|Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 7, no. 2 (August, 2003)|
Monsieur Nicolas - the French
Extracts from Tarikh-i Azarbayjan (pp 96-110)
Written by: Haji Mirza Haydar Ali Uskui1
Translated by: Sepehr Manuchehri
His knowledge of the Blessed Cause:
In the beginning, Nicolas was the Consul or had some other appointment in Cyprus. He became acquainted with Mirza Yahya and they became intimate friends. [Nicolas] obtained a copy of the Bayan from him and arranged for its publication.
Apparently Azal had taken the version of Bayan that has [several] incomplete chapters towards the end, and re-wrote it according to himself. [Nicolas] managed to publish and distribute that copy. I am informed that he did publish the Bayan.
Whilst [Nicolas] was in Tabriz, Abduíl-Baha issued a tablet to him addressed through this servant. In that tablet, He specifically ordered against the publication of the Bayan and [recommended] its withdrawal from circulation. The reason stated was that "it did not succeed in the blessed teachings".
After Cyprus, he was dispatched to Tehran where he stayed for some time. He became acquainted with the friends and obtained some writings of the Blessed Beauty.
He bribed the descendants of Islamic authorities and managed to retrieve the original decrees issued to Baha'u'llah by the Ulama and authorities. These included three documents issued by the Ulama and the Jurists in Tabriz during the imprisonment of the Blessed Beauty in Nur. [Nicolas] proceeded to send these documents by a courier and requested his government to keep them at a location inaccessible to Iranians.
I have taken photographs of all three documents. There was a copy of a report in the form of minutes of discussion from the meeting held in Tabriz involving the Bab, Hamzih Mirza the ruler and the young prince Nasiruíd-Din Shah. These minutes were taken by Nasiruíd-Din Shah and described the questions asked from the Primal Point and the answers received. It was written [addressed] to Tehran.
There was also a copy of a letter penned by Mulla Murtada Qumi to the Bab, where he accused the Primal Point of insanity. I managed to photograph this work whilst [Nicolas] was a Consul in Tiblisi. I travelled there, took the photo and had it developed.
My friendship with Monsieur Nicolas
In 1321 there was a pharmacy established by the late Muhammad Ali Mirza in [the suburb] of Vali `Ahdi. It employed a practitioner [named] Kupan. The pharmacy owner [employed] a bearded Monsieur Renaul from Paris to manage the business.
I happened to sell photographic accessories in my shop. They sold cheap photographic paper and I found it useful to engage them as a supplier. We worked out a deal whereby he [Monsieur Renauld] supplied us with the papers.
Soon after our friendship [there was an incident]. He employed a trainee in the pharmacy who held an enmity towards the Cause. [The trainee] had spoken behind my back and complained that I was a Baha'i. One day [Monsieur Renauld] entered my shop and I was astonished to find that his behaviour had changed.
He politely asked for a chair and said: "Let us converse for a while"
Gradually Monsieur Renaul declared in the Blessed Cause and our mutual love and admiration grew. Whatever supplies of photographic accessories I required, he ordered without any commission. This resulted in the supply of cheap imports for this servant.
At one time Monsieur Le Lakfier - the Belgian - the head of Customs, charged me a duty [tax] for the importation of photographic gold. Monsieur Renaul came to my defence and argued that chemical products do not attract any duties. He wrote many petitions to Tehran and eventually succeeded in obtaining a refund for me. As a result Monsieur Le Lakfier held a grudge against the both of us for a while. Until Monsieur Nicolas arrived.
[It was] at the home of Monsieur Nicolas that I met up with Monsieur Le Lakfier again. Monsieur Nicolas introduced my name [attributing me to] name of the Cause and from that date we became good friends. Monsieur Le Lakfier committed extraordinary acts of kindness in the name of the Blessed Cause.
One Friday morning, he cancelled his rest period and came to [my] shop. He wanted to determine the exact location where the Primal Point had been martyred. He waited two hours for me and finally arranged a courier to find me in vain. I only found out the next day.
One day I was at Monsieur Renauld's pharmacy.
He said: " Monsieur Nicolas - the French Consul - will arrive tomorrow. We are going to greet him. Are you coming?"
I replied: "I will not attend as I do not know him"
He said: " Why not, he is a Baha'i"
Two days later I visited the pharmacy again.
Monsieur Renauld told me: "Yesterday we went to greet Monsieur Nicolas. He conveyed his regards [to you] and asked to see you."
It became evident that the friends in Tehran had given Monsieur Nicolas the address of this servant. As I returned to [my] shop, I received a letter through the Post from [the town of] Miyaneh. It was from the late Iftikharuíl-`Ulama.
He had written that the French Consul who is one of the friends together with his wife had stayed in the Post Office. [Monsieur Nicolas] had taught the faith to the Post Master and held meetings with the [local] friends. Iftikharuíl-`Ulama complained that Aqa Mirza Aqa had not informed him of the proceedings.
I quickly went to the French Consulate and introduced myself. [Monsieur Nicolas] invited me inside and we met. Gradually we became intimate friends and used to meet regularly every few days and conversed about the Cause. Sometimes he would pay me a visit in my house.
At this juncture I took a [personal] initiative and provided him with a copy of Lawh-i `Alam for translation. After completing the French translation, he said: "I will send this to Paris for publication".
Another time we arranged to visit the brown gardens where the Primal Point held prayers under the shadow of the tall trees near the grand pool.
Our intent was to photograph that spot. We hired a carriage. It was spring and [we experienced a] heavy rain.
The gardener took us to a room in the vicinity. We stayed there until the rain stopped. I stood [in that spot] and he took two photographs and then we returned.
Our numerous meetings fuelled popular rumours that the French Consul is a Baha'i.
[Monsieur Nicolas] had purchased Baha'u'llah's writings and books from Tehran, packed them up and brought them all to Tabriz. He neatly kept them in the bookshelf located in the French Consul's formal room.
He hung photographs of Abdu'l-Baha and the Primal Point - the one published in France and had some similarities - on the wall [of the formal room]. They were in full view of all visitors.
Once I told him that it appears from the Maqalih2 that following the martyrdom of the Bab, the Russian Consul arrived and sketched a portrait of the Blessed Body. I asked [Monsieur Nicolas] to investigate through the Consul and see if that portrait had survived.
[Monsieur Nicolas] volunteered to investigate. He went to the Russian Consulate and found two documents related to the Blessed Cause. One was a report about the day of the Bab's martyrdom and the other concerned the martyrdom of three persons: Aqa Mirza Ahmad Khurasani, Mirza Mustafa Kashani and one dervish.
[Monsieur Nicolas] paid six Tumans to someone for translating these reports from Russian to French.
He read them out for me during a meeting. [one report] was about the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of the Bab, that it took too long, the soldiers had not murdered like this before. It was an extensive coverage. It contained information about Aqa Mirza Muhammad Ali Zunuzi, that the Ulama were unwilling to have him killed and had requested him to recant his faith only once and regain his freedom, that Aqa Mirza Muhammad Ali was keen to be executed. It mentioned that [the Bab's] followers continue to fight in Zanjan even though this Sayyid has been executed and it is not clear what they would do once they hear of his execution.
Anyway [Monsieur Nicolas] failed to find the portrait of the Blessed Body.
The Russian Consul told him: "This portrait belonged to someone and he took it with him."
We forgot to enquire about the name and birth place of the [Russian] Consul at that time. It may have been possible to obtain the portrait from his family.
Photograph of Aqa Jan Beig Khamsa'i who commanded the firing squad to martyr the Bab
Without realising that they are his descendants, I was friends with the grand children of Aqa Jan Beig Khamsa'i. One day by chance I visited their house located in close proximity to the Lalih Beig cemetry.
I saw a picture hung on the wall and underneath it was written: "Aqa Jan Beig Khamsa'i."
I asked: "What is your relationship to the person in this photograph?"
They answered: "He is our ancestor [great grand father]"
I tried hard to borrow the photograph in order to make another copy. But they declined. I came to Monsieur Nicolas and told him about the find and the refusal of the family in giving out the picture.
We arranged for [Monsieur Nicolas] to enter that house with the excuse of wanting to rent it. [Monsieur Nicolas] was to take this photo from the house and acted accordingly.
After two days he sent the Vice Consul to visit me, advising that the photograph is ready for pick up. I quickly took delivery of it and had it copied. We then returned the original.
Once Jinab-i Aqa Sayyid Jalal Ibn Sina arrived in Tabriz to teach. This was during the time of Russians [occupation] when Haji Shuja`uíd-Dawlih was the ruler. [The friends] had arranged for him to stay in the outer building of this servant's property. [At this time] I had just returned from Russia.
One day Aqa Sayyid Jalal went to the house of Aqa Mashdi Qurban Ali located in the suburb of Khiyaban [to conduct a "fire side"]. The host had invited Mirza Ali Asqar, the brother of grand Mujtahid Mirza Baqir3 to attend. The guest arrived, listened to new ideas and became furious. He later complained to the Mullahs:
"Can't you see what is happening? They invite me in and publicly claim that the Qa'im has appeared !"
Ulama asked the ruler Shuja`uíd-Dawlih to arrest Aqa Sayyid Jalal. He in turn informed Mirza Ali Ashraf Khan the sheriff. One of his officers arrested Aqa Mashdi Qurban Ali from the shop, then set out towards my house and arrested Aqa Sayyid Jalal.
I was informed and suspected that they may return [once again] to arrest me. I left my shop quickly and visited Monsieur Nicolas, explaining the sequence of events.
He said: "They will not detain Aqa Sayyid Jalal. This is simply not possible. They will [probably] ask him to leave this city. I suspect that they are after you. If they send an officer to arrest you, notify me quickly. Certainly they are going to release Aqa Sayyid Jalal. If not, let me know."
His predictions came true. Evidently as Aqa Sayyid Jalal entered the presence of Mirza Ali Ashraf, he was treated fairly well by his host.
Ashraf told him: "The government advised us to bring you here. It was determined† in accordance with the wishes of the Ulama that you must leave this city within 3 days."
Aqa Sayyid Jalal was released on bail and left the city within 3 days in order to attain the Blessed Presence.
Once Haji Husayn Ali - the newly converted Muslim who was originally born in to an [Christian] Armenian family - wrote a letter to Monsieur Nicolas.
This person had earlier written a polemic against the Cause of God assisted by the Ulama based in Najaf.
He had written: "I have heard of your [vast] knowledge and wisdom and yet regret the fact that despite all of your attributes, you have neglected the righteous Islamic religion and [chosen] to become a Baha'i."
[Nicolas] told me about his rely: "Do not interfere in the affairs of other people. You can not determine religion for others4."
Mulla Ali was a young follower of Haji Karim Khan. Once [Nicolas] told him during a conversation: "In your Iran [if ever] there was one person with a brain, he was Sayyid Bab from Shiraz. You [people] did not recognise his station and chose to oppose and execute him."
The young man tried to argue his point, but [Nicolas] vehemently replied and caused him to fall silent.
On [another] occasion, the late Haji `Abduíl-Mulk who was considered to be one of the city's elder statesmen, sent one of his sons [to Nicolas] saying: "Lend us any Baha'i books you consider appropriate, to read and return."
[Nicolas] had given them Some Answered Questions.
One year during the first year of the Norooz festival, [Nicolas] came to visit my house and convey his best wishes. Half an hour prior to his arrival, Jinab-i Abduli Khan from the malik tribe had brought in Mirza Ibrahim Khan Sani'i Anvarzadeh for teaching purposes.
As Monsieur Nicolas entered, we explained that we are teaching this young man that the coach of mankind for this day and age has appeared.
Monsieur Nicolas said: "Let me speak to him."
He spoke for while. Anvarzadeh declared right there and then. The reason for his conversion was the few words uttered by Monsieur Nicolas.
Riots at Miyandowab5
There had been four months of rioting in Miyandowab. The authorities provoked the masses to revolt [against the Baha'is] in order to bypass an uprising.
All the friends in Maraghih6 were in contact with / complaining to [officials in] Tabriz.
They transferred one [Baha'i] detainee from Miyandowab to Tabriz and held me under chains in Shuja`uíd-Dawlih's jail.
There were two other [Baha'is] who had been accused and imprisoned. I went there [Miyandowab] to mediate. The ruler had ordered one of the [Baha'i prisoners] to be caned.
When he was away, I confronted one of his officers: "What right do you have to assault others like this?". Anyhow we got [physically] entangled.
Upon receiving advice from the authorities in Tabriz, I was arrested and imprisoned in chains. I wrote a letter to Monsieur Nicolas explaining the events ..
Nicolas wrote a letter to the Russian Consul saying: "Haydar Ali is my close friend and a Baha'i. The ruler of Miyandowab has arrested him and transferred him to Tabriz simply because he is a Baha'i."
After three days our party of four riders reached Tabriz.
Shuja`uíd-Dawlih the ruler of Tabriz and the Russian's nominated [politican] angrily confronted me: "Mister, you are a Baha'i. What [problem] do you have with other people ['s religion]?
He ordered that I be transferred to the prison. After three hours the Russian Consul arrive and personally escorted me out of prison and in to the government house. There, after 15 minutes of meeting with Shuja`uíd-Dawlih, the Russian Consul invited me in to a carriage and took me to his Consulate. It was two hours past the mid-night.
[I] stayed the night inside the Consulate. The next day Jinab-i Munir Divan and Aqa Mirza Shoa'ullah Ahmadof came to visit me at around lunch time.
[The Russian Consul] appointed an investigation commission after 15 days. We boarded a carriage and went to Miyandowab in two day. Due to a tip off from his brother, the ruler of Miyandowab had already escaped to Tabriz.
For ten days the government house [in Miyandowab] was locked up. It was re-opened [by the commission]. They conducted investigations for three days and punished some of those responsible for the persecution of the Baha'is.
Non-Baha'is were also under the oppression of the [former] ruler. He had provoked them to make false allegations against the Baha'is. It was all revealed. At the time of our return, Baha'is and non-Baha'is had made peace and held parties for one another.
Anyway during my three days of detention in Miyandowab the [former] ruler - Rafa't u'l Mamalek - had taken 320 Tumans from me. Prior to my transfer he obtained another 50 Tumans from me to cover the cost of the trip [to Tabriz].
He was made to repay the monies in Tabriz. There was a discrepancy in his repayment and 32 Tumans remained unpaid. I did not pursue the matter further.
Meeting with Tumanski
At the time of constitutional riots in Tabriz, I moved to Uksu7 and stayed there for 10 months. After this time a prayer was revealed from the Holy Land for the cessation of hostilities in Azerbayijan. It was carried via Jinab-I Aqa Muhammad Uskui.
Following the arrival of Aqa Muhammad in Tabriz the riots suddenly stopped. About 5,000 Russian troops came to Tabriz to enforce security. On the third day [of the arrival] we returned to Tabriz.
I visited Nicolas. We discussed the Russian intervention and he said:
"They have camped near [the locality] of Aji. Tumanski is also here."
"It would be great to meet Tumanski if possible. We know each other. About 18 years ago following the martyrdom of Haji Muhammad Reza [in Ishqabad] in 1307, Tumanski came from St Petersburg to investigate the Baha'i Faith. There he started to translate the Kitab-i Aqdas to Russian. I was there when he declared his faith in the Blessed Cause."
Nicolas replied: "In two days, all of the senior Russian officers will be the guest of the French Consulate. Join us in the evening and meet up with Tumanski."
Anyway I went there in the afternoon and found many vehicles and carriages parked outside of the Consulate gate. I waited until everyone came out. I went inside and found Tumanski waiting there for me. We embraced, held and greeted each other.
He said: "I dearly wished to go to Ishqabad after the construction of the temple and visit the friends. But I couldn't."
I showed him a sketch of the Ishqabad temple. He asked to keep the sketch and I obliged.
For considerable hours I spoke with Tumanski on various issues and subjects.
He asked about the health of the friends at the time of the constitutional revolution.
I told him about the martyrdom of Aqa Ibrahim, Aqa Asad and Zaynuíl-`Abidin Da`i.
He said: "I hope there are no further confrontations with the friends. If they start to persecute [the Baha'is], let me know."
After that meeting we never met again. Due to some considerations, I decided against going to the Russian Camp in order to see Tumanski.
It is truly amazing. These Orientalists were in contact with one another. From the ranks of so many senior Russian figures, Monsieur Nicolas recognised that Tumanski had links with the Baha'is.
One day in Ishqabad when Tumanski was translating the Kitab-i Aqdas, I personally located an article written by Jinab-I Zayn that was published by Mr Browne - the English Orientalist - on Tumanski's desk.
Mr Browne had sent him a complimentary copy Ö
1. Haji Mirza Haydar Ali Uskuíi: Author of the "History of Faith in Azerbaijan", he was one of the most prominent Baha'is in the North West province of Azerbaijan during the times of `Abduíl-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. He was a prominent photographer and merchant and devoted a considerable time/effort to interview descendants of the early Babi/Baha'is in Azerbaijan and record a detailed history of the faith in that province.
2. Maqalih-i Shakhsi Sayyah attributed to `Abduíl-Baha, refer to http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~bahai/areprint/ab/tnp/tnp.htm
3. Referred to Baha'u'llah as "the Son of Wolf" and recipient of a tablet by the same name
4. The persian expression used by Nicolas is rather rude and insulting:"in gunih fuzuli ha az tu guh khurdan ast" meaning "such instances of interference from you amount to eating shit."
5. Miyandowab, one of the larger towns in Azerbayijan
6. Maraghih: another town in Azerbayijan
7. Usku: the author's birth place and a small locality in Azerbaijan