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take, this early opportunity to place him on his guard against

Fig. 12. Portrait of Ivan.

6o Armenia

the fallacy that the Armenians are not a martial race ? For
this man was a pure Armenian, in spite of the Russian termina-
tion of -off instead of -ecxii. Erzerum was his native city ; his
family had emigrated to Russia, and during the last war against
the Turks Ivan had gained the cross of honour for personal
bravery in the field. At his side hung a sword of which the
scabbard and hilt were adorned with chased silver ; the blade
was his special pride, being of ancient Khorasan workmanship, a
trophy from the Kurds. His features inspired fear ; his skin of
leather was the result of exposure ; but we had not yet learnt
that, like all true warriors who are not barbarians, the lion's
fierceness was tempered by the meekness of the lamb. A cloud
settled over the face of the deputy as the massive fist turned the
handle of the door and the heavy tread fell on the bare boards.
Arrived at his side, Ivan whispered something in his ear, and I
ventured to ask what might be the business of this man. The
official replied that he w^as the emissary of Captain Taranoffsky,
the chief of the so-called gendarmerie, and that he had been sent
to conduct us to the presence of his superior, who wcfuld person-
ally explain the. purport of his summons. I enquired whether
Colonel Alander was not the governor of Akhaltsykh, and his
office the seat of supreme power ; I was answered that there was
another and separate jurisdiction which the governor did not
control. The deputy added with an agreeable humour that,
should we be thrown into prison, he would be powerless to take
us out. Nothing therefore to be done but to follow Ivan ; and
would that his master had been as capable as himself!

In these Armenian provinces of Russia the machinery of
administration is conducted by a handful of Russian officials
through Armenians, who are employed even in the higher grades.
The Armenian is a man of ancient culture and high natural
capacity ; neither the instinct nor the quality would be claimed
by his Russian superior, who is the instrument of a system of
government rather than a born ruler, and who in general is
lacking in those attributes of pliancy and individual initiative
which it is the tendency of rigid bureaucracies to destroy.
Moreover the Russian official gives the impression of being
overwhelmed by his system, like a child to whom his lessons are
new ; and, when you see him at work among such a people as
the Armenians, you ask yourself how it has happened that a
race with all the aptitudes are governed by such wooden figures

To Akhaltsykh 6i

as these. There are of course notable exceptions to this general
statement, which resumes one's experience of the subordinate
officers rather than of those who are highest placed. Taranoffsky
was about as bad a specimen of his class as it has been my
misfortune to meet. A short man of portly figure, fat red face,
and little eyes, he had all the self-assertion which so often
accompanies small stature, all the unfriendliness which seems the
almost necessary outcome of a lack of physical grace. I at once
perceived all the elements of an unpleasant situation ; nor were
my apprehensions disproved by the result. We were taken to a
hotel, deprived of our papers and letters, and placed under close
police surveillance pending a decision as to our future fate. The
warmest pass of arms was that which took place over our photo-
graphic negatives, which our persecutor peremptorily required. I
represented that many of the films were as yet undeveloped, and
was absolute in my refusal to give them up. On the other hand
I expressed myself anxious that he should see them developed
in his presence, for which purpose I begged him to prepare a
dark room. I forget whether he accepted this tempting proposal;
tde negatives remained intact. Permission was given us to drive
under escort to the monastery of Safar, and the arrival that night
or the following morning of Colonel Alander appeared to alleviate
the disfavour with which we were viewed. Not that these two
iniperia work harmoniously together ! How can it be expected
that they should ? The political police are particularly active in
fortress towns such as Kars or Akhaltsykh ; but I understood
from Ivan that they are pretty widely distributed over the
country, and that their functions extend to tracking down
Socialists and Nihilists, and in general to the diffusion of alarm
and annoyance far and wide. " How ugly is man ! " has exclaimed
a French novelist ; indeed how ugly at such moments he

If the morning was consumed by these unforeseen complica-
tions, the afternoon held in store for the harried travellers a
further contrast and a rich reward. The monastery of Safar is
situated a few miles ^ south-east of Akhaltsykh on the lofty slopes
of a volcanic ridge ; the drive thither displays the landscape of
the town and surrounding country, and the goal is a group of
buildings, of which the principal church is a gem of architecture,

1 By the road the distance, according to our coachman, would be 15 versts or 10
miles; by the track which we followed 10 versts or 6| miles.

62 Ainnenia

instinct with the graces that adorn and elevate life. For awhile
we followed down the right bank of the river along the road
toward Akhalkalaki and the east ; then, almost reversing direction,
turned up a side track on the right hand, which conducted us,
always rising, across the bleak undulations at the back of the
modern town. Here and there the soil had been sown and was
yellow with stubble, or lay exposed in patches of plough ; but
cultivation was only partial, and for many a mile not a village
could be discerned. Far and near, the surface of the earth was
of a hummocky nature, like sands modelled by children's spades.

After jolting along this track for some distance, we again
struck a metalled road. It winds along the side of the ridge upon
which Safar is situated, and overlooks a deep ravine. The slope
of the ridge is clothed in places by a scanty growth of bush and
dotted by low trees ; but the ravine and opposite hillside are
bare and stony, and the landscape is bleak and wild in the
extreme. The only signs of life and movement proceeded from a
village of which the tenements were built into that opposite slope.
The peasants in their gay cottons were threshing the season's
harvest, and, as we returned, we saw them transporting it in little
carts, drawn by eight oxen apiece, from the fields, where it had
been left since the end of June in convenient places, up to the
village threshing - floors. We were surprised at the evident
prosperity of the occupants of this Georgian settlement ; what
could be more quaint than women with white gloves and
parasols who dwelt in such hovels as those? We met several
such groups on the road and about the monastery, which was the
goal of their afternoon's walk ; several families also, who had
come from afar, were encamped at Safar, at once a pilgrimage
and a pleasant residence during the summer months.

A similar practice no doubt prevailed wath the powerful
governors of Upper Georgia, of that remote and extensive province
of Semo-Karthli which comprised the uppermost valleys of the
Kur and Chorokh and the mountains of Ajara to the Kolchian
coast. Known under the title of atabegs, they flourished in the
fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, became independent
of the kings of Georgia, and were only suppressed at a late date
by the Ottoman Turks.^ Here was their seat of predilection
during the heats of summer, and, except for the arid soil and
crops of stones that cover the valleys, one cannot but approve

' I)ul)ois de '\\cin\.'^(tx&v^\. Voyage autoitr dit Caiicase, Paris 1839-43, vol. ii.

Fig. 13. Safar : St. Saba from the West.

Fig. 14. Safar : Porch of St. Saba.

To Akhaltsykh 63

their choice. You are at a height of some looo feet above the
town of Akhaltsykh ; deep below you flows the Kur, the river of
Ardahan as they call it, on its way to pierce the barrier of the
border ranges by the passage of Borjom. On the side of the
ridge a narrow site, whence the ground declines abruptly to the
abyss below, is filled by a cluster of little chapels, backed, at the
extreme end, by an imposing church. I wish I could offer my
reader an ampler description ; but just at this point I am trusting
entirely to my memory and bewailing the loss of a portion of the
day's notes. Counting the chapels, they would tell you that the
monastery contained twelve churches, while according to our
notions it possesses only one. That one is St. Saba, of which I
offer two illustrations, one to present the ensemble of the building
with the adjacent belfry (Fig. 1 3), the other to exhibit the
charming detail of the porch on the west (Fig. 14).

\x\ a treeless country, devoid of the rich bewilderment of a
luxuriant Nature, and moulded on a scale which would mock the
more ambitious creations of human effort and is everywhere
present to the eye, such a jewel in stone as St. Saba and many
another Armenian temple are seen at an advantage which they
would scarcely possess in Western landscapes. Planted en the
rough hillsides, overlooking vast expanses of plain and mountain,
winding river and lonely lake, they offer at once a contrast to the
bleakness of Nature and a quiet epitome of her startling forms.
Take this church as an example of the most finished workman-
ship ; what a pleasure to turn from the endless crop of chaotic
boulders to the even surface of these walls of faced masonry which
the dry climate preserves ever fresh, to the sharply chiselled stone-
work of the elaborate mouldings and bands of arabesques ! Or, if
you extend the vision to comprise the distant scene about you, it
will often happen that the mountain masses tower one above
another like the roofs and gables by your side, and culminate in
the shape of a dome with a conical summit which repeats these
outlines, like a reflection, against the sky.

St. Saba, although created through the munificence of a
Georgian atabeg, is probably the work of an Armenian architect,
and may certainly be counted as an example of the Armenian
style. If we may trust a mutilated inscription in the interior,
which has been in part deciphered by Brosset, the present church
was built by the Atabeg Sargis, the son of Beka, who flourished
between 1306 and 1334 ; and, if we could only be certain of the

64 Armenia

signification of the four numeral letters which are plainly seen on
the face of the wall at one side of the window of the western
porch, we should perhaps be able to fix the exact date. Dubois,
indeed, supposes that it was constructed by Manuchar, brother of
the last of the atabegs, Kuarkuareh, who fought with such valour
against the Turks. But Dubois is relying upon what he terms
" constant tradition," and Brosset cautions us against accepting
anything that he has written about Safar. One would certainly
not have thought that such a well-instructed traveller, as was
Dubois, could have mistaken a monument of the fourteenth
century for a production of the later years of the sixteenth ; and
personally I should be inclined to attribute the edifice to a period
at least as early as the fourteenth century.^

August 30. — The Tartar who had accompanied us on the
excursion to Safar had fired my cousin with an account of some
stag and big game shooting which was to be found some four
hours' journey from the town. According to arrangement he
made his appearance in the early morning, and found my cousin
already prepared. I had resolved to devote the day to the town
and outskirts, should our persecutors leave me free. But I had
no sooner reached the bridge from our encampment on the bed of
the river, in order to see my cousin on his way, than the plans of
both of us were arrested by the advent of Ivan the Terrible, who
rose from the cushions of a landau and summoned us to be seated
at his side. I need not devote space to a repetition of fresh
annoyances, since they had already almost reached their term.
Was the departure of Colonel Alander connected with our arrival,
and had he gone to satisfy himself about us at Abastuman ?
When at length we were able to see him he greeted us kindly,
and furnished me with all the information of which I was in want.
Let me therefore at once introduce the reader to the town of
Akhaltsykh and to the people who dwell therein.

The view of the place which I offer (Fig. 15) was taken on
the road to Akhalkalaki from the right bank of the river, some
distance below the bridge. Within the precincts of the town the
camera was strictly interdicted, although, since our tents were
pitched just opposite the fortress, we might well have sketched
that old-fashioned stronghold from memory when the canvas was

1 Brosset, Voyage archiologiqiic en Transcaucasie, St. Petersburg, 1849, ire
livraison, 2me rajiport, pp. 119 seq., and atlas, plates v. and vi. ; Dubois, op. cil. vol.
ii. pp. 292 seq.

<; >

To Akhaltsykh 65

closed for the night. The river is flowing towards you through
grassy meadows, which are verdant even at this season, and which
are being browsed by flocks of sheep and goats. On the right
bank, on the left of the picture, and stretching across the middle
distance to a promontory which is washed by the stream, lies the
modern town with its gardens and substantial houses (Fig. 1-5, a) ;
on the opposite shore, following the cliff from the extreme right
of the illustration, you have first the old town {b), then the fortress
(r), and last the gorge (<■/).

The inhabitants of Akhaltsykh are censused at 15,000 — at
the time of our visit the registered figure was 15,120, although
the latest tabulated statistics which Colonel x'\lander was able to
show me gave a total of 15,914 for 1891. This total was
divided in the following manner, according to religion and
race: Gregorian Armenians, 9620; Catholic Armenians, 2875;
Georgians and Russians, excluding the garrison, 782 ; Roman
Catholics, 97 ; and 2540 Jews. I cannot help thinking that the
proportion of Armenians is excessive, and that the governor has
included among those of the Catholic persuasion a considerable
number of Armenian Catholics who are of Georgian race. At
Kutais I had been informed by a Roman Catholic priest that I
should find among the communion of the Armenian Catholics at
Akhaltsykh many Georgians whose ancestors had been devout
Catholics and had become united to the Armenian Catholics, as
the nearest Catholic Church, when the Georgian Church followed
the Greek in cutting off relations with Rome. The Georgian
kings forbade them to hold their services in Georgian, which had
been their practice previously. These men were no doubt the
converts of the old Roman Catholic missions ; it is known that at
the commencement of the thirteenth century the kings of Georgia
were in correspondence with the popes, and that these communica-
tions and the despatch of missionaries to Georgia were continued
in the following century.^ The published statistics of 1886 give
the number of Georgians as 2730 souls, and evidently include the
large majority of them among the Roman Catholics. It is
therefore probable that both lists fall into error, and that of the
two the published table is the more reliable in all that concerns
distinction of race. I append it in a footnote,"- and have only to

^ Brosset, op. cit. p. 143.

^ Population of Akhaltsykh : —

(i) According to nationality: Armenians, 10,417; Georgians, 2730; Jews,


66 Armenia

add in this connection that in both Hsts the number of males
exceeds that of females, and that for this reason the totals are in
general too small. In Colonel Alander's list the male population
amounts to 8335, in the published list to 8480 souls. The
women must be at least as numerous as the men, although, owing
to Eastern prejudices, they are much more difficult to count.

In several senses the town of Akhaltsykh has undergone a
revolution during the course of the present century. At the
commencement of this period we are introduced to a flourishing
city of the Ottoman Empire, the capital of a pashalik, which was
composed of six sanjaks or administrative divisions,^ in close
communication with the neighbouring cities of Kars and Erzerum
and the emporium of an extensive traffic in Georgian slaves.^
At this time it is said to have contained some 40,000 inhabitants,
of whom the greater portion were Mussulmans.^ The site of the
city was the same as that of the old town of the present day, but
the houses extended to the immediate confines of the citadel.
The whole was defended by moats and a double row of walls
with battlements and flanking towers. The right bank of the river
was embellished by numerous gardens, but there does not appear
to have been anything like a town upon this side. The citadel
was remarkable for its beautiful mosque, with an imposing minaret
more than 130 feet high. This minaret, like the mosque, was
built of blocks of hewn stone ; and, so solid was its structure,
that it suffered little damage during the Russian bombardment,
although hit by no less than seven cannon balls. Such was
Akhaltsykh prior to its conquest by the Russians under Paskevich
in 1828.* The conquerors introduced far-reaching changes, of

2545; others (including 145 Russians and no Poles), 424 — Total,
16,1 16.
(2) According to religion : Gregorian Armenians, 9678 ; Catholic Armenians,
739; Roman Catholics, 231 1; Jews, 2545; others (including 777
Russians Orthodox, 9 Lutherans, and 57 Sunni Mohammedans), 843.
(Statistics concerning the populations of Transcaucasia derived from the
family lists of 1886. Published by Government, Tiflis, 1893.)
1 They were : Akhaltsykh, Atzkur, Aspinja, Khertvis, Akhalkalaki, Ardahan
(Dubois, op. cit. vol. ii. pp. 284-85).

- The slave trade was carried on through Circassians, who kidnapped the inhabitants
of Georgia proper and fled with them across the Turkish border to Akhaltsykh (Dubois,
(fip. cit. vol. ii. pp. 261-62 ; Haxthausen, Transcaucasia, London, 1854, p. 100).

•^ Adrien Dupre in Gamba, I'oyage dans la I\iissic mt'ridionalc, Paris, 1826, vol. i.
p. 403.

* For the interesting siege and capture of Akhaltsykh by Paskevich I may refer the
reader to Monteith, A'a7-s an.i Erzernin, London, 1856, ch. vi. pp. 182 seq.; Dubois, op.
cit. vol. ii. pp. 258 sc(/., and a note to Haxthausen, op. cit. p. loo. Eli Smith,
who travelled in the country in 1830-31, informs us that the siege of Akhaltsykh

To Akhaltsykh 67

which the evidence remains to the present time. They razed a
portion of the town in the vicinity of the fortress, which had
furnished cover to the Turks in the desperate attempt which they
subsequently made to recapture their old stronghold. The outer
walls of the city were either demolished or fell into ruin and
disappeared. The mosque of the citadel was converted into a
Russian church and shorn of its minaret.^ A new town was
founded on the right bank of the river and assigned to Armenian
colonists. The Mussulman population emigrated into Turkey ;
and Akhaltsykh, which received a large body of Armenian
immigrants from Kars and Erzerum, became practically a Christian
town. The native inhabitants who were Christians erected belfries
near their churches and heard with joy the sound of Christian
bells. But it would seem that no great measure of prosperity
attended this new birth. The immigrants were bent on doing busi-
ness and opening shops ; only those among them who were agri-
culturists did well. Commerce declined owing to the inclusion of
the town within the frontier line of the Russian customs and the
consequent interruption of relations with the neighbouring cities
in the south. The traffic in slaves was, of course, abolished, and
no considerable industry took its place. Akhaltsykh was shut
up in her corner of Asia ; for the impracticable barrier of the
border ranges walls her off from the sea. Still the fact that the
place was a frontier fortress of the Russian Empire must have
been productive of at least a local trade. In 1833 the population
appears to have numbered only 11,000 souls;- but it probably
increased from that date, year by year. When Kars came into
the permanent possession of the Russians, the newly- acquired
fortress in part supplanted Akhaltsykh; and the progressive decline
of the Turkish Empire has further contributed to relieve the
Government of the necessity of providing the last-named strong-
hold with modern fortifications. At the time of my visit it was
evident that the town was declining and losing importance year
by year. I questioned several of the better-informed among the
inhabitants as to the cause of this unhappy state of things. " You
have long enjoyed the blessings of security," I observed, "both

was one of the two occasions upon which the Turks gave the Russians a fair trial of
their bravery. The other was at Baiburt {Missionary Researches in Armenia, London^
1834, p. 82).

^ Dubois saw it still standing in 1833. I cannot find when it was cut down.
Brosset {op. cit. p. 149) mentions the conversion of the mosque.

^ Dubois, op. cit. vol. ii. p. 263.

68 Armenia

for* property and life ; yet in place of a steadily increasing pros-
perity I see nothing but signs of impoverishment and falling-off"
As usual in the East, I received several answers ; but all were
unanimous in declaring that the principal reason was the depopula-
tion of the surrounding country, owing to the persistent emigration
of the Mussulmans and the want of colonists to take their place.
Another cause, they said, was the decline in military importance
to which I have already referred.

The modern town on the right bank was nearest to our
encampment ; may I therefore commence the account of what we
saw at Akhaltsykh with a stroll through its garden-lined streets ?
The houses are nice little one-storeyed dwellings, some built of
brick, others of stone. A feature were the quaint little spouts to
carry off the rain-water, shaped at the ends to resemble dragons'
heads. I have already spoken of the "cherry-coloured roofing "^ —
an effect which we discovered was due to no more interesting
process than a coat of paint applied to corrugated iron. In a
similar manner the roof of a church would be tinted a cool green,
and the combination of these hues with the rich foliage was
extremely pleasing to the eye. Where the scattered tenements
collect together and you reach the business quarter, here and there
a modern shop may be seen ; but the handicrafts for which
Akhaltsykh is in some degree famous are still carried on in those
brick-built booths with their shadowed recesses which constitute
the little world of the Eastern artificer, at once his workshop and
the mart for his wares. We examined some of the productions
of the workers in silver without being tempted to buy. We were
made aware of the existence of a silk industry for which the raw
material is brought from Georgia. We visited the schools and
conversed with the masters ; but the scholars were making
holiday. Akhaltsykh possesses two important schools, the one
belonging to the Armenian community, the other a Russian State
school. That of the Armenians provides education to some 300
boys and youths, and to a still larger number of girls. Both the
Gregorian Armenians and the Catholics attend this establishment ;
religious instruction is imparted to the members of either
communion by teachers of their own persuasion in separate classes.
We were told that the yearly income amounted to 1 4,000 roubles
{£\/\00)^ exclusive of what was received from the girls ; and that
this sum included the receipts of the theatre which is attached to
this enterprising school. The Russian institution boasts of 300

To Akhaltsykh 69

scholars, of whom 75 per cent are Armenians ; it does not possess
a branch for girls. On the other hand, it indulges in the modern
fashion of technical instruction, a side which does not appear to
be cultivated in the Armenian school. Its staff consists of fifteen
teachers; a fee of twelve roubles (.^i :4s.) a year is levied, but many
poor pupils are admitted free. A few boarders are received, whose
parents live at a distance ; and I may here remark that, except
in cases which I shall endeavour to specify, all the schools of
which I shall make mention in the following pages are practically
day-schools. We were taken to see the churches — commonplace
edifices — of which the Armenians, with so many examples of noble

Online LibraryH. F. B. (Harry Finnis Blosse) LynchArmenia, travels and studies (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 49)