War in Eastern Europe
John Reed


At four hours precisely, Turkish time (or three minutes past nine à la fraqnue), on the morning of chiharshenbi, yigirmi utch of the month of Temoos, year of the Hegira bin utch yuze otouz utch, I woke to an immense lazy roar, woven of incredibly varied noises - the indistinct shuffling of a million slippers, shouts, bellows, high, raucous peddler voices, the nasal wail of a muezzin strangely calling to prayer at this unusual hour, dogs howling, a donkey braying, and, I suppose, a thousand schools in mosque courtyards droning the Koran. From my balcony I looked down on the roofs of tall Greek apartments which clung timorously to the steep skirts of Pera and broke into a dark foam of myriad Turkish houses that rushed across the valley of Kassim Pasha, swirling around the clean white mosque and two minarets, and the wave of close trees they sprang from. The little houses were all wood - rarely with a roof of old red tiles - unpainted, weathered to a dull violet, clustered where the builder's caprice had set them, threaded with a maze of wriggling streets, and spotted with little windows that caught the sun - golden. Beyond the valley they crowded up the hillside, jumbled at every conceivable angle, like a pile of children's blocks - and all of the windows ablaze. Piale Pasha Mosque started up northward, dazzling, its minaret leaping from the very dome - built to look like the mast of a ship by the great Kaptan Pasha, who broke the sea power of Venice in the sixteenth century.

Down this valley Mohammed the Conqueror dragged his ships after hauling them over the high ridge where Pera stands, and launched them in the Golden Horn. Shabby Greek San Dimitri to the right; a dark pageant of cypresses along the crest over Kassim Pasha, that bounds the barren field of the Ok-Meidan, whose white stones mark the record shots of great Sultans who were masters of the bow and arrow; the heights of Haskeui, sombre with spacious wooden houses weathered black, where the great Armenian money princes lived in the dangerous days, and where now the Jews spawn in indescribable filth; northward again, over the mighty shoulder of a bald hill, the treeless, thick-clustered field of the Hebrew cemetery, as terrible as a razed city.

Bounding all to the west, the Golden Horn curved, narrowing east, around to north, a sheet of molten brass on which were etched black the Sultan's yacht and the yacht of the Khedive of Egypt - with the blue sphinxes painted on her stern - and the steamer General, sleeping quarters of German officers; dismantled second-rate cruisers, the pride of the Turkish navy, long gathering barnacles in the Golden Horn; the little cruiser Hamedieh, swarming with tiny dots, which were German sailors in fezzes; and countless swarms of darting caïks, like water-beetles.

Up from that bath of gold swept Stamboul from her clustering tangle of shanties on piles, rising in a pattern of huddling little roofs too intricate for any eye to follow, to the jagged crest lifting like music along her seven hills, where the great domes of the imperial mosques soared against the sky and flung aloft their spear-like minarets.

I could see the Stamboul end of the Inner Bridge and a little corner of the Port of Commerce, with the tangled jam of ships which were caught there when the war broke out. Above the bridge lay Phanar, where the Patriarch, who still signs himself 'Bishop of New Rome,' has his palace, for centuries the powerful fountain of life and death for all the millions of 'Roum-mileti'; Phanar, refuge of imperial Byzantine families after the fall of the city, home of those merchant princes who astounded Renaissance Europe with their wealth and bad taste; Phanar, for five hundred years centre of the Greek race under the Turk. Farther along Balata - the Palatium of the Romans - and Aivan Serai above it, shadowed in the immense sprawling ruins of Byzantine palaces, where the walls of Manuel Commenus stagger up from the water and are lost in the city. Beyond, Eyoub, the sacred village of tombs around that dazzling mosque which no Christian may enter, and the interminable mass of cypresses of that holiest of all cemeteries, climbing the steep hill behind. Greek and Roman walls; the spikes of four hundred minarets; mosques that were built with a king's treasure in a burst of vanity by the old magnificent Sultans, others that were Christian churches under the Empress Irene, whose walls are porphyry and alabaster, and whose mosaics, whitewashed over, blaze through in gold and purple splendour; fragments of arches and columns of semiprecious stones, where once the golden statues of emperors stood - and marching splendidly across the sky-line of the city the double-arches of the tree-crowned aqueduct.

The hotel porter was a clever Italian with a nose for tips. He bent over me deferentially as I breakfasted, rubbing his hands.

'Excellency,' he said in French, 'the secret police have been here to inquire about your Excellency. Would your Excellency like me to tell them any particular thing...?'

Daoud Bey was waiting for me, and together we went out into Tramway Street, where the electric cars clang past, newsboys shout the late editions of the newspapers written in French - and apartment-houses, curiosity-shops, cafés, banks, and embassies look like a shabby quarter in an Italian city. Here every one, men and women, wore European clothes, just a trifle off in fashion, fit, and cloth - like 'store clothes' bought on Third Avenue. It was a crowd of no nations and of all bloods, clever, facile, unscrupulous, shallow - Levantine. At the gates of the few open embassies sat the conventional Montenegrin doorkeepers, in savage panoply of wide trousers and little jackets, and enormous sashes stuck full of pistols; kavases of consulates and legations slouched around the doors of diplomats, in uniforms covered with gold lace, fezzes with arms blazing on them, and swords. An occasional smart carriage went by, with driver and footmen wearing the barbaric livery of the diplomatic service. Yet turn into any street off the Grand Rue or the Rue des Tramways, and the tall overhanging buildings echoed with appeals of half-naked ladies leaning callously from windows all the way up to the fourth floor. In those narrow, twisting alleys the fakers and the thieves and the vicious and unfit of the Christian Orient crowded and shouted and passed; filth was underfoot, pots of ambiguous liquids rained carelessly down, and the smells were varied and interesting. Miles and miles of such streets, whole quarters given over to a kind of weak debauch; and fronting the cultivated gentlemen and delicate ladies of the European colony only the bold front of the shell of hotels and clubs and embassies.

It was the day after Warsaw fell into German hands. Yesterday the German places had hoisted the German and Turkish flags to celebrate the event. As we walked down the steep street, that with the mercilessness of modern civilization cuts an ancient Turkish cemetery in half so the street-cars may pass, Daoud Bey related interesting details of what followed.

‘The Turkish police went around,' said he with some gusto, 'and ordered the German flags pulled down. We had the devil of a row, for the German embassy made a strong complaint.'

'Why did you do that? Aren't you allies?'

He looked at me sideways and smiled mockingly. 'No one is more fond than I of our Teutonic brothers (for you know the Germans let our people think they are Mohammedans). According to the German idea, perhaps, the taking of Warsaw was also a Turkish victory. But we are getting touchy about the spread of German flags in the city.'

I noticed that many shops and hotels had signs newly painted in French, but that on most of them the European languages had been eliminated.

'You will be amused by that,' said Daoud Bey. 'You see, when the war broke out, the government issued an order that no one in Turkey should use the language of a hostile nation. The French newspapers were suppressed, the French and English signs ordered removed; people were forbidden to speak French, English, or Russian; and letters written in the three languages were simply burned. But they soon found out that the greater part of the population on this side of the Golden Horn speak only French, and no Turkish at all; so they had to let up. As for letters, that was simple. The American consul protested; so just a week ago the papers printed a solemn order of the government that, although French, English, and Russian were still barred, you might write letters in American!'

Daoud Bey was a Turk of wealthy, prominent family - which is extraordinary in Turkey, where families rise and fall in one generation, and there is no family tradition because there is no family name. Daoud, son of Hamid, was all we knew him by; just as I, to the Turkish police, was known as John, son of Charles. In that splendid idle way Turks have, Daoud had been made an admiral in the navy at the age of nineteen. Some years later a British naval commission, by invitation, reorganized the Turkish fleet. Now, it is difficult to pry wealthy young Turks loose from their jobs. The commission therefore asked Daoud Bey very politely if he would like to continue being an admiral. He answered: ‘I should like to very much, provided I never have to set foot on a ship. I can't bear the sea.' So he is no longer in the navy.

I asked him why he was not bleeding and dying with his compatriots in the trenches at Gallipoli.

'Of course,' said he, 'you Westerners cannot be expected to understand. Here you buy out of military service by paying forty liras. If you don't buy out it amounts to the admission that you haven't forty liras - which is very humiliating. No Turk of any prominence could afford to be seen in the army, unless, of course, he entered the upper official grades as a career. Why, my dear fellow, if I were to serve in this war the disgrace would kill my father. It is quite different from your country. Here the recruiting sergeants beg you to pay your exemption fee - and they jeer at you if you haven't got it!'

At the foot of the hill there is a tangle of meeting streets - Step Street, that used to be the only way to clamber up to Pera; the wriggling narrow alleys that squirm through a Greek quarter of tall, dirty houses to infamous Five-Piastre and Ten-Piastre Streets in the vicious sailor town of Galata; the one street that leads to the cable tunnel, where the cars climb underground to the top of the hill - all opening into the square of Kara-keuy before the Valideh Sultan Keuprisi, the far-famed Outer Bridge that leads to Stamboul. White-frocked toll-collectors stood there in rippling rank, closing and parting before the throng, to the rattling chink of ten-para pieces falling into their outstretched hands. And flowing between them like an unending torrent between swaying piles, poured that bubbling ferment of all races and all religions - from Pera to Stamboul, and from Stamboul to Pera. Floating silk Arab head-dresses, helmets, turbans of yellow and red, smart fezzes, fezzes with green turbans around them to mark the relative of the Prophet, fezzes with white turbans around them - priests and teachers - Persian tarbouches, French hats, panamas. Veiled women in whose faces no man looked, hurrying along in little groups, robed in tcharchafs of black and grey and light brown, wearing extravagantly high-heeled French slippers too big for their feet, and followed by an old black female slave; Arabs from the Syrian desert in floating white cloaks; a saint from the country, bearded to the eyes, with squares of flesh showing through his coloured rags, striding along, muttering prayers, with turban all awry, while a little crowd of disciples pressed after to kiss his hand and whine a blessing; bare-legged Armenian porters staggering at a smooth trot, bent under great packing-cases and shouting 'Destour!' to clear the way; four soldiers on foot with new rifles; helmeted police on horseback; shambling eunuchs in frock coats; a Bulgarian bishop; three Albanians in blue broadcloth trousers and jackets embroidered with silver; two Catholic Sisters of Charity walking at the head of their little donkey-cart, presented to them by the Mohammedan merchants of the Great Bazaar; a mevlevi, or dancing dervish, in tall conical felt hat and grey robes; a bunch of German tourists in Tyrolean hats, equipped with open Baedekers, and led by a plausible Armenian guide; and representatives of five hundred fragments of strange races, left behind by the great invasions of antiquity in the holes and corners of Asia Minor. Pera is European - Greek, Armenian, Italian - anything but Turkish. Where goes this exotic crowd that pours into Pera? You never see them there.

A thousand venders of the most extraordinary merchandise - Angora honey, helva, loukoum of roses, kaymak (made from the milk of buffaloes shut in a dark stable), obscene postal cards, cigarette-holders of German glass, Adrianople melons, safety-pins, carpets manufactured in Newark, New Jersey, celluloid beads - moved among the crowd shouting their wares, bellowing, whining, screaming: 'Only a cent, two cents - On paras, bech paraya.'

To the right lay the Port of Commerce, crowded with ships, and the Inner Bridge beyond, all up the splendid sweep of Golden Horn. Outside the bridge was a row of pontoons placed there to guard the port from English submarines, and against the barrier the chirket hariés - Bosphorus steamboats - backing precipitously out with screaming whistles into the thick flock of caïks that scatter like a shoal of fish. Beyond, across the bright-blue dancing water, the coast of Asia rising faintly into mountains, with Scutari dotted white along the shore. Stamboul, plunging from that magnificent point, crowned with palaces and trees, into the sea.... From left to right the prodigious sweep of the city, and the great mosques: Agia Sophia, built by the Emperoror Justinian a thousand years ago, all clumsy great buttresses of faded red and yellow: the Mosque of Sultan Selim, who conquered Mecca; the Mosque of Sultan Achmet; Yeni Valideh Djami, at the end of the bridge; Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent - he who was a friend of François Premier; Sultan Bayazid....

The floating drawbridge swung slowly open with much confused shouting and the tugging of cables by sputtering launches to allow the passage of a German submarine coming up from the Dardanelles. She was awash, her conning-tower painted a vivid blue with white streaks - the colour most disguising in these bright seas; but a momentary cloud passed over the sun, and she stood out startling against the suddenly grey water.

'It takes them about an hour to close the bridge,' said Daoud Bey, and drew me into an alley between stone buildings, where little tables and stools hugged the shade of the wall, and a shabby old Turk in flapping slippers and a spotted fez served ices. Outside all roar and clamour, and hot sun beating on the pavement - here cool, quiet peace.

'Daoud Pasha!' said a laughing voice. It was a slender girl in a faded green feridjé, with bare brown feet, and a shawl pinned under her chin, in the manner of the very poor, who cannot afford a veil. She could not have been more than fifteen; her skin was golden, and her black eyes flashed mischievously.

'Eli!' cried Daoud, seizing her hand.

'Give me some money!' said Eli imperiously.

'I have no small money.'

'All right, then, give me big money.'

Daoud laughed and handed her a medjidieh - and she gave a scream of pleasure, clapped her hands, and was gone.

'Gypsy,' said Daoud, 'and the most beautiful girl in all Constantinople. Hamdi, a friend of mine, fell in love with her, and asked her into his harem. So she went to live at Eyoub. But two weeks later I came down here one day, and as I was taking my sherbet I heard a little voice at my elbow: "Daoud Pasha, some money please." It was Eli. She said she had tried to be a respectable married lady for fourteen days, because she really loved Hamdi. He was very kind to her - gave her clothes and jewels, and courted her like a lover. But she couldn't stand it any longer; begging on the streets was more fun - she loved the crowd so. So one night she let herself out of the harem door and swam across the Golden Horn!' He laughed and shrugged his shoulders: 'You can't tame a chingani.'

We paid. 'May God favour you!' the proprietor said gently, and a Turk sitting at our table bowed and mumbled: 'Afietolsoun! May what you have eaten do you good!'

Outside on the wharf where the caïks were ranked, each boatman yelling as loud as he could, a blind old woman in rusty black crouched against the wall and held out her hand. Daoud dropped a copper in it. She raised her sightless eyes to us and said in a sweet voice: 'Depart smiling.'

'Kach parava? How much?' said Daoud. A deafening clamour of voices shouted indistinguishable things.

'Let us take the old man,' said my friend, pointing to a figure with a long white beard, burnt-orange skull-cap, red sash, and pink shirt open at the throat to show his hairy old chest. 'How much, effendim?' he used the term of respect which all Turks use toward each other, no matter what the difference in their ranks.

'Five piastres,' said the old man hopefully.

'I pay one piastre and a half,' answered Daoud, climbing into the caïk. Without reply the caïkji pushed off.

'What is your name, my father?' asked Daoud.

'My name is Abdul, my son,' said the old man, rowing and sweating in the sun. 'I am born of Mohammed the Short-legged in the city of Trebizond on the sea. For fifty-two years I have been rowing my caïk across the Stamboul Limani.'

I told Daoud to ask him what he thought of the war.

'It is a good war,' said Abdul. 'All wars against the giaour are good, for does not the Koran say that he who dies slaying the infidel will enter paradise?'

'You are learned in the Koran?' exclaimed Daoud. 'Perhaps, you are a sheikh and lead prayers in the mosque.'

'Do I wear the white turban?' said the old man. 'I am no priest; but in my youth I was a muezzin, and called to prayers from the minaret.'

'What should he know of the war?' I said. 'It doesn't touch him personally.'

Daoud translated.

'I have four sons and two grandsons in the war,' said Abdul, with dignity. Then to me: 'Are you an Aleman - a German - one of our brothers who do not know our language and do not wear the fez? Tell me, of what shape and build are your mosques? Is your Sultan as great as our Sultan?'

I replied evasively that he was very great.

'We shall win this war, inshallah - God willing,' said Abdul.

'Mashallah!' responded Daoud gravely, and I saw that his light European cynicism was a thin veneer over eight centuries of deep religious belief.

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