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WITH REMARKS ON H.I.M. MOZUFFER-ED-DIN SHAH, AND THE PRESENT SITUATION IN PERSIA
GENERAL SIR THOMAS EDWARD GORDON
K.C.I.E., C.B., C.S.I.
Formerly Military Attache and Oriental Secretary to Her Majesty's Legation at Tehran.
Author of 'The Roof of the World'
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On revisiting Tehran last autumn, I was struck with the evidence of progress and improvement in Persia, and on returning home I formed the idea of publishing a short account of my journey, with observations and opinions which are based on my previous experiences, and have reference also to what has been recorded by others. In carrying out this idea, I have made use of information given in the well-known books on Persia by Malcolm, Fraser, Watson and Curzon.
'Persia Revisited,' as first written, comprised up to Chapter VI. of the book; but just as I had finished it for publication, the sad news of the assassination of the Shah, Nasr-ed-Din, was received. I then saw that my book, to be complete, should touch on the present situation in Persia, and accordingly I added two chapters which deal with the new Shah and his brothers, and the Sadr Azem and the succession.
The illustrations are from photographs by M. Sevragine of Tehran, with the exception of the likeness of H.I.M. the Shah Mozuffer-ed-Din, and that of H.H. Ali Asghar Khan, Sadr Azem, which latter, by Messrs. W. and D. Downey, of Ebury Street, London, is published by their kind permission.
—London to Baku —Oil-wells and works —Persians abroad —Caspian steamers —Caspian salmon —Enzelli lagoon —The Jews in Persia —Resht trade —'My eye' —Russian road —The tobacco 'strike,' 1891 —Collapse of Tobacco Regie —Moulla opposition
—The late Shah's long reign —His camp life —Habits —Appearance —Persian Telegraph Intelligence Department —Farming the revenues —Condition of the people —The shoe question —The Customs —Importation of arms —Martini-Henry rifles —Indo-European telegraph
—Kasvin grapes —Persian wine —Vineyards in Persia —Wine manufacture —Mount Demavend —Afshar volcanic region —Quicksilver and gold —Tehran water-supply —Village quarrels —Vendetta —Tehran tramways —Bread riots —Mint and copper coin
—Religious tolerance in Tehran —Katie Greenfield's case —Babi sect —Liberal opinions —German enterprise in Persia —Railways in Asia Minor —Russian road extension —Railways to Persian frontiers —The Karun River —Trade development —The Kajar dynasty —Life titles —Chieftainship of tribes —Sanctuary —The Pearl cannon
—The military tribes and the royal guard —Men of the people as great monarchs —Persian sense of humour —Nightingales and poetry —Legendary origin of the royal emblem —Lion and Sun —Ancient Golden Eagle emblem —The Blacksmith's Apron the royal standard
—The Order of the Lion and the Sun —Rex and Dido —Dervishes —Endurance of Persian horses —The Shah's stables —The sanctuary of the stable —Long-distance races —A country of horses —The gymkhana in Tehran —Olive industry near Resht —Return journey —Grosnoje oil field —Russian railway travelling —Improved communication with Tehran
THE SITUATION IN PERSIA (1896).
—Shrine of Shah Abdul Azim —Death of Nasr-ed-Din Shah —Jemal-ed-Din in Tehran —Shiahs and Sunnis —Islam in Persia
THE SITUATION IN PERSIA (1896).
—The Shah Mozuffer-ed-Din —His previous position at Tabriz —Character and disposition —His sons —Accession to the throne —Previous accessions in the Kajar-dynasty —Regalia and crown jewels —Position of the late Shah's two sons, Zil-es-Sultan and Naib-es-Sultaneh —The Sadr Azem (Grand Vazir) —Prompt action on the death of the late Shah
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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
H.I.M. NASR-ED-DIN, THE LATE SHAH, ON THE STEPS OF THE PEACOCK THRONE
FEMALE PIPE-BEARER OF THE ANDERUN
PERSIAN LADY AT HOME
ARMENIAN MOTHER AND CHILDREN
THE PRESENT SHAH (WHEN VALI-AHD) ENTERING HIS CARRIAGE
PERSIAN TURK OF THE MILITARY TRIBES
A MENDICANT DERVISH OF TEHRAN
A DERVISH STORY-TELLER OF TEHRAN
H.I.M. MOZUFFER-ED-DIN SHAH
H.H. ALI ASGHAR KHAN, SADR-AZEM
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INSCRIPTION ON THE SEAL OF THE LATE SHAH, SHOWN ON THE COVER.
'El Sultan, Bin el Sultan, Bin el Sultan, Bin el Sultan. El Sultan, Nasr-ed-Din Shah, Kajar.'
'The King, Son of the King, Son of the King, Son of the King. The King, Nasr-ed-Din Shah, Kajar line.'
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—London to Baku —Oil-wells and works —Persians abroad —Caspian steamers —Caspian salmon —Enzelli lagoon —The Jews in Persia —Resht trade —'My eye' —Russian road —The tobacco 'strike,' 1891 —Collapse of Tobacco Regie —Moulla opposition.
The Persians, as a people still nomadic in their habits, and much given to long pilgrimages, have good knowledge of the ways and means of making a journey pleasant. Their saying, 'Avval rafik, baad tarik' (First a companion, then the road), is one which most travellers can fully appreciate. Accordingly, when planning a trip in the autumn of 1895 to the Land of Iran, I cast about for a companion, and was fortunate enough to meet with two friends, both going that way, and who, moreover, like myself, had previously journeyed in Persia.
We decided to take the Odessa route to Batoum, and we went by Berlin, Oderberg, and Lemberg. At Odessa we found that a less expensive, and more comfortable, though perhaps half a day longer route, lies by Warsaw. On that line there are fewer changes, and only one Customs examination, whereas by, Oderberg there are two examinations, Austrian and Russian. Moreover, through tickets are issued via Warsaw, a convenience not provided via Oderberg—fresh tickets and re-booking of luggage being necessary there, and again both at Pod Voloczyska and Voloczyska, on the Austrian and Russian frontiers. We came in for a crowded train of first-class passengers going from the Vienna direction to Jalta, a favourite seaside place in the Crimea, which has two fashionable seasons—spring and autumn. These people were making for the accelerated mail-steamer, which leaves Odessa for Batoum every Wednesday during the summer service, touching at Sebastopol, Jalta, and Novorossisk. We were making for the same steamer, and found crowded cabins. The mass of luggage to be examined at Voloczyska caused much confusion and delay, and it was only by discreetly managed appeals to the working staff that we were able to push our way and pass on, without anything being left behind. There appeared to be orders for very special examination of books and papers at Voloczyska, and these were carried out in a foolishly perfunctory manner. In my luggage, the man who searched passed over a bulky tourist writing-case, but carried off to a superior a Continental Bradshaw, a blank notebook, and a packet of useful paper, notwithstanding my open show of their innocence. The man soon returned with another official, who smiled at the mistake, and good naturedly helped to close up my baggage.
We began our journey well by a rapid run to Odessa, arriving there on the day of departure of the fast boat, and landing at Batoum in six and a half days from London. The steamers on this service are about 2,500 tons, 2,400 horse-power, with large accommodation for passengers. The cabins are comfortable, and the saloons excellent and well served, and all are lit with the electric light. These boats are, I believe, Tyne-built. They are broad of beam, and behave well in bad weather. Novorossisk is a growing great port, situated in a very pretty bay. It has lately been joined by railway to the main trunk line connecting with Moscow, and passing through Rostov. This connection enables it to attract considerable trade from the Don and the Volga, and also to take much from Rostov and Taganrog, when the Azov approaches are closed with ice. A very fine sea-wall, to give effectual protection to the railway loading-piers, and the shipping generally, is now being completed at a total cost of L850,000. Novorossisk is said to have the biggest 'elevator' in the world. The scenery all along the coast, from the Crimea to Batoum, is very fine, and in autumn the voyage is most enjoyable.
We left Batoum on the night of the day of our arrival. The departure of the through train to Baku had been changed from morning to night, and this allowed of travelling by day over that part of the line which before used to be passed at night. We had previously seen Tiflis, and therefore did not break our journey. The weather was warm, but not such as to cause discomfort. As we approached Tiflis the carriages and buffets became crowded to excess, with townspeople returning from Saturday-to-Monday holiday, the fine weather having enticed them out to various places along the line. The railway-carriages on the Batoum-Baku line are very comfortable, and the refreshment-rooms are frequent and well provided, so travelling there is made easy and pleasant. The journey occupies thirty-two hours.
We reached Baku on September 16, the ninth day from London, and arranged to leave for Enzelli, on the Persian coast, the port for Tehran, at midnight the next day. Through the kindness of a member of the Greek house of Kousis, Theophylactos and Co., we were shown over the oil-wells and refineries belonging to M. Taghioff, a millionaire of Persian origin (the name probably was Taghi Khan). The story goes that, on becoming wealthy through the oil industry in its early days, he presented the young township with a church, school-house, and hospital, and, in recognition of his generous public spirit, the Government gave him a grant of the waste land on which his works now stand, and out of which millions of roubles have come to him from oil-springs. Our visit had the appearance of bringing him luck in the form of a new fountain rush. We had seen all the works and wells; none of the latter were flowing, and the usual steam-pumping was going on. We were about to leave, when a commotion at the wells attracted our attention, and we saw the dark fluid spouting up from two to three hundred feet through the open top of the high-peaked wooden roof erected over each of the wells. On hurrying back, we saw the great iron cap, which is swung vertically when the pump is working, lowered and fixed at some height over the mouth of the well, to drive the outward flow down into the hollow all round and out into the ditch leading to the reservoirs. The force of the gush was shown by the roar of the dash against the iron cap, and the upward rush had the appearance of a solid quivering column. The flow was calculated at fifty thousand gallons an hour. The business of refining is generally in the hands of others than the producers; but some of the larger firms—notably the Rothschilds, Nobel Brothers, and Taghioff—are both producers and refiners. This means of course, the employment of very, much larger capital.
There is a great dash of the gambling element in the oil-well business at Baku. Large sums are spent in boring operations, and success so often stands off that all available capital is sunk in the ground and swallowed up. Even with good signs, it is impossible to foresee the results or the extent of production, and there is also an extraordinary irregularity in the outcome of the separate naphtha-bearing plots. An instance was mentioned to me of a peasant proprietor who had made enough money on which to live sumptuously, but he hungered for more, and engaged in further boring operations. He was on the verge of losing everything, when oil was suddenly struck, and he made a fortune. He laboured hard himself, and literally went to sleep a poor working man, and awoke to find his dream of riches realized.
Baku has been immensely improved in every way of late, and now has good streets, hotels, and shops. Water, which was a great want before, is well supplied from condensers which belong to the town. The rise in the value of house property and building sites within the last ten years has been enormous, and great part of the money thus made has gone to native owners, Persians (or Tartars, as all Mohammedans are called here), and I was told of a plot of building ground with a small house on it, which had been originally bought for 600 roubles, being lately sold for 30,000. The town is growing in size, and new buildings are rising, which give an appearance of prosperity and increasing trade. The harbour is crowded with steamers and sailing vessels, and the wharfs present a busy sight. The loading and unloading is quickly done by steam-cranes and powerful porters, who come in numbers from the Persian districts of Khalkhal and Ardabil. I watched with much interest a gang of these men at work. They were wonderfully quick, quiet, and methodical in their ways, and showed great capacity for handling and carrying heavy weights.
Baku swarms with Persians, resident and migratory. They are seen everywhere—as shopkeepers, mechanics, masons, carpenters, coachmen, carters, and labourers, all in a bustle of business, so different from Persians, at home. Climate or want of confidence produces indolence there, but here and elsewhere out of Persia they show themselves to be active, energetic, and very intelligent. They are in great numbers at all the censes of trade in the adjoining countries—at Constantinople, Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Tiflis, Askhabad, and other towns. Most of the new buildings in Tiflis were built by Persians, and thousands were engaged in the construction of the Trans-Caspian Railway. The permanent workmen now employed on it are largely Persians, and Askhabad has a resident population of over twelve thousand. There were said to be twenty thousand Persians, from the provinces of Azerbaijan and Hamadan, working last summer on the new railway from Tiflis to Alexandropol and Kars, now being built, and doubtless many of them will permanently settle on the line.
It is said that there are half a million thus located and working out of Persia, but I think that this is an exaggerated estimate. Most of them retain their nationality, for while they grumble loudly in their own country, yet when away they swear by it, and save money steadily to enable them to return home. Their nomadic character is the cause of this readiness to seek employment abroad. I was told that in 1894-95 twenty thousand Persian passports were issued from the Embassy in Constantinople. This would include pilgrims as well as home visitors. It is this love of country (not in the sense, however, of patriotism as understood in the West) which makes a Persian cling to his national representative abroad, and willingly pay for frequent registration as a subject who is entitled to protection and permission to return home whenever he may choose. As a rule, the Persian abroad always appears in the distinctive national dress—the tall black lambskin cap and the coat with ample skirt of many pleats.
I have mentioned the Persian porters who are seen at Baku; they are also to be found at Petrovsk and Astrachan, and are generally preferred to the local labourers, who, in common with their class in Russia, take a long drink once a week, often unfitting them for their work the following day. The Persians are of sober habits, and can be relied upon for regular attendance at the wharfs and loading-stages. They have learnt, however, to take an occasional taste of the rakivodka spirit, and when reminded that they are Mohammedans, say that the indulgence was prohibited when no one worked hard. These porters are men of powerful physique, and display very great strength in bearing separate burdens; but they cannot work together and make a joint effort to raise heavy loads, beyond the power of one man. Singly, they are able to lift and carry eighteen poods, Russian weight, equal to six hundred and forty-eight pounds English.
In the newspaper correspondence on the burning Armenian Question, I have seen allusion made to the poor physique of the Armenian people; but as far as my observation goes in Persia, Russian Armenia, and the Caucasus, there is no marked difference between them and the local races, and on the railway between Baku and Tiflis Armenian porters of powerful form are common, where contract labour rates attract men stronger than their fellows.
Though much of the wealth which has come out of the Baku oil-fields has been carried away by foreign capitalists, yet much remains with the inhabitants, and the investment of this has promoted trade in the Caspian provinces, and multiplied the shipping. There are now between one hundred and eighty and two hundred steamers on the Caspian, besides a large number of sailing craft of considerable size, in which German and Swedish, as well as Armenian and Tartar-Persian, capital is employed. The Volga Steam Navigation Company is divided into two companies—one for the river, and the other for the Caspian. The latter owns six large steamers, with cargo capacity of from sixty to eighty thousand poods, liquid measurement, for oil-tank purposes, equalling nine hundred to twelve hundred tons. They have German under-officers, and Russian captains. It is likely that the German officers come from the German colonies on the Volga, and probably some of the capital also comes from that quarter. This Volga Steam Navigation Company was established over fifty years ago by a Scotchman, named Anderson, and some of the vessels first built are still used on the river as cargo-boats.
Many of the best steamers on the Caspian are officered by Swedes and Finns, most of whom speak English, acquired whilst serving in English ships sailing to all parts of the globe. The Mercury Company, which runs the superior steamers and carries the mails on the Caspian, has Swedish and Finn officers, but it is said that they are now to be replaced by Russian naval officers as vacancies occur. This company's vessels are well appointed, have good cabins, and are fitted with the electric light. But the best of Caspian mail-boats are most uncomfortable in rough weather for all but those whom no motion whatever can affect. Owing to the shoal water on all the coast circumference of this sea, the big boats are necessarily keelless, and may be described as but great barges with engines, and when at anchor in a rolling sea their movement is terribly disturbing.
We embarked in the Admiral Korneiloff, one of the Mercury Company's best boats, on the night of September 17, and arrived at Enzelli on the morning of the 19th. I was amused on the voyage to hear the sailors' version of the story how the Caspian became a Russian sea, on which no armed Persian vessel can sail. The sovereignty of this Persian sea was ceded to Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, and the sailors say that on the Shah being pressed over and over again to consent, and desiring to find some good excuse to do so, a courtier, seeing the royal inclination, remarked that Persia suffered sorely from salt soil and water, which made land barren, and that sea-water was of no use for irrigation, nor any other good purpose. The Shah on this asked if it were really true that the water of the Caspian was salt, and on being assured that it was, he said the Russians might have the whole of it.
We found an improvement at Enzelli in the form of a hotel kept by a Greek, with accommodation good enough to be very welcome. We had excellent fresh salmon at breakfast, which reminded me of the doubt that has often been expressed of the true salmon being found in an inland sea. The Caspian fish is a genuine salmon of the same habits as the marine species known in Europe, with the one sad exception that it will not look at nor touch fly or bait in any form or shape, and therefore gives no sport for the rod. The trout in the upper waters of the streams that the salmon run up, take the fly freely and give good sport, but all attempts by keen and clever fishermen to hook a salmon have failed. The fish are largely netted, and same are sent to Tehran packed in ice, while a good business is done in salting what cannot be sold fresh. The existence of salmon in this inland salt sea, which lies eighty-four feet below the level of the ocean, is supposed to be due to its connection with the open sea having been cut off by a great upheaval in the prehistoric time.
After breakfast we were confronted with a functionary new to us in Persia, one charged with the demand for passports and their examination. He is prepared to provide passports for those arriving without them, and to vise when this has not been previously done. Considering the practice in force with Persia's near neighbour, and the crowd of deck-passengers always coming and going, it was not likely that this formality as a source of income would fail to be adopted. The linguistic educational qualification for the post is evidently confined to Russian, for on finding that I spoke Persian, the officer asked me for the information he pretended to seek from the English passports. He acknowledged the farce he was called upon to play, and we proceeded without any farther inquiry. The day was warm, but not oppressively so; the sea-breeze helped the boat across the lagoon and up the Pir-i-Bazaar stream, and the weather being dry, we reached Resht in carriages By the Mobarakabad route, without the splashing plunging through a sea of mud which is the general disagreeable experience of the main road.
The Enzelli Lagoon is a swarming haunt of numerous kinds of wild-fowl and fishing birds. Conspicuous among the waders in the shallows and on the shore are the pelican and the stork. The place is a paradise to them, teeming with fish and frog food. One of my companions described what he had witnessed in a struggle with a wounded stork in the shallow water of this lagoon. He and a friend were out after wild-duck, and his friend, desiring to bag a giant stork, which looked splendid in his strongly contrasted pure white and deep black plumage, fired, and wounded the bird. His Persian servant, with thoughts intent on cooking it, ran, knife in hand, to cut its throat in the orthodox manner, so as to make it lawful for a Mohammedan to eat. The bird, on being seized, struggled hard with its captor, and, snapping its elongated bill widely in wild terror, by accident got the man's head jammed between its mandibles. The keen cutting edges of the long strong beak scarified the man's cheeks, and made him scream with pain and with frantic fear that it was his throat which was being cut. His master went to his assistance and released him by wrenching open the stork's bill, but he was so occupied with supporting his swooning servant that time was given for the wounded stork to hurry away in safety, flapping its long wings and snapping its powerful beak, as is the habit of this voiceless bird, with all the appearance of triumph.
Enzelli is becoming the port of entry, for the North of Persia, of tea from India and China. Till within a very short time most of the tea for Persia, Trans-Caspia, and Russian Turkistan so far as Samarkand, passed up from Bombay by the Persian Gulf ports. The late reduction in Russian railway charges, and the low sea-freights from the East in the oil-steamers returning to Batoum, have brought about this change. Arrangements have been made for transit to Baku of Russian-owned tea consigned to Persia on special terms of Customs drawback, and it is now sold cheaper in Resht than in Baku, where it has a heavy duty added to the price. The thin muslin-like manufactures of India, in demand in Central Asia for wear in the hot dry summer, and which found their way there from the Persian Gulf, are now following the same route as the tea. Thus, steam and waterway are competing still more with the camel, to make the longest way round the shortest one in point of time, and the cheapest to the customers' homes.
As with tea, so Russian beet-sugar is cheaper at Enzelli-Resht than at Baku, owing to the State bounty on export. The consumption of tea and sugar, already large in Persia, is certain to increase in the North through this development of Russian trade. French beet-sugar continues to compete by way of Trebizond to Tabriz, but if the experiment now being tried of manufacturing sugar in the vicinity of Tehran from beet succeeds, the Persians will benefit further by competition.
The Russian trade in Persia is mostly in the hands of Armenians, some of whom have amassed considerable wealth. It is only in the West that the Jew is regarded as the sample of superior sharpness in the walks of life that call for the exercise of the qualities most necessary in the operation of getting the better of one's neighbour. In the East both the Greek and the Armenian are ahead of him in this respect, and the popular saying is, 'One Greek equals two Jews, and one Armenian equals two Greeks.' But, to the credit of the Armenian traders, it should be said that they are bold and enterprising in a newly-opened country, as well as clever in an old one. It may be here mentioned that there is no opening in Persia for the native Jew; he is there refused the facilities which lead to wealth, and is strictly confined to the poorest occupations. It is not unlikely that the severe treatment of the Jews in Persia has its origin in the hatred inspired by the conduct of Saad-u-Dowleh, a Jewish physician, who rose to the position of Supreme Vazir under the King Arghoun Khan, in 1284. This Minister owed his advancement to his pleasing manners and agreeable conversation, and he gained such an ascendancy over his weak royal master as to be allowed to remove all Mohammedans from places of trust and profit, and even to carry his persecution to the length of commanding that no one professing that faith should appear at Court. The Eastern Christians were then much more prominent and numerous than they afterwards became, and Saad-u-Dowleh sank his people's dislike of the Nazarene in his greater hate of the Mohammedan, so that he employed the former to replace the followers of the Arabian Prophet whom he dismissed from office and banished from Court. The penalty of death was exacted for this persecution, for Saad-u-Dowleh was murdered almost at the same instant that his sovereign master expired.
The silk trade of Resht, which has suffered so much for many years from the disease that attacked the silkworms in the Caspian provinces, and spread to all the Persian silk districts, is now recovering. The introduction of cellular seed has been attended with much success, and there is a rapidly-increasing export of cocoons. The fresh start in this old industry has given an impetus to mulberry-tree cultivation, and waste land is in considerable demand for planting purposes.
An attempt is now being made to grow tea on the low hills near Batoum. It is not yet known what may be the ultimate chances of success, but already what is being done there is having the effect of suggesting a similar experiment near Resht. The conditions of the soil on many of the wooded hill-slopes in the Persian Caspian provinces, where every gradation of climate and atmosphere can be met with, appear to be well adapted for the tea-plant. The cart-road to Kasvin, now being constructed by a Russian company, will pass through some of these well-favoured parts, and this will help to draw attention to natural resources which have hitherto been unnoticed.
As old Persian travellers, we were at once reminded of our return to the land of complimentary address and extravagant phrase by the frequent reply 'Chashm' (My eye!), the simple slang expression known in our country, and which 'Trilby' has made better known by its introduction on the stage. The word is an abbreviation of 'Ba sar o chashm' (By my head and eyes! May my eyes be put out, and my head taken off, if I obey not!). We also heard the similar but less formal reply Chira? Why?—meaning, why not? why should I not do as you desire? i.e. you will be obeyed.
We travelled to Kasvin, halfway to Tehran, over the execrable road which leads from Resht. For the first forty miles the landscape was lovely from wooded slopes, green growth and clear running water. The post-houses are just as they were—ill-provided, and affording the very smallest degree of comfort that it is possible for a 'rest-house' to give. They had been in some way improved for the reception of General Prince Karaupatkin, and his suite, who visited Tehran to announce to the Shah the accession of H.I.M. Nicolas II.; but no effort to maintain the improvement had been made, except in one place—Menzil. The on dit in Tehran was, that the successful launching of the Russian cart-road enterprise, now fairly well in hand, is entirely due to Prince Karaupatkin's strong representation on his return to St. Petersburg. He is said to have taken the opportunity of telling the Shah, in answer as to his journey up, that he was greatly surprised to find the road leading to the capital such a very bad one; whereupon his Majesty remarked that the blame lay with his own countrymen, who, after begging for a monopoly concession to construct a good road, had held on to it and done nothing, and they had the right, so long as the contract time allowed, to prevent others from making the road. The Russian press, which interested itself in the matter, pointed out that what was wanted to give an impetus to their trade in North Persia was good roads, not bounties, and it may be that the interest which is believed to be guaranteed by the Government on the road capital will take the place of trade bounties. The money subscribed is sufficient to provide a solidly-built road, and the idea is that it will be aligned so as to be fit for railway purposes in the future. The existing cart-road from Kasvin to Tehran is but a track, lined out fairly straight over a level bit of high-lying country, with a few bridges over small streams. The distance, ninety-five miles, is comfortably covered in fourteen to eighteen hours in carriages drawn by three horses. The nature of the ground makes this road a good fair-weather one, and as the Russian company has rented it from the Persian concessionnaire, we may expect to hear of considerable improvements, so as to encourage an increase of the Persian waggon traffic which already exists on it. The completion of a system of quick communication between the Russian Caspian Sea base and the capital of Persia must attract the practical attention of all who are interested in Persian affairs.
Many of the Moullas, in their character as meddlers, are always ready to step forward in opposition to all matters and measures in which they have not been consulted and conciliated. So the Russian road from Resht was pronounced to be a subject for public agitation by the Tabriz Mujtahid, Mirza Javad Agha, who, since his successful contest over the Tobacco Regie, has claimed to be one of the most important personages in Persia. This priest is very rich, and is said to be personally interested in trade and 'wheat corners' at Tabriz, and as he saw that the new road was likely to draw away some of the Tabriz traffic, he set himself the task of stirring up the Moullas of Resht to resent, on religious grounds, the extended intrusion of Europeans into their town. The pretence of zeal in the cause was poor, because the Resht Moullas are themselves interested in local prosperity, and the agitation failed.
A change is coming over the country in regard to popular feeling towards priestly interference in personal and secular affairs. The claim to have control of the concerns of all men may now be said to be but the first flush of the fiery zeal of divinity students, fresh from the red-hot teachings of bigoted Moulla masters, who regret the loss of their old supremacy, and view with alarm the spread of Liberalism, which seems now to be establishing itself in Persia.
The unfortunate episode of the Tobacco Regie in 1891 gave the Moullas a chance to assert themselves, and they promptly seized the opportunity to champion a popular cause of discontent, and the pity of it was that the enterprise which raised the disturbance was English. This tobacco monopoly had been pictured as a business certain to produce great gains, and the people were thus prepared for the reports which were spread of high prices to be charged on what they regard as almost a necessary of life. The conditions of the country were not fully studied before the monopoly powers were put in force. A suggestion was made that the company's operations should be confined at first to the foreign export, which would have returned a good profit, and that afterwards a beginning should be made at Tehran, to prove to the people that the monopoly would really give them better tobacco, and not raise prices, which the company claimed would be the result of their system. But everything was planned on an extensive scale, and so were prospective profits. The picture of a rapid road to fortune had been exhibited, and it was therefore decided that the full right of monopoly should be established at once. An imprudent beginning was made in exercising the right of search in a manner which alarmed some people for the privacy of their homes, a dangerous suggestion in a Mohammedan community.
The suspicions and fears of all—buyers, sellers, and smokers—were easily worked upon by the priests, ever ready to assert the supremacy of the Church over the State. And then the biggest 'strike' I know of took place. Mirza Hassan, the High-Priest of Kerbela, the most sacred shrine of the Shiah Mohammedans, declared tobacco in Persia to be 'unlawful' to the true believer, and everyone—man, woman, and child—was forbidden to sell or smoke it. The 'strike' took place on a gigantic scale, a million or two certainly being engaged in it, and steps were taken to see the order from Kerbela carried out rigorously. 'Vigilance men,' under the Moullas' directions, made raids on suspected tea-shops, to find and smash the 'kalian' pipes which form part of the stock-in-trade of these places of refreshment. The Shah was faced with the sight of silent and forsaken tea-shops as he passed through the streets of Tehran, and he saw the signs of the censuring strike in the rows of empty benches, on which his subjects used to sit at their simple enjoyment of pipes and tea. The interdiction reached the inner homes of all, and even in the anderuns and boudoirs of the highest (all of which are smoking-rooms) it was rigidly obeyed. The priestly prohibition penetrated to the palaces, and royalty found authority set at defiance in this matter. A princely personage, a non-smoker, is said to have long urged and entreated a harem favourite, too deeply devoted to tobacco, to moderate her indulgence in it, but to no effect. On the strike being ordered, she at once joined it, and his Highness is reported to have said, 'My entreaties were in vain, my bribes of jewels were refused, yet the priest prevails.' And this was at a place where not long before Moullas had been at a discount.
There are now signs of the people resenting the arrogant assumption or power by the Moullas, and freeing themselves from their thraldom. There has always been great liberty of opinion and speech in Persia, and six hundred years ago the poets Khayyam and Hafiz took full advantage of this in expressing their contempt for the 'meddling Moullas.' Not very long ago the donkey-boys in one of the great towns would on occasion reflect the popular feeling by the shout 'Br-r-r-o akhoond!' (Go on, priest!) when they saw a Moulla pattering along on his riding donkey. Biro is Persian for 'go on,' and, rolled and rattled out long and loud, is the cry when droves of load-carrying donkeys are driven. The donkey-boy in Persia is as quick with bold reply as he is in Egypt and elsewhere. There is a story that a high Persian official called out to a boy, whose gang of burden-bearing donkeys obstructed his carriage, 'Out of the way, ass, you driver of asses!' and was promptly answered, 'You are an ass yourself, though a driver of men!'
As a finish to this reference to the Tobacco Regie in Persia, I may mention it is believed that, had the company started as ordinary traders, they, having the command of ready money, would have succeeded well. The commencement made in the centres of tobacco cultivation impressed the peasant producers most favourably; they appreciated the advantages of cash payments, and regretted the cessation of the system, and the governors benefited by the readiness with which the taxes were paid. But the explanation of monopoly, a word which was then unknown in Persia, raised the fears of the people, and those who had the money to spare laid in a supply of tobacco before the concession came into force. This was regarded by the poor as proof of the coming rise in price, and they therefore hailed the Moullas as their deliverers from the threatened calamity of dear tobacco.
The only public debt of Persia is that of a loan contracted in order to pay the compensation for cancelment of this concession, and the expenses which had been incurred; but the sale by the Government of the foreign export (part of the cancelled concession) very nearly provides for the loan. The Societe de 'Tombac' of Constantinople, which bought the monopoly of export, has had difficulties to contend with, caused by a Persian combination to buy from the cultivators and sell to the foreign agents. A prominent Moulla was named as interested in this business, which was in reality at direct variance with the principles on which the priesthood had declared the original concession to be 'unlawful.' This interference with the free trade conditions existing when the Constantinople company made its contract led to a dispute, which ended with a fresh agreement, in which there is said to be a stipulation that, should the Persian Tobacco Regie in its original form be revived at any time, French subjects are to have the first offer.
After disposing of the Tobacco Regie, the triumphant Moullas desired to extend their prohibition to all foreign enterprise in Persia, and they pronounced against the English Bank, which was doing its work quietly, and without detriment to the business of others. But the Shah gave them clearly to understand that their pretensions would be permitted no further, and that they were to cease from troubling. They then made an attempt to establish the impression of their power in a visible sign on all men, by commanding discontinuance of the Persian fashion of shaving the chin, so that the beard should be worn in accordance with Mohammedan custom. Again they talked of organizing coercion gangs, to enforce the order on the barbers, under threat of wrecking their shops. At this time a foreign diplomat, during an audience of the Shah, on being asked by his Majesty, according to his wont, what news there was in the European quarter of the town, mentioned this latest phase of Moulla agitation as tending to unsettle men's minds. The Shah passed his hand lightly over his shaven chin, and said, with a touch of humour and royal assurance: 'See, I shave; let them talk; they can do nothing.'
It is wrong to suppose that the people of Persia are dead to all desire for progress, and that their religion is a bar to such desire. It is not so. Many of the Moullas, it is true, are opposed to education and progress. One frankly said of the people in reference to education, 'They will read the Koran for themselves, and what will be left for us to do?' The country is advancing in general improvement, slowly, but yet moving forward; not standing still or sliding back, as some say. The Moulla struggles in 1891-92 to gain the upper hand produced a feeling of unquiet, and the most was made of all grievances, so as to fan the flames of discontent. Pestilent priests paraded the country, and did their utmost to excite religious fanaticism against the Government. These agitators spoke so loudly and rashly that the ire of the old religious leaders, the higher Moullas, men of learning and tranquil temper, who had not joined the party of retrogression, was roused. The knowledge of this emboldened the sober-minded to speak out against the arrogance and conceit of the new self-elected leaders. Open expression of opinion led to the criticism, 'These priests will next desire to rule over us.' The Nomads, who have always declined to be priest-ridden, also showed that they were ready to resist any attempts to establish a religious supremacy in temporal affairs; and then, by judicious management of rival jealousies and conflicting interests, the Shah succeeded in his policy of complete assertion of the royal power. It may be that the Moullas were made to understand that, just as the Chief Priest had risen at a great assembly before Nadir Shah, and advised him to confine himself to temporal affairs, and not to interfere in matters of religion, so similar sound advice in the reverse order was given for their guidance.
—The late Shah's long reign —His camp life —Habits —Appearance —Persian Telegraph Intelligence Department —Farming the revenues —Condition of the people —The shoe question —The customs —Importation of arms —Martini-Henry rifles —Indo-European telegraph
Nasr-ed-din Shah was the two hundred and fifty-fourth Sovereign who had successively ascended the throne of Persia. He succeeded his father, Mahomed Shah, on September 10, 1848, and would have entered on his jubilee, the fiftieth year of his reign, according to the Mohammedan calendar, on May 6, 1896, had not his life been suddenly cut short by a dastardly assassin on Friday, May 1. This was, I think, the longest reign of any Persian monarch that can be ascertained with historical accuracy, except that of Shah Tamasp, who died A.D. 1576, after occupying the throne for fifty-three years; but this credits him with having begun his reign at the age of ten years. Nasr-ed-Din Shah ascended the throne at the age of seventeen. Up to the last his Majesty was remarkable as retaining all his physical and mental energies; his health was excellent, due no doubt to his love of nomadic life and its simple habits. He was passionately fond of the chase, and passed much of his time in the saddle. It might well be said of him, as of the ancient Persian monarchs, that the royal edicts were written 'at the stirrup of the King,' for his Ministers had to follow him into the camp and the hunting-field, and this prevented his Court becoming lapped in luxury. Large tracts were preserved for him for ibex and moufflon on the mountains, and antelope on the plains, and the hawking of duck or partridge on by-days. This nomadic life, with its hunting habits, encouraged the pleasant, easy manner which attracted his subjects and commanded their confidence. He was an energetic worker, and had full knowledge of all home and foreign affairs. He was superior to all palace intrigues, if any existed, and his Ministers were rarely changed. The long continuance in office of his councillors added to the feeling of public security which his own strong personality had given to the country.
In appearance Nasr-ed-Din Shah was little changed since 1889, when his figure was a well-known one in Europe. He showed the same alertness of step, brightness of look and manner, and smartness of dress, which distinguished him then. In his Court he was a striking figure, in marked contrast to those about him, for it must be confessed that all in attendance showed some neglect of appearance which compared unfavourably with the tout ensemble of their Sovereign. This may possibly have been a subtle form of flattery, so that the Shah alone might catch the eye and be the 'observed of all observers'—'le Roi-Soleil'—of the land of the Lion and the Sun.
No one probably saw more clearly than the Shah that the system of farming out the administration of the provinces from year to year is bad, both for the Treasury and the people; but he knew well that reform, to be sure and certain, must be slow and gradual, for change in Persia, with its ancient traditions and old memories, cannot be effected at one stroke. He had done much to mitigate the evil of the present system by establishing telegraphic communication with all the centres of provincial government, thus placing himself in close touch with his subjects, even in the most remote parts. Gradually the confidence which began in his near neighbourhood had extended throughout the country, and there was a firm belief in the minds of the people that the Shah could be approached by all. But it can well be imagined that it takes a desperate case to induce those who are oppressed in distant places to have recourse to such a public mode of communicating grievances as the telegraph. Yet the telegraph is so employed at times, the senders of the telegrams giving their names openly, and confidently awaiting the result.
The Persian Telegraph Department has a peculiar importance in being the secret agency by which the Shah is served with an independent and reliable daily report of all that goes on throughout the country. The system of direct reports of the conduct of governors, by special resident officials, which was established in the days of Darius the King, has developed into the present secret service daily telegrams. Nominations to all the telegraph appointments are made by the Minister in charge of the department, who bears the appropriate title of Mukbir-i-Dowleh (Intelligencer of the State).
An instance of the power exercised through this system occurred within my personal knowledge a few years ago. A local dignitary in a distant province fell under the frown of the Prince Governor, who, actuated by greed, imposed on him a heavy fine for an imaginary offence. The fine was not paid, on which a charge of contumacy was made, and this was punished by the cruel bastinado and imprisonment. The Telegraph-master, notwithstanding the fact of the Governor being a near relative of the late Shah, reported the circumstance in all its details. The telegraph enabled the Shah to make his presence felt in distant places, as well as his power, for he was in the habit of occasionally summoning a Governor to the office at the other end of the wire, to hear his commands spoken on the spot. In this instance the Shah, after personal inquiry, ordered the release of the prisoner, and on being informed some days later that this had not been done, the Telegraph-master was directed to take the telegraphic royal command to the prison, and see it instantly obeyed. The official carried out his instructions, and the guards at once set the prisoner free.
The system of farming out the provinces gives rise to much grumbling, which perhaps, on close examination, may be found to be without full reason. The real cause of complaint is the absence of fair fixed taxation demands. Every village has to pay a tithe of its annual value to the State, and previous to collection the place is visited by one of the provincial officials, and the fullest details of the circumstances of each family are ascertained. The limit of the official robbery which follows is the ability to pay, as measured by the patience of the sufferers. The peasantry are peaceful, frugal, and easily governed, but there is a point beyond which they cannot be pressed without risk of making them turn on the oppressor. They have now learnt the strength of the defence they possess in the power of making their grievances known. No doubt the provincial levy of taxation charges doubles the State tithe, one-half of the whole amount being taken by the Governor and the officials; but all this does not mean more than one-fifth of the village income, for the general assessment was made before the existing improvement in the circumstances of the cultivators had taken place more or less all over the country. There was then little demand for products which are now exported and paid for in gold, thus giving a high price in the silver currency of the country. After the provincial taxation, there are local charges, which may possibly add a further 2 or 3 per cent, to the total amount. Formerly insecurity and want of confidence confined cultivation and stock-breeding to the barest limits, but it is evident now that the inhabitants can look to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and they are extending their fields of exertion. On the whole, it may be said that the peasantry and labouring classes in Persia are fairly well off, and I think their condition can bear a favourable comparison with that of the same classes in other countries.
In the course of my journeying in Persia, I generally found excellent quarters in the village houses. The rather mean outer appearance of the dwellings conveys the idea of poor accommodation within, but the reality is a pleasing disclosure of plain but well-carpeted rooms, with dados of matting or felt for the backs of the sitters by the wall. I always looked out for village lodgings when travelling off the main roads, and in wintry weather they were very comfortable from their open well-built clay fireplaces giving out heat without the nuisance of smoke. On these occasions I had ample opportunity to observe the every-day life of the people, and I was struck with much which showed that their manners and ways had been favourably touched and turned by a softening civilization of old date. I also there saw clear evidence of the origin of the Eastern shoe question, a matter which has often given rise to warm discussion in Persia and India; I allude to the removal of shoes on entering the inner rooms of a house. In India it is taken to imply inferiority, and since the establishment of British supremacy the custom has never been complied with by a European except in cases of personal employment in a native State. I remember an instance in point when a sergeant piper of a Highland regiment took service with one of the Punjab Sikh chiefs, to instruct a bagpipe band which the Rajah had formed in admiration of Scottish Highland music. In the contract paper which set forth in detail the duties, pay, and allowances of the instructor, the sergeant expressly stipulated that he should not be required to remove his shoes on entering the Rajah's room when a European was present. The origin of the custom of removing the shoes was clearly to avoid soiling the carpets in the house or tent, on which the inmates sat, ate, and slept.
Felts and rush-mats, no doubt, formed the first floor-coverings for tents and houses; but as arts and manufactures grew in Central Asia, the pastoral tribes, with whom, there being little or no agricultural work for the women and children, the woollen industries began, introduced carpets with coloured designs, many of the patterns of which are known to be of very old date, and still remain in the hands of certain families as their own carefully-guarded secrets and property. These carpets then became their pictures, framed in felt side-strips, on which people sat, slept, and transacted business. At meals the centre is covered with a cloth, on which the dishes are placed; and I think the carpet is regarded similarly as a well-polished dining-table was in the West in olden days, when the cloth was removed at the end of the courses. At other times it may be supposed that the pretty carpets are their pictures on the floor, just as ours are on the wall; in fact, many carpets of old design are so lovely and delicate that they are hung on the walls of European residents' houses in Persia as being too good to be trodden on. In the village houses the peasants always leave their shoes at the inner doors, and when a man arrives in riding-boots, with no intention of staying long, he complies with the object of the custom by sitting on the edge of the carpet, or felt, and tucking his legs underneath him, so that the feet may not touch or soil it. In this there is no question of inferior and superior, for all are socially equal; it is merely a matter of good manners and friendly feeling, just as signified in the West by removal of the hat or cap. It would appear that in the reception of Western Envoys at the Court of Persia it was customary to change the boots or shoes for slippers, or to cover them with these; but the practice was generally regarded as derogatory to the dignity of the national representative, and sometimes became the subject of strong protest and resentment. There is reason to believe that the custom always cropped up with every Envoy as an annoying cause of heated discussion and disagreeable feeling. On the occasion of the reception of Mr. Anthony Jenkinson, Queen Elizabeth's Envoy at the Court of Persia in 1561, this shoe question assumed an acute form; and when a pair of the Shah's slippers was sent to him to be worn at the interview with his Majesty, it is said that what was meant as attention was taken for insult. The interview took place without the slippers being used, and the meeting was not of a cordial character.
But besides this shoe difficulty at the Court of Persia, there was also a divergence of opinion regarding the lower garments, as the tight knee-breeches and hose of the West were considered improper in the East, and it is believed that the roomy Turkish shalwar trousers were required to be worn as 'overalls' to hide the legs on occasions of royal audience. In connection with this phase of Eastern idea, an incident happened with Sir Douglas Forsyth's diplomatic mission to the Amir of Kashgar in 1873-74, which is worth mentioning here. The camp-sergeant with the mission was Sergeant Rhind, of the 92nd Highlanders, and on the Envoy and staff being received at Yarkand by the Governor of that province, the second highest dignitary in the kingdom, it was understood that, as he was most exacting in the full observance of all formalities, much would depend upon his report of our demeanour, appearance, and general conduct. This Governor kept quite a little Court, and we accordingly paid our visit in all the show of a dress parade. Sergeant Rhind attended in kilted uniform, and his appearance attracted considerable shy and sly notice. Mahomed Yunis, the Governor, was a man of severe ideas, and while pretending not to see the Highlander, who stood behind us during the interview, he was reported to say after our departure that his costume appeared to be incomplete. Some weeks afterwards, on our reaching Kashgar, the capital in the North, and preparing for the formal audience of the Sovereign, the famous Ataligh Ghazi, the Court master of the ceremonies, appeared suddenly before the appointed time, and announced most peremptorily that the sergeant was to accompany us fully dressed. He explained that the kilt with bare knees was objectionable, and could not be tolerated at the Ataligh's Court; so the trews had to be substituted for the showy garb of old Gaul. The indoor dress worn by Persian ladies is not unlike our Highland kilt.
The shoe question was finally settled in a clause of the Turkmanchai treaty of 1828, which is accepted by all the foreign legations. It provides that goloshes or shoe-coverings shall be worn, to be removed before entering the audience-room or going into the Shah's presence, and this practice continues at the present time. The 'dragoman' establishments are much more attached to old ideas than Turks and Persians, and they cling to their presumed monopoly of knowledge of all Court and social customs in order to enhance their importance. The Persians move with the times, and understand Western modes of showing respect; yet I heard it said by a local light that it was a breach of good taste to salute the Shah by lifting the hat, and that it offended Mohammedan notions of propriety to remove the head-covering in society. Accordingly, I once saw some European gentlemen wearing their hats in the reception-room of one of the Shah's Ministers; but on observing others who were known to be well acquainted with Persian feeling entering with hat in hand, they, who were under the guidance of a 'dragoman', adopted the European custom. In Fraser's 'Persia', we are told that when Shah Abbas the Great received Sir Dodmore Cotton, Ambassador from James I., his Majesty, 'being desirous of pleasing his guests, drank to the health of the King of England. At the name of his Sovereign the Ambassador stood up and took off his hat. Abbas smiled, and likewise raised his turban in token of respect.'
The farming system which is applied to the Customs in Persia continues to cause considerable loss to the State. An extension of the same direct control as is exercised in the Telegraph Department would show most favourable results. Under the present short-sighted system the interests of all the contractors lie in suppressing correct information and giving misleading statistics, so that the annual bidding may be kept low. But notwithstanding this, the truth leaks out to indicate that trade in Persia is increasing. There are now signs of practical advice at Tehran, to consider the establishment of a properly constituted Persian control Board of Customs, by which a well-organized service, under the central authority, may be maintained, and a considerable increase of revenue secured. It may be said that all merchants in Persia benefit by the farming system, for under it they can arrange to have their goods passed on payment of a lump sum, and with but the merest show of examination of invoices. In this manner they manage to get consignments through the Customs at less than the fixed tariff. On a late rumour of a foreign control of the Customs being likely, the Russian Armenian merchants engaged in trade in the North frankly represented the fact of arrangements being made with the authorities at the ports, to take less than the treaty 5 per cent. on exports and imports, and they urged that the custom was of such old date and long continuance as to make it a fully recognised right. They stated that their trade was established on this basis, and they protested against any change. There can be no doubt that the same custom prevails in the South, and all along the frontier. As the farming contracts are much subdivided, competition operates to reduce rates, so as to induce change of trade routes. Thus, I heard of a merchant in Central Persia, whose communications are with the South, asking a contractor in the North for a quotation of his terms, so as to make it advantageous for him to send his goods that way. In the matter of contraband articles, the farming system lends itself to encourage the passing of what the State forbids, as the middlemen and their servants are tempted to make as much money as possible during the short time of their annual contract engagements. In a country like Persia, where pride of arms prevails to keep up the habit of carrying them, there is a steady demand for modern breech-loading rifles. The Government is alive to the necessity of preventing the importation of firearms, and from time to time seizures are made of consignments smuggled under the guise of merchandise. With a large nomad and semi-nomad population of warlike and predatory instincts, almost every man of whom lays by money most diligently, bit by bit, for the purchase of a breechloader and cartridges, it is obvious that the interests of Government call for the strongest check to the foreign trade in arms; but it may be taken for granted that so long as the Customs are farmed out on the present system the supply will be passed in to meet the demand. The favourite weapon is the Martini-Henry, and there are many thousands in the possession of the nomads and villagers. This rifle, as the Peabody-Martini, was first introduced into the country during the late Turko-Russian War, when, being the Turkish army weapon, it fell by thousands into the hands of Russian soldiers, who sold them to the Persian sutlers and pedlars allowed to accompany the troops. The Persians had shown their usual energy and enterprise abroad by becoming camp-traders with the Russian forces engaged on active service in Asia Minor, and they sent the captured arms, which they purchased in large numbers, over the border into Persia, where they fetched good prices. A profitable trade in cartridges followed the introduction of the new rifle, and judging by the well-filled belts and bandoliers which I saw on the North-western frontier (Kurdistan and Azerbaijan), the business appears to be a well established one. In the course of time and trade this rifle found its way South to the fighting Bakhtiaris, Lurs, and Arabs, and the general vote in its favour brought about a supply of 'trade' Martini-Henry arms imported by way of the Persian Gulf, so that now in Persia what is known as the 'Marteen' has become the popular arm in private possession. The 'Remington' has its possessors and admirers among the Karun Arab tribes, who get their arms from Baghdad and Turkish sources. There is a brisk trade in ammunition for the breechloader, and so keen is the desire to secure and supplement the supply that solid-drawn brass cartridge-cases, which admit of being used over and over again, with boxes of caps and sets of reloading apparatus, are now in brisk demand.
At Kasvin our eyes were refreshed with the sight of the excellently-equipped Indo-European telegraph line, which comes in there from Tabriz and the North, and passes on to Tehran and India. This line, with its wires carried on tall iron standard posts stretching far in a dominating manner over the country, seems to stand forth as a strong witness to the effectual command and control exercised by the Shah's Government at the present time. On the first establishment of this line there was much conjecture as to the great risk of continued interruption from the mischief of man; and failure to complete the land working at the outset dissatisfied commercial men in England, so that to maintain certain communication the Red Sea cable was laid. But new land lines were erected which worked equally well as the cable, and the firm insistence by the Persian Government on heavy damages for all malicious injury gradually developed the perfect security which comes from local interests demanding the fullest protection. The service by this line is now as certain and quick as that of the ocean cable; in fact, I think the average speed of messages between London and Calcutta is greater via Tehran than via Suez. There was an interesting race last year between the companies to communicate to India the result of the Derby, and it was won in a way by the cable line. The messages were simultaneously despatched from Epsom, that by Tehran reaching Bombay five seconds before the other, but as the name of the winning horse only was given correctly, Karachi, six hundred miles distant, had to be asked for a repetition of the names of the second and third horses. The cable telegram gave the three names accurately. Had Karachi been agreed upon as the point of arrival for India, instead of Bombay, the Indo-European would have won this telegraph race.
—Kasvin grapes —Persian wine —Vineyards in Persia —Wine manufacture —Mount Demavend —Afshar volcanic region —Quicksilver and gold —Tehran water-supply —Village quarrels —Vendetta —Tehran tramways —Bread riots —Mint and copper coin.
The grape harvest was being gathered at Kasvin as we passed through. The place is well known for its extensive vineyards and fine fruit-gardens. Its golden grapes have a wide reputation, and these, with the white species, also grown there, are in steady demand for wine manufacture, which is carried on in the town, notwithstanding the greatly disproportionate number of Moullas among the inhabitants. Large quantities of the grapes are also sent to Tehran for wine purposes there. Persia keeps up the character for strong wine which it had 600 B.C., when the Scythian invaders took to it so eagerly as to establish the saying, 'As drunk as a Scythian.' It was said that these hard-headed, deep-drinking, wild warriors were always thirsting for 'another skinful,' and were ever ready to declare that the last was always the best. Eighteen hundred years later, Hafiz, the merry poet, sang aloud the praises of Shiraz wine, which to this day bears a high reputation in Persia, a reputation which was royally good in the traditional bygone time long before Cyrus, when it appears to have been highly appreciated in the festivities of Glorious Jamshed, the founder of Persepolis. The poet Omar Khayyam, in moralizing over the ruins of the fallen splendour of that famous place, speaks in Fitzgerald's 'Rubaiyat':
'They say the lion and the lizard keep The Court where Jamshed gloried and drank deep.'
The Persian poet-historian Firdausi ascribes to Jamshed the discovery of wine in his leisure from kingly duties and scientific pursuits, for to him is attributed the invention of many useful arts, and the introduction of the solar year for measurement of time, the first day of which, when the sun enters Aries, he ordered to be celebrated by a splendid festival. It is called Nauroz, or New Year's Day, and is still the greatest festival in Persia. This single institution of former days, under a different religion and system of measuring time, has triumphed over the introduction of Mohammedanism, and is observed with as much joy and festivity now as it was by the ancient inhabitants of Persia.
According to Moulla Akbar's manuscripts, quoted in Malcolm's 'History of Persia,' Jamshed was immoderately fond of grapes, and desired to preserve some which were placed in a large vessel and lodged in a vault for future use. When the vessel was opened, the grapes had fermented, and their juice in this state was so acid that the King believed it must be poisonous. He had some other vessels filled with the juice, and 'Poison' written upon each; these were placed in his room. It happened that one of his favourite ladies was afflicted with nervous headaches, the pain of which distracted her so much that she desired death, and observing a vessel with 'Poison' written on it, she took it and swallowed its contents. The wine, for such it had become, overpowered the lady, who fell down in a sound sleep, and awoke much refreshed. Delighted with the remedy, she repeated the doses so often that the King's 'poison' was all drunk. He soon discovered this, and forced the lady to confess what she had done. A quantity of wine was then made, and Jamshed and all his Court drank of the new beverage, which, from the circumstance that led to its discovery, is to this day known in Persia as zahr-i-khush, or the pleasing poison. After that the manufacture of wine became a regular industry, and spread from Shiraz, where it originated. At the present time the process of manufacture is similar to what it was then, in that the grape-juice is collected in large Ali-Baba-like jars and buried in the ground. Alexander the Great is said to have followed the festive example of his royal predecessor, and to have drunk deep in the majestic halls of Persepolis. It has been supposed by some that he caused the splendid palaces there to be set on fire in a drunken freak.
As a pendant to the story of a lady's discovery, in the time of Jamshed, of wine as an efficacious cure for nervous headache, another is told which ascribes to a lady the withdrawal of a royal decree against the sale and use of wine. The Shah Hussein, on his accession to the throne in 1694, displayed his religious zeal by forbidding the sale of wine, and he ordered the destruction of all the stock of it that was in the royal cellars at Ispahan. But his grandmother, by feigning herself ill, and wholly dependent upon wine for cure, not only prevailed upon him to revoke the decree, but also persuaded him to drink some in pure regard to herself, with the result that he fell away from priestly influence and became a tippler. Unfortunately for the nation, this grandmother's guidance led Shah Hussein to ruin by wine and women, and dragged him down to the deep degradation of surrendering Persia to the cruel tyranny of the Afghan occupation.
Wood being scarce in Persia, and poles, stakes, and sticks for upright and lateral support not being easily procurable, the mode of culture of the vine has come to be by planting in deep broad trenches, with high sloping banks, up and over which the stems and branches run and fall. The trenches are made to lie so as to allow of the bank-slopes having the best exposure. This is the system followed on the flat, but in hilly ground, by means of careful trimming and the assistance of piled stones, the plants are made to develop strong standard stems, with bunchy, bushy tops. I was particularly struck a few years ago with the neat, well-tended vineyards at the village of Imam-Zadeh-Ismail, in the hills about forty miles north-west of Persepolis. Almost the whole of the village lands were laid out in vineyards, well walled and beautifully kept. The vines looked as if they were tended by those who understood their culture well, and they appeared to thrive wonderfully on the light soil of the place. Surprising energy had been shown in clearing the ground, which was naturally stony; and there was abundant evidence of much patient labour in the garden-like enclosures. Vineyards occupied all the flat ground on which the village stood, and they extended up the slopes. Hillside clearing was going on all around for further planting of vines, which were seen to flourish there. Raisins are largely made there, and I was told by my Kashkai conductor (for I was well off the beaten track and required a guide), who seemed to know what he was talking about, that the fresh grapes were used for wine, but not in the village. The religious character of the chief inhabitants of the village, who are sheikhs, and guardians of the Holy Shrine of the mausoleum of the Imam-Zadeh-Ismail, which lies within its limits, prevents the preparation there of the forbidden fermented juice of the grape. The shrine is endowed with the village lands rent free, and all these lands are devoted to vine cultivation. The vineyards at Shiraz have been greatly extended of late years, and particular attention is now paid to the cultivation of the Kholar grape, as the best suited for wine. This grape takes its name from the village of Kholar, which is within a few miles of the town. Tabriz, Hamadan, Isfahan, and Shiraz produce the best wine in Persia. Red and white are made at all these places; the white wine of Hamadan is a sort of strong sauterne, and some of it has quite a delicate flavour; Isfahan produces a wine of a port character, and the best shiraz is sometimes like new madeira. All these wines resemble in strength those that are now made in Australia. Something is wanting in the mode of manufacture to make the wine capable of improvement with keeping, and also of bearing transport. The advent of the Russian road will probably lead to the development of Kasvin's large area of fruitful vines, and the success which has attended vineyard industry at Derbend, on the Caspian, may encourage similar enterprise there.
As neither law nor custom forbids the manufacture of wine by non-Mohammedans, the cultivation of the grape spreads, and the making of wine increases. From this it may be inferred, as there is little export of wine from Persia, that all the produce is not consumed by non-Mohammedans. As a matter of fact, the religious law which forbids wine to Mohammedans is not rigidly observed; in truth, they are not all total abstainers, and the delightful poison, as chronicled by Moulla Akbar, is known to be a convenient remedy for all manner of moods, ills, and complaints, nervous, imaginary, and real. They have been described as drinking well when they do break the religious law, for they have a saying that 'there is as much sin in a glass as in a flagon.' The Persians have never thoroughly accommodated themselves to the creed of their Semitic conquerors; they show profound respect for the externals of Mohammedanism, and are sincere in their practice of piety and the obligations of religion and charity; but they have always indulged in the fancies and ideas of the great school of free-thinking philosopher Sofis, whose observance of the ordinances of severe and joyless life is notedly lax.
The weather was lovely as we journeyed over the Kasvin plain to Tehran, towards the end of September. Autumn in the North of Persia is a gloriously fine season, almost spring-like in many ways, and, indeed, it is called there the 'second spring.' The landscape then, though nearly barren of verdure, has a beauty of its own in warm soft colours, and the atmospheric effects on the hills and distances, evening and morning, are of wonderfully delicate tones and tints. The prominent feature in the landscape near Tehran is the grand cone-shaped Mount Demavend, about forty miles to the north-east, which shoots up 19,400 feet above ocean-level, and overtops all the surrounding heights by 6,000 feet or more. It stood out bold, cold, and clear against the blue sky, and looked beautifully white with a fresh covering of new snow, and it was more than usually distinct, from being clear of the cloud-crown it usually wears. In the evening the massive peak presented a splendid appearance, looking as in a white heat from the shine of the setting sun, which, though lost to view below the horizon, yet lighted up the old volcano.
Demavend has long been asleep, but the great earthquakes of 1891, 1893 and 1895 in Astrabad and Kuchan to the eastward, and Khalkhal in the north-west, show that its underground fires are still alight. The scene of the last is about one hundred miles north-east of the old volcanic region of Afshar, remarkable for its remains of vast 'cinter' cones, formed by the flowing geysers of long, long ago, and which were shattered and scattered by some mighty explosion, when the great geysers boiled up and burst their walls. Here is seen the Takht-i-Suliman, a ruined fort of very ancient date, which local tradition describes as one of King Solomon's royal residences, shared by his Queen, Belgheiz (of Sheba), whose summer throne is also shown on a mountain height above. This ruin incloses a flowing geyser of tepid sea-green water, about 170 feet deep, the temperature of which was 66 deg. when I visited the place in 1892. Near it is the Zindan-i-Suliman (Solomon's Dungeon), an extinct geyser, 350 feet deep. It shows as a massive 'cinter' cone, 440 feet high, standing prominently up in the plain. This district was visited and fully described by the late Sir Henry Rawlinson, and a further account of it has been given by Mr. Theodore Bent, who, with Mrs. Bent, went there in 1889.
The volcanic district of Afshar has long been known for its quicksilver, which from time to time has been found in small quantities. Some seven or eight hundred years ago Arab miners laboured long in their search for the main cinnabar vein which undoubtedly lies hidden there, and their wide workings in laying open a whole hillside, where signs of cinnabar are still seen, show what great gangs of labourers they must have had at their command. The Persian Mines Corporation in 1891-92 engaged in operations at the same point, but, after considerable sinking of shafts and driving of galleries into the heart of the hill, they decided to cease work, being disappointed, like their Arab predecessors, in not finding quickly what they had traced by clear signs up to its mountain source. A few miles below the site of these cinnabar-mine operations there are ancient gold-washing workings, and within thirty miles are heavy veins of quartz.
Tehran displays a marked advance in many of the resources of civilization; houses of an improved style are springing up, the roadways are better attended to, and there is a great increase in the number of carriages. The Prime Minister's new house, near the British Legation, is situated in beautiful gardens, set off with pretty lakelets and terraced grounds, which give slopes for flowing waterfalls. These gardens, in common with all in the town, are tenanted every year by nightingales of sweet song. It is now proposed to enclose an adjoining available space to form a people's park, which would be a great place of enjoyment in summer to a people of poetic imagination like the Persians, who delight in the green glade with the cool sound of flowing water. The severe cholera epidemic of 1892 showed the absolute necessity of an improvement in the rude sanitary system which then existed, and a beginning has been made in the daily careful cleaning of the streets and removal of refuse. But a better and increased water-supply is greatly needed for the town, which is becoming larger every year. People who have money to spend appear to be attracted more than ever to the capital. Those who before were content with the provincial towns now build houses in Tehran. The superior houses have garden-ground attached, and much tree-planting is done. The demand for water increases, but the supply is not supplemented. Years ago the utmost was made of the sources from which water is drawn; no pains have been spared to extract every possible drop of water from the heart of the hills within a considerable distance, and to convey it undiminished by evaporation to the city. This is done by underground channels called kanats, which are excavated with great ingenuity and skill, and are marvels of industry. This system prevails all over Persia, and existence as well as the fertility of the soil mainly depends on the water-supply thus obtained. The sandy expanse round Yezd in the desert of South-eastern Persia has been made literally to blossom like the rose by means of these subterranean channels, some of which are tunnelled for a distance of thirty miles. I was there in spring-time, and was then able to see what a wonder-worker water is in Persia.
The pressing need of more water for Tehran has now drawn attention to the proposals of some years ago for increasing the supply. One of these was to divert to the south an affluent of the Upper Lar, which rises in the Elburz range, and flows into the Caspian. It was seen that this could be done by cutting a new channel and tunnelling from a point sufficiently high, where the stream runs in an elevated valley between the double ridge of the range. The work would have been similar, but simpler, to what was completed last year in Madras, where the upper Periyar stream was changed from a western to an eastern flow. The execution of the Lar project would be easy, and it would not practically affect the volume of water in the main stream, which receives many tributaries below the proposed point of piercing the watershed. But the Lar Valley was one of the Shah's summer retreats, and a favourite pasture-ground for his brood mares and young stock. It is, moreover, a popular resort of flock-owning nomads, and as the Shah's love of camp life there led him to fear injury to the grassy plains and slopes of his favourite highlands, the project was abandoned.
There was another scheme to construct a series of reservoirs by means of strong barriers at the foot of the lower ravines of the Elburz range, eight miles north of Tehran, in which to keep the winter water which comes from the melting snow. The whole mountain-chain is covered with snow each year from top to bottom. In April and May the snow melts, and the precious water flows away where it is not wanted. Were this water stored, it would be made available in the succeeding hot months. The sloping plain between the hills and the town is capable, with irrigation, of great fertility, and the construction of these reservoirs would prove a veritable gold-mine.
The distribution of water is a most important part of village administration in Persia. The work of cutting off and letting on water with most exact observance of time-measurements is carried out by a waterman called mirab (lord of the water) whose office is hereditary, subject, however, to the special judgment of popular opinion. The duties demand a clear head and nimble foot, and the waterman, in hastening from point to point, has to show all the alertness of a street lamplighter. He has to keep a correct count of time, for water is apportioned by the hour, and his memory for all the details of change, sale, and transfer must be good and unchallenged. When he becomes too old, or otherwise incapacitated for the performance of his work with the necessary quickness, he avails himself of the assistance of a son or someone whom he proposes with the village approval to bring up as his successor. The old man is then to be seen going leisurely along the water-courses which issue from the underground channels, accompanied by his young deputy carrying the long-handled Persian spade, ready to run and execute his orders. Disputes between village and village over kanat water-cuts form the subject of severe fights occasionally, and the saying is that water and women are the main causes of village quarrels in Persia.
It was a hot day in June, and having been up before daylight so as to start at earliest dawn and avoid the mid-day heat for my whole party, we were all in the enjoyment of afternoon sleep, when the courtyard was invaded by a shouting mob of excited villagers, calling on me to hear their story and bear witness to their wounds. They said they were the tenants of the landlord whose house I was occupying, and they begged me as his guest to make a statement of their case, so that justice might be done. There had been a dispute over an irrigation channel, and the opposing side having mustered strong, they were overpowered by numbers and badly beaten. Some of the hurts they had received were ugly to look at, having been inflicted with the long-handled Persian spade, the foot-flanges of which make it a dangerous weapon. After a patient hearing, and getting some plaster and simple dressing for their cuts and bruises, they went away satisfied. So much for water as a cause of quarrel, but an instance of the other cause, woman, which had come under my notice shortly before, was more seriously characteristic. It occurred at Shamsabad, on the border of the Aberkoh Desert, between Yezd and Shiraz. I halted there after the long night journey across the desert, and immediately I was settled in my village quarters, the master of the house in which I lodged asked me to look at the gunshot wounds of one of his young men, and to prescribe and provide in any way I could towards healing them. I asked if any bones were broken, saying that I could do little or nothing in such a case. I was told that they were but flesh wounds, and on the young man coming in, I was shown a ragged long cut between the lower ribs, and a deepish wound in the fleshy part of the leg, which had evidently been made by slugs or buckshot. I prescribed careful cleansing, and the use of lint and lotion, and I gave a supply of the necessary material. I asked how the thing had happened, and the young fellow told me that he and his brother had been treacherously attacked at a water-mill, whilst having the family grain ground, by some Aberkoh youths, between whose family and his there was a longstanding blood-feud; that they both had been shot at close quarters, and his brother had died of his wounds two days before.
The master of the house, who was also headman of the village, explained that the blood-feud had been carried on for five generations, and had originated in a 'little maid' who, being betrothed in their village, had eloped with a young man of Aberkoh. The disappointed bridegroom had afterwards taken his successful rival's life, and the deadly demand of a life for a life had, in accordance with the law of revenge, been made and exacted for the past five generations. He said the elders had hoped the quarrel was nearly dead, as there had been long peace between the parties, but suddenly the hot blood of youth had risen to renew it, and now there was fear of further murder. In that remote district the ancient first principles of natural justice had still strong hold upon the people, and formed, in the absence of established law, the defence of families and communities.
The knowledge that a man is considered disgraced who allows the blood of his father or brother to pass unrevenged makes many a murderer in thought pause, and depart from the deed. Accordingly, in those lawless parts, as a rule, order reigns, and disputes and differences are discussed by the village 'gray-beards,' who generally are able to arrange a compromise. But in the reckless rage of a lost love the deed is done, which carries its fatal consequences to future generations, as in the case I have mentioned. I told the old village headman, who was really the local judge, that in some of the wild parts of Firanghistan there were similar occurrences, and that the best form of reconciliation in the present instance would be 'wife for wife,' the first offending family giving a girl-love to a husband-lover on the other side, and thus finally closing the quarrel in the happiest manner. I said that under such circumstances intermarriages were generally the best means of improving friendship and terminating feuds between families.
The Tehran street tramways continue to work, though the profit return is small. The company began with graduated fares, but I heard they were considering a minimum general charge, which it was thought would encourage more traffic, especially in the visits of women to one another, as their outdoor dress is unsuited to walking in comfort. The tramway cars have separate compartments for women. The travelling pace is necessarily slow, in order to avoid hurt or harm to people and animals in the crowded thoroughfares. In the East, accidents at the hands of Europeans or their employes are not readily understood or easily accepted as such. The Tehran Tramways Company has had its trials in this respect. At one time it was the heavy hurt of a boy, son of a Syud, one of the 'pure lineage', a descendant of the family of the Prophet, on which the populace, roused by the lashing lamentations of the father, damaged the car and tore up the line. On another occasion a man, in obstinate disregard of warning, tried to enter at the front, and was thrown under the wheels. Again the excitable bystanders were worked up to fury and violence, and the Governor of the town gave judgment against the company for 'blood-money'. The counter-claim for damage done to the line enabled a compromise to be effected. Oriental indifference is the chief cause of the accidents. 'It is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him through whom they come.' For 'offences', the Oriental reading is 'accidents'.
In all large Persian towns there is a numerous class of 'roughs' known as the kullah-numdah (felt-caps; they wear a brown hard-felt low hat without a brim), excitable and reckless, and always ready for disturbance. They are the 'casuals', who live from hand to mouth, those to whom an appeal can be made by the careful working class when the price of bread is run up to famine figure, owing to the 'cornering' of wheat, which of late years has been much practised in Persia. The baker used to be the first victim of popular fury in a bread riot, and it is said that one was baked alive in his own oven. But in these times of grain speculation in Persia, the people have learnt to look in 'wheat corners' for the real cause of dear bread, and in consequence the bread riots have become more formidable, as was proved lately at Tabriz. On a previous occasion the Vali Ahd (now H.I.M. the Shah), who, as Governor-General of Azerbaijan, resided at Tabriz, found himself unable to cope with the difficulty, and abandoned his projected visit to Tehran, so as to apply the money he had provided for it to cheapening bread for the people. This practical pocket-sympathy with them secured a popularity which will bring its reward.
Next to the 'wheat-ring' as a cause of disturbance and riot comes what may be called the 'copper-ring' of Tehran, which is likely to produce serious trouble throughout the country. The Royal Mint in Persia is worked on the farming system, the evils of which have now extended to the currency. The low price of copper allows of it being coined at an enormous profit, and advantage has been taken of this to a dangerous extent. The whole country is now poisoned with 'black money,' as the coppers are called, and it is at a heavy discount. This bears cruelly on the labouring classes and all who are paid in copper coin. Owing to exchange with Europe keeping above silver, that metal cannot be imported and coined, so as to give a gain to the Mint-master, who has no idea of sacrificing any of the great profit he has made on copper. No silver has been coined since March, 1895, and this is the Mint-master's excuse for sending out copper in great quantities, to take the place of silver. Twenty copper shahi go to a kran (present exchange value 4-1/2d.), and in the absence of silver employers of labour pay wholly in copper, which for bazaar purposes is at a discount, so much so that, when a purchase is beyond question above a kran in amount, an agreement as to payment in silver or copper is first made, and then the bargaining begins. In a country where money bears a high value, as proved by the fact that accounts are still reckoned in dinars, an imaginary coin, of which one thousand go to a silver kran and fifty to a copper shahi, the depreciation I have mentioned is a very serious affair, for it touches the mass of the people sorely. When travelling off the beaten track in Persia, I have always been amused and interested in hearing my head-servant announce loudly in a tone of importance and satisfaction to my village host for the night that I had ordered so many 'thousands' to be given for house-room, fuel, barley, straw, etc. The kran was never mentioned; it was always a 'thousand.'[A]
[Footnote: A: Since the above was written, information has been received that the late Shah, about three weeks before his death, promulgated a decree directing the Mint coinage of copper to be suspended for a term of five years, and intimating that the Customs, Post-office and Telegraph departments would accept copper coin to a certain amount in cash transactions, at a fixed rate. And, further, arrangements have been made with the Imperial Bank of Persia to purchase, on account of the Government, copper coin up to a certain sum, from small bona-fide holders who are in possession of it in the regular course of retail business for the necessaries of life.]
—Religious tolerance in Tehran —Katie Greenfield's case —Babi sect —Liberal opinions —German enterprise in Persia —Railways in Asia Minor —Russian road extension —Railways to Persian frontiers —The Karun River —Trade development —The Kajar dynasty —Life titles —Chieftainship of tribes —Sanctuary —The Pearl cannon.
The late Shah was always liberal and conciliatory in the treatment of his Christian subjects throughout the country, and this is a matter which, at the present time, deserves special notice. In the history of Persia many proofs of friendly feeling towards Christians are to be found, and the sovereigns appear to have led the popular mind in the way of goodwill to them. Shah Abbas the Great was an example of kind and considerate tolerance, and it was Shah Abbas II who said of them, 'It is for God, not for me to judge of men's consciences: and I will never interfere with what belongs to the tribunal of the Great Creator and Lord of the universe.' The Western Christian missionaries are fully protected in their mission work among the Eastern Christians in Persia on the understanding that they do not actively and directly engage in proselytizing Mohammedans.
The American Presbyterian is the only mission in Tehran, and it carries on its work so smoothly and judiciously that the sensitive susceptibilities of the most fanatical Moullas are never roused nor ruffled. They have succeeded well by never attempting too much. They show their desire to benefit all classes and creeds, and during the severe cholera outbreak In 1892 the hospital they established in the city for the medical treatment of all comers up to the utmost extent of their accommodation and ability was a powerful and convincing proof of their good work and will. The disease was of a very fatal type, and its deadly ravages called forth a display of devotion and self-sacrifice which deserved and obtained the highest commendation from all Persians and Europeans.
While on this subject, the splendid example set by the Governor of the town, the Vazir Isa Khan, should be noticed. He was very wealthy, and did much to relieve the sufferings and wants of the poor who were attacked by the disease. He remained in the city while the epidemic raged, and would not seek safety in flight to the adjoining mountains, as many had done. But, sad to say, he fell a victim at the last, and his wife, who had remained with him throughout, died of the disease two days before him.
It will be remembered that in 1891 an agitation was raised regarding the reported abduction of an Armenian girl, named Katie Greenfield, by a Kurd in Persian Kurdistan. An attempt which was made to take the girl back to her family caused the couple to cross the frontier into Turkish Kurdistan, and great excitement among the Kurds on both sides of the border was created. The contention grew, and commissioners and consuls, with troops, Persian and Turkish, took part in it. In the end it was made perfectly clear that the girl had gone off with Aziz, the Kurd, as the husband of her own choice, and had embraced the Mohammedan faith by her own wish. The Kurds in Persian Kurdistan appear to live on friendly terms with their Armenian village neighbours, and on this occasion a runaway love-match became the cause of some popular excitement in England, and much trouble and tumult on the Perso-Turkish frontier.