Turkey In Europe – Present Position And Prospects

THE prophecies respecting the ” sick man ” have not yet been fulfilled, and his heritage divided amongst the surrounding powers. To a great extent he is indebted for this continued existence to the jealousies of the European powers, and to the fact of Russia having her hands full in Central Asia. Still, Turkey has recently exhibited a wonderful amount of vitality. Fresh provinces have been incorporated with the empire in Arabia, at a distance of 1,800 miles from the capital ; and a rebellion in the north-western portion of European Turkey, originating in the misgovernment of the country, but aided and abetted by Russia, has been suppressed with a strong hand. The Turkish empire remains not only intact, but will actually be found to have considerably increased in extent, if we include within it the territories of the Khedive of Egypt, whose arms have been carried to the Upper Nile and into Dar Fur we must guard ourselves, at the sanie time, against the assumption that Turkey has entered upon a path of normal progress. On the contrary, Turkey is a mediaeval country still, and will have to puss through many intestine revolutions before it can rank with the civilised states of Europe or America. The country is in the occupation of hostile races, who would fall upon each other were they not restrained by force. The Servian would take up arms against the Albanian, the Bulgarian against the Greek, and all the subject races would combine against the Turk. National jealousies are augmented by religious animosities. The Catholic Bosnians hate other Slays, and the Tosks detest the Gheges, although they speak the same language. The Osmanli oppress these various populations without compunction, their art of government consisting in playing them off against each other.

Nor can better things be expected in an empire in which caprice reigns supreme. The Padishah is lord of the souls and bodies of his subjects; he is commander-in-chief of the army, supreme judge, and sovereign pontiff. In former times his power was practically limited by semi-independent feudatories, but since the fall of Ali Pasha and the massacre of the janissaries he is restrained only by customs, traditions, and the demands of the Governments of Europe. He is the most despotic sovereign of Europe, and his civil list the heaviest in proportion to the revenues of the country. The household of the late Sultan and of the members of his family was exceedingly numerous. There lived in the Seraglio an army of 6,000 servants and slaves of both sexes, of whom 600 were cooks. These servants, in turn, were surrounded by an army of hangers-on, who were fed from the imperial kitchens, to which no less than 1,200 sheep were supplied daily by the contractors.

Current expenses were sufficiently heavy. but more considerable still was the extraordinary expenditure incurred in the construction of palaces and kiosks, the purchase of articles de lure and of curiosities, and for all kinds of prodigalities. The present Sultan, driven thereto by the precarious position of his empire, has limited his expenditure. But will this last ?

Ministers, valis, and other high officials of the empire faithfully follow in the footsteps of their sovereign, and their expenditure always exceeds their salary, though the latter is fixed on a most liberal scale. As to the lower officials, their salaries are small and irregularly paid ; but it is understood that they may recoup themselves at the expense of the ratepayers. Everything can be purchased in Turkey, and, above all, justice. The state of the finances is most lamentable; loans are raised at usurious interest ; and so badly is the country governed that it has been seriously proposed to intrust the management of its finances to a syndicate of the European powers !

Agriculture and industry progress but slowly under such misgovernment. Vast tracts of the most fertile land are allowed to lie fallow ; they appear to be no one’s property, and any one may settle upon and cultivate them. But woe to him if he conducts his operations with profit to himself; for no sooner is he observed to become wealthy than his land is laid claim to on behalf of the clergy or of some pasha, and he may consider himself lucky if he escapes a bastinado. The peasants, in many districts, are careful not to produce more than they absolutely require to live upon, for an abundant harvest would impoverish them—would merely lead to a permanent increase of taxation. The tradesmen in the smaller towns are equally careful to conceal their wealth, if they possess any.

Many Mussulman families have ceded to the mosques their proprietary rights. They thus enjoy merely the usufruct of their lands, hut are freed, on the other hand, from the payment of taxes, and the land remains in the possession of their families until they become extinct. These lands are known as vakufs, and they form about one-third of the area of the whole empire. They contribute actually nothing towards the revenues of the State. In the end they aggrandise the vast estates of the Mohammedan clergy. Taxation weighs almost exclusively upon the lands cultivated by the unfortunate Christians ; and in proportion as the vakufs increase, so does the produce of taxation diminish. This must in the end necessarily lead to a secularisation of the estates of the clergy ; and even now, to the great horror of the old Turks, the Ottoman Government is timidly extending its hands towards the estates belonging to the mosques of Constantinople.

The Servian, Albanian, and Bulgarian peasants actually cultivate their land in spite of their masters. A. single fact will show this. Certain collectors of tithes, in order to prevent fraud, insist upon the peasants leaving the whole of the harvest upon the fields until they have withdrawn their tenth part. Maize, rice, and corn are exposed there to the inclemencies of the weather and other destructive agencies ; and it frequently happens that the harvest has deteriorated to the extent of one-half in value before the Government impost is levied. Sometimes the peasants allow their grapes or fruit to rot rather than pay the tithes. But it is not the tax-gatherer alone of whose conduct the peasant may complain ; for he is exposed likewise to exactions by the middlemen with whom he comes into contact when selling his produce. ” The Bulgarian works, but the Greek holds the plough.” So says an ancient proverb ; and this is still true at least of the countries to the south of the Balkan, where the Bulgarian peasant is not always the proprietor of the land he tills. But where he does not directly work for a Greek or Mussulman proprietor, his harvest, even before it is cut, is frequently the property of a usurer ; but he works on from day to day, a wretched slave, in the vain hope of becoming one day a free man.

The fertility of the soil on both slopes of the Balkans, in Macedonia, and in Thessaly is, however, such that in spite of mosques and tax-collectors, in spite of usurers and thieves, agriculture supplies comnuerce with a large quantity of produce. Maize, or ” Turkish corn,” and all cereals are grow n in abundance. The valleys of the Karasu and Vardar produce cotton, tobacco, and dye stuffs ; the coast districts and islands yield wine and oil, whose quality would leave nought to be desired, were a little more care bestowed upon their cultivation ; and forests of mulberry-trees are met with in certain parts of Thracia and Rumelia, and the export of cocoons to Italy and France is increasing from year to year. Turkey, with its fertile soil, is sure to take a prominent part amongst the European states for the variety and superiority of its products. As to its manufactures, they will no doubt be gradually displaced on the opening of new roads of commerce. The manufacturers of arms, stuffs, carpets, and jewellery in the cities of the interior will suffer considerably from foreign competition, and many amongst them will succumb to it, unless they pass into the hands of foreigners. The great fairs, too, which are now held annually at Slivno and other places, and at which merchants from the whole of the empire meet to transact business—as many as a hundred thousand strangers being attracted occasionally to a single spot—will gradually give place to a regular commercial intercourse.

It is certain that the commerce of Turkey has increased of late years, thanks to the efforts of Greeks, Armenians, and Franks of all nations. The annual value of the exports and imports of the whole of the Ottoman empire in Europe and Asia is estimated at £40,000,000—a very small sum, if we bear in mind the resources of these countries, their many excellent harbours, and their favourable geographical position.

The Turks themselves perform but a very small share of the work that is done in their empire. Various causes combine to render them less active than the other races. They are the governing class, and their ambition naturally aspires to the honours and the luxury of kief ; that is to say, of sweet idleness. Despising every-thing not Mohammedan, and being, besides, heedless and of a sluggish mind, they but rarely learn foreign languages, and are thus in a certain measure at the mercy of the other races, most of whom speak two or more idioms. Moreover, the fatalism taught in the Koran has deprived the Turk of all enterprise, and once thrown out of his ordinary routine, he is helpless. Polygamy and slavery are likewise two causes of demoralisation. It is true that the rich alone can permit themselves the luxury of a harem, but the poor learn from their superiors to despise women, they become debased, and take a share in that traffic in human flesh which is a necessary sequence of polygamy. Yet, in spite of the innumerable slaves imported in the course of four centuries from all the regions bordering upon the Turkish empire ; in spite of the millions of Circassian, Greek, and other girls transplanted into the harems, the Osmanli are numerically inferior to the other races of the peninsula. This dominant race—if the term race be applicable to the product. of so many crossings—hardly numbers ten per cent. of the population of European Turkey. And this numerical inferiority is on the increase, for, owing to polygamy, the number of children surviving in Mohammedan families is less than in Christian families. We arc not in possession of precise figures, but there can be no doubt that the Turks arc on the decrease. The conscription, to which they alone are subject, has contributed towards this result, and becomes more difficult from year to year.

It has often been repeated since Chateaubriand that the Turks have but camped in Europe, and expect to return to the steppes whence they cane. It would thus be a feeling of presentiment which induces the Turks of Stambul to seek burial in the cemetery of Scutari, hoping thus to save their bones from the profanation of the Giaour’s tread on his return, as master, to Constantinople. In many places the living follow the examples of the dead, and a feeble current of emigration sets from the Archipelago and the coast districts of Thracia in the direction of Asia, carrying along many an old Turk discontentcd with the stir of European life. This migration, however, is but of very small importance, and does not affect the Osmanli of the interior. Nothing is further from the minds of the Turks of Bulgaria, the Yuruks of Macedonia, or the Koniarides, who have inhabited the mountains of Rumclia since the eleventh century, than to quit the land which has become their second home. The Turkish element in the Balkan peninsula can be got rid of only by exterminating it ; that is, by treating the Turks more ferociously than they treated the native populations at the time of the conquest. We ought not to for-get, at the same time, that the Turks, though far inferior in numbers to the other races, are nevertheless able to reckon upon the support of millions of Mohammedan Albanians, Bosnians, Bulgarians, Circassians, and Nogai Tartars. The Mussulmans constituto more than a third of the population of European Turkey, and, in spite of differences of race, they hold firmly together. Nor must it be forgotten that they are backed up by a hundred and fifty millions of co-religionists in other parts of the world.

Let us hope that the future may not give birth to a struggle of extermination between the races of the peninsula, but rather to institutions enabling these diverse and partially hostile elements to develop themselves in peace and liberty. The Turks themselves begin to see the necessity of such institutions, and, in theory at least, have abandoned their policy of violence and oppression. All the nationalities of the empire, without reference to race or religion, are supposed to be equal before the law, and Christians are admitted to Government offices on the same terms as Mussulmaus. No doubt these fine laws have for the most part hitherto remained a dead letter, but it would nevertheless be unjust if we denied that much progress towards an equalisation of the various races has been made.

Fortunately the despotism of the Turks is not the despotism of learning, based upon a knowledge of human nature, and directed to its debasement. The Osmanli ignore the art of “oppressing wisely,” which the Dutch governors of the Sunda Islands were required to practise in former times, and which is not quite unknown in other countries. The pashas allow things to take their course as long as they are able to enrich themselves and their favourites, to sell justice and their favours at a fair price, and to bastinade now and then some unlucky wight. The. do not inquire into the private concerns of their subjects, and do not call for confidential reports on families and individuals. Their Government, no doubt, is frequently violent and oppressive; but all this only touches externals. Such a government may not be favourable to the development of public spirit, but it does not interfere with individuals, and powerful national institutions, such as the Greek commune, the Mirdit tribe, and the Slav community, have been able to survive under it. Self-government is, in fact, more widely practised in Turkey than in the most advanced countries of Western Europe. It would have been difficult to force these various national elements under a uniform discipline, and the lazy Turkish functionaries generally leave things alone. The Frankish officials in the pay of the Turkish Government, in fact, more frequently interfere with the prejudices and privileges of the governed than do the Mussulman pashas of the old school.

It cannot be doubted for a moment that, in a time not very far distant, the non-Mohammedan races of Turkey will take the lead in politics, as they do already in commerce, industry, and education. The Osmanli of the olden school, who still wear the green turban of their ancestors, look forward towards this inevitable result with despair. They struggle against every measure calculated to accelerate the emancipation of the despised raya, and European inventions, in their eyes, are working a great social transformation to their injury ; and, indeed, it is the raya who profits most from roads, railways, harbours, agricultural and other machines. Bosnians, Bulgarians, and Servians have learnt to look upon each other as brothers ; Albanians and Romanians are draw n towards the Greeks ; all alike feel themselves as Europeans ; and thus the way is being paved for the Danubian Confederation of the future.

The approaching completion of the railway from Vienna to Constantinople cannot fail to work a commercial revolution as far as the trade of a considerable portion of Eastern Europe is concerned. It will form a link in the direct line between England and India, and to travellers and merchandise will afford the shortest route from the centre of Europe to the Bosporus. On its opening, Constantinople will be enabled to avail itself to the fullest extent of the highways of commerce which converge upon it. Still greater must be the political consequences of opening this line, for it will bring the populations of the Balkan peninsula into more direct and active contact with those of Austro-Hungary and the rest of Europe.