Samdanis’: Peshawar, Delhi, Lahore, Turkey

In the early nineteenth century, a Kashmir trader migrated to Peshawar and emerged a major businessman. His sons played a major role in India’s independence movement and later two of his sons became envoys in India and Turkey, MJ Aslam writes

In this undated photograph released by the Turkish news agency as part of its 100 years of operations, Abdul Rehman Peshwari is seen in a group photograph. Peshwari was originally from Baramulla’s Samdani family that had migrated to Peshawar early nineteenth century

During Kashmir’s Mughal and Afghan era, Kashmiris, both Muslims and Pandits, used to travel to Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then Sarhad) to work for the Durrani Empire. Kashmir was a part of the Durrani Empire between 1751 and 1819.

Earlier as well, some Kashmiris moved to Nepal, Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Turkey and several European countries in connection with their livelihood, trade, business and studies and some settled permanently there. It was also true in the case of Peshawar and  Kabul. Some Afghans made also settled in Kashmir also.

One of the Kashmiri Muslim migrants was Haji Ghulam Samdani of Baramulla who was called Rais ul Azam of Kashmir and Peshawar. Born to a wealthy Baramulla family, he married a beautiful Pakhtoon lady, Murvari Jan. During the Governorship of Colonel Mihan Singh, the Sikh Subedar (1834-1841), Samdani moved to Peshawar where he started a small business and soon he became a leading contractor of the British Indian government and the army. He was one of Peshawar’s wealthiest businessmen of Kashmiri origin.  He was so respectful and trustworthy businessman of the British Government of India that without his recommendation, no contractor of British Punjab would get an allotment of any work-supply-order.

A Philanthropist

Samadani was a philanthropist who would spend a larger portion of his wealth on the economic and social welfare of people. He expended a huge amount of money on the construction of a well known Qasim Ali Khan Masjid of Peshawar and donated some of his immovable properties of shops and land its upkeep. He owned vast tracks of forest and agricultural land and other properties in Kashmir, Punjab and Peshawar. In Peshawar, he owned the famous, Qisa Khani Bazaar. He died in Peshawar on November 23, 1925.

Samdani was survived by many sons prominent of them included Abdur Rahman, Abdul Aziz, Mohammad Yahya, Mohammad Yunus, Mohammad Yusuf, Mohammad Amin and  Mohammad Hassan. All of them, in one way or another, earned great fame in India and beyond. Some played prominent roles in India’s independence struggle from the British.

The Family

Post partition, Mohammad Yunus (1916-20010 migrated from Sarhad to India as cross-migration of vast chunks of the population on both sides of the border became a common feature. He was among pioneer leaders and politicians of the Gaffar Gandhi’s Congress and Khidmatgaar Organisation, and later he joined the Indian Foreign Service and was appointed Indian Ambassador to Turkey, Iraq, Indonesia and Spain during the Nehru’s Era. In 1974, he retired as Secretary to the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. He was awarded Padma Bhushan. He was married to Lajwanti.

Abdul Aziz, Samdani’s other son, was the first Bar-at-Law of Peshawar and like his brother, Mohammad Yahya, he was a prominent activist of the Muslim League and close confidante of Mohammad Ali Jinnah till his death in 1946. Haji Ghulam Samdani and some of his sons are buried within the cemetery of Qasim Ali Khan Masjid of Peshawar.

Abdur Rahman, Samdani’s other son, deserves a special mention. Apart from earning a special name during India’s independence struggle, he had other contributions, offshore as well.

Born in Peshawar in 1886, he was also known as Abdur Rahman Peshawari. An extremely handsome boy, due to his Kashmiri-Afghan descent, Rehman completed his matriculation at Peshawar and joined Aligarh Muslim University, then called Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College [MAOC], for his Bachelors.

The family had a connection with the MAOC already. When the college was facing financial issues – due to the defalcation committed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s confidante, Shyam Bihari Lal, Sir Syed had sought help from Ghulam Samdani Kashmiri.

Turkey’s Kashmir Hero

Abdur Rahman was pursuing his studies when in 1912, the First Balkan War broke out. It was the time when the Indian subcontinent was struggling to win independence from the British. Muslims of India were at the forefront of the independence movement. The war by the Allied Balkan States supported by the European countries against the Muslim Ottoman Turks naturally instigated the feelings of sympathy for the Ottoman Turks, which was later on reflected in the Khilafat Movement spearheaded by Gandhi Ji.

The MAOC students assembled at the University to provide medical aid to the wounded and sick Turk soldiers in the war. A delegation of 24 volunteers, which included Abdur Rahman, under the supervision of Dr Mukhtar Ansari, a friend of Gandhi and Nehru, under what was named People’s Mission to Ottoman Empire was sent-off from Delhi’s Jamia Masjid.

The Medical Mission was hailed by the greats like Hakim Ajmal Khan, founder of the Jamia Milia Islamia and Ayurvedic and Unani Tibia College, New Delhi, and was seen off at Bombay port by Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad, Mawlana Shibli Nomani and Mohammad Ali Jawhar.

A passionate “Muslim nationalist”, Abdur Rahman did not inform his parents, his family at Peshawar, about his having joined the Medical Mission to Turkey. He worked as a compounder in the Mission of volunteers, giving medical aid to injured Turkish soldiers.

An Envoy

In 1913, after Balkan War was over, the delegation returned home, but Abdur Rahman stayed back in Turkey till his death. He received military training and education in Istanbul and Beirut and then joined the Turkish Army as an officer. He was soon promoted to Colonel.

When World War 1 broke out in 1914, he displayed great vigour and bravery from the Turkish side for which he was conferred with the honorific title of Bey according to Turkish Laws and promoted as Captain. He was a close associate to Anwar Pasha or Enver Pasha (War Minister of Ottoman Empire), Talat Pasha (Prime Minister of Ottoman Empire) and then Mustafa Kamal Ataturk (Field marshal, founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey).  Abdur Rahman played important role in the liberation of Turkey from foreign forces that had occupied it in the first world war and later in the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. He is described as a “revolutionary” in Turk history and curriculum.

During the Turkish war of liberation, he worked as a journalist with Turkey’s first wartime news agency, Anadolu, “typing stories of wartime atrocities, victories and loses and sending them out with only one finger “flying” over a typewriter”. He is remembered with respect as an “Indian Muslim hero in Turkey’s war of liberation!” He never married and once he was offered marriage in an honourable Turkish family by the Prime Minister Rauf Pasha of Ankara but he refused to get married as he preferred to live as a “Muslim revolutionary”.

In free and independent Turkey, in 1922, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk appointed Abdur Rahman as the first Turkish Ambassador to Afghanistan. Abdur Rahman Bey was fluent in several languages which included English, Pashtu, Persian, and Turkish. He was well-received by Amanullah Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan who held him in great esteem more as a personal “guest” than a foreign Envoy.

When his parents heard about the honours that were conferred upon their son, they visited Kabul and after more than a decade Haji Ghulam Samdani Kashmiri and his spouse saw their son. His family including his father, Haji Ghulam Samdani Kashmiri, were received as royal guests by the Afghan ruler. He was instrumental in signing several agreements of co-operation between Turkey and Afghanistan. He served as a Turkish envoy for two years in Afghanistan. Later, he stayed in Ankara.

Death

M J Aslam

In 1925, reportedly in a case of “mistaken identity”, he was shot at in Ankara. He was hospitalized and surgery was conducted to save his life but after a month or so, he died in June 1925. His death was greatly mourned in Turkey, Afghanistan and British India.

This great man with Kashmiri blood in his body is considered among the most respected revolutionary heroes of the Turkish war of independence.  It may not be out of place to mention here that Turk President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016 in his address to the Joint Session of Pak Parliament, remembered the great services of Kashmiri-descent, Abdur Rahman, to his nation and it was also reported that a Turkish TV Serial, Lalla Turki, depicting the life and contribution of Abdur Rahman to Turkey’s Liberation Struggle and Khilafat Movement of Indian Freedom Struggle was going to be made.  

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