THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

8 posts categorized "Turkish"

10 June 2019

Zee JLF at the British Library, 14-16th June 2019

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ZEE JLF at The British Library returns to London for its sixth consecutive year from 14th-16th June, 2019, to celebrate books, creativity and dialogue, creative diversity and varied intellectual discourse.

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The five-day ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, held annually in the Pink City of Jaipur, is a riot of colour, energy, ideas, and music against a backdrop of readings, dynamic discussions and debates.

This June, the spirit of the festival with its pervasive sense of inclusiveness and infectious camaraderie, will once again be at the heart of London as a caravan of writers and thinkers, poets, balladeers and raconteurs bring alive South Asia’s unique multilingual literary heritage at the British Library. You can book tickets through the British Library's box office.

Asian and African Studies Curators Malini Roy and Michael Erdman will be speaking in two of the panels:

Saturday, 15 June 2019: 13.45 – 14.45

Forgotten Masterpieces of Indian Art for East India Company

Malini Roy, Yuthika Sharma, Katherine Butler Schofield and Rosie Llewellyn-Jones in conversation with William Dalrymple

Reflecting both the beauty of the natural world and the social reality of the time, the Indian artworks commissioned by the East India Company’s officials in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries offer a rare glimpse of the cultural fusion between British and Indian artistic styles. South Asian art expert and British Library curator Malini Roy, historian of South Asian art Yuthika Sharma, music historian and author Katherine Butler Schofield, historian on South Asian Art and British scholar and author Rosie Llewellyn Jones discuss this forgotten moment in Anglo-Indian history, with author and historian William Dalrymple.

 

Sunday, 16 June 2019: 16.15 - 17.15

From Hieroglyphs to Emojis

Irving Finkel, David Levy and Michael Erdman in conversation with Pragya Tiwari, introduced by Namita Gokhale

From carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works to beautiful calligraphy, iconic fonts and emojis, the written word has evolved in innumerable ways over the centuries. British Museum curator Irving Finkel, alongside technologist and calligrapher David Levy and scholar of Turkish historiography and one of the curators of the British Library’s exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark Michael Erdman deconstruct the act of writing and consider its future in the digital age, in conversation with journalist and editor Pragya Tiwari. Introduced by Namita Gokhale.

Presented by Bagri Foundation.

 

The full schedule is now available online: http://jlflitfest.org/zee-jlf-at-british-library/schedule.

 

30 April 2019

Soviet Labour Unions in Uzbekistan in the 1920s: Views from the Magazine Mihnat

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As a Chevening British Library Fellow, I am currently working on the British Library’s Turkish and Turkic periodicals published from the 1920s to 1930s. Most of these magazines are written in the Arabic and Latin scripts. This is what unites these materials; what distinguishes them is their coverage of different themes. In particular, a magazine named Mīḥnat provides us with a view of labour unions in Soviet Turkic states. It is a periodical about work, workers, and labour unions in Uzbekistan in the early Soviet period. The magazine was a joint periodical of three organizations: the People’s Labour Commissariat, the Soviet Professional Union, and the Central Social Insurance of the Uzbek S. S. R. It was published in 1926 and 1927. Several volumes of this magazine are held at the British Library under the shelfmark 14499.tt.23. Mīḥnat was published in two languages: Old Uzbek (Chagatai) in Perso-Arabic script and Russian in Cyrillic script. In 1927, the magazine had 1500 subscribers and more than 30 permanent correspondents supplied it with materials. Today, this magazine Mīḥnat is important for us as a way to better understand Soviet labour unions and their activities.

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Cover of the magazine Mīḥnat (in Chagatai). Mīḥnat, vol. 1927, issue 7-8 (50-51). Tashkent, 1927 (BL 14499.tt.23)

When the Bolsheviks came to the power, they attempted to create a group of workers that would support their aims. As a consequence, labour unions began as a way to gather craftsmen and workers in one place under one purpose. To this end, Soviet authority needed a link to connect workers with labour unions. In the Uzbek S. S. R., a magazine named Mīḥnat took on this role. Soviet authorities used this magazine to share their views with local workers and to involve every individual possible in labour unions. Every profession had its labour union and these unions obeyed the Central Council of Labour Unions.

The early pages of the first issue of Mīḥnat each year begin with the publication of speeches of officials delivered at the annual congresses of the labour unions. These speeches cover the reports and future plans of the union, including how to increase the membership, the financial state of the union, the range of salaries, unemployment issues, the organisation of cultural events, and the publication of books about the labour union’s activities in the local language to attract local workers, and so on.

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Cover of the magazine Mīḥnat (in Russian). Mīḥnat, vol. 1927, issue 4 (47). Tashkent, 1927 (BL 14499.tt.23)

Early suggestions proposed by officials and employees on improving the activities of labour unions concerned administrative issues. In particular, Y. Gārbūnāv offers in his article to put pressure on members, workers and factories to induce them to follow the decisions of labour unions. Later on, a reorganisation of labour unions is proposed based on dividing them into zones to reduce expenses and improve control. Subsequent issues raised concerned the financial aspects of the union with the content mainly dominated by matters such as reducing expenses and increasing the revenue of labour unions. One author named Lāzāvskī writes that the main source of income came from membership fees and, for this reason, he suggested recruiting new members as fast as possible.

One task of the labour unions was to establish rest conditions for workers and to organize their summer holidays. Labour unions became engaged in “social insurance” which, in Soviet Uzbekistan in the 1920s, meant organizing excursions to famous places, establishing social clubs, as well as sending workers to sanatoriums and holiday-homes for recreation. An analysis of the articles in Mīḥnat, reveals the limitations and difficulties faced by the unions because of a lack of financial resources and unfinished administrative procedures. The magazine would offer solutions, for example, by suggesting that the regional branches could be responsible for the allocation of “social insurance” because they knew who most needed it.

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Left: Caricature of Lenin’s presence in workers’ dormitories, “Līnīn būrchakīda mīhmānkhāna.Mīḥnat, vol. 1927, issue 3 (46). Tashkent, 1927, p. 17 (BL 14499.tt.23)
Right: Woman running away from Soviet-style work, “Bāsh būkhgāltīrning marḥamatī bīlan.Mīḥnat, vol. 1927, issue 3 (46). Tashkent, 1927, p. 19 (BL 14499.tt.23)

Special issues of the magazine dedicated to one specific topic of concern were also published. For example, volume 4 of 1927 was concerned with women members of the labour unions who in 1926 represented 15.7% of the total membership in the Uzbek S. S. R. This issue mentions that the union’s main task was to involve them in the activities of the Soviet labour unions. Soviet authorities believed that local women would only be liberated when economically independent and so, via the Mīḥnat, labour unions offered to fight for the “freedom of women” by creating special schools for them and involving them in manufacturing. Furthermore, planning cultural events for women was seen as one of the best ways to attract them to Soviet ideology. In addition, this magazine was one of the first periodicals in Soviet Uzbekistan to publish an article proposing allowances for women workers for pregnancy and child-birth.

The magazine Mīḥnat usually published letters from factory and plant workers in every volume in a section entitled Maḥallardan khātlār (“Letters from places”). These letters were not limited just to the achievements and problems of the working processes in factories, but also covered issues concerning the active or passive work of the labour unions in them. For example, while a sugar worker was boasting about social clubs and an in-factory bulletin posted on walls promoting socialism in his factory, his colleague in the food industry was complaining that the labour union was not organizing cultural events at his place of work. Some workers wrote letters asking for the opening of a canteen in a factory or the building of medical centres and schools around factories located in the countryside. There were also letters of complaint concerning workers’ economic and social conditions, describing bad working conditions in factories, low salaries, and a lack of housing for workers.

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Left: Workers playing cards while on the job, “Maḥallardan khātlār.Mīḥnat, vol. 1927, issue 2 (45). Tashkent, 1927, p. 17 (BL 14499.tt.23)
Right: Unsafe working practices, “Maḥallardan khātlār.” Mīḥnat, vol. 1927, issue 2 (45). Tashkent, 1927, p. 17 (BL 14499.tt.23)

This is just a short description of one of the Turkic periodicals I have been working on. The main goal of my Chevening British Library Fellowship project is to explore and enhance the British Library’s Turkic-language collections. As a part of this project, I am creating a spreadsheet that covers every article in the Turkic periodicals held in the Library and am adding romanized and original script titles of articles and publications, published years, issues and subjects. This has made it possible to document the magazine Mīḥnat based on the data included in the spreadsheet. More than this, my aim is to show how classifying each article in these periodicals helps us to distinguish their different features at the same time contextualising them as part of a whole.

Further reading
Deutscher, Isaac., Soviet Trade Unions: Their Place in Soviet Labour Policy. Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1950
Gordon, Manya (1938), "Organized Labor under the Soviets", Foreign Affairs, 16 (3): 537–541

 

Akmal Bazarbaev, Chevening Fellow, British Library Asian and African Collections
 ccownwork

 

07 February 2019

Classical Central Asia in the Digital Age: Three Newly-Digitised Navoiy Manuscripts at the British Library

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Thanks to a partnership between the British Library and the Tashkent State University of Uzbek Language and Literature named Alisher Navoiy, three manuscripts including the poetical works of Alisher Navoiy are now available online. These three items are the first Chagatai-language texts to be uploaded to the Library’s digitised manuscript holdings, a sample of the more than 110 Chagatai and Central Asian Turkic manuscripts held by the British Library as part of its Turkish and Turkic collections.

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A leaf from the Muntakhab-i Dīvān-i Navā'ī with richly decorated paper appliqués and gold-leaf. Despite the water damage, the manuscript has retained its luxurious beauty. Herat, 15th-16th century (BL Or. 3493, f. 4v)
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All three works contain Divans, or poetical compendia, of the work of Alisher Navoiy, also known as ‘Ali Shīr Navā’ī. Navoiy was born in 1441 CE in Herat, Afghanistan, at a time when it was part of the Timurid Empire, and died in the same city in 1501 CE. He is the national poet of Uzbekistan and is regarded as one of the great poets of the mediaeval Turkic world. His broad oeuvre is a testament to the cultural, intellectual and social flowering of Khorasan in the 15th century CE, and to the importance of Herat in the broad mosaic of Turkic cultural production. The works are also an introduction to classical Chagatai, the literary language of Turkic Central Asia and Siberia. Little known or studied today outside of specialist circles, Chagatai was also the language of the Mughals, who established their reign over parts of the Indian Subcontinent in 1526.

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A rare sketch from inside the Muntakhab-i i Dīvān-i Navā'ī showing a Central Asian man in traditional dress. Herat, 15th-16th century (BL Or. 3493, f. 5v)
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Or.3493, the most delicate of our digitised Chagatai manuscripts, is a marvel to behold. Only 9 folios in length, this collection of poems from Navoiy’s divan dazzles with its creator’s penchant for brightly-coloured paper appliqués, gold illumination, and sweeping, bold nastaliq calligraphy. The presence of blue, yellow, green and pink blocks in between the stanzas gives the entire text an architectonic feel; a 3D illusion that draws in the reader. This pattern is broken only by the use of gold separators on later pages, and the appearance of a portly, kneeling Central Asian man on one of the manuscript’s middle folios. Despite occasional water damage – and the fact that the content is itself defective – this small volume remains a testament to the capacity of Herat’s manuscripts producers to create items of luxury and beauty as well as those of functional purpose.

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The beginning of the Dīvān-i Fānī, including its sparsely decorated 'unvān. Central Asia, 916 AH (BL Or. 11249, f. 1v)
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Or.11249, produced in 916 AH (1509-10 CE) in Central Asia, is the least studied of the Chagatai items added to our digital collections. Known as both the Dīvān-i Fānī and the Dīvān-i Navā’ī, it is the most comprehensive of the group with respect to Navoiy’s poetical oeuvre. The use of black ink and red catchwords is far from unusual, and the neatly laid-out nastaliq of the scribe’s hand leads us to believe that this was likely created within a workshop well-versed in the production of divans and other such works. Occasional marginalia speak to the usage of this volume – as does the water damage that stains some of its folios. With further in-depth research on its contents, and a comparison with other contemporaneous Central Asian manuscripts, we might come to know the importance of this particular item within the broader scope of Central Asian intellectual traditions.

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The beginning of the text Tukhfat al-salāṭīn at koyuldu, demonstrating the use of different coloured inks to complement the elegant calligraphy. Mecmua. Herat, 914 AH (BL Add MS 7914, f. 25v)
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Add MS 7914, the last of the three manuscripts, is not dedicated to Navoiy exclusively. A mecmua or codex of various works compiled in Herat in 914 AH (1507-08 CE), it contains a variety of different texts created by nine different authors in a myriad of styles. Its breadth of poetic and prose creation and intellectual inspiration speak volumes about the interplay of Turkic and Persian literary traditions across Eurasia. Within these is found Navoiy’s Tuḥfat al-salāṭin, a collection of poems copied out by the scribe ‘Abd al-Jamīl Kātib. The remaining poems are varied in content. Some are works in verse about love and longing, such as Amīrī’s Dah nāmah, which tells a romantic story through ten letters. Others poeticise the Central Asian martial arts, debate the merits of wine and hashish, or adapt circulating Persian forms into Chagatai poetry, as Ḥaydar Talba Khorazmī’s didactic poem based on a Persian version by Niẓāmi so aptly demonstrates. This diversity of content is reflected in the construction of the volume, where naskh and nastaliq, black and coloured inks, chaos and clarity make appearances depending on the demands of the individual patrons, and the skill of the particular scribes.

The British Library’s holdings of Ottoman and Chagatai manuscripts contain another 30-odd texts first penned by Alisher Navoiy. It is our hope that, in the coming years, many more of these will find their way onto Digitised Manuscripts, facilitating more intensive and complete study and enjoyment of Turkic Central Asia’s literary and cultural heritage.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections
 ccownwork

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

26 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty

30 December 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name: Turkish in its Various Apparitions

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For those who have learnt foreign languages, the presence of a loanword can be both comforting and surreal. In languages written in non-Roman scripts, a borrowed word – take computer as an example – greatly eases the task of building vocabulary; it is far simpler to remember the Japanese konpyutaa than the Hungarian számítógép. However, such loan-words can also be disorienting, triggering memories of one’s mother tongue while confronting it with the sight of a totally foreign representation. Now imagine that nearly every word in a text was much the same. This phenomenon is referred to as allography, and, in the period before standardized orthographies, state-sponsored schooling and the mass media, it was an exceptionally common occurrence. Among the most famous of cases are the Jewish languages of Yiddish and Ladino, but in the Ottoman Empire, where secular, state-directed education was not enforced until the 20th century, Turkish in scripts other than Arabic was a matter of routine business.

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Ahd-i Atikten On Yedi Kitap, yani Doğuş Kitabından Ester Kitabınadek, or The Old Testament from Genesis to the Book of Esther. Izmir: Grifilyan Basmahanesi, 1841 (BL 14400.c.4)
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The two largest allographic communities were the Armenians and the Greeks. Armeno-Turkish – a rendering of Ottoman Turkish in Armenian letters – gave rise to a vibrant publishing industry and cultural community. The orthography was largely phonetic and based upon Western Armenian readings of the letters. It was in Armeno-Turkish that many French and other Western European works came into Turkish. This was a situation assisted by the reticence of the Sublime Porte to authorize Ottoman Turkish printing presses, despite the expansion of Armenian, Greek and Jewish ones. Many volumes printed were religious works, for example BL 14400.c.4, shown above, a copy of the Old Testament. The growth of an Armenian middle class gradually permitted the flourishing of secular publication as well, allowing for the appearance of translations, adaptations and original works. A case in point is the collection of şarkılar, or folksongs, in Armeno-Turkish shown below, BL 14499.a.14(5). That the Armeno-Turkish cultural sphere was a world in its own right is attested to by an Armeno-Turkish guide to the works of Professor Bezjian published in Aleppo in 1932, four years after the introduction of a Latin script for Turkish, and more than a decade and a half after the tragic events of 1915.
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Left: Yeni Şarkiler Mecmuası, or The Journal of New Folk Songs. [Istanbul?]: n.p., 1871 (BL 14499.a.14(5))
Right: Prof. Y. A. Bezciyan ve Bazi Onun Eserleri, or Prof. Y. A. Bezjian and Some of His Works. Aleppo: Halep Kolej Matbaası, 1932
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Turkish written in Greek characters also laid the foundation for a vibrant publishing industry, with a heavy emphasis on religious materials. The language, known as Karamanlidika in Greek and Karamanlıca in Turkish, was the everyday idiom of the Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians of Anatolia. Despite being ethnically and linguistically Turkish, their religion required them to be classified as Rum or Greek Orthodox under the Ottoman system. The Orthodox clergy controlled education, and a tradition of literacy in Greek letters, rather than modified Arabic script. Although many of the Library’s holdings in Karamanlidika are translations of the New Testament – usually published by British missionaries, for example BL 14400.a.28 below – there are also a few non-scriptual examples. One is a play based on the story of Abraham’s sacrifice, a story that is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike (BL 14469.c.4).
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Left: Incili Şerif, yani Ahd-i Cedid, or The Holy Gospel, or the New Testament. London: Rildert and Rivington Publishers, 1873 (BL 14400.a.28)
Right: Hazreti Avraamin: Ziyade Cok Cana Menfaatı Kurban Hikayesi, or Saint Abraham: The Sacrifice Story, of Great Use to Many Souls. Istanbul: Ignatious Basmahanesi, 1836 (BL 14469.c.4)
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The final example of allography from the Ottoman Empire is a much less common one, but no less interesting. It is of the newspaper Leshānā d’umthā, Syriac for Voice of the Nation (BL 753.k.35). This bi-weekly was produced in Beirut, Lebanon from 1927 until 1946 and had articles in Syriac, Arabic and Turkish. Arabic written in Syriac script is a common occurrence throughout the Christian Orient, and is referred to as Garshuni. Turkish written in Syriac characters, however, is far rarer, and represents a unique view into the linguistic, political and cultural identity of Beirut’s Christian communities decades after the end of Ottoman sovereignty. Unlike Armeno-Turkish, the author of the Ottoman Turkish articles in this periodical adhered to Ottoman orthography as much as possible, even when it did not conform to the spoken language. This indicates that the compiler of the articles was educated in Ottoman Turkish, yet opted to write in Syriac script; a reminder of just how powerful the visual aspects of language were and are in the Middle East.

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Left: The Syriac-script, trilingual (Syriac-Arabic-Turkish) biweekly Leshono d’Umtho, or Tongue of the Nation. Beirut, 1928 (BL 753.k.35(2))
Right: İlm-i Hal, or Catechism. The complete collection of faith-based knowledge for Muslims, printed in a modified Perso-Arabic script. Istanbul: Tevsi-i Tabaat Matbaası, [1910?](BL ITA.1994.a.128)
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Questions of script, orthography and language were not limited to the minority communities. Indeed, perhaps the most vibrant discussions were held about the majority language itself. Ottoman intellectuals frequently debated script and grammar reforms in discussions that impinged on issues of identity, power and connectivity. The edition of the Islamic theological tract, İlm-i Hal, produced by the Society for the Teaching of a New Script in the second decade of the 20th century, exemplifies this latter push for change (BL ITA.1994.a.128). One of only three publications by the Society, it sought to reconcile orthographic efficiency with tradition by adding vowel characters to the Arabic script, some of which were based on Old Turkic runes. Like the allographies of the Armenians, Greeks and Syriac Christians, this attempt would fall victim to the drive for standardization and generalization of the new age of nations ushered in by the end of the First World War. Today these publications remain as memorials to the colourful and pluralistic cultural milieus of the age of empires.

Michael Erdman, Curator Turkish and Turkic Collections
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17 November 2016

The Ottoman Turkish Zenanname (ʻBook of Womenʼ)

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Today's post is from guest contributor and regular visitor to Asian and African Collections, Sunil Sharma, Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature at Boston University

British Library Or.7094 is an illustrated copy of the late Ottoman Turkish poetic work, Fazıl Enderunlu’s Zenanname (ʻBook of Womenʼ), which describes the positive and negative qualities of the women of the world along with satirical and moralistic parts at the end. The text is a poem in mesnevi form that was completed in 1793. I became interested in this work because typologies of women began to appear in Mughal and Safavid poetry and painting in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and there was the possibility of doing comparative scholarship across Persianate cultures.

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The opening of the Zenanname by Fazıl Enderunlu (British Library Or.7094, ff.1v-2r)
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The British Library copy of the Zenanname appears to be dated 1107 (1695/96)[1], but this is obviously a mistake since it wasn't completed until almost a century later. Additionally, Norah Titley (see below, pp.39-40), points out that there is a historical anachronism with respect to the earlier date because “the French woman in folio 43r is wearing a costume connected with the French revolution, i.e. post-1793”. The manuscript includes thirty-eight paintings[2], and all but the first and last two depict women of various ethnicities and nationalities. Another almost identical copy of this work is located in Istanbul[3]. The text was printed numerous times in the nineteenth century, albeit without illustrations, and has been fully or partially translated into modern Turkish, French, and English, though none of these are entirely faithful or idiomatic.

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French woman in a costume of the French Revolution (British Library Or.7094, f.43r)
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The women in the Zenanname represent every type known to the Ottomans from their empire and beyond. The paintings show women who are from a particular place or part of a community, comprising Indian, Persian, Baghdad, Sudan, Abyssinia, Yemen, Maghrib, Tunisian, Hijaz, Damascus, Syrian, Anatolian, the Aegean Islands, Spanish, Istanbul/Constantinople, Greek Christian, Armenian, Jewish, Gypsy, Albanian, Bosnian, Tatar, Georgian, Circassian, Christian, German, Russian, French, English, Dutch and American (from the New World). Not all of these women are praised by Fazıl, some are lampooned for their sexual behavior or nature in misogynistic terms. In these verses on the Englishwoman, translated by the Ottoman literature scholar E.J.W. Gibb - to whom this manuscript previously belonged -, the poet celebrates the beauty of this type (Gibb, pp. 241-2):

O thou, whose dusky mole is Hindustan,
Whose tresses are the realms of Frankistan!
The English woman is most sweet of face,
Sweet-voiced, sweet-fashioned, and fulfilled of grace.
Her red cheek to the rose doth colour bring,
Her mouth doth teach the nightingale to sing.
They all are pure of spirit and of heart;
And prone are they unto adornment’s art.
What all this pomp of splendor of array!
What all this pageantry their heads display!
Her hidden treasure’s talisman is broke,
Undone, or ever it receiveth stroke.


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Right: an English woman carrying a basket of flowers and wearing a tall green hat, similar in shape to the Welsh national hat
Left: Dutch woman with her hands in a muff, against a snow-covered landscape (British Library Or.7094, ff.43v-44r)
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The Zenanname was actually a companion volume to a work Fazıl Enderunlu composed first, the Hubanname (Book of Beauties), in 1792-93, which is a catalogue of the boys of the world[4]. The text of these works is related to the şehrengiz genre (shahrashub in Persian), although much more sexually explicit. Most şehrengiz poems of this kind described the young lads of a city, but there was at least one Ottoman Turkish poem written in the sixteenth century on women, the prostitutes of Istanbul, by ‘Azizi. The images in the Zenanname, on the other hand, are related to the genre of costume albums produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries[5].

Fazıl Enderunlu, also known as Fazıl Bey, was initially employed at the Ottoman court as a poet but was let go from his position after being implicated in a romantic scandal. He found patrons outside the court for his later works in order to “try to accommodate and gratify the interests and literary tastes of a socially and culturally diverse network of men and women” (Hamade, p. 155). The reception of Fazıl’s works alternated between a great deal of popularity in the nineteenth century to being suppressed at various times.

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A woman of Istanbul wearing high pattens (nalın), Rumeli Hisar (?) in background (British Library Or.7094, f.28v)
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A woman of the ʻNew Worldʼ (British Library Or.7094, f.44v)
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Two of the paintings that show groups of women, rather than individuals, are recognizable and they, or their counterparts in the Istanbul copy of the manuscript, have been reproduced quite frequently. Both depict people from the new bourgeois classes who are engaged in various activities in non-courtly spaces. One of these is found on f.7r and is described thus by Titley:

General view of women taking their recreation in a park. Includes one woman smoking, another on a swing, others entertained by musicians (def and fiddle players) who have a monkey. Bostanci wearing blue şalvar and a red barata. Women are wearing entaris and feraces with kuşaks and takkes. Kiosks, water and fountain in the background and a covered ox-cart.

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Women relaxing in a park (British Library Or.7094, f.7r)
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The interest in showing people of different backgrounds and classes “mixing and mingling in the private gardens of the capital” is corroborated by other paintings from this period (Artan & Schick, p.160), and especially “from the last quarter of the sixteenth century onwards, crowded picnic scenes in the countryside show men and women--including some amorous couples--enjoying food, drinks, and music” (p.161). Paintings showing women in a hamam and the male residents of a neighbourhood outside a brothel depict the activities of ordinary people. Unfortunately the hamam scene (f.49r) is now missing from this manuscript[2] but the corresponding scene in the Istanbul manuscript is reproduced quite often in published scholarly works and on the internet as a visual document of Ottoman social history.

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Scene outside a brothel at night. Two women looking out of windows. Seventeen men thronging the area outside, two knocking on the doors (British Library Or.7094, f.51r)
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Gibb was not impressed by Fazıl’s poetic skills, but he appreciated the distinctive nature of his work in which, he wrote, “we have not only the revelation of a marked individuality, but the veritable treasury of the folk-lore of the author’s age and country” (Gibb, p.223). The paintings in this manuscript have brought attention to this text, but Fazıl’s works await a detailed study in their proper cultural and historical context. Indeed, there is no literary work quite like it in any courtly Persianate tradition.

I would like to thank Ursula Sims-Williams for her observations on the dating of this manuscript and Sooyong Kim for his insights into the text as a literary work.

Sunil Sharma, Boston University
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Further reading
Walter Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, The Age of Beloveds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
Tülay Artan and Irvin Cemil Schick, “Ottomanizing pornotopia: Changing visual codes in eighteenth-century Ottoman erotic miniatures,” Eros and Sexuality in Islamic Art, ed. Francesca Leoni and Mika Natif. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013, pp. 157-207.
E.J.W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry. Vol. IV, ed. E.G. Browne. London: Luzac & Co, 1905.
Shirin Hamade, The City’s Pleasures: Istanbul in the Eighteenth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
Norah M. Titley, Miniatures from Turkish Manuscripts: A Catalogue and Subject Index of Paintings in the British Library and British Museum. London: British Library, 1981.

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[1] Norah Titley actually gives the date as 1190 (1776/77) but that is too early. It looks more like 1107 and must just be a careless mistake, perhaps for 1207.
[2] Originally there were 40 illustrations but two were regrettably stolen some years ago: f.46v: “Birth of a baby in a Christian household” and f.49r: “Scene of women in a hammam.”
[3] T. 5502, Istanbul University Library. Titley notes yet another copy dated 1790, with a single painting of a Jewish woman, in the British Museum, 1946.0209.0.1.
[4] For a painting from this manuscript see Folio from a Hubanname (the Book of the fair) by Fazil-i Enderuni (d. 1810).
[5] For more on this topic, see William Kynan-Wilson: A Turkish Souvenir: The Dryden Album and Anglo-Ottoman Contact.

 

21 September 2015

Persian and Turkish manuscripts on view in the Treasures Gallery

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The Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery includes altogether more than 200 items: hand-painted books, manuscripts, maps and views, early printed books, literary, historical, scientific and musical works from over the centuries and around the world. In a recent post, guest blogger Henry Noltie wrote about three Raffles bird paintings which are now on display. The gallery also includes the earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra (more on this in the International Dunhuang Project's post "The Diamond Sutra on display") and various other Asian and African items. A section dedicated to the Arts of the Book includes four Persian and Turkish manuscripts, just a selection from our collection of more than 15,000 manuscripts. These are:


Collected anecdotes

The Javamiʻ al-hikayat is a compilation of tales and anecdotes dating from mythical times until the end of the rule of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mustansir. It was written in Persian by Muhammad Awfi who lived during the Delhi Sultanate in the reign of Shams al-Din Iltutmish (r. 1211–1236).

The manuscript on display was copied in southern Iran, or, possibly even, in Sultanate India in AH 842-3 (1438-39). Twelve of the illustrations are contemporary, painted in a provincial Shirazi/Timurid style. The serried rows of people and the somewhat strange representation of architecture have been thought however to indicate a Sultanate provenance [1]. Ten other illustrations were added in a Bukharan style in about 1550, and three more are Mughal, added in India in the late 18th century.

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Zal and Rudabah entertained. Iran, southern provincial style, 1438-39  (Or.11676, f.46)
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Majjaʻa ibn Murara, the supporter of the Prophet's rival Musaylimah , with women dressed as men on the roof of the fortress of Yamama. This was a ruse to deceive Khalid ibn Walid (shown below) into thinking that the fortress was well guarded. Iran, Southern Provincial style, 1438-39 (Or.11676, f.205)
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Shah Tahmasb's manuscript of Nizami's Khamsah

This copy of the Khamsah ('Five Poems') by Nizami is one of the most famous Persian manuscripts. It was produced at Tabriz between 1539 and 1543 for the Safavid Shah Tahmasb I. Copied by Shah Mahmud Nishapuri, it contains masterpieces by leading artists, some of them introduced from a different manuscript. Further paintings and illuminations were added in the 17th century (see our earlier post: Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman

Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2013/07/some-paintings-by-the-17th-century-safavid-artist-muhammad-zaman.html#sthash.w0kFU0Tr.dpuf
Some paintings by the 17th century Safavid artist Muhammad Zaman - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/persian.html#sthash.vukLwoug.dpuf). Also notable are the drawings in ink, gold and silver in the margins.

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On display, the Iranian emperor Anushirvan and his vizier approach a deserted village where they overhear owls deploring the number of ruined villages. The artist's name is inscribed in the arch, underneath hanging snakes: "Painted by the artist Mirak, 946 [1539/40]" (Or. 2265, f. 15v)
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The physiognomy of the Ottoman Sultans

The Kiyafet ül-insaniye by the court historian Seyyid Lokman is a study in Turkish of the physical appearance and character of the Sultans of the Ottoman dynasty, who for several centuries ruled much of the Middle East and southeastern Europe. The traditional science of physiognomy is based on a theory of correspondences between physical features and character. Lokman's treatise is illustrated with portraits of the Sultans and dates from the 16th century.

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Left: a portrait of Sultan Murad III who ruled from 1574 until his death in 1595 (Add. 7880, f.63v); Right: Sultan Süleyman I the Magnificent who ruled from 1520 to 1566 (Add. 7880, f.53v). From Kiyafet ül-insaniye by Seyyid Lokman, dated 1588/89
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On display is a portrait of Sultan Bayezid II whose good character earned him the epithet Veli (the Saintly). He ruled from 1481 to 1512 and was an enthusiastic patron and student of religious learning and the arts (Add. 7880, ff.44v-45r)
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Fables of Bidpai in Turkish

The Humayunname is a Turkish version of the 'Fables of Bidpai', translated from Persian for Sultan Suleyman I in AH 950/1543 by the scholar and calligrapher Mustafa ʻAli Çelebi of Filbe (now Plovdiv, Bulgaria). These fables, in which the protagonists are animals who sometimes act rather like humans, share a common ancestor with Aesop's fables and are ultimately derived from India. It contains 163 miniatures and was copied in Zu'l-Hijja AH 997 (October/November 1589).

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An elephant which was lured by the crow, jackal and wolf to provide a meal for the lion which is shown biting its trunk. ca. 1589 (Add. 15153, f.114)
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Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies



[1] Irma L. Fraad and Richard Ettinghausen “Sultanate painting in Persian style”, Chhavi - Golden Jubilee Volume, Bharat Kala Bhavan, 1920-1970. Banaras, 1979, pp. 48-66