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[Part I]

"Personal Reminiscences of the Babi
Insurrection at Zanjan in 1850"

by E. G. Browne

Published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol. 29 (1897): pages 761-827

[page 761]

ART. XXVI.-Personal Reminiscences of the Bábí Insurrection
at Zanján in 1850, written in Persian by
AHAD-I-ZANJÁNÍ, and translated into English by

Besides Subh-i-Ezel and his family, there reside at Famagusta, in Cyprus, three Ezelís, all natives of Zanján, who have settled there in order to be near their master. Two of these, Ustá Mahmúd and Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh, are brothers, sons of a certain Hájí Muhammad Huseyn, who was one of the Bábís put to death in cold blood by Amír Aslán Khán after the suppression of the Bábí rising at Zanján in the winter of 1850. The third, named Áqá 'Abdu'l-Ahad, who is the author of the following narrative, is the most interesting personality of the three. Living alone in a small, bare lodging, surrounded by unsympathetic and suspicious Turks, and admitted to the presence of Subh-i-Ezel (for whose sake he has thus cut himself off from his friends, his relatives, and his native land) only, perhaps, once in ten days or a fortnight, he nevertheless exhibits a constant cheerfulness of demeanour, a scrupulous neatness of apparel, and an uncomplaining resignation and patience which command one's respect. I first made his acquaintance, and that of his two fellow-townsmen, during the fortnight which I spent at Famagusta in the spring of 1890; but it was not until the spring of last year (March 18-25, 1896) that I had an opportunity of seeing him again, and only then did I learn that a suggestion which I had formerly made to him, that he should set down in writing his recollections of the siege of Zanján and of the calamities which subsequently befell the Bábís there, had actually led him to compile the interesting narrative of which I here offer a translation. When I first made the

[page 762]

suggestion to him, he appeared unwilling to entertain it, thinking in his modesty that nothing which he, a tradesman little skilled in the use of the pen, could write, could be worthy of attention. Afterwards, however, it appears that he sought advice in the matter from Subh-i-Ezel, who favoured the scheme. He therefore set to work to compose this narrative, which, as appears from the colophon, was completed two years later, in April, 1892. At this time, however, my correspondence with Subh-i-Ezel was interrupted, and only when I returned to Famagusta last spring did I learn that a fair copy of the completed memoir was in the hands of Subh-i-Ezel, who kindly handed it over to me a day or two before my departure.

      Although we have several very full accounts of the siege of Zanján, both from the Bábí and the Musulmán point of view, I do not think that any apology is needed for the publication of this narrative written by 'Abdu'l-Ahad. He was, indeed, but a child at the time of the siege, and, moreover, appears to have resided in the western part of the town, which was occupied by the Musulmáns; but nevertheless this record of his childish impressions (in which, of course, is included also much that he learned from others of his fellow-citizens who had taken part in these events) supplies us with a good many new facts, and (what is, perhaps, not less important) new and often vivid presentations of facts already known. My original intention was to have published the text as well as the translation, and, should opportunity offer, I still hope to give effect in the future to this project. But for the present I felt that the translation would suffice, and that I ought not further to increase the length of this article. The translation, I may say, has not been altogether an easy task, for, as I have already hinted, Áqá 'Abdu'l-Ahad is not an adept in literary composition, and the manuscript, although written by himself, is full of anacoluthons, awkwardly turned phrases, repetitions, and omissions. These I have striven to remedy, while adhering as closely as was possible under the circumstances to the text of his narrative.

[page 763]

      It may not be out of place to set down here a few scraps of general information about sundry matters connected with the Bábís which I learned orally from Subh-i-Ezel and his sons and followers during my last visit to Famagusta.

      Questioned as to the Haydar on whose authority many traditions bearing reference to the siege of Zanján are given in the New History[footnote 1: See my translation of this work, p. 135 et seqq.] (Brit. Mus. MS.), Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh stated that there were two Haydars amongst the Bábís, one Áqá Haydar and one Haydar. The latter is still probably living in Tehrán, and will now be seventy or eighty years of age. He was the son of Dí-Muhammad, the vazír of "His Holiness the Martyr," and was a comrade of Sheykh 'Alí Bakhsh's elder brother, 'Abbás 'Alí, who was about the same age. Both these young men were stripped to be killed, but their lives were spared on the intercession of some of their friends.

      Fath 'Alí b. Hájí 'Azím (probably the same mentioned at pp. 146 and 155 of the New History) was captain of one of the eight (? eighteen or nineteen) Bábí barricades. Watchwords and passwords, changed nightly, were used by the Bábís, generally some "Name" of God, such as "Yá Karím," "Yá Sattár." Coins were also struck for the Bábís by Hájí Kázim. These bore on one side the inscription "Qá'im," and on the other "Yá Sáhibu'z-Zamán."

      Farrukh Khán was guided into the Bábí quarter of Zanján by one Isma'íl, who had turned traitor. Farraukh Khán's head was thrown amongst the enemy, but they were obliged to ransom his body by giving up ten Bábí children whom they had captured.

      I have now concluded these preliminary remarks and observations, and pass to the translation of Áqá 'Abdu'l-Ahad's Memoir.

To Part II, Translation of `Abdu'l-Ahad's Chronicle

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