The New York Times, September 8, 1889, p.13:|
LAND OF THE RISING SUNANATOLIA, ITS SEAPORT TOWNS AND MANY MEMORIES.
BATOUM AND THE SEA--XENOPHON AND HIS TEN THOUSAND--
SKOBELEFF AND PLEVNA--CONVERSATION WITHOUT WORDS.
INEKHBOLI, Western Anatolia, Oct 15.--The splendid weather which has accompanied us from Armenia is deserting us at last, and the persistent rain threatens to make our projected trip to Mount Olympus a duty rather than a pleasure. Worse still, the cholera in Spain appears to have frightened away the steamers which formerly touched at Gibraltar, and it seems only too probable that our visit to the coast of Morocco will have to be postponed after all.
But even now that the "Land of the Rising Sun" (Anatolia) has become the land of the falling rain, the change has luckily come too late to spoil one of the finest panoramas in Western Asia. The ancient Greeks knew what they were about when they planted so many snug little colonies in the hollows of the great mountain wall which overhangs the Black Sea from Batoum [now Bat'umi, Georgia] almost to the mouth of the Bosphorus, and the pious moralist who called attention to the wisdom of Providence in making a river run past almost every large town, might with equal justice have admired the benevolent dispensation that planted a commodious harbor in front of almost every Greek settlement.
Batoum, which, though wrestled from Turkey only six years ago, has already supplanted Poti [also in Georgia] as the chief port of the Western Caucasus, is now the recognized starting point for travelers who wish to go by sea along the Anatolian coast to Constantinople [Istanbul]. But as the creeping train from Tiflis [Tbilisi, Georgia], which spends 15 hours over a distance that might be easily covered in six, does not reach Batoum till 11:21 P. M., (one's first impresson of the great Armenian seaport is naturally of the same kind as Paddy's idea of moonlight: "Good luck to the moon, she's a fine, noble craytur, and gives us the daylight all night in the dark,") the only thing visible through the great wall of blackness that hems you in is the faint glimmer of the sea on the one hand and of the treacherous marsh pools on the other.
But when you look out of your window at sunrise the next morning, the panorama that lies before you might well repay a much longer journey. To your left, blue and bright and smooth as when they were first created, lie the clear shining waters of the Black Sea. On a strip of flat sandy beach between the open sea and the harbor cluster the queer particolored houses and low round domes and tall white minarets, and straggling, uneven, dirty streets of the town, all mixed up together in the "happy-go-lucky" fashion characteristic of the East, as if they had just been shot down here from the mouth of a sack. Beyond the harbor, in endless curves of dark green, purple, or cold stony gray, rise the hills of Lazistan, rearing their vast crescent-shaped bulwark around the cherished city; and through the gaps in the great rampart other hills are seen looming dimly far in the distance, ridge above ridge, till all melts at last into the ghostly white mist that still hovers along the eastern sky.
Very still and peaceful they look, those grand old hills, lying there in the deep hush of early morning, with the smooth water of the harbor sleeping in purple shadow at their feet. But they were terribly alive seven years ago, when these silent ridges echoed with the ceaseless thunder of the cannon that bristled along every hilltop, while all around them, like poppies amid the long rank grass, rose the scarlet caps of the Turkish soldiers, whose watchful eyes were ever strained toward the opposing heights, where, dimly seen through clouds of rolling smoke, loomed the shadowy masses of the gray-coated Russians. Bitter, indeed, must it have been for the gallant "children of the Czar" to be so long withstood by their hereditary foes--bitterer still for their leader, Gen. Oklobjio, whose hot Montenegrin blood must have chafed fiercely at being thus held at bay by the hated Turk with whom his countrymen had waged successful war for more than 400 years.
Meanwhile, the outer world yawned over the few brief telegrams which compressed all this whirlwind of bloodshed and passion and misery into the simple heading, "Siege of Batoum," languidly wondering "why on earth the fellows can't go ahead a bit instead of sitting still and doing nothing." But it was not by doing nothing that on a certain memorable Summer evening in 1877 the whole slope of yonder bold rocky height, which stands up against the sky on the further side of the harbor, was strewn as thickly with Russian corpses as it now is with fallen leaves. It was the key of the Turkish position, and Skobeleff himself might have been proud of the three desperate assaults wherewith the Russians strove to storm it in the teeth of a fire as murderous as either Plevna [Pleven, Bulgaria, battle in Russo-Turkish War] or Inkerman [battle in Crimean War, Nov. 5, 1854 at Sevastopol, Ukraine].
But within those intrenchments were hands and hearts as strong as their own, and not without reason did one of the bravest of Batoum's defenders observer with stern satisfaction when the siege was over: "It was the will of Allah that the city should fall, but not that the unbelievers should take it by force."
As our steamer heads westward along the coast toward Trebizond, we see far away upon the sandy beach the two rows of stumpy little hearthbroom trees which the Russians are trying to persuade to grow into a boulevard, but these and the straggling streets behind them, and even the frowning ridges overhead, speedily vanish into the gathering darkness of night, and when the morrow's sunrise streams through the purple clefts of the Armenian mountains it lights up a widely different scene. Right in front of us a vast rocky height rises sheer up out of the sea, falling away in steep, grassy slopes to right and left, the more distant of which juts out into the clear, bright water in a long, narrow, precipitous headland very much like a gigantic pier. All along the side of this natural jetty houses of every color--blue, pink, white, green, yellow, uniformly surmounted by the red roofs which are a prominent feature of all Anatolian cities--peep through masses of dark-green foliage, above which the tall, white, slender minarets glisten like silver spears in the cloudless sunshine. Other houses cluster along the water's edge in the hollow of the curving bay, while along the hillside above a row of sombre cypresses, the sentinels of death, keep their silent watch over the tall, narrow headstones of a Turkish burial ground.
High over all, the dark ruins of an ancient fortress, massive even in decay, frowns sullenly upon the approaching steamer, like barbarism scowling at the advance of civilization. But in this spot it is really civilization which has given place to barbarism. Twenty-two centuries ago this very town was a celebrated harbor and seat of commerce, and yonder green ridge may perhaps be the same from the crest of which Xenophon and his far-famed "ten thousand," weary of their long struggle over the burning plains of Persia, hailed their first glimpse of the smooth, sunlit waters below with a joyous shout of "Thalassa, thalassa!" (The sea, the sea!") But the obscure Tartar herdsmen who were then gnawing half-raw horseflesh far away on the Central Asian steppes are now lords of the fair uplands of Anatolia, and the Greek colony of Trapezus has become the Turkish port of Trebizond [Trabzon, Turkey].
Early as it is, the town is already astir, for in the scorching East men soon learn to appreciate the value of the cool morning hours when the sun has not yet come forth in his might to make the whole earth and sky what Mrs. Malaprop might have styled "a burning fiery fern case." Ankle-deep in water upon a low black reef of half-sunken rock, which juts out from the base of the headland like the snout of a sword-fish, stands a bare-limbed fisherman, drawing his net with a radiant force, which shows that he has begun the day by making a pretty good haul.
Half a dozen red-capped Turkish soldiers are moving about on the brow of the precipice which terminates the promontory, from which four or five cannon, pointed over a low grassy earthwork, look wickedly down at us through their small, black, narrow eyes. Just below them a swarm of ragged fellows are laboring upon the stone breakwater, which is creeping out from the headland foot by foot.
Upon the other beach on the other side of the bay a gang of half-clad boys are clambering about the rocks, and shouting with laughter as a larger wave than usual bursts right over them in showers of glittering spray. Higher up the slope crop up ever and anon amid the fresh green of the clustering vines and feathery maize fields the white turbans of the peasants who are already at work there. A sturdy countryman, whose scanty dress discloses a show of muscles worthy of a prize-fighter, comes tramping down the steep, narrow path that winds along the face of the hill, driving before him a donkey which carries two huge baskets covered with vine leaves, and probably containing some of those magnificent white grapes which figured on our dinner table last night. The very sea around us is all alive with gaudily painted boats and swarthy faces and bare brown arms and quaint, particolored brigand-like dresses, while shouts of "Caique, Effendi?" ("Boat, Sir?") make the air ring.
Our first officer rashly assures me that we shall stay here only "poltora tchasoff," (an hour and a half,) forgetting that within the memory of man nothing was ever yet known to be ready at the appointed time in a Turkish port. The "hour and a half" is prolonged to rather more than 12 hours, and not until nightfall do we get fairly started for our next port, Kerasund [Giresun, Turkey], which we reach just after daybreak on the following morning.
On the way thither I notice for the first time a big, powerful stolid-looking man dressed as an officer of the Russian merchant navy, who is smoking a cigar just abaft the cabin skylight. At first I take him for a native, but his Russian, though fluent, is manifestly that of a foreigner. I am still puzzling over his nationality, when the sudden lighting up of his heavy features at my casual mention of our travels in Montenegro and our meeting with Prince Nikita Petrovitch gives me the clue to the riddle. He is a Montenegrin, and altough shorter and fatter than would be considered becoming by the stately giants among whom we felt so insignificant four years ago, he has evidently retained all the fire and energy of these hot-blooded mountaineers in spite of his long residence among the more phlegmatic Slavs of Russia.
Even more interesting in her own peculiar way is our Russian stewardess, whose reminiscences would be priceless to any historian of the present generation. Over and above her countless voyages in the Eastern seas, she has been attached to Gen Skobeleff's hospital staff before Plevna, and has witnessed all the vicissitudes of that memorable siege which was to the great struggle of 1877 what that of Sebastopol was to the Crimean war. Stout, elderly, and short of breath though she is this energetic old lady has a "masterful' way about her worthy of Dickens's Mrs. Bagnet, who "made her way home from the other end of the world with nothing but a cotton umbrella."
"After the second battle at Plevna," says she, "you could hardly put your foot down where there wasn't a dead man buried, and of course they hadn't time to bury them very deep down, so they were lying just on the surface all over the hills round the camp, like plums on an Easter cake. So what with the heat of the July sun, and what with all these thousands of dead under our very noses you may think what a time we had of it. The soldiers kept sickening and sickening till I thought we should have had the whole army in the hospital.
"All the houses and huts for miles around Plevna had been gutted and half destroyed, so there was no shelter to be got from them, and any one who could sleep on some damp straw in the bottom of a cart thought himself mighty lucky. Most of us lay on the bare ground, and when the heavy Autumn rains came beating upon us at night, it was just like some one switching us with a rod.
"That Skobeleff was a wonder, he was indeed. He never got tired, and he was never at a loss. He seemed to be everywhere at once on that white horse of his, and wherever he showed himself every one woke up and felt strong and brave, as if God had come down to them out of heaven. He lost plenty of officers, though, and even some of the doctors fell sick at last; but I never had anything the matter with me, thank God, from beginning to end.
"But when it began to draw toward Winter, and still the place held out, we all felt pretty tired of it; and I can tell you we were right glad to see Todleben come into the camp, for we knew that he was the man to make short work of the basurmani (unbelievers.)
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