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A RUSSIAN ACCOUNT OF THE SEAT OF WAR IN ASIATIC
For some months previous to the outbreak of hostilities with Turkey there appeared in the Russki Invalid—the St. Petersburg official military journal
a series of reports on the countries about to become the scene of military operations. These reports, excellent specimens of what military reports should be, are an indication of the care and forethought with which the enterprise on which the Russian army is now engaged has been prepared. It is evident that each detail has been carefully worked out, and the soldiers of the Tsar are now carrying out a scheme carefully elaborated beforehand. Success in war is too much a matter of accident to make it safe to predict the result; but this much may be said, that if careful organisation, forethought, and a full recognition of the difficulties to be encountered were the sole elements of success, then of a certainty the Russian arms would succeed; but, besides accidents, which may upset the best calculations, there are weak points in the constitution of the empire which react on the army: the bulk of the population is only partially civilised, and portions of territory more recently acquired have not been thoroughly assimilated, and are liable to become disaffected. The Russians themselves admit these sources of weakness. At any rate, it is impossible to withhold respect from the military chiefs who, undaunted by the disasters of the Crimean war, have toiled on and forged the terrible Weapon now wielded by the Tsar. It will be regrettable if we in England, fearing for our interests in India, and feeling a natural sympathy with our told ally, should vent our irritation on Ithe Russian army and people, and bring about a bitter feeling between
the two countries. Armies, it must be remembered, have nothing to do with the diplomatists who set them in motion. It would be quite logical to hope that Russian diplomacy may be utterly confounded, and even to wish some of their diplomatists at the bottom of the Dead Sea ; and yet to sympathize with the soldiers who are now pushing forward to a deathstruggle with their hereditary foe, over a country which has been the grave of so many thousands of their forefathers. The rank and file know nothing of strategical positions whose significance can only become manifest in, possibly, half a century of time; and they have no desire to bar the way to any part of the world against us or any one else. Their sole wish is to strike a hated foe, free their oppressed brethren, and return to their homes and neglected fields. There was something touching in the words of the Tsar to his soldiers as they moved on to the Pruth : “Protshaite Rebyeta” (Good-bye, children); and we, too, although fully determined to hold our own against all comers, may yet wish the Russian soldier “God speed.” But to return to the reports on the scene of operations. The valley of the Danube and Bulgaria have been often and fully described, but of the seat of war in Asia, little authentic is really known, and that little is from the works of travellers who have merely passed through the country. The Russians claim that the only surveysl and reliable accounts of Asiatic Turkey
A map of Asiatic Turkey has been lithographed at Tiflis by the Russian War Department; it is said to be a very good one, but there are difficulties in the way of a foreigner obtaining a copy.
are theirs, and their military paper a rule, very bad, owing partly to the refers with pride to the fact that it is semi-barbarous state of the country, to Russian military officers that the and partly to the Turkish custom of world is indebted for this information. travelling on horseback, and having The following brief account of the their loads carried on beasts of burpart of Asia Minor in which the den. To such an extent do they Russian armies are now operating has carry this preference, that although been condensed from articles which there is a tolerable post-road between have appeared in the Russki Invalid at Erzeroum and Trebizond, until quite different times.
lately the mails were carried on pack The highlands of Armenia form the animals. north-eastern portion of Asia Minor. Erzeroum is situated at the junction About the centre of these highlands is of all the chief roads leading through the town of Erzeroum, at an elevation the province, and stands on the highof 6,000 feet above the sea level. In the way connecting the basin of the Black vicinity of this town nearly all the Sea, and consequently Europe, with principal rivers of Asia Minor flowing the interior of Asiatic Turkey and into the Black Sea, the Caspian, and Persia ; its importance, both military the Persian Gulf take their rise. The and commercial, has not been exaggergeneral feature of Asia Minor is a ated. The road from Erzeroum to series of terraces or high lands, slop- Trebizond, described as the only good ing gradually from east to south-west, road in the province, cost the governthe Armenian table-land being the ment 1,750,000 roubles; this road is highest of these terraces.
continued to Tabriz in Persia. From The Vilayet of Erzeroum is bounded Erzeroum there are roads to Ardahan to the north-west by the Vilayet of Kars, Erzinjan, Mush, Bitlis, and Trebizond, to the north-east and east Van. by Russian and Persian territory, to The climate of the Armenian highthe south and west by the Vilayet of lands is temperate and healthy. It Bagdad, and Siwas. It includes the varies of course with the elevation. Armenian table-land, which is traversed In places, the olive, cotton, and rice are by mountain ranges separated from found ; in other parts the climate is too each other by plains, valleys, and rigorous for wheat, and the inhabitlakes. These mountain ranges run ants grow barley. The uninhabited parallel to one another; their sides are, mountain tops are visited only in as a rule, steep; but the plateaus and summer when the wandering Khurdish mountain tops are covered with rich tribes find excellent pasturage for their pasture, and furnish food for vast cattle. herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. The Erzeroum plateau, as already The highest peaks of the mountains of mentioned, is some 6,000 feet above the Armenia attain to an elevation of sea level. Winter begins here towards 16,000 feet.
the end of November, and continues to Of the Armenian rivers the Churuk March. The winter is cold, and there is runs into the Black Sea at Batoum; much snow. The average temperature into the Caspian Sea run the Kura is 27°F.-lowest temperature, 30 below and the Arax; into the Persian Gulf zero. After the beginning of March the Euphrates, and its confluent, the the snow begins to melt. During the Tigris. As means of communication, day the thermometer usually stands the Armenian rivers are valueless; above freezing point; rain and snow and owing to their sudden rise, they alternate, and by the end of the month are often a great impediment to move the snow has disappeared ; by the end of ment.
May it has almost entirely disappeared The roads in Asiatic Turkey are, as also from the mountain tops. The
summer is usually fairly cool, the communities, ruled over by herediaverage temperature 76° F. in the tary chiefs whose authority is by no shade ; the highest temperature in the means absolute. Some of the Khurds sun is 100°– 112° F. The rainfall is have acquired the rudiments of civil inconsiderable ; the sky clear ; even life, and occupy themselves with ings and nights cool. The range of agriculture or handicraft, but the temperature in the twenty-four hours majority lead a wandering life, which is considerable. The mercury falls has intense fascinations for them. In from 112° in the sun to 54°—60° at summer they roam over the mountains night. At the lower elevations, for with their flocks and herds, and in instance, in the Valley of the Arax, winter retire to mud huts, built in the climate is milder. In winter the deep valleys and ravines, where they thermometer rarely stands so low as vegetate until spring. Their ideas of 23° About Bayazid, in summer, the religion are loose. They call themthermometer registers 135° in the selves Mahometans of the sect of
Omar, but of the tenets of MahometThe inhabitants of the Vilayet of anism they know little, and have only Erzeroum are composed for the most adopted some of the Mussulman ceropart of three races—Turks, Khurds, monies. They drink wine. Among and Armenians. The first are grouped the Khurds are Yezidies or Devilmainly in the northern part of the worshippers, who profess an equal province, the second in the southern hatred for both Christians and Musportion, and the third in the south- sulmans. eastern portion. The population of the The Khurds are described as a tall province is 610,744 males (1,221,488 and warlike race, but untamed, and of both sexes), of these 427,712 are unfitted for regular soldiers ; their Mahometans and 183,042 Christians. armed force is composed exclusively “Judging from these figures, the com of mounted men. In former wars the position of the population would appear Khurds assisted the Russians, and to favour the maintenance of Mussul- although not much to be depended man power and the stability of their on, were found useful as scouts and rule; on a nearer view, however, guides. matters appear in a different light. Of the Turks (189,950 men) a RusThe religious hatred which exists sian writer has naturally not much between the Sunites and the Shiites, good to say. “The weak and apathetic which forms one of the elements of character of the Turk has long been weakness of the Turkish empire, must acknowledged. The Turks of the old be taken into account; also the fact school, who remember the past glories that the Turkish government has not of the Turkish empire, display, in hitherto been able to bring into sub- place of the warlike enthusiasm of jection the wandering Khurdish tribes, their ancestors, a passive hatred of the or to rely on their assistance ; they Christian world, combined with an therefore constitute an element always intense dislike of all change. The ready to turn on the side of the enemies young Turks, who have acquired some of Turkey."
rudiments of civilisation chiefly from The Khurds (207,049 men), both in European adventurers, have adopted language and descent, are a distinct all the vices of semi-civilisation. It race, allied neither to Turks nor must, however, be allowed that the Tartars. Inhabiting the southern por- Turks possess one merit-being the tion of Trans-Caucasia, the southern masters of subject races, they do and south-eastern part of Anatolia, not resort to shuffling and cringing, and the western part of Persia, they but act openly and above-board; are divided into many tribes or their character is therefore free from
those blemishes which are character from the Euphrates, has a population istic of the oppressed--blemishes so of 60,000 inhabitants. It is a strongly deeply ingrained in the characters of fortified town, with a bastioned enceinte. the Armenians, Greeks, and Jews of a citadel, and detached forts flanking Asia Minor.”
the approaches. The parapet of the Armenians (157,583 men).' The fortress is of earth, from 25 to 30 feet numbers of this race inhabiting Asiatic thick; the ditch 77 feet broad, and Turkey have diminished of late days from 20 to 24 feet deep. The citadel Since 1829 numbers are said to have is of stone, in the centre of the emigrated to Russian territory. Their town, and is used as a magazine and lot does not appear to be a pleasant arsenal ; it is not considered capable one; they are oppressed by both of making a prolonged defence against Turks and Khurds. The population modern artillery. The Russians took of Armenia is employed mainly in Erzeroum in 1829, but it was then agriculture and tending cattle. The weakly fortified. soil in places is extremely rich, return. The fortifications of Kars, a town of ing crops of from fifty to a hundred 20,000 inhabitants, have been imfold. The population have always proved after each war between Russia abundance of wheat and barley in and Turkey; they now consist of the their granaries. “The produce of the old fortifications round the town (these country might be very much increased are of little account), a citadel, and if a remedy were found for the un- twelve detached outworks of strong favourable conditions in which the profile, placed on well-selected sites province is placed, viz., the want of round the town in a circle whose a market, the insecurity of property, radius is about 3,000 yards. Kars is the heavy taxation, &c. At present in fact an intrenched camp. It is 3,000,000 poods 1 of wheat, 2,000,000 divided into two parts by the Kars poods of barley, 700,000 poods of rye river. are grown annually in the province. It was not intended to burden this Besides this Armenia produces cotton, article with military details, but the flax, hemp, tobacco, and wine, and in following extract from the Petersburg some parts rice and olives ; added to paper of the 14th of this month (June) this, during the greater part of the may interest non-military readers, as year there is excellent pasturage.” the situation is very clearly defined. The country is not rich in wood, and The article is a long one and gives a a lack of fuel appears to be one of the detailed account of the fortifications drawbacks to its development; but round Kars; it concludes as follows: coal has been found in Asia Minor. “Regarding the fortifications of the Sheep and cattle abound, but there Kars intrenched camp, from the point is a lack of horses : the numbers are of view of attack and defence, we come said to be--sheep, 3,000,000; goats, to the following conclusions , 1,000,000; horned cattle, 500,000; “Its strong points are: 1. The horses, 97,000.
favourable situation of the heights on The mineral wealth of Armenia is which the works are placed, which said to be great, but, with the excep command the surrounding country. 2. tion of some salt works and stone. The mutual support afforded by the quarries, quite unworked. No attempt works to one another by artillery fire. is made to work up raw material; 3. The rocky soil rendering siege and the only factory in the province is one mining operations difficult. for making boots for the army. As “ The weak points may be thus regards the two principal fortresses, summed up : Erzeroum, situated about four miles “1. The straggling nature of the
1 A pood=forty pounds English. defences caused by their being cut in
two by the deep ravine through which Asiatic Turkey; it shows at any rate the Kars river flows, and the too the careful way in which the Russian great extension of the line of defence. authorities have caused it to be exa2. The absence of ditches to some of mined before invading it. Should the the works. 3. The difficulty of repair invasion prove successful, and the ing damage to parapets, owing to the Russians decide on retaining the prolack of earth. 4. the absence in some vince they have gained—we shall hear of the works of flanking defence for debated frequently enough the questhe ditches. 5. The insufficiency of tion-How will this affect England ? shell-proof accommodation for men The question is mainly a commercial and stores. The barracks can accom- one, and hinges on the significance of modate some 3,000 men, and the maga Russia's having a grip on the land zines are not built to hold more than and river communications between 50,000 poods of wheat, which is barely Europe and Central Asia, through four weeks' allowance for the garrison. Asia Minor and Syria. 6. The absence of water in most of the The possession of Erzeroum will works and the difficulty of obtaining give her at once the main road to it from the Kars river. 8. The in- Persia from the Black Sea and the security of the powder magazines from head waters of the Euphrates. More an enemy's fire. To this we may add than forty years ago Captain Chesney, the defence of Kars is rendered more in his report on the navigation of the difficult by the presence of a large Euphrates, called attention to the imcivil population, who, in case of a portance of Erzeroum, and even then blockade or a siege, will have to be fed looked on the Russians at Tiflis as from the garrison magazines."
dangerous rivals to us in the markets Asiatic Turkey, as a field for mili- of Central Asia. Diarbekir is distant tary operations, is thus described :- from Erzeroum, as the crow flies, some “Regarded from a military point of 120 miles, and is connected with it by view, that part of Asiatic Turkey which roads. From Diarbekir there is a road, adjoins our frontier is by no means which was traversed by Von Moltke unfavourable for military operations; in 1837, to Biredschik, the point at the population generally is not favour- which the Euphrates becomes naviable to the Turkish rule; the resources gable, and the station selected by of the country in corn, cattle, and Chesney for his steamers. The road, pasturage are abundant, and there it is true, passes through the Mesopowill be no lack of supplies if the in- tamian desert, and there is no reason habitants, finding they have nothing to to suppose at present that the Rusfear from the army, remain in their sians purpose pushing so far; and villages and supply our troops on even should they do so—and, to go payment. The climate is healthy, a step farther, should they place and suited for the cantonment of their steamers on the Euphrates, and troops if supplied with tents. The open up the line from the Persian army can move along fairly spacious Gulf to the Syrian port of Scanderoon, valleys in which they will generally through Aleppo, which Chesney confind roads; the mountain passes, it is sidered quite feasible, and strongly true, are difficult, and the country well urged on our Government-would this suited for an obstinate defence. In compromise our interests, or would it conclusion," adds the Russki Invalid, be a benefit to mankind ? The point " to capture Kars and Erzeroum we is one more for commercial men to shall be compelled to exert our utmost decide on than for diplomatists or efforts."
soldiers. This much is certain : it is It is hoped that the above summary a necessity of national existence that has given a fair idea of a portion of a country should take action when