TARTAR AND CIRCASSIAN IMMIGRANTS.
Emigration of Crimean Tartars to Turkey - Broken promises, Russian
and Turkish - Appearance and manners - Industry and care in agriculture
- Circassian immigration - Bad cultivation and poverty - Cattle and horse
stealing - Hospitality - Abstinence - Circassian encampment- - Unselfishness
- May prove useful as warriors.
AT the end of the last Russian War many thousand families of Tartars received permission from the Russian Government to leave the Crimea and settle in Turkey: the fields and other immovable property of the emigrants, their houses, herds, &c., were to be paid for by the Russians according to their valuation by a commission specially appointed for the purpose.
There is a Russian adage which does no great honour to the reputation of the Government Commissions; it runs as follows: -
“Kto Tiebie z-voroval?
Kto Tiebie zruinoval?
“Who has robbed you?” "The employe.” “Who has ruined you?" "The Government Commission."
So it is probable that the value set upon the goods of the Tartars promised at least a good bargain to the Government; but even this depreciated amount was never paid, and the answer to all remonstrances on the part of the peasants was simply “Russia will owe you the money," and to this day Russia does still owe the money, and her former subjects have lost all hope of the debt ever being discharged.
In consequence of this want of faith, and breach of one of the stipulations of a treaty guaranteed by France and England, the Crimean Tartars landed in Turkey with a very small capital, and families which in their own country had been comparatively rich, found themselves obliged to begin life anew in the land of their adoption.
The Porte had promised to its new colonists houses, land, a couple of oxen or buffaloes, for each family, and seed for the first year's sowing, as well as exemption from certain taxes and from military service for a fixed period.
These were fair promises, but they were never fulfilled, and all that the Tartars really received was limited to a few sheds in which an English dog would hardly sleep, a pair of buffaloes per village, for each family the very insufficient amount of twenty-five okes of grain, and a few scraps of uncleared land; in some cases, as in the instance of the village of Karamanja in Roumelia, no land at all was given.
In all the cottages of the Tartars there are some relics of past prosperity which contrast touchingly with the present poverty of their owners; mirrors, dishes of copper or even of silver, different in form from those used by Turk or Rayah, quaint old-fashioned chests - all speak of better days now past. Poor people! they have been plundered by their former masters and cheated by the subordinates of their present Government; yet after all they make their way to comfort if not wealth, for they possess both industry and intelligence.
Unlike the Turk, the Tatar will receive you into his own house, and you may even gaze upon the unveiled faces of his wife and daughters, but in many respects he is even a more scrupulous observer of the Canons of the Koran than the Turk himself. In England, and indeed throughout western Europe, the general idea of a Tartar is of a flat-nosed, thick-lipped savage, who gets drunk upon a mixture of mare's milk and blood, whose only pleasure is war, and who loves war only for the sake of pillage; in short the Tartar is too often confounded with the Cossack. "Grattez le Russe, vous trouverez le Tartare" is a mot which has long been accepted as a truth, but unfortunately it is the Kalmuck and not the Crimean Tartar who lies hid under the Muscovite epiderm: were it the latter, the more Russians are well "gratte's" the better would it be for Europe.
The Tartar is not generally ugly, and many of his race are even strikingly handsome, whilst his dignified manners contrast most favourably with the servility or surliness of the Rayah. Enter a Tartar house, and you feel that your entertainer is your host, whilst in that of the Bulgarian you merely see a landlord who is calculating how much he can make you pay for the "hospitality" you receive from him.
The Tartar villages, moreover, are making progress year by year, and it is easy to guess the reason, for whenever you come across a field really well cultivated, or some grafted fruit trees, or a field of potatoes, you need not go far to find a colony of Tartars. They are also frequently traders as well as farmers, they buy tobacco, corn, butter, and sheep, and sell them at a profit; they are generally honest, and this rare quality secures them a connection sufficiently numerous to enable them to compete even with the Bakal as far as the amount of their profits, though they do not exact, the same iniquitous percentage. They never, however, suffer the allurements of commerce to make them forget that the true source of riches in Turkey lies in the earth; their gains are devoted to the purchasing, clearing, ploughing, and sowing of more fields, and are not, like the savings of the Rayah, buried in an earthern pot, or employed to fan the dying embers of an insurrection in Crete. The Tartar's money is spent in the country, his son goes to school, his daughters are decked in Turkish finery, and not in English calicoes bought at five times their real value; his garden produces even the rare luxury of potatoes; and if you are particular in the choice of tobacco or honey, you will find the best and purest of each in a Tartar village.
The Rayah leaves everything to Nature, and gets more than enough for his wants; the Tartar assists Nature, and his crops are treble those of the Christian.
Intelligence is by no means, wanting to the race, although it may be somewhat deficient in the sharpness and cunning peculiar to the Greek, or Rayah with Greek blood in his veins. A Tartar boy of fifteen years old has lately constructed a marine steam engine out of some bits of old iron, and a kettle as boiler; and a tiny craft worked by this machinery is at present conveying passengers on the Black Sea, between Varna and the Monastery of St. George, a distance of about eight miles.
By the efforts of these colonists the forests are being gradually converted into arable land - gradually, because their system is different from that of the Rayah, and they only clear as much land as can be properly brought under cultivation, whilst the other burns down fifty acres of timber to make one field of five acres, which after the first year's ploughing and sowing is probably neglected for the next quarter of a century.
Perhaps it will be asked by some of those who believe that from Islam no good can come, “Is not this comparative civilization and superior intelligence of the Tartar due to the effects of the Russian rule?”
Let those who know what Russian rule really is answer this question; our space will merely permit us to reply that the Tartars are honest and intelligent in spite of Russian government, and we shall find supporters amongst all those who have lived in Russia sufficiently long to have acquired the entree behind the scenes of the theatre, in which so many brilliant operatic spectacles of happy peasants and kindly landlords are advertised for the admiration of the West.
Russia's gift of the Crimean Tartars to the Sultan, though coming from an enemy, is nevertheless a valuable one; but it is a pity that the latter was not advised to return the present in kind, and as an exchange for hard-working Mussulmans to present the Czar with as many thousands of hard-drinking Christians from Bulgaria. The gift would have been a graceful one, and it would have left the donor still richer than before.
At a short distance from the Tartar village you may find another assemblage of huts, inhabited not by the colonist, but by the exile; not by the agriculturist but by the soldier; the Circassian's sword has not yet been (and perhaps never will be) converted into the ploughshare, and his memories of his lost home in the Caucasus, with its snowcapped mountain peaks, its raids, its skirmishes, its battles, its defeats, its victories, are still too fresh and too deeply rooted to allow him, to change his warlike nature, and to become a peaceful tiller of the soil.
His fields are almost worse cultivated than those of the Rayah, and bring him in no more than the little he requires for the bare subsistence of himself and his family; he has no aptitude for trade, produces nothing for sale, and seems to have no wish to enrich himself; he has not adopted Turkey as a permanent home, but regards himself as a sojourner only, whom some happy turn of events is destined, sooner or later, to restore to his native country.
The Circassians are consequently always poor, and, whilst wanting many necessaries, have but one luxury; their weapons, rifles, swords, and knives are inlaid with that peculiar silver-work for which they are famous, which is their only industry in the Caucasus, and which they no longer exercise in their exile, perhaps because they have no longer the opportunity of taking off the boots of a Russian soldier, or the sash of a Russian officer. [The Russian soldiers generally conceal their money in their boots or in the knee of their trousers ; the officers in their waist belt.]
In their village you will find no coffee, and they are often unable even to offer tobacco to their guest. We lately visited a Circassian village in Roumelia, and were escorted into the Mussafir Odasi (guests' room) of the village; our foreign costume soon brought nearly all the men of the village to gaze upon the strangers, and we found ourselves surrounded by some thirty or forty Circassians, whose type, both physically and morally, differed widely from that of Turk or Tartar. Small, delicate hands and feet, and slender figures, at first sight gave them almost an appearance of effeminacy; but as we examined more closely, the clear, resolute eyes, broad shoulders, and the whole “setting up” of the men proved to us that neither strength nor courage was wanting and that their almost too "elegant" build is but a characteristic of race.
Poor and warlike, the Circassians in Turkey are usually freebooters, and they are themselves well aware of the reputation they enjoy amongst their neighbours. At the village of Abdikuoi we had been talking to the assembled company for some time, and had handed round our breech-loaders for the inevitable examination and admiration; suddenly a young man, who had previously been silent, said to us: -
“You have plenty of courage." [“Siz chok erkek adam,”
literally, "You are very many men.”]
We asked, "Why?" not at first seeing that we laid displayed any great amount of pluck.
"Because you come here alone, and let us handle your guns; haven't you heard that we are all brigands?"
“Yes; but this is not the first time we have been amongst Circassians; we trust you, and we are not in the least afraid of you."
“Of course, and we are good friends; but all the same you have plenty of courage."
And this last complimentary phrase was repeated several times to us.
Certainly the reputation of the Circassians here is none of the best, and they are avoided, if not feared, by their Turkish neighbours; whilst if a Rayah sees at a distance the tall white sheepskin cap of the Cherkess he leaves his cart or his flock to look after themselves, and runs off till he reaches his village, though even there he can hardly persuade himself that he is out of danger until two or three glasses of spirits have convinced him that he is under the friendly protection of the Tukhan.
Yet the Circassian can hardly be classed with any of the thieves or brigands whom we have already described; poverty, and even absolute hunger, are the mainsprings of the robberies he commits, and if he finds a strayed sheep in the forest he cuts its throat with his knife, skins it, and carries it home to his village, where it is roasted and divided amongst the poorest family; but it never enters into his head to sell even the skin. If the cattle of another village wander upon the Circassian pasturage, they are immediately impounded, and notice sent to the owners that they may be redeemed for a certain sum. As this plan is constantly pursued by the Turks when Rayah cattle (and more especially pigs) are found upon their limits, and as the Rayahs, though not daring to retaliate upon the Mussulman, do the same for their co-religionists, it cannot be considered as a very great crime in a country where no law regarding property is impartially administered, and where the peasant who pays the ransom to a Mussulman one day, exacts the same sum from a Christian the next.
A horse is undeniably the most tempting booty to the Circassian, who has a great objection to travelling on foot when there is a possibility of riding, so if he has a long journey to make he begins it by a detour, which brings him to a herguile, or troop of half-wild horses, turned out to graze in the forest; he catches one of them, and being an excellent horseman, the absence of a saddle is no great inconvenience, whilst a strap or a rope forms an improvised bridle. The horses of Bulgaria, though vicious are small, and usually weak, from the want of proper feeding, so that it is an easy matter for the new proprietor to break in the one he has chosen, and perhaps before he has proceeded far he may have the luck to meet a Greek or Rayah Bakal riding along; in that case if the steed of the latter is better than his own an exchange is effected, and the Circassian gains a saddle and bridle by the operation; if, however, his eye for horse flesh tells him that the steed is worse than his own, he contents himself with demanding merely the saddle and bridle, which are of course given up in the fullest spirit of resignation to unavoidable misfortune.
When at his journey's end, the Circassian does not sell his horse as a common Khersis would do, he merely turns it loose into the forest, being tolerably sure of always getting the loan of another mount on similar terms.
Pillage in Circassia, like theft in ancient Sparta, or fraud in modern Greece, has always been considered rather as a merit than a crime; the raids of the mountaineers are like those of the Scotch upon the fertile lowlands of England, and the Circassian who carries away the most booty from his natural enemy, the Russian, is esteemed second only to the one who has killed most Muscovite soldiers. True, our Circassians are no longer in the Caucasus, but in Turkey, among a friendly Mussulman population; but still it is but a few years since they left their homes, the effects of early habit and education are hard to eradicate, and the Bulgarian language sounds so much like Russian that they may perhaps even imagine whilst despoiling a Rayah, that they are stripping one of their hereditary foes. As for the occasional loan of a mount, which they take without asking leave, it is no great loss to the owners of the her herguile for they can never tell the exact number of their horses within half a dozen, and practically (putting the morality of the affair out of the question) a man is not robbed who never discovers his loss.
Poor as he is, the Cherkess, like all genuinely oriental races, is very hospitable. During our visit to Abdikuoi constant apologies were made for being able to give no coffee, and for the absence of anything to eat; of course we said that we had not come for the sake of eating and drinking but to make acquaintance with the village, and after staying more than an hour we rose to take our leave, when a cake, hot from the fire, baked especially for us and made of boiled Indian corn cooked in the ashes of a wood fire, was brought in, and we were begged to sit down again and partake of it. When at last we left, a young man accompanied us for more than a mile, to show us a short cut through the snow-covered forest to the village where we intended to sleep, and we were cordially pressed to pay the village another visit whenever we were in the neighbourhood.
One of the causes of the spareness and delicacy of Circassian figures and features is to be found in their extreme temperance as regards both food and drink. When the Circassian enters upon a campaign he takes with him a month's provisions on his back, and this food is prepared in the following manner: a kind of millet resembling the Couscoussou of the Arabs, is thrown, handful by handful, into a large pot containing boiling mutton fat, and as the grain acquires a brownish tint it is taken out and put into a bag of sheepskin or deerskin, which contains enough for thirty days' consumption, at the moderate rate of feeding of the Circassian, who contents himself with a mere taste of it once, or at most twice, during the day, whilst his only beverage is water.
How very simple the commissariat of an army composed of Circassians would be, and what a weapon their inextinguishable hatred of Russia would furnish to Turkey, were she not too loyal to avail herself of it!
The Ottoman Government has committed the error of trying to convert a race, essentially warlike and by no means industrious, into ploughmen; the experiment has failed, and will fail again. Some eight years since the Circassians, to the number of several thousands, asked the Porte, instead of granting them lands, to give them each a horse, a good rifle, and ammunition, and to let them go where they liked, promising not to touch a hair of the head of any Turkish subject, and saving that by adopting this plan Turkey would be rid of the Circassians, and the world of some thousands of Moscovs.”
The Government refused, actuated by a feeling of honesty, or rather honour, which has been but ill repaid by the conduct of Russia during the Cretan Insurrection; perhaps in some future exigency Turkey may not disdain the assistance of a guerrilla army ready made to her hands.
As the genuine songs of an uncivilized people are the best exponents of their nature, a Circassian ballad, which has been translated into Polish by M. Brzozowski, may serve to show the intensity of the hatred entertained by the Circassians for the Russians; its subject is as follows: -
A young Circassian warrior is deeply in love with a maiden, whom her father has sold to an Armenian merchant in exchange for powder and ball, and who is destined by her owner for a Turkish harem. The Armenian has of course cheated the father in the transaction, but the word of old Hassan has been given, and though cheated, he still holds to his bargain in spite of the prayers and entreaties of Ali, who at last, in despair, carries off Nedjbe from the slave merchant. Ali is, however, captured, accused before the Sheikh of having made Hassan, a Circassian, false to his word, though it was only pledged to a Giaour, and he is condemned to death.
“His life belongs to thee, Hassan," says the Sheikh.
Ali tries to buy back his life, and offers his horse with four white feet, [The Circassians, like the Arabs, differ from the popular English saying about white-stockinged horses, and consider this mark as an infallible sign of excellence.] whose pace is even fleeter than that of the flying Moscov, who has seen the Circassian Kinjal [Dagger] glitter before his eyes.
Hassan says nothing, and smokes on in disdainful silence.
Ali then offers him his rifle with the stock of satinwood.
“Take it, Hassan," he says; “see'st thou yon eagle, who is soaring so high in the blue heaven that he seems no larger than a bullet? Take my rifle, thou hast but to wish, and that eagle will fall at thy feet like a Cossack who sees thee too near."
But Hassan is still silent.
"Then at least accept this as my ransom says Ali, and he flings at the feet of Hassan a bag filled with Russian ears and noses.
Hassan rises, throws his arms round Ali, and exclaims, sign of excellence.
"Take thy life, and my daughter; to the merchant I will give gold for his bullets - there is gold on the mountings of my dagger."
And Ali replies, “He wants no payment; he has eaten lead." [i.e. been killed by a riffle ball.]
Another Circassian picture; but from life, not from poetry - in Bulgaria, and not in the Caucasus: -
In the month of June last we were returning from Constantinople by sea, had landed at Varna, and taken the opportunity to change some gold into the copper piastres indispensable in country villages, where it is frequently impossible to convert a Turkish lira into small coin; we had noticed an unusual number of Circassians in the town, and were informed that some days previously two ship-loads of them had arrived from the opposite coast, and were then encamped outside the walls.
As, we left Varna we saw on the great marsh between the lake and sea (a very hotbed of fever, and which even the wild-fowl shooter can hardly tread), some hundred of these poor exiles, sheltered under coverings of green branches; their sunken cheeks and hungry looking eyes sufficiently showed the misery they were suffering from want of food, the Government ration of bread served out to them not being enough for half their number.
But none of them, begged; the men in their ragged but picturesque costume looking the very incarnation of pride and poverty, though the general absence of weapons proved the extremities to which they were reduced, for in war a Circassian parts with his life before his arms; and in peace he regards them next to his life.
We stopped our cart, called up a wretched-looking woman with a child in her arms, and put a few coppers into the baby's hand; on seeing this, other mothers with their infants crowded round us, and our bag of coppers was speedily exhausted; one of the women, to whom we had by mistake offered money twice, refused it the second time, and beckoned to another to take her place. The men stood by and looked on, not one putting out his hand; we offered some coins to a very old man, who spoke a few words of broken Turkish, but he put them back, saying, "Give them to that poor lad; he is a cripple."
Before we drove on some of the women had baked us a tiny cake of coarse black bread, and offered it to us, with some salt, as the only thanks in their power.
For more than a fortnight these Circassians were left upon the pestilential marsh with as little regard to their health as to that of the town of Varna; happily no epidemic was engendered, but the experiment was a very hazardous one and perhaps its next repetition may be attended with serious consequences.
Finally, the railroad convened them to different parts of the interior, where they were “settled," utterly destitute of resources, and ignorant even of the language spoken in their new country. Considering the trials of these unhappy immigrants, it is not difficult to find charity enough to excuse even the lawless acts which they undoubtedly commit.
To conclude this chapter, we need only remark that in our short sketch of these two gifts of Russia to Turkey, it may be seen that that of the Tartars is the only one which the Porte has at present profited by; but perhaps the time is not very far distant when the warrior will be more valuable than the farmer; and judging from this point of view, it maybe no bad policy on the part of Turkey to plant Circassian villages amongst the passes and mountains of the Balkans.
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