The first few decades of the eighteenth century were highly fraught ones for Safavid Persia. One of the handful of eyewitnesses to some of these events was one Catholicos Abraham of Crete, who found himself caught up in the Persian resurgence under Nādir Shāh Afshār. Nādir, of Turkoman background, had risen to prominence in the service of the presumptive Safavid heir Ṭahmāsp in the aftermath of the Afghan invasions earlier in the century. Nādir quickly proved himself an apt and ruthless commander- Abraham calls him a ‘second Alexander’- and soon deposed Ṭahmāsp, enthroned Ṭahmāsp’s son and set himself up as regent. He then resumed an already existing struggle against the Ottomans for control of what is now northwest Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, which is where Abraham first encountered him. By Abraham’s account, Nādir was extremely courteous and respectful of the Armenian ecclesial leader and of Armenian interests generally (though not always); Abraham relates Nādir’s pious visit (using the Arabic loan zīyāret to describe the visit) to the holy Armenian see of Ējmiatsin.

In the waning days of 1735 Nādir summoned the notables of his domain to assemble on the Mughan Steppe near the confluence of the Kura and Aras Rivers, a region that lies in the modern nation of Azerbaijan. In the course of this long encampment, during which the elderly Abraham was forced to cope with cramped living quarters, snow and rain, and distance from home, Nādir was ‘voluntarily’ acclaimed as Shāh by the assembled notables and military men. The following account takes place in the days before Nādir’s arrival at the assembly; it describes the fortifications set up to protect the camp, and the rather somber, but ecumenical, Epiphany/Christmas celebration (both the Nativity and the Baptism are celebrated) in the Armenian quarter of the camp. As is the case throughout Abraham’s chronicle, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish words and titles are used extensively, reflecting the degree of inter-cultural interaction in contemporary Armenian life generally. The presence of Armenian Muslims is also notable, though not particularly surprising in light of the many interactions seen elsewhere in the chronicle.

Leaf from Ms. Ludwig II 7: Mesrop of Khizan (Armenian, active 1605 - 1651). Isfahan, Persia, 1615. Tempera on glazed paper

The Baptism of Christ. Leaf from Ms. Ludwig II 7: Mesrop of Khizan (Armenian, active 1605 – 1651). Isfahan, Persia, 1615. Tempera on glazed paper.

The deputy of the Great Khan, who supervised and kept watch over all the affairs of the troops in the camp, that is the nasaqçıbaşı ‘Abd ol-Ḥasan Beg, lodged us somewhat to the side of the camp, in cabins made of reeds. Over 500 cabins were prepared on the north bank of the Arax. The day of the Eve of Epiphany we went on an outing on horseback and saw the place were the Arax and the Kura meet. There were two bridges there: One over the Arax before the location of the confluence, and the other, over the Kura, after the confluence of the two rivers. There was a fortification built over small boats, which consisted of wooden launches that were placed on the water beside each other over the span of the river. Thick ropes tied the launches to each other from one end to the other. The ends of the ropes were attached on the top to chains and on the bottom with ropes which resembled the thick cables of the mooring of galleons. Thick logs and boards, attached by nails covered the launches so that people could cross the river. On both sides of the bridge across the Kura River, however, edifices and towers were constructed which resembled forts. They had installed artillery pieces in these forts so that the enemy could not attack unexpectedly and damage the bridge. In addition guards were stationed to protect the bridge day and night…

After visiting all of this, we returned to our quarters, which were an hour’s distance from the confluence of the Arax and the Kura Rivers, for the bridge across the Arax was located within the area were the army was stationed, while the bridge across the Kura was below the camp and we were stationed in the upper part of the camp.

Next day, on a Tuesday, we pitched a large tent, which we had brought from Holy Ējmiatsin and which resembled a church, having a cupola-like top and decorated with drawings, crosses and flowers. I ordered that all born to the faith of the Illuminator to gather there and those [Armenian soldiers] who were in the camp to come to my tent the next day [Christmas Day]. On Christmas Day they all came to my tent and we celebrated the feast of the birthday of Christ, Our Lord. We did so without an altar or liturgy, without any spiritual satisfaction, just like the ancient Israelites who hung their harps on willows. Thus with sad faces and broken hearts out people against my will dressed and taking the few church vessels and religious utensils we had brought with us, which were indispensable for a religious procession, I, together with priests, deacons, and lectors, dressed in robes, dressed in robes and carrying lit candles descended from the tent to the Arax.

There we performed the ceremony of the preparation of holy water by pouring the holy meṛon in the waters of the Arax. The kalantar of Erevan, Melikjan, Melik Hakobjan, Melik Mkrtum, Melik Ēgēn of Dizak were present. At my command he removed the cross from the water. In addition [there were] the kadḳodās of Erevan and the Ararat province, the Armenians in the army, the āqā of Erevan, and distinguished people, such as the sheikh ul-Islam, the qāẓī, and the Khan’s yüz-başı; altogether more than 300 Armenians and Muslims. The amazing thing was that the Persians took the water mixed with the meṛon and anointed their faces with it. I then left them and they went to their own places. We returned to our tent. There were some distinguished people with us whom we had invited to dine with us.

Patmut’iwn of Kat’oghikos Abraham Kretats’i, translated by George A. Bournoutian (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1999), 57-59.

Bribery, looting, civil unrest; public meetings and unresponsive government officials; tangled lines of communication, competing stories: these things are the stuff of many a contemporary political struggle, but they are hardly unique to the modern world, or any period, probably. As the story below reveals, these ‘key words’ could be quite apt in describing provincial Ottoman power struggles and governance. This particular story, of a ‘unjust’ Ottoman governor of Syria and the repercussions of his apparent ‘crossing the line’ in and around Damascus, comes from the ‘notebook’ of Ismā’il al-Maḥāsinī, briefly described in the post preceding this one. As a member of the ‘ulama, the body of learned, elite men who constituted one of the key political and economic power groupings of the Damascene body politic, Ismā’il was not a disinterested observer, unsurprisingly. In this story the ‘ulama are seen uniting around the qadi, the Ottoman-appointed judge (and one of the most respected and powerful, though by no means unchallengeable, public figures in any Ottoman city); alongside the ‘resident’ military class (here probably one of the two groupings of janissaries stationed in Damascus) they support the qadi in his attempt to bring the rapacious governor and his lieutenant to bay.

Yet there are other political groupings as well- significantly, the heads of the craft guilds, presumably supported by the larger body of craftsmen, rally against the governor, going so far as to participate in (and perhaps initiate) a general strike across Damascus, shutting down their shops and joining in the chorus of discontent with the governor. In other words, it was not just the ‘ayān, the so-called ‘urban notables,’ who participated in politics. Others could have a voice (indeed, the irregular soldiery should also be seen as political participants).

Things proceed from the strike and ‘public meeting,’ growing more complicated as the governor’s faction- which in this story seems to consist solely of a few lackeys and a mob of irregular soldiery- tries to ‘control the narrative’ at the seat of imperial power in Edirne and Constantinople, against efforts by the qadi and others to do the same. In Ismā’il’s somewhat breathless and sometimes hard to follow account things eventually work out: justice is eventually had through the intervention of the imperial center, or so it would seem from the somewhat abbreviated conclusions (this is, after all, someone’s personal diary, albeit probably with a semi-public intention). In read it, we should keep in mind that it represents one particular perspective- the governor would no doubt have had a different view of things, as would his followers, such as they may have been (and he may indeed have been isolated- a crucial factor in his downfall).

In my translation I have tried to retain as much of the tone of the original as possible. I ran up against some difficulties, noted in brackets, due to my limited knowledge of colloquial Syrian in the period; there are also what appear to be either errors in the original text or in the editing of the printed text. Words of Turkish origin I have presented in their Turkish rendering for clarity.

Stained-Glass Window, 17th century [Egypt or Syria]. (93.26.3,4) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Stained-glass window, 17th century [Egypt or Syria]. (93.26.3,4) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Praise be to God. When Ḥusayn Pasha Yek Shasham was Pasha [governor] of Syria [al-Shām—here also simply Damascus] in the middle of the year 1085 [1674], he had a katkhudā [steward] named Ḥasan Agha who had previously been kutkhudā for Ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥīm Efendi, previously Shaykh al-Islām. Ḥusayn was ordered to accompany the pilgrimage, [but before leaving] and he carried out the utmost oppression upon the subjects (ra’īya) and the villages, and he took from the heads of the craft-guilds (arbāb al-ḥiraf) many things which would have been worth a great deal had they been sold on the market, and he left Syria and did not pay anyone anything. He left in his place the aforementioned Ḥasan Agha. He undertook oppression, transgressions, the reception of bribes and refused to listen to the command of the Qāḍī Shahlā ‘Abd al-Bāqī Efendi. And he had in his service a man whom the pasha used to send as a mutasalim [a deputy of the governor, and often a tax-collector], named Aḥmad Agha. The aforementioned Ḥasan sent him to around five or six households [? jihāz] in the eyalet [province] of al-Shām, and he killed unjustly, plundered, and the community was ashamed, he not fearing God at all. When the pasha returned, this Ḥasan kept on with what he had been doing, and the pasha likewise, as he no longer listened to the qadi’s commands and prohibitions. And things become dire for the Muslims to the extent that the pasha had saricas and sekbans [locally-raised irregular cavalry and infantry] who would interfere with the property of the people of al-Shām and the villages, and with their very lives, obliterating public safety. Then they went so far as to begin meddling with the sacrosanct households of the Muslims—and the people could not tolerate that. So, on Friday, Rabī’ al-Ākhir 4, 1086 [June 28, 1675], the people of the city gathered together, shut down their shops, and came to the qadi in order to complain about their condition. The ‘ulama and the soldiers (al-‘askar) also gathered together in the place of the court, and the qadi sent a contingent drawn from the ‘ulama and the soldiers to the pasha, who reported on behalf of the people the injustice against the people and the injustice of Ḥasan and [called for] his dismissal. But nothing came of their visit to quench the burning thirst of the Muslims [i.e. no remedy to the oppression was forthcoming].

So they sought from the qadi, and the ‘ulama and soldiers who were present, a petition to the exalted Sultan with all the relevant information contained therein. So the qadi, with the ‘ulama and soldiers, wrote the petition and handed it over to Muḥammad Agha ibn ‘Abdī Agha, previously a regimental commander, for him to take it to the Threshold of the sublime Sultan— God grant him victory! So he took the two of them [sic—two separate petitions?] and went out from al-Shām covertly, at night, on the night of Monday, Rabī’ II 7, 1086 [July 1, 1675]—may God make the Muslims heard through him so as to gladden them, and repel from us and from them what afflicts us and them, amen.

Then the pasha sent the aforementioned Katkhudā Ḥasan to the Sultan also in order to defend himself—may God rather defend those who believe! Ḥasan Agha went via postal-horse and overtook Muḥammad Agha in reaching the place of the exalted Sultanic abode, Edirne, by many days. And by embellishing his speech he gave off impressions in order to derive benefit. He sent out a report the pasha. He went out with it on al-Jumādī I 7. He came to Istanbul and it just so happened through the divine decree that He beheld the matter of the judgment of al-Shām. And he came to Mīrzā Muḥammad Efendi, and he took the report and went with it to al-Shām, reaching the city at noon on Saturday, Jumādī II 9. And Mīrzā Muḥammad Efendi sent a letter to Aḥmad Efendi Bakrīzāde delegating him for duty, so he sat for judgment in a courtyard in the place of the court, and on Sunday in the Nūriyye. On this day the pasha summoned the aforementioned qadi ‘Abd al-Baqi and all of the ‘ulama to the Ṣālihiya, [then] to the palace of Ḥusayn Efendi ibn Qarnaq, and he showered the qadi and the rest with great hospitality and kindness. After the hospitable reception was over, he sent the qadi a horse as a gift.

As for Muḥammad Agha, report came from him to al-Shām that that he entered Edirne on Jumādiī I 12, and the cause of his delayed coming was that he went to Edirne from al-Shām upon a different route from Ḥasan Agha, and that he was riding his own mount, not upon a postal-horse.

And ‘Abd al-Bāqī travelled from al-Shām on Monday, Rajab 2, 1086. And on the night of that Tuesday an agha, named Ḥasan Agha, a qapuju [warden-officer] of the Sublime Porte, entered al-Shām, in order to adjudicate regarding the truth of what the qadi and the people of al-Shām reported, and the truth of the words of Ḥasan Agha and his pasha. Then our lord Mīrzā Muḥammad Efendi entered al-Shām on Monday, Rajab 16 of the aforementioned year [October 6, 1675]. On the second day [after his arrival] the notables (‘ayān) of the land from among the ‘ulama and soldiers gathered together in the place of the court, and the Qapuju Ḥasan Agha came and read the sultanic order which he had brought, and its gist was that the petition of the Qadi of al-Shām and of the people present with him had risen to the Sublime Porte, and his complaint had arrived, they mentioning that Ḥusayn Agha took many things from them. ‘So We sent Ḥasan Agha so that for everyone from whom something had been unjustly taken he might restore what had been taken from him, after establishing the matter in accordance with the Shari’a, in the presence of the qadi.’ He specified that the qadi would listen to the claim, and specified that the commanding and the realization of the supplication be the affair of the Sultan—God grant him victory! And the people came out, as everyone who had a complaint came to the place of the exalted Shari’a.

Then Ḥusayn Agha assigned Kutkhudā Ḥasan Agha to listen to the complaints of the supplicants from among the assembly. And they laid charge [upon him and the pasha] with some eight of the specific points written out in the petition of the qadi and the people. So Ḥasan Agha [the qapuju] acknowledged that and the qadi wrote his report and put in six items of authorized evidence, and the veracity of the petition of ‘Abd al-Bāqī and the people of the land present was made manifest. The qapuju sent the authorized evidence along with the written report of the qadi to the Sublime Porte on Ramaḍān 2, 1086; he himself left al-Shām on Ramaḍān 27. Then on the second of Shuwwal [December 12, 1675] Ḥusayn Agha turned away from al-Shām, in the company of our lord Vezier Ibrahīm Pasha, who had previously governed al-Shām distant from Ikrīd [this last line’s meaning is unclear to me].

Ismā’il Maḥāsinī, Kunnāsh Ismā’il Maḥāsinī, ed. Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Munjad (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-Jadīd, 1965), 111-113.  

The little excerpt of translated text below is from the Kunnāsh, or notebook, of a scholarly resident of Damascus, Ismā’il al-Maḥāsinī, who died in 1690. In his notebook he records matters of local, regional, and even empire-wide importance, as well as various things and events that concerned or interested him. The events described range from an excursion to some neighboring towns to take in the country air, to the appointments and removals of various Ottoman officials in Damascus. In this entry he notes the occurrence of what in Western Europe would become known as Kirch’s Comet, as illustrated below in a painting from Rotterdam. Read Ismā’il’s description after the image:

comet

It befell that the first of the month of Ramaḍān, in the year 1091 [1680], was a Tuesday, and the Day of the Sacrifice likewise, and likewise the first of Muḥarram in the year 1092. And from the beginning days of the month of Dhū al-Ḥijja in the year 1091 [December 1680] a star went out which was seen in the lower third of the heavens in the direction of the qibla, and there extended out from it light like a solid column, around a cubit wide, inclining towards the west. And it remained like that every night for around a month.

Ismā’il Maḥāsinī, Kunnāsh, entry no. 25

A somewhat apologetic note to the reader: the following is an experiment on my part; what little poetry I’ve published here has been rather different. Written deep in the night in a bit of a blur with all the perhaps too obvious (or not) echos and influences whirling about in my head, and polished up in the morning, which is how these things usually come to be, I suppose. Enjoy.

________

When you sleep into the dream world, you might—might—see me. Spit three times in your left
Hand—or is it the right one?—and make sure. Abjure.
Wake it up, lit. Take your heart’s writ, tear, and sprinkle
The bits of the words on the tip of your tongue, encausticate them. Honey’s a fix, sure, but
Some wounds, they only take their mirrored selves—a lesson?
Others, warm milk and honey, perhaps. The bees, they know, ask ‘em, but take mind,
They’re liable to sting, even, perhaps, in a dream. Or not.
If you wake up, and you’re already smiling, take it as a token,
A very good sign. Not the sort that leaves you flat-backed and singed—not that good.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory, the wet stones traprock, blink and you’ll miss them, the good folk there—
Well, he said. Some days sure it don’t rain. Though this damp don’t help your cold none, son.
Cut and burn, your labors pass. Wind on the weary uplands, up and out.
What you saw, anyway, was me in the stars, swinging the scythe, harvesting
Sounds and portents. Now we’re away on the far ends, the utmost limit,
And a scraggly juniper tree at the start of old field succession, digging roots
Into the old star stuff, left alone. The heavens. Man, it’s deep, deep I say.
Straight from that hunkered down isle within an isle, to that bower, I took, mad Sweeney beside,
And sheared all day, found rest under that tree. Sweeney flew on. Now, stick around, we’ll
See all that, and see what we see, so. Prop your eyes open, sleep, and dream.

The below brief text is excerpted from a short Ottoman Turkish manual of Sufism by Mahmut Hüdayı, an important shaykh, and indeed early organizer, of the Celvetiyye ṭarīqa, the adherents of which mostly lived in the Anatolian and Rumelian parts of the Ottoman domains. Much of Mahmut Hüdayı’s output was in Arabic, but a substantial number were in Ottoman Turkish- not quite a colloquial register, but more likely to be read and understood by a wider number of people in Anatolia and Rumelia.

This passage is emblematic of one of the prevailing themes in the work from which it is excerpted: the importance of having a shaykh (in this context, a spiritual master/instructor) and being constant in honoring and obeying him. While such sentiments were hardly new in Sufism in the sixteenth century, there were also a seemingly increasing number of people who contested, explicitly or implicitly, the authority and knowledge of living shaykhs. By the eighteenth century it is easy to find many people practicing what was essentially a ‘privatized’ mystical Islam, with little need for a shaykh or regular communal life. Such a possibility is clearly not in view for Mahmut Hüdayı, however- quite the opposite, as is clear from the following passage.

If the shaykh enjoins as a duty any service (khidmet, mod. Turkish hizmet), [the disciple] ought to carry that service out, without delay, without adding any other business to it, without asking for explanation of cause or detail, and without stopping. It is related about a shaykh that he asked one of his disciples: ‘If your shaykh sent you off to do some service, and on the way you passed by a mosque in which they were performing congregational ritual prayers, what would you do?’

The disciple answered, ‘First, I would carry out that service, then I would perform the ritual prayers.’ The shayhk commended his answer. The intended moral from this [antecdote] is the bestowal of great care in service [to one’s shaykh]; it is not, God forbid, the disparagement of ritual prayer!

Mahmut Hüdayı, 1543 or 1544-1628, Ṭarīqat-nāme, Princeton Islamic Manuscripts, New Series no. 307, fol. 128-129.

Words, loose stock of the tongue,
Jump of a thing.
Clutch of rabbits scattered
Out of the weeds. You make,
And they flee.

Sitting here afloat, pockmarked and saltstreaked cordgrass
Shivering up in the gathering morning heat,
I search for a word for the waters under me.
Creek, the map says, but flowing up,
Against the world’s plane,
Reached by the moon, hard to believe,
Like the best things that also are true.
I listen.
Everywhere, motion and sound, just above silence—
An infinite city in reduced scale, plunging
The five or six feet down in the turbid flow, then into
The mud, the worn-away of the ages,
Ancient Appalachians crumbled,
Creatures great and small alive in the bubbling wash,
The ten thousand things circling in and out.
I hover overhead.
I’d say I’ll withdraw, but there is no real away,
Only a slight difference of distance.
Every moment, earth, under
Moon, self, triangulated, over, below
The waters. Here, and everywhere.

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