftly announced flotilla tour was a direct response by the British to the Basidu incident was tacitly acknowledged in a telegram from Dickson to Loch, dated 19 September 1933, which reported that the circular, followed by news of the flotilla, had had the ‘best possible effect’ on public opinion in Kuwait. The flotilla, consisting of one flotilla leader, HMS Duncan, and eight destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, spent nearly a month in the Gulf, visiting Basidu, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar along the way.

It was at Dubai, on 23 September 1933, where the rulers of the Trucial states were invited to a durbar (a public audience held by a British colonial ruler, deriving from the Persian and Urdu word for court), that the purpose of the flotilla’s tour was made very clear. In his address, Loch – alluding to a statement made at another durbar by George Curzon almost exactly thirty years earlier, during a tour of the Gulf as Viceroy of India – told the rulers that the British Navy’s intervention in the Gulf had ‘compelled peace and created order on the [s]eas’ and had saved them from extinction at the hands of their enemies. He reminded his audience that the various treaties between the British Government and the Trucial rulers (beginning with the General Maritime Treaty of 1820) had made the former the overlord and protector of the latter.

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Extract from speech delivered by acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, 23 September 1933 (IOR/R/15/5/173, f 70)
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Curzon’s tour of the Gulf in November 1903 (as discussed in an earlier blog post) was comprised of visits to Muscat, Sharjah, Bandar Abbas, Bahrain, Kuwait and Bushire, and was intended as a demonstration of British naval supremacy, in anticipation of perceived threats in the region from France, Russia and Germany. A photograph of the durbar that took place on board RIMS Argonaut, off the coast of Sharjah, on 21 November 1903, shows the Viceroy elevated on a stage while the Arab dignitaries sit or kneel to his right.

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Lord Curzon’s Durbar aboard RIMS Argonaut, Sharjah (British Library, Photo 49/1(7))
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Thirty years later, the British took a relatively minor act of dissent at Basidu as an opportunity to make a very public display of their continuing naval dominance in the Gulf, in order to make it clear to the Persian Navy and to the Arab rulers that the British Government would not ignore even the slightest affront to its reputation. Loch’s remarks at Dubai were intended to remind the Trucial rulers of their relationship with the British Government and of their treaty obligations, as he warned them that ‘[t]hese engagements are binding on every one of you’.

The flotilla tour and the durbar appeared to have the desired effect. In his intelligence summary for September 1933, dated 28 September 1933, Dickson informed Loch that in Kuwait ‘[t]he general attitude of His Majesty’s Government has been most favourably commented on.’ Dickson went on to report that ‘[t]he hope is now generally expressed that the flotilla will not be withdrawn too soon, and that once for all the Persian Navy will be given to understand that it must behave itself.’ In an express letter to the Government of India’s Foreign Department, dated 19 October 1933, Loch concluded that confidence in the British had returned following the sight of the flotilla and the use of an armed party at Basidu ‘and will remain so just so long as we show ourselves determined.’

Primary sources:
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, 'File 3/3 Persian Navy', IOR/R/15/5/173
British Library: India Office Select Materials, Dane Collection: ‘Photographs of Lord Curzon’s tour in the Persian Gulf, November, 1903’, India Office Records and Private Papers Photo 49/1

Secondary sources:
John F. Riddick, The History of British India: A Chronology (London: Westport, 2006)
Kristopher Radford, ‘Curzon’s Cruise: The Pomp and Circumstances of Indian Indirect Rule of the Persian Gulf’, The International History Review, 35 (2013), 884-904

David Fitzpatrick, Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

28 April 2017

A 17th century copy of Saʻdi’s collected works (IO Islamic 843)

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The Persian writer and poet Musliḥ al-Dīn Saʻdī of Shiraz (ca.1210-1291 or 1292) is without doubt one of the best-known and most skillful writers of classical Persian literature. With an established reputation even during his lifetime, his works have been select reading for royal princes and ʻset textsʼ for more humble students of Persian the world over. It is hardly surprising then that a corresponding number of deluxe copies survive of his works. A previous post (What were the Mughals' favourite books?) described some copies of his best known works, the Būstān (ʻFragrant Gardenʼ or ʻOrchardʼ) and the Gulistān (ʻRose Gardenʼ), in the Library's collection. Another sumptuous manuscript, which has also been digitised, is an early 17th century copy of his Kullīyāt (ʻCollected Worksʼ)IO Islamic 843 which was completed in 1034 (1624/25) by Maḥmūd, a scribe of Shiraz (al-kātib al-Shīrāzī), during the reign of Shah ʻAbbas (r. 1588-1629).

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The frontispiece portraying Shah ʻAbbas in a garden surrounded by courtiers and musicians, and accompanied by Turkish, Indian and European ambassadors (BL IO Islamic 843, ff 1v-2r)  noc

Very little is known about the poet’s life. Born in Shiraz, Saʻdī left his hometown to study in Baghdad. After a period of study at the Nizamiyah Madrasah, Baghdad, he set off on travels that lasted over thirty years. His experiences and adventures found their way into his writings, including being a prisoner of the Crusaders in Syria, visiting Kashgar, and killing a temple priest at Somnath in India. Many of these tales, however, have been proved to be anecdotal rather than biographical. Saʻdī returned to Shiraz in 1257, already a widely recognized poet and completed his two most famous works: the Būstān in 1257 and the Gulistān in 1258. These two works of poetry and prose respectively, contain anecdotes from the life of the author, moral teachings, and advices for rulers. Many stories communicate elements of Sufi teachings through their dervish protagonists. Other works reflect the changing political situation in Shiraz. Several of his poems are dedicated to the Salghurid dynasty, which ruled in Fars from 1148 to 1282, while later works are addressed to their successors the Mongols and their administrators.

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The heavenly journey (Miʻraj) of the Prophet mounted on Buraq approaching Leo and led by Gabriel with a green banner and Israfil with the seven-fold trumpet. From the beginning of the Būstān (BL IO Islamic 834, f. 94r  noc

This collection of Saʻdī’s work consists of 16 works that include, among others, the Gulistān and Būstān, Arabic and Persian Qaṣīdas (odes), Ghazals (love poems), Rubāʻīyāt (quatrains), and Khabīsāt (ʻnaughtyʼ poems). It has sumptuously illuminated openings and contains 18 paintings, including two double-paged illustrations (ff.1v-2r and 413v-414r). For details see Basil Robinson's catalogue description available here.

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Illustration from the Gulistān. Here the King, possibly representing Shah ʻAbbas, is travelling with a slave who, never having been in a boat before, complained of seasickness. Following advice on how to keep him quiet, the king has him thrown overboard and ʻrescuedʼ, the moral being that safety can only be truly appreciated by one who has experienced disaster. The ship is based on a European model of the period, with three masts and cannon at the port-holes (BL IO Islamic 834, f. 42v noc

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Illustration from the Khabīsāt (ʻnaughtyʼ poems) depicting a group of dervishes under a tree, one leading a handsome youth by the hand. The Khabīsāt (ff.391r-399r in this manuscript) is often omitted from printed editions of Saʻdī's collected works on account of its risqué nature (BL IO Islamic 834, f. 392r  noc

The illustrations are good examples of paintings of their time, but the illumination is of a much higher standard. Eight works have lavishly decorated openings: ff. 2v-3r, 34v-35r, 92v-93r, 175v-176r, 183v-184r, 223v-224r, 372v-373r, and 405v-406r. These consist of a central headpiece (sarlawḥ) and heading (ʻunvān) encased in ruled and decorated borders and a band containing foliate scrolling or alternating cartouches and quatrefoils. The outer margins are based on a pattern of diamond shaped lozenges or flower heads in red, black, brown and gold on a dark blue or gold ground with arabesque scrolls with pale blue, red and pink flowers. A variant contains flower heads which alternate with human and/or animal faces (ff.35-6, 175-6 and 372-3).

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The beginning of the Gulistān, copied by Maḥmūd of Shiraz (BL IO Islamic 843, ff. 34v-35r noc

2v
405v 34v  
175v
Details of illuminated openings on ff. 2v405v34v, and 175v. The faint grid marks are from gauzing which, regrettably, was regular conservation practice in the early-20th century (BL IO Islamic 843)   noc

This manuscript was purchased in 1807 from the East India Company civil servant Richard Johnson (1753–1807). His collection formed the backbone of the newly established East India Company Library, consisting of 716 manuscripts, mostly Persian and Arabic, and 64 albums of paintings. Johnson left India in 1790 
and did most of his collecting at Lucknow between 1780 and 1782 and at 
Hyderabad between 1784 and 1875. This particular manuscript was no doubt purchased there having been taken to India at some point in the 17th century.


Further reading
W. M. Thackston (tr.), The Gulistan (Rose garden) of Sa'di: Bilingual English and Persian edition with vocabulary. Bethesda: Ibex, 2008.
G. M. Wickens (tr.). Morals Pointed and Tales Adorned: The Būstān of Saʻdī. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974.
B. W. Robinson, Persian Paintings in the India Office Library: A Descriptive Catalogue. London: Sotheby, 1976.

Wojciech Tworek and Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

24 April 2017

Raising Kurdish Armenia: Kurdish Children’s Books from Soviet Armenia

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Among the stateless peoples of the world, the Kurds are perhaps the most numerous. Although they are believed to have originated in central and western Iran, their current areas of concentration are largely located in one of four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Smaller communities exist elsewhere, including the small Caucasian state of Armenia. Here, Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority – 1.3% of the total population. They are largely speakers of a northern dialect of Kurmanji, the Kurdish language that dominates communities in Turkey, north-western Iraq and Syria. In contrast to the assimilationist policies of many of the other states under which Kurds find themselves, Soviet nationalities policy recognized the existence of a separate Kurdish nation and, at least in theory, supported its cultural and social development. While Kurds in Turkey or Iraq were barred from giving their children Kurdish names, celebrating Nowruz or, at the most extreme, using the letters X or W (which do not figure into Turkish phonology, but do appear in Kurdish), Soviet Armenia’s Kurds had access to state-funded mother-tongue education.

YP2017a773 Cover Page
The cover of Şêrê Çevqul, or Greedy Lion, a collection of children’s poems in Kurmanji (YP.2017.a.773) © Hamoê Rizgo

Nevertheless, Kurds faced the same ups and downs of nationality policies that affected many of the other national minorities in the USSR. Among these were the codification, and re-codification, of the Kurdish language throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In the early 1920s, Armenian letters were first used for Kurdish, although this was abandoned in favour of the Latin alphabet in 1927. Among the Kurdish titles from Armenia held by the British Library, Қteba Zmane Kyrmançi, a reader for native Kurdish-speaking 4th year students from 1933 (14997.b.20), shows us the second stage of this journey. The work is written in a modified Latin script similar to those employed for Turkic languages within the Soviet Union during the same period. The idea was to create a uniform representative of the phonemics – the underlying sounds – of each of the languages to which it was applied. There is therefore no attempt at harmonizing this Latin-script Kurmanji with similar dialects further south in Turkey or Syria. This is understandable, given that the goal of Soviet linguists and central planners was not linguistic unification, but rather socio-economic unification leading to the creation of one, unitary Soviet nation.
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Title page of Evdal’s 1933 edition of the Kurdish reader Қҭeba Zmane Kyrmançi in Latin script and Oktjabr, a Socialist-themed poem  (14997.b.20) © Emînê Evdal
 
This is even more evident when we look at the content of the readers, rather than their form. Although the reader dates from the first five years of Stalin’s reign, it already shows the hallmarks of the “National in form, Socialist in content” ethos of Stalinist nationalities management. Poems about October (an allusion to the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power) mingle with illustrated folk tales and traditional stories. Children are entertained with pictures of warriors, bandits and princes in traditional Kurdish garb while also reminded that “Oktjabr – şabuna proletara” (October is the rebirth of the proletariat), and that “Bǝjraqed sor bьlьnd dьkьn zor” (Many will raise red flags). The 1933 reader is clear proof that the codification and standardization of a language – albeit within the confines of the Soviet state – could be used to serve a cause other than nationalism.

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Chariot Image – An excerpt from the 1933, Latin edition of Şerê Davit in Evdal's reader (14997.b.20) and the Cyrillic version of the same poem from the 1957 edition (14997.b.27) © Emînê Evdal

The author of this particular reader, Eminê Evdal, evidently survived the ravages of the Great Purge and the Second World War, and continued writing in Kurdish – this time in the Cyrillic alphabet – in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The Library holds a number of his poetry collections, including Memê û Zinê (14997.f.63), the name of one of the stories in the 1933 reader, and P’êrişan (14997.f.51), as well as other readers for the fourth year of classes at Kurdish schools in Soviet Armenia. In the 1957 edition (14997.b.27) the poem Oktjabr is no longer present. In its stead is Lenin, written by C. Genco. It is a panegyric to the father of the Soviet Union, complete with sketched portrait. Evdal’s poem Şerê Davit did survive the decades, and thanks to the copy held by the British Library, we can compare the 1933 and 1957 versions, picking out the orthographic, syntactic and semantic deletions and additions, while also marveling at the sheer visual differences between the Latin and Cyrillic renderings of Kurmanji.

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Kurdish and Armenian titlepages of  Jndi’s H’k’yatêd Jimaeta Kurdiê/H’k’yatêd Jimaeta Kurdiê (YP.2017.a.666) © Hajie Jndi

During the 1960s, the task of compiling readers for a new generation of Kurdish-language students fell to Hajie Jndi, one of Soviet Armenia’s most prolific Kurdish authors. His H’k’yated Jimaeta K’urdî (YP.2016.a.666) contains a wealth of Kurdish folktales, short stories, poems and the like, all rendered in proper Cyrillic Kurdish. They are sanitized of any suspect ideological components, and occasionally illustrated to bring home a particular point. These collections, by a man who is believed to have authored some 110 books, articles, studies and other written works, demonstrate the central role played by Kurdish folk culture in identity-formation processes for Kurdish communities, even in the nominally post-national Soviet Union.

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The cover page of Gezgezk (Thistle), decorated with personalized animals and the poem Heft Rreng (Seven Colours) (YP.2017.a.770) © Şerefê Eşir

Part of the process of countering overly nationalistic content was the heavy reliance on ideological and class-conscious elements within the compositions. Other items held by the Library show the extent to which Marxist-Leninist ideas were woven into children’s stories and poems. In the anthology entitled Gezgezk (Nettle) (YP.2017.a.770), personified animals on the cover clue us into the allegorical nature of these poems and stories. We see a monkey and a bear dragging off a wolf – an animal that Soviet children would soon become acquainted with as an underhanded cheater, thanks to the cartoon Nu, Pogodi!, which first aired in 1969. Gezgezk contains simple poems that introduce children to meter, rhyme, prosody and an expanded vocabulary of the Kurdish language, while also indoctrinating them with State-sponsored ideology. Animals and villagers were indeed favourite means of doing this, as we can see in another anthology of children’s poetry held by the Library, Şêrê Çevqul (The Greedy Lion) (YP.2017.a.773). This collection includes works such as Ker û Ga (Ass and Cow), and Padşa û Gundi (King and Village), both of which harken to the rural imagination generally contained in Kurdish folktales and other oral literature, while also hammering home core components of the Socialist struggle.

YP2017a773 Ker u Ga copy YP2017a773 Padsha u Gondi
Ker u Ga, an allegorical story about an ass and a cow and Padsha u Gondi, a Socialist-tinged tale about a King and a village (YP.2017.a.773) © Hamoê Ȓizgo

Kurdish children’s literature from Soviet Armenia provides us with a valuable component to understanding a culture fractured along linguistic, political, social and economic lines. Although numerically small, the publishing history of Armenia’s Kurds highlights the importance of education as an agent of reproduction of both national culture and language, and State-sponsored ideologies. While the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran faced severe restrictions on the use and propagation of their native language, those living in the Soviet Union were able to transform fully their mother tongue into a literary standard. In spite of this, the Socialist, anti-nationalist content of the materials produced kept the core of the struggle for cultural and political self-determination far to the south of Armenia, paving the way for these publications to become relics of a parochial, historically bounded arena of Kurdish cultural production.

 Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator, Asian and African Collections
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07 April 2017

Take a feather and a candle: why thorough spring cleaning is so important

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Looking through our collection of digitised Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, you may have noticed that amongst all of the biblical scenes and decorative letters, there are scenes of families cleaning their houses. Given the same spatial importance of scenes of lofty figures like Abraham and Moses, these scenes jump out to modern eyes as they seem to show families cleaning their homes together, with the men helping out with the housework too.

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Golden Haggadah. Catalonia, Spain, 2nd quarter of the 14th century. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 27210 f.15r)   noc

These manuscripts are all examples of a type of Hebrew book called a Haggadah. The Haggadah is a service book used in Jewish households during the ritual meal on Passover. Originally included in the text of Jewish prayer books, the Haggadah became an independent unit around the end of the 13th century. The Hebrew manuscript collection at the British Library features many illuminated Haggadot from the late 13th/early 14th century, mainly from Spain. These Haggadot have now been digitised thanks to the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Part of what makes them so charming and historically significant, is that they show contemporary domestic scenes, presumably of the families who commissioned and owned the manuscripts. While obviously they aren’t snapshots of reality, they are depictions of how the families wanted to represent themselves.

If you look more closely at the images, you can see the women sweeping the surfaces, and the man looking into a cupboard and sweeping it clean with a feather, and a young boy holding a small bowl to catch the crumbs. He is also holding a candle, helping him to see into the dark corners. Candles, feathers and bowls are not necessary part of the standard medieval dustpan and brush set; they represent a very specific part of the Jewish customs surrounding Passover. These scenes are faithful representations the Jewish commandment to look for hamets (leaven) on the eve of Passover.

Leaven, or hamets refers to foods which are forbidden on the Jewish holiday of Passover. Based on the Exodus from Egypt when the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise, grains that have been mixed with water and left to start the leavening process are not permitted to be eaten or possessed during the week-long festival. Indeed there is a specific commandment to remove all hamets from one’s home. This work must take place before midday on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan. In 2017, that date falls on Monday the 10th of April.

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Ashkenazi Haggadah. Germany, c.1460. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 14762 f.1v)  noc

Look at the fifteenth-century Ashkenazi Haggadah (Add MS 14762). Right at the beginning, you can see a man sweeping a cupboard clean with a feather and gathering the crumbs into a small bowl. He is richly dressed with lavish robes and money belt, clearly the head of his family and not a servant. The main text on the same page is the blessing that should traditionally be recited before this ritual search for crumbs:

On the eve of the fourteenth [of Nisan] one searches [the house] for leaven by the light of a candle and says the blessing: “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments and commanded us about removing the leaven.”

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Sister Haggadah. Barcelona, Spain, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century. Similar to the Golden Haggadah, the female members of the family are sweeping the house from floor to ceiling, while the head of the family is sweeping the cupboards and brushing crumbs into a bowl held by a small boy. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Or.2884 f.17r )  noc

What makes these images so interesting is that they don’t only show the action of the cleaning, but also the specific detail within the ritual as describe in Jewish law. The Shulhan Arukh, (one of the most important Jewish legal codes) emphasises that first and foremost it is the house owner’s responsibility to search for the leaven. Even if he asks a member of his household to help, ideally he should say the blessing and he should participate in the search. (SA, Orah hayim, 432). Jewish tradition also specifies the use of the candle, feather, and wooden bowl or spoon. The candle is necessary, because it gives enough light in the evening to look for crumbs in the small cracks and holes of the house (SA, Orah hayim, 433).

Some of the manuscripts also show what to do with all of the hamets crumbs after you have found them.

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Haggadah for Passover with the commentaries of Isaac Abravanel. Altona, Germany, 1740. Full manuscript can be viewed here (British Library Add MS 18724 f.2r )  noc

You have to burn them! Just have a look at the relevant page from this eighteenth- century Haggadah. In the upper part of the page we find the blessing for the searching for the leaven, while underneath an Aramaic statement, which one recites to nullify the leaven which might still be in his possession that hasn’t been found:

All leaven that is in my possession, that I have seen and not seen, that I have beheld and not beheld, that I have removed and not removed, let it be nullified and like the dust of the earth.

In the initial word of Barukh (Blessed), we can see a man searching for the leaven with the help of a feather, a bowl and a candle. In the initial word of Kol (All), we find the same man busy burning in the fireplace what he found. It is thought that the use of the wooden vessel to sweep the crumbs into was practical for this stage, as it could be burnt even if no hamets had been found, allowing this ritual to still be performed.

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The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nation
s. Published in 1733 by Jean Frédéric Bernard with etchings by Bernard Picart. It was reprinted several more times during the 18th century, and translated into 5 languages. This image is from the 1733 London edition (British Library 878.l.2)  noc

This ‘spring clean’ ritual of searching for the hamets drew the attention of non-Jewish artists as well. In one of the great publishing enterprises of the Enlightenment period, The Ceremonies and Religious Customs of the Various Nations, one of the two images devoted to Passover is the depiction of the Searching for Leaven. It is interesting that with all of the different rituals and complexities surrounding Passover, like with the Hebrew manuscripts, this ritual was considered so important to depict. The illustrations were designed by Bernard Picart, who relied heavily on his own observations of the Sefardic Jewish community of Amsterdam.

In the context of the Haggadah, these images may have served as visual aids, instructions for the family on the precise nature of the tradition, a kind of non-textual manual. But they could also have served as a kind of self-representation. Could it have been that a whole family cleaning their house together was so unusual? Or was it just that this particular scene was such a good example of the detail and specificity within Jewish law, and how families ensured that people knew how strictly they were adhering to it?

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Ashkenazi Haggadah, Germany, c.1430-1470. Full manuscript can be viewed online here (British Library Add MS 14762 f.6r)  noc

After the spring-cleaning, the family is able to sit down to their Passover meal, read their Haggadah, and drink wine. They’ve earned it!

Zsofia Buda and Miriam Lewis, The Hebrew Manuscripts digitisation project, Asian and African Collections
http://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts
 ccownwork

03 April 2017

On display in the Treasures Gallery: Humayun’s meeting with Shah Tahmasp

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In conjunction with the British Library’s Learning Team we recently held a very successful study day:  Mughal India: Art and Culture. To coincide with the event we have installed three new ʻMughalʼ manuscripts in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. These are: A Royal copy of Nizami’s ‘Five poems’, dating from Herat, ca.1494 (Or. 6810, f. 3r), A mother rebukes her arrogant son, a copy of Saʻdi’s Būstān dated at Agra, 1629 (Add. 27262, f. 145r) and, the subject of my post today, Humayun received by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp of Iran, from Abu’l-Fazl’s Akbarnāmah, dating from Agra, ca. 1602-3 (Or. 12988, f. 98r). All these manuscripts have been digitised and can be seen by following the hyperlinks.

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The Mughal Emperor Humayun's meeting with Shah Tahmasp of Iran in 1544 by the artist Sanvala, 1602-3. Note what are probably the painter's instructions partially covered in the lower margin (British Library Or. 12988, f. 98r)  noc

The manuscript on display is the first of a three-part imperial set (Losty and Roy, pp. 58-70) of the Akbarnāmah ‘History of Akbar’, an official history written by the court historian Abu’l-Fazl.  This volume describes the reigns of Akbar’s predecessors and his childhood and contains 39 paintings ascribed to major artists of the imperial court. The copyist was the famous  calligrapher Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri[1]. A second volume of the same set is preserved in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Indian Ms 3, see Leach, pp. 232-300). The painting is ascribed to the artist Sanvala and depicts the two monarchs meeting in July 1544. The setting, in a luxuriously furbished tent, includes a backdrop of distant snow-clad mountains, verdant pastures and a medieval city. Quoted above the painting are some typically bombastic verses by the Safavid poet Mirza Qasim Gunabadi [2] (Abu’l-Fazl, p. 81, Thackston's tanslation):

Two Lords of Conjunction meeting at one assembly like the sun and the moon,
Two lights of vision for the eye of fortune,
 two blessed holidays for the month and year,

Two stars with which the firmament is adorned, together in one place like the Farqadain[3],
Two world eyes, rein to rein, bending toward each other like two eyebrows,

One constellation the location for two lucky stars in the firmament, one casket the place for two exalted pearls.

In 1530, the Mughal Emperor Humayun inherited an empire that was far from consolidated and after his decisive defeat by Sher Shah Suri at the battle of Kannauj in 1540 he was forced to retreat. He spent the next three years attempting to regain his position in Sindh during which he met and married Hamida Banu who gave birth to Akbar at Umarcot on 15 Oct 1542. Unsuccessful in Sindh and at the same time thwarted in his attempt to retreat to Kandahar he decided late in 1543 to seek the protection of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–1576), leaving the 15 month old Akbar behind with his relatives.

Humayun’s stay in Safavid Iran is described by Abu’l-Fazl in glowing terms almost as if it were a recommendation for TripAdvisor. Shah Tahmasp couldn't have been more delighted to host Humayun's visit and ordered drums to be beaten in celebration for three days in his capital Qazvin. Incredibly detailed instructions for Humayun's reception were sent to the Governor of Herat which included marmalades of Mashhad apples to be served after sherbet prepared with lemon syrup and chilled with ice and snow. Once the visitors reached Mashhad and were joined by the Shah’s amirs, 1,200 different dishes of food fit for a king were to be served at each meal!

After Noruz at Herat and much successful sightseeing, Humayun caught up with the Royal Camp between Abhar and Sultaniya and met the Shah in July 1544 in a ʻlofty palace, on which painters had long been at work executing marvels of their craftʼ (Abu’l-Fazl, p. 79). Princely celebrations were held daily and gifts exchanged. After several days the royal party moved on to Sultaniya where a hunt was organised. This was followed by two more hunting parties at the end of which Humayun was sent on his return journey accompanied by the Shah's son Prince Murad, 12,000 horsemen and 300 arms bearers from the Shah's own bodyguard.

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Humayun and Shah Tahmasp hunting at Sultaniya. Principle portraits by Narsingh, remainder by Ganga Sen (British Library Or. 12988, f. 103r)  noc

Apart from a brief moment of tension alluded to by Abu’l-Fazl in just two short sentences, it would seem that relations between the two rulers could not have been better. However a quite different impression is given in Tazkirat al-vāqi‘āt ‘Memoir of Events’, by Jawhar Aftabchi, Humayun's personal ewer-bearer, who accompanied Humayun in exile to Iran and during his subsequent struggle to regain the throne. Unlike the Akbarnamah which was an official chronicle of Akbar's reign, Jawhar’s account is a much more detailed record of events and to judge from his own references, he was always close to the Emperor and was therefore present at important conversations.

One of the first things Tahmasp asked Humayun, according to Jawhar, was whether he was willing to wear the tāj (the typical Safavid batonned headdress). He was happy to agree to this but the next day he was ordered to convert to Shiʻa Islam (Thackston, p.122):

Firewood had been gathered for an entertainment for the emperor. The shah sent a message, saying, ʻIf you embrace our religion, we will support you. Otherwise, we wonʼt. We will set fire to all the people of your religion with this kindling and burn you up!ʼ

As a staunch Sunni, Humayun initially refused but eventually agreed under duress, at least temporarily, and continued to enjoy his host’s generous hospitality. However Tahmasp had not apparently given up the idea of killing Humayun. On hearing his planned treachery Tahmasp's sister burst into tears. When he asked her why, she replied (Thackston, p. 126):

‘... you have enemies in all four directions: Ottomans, Uzbeks, Circassians, and Franks. It has been heard that Muhammad Humayun Padishah has a son and brothers. What will be gained by harming him? If you cannot have compassion on him and help to elevate and assist him, give him leave to go wherever he can.’ The shah listened to this. Immediately he cheered up and said, ‘All my amirs have been giving me their foolish advice, but none is better than what you have said.’

Another example of a situation saved by a woman!

Add.16711_f76r copy
Passage from a copy dated 1610 of Jawhar's Tazkirat showing the passage describing Shah Tahmasp's proposed treachery with a marginal comment by the Safavid prince Sultan Muhammad Mirza (see below). The pencilled annotations are probably by Charles Stewart who published a translation of this manuscript in 1832 (British Library Add. 16711, f. 76r)  noc

An interesting postscript to this story is told us by Charles Stewart who was lent this manuscript (Add. 16711) by his friend William Yule from whose estate it was acquired by the British Museum in 1847. Yule had suggested that he should publish a translation. He writes (Stewart, p. 70):

About the time that Major Yule procured this MS. there was a descendant of the Seffy family residing at Lucknow, who received a small pension from the Nuwab Assuf addowleh, and bore the title of Persian Prince. Major Yule having lent him the MS. he wrote on the margin at this passage [over Tahmasp's contemplated treachery, f.76r], ʻThe author has here been guilty of falsehood, or he must have been deranged, as this circumstance has never been mentioned by any other historian.ʼ

The Safavid prince concerned was Abu'l-Fath Sultan Muhammad Mirza Bahadur Khan Safavi, a son of  Shah Sultan Husayn II, who lived as a pensioner in Lucknow from 1793 or 4 until his death in 1816 or 17.

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

Further reading
J.P. Losty, and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library. London, 2012
Linda York Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, vol.1. London, 1995
Abu'l-Fazl, The History of Akbar, vol. 2; edited and translated by Wheeler Thackston. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016
Three Memoirs of Homayun; edited and translated by Wheeler Thackston. Costa Mesa, 2009
Charles Stewart, The Tezkereh al Vakiāt; or, Private Memoirs of the Moghul Emperor Humāyūn. London, 1832

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[1] The manuscript has no colophon but a damaged and over-pasted note by the Emperor Jahangir on f.1r mentions ʻthe musk-like string of pearls of …[cut off]…. Kashmiriʼ, which must surely refer to Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri zarrin-qalam. I thank S. Baburi for his help with this inscription.
[2] Author of a poetical history of Shah Ismaʻil Safavi. For more on him see C. Rieu, Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol. 2 (London, 1881), pp. 660-1.
[3] The two inseparable stars in Ursa minor.

28 March 2017

'South Asia Series' talks from April to June 2017

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The British Library is pleased to announce the next set of talks in the ‘South Asia Series’, from April till the end of June 2017. This is a series of talks based around the British Library's South Asia collection and the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project. Speakers from the UK and the US will share the results of their research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

The first talk, on Monday 24th April, will be by Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia at Royal Holloway, University of London. The talk entitled ‘Hasrat Mohani’s Diary’ examines the life of the poet, newspaper editor and politician Hasrat Mohani (1878-1951) in the tumultuous period of January 1947 to December 1949. Professor Robinson will use Hasrat Mohani’s diary to look at how the world changes for Muslims in the United Provinces after Independence and Partition, the discrimination they experienced and the attacks on their culture and position by a Hindu-dominated Congress.

Image 1 Hasrat Mohani
Image of Hasrat Mohani published by the Anjuman Aʿānat Naz̤ar Bandān-i Islām. British Library, SAC. 1986.a. 1967 Noc

The second talk will be on Monday 8th May, and will be given by Christopher Bahl, a PhD student at SOAS, University of London. His talk entitled ‘Cultural Entrepôts and Histories of Circulation: The Arabic Manuscripts of the Royal Library of Bijapur’ examines the historical circulation of Arabic manuscripts, which linked South Asia with other regions of the Western Indian Ocean world, including Egypt, the Hijaz, Yemen and Iran, during the early modern period. In particular, he will look at the historical development of the Royal Library of Bijapur in the Deccan, today among the India Office Library collections in the British Library, and how its collection of Arabic manuscripts provides crucial insights into the courtly circulation, social use and cultural significance of these texts in a local Indo-Persian environment.

Image 2 Bijapur
Arabic manuscript from Bijapur Library, 1617. British Library, Mss Bijapur 7 Noc

On Monday 22nd May 2017, Kamran Asdar Ali, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, will talk about the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, in which the Pakistan Government brought charges of sedition and of plotting a military coup against certain leaders of its own military and against members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The talk titled ‘Of Communists and Conspiracy: The Rawalpindi Case in Pakistan’ will discuss the conspiracy in detail to show the relationship between the Pakistani state and how it perceived the communist threat in the early years of Pakistan’s existence. In particular, Prof. Kamran Asdar Ali will demonstrate how external influences on the  leadership of the Communist Party of Pakistan may have left it in an ideological conundrum, and thus perhaps susceptible to engagement in a dialogue with the military on a potential coup-d’état.

Image 3 Rawalpindi
Front page of a pamphlet on the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, 1951. British Library, ORW.1986.a.3327 Noc

The fourth talk, which will be on Monday 5th June 2017, will be by Radha Kapuria, PhD student at King’s College London. Her talk ‘Musicians and Dancers in 19th Century Punjab: A Brief Social History’ excavates the material conditions of the lives of musicians and dancers, and analyses social perceptions around them, in the region of Punjab, during the long nineteenth century. She begins with the Lahore darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and then moves on to the discourses by colonial scholar-administrators like Richard Carnac Temple, Anne Wilson, and others, in the mid-19th century. Furthermore, Radha Kapuria will offer a unique perspective by discussing relatively obscure authors writing about musicians and courtesans in the qissa genre, especially popular during this century.

Image 4 Punjab
An illustrated miniature of a courtly mehfil of musicians, from the ‘Guru Nānak Parkāsh’, 1891. British Library, Or. 13079 Noc

On Monday 12th June 2017, Simon Leese, PhD student at SOAS, London will discuss the Arabic poems of Shah Waliullah (d. 1176/1762), the Delhi intellectual best known for his formative contribution to Muslim revivalist thought in the 18th and 19th centuries. Simon in his talk titled ‘Visions of the Arabic Hejaz: Memory and the Poetics of Devotion in 18th and 19th century North India’ will demonstrate how Arabic was not only the language of scripture, but a site of memory and nostalgia. Alongside major works of exegesis, theology, and Sufism, Waliullah had composed a small body of sometimes highly innovative Arabic poems in which he drew on the language of Arabic poetic love to articulate his own devotion to the Prophet. The talk will examine some of Waliullah’s poems, their fascinating afterlife in manuscript and print, and what they reveal about the culture of the Arabic spoken and written word in South Asia.

Image 5 Simon Leese
Shah Abdul 'Aziz, Takhmīs amplifications on the Bāʾīyah and Hamzīyah by Shah Waliullah. British Library, Delhi Arabic 895 Noc

Please do come along, listen and participate. No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free for all to attend. For further information, please contact:

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
layli.uddin@bl.uk

  Ccownwork

20 March 2017

First Impressions: The Beginnings of Ottoman Turkish Publishing

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One of the hottest topics on every economist’s lips is the rising price of housing in the United Kingdom. At last count, the average home price in Great Britain was £220 000. For roughly the same price, however, you could also acquire a book on the history of the Americas. This would be no ordinary history, however: İbrahim Müteferrika’s edition of the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev, or The History of the Western Indies, also known as the New Hadith is the first book by a Muslim about the Americas, and among the first Ottoman Turkish books printed in Istanbul. The Tarīkh is an exceedingly rare item. Of the 500 copies that were produced by İbrahim Müteferrika in 1730, only 17 are known to exist around the world. The British Library is lucky enough to be one of only a handful of institutions in Europe and North America to have two copies of the work. One, at shelfmark Or.80.b.11, contains twelve of the thirteen original black and white woodcut illustrations, as well as the two colour woodcut maps of the world. The other, at shelfmark Or.80.b.7, contains all thirteen black and white illustrations, but neither of the two maps. Both copies are lacking the celestial chart and the chart that are contained in the copy at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

Or80b7 indigenous people_1500 Or80b11 people tree_1500
On the left (BL Or.80.b.7), flora and fauna of Hispaniola, including the mermen and their splendid pearls, brought back to Europe by a man named Castellón, as well as the tree with fruit like women (BL Or.80.b.11)
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The Tarīkh is a unique publication for reasons that are far more profound than the paucity of surviving copies. It is not an original creation, but rather based upon the 16th century manuscript of the same name believed to have been authored by Emir Mehmet ibn Emir Hasan el-Suudi in 1591. Nevertheless, the fact that it was a printed work, rather than a handwritten one, established İbrahim Müteferrika as a pioneer in Ottoman Turkish cultural history. Between the issuance of an imperial ferman on commercial activities related to “certain of printed Arabic, Persian and Turkish books and writings” (Neumann, p. 229) and the 1720s, printing was conducted only by the Jewish and Christian communities, whose works were in non-Arabic scripts. The 17th century saw the importation of Ottoman Turkish works printed in Europe, but both the typography and the language of the content itself were the subjects of derision. The Arabic script requires that some – but not all – letters be attached to those that follow them (to their left), and this characteristic bedevilled European typesetters and those who sought to sell presses to Ottoman clients. At best, the technology created comical mistakes or miscomprehension. At worst, the resulting errors in holy texts led to charges of blasphemy and the befouling of God’s word (Sabev, pp. 107-9).

1-Or80b7 front page_2000 1-Or80b7 colophon_1500
The first page and the end of the chapter on the History of the Western Indies. The text begins in Persian, with an explanation of the real nature of these fantastical images and descriptions, and ends in Ottoman Turkish with information about the culinary delights of the islands (BL Or.80.b.7)  noc

The man who appears to have broken this deadlock was known as İbrahim Müteferrika. He is believed to have been a Transylvanian Christian who converted to Islam and migrated to the Imperial capital of Istanbul at the end of 17th century, possibly to escape religious persecution at the hands of the Hapsburgs (Erginbaş, pp.63-4). His personal history is an apt analogy for the printing press that he popularized: a Christian European invention that was imported and nativized to the Ottoman Empire, ultimately serving to further, rather than harm, the cultural development of the Well-Guarded Domains. İbrahim Müteferrika printed numerous different titles at his workshop in Istanbul, many of which are currently held in the British Library. Apart from the Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī, the Library also holds copies of his Tarih-i seyyah der beyan zuhur-i Agvanian (758.e.9), Tercüme-yi sɪhah-ɪ Cevheri (758.k.7), Takvim üt-tevarih li-Kâtip Çelebi (Or.80.a.8) and Usul ül-hikem fi nizam ül-ümem (758.e.1). Many of these are secular histories or manuals of geography. They demonstrate a concern for steering clear of religious and moral controversy regarding the content of his works and the effect of typography on the text. Some were even presented as serving in the interests of Islam, because of the importance of education holy warriors on the geography of neighbouring regions (Sabev, p. 109). In spite of this, the mere presence of depictions of flora and fauna was enough to raise the ire of some zealots, who sought to destroy his books.

Or80b7 flora_1500 Or80b7 fauna_1500
On the left, the famed Chagos tree, the juice of whose fruits is reputed to cure illnesses. On the right, images of native agriculture in South America, including the usage of oxen-like animals to plough fields (BL Or.80.b.7) 
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Why would someone want to destroy a history book of the Americas? One particular reason might be the sheer number of woodcut illustrations of the people, animals and plants of the Western Hemisphere. Some of these images feature semi-nude members of indigenous communities, while others provide readers with an idea of the wondrous plants and animals to be found in the Americas. Much like Dürer’s rhinoceros, these illustrations are as much representations of Europeans’ imaginations as they are accurate depictions of the flora and fauna they claim to be. Whether or not graven images are permissible under Islamic law, and, if not, how strictly this prohibition was enforced, are issues of great debate among scholarly communities. What is clear from the Tarīkh, however, is that they did appear in the first Ottoman Turkish-language printed publications; and that they likely made the works more controversial than they would have otherwise been.

Or80b11 map
A map of the world, including California as a green island in the top left quadrant of the map. The “Sea of Peru” is also listed as being along the coast of Central America, while the Gulf of Mexico is labelled the “Sea of Mashigho”. (BL Or.80.b.11)  noc

Even more spectacular than the illustrations, however, is the world map included in one of the copies held at the British Library (Or.80.b.11). One of its most striking features is the depiction of California as an island separated from the mainland of North America by a channel of water. Given that the southern tip of this “island” extends to the middle of Mexico’s Pacific coastline, it is fair to assume that İbrahim Müteferrika’s mapmaker did not know that the Gulf of California had only one outlet to the Pacific Ocean. The map is plagued by various inaccuracies: the St. Lawrence River is too deep and the Gulf of Mexico too shallow; the Great Lakes are merged into one, while North America seems to be in various pieces. Nevertheless, it is difficult to contain one’s awe at the manner in which the world as we now picture it – thanks to satellite imagery and enhanced modeling – came together in the minds of cartographers and dreamers from 1492 onwards.

Or80b7 graffiti Or80b11 ownership stamp
The varied history of the books as items of pleasure and prestige are recorded through the ownership stamps and marginalia of their readers. On the left (BL Or.80.b.7) is a poetic exhortation to readers about the content of the books, while the right-hand image (BL Or.80.b.11) is the ex libris of Shaykh Tirabi (1210 AH/1795 CE)
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It should also not be a surprise that these maps are of particular interest to collectors: a reason why so many copies of the Tarīkh are incomplete, including one of those held at the British Library (Or.80.b.7). The Tarīkh al-Hind al-Gharbī ul-müsemma bi-Hadis-i nev is not a roof over your head, or a little corner to call your own, but, just like a home, it has served as a symbol of identity and personality for various owners. The presence of various signs in the works held at the Library – marginalia, ownership stamps and the like – bears witness to this fact. The names of individuals and libraries through whose hands these volumes passed tell as much of a story as the text itself. So too, do the poetic messages scrawled on the opening pages of the work; a testament to the way the written word, in whatever its form, has given rise to dreams and imagination for centuries on end.


Further reading
Neumann, Christoph K. “Book and Newspaper Printing in Turkish”, in ed. Eva Hanebutt-Benz, Dagmar Glass and Geoffrey Roper, Middle Eastern Languages and the Print Revolution: A Cross-Cultural Encounter (Mainz: Gutenburg Museum, 2002), pp. 227-248
Sabev, Orlin, “Waiting for Godot: The Formation of Ottoman Print Culture,” in ed. Geoffrey Roper, Historical Aspects of Printing and Publishing in the Languages of the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2014), pp. 101-120.
Erginbaş, Vefa, “Enlightenment in the Ottoman Context: İbrahim Müteferrika and his Intellectual Landscape,” in Roper, Historical Aspects, pp. 53-100.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator
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