- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

Edwin Munsell Bliss


Note from the administration of the page numbering is preserved, so the book can be used for quoting. Also we did our best to keep the layout as close to the original as possible.


General View of the Gardens of Van

[caption] GENERAL VIEW OF THE GARDENS OF VAN. The hill in the background is the Acropolis, occupying the site of the ancient city, which dates back beyond the time of Christ. The light trees in the foreground are poplars, which are planted in numbers where there are streams, to furnish timber for the houses.

[page 19]



Geographical Extent—Topography—Physical Characteristics—Products—Traveling and Transportation—Building.

The Turkish Empire at the beginning of 1896 included: in Europe, Albania, Macedonia, and the southeastern portion of the Balkan Peninsula; in Asia, Asia Minor, Eastern Turkey or Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, Syria, and a comparatively small section of Southern Arabia. In nominal subjection was the large African province of Tripoli, while Egypt and Bulgaria were reckoned as tributary States. The total area may be estimated as follows:

Europe . . . . . . . 63,850 square miles
Asia . . . . . . . 729,170
Total . . . . . . . 793,020    
Add Tripoli . . . . . . . 398,873
Total . . . . . . . 1,191.893    
Bulgaria . . . . . . . 37,860
Egypt . . . . . . . 400,000
Island of Samos . . . . . . . 210
Total . . . . . . . 438,070    
Grand Total . . . . . . . 1,629,963    

A better idea of the extent will be gained from the statement that the immediate possessions cover very nearly the same territory as the United States east of the Mississippi, while the addition of Tripoli carries the line to include Minne-

[page 20] TOPOGRAPHY.

sota and Louisiana, and the entire possessions correspond to the section east of a line drawn south from the western boundary of the Dakotas and cutting Texas in two.

It is, however, by no means a compact country, as will readily be seen by the map, and the different sections are as unlike to as they are distant from each other. The difference between Albania and Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt, is scarcely less great than that between Maine and Honduras, Oregon and Cuba. This great diversity in topography carries with it corresponding diversity in the general characteristics of the people, and both must be kept in mind if the situation, political and social, is to be understood.

Topographically the general characteristics of the Turkish Empire, whether in Europe or Asia, are a great extent of coast line and a large amount of mountainous country. With the exception of the Mesopotamia plain, a portion of Northern Syria and the plateaus of Western Asia Minor, the whole Empire is distinctly mountainous. In European Turkey the mountains extend from Montenegro into Greece; and until within a hundred miles of Constantinople, with the exception of the valley of the Vardar, there is scarcely any plain at all. Asiatic Turkey may be divided into four sections: Asia Minor, Eastern Turkey, Syria and Mesopotamia. Asia Minor includes the country west of a line drawn north from the Gulf of Iskanderun to the Black Sea; Eastern Turkey the remainder eastward to the Persian border; Syria includes the section south of the Taurus and east of the Mediterranean to the Euphrates; and Mesopotamia covers the great valley between the Euphrates and Tigris and the section between the Tigris and the Persian border as far south as the Persian Gulf,


From the very eastern end of the Black Sea along its southern coast, along the Sea of Marmora, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, extends a range of mountains, broken only by occasional passes; while from the Mediterranean through to the Persian border a line almost as sharp as that of a seacoast separates the mountainous region known historically as Armenia, more lately as Kurdistan or Eastern Turkey, from the level of Mesopotamia. So also the Lebanon range, extending from this same point of departure, the Gulf of Iskanderun, separates the narrow coast line from the Syrian Desert and the Hauran.

The coast has almost no harbors worthy of the name. Constantinople, with its Bosporus and Golden Horn, is famous; Smyrna has a good harbor, but Trebizond, Samsun and Ineboli on the Black Sea; Adalia, Mersine, Alexandretta, Beirut and Jaffa on the Mediterranean, are open roadsteads. In European Turkey there are fairly good harbors at Kavala and Salonica on the Aegean, but none on the coast of the Adriatic. The mountain ranges have very few passes. The most important ones in Asiatic Turkey are on the north from Trebizond to Erzrum, from Samsun south to Marsovan and Sivas, and from Ineboli to Kastamuni and Angora; and on the south from Mersine and Adana to Nidgeh and Cesarea, from Marash to Malatia and Harput, and from Diarbekir to Harput. On the east there are passes from Erzrum to Kars, from Van to Trebizond, from Mosul by Rowandiz to Lake Urumia, and from Bagdad to Hamadan. There are of course other roads, but they are so precipitous as to be most difficult of passage. The western section of Asia Minor is mountainous, without special ranges, and there are no passes of the same nature as those that cross the northern and southern ranges


of mountains. Still the country is very rough and there are only a few roads easy of travel.

In such a country it is natural to expect that the scenery should be fine, and the expectation is not disappointed. Along the Tigris there are views unsurpassed, except perhaps among the high Alps or the Himalayas, for grandeur. As the river cuts its way between lofty precipices and catches glimpses through the valleys of snowclad summits, one gets an idea of the strange effect it must have had upon Xenophon and his ten thousand as they toiled along the path still easily traced on the east bank. The approach to the city of Rowandiz from Mosul and Arbela is through a gorge, where the road, which winds for 2000 feet up a precipice, furnishes views equal to any in Switzerland. The author, passing, here fired his gun expecting an echo, but was disappointed and was just starting on when from far down the canon there came a faint sound. Nearer and nearer it came, hurled back and forth from cliff to cliff, until the echo was almost deafening, and he was satisfied.

A very different kind of scenery is that over the plains. The view from Mardin, bounded by the Sinjar Hills, nearly 100 miles away, is one never to be forgotten. The great Mesopotamia plain lies at one’s feet, like a gorgeous carpet of many colors, and the villages like children’s playthings dot it with miniature pictures of life. So too the views over the Cesarea plain, from the slopes of the snowclad Argeus; over the Harput plain, from the Deli Baba Pass near Erzrum, and from the summits back of Trebizond and Samsun, where the Black Sea first breaks on the view; and most unique perhaps of all, that from the citadel of Van, with the gardens and lake in the foreground, and volcanic Sipan Dagh looming up in


the background. Of all the mountains Ararat is certainly the most beautiful. From whatever direction it is seen its symmetrical sides and regular summit appear perfectly approachable, yet so difficult is the ascent that to the people it seems almost as if God had forbidden its summit to be profaned. Very different from all these is the region near Brusa, with its Bithynian Olympus, its lake of Nicaea, and its vineyards, reminding one of Southern France. In some future day when traveling is not only safe, but easy, searchers after the beautiful as well as the grand, will find Turkey a favorite field of travel.

Over the plateaus of Asia Minor and the great Mesopotamia plain, passage is easy. Through the mountainous section of Eastern Turkey it is almost as difficult in any direction as over the great ranges. The Romans had built causeways in every direction, but in the later Byzantine times, these had fallen into disuse, and the great pitfalls occasioned by the dropping out of huge blocks of stone made them almost im-passable. In a few instances, the Turkish Sultans made some efforts to repair these causeways, but they were seldom successful. The result was that everything was carried on horses, mules or camels, and such a thing as a cart or carriage was unknown. There have been various attempts on the part of the Turkish government to develop a system of carriage roads, especially within the past twenty years. Of these there were five specially important ones designed to connect Bagdad and Persia with the seacoast. One from Constantinople via Nicomedia, Angora, Sivas and Diarbekir to Mardin, Mosul and Bagdad; one from Samsun on the Black Sea via Amasia connecting with the first at Sivas; one from Smyrna via Konieh and Cesarea also connecting with the other at

[page 24] RAILROADS.

Sivas; one from Alexandretta via Aleppo and Urfa to Diarbekir on the north, and on the south via Nisibin to Mosul connecting with the others at Diarbekir and Mosul. On the north there was a road from Trebi-zond via Erzrum and Van into Persia. In Syria the only roads of importance are from Beirut and Khaifa to Damascus. At the present time there are scarcely any roads worthy of the name anywhere in the empire, except between Trebizond and Erzrum and between Beirut and Damascus.

There are a few railroads. The first to be built was from Smyrna to Aidin. That was followed by one from Smyrna to Manisa, extended on to Alashehir; then followed one from Constantinople to Nicomedia, since extended somewhat on the way to Angora; one from Mersine to Adana, and one from the coast to Brusa. It was the plan for all these to converge into a great railway to Bagdad, but, like so many other enterprises, they have proved unsuccessful. In European Turkey, owing largely to the influence of Austria, there has been better success, and both Salonica and Constantinople are connected by rail with Vienna and Paris.

The climate of the Turkish Empire is very varied. In European Turkey, Western Asia Minor and Northern Eastern Turkey it is temperate; while Syria and Mesopotamia are almost torrid in their heat. Undoubtedly the lack of trees has much to do with the intense heat of the plains of Northern Syria, and even of sections of Asia Minor. The rains have washed the soil off the hills and mountains in many places, leaving bare rock, the reflection from which is intense in summer, while in winter the cold is almost equally unendurable. The snows throughout Eastern Turkey are very severe, rendering the roads almost impassable in winter, so that

[page 25] FERTILITY.

caravans are frequently detained for days and weeks, and sometimes goods on their way from Erzrum and Van into Persia are delayed for several months. In Western Asia Minor, there is comparatively little snow, but the winter season is one of rain, and the soil, being in the main clay, renders travel exceedingly difficult. In Syria the intense heat of the plain may be escaped by going to the higher slopes of Lebanon. Thus the inhabitants of Beirut have a pleasant resort within a few hours’ ride. In Mesopotamia, however, this opportunity does not exist, and almost the only relief from the intense heat in Mosul and Bagdad, is found by taking refuge in cellars.

The whole empire is extraordinarily fertile. The great Mesopotamia plain will bear the richest harvests with even the rudest form of agriculture; so also the plateaus of Asia Minor and the valleys of Macedonia. There is scarcely a level square mile in the whole empire that does not yield excellent returns for very little labor. Originally there were large forests. They have however almost entirely disappeared, and the only sections of forest to-day are along the shores of the Black Sea, in the region of Bitlis and between Marash and the Gulf of Iskanderun. Elsewhere the country is desolate, and the traveler is often directed on his way by landmarks of single trees. Comparatively small portions of the empire are, however, under cultivation. There are wide extended pasturages for herds and flocks, but these do not by any means cover the entire land, and there are long stretches without a sign of cultivation and with scarcely an inhabitant.

The products of the country are chiefly wheat, rice and barley. Cotton is raised somewhat in Northern Syria and in Asia Minor, and there are also large fields of poppies, the


opium trade being quite extensive. Tobacco is cultivated everywhere, and vegetables are much the same as ours, with the exception of the potato, which is almost unknown. The whole empire is rich in fruits of every kind, grapes, melons, figs, olives, peaches, pears, oranges, pomegranates and dates. All are of the best. The vineyards are extensive and in European Turkey and Western Asiatic Turkey considerable wine is made, which is largely exported to Europe and then re-exported bearing a French or Italian brand. Olive groves are especially abundant along the shores of the Mediterranean, and the fig orchards of Smyrna are well known. Dates are not found to any great degree outside of Egypt.

The mineral wealth of Turkey is very great, but it is so thoroughly undeveloped as to make its estimate very difficult. Along the shores of the Black Sea and in some portions of the Taurus there is a great deal of coal, but it is not mined and the extent of the deposit is practically unknown. In Eastern Turkey there are important mines of copper, silver and iron. These are worked with very rude methods and with varying success, but the output is such as to indicate great wealth, still undeveloped. There are also in Western Asia Minor mines of baryta which have been worked to some extent. In European Turkey there is considerable iron, and probably considerable in the mountains of Western Turkey, but there are few if any mines.

The domestic animals of the empire are horses, mules, donkeys, camels, sheep, buffaloes and dogs. There are also in certain sections wild boar, deer and other game, but to a limited extent. The horses vary from the fine Arab of the desert to the scrubby but enduring pony of Syria. The ordinary horse used in caravans is a rather small but powerful


animal, sure-footed and easily adapting himself to the rough roads and rather poor fodder. The use of donkeys and mules is universal. The white donkey of Bagdad is almost as aristocratic an animal as the Arab horse. Camels have gradually disappeared from the North, but are found in the South, and are still occasionally sent out in caravans from Smyrna. The cows are poor, small and of little value, either for their milk or for use in farming. Agriculture is carrried on chiefly by the use of buffaloes. The animal to whose development most attention has been given, is undoubtedly the horse, and next to that the sheep. The Angora sheep and goats of Western Asia Minor are famous all over the world, and in general the quality of wool and of mutton is most excellent. The dogs are of many breeds, including fierce shepherd dogs and fine greyhounds, but the most common is the mongrel cur of the cities and towns. Fowls are to be found every where and in large quantities, and there are pigeons and partridges in abundance.

The food of the people is chiefly the different preparations of wheat and rice, and in meats they eat little but mutton and fowl; beef is considered by most as unfit for food. They also use a great deal of milk, chiefly of sheep or buffaloes. They are very fond of a preparation of fermented milk, not unlike curds, generally eaten in the semi-solid form, but sometimes mixed with water and made into a very refreshing drink. A certain modification of this has been introduced into this country and is widely known under the name of Madzoon. The cooking is in the main very tasty, although the common people, especially in the mountains and the southern plains, are content with a very meager diet. The traveller who understands the ways of the country can generally provide


himself well, but he must carry some form of provision with him. As is natural, the food to be found depends very largely upon the nature of the country. In the heart of the Kurdish or Taurus Mountains, there will often be little more than a coarse millet bread, and perhaps milk, to be had; while in the cities and large towns, as also on the great agricultural plains, almost anything can be secured, and a good cook will provide a meal that the most fastidious would heartily enjoy. The author has repeatedly enjoyed dinners that would do credit to a New York Hotel for delicacy and richness of flavor.

Traveling and the carriage of merchandise is almost entirely by means of horses, mules and camels. The use of wagons has been introduced to a limited degree, but, except between Trebizond and Erzrum, it has not become general. This is chiefly in consequence of the poor roads, and the fact that even where there are stretches of good roads, they are so short as to necessitate a change when the journey is to be continued. For the mail and for travelers with little baggage, there is a system of relay traveling. Horses may be changed at stations from sixteen to thirty miles apart, and although seldom of the better sort, they can be kept at a slow trot or uncertain gallop, so that a speed of from four to six miles an hour can be maintained through the day. The ordinary distance covered by a caravan, whether of travelers or of merchandise, is from twenty-five to thirty miles a day. A post rider will frequently, in Turkey, cover forty to fifty miles; and in Persia, where the same system is employed, but the roads and horses are better, seventy-five or eighty, even a hundred miles a day, are not infrequently covered. The mail carriers, or Tartars as they are called, ride day and night, stopping only for change of horses and refreshments. One result of


this general method of traveling is that distances are measured by hours, not by miles, the hour varying somewhat in different parts of the country. In Asia Minor, where horses and mules are chiefly used, the hour is equivalent to from three to four miles, but in Syria and Mesopotamia, where camels are more common, the hour is seldom over three miles. Thus Erzrum is sixty hours from Trebizond — 180 miles; and Harput sixty hours from Sivas — 240 miles; but thirty hours from Marash to Alexandretta means no more than ninety miles.

The country is very thoroughly covered with telegraph lines connecting the principal cities, and the postal arrangements supply both the cities and larger towns. Both are under the sole control of the government, although one of the lines of telegraph, from Constantinople to Bagdad, connecting with an extension to India, is owned by an English Company. Turkey being a member of the Postal Union, letters from any interior city can be forwarded to America at the regular rate, but the internal rates are very high. Under the administration of Abdul Aziz, and during the early part of the reign of Abdul Hamid, both departments were, on the whole, fairly well conducted, but of late years there has been no certainty of correct transmission either of telegrams or letters, while papers frequently fail to reach their destination.

In this connection a word should be said as to the means of business communication. Constantinople and the seaboard cities are fairly well supplied with banking facilities. The Imperial Ottoman Bank has also a few branches in the interior, but for the most part the only method of transmitting funds has been by sending coin through the mails. In certain sections, this has been very hazardous on account of the insecurity of the country, and as a result, internal trade has been

[page 30] CITY WALLS.

greatly hampered. The establishment of the American missions all over the land has served in this matter greatly to the advantage of trade. A system of drafts has been established by which the missionaries draw on their treasurer in Constantinople and these drafts are sold in the market, facilitating exchange greatly. The missionaries, however, are very cautious, feeling that their position makes it unwise for them to share to any great extent in general trade.

One thing that strikes the traveler in Turkey very forcibly is the very sharp lines drawn between the cities, towns and villages and the surrounding country. City walls have to a considerable extent disappeared, though they remain in some of the more ancient places, Diarbekir, Urfa, Erzrum, etc. Beyond the line of houses there are in some instances, notably the city of Van, large sections of cultivated land, garden, vineyard or wheat field. In other cases, as at Erzrum, the city seems set down in the plain with no sort of relation to the surrounding country. The same is true of the towns and villages. Some are so completely imbedded in the gardens, that they appear much larger than they really are, while others give no sign of their existence, except as the village dog barks his signal of unwelcome to the traveler.

The general style of building varies with the section of country. Along the seaboard, or within easy reach of it, the general appearance of the houses reminds one of Europe. There is a frame of timber, with a wall of board or rough brick or stone covered with stucco. Red brick and dressed stone are also not uncommon. In the interior, however, the general style is that of the Mexican adobe. Sun-dried brick furnishes the chief material, sometimes whitewashed for more pretentious homes, government houses, churches or mosques,


but generally retaining the color of mother earth. In parts of Asia Minor where a soft sandstone abounds, there are brown-stone fronts, rivalling in style some to be found in our own cities. There is generally, however, some incongruity, made manifest in a wooden beam supporting a carved window, or an elegant doorway in the middle of an adobe wall. Diarbekir is famous for its basalt walls, giving both city and houses a most forbidding aspect. On the Mesopotamia plain, especially toward the south, reed huts are numerous, while in Northern Syria the almost entire lack of timber has occasioned the building of huts domed with sun-dried brick, anticipating the principle of the Pantheon at Rome. In the mountains of Kurdistan the villagers not infrequently burrow into the mountain side, and even on the plains of Asia Minor advantage is taken of rolling land to help in the making of the walls, and the traveler by night need not be surprised if his horse breaks through the roof of some unnoticed house. There are numerous instances, notably in Amasia and Urfa and along the Tigris, of villages cut into precipices of rock, while in other places the villagers burrow into the hills. In passing from Mardin to Urfa once, the author came, toward evening, to the foot of a hill, where the guide said he was to spend the night in an Arab village. He looked around, but saw no signs of life. The guide went to the summit of the hill, and shouted into what appeared a mere hole in the ground. A few minutes after a man appeared through what had seemed to be the entrance to a tomb, such as abounded in that region, and soon the whole party were descending through a passageway into a large room, used both as granary and living room by the villagers.

Such descriptions might go on indefinitely, but this will be


sufficient to indicate that throughout the empire the people have made the most of the resources at their command, for their permanent dwellings. Tent life is confined to the Bedouin Arabs and the summer wanderings of the Kurds over the plains of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It should be said, however, that within the past fifty years there has been considerable advance in the style of building, chiefly due undoubtedly to the influence of the missionary houses and the evangelical chapels, and to-day the general appearance throughout the entire country has greatly improved.

The arrangement within the houses also varies with the section of country. In the interior cities and large towns, the ground floor is taken up with court, stable, kitchen, storeroom and perhaps an audience room, the living rooms being chiefly on the second floor. In the villages, however, there are few houses with a second story, and often the family share the one living room with their animals.

A word should be said as to the accommodation for travelers. This is chiefly in the form of khans or caravansaries, situated in the cities and on most of the caravan routes through the greater part of the empire, at intervals of about thirty miles. They are as a rule stone buildings, with a large open enclosure, surrounded by alcoves, closed or open, according to the climate. In the north, where the winter storms may be severe, there are stables frequently partly underground. The alcoves are for the travelers, the open space for their loads and the stables for the animals, but in case of severe weather the stable becomes also the refuge for the traveler, whether merchant, muleteer or official. In the large cities regular rent is charged, but in the country there is simply a keeper who receives a small fee for furnishing fuel and water, otherwise the place

[page 33] VILLAGE CLUB.

being free for all comers. In some cases there is no keeper at all, the place being left to go to ruin. Most of these buildings in the interior have been put up as acts of merit by wealthy Turks, but with no regular income, and no one to be responsible for them, they have in many places fallen sadly into decay.

In the villages and even many of the larger towns where there are no khans, the traveler is sent to what is known as the “guest room.” A room, or in some instances, a house, is set apart both for travelers, and as a meeting place, a sort of club for the villagers. Here they meet in the evening to discuss the events of the day, much as Americans gather at the postoffice or corner store. Some one is designated to provide fire and coffee and the head of the village holds a sort of court or assembly. Here also the traveler is welcomed, indeed has a right, whether welcomed or not, to make his stay. The room as a rule is oblong, with a fireplace at the end, and has a slightly raised platform on either side. If the arrival be a foreigner or official, he immediately takes the place of honor on the right near the fireplace and all gather to show him courtesy. If an ordinary muleteer or peasant, he must be content with a place near the door. Here also there is no charge, the attendants being satisfied with what they receive for the supply of food, etc. In case the village is too poor to boast a guest room, the traveler must content himself with some private house or room, which he generally finds no difficulty in securing. It will be readily seen that the traveler in the interior must in the main provide his own furniture and provision, unless he is able to put up with the very simple fare of the villagers. Foreigners, and even natives of the better


class, carry their own bedding, cooking utensils and, to a degree, their food.

The furniture of the houses is very simple, even in the cities, and in the villages it is primitive to the last degree. Chairs, tables, upright bedsteads, knives and forks are penetrating little by little even to the towns, but still the great majority of the people roll themselves in quilts for the night, sit on the floor around a platter for their meals and use little more than spoons. A few copper kettles serve for the cooking and goatskins for holding what little provisions they keep. A story is told of a mountaineer in Eastern Turkey, who went to visit some friends on the plain. When night came he was offered a quilt or comfortable and a wool pillow. He accepted them, though with rather rueful countenance, and laid down to sleep. Sleep, however, refused to come. Alarmed by his tossings his friends asked him if he were ill. No, perfectly well. But still he tossed on. Again they came to him to know what was the matter. At last he blurted out, “ I cannot stand this quilt and pillow. Give me a piece of sacking to throw over my head and let me lie on the floor.” Much against their will he insisted and they yielded, and he slept the sleep of his own mountain home.


Table of Contents | The Cover, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright Notice, etc.
Introduction | Preface | Turkey in Asia (map) | Table of Contents (as in the book)
List of Illustrations | 1. The Turkish Empire | 2. Population and Languages | 3. Religions
4. The Turks | 5. The Kurds | 6. The Armenians | 7. The Greeks | 8. Other Oriental Churches
9. Rise and Decline of Ottoman Power | 10. Turkey and Europe | 11. Russia and Turkey
12. Mahmud II | 13. Reform and Progress | 14. Treaties of Paris and Berlin
15. Condition of the Christians | 16. The Turkish Government | 17. Protestant Missions in Turkey
18. The Armenian Question | 19. General Situation in 1894 | 20. The Sassun Massacre
21. Politics and Massacre at Constantinople | 22. Massacres at Trebizond and Erzrum
23. Massacres in Harput District | 24. Aintab, Marash and Urfa | 25. Character of the Massacres
26. Religious Persecution | 27. Relief Work | 28. Partition of Turkey | 29. America and Turkey
30. General Survey | Alphabetical Index


Source: Bliss, Rev. Edwin Munsell . Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities. Edgewood Publishing Company , 1896
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Irina Minasyan

See also:

J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris, Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia
Helen Davenport Gibbons, The Red Rugs of Tarsus
Maj. General James G. Harbord Conditions in the Near East: Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia

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