Memoirs of Count Dolgorukov
by Moshe Sharon
[ excerpt; download the full original at www.hum.huji.ac.il ]
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(25-26) The Memoirs begin in 1834. Dolgorukov arrived in Tehran (in reality he did not arrive in Tehran before 1845) to fill the position of the translator of the Russian Embassy. He had just finished the Academy of Arts, but needed to strengthen he knowledge of Persian and Arabic (“the Arabic in Persian is like Latin in French” p.25). The Embassy agreed to pay for his extra education and he found himself a teacher from Mazandran a certain Muḥammad, who was himself the pupil of a very erudite Muslim scholar Ḥakīm Aḥmad al-Gīlānī. Dolgorukov was a very good student; he frequented the house of his teacher and learnt with him not only Arabic but also Islamic subjects, Philosophy and classical sciences. As he gained the confidence of his teacher, Dolgorukov asked to be converted to Islam but without circumcision. The teacher agreed and also accepted the condition that the conversion of his Russian pupil to Islam should be kept secret (“If the Russian ambassador knew I would be in a mortal danger” p.26. In fact he had informed the embassy about his plans). After his conversion to Islam his teacher gave him in marriage his niece, a 14 years old girl.
Accepted as a Muslim he was able to carry his activity as a spy in the service of the Tsar’s government easily and successfully. He sent orderly reports to the minister of the foreign affairs in Moscow, frequently above the head of the ambassador, and thus he gained the confidence of the central government in Russia and could work independently of his superiors in Tehran much to the chagrin of the ambassador.
Once he was accepted as a pious Muslim he was introduced to Ḥakīm Aḥmad al-Gīlānī whose home was frequented by important persons who belonged to the intellectual as well as the religious elite of Iran, and although the great man was not completely convinced of his Islam he still was very polite to him and answered all his questions. Among the people who belonged to the circle of Aḥmad al-Gīlānī were also three men from the province of Nūr: Mīrzā Riḍā Qulī, Mirzā Ḥusayn˓alī (sic!) – Bahā˒ (sic!) and Mirzā Bi˓ayn (probably mistake for Yaḥyā) Ḥājj Azal (sic!), who were the servants (or in the service of Āqā Khān Nūrī and part og his entourage). (The first and the last were half brothers of the Bahā˒. Here and in the following pages we find already the clumsiness of the document: “Ḥājj Azal,” but later “Ṣubḥ-i-Azal”. Note also: Mīrzā Yaḥyā was then two to three years old. This alone is enough sign of the crude forgery. In the earlier, Khurāsāni edition the year was 1838 and then Yaḥyā was 5 or 6 years old).. . . [excerpt] . . .
In Karbalā˒ he joined the circle of students of Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī and was introduced to the idea of the forth pillar and the veneration of ˓Alī and the imāms. Among the pupils of Rashtī he met ˓Alī Muḥammad of Shīrāz and soon found out that he can use him for his own purposes. The belief in the Hidden Imām-Mahdī, ṣāḥib az-zamān – Lord of the Time – gave him a new idea how to enhance the fragmentation of Islam. He saw the potential of creating new religious sects in Islam and preparing a fertile ground for internal strife therein. He chose ˓Alī Muḥammad (the Bāb) for this purpose.
(63) The Bāb was young, quite handsome with a thin golden beard (this is not the impression from the existing portrait) who loved to smoke pipe with ḥashīsh. Under the influence of the drug he could write very quickly. Dolgorukov describes him as a person with good intelligence, but with limited ability for learning, whom he wanted to train and present as ṣāḥib az-zamān. (64) This seemed rather easy since ˓Alī Muḥammad believed in talismans and engaged himself in mystical exercises. Ḥashīsh he smoked particularly on Friday nights. He told Dolgorukov that through the smoking of ḥashīsh he was able to receive the knowledge of secret wisdom. Dolgorukov felt that the drug made him apathetic and lowered his learning ability. One day in a lecture of Rashtī one of the students asked where was the Lord of the Cause (ṣāḥib al-amr) and Rashtī answered that he did not know, but he added that he could be “here.” Te answer was an illumination for Dolgorukov and he knew that he could use it for his own purposes. He decided to make the youngster from Shīrāz the Lord of the Cause. (67) He began to pump him up, addressing him as the Hidden Mahdī, and encouraging him to reveal himself. The Bāb first refused, but he agreed to write for Dolgorukov a commentary on Sūra 78 of the Qur˒ān (known by its first verse as “˓ammā yatsā˒alūn”). He first smoked ḥashīsh and then began to write in great speed.
(68) Dolgorukov praised him and referred to him as the Mahdī. His encouragement, with the help of the drugs and mystical exercises, convinced ˓Alī Muḥammad that he actually was the Lord of the Time. He also wanted very much to reveal himself but he lacked the courage, and sometimes even rejected the idea of his Messianism. Dolgorukov did not give up. He knew that the Bāb craved for honour, and decided to take advantage of this weakness.
(72) His aim was to create a new religion inside the Shī˓ah. He knew that it should not be difficult. In Iran people very frequently were attracted to all kinds of strange “holy men” and myth makers. There were so many ṣūfīs and ṣūfī sects that to add a similar one should not be difficult, he thought. He decided that whether the Bāb agrees or not he was going to make him the “Gate of Knowledge” and “Lord of the Time.” His aim was to deepen the fragmentation in the Islamic social and religious order. To the Bāb he said: “from me the money, from you the claim of Bābihood and revelation.” The Bāb agreed to be the “deputy” of the Mahdī but Dolgorukov insisted that he was the Mahdī himself. This was in 1844. The Bāb left for Bushehr. Beforehand, Dolgorukov said to him that he was his first believer and they drank “Shīrāzī” wine together and smoked ḥashīsh. Now Dolgorukov started spreading the word that the Imām had appeared and that he had been in the company of Rashtī. Most of the peoples laughed at him but there were enough silly men who believed. The British agents were aware of Dolgorukov’s machinations.
(76)Meanwhile he was informing by letters his superiors in Russia about his activity. One of these letters fell into the hands of his opponents (the British?), and he had to escape from Karbalā˒ (then under the Ottomans) to Russia. In Russia he asked to be sent to Iran and the emperor sent him at the end of May 1844 as the Ambassador to Iran, a position which he did not even dream about. He found in Tehran that most of his friends died that year in the plague. However Bahā˒ and his two brothers were not effected; they renewed relations with him and resumed their work for him.
(78)In Bushehr the Bāb was meanwhile busy with his mystical exercises and prayers, and when he returned to Shīrāz he apoke about himself as the deputy of the imām-Mahdī. Some silly people followed him. (79) The government banished him from Shīraz and he reached Iṣfahān. Dolgorukov wrote to the governor in Iṣfahān to take care of him but the governor (Manuchehr Khān) died. The government arrested the Bāb and wanted to bring him to Tehrān. Dolgorukov with the help of Ḥusayn˓alī and his brothers incited the mob to start disturbances because the Lord of the Time was arrested. The government decided not to bring the Bāb to the capital and sent him instead to Mā Kū via Tabrīz. Dolgorukov succeeded to bring a large number of people including a few shī˓ite divines to oppose this move of the government.
(80)The banishment of the Bāb to Mā Kū was received with much relief by Dolgorukov since had the Bāb been in Tehran, he would have, no doubt under investigation, tell about his relations with the Russian ambassador and about the secret activity of the latter inciting him to put forward his claim. Even so, Dolgorukov was convinced that the Bāb should be destroyrd if he, the ambassador, was to retain his peace of mind. Besides the Bāb was dispensable, he had already fulfilled his function; the Bābī movement was created. Moreover, if he were killed then it would be easy to foment popular troubles in the country. The English were continuously, and closely, following Dolgorukov’s activity.
(80) Meanwhile the Bāb was examined in Tabrīz, and announced his repentance. Now there was no doubt that he had to be killed. It was quite easy. The Shāh died and Nāṣir ad-Dīn Shāh the new king “hanged the Bāb and crucified him.” These words refer to his killing by shooting.
(81)The description of the execution: the first time the bullets hit the rope with which the Bāb had been tied with to the wall. The Bāb then hid himself in a toilet and was cursing from there the Shaykh ˓Īsā (that is to say: Dolgorukov), he bagged for his life and announced his repentance, but for no avail. He was caught and put to death. When the news about his death reached Tehran Dolgorukov gave instructions to Ḥusayn˓alī to start troubles in the capital. Some Bābīs were very angry and opened fire on the Shāh. The latter gave orders to arrest many people and among them was also Ḥusayn˓alī and many other friends of his. Dolgorukov made great effort to release him and sent him and others to Baghdad. He gave orders to Ḥusayn˓alĪ to conceal his brother Mīrzā Yaḥyā, announce that he was “man yuẓhiru allāh,” but prvent him from talking to anybody. Ḥusayn˓alī was “to openly fill up his place.” Dolgorukov gave him large sums of money but he thought that he was too old and would not fit into his schemes (Bahā˒u˒llāh was then 33 years old “too old!”). He arranged for other people to be with him, but he knew that none of them was able to do what he wanted, and he himself, being the ambassador, was very limited in his open activity. The money which Dolgorukov gave the Bahā˒ consisted of monthly payments, because he suspected that were he to give the money to Ḥusayn˓alī in one lump sum the latter might take the money and run away.
(83) He found some old writings of the Bāb, went over them and corrected them, wrote similar ones at the embassy, and sent them to Ḥusayn˓alī. He found it difficult to convince people to accept the nonsense of the Bāb (kalmiāt sakhīfa khuza˓baliyyah), or his own garbage. But he sent riffraff to join Ḥusayn˓alī and sent him every month 3000 tūmān to cover his needs. The Ottoman government banished the Bahā˒ to Istanbul and then to Edirne.
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