What did L.H. Balagova say about

M. I. Quandour's works


Where is He from

Or The Lapsa of Mohydeen Quandour


By Dr. Luba Balagova

(Article from the “Horizon” Almanac 2003)

 There is a Circassian term, a very old and meaningful word in the Circassian language, which is difficult to translate properly into any other language; this word is Lapsa. This is the exact word used by the Circassians in order to give a meaningful identity to themselves and to their household; a word which the Circassians use to describe their private environment, their family heritage and the materials used for their everyday survival. It is what a child sees and hears in that private environment which eventually forms his identity as a Circassian. All modern-day Circassians enjoying any degree of intellect recognise this word and react to it with nostalgia.

I am not sure that I can recreate the Lapsa of Mohydeen Quandour in this short article. But I will highlight some of the important events in his life, which were responsible for the creation of his Lapas, in the hope that future biographers might benefit from it.

To talk about the land to which the Circassians immigrated and which later became the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan as a land of the Circassians is difficult, if not impossible. None of the Adigha history exists today in this land, at least not in a documented form. However, the Ras Al Ein Springs where the Bedouins watered their camels and sheep, and where the legendary Kabardans worked tirelessly to clean up and make habitable, was the land offered to them by the Ottoman authorities to make as their home. Over a hundred years later, Mohydeen Quandour writes his well known Trilogies and recreates the history of the Muhajereen and resurrects this world in critical details for all future generations of Circassians. I can not go further without quoting the Author from his novel “Revolution” (P 65) as he describes Ras Al Ein when the Kabardans first saw it:

"Two days later Temur walked with the new elders along the banks of the wide stream to look at the land which would be their home. The closer they came to the source of the water the greener and more like their homeland the scenery became. Temur pointed to the mountains rising behind and explained that he thought that the Kabarday would prefer to take the higher section of land along an existing dirt road while the Hapsay families would take the lower section by the water. The men grew quieter as they approached closer to the source and the terrible smell assailed their nostrils.

Clouds of flies swarmed up from beneath their feet as they walked across ground which camels and sheep had stood on for centuries, dropping their waste and moving on. The flies rose in black waves and surrounded the men, getting into their eyes and their mouths, buzzing in their ears. There was no escaping from them. Temur pulled his Arab-style headdress across his face but they still came through the gaps and had to be continually swatted away.

“It will take many months of work,” he admitted, aware of the horror the men were feeling at the sight of so much desolation.

“You will have to clear all this waste if you want to get rid of the flies and mosquitoes. You can use the rich waste to fertilize the fields behind, digging it into the soil where it is bare to nourish it. This will be a bountiful piece of land although it is hard to imagine it now. Everyone in the community will help. We will build houses for you and walls to protect the fields.”

The men all remained silent as they surveyed the mess that they were being offered, fighting the insects from their faces. None of them doubted Temur’s sincerity and they could all see the possibilities of the location, but they could also imagine how hard it was going to be for their women and children in the months to come and the likelihood that the ground seethed with potential sickness.

“Is there really no other choice?” one of them asked.

“No,” Temur shook his head; “there is no other choice.”

“Then we should start work straight away.”

None of them smiled as they walked back to explain to their families what lay ahead, but a grim determination hung in the air. Having come so far they did not intend to be beaten by the prospect of some hard work.  The job of clearing the banks and of creating homes for the newcomers took over the community in the coming months. Everyone labored their mouths and noses covered against the stench and the insects. Slowly but surely the vile black earth was scraped away and moved to the fields behind, other people dug it into the uncultivated soil, clearing the air and depriving the mosquitoes and flies of their breeding grounds.

They planted trees so that their branches would provide shelter from the scorching sun and their roots would stabilize the soil and hold the banks in place when the water flooded during the short rainy season. They built little adobe houses like the others in the community, and stacked stone walls around the fields. All the time that the work was going on the Bedouins kept their distance, still coming to use the water, watching suspiciously as the settlers took root but saying nothing. Both sides eyed each other and made no attempt to bridge the divide.

As the Muhajereen moved into their new homes and the others went back to their own lives, the eyes were still watching them from the desert. A false aura of calm settled on the area like a midday heat haze. Lulled into a sense of security the Cherkess got on with their daily lives and forgot the Bedouins all around them until the first sniper’s bullet found its mark. "


 Mohydeen’s grandfather and his great grandfather were among those Kabardans… maybe it was accidental or maybe it was symbolic that the Mayor of Amman’s complex of buildings (the most prestigious government buildings in the capital) were later erected on the land of Mohydeen’s grandfather in Ras Al Ein. It was on this exact turf that the young Izzat, son of Hassan, frolicked as a young boy and who later became the heroic general of the Jordanian army. Izzat was the father of Mohydeen, the chronicler whose destiny it was to rewrite his peoples’ history in Russia and in the Diaspora.

I want to note here another occurrence, which might seem like an accidental event but which has great symbolic meaning. In this building of the Mayor, in the cultural theatre of Al Hussein, Mohydeen gave his first Jubilee Concert in Amman, Jordan. “Here, not long ago, ran a beautiful stream…where our forefathers settled and made their homes” he said and his chin trembled. The audience fell absolutely silent. “Here is where I also played as a barefoot young boy with other Circassian children.” The audience broke out in thunderous clapping. Afterwards his music began, a pure mixture of mournful themes and hopeful expressions, Circassian classical music of the highest order, which touched our souls like an echo from the past. Those who sat next to me wept softly, possibly because most of the audience where descendants of those forefathers Mohydeen spoke about. Afterwards, he re-entered the stage again. “I think it might have been God’s will that Circassian Classical music should be played for the first time on this ground” he said and continued “but I don’t know why I was chosen for this undertaking; the high honour of remembrance of our forefathers. I do it with deep respect and I pray for their holy souls.”

I sat in the first row, afraid to look behind me, but I felt the soft weeping of the majority behind me… yes we all wept and we did not hide our tears. It was a silent confession, because for all the Adigha in the audience it was the music and that special nostalgia that brought tears to our eyes.

The woman who sat next to me whispered softly to nobody in particular, “You don’t know why you were chosen…but we know. Thank God that he gave you to us.”

 Mohydeen Quandour was born here, along with many other small Circassian boys and girls whose destiny it was either to preserve or to loose their Circassian identity, their God given right to keep their heritage (just like the other peoples among whom they lived) or to destroy that heritage. Is it bad or is it good to save your own traditions, your own language, in this period of ethnic and religious catastrophes? I am not sure that many can be made interested in this question today. But thank God that people are born with hearts and minds which provide them with belief in themselves and in their own identity to develop and to grow like any other cultures.

The Circassians who settled in Amman, including those Kabardans who made Ras Al Ein (The Muhajereen) their home, have their own special history. We should recall the story of that legendary delegation of Circassians who went to meet Prince Abdallah in Ma’an upon his arrival from the Hejaz. Jordan, as it is known today did not exist, and the Prince had chosen the Circassian village of Amman as his capital instead of the original Ottoman capital of Salt. Furthermore the Prince decided to have Circassians as his private guards. It is interesting that this tradition of the Circassian guards continue until this day, symbolic though it is. This is actually the original history of Jordan…But I should not deviate from my main theme of Mohydeen Quandour’s Lapsa, even though this modern history of the Circassians and their earlier history is exactly what helped to form Mohydeen Quandour’s Lapsa. If we were to be even more precise, we should say here that the spiritual origins of Mohydeen started from here. If we were to explain this concept fully and scientifically, it might require an entire book or two to do it. But I am confined within the boundaries of a short article, therefore I will try to tell the abridged story of Mohydeen’s family in order to answer the titles question, “where is he from?”

Zakia Shid Quandour, Mohydeen’s mother sits next to me. She is beautiful in her eighty-ninth year, with her intelligent eyes and her soft calm outlook. She remembers all the details of her son’s childhood. She recalls his hooliganism as a child, and recalls, at my request, all his anecdotes from the moment of his birth. She remembers the midwife, the Binjapiwipsh. Called Jalduz, a Kabardan old lady who delivered him and who, carrying him in her bony hands, said the first prayers over him hoping that he might serve his people the Circassians. That prayer was the traditional prayer spoken over the new-born. The Midwife had to possess worthy blessed hands because she was the first to touch the new- born to give the boy good fortune which could also be transferred to his people.

Jalduz lived near the Quandour family and she was already popular as the meritorious midwife in the Diaspora. She knew that she would be chosen to deliver Zakia’s child and therefore she would often come around to look after the young wife during her pregnancy. She seemed to guess from the physical form of her abdomen that the new-born would be a male child. The family hoped for a boy because the earlier births were of girls. Mohydeen was the fourth child in the family and by the Quandour family traditions, the person who tied the baby in his cot (the Gusha) was his grandmother, Nursan. This Gusha itself had served as Mohydeen’s father (Izzat’s) baby cot and had been kept wrapped in white linens, waiting for the birth of Izzat’s son. The Circassian Gusha, in those days was a rarity and it was hand made by one single family in Amman. Moreover it was traditional to preserve the Gusha if an important person was raised in it. They believed that it held a special spirit, which if given to strangers would be dissatisfied and the goodness of the Gusha destroyed forever. The Father of Mohydeen became such a prominent person as the first and only general of the Jordanian Army to be given the title ‘Prince of the Army’ by His Majesty King Hussein.

The Dada, grandfather of Mohydeen, waited anxiously for him to begin walking. As he took his first steps, Dada Hassan took the little Pitera (the pet-name he gave him) and placed him on a horse. His mother and Grandmother looked on from the window, trying to hide their anxiety. The little boy sat erect on the horse like a warrior. His Dada Hassan smiled contentedly and proclaimed “This will be a man”.

Pitera… was the pet-name given to Mohydeen ! How we Circassians cherish the sweetness of the pet-names given to us by our grandparents and as we grow up and out of this name, what remains in our consciousness are the dearest and most intimate family recollections.

His real name Muhadeen was also given to him by Dada Hassan. This name was the name of Hassan’s closest friend, Hasher Balkar’s only son and so he gave it to his grandchild because Hassan was the unofficial Atalik (trainer in traditions) of his friend’s son and he admired the manners and astuteness of this earlier Mohydeen. Remember what the poet Keshokov wrote “No one changed his name, if it was given, it was given”.

That is how it is…and was. Where he came from…

Children’s earliest memories are usually associated with colours or images or sounds. For Mohydeen it was smell, the smell of horses, their breath and that special smell of their manes and hides, the smell of stables and mangers. This was the atmosphere, the horse paddocks, where Mohydeen grew up, just like the six generations of Quandours before him. Horses and their breeding were an essential part of his childhood. At four years, he was already working with them, riding them to water at Ras Al Ein springs as his special morning duty. Dada Hassan had picked an old docile mare for him to ride bareback for leading the other mares. His little feet dangled atop the mare’s belly and his tiny fingers clasped on the mare’s main, but he rode it with pride, feeling himself like a hero. The Neighbors would see this parade every morning and they would comment jokingly but loudly for him to hear. “Look, look… The Quandour family’s best horseman leads their horses to water!” When little Mohydeen would hear these comments his back would straighten even more and his head would be held even higher.

One day, Mohydeen came running to his grandfather, who was in the midst of his Andez ritual (the washing of limbs) prior to his noonday prayer. “ Dada, Dada, “ he exclaimed out of breath, “There is a mouse in the feed room eating the horses’ grains” he said. “Come quickly before he eats all their food and the horses are left without any… to die of hunger!” His grandfather, smiling, finished his ritual slowly and as he lowered the sleeves of his shirt, told the young boy, “ What then? Do you want the little mouse to die of hunger? He must also eat to live. Don’t you think? All God’s creatures must live son.” And he continued as he turned to begin his prayers, “Don’t worry Mohydeen, our stores have enough food for the mouse as well.” Dada was the highest authority, the wisest and eldest of the household. If he says the mouse must also eat then that was enough for the little Quandour and he was visibly relieved.

The Horses were always a part of Mohydeen’s life. No matter what jobs he took or where he lived in the world, Mohydeen always had horses near him to breed and to ride. This did not stop even when he was working in Hollywood as a film producer/director. Later when he moved to and settled in England, he purchased a substantial horse property (Locks Barn) not far from the famous racing grounds of Ascot, where he began breeding pure Arabians and was registered in the World Arabian Horse Organization (WAHO). Here he also trained and raced English thoroughbreds.      

   Mohydeen continues the breeding of horses in Jordan where he builds a horse farm which later turns into an equestrian sports club. Here on the wall of his small office you can see the names and the history of his forefathers who were preoccupied with horses, including their history with the Kabardinian horse. I could mention the names of these forefathers: Ahmad, Kazbek, Imam, Nakho, Hassan, Izzat. I should add here another name which will undoubtedly be placed among them one day, that of Mohydeen.

One day, during Mohydeen’s childhood, he dared to ride the most nervous and head-strong filly in the courtyard, the parade horse of his father. Nobody was allowed to ride Samura, least of all because she was dangerous and difficult to control. Mohydeen had become bored with the docile mare his grandfather had picked for him and at five years he felt himself an accomplished horseman. That morning he dared to ride Samura as the lead horse to the Springs. Everything went smoothly as always, until Samura lowered her long neck to drink, then she went completely berserk. A frog had jumped in the water next to her and she lifted her forelegs high and took off like a demon. The result was a terrifying gallop down the length of the stream and back up the dirt rode with the little horseman hanging on for dear life. The entire neighbourhood came out horrified, ‘he’ll be killed …he’ll be killed’ they cried and tried to stand in the fleeing horse’s path to no avail. Mohydeen’s mother says that she was in the kitchen cooking when she heard the screaming. She immediately realised whom the people were screaming about because she knew that only her son was capable of doing such deeds. She came running out but no sounds came out of her throat when she realised the danger her son was in. She witnessed the efforts of the elders who tried hopelessly to stop the wild horse. Finally, after a few more runs up and down the length of the rode, some of the elders, friends of Dada, pulled up a wagon, loaded with hay stacks, in the path of the running animal. Samura, realising she could not clear it, came to a grudging stop, frothing in the mouth and prancing around nervously. Little Mohydeen remained on the horse, holding hard to its mains, his little feet pressed hard to the sides of the animal. Finally, when he realised that Samura had really stopped, he  slid off the sweating horse to the ground unscathed except for his wounded pride. He could hear the elders saying “ he held on… he held on, the little boy did not fall off… it’s a miracle.” Mohydeen was not thinking of miracles, only of what form of punishment he might receive for riding his father’s parade horse. When he looked into his Dada’s eyes he could see not anger but pride, and he relaxed knowing that, at least for the time being, punishment was not being considered. Pitera noticed the anxiety in the others’ eyes and was tempted to cry but held himself firmly. His legs trembling from the experience, his little hands raw and bleeding from holding Samura’s mains so hard, he entered the corridor to his room and saw the saddle of his legendary great grandfather Kazbek, hanging on the wall of the corridor. Here, he could not hold himself any more and he cried his heart out. Nobody could explain why the little boy cried, even though he was not punished yet. Maybe he cried because at age five he understood the price one has to pay for boldness, for audacity, which had been the trademark of this family since the time of Kazbek.

Dada’s home contained sacred items, which were off-limits to everyone including his beloved grandson. One of these items was that ancient saddle of Kazbek, which hung on the wall of the corridor. It was so unusual, so beautiful, so noble, decorated with silver ornaments, it is still kept in our home and our children look at it as a sacred item to this day.

   Kazbek is a special theme and a special page in the genetic destiny of Mohydeen Quandour. Kazbek was the first born son of the nobleman (Wark) Ahmad Quandour. Ahmad’s uncle was the prince, during the eighteenth century, of Lasha Psina, a town presently located in the Adighey Republic. Starting from this period, the history of the Quandour clan has been kept meticulously, being passed from one generation to another until the present day.

   Ahmad Quandour became a close friend of the son of the Hapsa Prince, whom he met in Chechnia. This happened when Ahmad left his ancestral home in Lasha Psina and wondered eastward in the Caucasus. It was his destiny to end up and settle in Chechnia. Here, the son of the Hapsa Prince of Little Kabarda had had similar fate and was already living in the Chechen mountains where the two young Circassian noblemen met and became brothers. What brought them together and unified their purposes was not only the fact that they were both exiles from their homelands but that their hearts and thoughts coincided and agreed. Although they had both decided not to return to their homelands, destiny had other plans for them, and special circumstances forced the son of the Hapsa Prince to return to Little Kabarda. The two friends could not be separated, therefore they both moved to Little Kabarda with their families.

Here, in Little Kabarda, was born the legendary Kazbek.

“In those early years, Ahmad’s stud grew in scale and reputation. Little Kazbek was often to be seen in the company of his father in the stables. Tsema  used to say that the wagon journey to their new home while she was carrying Kazbek had obviously affected his character, for even as a toddler he was constantly wandering into the paddock, entirely at ease with the animals and playing fearlessly under their feet.”

   Because Kazbek was a nobleman (Wark) and certainly because his father was friend to the ruling prince, he had the opportunity to be trained by the best Atalik (Trainer) in the land, in the company of other prince’s children, including the famous Tartar dynasty’s children, the Gireys. Their teacher was not only a master of warrior arts, nor was he only interested in making his pupils physically strong. He was a real expert in the ancient traditions, the Adigha Khabza, in addition he also knew languages and philosophies of other ancient cultures and had found many spiritual experiences by living with monks and travelling to many holy places, fasting and meditations… Therefore, this Atalik spent time perfecting his pupils’ mental and spiritual perceptions. His pupils learned great discipline and performed all the teacher’s demands with great will-power.

   The Adigha Khabza, about which many have written and are writing today to explain it as a form of etiquette, tradition or a warrior’s code of behaviour, was the greatest knowledge which this Atalik could pass on to his students because of his superior knowledge and understanding of its roots and its spiritual values. When Kazbek began his adult life, his highest orientation was his spiritual experience, the experience of his Adigha Khabza as passed down from one generation to the next. These spiritual values became the most important heritage, which the Quandour family nurtured for centuries. They pass this heritage, this family secret, from father to son like the highest belief and the supreme family moral standard. When we speak of Lapsa, we cannot ignore this phenomenon, on the contrary, it is a part and partial of the Lapsa of Mohydeen Quandour as inherited from the great ancestor Kazbek.

  Kazbek followed in the footsteps of his father in the breeding of horses. He was the first Circassian to bring pure Arabian blood stock to the Kabarday from the Hijaz ( Saudi Arabia). This was upon his return from his pilgrimage (Haj) to Mecca. As fate would have it, many years later, his great great grandson Hamid should meet up with the Shammar tribes in northern Syria, from whom Kazbek had obtained his best stallion.

   Kazbek became well known as a tough warrior, a true son of his nation during the Russian-Caucasian wars of the early 19th century. But throughout his life he sought the truth; a meaningful path for his existence. He was a seeker of knowledge and of answers to his peoples dilemma; their unavoidable confrontation with a super power such as Russia. He believed that war was an evil undertaking and that this war should one-day stop. He was not a simple brave warrior but a deep thinker who struggled with ideas and concepts and who prayed constantly for peace in his land. That was why he went to the pilgrimage and acquired the coveted name of Haji Kazbek.

   Kazbek refused to immigrate to the Ottoman Empire. He understood that he must stay on his land even if that meant hardships or death.

   It was not in Imam’s destiny to follow through in his father Kazbek’s path. He was killed by the Cossacks, when they came to steal his stallion,  leaving a pregnant wife behind. The fatherless child to be born was Nakho. As it was traditional in Circassian society, the grandfather Kazbek brought him up as his own and also became his Atalik. After the prescribed three years, the mother of Nakho is given permission to remarry and she immigrates with her husband to Istanbul.

   When Nakho grows to adulthood he takes over the breeding of horses seriously and establishes an important horse breeding farm in the Kabarda. Nakho always understood, as taught to him by Kazbek, that the land of the northern Caucasus was the Circassian motherland and that it should never be abandoned no matter what pressures the occupiers practised on him. But Nakho never gives up the dream of seeing his ageing mother in Istanbul and after the repeated letters and requests from her he reluctantly decides to immigrate to be next to her during her last remaining years. Before he leaves his homeland, he sells the best stock of his horses, including the pure Arabians, to Count Strogonov, a well known breeder himself out of Piatigorsk. It is interesting to note here that after the October Revolution, the horse farm of Count Strogonov is taken over by the Communists and renamed the Terski Konizavod, which is today the most famous of all Russian horse farms for pure-bred Arabians.

The story of the muhajer (immigrants) and the destiny of Mohydeen begins at this moment, when Nakho leaves the North Caucasus. It begins in Turkey and then TransJordan…

   Nakho brings a nucleus of the best horse with him to Turkey. He builds a new family home and begins a new program of breeding, which quickly makes him a wealthy man. His four sons, Hassan, Hamid and Majeed and the young Shamsuldeen help him with the horse business and the family prospers. The Ottoman cavalry is in constant need for good horses and they become his most important clients. But when the army discovers that Nakho has three healthy sons of subscription age, they begin harassing him to take them away for the army. For a few years Nakho manages to delay such an event by paying huge sums to the officers in charge. In the end Hamid is taken away. But the young Hamid runs away from the army and ends up in Trans-Jordan with the earlier Kabarday immigrants in Amman. After about ten years and to avoid this happening again with his remaining sons, Nakho decides to immigrate to Amman. Shamsuldeen is left behind with his step-father to continue his education in the Military Academy of Istanbul. And so the family Quandour, with their new born son Izzat (grandson of Nakho and father of Mohydeen) move to Trans-Jordan.

   Izzat, son of Hassan, grows up in Amman and formulates his character to become the potential leader of his clan. He becomes an important personality in Trans-Jordan. He understands early on that he would shoulder a huge responsibility, not only for his family or immigrant Circassians, but also for his adopted country. I am not afraid to sound exaggerating because it was exactly like that in reality – when a Circassian became an important person as Izzat became, all Circassians were proud of the fact because they were proud of his achievements. They felt that they owed an honest service to the country, which took them in as immigrants and for them to produce such a man who could serve such a country was indeed an honour. What creates such an obligation for the Circassians is the concept of Lapsa, which unites them, which obligates them to remain true to their Circassian identity.

   Here I remember a family tale told by a noble old woman, Mohydeen’s mother, when the family finished their lunch and the servants began serving tea. It was a lovely time for us, while drinking tea because it was here that family histories and legends were often told. Even the children would remain glued to their chairs to hear these stories. One of these was the story told by Nana when several elders came from Syria to congratulate Hassan for the promotion of his son Izzat in the army. Izzat had become a senior officer and had received a special service medal. Izzat was standing at the table serving the elders, just as it was traditional for the young son to serve. One of the elder guests spoke out addressing Hassan. “ Please allow this young man to sit with us at the table. We are embarrassed that he is serving us. After all it was to honour him that we came to you. He has earned a seat with us.”

“ Don’t be so concerned Thamada,” answered Hassan. “He is a senior officer when he leaves my house. In here he is the youngest and he must serve.”

   I heard another story during one of our family meals told by Mohydeen’s mother. He had already become a well known Hollywood director and author when one time he flew back to Amman for a two-day visit with his parents. When he entered, one piece of luggage in hand, his father promptly told him that he must travel immediately to Damascus to greet a Kabardan delegation and to invite them to Amman. Mohydeen went inside to change his shirt and to shave his beard and was on his way out to the car when his mother complained, “can’t he at least have a bite to eat?” Mohydeen kissed her forehead telling her that he was not hungry and drove off to Damascus to do his father’s bidding.

     All of the above, and much more which I could not write in this short article, is what constitutes Lapsa… Where he is from.

Kazbek’s ancient saddle was the symbol under which Mohydeen grew up as the contemporary of a series of distinguished forefathers. They passed on to him the deepest concepts of Khabza; honour, pride, truth, virtue and self-worthiness; family beliefs imbedded in their genetic make-up. Those who possess such qualities, neither people nor time could ever take away.

                                                                                     Dr. Luba Balagova

Fellow of the

Institute of International Literature