THE ARMY AND THE MILITARY RESOURCES OF TURKEY.
Born soldiers - Exploits in the last war - English generalship and
commissariat at Balaklava - French uniforms - Onerous service of the militia
- Organize volunteers - Expense of the militia - Requisites for volunteers
and estimated expense - Christian non-combatant corps.
AMONGST all the mis-used or totally neglected resources of Turkey there is none greater than her military force; of her thirty-five millions of subjects at least twenty-five millions are Mussulmans, and of these fifteen millions are Turks, leaving out of consideration Egyptians and Arabs; these fifteen millions, counting the family at five persons, give the number of three million adult males, that is to say, as all who know Turkey will allow, three millions of warriors.
France with her utmost efforts has not succeeded in raising an army of more than 800,000 men from a population of thirty-five millions, but the Turk is not a Frenchman any more than France is Turkey. Even in the event of a hostile invasion of France, that country could not afford to abandon her industry, and if one adult out of ten joined the army it would be as much as could be expected, for after all a war of invasion in France would not threaten the lives of all Frenchmen. whilst in Turkey every step of the enemy would be a step towards the political and social-even towards the physical-extirpation of the Osmanli race, and the Turks, well knowing this, are resolved in such a case to conquer or to die fighting.
The conscripts of Europe, moreover, require certain military instruction before the civilian can be changed into a soldier, whilst the unweaned Turkish child is just as much a soldier as the Prussian veteran; it is only the military system at present in force which neutralizes the instincts, of the Turk, blunts his courage, and does its best to turn him into a worthless soldier. If Turkey were threatened with invasion, and the Sultan preferred a serious war to a treaty of Kainardji, he would have but to raise the standard of Mahomet, and (even supposing that the whole of Islam did not flock to the banner of the faith) the three millions of Turks, from the boy of sixteen to the old man of eighty, would unanimously rise against the enemy. Allowing that of these one half were retained for garrison duty, and that only 1,500,000 strong and vigorous men formed the active army, what power in Europe could raise such a force and such soldiers?
There is the difference of weapons; but the mail-clad chivalry of Europe were often repulsed by the Turkish light troops, the Akindjis, who wore no defensive armour - courage supplied the place of weapons; yet in the 19th century an army which loses in one battle five per cent. of its number considers itself as irremediably beaten, whereas in the good old times fifty per cent. of killed was but an ordinary "butcher's bill," and the battle though lost for the day was recommenced on the next. What would become of the 800,000 soldiers of Russia if opposed to only one third of the possible army of Turkey, that is, 500,000 men, even supposing the Russians to be armed with breech-loading rifles and the Turks only with their knives? The Polish scythemen have shown the military weakness of Russia and the small value to be set upon her troops, as well as the superiority of courage over weapons; although the inaction of our forces before Sebastopol raised the damaged prestige of the Russian army, the Polish campaigns of 1863 demonstrated that the Russian's proper trade is not that of soldiering.
Unhappily for Turkey and the civilized world, there is not a Vizier who has the courage to appeal to the valour of the people; but should Russia again attempt an invasion, the Turks are resolved to act without, or in spite of, their Vizier.
As for the organization and military instruction of these Levees en masse, the routine so necessary to transform the peace-loving citizen of Europe into a soldier, a legalized assassin, an amateur of danger and slaughter, is but little required by the Turkish peasant, and 500 villagers of the Balkan, armed with their own quaint old rifles, are worth more than 2000 Turkish regulars with the latest invention in breech-loaders, an anomaly which is caused by the faulty system on which the Turkish army is organized. And yet this army is not to be despised; the most brilliant actions of the campaign of 1853-1854 were certainly those fought by the Turks, and the battles of Oltenitza and Kalafat, the defences of Kars, Silistria, and Eupatoria, are well worth Alma, Inkerman, Balaklava, and the indecisive siege of Sebastopol. If we recollect, too, that the Turkish soldiers fought without being led by their officers - that the heroes of Kars and Oltenitza were badly armed, unpaid, and dying of hunger - we must allow that the glory of having broken the power of Russia should be at least equally shared between the Turkish army on one side, and the united forces of the two greatest nations of Europe on the other.
Our forces landed at Varna when the strength of Russia was already weakened, even broken, and we profited by the victories of the Turks to claim the glory for ourselves; because the Turkish soldier did not complain of the misery he was suffering, we called him apathetic, and said he was incapable of energy; yet those who saw the same soldiers at Eupatoria had reason to alter their opinion.
An unpractical general abandoned in some field-works, barely traced out, four battalions of Turkish Rediff, at a distance of more than a league from the nearest assistance, and because they retired before the corps of Liprandi, 40,000 strong, we not only laughed at the Turkish soldier, we insulted him. The Ottoman Brigade encamped near the hill of Balaklava was dying of hunger; it was attached to the English army, and provisions were supplied to it - but what provisions? Barrels of salt pork. Not only were the Mussulmans thus insulted, but the affair was laughed at as "a capital joke" played upon these starving men, and everybody wondered at their "stupidity" in not eating good pork. The facetious commissariat officer who was the author of this excellent jest ought to have been hanged for murder, for his amusement cost the lives of 400 brave soldiers, who preferred death to violation of a precept of their religion. [Of this fact I was an eye witness - S. G. B. St. Clair.]
A couple of volumes such as this would not be enough for a detailed account of all the absurdities in the organization and military instruction and institutions of Turkey, so we shall content ourselves with studying this all-important question only from the political point of view of military strength, touching merely upon such details as are necessary to convey a popular idea of the latent and unemployed force of Turkey, as compared with the amount of resources utilized.
The war budget of Turkey is very small, certainly smaller than that of any power in Europe, although she is more menaced than any other country, and has more need of a large army. This budget, small as it is, is distributed in the most foolish manner, for whilst the pay of a Turkish general or colonel is far better than that of English officers of the same rank, the Turkish officers of inferior rank and the non-commissioned officers and men receive almost nothing.
The arms [Within the last few weeks the Turkish Government has commenced serving breech-loading rifles (converted) to the army.] and musketry instruction are very bad, but the clothing and equipment reach the climax; in 1854 they wore short jackets, which protected them neither from heat nor cold, narrow trousers of rotten cloth, eminehs or slippers, in which they could not walk, and which they generally carried on the points of their bayonets, and a fez; even then the whole uniform was a species of parody of those of Europe, but now it is still more ludicrous and less comfortable. The Frenchman dearly loves a disguise, and just as in Paris you may see a number of individuals dressed up as Arabs or Moors, who cannot tell the difference between an Alif and a Be, and who have probably never even spent a night at Algiers, so some regiments were clothed in a masquerade of Eastern costume; and as this uniform was borne by brave men who ennobled it on the battle-field, the fancy dress of the Zouaves came to be regarded in France and Europe as the outward sign of an esprit de corps. But what traditions of glory or what feelings of pride does this uniform inspire in the bosom of the Turks? For them it is a mere parody of their national dress, and that is all; yet the Turkish soldiers have been dressed in Zouave uniform - no doubt for the pleasure of French tourists in Constantinople. Fancy an Englishman copying the costume of "Lord Williams Tobi, ein reisender Englander," from some German comedy played at a minor theatre of Vienna! The case is very nearly a parallel one.
When the Turkish recruit compares his own comfortable trousers of good home-spun cloth to the ill-shaped knickerbockers of the Zouave, which the latter threw off so gladly at Palestro, and resumed so unwillingly at Milan; [At Palestro the Zouaves found their knickerbockers so uncomfortable for fighting that they took them off, and it was not till some weeks afterwards that they could be induced to resume them.] his Miltan [A kind of doublet, in shape like that worn by the knights of the Middle Ages] to the useless waistcoat; his turban, which is proof against heat and cold, and even against a sabre cut, to the theatrical red rag which replaces it; and lastly his charreks and sarhas [Rolls of thick flannel, in which the foot and ancle are swathed] (the best covering in the world for the foot of a soldier, as they can be replaced whenever a horse or an ox is killed, can be made by the soldier himself in five minutes, and neither hurt the foot nor cost a farthing), to the ammunition boots which pinch him, and the gaiter which takes five minutes to put on - what does he think of the Padisebah's uniform, which is delivered by contract, ready made from rotten materials which will fall to pieces in two or three months?
But even the inconvenience and discomfort of the Zouave uniform is not its greatest evil, for whatever imposing effects it may produce in the Place Vendome or the Champs de Mars, it has none at Constantinople, and the Turkish soldier, seeing in it only a mockery of his national dress, considers it as an insult to his nationality.
Both the drill and the military instruction are foreign, and, being neither national nor suited to the nation, are worse than useless; for whilst they endeavour to form the Turk, who is born a soldier upon the model of European troops, these two powerful levers of military organization succeed only in making of the Turkish line soldiers inferior on the field of battle to the undisciplined and uninstructed Turk of the mountains.
After the battle of Preston Pans, the English copied from the Scotch their immobility under fire, their destructive volleys and their irresistible charge, because the Scotch would never have learned the file firing a la Frederick the Great of the English army; this system has been abandoned within our time, and our army is not so good as it was fifty years ago. In Turkey they copy Europe, who was always beaten by the Turks when the respective forces were at all equal, and when money did not win the battles; what is the consequence of this imitation we have already said.
The organization of the army and its reserves is also imitated from Europe, the Rediff being merely a Turkish Landwehr, and, like all exotics transported into a climate unsuited for them, producing no good fruits. The soldier who has served five years enters the Rediff, returns to his village, marries, and farms his land, merging the soldier in the agriculturist, forgetting the intricate manoeuvres which astonished the loungers, and which he learned with so much difficulty after five years of drill, and thinking only of his farm and his duty towards his family; but at the moment that his fields begin to look green, a Zaptieh arrives, and brings him the order to report himself at Shoumla and to rejoin the army.
If the Turkish soldier of the Rediff were summoned from his family when the first Muscovite cannon proclaimed that the soil of Islam was sullied by the foot of the invader, when the light of burning Turkish homesteads reminded him that before he became a father he was the son of his country, and that the Houris of Paradise have a stronger claim upon him than the caresses of his wife, he would abandon the axe and the plough for the rifle and sword, and with a heart warm with patriotic fire, dry the tears of his wife, and teach his young son to long for the day when he, too, shall be strong enough to fight against the enemies of Turkey.
But when the peasant is called from his home, his farm, from all that he loves, to be dressed up like a baboon at a fair, to execute manoeuvres fatiguing in time of peace, and impossible in war, to saunter through the streets of a town where for months he is the dupe of every petty Greek shopkeeper - and all to facilitate a political combination - it is hard, and worse than hard, it is demoralizing.
The morale of an army is a great capital which cannot be purchased with gold; in Turkey no attention is paid to it, and it shares the common fate of all the riches of the empire neglect. But imagine the difference of feeling between the peasant who goes to drive the invader from his native soil, and the one who is torn from his family to idle at Shoumla or Scutari.
"But," say objectors, "time is necessary for mobilization, and to remind the Rediff of its duties and habits as soldiers; was it not want of time to mobilize, equip, and arm its forces, which caused the reverses of the Germanic Confederation?" Plausible as this argument may at first sight appear, it is used only by soldiers who have no knowledge of the raw material, of the Ottoman army, who belong to that school of officers whom Turkey has unwisely chosen to instruct her troops in European discipline, and whose ideas of the Turkish peasant, whom they seek to grind into a soldier in the mill of a foreign military instruction unsuited to his nature, are only such as they have picked up in the cafes of Pera.
Those who have known something of war, who have studied the Turkish peasant in his home as well as in his masquerade uniform, and have seen how he behaves under fire in spite of the imbecility or cowardice of his chiefs, can truly assert that the worthy Prussian citizen is no more to be compared to the Balkan Chelibi than the winner of a farmer's plate in some obscure country meeting to the winner of the Derby; one may get over the course by dint of hard spurring and language, but the race-horse is born a race-horse, just as the cart-horse is born and remains a carthorse, even though he may win a cup in bad company.
With the Germans war is an acquired vice; with the Turks it is second nature.
Make the drill and manoeuvres clear and simple, as is the true Art of War, and you will solve the problem of creating a great military force at little expense - but in Turkey alone. In Prussia the Landwehr is worth more than the line, because it consists of men in the prime of their strength, but its mobilization entails enormous expense and heavy loss upon the country; in England the Volunteers are, as it were, permanently mobilized, but in spite of their original, if not eccentric uniforms, they cannot become soldiers until after some months of campaigning. Courage will probably not be wanting in their ranks, but the habits of camp life (not the camp life of Wimbledon), the confidence in a Kismet which the soldier acquires only by long familiarity with danger, and which the Turk drinks in with his mother's milk, that talent of se fournir a lui which the Zouave claims as his own invention, and that indescribable feeling which causes one man to kill another with as little remorse as if he were shooting a hare, will take our Volunteers some time to acquire - whilst all these qualities are innate in the Turkish peasant, and will only be extinguished with the Osmanli race.
The Volunteer system of England applied to this country would produce a vast army of soldiers, and a Turkish peasant, who had the good fortune to learn the manoeuvres and musketry instruction taught to the Englishman, would be more than a match for any five of the machine-soldiers turned out by the great military organizations of continental Europe. Turkey needs but little to render her the greatest military power in the world, for she already possesses a courageous population, disciplined by nature, dressed in a costume better adapted for campaigning than any other, and who to become good soldiers need but good rifles, cartridges, a little drill to enable them to act together in masses, and good officers to lead and command them.
Two millions of rifles would cost six millions of Turkish pounds, paid once for all; forty millions of cartridges (twenty per man) would cost ten millions of piastres, or about 90,000 l. a year.
As the pay of the officers of the Rediff might consist in grants of land, which is now almost valueless in Turkey, it need not be taken into consideration, and we find that (counting 10 per cent. interest on the sum paid for the rifles) for seventy millions of piastres, or about 600,000 l. per annum, Turkey might have, in addition to her standing army, a reserve of two millions of the best soldiers in the world ready to take the field at a momentís notice.
Omitting the details of such an organization, which would be interesting only to military readers, we will merely state that the plan itself is eminently practical, and would be profitable both to the country and the Government, and we will make a comparison between it and the present system of Rediff.
By the latter, if the Government wishes to mobilize 20,000 Rediffs, so many labourers are taken away from the fields, and, their pay and rations being insufficient, are forced to subsist at their own expense after having abandoned their families and their growing crops, [As rumours of war are more rife in spring than at any other time, it is always at that season that the Rediff soldier is obliged to leave his family.] and consequently are not worth, in point of morale, half what they would be if called out only at the actual commencement of hostilities.
Here then we find both a great loss of morale and a great injury to the country; and tracing the system onwards, we notice other evils caused by the necessity of mobilizing at least three or four months before the outbreak of war, such as diseases incident to all large permanent assemblages of men, and the fact that even the bravest soldiers, those who are soldiers by nature and experience, do not directly or easily feel themselves at home in a strange regiment.
It requires some months for officer and soldier to become acquainted with one another, and for masses of men to form into that homogeneous monster which is called a battalion, for the discipline and the nervous system of the men to be so developed as to establish a rapid communication between the brain and the limbs, and finally for the battalion to learn to march, to condense itself into columns, to deploy into line, and to break up into skirmishers; in short, not only is a good deal of time necessary to re-drill and discipline the troops, but means of transport as well as a medical and commissariat service have to be organized; in a word, an army has to be organized, disciplined, and equipped every time that the Rediff is called out.
These operations cannot well take less than four months, during which
time the Turkish Government has to feed, pay, and clothe the soldiers,
without counting their arming, or the organization of the various non-combatant
branches of the service, which last form important items; the following
is an approximative calculation of the cost of 20,000 Rediffs: -
|Pay of 20,000 soldiers for four months at 20 piastres per month
|Pay of the officers calculated at a minimum of 3000 piastres per battalion of 1000 men, colonels and general officers not included - for twenty battalions, for four months
|20,000 uniforms at 500 piastres each
|2,400,000 rations at 4 piastres
|Thus the Rediff (without counting other branches of the service) costs, before it is ready for a campaign, for every 20,000 men
By such a system as we advocate, 2,000,000 good soldiers could be mobilized, and 1,500,000 thrown upon the frontier, at less expense to the Government and country: such an organization, far from being novel in Turkey, is nearly the same as that which rendered her in the days of her grandeur the most formidable military power of Europe..
If instead of having recourse to the organization and other operations necessary for the formation of an army only at the moment of danger, the Turkish people were kept under a permanent military organization, the great question of military strength would be at once solved. The characters, manners. habits, customs, and costume of the Turk permit of this being done in the following manner without difficulty and at little expense: the Turk is born a soldier, and after his service in the army is hardly more of one than before, but even the bravest man requires a good weapon with which to make the most of his courage; he is submissive to authority, honest and upright by nature, but he requires discipline and good officers to transform these virtues into military obedience; he is active, and stands fatigue well, but he requires instruction in rifle shooting and to be accustomed to his weapon, [Every one who shoots, knows how much easier it is to shoot well with a rifle or gun to which one is accustomed, than with one which is strange or new.] and finally he must be able to manoeuvre so as to be easily handled when forming part of masses of troops, as well as have a few cartridges to make him acquainted with the capabilities of his weapon.
Thus then there are four requisites: -
2. Ammunition for practice.
4. A simple system of drill, and a discipline compatible with time of peace.
In our opinion the plan to be followed is this: limit the time of service in the line to four or even three years, and offer a good bounty for re-enlistment in order to keep good men in the regiment; when the soldier has served his time let him return to his home, taking with him his rifle, ammunition, and accoutrement; as for his uniform (maimoun roubah, monkey's dress, as the Turks call it) make an auto- da-fe of it, or if you are absolutely bent upon having soldiers disguised as learned poodles, keep it for the body guard of the Sultan or even for the line, but let the reserve wear a dress fitted for campaigning. According to the conduct of the soldier let him wear upon the arm a metal plate, gilded, silvered, or of bronze; if he is a bad character, take his arms from him: these rewards and punishments would not only act as an incentive to good conduct, but create in the breast of the soldier an attachment for his rifle like that which the artilleryman feels for his gun, and a soldier who threw away his rifle would be as much dishonoured as a field battery which abandoned its cannon - which is not now the case in the armies of Europe.
The Turkish soldier arriving with his rifle at his village reports himself to the commanding officer, [This presupposes an organized staff of officers &c., of which we shall speak presently.] who inspects his arms, &c., and the man returns to his work. On every Friday (the Mahommedan Sabbath) and holiday, after Divine Service in the mosque, the peasant-soldier takes his arms, and musters on the village green for inspection and drill, platoon or other according to the number of men in the village, and in the season when there is not much work in the fields battalion manoeuvres may be practised; the peasant-soldier should be liable to military punishment for every infraction of discipline, and a certain number told off every day to act as police and guard the village prison.
Every man should have twenty cartridges per annum served out to him, of which five are to be fired against the butts according to regulation, and fifteen given to him to be used in shooting game, no small shot being allowed to enter the village. There is no danger of the Turk selling his cartridges, he is far too much of a sportsman to do that, and as he would be allowed to buy others from the military arsenals at regulation price on the written recommendation of his commanding officer, there would be no temptation for comrades to buy from one another; besides, as his pouch will hold sixty cartridges, the reserve of forty must be always kept up and shown at every inspection, and as from it would be taken those allowed for ball practice and sporting purposes (which would be replaced by others), his ammunition would always be fresh and in good condition.
[We do not here enter into such details of organization as the subdivision of the Reserve into three classes; the first from 24 to 30 years of age who rejoin the line in time of war and fill up the cadres; the second from 30 to 50 years, forming the chief reserve and having its own organization, officers, &c.; the third from 50 to 70 years, employed in garrison and escort duty, &c. Nor do we speak of the distribution of the officers amongst the three classes in time of mobilization, nor of the drill or method of fighting; we purposely abstain from all questions either purely military or of detail, as not being likely to interest the general reader. We have merely sketched out, in as popular a manner as possible, a system of organization in order to prove that Turkey possesses all the material necessary for a Reserve, numerically, morally, and in all ways more powerful than those of Russia and Prussia united; and that with a good system she might create and keep such a force without much increasing her budget.
A single point will prove the latter part of this assertion a great economy might be made in the following manner; the uniforms and boots of the soldier cost the Government at present 500 piastres a year per man at the least; now if the soldier had merely a plate of metal with his regimental number and that of his company and regiment, and 200 piastres per annum to clothe himself with (we have already said enough upon the national costume as an uniform we shall have a saving of 300 piastres yearly per soldier, which, on the total number of 400,000 (which we believe to be the strength of the Ottoman army) gives 120,000,000 piastres. A very good breech-loading rifle can be procured for 300 piastres, so that by this saving on the uniforms alone, Government would be able to arm 400,000 men annually, or in eight years to arm the whole Reserve of three millions of soldiers. The only expense besides this would be for cartridges but this might be borne by arming 350,000 or even 300,000 only annually; in other words, by issuing 50,000 or 100,000 rifles less annually. There are many other economies possible and even advisable, such as a reduction in the salaries of the high officials and other public functionaries, but we have said enough to show that if Turkey has the will to become a great military power, it need not be the question of expense that stops her.]
Thus then we have our soldier well armed, well equipped, and a good shot; for a man who can bring down a deer or a hare with a rifle ball will seldom miss an enemy's skirmisher, and never a section of five men. Now remains the question of the officers.
At present, an officer serves twenty or thirty years, retiring on a pension of five or six pounds, on which he starves for the rest of his life unless he happen to possess private means; offer every officer, who has served five years in one rank, a house and (according to his rank) from 50 to 100 dulums of land gratis, but not free from taxes: to sergeants and other non-commissioned officers grant smaller tracts of from 10 to 30 dulums, and these attractions, besides that of commanding, will procure you as many officers as you want, and at the same time agriculture will be encouraged.
By this organization (which the Turks would not only merely accept, but hail as the greatest possible boon) Turkey would acquire a Reserve ready armed and equipped; for, as we have already remarked, though the costume of the European would be unpractical and even ridiculous in war, the national costume of the Turk, from the turban to the charreks, is the best uniform that could be invented, and this immense force would cost only the arms and a little of that land which is being daily given away to the Rayahs, the enemies of Turkey; the only annual expense would be the cartridges, but surely 2,000,000 of good soldiers are worth twenty millions of piastres, or 1s. 8d. each.
As there are volunteer cavalry and artillery in England, the same system might be adopted for these branches of the service in Turkey, where the material is at least equally good. Again, if the Rayah were subjected to military service equally with the Turk (as in justice he ought to be) all the non-combatant corps [See the Chapter on the Military Service of the Turk.] would be organized, and in order to enter upon a campaign the whole Reserve would need but two days' notice, the time necessary for the women to cook fifteen daysí provisions which the soldier carries in his chanta, [A bag made of goat-skin or deer-skin, and used by the Turks for carrying food, &c.; it is worn slung on the back, from the shoulder to the hip.] thus saving the country the expense of the four months' organization of the present system. These soldiers too, leaving their homes only in the moment of danger, would be far superior in point of morale to troops who had wasted months in camp and become home-sick before a shot was fired. Unencumbered with heavy packs and painful boots, the men of the new Reserve would easily march their thirty miles a day, and 50,000 or 100,000 of them might be thrown upon any frontier in a week, and at very little cost to the Government.
A medical staff would be of course necessary, and if army doctors were sent from the army into country districts (without losing their right to promotion) it would be an immense benefit to the villages, which have no other doctor than the witch, and the Rediff might take the field followed by its surgeons.
It may be thought that this permanent arming of the Mussulmans would be a danger to the Christians, and render their position even more precarious than do the insults and wrongs daily inflicted upon the Turks by the Turkish Government; the Turk, however, seeing at his side the Rayah who procures him his food, and who digs to-day the intrenchment which the soldier will defend to morrow, will cease to regard him as his enemy and that of Turkey, whilst the Christian Rediff (of volunteers) rallying with the Mussulman regiments will also produce a beneficial effect in reconciling hereditary antipathies. Politically speaking, every Rayah with the army will be a hostage for the internal peace of the country, and a guarantee against such massacres by Christian peasants of Mussulman women and children as took place during the Russian invasion.
The whole plan is, however, too logical, and, whilst very easy of execution, affords too little scope for speculation ever to be adopted by the Turkish Government - and so we leave it.
What we have endeavoured to prove is that the Governmental resolution of Sultan Mahmoud upset the military organization of Turkey to replace it only by an irrational and anti-national copy of European systems, whereas the ancient institutions, with a little necessary alteration, would have raised the military power of the country in the same manner that a little discipline would have reformed the Janissaries and avoided the massacre of one of the finest bodies of soldiers in the world: in short, that Turkey has only to wish in order to regain her position amongst the first Powers of Europe, and to be the mistress of the destinies of Asia. One single man of energy at the head of the Government could effect this, for the Turkish people would rise as one man to support him with heart and hand. But though the people are ready, the man is not forthcoming, for it is only amongst the villages, and not in the towns, that we can hope to find men of energy, brains, and courage.
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