Page images
PDF
EPUB

covered with aquatic birds, and the country beginning to be covered with that nourishing grass which makes at present, and informer times made it still more, the pastoral paradise of the wandering Kirghiz shepherds. It may be added that the Kara-Kul, another of the Pamir lakes, is, like many of the waters of these inland regions of Asia, decreasing. The north-eastern outflow has ceased, though there is one occasionally to the south-west, but not annually, as supposed by General Gordon. The observation of Severtsoff confirms the statement of the old Chinese traveller, Hwen Thsang, and proves Kostenko to have been in error when he declared that it had no discharge.

“THE KHANATES.

Had these pages been written a few years ago the number of independent States familiarly known under the title of “the Khanates” would require to have been considerably extended. But of late years the Czar of Russia has, either through circumstances within or beyond bis own control, been pushing his conquest from the West towards the East, until at the present moment only fragments of the great empire of Timur Leng and Ghenghiz Khan in Central Asia remain under native rulers. The almost endless wars which the country has been the scene of during late years has also greatly aided our geographical knowledge.

It is less than twenty years since Arminius Vambéry succeeded in penetrating the region in the disguise of a dervish, but in the interval scientific explorers and surveyors have passed over the greater part of it, and the literature of Central Asia has assumed proportions so great that it already demands the almost undivided attention of a specialist.t In a former work,f somewhat full accounts were given of the people and government, as well as to some extent of the general character of these Khanates, and in a former part of the present volume Khasgar, and the Ili valley, with some of the neighbouring Russian territory, was sketched. It is therefore unnecessary to occupy more space in this portion of our travels in Central Asia than is required to sketch the present condition of the Khanates under native and Russian rule, a plan which will equally suit the patience of the reader and the limits to which we must confine our remarks. The breadth of this territory at its narrowest part is about 100 miles—that is to say, the Russian outposts approach to within about 100 miles of Afghanistan. The whole area of Independent Turkestan may be taken at 194,000 square miles, containing a scattered population of over three millions, found mainly in a few busy though half-ruinous towns, and in the oases or fertile spots which dot the great sandy deserts which for the most part characterise Central Asia in this direction. In other words, the Khanate of Khiva, excluding that portion which has fallen under Russian control, contains some 700,000 people ; Bokhara rather over two millions; the petty Principality of Karategin 100,000 ;

[graphic]

Wood : “A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus” (New Edition, 1873); Hutton: “Central Asia" (1875), &c. &c.

+ M. V. J. Mejow has compiled a catalogue of the works on Central Asia in his library. It comprises 3,000 publications, for the most part in the Russian language.

I "Races of Mankind,” Vol. IV., pp. 223-227.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][merged small]

and the Turkoman country nearly 180,000—these figures being, however, in every case little better than estimates, or even guesses.

The only inhabited or fertile part of Khiva is that watered by the irrigating canals along the left bank of the Oxus, not far from where it falls into the Sea of Aral. It yields grain and fruit in abundance, and the people produce considerable quantities of inferior silk from the silkworms which are reared here in great numbers. But the trade of the Khanate is almost entirely in the hands of the Russians, who have a flotilla on the Sea of Aral, and have of late made efforts to make the Amu Darya, or Oxus, navigable on to the borders of Afghanistan.* The Uzbegs, Turkomans, Kirghiz, and Persians also

carry

on

[graphic][merged small]

some commerce by means of camel caravans, which cross the Steppes to Orenburg and Astrakhan, and to Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian, where there is a Russian port through which goods are introduced into the country. But in this we have no share. Trade with Khiva is strictly confined to the subjects of the Czar, whose vassal the Khan is.

For the present he still maintains a semblance of authority in the town of Khiva, situated on one of the canals drawn from the Oxus, and which prior to the Russian conquest was

one of the most infamous of the Central Asian nests of the slave trade. The greater number of these captives were Persians, either taken in raids by the

But Turkomans, or obtained directly by the robber clans of the Khiva sovereign. there were also Russians and Russian subjects among those who had been kidnapped on the shores of the Caspian. This circumstance first brought the Khan into collision with the Czar's troops, and finally led to the invasion of 1872, which lost him * Wood :

“ The Shores of Lake Aral,” (1876); Morgan: Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. XLVIII. (1878), p. 301, &c.

the greatest part of his territory, and permitted the fatuous prince the enjoyment of the rest simply as the suffragan of the Russian Emperor. *

Bokhara was, once upon a time, one of the most powerful of the Central Asiatic Khanates. Politically it was not equal to Afghanistan, but it was the Mecca of the Asiatic Mohammedans. The shrines of Moslem saints scattered over its holy soil, and the schools and colleges of its capital, gave it, in the eyes of a people with whom religion and rule are inseparably mixed up, a distinction over kingdoms more powerful in men and arms. Yet it is nearly four times the size of modern Khiva, and has a population almost three times as numerous. The banks of the Oxus, and the region fertilised by the water drawn from it by the Zarafshan River Canal, is about the only part of the country cultivated. Outside these oases the land is desert, sandy steppe, in which a well is a highly-valued possession. In the watered region, cotton, silk, grains, and fruits are grown, and in these products, and in the broad-tailed sheep and cattle reared, a considerable trade is done with the camel-caravans passing to the shores of the Caspian, viá Khiva, and northward to Siberia, and westward to China.

“Bokbara the noble," as the capital was once styled, little merits nowadays its pompous designation. Vambéry describes it as one of the dirtiest and most unhealthy places in all Asia, and later travellers have given a scarcely more flattering account of this once famous city, which the inhabitants claim to have been founded by Alexander the Great, among the reeds and fens of the Zarafshan River oasis. Its population, consisting of Uzbegs, Afghans, Arabs, Jews, Nogais (Russian Tatars), Kirghiz, Tadjiks, Hindoos, and Turkomans, do not number: much over 30,000, though Wolff has estimated them as high as 180,000. The place, however, still boasts of many colleges or “medresses," and the spiritual wants of the people are catered to by a multitude of mollahs, whose mosques still retain something of their ancient splendour. The city is surrounded by a wall four miles in circuit, and pierced by eleven crumbling gates. The bazaars, frequented by almost every Asiatic people, presents a busy sight; while at Karshee, south-east of the capital, and also a great trading place, excellent swords, knives, and other articles of cutlery are forged. The Khan is an unqualified despot, but bis power is on the wane, since part of his ancient territory has passed into the hands of Russia. Fifty years ago this Central Asiatic monarch was courted by the English and the Russians, much after the same fashion as the Shah of Persia is, or was, or as the Amir of Afghanistan used to be. But Nasrullah Bahuder treated the one with arrogance and the other with contempt, the consequence of which was that his successor, Mozaffar-eddin, found an army of the Czar in bis territory, and by 1868 a Russian garrison firmly stationed in Samarcand. The result is that Bokhara has become though nominally independent, in reality a dependency of Russia, which cannot fail before long to absorb it entirely. These Central Asiatic Khanates have a fatalism for running their heads against the pricks, and the Manghit dynasty, which succeeded in

66

Burnaby: “A Ride to Khiva” (1877); MacGahan: Campaigning on the Oxus" (1874); Rawlinson : England and Russia in the East” (1874); Baker : “Clouds in the East” (1876); Clarke : "Statistics and Geography of Russian Turkestan” (1879); and Schuyler's and Vambéry's works passim.

+ Vambèry : “Skizzenbilder auf den Morgenlande” (1874); “Sketches of Central Asia” (1875).

« PreviousContinue »