On the 15th of April, 1897, a 19 year-old European resident of Baghdad named Alexander Richard Svoboda set out on a long journey to Europe by caravan, boat and train. From a large and influential family of merchants, artists, and explorers settled in Ottoman Iraq since the end of the 18th century, Alexander traveled in the company of his parents and a departing British diplomat accompanied by his retinue. They followed a circuitous route through the Middle East to Cairo, and thence to Europe on a three and a half month journey which Alexander described day-by-day in a journal written in the Iraqi Arabic of his time and in English on the way back. While in Paris, he married a French woman from whom he was later divorced. At the end of a rather unhappy life he left Baghdad for Istanbul where he remarried and died.
Publication of Alexander’s Journal
The Travel Journal was the first of our Svoboda Diaries Projects. It was initially the project of the Baghdad architect Nowf Allawi and her supervisor at the Architectural Consultancies of Iraq, Prof. Henry Louis Alexander Svoboda. When Prof. Svoboda, the last of the family in Iraq, died in 2005, Nowf had been helping him with a family history project to transcribe and translate Alexander’s travel journal. She decided to continue the project in his honor. Unable to conduct research in a troubled Baghdad following the U. S. invasion, she came in contact with Prof. Andrews’ Ottoman Texts Archive Project (OTAP), which offered to help her. The result was not only the publication of the Travel Journal but the discovery of the diaries of Alexander’s father, Joseph Mathia Svoboda, and the birth of the Svoboda Diaries Project.