Sources in Translation: A Chechen Immigrant's Petition to the Ottoman State (1870)

The following translation is based on one of two petitions or arzuhals written by a Chechen notable named Dzhantemir, one of thousands of refugees or muhacirs (pronounced muhajir) from the North Caucasus settled during the 1860s around Ras al-Ayn in the Ottoman Province of Diyarbekir. The letter below addressed to the Office of the Grand Vizier, as well as a similar letter addressed to the Ministry of the Interior, are both held at the Ottoman archives in Istanbul within the collections of the Muhacirin Commission, a governing body charged with orchestrating the settlement of Muslim muhacirs throughout the empire during the decades following the Crimean War (1854-56).

The muhacirs of Ras al-Ayn settled in the Ottoman Empire after the fall of Imam Shamil’s Imamate and resistance to the Russian military in 1859, which was followed by a subsequent rebellion and expulsion, resulting in the large scale migration of Chechens to the Ottoman Empire in 1865. The Russian conquest of the Caucasus entailed the ethnic cleansing of many Muslim communities and large scale migration of groups such as Circassians and Chechens to the Ottoman Empire, where they obtained Ottoman nationality. Over 40,000 such Chechen muhacirs settled in the Ottoman Empire during the 1860s.

Muhacirs and their movements were simultaneously the subjects of Russian and Ottoman imperial projects. As Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky demonstrates, Russian diplomats negotiated with the Ottoman Empire over resettlement locations for muhacirs, seeking to place groups such as Chechens far from their original homelands if possible. Back in the Caucasus, their land was distributed to Christian settlers and Cossack troops. Meanwhile, Ras al-Ayn was also targeted as an area for expansion of settlement by the Ottoman government due to its location in a sparsely populated region far from major urban centers of the period where Ottoman authority was more limited. Likewise, Chechen muhacirs petitioned the Ottoman government to be settled in regions like Ras al-Ayn where there was available agricultural land. But whereas they sought to be resettled in the same location as a complete group, the Ottoman government preferred to break up different refugee groups and settle them in different regions of the empire.

As in other such regions in the empire at the time, muhacirs faced an arduous journey and period of adjustment during which many perished. In addition to those who died, many others fled their original areas of settlement, petitioned for resettlement, or in some cases tried to return to the Russian Empire at a later date.

Click to jump to the short bibliography of further reading located below.

An Ottoman map of new settlement areas around Ras al-Ayn (Resülayn).
Source: BOA, İ-DH 546/38018, No. 1.

Translation Notes

I have not located any information about the author, who identifies himself only by the name Dzhantemir and his position of leadership within the Chechen community of Ras al-Ayn. He also states that he was a cleric in Dagestan prior to the exodus of the North Caucasus refugees. The Muhacirin Commission usually identified literate notables to serve as local interlocutors in new settlements. In keeping with the Islamic scholarly tradition of the North Caucasus, Dzhantemir writes in Arabic as opposed to Ottoman Turkish. His name is rendered in Arabic as جان تمر. I've used a common Latinized form.

In his arzuhal, Dzhantemir seeks the intercession of the Ottoman government in a dispute between the Chechen notables of Ras al-Ayn and local officials that has resulted in his imprisonment and exile in the town of Eğin hundreds of kilometers to the north of Ras al-Ayn. In the process he reveals many details about the experience of Chechen settlement in Ras al-Ayn. His letter, replete with references to verses of the Qur'an, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, history, and poetry, both underscores his authority as an Islamic scholar and appeals to an Ottoman conception of justice as Muslim rulers. 

I have annotated the translation of Dzhantemir’s arzuhal below with footnotes for points of clarification, context, and  ambiguity. The footnotes are hyperlinked so that readers can jump back and forth between the text and the notes. The annotation is also intended to make the text more legible for students using this text in an undergraduate classroom. Basic context on people and places mentioned in the text is provided through hyperlinks to Wikipedia and other third-party sites. Note that while the original language of the document is Arabic, I have transliterated administrative terms in Turkish. I have also divided the text into paragraphs and sections for ease of reading.

After initially completing this translation, I sent it to Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky, a leading scholar in the study of migration between the Caucasus and the Ottoman Empire. He indicated that he had a forthcoming translation with Khalid Obeid of Dzhantemir's other similar aforementioned petition in the Russian-Arab Worlds sourcebook. His translation helped clarify a few points in the text. I have updated the translation below and provided more context and comments based on our email correspondence and his dissertation published in 2018. Hamed-Troyansky's doctoral dissertation includes analysis of Dzhantemir's petition on pages 299-302.

- Chris Gratien
26 July 2020

Scanned copy of Dzhantemir's arzuhal to the Office of the Sadrazam
Source: BOA, DH-MHC 1/40, no. 3.

Translation of Dzhantemir’s Arzuhal to the Office of the Grand Vizier

We emigrated for God Almighty from Dagestan, and when we arrived in this Islamic territory, the weapons of all of the muhacirs were confiscated in accordance with the laws of the Devlet-i Aliyye (the Ottoman state), to the chagrin of some of them. After we reached the Ras al-Ayn region, the weapons were brought there, placed in a warehouse, and kept there. 

In the month of Jumada al-Ula of this year 1286 (August 1869), all the muhacirs from the villages came to me in the town of Ras al-Ayn and begged me to ask the governor (vali) Ismail Pasha to give the weapons back to their owners. So I went to the governor in Diyarbekir and asked him to return them to them. He gave me a letter ordering that they be given back. 

I returned pleased and gave the letter to Yakub Bey, the Kaymakam of Ras al-Ayn. He gave the weapons of most of the muhacirs back to them. While 833 weapons still remained [in the warehouse], Yakub Bey wrote a mazbata (report) to the governor stating that all the weapons had been given back to their owners. He ordered that I and the five members of the meclis (local council) stamp the mazbata with our seals.1 We would not, because the owners [of the remaining weapons] were still present and asking to have them back. Yakub Bey got angry with us and expelled us from the meclis in an excessively mocking manner. And thus began the dispute between him and the muhacirs

They wrote a report to the governor complaining about him and demonstrating his misdeeds. We gave that report to the governor. But he got angry at us and imprisoned me along with Captain of the Gendarmerie Saadullah Bey, Abdulkadir Efendi, meclis member Hadis Bey, meclis member Chechen Dzhantemir, and Karabulak Dzhantemir. Then he sent me to this town of Eğin and sent my family here as well.

The dispute with Yakub Bey over the weapons had been the reason for my imprisonment. As for why they sent me to Eğin:

All of the muhacirs living in the Ras al-Ayn region come from two tribes. One of them is Chechen and the other is Karabulak.2 Yours truly is a member of the Chechen tribe. In the town, there was a Chechen girl known for her beauty and grace. She has no father or brother, only a mother. My son was interested in her and she was interested in him, too. Her mother wanted to marry her to him. 

The Kaymakam3 Yakub Bey was absolutely in love with the [same] girl. He asked her mother for her hand and intended to marry her. The girl and her mother declined, and so he meant to marry her by force. The girl and her mother fled the town by night to another village where their relatives live, fearing Yakub Bey, since all the muhacirs know how he is. 

Yakub Bey blamed me, thinking I had told them to refuse the marriage and flee. He became extremely angry with me, but he could not find a reason to imprison me or rebuke me. And anyway, I had nothing to do with it, as my son had died shortly before Yakub Bey’s proposal.

Meanwhile, there was a prominent Karabulak man named Shukhl4 who had a feud with me. The previous Kaymakam Miralay Ahmed Bey, who was removed from Ras al-Ayn and now lives in that blessed city of Istanbul, knows this well. That man Shukhl made an agreement with Yakub Bey on account of his feud with me, and he chose a girl from his tribe to marry to Yakub Bey. The two of them were looking for a reason to rebuke and punish me. So when the governor imprisoned us, Yakub Bey and Shukhl said that I was stirring up trouble among the muhacirs and did not want them to live in Ras al-Ayn, even though I myself had built three houses, two shops, a school, and a mosque big enough for everyone in the town. If I wanted to start trouble among the muhacirs or for them to not be able to live in Ras al-Ayn, why would I waste my money like that, being that I am not exactly a wealthy man? 

The governor did not look into my situation, nor did he misconstrue anything I said. Rather, those two lying slanderers Yakub Bey and Shukhl were able to fabricate and twist my words because the governor is a believer, and as the Prophet said, blessings and peace be upon him:

"The believer is generous and gullible and the disbeliever is cunning and miserly."5

I have served the Muslims in the lands of Dagestan as judge and mufti for five years in the time of Sheikh Shamil and for six years in the time of Muscovy.6 Then in Ras al-Ayn I continued [in this capacity] out of devotion to God but not as an official judge and mufti from the time we arrived until I was imprisoned. None of the governors or rulers got mad at me. In fact, every one of them gave me a gift. This governor only imprisoned me because he believed what those two slanderers said. He made a mistake, just as even the prophets were not devoid of error. As God said in his guidance to the Prophet away from error:

“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate… [lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.]”7

[The governor's] mistake occurred prior to the judgment of Almighty God, and God forgave him, just as he forgave the mistakes of the Prophet David, peace be upon him. And if this governor had commanded me to do whatever he may wish from me besides imprisonment, then I would obey his order. For how could I not obey the governor when I am a powerless man in his clutches and when God commanded us to obey those like him saying: 

“O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.”8 

Yet he did not order me to do anything or say a word to me but rather threw me into a pit of woe, even though my woes besides this particular one caused by the governor have been many.

One of them is that I left everything behind (see note)9 to carry out the prophetic hijra.10 Another is that I became separated from relatives and loved ones due to that hijra. Yet another is that fifty seven of my brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews have died in Ras al-Ayn, leaving the women widowed and the children orphaned, and now they cry for me, too. Another is that in Ras al-Ayn three of my sons and two of my daughters have died, the oldest having been a man of great learning. The extinguishing of the light of his knowledge is a calamity on top of the calamity [of his death]. 

"It is no wonder that this world has tested us so
Even the prophets have tasted its wrath
Oh, how the saints have drunk of its sorrow
Even those who worked miracles were seldom a match"11

But this particular calamity caused by the governor weighs heavier on my wretched soul than all of those aforementioned calamities, because it resulted from the fabrications of slanderers and the lies of liars without so much as a grain of blame or fault on my part. And by the God who created us, if I were at fault in any way for this imprisonment, I would admit it and ask for your forgiveness. 

Is it possible under the laws of the Devlet-i Aliyye to torment a Muslim soul on the basis of a liar’s deceit? No, not at all, and thank God for that. If the governor realized the reality of what occurred, he would not punish me but rather punish the lying slanderer [who put me here] because that slanderer is the aid of the corrupt and the corrupter of the good. It is the governor’s duty to punish him. However, he punished me instead because he did not know the reality of the situation. Indeed, [as history shows]:

Harun al-Rashid punished Yahya [ibn Khalid ibn Barmak] inside the prison for betrayals by the Barmakids, not by him, when he was appointed by the Caliph to protect the provinces. For that Caliph Harun al-Rashid thought that the betrayal by the Barmakids was Yahya’s betrayal, though it was not.12

Likewise, this governor thought that those false statements and baseless allegations by those two lying slanderers and their agents were true, even though they were the most outlandish of lies, and they have agents who are liars like them and obey them no matter what.

Meanwhile, part of my family and everything I own in terms of buildings, furniture, books that I bought in Dagestan for a total of 8,000 kuruş, animals, and the like remain in Ras al-Ayn with the permission of Tevfik Efendi, Yakub Bey’s deputy. Tevfik Efendi told my family when he sent them here “do not sell or bring any of your possessions, because you’ll be coming back to Ras al-Ayn after a month or two, and so there is no need to sell a thing.” Some of my family remained in Ras al-Ayn with those items, believing what Tevfik Efendi said. 

Yet I have lived in this town of Eğin with the rest of my family for six and a half months, and I still have not received permission from the governor to return or a response to the contrary. I do not have enough money left to last more than two months, and if the good people of this town did not take pity on me, I would have nothing left at all. The reason for my high expenditures is that items such as bread, firewood, charcoal, and the like are extremely expensive in this town. The inhabitants of this town have no cultivation, agriculture, vegetation, or even land, save stone.13 None of them have but one trade and every one of them is occupied in that trade. And I have no trade from among those by which I could earn a living here. How can I reside and live in this little town with the situation such as it is? 

I ask in the name of the one who bestowed on you many comforts to lift from me this cruelty imposed without my having committed any crime. I ask in the name of the one who saved Job from his misery that you lift from me this misery foisted upon me without any fault on my part. I ask in the name of the one who returned Joseph to Jacob, peace be upon them both, that you return me to my poor relatives back in Ras al-Ayn.14 For if you are generous to us in this matter then we will have found refuge from perdition and despair, whereas if you do not, we are doomed here in this town. So may God make your heart generous by the sanctity of Mecca and Medina, and may he prolong the days of your state by the sanctity of the Prophet and his companions.15 Amen.

Written on the 16th of Dhu al-Qa'dah in the Year 1286 (17 February 1870)

Signed: Your humble servant, the earth beneath your feet, Dzhantemir, head of the muhacirs living in Ras al-Ayn (Dzhantemir's seal is pictured at right)


1 The local meclis served as the interface between local leaders and centrally-appointed authorities during the late Ottoman period. Dzhantemir's seal is pictured above.

2 Chechen and Karabulak are both ethnonyms associated with Nakh peoples of the North Caucasus. Such ethnonyms can overlap or be applied imprecisely within the historical record. In some cases, different sources refer to different groups as sub-groups of one another. In the case of Chechen, the label remains in use as a means of self-identification today, whereas the Karabulak community was largely destroyed during the Russian conquest. For more see, Anchabadze, George. The Vainakhs: The Chechen and Ingush. Tbilisi: Caucasian House, 2009, pp. 29-30; Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. London: Routledge, 2005 via Wikipedia. Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky notes that the Karabulak were the third largest Vainakh tribe in the North Caucasus after the Chechen and Ingush. They were particularly targeted for expulsion by the Russian military because they were seen as politically rebellious. By 1865, over 6000 Karabulak had left for the Ottoman Empire and were banned from returning by subsequent orders. Hamed-Troyansky, Vladimir. "Imperial Refuge: Resettlement of Muslims from Russia in the Ottoman Empire, 1860-1914." Dissertation, 2018, pg. 410. For discussion of the early experience of Chechen refugee settlement in Ras al-Ayn, see Dolbee, Samuel. "The Locust and the Starling: People, Insects, and Disease in the Late Ottoman Jazira and After, 1860-1940." Dissertation, 2017, pp. 127-37.

3 The title of kaymakam refers to the governor of a district within a larger Ottoman province.

4 I could not verify the correct transliteration of this name, which appears in Arabic as شوخل.

5 Source of this translation is The Translation of the Meaning of Jami Tirmidhi via Facebook post. The variation of this hadith cited by Dzhantemir is المؤمن غرّ كريم والمنافق خب لئيم. The implication is that a true believer has an open heart and may thus be misled by no fault of their own but a wicked person with intent to deceive.

6 A qadi or Islamic judge presides at a local sharia court. A mufti issues legal opinions based in Islamic law. Muscovy or مسقوف is his way of referring to Russian rule.

7 Dzhantemir only cites the first half of this verse from the Qur'an trailing off with "etc.," suggesting he expects the reader to fill in the blanks. Translation is Sahih International version of verse 6 of "The Rooms - Al-Hujurat" (49:6).

8 Translation is Sahih International version of verse 59 of "The Women - An-Nisa" (4:59).

9 Here I have simply translated "تركت الدور والأوطان وجميع المماليك" as "I left everything behind." I was unsure of the more precise meaning of the sentence due to the final word مماليك. The phrase appears in both letters in the same fashion. See the following snippets:
Version 1:
Version 2:
The reader may note the word المماليك, the plural of mamluk meaning "slave." So a very literal translation might be "my homes, my lands, and all my slaves." However, one might also expect to see here ممالك, the plural of mamlaka meaning "country," given the invocation of الدور (homes) and الأوطان (homelands). Slavery was widely practiced in the 19th century Caucasus. But in fact, some muhacirs brought enslaved people to the Ottoman Empire as part of their households. Dzhantemir's social standing seems significant enough for him to have held slaves, which is what he seems to indicate with the spelling of مماليك, but presumably they could travel with him to the Ottoman Empire as the rest of his apparently large household did. Therefore, I have not yet been able to determine if he did not in fact simply misspell ممالك. Alternatively, جميع المماليك could imply "all my possessions" which may or may not include slaves. For more on enslavement among the Ottoman muhacir population, see Karamursel, Ceyda. 2017. "Transplanted Slavery, Contested Freedom, and Vernacularization of Rights in the Reform Era Ottoman Empire". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 59, no. 3: 690-714. In correspondence, Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky states that he too was uncertain about this sentence but considers "I left my house, my homeland, and my country," i.e. interpreting مماليك as ممالك, as the more likely interpretation. "Perhaps, he meant his Chechen areas in Daghestan as his awtān and the Caucasus more broadly as his memālik. I could imagine such a worldview from someone who had occupied a prominent position in the Imamate." He likewise notes that while slavery was practiced throughout the North Caucasus, "it was much more common in western Circassia, Abkhazia, and Kabarda than in Chechnya."

10 Hijra here refers to the Prophet Muhammad's journey with his followers from Mecca to Yathrib (subsequently Medina), which marks the beginning of the Islamic hijri calendar, but hijra or hicret in Turkish also referred to emigration in general during the 19th century. Muhacirs sometimes depicted their emigration to the Ottoman Empire as analogous to the hijra of the Prophet and his companions, likewise known as the muhajirun.

11 I could not find the origin of these lines of poetry.

12 Dzhantemir indicates that he is quoting in this paragraph, but I do not know the origin of the lines. However, he is clearly gesturing to the history of the Abbasid Caliphs and their Grand Viziers the Barmakids in addressing the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire.

13 This claim seems to contain some hyperbole, as Eğin (modern-day Kemaliye) supported a fairly large population roughly split between Muslims and Armenian Christians. However, its rugged mountain landscape would have contrasted with the open lowlands around the villages of Ras al-Ayn.

14 These references to the Biblical/Quranic figures Job, Joseph, and Jacob (Ayub, Yusuf, and Ya'qub respectively) strike parallels between important stories of the Islamic canon and Dzhantemir's own predicament.

15 Here Dzhantemir invokes the Ottomans' longstanding claims to being the protectors of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, a source of Islamic political legitimacy for many states across the centuries.

Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.


Cuthell, David. "The Muhacirin Komisyonu: An Agent in the Transformation of Ottoman Anatolia 1860-1866." Dissertation, 2005.

Dolbee, Samuel. "The Locust and the Starling: People, Insects, and Disease in the Late Ottoman Jazira and After, 1860-1940." Dissertation, 2017.

Fratantuono, Ella. "Migration Administration in the Making of the Late Ottoman Empire." Dissertation, 2016.

________. 2019. "Producing Ottomans: Internal Colonization and Social Engineering in Ottoman Immigrant Settlement". Journal of Genocide Research. 21, no. 1: 1-24.

Gould, Rebecca Ruth. Writers and Rebels The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

Hamed-Troyansky, Vladimir. 2017. "Circassian Refugees and the Making of Amman, 1878–1914". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 49, no. 4: 605-623.

________. "Imperial Refuge: Resettlement of Muslims from Russia in the Ottoman Empire, 1860-1914." Dissertation, 2018.

Sanders, Thomas, Ernest Tucker, and Gary M. Hamburg. Russian-Muslim Confrontation in the Caucasus: Alternative Visions of the Conflict between Imam Shamil and the Russians, 1830-1859. London: Routledge, 2010.

Saydam, Abdullah. Kırım ve Kafkas Göçleri (1856-1876). Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1997.

Sunderland, Willard. Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016.

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