"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Registration of occupancy - Sometimes abused to the fraudulent acquisi-tion of title - Undeserved liberality of the Government - Right of pasturage - Leads to loss of production, illegal destruction of timber, and winter starvation of cattle - Probable results of a European immigration - Let the settlers bring their own merchants.

IT would be taking up too much of our time and space to enumerate all the petty abuses, small anomalies, and insignificant faults of legislation to be found in Turkey, such as the law of mortmain relating to the Vakoufs, which has been magnified into a grievance because it affects in some measure the inhabitants of Pera, the householders of the Sixth Circle [Pera is the Sixth Municipal Circle of Constantinople.] willingly forgetting that all property they possess is held only by an evasion of the law of the land, and wishing for nothing more than that this property may be as far beyond the reach of Justice as are their persons, thanks to the Capitulations.

We have enough to do in pointing out those graver fundamental blunders and errors which exercise a decisive influence upon the progress of Turkey, without losing time in the discussion of minor local questions affecting only a small clique of petty foreign traders, who, after eluding the law, have contrived to suggest an impression in Europe that they are the advanced guards of civilization in the East, and that consequently the Reforms of Turkey must be modelled for their especial benefit and in the manner which it pleases them to dictate.

Setting aside this and similar questions, we turn to the two great principles which affect landed property in Turkey. 1st. Its tenure by Tapou, and the dependent corollary, the system of Mira, or pasturage; 2nd. The permission accorded to foreigners to possess land in this country.

All writers upon the Reforms necessary to the growth of civilization in Turkey fall into the serious error of measuring things by an European standard. In this country there exist two widely differing elements: the Mussulmans, who are susceptible of a civilization adapted to their nationality, and in accordance with the precepts of the Koran, a civilization other than that of England, but which amongst them might not only be easily introduced, but would take root and flourish; and the Christians, who are degraded not by Turkish rule, but by their own vices and those of their priesthood, as well as by those traditions of the Lower Empire [=Byzantium, V.K.] which form the basis of their morals, institutions, and religious prejudices: this latter race is as yet unprepared for any well-grounded civilization, being, like all the peoples who profess the Greek rite, capable of receiving only a thin surface polish, under which the barbarian of the East still remains visible.

The laws which regulate the tenure of land by Tapou, [The Tapou is a species of certificate of registration of land, which guarantees the tenure.] at least for the Vilayet of the Danube, or Bulgaria proper, are as follows: -

Any subject of the Sultan may occupy any Government land uncultivated at the time, may build a house and cultivate as he chooses, on condition of paying the tithe and other taxes established by law; for this land he must take out a Tapou, that is, register his land with the proper authorities, a proceeding which costs from 60 to 100 paras per dulum, or from 9d. to 1s. 3d. per acre. From this land he cannot be turned out on any pretext whatsoever, and having paid the tithe during twenty years he becomes its legal proprietor.

An instant's reflection will show the absurdity, in all ways, of this law, of which the inevitable corollary, the system of Mira, acquires by custom the force of law, and is in itself sufficient to ruin the country and to exclude all progress and civilization more thoroughly than the wildest schemes of the most rabid Communist.

In fact, this law of property annihilates all property.

According to its rules, a man occupies land for the possession of which he pays, once for all, from 9d. to 1s. 3d. per acre, but only becomes its actual proprietor after having paid the tithe during twenty years - and when the land is actually his own, what further advantage does he derive from the fact? He has still to pay the tithe, and the only difference in his position is that he has the right of sale; but who in Bulgaria waits the twenty years if he wishes to sell his land? or who will buy it if the owner is forced to leave that part of the country? As soon as he is gone the land is taken possession of by some one else, or at any rate Turkey is large enough, and contains land enough to satisfy any man who is not over particular about his title deeds.

Moustapha Agha dies, his four sons have been killed in battle, his nephew is a soldier at Bagdad, whence he will not return for eight years; the lands of the dead man ought by law to become Vakoufs until his nephew, Ali Agha, returns to claim his inheritance. In the mean time Anastaz and Dimitri seize upon the estate, cultivate it and pay the tithe, and when Ali Agha comes back he finds that he cannot regain his property, for the two Rayahs pay the taxes and shelter themselves from all legal pursuit in the shadow of the Consul of the North.

In twenty years Anastaz and Dimitri would become legal proprietors of the estate of Moustapha Agha (for which they have had no difficulty in obtaining a Tapou on their simple statement that the land was not occupied), but they do not choose to wait for this period; and they sell their respective Tapous to Kako Effendi, a Greek Rayah who has every inducement to become a landed proprietor, as he is exempted from all taxes by his position as Member of the Medjliss of the neighbouring town of Bulgaropolis, of which he is also Mayor, a dignity which gives him the command of the market for vegetables, &c.

What chance has Ali Agha against such an opponent?

By comparing the rights of Ali Agha with those of Anastaz and Dimitri, who have ceded their title by sale to Kako Effendi, the absurdity of the law of Tapou becomes plainly manifest.

The estate of Djenkdere was conceded to Moustapha Agha's ancestors by the Sultan Amurath II. for services rendered to the State, at the same time as certain rights of Beylik, [The origin of the Beylik is explained in the preceding Chapter.] &c., over the neighbouring village of Giaour-dere, of which Anastaz and Dimitri are natives, which latter privileges were taken away by the changes of Mahmoud II. Although Djenkdere at that time was rendered liable to the taxes formerly paid by the Rayahs alone, it was still valued by the family as a souvenir of the munificence of Amurath and the valour of their ancestors. Now the estate exists no longer, and Ali Agha, who has gained his rank of lieutenant by his own courage, and not by the favour of a Pasha, starves upon his meagre pension, whilst Kako Effendi cultivated the lands of the Turkish Timors of Djenkdere, pays no taxes, uses or rather abuses his position in the Medjliss to corrupt the Government employes, and laughs at the incontestable rights of Ali Agha, the descendant of the Osmanli lords of the soil.

The village in which we live has a somewhat similar history, but here murder was added to robbery, and extinguished the claims of the Turkish owners.

If our readers recollect the sketch given in another chapter of the origin of landed property (rightfully held), and of the taxes, they can hardly help seeing the great hardship and injustice with which the present law affects the Turk, [The Rayahs were dispossessed of their property by conquest, which is in itself a right, and consequently the only legitimate proprietors in Turkey are the Turks, to whom estates were granted by the Sultans; the existing laws permitting the Rayah to possess land do so to the prejudice of all justice, and consequently they do not alter the question.] rendering all legal tenure ruinous to the holders, and consequently destroying all hope of civilization, of which justice is the very foundation. By the existing laws a legal proprietor whose estate has descended to him through many generations, or who has acquired it by a bona fide purchase, is placed on precisely the same footing with the squatter upon Government lands, and even with the man who has stolen the estate of another. This is in itself an absurd anomaly, but is only one in a long series of mistakes; let us examine the effects of this law upon the financial and economical state of the country.

The first result obtained by the promulgation of this law is that Government lands are worth nothing, for it cannot be considered that the price paid for the Tapou is an equivalent to their value, or is anything more than a fee paid for registration.

The political economists of the East will answer that this law was passed with the object of promoting the clearing of forest land, as an inducement to cultivation, and for the development of agriculture; the weakness of this argument will be shown immediately in an economical point of view: as for the financial absurdity, Turkey surely has not the right to waste her most valuable resources in order to bestow a doubtful boon upon an ungrateful race, or to act like a madman who throws his gold into the river. Indeed, it is little less than a financial suicide to tolerate such a law, and, since the Sublime Porte has insured its life with those European capitalists who have subscribed to the Turkish loans, it is high time that the insurance office composed by the creditors of Turkey should issue a Commission de lunatico inquirendo, and demand that the physicians, or rather the quacks, who are poisoning the patient should be dismissed, and replaced by doctors who have a direct interest in the preservation of his life and his restoration to reason. Such physicians can only be found amongst the Turks of the country, [For the Turk of the country as distinguished from the Turk of the town, see Chap. xvi.] but unfortunately they are a class whose opinion will never be consulted, and not one amongst them would be found either sufficiently imbecile or sufficiently corrupt to aspire to rank amongst the present Reformers or political economists of this country, which, after all, owes its continued existence, precarious as it is, to the courage and loyalty of these same village Turks, as well as to the dread which they inspire in the Rayah.

Whatever may be said, the fact is that the Ottoman Government grants its lands gratis to any one who chooses to take them; gratis, because if the tithe be considered as rent, it should not be exacted from those who are the rightful proprietors of their estates by such titles as are recognized everywhere; but since the tithe does fall upon such proprietors, it, as well as the Beylik, &c., is in reality a genuine tax and not rent, and as the Government receives from those who take its land no other payment, these lands are in reality granted gratis.

In a country only six days' journey from London, with the finest soil and climate possible, land is to be had at the maximum price of 1s. 3d. per acre, less than is paid in the wilds of Australia or at the foot of the Rocky Mountains ; surely thousands of colonists flock to this new Eldorado? Not so, for there is an obstacle; the Rayah who wastes the land can have as much of it as he chooses, but there is not an inch for enterprising and intelligent foreigners, and this in a country of whose total superficies a tenth, or, more correctly speaking, a sixteenth only is cultivated, and that imperfectly, every year, although twothirds of the whole is susceptible of utilization. This fact is the result of the Government's bestowing lands for nothing upon a people who do not deserve the gift; of these laws of property which we have already described, and of an abuse which springs from them, the system of Mira, to which we now pass.

We have already mentioned, in the preceding chapter, that the municipality of Varna possesses on the south side of the lakes of Devna [Thus named in the maps, but the real lake of Devna is separated from that which washes the walls of Varna, from which town it is more than 15 miles distant.] (without counting its possessions to the north), an extent of land amounting to twenty-three square miles, and that for this immense tract it pays only about 100 l. a year to Government, whilst of the whole surface only about thirty acres are cultivated (chiefly as vineyards), the rest serving as pasturage for miserable sheep, cattle, and half-wild horses.

Seeing the wretched state of the land and the animals you would feel tempted to exclaim, "Is it possible that this good soil should be left thus uncultivated, and that these poor beasts should be left to die a lingering death of inanition!" But you would be still more astonished to be told that the land is left so for this express purpose, that the cattle may pass their lives in a state of perpetual starvation: yet this is actually the case.

This species of agricultural economy is to be met with only in Turkey, where it flourishes over the whole empire.

These twenty-three miles, voluntarily left desert, form part of the Mira of Varna, being land which that town claims a right to as pasturage; by what right they belong to the town it would be hard to say, we do not believe that they were purchased, and yet Varna has an incontestable right to all this territory, and chooses it is a place of torture for its cattle. Anybody who attempted to take any of this land and bring it under cultivation, would soon learn who are its owners.

The Mira is then a right of pasturage, and on the other hand a right of property, claimed by every municipality, commune, or even owner of a chiflik (or farm) in Turkey, without giving themselves even the trouble of taking out a Tapou for its registration, and without paying to Government the tithe of the produce which should nominally render them proprietors of it in twenty years.

The theory enunciated by the political economists of Constantinople about the encouragement of agriculture does not appear in a very favourable light when viewed in connection with the enormous non-value of the Miras of the whole of the empire: the extent of land thus rendered unproductive in European Turkey being at least nine-tenths of its superficies.

But it is argued that pasturage for cattle is absolutely necessary, that the forests must be preserved, since for this latter purpose a “Corps Forestier" has been instituted at Constantinople - (by-the-bye, these gentlemen never leave the capital, and for all the good they do there or anywhere else, might just as well be employed in planting fir-trees on the roof of the Grand Vizier's palace, or cedars on the Tower of Galata) - which will cost the Government a heavy sum, whilst the forests are none the less left to be burnt down for the benefit of the Bulgarian, or bought up for the benefit of some Greek speculator. One man of common sense would be worth the whole of the scientific instruction of all the Turkish re-organizers put together.

If there were a financier, an economist, or even a Pasha, who not only pretended to see beyond the lighted end of his cigarette, but really was capable of doing so, he would never rest if he felt the least love for his country, so long as the absurd system of Mira existed. This system, or rather the right based upon the abuse of it, is ruining Turkey, for to this it is owing that, even with the faulty method of taxation in force, the Dime does not amount to five times the sum it reaches at present; since the country produces five or six times less than it ought to do, did not the Mira leave nine-tenths of the forest land uncleared, and were the actual state of agriculture in Turkey improved. [We have calculated in the Chapter treating of the Taxes, that the revenue of Government suffers a diminution of two-thirds; and it therefore follows from the above statement, that if the Mira were abolished and the produce of the Dime paid intact into the Treasury, this revenue would amount to at least fifteen times as much as it does now.]

Not only, as we have said, do all municipalities, communes, and owners of farms monopolize large tracts of land over which they pretend to have the right of pasturage; not only do they think and say that they are the lawful owners of this ground; but they also arrogate to themselves the right of cutting down for their own use or for sale as much timber as they choose, [The village of Derekuoi has destroyed within the last three years timber belonging to Government of the value of about 20 000 l.] set fire to the forest trees for the benefit of the grass, and exercise other and equally intelligent seigneurial rights.

This is doubtless a terrible waste of resources, but the true economical evil lies in the fact which we have pointed out - that nine-tenths of European Turkey bring nothing to the Government, and cannot be disposed of to foreign colonists, because this portion is Mira, and the owners would sooner sell their wives than an acre of it.

To explain this love for land which is of little real value to its proprietors, we must take into consideration the character of the Bulgarian peasant, who fancies that by keeping his Mira he is cheating the revenue, and who argues with himself much in the following manner: “I have 300 dulums of arable land on which I sow every year sixty kiles of grain and pay the Dime; Aman! [A Turkish expression of grief or dismay; literally, Pity!] how heavy that Dime is! To be sure I only pay for a third of my land, because I leave the rest fallow or grow produce which isn't taxable, but still it's very hard, and I don't see why I should pay any tax at all. However, as I am obliged to pay, I must make it up somehow, so I take 2000 dulums of forest belonging to Government, and I have a right to this Mira because my buffaloes strayed all over it once last winter; for this I only pay a Beylik of 400 piastres for the 100 ewes I own to - (I should like to find a Beylikji who could make out how many I really have; I don't know to within fifty!) - and thirty piastres for ten sows, which make 430 piastres altogether; but then I cut down, one year with another 3000 piastres' worth of wood to sell at the town, and my horses and buffaloes feed in the forest - though it is true that the horses are more good to the wolves than they are to me; so I manage to do the Government in return for the Dime it makes me pay, besides preventing it selling or letting a single dulum of my Mira."

The Turkish peasant values his Mira, because, owing to the amount of time taken from him by his military service, he is forced to devote his attention to cattle-farming as well as agriculture; the Rayah, without the same compulsion, is very fond of keeping cattle, and adores the profession of choban (herdsman), because his dogs can look after his charge, and he has nothing to do but to saunter about and improve his knowledge of the bagpipes. This idle occupation is disliked by the Turks, and the chobans of a Mussulman village are nearly always Bulgarians or gipsies.

If the system of Mira had the effect of making Turkey a great centre for the production of cattle, wool, &c., &c., this feeble excuse might be urged as a palliation of the economical error of employing arable land as pasturage - the Dobrudscha, for instance, might plead thus; the Mira, however, has not this result, for instead of producing fat cattle it turns out only living skeletons.

The Bulgarians have large herds of cattle, but they never take the pains to mow a single acre of grass to feed them. with during the winter, and carrots, turnips, or clover, are as much unknown to them as oileake and Thorley's food; the poor brutes are left during the winter to chance, hunger, and the wolves, [The wolves, which are increasing in number every year in our part of the country, do a good deal of damage (to-day we heard of seven horses and oxen killed within the last two nights), but not so much as might be expected; possibly they are gourmets, and prefer a fat deer to a skinny cow or sheep.] those who survive the care of their triad of guardians finding a little nourishment in the young spring grass; but hardly do they begin to lose their hibernal translucence, when the grass is burned by the peasants, and the second bovine Lent commences, and it is only after harvest that they pick up sufficient food in the stubble of the cornfields and the abundant wild fruits of the forest to enable them to support their winter torments, and to prevent them being carried away bodily by the first breath of the North wind. From this system arises the present degeneracy of the cattle of this country; the horses not having a single good point about them, and the horned beasts being mere frameworks of skin and bone, about the size of a very small Shetland pony.

If you give a property to an idiot, it does not make him a proprietor in the true sense of the word, and a child will throw a bank note out of the window; so it is with the Bulgarian. To create real proprietors in this country it is necessary to create real property, and to allow labour capitalized to represent a title to the land; there is no use or object in working to obtain possession of the soil, when an equally legal possession and title may be secured without the trouble of work. So long as legal and illegal possession are on the same footing, and capitalized labour, which is property, valueless and a dead letter, it is impossible to hope that labour will be held in esteem, or to dream of progress.

There is one mode of escape from these evils, by applying a remedy which we have mentioned in the preceding chapter. Do not tax the producer, but the consumer of the raw material, for the producer represents labour and agricultural enterprise; in short the producer is Turkey, and the consumer Europe, and it is unjust to tax the former whilst exempting the latter. Tax the soil, but not labour, and the bad farmer will give up what he does not want of his land to the good farmer, who will never have too much. This is what another system of taxation might effect; but in order to do justice and to render such property as is the result of labour no longer valueless but valuable, distinguish between the legal and illegal proprietor; let him who has no better title deed than a Tapou pay five piastres extra rent per dulum in addition to the five he will pay as land tax, grant a right of Mira to the old soldier who has faithfully served his country, but scrutinize the title of him who keeps his pasturage merely to keep himself in idleness, and let him pay rent for such land, or buy it at a price fixed according to the locality. If such laws were in force, it is probable that the greater part of the seven-tenths of the country now uncleared would be again in the hands of Government, who might let them, not sell them, to foreign speculators.

But to this last scheme there is a drawback; for to grant lands, if only for ten years, to foreigners enjoying all the privileges guaranteed them by the Capitulations, would be (in spite of that clause of the new law permitting aliens to possess land in Turkey, which decrees that landowners of foreign nationality shall be subject as regards their landed property to such laws as in Turkey regulate the possession of land), to give up the country entirely to foreign influence, to denationalize the Turk even more than is done at present, and to give a still wider range to foreign intrigue.

Even here there is an amendment possible, in spite of our own conviction - that the possession of land in Turkey by foreigners is an absurdity so long as the Capitulations are not abolished, or at least radically modified.

Turkey is here on the horns of a dilemma; for whilst on the one hand it would be financially advantageous to the Government, as well as economically and materially to the country, to let the unoccupied lands to foreign enterprise, on the other it would be an ever germinating seed of troubles and petty warfare, and a certain method of still further weakening the prestige of the Government.

Between this good and this evil it is difficult to choose, but we will examine the question of the right of possession granted to foreigners, and endeavour to solve this difficult problem as well as we can.

If foreigners are permitted to buy land, it is certain that in a short time their intelligent labour, backed as it will be by capital, will enable them to extend their properties, and little by little to become owners of the greater part of the soil of Turkey by legal dispossession of the Rayahs. The Turks, at least the peasants (though the rich Bey with his European semi-civilization may not care much for his patrimony except as a source of income), are deeply attached to the land which has been paid for by the blood of their fathers; they are hard working and sober, and the only race in Turkey who are really fond of agriculture:  [The Rayah, especially when of Greek race, cultivates land only for want of a more congenial employment, the towns and his own system of commerce possessing an irresistible attraction for him.] these qualities may enable them to make head for a time against the foreign colonists; but the Rayah, with his habit of idling 183 days in the year, his love of drink, and his contempt for all modern improvements, [Many well-to-do Turks in this neighbourhood are introducing European improvements in their farms, such as machinery, &c. &c. of the Rayahs not one has clone so.] will soon become poor in spite of the fact that his land is double that of his new neighbours; and when he is offered for his property a sum greater than its real value to him, he will be only too glad to sell it, and settle in some town; there, his smaller means being placed in competition with larger capitals, he will soon be ruined and driven back upon the country; but a new order of things will be established, and he will find no more land to be had for nothing, and no more gratis timber to be cut for fire wood; and as the new immigration will necessitate a new and effective system of police, the laws will no longer be violated with impunity - the Rayah's last resource, that of turning thief or highwayman, will be closed to him - and his only choice will be between mendicancy and becoming a day- labourer.

Such an expropriation of the Rayah by the consequences of his own vices, is the natural and inevitable result of the settlement of foreign farmers in Turkey.

The Turk, as we have said, may hold out longer, but he will have the disadvantage of being obliged to copy the improvements introduced by the settlers, without having the capital necessary to make them profitable to him, whilst the heavy burden of military service falls upon him alone, leaving his antagonist untouched. The struggle will be a hard one, and the Mussulman will be forced to employ all the resources of his character - all the energy, patience, sobriety, and courage with which he is gifted - to avoid the fate which has overtaken the Rayah.

Under these circumstances the position of the Government becomes very difficult, as it will be placed between the Turkish people and a rich and consequently influential class of landed proprietors, whose territorial possessions are indeed subject to Ottoman laws, but whose other property, as well as their persons, can be affected only by foreign jurisdiction; whilst the Rayah element is becoming gradually extinct, like the savages of North America, by the influence of its own idleness and passions.

To help the Turks, the Government must protect them in such a manner as will rise to an apparent injustice, and cause loud complaints on the part of the colonists, whilst the Rayah pauperism will be a continual source of embarrassment.

The substitution of a hard-working class, in place of the parasitic and hostile Rayah, will be an undoubted gain economically, but its political effect is not so easily defined.

In our opinion, the way to obviate these difficulties would be to give the colonists an interest in their adopted country by permitting them to participate in the local and even the general government under certain conditions, which should be as follows: that all foreign settlers in Turkey should be subject to all the laws and burdens imposed upon the subjects of the Sultan, as well in their persons as in their property, so that, for instance, they should be liable to military service, or to pay an exemption tax proportioned to their means; when the colonists left Turkey, they would take their passport from their Consul, and enjoy all the privileges conferred by their original nationality. Such colonists as did not choose to agree to these terms should be allowed no share in the Government, and should be treated as foreigners, that is, as entitled to none of the rights of a Turkish subject.

This amendment would urge the settlers to inscribe themselves under the laws of the country by the inducement of the brilliant careers which would be opened to them, in entering upon which they would find themselves in precisely the same position as those foreigners at present in the service of the Sultan.

If it is asked, What would attract European farmers to Turkey under such conditions? we answer by a question: Where in Europe can you find such land to be let at 1s. 3d. per acre, the total taxes only amounting to 2s. 6d. more, and arable fields to be bought at 42 s. per acre - recollecting that this soil will produce, without manure, two or three times more than the soil of Europe with it ?

We believe that the Turkish Government would do well to grant uncleared land to foreign companies for a term not exceeding fifty years, at a rent of 8 or 10 piastres per dulum per annum (4s. to 5s. per acre), and no doubt many companies would be glad to avail themselves of such an offer.

As sincere friends of Turkey, we should be glad to see foreign companies established in the country under such conditions; and we should prefer this speculation to be undertaken by companies rather than by individual colonization, because in the first place the former would offer better guarantees of solvability, and, secondly, because they would be forced to defend their property by making war upon Eastern commerce. For the benefit of these possible associations. we suggest a plan which would render success in this war certain; the companies who farm the soil of Turkey should establish large commercial houses in the towns of the coast, for the purpose of buying up the cereal and other produce of the country at (even) 25 per cent. profit, and importing the manufactures of Europe to sell at the same rate: such an enterprise would, besides realizing enormous profits, benefit Turkey by rendering Eastern commerce impossible to its present followers. There is one necessary principle to be observed, and never to be deviated from, namely, that no Greek and no Armenian or other Rayah be admitted into these houses in any capacity whatsoever - even that of Hamal (porter) - or they will have the same fate which has hitherto attended every enterprise of the kind which has been attempted in the East.

In conclusion we venture to express a hope that what we have written on this subject, though it would probably possess no interest for the present officials of Turkey, may at least afford matter for reflection to our readers in England.

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