A Hero Spends His Time In Captivity



Bediuzzaman giving lessons in the prison camp and giving his final prayer before his expected execution by firing squad….


Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and his armed comrades had retrieved some artillery in order to help the city of Bitlis defend against Russian attacks for at least a few more days. In the meantime, the people of the city found an opportunity to emigrate to safety. Later on both the military and volunteer brigades also withdrew from Bitlis. However, Bediuzzaman and some of his students remained inside the city and continued to engage the Russians. During the firefight, Nursi’s nephew and fellow student Ubeyd along with several other Nur students were killed and martyred.

As the battle intensified, the Russians had gradually squeezed Bediuzzaman and his students into an ever tighter and confined circle from which they were struggling to break out of. During the fray, Bediuzzaman attempted to leap from a wall but when he landed he broke his foot on a rock buried in the frozen stream below. Him and his students were unable to escape this quagmire and the Russians found them and took them as war prisoners.

For a time, Bediuzzaman and his students were held in Bitlis. However, soon the Russians separated Nursi from his students, sending him first to Van in Eastern Turkey and then, after a long and punishing journey, to the isolated little town of Kologrif in northern Russia. He was held there for six months and then again he was forced to move, eventually arriving in a place called Kostroma where he spent two years of his life in captivity.




Despite the situation, every place for Bediuzzaman was considered by him as a mosque. No matter where he was, he considered himself as a slave of God and aimed to be close to Him and reflect on His creation even though he reside in the most intolerable of conditions. He performed his duties with the greatest of sensitivity and devotion and while regarding his situation as something destined for Him by God, he used his knowledge and example to benefit those people around him. In Kologrif, he turned part of the old cinema that he and his fellow captives were held in into a mosque. He did the same whilst in the Kostroma camp. He spent some of the money that he had previously earned as a military captain on his fellow captives. Though they were all enduring very tough conditions, he continued to inspire them and boost their morale with his words of spiritual advice. Later on, he became the guarantor of a small mosque along the Volga River that was set aside for the local Tatar muslims.




Several years later, a journal appeared which featured the memories of a military officer who witnessed the heroic character of Bediuzzaman whilst being held captive in Kostroma. Somewhat later, further witnesses corroborated these memories which were in the form of a story about when Bediuzzaman’s camp was visited by a military commander from the Caucasian Front. Whilst visiting the camp, Commander Nikola Nikolaviç inspected the men who were being held there. Yet Nursi refused to stand up as the Comannder-in-Chief stood in front of him. Perceiving this refusal to be an insult, Nikolaviç demanded that Nursi be taken to a military court in order to be judged for execution by firing squad. However, before his execution Nursi asked for a few minutes to make ablutions and pray. The Commander noticed the great level of composure, peace and dignity that Nursi demonstrated while carrying out his final actions before inevitable death. The Commander realised that this is not the attitude of someone who intended to merely insult and revile him. Rather, he realised that Nursi acted in an apparently defiant manner as a result of his sincere Belief in God and his religious principles alone. Thus as a result, the Commander cancelled his death sentence.


Eventually, after two years of captivity Bediuzzaman ran away and thus began a great and perilous voyage. He somehow made his way through St.Petersburg, then through Warsaw and Sofia to eventually arrive in Istanbul.



“Fate Has Held Us Captive”


Ali Çavuş explains:


"The Russian soldiers held us in a tight circle. The four of us ran behind Ustadh in a row and loaded rifles with magazines full of bullets and handed them to Bediuzzaman. He used them so quickly and with such agility that he thought his weapons had become automatic machine guns. Without stopping he rained down a constant stream of bullets upon the heads of the Russians. Then when we gave him another fully loaded rifle it seemed that we stopped caring about our own safety. Yet when the rifle refused to fire Ustadh got so angry that he smashed the rifle against a rock so hard that it shattered into pieces. Quickly, we handed him another full rifle.

Right at that time we managed to breach the defenses of the Russians. Our aim was to head towards the side of “Kizil Mosque”. As we made our way we encountered a high wall and old aqueduct that blocked our path. Ustadh climbed the wall and jumped down. It seemed that there was a great stone lying underneath the snow, for as he landed his foot struck against it and he became injured. We followed him also and jumped down, soon finding him sitting down and shouting”Brothers! Fate has held us captive!”

We gathered together immediately and took Ustadh into a closed water-duct and furrow drain. “You go! Save yourselves. I give you my blessings.”, Bediuzzaman said, but this caused all of us to cry loudly and sob. “Seyda!”, we cried. “Where can we go and leave you like this? Have our efforts and honour come to nothing? Whether we die or we stay, we will be at your service”. After taking a short while to reflect on this, Nursi responded “Then one of you should go. Go and tell the Russians news that we are here. Let them come and get us!”