INTERPRETERS MAKING HISTORY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Napoleon took 15 interpreters with him when he invaded Egypt in 1798. He then went on to conquer most of the Middle East. Without interpreters the invasion would not have succeeded. How else have interpreters affected history in the Middle East and who were they?

In the 16th century Ottoman Empire, when Turks refused to learn the “barbarous languages” of Europe and Europeans found the Ottoman language too difficult, both sides depended on “dragomen” to be their go-betweens. Dragomen, first Greek and then Muslim, became the official interpreters and translators of the Ottoman court.

The first imperial dragoman ever recorded was Lufti Bei, who was sent to Venice in 1479 to deliver the Treaty of Constantinople, thus ending a 15 year war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire. In 1539-41 Lufti Pasha, an Albanian Grand Vizier serving under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, wrote several books on history and religion – some in Turkish, some in Arabic. During the late 1600’s French interpreter and collector, Antoine Galland, traveled the Levant collecting artifacts and learning Turkish, Persian, and Arabic languages. In 1704 he translated The Arabian Nights into French from a 15th century Syrian manuscript, which is still the favored translation.

Much closer to our times, the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, hiring interpreters to help military officers determine tribal loyalties. Shafig Nazari became so trusted by Army officers that he was issued an automatic rifle to fight alongside U.S. soldiers and given the run of a high-security U.S. base in downtown Kabul, where he translated for top U.S. military advisors. He and hundreds of Afghani and Iraqi interpreters for the military have been promised U.S. visas to protect their families from retaliation.

In 2014 Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist, was arrested with two others by Egyptian authorities and sentenced to seven years at maximum security Tora Prison. In 2003 he had covered the first year of the Iraq War for the Los Angeles Times, and subsequently wrote Baghdad Bound: An Interpreter’s Chronicles of the Iraq War. Fahmy went on to cover CNN news in the Middle East, culminating with a 2013 post in Egypt as International Bureau Chief of the English version of Al Jazeera. After a retrial and renouncing his Egyptian citizenship on 02/03/2015 he was released from prison.

Although not nearly as renowned as those above, Arabic language experts from Dialog One can provide you with interpretation and translation skills that match your own needs. Contact us when you are ready.