"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



Authority of the Sultan - Edict of Gul Hane - The future regenerator - Temporizing policy - Palace of the Porte - Palace of a Pasha - A mixed assemblage - The Cadis and the Medjliss.

THE Turkish Government has been ever since its foundation an autocracy, the Sultan being responsible for his actions to but one person, the Moufti or Head of the Ulema; but, as that dignitary could be deposed from his functions at the will of the sovereign, his authority offered a feeble barrier to power of the master of the destinies and lives of 35,000,000 subjects. Various authors who have written history give widely differing figures, from 7 (Von Hammer) to 1000 (Rycaut), as the number of persons whom the Padischah might put to death in one day without other cause than his own pleasure. As, however, the Sultans were bound to submit to the civil and religious precepts of the Koran, even the most bloodthirsty amongst them were restrained in their excesses by the laws of the Prophet, and although they united in their own persons both the legislative and executive power, their edicts had not the force of law unless sanctioned by the doctrines of the Koran; these edicts of the Sultans are styled Ourfi, and have never been considered otherwise than as supplementary to the great laws contained in the Koran and the Sounna (the traditional sayings of Mahomet), and to the decisions and sentences of the four great Imams.

The Ottoman Government was personified as a large tent, under which the ancient Sultans distributed justice, and from the Italian translation of the "lofty portal" we derive the term Sublime Porte, by which it is now distinguished.

The Sultan governed with the aid - in the great reigns more properly through the medium - of Viziers or Ministers, of whom the Grand Vizier, or chief of the ministerial council, was formerly also Seraskier or Minister of War.

Justice was, as it still partly remains, in the hands of the Ulema, or corporation of legists and learned men, amongst whom the priests formed a comparatively insignificant proportion. The edict of Gul Hane was the first Charter granted by the sovereign, and, like the Hatti Sheriff of 1856, was not so much an address to his subjects as a sort of promise to Europe to conduct himself like a civilized ruler on condition of being treated as such by the great Powers.

Since this time the statesmen of Turkey have taken, or rather pretended to take, the new position of their country as seriously meant; hence the dangerous though often laughable hops, skips, and jumps they make on the road of civilization, and that political lofty tumbling which, without benefiting Turkey, fatally shakes such of her ancient institutions as still cement together and give a species of consistency to the State, and is not always even successful in obtaining the applause of biased European spectators, who demand that each summersault shall be higher than the last.

It must not be imagined, however, that Turkish statesmen are fools, or even puppets; there are amongst them intellects which would do honour to any Cabinet of Western Europe; but even a man of the talent of Fuad Pasha has a hopeless task before him, when he finds himself in presence of that immense chaos which has resulted from destroying the old order of things before laying the foundation of a new edifice, social, political, economical, financial, and even governmental.

To create order out of such disorder is too much for an ordinary brain or an ordinary ambition; a Napoleon, a Doria, or a Selim II. might erect from this ruin a vast military power, a country enormously rich, or even the great centre of a civilization based upon the precepts of the Koran, and around which would gravitate all the peoples of Islam; a still greater genius might even unite all these, but such a genius does not exist in Turkey. A man of talent and skill may sound the abyss, calculate the latent strength, estimate the resources, and discover the means, but between the appreciation and action there is a wide gulf, must be crossed in Turkey not by talent but which alone will hazard the perilous step necessary.

The statesmen at present in power know as well as we do all the abuses and economical vices which we have pointed out in this book; for not to perceive them they must be more than short-sighted, they must be wilfully blind. The immense but undeveloped resources, the formidable but latent strength, the alluring prestige of a possible future domination over 140 millions of Mussulmans - a population equal to all the members of the Protestant and Greek Churches - no doubt appear before the eyes of men in office as a brilliant mirage; but between such a dream and its realization there is this terrible step to be dared, such a step as few men will take, especially when they are already in a position which, though precarious, does not demand either the heroic courage or indefatigable exertions which spring only from ambition or genius; they will not exchange a luxurious palace for the hard life of a camp, a court of flatterers for a crowd of enemies, a peaceable and tranquil existence for a life full of dangers. Yet such must be the choice of the man who seeks to regenerate Turkey; he must neither quail before circumstances, nor tremble before his sovereign, he must march boldly on the road he has traced out, overcome all obstacles, and crush all enemies without other support than his own force of mind, without other motive than his own belief in his mission, and without other hope of success than that inspired by the consciousness of his own strength of will.

It is the easiest course to dismiss these fair visions, to prefer the routine of temporization to such a warfare, and a skilful but vacillating policy to a menacing display of force. Such is the reason that, though Fuad Pasha is perhaps the most clever diplomatist of Europe, Turkey is gliding slowly, but surely, into the gulf of a blood-stained future, whose result is uncertain; even this terrible eventuality causes less fear than the prospect of the struggle by which it might be avoided, and this feeling explains all the anomalies which strike any one who studies even the minor questions of Turkey, for the general policy of this country may be resolved into one word, temporization.

There is, not a statesman in Turkey who seriously intends the reforms he proclaims, not one who sincerely desires progress or the welfare of the Christians; these are but the keys of the great political organ upon which the Minister plays, and hence the reforms are in direct proportion to the wind which originates them. A little whitewash for the walls of a town, a road or two traced out but never made, a railway which does not open up the country, but whose shares quoted in European newspapers produce a general effect of civilization, a few attempts at florid domestic architecture - all these cost but little, are dangerous neither to the country nor to the Ministry, whilst they have the desired result in Europe, and so they are now all the fashion.

But if a Minister accidentally touches, even with the tips of the fingers, one of those grave and vital questions which affect the very existence of his country, he recoils in dismay from the electric shock. Who then will dare to raise the question of the military service of the Turk? The Ministry of Constantinople are well aware that the Mussulman is crushed by this burden; but they know that he is faithful and loyal to his sovereign, so they do not hesitate to continue the oppression, since to distribute even-handed justice would make the Rayah complain, and draw down lightning from the surcharged clouds of the North.

To reform the army practically would be unpleasant to those foreign officers officially attached to it, and ruinous to the contractors; to put a stop to the frauds of Eastern commerce would extirpate half a million of robbers, but it would awaken the wrath of half a hundred Consuls; to change the tenure of landed property and the system of taxation would give prosperity to the country, but it would aggrieve the Rayahs and offend the tax-farmers. Better to give up all idea of improving the finances of Turkey, better to obtain a new loan at a sacrifice of 80 per cent., than to bring this nest of wasps about ministerial ears!

Thus all vital questions are shelved, and if Europe speaks, she is answered by a touch of paint given to some superannuated institution, by a new concession to the Christians, or a patent organization which looks well in a despatch, but in reality is worth nothing or less than nothing.

The Cabinet of Stamboul well knows that in Turkey there is but one element susceptible of immediate civilization, but not one of its members dare contradict the received opinion that the Turk is a barbarian incapable of all progress; it repeats without ceasing that the Ministers have to struggle against the prejudices of the Mussulman population, and are as yet unable to communicate to their country the civilization they have themselves acquired, on account of this semi-savage people. [See the communication from Fuad Pasha enclosed in the Despatch of H. E. Lord Lyons to Lord Stanley, dated May 6, 1867 (Appendix M).]

This comedy, with its scenery of whitewashed towns, costumes almost European, even the uniforms of the army being a ridiculous and expensive flattery of France, may be played to the approbation of the audience in the boxes, but behind the scenes you see the bareness and superficiality of everything, and that the rouge on the actors' cheeks does not conceal their pallor, whilst there are piles of weapons thrown away into a corner, and heaps of gold covered by heaps of dust, the actors having neither the courage to seize the one nor to use the other. Sooner or later this comedy will change to a sanguinary drama.

We have now said enough upon Turkish civilization and organization, and have sketched in truthful colours the cause of the existing monomania for embellishing the towns; we have seen Turkish politicians struggling against the current of progress, hoodwinking or deceiving European diplomatists, and throwing whole sackfuls of gilded dust in the eyes of the public opinion of the West; we will then pass from generals to particulars, and having found out the motive principle of the great governmental engine, we will proceed to examine its works.

Perhaps some of our readers may have found themselves in contact with the Turkish Government in its bodily shape, and know as well as we do the interior of that supremely ugly yellow building in which the Sublime Porte deigns to reside, the great Salle des Pas Perdus, in which swarm throngs of petitioners, from the officer to the Jewish pedlar, whilst amongst the motley crowd circulate the karchjis with their trays of tiny coffee cups, or mendicant dervishes whose proud eyes and stern features seem to proclaim them the emperors of poverty, and the long, matted corridors, along which the humbler natives glide in their stockinged feet as silently as shadows, whilst the Embassy Attache or privileged Frank makes his boots creak as if in disdain of the Mussulman, and seems at each step to be giving a kick to the poor wretches condemned to dance attendance upon the Sublime Porte.

From these corridors open numerous doors, each covered with a hanging carpet, behind which are divans occupied by cross-legged and bearded employes, all fat and apparently bloated with a self-consciousness of importance, smoking and counting the amber beads of their rosaries; then the offices, filled with big scarlet-bound books littered about on the floors and the shelves in a thoroughly Turkish disorder; and finally the inner sanctuaries where the great official personages give you a cup of coffee, a chibouque, and an evasive answer.

Seeing all this, it is difficult to help being astonished when one recollects that this Tower of Babel is the centre of a Government which numbers 35,000,000 subjects, or not to fancy that one such office as this would be enough to drive the rest of the world demented; yet it is really in these offices filled with loungers, and in these sancta sanctorum where his Highness converses with so much wit, politeness, and tact, that the destiny of Turkey is settled.

At the Seraskierat [Ministry of War.] things are still worse, for it is a very pandemonium of employes; in the English War Office and Horse-Guards there are three clerks too many in every four; at the Seraskierat forty-nine too many in every fifty, who form a regular army, unfortunately dangerous to the Ottoman troops only. Thanks to, or in spite of, the English superfluity, the British soldier receives his pay regularly and is clothed in good stout materials; but thanks to the flood of Turkish employes, the Turkish soldier seldom gets more than a fleeting glimpse of part of the money which he ought to have received two years before, and is dressed in fantastical rags and tatters. [See the Chapter on the Military Resources of Turkey.]

The Turkish Admiralty is a little, though but very little, better managed; the only office (if we may so call it), where there reigns a kind of order and imposing gravity, being that of the Grand Moufti, who presides over matters having reference to religion and canonical law; in everything connected with the Ulema there is something which compels veneration and respect, and you no longer seem to be in the booths of a fair, but may almost fancy yourself in presence of the white-bearded Patriarchs of the Bible.

The Conacs of the provinces are only smaller and less crowded copies of the great foci of Government at Constantinople, and to describe one of them is to describe all.

Below is the usual Salle des Pas Perdus on which (space being more restricted than in the capital) open the doors of the various bureaux, but if you have come to see the Pasha you must go upstairs, official dignity in Turkey being measured by the number of stairs mounted to arrive in its presence; if there were here houses with fourteen stories as in Edinburgh, it would be on the fourteenth flat that His Excellency would grant audience. As such monumental structures as these are not to be found in the country, you are ushered into a little room on the first or second floor, scantily furnished with a divan, a stove, a few chairs, and an arm-chair for the Pasha. It is generally the dragoman or interpreter of the Conac who receives you, and does the honours until his master's arrival; he is invariably a Greek or Armenian, and has a friendly habit of calling you “mon cher" after the first two minutes of a conversation which will probably be on politics, and in which he lays down the law as if he were an embodiment of the Sultan and Mr. John Stuart Mill; he is sometimes intelligent, but always shallow, and ten minutes' talk will get him well out of his depth.

When the Pasha arrives, you mutually bow, shake hands, and begin another conversation which, whatever may be your knowledge of Turkish, is usually carried on through the medium of the dragoman, out of politeness to this functionary, who, in spite of the oath he has taken to interpret faithfully, will (if he thinks that you are ignorant of Turkish) enliven the tedium of his duty by twisting and turning your phrases into something that you never meant them to mean, and that he knows they never could mean. Sometimes, however, the Pasha has a knowledge of French or German, and ventures boldly into the intricacies of one of these languages, dismissing the dragoman with a majestic wave of the hand. Talk of shooting, Paris, Constantinople -any indifferent subject you please - and the Pasha will answer you frankly and pleasantly, taking his full share in the interchange of ideas; but if you hazard a word concerning the internal government or state of Turkey, his face sets into official fixity, and he either contradicts you flatly or is altogether silent. If you come on business, address yourself to some subordinate, and bribe him well; if you wish to speak of the country, never cross the threshold of the Conac.

During your visit (unless it is a private audience) many different personages pass in and out of the room; that man with a cunning face, Greek trousers, and a Rayah fez, who sits upon a square inch of his straw chair near the door, who rises every time that the Pasha opens his lips, and who receives from the attendants only a cup of coffee, and neither chibouque (which is the greatest honour) nor cigarettes, is the Chorbadji, or mayor of the town, and farmer of the taxes of the district; he robs the Government, and cheats the peasant without scruple or remorse, but he bows to the ground before the Pasha.

The old grey-bearded Turk, seated by your side on the divan, who is telling the beads of his rosary and smoking his chibouque with such sublime indifference to all passing around him, is the Cadi, or Judge.

The gentleman who has just entered, attired in the latest Parisian fashion of 1840, with a convex waistcoat, and the riband of the Green Tiger of Teufelschwanz (8th class) in his button hole, is Mr. Frenkel, Vice-Consul of Monaco, buyer and seller of stolen cattle, agent for the famous manufacturers of chemical matches, A. M. Pollak of Vienna, and head of the Post-office of the Messageries Grand-ducales of Modena; he has come to obtain a concession for building a new landing-place in the harbour, and he will succeed in getting it, or diplomatic relations will be interrupted between his Excellency the Pasha and the Government of Monaco.

With another bow, and another shake of the hands, you withdraw, and as you go downstairs you notice a Cherkess in rags, but armed with a dagger which would fetch fifty pounds in a curiosity shop, and seemingly as proud in his poverty as other people are of their wealth; he has come to got a Tapou for some land he is clearing, but not being able to pay his way into the Registration-office, he is forced to wait, evidently much to his disgust; but he looks, despite his rags, more like a king about to grant an audience than a humble petitioner.

Meanwhile a being with bare and unwashed feet has sneaked into the bureau of the Tapouji, and backs humbly out of it almost on all fours: it is a Bulgarian who has obtained the Tapou for the land of the Circassian, whom he accidentally touches in passing, and to whom he pours forth a flood of abject excuses.

There stands a group of Turkish peasants discussing the justice of a sentence given against their village, and in favour of the Beylikji; [Tax-farmer] these the Rayah carefully avoids as he makes his way to the door.

There is a knot of Greeks and Jews concocting some little scheme of cheatery, and deep in the endeavour to divide the anticipated spoil so that each man shall have the satisfaction of outwitting his accomplices by pocketing the largest share.

Moving amongst these various groups is a Deli (madman) begging his daily bread, a Jew gives him ten paras (a half-penny), and he passes on, the Cherkess gives him the last piastre he can spare, and the Deli offers him in return ten piastres, saying, "You want this more than I do, take it for your land; as for me I require nothing but a few leaves of cabbage, to keep me from dying of starvation; I am a philosopher, or what the world calls a madman, and the philosopher needs nothing but the strictly necessary." The Cherkess replies, “Others are poorer than I am: give your money to the crippled, not to the strong man, I have yet my two arms to work with." The Deli puts the money in his pocket, and, as he goes out into the street, gives it to a Christian beggar woman with three children. [This scene is not imaginary.]

A few words about the distribution of justice in Turkey. A poor fellow said to us one day, “My law-suit will be judged by the Medjliss, so it is lost; for I am very poor. Ah! if it had pleased God that it should be tried before the Cadi, I should have had some chance of justice!"

The venality of the mixed tribunals is proverbial; the Cadis are sometimes, though not often, corruptible, but their misdeeds are as nothing compared with those committed by the Medjliss and the Tijarret (Tribune of Commerce), and more especially by those Rayah tribunals presided over by Rayah ecclesiastics. The Cadis often judge rather summarily, but in their slightly Solomonic decisions there is a basis of justice; they may occasionally be venal, but are usually upright and inflexible as a bar of iron; besides, in the nature of the Turk there is a deep rooted natural sense of right and wrong, and the Cadi is sometimes obliged to yield, even against his will, to the expressed convictions of the bystanders in the Court.

This is not the case with the mixed tribunals: it does not always happen that in these the Mussulman element is numerically superior, and even when it is so the Rayahs are the richer and consequently more influential members of the Council; in a trivial affair they will not even take to trouble to vote, putting their seals to any decision whatever; but if the business has any importance for themselves, bribed accordingly, they leave no stone unturned to have it settled as they wish; false witnesses are almost a drug in the market, and though the Cadi may refuse them the Medjliss will admit their testimony.

Whenever a Rayah bears witness in a Turkish Court, justice is in danger: Consul-General Longworth proves this assertion in a passage already quoted from the Consular Reports.

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