This is an excellent example of eccentricity in Moscow, which is always good to show visitors to the capital: a house decorated with bas-reliefs of great Russian writers cavorting with various women. Conventional wisdom is that in pre-revolutionary times there was a brothel at this location, and that the bas-reliefs immortalise its VIP clients – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gogol and others. In actual fact, this is a sculptural composition of Parnassus by Sinayev-Bernstein (‘ancient muses embracing great writers, artists, scientists, and so on’), which was to form a frieze in the Museum of Fine Arts in Volkhonka. The director of the museum refused the composition, and so Sinayev-Bernstein, in his grief, gave it to a certain Broido to decorate his private home in one of the lanes of Arbat. The frieze had to be chopped into parts so as to fit between the windows. To be fair, local historians do not believe 100% in this version of the story either, so you can make up what you will. The figures, unfortunately, are very fragile and soon there may not be much left to see.
Address: Plotnikov pereulok, Number 4/5.
[Translated from Bolshoi Gorod’s guide to Moscow.]
[In 2010, the Spanish ministry of Science and Innovation promoted an interdisciplinary oceanographic expedition on the vessel Hesperides with the aim of generating a consistent inventory of the impact of climate change on the ecosystem of the ocean, and to explore oceanic biodiversity. They have set up a website for the purpose, and this is a loose translation of the section on Malaspina’s 1789 expedition.]
In October 1788 King Carlos III approves the plan submitted by the naval officer Alejandro Malaspina with the intention of making a scientific and political trip around the world. Here begins the most daring naval exploration of those sponsored by Carlos III, which becomes known as the Malaspina expedition.
Check out this time line of the expedition.
Two naval corvettes are put into service of the expedition: the Discovery and the Bold, commanded by Alexander and José Bustamante y Guerra. Preparations were made in record time. In less than a year, the boats are made ready, the crew recruited, naturalists hired, equipment purchased, and officers trained. On Thursday July 30, 1789 the ships moor in the port of Cádiz, the crew nervously anticipating their imminent departure.
Fifty-one days later, America is in sight. On September 19, the ships anchor in the harbour of Montevideo. Large streams, beautiful trees, and vast pastures with grazing cows and horses surround a city whose streets are dirty and badly paved. The Sugar Loaf Mountain overlooking the west side is turned into a magnificent botanical garden adorned with tiny hummingbirds.
From Montevideo, the expedition leaves the Atlantic Ocean to begin its reconnaissance of the Patagonian coast and the Falklands, skirting Cape Horn. In Pacific waters, Concepción, Valparaíso, Coquimbo and Arica are the ports of call for the expedition. The region has dazzling deposits of silver, gold, copper, and mercury, attracting the attention of the Crown.
At the end of May, the expedition arrives at the port of Callao. The impending bad weather provides an excuse for rest and recuperation. During this time, too, the ships are repaired, provisions are made for food and scientific equipment, and the local region explored. On 20 September, the expedition begins the next stage of its journey, this time along the coasts of Guayaquil, Panamá y Nicaragua, which are adorned with magnificent volcanoes. In order to speed up the survey of the region, the ships split up. They will rejoin later at the port of Acapulco, to be followed by the exploration of the Northwest Coast. They intend thence to seek the Northwest Passage between the oceans, which was described in 1588 in an apocryphal document by Ferrer Maldonado. It will turn out that the passage does not exist.
While the corvettes explore the icy waters of the North Pacific, the naturalists have been enjoying the hot weather in Mexico. They have explored Petaquillas, Chilpancingo, Tasco, Cantarrana, Mochitlan, Méjico, Cuernavaca, Guadalupe, Puebla. When the corvettes return, the expedition regroups and begins preparations ahead of their journey to the Marianas Archipelago and the Philippines, where they will stay during the monsoon season. Later, they will head for New Zealand and New Holland, and enjoy some R&R in the Friendly Islands, entertained by the natives.
On the first of July, 1793, the ships hoist sails for the long return to Spain. After an extensive hydrographic survey of the American coastlines, they arrive at the port of Montevideo in the middle of February 1794. In anticipation of French attack, they join the frigate Gertrude to protect the homebound convoy from Lima. France and Spain are at war. Five years since their departure, the Discovery and the Bold dock at the harbour of Cádiz on 21 September 1794. They haven’t circumnavigated the world, but they have conducted an ambitious and extensive exploration of the Americas, Oceania and the Pacific.
For Alessandro Malaspina, the end proved dramatic. In view of his merit, he was raised to the rank of brigadier in 1795, but soon thereafter, his influence and achievements earned him the enmity of Manuel de Godoy, then Foreign Minister in the Spanish court. Accused and convicted of revolutionary conspiracy, Malaspina was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in the fortress of San Anton. In 1803, the sentence was commuted to exile, and he moved to Genoa. He died in Pontremoli on April 9, 1810.
[Haraprasad Ray, a Sinologist of considerable expertise, wrote several monographs on Sino-Indian relations, history, trade routes and so on. His 1993 book, Trade and Diplomacy in India-China Relations: Study of Bengal During the 15th Century, was reviewed by Denys Lombard1. I translate that review loosely here.]
Although the title does not explicitly state so, this is essentially a rereading by one of the few Indian Sinologists (a lecturer at the Jawaharlal Nehru University) of the Chinese sources of the four missions to Bengal during the reign of the Yongle Emperor (between 1412-1414, 1415-1416, 1420-1421, and 1422-1423). As Pelliot has already assumed, it seems clear that Zheng He did not participate in any of these visits but left the responsibility to three of his associates: Yang Min, Hou Xian and Zhou Ding.
Mr Haraprasad Ray’s work is based mainly on the text Xiyang Chaogong Dianlu, “A Report on the Tributes sent to the Court from the Countries of the Western Seas” by Huang Shengceng, a native of Suzhou (1490-1540), and recently published by Xie Fang, based on seven different versions (Beijing, Zhonghua shuju, 1982). He tells us of having also ‘discovered’ by himself an unpublished manuscript in the City Library of Shanghai, which, unfortunately, he hasn’t used in this work. Huang’s text, certainly inspired by the Xingcha shenglan and the Yingyai shenglan, includes as well other unpublished sources, whence its interest.
The observations of Mr Haraprasad Ray, who is himself of Bengali origin, are invaluable. He establishes that the Chinese went well past Pandua (itself about 30 miles north of Gaur, a site not mentioned in the Yingyai edited by J.V.G. Mills) to Gaya, Delhi and up to Jaunpur. It is not without interest to see that the Chinese emissaries stopped at Jaunpur, that ‘enigmatic’ kingdom, where, under Ibrahim Shah Sharqi (1402-1440) an amazing cultural development inspired by Persia was flourishing at precisely that same time, Jaunpur being known then as the ‘Shiraz of India.’ Further, Mr Ray identifies certain Bengali fabrics that previous translations from the Chinese had hitherto omitted: manzheti, which appears to correspond to panchadi, a sort of calico; xinbailedali, corresponding to jhamartali, a sort of muslin; chaotaer corresponding to chautar, a thin cotton material; moheimoluo corresponding to mahmal, a velveteen fabric, and so on.
The glossary of Chinese terms (listing unnecessary characters like those of Zheng He and Yongle, but omitting those of Pand-du-wa and Zhao-na-pu-er) remains incomplete, and it is regrettable that the author was not better acquainted with the fine work of G. Bouchon (although a 1973 article by her on the Muslims of Kerala is cited) and L.F. Thomaz2, or R. Ptak3. Nevertheless, we eagerly await his forthcoming observations concerning Calicut, Quilon, Cochin and the Maldives (probably deriving from the same Xiyang chaogong dianlu).
We must in particular highlight the appendix (pp 147-160) in which Mr Haraprasad Ray returns to the question of the reasons for the termination of the famous voyages after 1433: “Cessation of the Voyages : A New Look into its Causes.”
Far from inferring a “Chinese decline” from the reduction in naval expeditions, the author suggests rather that state enterprises began to be taken over by private firms. This view (admittedly not entirely new, found as it is in the works of Wu Han and Lo Jungpang) is certainly a fine one, and we risk little more if we make a quick comparison between the Chinese trade, now almost free of any interference from the state, and future European commerce, which would have to endure more than two centuries of the yoke of the Estado da India. If we agree with Mr Ray, and there are, in our view, compelling reasons to do so, we must conclude that the Chinese interlopers had won the game long before the Europeans began to play it.
1. Denys Lombard. Haraprasad Ray : Trade and Diplomacy in India-China Relations. A Study of Bengal during the Fifteenth Century, Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, 1994, vol. 81, n° 1, pp. 388-389.
2. Regarding Bengal, we would have expected at least a mention of the fine edition of the first Portuguese evidence on the region: G. Bouchon, L.F. Thomaz, Voyage dans les deltas du Gange et de l’Irraouaddy, 1521, Paris, Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, 1988.
3. When, for instance, Mr Ray addresses the issue of the trade in horses (p. 120), it is unfortunate he does not mention the little monograph by R. Ptak, Pferde auf see, Chinas Pferdeimporte von den Riukiu-Inseln und den Ländern Südostasiens und des Indischen Ozeans (1368-1435), Bamberg, 1991.
[In the year 6983 (1475) …In the same year that the records of Afanasii, merchant of Tver1, were obtained, he had been in India for four years2, and wrote that he had set out on his journey with Vassily Papin. I asked when Vassily Papin had been dispatched with the gyrfalcons of the Grand Duke, and was told: the year before the march on Kazan, he returned from the Horde, and perished near Kazan, shot by an arrow, when Duke Yuri marched on Kazan3. But I did not find in the records any mention of when Afanasii set out or in which year he returned from India and died. It is said he perished before he reached Smolensk4. His records he had written in his own hand, and merchants brought his notebooks to Moscow, to Vassily Mamyrev5, secretary to the Grand Duke.]
With the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, your sinful slave Afanasii, son of Nikita6.
I, sinner that I am, have written here of my voyage across three seas: the first, the Sea of Derbent, or the dariya of Khwalis7; the second, the Indian Sea, or the dariya of Hindustan8; the third, the Black Sea, or the dariya of Istambul9.
I departed from the golden-domed Cathedral of our Saviour10, having taken leave of Mikhail Borisovich11, Grand Duke of Tver, and their Graces, Gennady of Tver12 and Boris Zakharyich13.
I travelled down the Volga, and arrived at Kalyazin, at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity and the Martyrs Boris and Gleb14, and obtained blessings from the Father Superior Makarii and the holy brothers there. From Kalyazin, I sailed to Uglich, and from Uglich15, I was allowed to depart unhindered. I then arrived at Kostroma, and, bearing a passport from the Grand Duke, called on Prince Alexander16, who allowed me to leave. Untroubled, I reached Ples.
I called on Mikhail Kiselev, Governor of Nizhny Novgorod17, and Ivan Saraev, the Keeper of the Tolls, and they too allowed me to leave without hindrance. Vassily Papin had already moved on, and I waited two weeks18 in Novgorod for Hassan-Beg, the Tatar ambassador of Shirvan19. He was travelling with gyrfalcons from the Grand Duke Ivan, and he had ninety gyrfalcons with him.
I sailed with Hassan-Beg down the Volga, passing Kazan with no trouble, not having encountered anyone, and passed the Horde, Uslan, Sarai and Berekazan, and entered the river Buzan. Here we met three pagan Tatars, who falsely informed us that the Sultan Kassim20 lay in wait for merchants with three thousand soldiers on the Buzan. Hassan-Beg, the ambassador of the Shah of Shirvan, presented each of them with a caftan and a fine cloth that they might lead us safely by Astrakhan. They, pagan Tatars, took the caftans, but betrayed us to the Khan. And my companions and I left our boat and boarded the ambassador’s.
We sailed past Astrakhan in the full moon, and the Khan saw us, and the Tatars shouted Do not run!, but we ignored them and fled in full sail. For our sins, the King sent all his men after us. They caught up with us at Bogun and shot arrows at us, killing one of our men, and we, in turn, killed two Tatars. At a weir20, our small vessel was trapped, and the Tatars seized it and plundered it; all my belongings were on that boat.
We reached the sea on the big vessel, but foundered on the mouths of the Volga. Then the Tatars captured us and ordered us to tow the boat back up the river to the weir. They confiscated the big ship and took four Russians captive, and they allowed us to leave, dispossessed, beyond the sea, and did not permit us back up the river, for fear we might send word.
In tears, we sailed on two boats to Derbent. In one boat, was Hassan-Beg, the ambassador, with Teziks22, and of us, Russians, ten men; in the other, six Muscovites, six men from Tver, as well as cows and our food. A storm broke out on the sea, and the smaller ship was broken upon the coast, where stood the little town of Tarki. Several men went ashore, and then arrived some Kaitaks23 and took them all prisoner.
When we arrived at Derbent, Vassily by good fortune had come as well, while we had been robbed. And I humbly begged Vassily Papin and Hassan-Beg, the Shirvanshah’s ambassador with whom we had travelled, that they might plead for the men captured by the Kaitaks at Tarki. And Hassan-Beg went to the city to entreat Bulat-Beg. And Bulat-Beg sent a messenger to the Shirvanshah: Sire! A Russian vessel has been wrecked off Tarki, and the Kaitaks have imprisoned its crew and robbed it of its goods.
And the Shirvanshah at once sent a missive to his brother-in-law Khalil-Beg, Prince of Kaitak: My ship was wrecked off Tarki and your people came and took its crew captive, and stole its goods; would you, for my sake, send me the men and gather their goods because those men were sent to me. And whatever you want of me, send for it, and I will not deny you anything, my brother. But send those men to me, for my sake, without hindrance. And Khalil-Beg immediately released all the men to Derbent, from where they were despatched to the Shirvanshah’s camp.
We also went to the Shirvanshah’s camp and bowed to him, and begged him to grant us resources to return to Rus. But he gave us nothing as we were many. And we dispersed, weeping; those with property in Rus left for Rus, and those in debt there, went wherever they could. A few went to Shemakha and others went in search of work to Baku.
And I went to Derbent, and from Derbent to Baku, where the inextinguishable flames burn24; and from Baku, I went to sea – to Chapakur.
I sojourned in Chapakur six months, and six months in Sari, in the realm of Mazandaran. From there, I went to Amol where I stayed several months. Thence to Demavand, and from Demavand to Rayy. Here the Shah Hussein25 had been murdered, the sons of Ali, grandsons of Mohammed, and the curse of Mohammed had befallen the murderers – seventy towns were destroyed.
From Rayy, I went to Kashan and dwelt there some months, and from Kashan to Naina, and from Naina to Yazd, and sojourned here some months. From Yazd, I went to Sirjan, and from Sirjan to Tarom, where livestock are fed dates; a batman of dates is sold for four altyns26. From Tarom, I went to Lara, and from Lara to Bender – by the straits of Hormuz. And here is the Indian ocean (in Persian, Darya-e-Hindustan); from the town of Hormuz to here is about four miles.
Hormuz is on an island, and the sea floods it twice daily27. I spent the first Easter28 here, having arrived here four weeks earlier. I have not mentioned other towns, because there are so many of them. The heat from the sun is intense in Hormuz, a man burns. I remained in Hormuz for a month; on the day of Radunitsy29, I set off with several stallions across the Indian ocean on a dabba (dhow)30.
By sea to Muscat, we travelled ten days, and from Muscat to Deg, four days, and from Deg to Gujarat, and from Gujarat to Cambay. It is here that the dye and lacquer come from31. From Cambay we sailed to Chaul, and we entered Chaul in the seventh week after Easter; by sea, it was six weeks to Chaul.
And here, it is the land of India, and people are naked, their heads uncovered, their chests exposed, their hair tied in a single plait; everyone is barefoot, and they bear children every year, and they all have many children. The men and the women are naked and black. Wherever I go, I am followed by crowds, marvelling at a white man. The Prince there wears a cloth over his head and another around his waist32; the nobleman wears a cloth over his shoulders and another around his waist; the Princesses promenade with a cloth across the shoulders, and another around their legs. And the servants of the royals and of the nobility wrap a cloth around their waists, and bear a shield and a mace in their hands; some bear arrows, others daggers, and others with swords, while still others are with bows and arrows; and all are naked, and barefoot, and strong, and don’t cut their hair. And the women go about – heads uncovered, their breasts bare, and boys and girls are naked till the age of seven, their shame not covered.
From Chaul, we went overland to Pali, a journey of eight days, near the Indian mountains. From Pali, we travelled another ten days to Umri, another Indian town. And from Umri is a journey of seven days to Junnar.
A khan rules in Junnar – Khan Asad – but he serves the Malik-at-Tujar33. His armies are given to him by the Malik, and they are, it is said, about seventy thousand strong. The Malik himself leads forces of about two hundred thousand, and he has been in conflict with the kaffirs34 for twenty years, who have beaten him more than once, and he has defeated them several times. He goes among his people, Asad Khan, and he has elephants and war-horses, and warriors from Khorasan35. His stallions are brought to him from Khorasan and Arabia, some from the lands of the Turks, and some from the realm of the Chagatay, and all of them are brought by sea in dabbas – Indian ships.
And I, sinner that I am, brought a colt to India, and arrived in Junnar with him, with God’s grace, healthy; the colt had cost me 200 rubles. Winter began in India on the day of the Trinity36. I wintered in Junnar over two months.
Day and night for four months the country is covered in water and mud. During these days, they plough the land and sow wheat and rice, and legumes, and other edibles. They make wine from big nuts, called the hous-e-hind37, and toddy38. Horses are fed with legumes; they prepare khichri39, with sugar and butter, and feed it to the horses, although in the mornings, they are given leaves40.
In India, horses are not bred; in that land, bulls and buffaloes are born and bred – and the people travel on them, and carry goods, and do all these things.
The town of Junnar stands on a rock cliff, unfortified, protected by God alone. And the route to that mountain is a day long, walking single-file: the road is so narrow that two people cannot pass each other.
In the Indian lands, merchants are given rest and shelter in the courtyards of houses. The hostess cooks meals for them, and arranges beds for them, and sleeps with the guests. If you wish to have intimate relations with her, you pay two jitals; if not, you pay one. There are many temporary wives here, and intimate relations cost almost nothing, for they do love white men.
During winter, the commoners wear cloths over their loins, and another across their shoulders, a third on their heads; the princes and noblemen wear coats, and shirts and caftans, a cloth on the shoulder, another to wrap around themselves, and a third to cover their heads. O God, Great God, the True Lord, Gracious God, Merciful God!
And in Junnar, the khan took away my colt when he found out that I was not a Muslim, but that I was Russian. And he said to me, “I will return the colt and give you a thousand gold coins, but only if you convert to our faith, to Islam. If you do not convert to Islam, I will take the colt and I will make you pay a thousand gold coins as tax.” And he gave me four days to decide, until the day of the Saviour41, the fast of the Assumption. But the Lord God had mercy on His Day, He did not turn His favour away from me, sinner that I am, He did not leave me to die in Junnar among the unholy. On the eve of the Saviour’s Day, the treasurer Mohammed of Khorasan arrived, and I bowed to him and begged him to help me. And he went to the city to Asad Khan and asked him not to force me to their faith, and indeed, brought back the colt that the Khan had taken from me. And thus was the miracle of the Lord on His own Day. And so, my Russian Christian brothers, if you want to go to India, leave your faith behind in Russia, and having acknowledged Mohammed, travel to the land of Hindustan.
They lied to me, those infidel dogs: they said that they had many goods, but there are none for our lands: it was obvious that it all was for the Muslim lands, the pepper and the dyes, all cheap. They who transport goods across the sea to Muslim lands do so untaxed. But we cannot transport goods without paying duties. There are many taxes, and the sea is filled with pirates. The pirates are kaffirs, not Muslims or Christians: they pray to stone pillars, and recognise neither Christ nor Mohammed.
From Junnar, we departed on Assumption, and went to Bidar, their chief city42. We travelled to Bidar for a month, and from Bidar to Kulangiri43 for five days, and from Kulangiri to Gulbarga, five days. Between these cities, there are many towns; some days we crossed three towns, and other days, four: there were as many towns as kos44. From Chaul to Junnar, there are twenty kos; from Junnar to Bidar, forty kos; from Bidar to Kulongiri, nine kos; and from Bidar to Gulbarga, nine kos.
In Bidar, they trade horse, damask45, silk and various other products, as well as black slaves; there are no other goods. All the goods are of Hindustan; of comestibles there are only vegetables; there are no products for the Russian land. And here, everyone is black, all are villains, their women are whores; everywhere is sorcery and lies; servants kill their masters with poison.
In India, the royalty are all Khorasanian, and so is the nobility. The Hindus are all on foot, and walk before the Khorasanians, who ride stallions; the rest are on foot, walking briskly, naked and barefoot, shield in one hand, sword in the other, some with large straight bows with arrows. They wage war from elephant-back. In the vanguard is the infantry; behind them is the armoured Khorasanian cavalry, both men and horses are armoured. On the heads and tusks of the elephants are attached massive wrought spikes, weighing about a kantar46; the elephants are heavily armoured, and on the elephants are turrets, in which are twelve armoured men, all of whom carry guns and arrows.
There is one place here where lies Sheikh Alaeddin47, a holy man, and where they hold a fair. Once a year, the entire country descends upon the fair to trade; the fair lasts ten days. It is about twelve kos from Bidar. They bring horses – up to twenty thousand horses – to sell, and indeed all manner of goods. In Hindustan, this fair is the greatest; every good is bought and sold during the days of the feast of Sheikh Alaeddin (or, in our reckoning, the Protection of the Holy Virgin48). And there is an owl bird in this land49 that flies every night, calling “hook-hook“; and if it perches on someone’s house, there someone will die; and if someone tried to kill it, it burns him with fire thrown from its beak. Here, too, we find mamons50, predators that snatch chickens, and live in the hills or among cliffs. And monkeys, that live in the forest. They have a Monkey Prince, who goes about with his cohort. If anyone were to offend a monkey, it would complain to the Prince, and he would send his forces to the offender; they, arriving in town, wreck houses and kill people. It is said that the hordes of monkeys are very large, and they have their own language. They bear many offspring, and if any is born orphaned, then it is discarded along the roads. Some Hindu might then collect it and teach it various trades; if he were to sell it, he would do so at night so it wouldn’t find its way back to his house; or he might teach it tricks to amuse other people.
Spring begins with the Protection51 of the Holy Virgin; the fete in honour of Sheikh Alaeddin is also held at the beginning of spring, two weeks after the feast of the Protection; the fete lasts eight days. Spring lasts three months, and so does summer, and winter, and autumn.
Bidar is the capital of infidel Hindustan. The city is big, and there are numerous people in it. The Sultan is young, twenty years old52; the nobles rule; the knights are Khorasanian and so are the warriors.
Here dwells the Khorasanian nobleman, Malik-at-Tujar53, who leads a force of two hundred thousand, while the Malik-Khan has a hundred thousand, and the Farat-Khan has twenty thousand; and many khans have ten thousand fighters. The sultan himself leads three hundred thousand men-at-arms.
The land is heavily populated. The villagers are very poor, while the noblemen own vast lands and are very wealthy. The nobles are carried on silver palanquins; they are preceded by horses, twenty of them, in golden trim, and they are followed by three hundred riders, and five hundred foot soldiers, and ten buglers, and ten drummers, and ten flautists.
And when the sultan steps out with his mother and his wife, he is followed by ten thousand cavalry and fifty thousand infantry, and two hundred elephant, all in gold trim; before him, a hundred buglers, a hundred dancers, three hundred horse in gold trim, and a hundred monkeys, and a hundred courtesans, who are called gaurykis.
There are seven gates to the royal palace, and at the gates sit a hundred attendants and a hundred scribes. Some of them record who enters the palace, while others keep notes of who leaves. Strangers are not allowed in. The palace of the sultan is very beautiful, with intricate carvings and gilt on the stone walls. And in the palace there are vases everywhere.
At night, the city of Bidar is protected by a thousand guards under the command of kotwals54, on horse, armoured, and in each one’s hands is a torch.
I sold my stallion in Bidar for sixty-eight futuns55. I had fed him for a year. In Bidar, snakes roam the streets, as long as two fathoms. I returned to Bidar from Kulongiri during the Fast of St. Philip56, and I sold the stallion on Christmas.
And I dwelt here, in Bidar, till the Great Lent57, and befriended many Hindus. I revealed my faith to them, said that I was not a Muslim, but a Christian, a believer in Jesus, and that my name is Afanasii, and my Muslim name is Hoja Yusuf Khorasani58. And the Hindus hid nothing from me, neither their food, nor their trade, nor their prayers, nor anything else, and did not conceal their wives from my eyes.
I asked them of their own beliefs, and they told me: we believe in Adam, and bhoots59, and besides Adam, his entire race. And there are eighty-four faiths in India, and all of them believe in bhoots. And people with different beliefs do not drink with each other, or eat, or marry each other. Some of them eat mutton, or chicken, or fish, or eggs, but nobody eats beef.
Having spent four months in Bidar, I made arrangements with the Hindus to go to Parvat, their shrine (bhootkhaneh)60, that is, their Jerusalem, or what is for Muslims, Mecca. I travelled with the Hindus to the shrine for a month. At the shrine, there was a five day feast. It is a great shrine, made of stone, and cut into the stone are the acts of their deities. Twelve displays are cut around the shrine, showing the deity performing miracles, appearing in various guises: firstly, as a man, secondly, as a man but with an elephant’s trunk, thirdly, a man with a monkey face, fourthly, half man, half ferocious beast complete with tail. Cut into stone, the tail is a yard long, cast through the man.
For the feast61 of the deity, the entire country of India arrives at the shrine. Men, old and young, women and girls, all shave their hair at the shrine, beards and heads, and enter the shrine. For each head, they take sixpence62 for the deity, and for the horse, about four futs. Around twenty thousand lakh63 people arrive at the shrine, and sometimes it happens that a hundred thousand lakhs arrive.
In the shrine, cut out of black stone, is a massive idol64, with a tail extending outwards; its right arm is raised high, stretched like Justinian65, and its left hand holds a spear. It is unadorned except for a loincloth, and its face is simian. Other idols are completely naked, wearing nothing, their shame uncovered, and their wives are carved naked as well, with their shame and their children. And before the deity stands an enormous bull66, cut out of black stone and gilded entirely. The people kiss its hooves and shower it with flowers. And the deity is showered with flowers.
Hindus do not eat any meat, neither beef, nor mutton, nor fowl, nor fish, nor pork, although they have many pigs. They eat twice a day, but not at night, and drink neither wine nor mead67. And they do not eat or drink with the Muslims. Even with each other, they do not eat or drink, nor with their wives. They eat rice, and kichri with butter, and various greens, and cook these with butter and milk, and eat only with their right hands, and take nothing with their left hands. They have not heard of knives or spoons. And, on their journeys, they each carry their own pots to cook porridge. They turn away from Muslims, to prevent them from looking at their pots or food. If a Muslim casts his eye on the food, then the Hindu will not eat it. That is why they eat covered with a napkin, so that nobody would see.
They pray to the east, like the Russians. They raise both hands high and place them on their foreheads, then lie down on the ground, stretched out on the ground – these are their obeisances. When they sit, they wash their hands and feet and rinse their mouths. Their shrines are without gates, oriented to the east, and the deities stand facing the east. If a Hindu dies, he is burnt, and his ashes scattered in the river. And when a child is born, the husband takes it into his arms; a son is named by his father, a daughter by her mother. They are neither well-behaved nor do they know shame. When someone comes to them or is about to leave, they genuflect in monastic style, touch the ground with both hands, all in silence.
In Parvat, they go on a great fast to their deity. Here is their Jerusalem; what Mecca is for the Muslims and Jerusalem for the Russians, that is Parvat for the Hindus. And they travel bare, clad only in loincloth, and the women are bare, clad only in loincloth, and others are veiled, and wearing much jewellery about their necks, and bracelets on their hands, and golden rings. O God! And inside, into the shrine, they travel on bullocks whose horns have been covered with wrought copper, and three hundred little bells around their necks, and hooves covered with copper. And they call their bullocks acha.
Hindus address their bulls as father, and their cows as mother. They bake bread and prepare their food over dung fires, and mark their faces and foreheads and entire bodies with the ash. On Sundays and Mondays, Hindus eat only once in a day. In India, there are many unattached women, and that is why they are cheap: if you have intimate relations with her, give her two copper coins68; if you want to throw your money to the winds, give her six. And there you have it. Slave-concubines are cheap: four coins for a good one; five coins if she is black and lovely, a dark jewel, small and good.
From Parvat, I arrived at Bidar fifteen days before the Muslim festival of Ulu Bairam69. I do not know when it will be Easter, the Sunday feast of Christ; I am guessing by the signs: Easter arrives nine or ten days ahead of the Muslim Bairam. I have nothing with me, not one book; I took them with me from Rus, but when I was robbed, I lost them, and I did not observe the rites of the Christian faith. I do not observe the Christian feasts, neither Easter nor Christmas; I do not keep the fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. And, dwelling among the unbelievers, I pray to God to save me: “Lord God, You are the True God, the Great God, the Merciful God, the All-Merciful and All-Hallowed One, the One God, King of Glory, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”
And I am returning to Rus with the thought: I have lost my faith, I have kept the infidel fasts. The month of March passed and I started to fast with the Muslims on Sunday, I fasted for a month, ate no meat, took no Muslim food, ate bread and water twice daily, and did not lie with a woman. And I prayed to Christ Almighty who created Heaven and Earth, and did not address God by any other name. Lord God, Merciful God, Lord God, God is Great, God is the King of Glory, All-Merciful God – it is all you, O Lord.
From Hormuz to Kalhat is ten days, and from Kalhat to Deg is six days, and from Deg to Muscat70 is six days, and from Muscat to Gujarat, ten days, and from Gujarat to Cambay, four days, and from Cambay to Chaul, twelve days, and from Chaul to Dabhol, six days. Dabhol is the last Muslim harbour in Hindustan. And from Dabhol to Kozhikode is twenty-five days’ journey, and from Kozhikode to Ceylon, fifteen days, and from Ceylon to Shabat, a month, and from Shabat to Pegu, twenty days, and from Pegu to southern Cathay, a month – all the way by sea. And from southern Cathay to the north, six months on dry land, and for days by sea. And the Lord will make me a roof over my head.
Hormuz is a great harbour, and people come here from all over the world; there is every kind of merchandise here; whatever is born anywhere in the world, you will find in Hormuz. The duty is onerous: on any good, they levy a tenth.
Cambay is the harbour for the entire Indian sea. And they produce here alacha and rough linen71, and also the blue dye, and lac, and cornelian, and salt.
Dabhol is also a large port. Horses from Egypt are brought here, and from Arabia, and Khorasan, Turkestan, from Bandar-Hormuz; from here, on dry land, it is a month to Bidar and Gulbarga.
And Kozhikode is the port for the entire Indian sea. God forbid that any vessel pass by it: if anyone passes by it, he will not remain safe on the sea for much longer. And there is grown black pepper and ginger and muscat flowers, and areca-nut, and cinnamon, and cloves, and spicy roots, and adrak72, and various other roots. And everything here is cheap. And slaves are numerous, good and black.
And Ceylon – not an unimportant port on the Indian ocean, and there, on a high peak, lies the forefather Adam. And near that peak one finds precious stones – rubies, fatis, agates, garnets, crystal, and corundum73. Elephants are born there, and they are priced by size74, and cloves are sold by weight.
And the port of Shabat75 on the Indian Ocean is also big. Khorasanian merchants are paid daily wages in teneks76, both big and small. When a Khorasanian weds, the ruler of Shabat gives him a thousand teneks for sacrifice (на жертву), and fifty teneks every month as allowance. In Shabat is produced silk and sandalwood and pearls – and all are cheap.
And Pegu is a large port as well. Indian dervishes dwell there, and precious stones are produced there: mani, yakut, kirpuks77, and the dervishes sell these stones.
The Chinese port is also a big port. Ceramics are made there and sold by weight, cheaply. Wives there sleep with their men in the daytime, and at night, go to the visiting foreigners and sleep with them, and they give the foreigners money, and bring with them delicious food, and sweet wine, and ply the merchants with food and wine, so that they are loved by them, and they love the merchants, white men, because their own men are black. And if the wife conceives a child, then the husband gives the merchant a gift. If a white child is born, the merchant is given three hundred teneks, and if a black child is born, then the merchant gets nothing, save for the food and drink, which is deemed free by Chinese custom.
Shabat is three months’ journey from Bidar; and from Dabhol to Shabat is two months by sea, and from Bidar to South China is four months by sea; they produce ceramics there, all cheap. And to Ceylon by sea is two months; to Kozhikode is a journey of a month.
In Shabat, they produce silk and inchi – pitched pearls – and sandalwood; elephants are valued by their size. In Ceylon are found ammon78, and rubies, and фатисы, and crystal, and agate. In Kozhikode, pepper is grown, and nutmeg, cloves, and fufal fruit, and flowering nutmeg. In Gujarat, lacquer paint is produced, and in Cambay – sard (or carnelian).
In Raichur, diamonds are produced, from old and new mines. They are sold at five rubles a carat79; the really fine ones are sold at 10 rubles a carat. Five keni for a carat of diamond from the new mines, black stones are four to six keni, and white diamond is one tenek. Diamonds are produced in stone mountains; and paid for by the cubit of those stone mountains – two thousand gold funts for a new mine, ten thousand for an old mine. Malik-Khan owns those lands, serving the Sultan, thirty kos from Bidar.
And the claim of the Hebrews that the citizens of Shabat are Jews – this is false. They are not Jews, nor are they Muslims, or Christians; some of them follow a Hindu faith. They do not eat or drink with Jews or Muslims. Everything in Shabat is cheap. Silk is as abundant as sugar, and everything is very cheap. Mamons and monkeys dwell in their forests, and they attack people on the roads, and so because of these mamons and monkeys, the people are dare not travel at night.
From Shabat, on dry land, is a journey of 10 months, and by sea, is four months aukyik80. The stomachs of domesticated deer are cut to extract musk; wild deer, hunted on the fields and in the forests, lose their scent, and their musk is not fresh.
I celebrated Easter on the first day of May in India, in Muslim Bidar81, and the Muslims celebrated Bairam in the middle of the month82; I began to fast on the first day of April. O Russians of the true Christian faith! He who travels to many lands, falls into many ills and loses the faith of Christ. And I, slave to God that I am, Afanasii, have suffered for my Christian faith. Already four Great Lents and Easters have passed, and I, sinner that I am, do not know when it is Easter or Lent, nor do I observe Christmas, or any other holy feasts, nor Wednesdays, nor Fridays: I have no books. When I was robbed, my books were taken from me. And I, after many troubles, went to India, because I had nothing to return to Rus with, left as I was without any goods. I celebrated the first Easter in Kain, the second in Chapakur83 in the Mazandaran lands, the third in Hormuz, the forth in India among the Muslims, in Bidar, and many here are unhappy with the Christian faith.
Malik, the Muslim, urged me to adopt the Muslim faith. I said to him, “My Lord! You hold your prayers, and I, too, pray. You pray five times, and I thrice. I am a foreigner, and you are a native.” And he said to me, “It is clear that you are not a Muslim, but neither do you observe the Christian rites.” And I thought about this deeply, and said to myself, “Woe is me, damned am I, I have strayed from the path of truth, and knowing no other, must find my way. Lord, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth! Do not turn thy face away from your servant, grievously sinful though I am. Lord! Save me and forgive me, for I am your creation; do not let me, O Lord, stray from the path of truth, guide me to the path of truth, for out of necessity was I unvirtuous before you, O Lord, all my days lived in sin. My Lord, my Father, you are Merciful and Compassionate! Praise be to God! For four Easters now have I dwelt in Muslim lands, and did not abandon Christianity. God alone knows what will befall me in the future. O Lord my God, I rely on you, save me, O Lord my God.“
In great Bidar, in Muslim India, on the Great Night towards the Great Day I saw how the Pleiades and Orion entered into the dawn, and the Great Bear stood headlong in the East.
On the Muslim feast-day of Bairam, the Sultan made a ceremonial departure: with him went twenty great viziers, adorned with mighty armour, with turrets. In the turrets sat six men with cannon and guns, and on the big elephants, twelve men. And on each elephant were emblazoned two great banners, and mighty swords weighing a kantar, were attached to their tusks, and on their necks, enormous iron weights84. Between its ears sits a man in armour wielding a large iron hook with which to direct the elephant. A thousand horses decorated in golden trappings85, and a hundred camels with drums, and three hundred trumpeters, and three hundred dancers, and three hundred concubines. The Sultan’s caftan is decorated with corundum, his cap with a huge diamond, his sadak86 golden with corundum, and three swords all in gold, and a golden saddle, and all trappings golden, everything in gold. Before him, a kafir runs, carrying a canopy87, and behind him are many on foot. Behind too is a rogue elephant, covered in damask, chasing people away, a big iron chain on his trunk with which he chases horses and people away so that they do not approach the Sultan.
And the Sultan’s brother sits in a golden palanquin, above him a velvet canopy above him, and a cupola of gold and corundum, and he is borne by twenty men.
And the Makhdum88 sits in a golden palanquin as well, and the canopy above him is silken with gold cupola, and he is borne by four horses in golden trappings. And near him are a great many people; before him are singers and dancers in numbers; all with swords and sabres unsheathed, with shields and darts and spears, with straight, large bows. And all the horses are armoured, with sadaks. And everybody else is bare, wearing only loincloths, their shame covered.
In Bidar, the full moon lasts three days. There are no sweet vegetables in Bidar. Hindustan does not suffer from extreme heat. Hormuz and Bahrain, where pearls are produced, are very hot, and in Jeddah and Baku and Egypt and in Arabia and Lara. It is hot in Khorasan, but not quite so much. It is very hot in Chagatay. In Shiraz, Yazd and Kashan, too, it is hot, but there is a wind. In Gilyan it is humid and torrid, and in Shemakha, it is torrid; in Baghdad, it is hot, and in Homs and Damascus; but not so much in Aleppo.
In the district of Sivas and in the land of Georgia, everything is in abundance. And everything in the land of the Turks is plentiful. And plentiful is Moldavia, and food is cheap there. And Podol is plentiful. But God save Rus! O Lord, save her! God, preserve her! There is no country like her in this world, even if the Emirs89 of Rus are at each others’ throats. May there be justice in Rus! My God, my God, my God, my God!
O Lord, my God! I beseech you, save me, Lord! I do not know my way – where do I go from Hindustan? If I go to Hormuz, there is no route to Khorasan from Hormuz, or to Chagatay, or to Baghdad, or to Bahrain, or to Yazd, or to Arabia. Everywhere we see the dissension of princes. Uzun Hassan-Beg90 murdered the Shah Mirza Jahan, and Sultan Abu-Said91 has been poisoned; Uzun Hassan-Beg has subdued Shiraz, but that country has not accepted him, and Mohammed Yadigar92 does not go to him out of fear. And there is no other way. To go to Mecca – that means to accept the faith of the Muslims. Because of their faith, Christians do not go to Mecca – they would be converted there to Islam. But to live in Hindustan – I have to hold myself back because everything there is so dear: on food alone I, a single man, spent two and a half altyns a day, although I did not drink wine nor mead.
Malik-at-Tujar took two Indian towns93 that supported piracy in the Indian Ocean. He seized seven princes and their treasury: sacks of corundum, diamonds, rubies, a hundred bags of costly goods, and his army took other items innumerable. He besieged them for two years94, and his forces numbered two hundred thousand, and a hundred elephant, and three hundred camels.
Malik-at-Tujar returned to Bidar with his army on Kurban Bairam (or in our reckoning on the day of St Peter). And the Sultan sent ten viziers to meet him at ten kos, and a kos is ten versts, and with each vizier, he sent ten thousand of his own armed forces, and ten elephants in armour.
Every day, five hundred people sit down to a meal with Malik-at-Tujar. With him dine three viziers, and with each vizier, fifty people; there are, further, a hundred lords who have pledged allegiance to him. In the stables of Malik-at-Tujar are two thousand horses, a thousand of whom are saddled night and day at the ready, and a hundred elephant in the stables. And every night, the palace is guarded by a hundred men in armour, and twenty trumpeters, and ten men with drums, and ten big tambourines, each beaten by two men.
Nizam-al-Mulk, Malik-Khan and Fathulla-Khan seized three big towns95. Their armies numbered a hundred thousand men and fifty elephant. And they captured corundum without number, and many other precious stones. And all the diamonds and rubies were bought up on behalf of Malik-at-Tujar, and he forbade the masters to sell them to the merchants who had come to Bidar at the time of the Assumption.
The Sultan comes out on procession on Thursday and Tuesday, and three viziers ride out with him. The Sultan’s brother promenades on Monday with his mother and sister. And two thousand women are borne out on horse and in golden palanquins, and before them are led a hundred horses in golden armour. And there many on foot, and two viziers and ten ladies of the court, and fifty elephant covered in cloth. And four people sit on each elephant, naked but for their loincloths. And the women on foot are naked, bearing water to drink and to wash, but one does not drink water from another.
On the day of memory of Sheikh Alaeddin (or, in our reckoning, the Protection of the Holy Virgin), Malik-at-Tujar led his forces from Bidar against the Hindus. His forces numbered fifty thousand, and the Sultan sent him his own forces, numbering fifty thousand, and with them, three viziers and thirty thousand men. And with them were a hundred armoured elephant with turrets, and on each elephant were four men with harquebuses. Malik-at-Tujar went to fight Vijayanagar, a great Hindu kingdom.
And the prince of Vijayanagar has three hundred elephant and a hundred thousand armed men, and fifty thousand horse.
The Sultan advanced from Bidar in the eighth month after Easter98. With him went twenty six viziers – twenty Muslim viziers and six Hindu viziers. With the Sultan went a hundred thousand cavalry, twenty thousand infantry, three hundred armoured elephant, and a hundred wild animals in chains.
And the Sultan’s brother was accompanied by hundred thousand cavalry, a hundred thousand infantry, and a hundred armoured elephant.
And with Mal-Khan, advanced twenty thousand cavalry, sixty thousand infantry, and twenty armoured elephant. And with Beder-Khan and his brother went thirty thousand cavalry, a hundred thousand infantry, twenty-five elephant, armoured and with turrets. And with the Sul-Khan came ten thousand cavalry, and twenty thousand infantry, and ten armoured elephant with turrets. With Vizier-Khan came fifteen thousand cavalry, thirty thousand infantry, and fifteen elephant, armoured and with turrets. And with Kotwal-Khan came fifteen thousand cavalry, forty thousand infantry, and ten elephant. With each vizier came ten thousand, and with some others, fifteen thousand cavalry, and about twenty thousand infantry.
With the ruler of Vijayanagar came his forces of forty thousand cavalry, and a hundred thousand infantry, and forty elephant, armoured, each with four men wielding harquebuses.
Twenty-six viziers accompanied the Sultan, and with each vizier came ten thousand cavalry, and twenty thousand infantry, and with some viziers, fifteen thousand cavalry and thirty thousand infantry. The great Hindu viziers, four in number, led forty thousand horse and a hundred thousand men-at-arms. The Sultan was angry at the Hindus for bringing so few men with them, and added another twenty thousand infantry, and two thousand horse, and twenty elephant. That was the might of the Muslim Sultan. The faith of Mohammed supported him. And God knows the true faith. The true faith is to know one God, and to take His name everywhere with purity and a clean heart99.
On the fifth Easter, I decided to return to Rus. I left Bidar a month ahead of the Muslim feast of Ulu Bairam100, in the faith of Mohammed, Prophet of God. But I do not know when it is Easter, the Resurrection of Christ, and I fasted with the Muslims during their fast, and I broke my fast with them, and marked Easter in Gulbarga101, ten kos from Bidar.
The Sultan came to Gulbarga with Malik-at-Tujar and his forces on the fifteenth day after Ulu Bairam. The war was not a success for him – they captured one Hindu town102, but many of his men died and much of the treasury was spent.
The great Hindu prince is mighty, and his army is large. His fortress is on a mountain, and his capital Vijayanagar is very great. There are three moats by the city, and a river flows through it. To one side of the capital are dense jungles, and on the other side is a valley, a wonderful place, suitable for all. That side is not passable – the route goes through the town; the town cannot be taken from any side: the mountain is huge, and the depths of the forest thick and thorny. The host stood below the capital for a month103, and many men died of thirst, and many more died of hunger. They could see the water, but could not get to it.
Hodja Malik-at-Tujar captured another Hindu town; he captured it with force, having fought night and day; for twenty days, his forces did not drink or eat, but assailed the city with cannon. And five thousand of his elite warriors perished in the seige. He took the town and killed twenty thousand men and women, and took another twenty thousand, both young and old, as prisoner. The prisoners were sold at ten teneks a head, and some at five, and the children were sold at two teneks apiece. There was no treasure, and he didn’t capture the capital.
From Gulbarga I proceeded to Kalloor. Carnelian is produced in Kalloor, and it is processed here and transported throughout the world from here. Three hundred weaponsmiths dwell in Kalloor, decorating weapons. I stayed there five months and went thence to Golconda. There is a great market there. From there I went to Gulbarga, and from Gulbarga to Aland. From Aland, I went to Amendri, and from Amendri to Naryasa, and from Naryasa to Suri104, and from Suri to Dabhol, a port on the Indian Ocean.
Dabhol is a large town, and people come here from the Indian and the Ethiopian seas. Here I, accursed Afanasii, slave of the Highest God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, bethought to myself of the Christian faith, and the Baptism of Christ, and the fasts established by the holy fathers, and the apostolic precepts, and focussed my mind to return to Rus. I boarded a dabba and discussed the fare on the ship – and I paid two gold coins for the journey to Hormuz. I sailed away from Dabhol during the Muslim fast, three months before Easter105.
I sailed on the dabba for a month without seeing anything. The next month, I saw the hills of Ethiopia, and everybody shouted, “Allah pervodiger, Allah konkar, bizim bashi mudna nasyn bolmyshty“, which, in Russian, meant, “My God, My Lord, My God, All-Highest God, King of Heaven, here You decided that we should perish!“
In that land of Ethiopia, we spent five days. With God’s mercy, no ill befell us. We sold much rice and pepper and bread to the Ethiopians. And they did not seize our ship.
From there, we sailed sixteen days to Muscat. In Muscat, I greeted the sixth Easter. To Hormuz, I sailed nine days, and stayed in Hormuz for twenty days. From Hormuz, I went to Lar, and stayed in Lar for three days. From Lar to Shiraz I travelled twelve days, and stayed in Shiraz seven days. From Shiraz, I travelled fifteen days to Eberk, and stayed in Eberk ten days. From Eberk to Yazd was nine days, and I stayed in Yazd eight days, and from Yazd, I travelled five days to Isfahan, where I stayed six days. From Isfahan I went to Kashan, where I was five days. From Kasham I went to Qom, and from Qom to Sava. From Sava to Soltaniya, and from Soltaniya to Tabriz, and from Tabriz, I went to the camp of Uzun Hassab-Beg. In his camp I remained ten days, because there was nowhere to go from there. Uzun Hassan-Beg sent forty thousand warriors upon the Turkish Sultan106. They captured Sivas. They seized Tokat and burnt it to the ground, and captured Amasa, and many villages, and went to war with the ruler of Karaman107.
From the camp of Uzun Hassan-Beg, I went to Erzinjan, and from Erzinjan to Trebizond.
At Trebizond, I arrived during the Protection of the Blessed Virgin, and remained for five days. I boarded a vessel and discussed the costs – to pay for myself with gold coins for the journey to Kaffa; on board, though, I had to indebt myself for the gold, to be paid back in Kaffa.
And in Trebizond, the Pasha and subashi caused me much ill. They took my goods to their fortress on the hill and searched everything. And whatever was good, they stole. They were searching for letters, because I had come from the camp of Uzun Hassan-Beg.
With the mercy of God, I reached the third sea, the Black Sea, which in Persian is the Sea of Stamboul. With a fair wind, we sailed for ten days and arrived at Bon; here we were met with a strong north wind that forced us back to Trebizond. Because of the strong wind, we waited in Platan for fifteen days. We attempted to sail upon the sea twice, but the wind cruelly blew us back, and didn’t allow us to sail. The True God, God the Protector! Other than Him, I know no other God.
We crossed the sea, but it took us to Balaclava, and from there we went to Gurzuf, and we waited there five days. With God’s mercy, I arrived at Kafa nine days before the Fast of St Philip.
With God’s mercy, I crossed the three seas. The rest, God knows, Allah the Protector judges. Amen! Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim. Allah-u-akbar, good God, good Lord. Jesus the Spirit of God, peace to you. God is great. There is no God but God. God the Provident. Praise the Lord, thanks be to God All-Conquering. In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful. It is God, other than whom there is no God, who knows all that is secret and manifest. He is Merciful, Compassionate. There is no God but God. He is King, Holiness, Peace, Saviour, Judge of Good and Evil, Almighty, the Healer, the Exalted, the Creator, the Designer, the Releaser of Sin, Punisher, Solver of all problems, the Nourisher, Triumphant, Omniscient, the Restorer, the Protector, the Ennobler, the Merciful, the Punisher of Sin, All-hearing, All-seeing, the Righteous, the Just, the Good.109
- This annotation, dated to 1474-1475, most likely belongs to a compiler of independent annals circa 1480.
- Afanasii Nikitin’s journal to India can be dated from the middle of 1471 to the beginning of 1474, based on a study of the relationships between the dates of Russian calendar and Moslem lunar calendar.
- The reference is to the advance on Kazan by the brother of Ivan III, Prince Yuri Vassilyevich Dmitrovski, which ended in 1469. Of the putative ambassador, Vassily Papin, of the Grand Duke to Shirvan, there is no record.
- Smolensk till A.D. 1514 was in the dominion of the Lithuanian state.
- Appointed by Ivan III, during the invasion of Khan Akhmat in 1480. Led the fortification of Vladimir in 1485.
- The patronymic (surname) of the author of the memoir is only mentioned at the beginning of the manuscript (but appears only in the Troitsky manuscript, not in the rewritten chronicles).
- Sea of Derbent, or the Caspian Sea.
- Sea of Hindustan, or the Indian Ocean.
- Stamboul is the Turkish derivation of the Greek Constantinople, from Istimpoli.
- The main Cathedral of Tver, dating from the 12th century. From its name, the land of Tver was often called the domain of the Holy Saviour.
- Mikhail Borisovich, Grand Duke of Tver, 1461-1485.
- Gennadii, Bishop of Tver, 1461-1477, previously a boyar from Moscow.
- Boris Zakharyich, Governor, commander of Tver forces in the battles of Vassily the Dark against his enemy, Dmitri Shemyakii. Established the order of Borozdin, later absorbed into the service of Moscow.
- Trinitarian Monastery in Kalyazin, a town in Tver, established by Father Superior Makarii, as mentioned by Nikitin. The Church of Boris and Gleb was situated within the monastery.
- Uglich – a town in the possession of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
- Kostroma-on-Volga numbered among the possessions of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
- Nizhny Novgorod, since 1392, in the domain of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
- The phrase two weeks repeated later in the sentence seems to be an error of the transcriber.
- Shah Farrukhsiyar ruled the Khanate of Shirvan, 1462-1500.
- Sultan Kassim, the second ruler of the Khanate of Astrakhan.
- Weir, a wooden barrage on the river, used to trap fish.
- Tezyk, a common name for a Persian merchant.
- Kaitak, a mountainous province in Daghestan.
- Evidently, the reference is either to ignited oil wells, or the temples of fire-worshippers.
- In the days of remembrance of Imam Hussein (who died in Karbala (not Rayy, as Nikitin states) in Mesopotamia in the 7th century), processionists exclaim, “Ha Hassan! Ha Hussein!” These days are observed by the Shiites at the beginning of the Muslim lunar year (in 1469, the festival of Bairam came at the end of June/beginning of July). The desolation of the area of Rayy is connected with the wars of the 13th century.
- Batman (Persian) – a measure of weight, comprising several poods. Altyn – a unit of counting money, comprising six coins.
- The tides in the Persian Gulf rise and ebb every twelve hours.
- The latest research implies that Nikitin observed the third Easter in Hormuz outside the frontiers of Rus. Perhaps the traveller wanted to indicate that this was his first Easter after arriving at the Indian Ocean.
- Radunitsy: an old Slavic festival, held nine days after Easter.
- Dabba (Marathi) – a sailing boat without an upper deck. There was a massive import of horses into India to replenish the cavalry and fulfil the demands of the local nobility over many centuries.
- The allusion is to the deep blue dye, indigo, and the preparation of lacquer.
- The reference is to the turban (fota in Persian) and dhoti (Indian), which along with the women’s clothing, the sari, was made of rough textile.
- Asad-Khan of Junnar, native of Gilyan, is mentioned in Indian chronicles as a person close to the Grand Vizier, Mahmud Gawan, who bore the title Malik-at-Tujar, the Lord of Merchants.
- Kafir (Arabic) – unbeliever; this is what Nikitin, following Islamic tradition, called the Hindus at first; later on, he called them Hindustanis and Indians.
- Khorasanians – here and in the sequel: Muslims not of Indian origin, natives of various regions of Asia.
- Perhaps during the monsoon season: in India, this extends from June to September. Trinity is the fiftieth day after Easter, and falls in May-June.
- Hous-e-Hind (Persian) – coconuts.
- Nikitin refers here to the juice extracted from the palm tree.
- Khichri – an Indian dish of rice and spices.
- These appear to be green leaves of the tree Dalbegria sissor, which have been used in India since ancient days to feed horses.
- The Day of the Saviour falls on August 6. The Feast of the Assumption runs from August 1 to the Day of the Assumption, August 15.
- Bidar at the time was the capital of the Bahmani Sultanate.
- Kulangiri – it is not clear what town Nikitin had in mind.
- Kos, a measure of distance in India, about ten kilometres.
- Damask – a coloured silk fabric, embroidered with brocade.
- Kantar – an Arabian measure of weight, about three poods.
- Sheikh Alaeddin, a local Muslim holy man.
- The Protection of the Blessed Virgin falls on October 1. Further on, Nikitin observes that the feast in honour of Sheikh Alaeddin is held two weeks after the Protection.
- Nikitin refers to local beliefs, among others the cult of the owl, and the cult of the monkey.
- Mamons – a small carnivore.
- Evidently, the author is talking about the new season that begins in October after the monsoons.
- The year Nikitin arrived in India, the sultan Mohammed III was seventeen years old; and he was 20 when Nikitin left India.
- Nikitin thus named the Grand Vizier, Mahmud Gawan, a native of Gilyan.
- Kotwal (Persian) – a commandant 0f a fort.
- Futuns – it is possible that Nikitin refers thus to the golden coins known as fanam.
- The Fast of St. Philip lasts from 14 November to Christmas.
- The Great Fast begins seven weeks before Easter.
- The custom to use Oriental names, consistent with the Christians, was common among the Europeans who lived in the East. Hoja Yusuf Khorasani – Lord Yusuf of Khorasan.
- Boot (Persian) – an idol; here, a god of the Hindu pantheon.
- Bootkhana (Persian) – a house of an idol, a temple.
- Here, Nikitin is talking about an annual festival in honour of Shiva, celebrated in February/March.
- Sheshken – a silver coin, worth six kens.
- Lakh (Hindi) – a hundred thousand.
- Here: a statue of Shiva. His attributes: snakes wrapping around his body (Nikitin said ‘tail’), and trident.
- Statue of Justinian I (527 – 565) in Istanbul.
- Statue of the bull, Nandi, vehicle of Shiva.
- Mead – a drink from honey
- Copper coin (Nikitin called it a jital).
- Ulu Bairam – a great holiday, the same as Kurban Bairam (Feast of the Sacrifice) – one of the most important holidays in Islam. There are 10 to 13 months in the Islamic lunar calendar, whose correspondence with the solar calendar varies every year. Later on, Nikitin says that the feast was held mid-May, from which the year can be determined – 1472.
- The chronicler appears to have inserted these words: they contradict the indicated times (in the Troitsky manuscript, these words do not appear).
- Alacha (Tatar word, meaning ‘mixed’) – fabric of silk and paper yarn. Pestryad – Rough linen or cotton fabric of the multi-coloured threads.
- Adrak (Persian) – a type of ginger.
- Fatis – a stone used in the manufacture of buttons; babaguri (Persian) – agate; binchai (possibly from the Persian banavsha) – garnet; crystal – possibly beryl; sumbada – corundum.
- Lokot (cubit – roughly the length of the lower arm from the elbow to the fingertips) – an ancient Russian measure of length , about 38-47 centimetres.
- Shambat – either Bengal or the land of Champa in Indochina.
- Tenek – a silver coin, of varying value in different places.
- Mani (Sanskrit) – ruby; yakut (Arabic) – corundum, more often blue (sapphire), rarely red (ruby); kirpuk (carbuncle) – ruby.
- Ammon – a precious stone, possibly diamond.
- Pochka (carat) – an ancient Russian measure of weight for precious stones (‘heavy’ – one twentieth; ‘light’ – one twenty-fifth of a zolotnik. Approximately 0.21 grammes and 0.17 grammes respectively).
- Aukyik (in the Troitsky manuscript, aukik) – the text is unclear. Possible meanings – a) a type of ship (Arabic gunuk), b) distance.
- Nikitin did not observe his fourth Easter outside the frontiers of Rus at the appropriate time: Easter does not occur after April 25 (according to the Julian calendar).
- Kurban Bairam fell on May 19 in the year 1472.
- Regarding this point, it has been suggested that Kain is a distortion of some place or the other in the Trans-Caucasus – possibly, Nain in Iran; but Nikitin visited Nain after Chapakur, in which case, he celebrated his first Easter outside Rus in Chapakur, and his second in Nain.
- Nikitin mistook big bells hanging off the necks of elephant for heavy weights.
- It was customary to precede the procession of a nobleman with horsemen in full regalia, demonstrating the wealth and grandeur of the owner.
- Sadak – a set of weapons: bow and quiver with arrows.
- Possibly Nikitin has in mind the chhatra (Hindi), the ceremonial canopy, a symbol of power.
- Makhdum (Arabic) – Lord. Title awarded to the Grand Vizier Mahmud Gawan in May 1472 following the conquest of Goa.
- Beg (or bey, Turkish), synonymous with the Arabic emir: a title of feudal rank.
- Jahan-shah Kara-Koyun, ruler of Iran and neighbouring lands, was killed in November 1467, following conflict with his rival, Uzun Hassan-Beg.
- Sultan Abu-Said, ruler of Central Asia, raided the Transcaucasus; surrounded by Uzun Hassan-Beg and his ally Farrukhsiyar, was captured, and executed in February 1469.
- Mohammed Yadigar – rival of Abu-Said – seized his kingdom following his death.
- According to the Indian chronicles of the wars of 1469-1472, two coastal towns were taken – Sangameshwar and Goa; the latter, as evident from the correspondence of Mahmud Gawan, was invested February 1, 1472.
- The reference is to the siege of the fortress of Kelna in the same war.
- In agreement with contemporary Indian chronicles: three towns were seized – Warangal, Kondapalli, and Rajamundry. The commander of the forces was Malik Hassan, titled Nizam-ul-Mulk.
- The transcriber made a mistake here, using the word ‘arrived’, which reappears in the following phrase.
- Virupaksha II, Maharaja of Vijayanagar, ruled 1465-1485. Nikitin refers to him as the Hindu Avdon and Hiindu Sultan Kadam in the sequel.
- Sultan Mohammed III advanced on Belgaum on March 15, 1473 (per the correspondence of Mahmud Gawan).
- This statement by Nikitin is reminiscent of the Persian expression “The Mohammedan faith suffices”, and shows the peculiarity of his philosophy. It cannot be reduced to mere religious tolerance: elsewhere in his chronicle, Nikitin uses the expression ‘God knows’ to reflect his uncertainty (‘God alone knows what will happen’). Nikitin believes that the only features of the True Faith that are relevant are belief in one God, and moral purity. In this, he is not far from the beliefs of Russian heretics in the 15th century, who claimed that anyone could become beloved of God, as long as he held to the path of truth.
- In 1473, this festival began on May 8.
- Clearly, Nikitin observed his sixth Easter in May, again not at the correct time, just as his previous one.
- Belgaum, the siege and conquest of which in 1473 is corroborated in Hindu chronicles.
- Nikitin refers to the unfortunate siege of Vijayanagar (unfortunate to the besieging forces).
- It is not clear which towns between Aland and Dabhol Nikitin is referring to.
- Nikitin here indicates the correspondence in that year of two intersecting dates in the Muslim and Orthodox calendars: in 1474, Ramadan began on January 20, and Easter fell on April 10.
- The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II ruled 1451-1481.
- The kingdom of Karaman changed hands several times during this period. The deputy of the Sultan was Mustafa, the son of Mehmed II. The hereditary ruler of Karaman was Pir Ahmed (died 1474), an ally of Uzun Hassan-Beg.
- Subashi – the commander of defences of a town; Pasha – a deputy of the Sultan.
- Afanasii’s final behest to God is a mixture of Arabic and Persian prayers to Allah (Allah-u-akbar, bismillah al-rahman al-rahim, la illaha ill’allah), and pleas to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy. He appears by this time to have been quite unable to distinguish between the words for God in use in the lands he had travelled, and those that he should have employed in his own native context [See Alam & Subrahmanyam below].
[Mark Grigorian has posted a neat set of three articles on the Armenian influence on Istanbul, based on recent visits to that city. The original is in Russian, and my translation is below. Mark kindly went over my translation and improved it considerably; any mistakes that remain are, of course, mine.]
If you are a speaker of Russian, as many Armenians in Armenia are indeed, and have never been to Istanbul, then you should start with two words: “durak” (which in Russian means “fool”) and “bardak” (“brothel” in Russian).
There is nothing wrong with these words, in Turkish. “Durak” means “a stop.” So the question, “Where is the tram durak?” is normal, legitimate, and insults nobody. Likewise, “bardak” means “a glass.” And “tea in a bardak” is merely in a glass, and has nothing to do with “coffee in bed,” as you might have imagined.
With the rest, it’s a bit easier. How about the word “saray” (“shed” or “barn” in Russian), which means “palace” in Turkish? And, of course, the name of Dolmabahçe Palace sounds peculiar to the Armenian ear, as “dolma” is a dish in Armenian cuisine. But that’s just linguistics in some poor taste. Dolmabahçe, the palace of the last Ottoman Sultans, was built by the Armenian architect Garapet Balyan, and its collection of works of art is graced by the canvases of Hovhanes Aivazovsky – a famous Armenian seascape painter. So, quite naturally, the first part of my travelogue of Istanbul will be called …
And let it not sound strange or unlikely: Armenians have dwelt in Constantinople since long before 1453, the year the Ottoman Turks conquered the city. Today there remain sixty to eighty thousand of them, and they do not consider themselves part of the Armenian diaspora. “The Armenian diaspora,” they say, “is in the US, in France, in Russia. We are indigenous.”
Because what I’m presenting are notes on travel, and not research, I will allow myself the leeway to ignore chronology, and will not attempt an exhaustive study of the subject. I have a modest role: I am a tourist in Constantinople, who came to see it through the eyes of an Armenian from Yerevan. But before I begin this essay, permit me a small digression. For me, having lived the first forty-five years of my life in Yerevan, Istanbul was a city filled with an absolutely negative aura. It was – in every way possible – the city where on the 24th of April, 1915, began the genocide in which perished a million and a half of my compatriots.
The beginning of the genocide is marked by the day when tens of eminent Armenians were arrested. Politicians, priests, artists, musicians, jurists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, businessmen were taken out of the city, and nearly all were put to death. Back in my school years, I had the impression (which lasted for many years) that there were no Armenians left in Istanbul, and that this city would not tolerate even a mention of Armenia or Armenians. But when I moved to London, I began to meet compatriots whose families still lived in Istanbul, and who indeed often journeyed to that city and spent months there. I, myself, began to travel to Istanbul frequently, meeting with fellow journalists who lived and worked in that city. With the assassination of one of them, Hrant Dink, all the ambivalence of Istanbul began to reveal itself to me.
Indeed, despite the genocide and the terrible past, in Istanbul continues to dwell a fairly large community of Armenians. Along with the Greeks and the Jews, the Armenians are an officially recognised minority in Turkey (unlike the Kurds). Armenians study in their own schools, maintain their own churches, own real estate in prestigious districts of the city, and are engaged in business and craft. But they all say that life has become harder in recent years, the harassment has gotten worse. This, they tell me, is in the atmosphere – cloying and unpleasant. Many say they are ready to leave the city.
But surprisingly, many are arriving. Mainly, these are families from Armenia, and mainly, from Gyumri and Vanadzor – two towns seriously damaged during an earthquake in 1988. There are areas in Istanbul where the sounds of Armenian speech are freely heard on the streets. But I am getting ahead of myself…
In the 19th century, Constantinople was one of the centres of Armenian culture. Because the Armenians had been denied their own state, their literature, journalism and culture developed outside of Armenia proper. The closest places to mainland were Constantinople and Tiflis, cities outside their native lands.
In the space of a few decades, by the middle of the century, there were almost fifty Armenian newspapers and journals in Constantinople; there was an active theatre; Armenians thrived at business, and even had their self-governing body – the Armenian National Assembly (although, in fact, with very limited powers). Armenians were often advisers to viziers and ministers, and even some Foreign Ministers, in the Ottoman government.
From this period of enlightenment remain more than ten churches (interestingly, nobody was able to give me an exact figure, though there is mention of sixteen churches belonging to the Armenian Apostolic Church, and several others, Catholic and Protestant); a few schools where a good part of the instruction is in Armenian (in truth, there is considerable oversight of this by the Turkish authorities, who take exception if things are not “just so”). And there are hospitals, shops, restaurants, residences…
It is said that not long ago, a travel guide to the “Greek Istanbul” was published. I am convinced that there is interest in a guide to the Armenian Istanbul, and it will sell well. But evidently the Turks are still not quite ready for this.
I would, somewhat unexpectedly, name Haghia Sofia as the first monument of Armenian Istanbul. Although the original basilica was constructed by Greek architects (Isidor of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles) in the sixth century (532-537), its cupola has collapsed several times; after its destruction during an earthquake in the year 989, the authorities invited the famed Armenian architect Trdat, creator of the cathedral of Ani, to restore it. Well, by “the authorities” I mean the Byzantine emperor Basil II, nicknamed the Bulgar-Slayer (Boulgaroktonos), who actually was of Armenian descent.
And by 994, Trdat had finished the reconstruction of the cupola which has to this day – for more than a thousand years – covered this magnificent cathedral. The Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam wrote about the cupola:
“Haghia Sophia – “stop here”
Said God unto nations and kings!
Indeed your dome, as the witnesses say
Is hanging from the heavens by a chain.”
But let’s move forward – to the next point in Armenian Istanbul.
Do not seek the Armenian Istanbul in the world-famous Lonely Planet guide. In fact, do not seek any Armenian references in this book – I spent nearly an hour on this, to no avail. I found pointers to gay clubs, and baths and saunas for gays, but did I find any mention of Armenian Istanbul? Not one. If you meet the author of the guide, Virginia Maxwell, please convey my regards to her.
So we are not going to depend on maps and guidebooks. We’ll just head to the tramway fool (“stop”, remember?) nearest to Haghia Sophia, and proceed further by rail, towards the Grand Bazaar.
But don’t worry, we shall not enter the bazaar. Opposite the bazaar, we shall turn left into one of the little lanes that steeply descend towards the Sea of Marmara. If we are lucky, this will be Tiyatro Caddesi, but if not, we shall anyway exit at the next junction, deftly avoiding the enormous number of shoes that are sold in this quarter.
The junction is a meeting point of five or six streets. At the centre of this square sits a bootblack, and around him are tens of restaurants, mainly offering fish dishes. These restaurants are very popular and therefore the food is not very tasty. Why bother to make an effort if the place is filled up day and night?
We are now in the area known as Kumkapı. In the evenings, it is impossible to breathe here. Hundreds of tourists invade the restaurants to eat fish. Ushers stalk the lanes in front of the eateries, persuading passers-by in six or seven languages to patronise one or the other restaurant. “I see that you are a bit hungry,” says one hopeful to us, “Well, here you can find all that you want.”
“Mister, mister, where are you from?” yells another. “Table for two? I’ll seat you at the VIP table. Cool and delicious!”
Belly dancers wind their sinuous way among the restaurants. Rather than an exotic oriental dance, what they are doing is simply an extortion of tips from the men – you may stick your money into their bras, but if it’s more than ten dollars, you will be granted the opportunity to stuff it into their silken panties.
But I digress. We are not interested in this. In fact, we arrive at this oasis of restaurants not in the evening, but during the day, when the waiters are just preparing the tables and utensils for the usual evening feast. So we head towards another street called Çifte Gelinler, and walking a bit along it, turn left onto a street with a strange name: Şarapnel.
And here is a three-storied white mansion, built in the European cottage architectural style of the 19th century. In front of it are palm trees, and it would appear completely serene were it not for the booth of policemen armed with automatic weapons.
This mansion is the residence of the Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Constantinople. The police post was established shortly after the Patriarch was shot at. The Patriarch himself, Mesrob Mutafyan, is seriously ill, and has stepped away from his duties for about six months. This affects the Armenian community, because he is not just one of the highest church authorities, but is also the exarch, that is, the spiritual as well as secular leader of all Armenians in Turkey. The Patriarch of Constantinople performs secular duties as well, in particular representing the interests of the community to the authorities in Turkey.
Across the Patriarchal residence is the Church of the Holy Virgin. This is the mother church of the Armenian community in Turkey. Ethiopian and Syrian residents of Istanbul also worship at this church; as they also belong to relatively small Eastern Orthodox Churches. The group differs from other Christian denominations in that it is Monophysite, that is, believing that Christ has only one nature – divine. The Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants maintain that Christ has a dual nature – human and divine. They are called Dyophysite. And that’s a very old story – this division goes back to 451.
I was at the Church of the Holy Virgin last year, during Easter. There were crowds, masses of police, because the previous week, ultranationalists had tried to assassinate the Patriarch at the entrance to the Church (they missed). The Easter service was led by Mesrob Mutafyan, solemnly proclaiming the good news: Christ has risen!
The attendees were in two groups, clearly distinguishable from each other. One group was comprised of the long-time residents of the city. Many couldn’t speak Armenian, and I noticed they were ashamed of this. We spoke to one of them, a man of about sixty years of age, with the help of his eight-year old granddaughter. She was visibly proud to translate from Turkish to Western Armenian. I was doing my best to communicate in Western Armenian (which is quite strongly distinct from Eastern Armenian, which is spoken in Armenia). I had to speak as clearly as I was able so that the little girl could understand me.
Those who know both these Armenian tongues will understand that this was not an easy exercise.
The second group of parishioners was comprised of “Armenian” Armenians, that is, spoken in the modern tongue, migrant workers, or gastarbeiters. The majority spoke Armenian with a brightly expressive Gyumri accent. Naturally, because they came here from Gyumri.
Estimates vary, but in Istanbul there are between five and twenty thousand migrant workers from Armenia. Many have dwelt here over a decade, and have managed to purchase apartments, bring over their families, get settled. Not all are legal, but the authorities turn a blind eye. It is said that it’s much more difficult in Istanbul for the Uzbeks – the authorities are trying hard to prevent them from staying on illegally.
In Istanbul, I was told, there was much demand for nurses and domestic workers from Gyumri. Their cleanliness, kindness to toddlers and their hard work are much prized. And in the local Armenian families they are valued for speaking the Armenian language with the kids, who, thus, begin to speak the mother tongue.
At the same time, the same nurses improve their Turkish, and moving into Turkish employ, find themselves valued for their work ethic.
Many of the folk from Gyumri live not far from the Patriarchate in the Kumkapı quarter. Walk on the streets and you will certainly overhear the Armenian speech with its characteristic Eastern interjections “vabshe” (meaning “in general”), and “ee” (uttered abruptly and passionately, expressing surprise and other related emotions) and so on.
I visited the residence of one of these inhabitants of Kumkapi. It was a small one or two-bedroom flat in one of the four- or five-storey buildings where, in keeping with the spirit of Armenia, lived three generations of Gyumriites.
A rug hung on the wall, Jesus Christ embroidered; on the buffet a carefully arranged dinner service; a TV in the corner of the room and a portable tape recorder. Both were on: there was some broadcast from Yerevan (satellite!), and from the tape deck shrieked a shrill female voice, singing an Armenian pop song. In a nutshell, everything was just like back home.
Kumkapı is not a wealthy area. This means that you will see here yet another aspect of Istanbul – where the ordinary people live. Turks, Armenians, Ethiopians… They live, you see, together.
This is the story of the owner of the house. It is easy, after all, to chat over a cup of coffee…
“It is difficult [to live here], but not overly so. Difficult, because we are not citizens. If we had citizenship, everyone would benefit.”
“We have little connection with the Armenian community of Istanbul. If anyone took the initiative, that would be good. But there’s no effort at all. The local Armenians keep to themselves, and the Armenians from Armenia – we keep to ourselves as well.”
“We are asked – was there really a genocide? We, to the best of our ability, explain: “Yes. There was.” But the local Turks say to us: “It was war, and many Turks died.” Thousands of Turks perished at the time. Well, it’s not for us to make out what happened or how. But we speak to them, and we want to say, yes, it did happen.”
“They often ask me: “You, an Armenian, have been here for seven years. Has anyone insulted you?” Well, even here there are fanatics. But there are fanatics everywhere. There are parties espousing fanaticism. Among all peoples there are bigots.”
But It is time for us to abandon Kumkapı. Let us leave the quarter of thin moustaches and grimy houses, and head towards the touristic centre of European Istanbul, İstiklal Caddesi, or the Avenue of Independence. To do this, we need to get to the New Mosque and cross the Golden Horn over the Galata Bridge, where at all times and any kind of weather, one always finds fishermen. These are a strange breed. If they catch three or four fish as long as an adult’s middle finger, they consider it a satisfactory achievement. Actually, I respect these guys. They are real sportsmen, for whom the whole process is as important as catching the fish. But the result… Such a result would barely be enough for a bite with a can of beer.
Crossing the bridge, we will take the metro to the stop (or “fool”, in case you haven’t forgotten) Tünel, ascend to the surface, and emerge upon the famous Avenue of Independence.
Until the middle of the last century, the entire street and quarter was called Pera. It was mainly inhabited by Greeks. There were also some Armenian quarters, life in which was described with warmth and sweet sadness in the novels of Krikor Zohrab – writer, lawyer, member of Parliament, killed in 1915.
Pera was considered one of the luxurious quarters of Istanbul. As an Istanbul resident said to me, a woman could not step outside one’s home without gloves and an umbrella. What a sophistication! Lace gloves upto one’s elbows, and a matching umbrella in lace.
But in early September 1955, an explosion ripped through the courtyard of the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki. In revenge, a mob stormed through Pera.
At the end of two days of rioting and arson, Pera lay literally in ruins. Many houses, shops and churches were destroyed. Relatively few people died – sixteen or so Greeks, and one Armenian. But the Greek community, like the rest of Pera, suffered irreparable damage. Before the pogroms, almost a hundred thousand Greeks lived in Istanbul. Now, fifty years later, there are barely two or three thousand.
I’m amazed, however, at the sheer number of Greek tourists in the city. You can hear the language being spoken everywhere, in Hagia Sophia, in the Grand Bazaar, on the streets. The restaurateurs, and the shopkeepers in the bazaars, and the vendors of knick-knacks and touristy bric-a-brac, everyone, in fact, would call out perkily in Greek, inviting the customers in.
I am heartened by the numbers of Greek visitors. God willing, there will one day be similar numbers of Armenian tourists here as well, and the ushers will call out to them like Gikor in the novel by Hovhannes Tumanyan: “Esti hametsek, esti hametsek” (“Come here, come here”). Or something similar – after all the Tiflisian dialect of Gikor is quite different from the western Armenian spoken in Istanbul. But we have to wait quite a while before any of this happens.
So let us return to İstiklal, renamed thus after the pogroms.
Today, this is an eminently European avenue, wide, beautiful, with brightly displayed fashion stores and souvenir shops. It is mainly pedestrian.
Occasionally, right in the middle of the street, a police car will pass by, or red tram with its musical bells, ticketless travellers hanging off its back in happy bunches.
On İstiklal are the French and British embassies, and the Russian trade office. This is, after all, a diplomatic district.
Walking along the avenue for about a kilometre, we look carefully at the buildings on the left side, where we will soon encounter a sign “Çiçek Pasajı.”
This means “Flower Passage” and is one of the most important places of interest of the avenue.
These days, there are restaurants in the passage. Oh, and a counter of sweetmeats at the entrance. In 1920, this was a real shopping passage, with haberdasheries and glass-blowers and tobacconists. And at the time, the building was still called Cite de Pera. During the early twenties, Russians aristocrats, fleeing from the Bolsheviks, began to sell flowers there.
Imagine this! A Russian baroness or Grand Duchess, with her brilliant French manners, sophisticated in the best European tradition, standing there, selling bouquets to passers-by.
For some time thereafter, the passage was used by flower vendors, and thus obtained its name.
Having admired the passage, we turn to a narrow little street next to it. Twenty-odd metres up and turning right, between the vendors of fresh fish, cheap jewellery and Chinese-made toys, we notice a rather unobtrusive door. It opens to the Armenian Church of the Holy Trinity, built at the beginning of the 19th century by the architect Garapet Balyan, the same man who built that palace with a strange name Dolmabahçe, and also the Mother of God Church in Kumkapı, where we have already been.
Leaving the churchyard, we do not return to İstiklal; instead, we proceed farther. We fall into a little lane, seething with restaurants. We should be careful here, for we do not want to miss a particular eatery named “Bonchuk.” Obviously, as I am writing about the Armenian Istanbul, the owner of this restaurant will be Armenian, too. His name is Telemak, an ancient name, but not very Armenian, indeed.
I was told that the journalist and founding editor of the weekly “Agos“, Hrant Dink, loved to sit around at this restaurant. Dink was killed at the entrance to his office by a young ultranationalist from Eastern Turkey. Dink’s family and lawyers accuse the Turkish police and army of having known beforehand of the plan to murder him. The authorities, however, did not allow to launch an investigation against eight allegedly culpable police officers, including the police chief of the city, and the head of police intelligence department.
I must confess, however, that I was not very happy with the quality of food in “Bonchuk”. Maybe that’s because at the moment Telemak was not “on site”? I do not know. I, perhaps, will venture to go to “Bonchuk” one more time.
Having recalled Hrant Dink, it is time to proceed to the final destination of our adventure – the office of the newspaper “Agos”. To do so, we go along İstiklal towards Taksim Square and beyond, past the Hospice of St. Akop, an Armenian Catholic establishment, and walk past the mansion by which flutters the Armenian tricolour (this is the office of the Armenian delegation to the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation), onto Cumhurriyet Caddesi, the Avenue of the Republic.
We must amble along this avenue for about twenty minutes. We could, of course, take a bus or descend into the metro. Cumhurriyet merges smoothly into Halaskargazi, where we can find the editorial office of “Agos”.
I love visiting there, meeting with journalists, drink the coffee that has been kindly prepared for the visitor, and talk to the editor Etyen Mahcupyan about the situation in Armenia. This is a very hospitable place. Of course, I understand that I’m distracting Etyen from his editorial work with my chatter, but cannot deny myself the pleasure of reacquainting myself with Sarkis Seropyan, that master of the Armenian language, and once again look at the large photograph of Hrant Dink on the wall of the office, and breathe in the smell of freshly printed newspapers.
“Agos” is the first and so far the only newspaper released in two languages – Turkish and Armenian.
Right in front of the office is a music shop. I would recommend a visit there to ask for Armenian music. I don’t know if I can find as many CDs of our music in an average store in Yerevan. If you like the duduk, please yourself: any number of CDs of Djivan Gasparyan, Levon Minasyan, Gevorg Dabaghyan, Suren Asaduryan; you can find here folk songs performed by the ensemble Knar, records of Anna Mailyan, and concerts by Ara Dinkjian, and Arto Tuncboyaciyan, and even – imagine it – folk songs reworked by the famous Soviet-Armenian choirmaster Tatul Altunyan.
And a CD of Komitas performing Armenian folk songs.
If you think that such a wide selection of Armenian music exists in this store just because it is so close to the editorial office of “Agos”, then feel free to inspect the shelves at any other music store in Istanbul. The variety and number of Armenian discs are no less anywhere else.
But let us return to the reality of Istanbul. The editorial office of “Agos” is not far from Kurtulush. This is a district so Armenian that one can find shop signs written in Armenian. Well, they are in the Latin script, but, as the old folk adage goes, there cannot be two strokes of good fortune in one place.
“Agos” is not the only Armenian newspaper in Istanbul. I met the editor of another, a daily, called “Zhamanak”, on Taksim Square. His name is Ara Kochumian. He is a corpulent young man with a bristly fuzz on his cheeks. Ara speaks an excellent western Armenian in a verbose and flowery fashion. And if he can’t find the mot juste, he borrows an equivalent from the French.
“We are all citizens of the Turkish republic, but of Armenian ethnicity. Many adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church. And we, like jongleurs, keep having to juggle these three balls: one always in the air, and two in our hands.”
“An Armenian in Istanbul tries to live in such a way that he can run his business quietly, so as not to attract any overt discrimination. On a personal level, therefore, much unpleasantness can be avoided. But at the institutional level, for example, where the Armenian Apostolic Church is concerned, or the problems of the Armenian educational organisations – schools – are concerned, we see many examples of discrimination.”
“And this is because in Turkey there are several ways to oppress minorities. The Turkish republic was born out of a multicultural empire and often describes itself as the legal successor of that empire. That is what I want to say: the state today is secular, but [it is understood] there is a notion of non-Islamic citizens of the country. This was established at the Treaty of Lausanne. The existence of this notion raises a number of issues, including how to organise the education and religious practices of a new generation of Armenians. To this, we can add the two-headed supervision of Armenian educational establishments, created with the tacit agreement of the community. As you know, the directors of the schools are Armenian. But alongside them there are deputy directors whose powers and functions are in some ways higher than expected at that level.”
In all, in Istanbul, there are fifteen Armenian schools, and as I understand it, in the most of them, but not all, this deputy director – a Commissar of a kind – is an ethnic Turk.
“But there is one more problem,” continues Ara. “In the Armenian high schools, we are giving up the teaching of certain subjects in our language: history and geography and so on, are taught by Turks in the Turkish tongue.”
“After all, these community institutions were established at a time when the Armenians in Istanbul numbered 200 thousand out of a total population of about one million people. Now we are barely 70-80 thousand, and these institutions are working to save our community. But to ensure that they continue to function, we need huge, superhuman efforts. And sometimes it upsets us that in the other Armenian Diaspora communities, these efforts are not fully appreciated.”
Here I probably shall stop, although there is much more to tell about the Armenian Istanbul. For example, I could have talked about the architectural dynasty Balian. Istanbul takes pride in many of the remarkable buildings built by them. Or of the Armenian churches in other parts of the city, including those on the Asian shore… Separately, I could have talked of one of the best photographers of the 20th century – Ara Gyuler (I wrote about him here)…
And, of course, there’s a lot I don’t know. I hope that my concise notes were interesting, and helped you to think about the Armenians of Istanbul, about their past and present. And the future, of course. This is important for all.
As an epilogue, here’s a conversation I had with the manager of the hotel I stayed in. Or, rather, it is his monologue.
Imagine: a shadowy hotel lounge, steaming cups of tea before us (“bardak”), and a young man of about thirty lounging on a sofa, smoking Marlboros.
“Your son is called Tigran,” he began. “That is the name of the famous Kurdish singer, Tigran-Aram. He is an Armenian just like you, but he sings Kurdish songs beautifully. I, myself, am a Kurd.”
“I know,” I managed to put in a word, “I realised this as soon as we met.”
“…I myself am a Kurd,” he continued. “We support the Armenians. Do not worry, Istanbul is in our hands. There is nothing to fear here.”
“I’m not afraid,” I responded.
“At the moment, we are about twenty percent of the country. Maybe even more. The President (I suppose he had the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan in mind) said: have more children. If you have more children, in a generation, or maximum two, we’ll number as many as the Turks. Fifty-fifty. And the country will be ours.”
“But our people are asleep. It is time for the people to awaken.”
At this “optimistic” juncture in the conversation, I was able to make my excuses and leave.
But Kurds in Turkey are not even considered a minority. In Turkish universities, there is not one chair in Kurdish studies or in the Kurdish language Kurmanji.
Meanwhile, there is no faculty of Armenian studies or the Armenian language either.
But when they do appear…