CHAPTERS OF HISTORY
Ambassador at Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Ambassador Nazir Torekulov and Diplomatic Relations between the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia
The successful government and diplomatic activity of the first Ambassador of our country Nazir Torekulov has left an important mark on the history of Kazakhstan's diplomacy and is crucial for our sovereign country. During his short lifetime and thanks to his tireless efforts and creativity, Torekulov left an indelible imprint on the memory of the people. /1/ This article is dedicated to the 125th anniversary of Torekulov.
Torekulov became a politician in 1915-1920, a very difficult period of his life. At the time when the future of Central Asia was being determined, Torekulov served for the party in Turkestan. The historic efforts of the Kazakh statesperson in uniting the Turkestan peoples were enormous and at that stage he supported the opening of many educational institutions in Almaty, Ashgabat, Bishkek, Kyzylorda, Shymkent, Tashkent and other large cities, as well as publishing houses and printing houses.
By the end of 1922 after the dissolution of the Turkestan Republic Torekulov went to Moscow, where he diligently worked as a chairperson of the Central Publishing Department under the Central Executive Committee of the USSR and was subsequently noticed by the leadership of the Soviet Union. In 1928, Torekulov was appointed as a representative of the USSR in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and this is how he started his career as a diplomat.
Torekulov's candidacy was considered at the highest level in the Oblast Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, the Organisational Bureau, even at a meeting of the Political Bureau and endorsed by the decision of General Secretary Joseph Stalin. The Human Resources Department of the Central Committee first proposed Umar Aliev, who spoke Arabic and at that time worked in the North Caucasus. However, the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs considered Torekulov to be a suitable candidate. In this regard, Stalin sent a special letter which described Torekulov as “one of the major experts of the Muslim world and worldview capable to pursue the complex and subtle policy required of our representatives in Hejaz" and considered Torekulov to be suitable for this office, giving him the opportunity to observe the entire Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia, and strongly recommended to approve his candidacy.
It was a great honour for the Kazakh diplomacy that the leadership of the USSR chose a person who had a deep understanding of all aspects of religion and was a highly educated statesperson as its representative in the Islamic world.
Thus, after the future ambassador went through all instances of inspections of that time, Torekulov was appointed as diplomatic agent and Consul General in Hejaz, Najd and the united territories of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (then Saudi Arabia) in accordance with the decision of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR on Dec. 15, 1927. However, for a number of reasons, he started working eight months later.
The Bolshevik government, which was viewed negatively by the capitalist world due to the international situation of that time, and the new Saudi regime were interested in establishing diplomatic relations with each other. As is known, the USSR wanted to earn world recognition, as well as to pursue its policy in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf (Arabia.) Abdulaziz Al Saud (the founder of Saudi Arabia), who came to power after the overthrow of the Hashemites, decided to gain Moscow's support in order to avoid various provocations of the United Kingdom.
The British, however, wanted to turn tribes bordering on Saudi Arabia against the Kingdom and subjugate the Saudis. Since the purpose of the Soviet government was to influence the rapprochement of Saudi Arabia with the eastern countries, Torekulov was entrusted with the following tasks: /2/
- observing relations between the United Kingdom and the Arab countries from an international point of view;
- observing the internal situation of Saudi Arabia, relations between tribes, changes in the government and their political purpose and
- observing the reputation of the Soviet government in Saudi Arabia and developing trade relations between the countries.
King Al Saud replied to the Decree of M. Kalinin on the appointment of Torekulov as diplomatic agent and Consul General on June 9, 1928, on his own behalf and on behalf of the Saudi government, that “respect and regard will be given to the ambassador's work in strengthening the ties between the countries," which shows the role of Torekulov's future work in this region.
The readiness to perform any complicated tasks of the country's leadership and the willingness to solve the problems arising from the state point of view give reason to call Torekulov one of the brightest experts among the first Soviet diplomats.
Letters sent to the centre, diaries and other notes show that he made significant efforts to boost and further strengthen trade relations between the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia. He believed that if local people bought and consumed Soviet goods, their attitude to this country would improve and thus the authority and influence of the USSR would increase, opening new prospects for cooperation in other fields.
In one of his first letters to the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the USSR, Torekulov offered to send students of the Institute of Oriental Studies to Hejaz for a one-year internship, thus proving that knowledge of literary Arabic was not enough for successful work. “The language of the Koran will not even allow you to buy a box of matches. Our educational institutions, figuratively speaking, do not train the Arabists but the Koranists, who can only communicate with spirits and ancestors," /3/ he explained. He had been a well-respected representative of the Soviet Union in Saudi Arabia for eight years, which was considered to be a long period of time. Everyone knows that his diligence, courageous views and the ability to negotiate not only with the leadership of the country of stay, but also with Western countries, impressed his colleagues.
During the presentation of credentials already as an Ambassador to Prince Faisal on Feb. 26, 1932 in Mecca, Torekulov highlighted the level of mutual attraction and trust that had grown in such a short time. In his diary, Torekulov wrote the following about the presentation of his credentials, “According to all the procedure requirements, I had arrived in Hamidiye in front of Kaaba at 10 p.m. (because of Ramadan), accompanied by Tyumetov and by an adjutant of Emir Khalidbey. The guard of honour was there. People came to see the ceremony. After a three-four minute delay in the corridor, I met with Emir Faisal and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We exchanged courtesies and after that I handed the credentials. As a sign of special respect and consideration, the presentation was organised on the night of 'Laylat al-Qadr' (Holy Night). According to Muslims, today's night is sacred." /4/
In our opinion, Torekulov in his diplomatic career was a “doyen" – the honourary chairperson of all the ambassadors in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This fact and the presentation of credentials on a sacred day for Muslims, as well as Torekulov's participation in designing a sketch of a monument in front of Mecca, evidence his essential contribution to promoting relations between the countries. In his letter to People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs M. Litvinov, he wrote that “it may be said that we won the historical contest with Britain for diplomatic seniority ... the issue was solved after obtaining the consent of British Representative Sir Andrew Ryan ... It was indicated that at the official ceremonies the first position belongs to me, the second – to Ryan, the third – to French authorised representative Monsieur Maigret, the fourth – to Ainol-Molk. It is widely known that European countries that consider themselves superior to others and who are in antagonistic relations with the Soviet Union express their recognition and respect only to very talented and capable persons."
Torekulov certainly believed that it was necessary to note in his speeches that he highly evaluated his personal relationship with the King's family. The importance of the relations between the Soviet diplomat and one of the most influential of the King's advisers, Yusif Yassin, needed to be emphasised. Furthermore, Torekulov's belief in Islam played a crucial role in establishing a good relationship with the King's advisor through Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia Fouad Hamza. After the official meeting with the King, the relationship between the two parties reached a high level and ties with the royal palace were strengthened. This also allowed Torekulov to freely visit Mecca and strengthen contacts between the countries.
Meetings with Abdulaziz and other honoured persons in his entourage took place mainly in Mecca, since representatives of other religions were not allowed to enter this “sacred" abode. Torekulov was a real Muslim and was not subject to such restrictions. In 1933, he performed the Hajj. A former emigrant and honourary figure of the national movement of the Tatar Muslims Gayaz Iskhaki describes this case in this way, “A car with a red flag with the sickle and the hammer appeared on the streets of Mecca. There were two people sitting in the car ... One of them was a member of the Comintern, a representative of the Soviet Union, Nazir Torekulov. And it became clear that he had come to perform the Hajj. Like all the others, he performed his Hajj. After that, he visited the grave of our Prophet in Medina. Representatives of the Soviet Union brought funds for “the needs of Muslims."
Since the royal palaces were located in Riyadh and Mecca and the diplomatic corps was in Jeddah, Western diplomats could not contact the King or his courtiers.
Another difference between Torekulov and other diplomats is that we have every reason to believe that he was fluent in Arabic. The knowledge gained in Kokan and his diligence in studying this language during his service as consul general in the Arab country paid off. “During the ceremonial meetings in Wada Fatija between Mecca and Jeddah, Ambassador Torekulov delivered a welcoming speech on behalf of the entire diplomatic corps, which proved his language fluency and the reason he refused the services of an interpreter." In this regard, he wrote the following, “I did it because interpreters interpret differently and the meaning of the conversation is lost." The leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not forget that the Soviet Union was the first state to recognise its independence and the fact that Torekulov skillfully used this fact in his work resulted in the achievement of the goals.
He worked honestly and managed to establish good connections with the King's family and other powerful people in the Kingdom. Prince Faisal personally attended the opening of an outpatient malaria centre, the opening of which was organized by Torekulov. He also invited a specialist from Leningrad to install an automated telephone system, donated for the first time by the Soviet government to the King, which was established in the Arabian Gulf in the city of at-Taif, where there were many summer residences of the King. Torekulov gave the local elite such gifts as an ancient Koranic manuscript and a tea set for 12 persons, a hearing device, melon seeds, etc.
In 1930, before the conclusion of the Trade Agreement, Ambassador Torekulov negotiated the sale of Soviet oil products to the Saudi regime. The sale deal was about 50 thousand “boxes" of gasoline and kerosene, because this product could meet the annual demand of the country, but the deal stopped at the stage of negotiations. However, Torekulov had to overcome the fierce resistance of the Dutch company Shell and the American company Standard Oil California. The Saudi side, in addition to petroleum products, expressed a desire to import timber, flour, sulfur, sugar and textiles from the USSR. The “gasoline deal" had a strong political subtext. /5/ By 1931, there was a strong competition between the King's various groups of influence and this resulted in the weakening of Saudi-British relations. This was due to the fact that England began to build fortifications along the Nejd border in Jordan and British firms traded in Hejaz and Nejd; another reason was London's project on the establishment of the Arab Federation.
Despite all this, a $150,000 Credit Agreement on the Sale of Gasoline and Kerosene was signed on Aug. 2, 1931 with the participation of Torekulov and Prince Faisal. The signing was focused on reducing England's influence. In his numerous letters, the Deputy People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR highly appreciated Ambassador Torekulov's contribution to this agreement.
During negotiations with the Saudi government, Torekulov strongly defended the views and political beliefs of the Soviet power. As a result, the Saudi government withdrew a number of previous requirements and all unwavering trade restrictions were completely lifted. Prince Faisal told the Ambassador the following, “Finally, after the five-year debate, all the difficulties of the special regime, which Soviet trade in Saudi Arabia had to follow, were overcome, as it hampered the development of Saudi-Soviet relations." And the King himself, at a meeting with Torekulov at his residence in Mecca, said the following concerning his policy, “I am pleased with the help of the Soviet Union. And I want to enlist the support of the USSR in military and political issues. Let the Soviet Union guide me. And I, in turn, by all the forces behind me." It follows that the efficiency of his work as ambassador and the high level of professionalism of Torekulov were never questioned.
In 1932, there was a major event which showed the high level of bilateral relations between the countries. The future King of Saudi Arabia, the 17-year-old Prince Faisal, paid an official visit to the USSR. During the protocol events with the participation of M. Kalinin, N. Krestinsky and V. Molotov, both sides spoke of sincere friendship and honesty towards each other. During the visit, he was accompanied by K. Voroshilov from the officials. In the course of the visit, a delegation headed by Faisal visited factories and pioneer camps. They watched “The Barber of Seville" at the Bolshoi Theatre and a football game at Dynamo Stadium. After Moscow they went to Leningrad. The famous Krasnaya Zarya factory handed a telephone exchange over to the Prince. This truly pleased His Majesty and made him grow fond of the Soviet Union. This further strengthened the respect for the authorised representative. This may seem a simple thing. However, sometimes simple human relations and respect play a decisive role in diplomatic, political-economic and trade relations.
In 1933, Torekulov also participated in the transfer of mineral samples found in Hejaz that were donated by Saudi Arabia to Soviet laboratories for research. /6/
However, in 1936 despite his letters full of optimism, Torekulov, who made every effort to establish cooperation between the countries, started to receive not very positive feedback from the centre. The active work of Torekulov was not appreciated by the centre; even the instructions given to the authorised representative became more stringent and neutral. This meant that Soviet foreign policy began to move towards the west.
Finally, in January 1936 Torekulov came back to the country. On Nov. 3, 1937, Torekulov was sentenced to be shot and the order was executed on the same day in Moscow. After receiving this sad news, the leadership of Saudi Arabia decided not to receive other ambassadors of the Soviet Union to Saudi Arabia and thus the relations between the countries deteriorated for many years. On Jan. 28, 1958, the Supreme Military Council of the USSR revised the case of Torekulov and acquitted the talented diplomat of all charges. However, Saudi Arabia, outraged by the brutal injustice of the leadership of the USSR, suspended bilateral diplomatic relations for more than 50 years.
To date, the “golden age" of Soviet-Saudi relations has been thoroughly studied. According to professional Arabists, this research has reached its goal. Saud al-Faisal, who translated the book about Torekulov at the Ain Shams University in Cairo and is well-respected in the Arab world, played a significant role in this regard. He did not just translate the content of the book; he managed to render in Arabic the essence of Torekulov's correspondence with the leadership of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.
Such decisions as making Friday a day off for the entire Turkestan Republic and declaring Muslim holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as their days off in order to improve the conditions of the Muslim peoples approved by him in 1929 were equal to suicide. Unfortunately, at that time Torekulov's initiative was not implemented. Only after our country gained independence was the Muslim eid declared a day off by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Tremendous efforts of the honourable public and state figure, scientist and diplomat Torekulov for the benefit of his country and his people are still an object of study and his name deserves great respect. The successes achieved through his conscientious work are a vivid example of his love for work and his country. Torekulov was a polyglot who considered Kazakh, Tajik and Uzbek as his native languages; studied in Azeri, Bashkir, Kyrgyz and Tatar; spoke English as well as mastered Arabic in a short time and was a great scientist who managed to put all his knowledge into practice. /7/
Answering the question about the development of relations between the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia, there is every reason to say that Nazir Torekulov's efforts consisted not only in establishing cooperation between the countries, but also in bringing it to a very high level. This is evidenced by the proposal of Saudi Arabia to hold a scientific conference in memory of Torekulov, despite the fact that more than a century has passed since his birth and more than half a century since his death.
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Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan
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