Personal Reminiscences of the Babi Insurrection at Zanjan in 1850
by E. G. Brownepublished in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 29, pages 761-769
ART. XXVI.-Personal Reminiscences of the Bábí Insurrection
Besides Subh-i-Ezel and his family, there reside at Famagusta, in Cyprus, three Ezelís, all natives of Zanján, who have settled there in order to be near their master. Two of these, Ustá Mahmúd and Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh, are brothers, sons of a certain Hájí Muhammad Huseyn, who was one of the Bábís put to death in cold blood by Amír Aslán Khán after the suppression of the Bábí rising at Zanján in the winter of 1850. The third, named Áqá 'Abdu'l-Ahad, who is the author of the following narrative, is the most interesting personality of the three. Living alone in a small, bare lodging, surrounded by unsympathetic and suspicious Turks, and admitted to the presence of Subh-i-Ezel (for whose sake he has thus cut himself off from his friends, his relatives, and his native land) only, perhaps, once in ten days or a fortnight, he nevertheless exhibits a constant cheerfulness of demeanour, a scrupulous neatness of apparel, and an uncomplaining resignation and patience which command one's respect. I first made his acquaintance, and that of his two fellow-townsmen, during the fortnight which I spent at Famagusta in the spring of 1890; but it was not until the spring of last year (March 18-25, 1896) that I had an opportunity of seeing him again, and only then did I learn that a suggestion which I had formerly made to him, that he should set down in writing his recollections of the siege of Zanján and of the calamities which subsequently befell the Bábís there, had actually led him to compile the interesting narrative of which I here offer a translation. When I first made the
suggestion to him, he appeared unwilling to entertain it, thinking in his modesty that nothing which he, a tradesman little skilled in the use of the pen, could write, could be worthy of attention. Afterwards, however, it appears that he sought advice in the matter from Subh-i-Ezel, who favoured the scheme. He therefore set to work to compose this narrative, which, as appears from the colophon, was completed two years later, in April, 1892. At this time, however, my correspondence with Subh-i-Ezel was interrupted, and only when I returned to Famagusta last spring did I learn that a fair copy of the completed memoir was in the hands of Subh-i-Ezel, who kindly handed it over to me a day or two before my departure.
Although we have several very full accounts of the siege of Zanján, both from the Bábí and the Musulmán point of view, I do not think that any apology is needed for the publication of this narrative written by 'Abdu'l-Ahad. He was, indeed, but a child at the time of the siege, and, moreover, appears to have resided in the western part of the town, which was occupied by the Musulmáns; but nevertheless this record of his childish impressions (in which, of course, is included also much that he learned from others of his fellow-citizens who had taken part in these events) supplies us with a good many new facts, and (what is, perhaps, not less important) new and often vivid presentations of facts already known. My original intention was to have published the text as well as the translation, and, should opportunity offer, I still hope to give effect in the future to this project. But for the present I felt that the translation would suffice, and that I ought not further to increase the length of this article. The translation, I may say, has not been altogether an easy task, for, as I have already hinted, Áqá 'Abdu'l-Ahad is not an adept in literary composition, and the manuscript, although written by himself, is full of anacoluthons, awkwardly turned phrases, repetitions, and omissions. These I have striven to remedy, while adhering as closely as was possible under the circumstances to the text of his narrative.
It may not be out of place to set down here a few scraps of general information about sundry matters connected with the Bábís which I learned orally from Subh-i-Ezel and his sons and followers during my last visit to Famagusta.
(I) From Subh-i-Ezel. The Báb had three seals, bearing the following inscriptions:-
(1) Innani ana hujjatu'llah wa nuruhu
(2) Shahida'llahu annahu la ilaha illa huwa'l-`Aziz al-Mahjub
(3) Ya `Ali ya Muhammad
Impressions of these seals were shown to me by Subh-i-Ezel, as well as the
original document in the Báb's handwriting nominating him successor and
vicegerent, of which the text and translation are given at p. 426 of my
translation of the New History. This document had, as I understood, been
photographed some time previously by M. Nicolas. Subh-i-Ezel also gave me one
of the charms or talismans distributed by the Báb amongst his followers.
This is a sheet of greenish paper, measuring 27.0 x 21.2 centimetres, on which
is imprinted in gold the talismanic figure, consisting of a central square of
forty-nine compartments surrounded by eight concentric circles (enclosing seven
zones), which are further divided by nineteen radial lines. All these
compartments contain writing (verses from the Qur'án, Names of God,
isolated letters, and cabbalistic characters). The writing contained in the
central ones is in black ink, and, according to Subh-i-Ezel's assertion, is
in the Báb's own hand. Another talisman (heykal), written in the
shape of a pentacle entirely in the Báb's hand, was given to me by
Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh b. Hájí Muhammad Huseyn of
[Fihrist-i asma'-i kutub-i muqaddasih-'i Azaliyyih, Ruh al-`Alamin fidahu[Bibliography of the Titles of the holy books of Azal, may the spirit of the worlds be his sacrifice)]
1) Kitab-i Divan al-Azal bar Nahj-i Ruh-i Ayat (Comprising 28 rúh./[Spirits].)
16) Kitab-i Mustayqiz (Tafsir Ba`adi-yi ayat az Qayyum al-Asma') (Commentary on some verses of the Báb's earliest work, theQayyúmu'l-Asmá, or Commentary on the Súra-i-Yúsuf.)
17) Kitab-i La'ali va Mujali (Written in imitation of the Duraru'l-Ghurar of 'Alí, the First Imám.)
18) Kitab-i Athar-i Azaliyyih (Farsi)
19) Sahifih-'i Qadariyyah (Munajat-i `Adidih)
20) Sahifih-'i Abhajiyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
21) Sahifih-'i Ha'iyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
22) Sahifih-'i Vaviyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
23) Sahifih-'i Azaliyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
24) Sahifih-'i Hu'iyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
25) Sahifih-'i Anza`iyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
26) Sahifih-'i Huviyyih (Munajat-i `Adidih)
27) Sahifih-'i Marathi (Du Munajat va du ziyarat-i jami`ih-'i kabirih, va jami`ih-'i saghirih). (Of the two Ziyárát, the first, called Kabíra, is for the visitation of the Báb; the second, called saghíra, for the visitation of Janáb-i-Quddús, i.e. Hájí Mullá Muhammad 'Alí of Bárfurúsh.)
28) Alvah-i Nazilih la tu`add va la tuhsa (Epistles addressed to believers, etc.)
29) Su'alat va Javabat-i bi Hisab
31) Kitab-i Ziyarat (Forms of "visitation" of sacred places.)
32) Sharh-i Qasidih (`Arabi)
33) Kitab al-Akbar fi Tafsir adh-Dhikr
34) Baqiyyih-'i Ahkam-i Bayan (47 Bab)
35) Davavin-i Ash`ar-i `Arabi va Farsi
36) Divan-i Ash`ar-i `Arabi 37) Kitab-i Tuba (Farsi) 38) Kitab-i Bismi'llah (Farsi bi shahr-i dilkhusha va sih jild bi Ism
Rizván 'Alí also gave me the following list of Subh-i-Ezel's children, with their approximate ages at the time (i.e. in April, 1896):-
The following grandchildren of Subh-i-Ezel were also resident at Famagusta:-
Rizván 'Alí promised to send me a fuller and more complete list of Subh-i-Ezel's wives and family, but this I have not yet received. The total number of his wives from first to last is about eleven or twelve.
I may add that Rizván 'Alí's curiosity to see his father's rivals prompted him recently to pay a visit to Acre. He was received with some outward show of deference,
but complained of the disrespect to his father implied in several remarks made to him by 'Abbás Efendí. He also believed (but, as it appears to me, without any grounds) that an attempt had been made to poison him; and he congratulated himself on his safe return to Cyprus.
(III) From Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh b. Hájí Muhammad Huseyn Zanjání I obtained the following additional particulars about the Zanján rising. The town of Zanján has its greatest length from east to west, and is comparatively narrow in the transverse direction from north to south. It has six gates, that of Tihrán at the east and that of Tabríz at the west end; the Resht Gate and the citadel gate (Darvázé-i-Arg) on the north side; the Hamadán Gate and the Darvázé-i-Qultúkh on the south side. The east half of the town, with the Tihrán, Resht, and Hamadán gates, were in the hands of the Bábí insurgents; the other half of the town and the other three gates were in the hands of the Musulmáns. Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh was ten years old at the time of the war. At the beginning of it there were about 3,000 Bábís, but their numbers were gradually so reduced by deaths and desertions that only 500 were left at the end. On the surrender of the Bábís, 74 were bayonetted to death on the same day in cold blood, and four (Hájí Kázim, who made two cannons for the Bábís; Sheykh Ramazán, whose wife was killed fighting; Áqá Suleymán; and another) were blown from the mouths of guns. Some 150 or 200 persons (some of them children only seven or eight years of age) were imprisoned. Most of the women and children (some 500 in number) took refuge in the stables of Mullá Abú'l-Qásim. 'Alí Bakhsh himself was amongst these, and remained there for about a month. The royalist forces finally reached a strength of about 30,000. Mullá Muhammad 'Alí, the Bábí leader (called "Hujjat," and, throughout the following narrative, "Janáb-i-Shahíd," 'His Holiness the Martyr'), died three days
after he received his wound in the arm. The Bábís surrendered four days after his death. The Bábí women displayed the utmost courage during the war, and would often pick up live shells and plunge them in water to extinguish the fuses.
Questioned as to the Haydar on whose authority many traditions bearing reference to the siege of Zanján are given in the New History[footnote 1: See my translation of this work, p. 135 et seqq.] (Brit. Mus. MS.), Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh stated that there were two Haydars amongst the Bábís, one Áqá Haydar and one Haydar. The latter is still probably living in Tehrán, and will now be seventy or eighty years of age. He was the son of Dí-Muhammad, the vazír of "His Holiness the Martyr," and was a comrade of Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh's elder brother, 'Abbás 'Alí, who was about the same age. Both these young men were stripped to be killed, but their lives were spared on the intercession of some of their friends.
Fath 'Alí b. Hájí 'Azím (probably the same mentioned at pp. 146 and 155 of the New History) was captain of one of the eight (? eighteen or nineteen) Bábí barricades. Watchwords and passwords, changed nightly, were used by the Bábís, generally some "Name" of God, such as "Yá Karím," "Yá Sattár." Coins were also struck for the Bábís by Hájí Kázim. These bore on one side the inscription "Qá'im," and on the other "Yá Sáhibu'z-Zamán."
Farrukh Khán was guided into the Bábí quarter of Zanján by one Isma'íl, who had turned traitor. Farraukh Khán's head was thrown amongst the enemy, but they were obliged to ransom his body by giving up ten Bábí children whom they had captured.
I have now concluded these preliminary remarks and observations, and pass to the translation of Áqá 'Abdu'l-Ahad's Memoir.