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An Unpublished Letter From Muhammad Amin To The Ottoman Grand Vizier

posted by eagle on April, 2010 as CIRCASSIA ADIGA

The Naib and the Sadrazam: An Unpublished Letter from Muhammad Amin – Imam Shamil's Messenger to the Circassians – to the Ottoman Grand Vizier

Yahya Khoon

Muhammad (Asiyalo) Amin ibn Hajjio al-Honodi al-Daghestani was born in 1818/1819 in the Avarian village of Honoda in Daghestan.1 In 1829/1830, his father died when he was 11 years old, and afterward he just wandered looking for religious studies as student (telmidh). In his childhood he was taught by Diet-Bek, the judge (qadi) of Honoda, and completed his studies with the well-known Avarian Naqshbandi Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman (Abu Ahmad) al-Sughuri. In 1834/5 he joined Shamil's movement as murid and as time passed he became one of the loyal men of the imam. Shamil made him a naib and Head of Province (mudir) in Little Chechnya before sending him to the Circassians.2 Muhammad Amin, Shamil's third naib,3 was the most significant deputy of the imam in the Northwest Caucasus in the mid 19th century. He filled an important role in Circassian social, religious and political life for more than a decade (1848-1859), particularly among the egalitarian sub-ethnic group the Abdzakh. His main goals, within Shamil’s jihad (holy war) concept, were "…to raise the word of God,"4 to bring all the divided Circassian subethnic groups to join forces "…into one combat body,"5 and, finally, to join their forces in a concerted attack by all the people of the North Caucasus against Russian colonial expansion. 

On 22 May 1854 [24 Sha‘ban 1270] during the Crimean War, Muhammad Amin sent an unpublished letter to the Ottoman Grand Vizier in Istanbul.6 It is written on a 45 x 35 cm piece of foil. The handwriting is in the naib style of writing, which is written lengthwise across the foil without margins. The letter was folded five times lengthwise and four times widthwise. Additionally, the folded foil was in an envelope 23 x 9.3 cm in size. On the side of the envelope was written in Arabic in pencil: This will reach the hand of Dear Sir Sadrazam. The other side was singed with his own signature in red sealing wax. Following are the text of the letter, its translation and some observations.

[May God (may His name is elevated) bring you peace and strengthen you and bring victory and provide you with happiness in both worlds [this world and the next] and with attainment of both aims, Amen]

To the master of Great Eminence and of Complete Grace and of Comprehensive Mercy, the one the entire world refers to, the Sadrazam.

Now, this incompetent man says that we have been waiting in the mountains at the edge of the [Black] Sea for six months since the arrival of the gunpowder [supply], but have seen nothing. We placed the gunpowder at a safe house without dividing it to the people because they found large quantities of gunpowder in the forts that had been abandoned by the Russians. Then, we intended to leave for Sokhum [Kale], but heavy rain and an impassable road compelled us to wait for the spring. In the spring I received an illustrious edict and exalted instruction from Shaykh Shamuyil [Shamil] ordering me to leave with the Abdzakh army for Karaçay and he would move from his side, so that, if possible, we would join forces. Then we left an agent on the seacoast to observe [the movements of Russian garrison], and he found out that the Russians withdrew from the fort of Sokhum [kale] to Ziba [Ziva] by land. 

After our arrival to Abdzakh we once acted in a province the people of which swore allegiance to the Russians and even gave them hostages. We attacked them and accepted their allegiance. We took murtaziqs from them. All that was [done] with your Sublime blessing. Then, we left for Karaçay for the happiest occasion of joining Shamuyil, God (may His name be elevated) willing. This Circassian province and Abazah are unruly, and we encountered in both a great deal of trouble. We killed some of them and hit some and imprisoned certain others, and inflicted exemplary punishments on some more, so that they, by the will of God (may His name be elevated) and with the blessing of your Sublime Power and of Shaykh Jamal al-Din and all the Naqshbandi Shaykhs may God (may His name be elevated) sanctify their secrets, finally became obedient, some voluntarily and others by force. 

Now, if [Sefer Bey] Zanuqua arrives accompanied by the [Ottoman] military heads all those who were forced into obedience intend to blame us for the punishments we had inflicted on them according to the Book of God [Qur’an] (may His name is elevated). At the present they are hiding [their intentions] from us, but God (may His name be elevated) is the first and last, the manifest and hidden and we put our trust in God (may His name is elevated) and He is the best organizer of affairs.

Now we would like to learn the exact news and what would the Sublime [Ottoman] State like us to do, so that we carry it out, and what information should we send to Shaykh Shamuyil, and what situation should we be in, since we have received no instructions from your Sublime side except religious benevolence.

Although we lack in wisdom, still, at night before dawn, if we think, we say to ourselves: if only the Ottoman Sublime State completed the affairs of this mountain by dispatching a force, even a small one, a great victory and a fast conquest could be achieved, even though the road from Anapa to the Iron Gate [Temir (Demir) Kapı in Derbent] is a month's march through the mountains, not by the plane [where it is shorter]. All the lands of the mountains have been filled with armed, brave and experienced warriors since times immemorial, and we could mobilize them all instantly if regular [Ottoman] forces are with us, because Shamuyil is in their midst like the famous paralytic sword and no further words are needed. The other [provinces] which are under the Russians will hurry to obey if they see a part, even a small one, of the Sublime State’s regular forces [nizam]. Then these masses of Circassians will quickly decide this matter God (may His name be elevated) willing to bring the mountain question to an end. Then, when the affairs of the mountains are all resolved and the Russian's road [the Georgian Military Highway] from the Terek is cut off, the Russians will either flee Tiflis [Tbilisi] for their dear lives or remain like a man whose head was cut off and his spirit left him. Then all the mountain fighters will, perhaps accompanied by their children, fall on the Russians in a strong, coordinated attack and will move inside the Russian territory like a snake moving in a man’s belly.

The Russians will thus be confused and will not know what to do since they will need to divert large forces from the Tuna [Danube] to face the mountain people. They will, therefore, accept all the demands of the Great Sultan, the Master of Time and the Light of Eternity, Sultan Abdul Majid Khan son of Sultan Mahmmud Khan may God (may His name be elevated) make his Caliphate eternal and his Sultanate strong, Amen. 

This is the humble evaluation of this meek [?]7 if this easy mission is carried out before the great fight on the Tuna and at Tiflis. We regard it as preferable and better. However, the decision is in your hands, and I obey your orders.

Peace [be upon you]
Muhammad Amin
He who has patience wins
the confessing slave [of God] Muhammad
1245 [1829/30]
24 Sha‘ban 1270
[22 May 1854]

PS: this incompetent man has written to your Excellency in Arabic [only], with a pencil [qarandash] as a proof [of authenticity]. Any letter written to you not in Arabic and not with this [specific] pencil is false, even if it has my ugly stamp on it, since I have heard that, some of the mob had carved an imitation of my stamp. But Your Excellency surely understands that I have written nothing that is not in Arabic. But I am impolite and am asking your wise Excellency’s pardon for my lack of manners.


  1. Muhammad Amin's correspondence with the Ottoman Grand Vizier it's not so obvious which first and foremost points out on his special position which he succeeded to gain on behalf of Shaykh Shamil among the Circassians in the Northwest Caucasus. Probably, the political-military conditions – while Russian defense disposition in the middle divided the Caucasus into two parts – gave the naib (who actually acted with out mudir above that of him compared to other Shamil's deputies both in Daghestan and Chechnya) somewhat free hand from his imam also in foreign affairs. The Ottoman authorities as well as the allied powers (Britain and France), who closely followed the events in Circassia during the Crimean War, were well aware of the popular, energetic,8 and famous naib.9 After all, from the beginning of the war Muhammad Amin "… procured and enlisted a large number of soldiers from Abkhazian and Circassian tribes"10 for the sake of "a joint spring offensive in Circassia".11 The Ottomans seemed to be satisfied, and for his cooperation he received a compliment letter12 and stately clothes with two diamondencrusted medals from Istanbul.13 At least until the writing of this letter Muhammad Amin demonstrated loyalty to the Ottomans. In spite of it, he was made later a Pasha with the rank of Mir-mirân14 under the Sultan service and became known by the Ottomans as "Naib [Emin] Pasha",15 but he continued to obey to Shamil instructions. In the following months the relationship between the sides knew such vicissitudes that even his imam vowed to have nothing more to do with the Ottomans.
  2. This document provides supplementary information on Muhammad Amin recurrent attempts to join his forces in Karaçay16 with Shamil, who was, according to him, in an undesirable situation in the middle like "…famous paralytic sword" [sayfun mashlulun mashhur]. Though several times before and during the Crimean War the naib and his imam intended to join their forces in a concerted attack, none of these plans were carried out. 
  3. One important point of the document concerns the naib's efforts and ways to spread his authority among the Circassians (and other ethnic groups), especially within the unruly local population and among those who gave the Russians an oath of allegiance. From the beginning, Muhammad Amin established an administrative system based on the Shari‘ah (Islamic law), which replaced the customary law (khabze) and neatly erected courts of law (mahkamas) and mosques in every direction. He appointed muftis, qadis, imams, and mukhtars, and these encouraged the people in the performance of their religious duties. All those who were slack in the performance by their duties were reprimanded by these authorities, who collected and organized, when necessary, the war contingent due from each sub-ethnic group and punished all acts of violence and oppression among the people. After all, Muhammad Amin succeeded to bring them under oath by using force, and some were punished by execution, flogging, imprisonment and other educational penalties (ta‘dhir).
  4. Another obvious importance of this letter related to the institution of the armed horsemen, called murtaziqa, within Shamil's imamate. This institution was not limited to Chechnya, as Apollon Ronowskii assumed;17 it had also been founded in Daghestan and even in Circassia. Actually it had started already with his predecessors, but Muhammad Amin had started to recruit murtaziqs within the enlisted forces more intensely and successfully.
  5. This document stresses the naib's Naqshbandi affiliation by attributing his achievements not only to the Grand Vizier Sublime blessing but also to Shaykh Jamal al-Din al-Ghazi al-Ghumuqi – probably his spiritual guide (murshid) – and all of the Naqshbandi-Khalidi Shaykhs as well, who had in fact been omitted in the Ottoman translation version.
  6. It also emphasizes the disappointment and misgiving of Muhammad Amin about the Porte decision for sending Sefer bey Zanuqua, the famous old Circassian Prince to Circassia. "Hence [the naib wrote] all who obeyed unwillingly wants, with the arrival of Zanuqua accompanied with the other [Ottoman] military commanders, to blame us on the exhortations that we held on them according to the Book of God (may His name is elevated)". But After all the Ottoman decision to sent Sefer Bey with the title of Pasha18 and appointed him, according the provisional war council [Meclis-i Muvakkat-ı Harbiye],19 by "investing him with authority as civil and military Governor of all the Circassian provinces situated between the Black Sea and the River Kuban"20 cut off all the naib's hopes and his six years labor were in vain.21
  7. Finally, we know that Muhammad Amin corresponded only in Arabic. Not only this, he chose to write this letter in pencil, warning the Grand Vizier that found some people had succeeded in forging his seal ring. This claim also increases somewhat the possibility of the existence of forged letters signed in his own name within the archival sources.

Muhammad Amin

1 Apollon Ronowskii in Akty Sobrannye Kavkazskoi Arkheograficheskoi Kommissiei (hereafter: AKAK), (Tiflis, Vol. XII, 1904), p.1417 (hereafter: Ronowskii's Diary). According to Shamil, at his birth his father gave him the name Muhammad as well as his mother's name Assii as a nickname. In this way he became known among the people of Daghestan as Muhammad Asiyalo. Shamil, who corresponded with him in Arabic, used address him as "ila Muhammaduna al-amin" [to our loyal Muhammad], probably as a sign of esteem for his loyalty. The people whom he acted amongst misunderstood the imam's letters, which is why the Circassians and the Russians as well, used to add amin [loyal] to his name Muhammad, replacing the nickname Asiyalo which was given to him by his father at birth. 

2 This description is based on the following sources: Ronowskii's Diary, p.1417; Mirza Alexander Kazem-Bek, "Mokhammed Amin", Russkoe Slovo (Vol. VI, 1860), pp.231-237; Nikolai Karlgof, "Magomet-Amin", Kavkazskii kalendar' na 1860 god (Tiflis: 1860), p.78.

3 For Hajj Muhammad's and Sulayman Efendi's activities in the Northwest Caucasus (1842-1846), see AKAK, Vol. X, pp. 415-17, 418-19, 573, 684, document Nos. 384, 385, 526, 634, "Military Operations in the Caucasus in 1845, Shamil's Proclamation to the Circassians, September 1845, Vorontsov to the Tsar, 26 August [7 September], Budberg to Vorontsov, 17 [29] October 1850, No.107 (secret) respectively; Ibid., Vol. XII, p.698, document No.598, Kozlovskii to Bariatinskii, 16 [28] October 1856, No.2982; V. G. Hadziev [Gadzhiev] and Kh. Kh. Ramazanov, eds. Dvizhenie Gortsev Severo-Vostochnogo Kavkaza v 20-50 GG. XIX Veka. Sbornik Dokumentov (Makhachqala: 1959), (hereafter: Dvizhenie), p.445-8, 451, 473-5, 480-1, 483, 519-22, document Nos.233, 235, 247, 254, 256, 285, 287, Commander of Caucasian Line to Neidhardt, 7 [19] February 1844, Chernyshev to Neidhardt, 22 February [6 March] 1844, Neidhardt to Chernyshev, 28 April [10 May] 1844, Richter to Krukovskii, 24 September [6 October] 1844, Krukovskii's memorandum, 13 [25] October 1844, Labyntsev to Vorontsov, 26 July [7 August], Sunja Line commander's Diary, within 22 July [3 August] 1846 respectively; D. Sokolov, "Khadzhi Magomet (Spodvizhnik Shamilia. Istoricheskaia spravka)", Kubanskii Sbornik (Ekaterinodar: Vol. XI, 1905), pp.53-64; G. N. Prozritelev, "Posol'stvo ot
Shamilia k Abadzekham", in A. N. Osmanov, ed. Mukhammad-Amin i Narodno-Osvoboditel'noe Dvizhenie Narodov Severo-Zapadnogo Kavkaza v 40-60 gg. XIX veka (Sbornik Dokumentov i Materialov), (Makhachkala: Iupiter, 1998), pp.48-53; A. Panesh, "Deiatel'nost' Khazhi-Magometa i Suleimana-Ëfendiia na Severo-Zapadnom Kavkaze", in Cherkesiia v XIX veke (Maikop: 1991), pp.92-107.

4 UK, The National Archives (hereafter: NA), F.O. 195/443, "Report of Mehmed Emin, Naib of Sheikh Shamil to the Grand Vizier", 15 August 1854 (Translation). 

5 Ibid.

6 Istanbul, Basbakanlık Osmanlı Arsivi (hereafter: BOA), Đrade Dahiliye [Đ. DH.], 303/19234, 28 Sevval 1270 [24 July 1854].

7 One word illegible in the manuscript.

8 NA, F.O. 195/443, document No.5, Longworth to Clarendon, "Cyclops" off Sudjak Kale, 2 July 1855.

 Ibid., F.O. 195/448, Stevens to Stratford, Trebizond, 24 July 1854, No.50.

10 Masayuki Yama'uchi, "From Ottoman Archives", Central Asian Survey (Vol. 4 [4], 1985), pp.7-8.

11 Ibid.

12 BOA, Sadâret Mektubî Kalemi Nezâret ve Devâir Evraki [A.MKT.NZD.], 96/38, 21 Muharrem 1270 [24 October 1853].

13 For [khanuqua] Khan-Kumuk's (Muhammad Amin messenger to Istanbul) activities, see AKAK, Vol. X, pp.268-269, 641, 694-695, documents Nos.279, 587, 644, Vorontsov to Sharvashidze, September 1853, Kukharenko to Vorontsov, 28 November [10 December] 1853, Serebriakov to Vorontsov, 18 [30] March 1853, Nos. [?], 7450, 46 (secret) respectively.

14 Mir-mirân is a Pasha of the second class, who governs a province. For raising him to rank above, see BOA, Đrade Dahiliye [Đ.DH.], 305/19355, 5 Zilkâde 1270 [30 July 1854]; Kazem-Bek, "Mokhammed Amin", p.238; [Rear-Admiral Sir] Adolphus Slade [Mushaver Pasha], Turkey and the Crimean War: A Narrative of Historical Events (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1867), p.203; Mustafa Budak, "1853-1856 Kırım Savası'nda Kafkas Cephesi", Unpublished Ph.D. thesis (Istanbul Üniversitesi, 1993), p.77.

15 BOA, Đrade Dahiliye [Đ.DH.], 305/19355, 5 Zilkâde 1270 [30 July 1854] 

16 Not Gürcistan [Georgia] as it appears in the Ottoman translation version which some based on that mistranslation. See, for example, Budak, pp.71-72; Candan Badem, "The Ottomans and the Crimean War (1853-1856)", Unpublished Ph.D. thesis (Sabancı University, 2007), pp.177-178.

17 Ronowskii's Diary, p.1474.

18 For raising him to the title above, see BOA, Hariciye Nezâreti Siyasî Kısım [HR. SYS.], 1345/94, 22 Safer 1270 [24 November 1853]; Ibid., Sadâret Divan-ı Hümayun Kalemi [A.DVN.], 94/2, 25 Safer 1270 [27 November 1853].

19 Budak, p.77.

20 NA, F.O. 195/144, Longworth to Clarendon, "Cyclops" off Anapa, 21 June 1855, No.3, see the same in Ibid., F.O. 188/1441, No.8.

21 Ibid., F.O. 195/433, "Report of Mehmed Emin…", 15 August 1854; Karlgof, "Magomet-Amin", p.96.

Tbilisi 20, March, 2010.

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