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Persia and the Persian Question, volume I

by George N. Curzon

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Chapter 8

POLITICS AND COMMERCE OF KHORASAN

See how this river comes me cranking in

And cuts me from the best of all my land

A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out.

SHAKESPEARE, Henry IV., Part I., act iii. scene 4.

IN this chapter[146] I propose to discuss the political and commercial situation in Khorasan, the latter being a branch of the former subject, at any rate in a country where commerce can be pursued with political objects, where mercantile agents are frequently diplomatic emissaries in disguise, and where the command of trade routes and bazaars is capable of being used as a preliminary to territorial acquisition. I wish to place before my readers the causes connected with these two spheres of action that bring the province of Khorasan within the purview of European politics, and are responsible for the existence of a Khorasan Question. I desire to point out the parts that are or can be played by Great Britain and Russia in the development of that question, and their respective interests in its future settlement. I shall endeavour, from data which I have collected with some trouble, and which are not elsewhere to be found systematically displayed, to indicate what that future is likely to be. First let me explain and define the factors with which I propose to deal.

Khorasan, or the Land of the Sun, is the extreme north-


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eastern province of Persia. Extending from about long. 56 degs. on the west, to long. 61 degs. on the east, or from the Kal Mura River[147] to the Heri Rud, it presents an average width of a little over 300 miles. Its extreme length would be, from its north-western to its south-eastern extremity, a distance of 600 miles; but its average length may be calculated at 100 miles less. Upon the north it is bounded by the great mountain range, the eastern continuation of the Elburz system, which I have already described at length, and by which it is severed from what was once Turkoman, but is now Russian Transcaspian territory. On the south it is bounded and all but cut off from the world by the appalling desert that stretches like a sea to the very outskirts of Kerman.

In this wide extent of territory, which is estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000 square miles, are included the most extreme varieties of physical conformation, of scenery, and of climate. Upon the north appear mountains whose highest peaks are rarely left by the snow, and rise to an elevation of between 12,000 and 13,000 feet. Range succeeds range in this knotted mountain cluster; the intervening valleys, with a mean elevation of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, being the recipients of whatever moisture drains from their sides, the centres of cultivation, and the sites of villages and towns. In contrast to this almost Alpine scenery, the Dasht-i-Kavir, or Great Salt Desert of Persia, one of the most strange and funereal scenes upon which ever fell the eye of man, lays its palsied hand across the middle part. Then towards the south-east ensues a second mountainous plateau, with peaks of 6,000 feet, and lower cultivated valleys. Finally, to redress the balance, comes the Dasht-i-Lut, or Desert of Lut, whose features, though different, are not unfit to be compared with those of the Dasht-i-Kavir.[148]

Cultivation here, as elsewhere in Persia, depends upon water supply; the detritus swept down by the streams or torrents depositing a layer of soil upon the sand, which is subsequently


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fertilised by the same agency that originally brought it. A petty torrent named the Kusf gives life to a limited area of cultivation near Birjand in the south; and there are a few scanty confluents of the upper course of the Heri Rud. With these exceptions the rivers of Khorasan are confined to the northern portion of the province, which has in consequence acquired its reputation as one of the granaries of Persia. Here the Keshef Rud, of which I have spoken, drains the Meshed valley into the Heri Rud. Conversely, the Atrek and Gurgan on the western side of the watershed drain towards the Caspian Sea. About midway between the two the Kara Su and Kal Mura, already mentioned, lose themselves in the Kavir. This is the sum total of the rivers of a province that is more than half as large again as the whole of Italy, and not far short of the entire area of Spain.

The population of Khorasan is as varied as are its physical characteristics. Successive waves of conquest have brought hither specimens of most of the great ethnic divisions of Asia, and, retiring, have left them rooted, in greater or less degree, to the soil. Here, in addition to the original Iranian stock, and to other members of the Aryan family, are descendants of the Mongols who came in the wake of Timur and Jenghiz Khan, Arabs who were borne on the flood tide of Mohammedan conquest, Tartars, Turkomans, and Turks — three really interchangeable names for different branches of the same great family that, in succession to the Mongols, startled the West first with the Seljuk and afterwards with the Ottoman invasion. The 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' in its latest edition, gives the relative proportions of these races in Khorasan as follows: —

 

I.

Iranians

=

þTajiks

Kurds

üBeluchis

400,000

250,000

10,000

II.

Mongols

=

þTimuris

üHazaras

250,000

50,000

III.

Tartars

=

þAfshars î

üKajars *

100,000

IV.

Arabs

=

100,000

Total

1,160,000

But from what I can gather this estimate exceeds at least twofold the verifiable total of the population, which may be set down as between 500,000 and 600,000; the terrible famine of 1872


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having inflicted damages from which the province has never recovered. Khorasan has experienced a history of great and stormy vicissitudes. Situated on the borders of Iran, it has been the perpetual theatre of armed struggle, and a favourite battle-ground of races. Its capital cities have alternately excited by their dimensions the bewildered admiration of Arab chroniclers, and have been swept off the earth, as though by a tornado, by the passions of conquerors and kings. It has been the residence of great monarchs, and the nucleus of mighty empires. At one time its name implied a dominion that included Kharezm (Khiva) and Merv on the north, that stretched to the Oxus and embraced Balkh, the mother of cities, of which Herat was a central point, and that extended beyond Kandahar.[149] Later, as limb after limb was torn away, and independent sovereignties were created out of the fragments, its boundaries became more and more contracted, until the kings of Persia would sometimes have found it difficult to say how much they really held of Khorasan. In the early part of this century, desolated by border warfare on the north, inhabited by turbulent chieftains and conflicting tribes, and commonly dependent upon the fluctuating politics and fortunes of Herat, it was the vulnerable spot of the Kajars' dominions, a sort of Ireland to an otherwise fairly united kingdom. Long after it had been forcibly conquered and subdued to the Shah's authority, disorder trembled below the surface, and events might at any moment precipitate an explosion. As late as 1862 Mr. Eastwick wrote: —

The normal state of Khorasan is war. Petty plunderings, murders, brigandage, small insurrections, executions of five, ten, or twenty robbers take place weekly; and cavalry, engagements, sieges of fortresses or towns, annually, with a considerable war every five or ten years.[150]

It is not indeed till the last ten or fifteen years that Khorasan may be said to have become thoroughly fused, in sentiment as well as in title, with the rest of the Shah's dominions. The present King, who, whatever his failings, has undeniably consolidated his


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reduced but still compact territories, can boast of a firmer hold upon the province than any previous member of his dynasty, and is as unquestionably sovereign at Meshed as he is at Teheran.

In the reign of Fath Ali Shah, about fifty years ago, the revenue of Khorasan was 200,000 tomans, and 50,000 kharvars grain.[151] In 1875 it was 340,000 tomans, and 45,000 kharvars of grain. In 1889 it stood at 539,000 tomans (154,000l.) and 43,000 kharvars of grain (two-thirds wheat and one-third barley), and 13,600 kharvars of kah — i.e. chopped straw:[152] figures which, in spite of the depreciation of the toman, show that the productive capacity of the province is on the increase, and also that the extortionary capacity of the Government is better organised and more keen.

Of this total, according to a subdivision which is highly interesting, and will afterwards come up for explanation, the Shah received 87,200 tomans (24,914l.) in cash, and 9,200 tomans (2,629l.) as the cash equivalent of his proportion of the grain; a total of 27,543l. from the province. The remainder was absorbed in pay of troops and civil officials, pensions, &c.

Like every other post or office in Persia, the governorship is as a rule sold to the highest bidder, the price given by the successful purchaser being a fair criterion of the estimated increase or diminution in productiveness and consequent value. The Governor-General, who resides at Meshed, is usually a member of the royal family or some official of high standing and distinction. Subject to his orders are a number of district governors or chieftains, of differing power and influence, ruling over territories that vary in size from hundreds to shires, and from shires to provinces. These as a rule owe their appointments to the Shah, even where the succession is hereditary in a single family, but are responsible in the first place to his deputy at Meshed. Beneath them again is a hierarchy of petty governors, headmen, and mayors, nominated by and responsible to their superiors.

It is in the multiplicity of rival claims and interests among these chieftains, in the variety of races beneath their rule, and


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above all in the juxtaposition of their extended borders with those of two foreign Powers, neither of whom can be considered as other than hostile — namely, Russia and Afghanistan — that the Khorasan Question finds its birth; and it is upon a consideration of these manifold elements that any attempt either to comprehend or to solve it must primarily be based. The greater part of the western and southern limits of Khorasan, not being border districts, but abutting upon other Persian provinces, and being either inhabited by Persians or not inhabited at all, play no part in the problem of frontier policy. This may be said to commence with the Astrabad province, occupying the neck of land between the Astrabad Bay, in the south-east corner of the Caspian, and the district of Shahrud, and also a stretch of fertile soil between the Gurgan and Atrek rivers as far east as the 56th parallel of longitude.[153] Its capital and only city is Astrabad, with a population of 8,000, which is the residence of the Governor. Its port is Bunder-i-Gez, thirty miles distant, on the bay before named. The Governor was till recently Amir Khan Serdar, the Saif-el-Mulk, a young man, who is the brother of one of the Shah's wives. He was said to possess every quality that should disqualify him for the discharge of such an office, and to have been merely sent to Astrabad in order to get rid of him at Teheran. He has since either been superseded or has resigned. The forces of the Astrabad province are nominally 3,800, of whom a garrison of 300 is stationed at the fortified post of Ak Kaleh (White Fortress), eight miles from the capital, on the Gurgan; 2,900 were lately in camp at the same place; and the rest are scattered in different directions, or are not under arms at all; one-fourth of the total nominal strength being a very moderate deduction for absentees. The province of Astrabad, though distinct from Khorasan and not responsible to the Governor-General, cannot be omitted from any discussion of the politics of the larger area, for the reason that it commands the western approaches thereto from the rest of Persia and Teheran, and that it is directly concerned in the solution of three distinct questions, each affecting Khorasan in the closest degree, though only touching it from without. These are the questions of the


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Russian naval station at Ashurada, the control of the road from the sea to Shahrud, and the allegiance of the Yomut Turkomans between the Gurgan and the Atrek.

A glance at the map will reveal the peculiar physical conformation of Astrabad Bay, and supplies another illustration of the phenomenon that has already been described at Enzeli, where the prevalent westerly gales in the Caspian pile up long bars of sand on the seaward side of shallow murdabs or lagoons. Astrabad Bay is a large sheet of water forty miles in length by eight miles in width, protected from the open sea on the north by just such a long promontory or spit of land, projecting for thirty miles from the western coast line and terminating in three small islands, the furthest of which is only separated by a narrow channel from the eastern or Turkoman coast of the Caspian. The bay, therefore, resembles a lake, with the additional advantage of connection with the open sea; and although it has nowhere more than twenty feet of water, and in most parts much less, yet on the shores of the Caspian, which possess so few harbours, it may claim a quite peculiar distinction. In the hands of Persia it is doubtful, judging from analogy, whether it would ever have been seriously utilised for commercial or other purposes. Russia, however, took very good care that not even the opportunity should be afforded to her timid neighbour. Already by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, confirmed by that of Turkomanchai in 1828, she had stipulated that no armed vessel flying the Persian flag should be allowed upon the Caspian; while to make assurance doubly sure, she herself appeared in force upon the scene about the year 1840 and occupied the island of Ashurada, lying off the extremity of the long peninsula of Mian Kaleh, hereafter described.[154] The plea under


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which she defended her intrusion was the necessity of putting down the Turkoman pirates who infested the southern and eastern shores of the Caspian, and, after their fashion, robbed, pillaged, and carried off their captives into slavery. The Russians do not appear either then or since to have formally disputed the Persian ownership of the island, which is unquestionable; but to have justified their stay as the consignees of police powers which the Persians were incapable of exercising themselves, and which after a time were tacitly recognised by the latter. For this purpose a small naval armament was collected, four or five vessels belonging to which and one gunboat, under the command of a Russian commodore, still lie off the Russian naval station.[155] It is needless to say that the piratical escapades of the Turkomans have long ago been completely quelled. The Russians, notwithstanding, have never thought of giving back their trust, and would now be very much insulted at any suggestion that Ashurada was not their freehold property.

The island, however, is low, swampy, and most unwholesome. For the last fifty years it has been reported as being slowly eaten away by the sea; and the surrounding conditions have in fact changed so much as to render the descriptions of only half that period ago quite obsolete. Eastwick left a most minute and accurate account of the locality as he found it in 1862.[156] At that date there were two islands, Great and Little Ashurada. The first of these was severed by a channel about half a mile in width from the end of the long promontory of Mian Kaleh (called by the Russians Potemkin), and was about one and one-third mile long by three-quarters of a mile broad. This was the Russian naval and military station. Then came shoal water for half a mile,


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followed by the low sand spit known as Little Ashurada, two miles in length. Then came more shoals, with a narrow passage between them, extending to the Turkoman coast.

Since then a third island, which the Russians call Middle Ashurada, has been formed between the other two, while to strike a balance the erosive process has been going on at Great Ashurada to such an extent that the island is now reported to be less than a mile long by only one-third of a mile wide. Upon this space of ground are built the quarters of the commodore, barracks for soldiers, a church, club-house, and the usual appurtenances of a military station.

In view of the facts here narrated it is not surprising that the Russians, who since the complete subjugation of the Turkomans have next to nothing to do at Ashurada, and have really no defensible raison d'être in the place, should have for long turned covetous eyes upon some more secure and salubrious post on the inner line of the bay. More than twenty years ago they are said to have contemplated the seizure of the Persian landing-place of Gez, on the mainland, by offering to garrison it; but in this they were forestalled by the Persian Government. Unable to possess themselves of Gez, which, though a wretched place in itself,[157] the Shah would be in the last degree reluctant to yield, and the occupation of which would signify the beginning of the end, they are rumoured now to be desirous of obtaining a fortified position on the Kara Su (or Black Water), a small river rising about thirty miles east of Astrabad, and flowing into the Caspian about six miles south of the embouchure of the Gurgan. Such a position would be equivalent to the occupation of Gez, and would place Astrabad, literally at their mercy.

Before I pass to the question of the reasons for which the Russians cling so closely to their foothold in this unlovely spot, let me call attention to the fact that in their presence there history is merely repeating itself. It is a strange and interesting coincidence, although it is one which I have never seen noticed, that over 200 years ago the island of Ashurada was simi-


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larly occupied, without permission, by a body of Cossacks, and for some time held by them in force. It was in 1668, we learn from the omniscient Chardin,[158] that the Cossacks of South Russia, being instigated by the Grand Duke of Muscovy to attack Persia in revenge for a slight which had been put upon his embassy by Shah Abbas the Great, invaded Mazanderan and sacked his capital, Ferahabad. Thereupon, intending to winter in Persia, they entrenched themselves on the 'peninsula of Mionne Kelle, or Middle-sized Horn, a tongue of land that runs forward into the Caspian Sea about ten or eleven leagues, and abounds in harts, wild boars, wild goats, and other sorts of wild venison.' The Persians promptly attacked them, and, bolder or more fortunate than their nineteenth-century descendants, succeeded in ousting the intruders, who, however, took refuge in Ashurada, and remained there for a time.

Nor is this the only occasion upon which Russian forerunners have appeared upon the scene, or have been within measurable distance of seizing Astrabad. Fifty years later, in 1722-3, Peter the Great, who had a very shrewd notion of the proper strategical positions to be occupied, and who, although his alleged will be apocryphal, entertained very clearly defined ideas of a Central Asian dominion, taking advantage of the disordered condition of Persia consequent upon the Afghan invasion in 1722, and utilising as his plea the robbery and slaughter of a number of his subjects in Persian towns near the border, prepared to invade the country from the north. This project was never carried out in its entirety; although the Russian army, led by himself, advanced in 1722 as far as Derbend. The submission of Gilan and surrender of Baku in the following year were, however, sufficient to extort from the young Shah, Tahmasp II., who was endeavouring to make headway against the Afghan usurpers, a treaty, ceding to Russia Derbend and Baku with their dependencies, and the entire provinces of Gilan, Mazanderan, and Astrabad; in return for which magnificent donation — which by the way the young Shah was hardly in a position at the time to make — the Russian army was to drive the Afghans out of the country.[159] The Russians occupied Gilan for a


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while, but were too busy elsewhere to trouble themselves with Astrabad; and thus a second time it slipped out of their possession.

Sixty years later the attempt was again renewed. Forster, the first English traveller who made the overland journey from India to Europe in 1784, and who passed this way, relates an interesting tale of a Russian squadron, whose commanding officer in 1781 commenced the erection of a large fortified building on the shore at Ashraf, the site of the famous palace of Shah Abbas near the coast, about twenty-five miles west of Gez. They had reckoned, however, without their host; for Agha Mohammed Khan Kajar, afterwards Shah of Persia, and at that time engaged in establishing his authority in Mazanderan, soon appeared upon the scene. Expressing great pleasure at what he saw, he invited the Russian officers to dinner, made them prisoners, and only released them on condition of the guns being removed and the fort razed to the ground. He even appealed to the Russian Government for formal amends.[160] Thus ended the third Russian attempt to gain a foothold upon the mainland of Persia in the south-eastern angle of the Caspian. The fourth attempt, which I have sketched, is being pursued with less abruptness and with greater patience. Its solution may perhaps be visible in the time of many now living.

Next I come to the reasons which have actuated the Russians in their long-sustained desire to obtain an entrance into this corner of the Persian mainland. It is not that Astrabad of itself provides either the most convenient or a very easy avenue of invasion. In the first half of this century different and more exaggerated opinions prevailed as to its strategical value. If a line be drawn from Baku to India it will be found to pass through Astrabad; and accordingly this was the line of advance that was contemplated both by the Emperors Paul and Napoleon, when they together discussed and planned an overland expedition against India in 1800; and again by General Khruleff when, in the course of the Crimean war, he submitted a similar programme of invasion to the Emperor Nicholas. The immediate objectives were in either case Meshed and Herat; and in those times the best


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route for a European army marching to Meshed or Herat was undoubtedly by Astrabad. But since then the Transcaspian situation has been revolutionised. Russia sits securely where the Turkoman terror formerly reigned. Meshed can be smitten from Ashkabad, and Herat from Merv and Penjdeb, without any necessity for the lengthy land march from the Caspian. Astrabad, therefore, as a point of debarkation, has not the value for Russia that it formerly had. Nor are its own resources sufficient, so far as can be ascertained, to support a very large army in the field, although it is said that, in 1863, a Persian army of 30,000 men remained encamped for eight months in the neighbourhood. Its value is now not so much offensive as defensive. Its eye may be said to look not eastwards, but westwards; and its strategical importance is involved in the second of the questions which I named above, viz. the control of the Shahrud road and the position which it consequently enables its occupant to take up against the rest of Persia and the capital.

Astrabad is separated from Shahrud by the Shah Kuh, or main range of the Elburz mountains, which here retain a distinct physical individuality before they are broken up into the manifold ridges of northern Khorasan. The highest peak of this section, fifteen miles south of Astrabad, attains an altitude of 13,000 feet. Across the range there are two passes to Shahrud, a distance by the mule track of sixty-five miles, one of which at least, in spite of the elevation and of the nature of the country, might be converted into an excellent military road.[161] An army marching by either of these and seizing Shahrud, which is absolutely defenceless, would find itself in this position. It would, in the first place, be surrounded by a district of considerable fertility and abundant water supply, capable even in summer of sustaining a large army.[162] Secondly, it would hold the point of junction of the


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roads from Mazanderan and the sea coast, and from the capital, Teheran. And, thirdly, it would command the sole entry from the west into Khorasan, into the heart of which run two easy roads, the one by Jajarm, Bujnurd, and Kuchan more to the north, the other by Sebzewar and Nishapur due east to Meshed. In other words, the Astrabad-Shahrud position is the key of Northern Persia. Stationed there, an army severs Khorasan from the rest of the world, and can effectually prevent any reinforcement from the capital. North Persia may be likened in shape to a wasp of which the head is at Teheran and the tail at Meshed. The narrow belt between Gez and Shahrud is the wasp's waist. Cut it and the head becomes powerless; while the utmost that the tail can do (and that — not if it is a Persian tail) is to implant a dying sting. It is in the light of the physical configuration of this portion of the Shah's dominions that the presence and the intentions of the Russians at Ashurada have always been invested with such importance. Their interests in this neighbourhood are sufficiently guarded by a Consul at Astrabad, and by Consular agents or representatives at Bunder-i-Gez and Shahrud.

I pass now to the third or Yomut Turkoman Question, in which Russia again plays a significant part. By the Boundary Treaty of 1881, the Russo-Persian frontier in this quarter was definitely fixed at the Atrek River, from its mouth as far as the junction of the Sumbar at Chat, although it appears that one of their boundary pillars, for some unexplained reason, is still placed south of the Atrek. Moreover, Russian officers have been heard of who since the treaty have crossed the Atrek River with soldiers, and have endeavoured forcibly to collect tribute from the Persian Yomuts on the Gurgan. However, for such an act there can be no excuse in international law, and practically, as well as diplomatically, the Atrek may be taken as the line of division. North of that river are settled the Yomut Turkomans under Russian rule; south of the river are the Yomuts under Persian rule, though nomad camps of the latter are in the habit of crossing the river at certain seasons of the year, and are allowed by treaty to do so in order to change their pasturages. The Russian Yomuts are thoroughly subdued, and, whether satisfied or not with Russian sovereignty, are powerless to revolt. The Persian Yomuts, however, who are subdivided into the Ata Bai and Jafir Bai clans, are far from submitting tamely to the pretensions of


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Persian authority, and were during the year 1888-9 in active rebellion. Further to the east are the Goklan Turkomans, a more submissive people, who, in order to escape the hereditary enmity of the Yomuts, have tranquilly accepted the Persian yoke, pay revenue to the Shah's exchequer, and provide him with a body of 300 irregular cavalry.[163]

The rebellion of the Yomuts began in February 1888, and was not finally extinguished till March 1889. It appears to have been fomented by, if not to have entirely arisen from, the scandalous misgovernment of the Persian authorities. So serious, however, did the movement become that at one time 130,000 Persian troops, under the command of the Governor-General of Khorasan, the Khans of Bujnurd and Kuchan, and the Prince Governor of Astrabad, were in the field against them. Almost incredible stories are related of the cowardice of the Persian troops, large bodies of 1,000 and 2,000 men being checked and routed in open daylight by a few scores, or at most hundreds, of Turkoman horsemen. It is only fair to add that the Persian soldiers were perhaps as much actuated by discontent as by cowardice in these discreditable proceedings. At least one half of their pay, when it came from Teheran, was pocketed by the Saif-el-Mulk; and to expect these ill-fed, ill-clothed, and unpaid wretches to fight was perhaps more than human. Savage acts of violence occurred on both sides, particularly on that of the Persians, who spared neither the lives of the men nor the honour of the women who fell into their hands. At length the revolt was brought to an end by the familiar Persian methods of treachery and intrigue. The clans were induced to turn against each other; and, finally, the leading Ata Bai chieftain, Haji Nazar Khan, who had been the life and soul of the rising, was enticed into Persian territory and killed. The revolt then collapsed.[164]

Episodes such as this not merely display the lamentable incapacity of the Central Government, but they can have but one ulterior consequence — the encouragement of Russian pretensions on the north. It is well known that that Power claims, and


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expects eventually to exercise, sovereignty over the whole of the Turkoman tribes. Now it is believed that the Persian Yomuts are quite content, if fairly treated, to observe a reasonable allegiance to the Shah in order to escape the heavier taxation of their brethren on the Russian bank of the Atrek.[165] Every fresh disturbance, however, and still more any evidence of the powerlessness of Persia to check it, provide just such an excuse for advance as a Power with aggressive intentions would welcome with avidity; and Persia must be careful that in this critical region she is not found playing into her opponent's hand. Had Russia intended at the time to play a forward instead of a waiting game, she might have easily discovered an opportunity in the recent disorders. That her secret sympathies were not on the Persian side, was shown by the remarkable fact that the insurgent Yomuts were found to be mainly supplied with Russian breechloading rifles and cartridges.

From the Astrabad province, with its appanage of acute political problems, we have now crossed into Khorasan proper, and with our faces turned in an easterly direction may pursue our inspection of the frontiers. We pass from the Turkomans to the Kurds, and in the Bujnurd district encounter the first of the Kurdish communities whose ancestors were transplanted by Shah Abbas about 1600 A.D. to the mountain border of Khorasan. I have already in the chapter upon Kuchan described with much fulness the circumstances under which these military colonists entered the country, the conditions of their tenure, and their present relations with the central power; and what I there said will apply to Bujnurd equally with Kuchan. Whereas Kuchan, however, is chiefly peopled with Zaferanlu Kurds, it is the Shahdillu tribe who settled at Bujnurd, and still constitute the large majority of its inhabitants. Like Kuchan, they are ruled by a Khan, bearing the title of Ilkhani, who, though appointed by the Shah, is selected usually in hereditary descent from the reigning family; who collects his own revenues, and furnishes in return a military contribution to the state, and who is generally in a superior position to an ordinary provincial governor. The cavalry contingent supplied by the Ilkhani of


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Bujnurd consists at present of 500 men. His district comprises the upland valley of Bujnurd, contiguous to that of Shirwan and Kuchan, the upper waters of the Atrek, and further south Jajarm in the Isferayin plain.[166]

Of Kuchan I have already spoken. Its military contingent is at present 600 strong.

To the north-east of Kuchan, and on the northern slope of the main range — the only Persian possession of any size now remaining on the northern watershed of the Elburz — is situated the little frontier district of Deregez (the Valley of Tamarisks). This favoured spot, which consists of a valley or basin some forty miles long, by thirty broad, is inhabited partly by Kurds, but mainly by Turks or Tartars, relics of old waves of Turanian invasion. Its capital is Mohammedabad, 1,200 feet, where in 1880 O'Donovan met Colonel Stewart, disguised as an Armenian horse-dealer, and lived for three weeks in his society without discovering that he was an Englishman. Deregez is separated from the Aterk by a low range of hills, which have hitherto saved it from Russian absorption; though it has lost several of the villages lying upon the plain below, of which it formerly claimed ownership. Before 1832, it might be considered an independent principality; but in common with the other border states of Khorasan, it was then reduced by Abbas Mirza, and has since remained a possession of the crown, in much the same way and under the same conditions as Kuchan and Bujnurd; although from its position on the extreme boundary, and the relations into which its chief was consequently brought with the Turkomans, the authority of the imperial Government was somewhat delicately and precariously enforced from Meshed. The Khan of Deregez belongs to a ruling family who have inherited the chieftainship from the days of Nadir Shah. Neither he nor Deregez are now of much importance, and his military contribution has been reduced to one hundred.[167]


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In none of these three border districts is there the material for any resistance to aggression from the North. The two Ilkhanis, one of whom I have described in an earlier chapter, and both of whom are important chieftains, may talk very big about opposing Russia, and cannot, in the bottom of their hearts, be animated by other than hostile feelings towards a Power whose propinquity has already shorn them of so much of their ancient prestige. But it is more than doubtful whether either of them would lift a little finger if invasion actually occurred, while a steady influx of Russian presents for a series of years beforehand might be found to have sensibly alleviated the pangs of surrender. Already Russia may be said to have obtained a definite foothold in each. I have described the new military road from Ashkabad to Kuchan, and have shown its strategical importance. An alternative Russian road runs from Geok Tepe over a pass in the mountains further to the west by Germab and Firuzeh to Shirwan, and is continued to Kuchan from that direction. A third road leads up the Atrek to Bujnurd viâ Chat from the Russian military station of Chikishliar, on the Caspian. Russia keeps Consular agents (Russian Mohammedans) at Bujnurd, Kuchan, and Mohammedabad. They are supposed to be there in the interests of trade; but, in the intervals snatched from commercial application, are not discouraged from promoting the interests of their country in whatever way a discreet intelligence may suggest.

Continuing eastwards, we next come to the astonishing natural phenomenon known since the time of Nadir Shah, who made it his stronghold, as Kelat-i-Nadiri. The physical and strategical attributes of this remarkable place have previously been discussed. I have also mentioned that the Persian Government keep here a detachment (nominally) of 500 infantry, scattered at the different vulnerable points, and two guns. The inhabitants are chiefly Turks, and the Governor, sent from Meshed, Haji Abul Fath Khan, lives in a village in the interior, and supplies 150 mounted levies to the Persian border horse.

For some time past Russia has turned a particularly affectionate eye upon Kelat, and rumours of its cession by the Persian Government have been designedly circulated in order to familiarise the public mind with such a transfer of ownership. To those who deny such intentions on the part of Russia, it will be sufficient to reply that a few years ago she


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formally offered to give to Persia, in exchange for Kelat, her share of the famous and fertile plain of Moghan on the western shore of the Caspian. The offer was declined. The value of Kelat to Russia consists, as I have before argued, in its command of the head waters of the streams that run down to the Atek; and still more in its position as a central point for controlling the border tribes, and in its prodigious prestige. Persia is far from willing to cede this remarkable point of vantage, and guards it with a jealousy that is in curious contrast to her general apathy and weakness. No stranger is permitted to enter except with a special permit from the Shah, and several Russians, as well as myself, have been baffled in the attempt to penetrate into the interior. Russian policy in these parts is at present directed to claiming more and more of the streams that irrigate her possessions on the plain, and to extending her influence over the border tribes. Little by little she has crept up the mountain skirts from the Atek at the bottom, while disputes about the water supply which, though it fertilises Russian villages, yet flows from Persian sources and through Persian territory, can always be aggravated into an excuse for encroachment. Kelat would provide her with a centre of particular value for either object, and she will remain discontented until she possesses it.

In the published treaty between Russia and Persia, which was concluded in December 1881, and which defined the new boundary between Transcaspia and Khorasan, necessitated by the Russian conquests of that year, the delineation of the border which commenced at the mouth of the Atrek, stops abruptly before it reaches the village of Lutfabad, situated in the Atek below the Persian district of Deregez. Lutfabad was left to the Persians; but what is the exact frontier eastwards from this point to Sarakhs on the Tejend is not ascertainable from any published document. It is believed to have been settled by a secret treaty in 1881 or in 1883 between Russia and Persia, to which I shall later on have occasion to refer; and commissioners are reported to have passed over the ground and traced it out. The popular uncertainty, or rather ignorance, upon the point is, however, an excuse for just such acts of encroachment on the part of the stronger power as I have sketched in the preceding paragraph.

At Sarakhs we once again touch a definite boundary in the shape of the Tejend River, which, though known in its upper


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course as the Heri Rud, becomes the Tejend upon being joined by the Keshef Rud at Pul-i-Khatun; and, after dividing the Persian from the Russian military outposts at Sarakhs, flows, when there is water in it, in a northerly direction across the desert, where it is spanned by a bridge of the Transcaspian Railway at Tejend or Karibent.

There are two Sarakhs, the Old and the New Sarakhs; and much confusion has been caused both among travellers and politicians by an imperfect appreciation of their different sites and features. Old Sarakhs is on the right or eastern side of the river, and from very remote times was the headquarters of the Salor tribe of Turkomans, who are one of the first subdivisions of that race of whom we hear in history, being mentioned by Arab historians as long ago as the seventh century.[168] The first European in this century of whose visit to Sarakhs we read was the missionary Wolff, who stopped several weeks here in 1831, on his first journey to Bokhara, preaching to the Jews, of whom there was a small colony, and the Turkomans. He passed again in 1844, on his mission of inquiry into the fate of Stoddart and Conolly at Bokhara. In the interval Burnes had spent ten days in disguise at Sarakhs in 1832, on the return from his great journey, and had very narrowly escaped detection. He described the place as a 'small and weak fort almost in ruins, situated on a hillock, with a few mud houses built by the Jews of Meshed;' and said that its Turkoman occupants at that time professed a dubious allegiance to Khiva.[169]


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Very soon after Burnes' visit, Abbas Mirza, the heir-apparent, who was then prosecuting the reconquest and thorough subjugation of Khorasan, appeared upon the scene with his army, took and destroyed the place, massacred most of its inhabitants, and carried away the rest as prisoners to Meshed;[170] whence they were subsequently ransomed at 4l. a head by their Salor kinsmen of Yuletan. Some of them are still to be found at Old Sarakhs; and a colony exists at Zohrabad on the Persian bank, a good deal higher up the river. But the clan has in modern times sunk into comparative insignificance.

Some time later, it is said about the year 1850, the Persians, in order to secure this frontier post against the merciless ravages of the Tekke Turkomans of Merv, built a huge fort, of polygonal shape, and flanked with twenty-four towers, upon which they mounted a number of decrepit guns, on the left or western side of the Tejend, at a distance of about half a mile from the river. M. de Blocqueville — the unhappy French photographer who accompanied the famous Persian expedition to Merv in 1860, that was cut to pieces at Koushid Khan Kaleh, and who fell into the hands of the Turkomans and remained a prisoner in their tents for a year and a half — passed Sarakhs on his way and described the newly constructed fort.[171] MacGregor was the next visitor, in 1875; and he both gave an account of the fort and its garrison of 700 infantry, a few cavalry, and eleven more or less serviceable guns; and published in his book an illustration and plan.[172] Next, in 1882, M. Lessar, the well-known Russian engineer, at that time employed


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as a prospecting pioneer of Russian advance, later as a member of the Afghan Boundary Commission, and now diplomatic agent at the Court of Bokhara, was at Sarakhs on the surveying tour which first laid bare to European knowledge the country between Sarakhs and Herat. He described the pitiable fright of the wretched garrison, who, instead of being a terror to the foe, were practically beleaguered themselves, inasmuch as they never dared to sally out, and burnt alarm fires on the watch-towers at night.

Two years later, in April 1884, largely in consequence of the information which M. Lessar had collected, and in pursuit of that effective but indefensible advance that resulted in the affray on the Kushk and the seizure of Panjdeh in 1885, the Russians appeared in force, and occupied the deserted position of Old Sarakhs on the eastern bank of the river. Here they soon constructed a fortified position and barracks; and the resuscitated Old Sarakhs, which I suppose may now be called the Newer Sarakhs, has ever since remained one of their frontier military stations. The only account of it that I have seen since it passed into their hands is that by the Comte de Cholet, a young French officer who rode down this way in disguise in 1888 with Colonel Alikhanoff from Merv. His description (translated) is as follows: —

Strictly speaking to call Sarakhs a town would be somewhat of an exaggeration. It is simply a military post around which are grouped the houses of the officers and of some persons engaged in trade. As the Persians seemed to resent the annexation of the Turkoman tribes who inhabit this neighbourhood, the Russians replied by erecting this advanced post, in which they placed two battalions, one of the first line, and one reserve or garrison, in all from 1,500 to 1,600 men. This was more than enough to teach the Persians that they could never hope to recover the country; at the same time that, upon a really very shallow pretext, it established an important advanced post in the valley of the Tejend, commanding one of the two roads to Herat. Besides a large and excellent barrack, the town consists only of 100 houses, inhabited by the military or civil officials and the merchants. Two streets and two squares — one of which is the scene of a very busy and animated market — divide the town, and constitute a long parallelogram, half a mile in length by 200 yards in width. It is the residence of a pristav, or chief of district.[173]

I have in my previous work quoted the important opinion of


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MacGregor upon the strategical significance of the position at Sarakhs, as commanding the approach up the valley of the Heri Rud to Herat.[174] This advantage has now passed entirely from the Persians' into the Russians' hands. The Persian garrison of Sarakhs, which consists of one wing of infantry — about 300 men — and a small detachment, of artillery, is practically isolated in the big overgrown fort which it could in no case defend. The telegraph wire from Meshed is usually interrupted or broken; and the Russians have probably only to appear upon the other side of the river and fire a volley of blank cartridge, to ensure a precipitate stampede.

Sarakhs is the extreme north-east point of the Persian frontier, and in fact occupies an angle sharply pushed out into the desert. Here we turn south, following the valley through which flows the Heri Rud, the river supplying the boundary first between Persia and Russia as far as the Zulfikar Pass, and afterwards between Persia and Afghanistan. Here also we touch the northern skirts of a belt of country lying upon or near the border lines, and inhabited by various tribes of mixed origin and alien religion, who, though subjects of Persia, profess a somewhat reluctant allegiance to her rule, and constitute a critical item in the politics of the frontier.

It is in the Meshed district which extends to the Heri Rud that we first encounter these foreign elements. Round the capital the Iranian element is in the ascendant; but as we approach the frontier we come across colonies or detachments who belong in race and religion to the Chehar Aimak (lit. Four Settlements), or wandering tribes of the Afghan border.[175] These are the Jamshidis and Hazaras. The former are of Persian origin, but the greater part of the tribe long ago left Persian territory and settled in Afghanistan. The remnant were brought back after the siege of Herat in 1857, established at Kanegosha, near Meshed, and required


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to furnish a mercenary force to the Persian Government. A border guard is still recruited from them; but, though of Persian descent and speaking the Persian language, they are credited with a very dubious fidelity. The Hazaras, on the other hand, never were a Persian race. They belong to the Turanian family, as their Mongolesque features, their crooked eyes, and paucity of beard indicate. Some of them are settled in the Meshed district, but the greater number further south at Mohsinabad, in the district of Bakharz. By far their most extraordinary feature is that, though Persian neither in blood, religion, nor affinity, they speak the Persian tongue. They profess the Sunni Mohammedan faith; and although supplying a force of 450 cavalry, entertain feelings of very questionable loyalty to the Sovereign power.

Next in succession to Meshed, on the south, come the border districts of Jam, or Turbat-i-Sheikh-Jam (i.e. the Tomb of Sheikh Jam, a local saint of immense sanctity, who was buried here), Bakharz and Khaf, which are at present united under a single Persian governor of Arab blood, who bears the title of the Nasrat-el-Mulk, and who from the three districts supplies a quota of 1,025 cavalry. The bulk of the population under his rule also belong to one of the Chehar Aimak tribes, but to neither of those hitherto mentioned. They are of Arab origin, and are called Timuris, a name which they are said to have derived from the great Timur, who originally deported them from their native country in a rage because they had plundered his mother when on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and who then handed them over as subjects to an eminent Seyid, to whom also he gave his own daughter in marriage. There are settlements of Timuris in other parts of Khorasan, notably near Nishapur and Sebzewar; but the bulk of the tribe are found in the three border districts, now under discussion. The ill-judged and oppressive policy of the Persian Government has alienated the sympathies of these along with the other nomad tribesmen. Indeed, Persia has almost as much reason in these parts to mistrust her own mercenaries as had the Roman Empire to doubt its legions of Goths and Gauls. I should add that the Timuris, like the Hazaras and Jamshidis, are Sunni Mohammedans.

Further to the south lies the extensive and important district of Kain, which includes ten beluks or petty governorships, and stretches as far as the desert that separates Khorasan from Kerman.


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Kain is ruled by an Arab Amir, in whose family is vested a hereditary chieftainship, and who among the border chieftains of the south occupies a position analogous and even superior to that enjoyed by the Ilkhanis of Bujnurd and Kuchan on the north. Mir Alam Khan, the present Governor, is probably the most powerful subject of the Persian Crown. Now more than sixty years of age, of strong character, and with a formidable reputation for severity, he has cleared his province of the roving bands of marauders, principally Afghans and Beluchis, who used to lay it waste with impunity; and is so big a personage that he requires to be very cautiously interfered with by the Central Power. The Amir was already Governor at the time of the Seistan Boundary Commission in 1872, and did not behave with any excess of civility to Sir F. Goldsmid. However, as the area of his own dominions was at stake, Seistan being a subdivision of his province, there was perhaps some excuse for offence; and he has since been extremely attentive to such Englishmen as have gone his way. He bears a ceremonious title, conferred upon him by the Shah, and holds the rank of an Amir-i-Toman, or Major-General in the Persian army. The sovereignty of the Crown is typified by a detachment of Persian artillery in the fort at Birjand. (The Amir has since died, November 1891.)

The inhabitants of the khanate are of Persian and Arab descent, and are estimated at not less than 80,000. Formerly the seat of government was the town of Kain; but it has now been transferred to Birjand, a larger unwalled city, with 14,000 inhabitants. Colonel Stewart reports that opium is enormously grown and consumed here, and that hundreds are said to die yearly from excessive indulgence.[176] The military contribu- of the Amir is 700 horsemen, from Kain and Seistan combined; and two regiments of infantry, which are called out in turn, one doing duty in Seistan, while the other is disbanded in Birjand.

Seistan, as I have indicated, is one of the beluks or subdivisions of the province of Kain, and is administered by a deputy of the


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Amir, residing at Nasratabad. In 1889 it contributed to the total revenue of Khorasan 26,000 tomans (7,429l.) in cash, and 24,000 kharvars (6,957 tons) of grain. Seistan, however, involves so many independent problems, political, commercial, and strategical, that I propose to postpone its consideration to a separate chapter, where I shall better be able to render justice both to its history and to its future. With the south-east corner of Seistan Khorasan terminates. The melancholy Dasht-i-Lut succeeds; and we then come to the province of Persian Beluchistan, which will more properly fall within the scope of my second volume.

It is along the belt of border territory which I have been describing from the Zulfikar Pass to Seistan — a region, as I have shown, inhabited by tribes mainly of non-Persian origin, non-Persian religion, and anti-Persian inclinations — that, Russia has conceived the idea of propagating her political influence. Claiming to be the champion of Sunni Mohammedanism, as against the Shiah heresy of the Persians, she appeals to their fanatical instincts.[177] In their irregular levies she sees a possible auxiliary of great military value. In their situation, commanding the flank approach to Herat, and lower down to the Helmund, she sees an opportunity of threatening Afghanistan and of approaching nearer to the Indian Beluch frontier. Upon Seistan, lying midway between Meshed and the sea, she directs a particularly envious gaze, knowing that its possession by a rival Power would be the one step that might checkmate her complete ascendency in Khorasan. Russian native news-writers are maintained at Turbat-i-Sheikh-Jam, Khaf and Kain. Russian emissaries have been heard of prosecuting their explorations in these regions, and a feverish interest is displayed by the Russian authorities in any information relating to the little-known districts that extend in the direction of the British border.

In other words, along the entire circumference of Khorasan, from north-west to south-east, occur a succession of points at which Russian interference, influence, or intrigue is being actively pushed forward; and so the Muscovite toils are steadily and surely being wound round the body of the intended victim. Astrabad, Bujnurd,


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Kuchan, Kelat, Sarakhs, Khaf, and Seistan are the several scenes of operation, and may eventually supply the requisite doorways of entry. A glance at the map and at the Transcaspian position of Russia, coterminous for 300 miles with the northern border of Khorasan, will show how a situation which the vicinity of a strong Power in possession of the mountains might have rendered extremely critical has, in the face of a neighbour as weak and pliant as Persia, been converted by Russia into an overwhelming advantage.

It is scarcely possible indeed to exaggerate the effect which the Transcaspian conquests of Russia, and her subsequent construction of a railway across the desert immediately outside and below the Persian frontier, have had upon the political condition, and will have upon the political destinies of her neighbours. This, however, is a wider question than should fall within the scope of a chapter dealing solely with one province of the Persian dominion; and I therefore propose to defer it till a chapter is reached which shall handle the whole question of Russian influence and policy in Persia, of which General Annenkoff's railway may be described as one of the propelling instruments.[178]

Before I leave the politics of Khorasan, let me revert once again to its administrative subdivisions, and supplement the information which I have given about the border provinces by a brief sketch of its interior districts. I may divide these into two classes: an inner row, or second line, so to speak, of border districts; and districts which have no connection with the frontier at all.

Commencing from the south, where we left off with Seistan, and striking inland from about the same parallel as Kain, we come to the province of Tabbas, which touches on the south that of Yezd, from which it is 200 miles distant. The inhabitants of Tabbas are partly Arabs, partly Persians, and are ruled by a hereditary chieftain of analogous though inferior position to the Khans, Ilkhanis, and Amirs previously described. His name is Mirza Mohammed Bakar Khan, and his official title the Imad-el-Mulk, or 'Pillar of the State'; though it cannot be contended that either in contributions or in individual importance he lends to it any particular support. The country is big and poor, the people in-


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offensive and quiet; and no trace remains of the condition of affairs described by Malcolm at the end of the last century, when the chiefs, maintained themselves in practical independence, and their subjects were noted for valour.[179] The Khan provides a contingent of 150 cavalry.

North of Tabbas is the small district of Turshiz, also with a mainly Arab population, and under a Governor responsible to the Governor-General at Meshed. Turshiz is famous for its fruit, which is incomparable, and for its silk, which the disease, that wrought such havoc in Gilan, fortunately failed to touch. It is also reported to have turquoise mines, greatly inferior to those of Nishapur.

Turshiz is really in the third, not the second, line of support; for between it and Turbat-i-Sheikh Jam occurs the district of Turbat-i-Haideri (Tomb of Haider), which is of some strategical importance, as being situated upon the line of advance of any army advancing from Herat by Khaf upon Meshed with a view of cutting off communication between the capital and Seistan. It is peopled principally by Karai Turks, but also by Beluchis, and a century ago was brought to a pitch of extraordinary power and prosperity by a very remarkable ruler named Ishak Khan, who was said to be as good a merchant as he was a soldier, and as accomplished a student as he was an administrator, and who drew from his semi-independent province a revenue of 100,000l.[180] Like most of their neighbours the people of Turbat-i-Haideri have said good-bye to the days of fighting and freedom, and are now completely subdued by the Persians. Their country, like Turshiz, is rich in mulberries and orchards; but was terribly decimated both by Turkoman ravages and by the great famine. Turshiz and Turbat-i-Haideri combined contribute two infantry regiments to the armed strength of Khorasan, which will be noticed presently.

The two interior beluks of Persia which are not concerned, even in a secondary degree, with frontier problems, are those of Nishapur and Sebzewar. Their governorships are comfortable berths, which are usually bestowed upon some Persian prince — Nishapur, for


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instance, being at present under a cousin of the Rukn-ed-dowleh, and Sebzewar under his eldest son. I shall subsequently have something to say about both when I come to their capitals on my journey from Meshed to Teheran. Neither district contributes any infantry troops to the Persian army, having seemingly been granted a special exemption after the visit of the Shah in 1868.

Finally we come back to the large and wealthy district of Shahrud-Bostam, to which I have already alluded in a footnote when speaking of Astrabad, and which is administered by the sole surviving son of Fath Ali Shah. This is only separated by the Elburz from Astrabad; and thus my task is over, for I have now completed the circuit of Khorasan, and supplied a sketch of each of the administrative subdivisions of this most important province.

In quitting this branch of my subject, let me sum up the total of the armed strength of Khorasan, of which I have already in passing noticed the majority of the items. The calculation does not of course include the local levies, Sham-khalchis (matchlock men, &c.), who might be raised in time of war, but the effective troops who, within a few days' time, could be called out and placed in the field.

INFANTRY (Serbaz or Regulars).

i. Territorial Regiments.

2 Regiments of Karai Turks levied at Turshiz and Turbat-i-Haideri, 800 each

=

1,600

2 Regiments levied at Birjand, 800 each

            (Of these 4 regiments only one wing of each is mobilised at a time, or half of the whole, the other half being disbanded.)

=

1,600

 

ii. Extra-territorial Regiments.

4 Regiments usually recruited in Azerbaijan, 3 of which are always in garrison at Meshed, 800 each

=

3,200

Total

6,400

CAVALRY (chiefly mercenary).

Irregular (i.e. effective, but not mobilised).

Timuris and Turbat-i-Sheikh Jam

1,025

Jamshidis

300

Hazaras

450

Zaferanlu Kurds (under the Ilkhani of Kuchan)

600

Shahdillu Kurds î

Goklan Turkomans*

under the Ilkhani of Bujnurd

þ

ü

500

300


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CAVALRY. — continued.

Deregez (Turks)

100

Kelat-i-Nadiri

150

Kain and Seistan

700

Tabbas

150

Various towns (Sebzewar, &c.)

400

Total

4,675

 

Artillery.

            (20 light field guns in the Ark at Meshed, 2 field guns at Kelat, 6 mounted guns at Sarakhs.)

200

Infantry

6,400

Cavalry

4,675

Artillery

200

Grand Total

11,275

Such is the alleged effective strength of the Khorasan army. Properly drilled and decently officered, it might be a respectable force. Under existing circumstances it cannot be spoken of without a smile.

I now turn to the commercial part played by Great Britain and Russia in Khorasan. For many years past Russia, though a nation with no special commercial aptitudes, has conceived the ambition of controlling the markets of Central Asia. Inherited from Peter the Great, this idea has been prosecuted with a vigour in striking contrast with the listlessness elsewhere exhibited by the same people. It is now a cardinal axiom of Russian politics in the East that commercial must precede political control; and the institution of mercantile agents and middlemen, the opening up of means of communication, and the granting of special exemptions and preferences to goods on their way to or from Oriental markets are invariable features of their Asiatic diplomacy. Khorasan, lying in such near proximity both to the Caspian, of which they possess the monopoly of navigation, and to Transcaspia, which they conquered in 1881, has presented a suitable field for these operations, and may be looked to as typifying the high-water mark of Russian commercial success.

Before, however, I pass on to examine the present condition of affairs, let me call attention to the fact, which I have never seen recorded in this context, that the trade between Europe and Khorasan is not of Russian but of British institution, and that 150 years ago English merchants were the first who endeavoured to open up that highway from the Caspian to Meshed


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which is now so advantageously utilised by our rivals. I regard the history of British commercial intercourse with Persia as one of the most remarkable chapters in the little-known or forgotten annals of this country; and at a later stage I shall have something to say of the indomitable gallantry with which, in ages when merchants required to wield the sword almost as deftly as the pen, the representatives of English trading companies carried the flag, and the merchandise, and the high name of Great Britain into lands where all risked and many lost their lives in each venture, and whence those that returned were welcomed with no plaudits from crowded halls, and received no medals from royal societies. Among the ideas that fired the imagination of John Elton, the gifted but unstable Englishman, who himself both created and destroyed that revival of the British Caspian trade in the middle of the eighteenth century, whose history has been so minutely recorded by one of the prominent actors in the scene, Jonas Hanway, was that of establishing a British factory at Meshed, and of importing, viâ Astrabad, the woollen cloths of London, which were to be exchanged at the capital of Khorasan for the fabled wealth of the East. With what a grim irony we now read the sanguine words in which he recommended his plan to the British Minister at St. Petersburg: —

The British merchants cannot have any formidable rivals to contend with, or to apprehend, in the trade from Meshed to Bokhara. They can never be supplanted in this trade so long as they secure a passage for their goods through the Empire of Russia, and a freedom of navigation on the Caspian, both of which it will be the interest of the sovereign of Russia to grant to the subjects of Great Britain.[181]

How this too fanciful picture of a generous and unsuspecting Russia and a money-making England failed of realisation will be told later on. Here I will relate only the brief history of its application to Meshed. Hanway himself penetrated as far as Astrabad, in December 1743, with the merchandise which he proposed to transport from thence by caravan to Meshed; but he got no further, for during his stay in the city a rebellion broke out against Nadir Shah, his goods were seized and plundered, and he was within an ace of being sold in slavery to the Turkomans. Two other factors, however, of the Russian or Muscovy Company


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(trading from London) succeeded in reaching Meshed. One of them, Mungo Graham or Graeme, was murdered on his return journey at Semnan in 1743.[182] The other, Von Mierop, resided for two years and three months in Meshed, from 1743-5, but met with little success, for he only sold 22,000 crowns, or 5,500l. worth of goods. He returned in safety, but no one else was found to repeat so hazardous an experiment; and within three years' time every British merchant had left the country, only too glad in those stormy times to have escaped with his life.

Such was the history of the first attempt at British trade with Meshed. During this century the shifting of the capital to Teheran, the greater security of communication, and the re-opening of the Bunder Abbas route from the Persian Gulf on the south, have brought Meshed once again within the sphere of British or Anglo-Indian commercial enterprise; while her successive encroachments upon the north have given Russia a more than corresponding advantage in that direction. Earlier travellers have from time to time reported the growing influence of Russian trade in these parts,[183] and Khorasan has, not without apparent justice, been regarded in recent years as irretrievably lost to the British merchant.

At first sight this alarm would appear to be well-founded. A visitor to the bazaars of any of the important towns of Khorasan, from Astrabad to Meshed (such as Shahrud, Sebzewar, Nishapur, Bujnurd, Shirwan, and Kuchan), will find the evidences of Russian influence very obvious to the outer eye. The shops appear to be laden with Russian cottons, calicoes, and chintzes, with Russian sugar, crockery, and hardware, and, indeed, with all the cheaper necessaries of civilised life. Entering Khorasan, either viâ Bunder-i-Gez, Astrabad, and Shahrud, or by Ashkabad and Kuchan, these goods flow in a great wave from one end of the province to the other, and completely drown any foreign competition in the native markets. French sugar used to be imported from Marseilles, viâ Bombay.


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The trade is now extinct, and no sugar, either loaf or crushed, but Russian is seen. Russian kerosine from Baku commands the market. In 1888-9, 36,000 pouds were imported into Meshed. Lamps, chandeliers, candle-shades, lustres, trays, glasses, tumblers, samovars, teapots, saucers, locks, and cheap cutlery are all of Russian origin, and suggest to the casual observer that the supply of the entire furniture of life has been monopolised by Russian enterprise.

While I was in Meshed, I took such steps as were open to me, by consulting the best authorities, including Messrs. Ziegler's agent, the sole European mercantile house represented there, to ascertain the true state of affairs, and more especially the respective volumes and values of Russian and Anglo-Indian trade. It is well known that in Persia it is almost impossible to obtain statistics, and that such as are with infinite difficulty procurable are too often imperfect or erroneous. Calculations as to the total amount of trade are frequently made from Custom-house returns, which do not necessarily supply a reliable basis of induction. Figures are readily given by European merchants or their agents; but native merchants either do not care to disclose them, or sometimes do not keep them at all. Therefore, of neither the figures which I am about to give, nor of those published by the officials of the British Government, can absolute accuracy be postulated in Khorasan any more than in other parts of Persia. They may be regarded, however, as approximately correct.

I was assured by my informants in Meshed that, while the volume of trade in Khorasan was indisputably Russian, the value was still on the side of the English. The cheaper objects which were everywhere visible and which flood the petty retail shops all hailed from Russia, and competition with them was impossible; but the more costly imports, entering Khorasan partly from the west, viâ Tabriz, Teheran, and Shahrud, but in far greater quantity from the south, viâ Bunder Abbas on the sea, and Kerman, were of British or Anglo-Indian origin, and estimated in s. d., it could be demonstrated that Meshed at that moment did a larger trade with Bombay than it did with the whole of Russia. For instance, the customs dues for Meshed for the year 1888 (i.e., the octroi collected on imported merchandise) had been bought from the Government for the sum of 50,000 tomans (3½


[page 209]

tomans equal to 1l.),[184] of which it was calculated that 30,000 tomans would be levied on goods from Bunder Abbas, and 20,000 on goods from the whole of the rest of Persia and from Russia, the latter not even amounting to one-half of the lesser fraction.

This assurance struck me as requiring elucidation at the time; and I have since been able to explain and in some respects to correct it by the much fuller details contained in an admirable commercial report compiled by Consul-General Maclean in the past year (1890), the first that has ever been issued from Meshed or Khorasan, and in itself an ample justification of the presence of a British consular staff in so important a trade centre as Meshed. This publication is contained in the series of Diplomatic and Consular Reports on trade and finance, issued by the English Foreign Office; and will no doubt be the first of an annual series.[185]

From this report I gather that the total value of Anglo-Indian goods imported into Khorasan in 1889-90 (the Persian year is counted from the vernal equinox, i.e. from March 21, 1889, to March 21, 1890) was 84,300l., and the total value of Russian goods 110,400l. But to the former should certainly be added a considerable portion of the value of the Chinese black and green teas, shipped from Bombay, and no doubt for the most part purchased and brought from China by British merchants. The total value of this Chinese tea was 433,000 tomans, or 123,714l.; but very nearly the whole of it only passes through Meshed in transit to Bokhara, Khiva, &c., the taste of the Khorasanis being partial to Indian black tea, of which an import of 12,000l. is included in the total of Anglo-Indian imports already quoted. The addition thereto of a large fraction of the value of the Chinese tea will explain the otherwise ambiguous statement of my informants.

Here let me pause to consider and balance the facilities at the disposal of the rival European Powers for trade with Khorasan. Nominally there are three trade routes available for British or Anglo-Indian imports, in practice only two. First is the lengthy overland journey viâ Teheran and Tabriz from the Turkish port of Trebizond, in the angle of the Black


[page 210]

Sea, a total distance by caravan march of 1,500 miles, and occupying a camel four months of time.[186] Second is the route from Bunder Abbas on the Persian Gulf to Meshed, of which there are two variations: the shorter journey viâ Kerman, Rahwar, Nahiband and Tun, a distance of 940 miles, or 40 days by mule and 75 days by camel; and the longer deviation viâ Yezd, which is occasionally taken by merchants, because of the greater abundance of transport and the additional chance of finding a sale in the busy mart of Yezd. The third, and by far the most direct and shortest, route for Indian merchandise, would be viâ the Bolan Pass by rail to the British frontier at Chaman in Beluchistan, and thence by Kandahar and Herat to Meshed, a distance from the Indian frontier of 30 stages only, or 670 miles. This route, however, which was once a crowded trade artery, has practically been killed by the exorbitant transit dues charged by the Amir of Afghanistan,[187] whose fiscal policy is conceived on the strictest protectionist principles, and is coldly indifferent to the convenience or the commerce of his neighbours. Of the two former or practicable routes, that from Trebizond was utilised by British merchandise in 1889 to the value of 23,400l., that from Bunder Abbas by Anglo-Indian merchandise (excluding the China tea) to the value of 60,870l.

By treaty between Great Britain and Persia, only five per cent. ad valorem can be charged upon British merchandise, at the port or town of entry. Thus British goods will be called upon for this impost at Tabriz (having passed through Trebizond, in transit, duty free), and Anglo-Indian goods at Bunder Abbas. But as in the case of Khorasan there are no British merchants at the destination or at the big towns en route, the Persian Custom-house officials take the opportunity of screwing a little more than is their due, and subjecting foreign merchandise to the same system as prevails for native goods, viz. the payment of a customs duty at each large city. Thus British goods from Trebizond after paying their five per cent. at Tabriz will, after passing into the hands of


[page 211]

Persian merchants, pay a further two and a half per cent. upon entering Khorasan, or seven and a half per cent. in all. Similarly the total of dues levied on the Kerman route from Bunder Abbas will be about seven and a half per cent.; and by the more circuitous Yezd route nine per cent. The excess above the stipulated five per cent. would be avoided if there were British consignees at the destination. Another plan of the Persian Custom-house officers at the ports is to levy less than the stipulated five per cent. there, but to give no voucher for the sum received; and thus to provide their confraternity in the remaining cities with the opportunity not merely of making up the five per cent., but sometimes of almost doubling its amount.

These are the disadvantages under which British or Anglo-Indian trade labours. Russia has at her command four trade routes: (1) the Tiflis-Tabriz-Teheran line; (2) the Resht-Teheran line; (3) the Gez-Astrabad-Shahrud line; and (4) the Ashkabad-Kuchan line in connection with the Transcaspian railway. The three first have been practically superseded by the last, which is only 150 miles in length, which is being converted along its entire distance into a carriageable highway, and which, in narrating my own journey, I have already described.[188] No words are needed to explain the enormous advantage of which she is the possessor; an advantage with which we are only able to compete because of her inability to supply some of the largest articles of import, such as tea and indigo; and because of the, as yet, superior quality of British manufactures. None the less it is not surprising to find the British consul summarising his opinion of the situation in these words: —

It is obvious that with the Transcaspian railway at Ashkabad, only 150 miles from Meshed, and with both towns linked as they shortly will be by an excellent macadamised[189] road, British goods, having to cross the seas and traverse long, rough land routes cannot hope to compete with Russian goods, even in these provinces of Persia, unless our railway is extended in this direction.

Russia is thoroughly alive to the advantage of her situation,


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and endeavours to push it by fiscal tactics, which are discountenanced by the gentlemen who call themselves political economists in England, but which are a familiar feature in the commercial strategy of foreign countries, and of the Russian Government in particular. Her own goods pay the regular five per cent. on crossing the Persian borders. But in order to encourage the export of Persian cotton, she allows it a differential preference of ten per cent. over that imported by the Baltic or Black Seas. By a Customs decree of February 1889, Persian goods passing into Transcaspia pay an ad valorem duty of two and a half per cent. But by a later decree of February 1890 such goods, if only passing through Transcaspia in transit to Europe, are exempted from all duty whatever, if forwarded by Ashkabad or by any other station of the Transcaspian railway.

Of the Anglo-Indian imports from Bunder Abbas, the largest item, excluding the China tea, is still tea; Indian green tea to the value of 7,140l. (mostly in transit to Bokhara), and Indian black tea, which is preferred in Khorasan, to the value of 12,000l. Next comes indigo, with a total value of 10,170l., of which more than one-half is in transit to Russian Central Asia.[190] The import duty on this indigo affords an illustration of the cumulative system of taxation before mentioned; for three per cent. is exacted at Bunder Abbas, one per cent. at Kerman, and two and three-fourths per cent. on arrival at Meshed. This, with the two and a half per cent. exacted by Russia, when it passes into Transcaspia, and the further two and a half per cent. levied by Bokhara on the frontiers of that khanate, makes it a somewhat expensive luxury by the time it reaches the Tartar capital. In calico sheetings and shirtings, both grey and bleached, there is a marked preference for British over Russian goods, and of these nearly 12,000l. worth are imported viâ Bunder Abbas. A considerable quantity of Kashmir shawls, of copper sheeting and tin, and finally of drugs and spices, are the concluding items worthy of mention.

The Tabriz-Teheran line brings whatever cottons and chintzes can succeed in holding their own against the cheaper Russian


[page 213]

imports of the same article. English knives and scissors, crockery and porcelain, of which there seemed to be very little in the bazaars, but which come by this route, are greedily snapped up when offered for sale, though at higher prices than the corresponding articles of Russian manufacture. Simultaneously I found a consensus of opinion that the Russian import of cheap cotton fabrics of which I have spoken had been very much overdone, that the bazaars were now overstocked with these goods, and that they could only be sold at prices which would result in serious losses to their owners. The main feature of the competition between the two countries was undoubtedly this: that all English articles are considered vastly superior in durability and quality; but that the enormous distances which they have to traverse and the high prices which must necessarily be charged, render it almost impossible for them to compete with their rivals. For my part I think it extraordinary, when we compare the two situations (putting aside altogether the articles in which Russia cannot compete, such as indigo, minerals and tea), that Great Britain should still claim so creditable a proportion of the trade. Whether it can be maintained is another question, to which I should hesitate to return an affirmative answer.

Of the Russian total of 110,400l. imported by the Transcaspian railway, cotton stuffs, plain and coloured, constitute nearly one-third. The second largest item is sugar, which has driven every other sugar, French or Indian, out of the market, and is sold in the bazaars at 4½d. a pound — a price that is in the main due to the bounties granted by the Russian Government to Russian exporters of the article,[191] and with which it is next to impossible for Indian sugar, even though made from the sugar-cane, to compete. Russian crockery and porcelain, which are almost universal, amount to 11,500l.; and the value of Russian hardware is only 1,000l. less.

If we turn to the exports of Khorasan, physical considerations will explain the fact that the trade with Russia is vastly in excess of that with India. Exclusive of such Indian goods as pass


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through Khorasan to Russian territory, the figures of export to Russia (some of course in transit to other European countries) amount to a total of 111,500l. Cotton, assisted by the differential preference before alluded to, is responsible for the large figure of nearly 43,000l. Wool is credited with about half that total. 5,700l. worth of Turkoman and Persian carpets are sent to Europe, not all, of course, to Russian destinations. Finally, out of the total output of turquoises from the celebrated mines near Nishapur, which is estimated at nearly 23,000l. annually, over 17,000l. were despatched in 1889 by the Transcaspian railway to Europe.

That some idea may be gained of the enormous increase in Russo-Persian trade, due to the prosperous working of the Transcaspian railway, let me compare the figures that I have just given with those of the first nine months of 1886, the railway having only reached Ashkabad in December 1885. From January to October 1886 the exports from Persia to Ashkabad equalled 61,000l., the imports to Persia from Ashkabad 37,000l. The totals for 1889 were, as I have shown, respectively 111,500l., and 110,400l. In other words the exports have very nearly doubled in the space of three years, while the imports have exactly trebled.

Against these imposing figures the export trade to British India can only oppose the modest total of 39,000l., nearly the whole of which is represented by Khorasan opium, intended chiefly for the Chinese market. Ten years ago the total output of opium in Khorasan was only 160 hundred-weight. The value of the export, over and above that which is consumed in the province, is now 37,100l. to India, as well as 14,300l. to Constantinople, or a total of 51,400l.

In order to complete the survey of the commerce of Khorasan the figures of Perso-Afghan trade must be added. There is very little difference in the respective values of imports and exports, either country contributing in about equal proportion to the needs of the other. Whereas Afghanistan, however, sends her indigenous sheepskin coats (poshtins), pistachios, &c., the bulk of Persian exports are Russian piece goods, sugar, and hardware. The value of the exports from Khorasan into Afghanistan is returned as 18,300l., of imports into Khorasan from Afghanistan as 17,300l.


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Adding up the entire totals, we arrive at the following hypothetical estimate of the trade of Khorasan: —

Imports from

Russia

£110,400

Exports to Russia and Europe

£111,400

" "

India

60,800

Exports to India

39,000

" "

Great Britain

23,400

" " Afghanistan

18,300

" "

Europe

15,700

" "

Afghanistan

17,300

_______

Total of imports

£227,600

Total of exports

£168,700

Grand total £396,300

From this, total we must make a considerable reduction, on account of the goods that are reckoned in it more than once, first upon entering the province and then upon leaving it. On the other hand, the figures of export viâ Teheran, Tabriz, and Trebizond do not appear. The absence of any figures of the Perso-Bokharan trade does not make as much difference as might otherwise be expected, the Persian exports to Bokhara consisting almost wholly of Anglo-Indian goods, tea, indigo, muslin, &c., which have already been reckoned in the Bunder Abbas importations.

Having analysed the present situation, and endeavoured to some extent to forecast the future of foreign trade with Khorasan, it may not be out of place if I here indicate such steps as might with advantage be taken by the British Government, in order to retain and develop that share of the business which they naturally possess, and to prevent an ultimate loss of the remainder. Five such precautionary measures are within the range of practicability, although I fear that their probability is not in each case in the same ratio. British consular officials should be appointed to superintend and protect the principal trade route from the south. When I was at Bunder Abbas there was not a single European in the place, and only an unaccredited and purely unofficial representative of British mercantile interests. A British Vice-Consul might most opportunely be appointed at Kerman, and a Consular agent at Yezd, or vice versâ. Secondly, the road running northward from Kerman, viâ Rahwar, Nahiband and Tun, which is the principal caravan route from the Gulf to Meshed, might with ease and at a small expense be vastly improved by clearing out and resuscitating the filled-up wells and water-courses by which it was once fertilised. Thirdly, I see no reason why not only should the existing route be


[page 216]

improved, but a new one opened up from the British possessions in Beluchistan to the Persian border, avoiding Afghan territory altogether, and proceeding e.g. from Quetta viâ Seistan to Birjand. All of these are feasible measures, and there can be no excuse for any supineness in developing or facilitating such pacific avenues of Anglo-Indian influence. The fourth remedy, which has doubtless engaged the attention of the Indian Government, is an intimation to the Amir of Afghanistan, not on grounds of political economy, for which I suspect that Abdur Rahman Khan would profess a very reasonable contempt, but on the grounds of the avowed wish of the Suzerain Power, that it is desirable to modify a fiscal policy which is injurious to his own subjects, and displeasing to his chief allies. The fifth and last remedy, to which I shall revert at greater length in dealing with Seistan, is the construction of a rival British railroad on the south, to balance the Transcaspian railway in the north, and enable us to compete with Russia in a fair field, and with her own weapons.

I now proceed to explain the reasons for which, apart from the legitimate desire for commercial profit, both Powers — Russia and Great Britain — are induced to regard Khorasan with so intense a concern, what is the objective of Russian policy in the comprehensive designs which I have described in this chapter, and what are the counter-interests and responsibilities of this country. The passion for territorial aggrandisement is one which, though it is indignantly repudiated by Russian writers, no one with his eyes open can believe to be other than a dominating influence in the Russian mind. There is a step in the development of every great Power in which the lust for new possessions is in excess of every other sentiment. Russia is now in this acquisitive stage of empire. Great Britain, having passed through it, and having in her day experienced its intoxicating fumes in all their intensity, has emerged into the more sober atmosphere of the conservative stage. In other words Russian interest in Khorasan is the cupidity of the would-be possessor. England, on the contrary, neither aspires to, nor will ever hold, a square yard of the country.

If we inquire the ulterior reasons for which Russia desires the possession of Khorasan, they are not far to seek. Her Transcaspian conquests have brought under her control a region, the greater part of which consists of barren wilderness, and whose


[page 217]

only fertile spots are a series of detached oases at the base of a mountain range. On the other side of that mountain range for a distance of 300 miles extends a country which, in the plains and hollows that separate its manifold ridges, conceals an abundance of wealth, in fruit, in minerals, in produce of every kind, above all in grain. She is like a man camping in a desolate and stony field divided only by a thick hedge from a spacious pasture, where he sees food for himself, fodder for his beasts, comfort and repose for both. What a temptation to break through the hedge and poach on the hidden preserves! Such are the feelings with which the Russians regard Khorasan. They would fain move from Akhal Tekke to Kuchan, from Ashkabad to Meshed. Here they would find supplies that might feed mighty armies, mountain fastnesses invulnerable to attack, a docile population, a resting-ground where new plans of action could be formed, and a base whence they could be set in motion in the future.

It is the latter context — viz., with a view to future political contingencies — that Khorasan acquires a further and definite value in Russian eyes. At present Russian is separated from Afghan territory in Central Asia by Sir West Ridgeway's frontier — an artificial line drawn for a distance of 350 miles from the Heri Rud to the Oxus. This line could, no doubt, at any moment be violated; but no territorial acquisitions of immediate value would result, and the step could only be taken at the risk, nay, with the certainty, of war with Great Britain. How much simpler to slip round the corner and so to turn the enemy's flank! From the Zulfikar Pass to the southern extremity of Seistan, Persia is coterminous with Afghanistan; and a Power established upon the Persian side of that border would command Herat (there is a carriage road of 230 miles from Meshed to Herat), threaten the road by Farrah and Girishk to Kandahar, and be brought to the very banks of the Helmund. Russia settled in Khorasan, and especially in that fringe of border territory which I have been at such pains to describe, has no need to infringe any Anglo-Afghan boundary. The entire western frontier of Afghanistan lies exposed to her influence or assault. Furthermore, in Seistan she comes into close contact with a part of Beluchistan of disputed ownership and unsettled tenure, and is separated by only a short distance from the advanced British frontier in Pishin.


[page 218]

Finally, having reached that point, she is already half way to the sea; and, her railways once carried as far as Nasratabad, she would begin to felicitate herself upon a port on the Indian Ocean and the long sought outlet in the southern seas.[192]

The physical conditions which I have expounded, the designs of Russia, of which evidence can be produced incapable of refutation, and the importance of any movements so intimately affecting Afghanistan explain the interest which England is thereby compelled to take in this portion of the Shah's dominions. Those who argue that Khorasan is far from India, and can therefore safely be left alone, repeat the imbecile fallacy that has already been attended with such pitiable results in the past, and that has landed us in our recent position in both Persia and Afghanistan. Afghanistan has often been described as the North-western glacis of our Indian citadel; and to allow an enemy to effect a lodgment undisturbed upon even the outskirts of that glacis is to commit a strategical error of the first importance. British policy in Khorasan is directed to the safeguarding of British — i.e., of Afghan — interests in that quarter; to the maintenance of the political status quo — i.e., of the Persian dominion; and more particularly to the watching of those approaches from the south, the freedom of which is indispensable to British commerce, and the control of which by a hostile instead of an allied Power would be an appreciable peril to Hindustan. It is a consolatory fact that General Maclean, the recently appointed Consul-General at Meshed, is also Consul for Seistan. An independent British official should, however, be deputed to the latter place, whose near proximity to the Anglo-Beluch frontier renders it of great importance to British interests, and whose resources, if developed by scientific irrigation and a railway, might make it a nucleus of commercial influence radiating through central and southern Persia, and even counterbalancing Russian ascendency in northern Khorasan.

Finally, let me indicate what I believe to be the attitude of the population of Khorasan towards Russia and Great Britain, and the assistance or the reverse that either Power may expect to meet with in the prosecution of its schemes. Earlier travellers, such


[page 219]

as Fraser,[193] MacGregor[194] and Napier, reported a widespread aversion in northern Khorasan to the Kajar dynasty, and a profound disaffection towards the central Government of Teheran. The process of time and the firm rule of the present Shah have obliterated these antipathies, and Khorasan is as negatively loyal as any other part of Persia. By negative loyalty I mean that the rule of the sovereign is passively acquiesced in by the bulk of the people, who of themselves would institute no movement for change; but that this feeling nowhere amounts to a spirit of enthusiasm, nor has kindled the faintest spark of national unity. Whilst, therefore, the people would be extremely unlikely to fight against the Shah, they would be almost as unlikely to fight for him — a position which renders their allegiance a quantity of very precarious value. Against the Afghans, no doubt, who are Sunnis and hereditary enemies, such a feeling, approximating to national unity, might be aroused. But I am not now talking of possible warfare with an Asiatic enemy, but of the designs and encroachments of Russia. If Russia, therefore, were to-morrow to undertake a hostile movement against Khorasan, what might the inhabitants of that province be expected to do?

My answer is that, if the movement were accompanied by the smallest display of military force, they would probably do nothing but sit still and accept the change of masters, in the belief that it was Kismet, and that they might fare, if not the same, at least a little better, and could not fare much worse. The utter rottenness of Persian administration, by which the poor people have been long oppressed without hope of redress, has taught them to turn with eagerness to any alternative that at least promises a change. I am unable to say whether the Russians are personally popular in Persia, not having had the means of ascertaining by personal inquiry on a sufficiently large scale, and having received the most contradictory answers from my several informants.


[page 220]

But the reputation acquired by them in Khorasan owing to their liberation of the slaves at Bokhara and Khiva, most of whom were Persians from this province,[195] and their deliverance of the borderlands from the devastating scourge of the Turkomans, combined with the prestige of their numbers and ever forward progress, have predisposed a naturally craven race to regard their advance with mingled resignation and respect. Some would be found to think the change a decided gain. The majority would vote it inevitable. The sympathy of the few, aided by the apathy of the many, would disarm opposition and pave the way for an easy conquest. If it be inquired whether the spirit of religious animosity might not be invoked, and a jihad, or religious war, preached against the infidels, the answer must be returned that Russia is not in the least likely to proceed until she has guarded against such a contingency. The religious element is in the ascendant at Meshed, and no doubt exercises a considerable control over the prepossessions of the people. Any fear of violation, either of the shrine or of the endowments by which it is supported, or of the privileges and abuses by which it is surrounded, would unquestionably awaken a feeling of the bitterest hostility. But Russia has never shown anything but a large patience towards the religious scruples and superstitions of her Mussulman subjects. Such suspicions would easily be disarmed; and it is to be feared that the holy mullahs and mujtaheds of Meshed are not more averse than the majority of their fellow countrymen to the receipt of bribes. When, therefore, the old Khan of Kuchan told me that all the people of Khorasan would rally and fight for Meshed, I believe him to have been talking nonsense. My impression is that Meshed, if it is destined to fall, will fall without a blow; and that a change of ownership in Khorasan might be effected without the loss of a drop of blood.


[page 221]

When I credit the Russians with an influence so remarkable, I am not for a moment conceding to them a monopoly of such an advantage. Were the British in a position to exercise the same pressure or ultimately to take the same steps, I believe that they would be received with an acclaim out of all proportion greater than that which might await their opponents. The Russians are in the habit of conducting matters in a somewhat high-handed and dictatorial manner in Persia; and, while such an attitude may inspire alarm and even create respect, it makes no appeal to affection. On the other hand, the franker and more honourable methods of the English have won for that Power a consideration which, in the absence of positive evidences of strength, such as numerous troops and adjacent dominions, is highly meritorious. The Timuri tribes, of whom I spoke, along the eastern border of Khorasan, are known to be extremely friendly to the English; and the nearer we approach to Beluchistan and the Indian frontier, the more does the popularity arising from just and tolerant administration prevail. The Persians are beginning to see perfectly well that the English do not desire a rood of their soil, and that the Russians are bent upon forcible appropriation. But the Russians are near and formidable, and the English are far away and make no visible display of strength. While, therefore, British influence is welcome and meets with encouragement, there is no spirit or party capable of engendering a successful resistance to Russian designs. The Khorasanis, like their fellow-men all the world over, are not above making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness.

SUPPLEMENTARY ROUTES IN E. KHORASAN

MESHED TO TURBAT-I-HAIDERI. H. W. Bellew (1872), From the Indus to the Tigris, pp. 351-7; Col. Euan-Smith (1872), Eastern Persia, pp. 353-6.

TURBAT-I-HAIDER1 TO BAJISTAN. H. W. Bellew (1872), Ibid. pp. 340-9; Col. Euan-Smith (1872), Ibid. pp. 349-53.

BAJISTAN TO KAIN. H. W. Bellew (1872), Ibid. pp. 325-39; Col. E. Smith (1872), Ibid. pp. 343-9.

KAIN TO BIRJAND. H. W. Bellew (1872), Ibid. pp. 309-25; Col. E. Smith (1872), Ibid. pp. 337-42.

FARRAH (AFGHANISTAN) TO NISHAPUR (viâ Birjand, Tun, and Bajistan). J. P. Ferrier (1845), Caravan Journeys, pp. 437-8

FARRAH (AFGHANISTAN) TO SEMNAN (viâ Khur and Tabbas). J. P. Ferrier (1845), Ibid. pp. 439-40.

TABBAS TO BIRJAND (viâ Tun and Kain). (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. i. pp. 137-66.


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BIRJAND TO PAHRI (HERAT) (viâ Forg and Yezdun). (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Ibid. vol. i. pp. 178-202.

SHAHRUD TO HERAT (viâ Turshiz and Khaf). G. Forster (1784), Journey from Bengal to England, vol. ii. pp. 221-3. Captain Claude Clerk (1857), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xxxi. pp. 47-54 (1861).

LASH JUWAIN (AFGHAN SEISTAN) TO KERMAN (viâ Neh). N. de Khanikoff (1859), Mémoire, &c., pp. 156-86.

SEMNAN TO BAJISTAN AND JUMAIN. H. B. Vaughan (1888), Proc. of the R.G.S. (New Series), vol. xii.


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