Armenia A year at Erzeroom, and on the frontiers of Russia, Turkey, and Persia
Ruined Armenian Church near Erzeroom.
MAP AND WOODCUTS.
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
82 BEEKMAN STREET.
Almost from time immemorial a border warfare has been carried on between the Koordishtribes on the confines of Turkey and Persia, in the mountainous country beginningat Mount Ararat toward the north, and continuing southward to the low lands, wherethe Shat al Arab, the name of the mighty river formed by the junction of the Tigrisand the Euphrates, pours those great volumes of water into the Persian Gulf. The consequenceof the unsettled state of affairs in those wild districts was, that the roads wereunsafe for travelers; merchants were afraid to trust their merchandise to the conveyanceeven of well-armed caravans, for they were constantly pillaged by the Koords, headedin our days by the great chieftains Beder Khan Bey, Noor Ullah Bey, Khan Abdall, andKhan Mahmoud. The chains of mountains which occupy great part of the country in questionare for months every year covered with snow, which even in the elevated plains liesat the depth of many yards; the bands of robbers constantly on the watch for plunderof any kind prevented the mountain paths from being kept open, so that those who escapedfrom the long lances of the Koords perished in the avalanches and the snowdrifts byhundreds every year.
To put a stop, or at least a check, to so lamentable a state of things, the governmentsof Turkey and Persia requested the assistance of England and Russia to [vi]draw up a treaty of peace, and to come to a distinct understanding as to where theline of border ran between the two empires; for hitherto the Koordish tribes of Turkeymade it a virtue to plunder a Persian village, and the Persians, on their side, consideredno action more meritorious, as well as profitable, than an inroad on the Turkish frontier,the forays on both sides being conducted on the same plan. The invading party, alwayson horseback, and with a number of trained led horses, which could travel one hundredmiles without flagging, managed to arrive in the neighborhood of the devoted villageone hour before sunrise. The barking of the village curs was the first notice to thesleeping inhabitants that the enemy was literally at the door. The houses were firedin every direction; the people awoke from sleep, and, trying in confusion to escape,were speared on their thresholds by their invaders; the place was plundered of everything worth taking; and one hour after sunrise the invading bands were in full retreat,driving before them the flocks and herds of their victims, and the children and girlsof the village bound on the led horses, to be sold or brought up as slaves; the resthaving, young and old, men and women, been killed without mercy, to prevent theirgiving the alarm: their victors frequently coming down upon them from a distance ofone hundred to three hundred miles.
In hopes of remedying these misfortunes, a conference was appointed at Erzeroom, wherea Turkish plenipotentiary, Noori Effendi; a Persian plenipotentiary, Merza JafferKhan; a Russian commissioner, Colonel Dainese; and an English commissioner, Colonel[vii]Williams, of the Royal Artillery, were to meet, each with a numerous suite, to discussthe position of the boundary, and to check the border incursions of the Koordish tribes,both by argument and by force of arms, the troops of both nations being ordered toassist the deliberations of the congress at Erzeroom by every endeavor on their partto keep the country in a temporary state of tranquillity. The plenipotentiaries onthe part of Turkey and Persia, and the English and Russian commissioners, enteredupon their arduous task at the beginning of the year 1842. Colonel Williams, to whomthe duties of the English commission had been intrusted, was too unwell to proceedto Erzeroom, and I was appointed in his stead, being at that time private secretaryto Sir Stratford Canning, her majesty’s embassador at Constantinople. Colonel Williamsafterward recovered so much that he was able to set out, and we started together asjoint commissioners, in company with Colonel (afterward General) Dainese, on the partof Russia, a gentleman of very considerable talents and attainments. The discussionsbetween the two governments were protracted by every conceivable difficulty, whichwas thrown in the way of the commissioners principally by the Turks. At length, inJune, 1847, a treaty was signed, in which the confines of the two empires were defined:these, however, being situated in places never surveyed, and only known by traditionalmaps, which had copied the names of places one from another since the invention ofengraving, it was considered advisable that the true situations of these places shouldbe verified in a scientific manner; consequently, a new commission [viii]was named in the year 1848, whose officers were instructed to define the actual positionof the spots enumerated in the treaty above mentioned. These commissioners consistedof Dervish Pasha for Turkey, Merza Jaffer for Persia, Colonel Williams for England,and Colonel Ktchirikoff for Russia.
This party left Bagdad in 1848, surveyed the whole of that hitherto unexplored region,among the Koordish and original Christian tribes, which extends to the east of Mesopotamia,till they finished their difficult and dangerous task at Mount Ararat, on the 16thof September, 1852. The results of this expedition are, I hope, to be presented tothe public by the pen of Colonel Williams, and will, I trust, throw a new and interestinglight upon the manners and customs of the wild mountaineers of those districts, andgive much information relating to the Chaldeans, Maronites, Nestorians, and otherChristian Churches converted in the earliest ages by the successors of the Apostles,of whom we know very little, no travelers hitherto having had the opportunities ofinvestigating their actual condition and their religious tenets which have been affordedto Colonel Williams and the little army under his command.
Armenia, the cradle of the human family, inoffensive and worthless of itself, hasfor centuries, indeed from the beginning of time, been a bone of contention betweenconflicting powers: scarcely has it been made acquainted with the blessings of tranquillityand peace, through the mediation of Great Britain, than again it is to become thetheatre of war, again to be overrun with bands of armed men seeking each other’s destruction,[ix]in a climate which may afford them burial when dead, but which is too barren and inhospitableto provide them with the necessaries of life; and this to satisfy the ambition ofa distant potentate, by whose success they gain no advantage in this world or in thenext.
It is much to be deplored that the Emperor of Russia, by his want of principle, hasbrought the Christian religion into disrepute; for throughout the Levant the Christianshave for years been waiting an opportunity to rise against the oppressors of theirfortunes and their faith. The manner in which the Czar has put himself so flagrantlyin the wrong will be a check to the progress of Christianity. That the step he hasnow been taking has been the great object of his reign, as well as that of all hispredecessors since the time of Peter the Great, will be illustrated in the followingpages.
The accession of a Christian emperor to the throne of Constantinople will be an eventof greater consequence than is generally imagined; for the Sultan of Roum is consideredby all Mohammedans in India, Africa, and all parts of the world, to be the vicegerentof God upon earth, and the Caliph or successor of Mohammed; his downfall, therefore,would shatter the whole fabric of the Mohammedan faith, for the Sultan is the prideand glory of Islam, and the pale Crescent of the East will wane and set when KurieEleison is chanted again under the ancient dome of St. Sofia.
What an unfortunate mistake has been made in not waiting for a real and just occasionfor pressing forward the ranks of the Cross against the Crescent! Then who would nothave joined a righteous cause? [x]who would not have given his wealth, his assistance, or his life, in the defense ofhis faith against the enemies of his religion?
I feel that, in laying this little book before the public, I am committing a rashact, for I am perfectly aware that it has many imperfections. I was prevented fromvisiting several important places in Armenia by an illness so severe, brought on bythe unhealthy climate, that I have not been able to take an active part in life sincethat time. The following pages were written in a very few days, at a time when otheroccupations prevented me from giving them that attention which should always be affordedto a work that is intended for the perusal of the public.
Nevertheless, I consider that, as the countries described are so little known, andas it is not improbable that events of great importance may take place within theirboundaries, I should be open to greater blame in withholding any information, howeverhumble, than in presenting to the reader a meagre account of those wild and sterileregions, whose climate and manners are so different from those which are generallydescribed in the works of Oriental travelers.
These sketches, slight as they are, may perhaps be found useful to the members ofany expedition which the chances of war may occasion to be sent into those remotecountries, by giving them beforehand some intimation of the preparations necessaryto be made for their journey through a district where they would encounter at everystep difficulties which they might not have been led to expect in a latitude considerablyto the south of the Bay of Naples.[xi]
The “Bad Black Sea.”—Coal-field near the Bosporus.—Trebizond from the Sea.—Fish andTurkeys.—The Bazaars.—Coronas.—Ancient Tombs.—Church of St. Sofia.—Preservation ofold Manners and Ceremonies.—Toilet of a Person of Distinction.—Russian Loss in 1828–9.—AncientPrayer.—Varna.—Statistics of Wallachia.—Visit to Abdallah Pasha.—His outward Appearance.—Hislove of medical Experiments.—Trade of Trebizond Page 17
Departure from Trebizond.—A rough Road.—Turkish Pack-horses.—Value of Tea.—The Pipein the East.—Mountain Riding.—Instinct of the Horse.—A Caravan overwhelmed by an Avalanche.—Mountainof Hoshabounar.—A Ride down the Mountain.—Arrival at Erzeroom 35
The Consulate at Erzeroom.—Subterranean Dwellings.—Snow-blindness.— Effects of thesevere Climate.—The City: its Population, Defenses, and Buildings.—Our House and Household.—ArmenianCountry-houses.—The Ox-stable 45
Narrow Escape from Suffocation.—Death of Noori Effendi.—A good Shot.—History of MirzaTekee.—Persian Ideas of the Principles of Government.—The “Blood-drinker.”—Massacreat Kerbela.—Sanctity of the Place.—History of Hossein.—Attack on Kerbela, and Defeatof the Persians.—Good Effects of Commissioners’ Exertions 61[xii]
The Boundary Question.—Koordish Chiefs.—Torture of Artin, an American Christian.—ImprovedState of Society in Turkey.—Execution of a Koord.—Power of Fatalism.—Gratitude ofArtin’s Family Page 81
The Clock of Erzeroom.—A Pasha’s Notions of Horology.—Pathology of Clocks.—The Towerand Dungeon.—Ingenious Mode of Torture.—The modern Prison 99
Spring in Erzeroom.—Coffee-house Diversions.—Koordish Exploits.—Summer Employment.—Preparationof Tezek.—Its Varieties and Uses 105
The Prophet of Khoi.—Climate.—Effects of great Elevation above the Sea.—The GenusHomo.—African Gold-diggings.—Sale of a Family.—Site of Paradise.—Tradition of KhosrefPurveez.—Flowers.—A Flea-antidote.—Origin of the Tulip.—A Party at the Cave of Ferhad,and its Results.—Translation from Hafiz 110