Double-headed eagle and Arab tughra: the story of Abdulaziz Davletshin’s life

29 March 2019

The year 1861 was a turning point for the Muslim community of the Russian Federation. On the 20th of June in the very 1861 Abdulaziz Davletshin was born. It was he who managed to combine following the spiritual mission and dedication to the government.


Abdulaziz Davletshin graduated from Pavlovsk Military School, Nicholas General Staff Academy, Officer Courses at the Asian Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He served in the Caucasus and Turkestan Military Districts, in the General Staff Headquarters. The Russian military orientalist, who was honoured with the rank of Major General in 1913, spoke Arabic and Turkish fluently. Besides, he was the owner of the Third Class “Gold Star” medal, which he was awarded by Emir of the Emirate of Bukhara, Said Abd al-Ahad Khan, and of the First Class Order of Saint Stanislaus.


In 1891 a Consulate was opened in Jeddah, in the centre of Hejaz (the territory in the West of the Arabian Peninsula which includes sacred to Muslims Mecca and Medina). It became a milestone in the life and career of Davletshin.

1898 was a kind of a starting point for Abdulaziz when he was seconded to Hejaz. His official objective was designated as pilgrimage. In reality, simultaneously with that duty, the officer was to figure it out, during his stay in the territory of modern Saudi Arabia, what was actually going on in that region, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire at that moment. Apart from the Russian Empire, England and France were also interested in it. One should mention the fact that before Davletshin’s pilgrimage, Russian Muslims had had enough problems in Hejaz. They began from the moment of their departure from the territory of the Russian Empire. Hajjis had to pass Istanbul. At the periods of particularly acute epidemiological threats pilgrims were not issued their foreign passports at all.


Besides those problems with documents, Russian Muslims had some other troubles: while their stay in the territory of the Ottoman Empire they were without any protection. One should also add to it environmental and climatic conditions, water and nutrition problems, lack of the vaccination system and pilgrims’ age (they were mostly elder people with poor physical health).

The question of the travel ban to the Arab East was raised many times. It was connected with two reasons: money outflow from the Russian Empire and the necessity of the Hajjis’ oath to the Ottoman Khalif. In addition to pilgrimage, Davletshin was to find it out how badly the local forces, which practised the ideas of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism at that time, could ideologically work over pilgrims throughout their entire route.


In that regard, that trip to the Arabian Peninsula was so important not only for the Muslim part of the Russian Empire which constituted 11% of the state population, but also for the leadership. The report, given by Abdulaziz Davletshin when he returned home, was a starting point for further pilgrimage of Russian Muslims to sacred areas. In that document he reflected uneasy relations between Turks and local tribes (Bedouins). They considered Turks as occupants and strived for their independence.


The report enhanced the orientalist’s status by increasing his value for the state and society on the whole. The discussion of that report became an important historic event for all the Muslims in the Russian Empire. The result of the trip was formulation and introduction of “Temporary Rules on Muslim pilgrimages” which almost equalized the rights of Hajjis to Mecca and Christians-pilgrims to Jerusalem.


Besides, Davletshin was one of the most prominent secular figures of the Muslim Community in Saint Petersburg of the 20th century - a permanent Chairman of the Committee for the construction of the Saint Petersburg Mosque. He also held the position of the Vice-Chairman, later Chairman of the Islamic Charitable Society. His father, Abdullah, built the main mosque in the Urals and Abdulaziz Davletshin’s merit, in his turn, was the appearance of the main mosque of the entire Russian Empire. When he had got the permission of the leadership to collect funds throughout Russia and construct the Saint Petersburg Mosque, he asked Emir of the Emirate of Bukhara, Said Abd al-Ahad Khan, for help. On the 3rd of July in 1907 Nicolay II let Abd al-Ahad Khan acquire land for the construction of the mosque.


Knowing the fact that Russia was a multi-national and multi-confessional country, Davletshin took into account the diversity of nationalities and religions among the population of the Empire. Having visited Hejaz in 1898, he not only fulfilled his service mission but also his spiritual duty.


His views were listened to; he was not a foe among friends. Before his trip to Hejaz the number of pilgrims was about 1500-3000, then after the discussion of the report their number dramatically increased. Russia has never considered Muslims as enemies; they have been the part of the Russian culture and the Russian civilization. Davletshin stated that Islam was the part of the Russian civilization. The proof of this was the fact that Muslim officers played a great role in the Russian Army and were highly respected. Along with the double-headed eagle there existed the tughra with the Arabic script which was used as a calligraphic symbol on official documents instead of the eagle within the communication of the Empire and Muslim states.


Ilmira Gafiyatullina