"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Misconception prevailing in Europe - Original land-tenure - Alteration in consequence of so-called military reforms - Unequal burden imposed on the industry of the Turk by military service - Reform suggested.

GREATEST among the anomalies of Turkey is one which by its inordinate injustice astonishes even those who through long experience of the country have ceased to be astonished at anything else. The Mussulman alone pays the tax of blood, the Rayah is wholly exempt from military service.

Europe makes a note of the fact, and thereupon proceeds to draw from it the most extraordinary conclusions. According to her idea it is the Christian in vain aspiring to the honour of bearing arms in the service of his country, who painfully feels the inequality of the situation, and is for ever seeking redress from rulers who shrink from conceding a privilege which may one day be used in the vindication of rights ignored and trampled upon.

Sentiments such as these may indeed be seen every day in the foreign newspapers of Constantinople. Trace them to their authors, ask whose are these longings for instruction in military discipline and strategy, and you will find that they are the exercitations of some learned Armenian, who certainly undertakes a great deal in answering for the martial tendencies of his compatriots, or else that a Bulgarian of comparatively advanced education has availed himself of his skill in penmanship to sign his name to an article which some European politician has written for him.

As for ourselves, whilst complaining of the injustice as loudly as any of the friends of the Rayah, we assert that it is not he but the Turk who suffers - and suffers terribly - from the anomaly of which we are about to treat, and for clearer understanding of which a brief historical sketch is necessary.

When Orchan, the son of Osman, organized his system of conquest and his troops (who formed the first regular army known in Europe), he created a motive for territorial aggrandisement, and a desire to retain the country conquered, by granting the lands of the vanquished to his victorious soldiers, who hold them on the condition of military service, and were bound to follow the Sultan in his wars.

The foot soldier (piade) received a grant of land free from all taxes, and oven obtained the right of levying certain impost upon the Rayahs or conquered nations who continued to live upon the territory thus conceded to him; the Timars, Ziamets, and Beys, thus acquired considerably larger portions of the soil as well as a greater number of vassals, the Timars holding from 300 to 500 acres, the Ziamets from 500 to 2000, and the Beys still more extensive estates.

These military colonists or fief-holders were personally, as well as their lands, exempted from all taxes, and authorised to exact from the Rayah a tithe of his produce, a tax which was named Beylik, or impost of the Bey, a title which it still retains, although it is no longer the Bey who profits by it.

Formerly the Turk, though bound to take up arms in time of war and to serve without pay, during peace remained in his own home, and received in compensation for his service lands free of tax, and a revenue regularly paid to him by the Rayah: but even then the Rayah was not entirely exempt from military service notwithstanding the Kharatch paid by him, as besides the annual quota of a thousand Christian children who were enrolled in the ranks of the Janissaries, he was forced to follow the army in a non-combatant capacity in the army works corps, military train, &c., such auxiliaries being known as Woinaks. In the good old times, when money was worth ten or twelve times its present value, the Kharatch was probably sufficient to warrant his exemption from the dangers of war, considering the services rendered in camp and barracks by the Rayah, and at any rate in time of peace the Mussulman had the best of it, but things are much changed in our day.

The illogical revolution effected by Sultan Mahmoud in the Government destroyed the political, social, and economical organization of Turkey, only to replace it by a state of affairs which is best described by the Turkish word Kalabalik. [Confusion worse confounded, more chaotic than chaos itself.] The reforms inaugurated by the late Sultan Abdul Medjid, the famous edict of Gul Hane, and the Hatti Sheriff of 1856, only made things worse, whilst Europe looked on and clapped her hands with the delight of a street boy at a “good fire." In reality, these concessions, which were to be so many steps in the upward path of progress, have proved an almost insurmountable obstacle in the way of civilization - an apple of discord thrown between the two races, a negation or rather annihilation of undeniable rights, an infinite injustice, and one of the causes of the weakness of Turkey.

We are far from disapproving Article IX. of the Treaty of Paris. What we wish to see is its stipulations literally carried out, and an amelioration of the condition of the subjects of His Majesty the Sultan, without distinction of religion or of race, and not a monopoly of this amelioration in favour of the Rayah alone.

It is not our intention to examine the details of these concessions and reforms, but to study the effect produced by them upon the respective positions of the Mussulman and Christian from the point of view of military service.

1 . The Turks, as we have seen, enjoyed numerous privileges in return for their service as soldiers, before the period of the sweeping reforms “alla Turca " of Sultan Mahmoud. The summary abolition of the Janissaries brought about a radical but ill-considered change in the organization of the army. The old and powerful system of levees en masse from the various sandjaks (military provinces) was replaced by a conscription, and the formation of a regular army which is certainly the worst organized in Europe; in short, French institutions were copied by Turkey with much the same success as would attend the efforts of a Parisian to make a cup of good Turkish coffee in the Turkish fashion.

By the new system, every Turk was, as formerly, obliged to serve in the army of the Padischah, not as before for the campaign only, but for a period of years fixed by the Government, as in the case of the French conscript. Then, as the Government bestowed upon the soldier an infinitesimal [See Appendix I.] rate of pay, always in arrear and sometimes never paid at all, as it clothed him in “shoddy" cloth, and armed him with a gun dangerous only to himself, it considered itself justified in depriving him of the Beylik which he received from the Rayah, and appropriating the sum thus obtained to its own use, as an equivalent for his pay and equipment. Had the Government stopped here, there would have been a semblance of justice in its proceedings; it went further, however, and yielding to the current of “Reform," not only deprived the military colonist of the taxes he had raised from the Rayah, but in its pursuit of “Equality" thought it necessary to make him pay imposts similar to all those exacted from time immemorial from the Rayah. By a clemency incomprehensible in such zealous re-organizers, they did not force him to pay the Kharatch, and though he has since been saddled with a tax upon income and property, he is (in common with the Rayah who has served in the Christian regiments, the Cossacks of the Guard of the Sultan) exempted from the "Bedel Askerie," a sum paid by the Rayah in lieu of military service, and amounting on the average to twenty-five piastres.

The concessions thus granted to the Rayah have produced two effects, differing apparently, but both tending to the same end of weakening the Turkish Government. The Rayah who sees himself suddenly placed in a position not only equal with, but in many points superior to, that of the Turk, is by no means grateful to the Sublime Porte, for he notices the coincidence of time between these concessions and disastrous or indecisive wars; [That of crimes, for instance] and by the foreign secret agents, and by the Greek clergy, he is confirmed in the idea that it is to Russia he owes this amelioration of his condition. When a boon is considered as granted only by the influence of extraneous pressure, and not from good will or magnanimity, the donor can expect but little gratitude, and it is not to be wondered at that the recipient should despise a Government suspected of subserviency to foreign influence.

This reasoning is the one universally adopted by the Rayahs, and it easily explains their continual agitation, especially that of Crete, seeing they have arrived at the conclusion that Turkey is nothing and Russia everything; so that in spite of their habitual apathy, their idleness, and their ignorance of politics, they would perhaps break out into open rebellion at the bidding of those agents whose unceasing efforts tend always to this end, were they not as cowardly as they are ungrateful; the Rayah despises the Government of the Sultan, but he trembles at the sight of a Mussulman turban.

The Turk, on the other hand, finding himself deprived of his ancient privileges, not only ruined by the new laws, but insulted (which to a Turk is harder to bear), and being no longer the Master but the Rayah of the Rayahs - he too reflects, and accuses his Government of a cowardice worse than criminal.

Such are the effects of the new institutions in this country: whilst in Europe they are regarded merely as having opened a door to those foreign intrigues which they almost legitimate, and whose object is the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire.

But it is the injustice of those so-called Reforms that makes them still more injurious to the country: the Turk, deprived of his privileges and taxed equally with the Rayah, is moreover forced to serve in the army - true, it is an honour, but an honour which costs him dear.

The present regulations compel every adult Turk to serve in the army for a period of five years (in the navy of seven), after the expiration of which term he is placed in the Rediflik or Reserve for seven years more, and as this latter force is, consequent upon the continually harassed state of the country, almost always under arms, his active service cannot well be computed under a minimum of ten years. [We have not taken into account the Bashi Bozouklouk, a force which is called out in time of need from those who have completed their service in the Rediff.]

The Turk however has the option of paying his exemption by a sum of 8000 piastres, rather more than 70 l.; the price paid by the Rayah is an average of 25 piastres, or 4s. 6d. for every year of his adult age.

The difference between these sums plainly proves our assertion of injustice, but to illustrate it still further we will cite an example, giving the real names.

Mehmed Agha of Ayvajik, in Roumelia, possesses land which requires for sowing 300 kiles of grain, and he has two pairs of buffaloes; he pays a property tax of 300 Turkish lire annually, besides the tithe and other imposts.

Anastaz of the neighbouring village of Akdere, a Rayah, owns fields which require 500 kiles for sowing, and has eight pairs of buffaloes; he too pays 300 lire per annum.

Thus far the Christian starts with an advantage.

But Mehmed Agha has six sons, of whom five are serving in the army, and the eldest of whom he has exempted by the payment of 8000 piastres, and he is forced to replace their labour by hired servants, to whom he pays 3000 piastres (about 28 l) a year; whilst the four sons of Anastaz work, or get drunk at one of the numerous Tukhans of Akdere, and pay for the license of either employment only 25 piastres per annum.

If now we submit this question of the non-service of the Rayah to an arithmetical analysis, its proportions become still more grave.

Taking the average duration of life here, after twenty years, at twenty years more, that is from twenty to forty, [We do not profess to be actuaries, and if the amount of life we have given to every adult (we do not take into consideration the deaths of infants, which might reduce the general average of life to 33 or 35) seems too little, we beg the curious reader to find out how many 10 years' men there are in the ranks of an English company, and thence to evolve how many 20 years' men there might be. Of course this calculation only applies to the Turks, but to the Bulgarians drunkenness is as fatal as the Russian bullets, starvation, or the diseases incident to camp and quarters.

In our village of 350 souls, 11 men between 20 and 37 years died within the year, most of them from drink.] twenty years of the vigour and endurance necessary for constant and sustained labour, we know that the Turk is forced to serve from the age of twenty years, and that the Rayah then begins to pay his Bedel Askerie or Exemption Tax of 25 piastres; thus the Mussulman gives to his country ten years of his adult age, or one-half of his most profitable age, whilst the Rayah exempts himself for these twenty years by the payment, in minute instalments, of 500 piastres.

There is another way of looking at this; since one-half of the Mussulman's adult acre is taken from him by the Government, he has but 182 days in the year at his own disposal, whilst the Rayah. has the whole 365, paying only 4s. 6d. for the privilege; the Christian should then produce, in a corresponding proportion, more than the Turk, but this is by no means the case, and if there is a difference in the amount of corn, &c., raised by the two, it is in favour of the latter: for this strange fact a reason is easily found in the innate idleness of the Rayah, and in the peculiarities of the Greek Calendar; for the Rayah profits by the gift of half the year, which the Ottoman Government makes him, to idle during the 183 days of Feast ordained by the Greek Church; whilst the Turk marches and fights, the Rayah dances and drinks, and his exemption from military service is only a more or less direct encouragement of a gigantic parasitism and an authorized debauch. [See Appendix K.]

Another phase of this question involves a point which touches Europe more nearly than all the rest, the state of the Turkish finances.

The Mussulman subject of the Sultan pays as personal taxes (we omit those dependent upon produce and the possession of immovable property) a capitation tax upon his presumed income which averages 30 piastres, and he also pays to Government 182 days of labour, which the Government itself values at 400 piastres, [Taken at the exemption price, 8000 piastres for 20 years equal 400 per annum.] making a total of 430 piastres.

The Rayah pays the same 30 piastres, and a further sum of 25 piastres for exemption from military service; in all, 55 piastres.

Thus the Mussulman pays in personal taxes in the proportion of 430 to 55, or eight-times as much as the Rayah, [There are various other ways of calculating this difference, each of which tells strongly in favour of the Rayah; for instance, a day's work in Turkey is always worth at least five piastres, and counting the working days of the Mussulman year, the year is worth 1500 piastres instead of 400 piastres. Again the Mussulman paying for exemption 8000 piastres, whilst the Rayah pays 25 per annum, buys his liberty at 320 years' purchase, without entering into the calculation of' the respective value of the sum paid down and of that paid by instalments. It may be said that the Government feeds and clothes the soldier, but the labourer hired at five piastres a day is also fed by his employer, and the risks of war are certainly worth more than the very indifferent clothing given to the Turkish troops.] whence the latter may in justice be said to owe to the Imperial treasury a sum of 375 piastres every year, an addition which would be very welcome to the budget of Turkey, since, taking the number of adult Rayahs at only one-fifth of the whole population of twelve millions, it would amount to the enormous sum of 900 millions of piastres, between eight and nine millions sterling; to us it seems that it would be only just to exact this sum, since it can hardly be denied that if the Ottoman Government taxes its Mussulman populations to this extent, it has the right to demand an equivalent sum from the Christians.

More than this, in the interest of Justice and of equality of all Turkish subjects before the law, as promised and guaranteed by the Treaty of Paris, it is the sacred duty of the Government to do so, and thus to increase its own prosperity and gladden the hearts of the holders of Turkish Government Stock.

An objection might be raised against such an act, on the plea that to tax the Rayah 400 piastres instead of the 25 he pays at present would be to deal unjustly with him, since the Turk has the option of exempting himself or of serving and because such heavy tax could not be paid by a poor man.

This last objection is easily refuted, for, as we have seen, the poorest Rayah has 182 days in the year more than the Mussulman, and 182 days of labour are worth, even in Turkey, more than 400 piastres, so that the poor Rayah would only find himself obliged to work for 100 or 120 days in the year more than is his custom, and to spend less time and money in drinking. Furthermore we by no means advocate denying the Rayah the option of exemption, and we even suggest a great concession in his favour, viz., that he should be allowed to choose between the combatant and non-combatant branches of the service, and either to enter the Christian regiments of the Sultan or a corps of Forest Rangers, army works, army train, or any other such civil branch as shall be militarily organized.

Although the friends of the Rayah may deny his obligation to fight for the Crescent, they can hardly maintain that it is not his duty to contribute towards the material improvement of the country in which he lives, an improvement by which he will be the first to benefit.

It would be easy to write at great length upon the details of this question, and to propose, for instance, that the exemption tax should be proportioned to the means and social position of the person exempted, since it is unjust that the Hamal (street porter) should pay as much as the Rayah trader, who with a capital of 250 l. realizes an income of 300 l. by the mysterious proceedings of Eastern commerce: in time of war too the exemption tax should (in our opinion) be largely increased. But it is not our duty to point out remedial measures; if the Turkish Government some day throws off its apathy and seeks to cure the wound it has inflicted, it will find salves enough and to spare.

In conclusion we repeat that such a service as we have proposed would not be absolutely new to the Rayah; we have mentioned the organization of the Woinaks, which proves the fact of the Christians having formerly served, and Von Hammer attributes the rapid successes of Bajazet to an excellent system of Rayah camp servants and workmen.

At that time, when the Turk was in the full enjoyment of all his privileges, and the Rayah had neither civil nor political rights, this forced service might have been a hardship; but in the present day when the Turk is placed exactly on the same footing with the Christian as regards everything except military service (an exception which threatens the Osmanli race with extinction and ruin), when the Rayah can attain to the highest positions and the most lucrative posts, when all Government schools and colleges are open to him, there is no possible or even plausible excuse for exempting him from the tax of labour, whilst the Mussulman pays the tax of blood: as an old Turk said to us the other day, “Since they make Giaour Pashas, why don't they make Giaour nefers? Decidedly our Government is deli or korkak." [Nefers, private soldiers. Deli, mad. Korkak, cowardly.]

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]