WW1 Ottoman Turkish carving. Can anyone help with translation?

Atlantia

Member
English - Britain
Good afternoon Colleagues,

Below is part of the lid of a carved cigarette case that seems to have been carved by a prisoner of war in WW1.
It is particularly interesting as it has an inscription and is surrounded by what seem to be thistles.
Unfortunately I cannot read Turkish, so cannot understand this little message from history.
Could anyone help please? Even a part translation would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks and a happy new year to you all.

Turkish POW carved Cigarette box inscription.jpg
 
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  • drowsykush

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    It must be Ottoman Turkish, its alphabet is different from today's Turkish. Someone on the forum who knows how to read Ottoman Turkish can help.
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Thank you for looking, I've changed the title to add Ottoman, so hopefully that might hep attract those who can help.
    Thanks again.
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    I'm not sure if this is going to be of any help, but now that I have the item with me, I've taken a better picture.
    Looks like a date at the top, 133-5?
    WW1Turkish POW.JPG
     

    drowsykush

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    I think the date is ١٢٣٥ (1235).

    As per Hijri calendar, the year 1235 corresponds to the year 1820 in the Gregorian calendar.

    The photo is clearer now, but the letters are still confusing.
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Hi Drowsykush,

    Thanks again for your help.
    It does look like ١٢٣٥ (1235) but the identified examples of these are from the first world war. If you look at the attached, there is a tiny central point that I think does make it ١٣٣٥ (1335) which fits in the range of the war ( I think it makes it 1916/17 doesn't it?).

    WW1Turkish POWb.jpg

    I did wonder if the design was a copy of an Ottoman award or military badge, but I'm drawing a blank in my research.
    WW1Turkish POW full.jpg


    The foliage looks like thistles, which is certainly another source of confusion for me.
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Hi Drowsykush,

    Thanks again. That box in the IWM is one of the nicest and they have a few.
    Some are very plain and simple, mine is a reasonable one, slightly above average I'd say.
    SDC14463.JPG

    SDC14462.JPG

    SDC14464.JPG


    It's a strange design, the bulk of the area is a simple foliate design that looks like thistles, but the complicated part is this inscription. The Tughra is simply carved, but he's taken a lot of time to get the writing neat and detailed.
    I can only think of two possibilities, it's a copy of his regimental badge/generic Ottoman symbol. Or it's a personal message.
    If it's a personal message, then it would be really nice to know what.
    The Ottoman empire was far reaching and I'd assume that they had troops from their colonies, if the message is personal, might it not even be in Turkish?
     
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    Cagsak

    Senior Member
    Hi Drowsykush,

    Thanks again. That box in the IWM is one of the nicest and they have a few.
    Some are very plain and simple, mine is a reasonable one, slightly above average I'd say.
    View attachment 66330
    View attachment 66331
    View attachment 66332

    It's a strange design, the bulk of the area is a simple foliate design that looks like thistles, but the complicated part is this inscription. The Tughra is simply carved, but he's taken a lot of time to get the writing neat and detailed.
    I can only think of two possibilities, it's a copy of his regimental badge/generic Ottoman symbol. Or it's a personal message.
    If it's a personal message, then it would be really nice to know what.
    The Ottoman empire was far reaching and I'd assume that they had troops from their colonies, if the message is personal, might it not even be in Turkish?
    I reckon it's written in Urdu. It may be of Pakistan origin.
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    I reckon it's written in Urdu. It may be of Pakistan origin.
    Hi Cagsak,

    Thank you, I would not have considered Urdu for an Ottoman troop. But I guess a large empire could have all manner of minority langauges within it. I'll post a picture on the Indo-Iranian languages board and ask for confirmation.
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    It’s not Turkish or Persian
    Hi newKatolomb

    Thank you, adding Persian to the list of languages we can discount is helpful.
    If not Ottoman Turkish, I would have thought possibly Arabic or Persian as two of the most likely Ottoman languages. Hopefully we are getting closer to a translation.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Our colleague Qureshpor (on the Urdu board) has confirmed that this is not Urdu.
    The quest continues.
    I am able to read both Persian and Urdu and as far as I can tell, the inscription is neither. It may be crystal clear to someone who can read it, but I can not decipher any of it. At the top, I can see 1330 which would equate to 1911-1912. Also, I see a word resembling انار which in both Persian and Urdu means pomegranate but this is all conjecture I am afraid!

    Edit: If it is 1335, then the Gregorian date would be 1916-1917.
     
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    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Good evening Quresphor,
    Thank you again for your help.
    Reading your post made me start thinking about pomegranates...
    Which led me to wonder how they look when growing (I've inverted the picture):
    1920px-Pomegranate_Fruit_Setting.jpg

    By Sanjay Acharya - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, File:Pomegranate Fruit Setting.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

    Which makes me wonder if the foliage carved onto the box is something other than thistles:
    WW1Turkish POW mk2.jpg


    There are certainly similarities. I assumed thistles as they are something common in the UK and the carving resembles them. I've never seen a pomegranate that wasn't for sale in a shop. Perhaps this is a case of a homesick soldier carving things that remind him of home?
    What do you think?
     
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    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Good evening Quresphor,
    Thank you again for your help.
    Reading your post made me start thinking about pomegranates...
    Which led me to wonder how they look when growing (I've inverted the picture):
    View attachment 66465
    By Sanjay Acharya - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, File:Pomegranate Fruit Setting.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

    Which makes me wonder if the foliage carved onto the box is something other than thistles:
    View attachment 66466

    There are certainly similarities. I assumed thistles as they are something common in the UK and the carving resembles them. I've never seen a pomegranate that wasn't for sale in a shop. Perhaps this is a case of a homesick soldier carving things that remind him of home?
    What do you think?
    Good evening @Atlantia. I think you could be right. I've just looked at pictures of pomegranate plants with fruit and foliage and they indeed do resemble the inscription! Now, you definitely need the inscription to be decoded!:)

    Take a look at this article.

    Pomegranates in Turkish Art + Gastronomy
     
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    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Good evening @Atlantia. I think you could be right. I've just looked at pictures of pomegranate plants with fruit and foliage and they indeed do resemble the inscription! Now, you definitely need the inscription to be decoded!:)

    Take a look at this article.

    Pomegranates in Turkish Art + Gastronomy
    Good evening Qureshpor,

    Here in the UK, the pomegranate was always quite an exotic fruit and even now, mostly features in UK diets as a fruit juice from a carton rather than a fresh fruit.

    Thank you for the article, I enjoyed reading it. I mostly think of the legend of 'Persephone and the pomegranate' when I think of them. It's interesting to see their influence in global culture.



    I certainly hope that the rest of the description can be decoded.

    Thank you again.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Good evening Qureshpor,

    Here in the UK, the pomegranate was always quite an exotic fruit and even now, mostly features in UK diets as a fruit juice from a carton rather than a fresh fruit.

    I certainly hope that the rest of the description can be decoded.

    Thank you again.
    I also dwell in this green and pleasant land (Hymn no. 446 - Jerusalem- in my school Hymn book!) and for this reason I know what you are talking about. I think this fruit is eaten, quite commonly, by people from the Subcontinent and Iran, Turkey etc. I was in Turkey recently and had plenty of fresh pomegranate juice there, especially in Konya.

    I hope you do find someone who is able to translate the writing. I would love to hear from you when you do. (Try, an elderly lady or gent within the Turkish community, local to you. You never know!)
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    If the WWI period is correct, I have a partial suggestion, inspired by this: Tughra - Wikipedia

    It is likely that the calligraphy in the centre is an informal execution of the tughra of the penultemate Ottoman emperor, Mehmed V Reshad (r. 1909-1918). Mehmed/Muhammad can be easily made out at the bottom part of it, and what Qureshpor read as anaar is probably actually Reshad. Just below this - again easily read: "sene 4", i.e. the 4th regnal year. Starting from his enthronement in 1909/1327, this would yield the year 1912/1330. This would be consistent with the year at the top - so far read as 1235/1335 - if there was any tradition of writing the 0 as ɔ. I have to admit, I am not specifically aware of any such tradition - but I am no expert on the matter either. In any case, the gap on the left is quite prominent in this glyph, which would also be somewhat against reading it as 5.

    Of the main body of the text around this central standard Ottoman "emblem", I have no idea. I seem to see a few -ler/lar the Turkish plural suffix. But that may be totally my figment of imagination as well.
     
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    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Thanks again Qureshpor.

    Hi Dib,

    Thanks for your help. My apologies for the delay in responding.
    I wonder if as this was being chip carved in a POW camp he didn't just knock a chunk out of the 5?
     

    pollohispanizado

    Senior Member
    Inglés canadiense
    There were many other "Muslim" languages spoken in the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately I can't read the script, but as far as I know, it was also used by Muslims who spoke Albanian, Bosnian, Greek, Kurdish and various Caucasian languages.
    Not to mention regional languages like Kurdish and Turkmen, which were also written with the Arabic script.
     

    celuk

    New Member
    Turkish
    It's been a little while since your question but I wonder that if it is decoded or not. If you or anyone can transcribe these Arabic letters digitally, fully, it would be better to make a progress, because even if some Turkish people have familiarity with Arabic letters, it is hard to recognize from the image.

    As @Dib said there is a tughra in the middle and that's why I think that this confirms the text written in Ottoman Turkish. Although we are using Latin alphabet and not fully familiar with Arabic letters, any Turkish person can understand from the pronounciation of the text I think. In text, there also can be a proper noun like a location, name or something, and it is easier to notice for us.

    Another thing is that @Qureshpor mentioned there is a word "pomegranate" which is "nar" in Turkish and same pronounciation with that he wrote انار. That's why, as I said a fully digitally transcribed text would be helpful for you and our curiousness.
     
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    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Another thing is that @Qureshpor mentioned there is a word "pomegranate" which is "nar" in Turkish and same pronounciation with that he wrote انار. That's why, as I said a fully digitally transcribed text would be helpful for you and our curiousness.
    The writing is not clear enough to allow for an unambiguous transliteration, much less transcription, e.g. I suggest reading Reshad رشاد for what Qureshpor read as anar انار.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    The writing is not clear enough to allow for an unambiguous transliteration, much less transcription, e.g. I suggest reading Reshad رشاد for what Qureshpor read as anar انار.
    I can't see how one can read a clear vertical line (alif ا ) as an r ر
     
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    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I don't know if anyone else has yet mentioned or not (sorry my memory is appalling), the middle "motto" could be

    محمد رسول الله (Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)​

    the three words superimposed upon each other, as is the custom in calligraphy. I can clearly make out محمد. Furthermore, the word at the bottom is سنة (Arabic for year) and normally written in Iran, the Subcontinent and perhaps turkey as سنه
     

    chrysalid

    Member
    Turkish
    Hello everyone,

    So here it goes:

    Öldü bülbül soldu gül (the nightingale died and the rose withered away)
    اولدی بلبل صولدی کول
    Buna esaret derler (this is called captivity - literally "they call this captivity")
    بونه اسارت درلر
    İster ağla ister gül (cry or smile OR either/whether cry or smile)
    استر اغلا استر کول

    Sad lines from a POW.

    The carving at the center is, as Dib says, most probably the tughra of Mehmed V (Reshad). His tughra bears the name Reshad on the top right corner.

    And about the "fourth year" (sene سنه 4), I guess 1335 is a Rumi year here, which corresponds to 1919 and which makes me think that it was his fourth year in captivity when he carved this.

    Hope this helps.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Hello everyone,

    So here it goes:

    Öldü bülbül soldu gül (the nightingale died and the rose withered away)
    اولدی بلبل صولدی کول
    Buna esaret derler (this is called captivity - literally "they call this captivity")
    بونه اسارت درلر
    İster ağla ister gül (cry or smile OR either/whether cry or smile)
    استر اغلا استر کول

    Sad lines from a POW.

    The carving at the center is, as Dib says, most probably the tughra of Mehmed V (Reshad). His tughra bears the name Reshad on the top right corner.

    And about the "fourth year" (sene سنه 4), I guess 1335 is a Rumi year here, which corresponds to 1919 and which makes me think that it was his fourth year in captivity when he carved this.

    Hope this helps.
    Thank you very much indeed @chrysalid for your time and effort. I am sure @Atlantia will be very pleased to see the mystery solved. I suppose being able to read Ottoman Turkish is a big advantage.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Thanks a ton, chrysalid, for solving the mystery! I think, I can now read the text thanks to you, except for the part in the square brackets: öld-[ü bül]-bül:
    1) Is bülbül written as بل بل here?
    2) Is the ی of اولدی too damaged to be clearly visible?
     

    chrysalid

    Member
    Turkish
    Thank you very much indeed @chrysalid for your time and effort. I am sure @Atlantia will be very pleased to see the mystery solved. I suppose being able to read Ottoman Turkish is a big advantage.
    Thank you @Qureshpor 😊 It was a pleasure to decipher the text.

    Yes, reading Ottoman Turkish definitely helps. Farsi speakers can recognize اسارت (Arabic إسارة-captivity) and بلبل (Farsi-nightingale).

    There's an interesting detail here. In Turkish, "gül" has two meanings: 1) Imperative of the verb smile (Turkish) 2) Rose (from Farsi). In Ottoman times, they kept the original orthography for Arabic and Farsi words so the "gül" that refers to rose in this text should have been written as کل or گل but the POW seems to have carved it as pronounced, he added a waw و for ü just like the imperative of the verb smile.

    However, I should also note that during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, some intellectuals proposed that the Arabic and Farsi words be written as they are pronounced in Turkish. That would mean replacing ذ ض ظ with ز as we have only one z sound in Turkish and adding the vowels when writing the Arabic words etc. etc.
     

    chrysalid

    Member
    Turkish
    Thanks a ton, chrysalid, for solving the mystery! I think, I can now read the text thanks to you, except for the part in the square brackets: öld-[ü bül]-bül:
    1) Is bülbül written as بل بل here?
    2) Is the ی of اولدی too damaged to be clearly visible?
    Thanks for pointing out @Dib you have the eyes of a hawk mashallah 😄

    1) It is not بلبل as I have written but بولبل which is another sign that the POW may not have had proper education. بلبل is the original Farsi orthography as you or others here may know.

    2) Yes exactly. If you zoom in, you can see the trace of a ی so it is the ü in öldü (which means "died")
     

    Atlantia

    Member
    English - Britain
    Hello everyone,

    So here it goes:

    Öldü bülbül soldu gül (the nightingale died and the rose withered away)
    اولدی بلبل صولدی کول
    Buna esaret derler (this is called captivity - literally "they call this captivity")
    بونه اسارت درلر
    İster ağla ister gül (cry or smile OR either/whether cry or smile)
    استر اغلا استر کول

    Sad lines from a POW.

    The carving at the center is, as Dib says, most probably the tughra of Mehmed V (Reshad). His tughra bears the name Reshad on the top right corner.

    And about the "fourth year" (sene سنه 4), I guess 1335 is a Rumi year here, which corresponds to 1919 and which makes me think that it was his fourth year in captivity when he carved this.

    Hope this helps.
    @chrysalid

    My apologies to everyone for my tardiness in not being involved in this thread for the last few weeks.

    Thank you everyone for your time and kind help in unravelling this century old message.

    Chrysalid: I can't tell you how happy I was to read your translation.
    There were several 'themes' that I thought the text might take..... But I didn't consider for a second that it would be almost poetry. This reminds me of a Haiku.
    I can't thank you enough for your solution.

    I've found myself thinking a lot about this imprisoned soldier and his heartfelt and rather soulful words across time.
    I can't imagine that being in a British POW camp 100 years ago was in any way nice. But considering the terrible alternatives, I hope that this man's story had a happy ending and he returned to his family safely.
    I'm not entirely sure of why the POW's made these items. I seem to remember that they made them for trade, presumably with those guarding them?
    The fact that it has remained in such beautiful condition would suggest that it was prized by it's owner and potentially kept safe for generations.
    These are quite rare and it's certainly unusual to have one that is not only in great condition, but also now translated. It earns this item a genuine place in history.

    Thank you again
     
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