PESHAWAR: While Turkey’s civilizational linkages with the Indian subcontinent are centuries old, certain luminaries cemented this relationship in the early 20th century.
Realizing the importance of media, when Turkish leaders founded global wire Anadolu Agency, exactly 100-years ago on April 6, 1920, South Asian born Abdur Rehman Peshawari held the distinction to become one of its very first reporters.
Born in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in 1886 in a wealthy Samdani family, Peshawari who was studying at India’s world-famous Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) abandoned his studies to join people’s mission to help Turkey during Balkan war. Originally, natives of Kashmir, his family had settled in Peshawar to set up a business.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Peshawari’s nephew Mohammad Saleem Jan said that his uncle had earned the sobriquet of Lala Turkey and Chacha Turkey.
Lala, in the Pashto language, refers to elder brother.
“President Erdogan mentioned my uncle’s contribution which has generated a lot of interest among the people in Peshawar who, surprisingly, were not much aware of him,” he said.
Jan is also the grandson of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan, a well-known Pashtun icon and a towering leader of the Indian subcontinent, who fought against British. His drawing-room is adorned with the pictures of his uncle, Abdur Rehman Peshawari, Bacha Khan and his maternal uncle Khan Abdul Wali Khan.
Anadolu Agency: You are the nephew of Abdur Rahman Peshawari, could you tell us about his early life?
Mohammad Saleem Jan (MSJ): First I would like to thank President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for reviving memories of Abdur Rahman Peshawari. Surprisingly people here were not much aware of him. Soon after Erdogan mentioned him, it evoked curiosity among media persons.
Peshawari in a short time contributed to Turkey, where he has carved a niche in history.
My grandfather had migrated from Baramulla, northern district of Indian-administered Kashmir to Peshawar. He came here and stayed with his uncle. He started his business and did quite well and became a wealthy person in Peshawar. He had a large family, some of which gained prominent positions during his life. Among them was Lala Turkey. We also called him Chacha Turkey [Uncle Turkey] because we associated him with Turkey. He was very highly regarded in the family for his various achievements.
Medic, fighter, journalist and diplomat
Q: How long he stayed in Peshawar?
MSJ: He was born in Peshawar in 1888. But some say the year of birth is 1886. He studied at Edwards High School. He was a good sportsman as well. For higher studies, he traveled to Aligarh and joined Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, now known as Aligarh Muslim University. A delegation of paramedics was going to Turkey, to help wounded in the Balkan war. He was not a paramedic. But he did a course in paramedic, to qualify to become a member of the delegation. And he qualified and then he became a member of the delegation, which went to Turkey in 1912.
Q: When he decided to leave for Turkey, what was the reaction of the family?
MSJ: My father and other elders told me that, he [Peshawari] knew his father would not allow him to go. So, to raise money, he sold his personal belongings. And then he came to Peshawar to meet his father, before leaving. The rest of the members of the mission returned after eight months. But he stayed back in Turkey and joined the Ottoman army. He fought in Beirut and was part of the Gallipoli campaign during World War I. Due to his fluency in Pashto, Persian, and English he was later appointed as ambassador of Turkey in Afghanistan from 1920 to 1922.
He fought Turkey’s War of Independence alongside Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the Turkish nation. He was wounded three times. He was assassinated in Istanbul in 1925, apparently mistaken Rauf Orbay Bey, the first prime minister of Turkey after the war of independence.
As we heard that Armenian who probably wanted to kill Rauf bey but they shot Abdur Rahman Peshawari, in his back, thinking he was the prime minister, because of the close resemblance. He was in the hospital for a month but succumbed to injuries.
Married to the cause
Q: Did you ever visited his grave?
MSJ: I went in 2013 to visit the graveyard and I spent three hours there. The condition of the graveyard, I could not locate his grave. But some years ago, when my nephew went, his grave had been found.
Q: How was his life in Turkey. Did he raise a family?
MSJ: He was around 39 or 40 years old when he died. He had not married. Turkish people gave him a lot of love and affection even Rauf bey considered him as part of his family. His mother treated him as her son. They had insisted on him married in Turkey. But he would say, I am married to my cause. And cause the fight for the liberation of Turkey from the imperialist forces. He achieved that cause.
I am very thankful to the Turkish government, people and especially President Erdogan who brought him to the limelight.
Now after 100 years, his memories have been revived and he has been acknowledged. Our family that includes all the cousins are grateful to the President for acknowledging the sacrifice of Lala Turkey.
Q: He never comes back to Peshawar. Did he keep contacts with family?
MSJ: He never returned to Peshawar. He was in touch. The family had asked him to come back, he refused and said that I will not return till Anatolia is under occupation.
Later when he became the Turkish ambassador to Afghanistan, his father sent him again a message to come to Peshawar and visit the family. But he said he will not set foot on occupied India which was ruled by the British. Then my grandfather and uncles went to Afghanistan, visited him and stayed with him for some time. His father again tried to persuade him to return. But he didn’t.
Possessions in British archives
Q: Do you have his memories in your possession?
MSJ: Unfortunately, we do not have anything except his photos. We were told that his medals, his uniform and his dairy which he used to write, all were handed over to one of my uncle Barrister Abdul Aziz because he was his brother. But later they were confiscated by the British. And they are now with the British. I have made an appeal to governments of Pakistan and Turkey, that now it’s 100 years, they should try and get back that diary and other possessions.
That diary has historical significance. One can learn a lot about from the diary and it will open up details of many historical events. Because during his 13 years in Turkey, the letters that he wrote, or whatever there is no record of that anywhere.
Once again through Anadolu Agency, I appeal to the British government to return that dairy and other things which they have kept in their archives.
Q: Do you know Abdu Rehman Peshawari was also the first reporter and founder of Anadolu Agency?
SMJ: Oh, yes. I know that. I am thankful to Anadolu Agency that you are still remembering him and from this Platform, you are keeping my uncle’s values alive. We will never forget this love and affection.
Q: Peshawari is a pride for Pakistan and especially for the people of Peshawar as he was belonging to this city. What you think was the single most achievement of your uncle?
MSJ: Being a family member cannot boast what a great people, our elders were. Leaving aside the relationship. If you look at the man, and you look at the sacrifices, and you look at his commitment, his perseverance, the way he went about and dedicated himself to a nation far away from his home, that makes me very proud. And I am sure anybody who considers all these points will feel very, very proud. And I think the brotherly relationship between Turkey and Pakistan, no matter what you say, it reverts around the contribution and foundation laid by Abdur Rahman Peshswari and Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, who was the leader of the medical mission.