ABUBEKIR AHMEDJAN DIVAY 1855-1933. ETHNOGRAPHER, ANTIQUARIAN, PROFESSOR, TRANSLATOR
H. B. Paksoy
Divay, a Bashkurt (in Russian sources, Bashkir), was born on 19 December 1855 in Orenburg and lived most of his life among the Kazakhs. He attended the Orenburg Nepliuev military academy, first studying in the Asiatic Division, where the majority of his classmates were reportedly Kazakhs and second in the division for the preparation of translators of Oriental languages for the steppe regions.
In 1876-1877, at the age of 21, Divay left school to accept an appointment in the Russian bureaucracy of the Turkistan territory (krai). There in the southern steppe region Divay travelled and was able to visit many Kazakh, Kirghiz and Uzbek villages (aul). He held the post of Divisional Inspector of the Evliya-Ata (in Russian sources Aulie-Atinsk) district (uezd) and then became translator and junior official of Special Missions attached to the Governor-General of the Syr-Darya region (oblast). This latter post gave him wide opportunities to travel throughout the Turkistan territory.
In 1883, Divay began collecting ethnographic materials. The following year, the Governor-General of the Syr-Darya region, N. I. Grodekov, initiated the collection of information on Kazakh and Kirghiz customary law in order to publish a code of juridical customs of the nomadic peoples of the region. While working on this project, Divay reportedly collected "historical legends from ancient manuscripts, in the hands of educated Kirghiz, [and] heroic poems, aphorisms, fables, riddles, incantations, etc." A portion of these materials was published in Grodekov's book and the remainder, including fables, legends, songs, poems and dastans (Central Asian ornate oral histories), were published in Collection of Materials for Statistics of the Syr-Darya Region (Sbornik materialov dlia statistiki Syr-Darinskoi oblasti) for 1891-1897, 1901, 1902, 1904, 1905, and 1907. These articles by Divay were reviewed by various prominent Orientalists of the time.
Divay was active in the field prior to the invention of recording devices. Collectors of oral works of that time, recorded recitations on paper, frequently had to interrupt the narrators to keep-up. Reciters grew impatient and truncated their narrations. Aware of these pitfalls and given the many thousands of pages of material he discovered, Divay probably more than welcomed transcribed dastans which he sometimes received. This is not unusual, and other primarily oral works, including Beowulf, were printed from manuscript sources.
According to the Kazakh Academy of Science's Kazak National Poetry (Kazakhskaia narodnaia poeziia, cited in the bibliography). Divay often sought out those among the Kazakh population who owned manuscripts of traditional oral works. Often the bahshis (reciters) themselves had manuscripts of dastans. These manuscripts he collected or, when unable to acquire them, had them copied:
Divaev made a request of the responsible persons of the Turkestan territory to copy manuscripts for him. In this way in June 1896 he received a manuscript of the epic Alpamysh. The manuscript itself is reported to be in the Manuscript Fond of the Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazak SSR, 'Materialy A. A. Divaeva, folder 1162.'In this way, Divay acquired in 1896: "a manuscript of the Karakalpak of the Turtkul area (volost-tsarist administrative term) of the Amu-Darya department of the Syr-Darya region Dzhiemurat [Ziyamurat] Bekmukhamedov [sic], a professional bahshi." Divay prepared the manuscript for publication in November 1897 and it appeared in 1901 in the Collection of Materials for Statistics of the Syr-Darya Region.
Divay began this 1901 version of Alpamysh with a very brief foreword in Russian. Here Divay notes that "This manuscript was sent for our use by the former head of the Amu-Darya department (otdel) of the Syr-Darya province, Major General K. I. Razganov..." He further states "Although the poem Alpamysh Batir is a purely Kirghiz work, because of the fact that it was here set down by a Karakalpak, a near neighbor of Bukhara, the text of it is sprinkled with Persian and Arabic terms. In the translation, we have tried, as far as possible, to remain close to the text [weeding out borrowed words from other languages]."
Divay published his articles in other periodicals in the 1890s including the journal Borderlands (Okraina), the almanac Central Asia (Sredniaia Aziia) and the semi-official Turkistan Bulletin (Turkestanskaia Vedomost). Also at this time he began to publish in scholarly journals of the major Oriental and ethnographic societies of the tsarist Empire: Notes of the Eastern Department of the Russian Archeological Society (Zapiski Vostochnogo otdela Russkogo arkheologicheskogo obshchestva); News of the Archeology, History and Ethnography Society (Izvestiia Obshchestva arkheologii, istorii, i etnografii); News of the Turkistan Department of the Russian Geography Soiety (Izvestiia Turkestanskogo otdela Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva), and Notes of the Russian Geography Society (Zapiski Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva). In 1896, Divay was one of the founding members of the "Turkistan Circle of Lovers of Archeology" ("Turkestanskii kruzhok liubitelei arkheologii"). In 1906, Divay became Director of the Tatar [sic] school in Tashkent and participated in the compilation of materials on Central Asia in the Turkistan Collection of Articles and Communications Concerning to Central Asia 1878-1887. (Turkestanskii sbornik statei i sochinenii otnosiashchikhsia k Srednei Azii, 1878-1887).
Divay remained aware of the larger issues in Central Asia, even if he could not voice his opinions openly in the political climate of tsarist empire. Zeki Velidi Togan (1890-1970), a fellow Bashkurt, wrote about his visit to Divay's Tashkent home in 1913. Zeki Velidi had read Ismail Gasprali's (1854-1914) Russian Moslems (Rusya Muslumanlari), which he had found in Divay's personal library. In a conversation with Divay (Togan refers to him variously as "Miralay" [colonel] and "Divay Agha"), Togan criticized Gasprali's "timidity." Divay responded:
During those times our thoughts were somewhat different. In addition, if this [cloaked] language had not been used, that book would not have cleared the censors. Political repression in Russia in those days was much more stringent. In those hours of our need, works such as this gave us some relief.Divay's twenty fifth anniversary as a Turcologist and ethnographer was celebrated in 1915. In connection with this occasion, the journal Living Past (Zhivaia Starina) published reviews of his work and much biographical material. This was not the end of his efforts, which continued under the Bolshevik regime.
Much has been written and said about Divay by his contemporaries. A few items are revealing. In an issue of Living Past, V. A. Gordlevskii, noted one of Divay's "praiseworthy tendencies," "to extract articles from Turkestan Bulletin and republish them, thus saving them from oblivion."
Available information on Divay's career indicates that he continued his efforts to record and preserve elements of Central Asian Turkish culture after the revolution as before. In 1918, Divay offered courses in Kazakh ethnography and language at the Central Asian University and at the Turkistan Oriental Institute, where he held the chair of Kirghiz ethnography and language. He was first an "independent instructor" and later a professor. He organized a major expedition to Yedi Su (Seven Rivers; in Russian sources, Semirechie) in spring 1922 as a member of the Kirghiz Scholarly Commission of Peoples Commissariat of Enlightnment (Narkompros --Narodny comisariat prosvesheniia) of the Turkistan Republic (Turkrespublika). During the following year, Divay is reported to have gathered, described and systematized approximately eight thousand pages of notes from this expedition.
As before, Divay's findings were published in the various scholarly and popular journals in Russian and derivatives of Chaghatay Turkish during 1922. He also participated at this time in the special commission for the elimination of the "bride price" (kalym) and for the "reform of the study of native languages." A second jubilee for Divay was celebrated in 1923. Divay's Soviet biographers are silent on the ensuing years of his life and note only that he died ten years later.
A. A. Divay, Alpamysh Batir (Tashkent, 1901); M. Ghabdullin and T. Sydykov, Heroic Poetry of the Kazakhs (Kazak halkynyn batyrlyk jyry) (Alma-Ata, 1972); A. Grodekov, Kirghiz and Karakirghiz [sic] of the Syr-Darya Region (Kirgizy i karakirgizy Syr-Darinskoi oblasti) Vol. I. (Tashkent, 1889); Kazakh National Poetry: Excerpts of the Collected Writings of A. A. Divay (Kazakhskaia narodnaia poeziia: Iz obraztsov, sobrannykh i zapisannykh A. A. Divaevym) (Alma-Ata, 1964); Zeki Velidi Togan, Turkistan Today, and its Recent History (Bugunki Turkili Turkistan ve Yakin Tarihi), 2nd. Edition (Istanbul, 1981); idem, Memoires (Hatiralar) (Istanbul, 1969).
The foregoing discussion of Divay, including the sources, is adapted from H. B. Paksoy, ALPAMYSH: Central Asian Identity Under Russian Rule (Hartford, Connecticut: Association for the Advancement of Central Asian Research Monograph Series, 1989); idem, "Turcologist Abubekir Ahmedjan Divay" ("Turkbilimci Ebubekir Ahmedcan Divay") Turk Kulturu (Ankara) Sayi 309, Yil XVIII. [Ocak 1989].