Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia:
|chapter 19||start page||single page|
General Macintosh's plan for conducting the siege of Sebastopol – Our share in its fall – Suggestion for making military service compulsory – Our next battle-field against Russia: prospects if in Georgia – Inactivity of Schamil and the mountain tribes during the late war – The Russian army in Georgia, its pay and mortality – Caucasian tribes – Power of Russia south of the Caucasus.
Euptaoria, Sebastopol, Kaffa, Kertch! These memorable names excite recollections too vivid to leave them without devoting a few reflections to the theatre of so many momentous deeds. True, though trite, it is easy to be wise after the event; yet who can help regretting that a different plan was not followed in the subjugation of Sebastopol?
There was, however, one man who was wise before the event. Major-General Macintosh, who now commands the forces in the Ionian Islands, clearly laid down the principle at the commencement of the siege, if not before it, that the mode of conducting an attack against Sebastopol was by landing an army at Kertch, and, after beating the enemy in the open field, to out off the communication with Perekop, and then commence the siege at full leisure, with all the appliances of war. General Macintosh's book is not before me, but this is the substance of his plan, which he develops in considerable detail, and with the intelligence of a man who knows his profession, and has been on the ground.
Sebastopol has, however, fallen, and the English army has earned a share, small or great, of the reputation of that feat. We cannot disguise from ourselves that we
were eclipsed by the overwhelming numerical superiority of the French. Some among us find consolation by deluding themselves with the assurance that we are not a military nation, and should not pretend to vie with a people essentially martial, like our Gallic neighbours. Most bitter consolation! With a European population, the colonies being included, little inferior to that of France, we are driven to the resource of hiring mercenaries from every land, heedless of the fate of those nations who have sought to defend their soil or their interests by the arms of foreign levies.
When wealth and luxury have taken such root, that an army can no longer be obtained by voluntary recruitment adequate to maintain the honour and the interests of an empire, or secure respect from friend and foe, its dignity and safety combine in urging the community to a sacrifice; the state of war should be the signal for making every man throughout the land fit for military service available wherever necessary.
In these days, when the voice of the people is so potent, we may feel assured that no war can be undertaken from mere wantonness, or unless the interests of the nation absolutely require it.
When war is unavoidable, there seems no good reason why the person as well as the purse should not be made available for the general welfare. A law of this kind, passed with the consent of the nation – the Crown, the aristocracy, and the people – is no greater infringement on the liberty of the subject in the one case than in the other.
The economy to the State would be great. The man whose lot it was to take his place in the ranks of the army for a limited space would not require to be bribed by high bounties, or high pay, or pampered with high feeding; an assurance would thus be given for the maintenance of a large force during war.
The "Peace party" ought to hail a measure of this kind, for no stronger guarantee could be given for peace. Such a law, added to the wealth of England, would render her
invincible if attacked, and make other nations slow to provoke her enmity.
But the day for this act of legislation has not yet come. Still, who can tell how soon it may force itself on the consideration of the nation with an irresistible pressure?
Peace has, however, been proclaimed – a peace which Russia has been in such haste to conclude that suspicion is aroused whether she intends it to be permanent. Will the next battle-field be the Crimea, or Bessarabia, or Georgia?
It is hazardous to offer a prediction of the result of warlike operations in a remote country, where chance, an unskilful commander, the interception of a convoy, may defeat the most adroit combinations. Yet, should the Georgian provinces be the scene of our next campaign against Russia, there appears a fair chance of success for our arms. It would scarcely seem a sound calculation to reckon on efficient aid from the Christian population of those provinces; they appear, compared with other Asiatic states, to be fairly governed, or at all events with an absence of violence and oppression. They partake, without molestation, of the material enjoyments of life; unlike their co-religionists in Persia, if not in Turkey, their property is safe from sequestration; and they are from time to time admitted to high military employment. Bagration, of the days of 1812, was a Georgian; and Bebutoff, the governor of Tiflis, is an Armenian. The want of that liberty of speech so cherished by Asiatics, and the more than occasional corruption of Russian authorities, are their chief grievances. An inroad of Turks, therefore, backed though it may be by the name and reputation of England and France, will have little allurement for people in their condition, who, from similarity of religion, hardly feel their conquerors to be foreigners. But it is in all likelihood otherwise as to the Mussulman population of the Transcaucasian districts. They can scarcely yet have forgotten the real independence of their government when nominally subject to Persia and Turkey. They have not amalgamated with the Russians. Though Sheahs, and therefore not friendly to the followers of Omar, it seems tolerably certain that the prospect of independence and of
casting off the Christian yoke would make them smother sectarian rivalry, and, remembering only their common Mahommedanism, they would welcome the Ottoman flag, particularly in conjunction with the forces of France and England.
It is impossible to avoid being struck with the little that has been done, during the war just terminated, by Shamil, the Lezghees, the Circassians, and other mountain tribes, in molesting the Russians in the Caucasus, and, above all, in harassing, if not interrupting, their communications through its defiles. After the feats we have formerly read of the destruction of various Russian corps, general after general driven back with slaughter, to any one who has beheld the formidable defile of Dariel, a bold stroke against the Russians, conducted by a master head and hand like Shamil's, would seem no impossibility. Want of unity of purpose, the interests of to-day overruling those of to-morrow, or levity and corruption, are the best explanation of great hopes being disappointed, and of great opportunities being turned to little account.
Being on the subject of Georgia, perhaps it may gratify the reader to receive some additional information respecting that country. An English traveller having communicated to me some authentic particulars as to the population, both Christian and Mahommedan, as well of that province as of the Caucasian regions in general, I shall proceed to repeat it.
"To explain how I was enabled to acquire information, which I scarcely think could be collected by another traveller, it may be sufficient to state that a number of accidental circumstances opened to me unexpected sources.
"The actual yearly loss of soldiers by death and desertion, particularly the former, is enormous. I never heard it estimated by the Russians themselves at less than one-tenth. I have reason to believe it to be much more, as a person who neither would exaggerate, nor could be deceived, corrected my assertion of one-tenth by repeatedly stating it as a fourth, in conversation with myself.
"This proportion was corroborated by another most competent authority, who stated that on an average 10,000
recruits arrived annually in Georgia, and I know that in a few months of the autumn of 1836, of 600 men who formed the garrison of Poti on the Black Sea, 200 died, and this was not reckoned an unusually sickly season.
"All agree in stating that nearly all the stations on the Black Sea, and most of those in Mingrelia, Imeritia, and likewise those near the Caspian, are just as fatal to the Russian soldiers as Poti is.
"I am aware I run some risk of repeating that which may be already well known, but, as I myself was astonished when I brought the pay of officers and men of the Russian army into English currency, I do not think I can err very far in noticing it here. These, and also I believe the civil servants in Georgia, receive double the pay of those who are in Russia. The silver rouble is equal to four francs.
|A Polkownik, or Colonel (pay annually)||750||or||123||6||8|
|Pad Polkownik, of Lt.-Col.||700||or||116||13||4|
|Command allowance of Colonel and Lieut.-Colonel||750||or||123||6||8|
|First Surgeon's pay||750||or||123||6||8|
"While the Russian private soldier's rations are very bad, he only receives in cash three copeks per day (less than a halfpenny), making about tenpence a month in Georgia, and half that sum in Russia, out of which I am told he is put under stoppages to defray the expense of the baggage bullocks and the barber kept by each company.
"I learned, on what I consider the best possible authority, that, a calculation being made by official people, it was found that 5l. 8s. 4d. a year pays, clothes, feeds, lodges, arms, and physics a Russian soldier.
"If these provinces cost Russia so large an annual expenditure in men as that here referred to, it is no less true that a very large sum in cash is sent to Tiflis from Petersburg, to cover their yearly expenditure. This sum is said never yet to have been less than fifteen millions of copper
roubles or 625,000l. a year, and on excellent authority I was assured that last year 1,050,000l. were sent.
"By far the most useful troops to Russia in the expeditions against the Circassians are the contingent from Mingrelia, Gooriel, and from those of the Caucasians who have been forced to submit to Russia.
"The following is a list of the principal tribes of the Caucasian mountaineers, from the Caspian to the Black Sea, and the septs or clans into which they are divided, with the numbers of each tribe, all taken from an official Russian document of 1833 and 1834: –
|Total number of Caucasians||1,535,623|
"The same document states that –
|All Georgia proper, including Akhalsikh, has||337,143|
|Total in Georgia and Mussulman Provinces||1,217,714|
"This document proves, what I suspect will surprise many, that the Caucasian independent tribes who wage continual war with Russia very considerably outnumber all the subjects of the Emperor south of those mountains.
"Besides the large college in Tiflis, Russia has established and supports eighteen schools south of the Caucasus.
"She obliges the Armenian hierarchy to educate the young candidates for the priesthood. She has made roads, such as they are, which extend in almost every direction.
"Posts regularly traverse the country. The people are becoming accustomed to obedience and restraint. Very many natives, Armenians chiefly, are in the military and civil service."
Ancient history of Armenia – Excursion to, and description of, Ani – Account of the fortress of Gumri – Advantage of the war to the Turks – Oppression of Armenians by Mahommedans.
Though situated almost on the high road between Erzeroom and Tiflis, as well as between the latter city and Tabreez, few travellers take the trouble of stepping aside from the beaten track to view this ancient capital of the Armenians, for, scattered and wandering as they now are over the face of the earth, like Jews and gipsies, the Armenians once had a capital. They pretend that their progenitor Haïk, the great-grandson of Japhet, came from the land of Shinar to escape from the tyranny of the Mighty Hunter before the Lord, and established himself west of Van. His successors transferred the residence of the Armenian monarchs to the banks of the Arras, where it continued for eighteen centuries. From one of these, named Aram, distinguished for his heroic exploits, is derived the appellation by which the tribe is now known, although not recognised by the Armenians themselves, who adopt the name of their founder, Haïk. Armenia was subdued
by Shameram (Semiramis), who built a city after her own name, Shemiramgerd, now Van. Subsequently the Armenian nation aided the Medes in their revolt against Sardanapalus. At length the Macedonian Alexander extinguished the Armenian monarchy, of which the dynasty of Haïk had held uninterrupted possession for so many centuries.
The Seleucidæ having been overthrown by the Parthian invaders of Persia, the latter established in that country a powerful and independent race of Parthian kings. Arsaces the Great, grandson of the founder of the Parthian empire of the same name, placed his brother Valarsaces on the throne of Armenia B.C.
150, and under this branch of the Arsacidæ, which lasted nearly five hundred years, the Armenians attained greater prosperity, and reached a higher rank in the scale of nations, than they had ever before enjoyed. The whole country was overrun by Antony B.C.
34, in his Parthian wars, which it is conjectured led him to the neighbourhood of Tabreez. When the Sassanees mounted the throne of Persia in 226, the Romans placed Tiridates on the throne of Armenia, and then it was that St. Gregory, a descendant of the Royal Arsacidæ, converted the king and his court. Armenia was rent into factions during the wars of the Romans and the Sassanians, till at length, near the middle of the fifth century, these two powers made a formal division of the country. The fire-worshipping Sassanians spared no effort to convert the Armenians to their faith. The country was desolated by Persian armies, but persecution and torture failed to overthrow Christianity in Armenia. The Magian worship having been extinguished by the followers of the Koran, for seventy years Armenia was the field of contention between the Mussulmans and the rival power of Constantinople, till at length the supremacy of the former was established. Not long afterwards, by a strange change of policy, the caliphs founded a dynasty of native tributary sovereigns, who during 160 years filled the throne of Armenia. The noble family of the Pakradians, of very ancient Jewish descent, was the source from which these monarchs were
derived. Many smaller Pakradian chiefs formed minor semi-independent principalities; but in the middle of the eleventh century the Seljookee Toorks burst into Armenia headed by their famous chiefs Toghrul and Alp Arselān, marking their track by devastation and massacre.
The latter monarch, one of the greatest of the Seljookees, was afterwards slain on his throne by an assassin. The murderer advanced towards his victim, who, confiding in his skill as an archer, refused the aid of his guards. He missed his aim and lost his life. He was buried in the city of Merve, to the north of Meshed, towards the Oxus. On his tomb were inscribed the following words, dictated by himself shortly before his death: – "Oh! ye who have beheld the glory of Alp Arselān exalted to the heavens, come to Merve, and you will see it buried in the dust." Alp Arselān in A.D.
1063 took and pillaged Ani, the capital of the Pakradian Armenian kings, with such slaughter that the streets were blocked up with bodies. Ani then fell into the hands of the Koords, from whom it was wrested by the kings of Georgia, then at the height of their power. This may be considered the termination of Armenian independence and separate existence in this part of Asia. The Moghuls and Timour completed the desolation caused by the Seljookees. The population of Armenia is scanty, but the wonder is it has not been annihilated. Its geographical position made it the battle-field of innumerable nations, beginning with the Assyrians and ending with the Russians. It was not from massacre and the other evils of war alone that Armenia suffered. The conquerors frequently forced a large share of the population from their homes: thousands were carried to Tartary and Egypt; but the chief devastator was Shah Abbas the Great, of the house of Seffi, who, to make Armenia an intrenchment against Turkey, converted it into a desert. The inhabitants were collected in the plains of Ararat, and driven like cattle across the Arras to Ispahan and other parts of Persia.
The tenacity of the Armenian character under all their afflictions excites admiration. Throughout the woes which barbarism, fanaticism, and violence could inflict on these
devoted Christians, they have clung unflinchingly to their religion and to their language. The same language is spoken by the Armenians throughout the world, and, with the exception of those attached to the Church of Rome, they all maintain the same dogmas of faith.
Happening in the year 1840 to be residing at Erzeroom, I felt a strong desire to see the last remnant of Armenian regal grandeur, by undertaking an excursion to Ani, in company with my friend Dr. Riack, of Her Majesty's Mission in Persia. With a very light equipment of clothes and bedding, and a good supply of tea and sugar, that best resource where hard continued riding is to be endured, or heat or cold to be borne, we set forth on post-horses attended by one servant each. Wishing for variety to make a circuit, we went to the north-east for about 15 miles, and crossed a small rivulet which is entitled to be honoured with the name of Euphrates, as it proceeds from some fountains in the neighbourhood, from which springs one branch of that river. I had on a previous occasion seen these fountains, which take their rise in a small basin at the summit of very high mountains. There are several of these springs, some among them sending forth with great violence a volume of water nearly a foot in diameter and three or four feet in height. Our road continued over high mountains into the beautiful valley of Tortoom, through the midst of which runs a small river crowded on both sides with luxuriant villages surrounded with fruit-trees. The valley is terminated by a charming lake six miles long, encompassed by precipitous mountains which reach the water's edge, through a chasm of which the waters of the lake find an exit and form a splendid waterfall.
From Tortoom we turned to the north, our road, or rather path, still continuing over high mountains diversified with fertile vales, while to the west lay still higher and more rugged mountains, separating us from Batoum and the Black Sea. We reached the town of Oltee, situated in a beautiful valley of the same name: overhanging the town is a high rock, with a very remarkable and ancient-looking castle at its summit, of which the only
thing pretended to be known was, that it had been erected by the Venidik or the Genevees; it more probably was the fastness of one of the extinct race of the Delli Beys, who defied the Porte in the days of its weakness, and made plunder their occupation. Another day's hard riding brought us to Kars, twenty miles being occupied in ascending and descending very high mountains.
This is a poor though picturesque-looking town, containing, it is said, 1500 families, of which only twenty were Armenians, the Russians having carried off no less than 600 families of that race at the close of the last war. The citadel is placed on a high steep rock which completely overlooks the town, but the whole is commanded by a ridge of hills within cannon-range of the citadel. It was here, we were told, Prince Paskewitch erected his batteries at the capture of Kars during the last war. On the next occasion the besiegers found this ridge occupied: Sir W. Williams was too skilful a soldier to leave so important a post to the enemy. He fortified the ridge, and has gained a name and reputation not second to any in the present war.
The succeeding day we rode twenty-six miles over an undulating country to Ani.
This venerable relic is situated on the bank of a small stream, called Arpa Chaee, or Barley River, which separates Turkey from Russia. On approaching the ruins we were astonished to perceive the walls in as perfect a state as if they had been recently erected. These walls are double, and are of great height and thickness, with enormous towers at close intervals, all constructed of a reddish stone, cut in large blocks with the utmost regularity, and closely cemented. The towers are round and may be sixty feet in height. The entire structure, both walls and towers, is in such excellent preservation, that comparatively little repair or expense would be required to make them serviceable; I have seen nothing like them in Turkey or Persia. We observed that the gates of the two walls were not built opposite to each other, with the object no doubt of exposing an assaulting party to greater loss in proceeding from the outer to the inner gate. The site seems to have
been admirably chosen for strength and purposes of defence. The city was situated on a tongue of land, protected on the east and south by the enormous and exceedingly steep ravine through which flows the Arpa Chaee, and on the west by another ravine of similar proportions, which joins the above stream. These ravines may be 40 yards wide and 20 yards deep. The north is the only side exposed to assault, and this is defended in the manner described: even the ravines have been strengthened by a strong parapet, which runs the whole length of the faces towards the Arpa Chaee and the ravine to the west. The space inside the walls must have been very confined, and could not have admitted of a large population. Five hundred yards was the length we assigned by estimation to each face of the ravines: perhaps this was the royal fortress, and that the mass of the population resided beyond the walls. The number of hillocks outside the gates, covering perhaps the fragments of a city now lost to sight, gives colour to this conjecture; but if it were thus, what a vision does it open of the wealth and power of the Pakradian monarchs, who could erect a fortress of such dimensions for their own special security.
In gazing at the ponderous walls and deep ravines enveloping Ani, one is perplexed in reflecting by what contrivance could a horde of barbarians, like the Seljookee Toorks in 1060, surmount all these defences, and capture such formidable bulwarks. Treason or famine seems the only mode of opening these gates in the then state of the science of conducting sieges.
On passing the gates one is struck with awe on perceiving that the city does not contain a single inhabitant. All is silence and desolation. The entire space is covered with hillocks, by which the former habitations, and even the outline of the streets, could in many places be traced. At the southern extremity of the enclosure is a high mound, which is called the citadel, crowned with extensive ruins. A bridge over the Arpa Chaee, of which the remains are still in existence, connected the citadel with its left bank. Near this spot, in the stream, is a very rugged rock on which is built a castle called "Qiz Qallasee," the Maiden
or Maiden's Castle, a name almost invariably given in Persia to all castles in defiles and commanding passes.
Besides the citadel the ruins consist of an edifice of great size, in the north-west angle, which now receives the denomination of the "Palace." There are also two high columns, shaped like minarets, but of great size, which may have been towers for military purposes. Three churches complete the remains of Ani. All these buildings, walls, citadels, palace, columns, and churches are made of the same beautiful reddish stone, intermixed with black, which receives a fine polish and produces an admirable effect. Everything is constructed. in the most substantial and massive manner and of first-rate masonry.
The churches are all shaped like a cross. The walls of one among them were entirely covered with scriptural pictures in fresco of rather coarse execution, but still tolerably preserved, excepting the heads, of which no doubt Mussulman zeal had deprived the figures. Time and the weather had been kinder than man at Ani, for in many parts of the building the stucco was in perfect preservation, still retaining a brilliant gloss. While we were surveying the ruins, many workmen were employed in removing the pillars and large black stones belonging to the inside of these melancholy tabernacles, to form stoves for the Pasha of Kars; these were the only living beings in Ani. Another church of considerable dimensions was remarkable for being perfectly plain and simple, and therefore infinitely more pleasing than the ornament and tawdriness of the adjoining sacred edifices.
The reputation of the grandeur of this extinct city still survives; our guide said it contained one thousand churches, and a similar number of lamp-oil manufacturers. The adjoining country is remarkably sterile in its aspect, there being no trees within view. The sides of the immense ravine on the west side of the town are covered with excavations, which form small apartments, and which were evidently used as dwellings or as shops. At this moment one of these cavities is designated as the barber's shop,
another the baker's, &c.; shelves and tākches (a shelf cut in a wall) are visible in many of these recesses, which are now used by the Koords as dwellings in winter. The bed of this immense ravine is at this day called the Charsoo, a Persian word signifying market-place.
The impression left on us by these ruins was a doubt that they could date as far back as 800 years, and a persuasion that the devastation or abandonment of the city must have taken place at a later period than the reign of Alp Arselān. I think I have read somewhere that the ruin of Ani dates from a much later period.
Another reflection which suggested itself to us was, that, as Gumri or Alexandropol was a formidable rampart to Tiflis, and an excellent base of operations against Erzeroom, so Ani might be converted into a corresponding offensive and defensive position for Turkey. These two cities are close to each other; they are situated on the same river and similarly protected by immense ravines, and Ani has the further advantage of having massive walls ready made. With so many appliances at hand, the expense of converting this abandoned city into a fortification of great strength ought not to be heavy.
A short account of the important fortress of Gumri, as it existed sixteen years ago, since which period it has no doubt undergone great extension and improvement, will not be inappropriate here. I had myself seen it on a previous journey, though only for a short time, and further information was obtained from a trustworthy source.
Alexandropol, or Gumri, was evidently designed to be to Asiatic Turkey what Cronstadt is to the Baltic, or Sebastopol was to Constantinople and the Black Sea. It appears to be systematic with the Russian government to construct a formidable fortress at each of its remote frontiers, for whose subjugation time, labour, and an immense army are requisite. The Turkish government ought to follow the same rule; and if Ani should be found unsuited for that purpose, Kars itself might perhaps be convertible into a fortress which would defy the efforts of Russia. We too
might take a hint from the same source, and the western extremities of our eastern dominions should present similar obstacles to an intruder.
Gumri is distant twenty or twenty-five miles from Kars. It is a bustling little town, which in 1832 contained only sixty habitations, but which in 1838 had increased to 1200 houses. The fortress is situated on a plateau, elevated 100 feet above the surrounding country. It is distant about a mile from the Arpa Chaee, the small stream dividing Russia from Turkey, and running north and south, which may be considered the ditch of the western face of the fortress, the space intervening between the latter and the river being 100 feet lower. The eastern face was guarded in a similar way by a ravine 100 feet deep and 150 feet in width, at the bottom of which runs a rivulet. The fortress is about a mile in length from north to south, and about half a mile in breadth. It was intended in 1838 to connect the above two faces by a great ditch on the northern side; but it was not known if the southern face was to be defended in a similar manner. The ground in this direction is rugged; and the southern front was protected by a bomb-proof casemated battery mounting sixteen guns, constructed of dark soft volcanic rock, which hardens on exposure to the air. It was said to be intended to surround the whole of the plateau on which the fortress stands with a rampart fifteen feet high and twenty feet in thickness. Part of this rampart was already constructed. In addition to these works it was in contemplation to construct a citadel in the centre of the plateau of the same materials as the casemated battery, with extensive bomb-proof barracks. Preposterously enough, the large timber required for the works was brought from Turkey. This was in 1838, at which time 2000 men were daily employed on the works, which it was conjectured would require seven years for completion..
Such was the state, sixteen years ago, of the formidable bulwark prepared by Russia for the defence of her Georgian dominions. We may feel an assurance that at this moment these fortifications are of a nature which no effort of Turkey could disturb.
To return to Erzeroom, we changed our route and proceeded by the pass of Changeneh. We forded the Aras long after dark, and found it wide, rapid, and deep. Crossing a river under such circumstances is a very disagreeable process, unless the head and stomach are in good order, as one is apt to fancy that instead of crossing the stream one is passing down with the current. We then reached the flourishing town of Kaghezmān. I never beheld orchards at all comparable with those of Kaghezmān, which really bear more resemblance to forests than to anything else. Hitherto we had been domiciled with Armenians, who almost invariably are the scapegoats for travellers in Turkey; we were now lodged in the house of a Turk well to do in the world, who looked in no small degree perplexed and out of humour when he saw two Giours take possession of his best apartment.
This war will do the Turks, above all the provincial Turks, service in more respects than saving their country. It will teach them what they did not know before, – that there are better men and braver soldiers in the world than themselves. A Turk has many valuable qualities, but his intolerable pride, self-sufficiency, and conceit relative to his religion, himself, and his nationality, render him offensive, unendurable, and almost useless. The rough rubbing of shoulders he is now going through will leave him a wiser, more reasonable, and a better man.
I was confirmed by this trip in an observation I have before made. The Armenian towns and villages require to be protected from Mahommedan travellers, particularly from such as are in the employment of Government. There is no doubt that much oppression is inflicted on these occasions, and this is one of the points to which the attention of those persons seeking to promote the prosperity of the Ottoman empire ought to be directed.
"Eels" – Sheghaghee battalion – Estimation of English officers – Inhospitality – Misconduct and punishment of native officers – Faction fights – Niametees and Hyderees – Mode of fighting – An odd petition – Ardebil: the governor's son – Drunkenness – Shrine of Shah Ismael – Marble-pits – Maragha – A Persian gentleman – Quail-hawking – The Koords – Koordistan mountains – The Afshars – March in pursuit of plunderers – Koordish cavalry – Death of a colonel – Character of Persians – Drinking-bouts – Anecdotes illustrative of Persian character and manners.
In 1833 I proceeded from India to Persia as second in command of a detachment of officers and serjeants [sic] sent by the government of the former empire for the drill and discipline of the Shah's army, or rather of that portion of it formed from the natives of Azerbijan. Shortly after our arrival in Tabreez we accompanied the new King, Mahommed Shah, to Tehran to assist in placing him on the throne, the possession of which was disputed by two of his uncles. This having been accomplished, the officers of the detachment were dispersed over various parts of Persia. I, with two serjeants, was sent to Azerbijan to "drill and discipline" a battalion of recruits, amounting to about 600 men, of the tribe of Sheghaghee.
The tribes in Persia are called eels – a Turkish word to distinguish them from the sedentary part of the community, not linked together by the bonds of clanship. Some of the eels are wanderers, who with their families and flocks change their quarters each summer and winter, in search of pasture, to grounds more or less distant belonging to the tribe, and which cannot be encroached on by other clans. Other eels, who once no doubt were wanderers, have become sedentary, and have devoted themselves to agriculture, but still preserving their union as tribe-men. An eel is ruled by its oojāk, or chief, and by its dooshmāls, or heads of the different teerehs or branches into which it is divided.
The Sheghaghees use two languages indifferently, Turkish and their own Lekee, a dialect of Persian.
The spot fixed on for raising this new battalion was Serāb, [sic] a fine valley lying between Tabreez and Ardebil, and seventy miles from the former city. At the desire of the Ameer Nizam, or commander-in-chief, who was also viseer of the province of Azerbijan, I proceeded to this spot, accompanied by Bala Khan, an old soldier and major, who had seen a great deal of service against the Russians. The Sheghaghees had already furnished from their tribe two battalions, which were regarded, as the Shah himself told me one day, on the march to Tehran from Tabreez, as the best in his service. His Majesty might have added to this encomium, what he once said to a foreign minister who had praised the appearance of some regiments at Tehran – "Yes," said the King, with the loud laugh he loved to indulge in, "they are excellent; and better still, they have been three years without a fraction of pay, and they never ask me for arrears." They certainly were stout, stalwart, active fellows – but so are nearly all Persian soldiers. The Sheghaghees had some claim on the Shah's gratitude. They happened to be returning from Khorassan when the King died. The pretender to the throne, on their reaching Tehran, sent out his son with a large sum of money to bribe them to enter his service. They took the money, and marched off next morning, sending notice to the real Shah that they were ready to join him. I find the following remark in my note-book: "The poor fellows are four or five years in arrears of pay."
Several of the old officers of these regiments came to see me on my arrival at Serab. They spoke in the most enthusiastic manner of Captain Christie, an English officer by whom the regiment had been raised, and who many years ago had been killed fighting against the Russians at the battle of Aslandooz.
As an example of the estimation in which English officers are held in those wild districts, I may mention that once, while still attached to the Persian army, I was travelling, and reached a solitary village, in the midst of a large plain, at ten o'clock at night, in late autumn. The villagers were most inhospitable, and refused to receive me, saying that
there was nothing to eat, that the village was full of plague, cholera, and what not. The prospect of a supperless night in the midst of a plain, in an Azerbijan autumn, was rather uncomfortable, when fortunately one of my servants discovered that the village was chiefly composed of artillerymen who had left the service. I now felt tolerably certain of supper, and I pounced at once on the artillerymen. I told them they were a low, base-born set of fellows, dogs and sons of dogs, without faith and without honour. Who, I said, half in Turkish, half in Persian-not knowing the former language well – who made you soldiers? Who taught you to fight the Russians? Who got you your pay? Who got you your rations? Was it not the English? How then dare you to treat an English officer in this way? I could hear them saying, "Wallāh, doghroo dir!" (By the Lord! it is true.) And they finished by asking pardon, protesting they were wrong. One among them took me to his house, and led the way to a large comfortable room, with an excellent fire, and filled with his female relations, wife, sisters, &c., where he said I was to pass the night, and that he would get supper ready without delay. "But," said he, "as for your servants, the sons of dogs, they may go to hell, but they shall not come here near my wife and children – but you are welcome." These sons of dogs were Persians and Mussulmans like himself, and were left to shift as they could; while the Englishman, Kafir as he was, was made a cherished guest. The whole party at length found accommodation elsewhere, as I refused to place the family to the inconvenience caused by my presence.
The only other instance of downright inhospitality I ever encountered was under circumstances exactly similar, while still in the army, and therefore travelling in somewhat humble array. I arrived late at night at a village, where quarters were peremptorily refused. Finding remonstrance and good humour unavailing, I dismounted from my horse, and, looking about in the dark as well as I could for a good house, selected one which, for a village habitation, was rather inviting. On entering the best chamber, I saw seated at a fire a young and very well-looking woman of
twenty, who seemed by no means abashed by my presence. She addressed me in Turkish, and bantered me with great good humour for occupying her house without leave, At this moment a stout young man came into the room with a sabre in his hand, and, looking very fierce, demanded why I entered his house. I felt very uncomfortable, knowing it to be a critical moment; so I walked straight up to him, and bringing forward the hilt of my sword with my left hand, whilst with the other I threw open the front of my coat to rejoice his eyes with the sight of a double-barrelled pistol in my belt, said – "Are you mad? Have you lost your senses? Why don't you send your wife away? Don't you see that I intend to remain here to-night? Is this the way you behave to an English officer?" He seemed irresolute for a moment, but at length growled a reluctant assent. Five shillings in the morning made him full of gratitude.
I had a troublesome time with my recruits, especially in the beginning. The Sheghaghees have the reputation of being a wild and rather lawless tribe, yet I found these young soldiers very tractable. Among my notes of those days I remark the following observations, which will show their condition: – "These poor fellows the serbaz (soldiers) are much to be pitied; they get no pay and only plain bread for food. They are half naked, and a great part of them are without shoes. Many among them do not come to parade, and when I discover the malingerers I punish them much against my will, but, if I did not, I should have the parade to myself. They are submissive, but not alert in obeying orders, unless such as require execution on the spot."
With all their reputed turbulence, these young soldiers displayed a great deal of patience. Notwithstanding their short commons, they bore the incessant drilling, for our time was limited, with great submission. Outrage, excepting on one or two remarkable occasions, was rare, and they endured punishment without murmuring. All this aptitude for a soldier's life was exhibited under the peculiar and trying circumstances of all the captains and lieutenants being youths of eighteen and recruits, like the rest of the regiment.
They were the Bey Zadeh, Dhuihne wassels, [sic] the gentlemen of the tribe, their fathers being small chiefs. Yet with all these disadvantages so intelligent are Persians, that the battalion was soon able to manœuvre very passably. My great difficulty was the presence of two youthful lieut.-colonels belonging to different and rival branches of the tribe, each of whom pretended to the chief authority, each being supported by his own sept. To these was added an intriguing veteran major, who actually invited part of the regiment to pelt with stones one of the rival colonels. A general conflict followed, in which, in endeavouring to keep the peace and part the combatants, I was near being a sufferer amid the showers of stones which flew on all sides. A few days' interval brought to Serab the Ameer e Nizam, a most excellent but weak man, whose first act was to put the intriguing major's feet into the fellak and flog him until he became insensible. Remonstrance with his Excellency on this mode of treating an officer produced from him a rejoinder that I knew nothing of Persians, and that I should learn in a short time that a Persian officer was not altogether the same as an English officer. "Did you ever see," asked the Ameer, "an English major incite the soldiers to pelt the lieutenant-colonel? If I did not act in this way I should soon be pelted myself." Such was the position of English officers in Persia twenty years ago. With no power excepting that of the lash, and such authority as from personal character they could acquire for themselves – no control over the pay or rations, which were always embezzled, or over promotion, which was always bestowed from corrupt motives – it is not surprising they did not effect more than was done. If they could not enable the Persian troops to contend successfully with the regular troops of other nations, they at all events gave the Persian artillery and infantry the means of beating an unlimited number of Afghans, Koords, and Toorkomans, or irregular Persian troops.
A farther extract from my note-book of those days may have some interest, by illustrating the condition of the Persian army, as well as the manners of that country: –
"April, 1835. – I have come to this village, Aspistan, in consequence of the Ameer's arrival close to it. The new battalion joined him here, as well as some men of the old battalions of the Sheghaghee regiments. Close to his tent a fight took place between two parties of the same corps. The Ameer sallied out in a tremendous rage; he beat the adjutant of the old battalion in a dreadful way, and even used his own stick most vigorously. He then tied up two majors of the new battalion to the fellak, and gave them a terrible thrashing. He abused the majors in genuine Persian, not describable in English, and poured the vials of his wrath without mercy on their wives, sisters, and daughters, in choice idiom; to all which the others made no other reply than that they were the Ameer's dogs. He then ordered their tents to be cut down as a mark of disgrace. I hear that to-morrow he will give them all dresses of honour, that being the Persian mode of expressing forgiveness."
During my abode among the Sheghaghees an occurrence took place so intimately connected with the religious sentiments of the Persians that this seems to be the proper time to describe it.
"Serab, April 7th, Moharrem, 1835. – To-day I went with B—, who had come to see me from Tabreez, to bathe in the warm baths of the Booz-koosh, a scraggy range of mountains, bearing the odd name of Goatkiller. On our return we found the town in an uproar. Two parties, formed from the two parishes, were drawn up, at thirty yards distance, and were pelting each other most lustily with enormous stones thrown by hand and by slings. These last were not very efficient weapons, for during the half-hour we stood looking at them the hits were very few. The wonder was, that, like the two pugnacious cats of Kilkenny renown, they were not all killed."
Moharrem is the month of which ten days are appropriated annually to solemnise the slaughter of Hoossein, the son of Fātma, daughter of Mahommed. This observance has divided all Persia into two names, for they are not sects, their opinions, belief, and religious practices being identical. They bear some analogy with the factions of Ireland,
the Caravats and Shanavesths of Tipperary. Their names are Niametee and Hyderee, and it is strange that even well-informed people can give no explanation of the original causes of this institution, which, like everything doubtful or obscure in Persia, is referred to the time of Shah Abbas, three hundred years ago. During the ten days' duration of the solemnity, the mutual hatred of the two names is inveterate, and the concluding day, Rooz e katl, seldom passes without a fight in every city and town of Persia. After this everything returns to its former condition, animosity ceases, and intercourse is resumed as if nothing had happened. Locality determines whether one is a Hyderee or a Niametee, and a change of mahalla, quarter, or parish, produces a change of party. Thus I find I am a Niametee, while my two sergeants are Hyderees.
During the night, while the solemnity lasts, the people attend in their own parishes, and, forming themselves into circles, go round in measured time, beating their breasts, and exclaiming "Ya Hassan (another grandson of Mahommed), Ya Hoossein!" with extraordinary enthusiasm. As long as each party continues in its own parish all is peaceable; but should any one overstep the border, and shout "Shahsye!" said to be a corruption of Shah Hoossein, it is considered a challenge and the fight begins.
The eels or eelyats do not celebrate the Moharrem in this absurd manner, consequently the Sheghaghee regiment has taken no share in the fray. The quarrels of the eels arise from other causes. A young man runs away with a girl; or a sheep, a cow, or camel is stolen: or a stream of water is turned – the most fertile source of broils in Persia; and then follows a row, often a regular fight.
In the evening I wrote to Nejeff Koolee Khan, chief magistrate of the town, and head of the Hyderees, that it was his duty to interfere and prevent a tumult, possibly murder. He wrote in answer a most humble letter, assuring me that I was not acquainted with the villanies of the Niametees.
8th Moharrem. – This morning Bala Khan, Meer Sedr-ud-deen, Meerza Rāmezān, Meerza Ghaffār, and a number of
inferior people, called on me to devise means for preserving the peace. They were evidently in great alarm, and said that they looked to me to prevent violence, as the Hyderees had called in aid from the surrounding villages by orders of Nejeff Koolee Khan, and had sworn vengeance against the Niametees to-day. I told them all I could do was to offer advice, to which no one seemed disposed to listen. My Turkish teacher from Tabreez was in a great fright, and proposed that we should mount our horses, and take an excursion into the country; for, said he, "I perceive there will be a row, and they may perhaps attack us."
Before noon the Hyderees assembled in great force on their own ground and on the tops of the houses, where they shouted, and bellowed, and abused, without cessation or compunction, the mothers and wives of the Niametees, who remained quiet and silent in their houses. Encouraged by this, the Hyderees advanced and took possession of a Niametee mosque, and a detachment advanced over the tops of the houses to where I was living, and began slinging stones into my courtyard. "Kiupek Oghleeler, you sons of dogs!" shouted my ferocious cook, Gool Mahommed; "how dare you insult an English gentleman?" "Bilmadiq Wallāh-We did not know it," was the submissive reply as they retired.
9th Moharrem. – This morning early Nejeff Koolee Khan, Bala Khan, and several other people of both parties, called on me. Ismāël Khan and Imam Koolee Khan, two chiefs from the neighbouring villages, and both Niametees, having heard of the jeopardy of their faction yesterday, had come to their assistance with their followers. The Hajee was an aq seqqāl, or white-beard; the other was a stout, wild, and ferocious-looking fellow. Each party tried to impress me with the opinion that they were very pacific, and that the other party alone was to blame. After much talking they took leave, and soon after we heard loud yells of Shakhsye. We went out, and saw a body of 200 or 300 men, advancing over the plain, on seeing whom the Niametees went out to Istikbald, and ushered them into the town with shouts and antics, standards, and flags flying. Each man had a large stick, and a piece of carpet or old coat to keep off the stones. With yells and screams they took post near the mosque, in line of battle opposite to the Hyderees, who mustered strong, but seemed depressed. The latter got ready for action by taking off their coats, and wrapping them round their left arms. Both parties now shouted and yelled, and fast and furious flew from side to side epithets which it is needless to transcribe. They defied each other by dancing a figure meant for a challenge. They threw their caps in the air, flinging their sticks after them, and then took a leap with a yell. I thought for a moment I had thrown off a dozen years of life, and that once more I was standing in a glen of the Galtees; but I soon awoke from my dream, for the accents were not those of Tipperary, but of Alp Arselan, Chengeez, and Timour. At last the fight began in earnest, and we had a good view from the top of a house. After some time two Niametees were carried off badly wounded; a Hyderee was knocked down, and a party rushed at him to kill him, but the intercession of Meer Sedr-ood-deen saved his life. After an uproar and fight of two hours a Niametee got a blow on the head from a stone, which knocked him dead. Nevertheless the Niametees gained the day, for they drove back the Hyderees to the bazar, which they sacked, as being chiefly filled with the property of that obnoxious party. Each side seemed to muster about 400 men. They fought in detached squads, very much after the fashion of Persian cavalry and Persian dogs.12 When one party made an advance the other retired,
and so on alternately, something like the boys' game of prison-bars. The death of the man seemed to frighten both factions, for they gradually withdrew from the field.
On my return home in the afternoon of the same day I witnessed a curious and amusing trait of Persian character. An old villager ran up to me, crying, "You are welcome. You are welcome. I am your sacrifice. I have a petition to make to your service. I want justice, and you have come, by the help of the Prophet, to give it to me. I have got a wife, the mother of eight children. A week ago I gave her a drubbing, and she ran off to her own village. Her friends, instead of restoring my wife, are going to make me pay the dowry and force me to divorce her. This is most contrary to equity, and against the law, and I make this petition in your service that I may receive justice." On inquiring the cause of disagreement, he replied that, having bought her eight yards of beautiful English chintz, she abused him, and called him son of a dog for purchasing less than twelve: thereupon he had beaten her soundly with the halter of his bullock. In the skirmish she had pulled out a part of his beard. "Here it is," said he, producing it from his pocket, "and I shall exhibit it against her, after my death, at the day of judgment." A Persian invariably preserves these memorials of his brawls and grievances, to be brought in evidence against the aggressor at the time mentioned above. I remember a servant of the Mission, in a fit of excitement from a reprimand he had received from me, pulling out of his pocket, carefully rolled up in numerous coverings of linen, a tooth which, many years before, one of my predecessors had dislodged from its tenement under great provocation. He was keeping it for the rooz-kiamet, the day of judgment.
It may seem strange that a man whose position was simply that of a regimental captain in the Indian army should have been so often appealed to by both parties in a
matter not only not military but purely religious. The answer is plain. Both parties knew well that any report I might make would be exactly in conformity with truth, or what I believed as such, and that the testimony of an English officer would be decisive.
10th Moharrem. – This is the last day of mourning, the day of massacre, but the town was as silent as if it had no inhabitants, both parties having gone to make their complaints at Tabreez, where the highest bribe will carry the day.
The city of Ardebil, where the founder of the Seffavee or "Sofi" race of kings is interred, being only fifty miles distant, I took the opportunity of riding over to visit it. The town is situated in a plain crowned on the north by the chain of the Elboorz, from the summit of which the Caspian, distant forty miles, is often visible. It is large and straggling, with a population of 25,000, and a good bazar. Owing to the elevation, the temperature was so cold that, even on the 2nd of August, I was forced to make use of woollen clothes.
The governor was absent on a tour, but his son did the honours. He gave himself an impromptu invitation to dine with me in the evening, and fortunately brought his dinner with him. His conversation revealed the object of his visit, wine and brandy being the only topics on which he would converse; but he was sorely discomfited when I produced one bottle of wine, my entire stock. He brought with him one of his boon companions, who, when helping himself to wine, observing a drop at the mouth of the bottle, stretched out his tongue and licked it up. A Persian has no sense of moderation in his cups. Once he acquires the habit of using wine, which in the large towns is a very general practice, he never drinks but to get drunk. Men of this kind are usually freethinkers in religion as long as they are in good health, and pretend to laugh at the Prophet's prohibition. I knew one Persian gentleman, a shocking drunkard but rather religious, who often bewailed to me his unfortunate propensity. "I know it is wrong," he used to exclaim; "I know I shall go to Jehennam;
every day I make a towbeh (an act of repentance), and every night that rascal, my appetite, gets the better of me."
The shrine of Shah Ismaël the Great is contained in a decayed mosque built by his great-grandfather Sheikh Seffi, a saint of great renown, from whom the name of the dynasty is adopted. His tomb adjoins that of the valiant monarch who at the age of fourteen began his career of conquest.
The saint seemed to receive more veneration than the soldier. On entering the cell where his remains repose, which I did without impediment, I observed several moollas reciting their prayers and counting their beads, and from time to time entering into conversation with each other, according to Mussulman practice when engaged in their devotions. The tomb lay under a solemn dome, to which many lamps were suspended, but everything seemed in a state of decay. In the cell of Shah Ismaël, over his tomb, there was a large box of sandal-wood shaped like a coffin, inlaid with filigree ivory, which had been sent from India by Hoomeyoom Shah, as a mark of gratitude for the asylum he had once received in Persia from a descendant of Shah Ismaël. Three swords hung from the dome, one of which might be perhaps the veritable weapon wielded by the warlike monarch at the great battle of Chalderan, near Bayazeed, where he received a bloody defeat from the Turkish Sultan Selim. The Turks are described to have connected their long array of guns by chains, which broke the vigour of the onset of the Persian cavalry. Shah Ismaël led in person a headlong charge, in which, with a single cut of his sabre, he divided the chain. The Shah is said never to have smiled after having sustained this defeat.
Close to the tomb was a large chamber containing an enormous quantity of blue china of all shapes and sizes, the offering of Shah Abbas to his great ancestor. When any one gives a charitable feast to the poor – a common practice among the Persians – he is entitled to make use of this china, which, consequently, is in a perpetual state of diminution. The shrine was also endowed with a large and
rich library, of which, when Ardebil was occupied by the Russians in the last war, they carried off above a hundred of the most valuable manuscripts, under the pretence of taking copies, but which, with an obliviousness savouring strongly of Muscovy, they forgot to restore. I fear the two great curiosities of this library, a Koran six hundred years old, which two men could hardly lift, and another Koran in part written by Ali himself, shared the same fate.
My battalion having marched to Tehran, I returned to Tabreez, where I found plague and cholera raging with violence, so I left the city as soon as possible, and started on my vocation of "drilling and disciplining the Persian army" to Ooroomeeya, a large town on the west side of the lake bearing the same name, otherwise called Shahee, and for variety I travelled by the longer route on the eastern side of that fine sheet of water. The face of the country presented a remarkable contrast to the desolate, arid prospect generally presented in a Persian landscape. The villages were numerous, surrounded by splendid gardens filled with the delicious fruits for which Azerbijan is renowned even in Persia.
Midway from Tabreez to the city of Maragha I passed near and paid a visit to the petrifactions well known under the name of "Tabreez or Maragha marble." They are distant about a mile from the lake, and consist of several pits or ponds twenty yards wide and eight or ten feet deep. The marble lies in parallel layers, several inches intervening between each layer, the first being about four feet from the surface. Some of the pits were dry, owing doubtless to extensive excavation. The stages of petrifaction were plainly observable from a thickening of the water like incipient iced cream to solid ice, to which it bore considerable resemblance. The marble is of a whitish colour, with large veins or streaks of various tints. It is excavated in slabs of considerable size, and is capable of receiving a polish equal to statuary marble. At the Mission-house in Tabreez a ponderous table, highly polished, affords a good specimen of this mineral substance. The same kind of petrifaction is to be seen, it is said, at the hot springs of
Anguani, near Albano, within a few miles of Rome, and also at Pestum. Perhaps the petrifactions of Maragha, like those of Italy, are formed by calcareous springs precipitating the limestone they hold in solution. The transparency of these petrifactions makes it possible that what is termed marble may be, in fact, alabaster, in which sulphur was the agent instead of carbon.
Maragha is sixty miles from Tabreez. The enormous gardens in which it is enclosed are its only ornament. Tradition makes it one of the most ancient cities of Persia; but now, like most towns in that country, all is decay. It was here that, about the middle of the thirteenth century, Hoolakoo Khan, the grandson of Chengeez Khan, after conquering Persia, established his capital, and erected his famous observatory, which now has disappeared, and where, under the superintendence of Nassr ud deen, were completed the astronomical tables known throughout the East under the name of Eelkhanee, or Lord of the Eels, that is, his patron Hoolakoo.
My friend and I lived with a gentleman of rank and wealth, but of a very eccentric character, who was also the colonel of a regiment, and who went by the name of Dellee (or mad) Khan. His conversation was limited to the subjects of shooting and hunting, in which occupations he seemed to have spent his life. He was a warm admirer of the juice of the grape; and, as Persians indulge in their potations before dinner, he was generally in a high state of good humour at the conclusion of that meal. On one occasion he offered me a large bribe to throw Ooroomeeya overboard and remain at Maragha to bring his regiment into order. On another, he told us he was going to take a fresh wife, whom he described to us very minutely, although he. had never seen her; and showed us a love-letter, either from the young lady herself or from her brother. Every evening, after he had eaten, drunk, and talked enough, he used to wish us good night, saying he would go to the anderoon (the haram) and have a chat with the women. In Hindoostan a Mussulman gentleman would rather die than make such an allusion; but in Persia there is far
from being an equal reserve. The afternoon was spent in that dullest of sports quail-hawking. A dozen of horsemen carried each a sparrowhawk on his wrist, and whenever a bird rose the nearest hawk was thrown at it. The hawk made his rush, hit or miss, and there was an end of the matter, as the quail clips immediately if not struck by its pursuer. On one occasion the wrong hawk was thrown, which allowed the quail to escape, and this mistake roused the violent wrath of the Khan, who proposed to put the hawksman to death, asking my companion and me if that were not the proper punishment.
From Maragha we went to the southern part of the lake, which formed a portion of the district of Souk Boolak belonging to the Perso-Koordish tribe of Mikree. The Koords were very civil; they gave us good quarters, invited us to walk in their gardens, and brought out their horses for our inspection. The town of Souk Boolak being only a few miles distant, we thought so good an opportunity was not to be lost of seeing a Koordish chief and his little court in all their wildness and freedom, unsophisticated by Persian manners. We travelled along the pleasant banks of the Jaghataï, a river of some size for Persia, and which falls into the lake. On arriving, we sent to the chief, Abdoollah Khan, to request we might be furnished with quarters, which were immediately assigned to us, and in a short time an excellent, ample, and multifarious breakfast was sent by our host. We then went to visit him in his deewān khāna, or hall of audience, Where he received us in state, surrounded by fifty or sixty Koords and moollas, his retainers, relations, and friends; but, to our disappointment, instead of the stately, redoubtable Koord we had prepared ourselves to see, we found Abdoollah Khan had transformed himself in manners, dress, and appearance, into a Persian. A long conversation followed, in which the whole company joined.
The appearance of a Koord of the upper class is very striking. His face is somewhat Grecian, but thin, resembling the heads to be seen at Shahpoor and Persepolis of the ancient Persians, from whom he is doubtless descended.
His person is meagre, like that of an Arab. He wears an enormous turban, generally a shawl; but among the Mikrees it is a particular manufacture of wool and silk, imported from Moosul, striped red and white, with a long fringe of red hanging down on the shoulders, and making a very strange appearance. His trousers are of enormous size, showing that the owner is a horseman, not a pedestrian. He wears a short jacket, and over all the loose Arab abbā, black or white, made of camel's-hair, and in his girdle the indispensable dagger. The Koords are a grave people in public, though among themselves they are cheerful, and fond of various pastimes. They speak with loud, boisterous voices, like men accustomed to pass their lives in the open air.
My companion, who was engaged in commerce, had an eye to business, when he beheld and examined these Koordish turbans, and proposed to himself to drive the Moosul manufacture out of the market by an importation from England. I had some doubt of its success, for fashion has its influence in Souk Boolak as well as in London or Constantinople, where Manchester has never been able to extirpate the genuine fes of Morocco.
From Souk Boolak we travelled through a very wild desolate country back to the lake through the district of Sooldooz. The second day we passed near a Koordish encampment, some of the inhabitants of which came running towards us inviting us to be their guests, but, not liking their appearance, and knowing that plundering Koords often encamp near the road as being more convenient for their game, we declined. A Koord is not a man of honour like an Arab, who gives you a fair start from his tent before he attacks; neither is he so bad as that vilest of all tribes, the Toorkomans, a compound of treachery and false hospitality.
In Sooldooz we saw nothing remarkable excepting two small fresh-water lakes containing immense fish of the carp kind. Next we had before us an object of untiring admiration in the Koordistan range of mountains running north and south; they were covered with snow halfway to the
base; and I know nothing that can cope with the grandeur of a great mountain thus arrayed. What can equal the mighty Himalaya? Who can forget those monarch mountains that has once beheld them? Their greatness, their stillness, and their solemnity fill the mind with the idea of immensity and eternity. The ocean by its motion and its murmurs fails to excite conceptions of equal depth. The Koordistan range cannot compete with the Himalaya, still they are noble mountains, and full of interest from the ancient races, Christian and Koord, inhabiting them.
Our road led us close to the lake, lifeless and still as that of Palestine, the intense saltness rendering it impossible for fish or other animals to exist in its waters. Although its shores are not enriched with wood, its appearance is pleasing from the islands with which the central part is studded. The approach to the town of Ooroomeeya is highly picturesque; it is situated in a fine plain bearing the same name, with the mountains of Koordistan on one side and the lake on the other. The cultivation of this valley is very rich. For twelve miles it is surrounded with gardens, intermingled with melon-grounds, cotton and tobacco fields: the latter, of high estimation for chibouk-smoking, is sent in large quantities to Constantinople; but for the kaliān, or water-pipe, the tobacco of Sheeraz is the only thing tolerated in "good society," and is of a flavour and delicacy which would reconcile it to the regal olfactories of the first James himself.
I found my regiment of Afshars, amounting only to 200 or 300 men, in the same condition as the Sheghaghees when I first joined them, fresh from the plough; but as several old soldiers of the same tribe well capable of drilling were present, and the colonel, himself a veteran, co-operated with hearty good will, everything went on smoothly, and we made that rapid progress in our military acquirements which may always be expected from a Persian when he has fair play. A Persian is sometimes called the Frenchman of the East, from his intelligence, his quickness, his social qualities, and to these may be added the same aptitude for arms which distinguishes the Gallic warrior. Though he
never attains the wonderful precision of an English soldier – I doubt if he ever could – he has a very satisfactory readiness in comprehending and attaining the really essential points required in a regiment of infantry. A single battalion has a perfect facility in forming a line, or square, or column, even when unaided by European officers; but when it comes to be increased to a large body, and is required to move, then indeed it is chaos; they settle the difficulty by not moving at all.
The Sheghaghees are called a wild tribe, but the Afshars of Ooroomeeya are ten times wilder and more turbulent, owing in part, no doubt, to their proximity to the Koordish frontier, and to the constant broils and skirmishes in which they are engaged with those marauders. In strong contrast with the quietness or apathy so remarkable in a Turkish city, these Toorks, when freed from parade, seemed to devote themselves to quarrels, and, as they never quarrelled without yelling and shouting, the whole town, or at least their part of it, resounded with their frays and their most indecent abuse of each other. Their ever-ready kamma, a most formidable cut-and-thrust dagger, was always at their sides to make it a word and a blow; yet there was a great deal of method in their wrath. A thrust from a kamma is almost certain death, and this they are so careful to avoid inflicting, that amid all their fighting I never saw a wound of that kind, though there was a most abundant harvest from the edge of the weapon.13 Another of their practices was to rob and pilfer in the bazar in broad daylight; meat, vegetables, and other eatables were not safe from their clutches; but above all a good lambskin-cap had irresistible attractions in their eyes, the abstraction being usually accomplished by first knocking down the owner of the
coveted spoil. The lash, therefore, was in constant requisition for the first month of my sojourn.
Besides their turbulence, these Afshars, officers and men, were the most drunken set of fellows that I ever encountered. Drinking is not an uncommon vice in the Persian army; but at Ooroomeeya, where wine is abundant and tolerably good, it passed all bounds, and I have reason to believe that the precept of the Prophet was more or less set aside by all classes, and that, not satisfied with purchasing wine from the Christian community, they proceeded to the length of manufacturing it in their own houses.
The object of these notes being to convey an idea of Persian character under phases and in circumstances not usually accessible to ordinary travellers, I think that design will be best fulfilled by making extracts from a note-book which I kept during my residence at Ooroomeeya.
"Sept. 1st, 1835. – I am always fated to be at strife with the ruling people, and whether it is their fault or mine I am at a loss to determine. The contest on the present occasion is caused by the Beglerbegee, the Governor, wanting to thrash the soldiers for the disturbances they make in the bazar, while I insist that no one shall thrash them excepting myself. These Afshars are great rascals and deserve drubbing right and left.
"We flogged four fellows to-day, one for stealing a lamb, another for appropriating a fowl, and two for fighting and stabbing. Three officers came drunk to parade; I made them over to the colonel, who punished them, after the fashion of the country, by a severe drubbing.
"Oct. 2nd. – The delicacy or reserve so observable in India with regard to females exists by no means to the same extent in this country. The men, even those of high rank, speak without any reserve of their wives and sisters, &c. The colonel of this regiment often talks to me of his wife, and gives me curious details of his domestic arrangements, which, however, do not bear repetition. He visits me frequently at sunset, accompanied by three or four bottles of wine and a couple of dozen of cucumbers, all of which he finishes before he retires to his own house to dinner. This
is the manner in which a Persian delights to take his potations; give him in addition a greensward, a purling stream, a gentle shower, a singer or two to troll out a catch à la nightingale, a pleasant companion, and he is in paradise.
"Oct. 26th. – Intelligence arrived this morning that Mergewer, one of the districts of Ooroomeeya, had been plundered the previous night by a large body of men belonging to the Meer of Rewandooz, a rebellions subject of the Sultan, living in the mountains of Koordistan in an almost inaccessible hill-fortress. After three hours' delay three rounds of ammunition per man were distributed to us, and after a terrible uproar we marched out of the town. Here I halted and protested I would not move a step farther unless flints were supplied. Three more hours having elapsed, the Governor collected from the bazars one flint per man, wretched things, fit for pocket-pistols. At length we moved towards Mergewer, and at night arrived at a village, where we halted. Next day in the afternoon information reached us that 4000 men of the marauders had gone in the direction of a large village with the design of plundering. It was sunset when we started, but we hoped to reach it in two hours, being only six miles distant. Soon after we marched it began to rain; we then lost our road, and passed over innumerable streams, each of whose bridges was a single plank; and as Persian soldiers detest wetting their feet, they crossed over in single file. We were five hours on the road; it rained as it does in India and was exceedingly cold. Half the soldiers did not come in that night. Having no pouches, their cartridges were carried in the pockets of their large linen trousers. They were dressed in jackets of the same material, without coats or protection of any kind from the cold; but the power of endurance in a Persian soldier is inexhaustible,
"The Koords did not make their appearance, and not for two days was it ascertained that they had gone to their own side of the mountains. Thus terminated our campaign, and fortunately for us it was a bloodless one. Only three days previously had these recruits received their muskets, and fully half of their number now saw a weapon of that kind
for the first time in their lives. In endeavouring to gain an insight into the use of a ball-cartridge, there was a general inclination to insert the ball first; and when once they had put the rusty old flint-musket on full-cock, few among them could get it out of that condition without calling for assistance; yet they manœuvred well.
"During our stay we were joined constantly by parties of thirty or forty horsemen, which in all amounted to about 400 cavalry; of these the Toorks looked worthless, and the Koords pretty good. The latter were chiefly of the tribe of Shekak. The large and variegated turban of the Koord looks well; so does he too, with his wild, expressive, manly countenance; but they are shocking ruffians. Their arms are a spear and sword, and, when they can afford the purchase, a pair of long Turkish pistols in their belt. They prefer riding on mares, either because they make less noise than horses in a marauding excursion, or from an idea of their supporting fatigue better. Their horses are small but hardy creatures, of Arab blood. Several of the chiefs pretended to be of Arab descent, though without much foundation for the assumption; yet they look like Arabs, thin, wiry, sinewy fellows. Their manners were very agreeable.
"It is a fine sight to see a body of 300 or 400 Koordish cavalry in movement proceeding on a chapow or marauding expedition. They move in a compact body, making great way over the ground, at a pace half-walk, half-trot, like the Afghans; their spears are held aloft with the black tuft dangling below the point; their keen looks, loud eager voices, and guttural tones, give them a most martial air. In front are the chiefs, and by their side are the kettledrummers beating their instruments of war with vast energy; they always lead the way.
"During this trip I lived with, and saw a good deal of the Persian military khans, and I preserve a pleasant recollection of their character in general. They can, when need be, lie down with perfect unconcern in their boorommas or rough great-coats and go to sleep. Bread, cheese, and a melon suffice for breakfast; and dinner was a pilaw, or something of that kind. They like to have on the tray
several little dishes, such as cucumbers, sliced melons, pickles, of which last they are enormous consumers to counteract the effect of their greasy dishes. They hate being alone at night; they sit up late, talk a great deal, and find great pleasure in abusing their absent acquaintances.
"The colonel of this regiment finished his earthly career the day after our return, and the cause of his death affords a good specimen of Persian manners and customs. The night of his return from our expedition he got drunk according to his usual practice and quarrelled with his wife. The cause of the dispute was a rebuke from her that he should propose to sleep in the beroon (meaning the part of the house not used as the haram) when he had a wife in the anderoon. This observation roused the wrath of the colonel, who wanted to stab his wife, but, being prevented, wisely stabbed himself in the thigh, close to the groin; this was at midnight. In the morning his relations begged of me to visit him, which I did, accompanied by a foreign practitioner living in Ooroomeeya. We found him greatly reduced from loss of blood, cold extremities, and pain in the stomach. The apparently judicious course was to maintain his system, but the doctor adopted another treatment, and ordered him a dose of salts. The poor colonel called as loudly as his state would let him for 'poonch;' and of the two I am sure his prescription was the best. He died that night, and was a loss to his men, for, in spite of his propensity to wine, he was active and energetic and indifferent honest.
"Nov. 20th. – I begin to think it hopeless to endeavour to establish Nizām – the word used to denote a regular army in Persia. Before my arrival here, the colonel of this regiment reported to the Ameer Nizam that 500 men were borne on his muster-rolls; I have been here three months and they now amount to 320 men. Nothing can exceed the difficulty I have had in obtaining money and bread for the men – bread I do get and some money, but only by force of disputing and quarrelling. Winter has now approached, these poor fellows suffer exceedingly in their linen garments, and not more than half their number can be found
for parade. An order has come to dismiss the regiment and send the men to their homes, so I am to decamp. This is the Persian notion of a 'regular army.'"
My residence among the Sheghaghees and the Afshars threw me naturally a good deal into the society of the upper and middle provincial classes of Persia – the lower ranks of khans, men of small landed property, which they themselves superintended – that infinitely numerous class called meerza, to which every one possessed of the accomplishments of reading and writing, who is not a moolla, or a merchant, or a tribeman, seems to belong. My intercourse with them gave me a favourable impression of their dispositions. As a man of the world, a Persian is generally a very agreeable and rather amiable person, unless when his insatiable greediness of power, money, or intrigue, is excited, at which time he is a bad specimen of humanity, and will pause at no wickedness; yet nowhere does one hear so much talking and praise of goodness and virtue. As the normal state of two-thirds of the nation is an avidity for power and money, their moral state may be conceived. When not engaged in the indulgence of the above and one or two other propensities, the dolce far niente existence has irresistible attractions to a Persian. His life is spent in talking, and the more public the talk the more acceptable it is to him. Without this seasoning he can neither plan nor do anything, whether it be to pay a visit to his neighbour, declare war against the Sultan, or murder a Russian minister. So national is this habit, and so highly is it valued, that they seldom discuss a man's character, moral and intellectual, without adding "he is a very agreeable man in conversation," or the reverse. We frequently used to take excursions on horseback of some miles to a garden, vineyard, cucumber or melon ground. They seemed unable to ride quietly along the road, some rushing forward to throw the jereed, others to play at ky kaj. If an unfortunate sparrow or lark was detected wondering at the cavalcade, hawk in hand he was pounced upon. If a tree or a stream looked at all inviting, a proposal was often made to buy a lamb from a neighbouring flock; he was soon cut up into
small bits, a fire was kindled, and a ramrod formed the spit. So ready are they for these rural culinary arrangements, that each man carries a little spit and a knife attached to the sheath of his kamma, or dagger. Or they would get a quantity of melons, in which fruit they pretend to be great connoisseurs, and open fifty before they found one to their taste. But talking – "bald disjointed chat" – was the staple of everything. Altogether they are pleasant fellows for a space.
But their amusements are said not to be always quite so harmless. In their drinking parties they are reported, among even the highest classes, to exceed all bounds of discretion. Half a dozen boon companions meet at night. The floor is covered with a variety of stimulating dishes to provoke drinking, for which no provocation whatever is required; among these are pickles of every possible variety, and salted prawns or cray-fish from the Persian Gulf – a food which ought to be an abomination to a true Sheah. Singers and dancing-boys enliven the scene. A Persian despises a wine-glass; a tumbler is his measure. He has an aversion to "heeltaps," and he drains his glass to the dregs, with his left hand under his chin to catch the drops of wine, lest he should be detected next morning in respectable society by the marks on his dress. They begin with pleasant conversation, scandal, and gossip; then they become personal, quarrelsome, abusive, and indecent, after the unimaginable Persian fashion. As the orgies advance, as the mirth waxes fast and furious, all restraint is thrown aside. They strip themselves stark naked, dance, and play all sorts of antics and childish tricks. One dips his head and face into a bowl of curds, and dances a solo to the admiring topers; while another places a large deeg, or cooking-pot, on his head, and displays his graces and attitudes on the light fantastic toe, or rather heel.
I shall conclude this digression by a few anecdotes illustrative of Persian character and manners. In a long intercourse with Persians, one is apt to imagine that there is no such thing as conscience throughout the land; but this is a mistake. It does exist; and if the examples of its influence
are not often met with, a Persian would say the reason is that the occasions are wanting. "You English" (once said to me a Persian, a diligent student in the scandal, gossip, and politics translated for the Shah from English newspapers by an Englishman whom he retains in his service for that purpose) "are perpetually sneering at the wickedness of Persia, as if England were all goodness. Yet where in the world are such wretches to be found as in that paragon country of yours, where wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters, are for ever poisoning and murdering each other for a few shillings; where a man cannot let his land as he pleases without being murdered; where people slay each other for some difference in the dogmas of the same religion; where the most inconceivable schemes are invented to perpetuate fraud and swindling, such as never entered into the imagination of any other people; where in one city alone there are almost 100,000 women of known impropriety; and where you are everlastingly boasting of your own morality and superiority?" "Khan e azeez e men. My worthy khan, it is true, quite true, that we are a wicked race; but the difference between us and you is this, – that with all our enormous vice there is a vast deal of virtue in England: tell me the number of good men in Tehran."
But to my illustrations. A man once rushed into Mr. N—'s room at Tabreez, and, throwing five shillings on the table, exclaimed, "Take it, take it; thank God I have got rid of it. I have had no rest for a month." This was a penitent glazier who had overcharged him, but whose conscience would not sleep.
B— told me a story which puts the Persian character in a curious light. A very respectable merchant, one who sometimes paid him 1000l. in cash, once called on him and said he had a private communication to make. When they were alone, the man displayed the utmost agitation; he trembled and his eyes started from the sockets. At length he said, "For two months I have not slept, owing to an injury I once did to you. Do you remember that two months ago I, with some other merchants, was looking at some china tea-sets belonging to you? On that occasion I
stole a teacup and saucer, which I put in my pocket. Though I am ready to expire from confusion, I find it necessary for my peace of mind to own my fault. I have not slept since, and I beg you to make this lawful to me." 14 From agitation, these words were uttered with difficulty. B— asked him what could induce a man like him to commit such an act? to which he answered, that he could ascribe it only to the villany and malice of the devil.
B— gave me an account of a dinner at which he was present last night. Agha —, the magistrate of the parish, was the host, and the guests were A— Khan, a man of very high rank, H— Khan, and Meerza M—. Three of the party became perfectly intoxicated, the others gambled until the losers had no more to lose, and what they did lose was money borrowed on the spot from B—. The language they used to each other was beyond measure obscene. Accusations of cheating, perfectly true for that matter, were bandied to and fro, and daggers were drawn more than once. So much for the fashionable society of —.
There has been a three days' illumination of the bazar at — in honour of the capture of Sheeraz. The bazars were prettily lighted up and ornamented with shawls, tinsel, handkerchiefs, &c., hung up in the shops, while the people seemed to amuse themselves with singing, playing on the tambourine, &c. We met — Khan, beglerbegee or governor in the street, and strolled about with him. He was not only perfectly drunk, but he even ventured to drink wine in the bazar in a room open to the view of the public. He boasted of having collected 40 tomans that night by suppressing rows, fines for not lighting, &c. As we went along, whenever the people did not clap their hands and sing to show their joy, he laid about on their heads with his stick with his own hands, and he finished his blackguardism by . . . .
— writes from Ooroomeeya that a Nestorian girl has been seized by a Mussulman, who wants to force her to become a Mahommedan. This is the second instance of a similar kind within a short time. He also writes word that a child was found dead at the door of a Jew, and that there was no doubt of the death being natural. The mob assembled and insisted on slaying the 300 Jewish families residing at Ooroomeeya. They were pacified by being allowed to burn one whom they selected for that purpose.
It is a prevalent belief in Persia that the Jews offer annually a Mussulman child in sacrifice, and this calumny is constantly made the pretext of oppressing that race.
This is not the first time I have heard of a victim suffering the penalty of burning, which seems to be a favourite discipline among the Afshars. A Nestorian tenant would not or could not pay his rent, so his Afshar landlord made a bonfire of him on his own thrashing-floor.
The Ameer gave me a strange narrative of a disturbance in Tehran. A Nestorian in the Russian regiment15 wounded a shopkeeper in the bazar. While the bystanders endeavoured to seize him, he killed two men and wounded three others. The culprit was taken before the king, who ordered him to be conveyed to the square and put to death, and his Majesty sent his Ferash bashee and his Ferashes to execute the sentence. The soldiers in the square at drill, chiefly Persians, rescued their Christian comrade, thrashed the Ferash bashee, and hurried the criminal to the house of the Russian minister, who, they insisted, should intercede for the man. He did so. This ruffian was pardoned on paying the price of blood. The Russian elchee offered to contribute 300 tomans (150l.), but his donation was refused by the colonels of the regiments, who raised the money among themselves. It was a very curious circumstance that these Mahommedan soldiers should have interfered to save the life of a Christian, merely from the spirit of comradeship.
12 It is highly amusing to witness a combat between two parties of the numerous dogs residing near the slaughterhouses outside the walls of a Persian city. They live in communities of 40 or 50 in a pack, 80 or 100 yards distant from each other. Some fresh offal brings on a feud. Four or five dogs rush out as if to assault the opposite party, but gradually diminishing the pace as they approach. Seeing this slackness, six or eight of the enemy sally forth, the former retreat at full speed, and the same takes place on the other side, and so on backwards and forwards without ever coming to close quarters, the noncombatants howling and yelling furiously all the time. The Koords fight in exactly the same manner; at least their mock combats, no doubt a true representation of real battles, are so conducted. I remember once ridiculing a Koordish chief for this harmless mode of fighting, telling him that European cavalry, when good on both sides, charged home in a line, and that the Koords ought to do the same. That would never do, said he, "Kheilee adam kooshteh mee shewed" – a great many people would be killed.
13 This dagger is often a foot and a half in length, and upwards of two inches wide at the broadest part, and very heavy. It is the favourite weapon of the Lezghees of Daghastan. The blade generally contains appropriate inscriptions, inlaid and gilt. One in my possession is adorned with the following, – "I am sharper than the wit of Plato: I am more murderous than the eyebrow of a young damsel."
14 "Making lawful" means making a gift of all peculations and thefts, so that no account may be demanded at the day of general judgment. A discharged servant usually adopts this precaution.
15 Twenty years ago there was a regiment of Russian deserters in the service of the Shah. They always fought well. The regiment no longer exists.
Treaty of Toorkoman Chaee – Encroachments of Russia – Russian "protection" – Occupation of Ashoorada – Repression of Toorkoman incursions – Russian naval strength in the Caspian.
The treaty of Toorkoman Chaee was a crushing, almost a death blow, to Persia; and yet we may rejoice that it was no worse, for the Czar was "master of the situation," his troops being at the Kaplan Kooh, ready to march into Irak. Ignorance saved Persia. Had Russia known then as well as she now does the value of Azerbijan – commercial, political, and material – its richness in corn, mineral productions, and soldiers, there can be little doubt that province, too, would have been absorbed by the "Holy" Empire.
It was not until he saw his kingdom lying prostrate that the sovereign of Persia could be induced to let loose the savings of his lengthened reign. Even then great talent, tact, and the ascendency of a strong mind over an inferior capacity, were needed to unlock his hoards. Sir John M'Neill saved Persia. Though he had then been only a few years in that country, it was to his influence and arguments alone that the Shah would yield. Russia extorted the overwhelming sum of two millions sterling on the pretence of defraying the expenses of a war provoked by her domineering attitude, and by the aggressive occupation of a portion of Persian territory. It was by this treaty that Russia completed her boundary to the Aras, giving herself thereby easy and immediate access to the cities of Tabreez and Khoee, when the time shall be matured for the giant to take another stride in advance. The Aras does, however, make a well-defined frontier, obviating disputes in the adjustment of the line; but towards the mouth of that river Russia has disregarded this desirable object. At the previous treaty of Goolistan, in 1814, Russia had extended her territory 150 miles beyond its banks, over more than half the province of Talish. By this means the valuable Caspian province of Geelan, "the choicest province of Persia," as Hanway truly says, which
she has coveted since the time of Peter the Great, and which that monarch occupied with his forces, lies at her mercy.
When we ourselves witness the difficulty with which the vigilance of England was aroused to designs prepared at our thresholds by the sovereigns of Russia in the plenitude of their "magnanimity," our surprise need not be excited at its having slept during the progress of events in so remote and obscure a spot as Persia. It ought rather to create wonder that Russia did not profit to a greater extent by our supineness. The eyes of Russia are now open to the value of Azerbijan; so too, it may be hoped, are our own.
These were not the only blows inflicted on Persia by this memorable treaty. At the recent notable conferences of Vienna, Russia rejected with disdain, as insulting to her dignity and independence, any proposition tending to the limitation of her naval strength in the Black Sea. Let us examine her tender treatment of the dignity and independence of her weak neighbour, in a question of the same nature.
The Caspian Sea washes the coasts of the Persian provinces of Talish, Geelan, Mazenderan, Asterabad, and Persian Toorkomania. The inhabitants of these spacious territories carry on an extensive commerce, in part with the Persian ports on that sea, in part with the Russian districts on its northern and western shores. With a far-seeing policy, which anticipates all the possibilities of futurity, when Persia was gasping almost in the last throes, Russia humbled her to the dust, by forcing on her the renewal of a stipulation contracted at the treaty of Goolistan, by which she bound herself not to maintain any vessel-of-war in the Caspian Sea. Upwards of a hundred years ago an Englishman named Elton, a man of wonderful ability and resource, who had been brought up to a seafaring life, and who had previously been an officer in the Russian navy, was in the service of the Shah (Nadir), and not only commanded his naval forces in the Caspian Sea, but built ships for him on European models. The most unnautical nation in the world, with an Englishman as their leader, became dominant on the Caspian, and, as the author of the
'Progress of Russia in the East' says, "forced the Russians to lower their flag," and the banner with the open hand16 floated triumphantly through the length and breadth of the Caspian. To preclude a revival of this discomfiture, Persia was forced to sign her degradation, and the Caspian became a Russian lake. When the Czar rendered Persia powerless on this inland sea, he was heedless of the fact that the Toorkoman pirates of the Eastern coast near the Goorgan and the Atrek were accustomed to make descents in their boats on the Persian shores, to kidnap the inhabitants and carry them into slavery. True, he was ready to make compensation, by sending his own vessels-of-war to "protect" the Persian coast from depredation; but the real meaning of imperial protection is not unknown in Persia, and for a long time this proffer was regarded in the light of the Persian fable of the frog who invited the snake to guard his dwelling. Unfortunately an event occurred several years afterwards which placed them in the poor frog's predicament, and which, though not strictly bearing on the treaty of Toorkoman Chaee, as it refers to the Caspian, may be introduced here.
The small sandy island of Ashoorada is situated in the gulf or bay of Asterabad, about twelve miles from the coast nearest to that city, which is twenty miles from the sea. In size it is about a mile and a half in length, and less than a mile in width. The water is deep in its vicinity; and its lee affords a secure shelter in a gale from any direction. Hitherto it has been uninhabited. Twelve or thirteen years ago it fell into the hands of Russia, by one of those protective processes of which we have lately heard so much. Its advantages as a naval station had not escaped the observation and cupidity of Russia. It commands the entrance to the bay, menaces that portion of the coast inhabited by the Yemoot Toorkomans, and intercepts the commerce with Mazenderan, on which the stationary tribes of that
race chiefly depend for subsistence. The island possesses sources of sweet spring-water, together with a climate remarkable on that coast for its salubrity. The inner side has sufficient depth of water to float a brig-of-war, within a few yards of the beach. These are some of the inducements which led to the occupation of this spot of Persian territory by the Russian government, which act was perpetrated in 1841, immediately after the catastrophe of Cabul became known. At that time Persia was ruled by Mahommed Shah, a monarch of whose wisdom much cannot be said. He had for minister a man who was half mad and whole Russian. He was a native of Erivan, in Russia, and often proclaimed himself to be a subject of that empire. This was the notorious Hajee Meerza Aghassee, who, from tutor to the royal family, was raised at once to the vezeership. Russia was asked to lend Persia for a short time one or two small ships of war, to hold in check the Toorkomans residing between Asterabad and the Toorkoman settlement of Hassan Koolee, at the mouth of the Atrek. With the most amiable and neighbourly cordiality she replied that she would save Persia all trouble, and come herself to chastise the marauders. Two vessels of war forthwith appeared, and soon after established themselves at Ashoorada, from whence they have never since moved. Complaint and remonstrance were met by counter charges of ingratitude, and by indignant expostulation at this offensive display of distrust. It is not surprising that there should be a reluctance to depart. The position is a good one; for, besides overawing the Toorkomans, it also controls Mazenderan. The most complete possession has been taken of the island. It is covered with residences, hospitals, barracks; and soil has been conveyed to it for the construction of gardens. In short, there is every evidence of permanent occupation and retention.
The sea-going Toorkomans have been brought under complete control. Some have been sent to Siberia, or to Russia Proper. Not a boat is allowed to move without a passport, under heavy penalties; and even Persian boats are under the same restriction; this, too, on the coast of
their own sea! Since the occupation of the island a consul has been placed at Asterabad, so that, with the consul on one side and the commodore on the other, Mazenderan also is on a hopeful road to protection.
True, the incursions of the Toorkomans have nearly ceased. But the Persians say, and with justice, that an occasional chepawool of these pirates was less irksome than the presence and interference of consul and commodore.
No attempt has yet succeeded for forming an establishment on the mainland among the Toorkomans. When the day for that arrives, the Goorgan will doubtless receive a preference. Its banks are on the high-road to Meshed, and are covered with the richest pastures; and the climate and the soil are suited for the production of abundant harvests of corn. No fitter spot could be found for subsisting an army, or for being made the basis of a plan of military operations to the East.
The naval strength of Russia in the Caspian is not easily ascertained with correctness. It is believed to amount to four or five small steamers and a few brigs and schooners of war, the largest not carrying more than eighteen guns; but her supremacy is as complete as that of England in the Irish Channel.
Unfortunately for Persia she has taken no share in the present war. If she had done so, her frontier would, perhaps, have undergone revision, and her sea have been made free. Even under present circumstances, perhaps, she will not be overlooked.
16 The banner of Persia is surmounted by an open hand, of which the five fingers are said to express Mahommed, Ali, Fatma, Hassan, and Hoossein.
Nestorian khaleefa, or bishop – Church service – Religious opinions – Preparation of a khaleefa – Their sufferings from the Afshars – American mission – French Lazarists – Sectarian disputes – Interference of Russia – Question of descent.
During my residence in Ooroomeeya, in the year 1835, I was brought into communication with the Chaldæan or Nestorian inhabitants, particularly the clergy of that city.
My mission being of a nature unconnected with proselytism, and addressed to the body rather than to the soul, to the making of soldiers rather than of saints, it is probable that their disclosures relative to their religion were more candid than when addressed to the missionaries of France or America. As the Nestorians have excited a good deal of attention from their geographical position, preserving their Christianity in the seclusion and amid the barbarism of the Koordistan mountains, I make some extracts from my note-book of those days. If the result of my inquiries sometimes differs from those of the American or French missionaries, I cannot explain the cause of the discrepancy excepting in the manner I have alluded to above.
September 4th, 1835. – A Nestorian khaleefa, or bishop, called on me to-day. His only language was Kaldanee, the same word doubtless as Chaldæan, which occasioned a troublesome double interpretation from that language to Turkish, and then to Persian. He was a strange-looking member of the episcopacy. He wore an enormous red-and-yellow pair of trousers, an immense red-and-black turban, and was furnished with a stout beard. His abba, or camel's-hair cloak, was tattered, and altogether his see did not appear a very thriving one, though this appearance of indigence might have been feigned as a defence against Mussulman extortion. He had come two years ago from the mountains of Koordistan, where he said the Nestorians were numerous, to take charge of that community in the plains. Though acquainted with the word Nestooree, it was, he said, rejected by his people, who disavowed Nestorius; and he affirmed that the word intended to be used was Nesseranee, a common expression over the East for Christians, and derived from Nazareth: Kaldanee was the name, he said, of his nation and language, the latter bearing a strong resemblance to Syriac, and much affinity with Arabic. Mar Shimoon (Great Simon), he said, was the name of his chief or Patriarch, who lived at Kojamis, near Joolamerk, in the heart of the mountains. Great Simon, according to his account, must be a very great man, for he can muster an army of fifteen thousand men, all Christians,
who belong chiefly to the mountain districts of Toqoobee and Teearee. In short, he is a downright pope. I asked the bishop if he had any objection to my attending divine service in his village – to which he replied it would be a favour to his community. I inquired, if Englishmen came among them to instruct and educate them, how they would be received. He replied, with honour and joy. He added that they did not wish for Feringhees (Frenchmen, no doubt), as they were Qatoleeqs (Catholics), yet if they did come, being strangers, and from a distant land, they would be kindly received. At parting he gave me an apostolic benediction, and wished my friends in heaven and my enemies to the devil.
September 7th, Sunday. – To-day I went to the Nestorian church. It was in a village near the town, surrounded by beautiful gardens. I found the bishop standing in the village, apparently superintending the slaughter of an ox. As he had no signs of praying about him, I asked him if I were late, and if prayers were over – to which he answered that he had deferred the service on my account. We then proceeded to the church, and, by a door three feet in height (these small dimensions being, no doubt, intended for security), we entered a dark room twenty feet square, the floor of which was covered with a few pieces of matting. There were three brick structures, which seemed to be altars, for on them books were placed, and in one corner lay a large bundle of firewood.
The service was simple enough. The bishop had a single attendant, who, I suppose, was a priest, and not at all a reputable-looking son of the church. The bishop was not decked in vestments or clerical garments of any kind; and the priest put on only a white band round his neck, with another round his waist, ornamented with a cross. On the middle altar there was a lamp burning; and during prayers a vessel containing very strong incense was occasionally swung. They applied it to the books on the altar (the Scriptures, no doubt), to a figure of the cross, the bishop's beard, the priest's face, then to mine, to the great discomfiture of my nose and eyes, and then a small dose was administered
to the rest of the congregation when it arrived. The bishop and priest sang and chanted alternately. They remained in a standing position, excepting when they read the bible, when they sat. Their mode of reading the Scripture resembled the monotonous, though far from unpleasing, recitative intonation used in reading the Koran. From the near connexion of Arabic and Kaldanee, and from the apparent metrical division of the verses, it also bore a strong similarity to the Koran. For a long time I and my two Mussulman servants formed the entire congregation. The priest appeared to get ashamed of so scanty an attendance, for a boy, peeping in at the door, was apparently sent to collect an audience, which soon after appeared, represented by half a dozen of men and a few women. The men kissed the bishop's hand, mine, and that of the priest more than once. The behaviour of the khaleefa was tolerably respectful. The priest, who was constantly yawning, seemed heartily tired of his occupation, and was continually talking in a most irreverent manner to the congregation, who imitated his example.
In the church there was not a single picture or image, and, in answer to my inquiry, they said such things were never permitted by their religion.
After the service we went to the bishop's house to eat fruit; the habitation was poor, but clean. The subject of religion being soon introduced, I took the opportunity of asking whether according to their creed Christ was God or man – to which some of the company replied, that he was a Peyghember, meaning a Prophet in Persian. The bishop got hold of the word, and talked to them in Kaldanee with much warmth. The discussion ended by their saying they could not take on themselves to declare whether he was God or man; that they did not like to assert he was God, and were equally averse to pronounce him to be only a man; farther, they affirmed that he had existed before Adam, and, like God, had always been.
This was all the information I could obtain on the mooted point, what attributes the Nestorians ascribe to the second Person of the Trinity. Some years after the above
conversation I was assured by an American missionary to the Kaldanees that their belief was in perfect accordance with that of the Churches of Rome and England; while a Lazarist missionary to the Catholic Kaldanees near Ooroomeeya affirmed, with equal positiveness, that their disbelief in Christ's Godhead was complete.
The fact seems to be that the Nestorians assign too literal an interpretation to the maxim of being all things to all men. Centuries of oppression and misgovernment have made them too eager in yielding their opinions to those persons with whom they converse, if the latter happen to be superior in station; hence the difficulty in ascertaining their real belief. Dr. Grant, of the American mission, looks on the Nestorians, as nearly entitled to the dignity of being classed as "sound Protestants." Yet the following is the account of their religious condition given by the Rev. Mr. Dwight and the Rev. Mr. Smith, two American missionaries who preceded Dr. Grant and the Rev. Mr. Perkins in their researches at Ooroomeeya, and who complained of the difficulty they experienced in arriving at a conclusive opinion on this subject. They positively recognise the divinity and humanity of Christ in one Person, but the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. There are seven sacraments, baptism, eucharist, ordination, marriage, burial, confirmation, confession; but not auricular confession, which some of them say is found in their ancient books, but is not now practised. The laity take the bread and the wine at communion; the elements cease to be bread and wine after consecration; transubstantiation takes place, and a sacrifice is offered up in the mass. They fast abundantly, and eat no animal food at such periods. They abstain from labour on festivals, and celebrate the feast of the Assumption; but they hesitate to recognise the fact. They read the Scripture a good deal; the canonical books are the same as in the Catholic church. The Church service is not understood by the people at large, being in Estrangelo, or old Syriac; but there are translations for their use. They pray to the saints, and regard them as mediators. Hell is eternal. Masses and prayers are said for the dead, but purgatory is
denied. Bishops cannot marry, or eat meat; the clergy may marry, but those who do so are not eligible as bishops. There are monasteries for monks, and convents for nuns, who take vows of celibacy, seclusion, &c. They offer sacrifice of animals to remove sickness, &c. One of the authorities of these American missionaries was a bishop of twenty. The bishops did not all agree in the exposition of their creed.
To resume my note-book. I asked if they confessed their sins to the bishop, and if he pronounced a pardon of their offences. This inquiry produced a long, loud, and hot discussion in Kaldanee. The bishop was very energetic, but could get no one to listen to him. At last it was decided that confession was not admitted in their church, and that none besides God could forgive sin. As I before observed, the Nestorians are sometimes accused of regulating their profession of faith according to the supposed opinions of the inquirers. In this instance I was, as a matter of course, regarded as a Protestant; but had my Chaldæan friends been aware of my being a Catholic, their replies might perchance have been different.
When a man intends to have a son a khaleefa, for three years before the birth of the prospective bishop his mother must abstain from flesh of every description. If instead of a son a daughter is born, the latter neither eats meat nor marries during her life. The khaleefaship seems to be confined to families. A khaleefa, for instance, dies; his brother or sister sets about producing another should the defunct bishop have no nephews.
Such was the beginning of my intercourse with the Nestorians or Chaldæans of Ooroomeeya. Neither they nor I then guessed how much more intimate our connexion was to become. When subsequently my position was altered, and that circumstances enabled me to befriend the Christians living in this secluded spot, I did not fail to aid them to the extent of my power. Their sufferings were chiefly owing to the oppressions of the Afshars, which are both incredible and indescribable. I myself saw enough to convince me that they did not repose on a bed of roses. Their
daughters are carried off and forcibly married to Mussulmans; their young sons are often compelled to embrace Mahommedanism; and the needy Afshar nobles extort money from their helpless ryots by extraordinary modes of torture. So at least we are told; though, to say the truth, I have always thought that invention was not backward in these narrations. With the aid of my agreeable and astute colleague, Count Alexander Medem, the Russian Minister at Tehran, I succeeded in obtaining unusual privileges for this community. A Christian chief, a refugee from Georgia, and a colonel in the Persian army, was placed over them as superintendent, with a general charge of their affairs, to protect them from violence and extortion. When their brethren, subjects of the Sublime Porte in the hitherto inaccessible mountains of Tokoobee and Teearee, were suffering desolation from fire and sword at the hands of Bedr Khan Bey, the savage chief of Bohtan, the Nestorians of Ooroomeeya were enjoying unwonted security in person and property.
More than this, sympathy for this race came from no less a place than America, where one would think they had enough of their own, red and black, to educate or convert, without wandering to the sequestered valley of Ooroomeeya in quest of the sons of Shem. They have, however, done so, and have succeeded, as was to be anticipated when zeal, intelligence, and wealth were brought into action. Soon after my arrival Dr. Grant, of the New England Independent Church, made his appearance at Ooroomeeya, where he was shortly followed by the Rev. Mr. Perkins. Dr. Grant, a man of great activity and energy, was gathered to his fathers some years ago at Moosul, owing to a malady contracted in his vocation; but Mr. Perkins, who is distinguished for his scholastic acquirements, is the head of the flourishing American mission of which they then planted the germs. Gradually their compatriots, both men and women, increased in number, according as the object of their wealthy society was developed, and when a position on a strong foundation was established. They are now a colony. They were warmly received by the Nestorians,
whom they professed only to educate, and were freely allowed to pray and discourse in the churches. Two years ago they were thirty-eight Americans in number, men, women, and children, who enjoy English protection. They have their town house and their country house in the neighbouring hills, fortified sufficiently to resist a predatory incursion of Koords. The entire educational management of the Nestorian youth, of both sexes, has been in their hands during many years. As they profess not to proselytize, I designedly refrain from adding that their religious instruction is equally under the control of these reverend gentlemen, though this point was often the subject of good-humored discussion between them and me; I maintaining, as well I might, that practically education by them was conversion. The clergy seem to be entirely in their hands, many of the most influential among the episcopacy receiving salaries as teachers. Their schools for boys and girls are numerous, and thronged with pupils, who receive not only instruction, but, I believe, a small monthly allowance, when necessary, for subsistence. That mighty regenerator, a printing press, has been established, and is in constant operation; and when I left Persia there was an electric telegraph in course of construction to communicate between the town and country establishments of the mission.
All this training must necessarily produce fruit; the presence, example, and instruction of such men cannot fail to do their work; and I doubt not that a change is taking place, which in a generation or two will produce a vast improvement in the moral and intellectual condition of the Nestorians.
Yet I cannot go the length of a foreign diplomatist of distinguished literary reputation, whom I once accidentally met in a railway carriage, and who declared, with a heat which could not brook opposition, but which enthusiasm might sanction, that the regeneration of Persia was to proceed from the American missionary establishment; but as his excellency, with equal tenacity, maintained that the present Christian movement, as he was pleased to call it, in China, was infallibly a token of Chinese regeneration, civilization,
progress, and what not, I felt no disposition to relinquish the plain and obvious conjecture that the civilization of Persia is, according to the ordinary course of events, to proceed from England, Russia, and Turkey. Persia has already made some advance. She is different from what she was twenty years ago; and this can be only owing to an infusion of European ideas.
This American rose-garden could not remain altogether free from thistles, and the thistle was a rival establishment. The Kaldanees, or Chaldæans, are divided into two religions, the one of the Nestorian faith, the other of the Church of Rome. The former are numerous in the valley of Ooroomeeya, amounting to perhaps 400 families; while the Catholics are few. But in the adjoining district of Salmas, between Ooroomeeya and Khooe, the Catholic Kaldanees are a considerable body. When the American establishment in Ooroomeeya became known, the Propaganda at Rome felt alarm at the danger to which its flock was exposed; and though some of the priests at Salmas had been educated at Rome, it was considered that European energy only could stem the torrent from the western hemisphere. Some French Lazarist missionaries were despatched to the rescue in the persons of Père Cluzel, Père Darnis, and one or two others. These gentlemen abounded in zeal and activity; but they were poor, and wholly unable to contend against the treasures of Boston and the paraphernalia which gave so much brilliancy to the operations emanating from, Ooroomeeya. It was as much as they could do to hold their own ground, and preserve their flock from the invaders. As might be surmised, dissensions followed. There were accusations and recriminations. I advised each party to cultivate his own vineyard, to guard his own flock, to eschew contention and rivalry, of which the result might be the expulsion of both missionary establishments. This advice was adopted; and if there has been any want of that charity to which both appealed so often, there has been at least an absence of open hostility.
The French missionaries had, in fact, a narrow escape of expulsion through the hostility of the Russian Government,
which even proceeded to the length of extorting a firman from the late Shah prohibiting Christians from changing their religion. The intention was to prevent conversion among the Armenians to other creeds, Catholic, Protestant, or Nestorian. The Patriarch of the Armenians of that part of the world being a resident in Russia, the Emperor perhaps considered himself in a measure the head of that church. When Mahommed Shah died, and his Muscovite Minister Hajee Meerza Aghasee ceased to reign (for he in reality was the sovereign), the Persian Government was persuaded to revoke that obnoxious edict, and Christians are again free to choose their own faith.
Who are the Kaldanees? I have ended with the beginning. According to the opinion of that enterprising traveller and zealous missionary, my friend the late Dr. Grant, who by his researches was well qualified to form an accurate judgment on the subject, they are a remnant of Israel, a relic of the ten tribes carried into captivity by Shalmanezer, the King of Assyria. The investigations of that American gentleman were not limited to the plain of Ooroomeeya. In his double capacity of missionary and physician, he had enjoyed opportunities for inquiry among the Nestorians in Amadia, among the independent tribes of the same sect (for then at least they were independent) who dwell in the almost inaccessible fastnesses of the Koordistan mountains, at Tearee, Tokoobee, Joolamerk, &c. The conclusion he has reached has been derived from a variety of circumstances. They themselves maintain their claim to this descent. The Jews of the same districts admit the justice of this pretension. They both, Jews and Nestorians, speak nearly a similar dialect of a language derived from the ancient Syriac. Dr. Grant asserts that the Nestorians still retain much of the ceremonial of the old law. They offer the sacrifice of peace-offerings, also first-fruits; the Sunday is strictly observed; their government is a theocracy, like that of the Jews in relation to the High Priest; they detest pork as cordially as the recognised sons of Abraham; places of refuge from blood are still retained, though in the form of churches instead of cities.
Dr. Grant estimates the total of the Kaldanee nation, Catholic17 and Nestorian, in Persia, Koordistan, and Turkey, at about 200,000 souls, and that those living in Koordistan are not much less than half that number. Of these, the number attached to the Church of Rome is comparatively few.
17 Dr. Grant says the word "Kaldanee," or "Chaldæan" is usually applied to the Catholics of this tribe, while the others are called Nestorians. This is very contrary to my impression, which is, that the whole nation is called Kaldanee, and the divisions are Nestorian and Catholic.
Journey to Khiva: Moozderan – Serrekhs – Toorkoman horses – Merve – The desert – Services of crows – The oasis – Uzbek customs – Mode of extorting confession – Night visit to the Khan of Khiva – Statistics – Designs of Russia.
In 1740 two Englishmen, named Thomson and Hogg, undertook, almost alone, a most enterprising journey from Asiatic Russia, through the deserts of the Kirgheez, to Khiva. Their adventures are shortly described in Jonas Hanway. These are probably the first Englishmen who beheld that Uzbek capital. Commerce, that unraveller of countries, led them to undertake this journey. They returned in safety. In 1819, Mouraview, now of course dubbed Karski, the hero, but not the real one, of Kars, made a journey from the Caspian to Khiva, of which he has written a description. Then followed Abbott, Shakespeare, Conolly. The following note is taken from the journal of Mr. Thomson, secretary to Her Majesty's Legation in Persia, who went from Tehran to Khiva, thirteen years ago, under peculiar circumstances, in the company of an Uzbek Elchee to the Shah, who was returning to that country. More fortunate than poor Stoddart and Conolly in their expedition to the rival Uzbek state of Bokhara, Mr. Thomson returned in safety from his perilous undertaking. He had run the ordeal of being at Khiva during the catastrophe at Cabul,
and may be said to have had a wonderful escape. It was only his own dexterity, resolution, and knowledge of eastern character which saved him from the unhappy lot of his countrymen.
"From Meshed to Moozderan is about fifty-five miles. This is the frontier station of Persia on the road to Merve, and is occupied only by a small military guard, to watch the movements of the Toorkomans, and give speedy intelligence of their inroads from this side of the desert. It is situated at the top of the pass leading to Serrekhs, and the guards find security in round towers loopholed above, with a low entrance at the foot, which can be readily barricaded when any suspicious-looking parties are observed in the distance. At night, the guards being few, they do not in times of danger venture to remain outside the tower, and on retiring to their hold they sweep the ground across the narrow ravine, and are thus enabled at break of day to ascertain what number of people have passed, whether foot or horse, and give notice to the nearest station in what direction the plunderers have gone. From Moozderan to Serrekhs, about fifty miles, is desert and destitute of water. It is situated on the river Tejjen, which at this point contains a considerable volume of water, but after flowing some distance to the north is absorbed by the sand of the desert. Serrekhs was formerly a thriving town, celebrated for the excellence of its carpets, but having been attacked in 1832, and plundered, by Abbas Meerza, grandfather to the present Shah, it has since remained in a state of ruin. A large number of Toorkomans, of the Tekkeh tribe, occupy the lands in its vicinity and the banks of the river, and cultivate them to the extent required for their own wants. This tribe possesses the best breed of what are called Toorkoman horses. It is a cross between the Arab and native horse, in which a good deal of the symmetry of the former is preserved, and in height, power, and figure resembles the best breed of carriage horses in England. They are much esteemed by the Persians, and good specimens find a ready market in Tehran, at prices varying from 50l. to 75l. The road as far as the Tejjen is
firm, and adapted for the employment of wheeled carriages, but beyond it to Merve, a distance of about 110 miles, a considerable portion of the way being koom, sandy desert, guns, although of small calibre, are with difficulty dragged across it. Water too is nowhere found between the rivers Tejjen and Murghaub, unless in one or two cisterns and wells. In spring the former is drinkable, but later in the season the traveller who cannot afford to transport it on camels, in skins, must content himself with the fetid and brackish produce of the wells which are found at about ten or twelve miles distance from each other. In spring the distance between these two rivers, and between the Murghaub and the Oxus, can, by eating sparingly, be passed without suffering much from thirst; but after the heats have commenced, fluid of some sort, however offensive it may be to the palate and smell, must be largely drunk to supply the constant drain from the system which a temperature of from 115° to 120° in the shade creates; and when this has been continued for a week or ten days consecutively, the degree of thirst to which the wayfarer is exposed may be readily understood when it is remembered that during that period he has been forced, to obtain momentary relief, to swallow draughts of saline liquid which only add force to the insatiable craving which devours him."
"Four towns of the name of Merve have existed at different epochs; that of the present day hardly deserves the name, it being only an assemblage of wretched huts commanded by a small mud fort, in which a governor on the part of the Khan of Khiva resides, and defended by a few patereros and swivel matchlocks. It is the resting-place for a few days of all caravans passing between Persia and Bokhara, and has nothing to boast of beyond affording accommodation for travellers, and a small bazaar to supply the wants of the Saruk and Salar tribes of Toorkomans encamped in its neighbourhood. But the soil for some distance around is highly fertile; and as the Murghaub affords an abundant supply of water for irrigation, grain, fruits, and all the necessaries of life might be raised to supply the wants of a very populous city. Near this still stands
the roofless town of Merve e Kajjar. The streets, walls of the houses, mosques, and baths, still remain as when it was inhabited, but silent as the desert, for not a human being is to be found within its walls. This town was built by the portion of the present royal tribe of Persia, when it was transplanted from Georgia by Shah Abbas the Great; but the town having been captured about seventy years ago by Shah Murad Bey, the Uzbek chief of Bokhara, it has remained unpeopled since that date. At some little distance the site of the Merve of the days of the Seljukian dynasty is marked by a number of low hillocks and a single tomb. This the tradition of the place assigns as the resting-place of the magnificent Alp Arselan, the second of his line. Here the wandering Toorkoman and the followers of the Soonnee faith still in passing alight from their horses, and repeat a prayer for the repose of the soul of the only known tenant of the once populous city. Of the Merve of remote antiquity no traces meet the eye, and its site is no longer known by the rude and ignorant tribes which now wander around the proud capital of former days. Among so barbarous a race it is gratifying to find that there is one individual in whom interest can be felt – this is a Toorkoman Moolla, who is known by the title of the Caliph. He is a man of a mild disposition, respected by the chiefs of the neighbouring principalities; and although active in repressing to the best of his ability the system of kidnapping and traffic in slaves, practised by the people of his tribe, has maintained a degree of influence over them amounting to veneration. On paying him a visit I was much pleased with the gentleness and courtesy of his manners, but somewhat puzzled what to do when presented, after tea had been served, with some of the leaves from the teapot, and a lump of sugar of about a pound in weight, until I saw what the other guests did with their smaller portions, and following their example munched up the leaves, and stuffed the sugar into the breast of my coat for home consumption.
"Shortly after leaving Merve the traveller again enters the sandy desert, and through it continues his way until he reaches the Oxus, at a place called Kabaklee (the pumpkin-ground
ground), a distance of about 170 miles. In spring, after the winter snows have disappeared, and the soil has been moistened by the vernal rains, the surface is everywhere covered with a bright coat of verdure, scanty indeed when looked at near, but when viewed in the distance giving the appearance of a rich sward in all directions until lost in the horizon. At this season the immensity of the space, the freshness of the air, the richness of the green tint under foot, and the clearness of the sky above, exhilarate the body and give an elasticity to the spirits similar to what is experienced at sea when, under easy sail, and on a smooth sea, the ship, a solitary speck on the watery desert, is gaily advancing on its way to the promised port, and enables one to understand the feeling of attachment which binds the nomade [sic] to the place of his nativity. Some portions of the desert are, however, covered with the shrubby tree called Fak. It grows to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and some of them are, near the ground, of considerable thickness. But the wood is so dry and brittle that it is an easy matter to snap even the trunk asunder; and as it has so little of the sap of vitality, when thrown on the fire it ignites at once with a clear but short-lived flame, and burns with little or no smoke. The dingy colour of the trees, their stunted and aged form, and the silence which reigns among them, give those wooded tracts such an air of desolation and sadness, that the traveller gladly exchanges the shelter and warmth they have afforded for the cold night breeze on the open steppe. In summer the wind almost always blows from the north; and as then every blade of grass has been burned up, the light sand is drifted along and deposited in waves, whose slope is abrupt towards the north, and falls gradually on the other side.
[no closing quote] "The chief wells on this line of road are those of Kishman, Yak Keper, Yandaklee, and Sartlanlee. At one of these I found the body of a derveesh, who, unable to proceed with the caravan, had, in that place of solitude, lain down and died. No charitable hand had been there to lay him in his place of rest. The wind alone had done the last rites by depositing a small tumulus of sand over the corpse, except
on the sheltered side, from which an elbow protruded. Wretched and dreary must have been the last hours of this lonely and abandoned being, were it not that alongside of his little scrip, containing some stale bread and parched peas, and within reach of his hand, were a small pouch of medicated tobacco and an unfinished pipe; and with the aid of this drug his last breath probably passed away in some fancied vision of terrestrial or celestial bliss. Quintus Curtius, if I remember rightly, has been called to task by the translator of Arrian, for having stated that Alexander, on his way to the temple of Jupiter Ammon, had been guided through the desert to the spot of the oasis by crows; but however much that author may have exaggerated, in this he was probably correct, for I have myself been frequently escorted in a similar manner by these birds from one well to another. They fly a short distance ahead and await the approach of the caravan, and so on until the station has been reached, where the stray grains from the horses' nosebags, or, as is frequently the case, the carcase of an overspent animal, is the reward of their unconscious services. About thirty-six miles before reaching the Oxus a low range of hills of pure sand rises above the level steppe; and in gratitude for the blessing of pure, sweet water it dispenses, has received the name of Takht e Suleiman (Solomon's throne). Water is only found, as on the steppe, at the depth of many fathoms beneath the surface, and both saline and fetid, while here, at a high elevation, and by merely scooping the sand for a few feet with the hand, sweet water oozes out and fills the cavity. This circumstance is considered by the Uzbeks as a miracle, and attributed by them to the son of David; but the more natural explanation would be, that a considerable fissure from the bed of the Oxus, which, from a point at a greater elevation, finds its exit here, and in the lapse of ages having discharged its stream of water impregnated with fine sand, has given rise to the monticule as it now appears, and whose dimensions will probably still increase."
"At Deveh Boyoon the cultivation begins, and the road, leaving the river, branches off to the left to the town of
Hezar Asp; but it is only on reaching this latter place that the highly cultivated lands of the Khivan oasis are fairly seen. From this place to Khiva, about forty-two miles, the whole country is covered with smiling fields, unwalled villages, and, as in Europe, houses and gardens in the open fields; a proof of the feeling of security from oppression rarely met with in more civilized Persia. The alluvial tract is of little breadth, but is intersected in all directions by canals for irrigation. Every spot which has been reclaimed or preserved from the encroachment of the surrounding desert is carefully brought into cultivation. The importance attached to husbandry in this country is marked by the national ceremonies in opening the great canals for irrigation, which are annually performed in the spring by the ruler of Khiva in person."
"The ground being everywhere level, single-horse carts of rude construction, the wheels without any girding of iron, are employed by the peasantry for the transport of their farm produce, instead of, as in Persia, being carried on the backs of donkeys, horses, and mules. Against the rearing of the latter there is a religious prejudice."
"When a deputation of the elders of the villages meets a foreigner to compliment him on his arrival, bread is always presented to him; and if he should alight, and the means of the chief person will admit of it, sugar is also offered, and the piece which forms the head of the cone would appear to be the choicest bit, and is given to the principal guest. When it has been all distributed, the lumps are deposited in each man's garment and carried off by him.
[no closing quote] "The features of the real Uzbek (query the Uzri of the ancients?) are good, and many of their complexions are fair. This is more particularly observable in the women and young girls, and many of the latter bear a strong resemblance to the young females of German blood. The system of close veiling which prevails in Persia among the women of the towns and villages is not followed in Khiva. They wear an outer drapery which covers the body from head to foot, but the face is, in general, left exposed; and in the country, women and girls, single or in company, are
often met walking from village to village, apparently as secure from insult as they are in European countries. The number of Persian slaves imported and also bred in the country is immense, and in almost every house where servants are kept, one or more, according to the means of the proprietor, are to be found. The Uzbek husbands, with the grown-up males of the family, pass their nights by themselves in the outer apartments, it being considered derogatory to the dignity of the husband that his room should be shared by his wife."
"A few days after my arrival three men were seized by order of the Khan on a charge of criminal assault on a woman. A pit of greater depth than the height of the tallest of them was dug, into which they were put after they had previously denied their guilt, and their feet firmly attached to the bottom of it. A thin stream of water was then made to flow into the pit, and, as the water gradually rose, they were called upon to make a confession of their crime. This they all persisted in refusing to do, until the shortest of the party was on the point of being suffocated by the water, which had reached his mouth. He in his last struggles admitted that they were all three guilty; and upon this, although the two others stoutly denied their complicity, they were immediately taken out and executed.
[no closing quote] "The Khan of Khiva's practice is to transact his most important business in the night. Notice had been given to me that on an early day he would see me. Two or three nights after the intimation had been given, when the doors had been locked, my servants asleep and myself in bed reading, a loud knocking was heard at the outer gate. This was a message from the Khan that he would receive me then. My meerza and servants, who could not understand a night summons of this nature, looked as if they had heard a sentence of execution. The meerza, with tears running over his beard, begged me not to go; but was somewhat relieved when I told him that it was a practice of the country, and still more when I told him that it was not my intention to take him with me. By the light of a couple of lanterns we proceeded to the town and entered the Khan's palace,
without having met any people on the way. I was first conducted to the room of the Mehter Agha, the Chief Vezeer, which was nearly full of his people and meerzas. Finding that he was sitting near the door, and wishing to be polite, I was seating myself between him and the door, and was surprised that he should motion to me to take, what I believed to be, the higher place, but in reality the lower. Being at that time ignorant that the place of dignity was the reverse of that established in Persia, I dropped myself on the ground and maintained the place I had selected, in spite of what I conceived to be their good-natured endeavours to do me honour. After tea kalleons were brought. With the exception of the principal Vezeer and another, the latter were smoked as in Persia; but those two persons inhaled the smoke not directly from the pipe, but from the mouth and lungs of the pipe-bearer, who, after filling his lungs with as much of the smoke as they could bear, approached his mouth to that of his master, and, by an ex and inhalation between the parties, the transfer was effected. This unsightly practice has its origin in the quality of the tobacco grown in the country, which is so pungent when compared with that of Sheeraz, that only the strongest lungs can bear it when taken direct from the pipe; but by the employment of an intermediary, the more stimulating portions of the smoke are deposited in the servant's mouth and throat. After this ceremony had been gone through, a young lad of the class called mehrems announced that the Khan Hazret was ready to receive me. I thought that some one or more of the officials in the room would have accompanied me; but I was told no one could go unless specially summoned by the prince, and that, as I alone had been sent for, I must go unaccompanied by any one but the mehrem. From the Vezeer's room we crossed a middle-sized court, lighted by a single lantern at the entrance, and opposite it came to a doorway and long passage absolutely in utter darkness. The appearance of the place, the hour of night, and the solitude, were trying to the nerves, so I desired the lad to go and bring a lantern. He said he dared not do so, but told me, if I was afraid to go on in the dark, to give him
my hand, and he would guide me. But this I declined, and, somewhat satisfied by his artless manner, told him to lead on; and cautiously groping along, with one hand on the wall and one foot well stretched out in front to guard against a pit in the way, I at length came to another court, but altogether without light, in the centre of which a round Toorkoman or Alachick tent was pitched. To this tent the lad pointed by way of announcing that there was the abode of Uzbek dignity. I told him quietly to go and announce me; but putting his finger to his lips, he cut all discussion short by darting into the passage we had just come through, leaving me to find out some mode of presentation for myself. My first idea was, Is it possible that I have been entrapped into the haram of the Khan? and the first impulse was to follow the lad and endeavour to return to the Vezeer's room; but after a little reflection I fell on the ordinary expedient of announcing my presence by a cough. A faint echo, however, was all it called forth, and so after a considerable pause I had recourse to my pocket handkerchief, and trumpeted it like a young elephant, with the same result as before. I again eyed the dark passage and the tent alternately, but at length made for the latter with as heavy and deliberate steps as possible. On lifting the corner of the carpet which formed the door of the tent, I perceived, though indistinctly, a person seated on the ground, who motioned to me to come in and be seated on a small piece of carpet close to the door, and right in front of him. This was Allah Koolee Khan, Khan Hazret, king of Kharezm, and the shadow of God. He was seated cross-legged on a small velvet carpet spread on the floor, and partly reclining on a feather cushion at his left side. Before him was another small carpet, on which were arranged a small battle-axe, a mace, a broad-bladed dagger, a double-barrelled pistol, and some other things which I had not time to note what they were. There was a single light in the tent, with a reflector in front, evidently so intentionally arranged as to throw the light on the spot where I was seated, and to keep himself in the shadow. After I was seated, he asked me, in Uzbek Turkish,
what had brought me to his country. I replied in Persian, that I, being ignorant of Turkish, would, if he allowed me, call a person attached to me to act as interpreter, which proposition was answered by a voice from a corner, telling me to say what I had to communicate in Persian. On looking in the direction of the sound I perceived in the dingy light a person standing in a hole about the depth of his knees, and in length and breadth like a place which might be used as a slipper-bath. I therefore spoke in Persian, and my words were interpreted into Turkish by the Uzbek C. B. Before, however, my discourse was completed, the Khan suddenly seized the cushion on which he had been leaning, and, dashing it on the ground at his side, demanded of me in a violent tone, and at the same time seizing and cocking the pistol which was lying before him, if I had come there to frighten him. The words and the movement were so rapid and unexpected that it required a minute or two before I could frame a reply: during the interim I had not moved in the least from the position in which I was seated; and my reply, to the effect that his interpreter must, either from ignorance or intentionally, have misinterpreted what I had said, in which there was no ground for offence, was delivered with coolness; and I further requested again to be allowed to retire and return with my own interpreter. He said, in very good Persian, that it was unnecessary, as he himself understood what I said, and, smiling to the interpreter, remarked that the English were a very honest and straightforward race, bold, and wise, and many other things complimentary, and, adding that he would give me an audience on another occasion, changed the conversation to the state of Europe, and made some very anxious inquiries as to the mode practised in Europe for blanching the wax employed in candle-making. On taking leave, I was left to find my own way out as I had found it in; and on issuing from the tent, what with the pistol-scene and my attention being intensely concentrated for an hour and a half, I was thoroughly perplexed to find out by which of the four corners of the court I had entered. More by good luck than good guiding I was happy to find, on reaching the end of the passage I had selected, that it was the right one, and the lad who had guided me waiting my return. My tribulations caused by the general report of its being the intention of the Khan Hazret to have us massacred on the way to Merve, and the proposition of the agent sent by the Khan to Afghanistan to ascertain the real posture of our affairs there, to have me seized by Neeaz Mahommed Baee, the governor of Merve, and delivered over to the Cabul chiefs, I need not detail, as the one was unfounded, and the other did not succeed."
"According to the Defterdar (accountant-general) the following is a summary of the statistics of Khiva: – It contains 30,000 horsemen, 17 guns, 1 mortar, 17 kherwars of gunpowder (a kherwar is about 7 cwt.), 1000 cannon-balls in stone. There are 100,000 families, from whom the revenue is raised. The property of the Khan consists of 100 pairs of oxen, 6000 kherwars of wheat and barley in store; 2000 pairs of oxen are furnished by the Khan to the Ryots, from whom he in return receives 5000 kherwars of grain; 20,000 kherwars of rice; 100 cart-horses, 50 camels, 5 mules, 24 milch cows, 1000 riding horses; 3000 stand of arms, chiefly muskets; jewellery and female finery estimated at 40,000 tilleh (a tilleh is 11s.); 100 regular soldiers, and 1 Russian artilleryman. The walled towns west of the Oxus are Pitnek, Hezar Asp, Khiva, Dash Howz, Shabat, Henegah, Poorshowla, Khorcheet, Koukaad, Kokneh, Oorgenje, Felan Loo, Mangut Tāzeh, Oorgenje. [sic] The Khan possesses 500 men slaves in his own immediate possession, and 4000 in the employment of Ryots on the state lands."
Here finishes the amusing narrative of Mr. Thomson.
For more than a century Russia has been aiming at the possession of Khiva. Twice she has failed in attaining her object by force, by open force. The next attempt will probably secure the prize. Dissension at Khiva, steamers on the Aral and at the mouth of the Oxus, a fortress at the Jaxartes, invite an attempt and promise success.
England has some concern with the establishment of Russia in this principality. There she would be inexpugnable.
She is within two hundred miles of the Caspian, a space which, to minds accustomed to the vast distances of Asia, is as nothing. A Persian soldier thinks little of a march of one thousand miles from Azerbijan to Khorassan. Master of Khiva, the Russian government becomes supreme over the Toorkomans, and will find no insurmountable difficulty in establishing through the intervening level tract a permanent and available communication with the Caspian sea. The noble river Oxus, navigable to within a hundred miles of Hindoo Koosh, becomes Russian, and is covered with Russian steamers. At his choice the Emperor can fix the boundary of his empire on that river, for who is there to gainsay him? Khoolloom and Koondooz will doubtless then become the limits of the Russian dominions. The trade between India and those countries, now free and uncontrolled on the payment of not immoderate duties, falls then under the despotic rule of that government, and becomes subject to its protective and selfish commercial restrictions. Her near neighbourhood is not likely to strengthen our position in north-western India. And yet it seems impossible to avert these evils, or to prevent the downfall of Khiva, or its eventual occupation by Russia. Can nothing however be done to save the Oxus, to save at least the portion approximating to Afghanistan?
Our conquest and defeat – Practicability of invasion of India – Necessary precautions – Importance of Candahar as a military position – Russian preparations for another war.
cost the British nation – or what is, or ought to be, the same thing, the government of India – sixteen millions sterling. With a handful of men we achieved a great conquest. We met with a reverse, a single reverse, for the repulse of small detachments is of no consideration, and we fled. If our discomfiture had been caused by the
power, the bravery, or the intelligence of our opponents, flight would have admitted of apology. But it was not so. The defeat we suffered arose solely from our ignorance and unparalleled disregard of every military rule and precaution. We acted at Cabul in our military arrangements in a manner that would be blameable and unsafe at Delhi; and this defeat sufficed to drive us in a panic from the really important part of our conquest and scene of unvarying success – Candahar.
Which portion of our conduct is deserving of blame – the undertaking of this costly expedition, or the abandonment of a splendid conquest? The answer to this question seems to rest on one point. Is the invasion of India practicable by Russia? or, what is of equal importance, is she able to make a dangerous demonstration in Afghanistan? If it be certain that this proposition admits of a distinct denial, then it must be conceded the expedition was needless; but if it be probable that a demonstration of the nature alluded to be practicable, then it appears to be almost equally incontestable that the relinquishment of Candahar, above all, was an error.
Without undertaking to decide the large question at issue, I shall assume the feasibility of invasion to be established, and merely observe that now more than ever should we be on the watch, for the Russian and Indian dominions are twelve hundred miles nearer to each other than when the invasion of Afghanistan took place. Excluded from prosecuting her ambitious objects in other quarters, revenge, the desire of retrieving her prestige, all conspire to urge Russia to the East. She will await the favourable moment in patience, moving forward in the mean while by the wiles she is reputed to understand so well. On this occasion she has been opposed by four combatants; next time these conditions may be reversed. Let it not be forgotten that, when her railroads to Odessa and to Vladikafkaz are completed, her strength, particularly towards the East, will be doubled.
What course ought we to pursue? Shall we imitate the past, and cast foresight aside; or shall we take time by the
forelock? Shall we meet the invader in Afghanistan, or shall we allow him to occupy that ground, and decide the contest in India itself?
As matters now stand, established as we are in the Punjab and in Peshawar, the want of a position at Cabul can hardly be viewed as a detriment. In spite of the advantages of Khiva and the Oxus, supposing both to be in the possession of Russia, the defiles and passes of the Hindoo Koosh, held, as they doubtless would be, by soldiers like those of England, would be too formidable and too doubtful an experiment to venture on. The real invasion, if it ever takes place, must be by Herat, although, no doubt, a diversion would be made by Khiva and the Hindoo Koosh. In the improbable case of an English army being driven from those formidable positions, the assailant has only done half his work. We know by woeful experience the difficulties he has to surmount before reaching the Indus. The whole route, from the Oxus to the latter stream, is so full of obstacles, there can be no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that no large army will select this road. Burns uses the following words: – "The natural strength of Cabul is its best barrier against a successful invasion." Sir W. Nott's opinion is, that "Afghanistan firmly held and well managed by us would be very valuable as a barrier."
Add to the foregoing considerations, that, if a considerable force were to sustain detention in that country, as would certainly happen, it would incur serious risk of perishing through starvation. Cabul is a country productive in fruit, but not in corn. Burns says of it, that "grain grows scantily," and that "fruit is more plentiful than bread."
If these premises be correct, it must then, as before said, be through Herat and Candahar that an invasion is to be conducted. Candahar is therefore the grand strategical point; for if Herat be the key of Afghanistan, Candahar is the key of India. The former fortress is so distant from the British frontier, that we may dismiss any consideration of its occupation by an English force at the present day.
Jonas Hanway says, "the situation of Candahar renders it a strong barrier between the empires of Persia and India."
The town of Candahar commands the three roads to India: that by Cabul, by Shikarpoor, and the sterile routes across the Suleina range to Dera Ismaël Khan and Dera Ghazee Khan, on the Indus.18
The above city is situated in the most fertile part of Afghanistan, in plains abounding with wheat, barley, and other grains. Here it is practicable to provide for the subsistance of an army during a certain time. It should be our care to secure these resources from being available to an enemy.
Candahar is surrounded by the Dooranee tribes, who, if left to themselves, are more likely to join an invader than to oppose him; but who, by being placed within the reach of control, may be converted into useful auxiliaries, or at all events rendered less hurtful.
The distance between Candahar and our outposts does not exceed 200 miles.19 If the abandonment of this position is deserving of regret, its resumption should form an object of early effort. Established here, we may almost set invasion at defiance. A Gumri, a Sebastopol, in this spot makes us paramount, for it will be an announcement to all the world that the determination to remain is irrevocable.
We shall suppose ourselves established at Candahar in a large and exceedingly strong fortress, whose reduction would require a siege of several months at the least; and then consider the position of an invading army. Under the most favourable circumstances its subsistence would demand care and preparation. With Candahar in our possession it may be conceived how the difficulty would be augmented. The land, if necessary, could be laid waste in a greater or less degree, the grain removed, the flocks and herds driven off (our irregular cavalry is at least a match
for Cossacks); a desert might enclose Candahar to any distance. We may conceive by what happened to our own forces at Sebastopol, with an open sea in their rear, what would be the condition of an army undertaking a long siege in the midst of Afghanistan, in the face of all these obstacles. Shall we be told that the enemy would despise this formidable fortress and large garrison, and advance to the Indus, leaving it in the rear? If the invaders bring with them a Napoleon or a Hannibal they may dare such an exploit; but should they suffer a defeat, what becomes of their army?
Hanway says that in 1711 the Afghans destroyed a large Persian army besieging Candahar, by laying waste the country.
Or shall we await the enemy in India? There we cannot lay waste the country, remove the grain, or drive away the flocks and herds. The density of population prohibits such an idea. In any case, and above all, let not the contest be waged on Indian land.
Or shall it be said that we can always anticipate an enemy advancing into Afghanistan, and may therefore defer that movement until the moment of danger? We may do so no doubt, but will it be contended that we and the invaders shall then be in the same relative position as before supposed?
If invasion be practicable, the best mode of preventing it is by preparation, and by surrounding it by such difficulties as will make the undertaking an act of desperation. It is conceived that the mode indicated is one of the means of accomplishing this important object. Our taking up a formidable position at Candahar will go far to deter even speculation on the chances of invasion.
The cost of the plan offered for consideration, and the drain on the already encumbered resources of India, deserve reflection. Yet present expenditure is often real economy, of which the war we are now waging is a notable example. It seems to be a national vice to prefer the most lavish outlay in prospect to present moderate disbursement. Whatever tends to avert an attempt to wrest India from
our hands, and prevent the enormous consequent expenditure, is economy.
Should the day ever come for the realisation of these speculations, it is to be hoped we shall not renew our lavish expenditure of gold in vain endeavours to allay discontent. Bribery has the contrary effect. It stimulates instead of soothing, for all cannot be bribed. Let us rule with all the honesty and justice that despotism admits of, pardoning anything excepting insurrection, and making no unsparing use of disarmament and expatriation.
Other considerations might be urged in favour of the views here advocated; but it is not expedient to allude more particularly to them here; and they are, moreover, not hidden under an impenetrable veil to any one who chooses to reflect on the subject.
Russia may be said to have already announced that she is even now preparing for her next encounter with Great Britain. Her railways have no other end than to transport troops. She found that in the last struggle her weakness lay in the impossibility of collecting her forces at the proper moment on the distant points of her empire. This weakness she has intimated shall disappear. But we too will not remain idle. Our railways in India will advance as well as those of Russia. Established and prepared in Candahar, with a railway running the whole length of the left bank of the Indus, we may await any attempt in calmness. The Russian grenadier now knows his inferiority to the English soldier. The Cossack will find a match in the Hindoostanee horseman.
18 There is a mountain road from Herat to Cabul, but it is described to be impassable for guns, and to be through a thinly inhabited country, consequently to be deficient in food.
19 It is assumed that Dader and Kelat are our frontier stations.
Importance to Persia of her silk manufacture – Silk-trade of Geelan – Importations from England – Province of Geelan – Gipsies.
Silk is the great staple of Persian commerce, particularly of foreign traffic, which enables it to pay for a portion of its importations from abroad. For though horses, dry fruit,
and drugs are sent to India; sheep, silk, cotton, and woollen manufactures to Constantinople and other parts of Turkey; and grain, silk, and cotton goods to Russia, the amount is too insignificant to admit of payment for her extensive importations excepting by means of the precious metals. Fortunately a large proportion of her silk is consumed in Russia, who, possessing few manufactures or other productions necessary to Persia, is compelled to pay chiefly in gold for her importations thence. Were it not for this circumstance, it seems inconceivable how the commerce of Persia could be maintained, or how she could be saved from a dearth of metallic currency. Even with this aid from Russia it is supposed that gold is yearly diminishing, and that the time must come when the commerce of Persia with Europe will nearly cease. It might be conjectured that this circumstance would have already led to its gradual decrease. But this does not seem to have happened. The consumption in quantity of European manufactures has even of late somewhat augmented, remuneration being obtained by the importer by a great deterioration in quality. This change produced an amusing example of Persian ideas on free trade. A few years ago, when the chintz brought from England was absolutely worthless both in texture and colours, the Persian merchants of Tabreez sent a petition to the Shah that he should remonstrate with the British Government, in order that the manufacturers and merchants of England should be prohibited from supplying the market with such miserable goods.
The silk of Geelan is of inferior quality, and is therefore little adapted to the markets of France, England, or Italy. Attempts to produce an improvement have been made by English merchants, though with little success. Suspicion of the intention in offering advice, apathy, and an aversion to deviate from routine, are the chief obstacles to amendment. It is in the winding chiefly that change is required; the skein is too long, and the thread is uneven and knotty. This supineness is deeply to be regretted, for if Persia could supply good silk the profit to her and to England
would be great. We would take any supply she could produce, and in return she would consume a much larger quantity of our chintzes and woollen manufactures. Thus the unceasing drain of gold from Persia would find a remedy.
Still it is believed that the silk-trade of Geelan is improving, though stationary as far as England is concerned. The cultivation of the mulberry is becoming more extended, and encroachment is annually made on the thick forest for the purpose of planting that tree. Twelve years ago the quantity produced was more than a million of pounds in weight, the value of which, on the spot, was more than 450,000l. The duty paid to Government was above 10,000l., being at the rate of 5 per cent. by foreigners, and 2 1/2 by Persians. To the above quantity of reeled silk is to be added a certain portion carried out of the province without payment of duty. Further is to be added a considerable share of waste silk, estimated to be not far short of the quantity of wound silk, though of course greatly inferior in value. The total value of the silk produced in the province ascends, therefore, to a sum not much less than 600,000l. This is a considerable amount for one of the smallest provinces of Persia, of which a large portion of the surface is rice-marsh, swamp, forest, and mountain, on which the mulberry-tree is not cultivated.
The value of the province of Geelan is further enhanced by its fisheries of sturgeon, salmon, and other fish, from which, however, the Government does not derive an advantage at all equivalent to their value. As before said, the sturgeon-fisheries are in the hands of Russians, who export the sturgeon to their own country.
That this province should have been long coveted by Russia is not surprising. Everything contributes to make it a desirable possession: its situation relative to Russia, its wealth and improvable qualities, its defensible position, mountains on one side, the sea on the other, swamps and jungles all over the province. Its importance to Persia is equally obvious, yet no precautions are taken for its preservation or improvement. Everything is left to chance,
and to that sovereign Persian remedy for all evils, past, present, and to come, Inshallah.
In Mazenderan and almost every part of Persia, silk is produced, though not in quantities at all approaching to its cultivation in Geelan. The Persians have acquired great dexterity in its manufacture. Almost all the various kinds found in Europe are prepared in Persia, but of much inferior gloss and finish, such as satins, sarcenet, brocades, velvets, plain and every kind of striped silk, and all exceedingly strong and durable, with brilliant colours. They display equal ability in the combination of silk and cotton. A garment composed purely of silk is "unlawful" in the Mussulman creed, a dogma rarely attended to by women, especially under the temptation of the silks of France and England;20 the men are more devout. On this account a large quantity of silk and cotton stuffs is manufactured; and for the same reason the Irish manufacture of silk and wool, called tabinet, or poplin, is in high estimation.
It was at one time imagined that Persia took from England, by the way of Trebizond alone, manufactured goods to the value of a million sterling. Longer experience has rectified this estimate, and reduced it to something exceeding half this sum. In the present state of Persia it is inconceivable by what means she could pay for this large quantity of merchandize. The want of river for transport, and of roads for wheeled vehicles, and the consequent cost of conveying goods from a long distance, exclude the possibility of reimbursement by means of her productions in their present state. The only explanation is to be found in the supposition that a share of these English importations finds its way to Russia, and that payment is made in gold.
Geelan resembles Bengal in its damp climate, its swamps, and jungles. Like Bengal, too, the food of the inhabitants is principally rice, besides fish, with which the sea, lakes,
and rivers swarm. Bread is procurable only in towns. The woods abound in game, particularly pheasants and woodcocks. Like the Bengalees, too, and owing probably to the same cause, an unwholesome climate, the inhabitants of Geelan are indolent in mind and feeble in body. On this account several thousands of labourers from the other parts of Persia proceed thither annually, but who, on the approach of the deadly heats of summer, retire from the province. There may be said to be only one city in Geelan, that of Resht. It is altogether unlike a Persian town, being neat and clean, and, instead of dingy walls of unbaked brick, the houses are. constructed of kiln-baked red bricks, with wide projecting roofs covered with tiles. The city of Resht is some miles from the sea, and is well protected by jungles and by the most abominable roads conceivable. The Government studiously avoids any improvement of the roads of the province, wisely considering that, coupled with its swamps and jungles, their present state is one of its best defences, Though inferior in military qualities to the inhabitants of Mazenderan, the natives of Geelan form good irregular troops in their own jungles.
Gipsies are found in all parts of Persia, but in Geelan they are more numerous than elsewhere. They preserve the characteristics of their race throughout the world. Fortune-telling is the occupation of the women. They live in little camps, formed of miserable tents, in which they migrate from the hot to the cold country, according to the season. The donkey is their companion, as in England, and his master is the professional mender of pots and kettles. In features and habits they differ but little from their brethren in the West, and, like them, they have preserved in their language the traces of their Hindoostanee origin. In Persian they are called Kaoolee, which word is supposed to denote a connection with an origin from Cabul.
20 The above term implies, that in reciting the prescribed number of prayers, if the dress is composed of unmixed silk the value of the prayers is annulled.
Origin of the Persian regular army – English influence – Attempted reform – Character of the soldier – The officers – The artillery – The infantry – The cavalry.
It is to the military genius of the French that we are indebted for the formation of the Indian army. Our warlike neighbours were the first to introduce into India the system of drilling native troops and converting them into a regularly disciplined force. Their example was copied by us, and the result is what we now behold.
The French carried to Persia the same military and administrative faculties, and established the origin of the present Persian regular army, as it is styled. When Napoleon the Great resolved to take Persia under his auspices, he despatched several officers of superior intelligence to that country with the mission of General Gardanne in 1808. Those gentlemen commenced their operations in the provinces of Azerbijan and Kermanshah, and it is said with considerable success. English influence becoming supreme, and the French Mission having quitted Persia, it was determined to accede to the wishes of the Persian Government and continue the same military organization. Sir John Malcolm was accompanied in 1808 by two officers of the Indian army, Major Christie and Lieutenant Lindsay, to whom was confided this duty: they did it well. Major Christie was a man of considerable military endowments; he undertook the charge of the infantry, and was killed at his post at the battle of Aslandooz in 1812. His able successor was Major Hart, of the Royal Army. Under the auspices and indefatigable cooperation of Abbas Meerza, heir apparent to the throne of Persia, by whom absolute authority was confided to him, he brought the infantry of Azerbijan to a wonderful state of perfection. The artillery was placed under Lieutenant Lindsay, afterwards Major-General Sir H. Lindsay.21 This officer acquired extraordinary
influence in the army, and in particular among the artillery. He brought this branch of the forces in Azerbijan to such a pitch of real working perfection, and introduced so complete a system of esprit do corps, that to this day his name is venerated, and traces of his instruction still survive in the artillery of that province, which even now preserves some degree of efficiency.
After the last Russian war an attempt was made to reform the Persian army and revive its discipline. A detachment of officers and serjeants was sent for this purpose from the Indian army, besides an officer of the Rifle Brigade with some serjeants from home. The attempt did not succeed. After aiding in placing Mahommed Shah on the throne, distrust towards these officers took the place of former confidence. Then came the jealousies between England and Persia relative to Afghanistan, next the rupture of relations and the removal of the detachment from Persia, whither it has never returned. The successors to these English officers were a body of French military men, whose efforts were a complete failure, though it cannot be affirmed that the fault is attributable to them. At present the instruction of the Persian army is in the hands of a party of Italian officers, refugees from Naples and Venice, and of a few Hungarian and German officers, lent by Austria to the Shah. These gentlemen certainly render service within their sphere and to the extent of their influence, both of which are restrained to narrow bounds.
Mr. Morier, after an eulogy on the qualities of Persian soldiers of the regular army in various points, finishes by saying "they are greatly deficient in the soldier's first art, the art of dying." In this sarcasm Mr. Morier seems to me, to have done great injustice to the profession of arms in Persia. No irregular troops, whether they be native Persians,
or Koords, Arabs, Afghans, Toorkomans, or Turks, are able to contend with the disciplined Persian forces.22 The Nizam of Persia and Turkey have never yet met; but in the last contest between these two nations, three or four thousand Persians of the regular army put to flight thirty or forty thousand Turks at Toprak Kalla, between Bayazeed and Erzeroom.
The Persian soldier is active, energetic, and robust, with immense power of enduring fatigue, privation, and exposure. He is full of intelligence, and seems to have a natural aptitude for a military life. Half clothed, half fed, and not even half paid, he will make marches of twenty-four miles day after day, and when need be he will extend them to forty miles. He bears cold and heat with equal fortitude; but in the latter case, without abundance of water, he is soon overcome. Unlike a sombre apathetic Osmanli, who, brave as he is, hates the regular military service, the Persian soldier is full of life and cheerfulness. Somewhat addicted to turbulence, he nevertheless always displayed the most complete submission to his English commanders, for whom he has ever had a special veneration. A most determined marauder, he sometimes enlists in the hope of plunder; this occurs particularly in Azerbijan. It is curious to see him returning from a campaign, himself and his faithful ass loaded with all sorts of household furniture, which they have brought perhaps from a distance of a thousand miles.
The unfortunate soldiers are enlisted for life, and generally by compulsion. They are drawn almost entirely from the wandering eelyats of Toork and Lek tribes, and from the ordinary peasantry. The eelyats have the reputation of being the best soldiers, though, in my opinion, undeservedly. The best regiments are those composed of the above classes indiscriminately. A pernicious habit has been introduced of organizing regiments in tribes, by which means clannish feelings have been nurtured, and in such
cases, collisions between rival septs and regiments require to be guarded against.
As before said, the flower of the Persian army is drawn from Azerbijan. Less compulsion is necessary to obtain recruits in that province than in any other part of the kingdom. The eelyats of Kermanshah have also a high reputation, and, above all, the regiments from the two famous Lek tribes of Kelhor and Goorān, which were at one time commanded by Sir Henry Rawlinson. I have seldom seen finer-looking soldiers than those of Kelhor.
As the Persian soldier is good, so the officers are the reverse. Excepting those of the artillery and the few now remaining who have undergone English instruction, they are worthless. Favour and bribery are the groundwork of promotion. A person who has passed forty or fifty years of life in pursuits wholly unmilitary is suddenly metamorphosed into a full colonel or brigadier, occasionally into a general, or even into a commander-in-chief. The other ranks are filled in much the same manner. In the tribe regiments the position in the clan establishes the rank in the regiment.
The artillery amounts to about 6000 men, of whom nearly half are from Azerbijan. The last-named body is incomparably the best corps in the service, still preserving the traces of Lindsay Sahib. They are soldierly, active, workmanlike fellows, who take their guns anywhere. They are all mounted, it being the practice to station upwards of 30 men to each gun, who are to defend as well as fight it. I remember on one occasion seeing 30 guns moving out of camp on some expedition, accompanied by a battalion of 800 men. A Russian general looking on expressed his amazement that so many pieces of artillery should have so few infantry for their defence. He was not aware that in Persia it is the artillery that is expected to defend the infantry.
It is to the English nation that the Persian Government is indebted for all its materials of war. Under the instruction of English artificers, a foundry was established at Tabreez, where guns and shot of every description were cast, gun-carriages were built, musket-ammunition prepared,
harness worked; and outside the town an efficient powder-mill was constructed, where good service-powder is manufactured at the cost of fourpence a pound. These warlike appurtenances were transferred to Tehran, where they still are in operation.
The regular infantry is nominally rated at more than 100,000 men; but what with false returns, incomplete regiments, and men on leave who never return, the number does not in reality exceed 70,000. Of the above number, no less than 25,000 are taken from the martial province of Azerbijan.
Internal discipline may be said to have no existence in the Persian army; parade discipline does not extend much beyond the knowledge of getting from column into line, and the reverse, with some awkward attempts at the formation of a square.
All these troops are armed with flint muskets and bayonets, chiefly English. The greater part of these arms maybe pronounced to be in an inefficient state. The men are clothed in blue linen jackets supplied by the state, under which in cold weather their own clothes are crammed: large white cotton trousers and lapcheens, a sort of soft leather buskin which laces halfway up the leg and is admirably adapted for marching in dry weather, complete their dress. The Toork soldier wears on his head the ordinary lambskin cap; the Leks wear brown nemed or felt caps. Knapsacks are not carried in the Persian army; thirty asses per company are the substitute for that article. Tents are allowed to the regiments.
Persia has preceded Turkey in introducing Christians into her army. For several years there has been a regiment of Nestorian Christians of Ooroomeeya in the Shah's service. Many among them are Armenians, notwithstanding the total absence of military qualities in that race.
The nations of the East are thoroughly satisfied of the superiority of regular infantry. Many years ago, when travelling in Koordistan, I passed through the Koordish principality of Suleimaneeya. The chief had raised a body of 200 infantry from his tribe, armed with muskets. He
was very proud of these "regular troops," as he called them. He boasted of an action he had just fought with a rival tribe, in which his infantry had fired a volley and killed a number of the enemy while making a charge. He treated with contempt the idea of regular cavalry. No brave horseman, this chief said, would submit to be so controlled.
The pay of a private soldier is 7 tomans or about 31. 10s. a year, besides a ration of about 3 1/4 lbs. of bread daily. A battalion of 850 privates is estimated to cost about 15, 000 tomans or 7500l. annually; but from the incompleteness of the regiments, the real expenditure is much less.
The cavalry of Persia is a numerous body, and, in fact, its numbers are dependent only on the means of payment.
The regular cavalry consists of 500 hussars, supposed to be like the Hungarian troops of the same kind. They are an absurd useless body.
The Shah's body-guard of irregular cavalry consists of 2500 men. They are well mounted and armed, and excellent horsemen.
The irregular cavalry is raised almost entirely among the tribes. Azerbijan supplies 6000 of these horsemen.
Since the introduction of Nizam, or disciplined troops, the Persian cavalry has lost the reputation it formerly held, Fetteh Ali Shah broke down the tribe system as much as lay in his power, by which means, if internal tranquillity was better secured, the power of resisting foreign aggression was proportionally diminished. The breed of horses has been thereby deteriorated, the great khans of the eelyats have disappeared, and with them the numerous studs which they maintained.
If the Persian cavalry has fallen from its ancient fame, it is nevertheless considered more than a match for Turkish troops of the same description, and fully equal to the Cossacks of the Russian army. I have heard that in the last war the Persian horse never shunned an encounter with the Cossacks, above all with those of the Don, though they were wholly incapable of contending with Russian dragoons.
21 After having attained the rank of Major-General, and the dignity of Baronet for his services in Persia, Sir Henry Bethune returned to that
country for the third time a few years ago. More than forty years had passed since he first went to Persia. The Persian Government would gladly have accepted of his service, and probably would have placed him at the head of the army, but he died in Tehran a few mouths after his arrival. The Persian Government showed every possible respect to his memory.
22 Whoever reads the History of the Wars of Nadir will form a different estimate of the Persian soldier from the above excellent writer.
Low state of the revenue of Persia – System of the late Shah – Taxes – Expenditure – Revenue from the principal provinces – Cultivation of land – Causes of the decline of Persia.
The sinews of war are on an exceedingly low scale in Persia. Extensive as are the Shah's dominions, equal to nearly twice the size of France, his income is less than that of the smallest kingdom in Europe. At the first view of its amount, one is surprised at the success of that Government in maintaining a regal state, not only in the capital, but also its semblance in the chief provinces. An army of 150,000 men would seem to be far beyond its powers, exclusive of demands in the shape of pensions, the clerical establishment, the overwhelming offspring of the Shah's great-grandfather, and a variety of other heavy items of expenditure. The scarcity of money, and consequent cheapness of labour, food, and of all native productions, afford the only explanation of this problem. The expenditure of the late Shah far exceeded his income. It was totally out of his Majesty's Power to borrow money from his own subjects; one unfortunate merchant at Tabreez having lent him 30,000 tomans at a moment of great need, he being then a claimant for the crown, his Majesty forgot to repay the debt when he mounted the throne. Persia has no standing in the loan-market, so the Shah had recourse to a species of bank-note system. He issued berāts or bills on the provincial treasuries in payment of his army, his servants, and other creditors. But as the issues of berāts exceeded tenfold the amount of the revenue, none but a favoured few, or those who bribed highly, received payment; and his Majesty's credit underwent a rude shock. The berāts varied in value, according to the position of the holder, from zero to par. The latter was its worth when held by a European consul in favour of one of his trading countrymen; the former when the payee was a friendless Persian.
This system was a mine of wealth to the provincial governors. They bought the bills from the payees, who were in general happy to receive 10 or 20 per cent. of their amount, and charged them to the Shah at the full sum in the accounts of the disbursements of their province. When the late king died, all the outstanding bills were declared null and void, a step which greatly relieved the Persian exchequer. His present Majesty has made a fresh start on the road of probity. Economy is cultivated, the soldiers and servants are paid, and efforts are made to restrain the expenditure within the limits of the income of the state.
The principal source of the revenue of Persia is derived from the land-tax. The rate is not uniform, different assessments having been made at various periods, more or less remote, since which time great changes have taken place in the lands assessed. The average is supposed to be about 20 per cent. on the gross produce, although in some districts it amounts to even 30. Besides this impost there are taxes on gardens, vineyards, shops, melon, cotton, rice, and tobacco grounds, sheep, asses, buffaloes, bullocks, camels, wells, kanāts, mills, which vary in the different provinces and even districts, not only in amount but in the nature of the object taxed. In one province there is a poll-tax for males above fourteen years of age, which in another province is substituted by a house, or, as it is called, a door-tax, and again in another neither of these imposts is levied. In many districts no revenue whatever is levied, the land being held free on a sort of feudal tenure in requital of military service; in general the tent-dwelling eels pay no tax on land, the quantity cultivated by those tribes being small. Another and considerable source of exemption from taxation is land which has been made wakf, that is, dedicated to religious purposes, such as land attached to mosques.
Altogether the system is not free from complication, and requires all the ingenuity of the Persian Chancellor of the Exchequer to unravel it.
It is conjectured that through the extortions of governors and their subordinates, chiefs of districts, villages, mohessils, or tax-gatherers, the ryots pay double the amount of
their assessments, no part of which excess reaches the Shah's treasury.
The revenue is paid part in money and part in kind, consisting of wheat, barley, rice, chaff, or chopped straw.
To make the following statements intelligible, it is necessary to explain that a toman is roughly estimated at about ten shillings sterling, and that a kherwar is equal to 650 lbs., or 6 cwt.
Four years ago the total revenue in money amounted to 2,677,000 tomans.
The income produced by wheat and barley reached 245,237 kherwars, which is rated, on an average, at 2 tomans a kherwar. It is sometimes compounded for in money, but not generally.
Rice produced 4487 kherwars, at the average valuation of 2 tomans a kherwar.
Chaff for horses amounted to 10,895 kherwars, which is valued at 3 kerans, or shillings, each kherwar.
The grain not compounded for in money is generally expended in rations to soldiers, provisioning the Shah's camp, and so forth.
If the value of the revenue paid in kind be estimated in money, it amounts to something more than 500,000 tomans, which would make the total revenue of Persia ascend to about 3,177,000 tomans, or 1,588,000l.
Of this amount, no less a sum than 800,000 tomans is expended at the capital in salaries and allowances to the members of the different departments of the state and their subordinates, and to the other public servants, exclusive of the army. The following are a few of these items, which in the public accounts are classed as amelajāt: –
|The Prime Minister of England receives 5000l. a-year, but in Persia the salary of the same office, exclusive of other emoluments, which treble the income, is||42,000|
|Allowances to the numerous royal family||257,126|
|Khans and nobles||98,276|
|Arbab e Kallem – lords of the pen||18,110|
|Ulema, moollas, syeds, &c.||4,110|
|Physicians, poets, interpreters, &c.||18,843|
|Salaries of the attendants in the royal stables for camels, horses, mules, including fodder||17,540|
|Khans of the royal tribe (kajār)||21,302|
|Refugees from Georgia and Russian Armenia and Herat||77,597|
|Master of ceremonies and attendants of the presence||18,428|
|Attendants of the Deewān Khāna, or court of justice||2,764|
|Tutors and attendants of the Dār ool foonoon ve ooloom, or seat of arts and sciences||7,750|
|Loss of revenue by the transfer of two villages to the ministers of England and Russia for their summer residence||143|
|Musketeers of the Shah's own person||9,640|
|Gholam Peeshkhidmet, special mounted guards and other mounted guards||103,549|
I omit any mention of attendants and expenses connected with the Shah's own person for the maintenance of regal state; but I may mention that in proportion to the resources of Persia the expenditure is considerable.
To all the above receivers of salaries a certain portion of grain is also allotted.
The total expenditure from the net revenue of 2,677,000 tomans is summed up in the following manner: –
|General expenses, including presents, buildings, posting establishment, &c.||335,521|
|Amelajāt – salaries at the capital||805,985|
|Total military expenses||1,222,764|
|Provincial expenses (besides the ordinary provincial expenses not included in the net revenue)||292,331|
The balance, when there is any, is spent in various uncertain expenses, such as diamond-hilted swords, decorations, extraordinary military expenses caused by insurrection, &c.
The following is a statement of the revenue of the principal provinces of Persia, and will serve to show their comparative value. It is derived from an authentic source, as authentic, at least, as a Persian authority can be considered, and contains probably an approximation to the truth. The amount of revenue collected in grain is omitted, as being of less interest: –
|Khorassan-nett [sic] money revenue, after deducting provincial expenses||227,000|
|Looristan and Arabistan||130,000|
|Tehran and adjacent districts||122,000|
|Casween, Khemseh, Gerroos, Taroom, Talighan||132,000|
|Central Irak, comprehending Kashan, Koom, Gelpaecgan, Sava, Melayer, &c.||312,000|
As the culture of land is the main prop of the Persian Government, it may not be irrelevant to state in connection with the revenue the manner in which cultivation is conducted, and the relation between landlord and tenant. There is no "fixity of tenure" in Persia established by law, though it exists, to the fullest extent in the only way it ought to exist, the mutual benefit of the landlord and the tenant, and also by custom, which is nearly equivalent to law. In a thinly-peopled country like Persia, it is the interest of the landlord to conciliate his tenants and perpetuate their residence on his property. A landowner seldom farms his own estate; he generally lets it to tenants, or, more strictly speaking, a partnership is established between the latter and the landlord. The conditions of their compact, and the division of the produce, vary according to circumstances and to the capital contributed by each. When the proprietor furnishes all the capital – the soil, the seed, the bullocks, ploughs, and water – the gross produce is in general, for there are variations in the different provinces, divided in the following manner: – Out of 100 shares the Government takes 20, and the remaining 80 are divided equally by the landlord and his tenant. In Ooroomeeya the
landlord takes 10 shares besides, leaving 70 shares for division. When the tenant contributes bullocks and ploughs, as often happens, or seed, which he occasionally does, his share is, of course, large in proportion.
Landlords treat their tenants well, which it is obviously their interest to do. It is from teeool-holders, mohessils, and irregular arbitrary taxation, that the peasantry suffer vexation and extortion. A teeool-holder is a person who receives his salary by an assignment on the assessment of a village. Having no interest in its prosperity, his only care is to exact all he can from the ryots. A mohessil is a tax-gatherer.
The following extracts of a letter, addressed by me to a person of distinction in Persia, exhibits some of the evils of Persian administration: –
"Persia was once a great and powerful kingdom. Why has it ceased to be so? With every natural advantage, a fine climate, a fruitful soil, an active and intelligent population, why has Persia not only stood still, but even declined, while other nations are fast increasing in power and resources. I will not quote India, with its immense army, its enormous commerce, its railways, its telegraphs. Turkey, however, is a fair parellel [sic] with Persia, from the similarity of manners, religion, and race. A few years ago they were both in the same condition; but at this moment there is as much difference between the two countries as there is between Turkey and one of the great powers of Europe. There must be a reason for the decay visible in Persia, and that reason can only be found in bad government – bad government in civil affairs and bad government in the affairs of the army. Unless there be security in life and property – if both the one and the other are at the nod of arbitrary power – a nation may exist, but it can never prosper, never advance.
"A national reform is a work of time and of gradual amelioration; but there are some flagrant abuses, the immediate correction of which would be a boon to the people, and greatly strengthen the power of the Government.
"The sources of vexation and oppression which touch
most nearly the population at large, particularly the peasant class, are perhaps the mohessil (tax-collector) and seoorsat (provisions levied from the people gratuitously). Almost every transaction of the Government is performed through a mohessil, and every mohessil is a tyrant, an oppressor – in general a thorough ruffian. The Shah sends his mohessil to the governor of the province, the latter thereupon despatches his mohessil to the governor of towns and districts, and then finally to each separate village. It is here at its lowest stage that the system works so grievously. The mohessil makes himself lord and master of the village, and every one bows down to his caprices. It is true, I know, that the Persian peasant pays his taxes with hesitation, and that compulsion is often necessary to enforce payment. But what is the cause of this reluctance? He fears, if he did not counterfeit poverty and inability to meet the demands made on him, he would be thought rich, and become a mark for extortion. Let him but feel secure from arbitrary exaction, and it will be his interest to pay his taxes without delay.
"The gratuitous distribution of food, or seoorsat,23 is another fruitful source of oppression. It is true that some allowance is pretended to be made to the villagers, but it is never adequate, and is no compensation for the violence and oppression which attends the exaction of seoorsat. The above mohessils are among the great offenders, for every one of them must be supplied according to his caprices. But it is a governor or other functionary travelling to his post who is a scourge to the peasantry.
"The remedy for all this extortion should come from the Shah's example. When the sovereign travels let him renounce seoorsat, and let him pay for every article he consumes, and force his retinue to do the same. If there should be any exception, it should be only in favour of regiments on the march; though even then the abuse is enormous, and the colonel and officers are the greatest plunderers.
"The issue of berāts, or Government bills, payable in the provinces, which are again made payable in the districts, should cease, because it is a perpetuation of the mohessil system. Berāts generally require the despatch of mohessils for the collection of the money, and thence follows the perpetuation of that voracious tribe, more destructive to the welfare of Persia than the locusts which afflict it.
"The salaries of governors of provinces, towns, and districts, are absurdly large in proportion to the revenue of Persia. The governors of provinces seem to have salaries on the same scale as the Governor-General of India.
"When governors travel from one part of their province to another, besides the seoorsat already alluded to, the inhabitants suffer enormously from the obligation of making him large presents throughout his progress. With his exorbitant income, why should the people be loaded with this irregular taxation?
"The Shah is a heavy loser from the silly practice of the Government functionaries, high and low, keeping in their service a rabble of attendants, and ostentatiously parading about the streets with a crowd of followers. Why should the Sedr Azim appear with a retinue of two or three hundred persons, and every one else in proportion, down to the pettiest meerza? This class of persons, besides being the most dissolute and extortionate of all Persia, are withdrawn from their proper sphere of artisans and peasants. Their payment, too, falls on the people. Their masters seldom give them wages, and they remunerate them by letting them loose on the population as mohessils."
23 Seoorsat means provisions supplied at villages nominally on account of government to certain travellers, such as elchees, governors, public servants, government messengers, &c.
Tribes and races – Leks and Koords – Arabs – Decline of the tribe system – Enumeration of tribes.
is overrun with tribes. If both the wandering and the stationary clans be taken into calculation, it may be questioned if the eels do not equal in number the other portion of the inhabitants of that country.
The tribes are divided into three races – Toorks, Leks, and Arabs. The first are the invaders from Toorkistan, who, from time immemorial, have established themselves in Persia, and who still preserve their language. The Leks form the clans of genuine Persian blood, such as the Loors, Bekhtiarees, &c. To them might be added the Koords, as members of the Persian family; but their numbers in the dominions of the Shah are comparatively few, the greater part of that widely-spread people being attached to Turkey. Collectively the Koords are so numerous that they might be regarded as a nation divided into distinct tribes.
Who are the Leks, and who are the Koords? This inquiry I cannot solve. I never met any one in Persia, either eel or moolla, who could give the least elucidation of this question. All they could say was, that both these races were Foors e kadeem, – old Persians. They both speak dialects the greater part of which is Persian, bearing a strong resemblance to the colloquial language of the present day, divested of its large Arabic mixture. These dialects are not perfectly alike, though it is said that Leks and Koords are able to comprehend each other. One would be disposed to consider them as belonging to the same stock, did they not both disavow the connection. A Lek will admit that a Koord, like himself, is an "old Persian," but he denies that the families are identical, and a Koord views the question in the same light.
The natives on the flat coast of the Persian Gulf are chiefly descendants of Arab settlers from the opposite shore, whose language they speak, but who cannot properly be called eels. They are stationary communities on a great length of coast, bound together by the ordinary ties of locality, race, and language. But in various parts of the interior of Persia there are tribes who preserve the appellation. of Arab, derived, no doubt, from the Arabian conquerors, or from subsequent immigrants. These eels have, however, become complete Persians, and have preserved no trace of their origin either in language or appearance.
The tent-dwelling eel is to be recognised by his bold and manly air and his free and independent look. All the
great robber tribes are Persian: not that the Toorks do not rob also, but among the former it is their trade, profession, and occupation. Thus the Loors, Bekhtiarees, Kakawends, Mamasenees, are Persian tribes and desperate marauders. As before said, a Toork is to be distinguished by his grave, manly, rugged air. The Lek is known by his wild, restless, ferocious look; I have heard them compared to wild cats, and there is truth in the observation.
The habits engendered by a wandering life, living in communities separated from the ordinary portion of the population, and presided over by great nobles, whose commands, either for aggression against their neighbours or resistance to the law, were readily obeyed by the turbulent clansmen, are unfavourable to internal tranquillity. Thus, after the overthrow of the dynasty of the Seffees by the Afghans, each succession to the throne became the signal for convulsion. The great lords of the eelyats did their utmost to perpetuate a system which secured to them consideration, power, and independence. Fetteh Ali Shah was a luxurious monarch, but he was a man of penetration and sagacity who thoroughly understood his countrymen. All his energy was devoted to the overthrow of the tribe system, or, at least, to render it harmless. Many of the chiefs were put to death, others were brought to court; some tribes were broken up and incorporated in various clans, others were removed from their original seats. The result has been that at this day, excepting the chief of the great tribe of Kashkaï, in Fars, and of Zaferanloo, in Khorassan, few of the chiefs or tribes are able to exercise a preponderating influence in the affairs of the country.
Now that regular armies and an overwhelming force in artillery are the order of the day, the tribe system is a failure, unless in supplying recruits, in which respect, however, the ordinary population is not inferior. The eelyat horsemen might be employed like the Cossacks, and, in an occupation so congenial to their nature, in proper hands they might be made as useful as those irregular troops, to whom they believe themselves fully a match.
Among the Toork tribes Turkish is the prevailing language, to which they often add Persian. The Lek tribes speak their own dialect, besides either Persian or Turkish, according to locality.
The following enumeration of tribes is derived from a variety of sources. As these sources are entirely Persian, there are, no doubt, many errors, and I am equally certain that the enumeration of the clans is by no means exhausted.
The stationary eels are termed either Tāts, or Takhteh Kāpoo; the latter term implies that their doors are made of wood, that is, that they live in houses. They are also termed Deh nisheen, which means village-dwellers.
The cool summer residences of the tribes are called Yēlāk, the winter abodes are named Kishlak. They are Turkish words.
TRIBES OF AZERBIJAN.
|Shaheeseven – 10,000 tents.||Toorks.||Live in Mishkeen, Ardebil.|
|Sheghaghee – 15,000 houses and tents.||Leks.|
|Zerger – 400 tents.||Leks.|
|Chelebeeānloo – 1500 tents and houses. |
Koolbegloo and Mishkamber – 400 tents and houses.
Karachoorloo – 2500 tents and houses.
|} Leks.||Reside in Karadāgh.|
|Khajeh Aliloo – 800 tents and houses.|
Beg Dilloo – 200 tents and houses.
Shekloo – 150 tents and houses.
|} Toorks.||Live in Karadāgh.|
|Mookaddam – 5000 houses.||Tāts. Toorks.||Live at Maragha.|
|Mahmoudloo – 2500 houses.||Chiefly Tāts. Toorks.||Live near Maragha.|
|Beharloo – 2000 houses.||Chiefly Tāts. Toorks.|
|Afshar – 7000 houses.||Tāts. Toorks.||Live in Ooroomeeya.|
|Ahmedawend – 200 houses.||Tāts. Leks.||Live in Ooroomeeya.|
|Kara Papakh – 1500 houses.||Tāts. Toorks.||Live in Sooldooz.|
|Doombelli – 2000 houses.||Tāts. Leks.|
|Mikree – 15,000 houses and tents.||Koords.||Reside in Sowj Boolak, in Azerbijan. These Koords are completely subject to Persia.|
|Bābān – 1500 houses and tents.||Koords.||Live at Sooldooz.|
Tribes in Mazenderan.
|Kajjar – 2000 houses.|
|Abdool Melekee – 600 tents and houses.||Leks.|
|Khajehwend – 400 tents and houses.||Leks.|
|Janbegloo – 50 houses.||Toorks.|
|Imamloo – 50 houses.||Toorks.|
|Oosanloo – 50 houses.||Toorks.|
|Afshar – 100 houses.||Toorks.|
TRIBES OF TEHRAN, &c.
|Shaheeseven – 9000 tents.||Toorks.||Dispersed over a large tract, according to the season, between Koom, Tehran, Casveen, Zenjan.|
|Kharehkanloo, Bajmānloo, Koondeshloo, Khellij, Khoda Bendehloo, are eels living in the town of Tehran. 400 houses.||Toorks.|
|Afshar – 900 tents and houses.||Toorks.||Live between Tehran and Cazveen.|
|Toork e Māfee – 100 houses and tents.||Toorks and Leks.|
|Paeerewend, Jelleelawend, Kakawend, Gheeasawend, Chegeenee – 500 tents and houses, but chiefly houses.||Leks.||Live near Cazveen.|
|Pazekee – 2000 tents and houses.||Toorks and Leks.|
|Arab – 2000 tents and houses.|
|Zerger – 600 tents.||Leks.||Are reputed as thieves and coiners,|
|Fooyooj – 300 tents near Tehran.||Toorks.||A base tribe: are thieves and fortune-tellers: very poor. Dispersed all over Persia.|
|Koord Bacheh – 400 tents.||Leks.|
|Shah Servaree – 250 tents.||Leks.||Live to the south of Tehran.|
|Nana Kellee – 650 tents.||Leks.||Live to the south of Tehran.|
|Oosanloo – 1000 tents and houses.||Toorks.||Live at Khar and Demawend.|
|Mafee (including Pyrawend, Haroonawend, Shooeerawend, Shahverdeeawend, Aspanawend) – 1000 houses.||Leks.||Live near Cazween.|
TRIBES OF KHEMSEH
(a district between Tehran and Tabreez, of which the capital is Zenjan).
|Gerroos – 4000 or 5000 houses.||A large tribe of Toorks.|
|Shaheeseven e Afshar – 2500 tents.||Toorks.|
|Reshwend – 300 tents.||Leks.|
| Khoda Bendehloo – 600 houses.|
Dodangeh – 150 houses.
Zoolkader – 200 houses.
Mookadem – 150 houses.
Afshar – 200 houses.
Koortbegloo – 1500 houses,
All the tribes of Khemseh live in houses in winter, the cold being severe. In summer they live in tents, and do not wander far.
TRIBES OF KERMAN.
|Afshar – 1500 houses.||Toorks.|
|Karāee – 700 houses.||Toorks.|
|Ata Illahee – 3000 tents and houses.||Leks.|
|Khoormalbend – 100 tents.||Leks.|
|Leestanee – 150 houses.||Belooches.||Live in Bemm and Nermansheer.|
TRIBES OF HAMADAN, MELLAYER, TOOSIRKAN, FERAHAN, &c., IN IRAK.
|Karagiuzloo – 4000 houses.||Toorks.|
|Zend – 100 houses and tents.||Leks.|
|Khellij.||A large tribe of Toorks.|
TRIBES OF FARS
Tribes in Sheerat and the vicinity.
|Feilee – 100 houses.||Leks. Persian and Lek.|
|Byāt – 120 houses.||Toorks.|
|Bergooshadee – 50 houses.||Toorks.|
|Goorrānee – 100 houses.||Leks.|
|Kajar Afshar. A mixed tribe of Toorks and Leks.|| Toorks 250 houses;|
Leks 100 houses.
|Abulverdee – 300 tents.||Are smugglers engaged in trade.|
|Tewellellee – 40 houses.||Toorks.||Cultivators.|
|Ameleh – 40 houses.||Toorks.||Cultivators.|
|Goorrānee – 300 tents and houses.||Leks.|
|Nana Kellee – 60 tents.||Leks.|
|Shaheeseven – 60 tents.||Toorks.|
|Dehboozoorgee – 100 houses.||Leks.|
|Basilee – 3300 tents.||Are of Arab descent.|
|Arab – 7300 tents (divided into 41 branches).|
|Kāshkāï – 30,000 or 40,000 tents.||Toorks.|| Is composed of various clans, who have joined together and formed this large tribe. The principal branch of this great tribe is called Ameleh, consisting of 3300 tents, presided over by the Eelkhanee, chief or lord of the eels. Being so powerful, the Kāshkāï are able to select their own
pasture-grounds: their yēlāk or summer residence ranges as far as the frontier of Ispahan at Gendooman. Many of the clans dwell in winter on the germseer or low flat land on the coast. Some go to Laristan and Deshtee. Several of the clans dwell among the Bakhtiarees near the great mountains of Jānikee, particularly the great mountain Pādinā, which is always covered with snow. The Kāshkāï thus range over a great extent of country, doing great Injury in their movements. They are rich in flocks and herds.
|Mamasennee – 8000 tents and houses.||Leks.||Are a most lawless tribe. They live to the west of Cazeroon. Some years ago they were a powerful clan, but they have been reduced of late. About twenty years ago a body of these Mamasennees were besieged by a force consisting of regular troops from Azerbijan. Rather than fall into the hands of these Toorks, the women, said to be nearly 100 in number, threw themselves over the precipice with their children, and were dashed to pieces.|
The enumeration of the Teerehs, or branches of the Kāshkāï and Mamasennee, is omitted as being tedious.
|Inānloo – 4800 tents and houses.||Toorks.||Live in Darab and Fessa.|
TRIBES OF BEHBIHAN AND KOHGILOOYA.
|Bewee – 1200 tents.|
Kohmerree – 800 tents.
|} Live near the Mamasennees.|
|Boveir – 2000 tents. |
Chooroom – 1000 tents.
|} Live in Kohgilooya. Broken down tribe.|
|Nooee – 1000 tents.||Broken down.|
|Dooshmen Zeearee – 500 tents.|
|Yoosoofee – 400 tents.|
|Tyebbee – 1000 tents.||A rich tribe.|
|Behmaee – 2500 tents.|
|Live between Ram Hoomuh and Sheerter.|
|Nefer – 850 tents.||Toorks.||Roam through different parts of Fars.|
|Beharloo – 1230 tents.||Toorks.|
TRIBES OF LARISTAN.
|Mezaïjan. This is the name of a place, and gives the name to the tribe. 300 tents.||Rich in flocks and herds. The lambskins of Fars come from hence.|
|Jahoomee – 60 tents.|
|Bekir – 500 tents.||
Toorbet e Sheikh Jam.
|Jāme e Jam is the name of a district on the eastern frontier, of which the capital is Toorbet e Sheikh Jam. 250 houses.||Speak Persian.|
|Khaff, Tymooree – 4000 tents and houses.||Language Persian. Live at Khaff.|
| Karāee – 5000 tents and houses. |
Belooch – 2000 tents and houses.
Leks – 1000 tents and houses.
Miscellaneous – 2000 tents and houses.
|} All speak Persian.|
Toorsheez district and town contains –
|Arab – 4000 houses and tents.|
Belooch – 2000 tents and houses.
|} Language Persian.|
Toon and Tebbes, names of two districts, whose chief towns are of the same name.
|Arab e Reigoonee – 7000 houses and tents.||Language Persian.|
Kaën, name of district and town.
|Arab – 12,000 houses and tents.|
Nekhee – number not known.
|} Language Persian.|
Serheddāt, meaning the tribes on the frontiers of Meshed.
|Tymooree – 2000 tents and houses.||Live at Kezghoon.|
|Merdee – 700 houses.||Toorks.||Are dispersed in various places.|
|Moozdoorānee – 130 houses.||Language Persian. Live at Pery Best, 20 miles from Meshed.|
|Choolāee – 2000 houses and tents.||Toorks.|
|Toorkeaya Jelayer – 1500 houses.||Toorks.||Live at Kelat e Nadiree.|
|Leks and others – 1500 houses and tents.|
|Toorkeeya Janishloo – 3000 tents and houses.||Leks.|
|Lek and other tribes – 2500 tents and houses.|
|Beyat and Khoorshāhee – 10,000 houses.||Toorks.||They live at Nishaboor.|
|Miscellaneous – 1000 houses.||Live in Subsewar. Language Turkish.|
|Kelijeï – 2000 houses.||Toorks.||Live in the district of Jowēn.|
|Zaferanloo – 14,000 houses and tents.||Leks.||Live at Koochan.|
|Kywanloo – 2000 houses and tents.||Leks.||Live at Radkan.|
|Shadloo – 3000 houses and tents.||Leks.||Live at Borjnoord.|
|Amanloo – 1500 houses and tents.||Leks.||Live at Merdeshk.|
My informant says that the Arab tribes in Khorassan speak Arabic; still, I think, he must be in error.
TRIBES OF KERMANSHAH
|Goorān – 3300 houses and tents.||Leks.|
|Kelhor – 11,500 houses and tents.||Leks.||The women are handsome, the men tall and strong and excellent marksmen.23|
|Zengeneh – 10,000 houses and tents.||Leks.||The Sinjabees, a lawless tribe, are a branch of Zengeneh – 2000 houses.|
|Jelālawend – 300 houses and tents.||Leks.|
|Leks.||Robust and tall.|
|Zobeirawend – 1000 houses and tents.||Leks.|
|Kakawend – 2000 tents and houses.||Leks.|
|Herseenee – 400 houses.||Leks.|
|Nana Kellee – 700 tents.||Leks.|
|Leks in the district of Kooleeaeen.|
|Khodabendehloo – 200 houses.||Toorks.|
|Koozeeawend – 1500 tents.||Leks.|
The above list of the tribes of Kermanshah is the one to which I can least trust. The clans are so numerous in that province that a Persian could hardly enumerate them without committing many errors.
The tribes in the district of Zohab are not included in the above.
Looristan is divided into Great and Little Looristan. The former is inhabited by the large tribe of Bakhtiaree, containing many thousand tents and houses. There are two great branches of this clan, named Cheharleng and Heftleng, of which the subdivisions are numerous. The other tribes of Great Looristan are named Deenaranee and Janekee. All the tribes in Looristan are Leks.
The following are only a few of the tribes of Little Looristan: –
|Gerawend – 1500 tents.
Jelalawend – 1500 tents.
Osmanawend – 1800 tents.
Shakhawend – 700 tents.
Balawend – 1800 tents.
Veeranawend – 600 tents.
Delfān – 12,000 tents,
Feilee – 12,000 tents,
Habeebawend – 1500 tents.
Seelaseel – a large tribe.
Ardelan is a province on the west of Persia, inhabited almost exclusively by Koords, who during the last and the present reign have been completely reduced to subjection.
LONDON: PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET, AND CHARING CROSS.
23 The tribes of Goorān and Kelhor are sometimes called Koords. My informant says, however, that they are positively Leks.
|chapter 19||start page||single page|