Wealthy Sarah, and the Other Misadventures of Nazim Pasha
About six or seven ago, I fell into a conversation with the wonderful Mrs. Nuzha Al-Akrawi, one of my late grandmother’s friends. Sadly, Mrs Akrawi has since passed away, but I remember that particular conversation as if it were yesterday. We began to discuss the case of Sara al-zingina (Wealthy Sarah), an Armenian woman who in her youth, managed to beguile the much older Ottoman governor of Baghdad, Nazim Pasha. The story was recorded for posterity by the Iraqi writer, Mr. Khayri Al-Din al-Umari but only after it had already made the rounds as gossip. Mrs Akrawi had actually met Sara and relayed vivid details of her later life when, unkempt and disheveled, the elderly Sara made her way across Baghdad, chasing down her lost fortune.
Sara was a seventeen-year-old beauty when she met the much older Nazim Pasha, then governor in Baghdad (for eleven months in 1910-1911). She had been invited to a party that the Governor had thrown for the foreign community on a riverboat anchored on the Tigris. Being the niece of the Nazim Pasha’s accountant, Sara was immediately introduced to him. From the moment he set eyes on her, Nazim Pasha wanted to marry her. But the more he pressed his suit, the more Sara and her family resisted his blandishments. Of course, there was the age factor (Nazim Pasha was 62), and perhaps also the religious issue. Most of all, Sara had inherited a considerable amount of property from her father, making her a very rich woman, so she was not in a hurry to settle down when there was still so much living to do.
Because of Nazim Pasha’s relentless pursuit, however, Sara’s brothers and mother decided to spirit her away to another city or even a different country. The ruse worked; I’m not sure whether Sara actually left Baghdad or she was sent to the Iraqi countryside to escape the Pasha’s attentions. Whatever the real story, the old Pasha felt rebuffed once too often and eventually gave up all hope of marrying Sara, retiring to his mansion in Baghdad to deliberate on much more substantial issues.
In his case, there were several, and they were all of considerable import. First, as I wrote in an earlier post, Nazim Pasha incurred the enmity of the British consul and merchants by planning to raze down their properties to enlarge Rasheed Street. Second, and even more worrisome to the British, was Nazim Pasha’s zeal in reforming the Sixth Army, which was stationed in Baghdad. No expense was to be spared in this attempt to turn the ramshackle army into a fighting force. The British Consul’s spies fed him alarming reports of huge guns being brought into revitalize Ottoman defenses, and the interminable training of troops taking place night and day. The British were worried because the more thoughtful already knew that heavy German influence on the Ottomans both in Istanbul and in the provinces were provoking anti-British sentiments. Five years away from the First World War, there must have been already some uneasy foreboding in the air. Finally, Nazim Pasha embarked on furious campaigns against the Iraqi tribes which created a lot of dissension in Baghdad, particularly since he attempted to defeat the tribes in one fell swoop, strongly testing his unprepared troops.
Nazim Pasha was recalled to Istanbul, undoubtedly because of British complaints (the Ottoman Sultan still heeded the British, even though the Germans were becoming the preponderant force at court). Eventually he became Minister of War, only to be shot dead at the door of his Ministry in 1913 by a rival Turkish group. And what became of Sara? The story is that she confined her father’s fortune to a disreputable lawyer and he spent it all.