Region 18:09 26/10/2015

Mamluk Roustam Raza about Napoleon banning Turkish name given to him by slavers who stole him from Armenian family

Roustam Raza, son of Artsakh Armenian Roustam Honan, writes about his life in his memoires published in the book “The Memoirs of Roustam: Napoleon's Mamluk Imperial Bodyguard.” Resold for several times by the Transcaucasian Tatars, he writes on how he became a mamluk and later, Napoleon Bonaparte’s bodyguard.


After being deceitfully kidnapped and resold by the Transcaucasian Tatars, Roustam fell into a “good master’s” hands, who allowed him to freely walk around the town. Still, the idea of escape was still haunting him, although it was impossible for Kura River was blocking his way to freedom, and it was impossible to cross without money. After some time, Roustam and his master, a silk trader, had rather a difficult walk over the Caucasus Mountains to Lezgistan, where they were engaged in silk and cashmere trade, like in Ganja. “There were really good, well-fed sheep in Lezgistan, each weighed about eighty pounds or even more. Their horses, too, were gorgeous. Tatars and even Turks from Anapa took splendid stallions from here,” writes Roustam about his impressions of Lezgistan.

Further, their way lay through the “Tatar town of Alexandria.” Walking around in the town, he met a girl he knew from his native town of Aperkan. She was thirteen, she had been captured a few months before Roustam. She told Roustam that his sister Mariam was also in captivity, and he decided to visit her. “What could be better than meeting my sister! The girl took me to the doors of the house; I entered and asked for my sister. She saw me and threw herself about my neck. However, her self-restrain was much stronger than mine was. I was sobbing so bitterly I could not utter a word and ask about my poor mother, who had been lost in Ganja,” Roustam recalls. A rich Armenian merchant, who had settled down in those lands, turned out to have bought her back and immediately released, saying that she might return to her homeland if she wished. “Yet Mom could not overcome such a way alone. That is why she lived at the merchant’s home as a guest until the roads become safe or there is some other opportunity,” sister said adding that their mother was in Kizliar.

Kizliar was situated relatively close to Alexandria, but neither the master agreed to let Roustam see his mother, nor the merchants agreed to buy him back from his master. As it turned out, Roustam “cost very expensive.” “I was suffering for not being able to get in Kizliar and kiss my mother for the last time, as I was soon sold for the sixth time. Now it was a child trader from Constantinople. He was to take me with him. I offered that trader to buy my sister, too, so that we could comfort each other in the foreign lands, but he refused,” Roustam writes. As a consolation, sister suggested that he cut off a lock of his hair to take it to their mother as a proof that he was alive.

“No one knew, of course, when we would leave Kizliar, all the more my poor sister. We left in a few days. Our destination was Anapa, the first port and border with Turkey. After a three-days walk we reached the border of Turkey and Megrelia and got to a high mountain. Anapa was half a mile behind it. When the Black Sea first stretched out before me, I started to cry saying, ‘I will cross this big sea and be deprived of my family and homeland forever,’” Roustam remembers. They got on ship the next day, which took them to Constantinople. They settled not far from Hagia Sophia, “the biggest and richest temple in the world build by the Armenians and seized and appropriated by the Turks.”

Six months later, Roustam was sold to one of Salah-Bey’s merchants from Egypt. “I was sold for the seventh and last time in my vagrant life,” he writes. A few days later, the merchant took him to Alexandria, and then to Salah-Bey in Cairo.

“The way from Alexandria to Cairo is amazingly beautiful. Fields of sugar cane, almond thickets and pomegranate trees stretch along the banks of the Nile. On the first day, we reached Rashid (the Egyptian name for Rosetta, – ed.), which is exactly in the halfway. On the next day, saddled Arabian stallions were brought for us so that we went to the Greater Cairo on horses. We, twelve teenagers belonging to Salah-Bey, entered Bulaq, half a mile from the Greater Cairo, on horses in the evening. We had a supper there, and in the evening they gathered us to take to the capital. Right the next morning, we were standing in front of Salah-Bey, who received us very heartily. He asked me questions in Georgian, but I did not speak well that language for I had been a baby when we left Georgia. Then he asked me whether it was true that I was born in Tiflis, Georgia, and I said ‘Yes.’ I told him my father’s name. Salah-Bey turned out to know him well because he was Georgian and frequently visited Armenia,” these were Raza’s impressions of his first visit to Egypt and his meeting with one its governors.

Salah-Bey promised to inform Roustam’s father about his whereabouts and sent him to sleep. Going to his room, Roustam met an old friend from his native town. He had been stolen from his parents two years before Roustam. “I had so many times seen his parents crying for their son lost without a trace,” he recalls.

Further Roustam writes about being circumcised against his will and enlisted as a mamluk. He studied their art, riding a horse and throwing a lasso, for two months. After a while, the French took the Egyptian capital and poisoned Salah-Bey by envenoming his tea. After Salah-Bey’s death, Roustam refused to serve to a new master and started wandering across Egypt with his servant dressed as a villager. When he ran out of money and there was nothing left to sell, Roustam received Napoleon’s permission through the sheikh El Bekri, who gave the most flattering characteristics about him, to take up a new service – he became the chief mamluk.

As the time went on, El Bekri ruined himself because of drinking, and the relations between him and Roustam spoiled. When Bonaparte decided to return to France, Roustam believed in the translator’s words about the French being “a kind nation and all Christians,” and taking advantage of the opportunity, entered the service of Bonaparte’s commander-in-chief.

A special mention is due for Napoleon’s meeting and dialogue with Roustam: “Monsieur Elias accompanied me to his waiting room. Seeing me, Napoleon came up, pulled me by the ear, and then asked whether I was good at riding horses. I gave him an affirmative answer. Then he asked whether I mastered the épée. I said I had fought many times with Arabs with épée, and showed him the scars on my hands. He was glad at that and asked:

“What is your name?”


He was surprised.

“But it is a Turkish name. What was your name at home?”


“I do not want you have a Turkish name. I want you be Roustam again.”

Napoleon gave him a Damascus sabre, which had six big diamonds on the handle, and a pair of pistols in gilded cases. This was how Roustam took up his new obligations of Napoleon Bonaparte’s bodyguard.

To be continued.

Compiled from the Russian translation by G. Janikyan, I. Karumyan of the book “The Memoirs of Roustam: Napoleon's Mamluk Imperial Bodyguard.”


Napoleon’s bodyguard about Transcaucasian Tatars kidnapping Armenian and Georgian children to sell them into slavery 

Napoleon’s Shushi Armenian Mameluke Ouanis Petro participated in Karabakh protection during Russo-Persian War

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