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Persia and the Persian Question, volume I

by George N. Curzon

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Chapter 4


I bear the tread of pioneers

Of nations yet to be,

The first low wash of waves where soon

Shall roll a human sea.


The rudiments of Empire here

Are plastic yet and warm,

The chaos of a mighty world

Is rounding into form.

J. G. WHITTIER, On an Eagle's Quill.

BEFORE proceeding with the record of my travels, I propose in a short chapter to give the latest information concerning the Transcaspian Railway and Transcaspia, so as to bring the narrative of its progress as nearly as possible up to the present time. Such readers as wish to tread immediately upon Persian soil will omit this chapter. In my former work, 'Russia in Central Asia,' I carried the history of the railroad as far as the autumn of 1889. Later writers have discoursed upon the subject, but have added little to our store of knowledge.[51] I think I may claim to be almost the only Englishman who has on two separate occasions journeyed over the line; and the information supplied in this chapter must therefore be regarded as complementary to that contained in the afore-mentioned volume. Nor can the subject be considered as alien to a work professedly dealing with Persia and the Persian Question seeing that for nearly 300 miles of its length General Annenkoff's railway runs parallel and in close proximity to the Persian frontier, that its existence has already had a considerable, and is likely to have an even greater, influence upon the politics and trade of the important Persian province of Khorasan, and that the only side from which the railway, viewed strategically, is open to danger is by attack from the Persian border mountains

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on the south. Some of these subjects will require additional treatment in later chapters. I will here limit myself to the engineering, political, and commercial advances which have been made since I first visited Transcaspia.

Uzun Ada is now served not only by the bi-weekly service of the Caucasus and Mercury Company from Baku, but also by other steamers trading from the same port and by a weekly steamer from Astrakhan, started during 1889.[52] The route viâ Tsaritsin and Astrakhan is now, therefore, the shortest and most expeditious route from England to Central Asia; whilst, even if a direct steamer be not found leaving Astrakhan for Uzun Ada, the regular service, which descends the West coast of the Caspian to Baku and then crosses over, will convey the traveller to Transcaspia as quickly as the Transcaucasian route. In the coming winter I heard that daily boats were to ply to and from Baku. All these facts tended to show the increasing use that was being made both by passenger and goods traffic of the Transcaspian line.

At the time of my visit the much-debated question of shifting the railway terminus from Uzun Ada to Krasnovodsk had not yet been settled, though a special commission from St. Petersburg, which was sent independently and contrary to the wishes of General Annenkoff, reported shortly afterwards in favour of the change, which has consequently been authorised by the Ministry of War. There could be little doubt that this must be the ultimate solution, Krasnovodsk being recommended by its superior depth of water (twenty to twenty-five feet instead of only twelve to fourteen feet), by its more abundant, or, at any rate, less infinitesimal fresh-water supply, and by the shorter crossing to Baku. In view, moreover, of the certain commercial development and the probable military requirements of the Transcaspian Railway, and of the extension of the Caspian mercantile marine already produced by the growth of Baku, and likely to be much increased if the port of Petrofsk (like Baku, a deep-water harbour) were connected by rail with the European system, it was almost absurd either to suppose or to contend that the Asiatic port and

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terminus could be permanently fixed in a shallow bay, commonly frozen over in winter, and presenting no advantages for the storage or embarkation of merchandise or for the debarkation of troops. General Annenkoff, however, had all the affection for Uzan Ada that a parent feels for a single and sickly child, and his attitude assured me that he would fight against the change with all the energy of desperation. He asked me of what good were twenty-four feet of water when the only vessels that were required were those with a draught of fourteen feet; where could be seen better piers than the wooden erections at Uzun Ada; and, when I pointed to the bales of cotton strewn pell-mell in every direction and awaiting shipment, where could more ample space be found than in their present resting-place? The only valid arguments against the change appeared to me to be the capital that had already been sunk in Uzun Ada, and the cost of the additional fifty-three miles of railway that will be required, entailing a corresponding increase in freight charges. Such an increase, however, will probably be more than counterbalanced for traders by the reduced cost of transport to Baku, which stands at 10 kopecks a poud from Uzun Ada, but might, it is said, be reduced to 5 kopecks a poud from Krasnovodsk. The deviation of the line, as decided upon, will start from the station of Mullah Kari, thirty-two miles from Uzun Ada, and will run to Krasnovodsk, a distance of eighty-five miles.

Between the stations of Bala Ishem and Kazanjik, I heard of a realignment of the railroad for a distance of sixty miles; but, having passed over this portion of the line in the night, I cannot say whether this description was correct, or whether the rails were merely relaid. The naphtha wells of Bala Ishem, to which a Décauville railway was originally laid, have ceased to be worked; the cost of production, in the absence of any refineries on the east coast of the Caspian, being greater than that of transport from the stills of Baku.

At Kizil Arvat, 160 miles from Uzuu Ada, a large workshop had been fitted up, at a cost of 50,000l., by an English engineer resident in St. Petersburg, for the repair and, it was said, the manufacture of locomotives, and for the general mechanical requirements of the line. He was expressly prohibited from employing foreign materials or workmen. These works, when completed, would give permanent employment to 600 men. The buildings were already illuminated

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by the electric light, which was also to be found at Amu Daria and with which it was proposed before long, by means of accumulators, to light the passenger waggons. A railway train lit by the electric light and speeding through the sand-deserts of Central Asia, would add one more to the many startling contrasts in which this extraordinary region abounds. On the further parts of the line the stations were now completed, and the temporary structures which I had noticed in 1888 had been replaced by neat buildings in brick or stone. A good deal of money had been spent during the past year in constructing new bridges and culverts to carry off the unpremeditated but disastrous torrents that sweep down after sudden rains from the Persian mountains. But, nevertheless, thirty miles of rail near Kizil Arvat, the ever vulnerable spot, had again been destroyed during a storm in July; and the danger is one against which, as in the far more serious case of the Bolan Railway in Beluchistan, it will always be difficult to guard altogether. M. Bielinski, the polish contractor, who built the big wooden bridge over the Oxus and the smaller bridges over the Tejend and Murghab, was a traveller by the same boat as myself, having received a contract to replace the wooden bridge over the Tejend by an iron fabric at a cost of 30,0001. A similar change was next contemplated at the same cost over the Murghab at Merv. It does not appear, however, that either of these changes has been carried into effect, though a new girder bridge has been erected across the Zerafshan at Kara Kul. The great wooden bridge over the Oxus at Charjui (which, it will be remembered, was a marvel of cheapness, having been constructed in the space of 100 days for 30,000l.) had again broken down a few months before, as it must continue to do when any great strain of uncommon flood or shifting channel is directed against it. But it appears, on the whole, to be better adapted to the situation than would any more costly substitute; whilst, by frequent repairs and, if necessary, extensions in order to accommodate the vagabond humours of the river, it may continue to serve all essential purposes. The channel, I have since heard, has shifted more than half a mile to the eastwards, and the bridge has had to be extended to keep it company.

Not much advance had been made in the interim with the problem of the navigation of the Oxus above Charjui. The two barges which were built for the carriage either of cargo or of

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troops could not, owing to the sinuous channel, be towed up stream by the two steamers, the 'Czar' and 'Czaritsa.' Furthermore, at that time the normal period consumed by the steamers in reaching Kerki, a distance of only 140 miles, was a week. This seems, however, to have been since reduced, in the case of the up-stream journey, to four days, and of the downstream journey to three days, the boats in neither case proceeding by night. Further improvements will be required before the river navigation can be of much commercial value in transporting merchandise to or from Afghanistan; whilst it will be still longer before, as a strategical auxiliary, it adds much to the offensive strength of Russia in Central Asia.

As regards Merv, and the heroic measures that I found in progress a year before for the resuscitation of the Merv Oasis by the reconstruction of the Sultan Bund across the Murghab, thirty-five miles above modern Merv, and the irrigation of the property which is administered out of the private purse of the Czar, I heard disparaging remarks, which threw doubt upon the ultimate success of the undertaking. It was said that the Murghab was found not to hold sufficient water to admit of irrigation or canalisation on any largely extended scale; while the evaporation from the lake above the dam was expected to exhaust the bulk of its contents. On the other hand, an English Engineer officer, visiting the works not long afterwards, was, I believe, most favourably impressed both with the skill and with the work already accomplished by Col. Kozoll-Poklefski, the engineer;[53] and the latter gentleman was understood to have no doubts about the success of his scheme.[54] That there must, however, be some uncertainty as to the results is, I think, clear from the conflicting

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figures of cultivable area which have from time to time been officially presented by the Russian authorities. First it was said that 800,000 acres would be irrigated and fertilised; then the figures fell to 300,000 acres; and the descending scale has even touched at its lowest point, the humble total of 18,000 acres. The last-named estimate is probably as much below the mark as the others are above it. Nor, if the work be properly carried out, does there appear to be any reason why considerable results should not be attained; inasmuch as in the Middle Ages and down to a century ago, when the forerunner of the new dam was destroyed in war by the Bokhariots, it was owing to this and similar irrigation works that the district of Merv won a repute for splendid fertility unequalled in the East. Should a large extent of ground be successfully reclaimed, it will of course admit of a greatly augmented population, M. Poklefski being of opinion that the entire oasis would support a total of 1,000,000 inhabitants. One hundred families of Dungans (Chinese Mohammedans) and Taranchis (Turki Mohammedans) from Kulja have been transported to Merv as an experiment in colonisation; and it is said that several hundred more families (presumably European) have been engaged as settlers on the Czar's estate. The only other tract where irrigation, followed, it is hoped, by colonisation, is to be undertaken on a large scale, is on the right bank of the Amu Daria, between that river and the Zerafshan, where the Russian Government is reported to be negotiating with the Amir of Bokhara for the cutting of a canal from the Oxus.

Recent figures of the rolling stock now on the Transcaspian Railway differ slightly; but the following totals may be regarded as approximately correct. There are from 120 to 130 locomotives upon the entire line, and a total of over 2,000 waggons, trucks, and cars of every description. The number of cistern-cars for the transport of water or petroleum is said now to be 150. These figures show that improvement is being made; although the standard that is required alike by commercial and military considerations has not yet been reached. General Annenkoff's passion for economy and a plausible balance-sheet, though excellent in their way, have somewhat retarded the proper development of the railway.

A triple wire runs parallel to the line from the Caspian to Samarkand, whence it is continued to Tashkent; whilst branch

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wires conduct from Kizil Arvat to Bujnurd, and thence to Chikishliar and Astrabad, from Karibent to Sarakhs, from Merv to Takhta Bazaar (Penjdeh), from Charjui to Khiva, from Bokhara station to Bokhara town, and, I was informed, from Charjui to the advanced post of Kerki on the Oxus. Elsewhere it has been reported that the service in the latter case is performed by pigeon-post. The question of connecting the Russian wires from their advanced point at Sarakhs or Takhta Bazaar with those of India viâ Afghanistan, touching Herat and Kandahar on the way, and thereby of providing an alternative overland telegraphic route from Europe to India, is one that has suggested itself to certain English and Indian authorities. But, apart from the advisability of the project, which is open to question, the circumstances are not at present such as would be favourable to its execution.

On the occasion of my first visit to Transcaspia in 1888, the duration of the journey from Uzun Ada to Samarkand — a distance of 900 miles — was seventy-two hours. This has now been reduced for the passenger and postal trains, which run two or three times a week, according to the season, to a little over sixty hours, of which ten are consumed in stoppages. Slower trains, mixed passenger and merchandise, circulate every day, and occupy about fifteen hours longer in the transit. Refreshment cars of moderate but serviceable quality are now attached to the trains, and have replaced the stationary buffets, except at the larger stations.

The figures of receipts and cost of working of the Transcaspian Railway, which are sometimes officially published, sometimes communicated by General Annenkoff to newspaper correspondents, and sometimes gleaned from private sources, are unfortunately as conflicting as the different estimates which have at various times been derived from the same variety of sources of the original cost of construction. The working expenses of 1887 showed an excess of 40,000l. above the receipts; those of 1888 an excess of 30,000l. A deficit in the balance-sheet of the same amount was expected in 1889; but the 'Novoe Vremya' has published the total of working expenses in that year as 241,731l., and declared that the receipts were 7,000l. in excess. General Annenkoff, however, gave me much more ambitious figures at Uzun Ada. The budget of M. Vishnegradski, the singularly able

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Russian Minister of Finance, who himself visited Transcaspia in the autumn of 1890, returned the working cost of the Transcaspian Railway and Oxus Flotilla combined in 1889 as 287,235l., figures which are not irreconcilable with those above quoted from the 'Novoe Vremya.' On the other hand, the same Minister's estimate for 1890 contained an addition of 120,447l. to the figures of 1889, or a total of 407,682l. for the combined charges of railway and flotilla during that year. I have since heard that a surplus of 29,000l. is claimed for 1890.[55]

About one fact there can be no doubt — viz. that the goods traffic upon the railway is enormously on the increase, and that it will reach infinitely greater proportions still. The total traffic weight of goods carried upon the railway in 1889 was 21,741,880 pouds, or 350,675 tons; out of which Central Asian indigenous product and raw material amounted to 9,069,081 pouds, or 146,275 tons. In the same year the value of manufactured goods and sugar imported by the railway into Transcaspia, Bokhara, and Turkestan was 94 per cent. higher than in 1888; while the value of exports conducted thereby from Central Asia to Russia, and consisting of cotton, wool, silk, dried fruits, and grain, increased 127 per cent. Of the goods thus conveyed by far the most remarkable, and an as yet unexhausted, rise has been that in exports of cotton from the ever-spreading Asiatic plantations. In 1888 the amount so carried was 1,213,274 pouds, or 19,655 tons,[56] in 1889 it was 2,200,000 pouds, or 35,484 tons; in January 1890 it was 252,760 pouds, or 4,077 tons (of which 193,229 pouds, or 3,116 tons, came from Bokhara); figures which indicate a much higher monthly average than in the preceding year, even although they do not quite come up to General Annenkoff's confident expectation, which he confessed to myself, of a total of 4,000,000 pouds in the whole year. In June, however, more than a quarter of a million pouds were reported to be lying on the piers at Uzun Ada waiting for shipment, while the railway was said to be bringing up some 20,000 pouds daily. The receipts for the first five months of 1890 were also said, largely in consequence of this increased export, to be larger by more than 50,000l. than in the

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corresponding period of 1889. Afghan merchants were further declared, for the first time since the completion of the railway, to have established direct relations with it by the despatch of several hundred bales of cotton to Charjui.[57]

The great mercantile use made of the railway, and the stream of goods traffic pouring towards it from all points of the compass, have necessitated a thorough Custom-house organisation in Transcaspia. This has been constituted on the basis, familiar in Russian practice, of exclusion, so far as possible, of foreign competition, preferential treatment of subject populations, and protection of home products and manufactures. The chief Custom-house is at Uzun Ada, but posts are also established at Kizil Arvat, Ashkabad, Artik, Kaahka, Dushak, Tejend, Sarakhs, Merv, Yuletan, and Takhta Bazaar. An ad valorem duty of 2½ per cent. is levied at Uzun Ada on all foreign goods imported by sea. A similar duty, calculated at local market prices, is also levied on all goods of European, Persian, or Indian origin, brought by land into Transcaspia, whether for local consumption or in transit to Bokhara, Khiva, or Turkestan. All such goods, if exported from Uzun Ada to European Russia or the Caucasus, are further liable to an ad valorem duty of 5 per cent. (the duty previously levied being returned). On the other hand, goods from Bokhara, Khiva, and Turkomania, for European Russia or the Caucasus, are allowed to pass through Uzun Ada free of duty. Similarly, all Persian goods in transit to Europe are passed duty free if forwarded by Ashkabad or other stations of the Transcaspian Railway.

These facts, as well as everything that I saw or heard on my second visit, tend to bear out my previous conclusions as to the immense commercial future that lies before the Transcaspian Railway. Skirting or traversing countries of great though inadequately developed resources, commanding the export and import traffic of Transcaspia, Khorasan, Bokhara, North Afghanistan, and Russian Turkestan, conveying to those countries the exclusive productions of Russia, and taking away from them in return the cotton and silk and wool and tissues

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and furs of the East, it will in a few years' time be the artery of the whole of Central Asia, along which the life-blood of half a continent will throb, commingling the already half-amalgamated strains of East and West. This railway is a far more potent weapon to Russia in her subjugation of Asia than half a dozen Geok Tepes or a dozen Panjdehs. It marks a complete and bloodless absorption. Great credit must be allowed to General Annenkoff for the inexhaustible energy with which he has worked for this consummation.

Touching the facilities of the line for English travellers, I heard that less objection is now raised to the appearance of strangers than was formerly the case, though this appeared to be a general belief rather than an induction from recorded cases. So great, however, is the traffic upon the line that a stranger might conceivably travel along it unobserved. He would, however, of course, be liable to be warned off or sent back if he could not produce a special permit from St. Petersburg. It is possible, as time goes on, that the stringency of these regulations may be relaxed. Nevertheless, the experience of subsequent English travellers upon the railway, including a lady, was not a favourable one. They were treated with some discourtesy and suspicion, the First Secretary of a British Legation being actually brought, upon a fictitious charge, before a Russian police court at Samarkand. These amenities were, I subsequently heard, intended as a reply to my own too truthful description of Russian affairs and policy in Central Asia.[58]

I have already spoken of the Mullah Kari-Krasnovodsk extension, now sanctioned. The suggested branch from Charjui to Kerki along the left bank of the Amu Daria, which was a good deal talked about at the time of the Afghan war scare in the spring of 1889, has since disappeared from view, and will probably not

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again be heard of till forward operations are contemplated. On the other hand, the extension from the present terminus at Samarkand to Tashkent, which I previously predicted as probable, has emerged into clearer perspective; and General Annenkoff hoped to be able to start work upon it in May 1890.[59] It has since been announced that the Czar has given his approval to the scheme drawn up by a special commission for the great Siberian Railway, debouching upon the Pacific at Vladivostock, which is to be 4,785 miles in length, to occupy ten years in construction, and to cost a sum variously estimated at from twenty-five to forty millions sterling.[60] Should the scheme be carried out, it cannot be long before the Transcaspian Railway, prolonged by then to Tashkent, will be carried forward till it joins the Siberian trunk line and completes the circle with European Russia. The point of junction is said to have been fixed at Omsk. In Transcaspia itself a branch line is talked of from Karibent on the Tejend to Sarakhs. This would take Russia eighty miles nearer to Herat.

Casting our eyes back upon Europe, where the Caucasian railway system is the indispensable corollary and complement of the Transcaspian Railway, we find that after many delays the Vladikavkas-Petrofsk line is said once again to have received the Imperial sanction;[61] although other voices are heard recommending a junction with the Central Russian lines

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and the Volga at the same time by a rail to Petrofsk from Tsaritsin. Simultaneously a commission has been entrusted with the task of reporting upon the feasibility of a tunnel through the main range of the Caucasus from Vladikavkas or some neighbouring point to a station on the Batum-Tiflis line.[62] Surveys are also being made for a line from Adji-Kabul on the Batum-Baku line to Astara on the Persian frontier. The fact that all these rival projects are at the same moment on the tapis is an indication of the importance most wisely attached by Russia to the improvement of her direct communications between European Russia and the Caspian; since any military operations undertaken upon the eastern side of the latter sea must depend for their reinforcements and supplies almost wholly upon correspondence with the West.

While in Transcaspia I penned the following words to the 'Times' newspaper: 'My ears have been, as usual, assailed with stories of the intrigues and scandals, the drinking, gambling, and other vices, that, unknown to the authorities at home, are said to prevail in Russian military circles in Transcaspia. So persistent and, it may be added, so consistent are these tales that they must contain a large percentage of truth. Young men who have committed indiscretions, or lost money, or taken to bad habits in European Russia are banished to a temporary purgatory in Central Asia, in forgetfulness of the fact that the painful tedium of life in those regions is an incentive rather than a deterrent to repetitions of the old offence. Accordingly, every Russian station in Central Asia is rife with gossip and scandal. Every prominent man has a host of enemies who would stick at nothing in order to pull him down. An outward show of discipline masks acute discontent, evil tempers, and ill-regulated habits. Much must be forgiven in consideration of the frightful climate and the utterly odious life. But it is questionable whether a Power so represented in Central Asia is one whose moral prestige is likely to remain in the ascendant, or whether its forces, if directed against an enemy, might not be found to have been weakened by the long-existing canker.'

These remarks, which were not lightly or unadvisedly written,

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caused, I believe, some offence; but how true they were appeared only a few months afterwards in an explosion of scandal, wrongdoing, and intrigue, which shook the society of Transcaspia to its foundations, and was not terminated until there had been a complete and radical reconstruction in the personnel of the Government. Into the story itself, which is an unattractive one, I will not enter. The upshot of the entire matter was that General Kuropatkin is now Governor-General of Transcaspia in the place of General Kemaroff, and that Colonel Alikhanoff has been removed from his important and responsible post at Merv, and has been placed at the disposal of the military authorities of the Caucasus. Simultaneously M. Tcharikoff, the accomplished representative of Russia at the Court of Bokhara, has been succeeded by my friend M. Lessar, of Afghan Boundary fame, and till recently Russian Consul-General in Liverpool. Further to the east, General Rosenbach no longer rules as Governor-General at Tashkent, but has been replaced by General Vrevsky, formerly head of the police at Odessa. General Annenkoff did not escape in the universal wave of slander and denunciation, but appears so far to have triumphed over his accusers.[63]

These changes, the effect of which cannot fail to be considerable, have been synchronous with the long-contemplated reconstruction of the Transcaspian Government. An official decree was promulgated in St. Petersburg on March 29, 1890, organising a separate administration for the Government of Transcaspia. Henceforward the latter post is, except in certain particulars, relieved from dependence upon the Government of the Caucasus, and enjoys a limited independence, analogous to that which prevails in Turkestan, including the privilege of direct correspondence with the Foreign Office at St. Petersburg. This is a change that has long been discussed, if not anticipated, and that is thoroughly justified by the increasing political weight and individuality of Transcaspia. Simultaneously the four Khans of Merv, whom I described in my previous book, have been deprived of administrative functions over their fellow tribesmen, while retaining their pensions of 120l. a year for life. Their place has been taken by Russian officers. No more striking

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evidence could be given of the successful disintegration of old tribal ties, customs, and traditions among the conquered Turkomans, who, little more than ten years ago, were fighting like fiends against those whom they now humbly follow and serve.

More significant even than the new form given to the Government of Transcaspia is the character and personality of the new Governor. In place of a quiet and unwarlike professor, who was happier when labelling his insects than when reviewing his men, we have the right-hand man and alter ego of Skobeleff, and the first soldier and strategist in Central Asia. Born in 1848, Kuropatkin entered the Turkestan army at the age of eighteen, and, among other operations, was present at the siege and subsequent capture of Samarkand. Having passed out first from the Staff College in 1874, he spent a year in Algeria, where he joined the French expedition to the Great Sahara, and wrote his first work upon the campaign. He then returned to Central Asia, and was on Skobeleff's staff during the war with Khokand, in which he was wounded and received the Cross of St. George. In 1876 he was sent on a special mission to negotiate a treaty with Yakub Beg of Kashgar (as a counterblast to the British Mission of Forsyth), and made this the subject of his second work. In the Russo-Turkish war he was Chief of the Staff to Skobeleff, and at its close was appointed head of the Asiatic section of the General Staff; while occupying which post he wrote a third work on the recent war. In 1879 he again returned to Central Asia, in command of the Turkestan Rifle Battalion, and in the following year executed a brilliant march at the head of a column across the Turkoman desert in order to join Skobeleff at Geok Tepe, arriving in time to lead one of the three divisions to the assault. Since then he has been the chief adviser of the War Office in St. Petersburg on all questions of Central Asian administration or strategy, and now returns in the prime of life to the highest command in a country of which he knows more than any living Russian general. His strategical abilities and reputation for courage render his appointment one of extreme significance. Nor can it be forgotten that he is the author of the famous secret memorandum upon the invasion of India by Russian troops, which is generally accepted in Russian military circles as embodying the most orthodox and feasible scheme of advance, and to which I shall have occasion to refer in later chapters. General

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Kuropatkin has already (1891) inaugurated quite a new reign in Transcaspia, and military exercise and movement are the order of the day. His salary is 1,400l. a year, and 800l. allowances, a reduction of 600l. upon the pay of Komaroff. M. Lessar is better acquainted, perhaps, than any living Russian with the Central Asian and frontier questions on their English as well as their Russian side. General Vrevsky is understood to be a man of action. His predecessor, General Rosenbach, was a man of peace. In the coincidence, therefore, of these three appointments, Englishmen have reasonable cause for believing, not that the Central Asian question is necessarily about to enter upon a new or violent stage, but that the interests of Russia in those regions are likely to be safeguarded with uncommon vigilance. Since writing these words I have heard that General Kuropatkin has at the same time given a taste of his quality and initiated his régime by ordering the expulsion of all foreigners from Transcaspia, including the one Englishman whom I have before mentioned.

It cannot indeed escape our notice that Russia is with much prudence utilising a period of peace and repose for the systematic consolidation of her position in her new territories. The strain of conquest was great, and produced a temporary dislocation of force. The crisis of 1885 found her, relatively, even less prepared for advance than ourselves. In the intervening five years, however, she has made great and invaluable strides, while the still incomplete character of many of the undertakings to which I have referred is an evidence that her ambitions fall as yet far short of realisation. Sweeping our eye in retrospect over the entire stage from the Black Sea to the Oxus, we note the piercing of the Suram Tunnel and consequent addition to the utility of the Transcaucasian Railway; the contemplated lines from the north of the Caucasus, to the south at Tiflis, or to the Caspian at Petrofsk; the steady enlargement of the Caspian marine; the change of railway terminus to Krasnovodsk; the increase of rolling stock and mechanical improvements on the Transcaspian line; the emancipation of the Transcaspian Government, and still further dissolution of tribal cohesion among the Turkomans; the construction of new barracks at Merv, Amu Daria, Kerki, and other places, and of military cantonments at various spots, notably Sheikh Junaid, near Kara Tepe, on the Afghan frontier; the appointment of Russian officers and non-

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commissioned officers to the Bokharan army;[64] and the contemplated railway extensions to Sarakhs and Tashkent. Each of these steps in itself would be important; but their combination, if effectively carried out, as there is every reason to suppose will before long be the case, will place Russia in a position almost incredibly superior to that which she occupied in 1885. At the same time she is introducing compulsory education for her Asiatic subjects in Russian schools, and is applying to Transcaspia the strict passport system of European Russia. If we take a leap over the intervening five hundred miles, which are described as Afghanistan on the map, and observe what is being done on the Indian side of that mysterious middle ground, we shall find as great cause for satisfaction on our own part as may the Russians on theirs. Either side is busy with preparations. But preparations for war have a tendency to prolong peace; and experience seems to show that two equally well-prepared countries are much less likely to fight than two ill-prepared ones, or than two countries of which the better prepared is burning to profit by the backwardness of the less.

If I were asked again at this time to cast a horoscope of the immediate political future in Central Asia (for extended prophecy would be absurd), I should reply that the omens are still those of peace.[65] Time seems to strengthen the conviction on both sides that a collision could not be confined to a small area or to a brief period of time, but that it must have far-reaching consequences which none can foresee. The notoriously peaceful proclivities of the reigning Czar are a potent factor in the situation, but one upon which in the unsettled state of Russian society it is unsafe to depend too implicitly; although it may be hoped that the same instincts will be developed in his eldest son, who recently toured through the Indian dominions of the Queen. Afghanistan remains as it has now been for half a century, the key of the situation. If Russia continues to respect alike her own plighted word and the boundaries of her neighbours, the Cossack and the Sepoy may remain friends, at a distance, for some time to come.

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