Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

. (page 9 of 24)
Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 9 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing a situation which may prove infinitely more
ditficult to deal with and far more dangerous to


ourselves than that which exists, or at any rate
until quite recently did exist, in this part of the

The aspirations of Ptussia in South -Western
Asia are well known. We are credibly informed
that at one time Russia herself, at the suggestion
of the official Tuo-ovitch, considered the advis-
ability of building the Baghdad Railway. The
prospect of such an undertaking being carried
out by another Power was infinitely distasteful
to her, and it was perhaps only natural, there-
fore, that the chorus of congratulations which
rang from the Russian press when the cold
reception accorded to the scheme by the House
of Commons in the spring of 1903 became
known, should have been indecorously loud. The
opposition of Russia, in fact, in conjunction with
the opposition of this country, raised an almost
insuperable obstacle in the path of German
ambition. But issues fraught with momentous
possibilities have been born in the Cabinets of
Europe since the House of Commons expressed
its extreme antipathy to the German railway
scheme in the spring of 1903. France has drawn
nearer to England ; Ptussia has become entangled
in a devastatino^ and exhausting war in the Far
East ; and, more important still in connection
with the subject with which I am here con-
cerned, Germany has during the past few months


shown an ostentatious desire to be looked upon as
the friend in need of Kussia. I need not recapit-
ulate all the recent acts of benevolent neutrality
which Germany has perpetrated in the interests
of Russia, whereby she is laying up for herself
a rich credit account with that country, which
will some day have to be paid off. But I would
direct your attention to the shape which that
payment may not improbably assume. Is it not
possible — nay, even probable — that Russia's ac-
quiescence or even co-operation in the Baghdad
Railway scheme may at some future time figure
as part payment of Germany's little bill ? And
when this country finds herself alone of all the
Powers in opposition to the scheme, will she
still be prepared to prevent its consummation ?
And if she is not, will she look on with satis-
faction at a Persia and a Turkey dominated by
the diplomatists and Ministers of a hostile Russo-
German combination ?

That the German Emperor is bent upon carry-
ing out his purpose has all along been sufficiently
clear, and has been recently emphasised on the
occasion of the opening of the recently completed
section of the line over the 200 kilometres be-
tween Konia and Bulgurlu. In forwarding his
congratulations to Herr Gwinner upon that oc-
casion, the Emperor said : " I am glad that Ger-
man enterprise and German engineering skill have
succeeded in advancing this notable undertaking


to this important stage, in spite of the manifold
difficulties which have been encountered. I can-
not refrain from expressing to you, as well as to all
those who are engaged in this great enterprise,
my full recognition of what has been achieved
hitherto, together with my warmest wishes for the
further successful construction and for the final
completion of the Baghdad railway." Judging by
the methods of German diplomacy in the past,
there would be nothing in the least surprising in
finding her at some future time walking hand in
hand with Russia through Mesopotamia to the
Persian Gulf. German influence predominant in
Asiatic Turkey would be bad enough ; but, after
all, the nearest German port is thousands of miles
away on the shores of the North Sea, whereas
the baneful shadow of the Power of Russia,
whose aggressive policy and vast ambition comes
into hostile contact with our own country in
every corner of Asia, hangs heavily over the
whole length of the northern frontiers of Persia
and the Ottoman Empire, and threatens to steal
south till it reaches the shores of the Indian
Ocean. ^

There is another point to which I would like
to draw your attention : that is, the nature of the
country through which the line must pass. Part
of it is, and always must be, of little intrinsic

^ The collapse of Russia in the Far East and the subsequent Anglo-
Russian Agreement altered the situation.


value, but much of it is, on the other hand,
possessed of vast potentialities. " Mesopotamia
and the Karun districts," wrote Colonel Picot
in the paper already referred to, " are the richest
undeveloped fields in the Middle East, of sur-
prising promise and potentiality. I pray that the
genius of the Anglo - Saxon race may be the
moving powers in the regeneration of these
regions." That is a sentiment which we all of us
may echo, and there will probably be few who will
deny that railroad iron is the magician's rod that
is destined to evoke the sleeping energies of land
and water. As an example of what has already
been affected by railways in Asia Minor, I may
call to witness the report published by the Public
Debt Administration in 1903, wherein it is esti-
mated that the tithes of the districts traversed or
affected by the railways have increased in the last
twelve years by forty-six per cent, and the state-
ment by Consul Waugh that the Angora district,
which exported no grain before the railway was
opened, now has an annual export of wheat and
barley valued at from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000.
Such is the result of the modest railway system
that is already in existence.

But there are in the south-eastern districts of
Asiatic Turkey lands which are possessed of in-
finitely greater potentialities than the provinces
through which the railway already runs, and


which are but awaiting the bidding of the en-
gineer to bear produce of incalculable value.
" This land," wrote Herodotus, '* is of all lands with
which we are acquainted by far the best for the
oTOwth of corn. ... It is so fruitful in the
produce of corn that it yields continually two
hundredfold, and when it produces its best it
yields even three hundredfold. The blades of
wheat and barley grow there to full four fingers
in breadth ; and though I well know to what
a height millet and sesame grow, I shall not
mention it, for I am well assured that to those
who have never been in the Babylonian country
what has been said concerning its productions will
appear to many incredible." I have never re-
garded the historian of Halicarnassus as a timid
chronicler, or as one who found matter for sur-
prise, even in regard to facts which might strike
the average observer as out of the ordinary ; and
when, therefore, we are told of crops of such a
kind that even so bold a historian as Herodotus
dares not venture to describe them, we may rest
assured that we are dealing with material of no
ordinary description. But we are not dependent
solely upon the evidence of Herodotus for forming
an opinion upon the latent wealth of Babylonia.
There are in Upper Chaldsea, according to Sir
William Willcocks — the famous originator of the
o-reat Assouan dam on the Nile — no less than


" 1,280,000 acres of iirst-class land waiting only
for water to yield at once a handsome return."
" Of all the regions of the earth," writes that great
irrigation expert, " no region is more favoured
by Nature for the production of cereals than the
lands of the Tigris. . . . Cotton, sugar-cane,
Indian corn, and all the summer products of
cereals, leguminous plants, Egyptian clover, opium,
and tobacco, will find themselves at home as they
do in Egypt."

Here, then, is an opening for British enterprise
and capital. Here is an opportunity for Great
Britain to encourage British capital to develop
the resources of Mesopotamia, "as strengthening
her political claims to consideration and exclud-
ing that of possible antagonists." Sir William
Willcocks gives an idea of the probable cost of
a scheme of irrigation and of its probable re-
sults. £8,000,000, he says, would suffice for the
irrigation of the 1,280,000 acres of Upper
Chaldsea — £7, that is, per acre. He values the
land roughly at £38,000,000, and, placing the rent
at about £3 per acre, shows a return of £3,840,000.
Allowing nearly half this sum for the upkeep of
canals, there is still a net return of £2,000,000,
or 25 per cent on a capital of £8,000,000.^

1 Since the revolution in Turkey, Sir W. Willcocks has been
engaged by the Turkish Government to draw up a scheme of
irrigation and to inaugurate the enterprise.


In considering the whole question of the re-
generation of Chaldaea, it is essential that schemes
of irrigation and projects for railway construction
should be conceived and carried out in connection
with one another. In Egypt the soil extracted
in the cutting of a canal forms the embankment
upon which the line of rails is laid. " Indeed,"
writes Sir William Willcocks, " it would be an
irreparable mistake if the railways were aligned
and constructed independently of the irrigation
canals, and if, by some ill chance, the railways
traversed one part of the delta, and the profitably
irrigable part of the delta were to lie elsewhere.
. . . In Egypt the railways and canals are
designed together, the canals preceding the rail-
ways and settling their location." The builders
of the Baghdad Railway should obviously bear
in mind the analogous case presented by Egypt
when they come to draw their ribbon of steel
through the fertile lands of the Tigris — a
necessity, indeed, to which our German friends
are fully alive. And for the benefit of those
who are content to see our own country stand
aside and look passively on while a position of
paramount influence in this region is being
slowly but surely assumed by a great foreign
Power, I may add that I happen to be aware
that the attention of German engineers has been
explicitly directed to the matter upon which I


have touched by no less a person than the
German Emperor himself.

Now, I cannot afford further space in this
paper to discussing the development of the Near
East. In the course of my journey I made
notes of what Russia is doing in the way of
opening what may be described as the back-
door to the Far East, and it is my intention
to make brief mention of what I observed, not
because I consider Russian enterprise in this
part of the world — in Mongolia and Western
China, that is to say — to be of the same interest
and immediate importance to us as are her
movements in Manchuria and the Near and
Middle East, but because, for the very reason
that it is not, little curiosity is ever shown with
regard to it. I may, however, be allowed to
make rapid mention on my way of the advance
which has recently been made in railway develop-
ment is Asiatic Russia itself Little alteration has
been made in the Trans - Caspian Railway since
the work for carrying on the line from Samarkand
to Tashkent and Andijan, taken in hand in 1895,
was completed. The much-talked-of branch from
Ashkabad to Mashhad still exists only in the
fertile imagination of alarmists, while the famous
Murghab branch, completed in 1899, still rests
at the Afghan frontier. The object of this line
has never been doubted, and though it is as


jealously guarded from foreign gaze as was until
recently the Tibetan oracle of Lhasa, it is
whispered that its terminus is to be found
within the walls of a heavily-armed fort, gar-
risoned by a number of troops which at least
reaches four figfures, and with barrack accommo-
dation for even more. There is also said to be
a light railway running over the twelve miles
between Kushk post and Chehel Dukhteran, while
it is asserted that the length of rails stored
within the fort is greater than is the distance
to Herat. Who can doubt that some day, when
Afghanistan as such has ceased to exist, here
will lie the direct overland route to India ?

At one point the Trans-Caspian Railway has
received important attention at the hand of the
engineer — at the point, that is to say, where
it crosses the ancient Oxus. Here the great
cumbrous wooden structure erected by the Polish
engineer Bielinski, on supports in the shape of
3300 wooden piles driven into the river-bed in
1887, has been supplanted by a fine steel girder
bridge a verst and a half in length, which enables
one to cross the river in three or four minutes —
a great improvement upon the twenty minutes
which I was informed was necessary for the
passage of the older construction.

But far overshadowing in importance any im-
provement in the existing line is the completion


of the new line from Orenburg to Tashkent.
This line, which was in process of construction
when I was at Tashkent, is now completed as
far as the actual rail -laying is concerned, and
will in all probability be opened for passenger
traffic in the course of the coming summer.
Starting from Orenburg, a town of some 60,000
inhabitants, built on the banks of the Ural River,
it passes by the towns of Ilensk on the river llek,
Aktiubinsk, Kazalinsk, Perovsk, and Turkestan
to Tashkent, covering in all a distance of upwards
of 1000 miles. Its importance is considerable,
both from a commercial and from a strategic
point of view. Raw cotton from the productive
cotton -lands of Ferghana will now be carried
direct to the cotton-mills at Moscow. The in-
creased facility and cheapness of importing corn
from Russia under the advantages of the " zone"
system common in that country will admit of
more and more of the lands of Central Asia
being given up to the cultivation of the cotton
plant, and ere long, no doubt, will place Russia
on the highroad to realising one of her ambitions
— namely, to supply from her own dominions the
whole of the increasing demand of those cotton
factories which have sprung up in recent years
to make Moscow a modern manufacturing city.
By the completion of the line, too, Tashkent
is brought within a week of St Petersburg, and


in the matter of carrying troops, within fourteen
days of the great military centres of Odessa,
Simpheropol, Kieff, Kharkoff, and Moscow. The
1st and 2nd Turkestan Army Corps, quartered
at Tashkent and Ashkabad, will in the future
be fed by a direct line of railway communication
in their rear in place of the Trans - Caspian
Railway, with its break necessitated by the
twenty hours' passage of the Caspian Sea, which
will necessarily fall into the position of a mere
supplementary line of communication, and Russia's
power of mobilising troops in Central Asia will
be more than doubled. So much for Russian
activity in Central Asia. Now for a word as
to her enterprise on the western frontiers of

My journey took me to Kulja, and later on
to the Siberian and Mongolian frontier. At the
former place no signs of progressive activity were
visible. Russian influence is represented by a
Russian Consul and a Cossack escort, a Russian
post and telegraph office, and the insurmount-
able fact that half the inhabitants of the town
are Russian subjects ; while the dignity and
prestige of the " Son of Heaven " are ostentatiously
displayed in the person of a Taotai, or provincial
Governor, and the whole gamut of minor officials
and hangers-on. It appeared to me that Kulja
has every prospect of remaining in statu quo


for many years to come. Kussia has nothing
to gain by an immediate advance in this direc-
tion, and, moreover, she was careful to see that
the province was at her mercy before she with-
drew under the Treaty of St Petersburg of 1881.
There are, besides, other gateways into the
Celestial Empire which hold out greater attrac-
tions than does the road through Kulja. Mon-
golia is, no doubt, for the most part a land of
singular unattractiveness, but the shortest and
most direct and most practicable route from
Russia to Pekincr lies across the level stretches
of the Gobi Desert. Urga, the most important
town in all Mongolia, is dominated and per-
meated by the leavening Russian yeast ; and
plans and surveys have been made for a line
from the Siberian Railway to Peking via Kiachta,
Urga, and Kalgan, the 850 miles from Kiachta
through Mongolia to Kalgan to be built by
Russia, and the remaining section from Kalgan
to Peking by China. ^

To the south, again, the southern regions of
Chinese Turkestan, while as much, probably, at
the mercy of Russia as the less important province
of Kulja, have the supreme attraction, not pos-
sessed by the latter, of lying in contact with the

^ China has completed a line from Peking to Kalgan ; but Russian
policy has, of course, been modified as a result of her defeat by


semi-independent States which border upon the
Indian Empire ; and the possibility of controlling
what Mr Chirol describes as "a great politico-
religious organisation, whose influence can and
does make itself felt all along the north-eastern
borderland of India," has been shown by, compara-
tively speaking, recent events in Tibet to have
appealed to the imagination of chauvinist states-
men in Russia in a way in which an advance into
a part of the Chinese Empire, which could scarcely
be deemed either necessary or advantageous, as
likely to lead — for the present, at any rate — to
any further advancement in a policy of territorial
aggrandisement and acquisition, would scarcely
be likely to do.

On the western frontier of Mongolia I found
a laudable interest being taken by Russian
officials in projects for stimulating and increasing
trade. Manufactured and millinery goods, iron
and copper wares, tanned leather and maral horns,
pass into Mongolia ; and in return, furs, wool, skins,
brick-tea, silk stuffs, and small-wares of Chinese
manufacture, are brought into Russia. This trade
which had until recently attained a value of only
a few hundred thousand roubles, is already show-
ing an increased development, for the Russian
authorities have spent during the past few years
a sum of .£7000 in constructing a road from the
nearest Siberian village, Onguidai — a road which


I found sufficiently near completion to admit of
the passage of light vehicles the whole distance
to the frontier, whence a caravan route leads to
Kobdo, Uliissatai, and Urga, the chief centres of
Mongolian trade.

Trade with Mongolia is also being stimulated
by the opening up of a water route via the Lower
Irtish, the Nor Zaisan Lake, and the Black Irtish
River, up which steamers and barges have now
been run for three or four years in succession by
three merchants of Semipalatinsk, who have estab-
lished a station at the mouth of the Kaldjir River,
a tributary of the Black Irtish. In the course
of the summer before last 8000 tons of merchan-
dise were thus carried, and two new steamers,
to be built with a Government subsidy, were a
short time ago put in hand. The present station
at the mouth of the Kaldjir River is 45 miles
from the Russian town of Zaisansk, 150 miles
from the Mongolian town of Tchugutchak, and
375 miles from Kobdo. A party of surveyors and
scientists were under orders at the beginning of
the present year to proceed on an expedition of
exploration with a view to determining the best
route to this latter town ; but, owing to the out-
break of war and the consequent withdrawal of
all extraordinary expenditure on the part of the
Government, this expedition has been postponed.

Now, I have made brief mention of some of the


evidence which came under my notice in the course
of my recent journey of the unobtrusive activity
of Russia in those regions which he beyond the
boundaries of her most remote possessions in
Central Asia. That journey, as I have already
intimated, took me on through Siberia and Man-
churia to Port Arthur and Peking ; but time will
not admit of my embarking upon such further
fields of political discussion. I will ask your
indulgence but one moment longer, that I may
give you my justification for having troubled you
with such, comparatively speaking, trivial matters
as Siberian and Mongolian trade. Such matters
might well appear to be no concern of ours ; the
efforts, at any rate, of a great civilising Power
like Russia to open up intercourse with adjoining
and inferior races should evoke from the people
of this country nothing but approbation and
applause, and I would not have it supposed that
I view such efforts on her part either with the
unreasoning distrust which is the common charac-
teristic of the alarmist, or with the jaundiced eye
of a virulent and prejudiced Russophobe. But
while I admit the perfect right of Russia to
encourage intercourse and friendly relations with
her many neighbouring States, and admire the
energy and enterprise which she displays in this
direction, I do equally hold that we, whose interest
in the preservation of a state of equilibrium in



the East can scarcely be exaggerated, have every
right to keep such a watch upon the progress of
events among the peoples of Central Asia as will
enable us at all times to preserve from possible
danger the sacred trust which has devolved upon
us as the overlords of the Indian Empire. As
guardians of the Indian frontier, we should be
guilty of neglecting our duty if we shut our eyes
to the fact that a harmful intrigue has only too
often accompanied Russian commercial activity in
Asia in the past. A careful perusal of the Blue-
Book published early this year ^ upon Tibet is
hardly calculated to reassure us as to the simple
disinterestedness of the motives by which Russian
statesmen are actuated in that part of the world,
and, indeed, a Russian of high position — Prince
Ukhtomski — has himself set forth the importance
to which Russian intercourse with the Buddhists
of Mongolia and Tibet may eventually attain.
Writing of the Buddhists in Russia, he says :
" Every year thousands of them go on pilgrimage
to Mongolia and to the centres of Tibetan learning.
Pioneers of Russian trade and Russian good fame,
representatives of the Russian name in the depths
of the yellow East, are these simple little men.
These nameless natives march on to the mysterious
Tashe-Llunpo and the highlands adjoining India,
everywhere quietly bearing into this Asiatic wilder-

^ 1904.


ness ideas of the White Tsar and the Muscovite
people. These sturdy travellers bear also the
idea, vague as yet, that the Christian West is
called upon to regenerate through us the effete
civilisation of the East. Scarce any one in Russia
guesses as yet what a valuable work is being
carried on by these modest Russian Lamaites at
a distance of hundreds of miles from the Russian

The escapades of the now notorious Dorjieff ring
a striking: comment on the words which I have
just quoted ; and as long as these " pioneers of
Russian trade and Russian good fame " continue
to sow such ideas of the White Tsar and the
Muscovite people among the pojiulations of the
" highlands adjoining India," so long will it be open
to us, without meriting a charge of harbouring an
undue chauvinism, to keep such a watch upon our
frontier as will at all times enable us to safeguard
the great heritage of which we are the trustees —
a heritage which is, in the words of Lord Curzon,
"the noblest trophy of British genius, and the
most splendid appanage of the Imperial Crown."




{Speech in the House of Commons^ February 17, 1908.)

Mr Speaker, — I have no objection whatever in
principle to the Governments of Great Britain and
Russia defining in a diplomatic Agreement their
spheres of influence in the three countries which
are dealt with, provided, of course, that the
Agreement is a fair one and of a character likely
to be satisfactory to both parties. But what are
we to say of the particular Agreement which is
now under discussion ? We are bound to look at
it as a business arrangement between the two
countries, defining their interests in three areas
in Asia, and I will say a few words first upon the
Persian side of the question, because that comes
first in the three chapters of the Agreement.

Persia. — I notice that the right hon. gentle-

Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 9 of 24)