Read: If Walls Could Speak


Introduction by Ahang Rabbani

      In the ancient times, man recorded his daily observations and history of important events through drawings on the cave walls. In the modern times, one would not expect important history to be written merely on walls, but as it turns out, an eyewitness account of the Babis of Nayriz is just that: A history on the wall.

      During 1850-53, the Babis of Nayriz were engulfed in defending their community against a most brutal and murderous campaign in the course of which many thousands on both sides perished. At the conclusion of those events, a citizen of that city inscribed the details of the occurrences on the inner wall of a popular mosque, the Masjid-i Jami' Saghir[1] (The Smaller Friday Mosque). In the colophon of this important historical document, the author introduces himself as Ibrahim, son of Áqá Siyyid Husayn Nayrízi, and the present translator knows no other biographical information about him.

      M.A. Faizi reports that Shu'lih[2] in the introduction of his collection of poetry, known as Khusraw va Shirin, has written, "... Eventually the government provided support to the local forces and in the same way that is written on the wall of the Masjid-i Jami' Saghir by the hand of the late Siyyid Taqi Khushnivis Nayrízi, and is reflected with some minor differences and errors in the Nasikhu't-Tavvarikh, Siyyid Yahyá was slain..."[3]

      This particular mosque was located in the Bazar quarter of Nayríz and all along had been in the hand of the Muslims waging battles with the Bábís. Therefore, the fact that such a history was recorded and preserved on its wall indicates the deep impressions that this event had made on the consciousness of the people of Nayríz. Although written in a seemingly neutral language, and in a few parts even outwardly critical of Vahid and his followers, it does not fail to convey the depth of admiration and respect for the Bábís that had been evoked in the heart of the writer. Clearly the author, who resided in the quarter whose inhabitants had been extremely hostile to the Bábís and himself an observer, or perhaps a participant in the battles, had developed such admiration towards the besieged that he took the not inconsiderable risk of penning this sympathetic narrative in a public place. In this regard, about the author of this historic account, H.M. Balyuzi has noted, "Although he had to write with circumspection to avoid being denounced, he composed his narrative in such a way that one can, without difficulty, read more of it between the lines. His account bears out the fact that Vahíd was given solemn assurances, that he was received with great esteem and reverence, that those who had pledged their word broke their pledges, that the quarter of Chinar-Sukhtih, which was then a stronghold of the Bábís of Nayríz, and the quarter of Bazar were sacked, that houses were demolished, huge sums of money extorted, and Nayríz was reduced to a state of desolation."[4]

            For many years this singularly important narrative remained unnoticed and protected under a cover of dust and dirt and only in 1940 did it come to notice, when an archaeologist examining historic buildings in Nayriz discovered its existence. The dust and debris was carefully removed from this inscription until finally the actual text became fully visible. This archaeologist, who according to Ruhani was friendly towards the Bahá'ís, provided the Spiritual Assembly of that city with a copy of the inscription.[5] The full text was reproduced in Nayríz-i Mushkbiz and Lam'atu'l-Anvar[6], and while some minor differences exist between them, both sources have been utilized in this translation.[7] In terms of writing style, this document was composed in the customary Qájár mode, which included a generous dosage of abstruse language, excessive ambiguities and many laudatory titles. To the degree possible, these have been retained in the translation so that the reader can have an idea of this style of composition.


The Account of Siyyid Ibrahim

      He is God, the Exalted.

      Of the events of this transient and seditious world and of the occurrences of this faithless plane of existence, one that came to pass at the end of the heavenly reign of Muhammad Shah, the sovereign King of the Qájár and the light of God amongst His dominion, and at the beginning of the reign of the pivot of universe, Nasiri'd-Din Shah, was the appearance of certain beliefs and utterances by Mírzá 'Alí-Muhammad-i Bab, in the year 1263 A.H.[8], in the Daru'l-'Ilm[9] of Shiraz. This led to the manifestation of uprising and mischief in the year 1266 A.H.[10] among the people in the governed nation of Iran, particularly in Zanjan, the province of Mazandaran, and even in 'Iraq and Fárs.

      An effulgence of that blazing and insurgent flame reached the hearts of some inhabitants of this realm and in the whirlwind of events, it destroyed the foundations of many lives and washed away many others in the water of annihilation.

      A single flame of that fire was, Áqá Siyyid Yahyá, who numbered among those enamoured with love and who desired liberty. For sundry reasons, over the years he had associated with the people of this region and had close ties of friendship and camaraderie with many citizens. As such he was able to sow the seeds of revolt in many hearts.

      The above-mentioned Siyyid, having come upon this path [i.e. the Babi Faith] in the Daru'l-'Ilm of Shiraz, had gone to the Daru'l-'Ibad[11] and had lit the fire of sedition raised by Muhammad ibn 'Abdu'llah. A district in that city that admired him had come to follow him in this instance. Consequently, by the orders of the governor of that region, properties and families in that district were destroyed and perished.

      After this incident and being overcome with fear, the Siyyid escaped to Bavanat, on the border of this region. He selected this location as he had many enthralled followers, predisposed and ready for his Faith. Wherever he went, he spoke of his beliefs and wrote many treatises until he arrived at the Shrine of Khájíh Ahmad Ansari[12].

      The honored Hájí Zaynu'l-'Ábidín Khán[13], out of consideration for the monarch and the well-being of his people, did not consider it prudent for the Siyyid to enter [Nayríz], and forbade him from doing so. The Siyyid therefore moved to the village of Istahbanat where he tarried for a while, and many joined him in his belief.

      From there he proceeded to the town of Fasa, where [its governor] Áqá Mírzá Muhammad, a confidant of the monarch, considered the Siyyid as a [potential] cause of upheaval, and through kindness, dislodged him from that town. Therefore, once more he set out for the village of Istahbanat where he paused for a few days. From that base, he was able to rally a number of people in his support and, united in his cause, he immediately decided to proceed to Nayríz.

      Upon arrival he went directly to the Masjid-i Jami' Kabir, in the Chinar-Sukhtih quarter, where his followers had gathered from all corners, preparing to wage battle. As he ascended the pulpit with his ready saber, the congregation numbered nine hundred men armed with guns and swords. He spoke to the assemblage and prepared them for combat, and in that quarter raised the standard of revolt.

      At the time of the arrival of the Siyyid and the conversion and alliance of people, the previously-mentioned honored Hájí Zaynu'l-'Ábidín Khán had gone to the Qurtiyih district. When he was apprised of the situation, he rose in defense and gathered fifteen hundred of the tribal men of Ma'adin and other regions and arrived at his home [in Nayríz], which was a fortified stronghold.

      During the four days prior to the commencement of fighting, many of the nobles and respected inhabitants of this town and the divines of Istahbanat exerted much time and effort to counsel the insurgents, but it was to no avail as their hearts remained unmoved. Therefore the matter came to war and resulted in the separation of the Chinar [Sukhtih] quarter. Many took refuge with the governor and thereby outwardly protected themselves from this inconvenience. As the people's situation came to this, one night, the above-named Siyyid together with one hundred and eighty or perhaps two hundred of his followers managed to reach the fort of Khájíh and make that their stronghold.

      The following day when the Khán was appraised of this exodus, being confident in the number of his men and their support, he sent about five hundred gunmen and cavalry to the vicinity of the fort. And from the fort, the Siyyid sent out his gunmen who killed all the governor's soldiers. Once more, being vain in his influence, the Khán sent forth more of his men who were reduced similarly.

      When the state of affairs had reached this point and the matter of revolt[14] had come to such impasse, the honored Hájí Zaynu'l-'Ábidín Khán, who had ruled this town for fourteen years, and his older[15] brother, 'Alí-Asghar Khán[16], along with all their relatives and men, came with utmost confidence and surrounded the fort. They pitched their camp on the eastern side of the fort, where they passed the first night.

      On the following night, a large multitude of men from the fort suddenly attacked the camp and killed or injured forty of the relatives and the gunmen of the Khán, while many others took to flight. And yet, the subsequent evening saw many more fall victim to the same fate, that is, many were killed or taken hostage while many others were forced to flee. None were left unhindered. The honored 'Alí-Asghar Khán, the older brother of the aforementioned Khán, whose outstanding qualities were described previously and had ruled the region, was slain by being cut into pieces. Together with a few of his servants, the Khán took refuge in his home which he had built strong and was well protected. He passed the next day there and once the dark of the night had fallen, rode with great haste to the fort of the village of Qutriyih.

      In this manner, the Siyyid and his followers established their rule, and through the control of the fort were able to live unhindered. Further to shedding so much blood, he instructed his executioner, a certain Shaykh, to behead twelve more men. Untold fear and utmost trepidation had overcome the hearts of men, to the point that they renounced their worldly goods, wives and children. The descendents of the Prophet, who were the cornerstones of community and the upholders of virtue, for fear of their lives fled to the village of Bábak, where for fifty days the noblemen of that town were able to enjoy their company and profit from their accomplishments. Many were frightened and agitated to such depth that they collapsed and passed away.

      When the illustrious governor of Fars, the Nusratu'd-Dawlih, was appraised of these events and informed that this revolt had exceeded all bounds, he appointed Mihr-'Alí Khán, the Shuja'u'l-Mulk, and Mustafa-Quli Khán Qarihguzlu as commanders of cavalry and soldiers, and together with some other officials, instructed them to hasten to the fort and rectify the matter. The regiments came and camped across the fort. The Khán also joined them from his safe hiding place, armed with needed guns, powder and cannons.[17]

      Confidant in his forces and his own strength, the Siyyid decided on a nightly surprise attack, and laid plans that his men attach and completely destroy the camp from both the direction of the city and the fort. This plan was carried out with much bravery and courage. Like the moth circling the flame, they attacked the hellish fire of cannons and sacrificed all they had. At the conclusion of this first night attack, forty warriors from the fort were found to have lost their lives. In the course of the second night, some others also gave their lives for this matter.

      Since the killing by opposing sides lasted for some time and the battle surged unabated, a plot of deception and perfidy was planed by the army camp. In short, they offered gifts and supplications to the chosen disciples[18] of the Siyyid and presented declarations of submissiveness to the Siyyid himself, which contained promises of allegiance, trust and devotion to his cause. They wrote him, "We are all profoundly devoted to you and consider obedience to you our greatest privilege. Should you decide to emerge from the fort and enter our camp, then rest assured that we would consider the dust beneath your feet as the kohl of our eyes." With such sweet words and colorful expressions, which were conveyed through letters and messengers, they induced and robbed the Siyyid of his deductive faculty and rational thoughts.[19]

      Straightway the Siyyid mounted his horse and, accompanied by a few chosen disciples, arrived at their camp where he was welcomed by all the soldiers, to the sound of the military band playing and the generals greeting him warmly. With utmost majesty, he was received in a special tent and was seated with resplendent glory. From every direction, they offered him compliments and congratulatory expressions. However, when the time had come for him to leave, with a myriad of obstinate and roguish means, the Yuz-bashi [the captain] refrained the Siyyid saying "Orders have just been received from the honored Navvab to detain you and your commanders, which makes your departure impossible." Guards were thereupon placed around his tent. The soldiers then seized the fort and its defenses and killed all the companions of the Siyyid.

      In four days time, in accordance with the instructions of the Prince Nusratu'd-Dawlih, the executioner arrived at the camp of Mustafa-Quli Khán and conveyed the order that Siyyid Yahyá was to be delivered to the honored Zaynu'l-'Ábidín Khán as a ransom for the blood of his brother and some other fallen men. So, by order of the Prince, the Siyyid was delivered into the hand of the Khán and a receipt was obtained. When this occurred, all the soldiers, particularly those that had lost kinsmen, and some others, attacked the Siyyid with sticks, stones, bayonets and guns and killed him forthwith.

      The next day, they buried his remains under the southern[20] wall of the Shrine of Siyyid Jalalu'd-Din 'Abdu'l-llah, known as the Siyyid, in the Bazár quarter.

      This astonishing and bewildering event took place in the month of Rajab of the year 1266 A.H.[21]

      After the capture of the Siyyid and his followers, colonel 'Alí Khán[22] arrived at the camp, leading a regiment of Silakhuri soldiers. Upon arrival, he proceeded directly to the Chinar-Sukhtih quarter, and accompanied by the sound of music, his soldiers plundered that the entire district. They remained in that quarter for twenty days or perhaps a month, and ransacked the whole neighborhood and stole whatever treasures was hidden beneath the earth or within the walls. No one recalls such devastating pillage having occurred ever before! Had they plundered any other major city, they could not have amassed such great wealth and possessions! Some of the streets and neighborhoods associated with the Bázár quarter were also pillaged.[23]

      Beyond these, by the decree of the exalted Prince Nusratu'd-Dawlih, five thousand tumans were exacted from the citizens and given to the Khán and whatever land, orchards, aqueducts, homes and possessions were owned by the residents of the Bázár were confiscated with extreme brutality and through excruciating tortures. Indeed, in this regard, what transpired in the Bázár quarter did not come to pass in the [Chinar-Sukhtih] quarter.

      Verily, such intense fear and fright had overcome this region that no tongue can recount one in a thousand of its dark incidents. What oceans of blood were spilled and how many bodies were reduced to the dust of the wilderness!

      During these conflicts close to one thousand lives were lost on both sides.[24] The account of the ensuing massive pillage remains beyond any imagination, conception or description. If there were any men in the [Chinar-Sukhtih] quarter that were not killed, they had to take flight to other regions and towns.

      This is but a brief account of the events of Nayríz, of Siyyid Yahyá and the followers of His Holiness the Bab. "Such is the bounty of God, which He bestows on whom He will; and God is the Lord of the highest bounty."[25]

      After the passing of these incidents, day by day the sufferings inflicted on the followers of this sect increased in intensity, and by way of retaliation and revenge, the Khán carried out to the fullest extent the decree of the government.

      Gradually, after three years from the inception of this event, animosity was renewed, which led to another strange and wondrous event. That is, one hour after sunrise on the fifth day of Naw-Ruz of 1269 A.H.[26], when Zaynu'l-'Ábidín Khán was in public bath, Karbila'i Muhammad with his three sons and Qasim, the brick layer, who had hidden themselves in that place, emerged and attacked his naked body, grabbing his head and shoulders and stabbing him with knives and razors. They cut off his arms that were as strong as any man's. Even though about fifty of his kinsmen were present in the bath, as the Almighty God would have it, not one of them came to his aid.

      The Khán, wounded with some sixty cuts on his chest and body, was brought from the bath still alive. Late that night, however, he left this plane of suffering. Indeed he was a worthy, wise and distinguished man. He ruled with prudence and was a knowledgeable statesman. There are many signs of his generosity and goodwill evident in this town, including many buildings. His servants put his slayers to death in that very place.

      Written in the year 1270 A.H.[27] by the least of the servants, Ibrahim Nayrízi, son of Áqá Siyyid Husayn.

Notes:

[1] This mosque should not be confused with a larger mosque by the same name in the Chinar-Sukhtih quarter that served as a Babi stronghold.
[2] Shu'lih [the flame] was the sobriquet of Mírzá Muhammad-Ja'far Khán. He was a nephew of the governor of Nayríz and engaged to the daughter of Siyyid Yahya Darabi, surnamed Vahid.
[3] Nayriz Mukhkbiz 91-2.
[4] The Báb 182.
[5] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:306 n.1. The same source indicates that the Bahá'í community was unaware of the existence of this document as none among them was permitted entrance into this mosque, situated in a quarter that was historically antagonistic towards the Bábís and Bahá'ís.
[6] Nayriz Mushkbiz 92-102 and Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:306-18.
[7] Abu'l-Qasim Afnán has brought to my notice that the renowned compiler of historical documents, Dr. Iraj Afshar, has published a picture of the original text in one of his books, but I was unable to locate this source.
[8] 1846.
[9] Lit. the City of Knowledge, a title of Shiraz.
[10] 1849.
[11] Yazd.
[12] A shrine for one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad, located five miles west of Nayríz.
[13] Governor of Nayriz and previously a close friend of Siyyid Yahya Darabi.
[14] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:310 has read "revolt" as "proof of God," which most likely is a misreading.
[15] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:310 has read "older" as "martyred."
[16] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:310 n.1 informs that 'Alí-Asghar Khán was the governor of the surrounding districts.
[17] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:312 n.1 indicates that the governor was in hiding at this village of Qutriyih for these 50 days.
[18] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:313 n.1 states that it was Siyyid 'Abid who traitorously bartered his allegiance in promise of favors and properties.
[19] It appears that in order to appease orthodoxy, the writer has made no mention that, on the back of a Qur'án, the opposing camp penned a promise that Siyyid Yahyá would not be harmed, and sent this sealed assurance to the fort.
[20] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:315 n.1 states that Vahíd was buried under the northeastern wall.
[21] 13 May - 11 June 1850.
[22] Tarikh Zuhuru'l-Haqq 2:418 gives his name as Vali Khán.
[23] Lam'atu'l-Anvar 1:316 n.1 indicates that some of the affluent Bábís, such as Áqá Siyyid Ja'far Yazdí and Hájí Muhammad-Taqi were residence of Bazar quarter.
[24] Hadrat-i Nuqtih Ulá 311 informs that the Nayríz upheaval was for a period of 1 month and 3 days. TZH 3:292 tells that this event lasted 4 months.
[25] Qur'án 62:4
[26] 26 March 1853.
[27] 1853.

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