Asian and African studies blog

21 posts categorized "Modern history"

03 May 2020

Drawing Ire: Illustrated Ottoman Satirical Magazines

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

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

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

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

‘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
 ccownwork

19 September 2018

‘South Asia Series’, Autumn/Winter 2018

Asia and African Collections at the British Library (BL) are pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in their new 'South Asia Series', October-December 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects from 'Theosophy and Bengali spirituality' to 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the last Mughal emperors'! This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s project ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ and its South Asian collections. The speakers include scholars and academics from the UK and elsewhere who will share their original research followed by an open discussion. The presentations will take place on Mondays at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

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The Bhagavad Gita translated by Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1887) (BL 14065.e.25)
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On 1st October 2018, Mriganka Mukhpadhyay from the University of Amsterdam will talk on theosophy and Bengali spirituality, focusing on the works of Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1858-1936), a member of the Bengal Theosophical Society (from 1882) and a significant member of the Theosophical Movement. His talk 'Theosophy and Bengali Spirituality: Mohini Mohun Chatterji’s Works' will discuss how Chatterji’s translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts, original essays and his public lectures shaped the Western world’s understanding of oriental spirituality. More importantly, as a Bengali theosophist and philosopher, he became a major figure in the history of transcultural spirituality in the modern world. This talk will discuss how Chatterji’s publications created a distinctive identity for modern Hindu spirituality in the Western intellectual world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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Indian Music and Rabindranath Tagore by Arnold Bake (1932?) (BL P/V 2339)
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Moushumi Bhowmik, a singer, writer and music researcher based in Kolkata who works in India, Bangladesh and the UK, will talk about the Bake-in-Bengal archives. In her talk 'The Bake-in-Bengal Archives, and Beyond' on 8th October 2018 she will focus on the works of Arnold Bake both in the British Library Sound archives as well as from her fieldwork experiences in Bengal in collaboration with audiographer Sukanta Majumdar. In this presentation Moushumi will talk about the fascinating sonic maps of Bengal, their process of map-making, tracing contour lines from listening and recording, to listening to recordings, and to recording the act of listening. The talk addresses several questions including what was at the source of the motion: the Bake-in Bengal archives scattered in many places, or what lies beyond?

AddOr2_2000
A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony, British Resident to the Mughal court 1803–06 and 1818–25, watching a nautch in his house in Delhi (c. 1820) (BL Add. Or. 2)
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On 22nd October 2018, Katherine Butler Schofield, a historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the colonial Indian Ocean based in King’s College London will take us through the financial accounts of the East India Company that are alive with details of music and dance in Jaipur state in nineteenth century India.  Her talk 'Mayalee Dancing Girl versus the East India Company' will focus on a particular musician who stands out in these accounts as an exceptional, Mayalee “dancing girl”, an important courtesan. Little exculpatory notes in the margins of successive accounts reveal that Mayalee successfully resisted the Company’s attempt to force her to give up her salt stipend in exchange for cash. This talk looks at what official British records yield about Indian musicians and especially courtesans.

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I Spy with My Little Eye by Humphry House, Calcutta 1937 (BL P/T 2530)

On 5th November 2018 we have Supriya Chaudhuri, Professor Emerita, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, who will talk about a modernist community in 1930s Calcutta formed around the literary journal Parichay. The Parichay group included not only writers and artists, but also scientists, historians, politicians, philosophers, and spies. Its contacts extended to a number of disaffected colonialists in Calcutta: the geologist John Bicknell Auden, brother of the poet Wystan, the Dickens and Hopkins scholar Humphry House, the colonial official Michael Carritt, ICS, and Michael Scott, Chaplain to the Bishop of Calcutta, the last two being spies for the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this talk entitled 'Modernist Communities in 1930s Calcutta: Print, Politics and Surveillance', she will trace the network of connections through the Parichay archives, through other digitized records held at Jadavpur University, and through British Library holdings (for example Michael Carritt’s papers).

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(Secret) Government of Bengal: Home Department Political: District Officer’s Chronicle of Events of Disturbances, August 1942-March 1943 (BL IOR/R/3/1/358: 1943)
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Anwesha Roy, Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of History, King’s College London will focus on the years 1940-1942 before the Quit India Movement in Bengal in her talk 'Prelude to Quit India in Bengal: War Rumours and Revolutionary Parties, 1940-42' on 12th November 2018. She will discuss how war-time colonial state policies created annoying disruptions and intrusions in various ways in the day-to-day lives of the people of Bengal, building up mass discontent up to the edge, which, coupled with war rumours, reconfigured the image of the colonial state in Bengal. This talk taps into the psyche of the colonised mind, which was increasingly and collectively coming to see the hoax of British invincibility in the face of serious reverses in the Eastern Front and Japanese victories.

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Bodhan by Kazi Nazrul Islam in the periodical Moslem Bharat (1920) (BL 14133.k.2)
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On 20th November 2018, Ahona Panda, doctoral candidate, University of Chicago, will focus on the National Poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam in her talk 'Kazi Nazrul Islam and the Partition of Bengal: A Language of Unity, a Language of Loss'. This talk will explore how Nazrul tried to create a new Bengali language single-handedly. Using a large number of periodicals from the British Library’s collection, and drawing from extensive research in Bangladesh, this talk reconstructs Nazrul’s early years in journalism in which as writer and editor, he forged a new literary register for the Bengali Muslim community and crafted a political language that was anti-separatist, socialist whilw referring to a philological landscape including centuries of Islamic and Hindu literary traditions. The talk will conclude with how Nazrul found new life in the language movement in East Pakistan in the 1950s, in the years leading up to the Liberation War of 1971.

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Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant, chief hereditary musician to the last of the Mughal emperors Akbar Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar. From James Skinner’s Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Hansi (near Delhi) (1825) (BL Add. 27,255, f. 134v)
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We end our autumn/winter talks for 2018 with Katherine Butler Schofield from King’s College London talking about musicians in the Mughal court in her talk 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the Last Mughal Emperors' on 3rd December 2018. This talk focusses on contemporary Indian writings on and a portrait of Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1845), chief hereditary musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r. 1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–58). In this talk she will also make sense of the divergence of these competing lineages of musical knowledge in Persian, Urdu and English c. 1780–1850, by considering them side by side. It will show how viewing proto-ethnographic paintings and writings against a remarkable new wave of music treatises c. 1793–1853 reveal an incipient indigenous modernity running in parallel with colonial knowledge in the most authoritative centres of Hindustani music production, Delhi and Lucknow.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate!

Priyanka Basu, Project Cataloguer of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad35bc1f1200c-pi

 

11 July 2018

‘An inexperienced and incompetent chauffeur’: the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran

At dawn on 25th August 1941, the people of Iran awoke to a full-scale invasion of their country by the combined forces of Britain and the Soviet Union. Within three weeks the Iranian military had been overwhelmed, Tehran had fallen under foreign occupation for the first time in its history, and the Shah had been forced into exile and replaced with his 21-year-old son Mohammad Reza. Operation Countenance, as the invasion was codenamed, was one of the most successful Allied campaigns of the war and it was carried out against a neutral nation. Although British troops had occupied parts of Iran during the First World War, that occupation had been characterised as a response to direct German and Ottoman aggression in the region and they had neither entered the capital nor disrupted the government. There were a complex array of factors that provoked the far more extreme manoeuvres of 1941, some of which are revealed within certain India Office Record files held at the British Library.

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Detail from a map of Iran (1912) showing the unofficial demarcation line between the British and Soviet spheres of influence (British Library, India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/17/15/5, f 230)
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The reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi had been marked by his large-scale modernisation projects, not least in terms of Iranian military power. Even before his elevation to the throne, as Minister of War under his predecessor Ahmad Shah Qajar, he had created the country’s first unified standing army. As Shah he continued to build on this, making significant arms purchases from various countries. “We have been viewing with a certain amount of concern Persia’s large orders in the arms markets of Europe and America” wrote Hastings Ismay in the introduction to a War Office report of 1933 estimating that in the previous two years Iran had purchased 119 aircraft, 1,400 machine-guns, nearly 200,000 rifles and over 16 million rounds of ammunition, among much else.

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Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shah of Iran (1925-1941)
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However, not everyone in the British Government agreed that these purchases were a cause for concern. “All these highly technical appliances are of little value unless the best can be got out of them” a Foreign Office official wrote in reply to Ismay’s report, “I have not noticed anywhere that the Persian Army is considered either highly trained or high in morale.” A report from 1936 agreed with this assessment that the Iranian military were ill equipped to make use of their newly acquired equipment, comparing them to “an inexperienced and incompetent chauffeur placed in sole charge of a fleet of expensive motor cars of intricate design.” The British Government certainly never made any serious attempt to limit Iranian arms purchases. As late as 14th July 1941, less than six weeks prior to the invasion, a Foreign Office telegram sent to the UK Ambassador in Iran stated that the Government would “continue to permit the export to Iran of aircraft material.”

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Telegram from the Government of India to the War Office, 28th June 1941, suggesting an end to military exports to Iran (British Library, India Office Records IOR/L/PS/12/551)
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Taken more seriously as a threat than Iran’s military strength was the perceived growth of German influence in the region. A small number of German engineers employed in Iran as industrial consultants were suspected not just of promoting their country’s cause to those in positions of power, but also of secretly stirring up anti-British sentiment among the native population. Although Iran may have favoured the Allies at the outbreak of the war, wrote the British Envoy to Tehran Sir Reader Bullard in March of 1940, “recently there has been a slight change in the other direction.” A telegram from the Government of India to the India Office sent on 6th July 1941 described Iran as the “centre of German intrigue in Asia [which] now harbours important Arab revolutionaries,” and suggested that the removal of German nationals “could not fail to add to military security and upset the German plans.” In the months leading up to the invasion both the British and Soviet governments put increasing pressure on the Shah to expel all Germans from Iran and his failure to comply was cited as justification for their intervention.

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British officers inspecting a Soviet tank during the invasion, 31st August 1941
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Soviet concerns over German influence were initially kept in check by their non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. On 22nd June 1941 the pact was suddenly demolished by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, which created drastic implications for the situation in Iran. “German attack on Russia has introduced entirely new element into situation,” wrote India Secretary Leo Amery three days later, “which affects our whole policy in Central Asia.” He classified Iran as being in “immediate danger from a German victory.”

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Sir Reader Bullard, British Minister in Tehran, outlines British justification for the invasion in his annual report issued at the end of 1941 (British Library, India Office Records IOR/L/PS/12/3472A)
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In the weeks following Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, British and Soviet considerations over Iran escalated quickly. Of particular concern was the sudden vulnerability of Soviet oilfields in the Caucasus region. Should these fall to Germany, Iran would then become a vital component of the Allied war effort, meaning that securing their position there was of the utmost importance. Sir Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, reported on 8th July that Stalin felt that “the Germans and the Italians will try to carry out a coup against Baku oilfields, and against us in Persia and that it is urgently necessary that something should be done about it.” Far from perceiving Iran’s increased military strength as a threat, the Allies were now worried that Iran was too weak to resist German influence and potential invasion. Furthermore the supposedly neutral Shah was considered to be uncontrollable at best, a Nazi sympathiser at worst. The British and Soviet governments reached the conclusion that trying to influence Iran would not be enough. Slightly over two months after Operation Barbarossa, Operation Countenance was launched.

Primary sources
IOR/L/PS/12/87 ‘Persia: Persian armaments’
IOR/L/PS/12/551 ‘Persia: situation leading up to, and after, the Allied occupation’
IOR/L/PS/12/553 ‘Persia – General Situation (Sept. & Oct. 1941)’
IOR/L/PS/12/3472A ‘Persia: Annual Reports, 1932- ’

Further reading
Amin Banani, The Modernization of Iran, 1921-1941. Stanford University Press, 1961
Mohammad Gholi Majd, August 1941: The Anglo-Russian Occupation of Iran and Change of Shahs. University Press of America, 2012
Ursula Sims-Williams, ‘The New Age (Ruzgar-i naw): World War II cultural propaganda in Persian’ , Asian and African Studies Blog 12 May 2014


Matt Griffin, Cataloguer, Gulf History, BL/QF Partnership
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19 January 2018

“The Hero’s Rock”- When the Kurds Rebelled

Along the road from the oil-rich multi-ethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk towards the modern cosmopolitan Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, there sits a rather large boulder. For the most part this boulder is unremarkable, probably shaken from the mountain above it by an earthquake in times past. Yet, to the inhabitants of Iraqi Kurdistan this boulder has become a symbol of the injustices they have faced in the 20th century and their on-going struggle for Kurdish self-governance and independence. The Kurds of Iraq have nicknamed the boulder “Barda Qaraman” or the “The Hero’s Rock”.

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Monument to the Barda Qaraman or “The Hero’s Rock” (back central) and Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji between Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. Photo: General Board of Tourism of Kurdistan Iraq

It was behind this boulder, at the end of the First World War, that the leader of the first Kurdish nationalist uprising, Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji, personally took on the British Empire in the name of Kurdish statehood. This is the untold story of the first Kurdish rebellion by the self-proclaimed ‘King of Kurdistan’ against British rule as preserved within the India Office Records at the British Library.

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Map: ‘Kurds and Kurdistan,’ 1919, showing the road from Kirkuk to Sulaymaniyah (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/22, p. 117 noc

As the grip of the Ottoman Empire eased at the end of the First World War the British found it difficult to establish control over the rugged and mountainous terrain of the Kurdish provinces of the old Empire that now became into their sphere of influence. The Kurdish people are often quoted saying they “have no friends but the mountains” and for the early years of engagement with the British the mountains served them well. The lack of a railway line into Kurdistan and the inhospitable terrain made communication and the movement of troops difficult. Moreover, mounting economic pressure on the British treasury to reduce spending on imperial projects meant the need for a railway in Kurdistan was never met. This allowed the Kurds a much needed political space to contemplate their post-war future.

At the end of the First World War, the Kurds had initially asked for British rule and protection on account of their impoverished state. Previous Turkish and Russian rule had left many villages desolate and in a state of famine. Needing to remedy their inability to hold Kurdistan the British agreed to Kurdish requests and installed a colonial system of indirect rule. They worked to reinforce Kurdistan’s feudal and tribal structures by giving tribal elders the ability to feed their people, and rebuild their villages.

To have some semblance of control the British also decided to appoint a local Kurdish notable Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji as governor of lower Kurdistan in 1918 to act as their regional representative. To support Sheikh Mahmud’s governance and in some part to pacify his known rebellious nature, British officials travelled to the west and north of Sulaymaniyah to garner support for the new system of British rule. They replaced Arab and Turkish officials with Kurdish ones, in effect giving the Kurds their first taste of self-rule.

Sheikh_Mahmoud_-_Kurdistan's_King_(1918-1922)
Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji, 1920s  noc

At the end of 1918 doubts began to arise about the wisdom of allowing Sheikh Mahmud to increase his power in the region. This excerpt from a Military Report of 1919 titled ‘The Kurds and Kurdistan’ documents the changing British attitude towards him (p. 81):

Unfortunately, he is a mere child as regards intellect and breadth of view, but a child possessed by considerable cunning and undoubtedly inspired by an inordinate ambition. Moreover, he was surrounded by a class of sycophants who filled his head with extravagant and silly notions, leading him to style himself ruler of all Kurdistan and encouraging him to interfere in affairs far beyond the borders of the sphere allotted to him.

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ʻKurds and Kurdistanʼ, 1919 (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/22, p. 81)  noc

Realising that giving Sheikh Mahmud more power and broadening his rule could be dangerous the British decided to restrict his authority. They prevented the incorporation of the Iraqi towns of Kifri and Kirkuk into his jurisdiction and removed the powerful Jaff tribe from under his rule, deciding instead to deal with them directly. This influenced other tribes to seek direct contact with the British and thus support for Sheikh Mahmud quickly waned retracting his zone of influence to the immediate vicinity of Sulaymaniyah city. Responding to this challenge and in an attempt to force the creation of separate southern Kurdistan under his rule he rebelled against the British on 22nd May 1919.  

With the support of a tribal coalition of men and horses Sheikh Mahmud defeated a small group of Kurdish levies and imprisoned the British officers and their staff in their houses in the city of Sulaymaniyah. He then appointed his own mayor, seized the government archives and money from the treasury. He also cut the telegraph-line between Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk, essentially annexing southern Kurdistan from British rule. The next day a British aerial reconnaissance of the area in revolt noted that the city of Sulaymaniyah was filled with armed men. What is more, the imprisoned British officers made themselves known to the aviators by signalling to them from their houses.

After rounds of heavy RAF bombing and machine-gunning of Sulaymaniyah city and the surrounding villages, Sheikh Mahmud’s rebellion was forced out of the city towards the surrounding hills and valleys. According to accounts, it quickly became clear that Sheikh Mahmud’s Kurdish forces were by and large ill-prepared to face trained soldiers on the battlefield let alone a sustained RAF air bombardment that resulting in heavy casualties and the gutting of entire villages and neighbourhoods. With the Sheikh’s ammunition supplies running low many of his allies began to lose faith, some switching sides as the battle went on. The rebellion culminated in the standoff at the ‘Bazian Pass’.

Image 4 - Bazian Pass
‘Bazian Pass. Road leading from Kirkuk to Sulaimani’, Edwin Newman Collection, 23 May 2012 (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, Newman Collection, Album AL4-B, p 32, no. 1)  noc

The ‘Bazian Pass’ is a gap between the Sulaymaniyah valleys and the Garmian plains, that is hemmed in by mountains. In the hope of stopping the British advance Sheikh Mahmud’s forces constructed a stone wall across the pass. However, a British pilot spotted that the wall was not effectively constructed and on the 8th of June 1919 pilots bombed the pass and its surrounding areas weakening the defences and hitting Sheikh Mahmud’s troops hard. This was followed on the 18th of June by a further attack which brought down the wall. Sheikh Mahmud’s men were then easily routed. Some were killed, but the majority were wounded and imprisoned. Sheikh Mahmud himself was found injured taking cover behind the large boulder on the east of the pass. Once they had control of the pass the British quickly returned to Sulaymaniyah and disarmed the local population freeing the imprisoned British officers. Sheikh Mahmud himself was tried, and imprisoned in India only to be released a few years later.

Primary sources
‘Kurds and Kurdistan’, India Office Records and Private Papers’, 1919, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/22
‘Mesopotamia: British relations with Kurdistan’, India Office Records and Private Papers, 27 Aug 1919, IOR/L/PS/18/B332
‘Persia: operations against Sirdar Rashid and Sheikh Mahmoud’, India Office Records and Private Papers, 23 May 1923-2 Aug 1923, IOR/L/PS/11/235, P 2756/1923

Shkow Sharif, Asian and African Collections
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