The Consequences of an Imputation – by H. Ahmed Schmiede

Translation of the Turkish-language article “Bir isnadin akibeti,” written by Achmed Schmiede in response to Semih Yasicioglu’s preface to the Turkish edition, Hürriyet Publishing House, Istanbul 1971. It claimed that Yusuf Vezir Chemenzeminli was the author of “Ali and Nino.

 

The Consequences of an Imputation

By H. Ahmed Schmiede

 

Actually I would like to start this article with a Turkish proverb: The liar’s candle only burns till sunset. But the assertion that I intend to refute here, I would not like to label a lie. A lie is when someone makes a false claim on purpose. I suppose there was no ill intent behind the imputation I am referring to. But it was brought into the world in a surprisingly thoughtless, even irresponsible way. One would have to describe the whole thing as gross negligence; especially when one realizes that it is about two writers who have not been alive for a long time and can therefore no longer defend themselves. The victims of the imputation are the Azerbaijani Lev Nussimbaum, who has written some works under the pseudonyms Kurban Said (‘Kurban’ means of all things “sacrifice”!) and Essad Bey, as well as the Azerbaijani writer Yusif Vezir Çemenzeminli.

In 1971 I became aware of a novel “Ali and Nino” published by Hürriyet in Turkey under the name Kurban Said. In the foreword it was claimed that this name is a pseudonym and that the real author of the Azerbaijani novel is Yusif Vezir Çemenzeminli.

The same work was published in German as a serial novel in Stern magazine and later, in 1973, as a book. I was delighted about this success of an Azerbaijani writer in the West – regardless of the content of this book. This novel was also published in several other Western countries, including England and the USA, in large printruns and became a bestseller.

However, the book published in Turkey was a translation. From what I’d heard, it was even a translation from English. But what kind of strange logic is it that a book by an Azerbaijani author is first printed in English and then translated into Turkish? The translator Semih Yazıcıoğlu puts this question in his foreword as follows:

“Stormy times cause destruction as well as the birth of great artists. “Ali and Nino” and its writer Kurban Said have become the victim of such a stormy time.

Who knows, if an enthusiast called Jenia Graman, who was a painter in Berlin in the 1930s, had not seen on the a dusty bookshelves of a second-hand bookshop in West Berlin, a copy of “Ali and Nino”, which she had read in Vienna 32 years earlier, perhaps the misfortunes of both the work and the already forgotten writer would continue.

This coincidence added an unknown work to the history of literature. Because when Jenia Graman re-read “Ali and Nino”, which she had seen in the Austrian capital in 1937, she immediately decided to bring to light this masterpiece. She translated it into English, and one of the greatest movements of recent years began in the history of literature with the release of the novel last spring.”

But what language was the novel translated into English from? Yazıcıoğlu touches on this point by quoting a letter he received from an Azerbaijani named Mustafa Türkekul living in the USA. The letter reads as follows:

“It is true that “Ali and Nino” was originally written in Azerbaijani-Turkish. Afterwards, Yusif Vezir translated this work into German with the help of a German friend. Later, he presented the German translation of this work to a publishing house in the capital of Austria, Vienna.”

It appears from these notes that this novel, printed in Turkey, is a book that was (allegedly) written in Azerbaijani, then translated from there into German, from there into English and from there into Turkish. Nevertheless, Semih Yazıcıoğlu says:

“The style of the book, the language behind the translation, and the general atmosphere of the work leave no doubt that it is written in Azerbaijani-Turkish.”

Let us now come to the central claim in the foreword of the Turkish edition of “Ali and Nino” that the pseudonym Kurban Said is actually Yusif Vezir Çemenzeminli.

“Two Azerbaijani Turks living in the United States brought to light Kurban Said’s true identity and life story. One of them, Mustafa Türkekul was a well-known literary writer, he also had written a book on writers who were killed in the purges in Russia in 1937. This work was published in Istanbul in 1963 under the title of “Hüseyin Cavid”. After immigrating to America, he started to work as an accountant in a Washington hotel. The other Azerbaijani was a teacher named Yusuf Kahraman and was working as a radiologist in a Washington hospital.

It was Yusuf Kahraman who drew the attention of Türkekul to a review published in the Washington Star about their home country. Then they read the book head by head in one night until the morning. As dawn broke, the story of the unknown author of “Ali and Nino” was clear to them. Because Kahraman and Türkekul had seen that the novel was the story of a real drama. They recognized the streets, avenues, squares, palaces, and even the surnames of some families mentioned in the book. The conclusion of the two Turks was this: “Ali and Nino” was a long lost work of a well-known writer from Azerbaijan. The author hid behind the name of Kurban Said was none other than the famous Azeri writer Yusuf Vezir, who signed some of his works as “Chemenzeminli”.

So the story of “Ali and Nino” and its author was “lit up” in one night. Today we know that light was shed onto nothing in that night, quite to the contrary, the problem of the authorship was messed-up even more, and poor Mr. Yusif Vezir found himself with an eternal child he knew nothing about, and which appeared only years later.

As we have seen above, it has been alleged that the novel “Ali and Nino” was translated from Azerbaijani into German, or, as some others claim, from Russian into German. After reading the Turkish edition, I picked up the German version. I am a translator myself. My native tongue is German. It was crystal clear to me that the German version was not a translation but an original work. And somehow I felt that I was no stranger to its style. Nevertheless, the work could still have been by Yusif Vezir. Why shouldn’t he really have written it with the help of a German friend? On the other hand, Türkekul said that an Azerbaijani original was absolutely essential. Fine, but where was this original? I got in touch with Deutsches Pressehaus [German House of the Press] in Munich and asked if anything was known about the fate of the original manuscript. The person in charge told me that they were aware of the allegations made by the two Azerbaijanis, Türkekul and Kahraman, but that at the same time some people were convinced that the novel was written by someone named Lev Nussimbaum, a writer, whose father was a Jew and whose mother was an Azerbaijani Muslim who was born in Baku and fled to Europe during the October Revolution and wrote a number of books there under the pseudonym Essad Bey.

I was becoming interested in dissolving the darkness lying on this riddle. However, there was nothing to be dissolved, the whole truth was already on the table! But some time had to pass before I realized that.

When I was invited to Baku in September 1973 to take part in the celebration of the 600th birthday of the poet Seyyid Imadeddin Nesimi, I consulted my friend Prof. Abbas Zamanov on this matter. He told me that this was an irrelevant claim and that Yusif Vezir could not have written such a work for scientifically proven reasons. (Abbas Zamanov is Director of the Chair of Modern Azerbaijani Literature at Baku University and is therefore a competent expert in this field).

After receiving this information from him, I thought that it might be useful to follow Essad Bey’s trail and – I was not mistaken!

There are two German-language novels under the name Kurban Said. The first is the book we are talking about here, the work “Ali und Nino” (in Turkish: Ali ile Nino) first published in 1937, the second the “Das Mädchen vom Goldenen Horn” (Haliç’ten gelen kız – The Girl from the Golden Horn) printed in 1938 .

In order to elucidate the relationship between Kurban Said and Esad Bey, I took a look at the magazine “Al-Islam”, which was first published in 1969 and which contains a short bibliography “Islam in self-testimony” by the Yugoslav Turkologist Dr. Smail Balic. After finding Essad Bey there, I wrote a letter to Dr. Balic. He replied with the following: “‘Kurban Said’ is a joint pseudonym for Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmersdorf and Lev Nussimbaum.”

When I heard “Ehrenfels”, I remembered the Austrian nobleman and Muslim scientist Prof. Ömer von Ehrenfels, whom I have known for many years and whom I respect very much. Through the contact I made with Prof. Ömer about this matter, I learned that he himself had been the friend of Essad Bey (that is, Lev Nussimbaum) for many years and that he would eventually, after writing a few documentary works, had become interested in writing novels and that he had started writing under the pseudonym Kurban Said. Essad Bey even wrote his second novel “Das Mädchen vom Goldenen Horn” with the help of Prof. Ömer’s divorced wife, Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels von Bodmersdorf, and of course again under the pseudonym Kurban Said.

The written answer I received to the question I asked Baroness Ehrenfels, the original of which I have kept, is as follows:

10 June 1974

Dear Mr Schmiede,  I would like to inform you as a translator and interpreter for Turkic languages who has traveled Baku, that Kurban Said was the pen name of the writer Essad-bey, who came from Baku, and with whom I have cooperated in Vienna in 1938 on the publication of his novel: The Girl from the Golden Horn.

Yours sincerely
Elfriede Ehrenfels, née Bodmershof

So there is no longer any serious doubt about the identity of Kurban Said.

Let us turn one last time to the Turkish foreword which Mr. Semih Yazıcıoğlu added to the Turkish edition of the novel “Ali and Nino”:

“When the day comes, the other works by Kurban Said alias Yusif Vezir Çemenzeminli will also take their place on the Turkish bookshelf.”

Despite all our other disagreements, I agree with Mr. Yazıcıoğlu on this hope. Even if Yusif Vezir Çemenzeminli is not Kurban Said, I am sure that he is a writer who is worthy to be known and liked in Turkish and world literature.

Who knows, maybe one day in this way – albeit in the opposite direction – it will be of use to the cause that Türkekul and Kahraman have racked their brains for one night.

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