Ways

If you do not want to go by flight from Istanbul to Tehran, the simplest means is the train or the bus which, crossing the majestic mountains and river valleys of the former Armenian and now Kurdish region of Eastern Anatolia, covers the distance of two thousand and seven hundred kilometers in three or one and half days, respectively.



Eastern Anatolia, the valley of Karasu (Black Water), the upper stream of Euphrates, near Nimrud Dağ (Nimrod Mountain), once seat of the Hittite empire, from the train at dawn

This road, however, was built up only from the 1950s onwards. Before that, only courageous caravans started up the winding mountain paths, often risking the attack of Kurdish bandits, like Ármin Vámbéry who in 1861 crossed these mountains from Trebizond to Tabriz in the company of Armenian merchants, disguised as a poor dervish.

Tiflis, now Tbilisi, between 1891 and 1916. Photo by Dmitri Yermakov

Thirty years later, in 1889 Sándor Kégl opted for the only route passable for gentlemen travelers. He went by boat from Constantinople to Trebizond, and from there by train through Tiflis to Baku where he had to wait a week for the Russian post steamer sailing through the Caspian Sea to Persia. The waiting did not pass in vain. The most beautiful thing in a journey, for which no guidebook can make up, is to make new acquaintances. Sándor Kégl also found friends in Baku. As he wrote in the 14 September 1890 edition of Vasárnapi Ujság, in the third part of his Persian voyage:

Baku is already a more or less Eastern city. The majority of the population are Persians and Turks speaking the Azerbaijani dialect. I often saw prominent Turkish beys walking on the streets in lavish silk caftans.

In the inn where I stayed, two Turkish beys reserved a room as well. Both of them wore the picturesque Turkish national suit. They had lunch at the same table where I did, so I very soon made acquaintance with them. They were brothers, one called Samid and the other Shahbaz, and they came to Baku for some lawsuit. When they got to know that I was Hungarian, they praised the Hungarians to heavens, and cursed the Russians who wanted to deprive them from their national identity. Besides their mother tongue, both of them spoke well in Persian and Russian. The younger one, Shahbaz had learned in a Russian elementary school, and could write well in Russian. I often went for a walk with them to the city. At the farewell, with an Oriental naivety [sic!] they vowed eternal friendship to me and promised that they would visit me in Hungary. The younger bey caught sight of a Russian book on my table, the “Journey around the World” by Goncharov, and he wrote on the frontispiece the following Russian line: “You’re my friend, I’m your friend, we’ll be good friends to the grave” (“Ты мой друг, я твой друг, друзья мы до гроба”).

Grigory Gagarin (1810-1893): Azeri costumes. Middle: Bey from Karabagh. Right and left: Young gentlemen from Shamakhi. Click to enlarge. Thanks to Araz for the illustrations!

The study of E. V. Klishina “Poems in albums in early and late 20th century” points it out that this verse was a favorite note for albums at that time, which of course does not detract anything from the warmth and personal dedication of the gesture. During the preparation of the web edition of Ferenc Pápai Páriz’s album amicorum we could learn that once even the most intimate friends considered such formulas as the most appropriate way for the solemn expression of their closeness. Neither decreases its value the fact that in Russian albums this verse usually rhymed with a second one: “You’re a fool, I’m a fool, we’re both fools” which probably also served to highlight the informal and intimate character of a friendship:

Ты друг, я друг –
Друзья мы до гроба.
Ты дурак, я дурак –
Дураки мы оба.

Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891), however, never traveled around the world, and so he did not write any book entitled “Journey around the World”. Kégl most certainly referred with this title to the book Фрегат Паллада – “The Frigate Pallas” for the Hungarian public not versed in contemporary Russian literature. Goncharov, whose name is today best known for his Oblomov, one of the best 19th-century Russian novels and Mikhalkov’s beautiful film based on it, between 1852 and 1855 participated as Admiral Putatin’s secretary in a glorious adventure of Russian imperialism, the “opening up” of Japan and the enforcement of the Russo-Japanese trade relations. Goncharov’s description of this voyage, published in 1858 was a great success. Its 1886 Russian edition in two volumes can be found here and here.

Route of the frigate Pallas from the Northern Sea through Britain and Afrika to Japan. Below: The image of the frigate by A. P.  Bogolyubov, and its modern Russian copy, the school frigate bearing its name.



I also wanted to see the dedication of Shahbaz bey in the library of Sándor Kégl, but I could not find the book. It was not even included in the 1926 inventory of the Academy Library including a note on each book of the freshly received Kégl library.


Although the Academy Library has a number of original editions of the book, none of them is Kégl’s copy with the dedication. I do not know what happened to it. Since the last edition of the book was published in 1889, when Kégl crossed the Caucasian corner of the Russian empire on his way to Persia, it is possible that he bought the new edition in Tiflis and he was just reading it in Baku, that’s why it was lying on his desk. However, when he set out for home, and – I unfortunately know this situation too well – he had to make a cruel selection among the many books purchased in Tehran, he perhaps omitted this one. He did not do it well. I would have not left there a dedication like this for sure. And I hope that in one of Tehran’s many small second-hand bookshops where the weirdest books pop up, there is still lurking The frigate Pallas by Goncharov with the dedication of Shahbaz bey, like the well of the Little Prince in the desert, and one day it will come to the hand of someone who really deserves it.

“A Persian house in Baku.” Samuel G. W. Benjamin: Persia and the Persians, London, 1887, 17. From the library of Sándor Kégl. As Araz points it out, this is in the reality the entrance
of the Khan’s Palace in Baku. See the drawing by Grigory Gagarin

This point would be quite suitable to round off this post. However, one thing still calls for an explanation. Where did two provincial beys in late 19th-century Azerbaijan have so good information on the Hungarians as the friends of the Turks and enemies of the Russians from?


Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1867…
The history of Turkey in the second half of the 19th century was determined by the life-and-death struggle against the Russian expansion, from the Crimean war in 1853-56 to the Balkan revolutions supported by the Russians in the 1870s. The Hapsburg empire was anxious about the formation of a pro-Russian region along its southern borders, and within the empire the Hungarians had their own account to settle with the Russians because of the bloody oppression of the war of independence of 1848-49 by the troops of Nicholas I lent to Franz Joseph. The image of the common enemy and the idea of common origins, so popular in the 19th century, made the Hungarian public strongly pro-Turkish. When in October 1876 Pasha Abdul Kerim gained a great victory above the Serbian and Macedonian troops supported by the Russians, the university students went in torchlight procession to the Turkish consulate in Budapest. The students collected money for the wounded Turkish soldiers and had a ceremonial sword made for Abdul Kerim, which was delivered at the beginning of 1877 by a delegation of eight students to Constantinople. Sultan Abdul Hamid II reciprocated the gesture with the restitution of 35 so-called “Corvinas”, the Renaissance codices that once belonged to King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1456-1490) and that had been looted by the army of Sultan Suleiman the Great in Buda in 1541. In the following year the representatives of Turkish university students returned the visit in Budapest.

…and in 1918.
I am convinced that the Turkish press gave a huge response to the events, so that ten years later they were still alive in the memory of the inhabitants of Azerbaijan, animated by the at that time powerful idea of Pan-Turkish brotherhood.

The leader of the eight-members delegation was Béla Tóth, a later popular journalist and famous author of the six-volumes collection of Hungarian historical anecdotes, who in his last book Gül Baba, published shortly before his death in 1907 recalled this enterprise of his student years like this:

Perhaps you have not yet entirely forgotten those beautiful days when we Hungarians came so much into commotion for our Turkish brothers that we brought a sword to sneaky old Abdul Kerim and we cheered even the red-trousered pasha smoking on the sign-boards of tobacco-shops just because of being a Turk. Time is quickly passing. Nowadays this youthful enthusiasm is largely over. In all Hungary I only know one person in whom it is invariably living. That person is me. I can’t help it, I love the Turks so much. Whenever in the English journals I see a a cartoon with turban headed Turks, or whenever in the railway guide I turn on the page with the timetable of the trains going to the East, my heart throbbes like when someone in love hears the name of his lover. Whenever I want to be a little bit happy, I rush down to Constantinople or to Cairo, and I daydream and relax there among the pious Muslims. I have learned their language, I have assimilated to their habits, my philosophy of life tends to theirs. I am an Eastern person here in the West; the eternal nostalgia for the Oriens lives in my heart. And when this fool, infantile feeling is already very painful, I go up to the grave of Gül Baba, when nobody knows it and nobody sees it, and at the dilapidated little türbe I am under the illusion of being in the East.

No matter where Sándor Kégl put the book of Goncharov, this writing by Béla Tóth is a worthy response to the dedication of Shahbaz bey.

The türbe of Gül Baba in Budapest at the turn of the century

6 comentarios:

Language dijo...

Once again you brilliantly illuminate a forgotten corner of history, and provide some fascinating links to follow up. Many thanks, as always.

The Wikipedia page for Gül Baba has some good modern photos of his tomb.

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Language, for your appreciation – it’s like an authoritative seal of approbation.

The tomb of Gül Baba was severely damaged during WWII, and although it was carefully restored in the 1990's, now it is far from the beauty of its former appearance. I am planning to write a post on its history and legends, illustrated with pre-war designs and photos.

BTW, the existence and still living cult of this shrine is just one more refutation of the Wahhabi standpoint which tries to distort history, as you have pointed it out under the cemetery of Khaled Nabi.

Araz dijo...

Thanks again for a wonderful post, Studiolum, the encounter with two of my compatriots was especially interesting. As an Azerbaijani and native of Baku I would like to make few notes/additions. 19th century drawings by Grogoriy Gagarin are excellent illustrations for this post:
You might recognize the entrance of the Baku Khan palace here Some Azeri traditional costumes: Young Azeri gentleman from Shamakhy link "Officer" young gentleman from Shamakhy link Bey from Karabakh here

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, Araz, for the perfect illustrations. I have immediately included them in the text of the post. And what a coincidence: I have just laid hands on a copy of Gagarin’s Костюмы Кавказа of 1840, and intended to publish its drawings soon here at río Wang.

Araz dijo...

It is my pleasure, Studiolum, thank you. I would like to make few more remarks: I was keeping one illustration - View of Baku (1877) by Vasily Vereshchagin for my post about Baku, but it seems that this is not going happen soon. And the expression two thousand and seven hundred kilometers through the majestic mountains and river valleys of the former Armenian and now Kurdish region in the introduction sounds quite incomplete, since it omits the initial Ottoman Turkish regions and does not mention Azerbaijani region, which would be the last part of a direct travel from Istanbul to Tehran.

Studiolum dijo...

You’re right, I did not put it correctly. Of course I did not want to imply that the complete route from Istanbul to Tabriz leads through Armenian/Kurdish territory – this would surpass the boldest statements of the most dazzled Armenian or Kurdish nationalist. I just focused on the most difficult part of this route as its differentia specifica in contrast to the other, smoother way through Tbilisi and Baku. I have put it like this in the Hungarian version, but was imprecise in the translation. Now I have changed it accordingly in the English version as well.

Thank you for the Vereshchagin picture. It depicts Baku as an attractive and peaceful city. Nevertheless, I am still looking forward to your post(s) on Baku!