Blogs > Cliopatria > From Daghestan to Baghdad In Search of the Arab Horse

May 24, 2004 11:08 am


From Daghestan to Baghdad In Search of the Arab Horse



Among the old, established families of Baghdad in the early twentieth century were several from the Black Sea or northern Caucasus region. They were either Georgians, whose ancestors had arrived with the “Mamluks” in the middle of the eighteenth century and then proceeded to govern the city for over one hundred years, or Muslim peoples who had trekked from Daghestan, Chechnya and Abkhazia in the 1860’s to settle in the larger domains of the Ottoman Empire. Baghdad attracted them all. Among the celebrated new settlers in the city was General Muhammad Fadhil Pasha Al-Daghestani. A military man from Daghestan (in the northern Caucasus), General Al-Daghestani was a graduate of the Russian Military Academy in St. Petersburg and an accomplished military officer; later on, he served in the cavalry regiment of the Russian Imperial army. As a result of events that will be described below, he eventually crossed over to the Ottoman army and served in many military campaigns in Russia, the Balkans, and in Iraq.

In the middle part of the nineteenth century, a large anti-Russian insurrection fomented by Shamil, the Muslim leader, came to an end. Shamil was a military commander but also a deeply spiritual man. In the tradition of many Muslim leaders of the northern Caucasus, he became the shaykh of what came to be known as the muridun, the followers of the Naqshbandi sufi (Islamic mystic) brotherhood. The muridun were scholar-warriors who believed in the Islamic shari’ah (law), and used it to rally both the mountaineers and villagers of the northern Caucasus against the Russian Empire. The defeat of shaykh Shamil in 1859 led to the widespread emigration of thousands of Daghestanis, Circassians and Chechen to the Ottoman Empire, then the symbol of the Muslim Caliphate. Among them were General Al-Daghestani and his large family.

Al-Daghestani became an aide to the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, who nonetheless forced him to disavow his lifelong friendship with Ghazi Muhammad Pasha, one of shaykh Shamil’s sons.The latter was thought to have been implicated in a plot against the Sultan in complicity with a number of other Daghestani officers then living in Ottoman Turkey. General Daghestani was never to see his friend (and, incidentally, his brother-in-law) Ghazi Muhammad Pasha again; the latter was banished to Madina, in the Hijaz, and soon died there. Meanwhile, because of the Sultan's suspicions that General Al-Daghestani may have known of the plot, he was immediately appointed commander of the Ottoman Sixth Army, stationed in Baghdad, which at the time was considered a dumping ground for exiled Ottoman officials.

Al-Daghestani’s vision was twofold: to live the remainder of his years in a Muslim country, and at the same time, to continue his search for the purebred Arab horse. Iraq suited both these purposes very well. Long the chief market for pure-bred stallions and mares emanating from central and northern Arabia, Baghdad was also a city of a hundred mosques, and the storehouse of Islamic law and tradition. An Iraqi historian, Abbas al-Azzawi, notes that not only did General Al-Daghestani set up a stable for his Arab horses, but he also established a menagerie for several wild animals, among which were a couple of lions and tigers.

General Al-Daghestani died in 1916, battling the British army at Kut in the mid-Euphrates region, during the war to occupy Iraq. His funeral was attended by many dignitaries, from the deputy Wali (governor) of Baghdad to the new commander of the Ottoman Sixth Army to the several dozen officers and conscripted men who had served with him on military campaigns. He was commemorated in verse by two of Iraq’s finest poets, Abdul-Wahhab Al-Na’ib and Jamil Sidqi Al-Zahawi. A further blog entry will retrace one of his most pivotal campaigns, that against the leader of the Muntafiq tribe of southern Iraq, and the fascinating by-results of this military encounter.

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Reem Baligh - 2/26/2006

Thank you for this entry...it is interesting to know Mohammed Fadhil Pasha's interest in purebred horses. I would like to inquire about the sources you used for this information as I am eager to find out more about him.


Hala Fattah - 5/18/2004

Thanks, Diala. You're a peach!


diala aljabri - 5/18/2004

this, and all the other entries in the blog are the most satisfying indepth recollection of Arab and Iraqi perspectives to be read in a long time...this is the real world, the real roots of what so many write about with such oblivion and so superficially today...the roots of Iraq are shared throughout the Arab world...they have been obscured only partly by current events, but Hala's tracing of life speaks for all of us and evokes the nostalgia of a rediscovered only partially lost parentage and a beseiged Arab identity...that remains...thank you

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