Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia:
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Quit Tehran – Journey to Tabreez – Lake of Ooroomeya – Farewell to Persia – Oppression of the Armenians by the Koords – Our lodgings in Turkish Armenia – Erzeroom – Road and journey from Erzeroom to Trebizond – Pass of Kara Kappan – Jevezlik – Trebizond – Quarantine – Lazes – Constantinople.
Tabreez, March 21st. 1853. – On the 1st of this month we left Tehran, my mind full of anxiety and care. It was an arduous undertaking, with an invalid and with three young children, to commence a journey of 1000 miles to Trebizond, But there was no resource; and there is always consolation in remembering "la journée sera dure, mais elle se passera." To have gone by Bagdad would have brought us into the heats of India. The Caucasus was still covered with snow; and to an invalid the fatigue and privation of Russian travelling are excessive. There was consequently no choice. This is one of the most disagreeable circumstances incidental to a residence in Persia. Once established in that country, it is nearly impossible to get out of it. The distance is so great, and the mode of travelling necessarily so slow, one must be content to undergo either the heat of the torrid zone or the cold of Siberia, unless by leaving Tehran in spring, and choosing the road by Erzeroom, or in autumn, and then adopting the circuitous route of Bagdad and India.
Three takhterewans contained our party, in which we slowly wended our way to Tabreez, sometimes on horseback
for an hour or two, to enjoy the fresh air, which in a takht one does not get much of. A minister leaving his post is a different person from one proceeding to the place of his diplomatic functions; yet we found no change in politeness, cordiality, and attention. The tea and sugar, it is true, no longer appeared at each station; but such things are mere matters of form.
We reached Tabreez yesterday after a more agreeable journey than was to be anticipated. The weather was delightful, though cold, as we ascended to Azerbijan. After a few days' rest we intend to continue our journey to Erzeroom, where we shall again take some repose.
Erzeroom, April 20th. – We are to-morrow to resume our journey to Trebizond; that much wished-for port, where we shall have done with this protracted and really toilsome journey. This rest was much required by all our party; and we enjoyed the clean boarded floors and whitewashed walls of the small house in which we lodge, and which seems a palace after the shelters where we have passed our nights during the preceding week. I must take up my journey, however, from our last halting-place, Tabreez, which we left on the 30th of March.
Khoee was the first town of importance after Tabreez. On our way to it we passed close to the Lake of Ooroomeya, otherwise called Shahee. On ascending the high pass leading to Khoee the lake lay at our feet. We had a fine view over the expanse of that silent water, the Dead Sea of Persia, which contains no living thing. The islands of the lake, the mountains of Maragha, those of the Mikree Koords at the south of the lake near the Jaghataï, part of the district of Ooroomeya with the Koordistan mountains
behind it, revealed themselves with the rising sun. It was a fine panorama. We only stayed to rest and breakfast at Khoee, that important and defenceless city, open and ready to be seized upon by any invader; but pressed on to the next stage. Three days more brought us to the famous plains of Chalderān, the scene of a great battle between Shah Ismaël Seffi and Sultan Selim, in which the former, after the display of extraordinary prowess, was defeated. It was here the Shah cut with his sword the chain with which the Turkish guns were linked. The succeeding day brought us to Awajik, the frontier village of Persia. The next day we crossed the celebrated pass of Kazlee Gool, which, however, after what I had beheld in Mazenderan, was nothing. Here is the boundary between Persia and Turkey; and as guns cross the pass constantly, the road ranks among the tolerably good. Bayazeed lay two hours to the right, perched among crags, which we were neither in the mood nor in the plight to explore.
Here, then, we bade farewell, a long farewell – that word of gloom – to Iran. The retrospect of my sojourn in that land is mingled with various feelings. It is agreeable now to look back, to have made the journey, and to have resided in a world so different from our own; and, notwithstanding my pleasure at the thought of once more ruturning [sic] to Europe, yet I felt a kind of pang as I returned the salutes of the Mehmendar and his suite, and a sense of loneliness as we pursued our bleak track through Turkish Armenia, a detestable land, made so by misrule. Mr. Morier, in quitting Persia, says that his sensations were exactly those expressed by Tournefort
when he determined to return to France; and I have only to add, that, notwithstanding the momentary feeling of uneasiness, my sensations were exactly those of Mr. Morier. He goes on to say that the people are false, the soil is dreary, and disease is in the climate.
Both sides of the frontier present a direful aspect of desolation. The country is filled with various tribes of nomadic Koords, Hyderanlee, Zeelān, Meelān, Jellālee, and others, who plunder caravans and travellers whenever there is impunity, and oppress the villagers, chiefly Armenian, at all times. One day they declare themselves the subjects of Turkey, and the next of Persia, to screen themselves from the punishment their crimes deserve. The face of the country shows the insecurity caused by their presence. The villages are few, and in a state of miserable poverty, notwithstanding the rich well-watered plains in which they are situated. The cold is so intense in this part of Turkey and Persia as to prevent the Koords from passing the winter in their tents. Those who cannot migrate disperse in small parties in the Armenian villages, which they not only insist on sharing with the inhabitants, but force these poverty-stricken Armenians to supply them with forage for the sustenance of their numerous flocks and herds.
Let the reformers of Turkey ponder on this crying evil, and save the poor Armenians from the oppressions of the wicked Koords. The other grievance already mentioned, of Mussulman travellers making Armenian villages the special places of rest, for the purpose of indulging more freely in oppression and caprice, has already been mentioned. We ourselves had practical experience of this
propensity. Our Turkish mehmander invariably endeavoured, until resisted, to select an Armenian village for our nightly halt; and when resting in a Mussulman village, he was equally solicitous to expel Armenians from their houses for our accommodation. This question was a subject of almost daily remonstrance and reproof; but habit had made the mehmander inveterate in this matter. He promised often and performed seldom, as happens among the Osmanlis. A Georgian proverb says, "He who trusts to a Turk, leans on a wave."
Aghree Dagh, or Ararat – our old acquaintance in Russian Armenia – was once more our great landmark. It lay on our right hand, and seemed quite close. I think, however, it did not look so grand as on the Russian side; owing perhaps to the greater height of the ground from which we were gazing at it.
We plodded our weary way through Turkish Armenia. This was the most disagreeable part of my Eastern experience. The annoyance arose from the dreadful accommodation at night, which no words, at least none that I can command, could describe. The villages in Armenia are scarcely visible at a short distance, the roofs of the houses being hardly raised above the adjacent ground; so that sometimes one walks over a house, and is in danger of sinking through the roof before becoming aware that it is a human habitation. In that romantic history, the retreat of the Ten Thousand Greeks, this peculiarity is alluded to. The cause must be the intense severity of the climate. The interior of these houses is completely destitute of even an approach to comfort; though they certainly fulfil the object sought, that of obtaining warmth. They consist of
stables of vast extent, sunk under ground, and filled with buffaloes, cows, sheep, horses, poultry; here the family live, and here too we lived. There were no windows; and the only outlets from these houses are the door and a hole in the roof. The atmosphere in the interior may be conceived, and so too may the misery of the nights passed in these abodes. We were provided with tents; but the cold was far too great to admit of our using them. These stables generally contained a sakkoo, on which the family resided. This is the platform I have already alluded to, raised two or three feet above the ground. Sometimes the villages were so small and so poor as not to possess even one of these spacious stables; on which occasions, leaving the single room to our children, we used to satisfy ourselves with the accommodation of the doorway. Altogether it was a time of hardship and trial; for sickness was augmented, and comforts had decreased. With the exception of the Pass of Dehar, the road was fortunately level and good. No incidents marked the journey; the inhabitants of the villages were civil and obliging, and the Koords had not approached these high grounds, where no pasture was yet to be found for their flocks and herds. We consequently were free from alarm on their account. A few years ago whole caravans used to be swept away by these banditti; but of late the improved relations between Persia and Turkey have rendered travelling by this road an undertaking of less risk than formerly. Nevertheless, the danger, great as it sometimes was, from Koords, snow, and cold, could not induce merchants or muleteers to abandon this road
and adopt the safer and more commodious route through Georgia and Russian Armenia.
I had become so accustomed to fine mountain scenery as to be comparatively indifferent to it; and I had learned to be far more anxious about good roads than good views. Still it was impossible not to be impressed by the wild grandeur of the scenes around us. Ararat long remained in sight and was succeeded by the steep and dark range separating us from Kars; then came the remarkable peak of Koosehdagh. At Hassan Kalla, one stage from Erzeroom, we had a respite from subterraneous, pestiferous stables. This is a picturesque town, with a castle perched on a high steep rock overhanging it. It is said that this town, or Erzeroom, was the boundary of the Roman Empire. From Berwick to Hassan Kalla--a goodly kingdom! My husband found here in the governor an old friend, who insisted on vacating his house for us.
Here, in Erzeroom, we feel ourselves to be approaching Europe; a large European society, as it seemed to us, being established in that town. There are consuls from France, England, and Russia, with their families, missionaries from America, besides numerous Europeans in the service of the Porte. The American missionaries, at the head of whom was the Rev. Mr. Peabody, have been most kind in lending us this comfortable house during our stay in this city.
Erzeroom is a large town, dirtier and more disagreeable, I think, than. even a Persian city; though it has the advantage of not being built of sun-dried brown bricks, and of the houses having windows to the street. Being
situated at the extremity of an immense plain, on a hill at the foot of a range of mountains, it makes a striking appearance from a distance, with its castle and numerous minarets and mosques. It winter it must be one of the bleakest and most desolate places in Asia. My husband passed nearly two years here, and has seen a heavy snow-shower in July. Snow falls in November, and does not disappear from the plains until the middle of April. The climate is so desperate that the inhabitants are reduced to designate a cabbage-field as "the garden;" there being no other known throughout the land. Add to this six melancholy poplars, and behold the extent of the sylvan and horticultural productions of Erzeroom. The thermometer falls to 27° below zero, Fahrenheit; and nevertheless wheat and barley are produced in abundance in the ample plain or valley below. The inhabitants are notorious for their ignorance and fanaticism. A few years ago a tumult was excited by some disagreement between a party of Persians and Turks. The mob rose in wrath, and resolved to exterminate the whole of the Persian population. They marched to the house of the Persian commissioner, the colleague of Sir W. Williams, and prepared to assault it. Had they succeeded in gaining an entrance, no doubt all the inmates would have been massacred. Sad to say, to appease the craving fury of the vile multitude, the commissioner thrust forth one of his followers – a hapless traveller, I believe. In a moment he was hacked to pieces. In the meanwhile the Turkish authorities and troops, with Sir W. Williams and General Tchernitchoff, the Russian commissioner, appeared in time to save the remainder.
Trebizond, May 7th. – When we left Erzeroom, on the
21st of April, we felt sure that seven marches, as they are called, would have brought us to this place. Sudden and serious illness interfered, and we only reached Trebizond on the 4th of this month.
We were glad to quit dreary Erzeroom, and for the first two days got on very well; the road was good, and we had "superior" stables to sleep in. A few miles from the town we crossed the Euphrates, as the Kara Soo is honoured by being designated; though the other and more important branch, under the name of Morad, rises within some miles of Bayazeed. It was curious to look at this rivulet, and then think of the mighty Shattool Arab at Bussora. At twenty miles from Erzeroom we entered the mountains by the pass of Khoosha Poongar. I may say that from hence to Trebizond, a distance of about 150 miles, it was nothing but a succession of mountain upon mountain, increasing daily in size and ruggedness, excepting in the vicinity of Baiboort, on the Choorook Soo river, where there was a short respite. Surveyed from the top of one mountain, the whole country looked like a gigantic rough sea, the mountain peaks seeming to be monstrous waves. The toil of travelling in takhterewans in these elevated regions may be conceived, as well as the uncomfortable sensations of passing in that vehicle through precipitous paths overhanging yawning gulfs. I could sometimes see, on such occasions, the precipice beneath, and would have wished to quit the takht, but it was too late, as to stop would only increase the danger. The accommodations became worse and worse, and we began to regret the stables of the lower tracts, which at least were dry. Here the houses were built of mud and loose stones, admitting such damp as
produced most acute illness, of which the issue was doubtful, and which obliged us to stop in a lonely village for four days. Misled by the muleteers, who thought only of the shortest road to their destination, we endeavoured, though now only early spring, to reach Trebizond by the summer road. This led us over the toilsome but magnificent pass of Kara Kapan. There was no danger, but the fatigue was excessive. Contrary to our expectations, the path was covered with deep snow, which forced us to quit the takhts, and wade more than ankle-deep through it for long distances. In our circumstances this necessity was a sore trial. But I learned on this journey that neither children nor invalids know how much fatigue and privation they can endure until they are under compulsion. We were fourteen hours on the road that day; and as we had expected to arrive at the summit at about three o'clock, we had not brought any provisions with us. The children became very hungry, and eagerly grasped at some stale bread one of the servants had in his pocket. At length we reached the top, and found there four or five little huts which had not been occupied since the preceding autumn, and were still damp with the winter's snow. Glad we were, nevertheless, to enter them, and warm ourselves at the blazing pine-wood the servants had collected.
Next morning early we prepared to descend from bleak winter's snow into sunny, smiling spring. Only one more stage remained to Trebizond, and we were able to appreciate the glorious prospect before us fully. The road was broad and safe; it wound through a thick wood of fine trees, intermingled, as we descended, with shrubs, evergreens, and creeping plants. The rhododendron and myrtle
were in full blow, and the number of wild flowers was surprising. A residence of some years in barren Persia contributes in no small degree to the enjoyment of a scene like this. At the bottom of the pass we reached our station, Jevizlik, than which a more lovely spot cannot be conceived. Two streams rush through the valley, and, uniting close to Jevizlik, fall into the sea near Trebizond. A most romantic-looking castle, perched on a steep rock, overlooks the stream, and guards the pass. Woods and verdure clothe the hills and mountains to the top, intermingled with cultivated lands, villages, and detached farm-houses. If the sea were visible, I question if the road from Leghorn to Genoa would afford a finer sight. The next day we reached Trebizond. This city was not visible until we were within two or three miles of it. Suddenly, on getting round a mountain which had intercepted the view, it lay below at our feet like a beautiful panorama. The sea looked like an old friend, and was dotted with ships and steamboats. I felt that our toils were over, and as if we were already in Europe. This thriving town rises from the sea up the face of the hill, not unlike Genoa. Compared with the Persian cities and the Turkish towns I had seen, it was neatness itself. On the east of the town are the craggy rocks of Boz Teppeh; on the west is the ancient castle; and to the south are ranges of wooded hills, rising in height as they successively recede. English commerce and steam have raised Trebizond to its present flourishing state, by the vast quantities of English manufactures which from hence are conveyed to Persia, for which Bushir and Bagdad had been the previous routes. It is strange that a Persian Armenian should
have been the first to discover the convenience of this road. But Armenians have a genius for commerce, though seldom of an enterprising kind. This gentleman, whose name was Sittik Khan, conveyed, twenty-four years ago, a cargo of merchandise belonging to himself, or to his friends in England, through all the perils, at that time very serious, from the Koordish marauders; and each succeeding year has augmented the number and the value of the caravans.
We are undergoing here the ordeal of a ten days' quarantine, to remind us, I suppose, that we are on the threshold of Europe. If we were more comfortably lodged, the repose after our harassing journey would be rather a luxury than otherwise.
I hear the Turk of Trebizond is a very different person from the genuine Osmanli. The distinction is so visible and so great, as to create a strong belief of his being a Greek in disguise – the descendant, in short, of the old Greek population. Though affecting to be real Osmanlis, that is, the offspring of the Turkish invaders, collected together by the house of Osman, they are by the latter called Lāz, that being the name of the population between Trebizond, Batoon, and Gooriel. I am informed that the Lāz are probably allied in race with the Mingrelians and Imeretians, to whom they are said to bear a resemblance in dialect. Among the real Turks their reputation is low, to be called a Lāz being held as a term of reproach equivalent to an imputation of a want of faith, honour, or religion. A Lāz, as a Turkish proverb says, will at any time "kill a man for an onion."
There cannot be a greater contrast than that between the
"Trebizanli" Lāz, or Greek, and the lazy fanatic Turk of Erzeroom, laden with conceit and ignorance. The native of Trebizond is said to be full of activity and energy; he is cheerful and lively; unlike everything Turkish, he puts his gun on his shoulder and trudges over the mountains in quest of game. Still more curious and un-Turkish, you meet him on Friday with a party of his comrades, sauntering amid the beautiful environs of his native city, accompanied by a fiddler and singer, with whom he does not disdain to join in chorus. It is suspected that on these occasions the merrymakers are supported by something which gives inspiration to the fiddle and song.
Constantinople, June 2nd. – In due time, or rather after due time, we reached Istambol. There are two companies of steamboats between Trebizond and Constantinople, Austrian and English, and considerable rivalry exists between them. At one time they took deck passengers for nothing, and, they say, treated them to a dish of pillao besides; but I cannot vouch for the truth of the latter part of the story. Our large party was a prize, and by some Levantine cleverness we were booked in a crazy English boat. The deck was so entirely covered with deck passengers, that for five days we could never leave the close cabin. I do not know what would have become of us if there had been a storm, for the paddles hardly moved. To this day I cannot think of it without a feeling of resentment towards all concerned in putting us on board. We were met in the harbour of Constantinople by Lieutenant Glascott, of the Royal Navy, attached to the Perso-Turkish Frontier Commission, who kindly brought to meet
us two nice caiques, and had carriages ready for us on the shore to take us to the hotel.
Whoever has seen Constantinople will pardon the cupidity of the Emperor Nicholas. It is created for universal empire, and one does not wonder the Romans transferred their capital to this magnificent site. A traveller from Persia sees Constantinople under a different aspect from one coming from the West. To me everything was couleur de rose, and Pera had all the effect of a European town. The shop-windows – the hairdressers – the ladies in their wonderfully small French bonnets and with their faces uncovered – the Osmanli women, too, with their gauze veils and frightful costume, the former covering without concealing the lips – the strange-looking cabs in the streets – all was new and delightful to me.
We brought with us to Constantinople, all the way from Tehran, two Persian men-servants and a Persian nurse. One of the former was engaged to be married to the nurse, who was a widow, on their return to Tehran. Next door to the hotel where we resided lived a family of Perotes, among whom were several young ladies remarkably well looking. They spent several hours daily in walking up and down before their door, without bonnets or shawls, gaily attired in nicely fitting dresses. They completely absorbed and bewildered our two Persians, who devoted the day to gazing on these houris, and in lamenting they could not take wives like these back to Persia. The nurse was forgotten, and she became excessively angry, abused her betrothed, and said she could never bestow another thought on such a fool as he proved himself to be.
We had the ill luck to find the principal hotel completely full, so that we were obliged to content ourselves with one not of equal excellence. We were, I doubt not, troublesome guests, and an invalid cuisine requires care. I am sure we should have fared very badly had it not been for the kindness of Her Majesty's Ambassador. I shall always preserve a grateful recollection of Lord Stratford's many kindnesses during a month's residence at Constantinople.
One of the most remarkable sights in the streets of Constantinople is the appearance of the Sisters of Charity. It is strange to see in the midst of the Turkish town their well-known dress, recalling to mind the streets of Paris. Not only do they pass through the crowd unmolested in the performance of their duties, but are even treated with consideration and respect. Two large establishments of these nuns have been formed in Galata and Pera. With the exception of one or two Irishwomen, these nuns are all natives of France. I paid a visit to one of the former, who showed me over the fine hospital, where sick strangers are admitted without regard to creed or country.
Here I shall conclude. The journey home, by Malta and Marseilles, is an everyday occurrence, and my joy at returning would have been complete but for the death of our faithful terrier, Crab. I shall not attempt to say how this event embittered everything, for it is uninteresting to all, and by some would not be understood.
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