CONSTANTINOPLE. THE TURKISH RULE.
I STARTED by the Ottoman railway for Constantinople. The journey of two hundred kilometres takes two days to accomplish, there being only one train a day, which stops for the night at Adrianople. This recalled the Italian vetturino of former times. It is a good way of seeing the country for those who are not hurried, and there is no hurry in the East.
Just before we started I saw deposited with great care and even respect, in a compartment of the special carriage that had been reserved by the managers for me, two small mysterious cases; their owner never lost sight of them, and remained alone in his compartment during the whole journey. Did they contain gold? No, but something even more valuable—essence of roses, and I was told that it was worth 12,000 Turkish pounds or £10,600. It came from the Valley of Roses, at Kezanlik. This culture requires much work and care. The rose-trees only flourish well upon the slopes of the hills, where the air is sharp and bracing; they must be dug and dressed two or three times a year, and the plant produces nothing for the first five or six years. The flowers begin to be gathered in June, and flowering continues from 25 to 40 days. To obtain a mouskalé (4 grs. 81) at least 8 kilogrammes of flowers are required, and up to 15 if the spring has been very dry. Page 306The essence is worth from 5 to 8 francs the mouskalé, or from 1,040 francs (over £40) to 1,614 francs (over £64) the kilogramme.
I saw newly planted rice-fields to the right of the line on the lower slope of the chain of Rhodope, which encloses the watershed of Maritza to the west. Since the Turks have gone, the Bulgarian cultivator introduces everywhere the rich produce which has hitherto been confined to the valleys of the Balkans. Upon the low ground by the riverside, I noticed some square fields covered with grass and surrounded by small dykes; these were old rice-fields, turned into meadows since the culture of rice was prohibited, because it caused malarial fever. An excellent measure.
Adrianople is situated in a very fertile plain, at the confluence of three rivers—the Maritza, Tondja, and Arda—which carry away the waters coming from the Rhodope and the Balkans. Here, in primitive times, was the town of Oretias, with a cyclopean wall, parts of which have been discovered. It was the capital of the kings of Thrace, and the Romans built "the city of Adrian," Adrianopolis, on the same spot. The Sultans resided here before the taking of Constantinople. Their ancient palace, the old seraglio, half ruined, is still very interesting, and conveys, much better than the modern palaces on the Bosphorus, the idea of what the residence of the "Grand Seigneur" was in former times.
The mosques are very fine, especially that of Selim; it opens into a court of white marble, and is adorned by a portico with ancient columns of rare marbles—ancient green, Cipoline marble, Syenitic granite, from old Roman temples. The dome, of striking boldness, is supported on four gigantic porphyry pillars, and is higher than that of St. Sofia. The Eski-Djami, or the Old Mosque, which dates from the time of Mohammed I., and the Muradie, built by Murad I., are older than those of Constantinople. They were built by Greek architects, who imitated St. Sofia. The khans, or inns, Page 307which date from the same time, were also superb buildings. A road crossed the Peninsula from the Sea of Marmora to Belgrade. "In the sixteenth century," said M. A. Dumont, "no state had executed larger or better public works than the Ottoman Empire." This was also the period of the building of the great mosques. The mosque is the symbol of the East, because there all rest on faith. This is lost, and the Turks to-day, poisoned by contact with Europe, are incapable of the smallest enterprize for the public good, or even of keeping up the monuments of their former greatness.
Adrianople, its streets crowded with people in picturesque costumes, its open shops on each side—the way in which all trades are carried on in full view—has a more Oriental appearance than Stamboul. In the courtyard of the Mosque of Selim ragged soldiers are encamped. Before the Konak ("palace of the Vali") some officers of high rank were strutting about, in uniforms covered with gold; by their side were sentinels in ragged clothes, fine types of soldiers—strong, thin, and brown. The public promenade with its running water, shaded by magnificent trees, is a charming place; but it was absolutely empty: the men smoke in the cafés; the women are shut up in the harems. Adrianople is the second town of the empire, and is supposed to have from 60,000 to 100,000 inhabitants; but nobody knows exactly; there is no civil registration and no statistics. I was shown the houses in the principal street where, during the last war, three or four Bulgarians were hung every morning to teach the rest to keep quiet. Nothing here shows the influence of the railway or of modern activity. Along the boulevard which extends for more than a kilometre between the town and the station, are only a few cafés, with a tolerable hotel, where I supped beneath the shade of orange-trees, which, alas, were in tubs, for they had to be taken in for the winter.
At San Stefano, where I stopped at M. Hanlin's, Director Page 308of the Southern railways, I received the kindest hospitality. I could go by train every day to Constantinople in forty minutes. San Stefano has nothing which recalls Turkey; it is like a village on the Bay of Naples. The white houses by the sea are inhabited by Greek fishermen and by foreigners. I was lodged in a charming villa belonging to the Persian Ambassador. Cherry-trees in fruit and pomegranates in flower shaded my windows. The dining-room terminated in a glass balcony; we could see all the ships that sailed over the azure waters to or from the Golden Horn, and, in the distance, the purple outlines of the mountains of Asia. In sight of this enchanting picture one learns to understand the enjoyment of the Oriental Kaif. People come here for sea-bathing. The tepid water is so clear, that when I plunged in I could see the charming colours of the shells and sea-weeds two metres below.
On the right, is the house where the Treaty of San Stefano was signed; it is an Italian palazzo, with a large garden by the side of the sea. It was empty. It was for sale, but no purchaser could be found, even for 30,000 francs (£1,200), and only because the waves have underminded the sea-wall which needs repairs, and there is no money to be found. In France or Italy this beautiful dwelling would be worth more than £4,000, but there is universal want, and property is exposed here to so many risks and worries! Russia ought to purchase and keep in repair this residence in which she signally showed her foresight.
After so many others have described the wonders of Constantinople and its environs, it is needless for me to do so. Was I under a wrong impression? The Bosphorus recalled Lake Como, and the entrance to the Sea of Marmora the Bay of Naples; but the hills and heights seemed more uniform, and the vegetation decidedly less southern. The bise, which blows in winter from Russia over the Black Sea, kills the southern vegetation. It is only in Princes' Islands that olive-trees are found.
I travelled to Constantinople every day with M. Putcher, Page 309the doctor of the Oriental Railway Company; he is the best imaginable guide, speaking all the languages of the country, and, as a doctor, thoroughly knowing Turkish life. We visited the great mosques: the Achmedieh, built in 1610 by Achmed I., with its six minarets and its vast enclosure planted with trees; the Bayezidieh, built in 1505, by Bajazet, with a charming court, surrounded by a colonnade with porphyry pillars and shaded with cypress, whence innumerable pigeons flew down to eat the corn which is ensured to them by a special legacy of a Sultan; the Suleimaneh, built from 1550 to 1556, by Solomon the Magnificent, who placed there two gigantic columns of Egyptian granite of four metres in circumference, coming from the Augusteon of Justinian; the Mohammedieh, the oldest of all after St. Sofia, built by Christodoulos, a Greek architect, in 1469, under Mohammed the Conqueror; and lastly, the Yeni-djami, or new Mosque of the Sultana Valide, mother of Mohammed IV.
In the Grand Bazaar—a whole world and a real labyrinth—nothing is to be seen but European merchandise of the worst quality, except in the centre, where very fine antiques were sold at a reasonable price. The artistic industry of the East is dead.
The walls are a marvellous sight; their double range, protected by strong square towers, give a great idea of Byzantium. They explain its long resistance, when already the tide of Ottoman invaders surrounded it on all sides. The Crusaders took the town from the sea, on the side of, the Golden Horn, thanks to the blind courage of the blind Dandolo. They pillaged and ravaged Constantinople more pitilessly than the Turks, and so weakened the forces of the empire, that they brought about its fall, and the triumph of the Mussulmans.
It is interesting to read in the touching pages of M. Etienne Vlastos, "Les derniers jours de Constantinople" (1453), the changes of fortune during the heroic defence of the town by the Emperor Constantine, who died, after prodigies of valour, sword in hand. Christianity, by giving up Page 310in a stupid and cowardly manner its last stronghold on the Bosphorus, opened to the Ottomans the whole Peninsula, Hungary and Vienna, and doomed the East to barbarism for four centuries. Notwithstanding the reconciliation of the two Churches, managed by the Emperor John Paleologos himself at the Council of Florence (1438-1439), the Pope only sent fifty armed men against the Infidels.
The Empire of Byzantium fell exactly as the Ottoman Empire is now falling. It lost its provinces in succession; poverty was extreme. The revenue, which amounted under the Macedonian emperors to £20,800,000, had fallen to £240,000 or £200,000 of our money. The half-million inhabitants of Constantinople were reduced to 80,000. The tree, having lost its branches, withered where it stood.
I visited a large farm near San Stefano, which belonged to a rich Armenian, Oannes Bey, whose daughter had married the son of Nubar Pacha, and whose brother, Abraham Pacha, owns a palace on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorous, set amidst a forest which extends further than eye can see. The farm buildings resemble a fortress. They grow wheat almost exclusively upon land which lies fallow for several years, and is never manured. Some flax is also cultivated, but, strange to say, they only gather the seed; the stem, which in Belgium is worth as a textile £48 or £60 per hectare, is thrown away. If the land were manured and the seed sown more closely, they would gain yarn that would be worth in one year five times the price of the land. The corn is thrashed by horses or oxen treading round and dragging hurdles, into the under side of which large flints are fastened; the straw is chopped up. What primitive ways, and yet so close to the capital, and upon the land of a rich and intelligent agronomist!
In returning to San Stefano I travelled with the Director-General of Agriculture; he was an educated Turk, who had studied in France. He told me that he had bought a farm of 400 hectares, at 35 francs per hectare, at an hour's railway journey from Constantinople, and near the station. He intended to transform the system of cultivation by Page 311artificial meadows, by abolishing the fallow, keeping cattle, and manuring the soil. Clover grows well, and lucerne still better; it yields two abundant crops. "Is it not incredible," he said, "that we received butter from the interior of Bulgaria, whilst close to us we have very good land at a low price." Strange, truly, but easily explicable. Where there is no security, agricultural progress is impossible.
There is a register of the titles for property, but in disputed cases two titles are often produced, one, of course, a forged one. Of the two parties in court, he who gives the highest bribes will gain the cause, not the owner of the real title.
An appeal to justice is illusory. The Ottoman Railway Company added a shed to a station quite in the country. The neighbouring landowner pretended that it was half upon his land; the boundaries were badly marked and the few metres in dispute were worth only from eight to twelve shillings at most; the Turk demanded £400. The Company pulled down the building, and, notwithstanding, the judge imposed a fine of £120. Of course, the spoil would be divided, and the judge would take the largest share.
The English Company which has made the railway worked by ropes, between Galata and the central street of Pera, has bought a large piece of land on the square adjoining the central station, intending to build good houses, with large and elegant shops on the ground floor. This would be a desirable improvement, as in Pera there are no attractive shop windows, but the muncipality found an ingenious method of cheating the Company. They advertised for sale a strip of land in the square, two metres in width, which hid the whole piece of land belonging to the Company. An Armenian bought it for £1,600, but the bargain was not concluded; they expect a higher bid from the Company, which will lose much more if buildings are put up in front of its land.
The Captain of the Port demanded several free passes on the Ottoman railways. They gave him only one; he was angry and prohibited the ships from access to the pier of Page 312the railway station on the Golden Horn. It was necessary to pacify him. When cranes were put up at this wharf to assist in unloading vessels, the hamals, porters, rebelled and gathered round the cranes, crying out that they would be ruined. The Sultan is the protector of the corporation of hamals; he prohibited them from being forcibly driven away; the cranes were stopped working, but steam power was applied, and opposition was overcome by this mysterious agency. Machinery, and not the Sultan's authority, came to the aid of Western civilization.
A Catholic prelate with his coadjutors and suite went to Adrianople; he took his seat majestically in a reserved compartment, but refused to pay for his tickets, on the pretext that he was travelling for holy work; they dared not turn him out by force, but they sent him the bill. It has never been paid. Law and justice are words which have no meaning here.
Infanticide by abortion or by poison is rampant, and the police take no notice of it. Dr. Y. said to the English economist, Senior, " I avoid Turkish houses that I may not know their terrible secrets; sometimes a wife is poisoned by her rival, sometimes an unmarried daughter or a son is put out of the way to benefit a brother." I am told there is even a special phrase to describe it: "The child wept, now it rests."
The impression left upon me by what I have seen in Constantinople is melancholy. I had been greatly irritated by the evil that the detestable Turkish administration had produced in the provinces; here, I felt deep commiseration. I saw a nation endowed with manly and noble qualities dying. We read in history of the decay and death of empires. I had never quite understood the exact meaning of these great words. Throughout Europe are signs of great and general progress, and it seems to us as the natural development and growth of nations. At Cologne, everywhere along the Rhine, at Wurtzburg, above all at Vienna, I had seen splendid new boulevards, whole suburbs of pretty and comfortable houses, public buildings of all Page 313kinds, built by the help of millions of people, aided by the most perfect technical arts; churches, museums, universities, theatres, institutes, palaces, houses of parliament;—and in this magnificent capital, that, they say, ought some time to become the centre of the civilized world, I found, amidst the universal misery of governors and governed, ancient monuments in ruins, houses crumbling to pieces, people dying from hunger, desolation spreading as in the provinces. The essential question which every historian should set himself to solve is this: What are the causes of the rise or fall of States?
I entered Constantinople by the railway, which, after Yedi-Koulé, the Seven Towers, till the central station on the shore of the Golden Horn, traverses the town for a length of about eight kilometres, alongside the ancient walls which rise out of the sea. On both sides are nothing but dilapidated or half-fallen houses. The railway itself destroyed hundreds of habitations; the Company paid for them, but the State which appropriated the payment is said to have given nothing to the owners; cannot the Sultan dispose of the property of his subjects? One of these ejected proprietors, with whom I travelled, has for ten years sent in his claims to the successive ministers; notwithstanding help in high places, he got nothing! It would have cost too much to pay all. Throughout the length of the walls, and especially under the shade of their arches, thousands of these unhappy people are sheltered under boards, mats, branches, which look like swallows' nests. Naked children and women hidden under rags are to be seen, and they are Turkish families reduced to this utter destitution.
I visited the seraglio, the old palace of the Sultan's, whose wonders have been so well described by M. de Amicis. Here in what was formerly a beautiful park, under the shade of cypress tress, were gilded kiosques, marble baths, Moorish pavilions, magnificent edifices to suit all tastes. Scarcely anything remains of all these splendours, damaged by fire, and successively given over to the inclemencies of Page 314the seasons. A beautiful avenue of plane-trees, bare walls enclosing gardens of cabbages and artichokes; the Tchinili-Kiosk, a beautiful edifice of 1466, which has been preserved because M. Reinach has classed and catalogued the Museum of Antiquities there; the building where the Imperial treasury is kept, and the Porta Augusta, the Bali-Humaioun. Part of the seraglio gardens has been turned into a botanical garden for the use of the school of medicine. I saw there a number of labels, but no plants; these had however been ordered and paid for more than once. The gardeners have only received their wages for two months, payable in havalis, cheques, upon the tithes of sheep in Armenia.
Near the Porta Augusta the charming fountain of the Sultan Ahmed has no more water, and the covering, open in places to the light, lets through the rain and snow, which will soon spoil this gem of Eastern architecture. The touching words written upon it in gold and blue mosaic have no longer any meaning: "Open the key of this spring, calling upon the name of God; drink of this water inexhaustible and pure, and pray for the Sultan Ahmed."
In 1681 the French traveller Grelot visited Constantinople, and reported that there were then in the city and suburbs 5,935 fountains, near the mosques and elsewhere. Where are they now?
St. Sofia is the most beautiful religious building that I have seen. St. Peter's at Rome and all churches built after that style--St. Paul's in London, St. Geneviève in Paris, St. Isaac in St. Petersburg-have all sprung from Michael Angelo's bet that he would raise the dome of the Pantheon upon the nave of a basilica. They appear smaller than they really are, because there is no point from which they are wholly visible, and to get a good idea of the grandeur of the dome one must risk a stiff neck. In St. Sofia, on the contrary, we see at once the immense and sublime vault in its simplicity and majesty. Why have not the architects rather copied this ? This greatest work of ancient architecture threatens to fall into decay; Page 315the buttresses are shattered, cracks are apparent, the mosaics fall off, and the fragments are sold to tourists. How distressing!
The monuments of Egypt and Greece may last, even when neglected, because the materials are rationally employed; those of the Roman decadence, like the cathedrals of the Middle Age, are built in defiance of the laws of equilibrium; they require constant care to guard against the action of the elements and of the laws of gravity. If the revenues of the mosques continue to diminish, and faith to grow weaker, they will fall into ruin in the midst of the general poverty and indifference. In the East, no one cares at all for ancient monuments.
Against the outside walls of St. Sofia, and other mosques, white marble basins are placed, with a long row of taps, for the necessary ablutions; but there is no water—the aqueducts are broken, the pipes cut, and no one dreams of mending them. Constantine's Aqueduct is the only one which still brings water. All around St. Sofia and the Atmeidan, the most renowned public square, the ancient circus, where the pillar of Theodosius and the ancient serpentine pillar from the temple of Delphi may still be seen, thus in the very centre of Stamboul, there are many fallen houses, and no one thinks of rebuilding them; yet the situation is excellent and the land ought to be in great demand for building. Not far from here is the reservoir of the thousand columns; it is much larger than the Piscina Mirabilis of Mycæne. Of colossal size, supported by hundreds of ancient pillars, it gave a sufficient supply of water for the immense population of Byzantium. We descended to it over the stones of a ruined arch, and found some poor women were winding silk. There is also the reservoir Basilica, in Turkish Yéré-batan-Serai, that is, "the underground palace." The Greek emperors had provided more than twenty in different parts; all are dry or filled up with soil, and the town is short of water for drinking, for religious ablutions, and for extinguishing fires. Around the mosques are found the pretty buildings with Page 316cupolas, the medrassahs, where the theological students of the Koran lived. The window-frames were rotten, the glass panes broken, some of the lead of the little cupolas had been stolen, and there were holes where wind and water came in; many are no longer habitable.
I visited the new palaces on both sides of the Bosphorus, that of Dolma Bagtche and that of Beylar Bey. Reflected in the pure waters of the Bosphorus the effect is charming, but the architecture is commonplace; and the materials are of detestable quality, plaster and stucco instead of marble or stone; they will therefore need much care, which is always lacking here. It is proposed to put them under the charge of the Chief of the Eunuchs, when an architect and a good engineer would not be too much ! Everywhere traces of infiltration may be perceived. In the winter garden of Dolma Bagtché, the windows were broken, the pillars bent, decay had begun. The internal decoration of these palaces has cost a fabulous sum; it resembles that of the Moorish cafés of Paris or Vienna, but is of greatly inferior taste. These residences are quite deserted. The Sultan, Abdul Hamed, lives in Yildiz Kiosk, on the hills, between two large and frightful barracks of saffron yellow, which disgrace the beautiful view of Dolma Bagtché. There only he feels safe from plots. When two of his Ministers seem to agree, he imagines that they are conspiring to dethrone him.
I talked with an educated Turkish officer who had lived in Paris; he had received his pay for two months out of eight; fortunately he got rations of rice, meat, coffee, bread, and even cloth for his uniform, otherwise he would have had to beg. But what opportunities of wrong-doing and robbery are given by these supplies in kind! If any one wishes to understand the universal sufferings arising from an economic crisis, let him come here. The employes, even the military, are no longer paid, the money from the provinces is taken by foreign creditors; tradesmen sell nothing, and the Ministers have to encounter in their palaces men, and still worse, women, who ask for Page 317their due with tears and lamentations. It is like a death-bed scene, quite heartrending.
A too frequent change of Ministry is one of the greatest evils in the parliamentary system, as it is carried out in some countries, in Turkey it is worse still: between 1876 and 1881 eighteen Cabinets were formed in succession. In 1881 Vefvik upset Saïd and became Grand Vizier; the next day he was overthrown by Saïd, who returned triumphant. The caprices of despotism are much worse than the coalitions and intrigues of political parties.
Another trouble: cash is scarce and the monetary system is in a greater state of confusion than in the Middle Ages. Both bank-notes, caimés, and copper money, the mediums of large and small payments, have been suppressed. Turkish golden pounds (value 22 f. 50 c.) are never seen. The current medium, besides some medjidiés of 20 piastres, is found to be large dirty discs of white metal, alteliks, bechliks, and piastres, the relative value of which compared with the pound is constantly changing, so that in every street are swarms of moneychangers to whom every one, especially the common people, resort to settle their little purchases. The remedy of this intolerable evil, which makes business difficult and favours unlawful gains, has been pointed out by a specially competent economist, M. Ottomar Haupt. It consists in issuing bronze and nickel pieces as in Switzerland and Belgium. But nothing is done—Nitschewo, what does it matter? Yarin, to-morrow.
But there is an evil graver still. Turkey is dying of exhaustion, because her creditors will extract the last drop of blood from her body. In 1883 the Turkish revenue was estimated at 15 millions of Turkish pounds, much of which was not collected, and of which the debt took 5 millions. The Council of Administration for the foreign debt takes the receipts from tobacco, salt, stamps, spirits, fisheries, silks, and the tribute of Roumelia and Cyprus. The Egyptian tribute also goes to other creditors. Every year the Porte gives up some source of revenue to gain a little ready money. But yesterday she pledged the receipts of Page 318the Smyrna-Kassaba Railway to Wilson and Co. to obtain 800,000 Turkish pounds to support the troops she is now collecting. It is no longer the government of a State; it is the permanent liquidation of a bankrupt.
Formerly, the requirements being less, the returns were irregular and the collectors indulgent. Now, the pitiless exigencies of rigorous accounts, on the European footing, put in motion the harsh machinery of the Mussulman treasury, which crushes the ratepayer to the ground. The Porte's position is untenable; it has for all its needs a net revenue of 200 million francs less than little Belgium—which is a neutral State, and has neither colonies, navy, nor enemies—and it has to keep up the rank of a Great Power, to support a large army, a fleet of ironclads, a legion of officials and a sovereign, which cost at least a million sterling per annum; also to administer a large empire, now and then to fight a powerful enemy, constantly to suppress provincial insurrections, and to oppose the covetousness of neighbouring States. To maintain the equilibrium of an enormous mass, agitated by violent upheavals, resting upon a basis which is contracting and melting away, seems an insoluble problem.
The insecurity of property and person hinders all progress. Here are a few incidents taken at random from my note-book. The head manager of the forest of Bellona, belonging to the Oriental railways was carried off by brigands, and had to pay £6,000 ransom. A band attacked the train at the foot of the hill of Dedeagatch, thinking to find the Director-general; fortunately, he had put off his journey for a day, and so escaped. I was introduced to a high dignitary of the Court, who had just received a present from the Sultan of a beautiful estate, near the railway. Having inquired about the condition of agriculture, he answered, "I have not yet visited my property, the country is not very safe." The Department of Agriculture wished to establish some model farms; but it dared not permit the students to reside in the country. A rich landowner told me that he had estates in Page 319Thessaly, the new frontier given to Greece; part was left under Turkish rule, the rest became Greek territory and has doubled its value. A rich banker owned a remarkably good farm close to Constantinople, it was entirely surrounded by a thick wall, like a fortress; the brigands made a breach and carried off the buffaloes. Some time before the inhabitants of a neighbouring village came on his land and began to cultivate it. He appealed to the judge to ensure his possession of it; the Cadi told him that these poor people had not enough ground, and he was forced to make a compromise by giving up a quarter of his estate. He let the remaining part to shepherds who, the second year, did not pay the rent agreed upon. He cited them to appear before the Cadi; it was another man, but the answer was similar: "These poor creatures have nothing but their sheep, do you wish to ruin them?" That is agrarian socialism, such as Ireland asks for. Nothing could be better; only, property there would be very undesirable.
The Turk is naturally humane; he has a great pity for the poor, and never ill-treats either a dog or a horse. But the system is not made for the encouragement of agriculture. Add to all "these plagues" venal justice, uncertain succession, unequal and arbitrary taxes, and you will not be then at the end of the litany.
M. de Blowitz, the famous Paris correspondent of the Times, in his recent book on Turkey, has found a remedy for the causes of decay; he has pointed it out, and Progressists and reformers applaud! There are two milliards of vakoufs; let them be sold! With the product the national debt may be paid off, roads can be made, and the officials, henceforth of the highest integrity, can have good salaries, the country will flourish again, and flow with milk and honey. What a strange illusion! Spain and Italy have sold their Church lands; the operation went on for years, but it has not saved the first from chronic deficit, nor given the second, the pareggio, the balance of the budget.
Who then would buy these lands, far away, in remote districts rendered unihhabitable by brigandage, when the Page 320ground lies waste at the very gates of the capital, and when solitude spreads in the most beautiful region of the empire, on the shores of the Sea of Marmora and the Ægean.
M. de Blowitz followed the road towards the forest of Belligrad. "Scarcely," he says, "have the last echoes of Constantinople died on the ear, when we are advancing kilometre by kilometre, for hours, through a barren waste, without shade, house, cottage, tree, with neither fruit nor flower. An immense desert of hundreds of thousands of hectares of wild, uncultivated land, neglected by men and almost by God; it is incredible."
M. Albert Dumont visited the neighbourhood of Rodosto, a beautiful port on the Sea of Marmora, and he wrote in the Revue des Deux Mondes, July 15, 1871: "The country we passed through was a desert, with immense plains. The ground was grassy and fertile, but it was uncultivated. The deserted villages on all sides indicated former prosperity; the inhabitants had fled, brambles grew over all. Half a century ago many of these villages were still inhabited, others have long been deserted; the cemetery alone remains intact."
Without the persevering work of the Bulgarian peasant, who has continued to labour, notwithstanding exactions and pillage, the rest of European Turkey would be like this region, chiefly inhabited by Greeks. Who then would be willing to buy Church lands in a country where the desert increases so rapidly?
Besides, they have tried to sell the vakoufs. Favourites and ministers bought them for a fifth or tenth of their value, a mere song. Twelve millions of piastres were levied upon the treasury of St. Sofia to begin a railway to Trebizond; nothing was done, and St. Sofia is out of repair. Vakoufs furnish the only money spent in works of general. utility; suppress them, and you hasten the downfall of the empire. It is said that if they were sold the produce of their sale would give the same returns as before, but the price received would never reach the treasury, any more Page 321than the revenue of the mosques, schools, or fountains does; it would fall into the bottomless pockets of the intermediaries.
There is a still stronger objection, which touches the heart of the problem. By selling the vakoufs, the Sultan, the Head of the Faithful, would finally destroy the religious sentiment already so shaken. It would be as if the Pope should put up to auction all the possessions of the Catholic churches and religious communities. For the whole edifice of Mussulman society rests upon faith, which gives honesty, courage, charity, boundless devotion, and which we still find in the soldiers who are away from the demoralizing contact with Europe. In our public and private business affairs we have replaced virtue by written laws and mechanisms of control so perfect that "honesty is the best policy." The Turks know nothing of such organization, which alone could kill the baksheesh, and thus, as the ancient faith disappears everything naturally gets out of order. A similar fact has been noticed amongst the peoples of the Pacific; we acquaint them with our civilization, it kills them.
We have introduced in Turkey those economic scourges, insatiable budgets, permanent deficits, a debt which swallows up all the taxes and still grows on; whilst the Turks have not understood the elementary truth that the hen can lay no golden egg without food and rest. This points to the real remedy for the ills of the Ottoman Empire and its dependencies. Give the provinces a liberty and autonomy which will ensure to the rayas the peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of their labour; they will till the land well, and enrich the country, and fill the national coffers; whilst the Porte will no longer have to give its last resources to the bankers of Pera to oppress and keep them down.
It would also be to Turkey's own interest to fulfil the wishes of the Armenians, in carrying out the obligations which the 61st Article of the Berlin Treaty imposes. This article is as follows: " The Sublime Porte undertakes to effect without further delay such local improvements and Page 322reforms as the provinces inhabited by the Armenians require, and to guarantee the latter's security against the Circassians and Kurds. The Porte at stated periods to inform the Powers of the measures employed, who will see that they are properly applied." The Armenians, of the Aryan race, are intelligent, laborious, economical, excellent business men, like the Jews and the Tzintzars. They occupy official appointments in the administration of the Ottoman Empire, and in Constantinople they are the chief promoters of economic activity! Their civilization is amongst the oldest in Asia; their annals date from the earliest historic times, their literature is rich, and continues uninterrupted through all the middle ages; it has furnished philosophers, historians, theologians, and poets.See a learned work by M. Felix Nere, "L'Arménie Chrétienne et sa Littérature" (Peeters Louvain, 1886, in 8vo, 403 pp.), in which the author gives a complete inventory of the riches of Armenian literature. He divides its history into three periods. The first and longest stretches from the fourth century to the time of the Crusades, the second extends from that period to the eighteenth century, and the third dates from the year 1736, when Mek-hetar de Sébaste founded in the island of St. Lazare, near Venice, the celebrated learned community whose influence is still so powerful in the East wherever Armenians are to be met with. From this centre of learning issued rules for the formation of the language; the ancient classics were studied and books of all sorts, translations and others, were printed and widely circulated, schools were opened for the instruction of Armenians settled in the Levant, and, thanks to this brotherhood, products of civilization and of intellectual research on the point of being buried in oblivion were again brought to the light of the world. Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Munich, Moscow, and St. Petersburg owe their professorships of Armenian to the impulse given by this community. This gifted nation, whose territory has been shared between Russia, Turkey, and Persia, is estimated, according to some authors, to comprise in Armenia and Europe together, about 2,500,000 inhabitants, while Mr. Broussali fixes their number at 6,000,000.An Armenian who knows his country thoroughly has recently published in the Revue Française (May and June, 1886) a very clear account of the present situation of Armenia, its sufferings and legitimate claims. They people the high table-landPage 323of Asia Minor between the Black Sea, the Caspian, and the Mediterranean, thus forming a line of defence for the Bosphorus against Trans-Caucassian Russia. Armenia in the hands of Russia means Constantinople attacked from the south, as Byzantium was formerly by the Ottomans.
The unfortunate Armenians are at the present time most piteously oppressed and pillaged by the Kurds, the Circassians, and more especially by Turkish functionaries. 'Their condition is very similar to that of the Bulgarians in Macedonia. The only result of the 61st Article of the Berlin Treaty has been to infuriate the Mussulmans who ill-treat them; their persecutions are now more cruel than ever, their one desire being to exterminate them entirely! Quite recently all their schools have been closed, and the teachers exiled. What a suicidal policy! and what barbarous blindness on the part of Turkey! If, instead of all -this, communal and provincial autonomy were accorded, the Armenians would prove a source of wealth to the country, their numbers would increase in a fertile province where the population in spite of this fertility does not exceed six persons per square kilometre. They would cease to look to Russia, and would attach themselves to the Ottoman Empire, whose defenders they would become! The taxes paid by Armenia thus enriched would rapidly increase and swell the revenue of the empire. How is it that the Sultan, who is said to be an enlightened man and devoted to the interests of his country, does not see all there is to be gained by carrying out the prescriptions of the 61st Article?
Let the Turks take care; the fall of the Ottoman Empire comes from deeply rooted causes. It began in 1683, with the defeat under the walls of Vienna, and has never since stopped. Turkey has lost successively, Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Bessarabia, Servia, Greece, Moldavia, Wallachia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Roumelia, Thessaly, Algeria, Tunis, Cyprus, Massoah, and now with the system of "temporary occupation under the sovereignty of the Page 324Sultan"—a godsend!—the amputation is so easily performed that the trunk scarcely seems to feel it. As Guizot formerly said, and now Gladstone and Lord Salisbury, the two premiers of the only country which dare speak openly on this matter, the Porte must ensure an endurable government to its provinces, otherwise it will lose them one by one, and the Sultan will have nothing to do but cross over to Asia.
The vital question which haunts me perpetually in this strange city where everything is falling to ruin, although so favoured by nature that all should prosper, is—Can Turkey carry out thorough reforms?
Sir H. Layard, an eminent diplomatist, devoted to the Porte, thought it his duty to deny the correctness of my statements in the Pall Mall, concerning the sufferings of the Bulgarians in Macedonia; and, nevertheless, he had 'formerly, when English Ambassador in Constantinople, depicted the disastrous effects of the Turkish Government in still darker colours. In a despatch of April 27, 1880, after describing the abuses, misdeeds, and general corruption, he adds:
The instructions given by Lord Granville to Mr. Goschen in a despatch of May 18th of the same year are equally severe:
Five years have elapsed, and no reforms have been effected. The situation has become in all ways much worse. The Porte ridicules the admonitions and threats of England and the other Powers, and, nevertheless, all the Powers agree in supporting this abominable rule which is ruining the population of every race and of every faith. They are always ready to enter upon a crusade, not now against the Mussulmans, but for the Turks against the Christians.
Whoever studies the Eastern Question ought to read, or re-read, Saint Marc Girardin's articles, published in the Revue des Deux Mondes between 1860 and 1862. Here are some extracts:
Saint Marc Girardin has some noble words, and he would even accept the English occupation of Turkey. "As a Frenchman," he says, "I might regret it, but as a man and a Christian I should rejoice to see an absurd and brutal tyranny replaced by an orderly and tolerant administration. If I had the power to convert Macedonia or Bulgaria, Asia Minor or Syria into English countries, and to change so much evil into so much good, do you think, even if it brought glory to the conquerors of Trafalgar and Waterloo, I should hesitate for a moment ? I should be unworthy of the name of Christian if I allowed any scruples of national vanity to hold me back from this blessed work" (Revue des Deux Mondes, October 15, 1862).
Guizot and Thiers were both supporters of the policy of emancipating the Christians in Turkey and forming them into national independent groups. Speaking about the Eastern Question, M. Guizot says in his memoirs, "French politicians are much engrossed with the varied interests in the East, and with the great and far-off future. We remain faithful to our general idea; we wish both to preserve the Ottoman Empire and to assist the new States which are trying to shape themselves amidst its remains." In a diplomatic note of October 3, 1840, M. Thiers said: "Unable to reconstitute a great whole, we have thought it desirable that the detached parts should remain States, independent of the neighbouring empires."
The time when the Turks will be obliged to return into Asia has long been foreseen. It is related by Tott, in his memoirs, that the campaign of the Turks against the Russians in 1788 having ended badly, the Keir Effendi Page 328came to him and asked what these reverses would lead to if they continued. The interview took place in one of the rooms in the palace from whence Scutari, on the other side of the Bosphorus, could be seen. Tott, pointing to the coast of Asia, answered briefly, " There, opposite." " So be it," answered the Turk; "the valleys are charming; we can build kiosks and smoke our pipes as well as here." This shows that what has been called expulsion with " bag and baggage," said to be patronized by Gladstone, does not date from yesterday.
There is another plan which would be more easily carried out and which would injure neither justice nor private interests; on the contrary, all Christians and Mussulmans, especially the latter, would find it a great advantage. It is the solution formerly so eloquently propounded and advocated by Saint Marc Girardin, and expounded in a book written some years ago by a far-sighted Greek, Dionis Rattos, now forgotten but well received in its time, i.e., to make Constantinople a free town and open port, like Hamburg. The administration would be in the hands of a Senate where the different nationalities would be represented, and which would elect an executive council. Goods should be received in the docks, and within the limits of the town and suburbs, without customs or formalities of any kind. Add a good police, a righteous justice, few taxes, and simple and enlightened laws to which all must alike submit; briefly, liberty, equality, complete security for the person, possessions, and rights of every man. In a few years Constantinople would enjoy incredible prosperity; commerce, freed from all barriers and difficulties, would double or triple; the value of the houses and lands would increase proportionally; the Turkish landowners, now in poverty, would grow rapidly rich, whilst indulging to the full in their ideal of enjoyment here below, the Kaif.
In accordance with the dream of the two races who both claim it, Constantinople would be at the same time the capital of the Bulgarians and of the Hellenes; the Greeks would not lose it, nor the Slavs, without even expelling the Turks.
Page 329Are all these flattering prospects only a dream? I do not think so, and I can appeal to the opinion of Mr. Grant-Duff, now in India as Governor of the Province of Bombay, an ex-member of Parliament, and one of the English statesmen who know and understand the affairs of the Continent the best. He spoke to me fully about Eastern affairs when I spent some time with him in the country at Knebworth, the delightful castle which his friend Lord Lytton, then in India, had lent him. He was a warm partizan of the complete freedom of the Slavs in the Peninsula, and he was one who with Gladstone helped the most in leading English public opinion in this direction. He quoted from one of his speeches in the House of Commons on May 29, 1863, when he said, "Sir, I hope that Constantinople may never belong either to Russian Sclavonians or Servian Sclavonians; and the Servians, to do them justice, have no wish to have it. They are quite content that it should be—as it will, I hope, one day be—a free port, under the protection and guarantee of all Europe and of the whole civilized world."
Still, the Ottoman Power being destined to disappear from Europe, in virtue of fixed historical law, what will take its place? There are three answers to this question—the Peninsula, except Greece, would be divided between Austria and Russia; or one of these empires would occupy the whole; or the races who dwell there might agree to form a federation. The first plan recalls the unhappy division of Poland, for it would give Constantinople to Russia and would sacrifice Roumania, sooner or later, caught as in a vice between the two parts of the Russian Empire. The second plan seems more possible if it could be accomplished by Austria, which already holds NoviBazaar, an important strategic point in the centre of the Peninsula, whilst Germany and England would sooner see Constantinople in the hands of Austria than of Russia. However, such a change could only be brought about by a war of extermination between Austria and Russia, and by imposing upon the freed Jougo-Slavs of the Peninsula a Page 330yoke which they would detest, and which no friends of peace or liberty could desire.
There remains, then, the third solution—the Balkan Confederation; it is the only one which is conformed to the right of the populations to govern themselves, and which avoids giving a dangerous preponderance to one of the two large neighbouring empires. What can be more simple or more equitable than to permit Servians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Greeks, and Turks to dispose of their own fate, and to govern according to their own ideas? All Europe should favour this arrangement, for it would restore the prosperity of ancient times to these countries so long desolated by war and bad governments; and it would prevent the abominable struggle that must be anticipated between the Great Powers when they come to dispute the "the Sick Man's" succession, sword in hand.
This solution, so just and natural, has been for many years advocated by the English Liberals, particularly by Gladstone. It has long been favoured in Athens, and it is still supported by a Hellenic Committee, and by a special paper, La Confédération Orientale, edited with great talent. In Albania a literary and political association has been formed, called Dritta ("light"), with the aim of establishing an understanding between the Albanians of the three confessions—Orthodox, Catholic, and Mussulman—and thus preparing them to take their place in the future federation. In "Lettere Sulla Questione Balcanica," a very instructive pamphlet by M. M. A. Canini, who thoroughly understands Albanian affairs, I see that the Albanians of the north, Ghegi, and the Albanians of the south, Toschi, would not accept the Greek supremacy at any price; but would be inclined to join a federation that would guarantee their autonomy. I met no one in Bulgaria who was not an advocate of federal union; and in Servia, before the late visions of ambition and conquest, it seemed also to be the wish of all. It was one of the points enforced by the Oustarvost (the Constitutional), and I will give an extract from M. Jovan Ristitch's remarkable speech on this subject, Page 331at the banquet of the Liberal Association, Dec. 6, 1884: "In order that we may retain our newly acquired possessions, we must find friends abroad, and we must look for them principally in the Balkan Peninsula.. The Balkan Confederation is not a chimera; it offers a system in which we Easterns may seek refuge, and without which our future will be very uncertain. The Balkan Peninsula forms a whole, not only geographically, but historically also, for the peoples who compose it have had for centuries the same experiences. There is now no alternative; it must be combined into a whole, either by foreign hands or by its own. The Byzantine Empire formerly secured this unity. Upon its ruins the empire of Dushan was about to unite all the Eastern nationalities, and, according to history, this union would have been accomplished if this great emperor, statesman and general, had not been cut off by a premature death. There was no one who could carry on his work in the Balkan Peninsula, which was taken possession of by the Ottoman victors. But now such a united State has become impossible, whether it be called Byzantine, Servian, or Ottoman. Thanks to the re-awakening of the sentiment of nationalities, the unity of theBalkan Peninsula is now only possible as a union and federation of the races of the Balkan, even admitting Turkey, but constitutional Turkey." In an important speech (Hungarian Parliament, October 18, 1886), the Premier Tisza said that the independent and autonomous States of the Balkan Peninsula ought to form a confederation.
This Balkan Confederation should be upon the Swiss model, that is, the races which are but few in numbers must be allowed to take their own place like the others, and not forced into one vast unity. The cantons of Appenzell, Unterwalden, and Bâle, never very large, have on this account been divided into half-cantons, each having its independent life and representatives at the Federal Council. Instead of a large Albania, where the three confessions would always be at strife, could there not be three cantons formed—one for the Catholic Albanians, one for the Orthodox Page 332Albanians, and one for the Albanian Mussulmans? Also Macedonia must not be annexed either to Bulgaria, Greece, or Servia. Each town and department should have its own autonomy, so that no liberties or personal rights should be sacrificed, and Macedonia would have representatives at the two federal councils, on the same footing as those of the States already freed.
Only, before such a confederation can be formed, the absurd and detestable theory of the balance of power lately invented by Servia as a pretext for the most unjustifiable aggressions must be crushed in the bud. It is an absurd theory, for there is nothing in history or in actual facts to justify it. Do we not see in Europe that small States, such as Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, exist by the side of the Great Powers? Is not the confederation of the United States made up of giant States, California, Texas, Ohio, New York, and of very small ones, Rhode Island and Maine? In Switzerland, do not the 160,000 Italians of the Tessin live in happiness and freedom by the side of 2,600,000 French and Germans? If the Bulgarians wish to unite, Servia has no right to oppose the union, for she only exists herself by virtue of the right of the people to settle their own fate.
This theory is odious because its first consequence would be to arouse permanent antagonism and hostility between the young States of the Peninsula, which would be ruined by the excessive armaments which they would be obliged to maintain, and its ultimate result would be to lead them into internecine conflict whenever any one State gained any advantage. Suppose that Greece joined either Crete or Hellenic Thessaly, still irredenta; would Servia and Bulgaria be entitled to oppose it because the balance would be turned against them?
"It is to make confederation possible," wrote a Servian of high rank to me, "that we oppose the union of Bulgaria and Roumelia; because there must be a certain equality amongst the States of a federation; one ought not to be stronger than the rest." It is a strange preparation Page 333for federation, for those who are to be allied to fight about it first! And how contrary to all reason and all idea of justice is such an argument! Thus, because there are more Bulgarians than Servians in the Peninsula, the Bulgarians will not be allowed to unite, without being attacked directly by the Servians!
What should we say if Inner Rhoden, Appenzell, which has 12,844 inhabitants; the half-canton of Niedwalden, which has 11,992; Oberwalden, which has 15,356; and Zug, with 22,994—should go and say to Canton Berne: "You have 532,164 inhabitants; you are therefore stronger than we, which is contrary to the essential nature of a federal State; we are about to join with the cantons, small like ourselves, to cut you in bits, which you will be eternally forbidden to reunite"?
The Servian intellect has been poisoned by the old and mistaken Western ideas of balance of power, international rivalries, and conquests. They ought to rejoice in everything that favours Bulgaria's development and increase in strength and prosperity, because both are, first men, then Christians, and lastly because they belong to the same race. It is clear that it would be a great advantage to Servia to have for neighbour and ally a Bulgaria, rich, prosperous, populated, civilized; for she would first profit by the exchange of merchandise, and then, the more powerful her confederate, the greater her own safety.
The feelings which led the Servians into a war rightly called by the representatives of the Great Powers at Belgrade, fratricidal, are incomprehensible. The southern part of Servia has few inhabitants; there are large tracts of fertile land which only wait for labour and money to produce abundant harvests; instead of using her strength in colonizing this tract, Servia has sacrificed money and able men to conquer a country already freed from the Ottoman yoke, and inhabited by men of Slav race. She is ruining herself to destroy others, without any benefit to any one.
If Servia, instead of siding with the Turks—a monstrosity—Page 334and madly and wickedly attacking her brothers, had joined Bulgaria and Greece in delivering Macedonia, she would now have been in possession of Old Servia, the Greek frontier could have been extended to its ethnic limits, and the rest of the province would have formed a dependency of Bulgaria.
It will probably not be easy to efface completely the remembrance of this unhappy war. It may be feared that it has aroused individual rancour and revenge which will be a great obstacle in the way of a future understanding. It is the duty of patriots, and well-meaning men of both nations, to endeavour to efface these germs of discord and hatred. One of the best means of doing this would be to found a Serbo-Bulgarian Association, which should meet every year in each country alternately. It should be composed of three sections—literary, archæological and historical, and economic. The first would consider the literary productions of both countries and the means of encouraging national literature; the second, everything relating to the history of the Jougo-Slavs—manuscripts, excavations, numismatics, old documents; the third would seek to unite the two peoples on the ground of their common material interests. Such relations and annual meetings would arouse fraternal feelings. The first question to study would be that of a customs union between Servia and Bulgaria, freed from dues. The Zollverein prepared the way for the federal union of the German States.
The Flemish and Dutch literary men also met every year at a Congress, in Belgium or Holland, and these meetings contributed greatly to erase the memories of the struggle of 1830 and to revive the sentiment of community of origin and race.
When the races of the Balkan Peninsula have understood that it is not to their interest to envy, fight, and destroy one another, the idea of the Oriental Confederation will impress itself on every one. Then, let the favourable time come, and this ideal, now so distant, will realize itself quite naturally, but only on condition that it meets with prepared minds.
Page 335If, on the contrary, Servians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Mussulmans, and Albanians, blinded by old prejudices, continue to quarrel and even to fight one another on the slightest pretext, their destiny will be that of Poland; they will be divided between their powerful neighbours or swallowed whole by the strongest. Quod Dei avertant!