THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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15 posts categorized "Modern history"

18 January 2021

The Gombroon Diaries: a Rich Source on Eighteenth Century Persia and the Persian Gulf

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The Gombroon (Bandar-e ʻAbbas) Factory was established in 1623 to represent the interests of the East India Company (EIC) on the southern coast of Persia (Iran) and the Gulf. It soon became the centre of British trade and political activities following the expulsion of the Portuguese from Hormuz and Bahrain. A Chief Agent headed the Factory’s decision-making ‘Council’. The Council members coordinated with Sub-Agents, Brokers and local partners at the rest of the British establishments in Persia, primarily in Esfahan, Kerman and Shiraz.

A list of account salaries due to Company's staff at Gombroon
A list of account salaries due to Company's staff at Gombroon (IOR/G/29/5/2 f 79v)
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In many ways, the Factory owed its existence and commerce in the region to certain royal grants confirming specific trading privileges known as Rogums (Ruqum or Raqams). These were granted to the British by the King (Shah) of Persia, and were renewed regularly.

A list of Rogums granted by the King of Persia
A list of Rogums granted by the King of Persia (IOR/G/29/3 f 9v)
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The daily consultations at the Gombroon Factory were recorded in diaries. Each diary usually covered a one year period. Copies of the diaries were dispatched by sail to the Company’s administrative headquarters in the Bombay Presidency. The surviving thirty-two diaries are an open gate to the social, political and economic history of eighteenth-century Persia and the Persian Gulf. These diaries are bound within thirteen individual volumes that are classified under the India Office Records’ (IOR) sub-series IOR/G/29/2-14. These are dated from November 1708 to February 1763. Any lacuna within these two dates would indicate that the diary either did not exist in the first place or was lost, misplaced, or removed from the records at some point. Most of the volumes include one diary each, apart from volumes IOR/G/29/5, 6, and 7 which contain nine, seven and six diaries respectively.

The Gombroon diaries record the day-to-day consultations that took place at the Factory. These cover the administrative decisions made, letters sent and received, visits to and from the Factory, trading activities, inland and offshore military operations, in addition to miscellaneous reports of other political and commercial events taking place in the region.

Apart from their administrative nature, the diaries stand out as an extensive and under-utilised source for the study of commercial activities in eighteenth century Persia and the Gulf. These can be glimpsed through the records they preserve of the activities of the British, Dutch and French trading companies, as well as local Persian and Arab merchants in the region. Such records help trace the history of foreign powers’ interest in the region, as well as encounters with and among local authorities.

Descrption of the Persian fleet sailing to Khorfakkan
The Persian fleet sailing to Khorfakkan to assist the Imam against his rebellious subjects (IOR/G/29/5/9 f 375v).
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The records of commercial activities also reveal some remarkable information about the movement of ships and the busy ports at the time. Examples of the names of ships that appear regularly in the records are: the Success, the Prince George, the Prince Edward, the Fayz Rabbani, the Phoenix, and the Swallow. Among the many ports the ships sailed to and from are: Bandar-e ʻAbbas, Bombay, Basra, Bandar-e Rig, Surat, Bandar-e Charak, Mocha, Muscat and Bushehr.

The Phoenix imported from Basra
The Phoenix imported from Basra (IOR/G/29/11 f 8v)
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The commercial aspect is also preserved in the records of traded commodities, mainly woollen goods, rice, rose water, grain, sugar, copper, spices, and coffee, in addition to the names of Persian currencies used at the time and their exchange rates in Indian rupees.

The highlights of the diaries, however, are the records they contain of the state of affairs and the never-ending inland and offshore military operations. These introduce the readers to the names of prominent military generals, regional governors and influential tribes involved in such operations. These include but are not limited to: Shah Tahmasp II, Nadir Shah Afshar, Ahmad Shah Afghan Dorrani, Shahrokh Mirza Afshar, Karim Khan Zand, Azad Khan Ghilzaʼi, Nasir Khan Al Mazkur, Shaikh Hatim bin Jubarah al-Nasuri, Shaikhs Rashid and Rahmah al-Qasimi and the tribes of Jubarah, the Banu Muʻin, the Al-ʻAli, and the Arabs of Julfar.

Conflicts among the tribes
Conflicts among the tribes (IOR/G/29/12 f 21v)
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Indeed, a large number of towns and provinces are also mentioned in the diaries as part of the accounts of the military operations. These include Bandar-e 'Abbas, Esfahan, Qazvin, Yazd, Tabriz, Khorasan, Mashhad, Mazandaran, Shiraz, and Qishm Island.

The entry of Shah Tahmasp II into Esfahan after the defeat of the Afghans
The entry of Shah Tahmasp II into Esfahan after the defeat of the Afghans (IOR/G/29/5/3 f 96v)
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In addition to the above, the diaries preserve some occasional, yet fascinating records of weddings, deaths, celebrations, personal disputes, etc. An example of these is the news of Shahrokh Mirza Afshar’s wedding and the choice of presents for the occasion.

News of the marriage of Shahrokh Mirza Afshar
News of Shahrokh Mirza Afshar's marriage (IOR/G/29/10 f 84v)
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Another interesting example is a letter sent by the EIC to Sultan Muhammad Mirza, a claimant to the throne following the Afghan invasion of Persia, in which we learn that the prince had threatened to expel the Company from the Gulf to protect his friend Shaikh Rashid al-Qasimi of Basidu. The company was therefore pleading with Sultan Muhammad Mirza not to attack them, and promising to lift their unilateral blockade against Shaikh Rashid. Additional details about this letter and its historical context will be provided by my colleague Dr. Kurosh Meshkat in a separate forthcoming blog.

Letter from the EIC to Sultan Muhammad Mirza  1727
Letter from the East India Company to Sultan Muhammad Mirza, 1727 (IOR/G/29/4 f 29v)
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With the variety of topics they cover, the Gombroon diaries stand out as primary source material on the commercial, political and military history of the region. The way in which these diaries are organised makes it difficult to search for a particular piece of information within them. In fact, it may be necessary to read a volume from cover to cover in order to spot the name of a certain person, ship, a place or an event. Nevertheless, thanks to the ongoing British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership (BLQFP), these fascinating diaries and many other materials are now being catalogued, digitised, and made available on the Qatar Digital Library. Making such materials available allows those interested in the history of the region to easily browse the diaries, and appreciate and make use of the abundance and variety of their content spanning most of the eighteenth century.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist, Arabic Language, British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership
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Further Reading

British Library, India Office Records, Bandar ʻAbbas (Gombroon) Diaries and Consultations. IOR/G/29/2-14.
Penelope Tuson, The Records of the British Residency and Agencies in the Persian Gulf. London, 1979.

21 December 2020

‘A cessation of plunder and piracy… for ever’: the General Maritime Treaty of 1820 and British imperialism in the Persian Gulf

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This year marks the 200th anniversary of the signing of the General Maritime Treaty of 1820. Though little-known today, this agreement between Britain and ten tribal rulers of the eastern Arabian coast was a decisive moment in the modern history of the Persian Gulf, marking the beginning of 150 years of British hegemony over the region. Since 2014, the Qatar Digital Library has provided online access to a growing number of records from British Library collections that document this fascinating history. This anniversary year provides an opportune moment to consider the treaty that sits at the heart of this history, and has left a legacy that endures to the present day.

General Treaty with the Arab Tribes of the Persian Gulf
The opening to the General Maritime Treaty (British Library, IOR/L/PS/10/606, f. 131r)
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Background to the treaty

The General Maritime Treaty was the culmination of several decades of conflict between Britain and the Qawasim (singular Qasimi), an Arab tribe based around the port of Ra’s al-Khaymah. The Qawasim were at the head of a large network of tribes with an expanding influence on both shores of the Gulf. However, their rise brought them into conflict with other local powers, particularly Oman.

This was of serious concern to Britain, which had formed an alliance in 1798 with Oman’s ruler, the Imam of Muscat (Sayyid Sultan bin Ahmad Al Bu Sa‘id, reigned 1792-1804). The purpose of this alliance for Britain was to guarantee access to the Gulf. This was sought partly for its commercial potential, but primarily because the Gulf lay on the main line of communication between Britain and its expanding Indian empire. Official communications from India were regularly taken by ship up the Gulf to Basra, from where they were transported to Europe. Secure access to the Gulf was therefore vital for the British administration in India.

The rise of the Qawasim threatened to upset this arrangement, a fear articulated by British officials in the Gulf. For example, in July 1816 William Bruce, the British Resident at Bushire, reported on the Imam of Muscat’s efforts to challenge Qawasim power in Bahrain. Bruce observed that ‘if His Highness fails in reducing this island to obedience the acquisition of force to the piratical states [the Qawasim and their allies] will be such as to enable them to reduce Muscat if they please, and effectually to cut off all intercourse with the Gulph till such time as we are compelled to destroy them by fitting out an expedition to this quarter.’ (British Library, IOR/F/4/574/14024, f. 9v, soon to be added to the Qatar Digital Library). To officials like Bruce it was vital for Britain to maintain access to the Gulf, and he advocated the use of force to stop the further expansion of Qawasim power.

British expansion in India brought them into conflict with the Qawasim in other ways. The India Office Records contain many reports from this period of raids carried out by the Qawasim on shipping in the Indian Ocean. There was a long history of tensions between Arab and Indian trading communities, and it is far from clear that the attacks being attributed to the Qawasim were all carried out by them. Nevertheless, many Indian merchants began to appeal to the British authorities for assistance. In one petition, received on 5 February 1817, Siv-ji Govind-ji, a merchant writing from Bombay, claimed that his ship had been captured by four vessels owned by the Qawasim (spelled ‘Joasmee’ in the document, below) near its intended destination at Lakhpat in Gujarat, with the loss of most of the crew and cargo. Describing himself as ‘a subject dwelling under the British protection and colours’ he appealed to the British authorities in India for aid.

 Petition sent by Siv-ji Govind-ji to the Government of Bombay  5 February 1817  Petition to the Government of Bombay  5 February 1817
A copy of a petition sent by Siv-ji Govind-ji to the Government of Bombay, 5 February 1817 (British Library, IOR/F/4/649, ff. 26r-26v - soon to be added to the QDL)
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As the allegations against the Qawasim increased, officials in Bombay sensed an opportunity to finally bring their rivals in the Gulf to heel. In December 1819, with assistance from Oman, Britain sent a military expedition to the Gulf. The result was an overwhelming defeat for the Qawasim, leading to the capture of their fleet and the occupation of Ra’s al-Khaymah. It was in the aftermath of this crushing military campaign that the General Maritime Treaty was created. The treaty was produced in English and Arabic and first signed on 8 January 1820, with more signatories added over the following weeks.

The General Maritime Treaty

What is striking in the treaty is how the defeated Arabs of the Gulf are addressed. The first article of the treaty states: ‘There shall be a cessation of plunder and piracy by land and sea on the part of the Arabs, who are parties to this contract, for ever.’ In describing the actions of the Qawasim as ‘piracy’, the treaty echoed the comment of Bruce, who above referred to them as the ‘piratical states’. Such references abound in the India Office Records. In British eyes, the seafaring Arabs did not represent a political entity with whom relations could be conducted as equals. Rather, they were pirates, seeking only to destroy and disrupt the maritime trade of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. If they continued in such behaviour, the treaty declared, they would be considered ‘an enemy of all mankind’.

The treaty went on to outline a new system of maritime conduct. From thenceforth, Arab ships were to carry a register and port clearance giving details of the vessel, its ownership and crew, and its ports of origin and destination. These ships were also to fly ‘the flag of the friendly Arabs’, a red rectangle in a white border, in order to signify their adherence to the terms of the treaty. Having complied with these demands, ‘the vessels of the friendly Arabs, bearing their flag above described, shall enter into all the British ports and into the ports of the allies of the British… and they shall buy and sell therein’. Through their adherence to the terms of the treaty, the Qawasim and their allies were to be weaned off their ‘piratical’ habits and integrated into the maritime trading system established by Britain in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.

Article 3 of the General Maritime Treaty
Article 3 of the General Maritime Treaty (British Library, IOR/L/PS/10/606, f. 131r)
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The legacies of the treaty

The General Maritime Treaty was therefore intended to establish a new order in the Gulf, and it marked the beginning of a deepening British involvement in the region. A naval force remained to police the new arrangements, and a series of subsequent treaties saw Britain adopting a role as enforcer of an ongoing truce between the different coastal tribes. By the start of the twentieth century, Britain had assumed responsibility for the defence and foreign policy of these tribes, and was increasingly intervening in the administration and development of their territories. In short, the Arabian coast of the Gulf had effectively become a British protectorate.

This position was maintained until 1971 when, with the British departure from the region, the states of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain came into being. These states are therefore a direct legacy of the General Maritime Treaty, and remain governed by many of those same ruling families with whom Britain entered into treaty relations in 1820. Furthermore, the red and white national flags adopted by many of these states provide a striking reminder of this treaty, having their roots in the ‘flag of the friendly Arabs’ first imposed on them in 1820.

The General Maritime Treaty is therefore central to understanding the modern history of the Gulf and Britain’s role within it. To explore this history in more depth, visit the Qatar Digital Library.

Further reading

Charles E. Davies, The Blood-Red Arab Flag: An Investigation into Qasimi Piracy 1797-1820 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997).

James Onley, “Britain and the Gulf Shaikhdoms, 1820-1971: The Politics of Protection”, CIRS Occasional Paper no. 4 (Doha, Qatar: Center for International and Regional Studies, 2009).

Sultan Muhammad al-Qasimi, The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf (London: Croom Helm, 1986).

David Woodbridge, Gulf History Cataloguer, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
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13 May 2020

Digitised East India Company ships’ journals and related records

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The East India Company’s charter of incorporation, dated 31 December 1600, provided the Company with a monopoly of all English (and later British) trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. Dutch voyages to Asia in the closing years of the sixteenth century had encouraged expectations of high profits to be made from the spice trade, and on 13 February 1601 the English East India Company’s first fleet of four ships sailed from Woolwich, bound for the pepper producing islands of Java and Sumatra.

The 'Earl of Abergavenny'. Foster 59
The East Indiaman 'Earl of Abergavenny', off Southsea, 1801. Oil painting by Thomas Luny (British Library Foster 59)
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Between 1601 and 1614, eleven more Company fleets were sent to Asia. Each one of the fleets operated as a ‘separate stock voyage’, meaning that they were separately financed, kept their own accounts, and paid their own dividends, before the separate voyages were replaced by a single joint stock in 1614, which provided continuous financing for annual sailings. By the early 1800s sailings had reached a peak of forty to fifty ships per year.

A sketch of the ship Rooke (or Rook) in a storm off Cape Bonesprance (the Cape of Good Hope) (IOR/L/MAR/A/CXXXIII, f. 16v)
A sketch of the ship Rooke (or Rook) in a storm off Cape Bonesprance (the Cape of Good Hope) (IOR/L/MAR/A/CXXXIII, f. 16v)
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At first, the Company either bought or built its own ships. However, from 1639 the Company began to hire ships, and after the closure of the Company’s dockyard at Blackwall in 1652, freighting from private owners became the general practice. Ships were built to agreed specifications by groups of managing ship-owners on the understanding that they would be hired by the Company. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, ships which had not been built specifically for the Company’s service were increasingly being hired or licensed for voyages to Asia. Whilst the owners were responsible for providing the crew for the ships, the officers were appointed by the Company, which tightly controlled aspects of the voyages including the pay for all ranks, private trade by crew members, and the precise amounts that could be charged for passage.

It was the regular practice for the commander and other principal officers of a ship to keep a full account of the voyage in a journal or log-book, which would eventually be handed in to East India House, the Company headquarters. From about the beginning of the eighteenth century these were supplemented by an official log, that was kept in a special form book supplied by the Company. The Company preserved the journals as evidence for the fulfilment of the terms of the charter. They were available for study by any East India Company ship commander, and the often detailed observations and navigational information they contain were utilised extensively by successive hydrographers for the purposes of improving the marine charts published by the Company.

These journals and related records form the India Office Records series IOR/L/MAR/A (dated 1605-1705) and IOR/L/MAR/B (dated 1702-1856).

Entries for 3-5 October 1729 from the journal of the ship Morice recorded by John Cary, Chief Mate (IOR/L/MAR/B/679E, f. 48r)
Entries for 3-5 October 1729 from the journal of the ship Morice recorded by John Cary, Chief Mate (IOR/L/MAR/B/679E, f. 48r)
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Enhanced catalogue descriptions have been created for journals of ships that visited ports in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, and these journals have been digitised and are being made freely available on the Qatar Digital Library website as part of the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership. They constitute an extraordinarily rich and valuable set of primary sources for numerous areas of research, including: the history of global trade networks; encounters between British merchants and crews and diverse people in different parts of Asia, Africa and elsewhere; the origins of British imperialism; rivalry between European powers in Asia; long-distance marine navigation; the experience of everyday life on board ship, and during lengthy voyages, for members of the crew; and historic weather patterns over the course of more than two centuries.

The first twelve voyages all had Indonesia as their primary destination, and the first English ‘factory’ or trading post in Asia was established at Bantam (Banten) on the island of Java. England’s main export of woollen cloth proved unpopular in Southeast Asia, however, whereas Indian cottons were discovered to be in high demand.

India was comprised of a number of distinct trading zones, each governed by separate and independent states, with each state being historically and commercially linked to a number of trading areas in both east and west Asia. Gujarati ships, for example, had long sailed to Java and Sumatra, exporting cotton in return for pepper and spices, as well as trading with the ports of the Red Sea and the Gulf.

It was in order to explore new possibilities for trade, to capitalise on these existing trade links, and to discover potential markets for English woollens, that the ships of the Third Voyage were instructed to sail to Bantam via the Arabian Sea and Surat. The latter was the principal port of the Indian Mughal Empire (1526-1857), and it was where the Company would establish its main factory in India. By 1620 the ‘Presidents’ or Chief Factors at Bantam and Surat controlled nearly two hundred factors spread out across more than a dozen trading centres, from Macassar (Makassar) to Masulipatnam (Machilipatnam) and from the Malabar Coast to the Red Sea.

In addition to Bantam and Surat, other destinations of the voyages included Persia (Iran), where raw silk was obtained, and Mocha in southern Yemen, where coffee could be purchased. Indeed, by the 1660s coffee had become the staple export of the Red Sea ports. Other ports of call in Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula included Aden, Socotra, Bandar ‘Abbas, Jeddah, Muscat, Jask, Masirah and Qeshm.

Journal of the voyage of the Prince Augustus to Mocha and Bombay, recorded by William Wells, Chief Mate, 1 August 1722 to 18 April 1725
Journal of the voyage of the Prince Augustus to Mocha and Bombay, recorded by William Wells, Chief Mate, 1 August 1722 to 18 April 1725 (IOR/L/MAR/B/665A)
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Further destinations included Madras (Chennai), Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata), Calicut (Kozhikode), Borneo, and Japan. The journals also record the ships calling at a variety of other places, in India, and elsewhere, such as: Table Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, St Helena, Madagascar, Mayotte, Joanna (Anjouan), Mauritius, Comoros, Batavia (Jakarta), Malacca, Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad, Santiago on Cape Verde, Texel, and Macau (Macao).

A sketch of the ‘Ship Defence at Anchor in Table Bay’
A sketch of the ‘Ship Defence at Anchor in Table Bay’ (in Defence: Journal, 4 November 1738-11 Oct 1740, IOR/L/MAR/B/647B, f. 19v)
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The daily entries in the journals record: the arrival and departure of the ships from the various ports of call on the voyages; wind and other weather conditions; actions performed by members of the crew; encounters with other ships, including accounts of engagements with Portuguese ships (before the signing of a peace treaty, the Convention of Goa, in 1635); disease and deaths amongst the crew; punishments inflicted on crew members for various offences; and sometimes sightings of birds, fish, and other marine animals. Entries for when the ships were in port also record the provisioning of the ships, goods being loaded onto the ships, and goods and chests of treasure being unloaded from the ships and taken ashore for trading purposes. Entries for when the ships were at sea additionally record navigational information, including measurements of latitude, longitude, variation, and the courses of the ships, as well as sightings and bearings of land. Sketches, mostly of coastlines, can also occasionally be found in the journals.

Entries from the journal of the London, 8-12 July 1724
Entries from the journal of the London, 8-12 July 1724, when the ship was at anchor in Mocha Road, recording weather conditions, bales of coffee being received on board, and the death of the Chief Mate, Joshua Thomas Moor (IOR/L/MAR/B/313B, f. 45v)
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The journals sometimes mention other significant or interesting incidents, such as: an earthquake felt at sea off the coast of Sumatra on 27 May 1623 (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXIX, f. 28); the reception given to the crew of the New Year's Gift by the King of Socotra in September 1614 (IOR/L/MAR/A/XXI, ff. 12-13); the massacre of twelve members of the Nathaniel’s crew at Hawar, on the southern coast of Arabia, east of Aden, on 4 September 1715 (IOR/L/MAR/B/136D, f. 53); and a meeting between Captain Richard Shuter of the Wyndham and the 'kings' of Anjouan and Mayotte on 14 July 1736 (IOR/L/MAR/B/230C, f. 19).

Some of the IOR/L/MAR/A files take the form of ships’ ledger books, consisting of accounts of pay and other financial records of each of the ship’s crew members, and lists of the crew. The IOR/L/MAR/B files sometimes also include lists of crew members, any passengers, East India Company soldiers, as well as local Indian, Portuguese, and Arab ‘lascars’ transported by the ships.

In addition to the IOR/L/MAR/A and IOR/L/MAR/B series files, the BL/QFP has also catalogued and digitised several files from the IOR/L/MAR/C series of Marine Miscellaneous Records. These include: abstracts of ship’s journals, 1610-1623 (IOR/L/MAR/C/3); correspondence related to the Euphrates expedition of 1835-36 (IOR/L/MAR/C/573 and 574); journals and other descriptions of journeys in and around the Arabian Peninsula and India (IOR/L/MAR/C/587); a list of ships (launched 1757-1827) in alphabetical order with full physical descriptions, names of builders, where they were built, and their launch dates (IOR/L/MAR/C/529); and other files, including volumes containing various documents relating to East India Company shipping.

The renewal of the East India Company’s charter in 1813 limited its monopoly to trade with China, opening up the whole of British India to private enterprises (except for trade in tea). Then under the Charter Act of 1833 the Company’s remaining monopolies were abolished and the Company ceased to be a commercial organisation, although it continued to administer British India and other territories on behalf of the Crown until 1858. This led to a large-scale destruction of mercantile records, but fortunately the marine records which form the IOR/L/MAR Series survived, and those which relate to the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula are now being made freely accessible through the Qatar Digital Library.

Susannah Gillard, Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
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Further reading:
Dalrymple, William, The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (London: Bloomsbury, 2019).
Farrington, Anthony, Catalogue of East India Company Ships' Journals and Logs, 1600-1834 (London: British Library, 1999).
Keay, John, The Honourable Company (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017).
Moir, Martin, A general guide to the India Office Records (London: British Library, 1988 Reprinted, 1996).

03 May 2020

Drawing Ire: Illustrated Ottoman Satirical Magazines

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Cover of Alem featuring a colour drawing of a newspaper clerk speaking to an advertiser
The cover of issue 12 of the satirical magazine Alem, showing a newspaper clerk discussing fees for expected libel accusations. (Alem 21 Mayıs 1325 / 3 June 1909. 14498.a.75)
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The pen is mightier than the sword, they say, but sometimes it’s the cartoonist’s pencil that stings the most. Around the world, caricaturists of all political stripes have long used their illustrations to lampoon the rich and powerful. Sometimes, their humour is focused on the foibles and follies of celebrities. This can take a dark turn when jokes are based on racist, misogynistic, homophobic or other tropes (consider the controversy over a cartoon of Serena Williams in 2019). But, such illustrations can also be a lighthearted means of exposing the mundane and endearing flaws of those whom we admire. Roasting the actions and decisions of the political élite, on the other hand, can bring about a wrath unmatched by that of sports or entertainment stars, even when the images' stated purpose was the betterment of society and progress in politics. The lands of the former Ottoman Empire are certainly no stranger to such dynamics. In 2017, our colleague Daniel Lowe curated an exhibition of the Arabic comic tradition that contained considerable representation of satirical cartoons. For this year’s World Press Freedom Day, I’m going to share a few examples of the Ottoman Turkish satirical press from the British Library’s collections, and highlight some of the special connections between the United Kingdom and this vibrant part of Turkish culture.

Diyojen Masthead of First Issue
The masthead and first page of the first issue of Diyojen, featuring an illustration of Diogenes meeting Alexander. (Diyojen 12 Teşrinisani 1286 [25 November 1870]. ITA.1990.c.6)
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The first satirical newspaper featuring political content to emerge in Ottoman Turkish was the weekly Diyojen (Diogenes), published from 1870 to 1873 by the famed satirist Teodor Kasap (Theodoris Kasapis). Kasap, an Orthodox Greek born in Kayseri in 1835, lived in Paris between 1856 and 1870. During part of this time, he was personal secretary to Alexandre Dumas (his cousin); he also spearheaded the translation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo into Ottoman Turkish. His return to Istanbul in 1870 allowed him to pursue the publication of Diyojen in French, Ottoman Turkish and Greek until 1873, when it was shut down. The magazine was notable for its large masthead, which contained a lithographed illustration of Diogenes meeting Alexander. It also managed to feature, consistently, the writings of some of the great intellectuals of the Tanzimat period, including Namık Kemal and Recaizade Ekrem. Diyojen’s primary focus was not satirical illustrations, and many of its issues did not feature any cartoons at all. Nonetheless, as the first stand-alone satirical publication, it paved the way for the growth and evolution of the genre. Similar to Teodor Kasap himself, it was a development that was influenced heavily by European precedents as well as pro-European attitudes characteristic of the Tanzimat spirit. The degree to which it expressed Kasap’s and other contemporary intellectuals’ Europhile leanings is a fascinating topic, but sadly beyond the scope of this post. Luckily, it is the subject of a study by Hamdi Özdiş, Osmanlı Mizah Basınında Batılılaşma ve Siyaset (1870-1877) (Westernization and Politics in the Ottoman Satirical Press (1870-1877)).

A number of satirical magazines followed Diyojen, including Kasap’s own Çıngıraklı Tatar. This all came to an end in 1876, however, with the ascension of Abdülhamit II to the throne. Although the new Sultan initially presided over two years of (limited) constitutional and parliamentary democracy, the crushing defeats and territorial losses of 1878 allowed for the dawn of a new age of absolutism. Restrictions on freedom of the press and expression meant that many Ottoman intellectuals went or were forced into exile, leading to a boom in Ottoman periodical publications outside of the Imperial borders, including the United Kingdom.

Front page of Dolap featuring masthead and cartoon of Süleymaniye Front page of Dolap featuring cartoon of a dancing dervish and Father of Error
(Left) The cover of Dolap featuring the masthead as well as a cartoon of an execution in front of Süleymaniye Mosque. (Dolap 1 Nisan 1317 [1 April 1901]. 14498.d.4)

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(Right) Another cover of Dolap, this time featuring a dervish next to the "Father of Error". (Dolap 1 Mart 1317 [1 March 1901]. 14498.d.4)
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Among those closest to home for the British Library was Dolap, a monthly satirical magazine published in Folkestone, England between 1900 and 1901. The editor of the journal is unnamed, and the articles and illustrations are signed either with Derviş Külahı or Mürid, if at all. This was likely done to protect those engaged in Dolap’s production. Their text appears to have been printed using movable type, giving it a regular and uniform aesthetic, whereas the drawings themselves are highly variable. Some, such as those in the masthead (which includes Abdülhamit II sitting on a swing), look to have been drawn by a professional illustrator. The lines are clear and purposeful, while the range of emotions and diversity of appearance of the people looking at the Ottoman Sultan (presumably the leaders of other contemporary states) speak to a certain level of expressive confidence. Meanwhile, the drawing of a dervish (identified as el-Hakir el-Fakir ül-Şeyh Zahir Şazlı) and “Abū al-Ḍilāl” (“Father of Error”) is shaky and much more tentative in its use of detail. What is clear, from both these illustrations and the general content of the texts they accompanied, is that Dolap was a means to express a vehement opposition to Abdülhamit’s administration and its policies. Indeed, the first article of the first issue explains, while “speaking seriously”, that the publication intended to look at the corruption and crimes plaguing the Fatherland.

Page from Beberuhi featuring lithographed text and cartoonsA page from Beberuhi showing caricatures of Abdülhamit with various expressions
(Left) A lithographed and illustrated satirical dialogue from the first issue of Beberuhi. (Beberuhi 10 Ramazan 1315 / 1 Şubat 1898 [1 February 1898]. 14498.d.12)
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(Right) A bilingual Ottoman Turkish-French article on Abdülhamit II's performance in international negotiations. (Beberuhi 15 Cumaziülevvel 1316 / 1 Teşrinievvel 1898 [1 October 1898]. 14498.d.12)
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Such sentiments were also carried by the newspaper Beberuhi, published in Geneva in 1898. Unlike its spiritual successor Dolap, Beberuhi was printed partially with moveable type, and partially using lithography. This latter means of production ensured that the illustrator of some of the satirical cartoons was able to add their own text to accompany the visual criticism. Such processes are clearest in the panel above, in which a comical dialogue is paired with esquisses of characters bearing a certain resemblance to Hacıvat and Karagöz, the famous Ottoman shadow puppet characters who were well-known for their biting social criticism. These cartoons and some of the textual content too make it obvious that those in Beberuhi’s editorial board and its contributors were steadfast in their criticism of Abdülhamit’s régime. This is unsurprising, given that the periodical emerged from Young Turk circles in Geneva, one of the hotspots of this more extreme vein of anti-Hamidian opposition.

Esquisse of Abdülhamit atop a donkey surrounded by the leaders of various European states
A bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) lithographed caricature of Abdülhamit being led astray by European rivals, atop a saddle labeled "The Eastern Question". (Beberuhi 10 Ramazan 1315 / 1 Şubat 1898 [1 February 1898]. 14498.d.12)
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In addition to the bespoke satirical caricatures that were sprinkled among the text, Beberuhi also featured a number of bilingual (Ottoman Turkish-French) cartoons. These are of a distinctly different aesthetic than those discussed above. Moreover, their bilingual nature leads me to question whether these might have been reprinted from other publications, or if they were utilized in the Young Turks’ propagandistic campaigns directed at non-Ottomans as well. The focus in these drawings is Abdülhamit’s performance in the arena of international relations. He doesn’t fare well according to the editors of the magazine. Surprised, cheeky, foolish, bemused and complacent are all words we might use to describe the Sultan in these drawings; competent and compassionate certainly don’t make the list. Beberuhi and the Geneva nucleus of Young Turk opposition provide ample material for studies of the Ottoman exile press, such as this work by Servet Tiken. They will likely continue to do so as we look to understand more deeply the genesis of Ottoman political thought both at home and abroad.


Ottoman language cover of Alem showing the Naval MinisterBilingual cover of Alem showing a cabbie leaving for Athens
(Left) The cover of issue 4 of the satirical magazine Alem, showing the Naval Minister. (Alem 19 Şubat 1325 / 4 March 1909. 14498.a.75)
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(Right) The cover of issue 11 of the satirical magazine Alem, with a cartoon of a cabbie complaining about a lack of business in Istanbul. (Alem 14 Mayıs 1325 / 27 May 1909. 14498.a.75)
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In July 1908, a revolution rocked Istanbul, paving the way for the restitution of the Ottoman Constitution and Parliament. Known as the Young Turk Revolution, this milestone in late-Ottoman history meant, among many different things, a relaxation of censorship. The periodical press flourished, including those magazines devoted to satirical content. One such example in the British Library’s Turkish collections is Alem, an illustrated weekly published in Ottoman Turkish from February until June 1909. Edited by Yakovalızade Arif (Arif de Yacova on the French masthead), this periodical included occasional colour drawings, most of which focused on political, economic and cultural issues and hypocrisies in Ottoman society. Alem appears to have escaped the scrutiny of many of the scholars of this period of Ottoman publishing history, as did Yakovalızade Arif. But there are a few interesting things that we can glean from some of its covers.

Two-page spread of illustrations in colour
Two caricatures from the magazine Alem, the one on the left showing a royal official expressing his support for constitutionalism, while that on the right shows the reduction in tension between warring nations. (Alem 21 Mayıs 1325 / 3 June 1909. 14498.a.75)
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Based in Eminönü, the offices of Alem managed to put out 31 issues on a fairly regular basis. Moreover, given the number of issues published, and the professionalism of their production, it is likely that Yakovalıze Arif is nothing more than a pseudonym, employed for the protection of the editors and the contributors to the magazine. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why Alem is the only publication attached to this individual in the entire holdings of the Milli Kütüphane, Turkey’s national library. In coming to the illustrations themselves, it appears that many, if not most, of the covers and satirical cartoons included in the weekly were completed by the same illustrator. The covers on hand are signed by a fairly well-known Ottoman painter named Ali Cemal Ben’im. The diversity of styles – from the strong, clear lines and calm colours of a pier, to the jagged edges of the Naval Minister in black ink – speak to Ben’im’s skill and versatility as an artist. Similarly, the content of the images is broad in its focus: from the economic troubles of cabbies and the petty defamatory actions of the upper classes, right up to the rapid about-face of the ruling classes and their support for constitutional monarchy. The editor, artist and contributors of Alem evidently sought to take a light-hearted approach to criticizing the flaws and faults of this rapidly changing society.

Cover of Cem featuring a shadow theatre performanceCaricature of two men talking in rain on bridge from cover of Cem
(Left) Caricature of a man entranced by a shadow puppet performance at the Ottoman border. (Cem 18 March 1911. 14498.a.91)
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(Right) Two men discussing foreign debt from Germany and the Ottoman Bank from the first issue of Cem. (Cem 28 Tişrin-i Sani 1326 [10 December 1910]. 14498.a.91)
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The final satirical periodical from our collections that I’d like to highlight is Cem, a bilingual Ottoman Turkish-French publication that reappeared in the Republican era as a Latin-script Turkish one. Cem was first produced in 1910-1912. It profited from the initial broadening of freedom of the press, only to fall victim to the reintroduction of controls following a dramatic change in government in 1912. It re-emerged in January 1927, after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, and provided another two-years’ worth of illustrated satirical content until its final closure in May 1929. It was edited and illustrated by Cemil Cem, who had been an Ottoman diplomat posted to France during the late-Hamidian period. He began his career as an illustrator while still in the Ottoman foreign service, sending caricatures to the magazine Kalem starting in 1908. It was only in 1910 that he returned to Istanbul from Paris, and thus had the opportunity to found Cem. While the editor provided a considerable amount of content in both textual and visual form, criticizing both Abdülhamit and the İttihat ve Terakki Fırkası (Party of Union and Progress), there were other contributors as well. The most notable of these was Refik Halit Karay, an accomplished reporter and translator who had spent many years practicing journalism across Anatolia. Karay is well-known for his broad contribution to early-Republican Turkish literature, including his satirical pieces written for Cem and other periodicals, such as Ay Dede.

Cem Double Page Spread
Two pages of caricatures from Cem mocking the privileges of royalty (left) and the hypocrisy and immorality of parliamentarians (right). (Cem 26 January 1911. 14498.a.91)
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As with many satirical publications, Cem took aim at much more than just politicians and their whims. International relations, literature, the arts, and social relations all fell within Cemil Cem’s sights and those of his authors. The boundaries pushed by some of the drawings and texts, and the cheekiness of the humour, all point to why this periodical might have been deemed egregiously critical by the powers that be. An opening from issue 13, for example, reveals caricatures that take digs at both the privileges royalty accords itself and the foolishness of elected officials. No one, evidently, was safe from Cem’s sharp pen. Beyond this, however, the captions themselves speak to a sort of textual codeswitching. Those literate in both French and Ottoman will quickly realize that the two texts do not accord in a strict sense (something also occasionally seen in Alem). Both refer to the same image, but the manner in which they interpret and contextualize it differs. The Ottoman captions are more conversational and jocular than the French ones. This begs the question of who the two audiences of the journal were, and whether there were different standards, or different censors, for the different languages employed.

Turkish politician chasing a Greek butterfly with a netLloyd George among grave crosses in Gallipoli
(Left) A Turkish politician chases a Greek "butterfly" for his "non-aggression pact" collection. (Cem 1 October 1927. 14498.a.91)
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(Right) A caricature of Lloyd George sitting among graves at Gallipoli. (Cem 1 October 1927. 14498.a.91)
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Mizah dergileri – satirical magazines – did not die out with the advent of the Republic; far from it. These publications proliferated throughout the 20th century, following the vagaries of freedom of expression and the press, as well as liberal democracy, in Turkish history. Some have survived into the contemporary moment. Others have fallen prey to the counterattacks of the Turkish state, currently ranked as 157th most free for the press according to Reporters Without Borders. Yet this venerable literary and artistic tradition is a resilient one. In 2019, I wrote about the magazine Penguen, its proliferation, and its eventual closure in 2017. It would be easy to see this as a worrying parable of cultural and political asphyxiation; a tale whose finality is dark and foreboding. In the context of the Ottoman Turkish satirical periodicals held at the British Library, however, and those found elsewhere, I prefer to interpret it as yet another ebb bound to be followed the inevitable flow of Turkish cultural production. Whether inked or pixelated, the indomitable spirit of satirical caricature will rear its laughter-inducing head once again.

Dr. Michael Erdman
Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
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Further reading

Ener Su, Aydan, 1900-1928 Yılları Arası Yayımlanan Mizah Gazete ve Dergilerinin İncelenmesi, (unpublished doctoral thesis, Hacettepe Üniversitesi, 2017).

Seyhan, Salih, “II. Meşrutiyet Dönemi Mizah Basını ve İçeriklerinden Seçilmiş Örnekler”, Turkish Studies, 8/3 (Winter 2013), pp. 494-516.

Ünver, Merve, Eski Türkçe Mizah Dergilerinin Açıklamalı Bibliografyası (1870-1928), (unpublished masters thesis, Marmara Üniversitesi, 2013).

08 March 2020

Serial Feminists or Idealized Beauties? Mehasin, A Women’s Magazine in the Late Ottoman Period

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The first cover of Mehasin, showing a woman's portrait.
The cover of the first issue of Mehasin, appearing in September 1908. (Mehasin (Istanbul: Hilal Matbaası, 1324-25 [1908-09]); 14498.cc.57)
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For much of the 20th century, official narratives in Turkey painted a stark dichotomy in the status of women before and after the reforms of the 1920s and 30s. The Ottoman period was described as a dark era of patriarchal oppression, ignorance and intolerance. It was shown as a bleak contrast to the Republican era, when women were allowed to participate fully in the life of the nation. The Republic proudly advertised its feminist credentials through suffrage (granted in 1930) and women’s access to a host of occupations, pastimes and means of personal expression. This perception, however, began to change in earnest following the 1980 coup . The bloody repression of the Left squeezed progressive energies towards a post-modernist blossoming in Turkey. Women’s experiences, stories and memories started coming to the fore in the cultural realm, and soon academics were challenging both the narrative of female emancipation post-1923, and the story of Ottoman brutishness. Groundbreaking scholars such as Deniz Kandiyoti, Fatmagül Berktay, Serpil Çakır, Aynur Demirdirek, Ayşe Durakbaşa, Zehra Kabasakal Arat and many others paved the way for an appreciation of the complexities of gender, sexuality and power in both the Ottoman and Republican periods. In doing so, they ensured that women’s studies would become a core component of understanding the country’s past, present and future.

From the Edict of Gülhane onwards, and particularly from 1910 up to the dissolution of the Empire in 1923, women were of greater and greater interest to the Ottoman élite. The reasons for this are varied, and partially motivated by the sudden drop in productive and educated male labour brought about by a succession of wars and territorial loses. In order to explore such dynamics, the aforementioned scholars have occasionally made use of late Ottoman periodical publications targeted at women. Women were frequently a topic of periodicals both before and after the Constitutional Revolution of 1908, but they weren’t always the agents, or the audiences, of such works. Male authors discussed women as objects of beauty or subjects of study in literary, reformist, pedagogical and medical publications in Ottoman Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Armeno-Turkish, Karamanlitic and Ladino. They did not necessarily consider them, however, as active readers engaged in a conversation, real or implied. Throughout the 1990s, such trends were examined by a new wave of young scholars, many of them women. Hatice Özen, Ayşe Zeren Enis, Nevin Yursever Ateş, and Tatiana Filippova have all written about periodicals appearing in this period with a particular focus on their interaction with female Ottoman citizens. They have dissected them as specimens of publishing industry history, economic change, and state-sponsored modernization drives, among other phenomena. Most importantly, however, they have sought to make use of them as actual evidence of women’s lives, roles and dreams in the late Ottoman era, beyond ideological narratives.

Sketch of a woman on the cover of issue 8 of MehasinPhotograph of a woman with pearls on cover of issue 5 of Mehasin
The covers of issues 8 and 5 of Mehasin, showing the magazines promotion of women deemed "modern" through both illustration and photography. (Mehasin (Istanbul: Hilal Matbaası, 1324-25 [1908-09]); 14498.cc.57)
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The Turkish and Turkic Collections at the British Library contain a number of these women-themed periodicals from the late-Ottoman period. Among the more visually appealing of these is Mehasin (Beauties), which appeared monthly in 1908-09. The masthead describes it as an illustrated periodical particular to ladies (“hanımlara mahsus musavver gazete”). In terms of illustration, Mehasin does not disappoint: it contains photographs and drawings of women and children, clothes, accessories, furniture, machines, and locations both familiar and exotic. These accompany articles about a myriad of different topics, many of which might be classified as being pedantic or socially-reformist in nature. The purpose of Mehasin was not necessarily to provide an outlet for Ottoman women to discuss their lives and their positions in society, or to air their grievances against the patriarchy under which they lived. Rather, it was a conduit through which women could be educated and shaped by a mostly male élite, refashioned as (often Europeanized) models of the new Ottoman social structure.

Painting of European woman and masthead of magazine
European painting in issue 7 of Mehasin, along with the tagline "A nation’s women are a measure of its level of development" just below the masthead of the article. (Mehasin (Istanbul: Hilal Matbaası, 1324-25 [1908-09]); 14498.cc.57)
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Perhaps the best encapsulation of the periodical’s ethos comes from the tagline that appeared under the masthead of every issue: “A nation’s women are a measure of its level of development” (“Bir milletin nisvanı derece-i terakkisinin mizanidir”), attributed to Abdülhak Hamit (Tarhan). Other examples come from the title and content of articles, such as “Kindness within the family” (“Aile arasında nezaket”; issue 3) and “Woman’s Social Standing” (“Kadının mevki’-i ictimaisi”, issue 11). What does make Mehasin fairly interesting as a social phenomenon, however, is that it sought to do this through an appeal to women’s sensibilities, rather than an application of blunt male authority. Women were here being brought into the mandate and vision of the nation – a fairly new source of political power in the scheme of Ottoman history – but they weren’t necessarily given the opportunity to articulate that vision, or to shape its impact on their lives.

Photographs of Queen Ana of Spain
Photographs from an article on Queen Ena of Spain in issue 4 of Mehasin. (Mehasin (Istanbul: Hilal Matbaası, 1324-25 [1908-09]); 14498.cc.57)
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Mehasin was certainly not revolutionary; at least not in the sense that later female Turkish thinkers, such Halide Edip Adıvar, Sabiha Sertel or Suat Derviş, would have applied this term. It was clearly royalist, given the way that it focused on various members of European royal families (but not those of the Ottoman dynasty, I should note). It also concentrated more on ways for women to become “modern” rather than what men might do in their own lives to lessen the oppressive impact of patriarchy on their female compatriots. Beyond this, however, Mehasin’s writers and editors betray another interesting component of the nexus between women and modernization in the late Ottoman period. While gender was clearly emphasized, so too were race and class, albeit in a far subtler manner. It was not just the royals who were European: many of the model women, too, were white, upper-class Europeans, exemplary of an aspirational womanhood that must have been exceptionally foreign the majority of female Ottoman citizens. An appeal to intersectionality in the interests of women’s liberation was definitely not on the cards.

Images of women in "old style" dress from the Ottoman Empire
As part of an article about train travel in issue 9, images of women in "old-style" dress. (Mehasin (Istanbul: Hilal Matbaası, 1324-25 [1908-09]); 14498.cc.57)
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Issue 3 of the magazine is particularly informative in this regard. It contains a series of articles and portraits of famous women and “beauties”. These include Sarah Bernhardt, the famous American actress; women modeling the latest Parisian fashions; French, German, English, Russian, Italian, Spanish and American “beauties”; and Mrs. Rosa Louis, “England’s Most Famous Chef,” who is the subject of a long article. Indeed, the only Ottoman whose photograph finds its way into the issue is the actor Burhaneddin Bey, who is pictured both in and out of costume. Similarly, issue 9 contains a large article entitled “Marriage Problems” (“Müşkilât-i izdivaç”), which does reference the upper and lower classes. Nonetheless, it emphasizes that the main audience for the piece are middle-class women concerned about socially-appropriate conduct on issues of engagement, marriage and conjugal bliss. Where we do get images of local women’s attire is in the tenth issue, in an article about… the railway, and a trip into the interior of Anatolia. Even then, the author chooses to provide not photographs of contemporary Ottoman women, but rather European-style paintings of “old dress” or “our grandmothers’ attire”. The editor was apparently only interested in women who did not match his aspirations for the average middle-class Ottoman woman if they could be of use in buttressing self-alienating ideologies, as above, or if they fed a colonialist perspective on the women of Asia and Africa, as seen in “Women of the Whole World” (“Butun Dünya Kadınları”) articles in issues 6 and 7.

Images of airplanes in flight.
Advances in the technology of flight in Europe, from issue 9 of Mehasin. (Mehasin (Istanbul: Hilal Matbaası, 1324-25 [1908-09]); 14498.cc.57)
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What is the source of such attitudes towards women’s behaviour? Mehasin was published by the Ottoman author and literary scholar Mehmet Rauf. Rauf, who was fluent in English and French, was particularly keen on psychology and the inclusion of psychological components into his literary and theatrical works. Perhaps it was this inclination for the study of the mind that led him to create a magazine that was intended to shape the thoughts of middle-class Ottoman women. To be fair, his was a goal that went well beyond the traditional domains afforded to women. He sought to expose his readers to the wonders of science and technology – such as the exposé on air travel in Europe in issue 9 – just as much as he looked to force upon them a vision of European femininity. But Mehmet Rauf’s preference for enlightenment over emancipation hardly made him novel. As Sibel Bozdoğan has shown, a long line of men throughout the Ottoman and Republican periods preferred the “modern” management of women to sharing power. As radical as it might have been at the time, their attitudes were yet another element crowding out women’s voices from the debate about Turkish identity and society.

Given that such views were far from uncommon throughout the 20th century, this does beg the question why a magazine such as Mehasin, or indeed other Ottoman periodicals dedicated to women, would have been forgotten or ignored for so long. One reason is undoubtedly the script issue. As these were produced prior to 1928, they are in the Arabic script, which the vast majority of Turkish citizens throughout the life of the Republic have been unable to read. Another, deeper, cause of ignorance, however, is an official policy, up until the AKP era, of seeking to downplay or erase the Ottoman past within narratives of Turkish history. As the historiographer Büşra Ersanlı Behar has explored in her studies of official histories in Turkey, the Ottoman past was either a convenient negative Other for the Republic, or it simply was not. Explorations of the complex nature of Ottoman society were not encouraged. Luckily for us, historians who bucked the dominant trend have helped preserve and expand upon the importance of such publications for reconstructing social experiences in the late Ottoman Empire. In doing so, they’ve helped paint a richer picture of Turkish women’s long-term struggle for liberation and equality, including when that meant breaking free from men’s tropes about the “modern woman”.

Dr. Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Collections Curator, British Library
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17 January 2019

The Other March of the Penguins: A Flightless Mascot for Dissent in Turkey

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In advance of Penguin Awareness Day on Sunday January 20, we tell this story of how a bumbling and beloved resident of the globe’s southern shores became a symbol of dissent and defiance for a generation of Turkish citizens.

Çapulcu Penguen, or Looter Penguin, is the cuddly mascot of Penguen magazine dressed as a masked demonstrator from the Gezi Park protests
Çapulcu Penguen, or Looter Penguin, is the cuddly mascot of Penguen magazine dressed as a masked demonstrator from the Gezi Park protests. At the start of the demonstrations, then-Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to the protestors as çapulcular - looters or marauders - as a way to discredit their movement. Cover of a Çapulcu Penguen notebook, Istanbul: Penguen, [2015?]

On 28 May 2013, a group of environmentalists occupied Gezi Park in Taksim Square, Istanbul. They were protesting the government’s decision to remove one of central Istanbul’s last green spaces in order to make way for a new shopping centre and mosque. When armed police were sent in to remove the protestors for a second time on May 31, the demonstrations ballooned, with 100 000 people marching down İstiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s most prominent shopping street. The momentum of anti-government activism gathered quickly, and soon strikes, occupations, and marches occurred across the country. All manner of calls were made, from the demands of anti-capitalist Muslims and religious minorities, to the concerns of Armenians, Kurds and LGBT people about the abrogation of their rights.

Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Republic Memorial) in Taksim Square
Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Republic Memorial) in Taksim Square covered with flags and protest banners during the protests in June 2013. © Michael James Erdman

A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at the Gezi Park occupation, June 2013.
A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at the Gezi Park occupation, June 2013. © Michael James Erdman

On June 2, while foreign media were reporting on the extent of the unrest, Turkish media remained remarkably quiet . CNNTürk, taking its cue from government media outlets, broadcast a documentary about penguins rather than coverage of the protests crippling the country’s economic and political centres. Turks, who have a long, vaunted tradition of political satire , did not waste this opportunity, and soon real and virtual spaces were filled with mocking memes referencing penguins and the government’s refusal to engage with its citizens. Penguins are not native to Turkey; these images were either taken from photographs floating about the Internet or, in the vein of another longstanding Turkish tradition, appeared in cartoon form. Indeed, such 2D animated activists featured prominently in two publications springing from the same spirit of political engagement that fed the Gezi Park Protests which can be found in the British Library’s Turkish collections.

The logo of the publishing group Peng!, resposible for publishing Penguen magazine the title of the Penguen magazine series
The logo of the publishing group Peng!, resposible for publishing Penguen magazine and the title of the Penguen magazine series, featuring the a determined cartoon penguin with his hang glider. Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı, Istanbul: Peng!, 2014 (BL YP.2018.b.538)

Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı, our first example, is a compendium of the caricatures in the satirical magazine Penguen published in the year 2014. The periodical first appeared in 2002, and soon became the most widely sold weekly magazine in Turkey. Its mascot, a chubby penguin notable for his predilection for hang gliders (and flying) was drawn by the cartoonist Selçuk Erdem. The magazine quickly made a name for itself as being fearless in its biting satire. It was promptly sued in 2005 by then Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdoğan because of a cartoon depicting him as a cat. The magazine was acquitted, but continued to face angry responses for its oppositional, pro-secularist stances; its offices were even firebombed in 2012. It was almost serendipitous, then, that penguins should be coopted as a symbol of media acquiescence to and complicity with government repression in June 2013, allowing Penguen to highlight that these cuddly lovers of fish and snowy frolics also have a subversive and revolutionary side.

Cover of the Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı
Cover of the Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı featuring a cartoon criticising official practices of charity and social assistance. Penguen 2014 Karikatür Yıllığı, Istanbul: Peng!, 2014 (BL YP.2018.b.538)

In 2017, Penguen’s owners announced that they would be closing up shop with only a month’s notice. They cited both a decline in magazine readership in Turkey and increased government repression. In their unsigned farewell letter, the editors of Penguen thanked their readers, caricaturists, authors, journalists, and even politicians, “who were guests on our covers and our Agenda pages.” They also speculated that “perhaps one day we will encounter once more a freer Press. If anything remains that can be called the Press…” Over the years, the magazine provided a space for amateur cartoonists to submit their own drawings and rise to prominence. In 2007, six of its cartoonists started up the satirical magazine Uykusuz [Insomniac], which continues Penguen’s mission, and can also be found in the British Library’s collections.

The cover of Raşel Meseri's Pen Parkta (Pen at the Park)
The cover of Raşel Meseri's Pen Parkta (Pen at the Park), showing Pen the Penguin erupting from his televisual prison. Meser, Raşel, Pen Parkta, Istanbul: Habitus Minör, 2015 (BL YP.2017.a.2606)

The second penguin-themed publication in our discussion is Raşel Meseri’s Pen Parkta [Pen at the Park, a graphic novel in Turkish, Armenian and Kurmanji Kurdish illustrated by Suzanne Karssenberg. The story follows Pen, a penguin like those featured in the documentary aired on CNNTürk, as he erupts from a TV screen in Istanbul and tours the city. He heads to Gezi Park, eager to liberate his fellow penguins from their televised prisons, and meets up with other furry and feathered protestors along the way, exploring the causes of the demonstrators’ anger, and their hopes for change. The choice of languages is far from random. They represent the communities that came together in Gezi Park to make their voices heard; three tongues that, despite official narratives, have each added their own notes to Istanbul’s harmony. Pen Park’ta uses a simple narrative with endearing and engaging imagery to tell the story of the object’s transformation into subject; of the unwitting liar who becomes a warrior of truth.

A happy ending for Pen's beleaguered fellow penguins, as the crowds at Gezi Park come to assist in their liberation
A happy ending for Pen's beleaguered fellow penguins, as the crowds at Gezi Park come to assist in their liberation. Meser, Raşel, Pen Parkta, Istanbul: Habitus Minör, 2015 (BL YP.2017.a.2606)

Your average penguin might not have a fist to raise in defiance, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t oppose the powers that be – at least not in Turkey. Indeed, in 2013, this flightless bird, so often characterised as docile, defenseless, and dedicated, became a symbol of resistance and empowerment. It was, perhaps, an apt metaphor for sections of Turkish society in the age of Erdoğan: those who shed their cloaks of passivity to engage in their own March of the Penguins.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

12 December 2018

Bombay satire: Rudolf von Leyden's political cartoons in India in the 1930s and 40s

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This guest blog post is by Mollie Arbuthnot, the Visual Arts section's doctoral placement. Her project focuses on political cartoons during the early 20th century.

 

It's not easy being a satirist. Rudolf von Leyden (1908-1983), a German-born cartoonist who lived most of his life in Bombay, is the main figure in this cartoon self-portrait.

'Denley in search of happiness' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. British Library, P2349(146). Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 24 March 1946.
'Denley in search of happiness' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. British Library, P2349(146). Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 24 March 1946. 

Surrounded by discarded drafts and piles of newspapers with depressing and terrifying headlines, he desperately searches for inspiration. Meanwhile his editor pokes his head round the door demanding "something really funny this week."

This is just one of a collection of von Leyden's satirical cartoons at the British Library. They were made in the 1930s and 40s, and the library has both original drawings (WD4491) and a set of the cartoons (P2349) as they were published in Bombay newspapers at the time.

The cartoon series in The Illustrated Weekly of India ran from the mid-30s to the late 40s, a tumultuous time in Indian and world history. Both von Leyden's personal life and the cartoons themselves give a fascinating insight into this period.

Life and times of Rudolf von Leyden

It’s not entirely clear why von Leyden moved to India in 1933. He was born in 1908 in Berlin to a middle-class family, the younger of two sons, and lived in Germany throughout his youth. Of course, as a man of Jewish descent and with leftist political interests, it would have been dangerous for him to have stayed in the country for long after the rise of Nazism, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that that was his main motivation for choosing India, or that he was fleeing persecution at the time that he left.

Rudolf’s elder brother, Albrecht, had been living and working in Bombay since 1927. Rudolf had just finished his studies (he received his PhD in geology from the University of Göttingen in 1932) and was looking to embark on his own career. Perhaps it just seemed an opportune moment to start a new adventure. Whatever the reasons, Rudolf arrived in Bombay in 1933.

He swiftly left geology behind, and began working in publicity a textiles firm, but also soon showed his interest in visual art. He set up the Leyden Commercial Art Studio, produced watercolour scenes on his travels around India, and began working on his series of political cartoons.

He was a central figure in the art scene in Bombay, working as the main art critic of The Times of India, collecting Indian artworks from various periods, organising exhibitions, and actively promoting young, contemporary artists. He was a contributing editor of the leading art review MARG from 1946 and served as an adviser for the acquisitions and art commissions of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), which owned one of the most important collections of post-independence Indian art.[1]

He also became a collector of, and later an authority on, antique board games and Indian playing cards. It was, however, as an art critic that he was probably best known in his lifetime.

Von Leyden was clearly a man of great energy and full of enthusiasm for his new life in India. Krishen Khanna, one of the artists who had been supported by von Leyden as a young man, reminisced: ‘[His] wanderlust was something everybody knew about. [He] thought nothing of going to the most inaccessible of places to see an old sculpture or a disused and ruined temple. Sleeping under an open sky and eating what the local population would provide with relish. […] [He] seemed to take it all so blithely. “While Lolly and I were trekking in Kashmir, we spent a day climbing Hara Kukh” as if that was some little hillock on [their] way. So when I expressed my surprise at [his] prowess for climbing, [he] came out with a long list of places which [he] said [he] had to traverse as a part of [his] doctorate in geology. My goodness, I’d always thought [he] had a doctorate in art history.’[2]

Wartime tensions

The position of a German national in British India was somewhat precarious, even before the outbreak of the war. Many were arrested as enemy aliens from 1939. Von Leyden had managed to acquire a British passport by that time, and used his contacts to help other German-speaking emigres to navigate the British authorities.

One fellow cartoonist, Walter Langhammer, and his wife Käthe were rescued from exile and arrest when von Leyden sent Langhammer’s cartoons to several influential people in Bombay, to prove his political disposition and loyalty to the British government. It worked, and both Walter and Käthe were able to return to Bombay, where Käthe worked as a censor for the British Army for the remainder of the war.[3]

It seems that von Leyden himself may have been able to use his own cartoons and position at The Times of India to protect himself from suspicion in a similar way.

All of von Leyden’s own cartoons were signed with the pseudonym ‘Denley,’ and were vehemently anti-German during the war. The gallery owner Kekoo Gandhy, a personal friend of von Leyden’s, attributed his use of a pseudonym to modesty. [4] But, the specific choice of the very English-sounding Denley must have been partially motivated by the desire to fit in at the Times and to distance his cartoons from his German roots. (Denley is, of course, also an anagram of Leyden.)

This all goes to highlight von Leyden’s unusual position, straddling several worlds: he was a European in a colonial space, but nonetheless with an ambivalent relationship to British colonial powers due to his German roots; a political émigré, part of a small but significant community of European Jews in cosmopolitan Bombay during the war; and a man deeply interested and invested in Indian culture and especially the flowering of Indian contemporary art.

The cartoons

His cartoons are characteristic for their freshness and sense of urgency, which is especially evident in the artist proofs. You can imagine von Leyden finishing his latest effort and cycling pell-mell across Bombay (as he apparently often did to get his work to the newspaper office in time to go to press) with the ink still wet.

They all share a signature style, featuring a bold black outline, minimal colouration, and a gentle political wit that poked fun at local government as well as heads of state, military leaders, and the ‘resident foreigner’ in India, including himself.

During the war years, the cartoons were jingoistically anti-German, albeit with an irreverent eye on international affairs. One example is captioned ‘Moscow Ballet’ and features Anthony Eden, Viacheslav Molotov, and US Secretary of State Cordell Hull as three ballerinas performing for their allied leaders (you can make out Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt in the front row), while a disgruntled Hitler turns to Goebbels, saying: “I thought you told me they could not keep in step…?”

'Moscow ballet' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1943. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 14 November 1943. British Library, P2349(37)
'Moscow ballet' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1943. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 14 November 1943. British Library, P2349(37) 

This fragile corps de ballet didn’t last long, of course, and von Leyden’s post-war cartoons show the beginnings of Cold War tensions. One casts Stalin in the role of Zeus, depicted as a huge moustached bull, carrying Europa off eastwards on his back (to the despair of the other Grecian maidens, Truman, Atlee, and de Gaulle).

Another major theme from this period was Indian independence. Von Leyden was unsparing in his depictions of the divides in Indian society, with several images focussing on the conflicts and unwillingness to compromise between different groups.

A 1946 cartoon shows ‘The House of India’s Freedom’ precariously balanced on scaffolding as construction work grinds to a halt, the two builders, Hindu and Muslim, refusing to speak to one another, and the solid foundation stones of unity, compromise, and goodwill languishing unused. Another pokes fun at the state bureaucracy, depicting politicians feverishly drafting plans and proposals by candlelight, as a larger-than-life Clive of India muses: ‘Fancy having so much trouble giving it back…’

'The freedom of India' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 2 June 1946. British Library, P2349(166)

'The freedom of India' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 2 June 1946. British Library, P2349(166) 

 In the family

In the late 30s, von Leyden’s parents also moved to Bombay to join their two sons, fleeing the worsening situation in Nazi Germany. It turns out that this was a whole family of amateur artists.

After the war, in 1948, the four of them held a joint charity exhibition. Their father exhibited his sculptures, their mother watercolours, Albrecht, who was apparently the best painter of the lot, showed oil paintings and Rudolf sent his cartoons.

The Times carried an exhibition review, which claimed:

‘All four of the Leydens are amateurs. In Bombay one has become so accustomed to seeing professionals putting on shows of amateurish merit that it is refreshing to come across a family of amateurs presenting an exhibition of professional standard’.[5]

On Rudolf’s cartoons, and making reference to his fame as an art critic, the reviewer wrote:

‘Of the many inherent injustices of life in our civilisation some of the most galling are that pupils cannot give marks to their teachers, that motorists cannot summon the traffic constable, and that artists do not get a chance to criticise the art critic. Once in a lifetime there comes this chance but – alas – paradoxically, the victim at hand is not the sort of fellow one would relish running down.

R.V. Leyden’s cartoons are outstanding for their political wit. In the execution of the actual drawings he works so hard to overcome his lack of training that, in the end, most of his cartoons are better drawn than the average “professionals”.’[6]

 

By Mollie Arbuthnot, doctoral candidate at University of Manchester, department of Russian and East European Studies. She is currently at the British Library as a doctoral placement in autumn 2018.

 

 

[1] Devika Singh, ‘German-speaking exiles and the writing of Indian art history’ in Journal of Art Historiography no.17 (December 2017), https://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/singh.pdf, accessed 5/11/2018, p.15.

[2] Krishen Khanna, ‘To Rudolf von Leyden: A Letter out of Season’ in Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt eds. Jewish Exile in India 1933-1945 (New Delhi: Max Mueller Bhavan, 1999), pp.186-189 (p.188).

[3] Margit Franz, ‘Transnationale & transkulturelle Ansätze in der Exilforschung am Beispiel der Erforschung einer kunstpolitischen Biographie von Walter Langhammer,’ in Margit Franz et al. Mapping Contemporary History: Zeitgeschichten im Diskurs (Vienna, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2008), p.251.

[4] Kekoo Gandhy, ‘Some Personal Reminiscences of Rudi von Leyden,’ in Rudolf von Leyden: Cartoons (exhibition catalogue), p.3.

[5] ‘Leyden Family’s Art Works: Bombay Exhibition’ in The Times of India, 22 May 1948, p.9.

[6] Ibid.

21 October 2018

A Photographic Tour of the Persian Gulf and Iraq, 1906

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‘House of the dragoman [translator] of British Consulate Basra’, 1906
House of the dragoman [translator] of British Consulate Basra’, 1906 (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 27)
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In November 1906, Wilfrid Malleson, a British military intelligence officer, departed from Simla in British India on an intelligence-gathering tour of the Persian Gulf and what British officials then termed ‘Turkish Arabia’ (the south of modern Iraq, then part of the Ottoman Empire). Britain was already the dominant imperial power in the Gulf and was keen to ascertain the situation in those territories to its north that remained under the sway of the Ottomans. Malleson’s report of his journey – that included stops in Muscat, Kuwait, Basra, Baghdad and Mohammerah – provides a fascinating snapshot of the region at this time.

Mosque and minaret of coloured tiles at Basra
‘Mosque and minaret of coloured tiles at Basra’. Malleson described it as: “a brick building with a minaret ornamented with some pretty blue tiles, but, on the whole, a squalid and sorry structure which in India one would hardly turn aside to look at” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)
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In addition to Malleson’s narrative, the report also contains a series of photographs of the places that he visited, foremost amongst them, Basra and Baghdad. Although Malleson apologised for their poor quality in the preface to his official report, over a hundred years later they provide an evocative glimpse of locations that have changed dramatically since and in some cases, came under British military occupation less than a decade after his visit. Indeed, Malleson made notes regarding the military defences (or lack thereof) of the places that he visited including Basra, of which he remarked, “[t]here are no defences and a landing could easily be covered from ships in the river”. Malleson also speculated that “judicious treatment [by Britain] could easily succeed in turning the local Arab against the much-hated Turk”. Eight years later – perhaps using intelligence supplied by Malleson – the British army invaded and conquered Basra as a part of the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War, events that eventually led to the establishment of the modern nation state of Iraq. In 2003, almost a hundred years after Malleson’s visit, the British Army invaded and occupied Basra again.

The British Consulate and Messrs Lynch’s offices Basra
‘The British Consulate and Messrs Lynch’s offices Basra; Showing 4,000 tons of merchandise awaiting shipment to Bagdad’. Malleson noted that Basra’s shops were “full of Manchester goods of a florid and ornate pattern suited to the local taste”. The workmen or “coolies” on Basra’s wharfs were said by Malleson to be “Arabs and Chaldeans” that “are of fine physique and can lift great weights. They work from sunrise to sunset, but refuse to work when it is wet and knock off when they feel inclined” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 25)
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In addition to military matters, the report discusses a wide range of other topics including trade, agriculture, history, transport infrastructure and religious communities, as well as the activities of rival powers, notably the German and Ottoman Empires. As Malleson noted apologetically in its preface, the report contains much “not of immediate military interest”.

Bahreini pilgrims on board the Khalifa
‘Bahreini pilgrims on board the Khalifa’. Malleson took the Khalifa upriver to Baghdad and commented “[m]ore interesting than the country passed through were the pilgrims we took along with us. They were of every type, coming from all parts of the Muhammadan world in order to make the pilgrimage to the sacred cities of Kerbela and Nejef” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 33)
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Malleson also recorded the various characters that he met during the course of his journey including a German trader on the boat to Muscat and a pair of hospitable “Cosmopolitan Jews” in Basra’s quarantine station. The two men, father and son, were merchants and the latter was re-locating his business to Manchester in the north of England. Malleson commented that the dominance of Manchester in Baghdad’s trade “became apparent to us later”. He also encountered an explorer who was willing to share his findings with British intelligence and believed that “a strong British policy in the Gulf would mean progress and the spread of civilisation, and would, therefore, further the interests of the world in general”.

Cafe and mosque near the North Gate, Bagdad
‘Cafe and mosque near the North Gate, Bagdad’. Malleson remarked that “[t]he cafes are largely frequented by the Turkish soldiery who, for the most part slouching and out-at-elbows, seem to have little enough to do” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)
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View in Baghdad
‘View in Baghdad’. Malleson was struck by Baghdad’s diversity stating that “[i]n addition to a large population of Arabs…and representatives of most of the peoples of Asia there are some 35,000 Jews, and a great number of queer Christian sects, such as Armenians, Nestorians, and Neo-Nestorians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, Arians, Jacbobites and Manichaeans. Most of them wear some distinguishing garments and the varied hues and shapes of these make a very striking effect” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 35)
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The report, though engagingly written, is replete with the lamentable orientalist and misogynistic attitudes that characterised the stance of many British imperial officials in this period. In perhaps the most unpleasant instance of racist language in the report – and as testament to the ongoing existence of slavery in the region during this period – when discussing the women that he saw in Baghdad, Malleson wrote that they “of course go veiled when abroad, even those of the numerous Christian sects and the Jewesses. The latter wear extraordinarily gorgeous silken garments, and the really smart thing is to possess a white donkey tended by the blackest and ugliest of negro slaves”.

Near the big mosque, Bagdad
‘Near the big mosque, Bagdad’ Medieval Baghdad, Malleson noted, had flourished while “the greater part of Europe had hardly emerged from the primitive barbarism it had sunk with the fall of the Roman Empire, or from which it had never emerged” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 37)
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A Street in Bagdad’
‘A Street in Bagdad’. The reality of modern Baghdad was underwhelming however, Malleson believed “[t]he traveller who, attracted merely by the glamour of a name, expects to find in Bagdad the wondrous city of his dreams is doomed to disappointment”(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 38)
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As well as visiting modern settlements while in Iraq, Malleson also visited historical ruins including the remains of ancient Babylon and Ctesiphon, the former capital of the Sassanian Empire.

The arch of Ctesiphon’
‘The arch of Ctesiphon’. Although Malleson reported that “[l]ocal experts are of opinion that this majestic ruin cannot much longer stand”, over a hundred years later, in spite of repeated invasions and wars, the arch still stands (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 48)
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Our conveyance across the desert to Babylon
‘Our conveyance across the desert to Babylon’. In Malleson’s words, “[i]t was a queer looking shandridan, half bathing-machine and half grocer’s cart, with very narrow and uncomfortable seats, and drawn by a team of four, and sometimes five, mules harnessed abreast and driven by a wild-looking son of the desert” (IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 43)
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The only arch so far discovered in Babylon
‘The only arch so far discovered in Babylon’. Discussing his visit to Babylon, Malleson wrote “Here, too ‘midst the ashes of dead empires and the havoc wrought by man, the philosopher may muse on the mutability of mundane things, the fleeting character of fame, the mockery of riches and the vanity of power”(IOR/L/PS/20/C260, f 47)
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Concluding his report, Malleson wrote: “[a]nd so, with a heightened interest in the problems of the Middle East, and with, perhaps, some increase of knowledge; with friendships made with useful people, and numerous promises of help and correspondence, we turn our backs on Turkish Arabia and shape a course for Bushire and Karachi”. Just eight years later, Britain would return to Basra as an invading force and when the its flag was raised over the town, the Daily Mail proudly proclaimed “Another Red Patch on the Map”.


Further reading:
For details on the connection between Manchester and Middle Eastern trade see: Fred Halliday, “The millet of Manchester: Arab merchants and cotton trade”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies   19:2 (1992), pp. 159-176.

An illustrated account of a tour of the same region in 1886-87: Turkish Arabia: Being an Account of an Official Tour in Babylonia, Assyria, and Mesopotamia, 1886-87 (India Office Records and Private Papers, Mss Eur F112/384).

A photographic album of a tour of the same region in 1916-18: Album of tour of the Persian Gulf. Photographer: Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6).

An official account of Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign during the First World War: ‘HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR BASED ON OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS. THE CAMPAIGN IN MESOPOTAMIA 1914-1918. VOLUME I’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/66/1).

For more on Britain’s invasion and occupation of Basra in the First World War see: Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, “1914: The Battle of Basra”, Hurst publishers Blog, 21 November 2014.

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
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