Aleppo, May 12, 1810.
THE district inhabited by the Ryhanlu Turkmans begins at about seven hours distance from Aleppo, to the north-westward. The intermediate plain is stony and almost deserted, but it is in many parts susceptible of culture, and contains a great number of villages in ruins. At five hours march from Aleppo to the W.N.W. upon the ridge of a low hill are some plantations of olive and fig trees; on the other side of the hill lies a valley of an oval shape about eighteen miles in circuit, called Khalaka (ﺧﻟﻘﻪ); at the foot of the low hills which surround it, are the following villages: Termine, Tellade, Hoesre, Tellekberoun, Bab, Dana, and some others. The Fellahs or inhabitants of these villages live in half ruined houses, which indicate the opulence of their ancient possessors. The soil of the plain is a fine red mould, almost without a stone. In March, when I visited the Ryhanlu, it was sown with wheat, but it produces in another season the finest cotton. The whole plain is the property of Abbas Effendi of Aleppo, the heir of Tshelebi Effendi, who was in his time the first grandee of Aleppo[.] Having crossed the plain of Khalaka, and the rocky calcareous hills which border it on the western side, a very tedious passage for camels, the first Turkman tents are met with at about six hours and a half or seven hours distance from Aleppo. The Turkmans, who prefer living on the hills, erect their tents on the declivities, and cultivate the valleys below them. These hills extend in a N.W. direction, above forty miles, the mountain of St. Simon (ﺻﻤﻌﺎﻥ ﺟﺒﻞ), is in the midst of them. Their average breadth, including the numerous valleys which intersect them, may be estimated at fifteen or twenty miles. They lose themselves in the plain of Antioch, which is bounded on the opposite side by the chain of high mountains, extending along the southern coast of the gulf of Scanderoun. The river Afrin (ﻋﻔﺮﻳﻦ) waters this plain; its course from the neighbourhood of Killis to where it empties itself into the lake of Antioch, is fifteen or twenty hours in length. At about seven hours above the lake, this river is about the size of the Cam near Cambridge; it regularly but moderately overflows in spring-time, and is full of carps and barbles; but the Turkmans have no implements of fishing. Besides the Afrin there are numerous smaller rivers and sources, which water the valleys. One of the must considerable of these is the river of Goul, which takes its rise near a Turkman encampment of the same name, about six hours distant from St. Simon, to the W. by N. in a small lake, about one mile and a half in circumference, and joins the waters of the Afrin, eight miles from its source. This beautiful little lake is so full of fish, that the boys of Goul kill them by throwing stones at them. The river turns several mills near Goul, and five or six more at six miles distance, at a place called Tahoun Kash, near a spot where the chieftain of the Ryhanlu, Mursal Oglu Hayder Aga, has built a house for his winter residence, and has planted a garden. On the right bank of the Afrin, about three quarters of an hour distant from it, and at three hours ride to the N.-westward of the tent of Mohammed Ali, my Turkman host, are two warm springs at half an hour's walk from each other. I only saw the southernmost, which is strongly impregnated with sulphur, and made my thermometer rise to 102°; it constantly bubbles from a bottom of coarse gravel, in the middle of the bason, which is about twenty feet in circumference, and four feet deep. The sulphureous smell begins to be sensible at a distance of twenty-five yards from it, and I was told that the northern spring was still more sulphureous. The Turkmans hold the medicinal powers of these springs, as baths, in great estimation: women as well as men use them for the cure of violent headaches, which are very prevalent amongst them. The fields of the Turkmans are sown with wheat, barley, and several kinds of pulse. Their wheat was sown only a fortnight before my arrival, viz, about the twentieth of February. As it is only a short time since they have become agriculturists, they have not yet any plantations of fruit trees, although the olive, pomegranate, and fig would certainly prosper in their valleys. Thirty years ago the hills which they now inhabit were partly covered with wood; the trade of firewood with Aleppo, however, has entirely consumed these forests. At present they cut the wood for the Aleppo market, in the mountains of the Kurds on the northern side of the Afrin, and when that shall fail, Aleppo must depend for its fuel upon the coast of Caramania, from whence Egypt is now supplied. The Turkman hills are inhabited by vast numbers of jackals; wolves, and foxes are also numerous; and I saw flocks of Gazelles, to the number of twenty or thirty in each flock; among a great variety of birds is the Francoline, which the Syrian sportsmen esteem the choicest of all game. In the mountains of Badjazze, which borders on the Turkman plains, stags are sometimes killed. The Turkmans are passionately fond of hawking; they course the game with grey-hounds, or if in the plain, they run it down with their horses.
The population of the Ryhanlu Turkmans may be roughly calculated from the number of their tents, which amount to about three thousand; every tent contains from two or three to fifteen inmates. They can raise a military force of two or three thousand horsemen, and of as many infantry. They are divided into thirteen minor tribes: 1. The Serigialar, or tribe of the chief of the Ryhanlu Turkmans, Hayder Aga, has five hundred horsemen. 2. Coudanlut, six hundred. 3. Cheuslu, two hundred. 4. Leuklu, one hundred. 5. Kara Akhmetlu one hundred and fifty. 6. Kara Solimanlu, fifty. 7. Delikanlu, six hundred. 8. Toroun, sixty. 9. Bahaderlu, one hundred. 10. Hallalu, sixty. 11. Karken, twenty. 12. Aoutshar, twenty. 13. Okugu, fifty. The Serigialar derive their origin from Maaden, the Cheuslu from the neighbourhood of Badjazze, the Babaderli from the mountains of St. Simon, the Halalis from Barak. Each tribe has its own chief, whose rank in the Divan is determined by the strength his tribe; Hayder Aga presides amongst them whenever it is found necessary to call together a common council. His authority over the Ryhanlus seems to be almost absolute, as he sometimes carries his motions in the Divan even against the opinion and will of the assembled chiefs. He settles the disputes, which occur between these chiefs, and which are often accompanied by hostile incursions into one another’s territory. The chiefs decide all disputes among their own followers according to the feeble knowledge which they possess of the Turkish laws; but appeals from their tribunal may be made to that of the grand chief. The whole Ryhanlu tribe is tributary to Tshapan Oglu, the powerful governor of the eastern part of Anatolia, who resides at Yuzgat. They pay him an annual tribute of six thousand two hundred and fifteen piastres, in horses, cattle, &c. He claims also the right of nominating to the vacant places of chieftains; but his influence over the Turkman Ryhanlu having of late much diminished, this right is at present merely nominal. The predecessors of Hayder Aga used to receive their Firmahn of nomination, or rather of confirmation, from the Porte. When the tribute for Tshapan Oglu is collected, Hayder Aga generally gives in an account of disbursements incurred during the preceding year for the public service, such as presents to officers of the Porte passing through the camp, expenses of entertaining strangers of rank, &c. &c. The tribute, as well as Hayder Aga’s demands, are levied from the tribes according to the repartition of the minor Agas; and each chief takes that opportunity of adding to the sum to which his tribe is assessed, four or five hundred piastres, which make up his only income as chief. The Turkmans do not pay any Miri, or general land tax to the Grand Signor, for the ground they occupy. Families, if disgusted with their chief, often pass from one tribe to another without any one daring to prevent their departure.
The Ryhanlu, like most of the larger Turkman nations, are a nomade people. They appear in their winter quarters in the plain of Antioch at the end of September, and depart from thence towards the middle of April, when the flies of the plain begin to torment their horses and cattle. They then direct their march towards Marash, and remain in the neighbourhood of that place about one month; from thence they reach the mountains of Gurun and Albostan. The mountains which they occupy are called Keukduli, Sungulu, and Kara Dorouk, (upon Kara Dorouk, they say, are some fine ruins). Here they pass the hottest summer months; in autumn they repass the plains of Albostan, and return by the same route towards Antioch.
The winter habitations of the Turkmans in the hilly districts are, as I have mentioned before, erected on the declivity of the hills, so as to be by their position somewhat sheltered from the northerly winds. Sometimes five or six families live together on one spot in as many tents, but for the greater part tents of single families are met with at one or two miles distance from each other. In proportion to the arable land, which the hilly parts contain, these districts are better peopled than the plain, where a thousand tents are scattered over an extent, of the most fertile country, of at least five hundred square miles. The structure of the habitations of these nomades is of course extremely simple: an oblong square wall of loose stones, about four feet high, is covered over with a black cloth made of goats hair, which is supported by a dozen or more posts, so that in the middle of the tent the covering is elevated about nine feet from the ground. A stone partition is built across the tent, near the entrance: I found in every tent that the women had uniformly possession of the greater half to the left of the door; the smaller half to the right hand side is appropriated to the men, and there is also a partition at H [figure not included], which generally serves as a stable for a favourite horse of the master or of one of his sons. The rest of the horses and the cattle are kept in caverns, which abound in these calcareous hills, or in smaller huts built on purpose. Besides those who live in tents, many of the Turkmans, especially in the plain, live in large huts fifteen feet high, built and distributed like the tents, but having, instead of a tent covering, a roof of rushes, which grow in great abundance on the banks of the Afrin. The women’s room serves also as the kitchen; there they work at their looms, and strangers never enter: unless, when, as I was told, the Turkmans meaning to do great honour to a guest, allow him a corner of the Harem to sleep in quiet among the women. The men’s apartment is covered with carpets, which serve as beds to strangers and to the unmarried members of the family; the married people retire into the Harem. The Turkmans have also a kind of portable tent made of wood, like a round bird cage, which they cover with large carpets of white wool. The entrance may be shut up by a small door; it is the exclusive habitation of the ladies, and is only met with in families who are possessed of large property. The tent or hut of a Turkman is always surrounded by three or four others, in which the Fellah families live who cultivate his land. These Fellahs are the remaining peasants of abandoned villages, or some poor straggling Kurds. The Turkmans find the necessary seed, and receive in return half the produce, which is collected by a few of them who remain for this purpose in the winter quarters the whole year round. The Fellahs live wretchedly; whenever they are able to scrape together a small pittance, their masters take it from them under pretence of borrowing it; I was treated by several of them at dinner with the best dish they could afford: bad oil, with coarse bread; they never taste meat except when they kill a cow or an ox, disabled by sickness or age; the greater part of them live literally upon bread and water, neither fruits or vegetables being cultivated here; they are nevertheless, a cheerful good-natured people; the young men play, sing, and dance, every evening, and are infinitely better tempered than their haughty masters. My host, Mohammed Ali, began a few years ago to plant a small garden of fruit trees near his tents; his example will probably be generally followed, because the Ryhanlu families, at every returning season, pitch their tents on the same spot. It is only about ten years, that the Ryhanlu have cultivated the land; like the other Turkman hordes they had always preferred the wandering life of feeders of cattle. Agriculture was introduced among them by the persuasion of Hayder Aga, whose daughter having married a chief of the neighbouring Kurds, an alliance took place, which enabled the Turkmans to perceive the advantages, derived by the Kurds from the cultivation of the soil. The principal riches of the Turkmans however still consist in cattle. Their horses are inferior to those of the Arabs of the desert, but are well adapted for the mountains. Their necks are shorter and thicker than those of the Arab horses, the head larger, the whole frame more clumsy: the price of a good Turkman horse at Aleppo is four or five hundred piastres, while twice that sum or more is paid for an Arab horse of a generous breed. Contrary to the practice of the Arabs, the Turkmans ride males exclusively. The family of my host possessed four horses, three mares, about five hundred sheep, one hundred and fifty goats, six cows,and eight camels; he is looked upon as a man in easy circumstances; there are few families whose property does not amount to half as much, and there are many who have three or four times as many cattle. I have heard of some who are possessed of property in cattle and cash to the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand piastres. Such sums are gained by the trade with Aleppo and by usury amongst themselves.
At the time of their departure for Armenia the Ryhanlu buy up buffaloes and Arab camels, which they exchange in Armenia for a better breed of camels and for some other cattle, for the Aleppo market. The Armenian or Caramanian camel is taller and stronger than the Arab, its neck is more bent, and the neck and upper part of the thighs are covered with thick hair; the Arab camel, on the contrary, has very little hair. The common load of the latter is about six hundred weight, or one hundred and twenty rotolos, but the Armenian camel will carry one hundred and sixty rotolos, or eight hundred weight. The price of an Arabian camel is about two hundred and fifty piastres, that of an Armenian at Aleppo is twice as much. This breed of camels is produced by a he-dromedary and a she-Arabian camel. The people of Anatolia keep these male dromedaries as stallions for the purpose of covering the females of the smaller Arabian breed, which the Turkmans, yearly bring to their market. If left to breed among themselves the Caramanian camels produce a puny race of little value. The Arabs use exclusively their smaller breed of camels, because they endure heat, thirst, and fatigue, infinitely better than the others, which are well suited to hilly districts. The camels of the Turkmans feed upon a kind of low bramble called in Turkish Kufan, which grows in abundance upon the hills; in the evening they descend the mountains and come trotting towards the tents, where each camel receives a ball of paste, made of barley meal and water, weighing about one pound. The expense of feeding these useful animals is therefore reduced to the cost of a handful of barley per day. The Turkmans do not milk their camels, but use them exclusively as beasts of burthen. Through their means they carry on a very profitable trade with Aleppo. They provide the town with firewood, which they cut in the mountains of the Kurds, distant about four hours to the N.W. of Mohammed Aga’s tent; the Kurds themselves who inhabit those mountains have no camels, and are obliged to sell their wood and their labour in cutting it at a very trifling price. Besides wood the Turkmans carry to town the produce of their fields, together with sheep and lambs, wool, butter and cheese in the spring, and a variety of home made carpets. They transport the merchandize of the Frank merchants at Aleppo from Alexandretta to the city. The profits arising from the trade with Aleppo are almost entirely consumed by the demands of their families for cloth, coffee, sweetmeats, and various articles of eastern luxury; they seldom take back any cash to their tents.
The manner of living of the Turkmans is luxurious for a nomade people. Their tents are for the greater part clean, the floor in the men’s room is furnished with a Divan or sophas, leaving only a space in the middle where a large fire is continually kept up to cheer the company and to make coffee, of which they consume a great quantity. Their coffee cups are three times the size of those commonly used in the Levant, or as large as an English coffee cup; whenever coffee is handed round, each person’s cup is filled two or three times; when I was with them, I often drank twenty or more cups in the course of the day. The servants roast and pound the coffee immediately before it is drank. They pound it in large wooden mortars, and handle the pestle with so much address, that if two or three are pounding together they keep time, and made a kind of music which seemed to be very pleasing to their masters.
The Turkmans taste flesh only upon extraordinary occasions, such as a marriage or a circumcision, a nightly feast during the Ramazan, or the arrival of strangers. Their usual fare is Burgoul; this dish is made of wheat boiled, and afterwards dried in the sun in sufficient quantity for a year’s consumption: the grain is re-boiled with butter or oil, and affords a very palateable nourishment; it is a favourite dish all over Syria. Besides Burgoul they eat rice, eggs, honey, dried fruit, and sour milk, called Leben. They have none but goats milk. Their bread is a thin unleavened cake, which the women bake immediately before dinner upon a hot iron plate, in less than a minute. Breakfast is served at eight o’clock in the morning, the principal meal takes place immediately after sunset. The Turkmans, are great coxcombs at table, in comparison with other Levantines; instead of simply using his fingers, the Turkman twists his thin bread very adroitly into a sort of spoon, which he swallows, together with the morsel which he has taken out of the dish with it. I remember sitting with a dozen of them round a bason of sour milk, which we dispatched in a few minutes without any person, except myself, having in the least soiled his fingers.
The Turkman women do not hide themselves, even before strangers, but the girls seldom enter the men’s room, although they are permitted freely to talk with their father’s guests. I was much struck with the elegance of their shapes and the regularity of their features. Their complexion is as fair as that of European women; as they advance in age the sun browns them a little. As to their morals, chastity becomes a necessary virtue where even a kiss, is punished with death by the father or brother of the unhappy offender. I could mention several instances of the extreme severity of the Turkmans upon this subject; but one may suffice. Three brothers taking a ride end passing through an insulated valley, met their sister receiving the innocent caresses of her lover. By a common impulse they all three discharged their fire-arms upon her, and left their fallen victim upon the ground, while the lover escaped unhurt; my host Mohammed Ali, upon being informed of the murder, sent his servant to bring the body to his tent, in order to prevent the jackals from devouring it: the women were undressing and washing the body to commit it to the grave, when a slight breathing convinced them that the vital spark was not yet extinguished; in short the girl recovered. She was no sooner out of immediate danger, than one of Ali’s sons repaired to the tent of his friends, the three brothers, who sat sullen and silent round the fire, grieving over the loss of their sister. The young man entered, and saluted them, and said, “I come to ask you, in the name of my father, for the body of your sister; my family wishes to bury her.” He had no sooner finished than the brothers rose, crying: “if she was dead you would not have asked for her, you would have taken the body without our permission.” Then seizing their arms, they were hurrying out of the tent, in search of the still living victim; but Mohammed Ali’s son opposed the authority of his father and his own reputation of courage to their brutal intentions; he swore that he would kill the first who should leave the tent, told them that they had already sufficiently revenged the received injury, and that if their sister was not dead it was the visible protection of the prophet that had saved her: and thus, he at last persuaded them to grant his request. The girl was nursed for three months in Mohammed Ali’s family, and married after her complete recovery to the young man who had been the cause of her misfortune. Notwithstanding such severity the young Turkmans boast of their intrigues, and delight in all the dangers of secret courtship; and I have been assured, upon indisputable authority, that there are few men among them who have not enjoyed the favours of their mistresses before the consumnnation of their nuptials. If the woman happens to become a mother, she destroys her illegitimate offspring as the only means of saving her own life and that of the father.
The Turkman ladies dress in the common style of Syrian women; their bonnet is adorned with strings of Venetian zequins, or other gold pieces. The dress of the men is that of the Turks of Anatolia. The horsemen wear wide riding pantaloons, or Sherwalls, of cloth; their head-dress consists of a red cap round which they twist a turban of cotton or silk stuff; the wealthy wear turbans of flowered stuffs, or even Persian shawls. Twenty years ago the national head-dress was a tall and narrow cap of white wool, in the shape of a sugar-loaf, since that time the Ryhanlu have left off wearing it, but I remember to have seen a headdress of this kind during my stay with the Turkmans near Tarsus. The Turkman women are very laborious; besides the care of housekeeping, they work the tent coverings of goats hair, and the woollen carpets, which are inferior only to those of Persian manufacture. Their looms are of primitive simplicity; they do not make use of the shuttle, but pass the woof with their hands. They seem to have made great progress in the art of dyeing; their colours are beauitful. Indigo and cochineal, which they purchase at Aleppo, give them their blue, and red dyes, but the ingredients of all the others, especially of a brilliant green, are herbs which they gather in the mountains of Armenia; the dyeing process is kept by them as a national secret. The wool of their carpets, is of the ordinary kind; the carpets are about seven feet long and three broad, and sell from fifteen to one hundred piastres a piece. While the females are employed in these labours the men pass their whole time in indolence; except at sunset, when they feed their horses and camels, they lounge about the whole day, without any useful employment, and without even refreshing their leisure by some trifling occupation. To smoke their pipes and drink coffee is to them the most agreeable pastime; they frequently visit each other, and collecting round the fire-place, they keep very late hours. I was told that there are some men amongst them, who play the tamboura, a sort of guitar, but I never heard any of them perform. If the young men would condescend to assist in agriculture, the wealth of the families would rapidly increase, and the whole of the plains of Antioch might in time be cultivated: at present, as far as I could observe, there are few families growing rich; most of them spend their whole income.
A Turkman never leaves his tent to take a ride in the neighbourhood without being armed with his gun, pistols, and sabre. I was astonished to see that they do not take the smallest care of their fire arms: a great number of them were shewn to me, to know whether they were of English manufacture; I found them covered with rust, and they complained of their often missing fire. They have no gunsmiths amongst them; nor any artizans at all, except some farriers, and a few makers of bridles and of horse accoutrements[.]
There are no lawyers or Ulemas among the Ryhanlu. Some families of consequence carry with them a Faqui or travelling Imam, to teach their children to read and to pray, and who in case of need performs likewise the duties of a menial servant, much like the young German baron’s governor. These Faqui are for the greater part natives of Albostan, educated there in mosques: they follow the Turkmans to participate in the pious alms which the Koran prescribes. They are generally ignorant, even of the Turkish law: they are often consulted however by the chiefs, and their sentence is generally confirmed by the chief whenever there is no precedent or customary law in point to the contrary.
I did not see any books amongst the Turkmans, and I am certain that out of fifty hardly one knows how to read or write. Even few of them know the text of their prayers (which are throughout the Mohammedan countries in the sacred language, the Arabic), and therefore perform the prescribed prostrations silently and without the usual ejaculations. The married people, men as well as women, are tolerably exact in the performance of their devotions, but the young men never trouble themselves about them.
I did not stay long enough among the Turkmans to be able to judge correctly of their character, especially as I was ignorant of their language. I saw enough, however, to convince me that they possess most of the vices of nomade nations, without their good qualities. The Turkmans are, like the Arabs and Kurds, a people of robbers, that is to say, every thing which they can lay hold of in the open country is their lawful prize, provided it does not belong to their acknowledged friends. The Arabs make amends in some measure for their robberies by the hospitality and liberality with which they receive friends and strangers. In this respect I soon found that I had been led to form a very erroneous opinion of the Turkman character. I was introduced at Aleppo to Mohammed Ali Aga, a man of considerable influence amongst the Ryhanlu, as a physician who was travelling in search of herbs, and I succeeded in supporting my assumed character during near a fortnight’s stay under his tent. Before my departure from Aleppo, I made him a present of coffee and sweetmeats, to the amount of sixty piastres, and I promised him another present, when he should have brought me back in safety to Aleppo. Notwithstanding these precautions, my reception in his tent was rather cool, and I soon found that I was among men who had no other idea than that of getting as much out of me as they could. They were not under the least restraint, but calculated in my presence how much my visit was worth to them, as I sufficiently understood, from their animated tone and gestures, added to the few Turkish words, which I learnt. To spare my dinner my host took me out a visiting almost every day, just before the dinner hour; and that he might know how far it would be prudent to incur expence on my account, he permitted one of his friends to search my pockets, and was cruelly disappointed when he found that my purse did not contain more than four or five piastres. My horse, for the maintenance of which I had agreed with my host, was fed with straw, until I told them that I should take care of it myself, when they were obliged to deliver its daily portion of barley into my own hands. Such was the liberality which I experienced in return for the medical advice and medicines which they received without hesitation from me upon demanding them. Their minds seemed intent only upon money, except among the lovers there was no other subject of conversation, and instead of the Arab virtues, of honour, frankness, and hospitality, there appeared to be no other motive of action among them than the pursuit of gain. The person of a Frank may be safe among them, but his baggage will be exposed to close search, and whatever strikes the fancy of a powerful man, will be asked of him in such a manner, that it is adviseable to give up the object at once. I had fortunately hidden my compass in my girdle, but a thermometer which they found in my pocket, attracted general notice; if I had explained to them the use I meant to make of it, it would have confirmed the suspicion already hinted to me by one of them, that I intended to poison their springs. I pretended that the thermometer was a surgical instrument, which being put into the blood of an open wound served to shew whether the wound was dangerous or not. It is not more from the behaviour of the Turkmans towards myself, that I formed my opinion of their character, than from their conduct towards each other. They are constantly upon their guard against robbers and thieves of their own tribe; they cheat each other in the most trifling affairs, and like most of the Aleppo merchants, make use of the most awful oaths and imprecations to conceal their falsehood. If they have one good quality it is their tolerance in religious matters, which proves, on the other hand, how little they care about them.
The men marry at fourteen or fifteen, the girls at thirteen. Excepting Hayder Aga, and some of his brothers, there are very few who have more than one wife. They celebrate their marriage feasts with great pomp. The young men play upon those occasions at a running game much resembling the “jeu de barre,” known on the continent of Europe. Their music then consists in drums and trumpets, only, for the Turkmans, are not so fond of music as the Aleppines and the Arabs, nor did I ever meet among them with any of the story-tellers, who are so frequent amongst the Arabs of the desert. Whenever a son reaches the marriageable age, his father gives him, even before his marriage, a couple of camels and a horse to defray, by the profits of trade, his private expenses. At the death of the father, his property is divided amongst the family according to the Turkish law. The Ryhanlu bury their dead in the burying places which are found scattered among the ruins of deserted villages.
My observations were confined to the Ryhanlu. But they will probably in great measure apply to all the large Turkman tribes which inhabit the western parts of Asia Minor, and concerning which I obtained a few particulars.
In the level country between Badjazze and Adena lives a tribe which is tributary to the governors of these two places. They are called Jerid, and are more numerous than the Ryhanlu; they likewise leave their plains towards the approach of summer, and winter in the Armenian mountains, in the neighbourhood of the Ryhanlu. Like the latter they have one head, and several minor chiefs, and they are divided into six tribes: viz. Jerid (chief Shahen Beg), Tegir (chief Oglu Kiaya), Karegialar (chief Rustam Beg), Bozdagan (chief Kerem Oglu), Aoutshar (chief Hassan Beg), Leck (chief Agri Bayouk). The Lecks speak, besides the Turkish, a language of their own, which has no resemblance either to the Arabic, Turkish, Persian or Kurdine; “it sounds like the whistling of birds,” said the Turkman from whom I obtained this information, and the same remark was confirmed by others. The name of the Leck, renders the supposition probable that they are descendants of the Lazi, a people inhabiting the coast of the Black sea, and who in the time of the great Justinian opposed his forces with some success. Chardin mentions having met descendants of the Lazi near Trebizond, whom he describes as a rude sea-faring people, with a peculiar language.
The Pehluvanlu are the most numerous tribe of the whole nation of Turkmans. They are governed by a chief, (Mahmoud Beg), who is tributary to Tshapan Oglu. A part of them have for a long period been cultivators, others are shepherds. They inhabit the country from Bosurk to near Constantinople, and pass the summer months at one day’s journey distance from the Ryhanlu. They are in possession of a very profitable transport trade, and their camels form almost exclusively the caravans of Smyrna and of the interior of Anatolia. They drive their sheep for sale as far as Constantinople.
The Rishwans are more numerous than the Ryhanlu, but their tribe is not held in esteem among the Turkmans. They were formerly tributary to Rishwan Oglu, governor of Besna, which lies at one day’s journey from Aintab; and they used then to winter in the neighbourhood of Djeboul, on the borders of a small salt lake, five hours to the S. E. of Aleppo. They are at present dependent on Tshapan Oglu, and winter in the plains near Haimani in Anatolia; they pass their summer months in the neighbourhood of the Ryhanlu. Their principal tribes are Deleyanli (chief Ali Beg Oglu), Omar Anli (chief Omar Beg), Mandolli (Omar Aga), Gelikanli (Hassan Beg Mor Oglu). The Rishwans are noted, even among robbers, for their want of faith.
The great tribes of the Turkmans are often at war with each other, as well as with the Kurds, with whom they are in contact in many places. These wars seldom cause the death of more than three or four individuals, after which peace is concluded. In a late war between the Ryhanlu and the Kurds, which lasted five or six months, and brought on several battles, the whole list of deaths was only six Kurds and four Turkmans. In the mountains, the Turkmans are accompanied in their military expeditions by foot soldiers, armed with muskets; these are men of the tribe who cannot afford to keep a horse. Neither the lance, nor the bow is used among them. Some tribes of Kurds, on the contrary, have never abandoned the use of the bow.
The Tar, or blood-revenge, is observed among the Turkman nations, as well among themselves, as with respect to foreigners. They have a particular species of Tar which I have never heard of among the Arabs. It attaches to their goods; the following incident will best explain it: a caravan of Turkman camels laden with wood was seized last winter, just before the gates of Aleppo, by a detachment of Karashukly (a mixt tribe of Turkmans and Arabs, who inhabit the banks of the Euphrates, in the vicinity of Bir). One of the Turkmans was wounded, the loads were thrown down, and fifty camels driven away, worth about five hundred piastres apiece. The Turkmans immediately dispatched an old Arab woman as ambassadress to their enemies, to treat for the restoration of their camels, and she succeeded in recovering them at the rate of one hundred and sixty piastres apiece, or eight thousand piastres, for the whole. “Thus,” I was told by a Turkman chief, “the Tar between us will not be for the whole sum of twenty-five thousand piastres, the real value of the camels, but only for the sum of eight thousand piastres, for which we shall, on the first opportunity take our revenge.”
There are no Sherif families, or families claiming a descent from the prophet, amongst the Ryhanlu. But family pride is not unknown among them. Descendants from ancient and renowned chiefs claim, though poor, some deference from wealthy upstarts. In one of their late battles with the Kurds, a young man of noble extraction, but poor, and without authority, was crying out in the heat of action: “Comrades, let us attack them on the left flank.” Hayder Aga, who heard it, exclaimed: “Who are you? hold your tongue.” After the victory the young man, was seen thoughtful and melancholy in the midst of the rejoicings of his brethren; Hayder Aga, as proud a man as ever sat upon a throne, to whom it was reported, sent for the young man, and when he entered the tent rose, and kissed his beard, begging him to forget whatever lie might have said in the heat of action, when he was not always master of himself.
Their ideas of decency appear singular, when compared with our own. A Turkman will talk before his wife, daughter, or sister upon subjects which are banished from our discourse; at the same time that he would be much offended if any friend should in the presence of his females speak in raptures or poetical terms of the charms of a beloved mistress.
One of the principal motives of my visit to the Turkmans was my desire to visit some ruins near their encampments, particularly those of Deir Samaan, which at Aleppo I had heard compared to the temples at Baalbec. I therefore made it a condition with my Turkman host, that he should take me to Deir Samaan as well as to several other ruins whose names I had collected from different Aleppines. The day after my arrival under his tent, he set out with me towards the Deir, and we reached it after a ride of four hours over the rocky hills which encircle the mountain of St. Simon, called Djebel Samaan, or Sheikh Barekat. The Deir Samaan consists of the ruins of a church, monastery, or episcopal palace, built upon the top of an insulated hill, bearing from the top of the mountain of St. Simon, N. 20 E., about eight miles distant. It is now inhabited by several families of Kurds, who have their black goat hair tents pitched in the middle of the ruins. They received us with much hospitality; a sheep was immediately killed, and all the delicacies of the season were served up to us. After dinner and coffee, Tshay1 was served round, which the Aleppines and all Syrians esteem as one of the greatest dainties: it is a heating drink, made of ginger, cloves, rosewater, sugar and similar ingredients, boiled together to a thick syrup. Mursa Aga, the chief, a handsome young man, then took up his Tamboura or guitar, and the rest of the evening passed in music and singing.
The whole summit of the hill, which is six hundred paces in length and one hundred and seventy in breadth, was once covered with stately buildings. A thick wall of square hewn stones, is traceable all round. The principal ruins consist of two separate buildings, a palace, and a church, or monastery, which were separated from each other by a court-yard one hundred and ten paces in length. The palace, or perhaps the high priest’s habitation, is not remarkable either for its size or elegance. I could not enter it because it was occupied by the Harem of Mursa Aga. A colonnade led from the palace to the church gate; the broken fragments only of the columns remain. Of the church most of the side walls are still standing, ornamented with pillars and arches worked in the walls; it is divided into two circular apartments of which the inner may have been the sanctuary. On the eastern side of the church is a dark vaulted room, which receives the daylight only from the door, and which appears to have been a sepulchre. A number of niches (if I recollect right, nine), not perpendicular like the Egyptian sepulchral niches, but horizontal, have been built around the wall. Into this chamber opens a subterraneous passage, which is said by the Kurds, to continue a long way under ground, in the direction of Antakia. I could not persuade any body to enter it with me. Adjacent to this sepulchre is another vaulted, open hall, which has been changed by its present proprietors into stables, and an apartment for receiving strangers in the heat of summer. The softness of the calcareous stone from the adjacent hills, with which the buildings are constructed, has caused all the ornaments of the arches and columns and even the shafts themselves to decay; enough remains however, of their clumsy and overcharged ornaments, to shew that the edifices are of an advanced period of the Greek empire. The columns are very small in proportion to the arches which they support, and I did not see any above eighteen or twenty feet high. The perishable nature of the stone has not left a single inscription visible, if there ever were any, with the exception of some names of Frenchmen from Aleppo, who visited the place eighty years ago. The sign of the cross is visible in several places. If these buildings were constructed in pious commemoration of the devout sufferings of St. Simon Stylites, who passed thirty-five years of his life upon a column, they are probably of the sixth century. St. Simon died towards the end of the fifth century, and in the seventh century Syria was conquered and converted to Islamism by the successors of Mohammed. The structures are certainly not of the date of the Crusades. On the eastern side of the building are the remains of an aqueduct, the continuation of which is again met with on the opposite hill. The Kurdine inhabitants of these ruins collect at present the rain water in cisterns.
Descending from the top of the hill on the western side, the remains of a broad paved causeway lead to an arch, which stands about ten minutes walk from the castle, and faces the ruins of a city, built at the foot of the hill, of which a number of buildings are still extant. These ruins, called Bokatur, are uninhabited, their circumference may be estimated at about one mile and a half. Amongst the many private houses a palace may be distinguished, surrounded by a low portico, at which terminates the causeway leading from the arch. At half an hour’s distance to the S.W. of Bokatur, are ruins resembling the former in extent and structure. I saw several houses of which the front was supported by columns, of a smaller size than those of the palace at Bokatur. This place is now called Immature, at three quarters of an hour to the W. of it, are other similar ruins of a town called Filtire, which I did not see. The two latter places are now inhabited by some poor Kurdine families. The style of building which I observed in the houses of these ruined cities approaches more to the European than the Asiatic taste. The roofs are somewhat inclined, and the windows numerous, and large, instead of being few and small, as in Turkish houses. The walls, most of which are still remaining, are for the greatest part without ornament, from one foot to about one foot and a half thick, and built of calcareous squared stones, like Deir Samaan. The pillars which are still to be seen in some of the ruined buildings are none of them more than fifteen feet high. Their capitals, like those of the columns in the Deir Samaan, are rude and unfinished; if any order is discernible it is a corrupted Corinthian. The neighbourbood of these towns, at least for five miles round, presents nothing but an uneven plain, thickly covered with barren rocks, which rise to the height of two or three feet above the surface. A few herbs grow in the fissures of the rocks, which are scarcely sufficient to keep from starving half a dozen horses, the property of the present miserable inhabitants. There are several wells of good water in the neighbourhood of the ruins. To the S.S.E. of the Deir, at an hour and a half’s distance, stands a single pillar about thirty-five feet high, the base and capital of which are like those of the Deir. No inscriptions are visible. At a few yards from the column is the entrance to a spacious subterraneous cavern. I passed this spot on my way to the Deir, and purposed to examine the contents of the cave on our return; I returned however by another route.
We left our friendly Kurds on the following day at noon. At taking my leave I told the chief that I should be happy to make him some acknowledgments for the hospitality shewn to me, whenever he should visit Aleppo. He excused himself for not having been able to treat us according to his wishes, and begged me to send him from Aleppo a few strings for his guitar; which I gladly promised. These Kurds have been for some time past at war with the Janissaries at Aleppo, which prevents them from going there.
On our road back to Mohammed Ali’s tents, through Bokatur and Immature, we met halfway a poor gypsy, or as they are called here, Kurpadh; these Kurpadh are spread over the whole of Anatolia and Syria.
The Kurds have spread themselves over some parts of the plain which the Afrin waters, as well as some of the neighbouring mountains. They live in tents and in villages, are stationary, and are all occupied in agriculture and the rearing of cattle. They form four tribes, of which the Shum, who live in the plain, are the most considerable. The Kurds seem to be of a more lively disposition than the Turkmans; the Aleppines say that their word is less to be depended upon than that of the Turkmans. My hosts at Deir Samaan asked me many questions relative to European politics. I found the opinion prevalent among them which Buonaparte has taken such pains to impress upon the winds of the continental nations, that Great Britain is and ought to be merely a maritime power. This belief, however, proves very advantageous to English travellers in these countries. A Frenchman will every where be taken for a spy, as long as the French invasion of Egypt and Syria is in the memory of man, but it seems never to enter into the suspicions of these people that the English can have any wish to possess the countries of the Levant. I was astonished to find that all the Kurds spoke Arabic fluently, besides the Turkish and their own language, which latter is a corrupted mixture of Persian, Armenian, and Turkish. On the other hand, I only met three or four Turkmans who knew how to express themselves in Arabic, though both nations are alike in almost continual intercourse with Arab peasants and Aleppines.
Besides the ruins just described, there are many others dispersed over the Turkman territories; which, to judge from the prevailing architecture, are of the same date as those already mentioned. Tisin, Sulfa, Kalaa el [B]ent, Jub Abiad, and Mayshat, all of them at two or three hours distance from the tent of Mohammed Ali, are heaps of ruined buildings, with a few remains of houses. Kalaa el Bent and Jub Abiad contain each of them a square tower about sixty feet high. They have only one small projecting window near the top; the roof is flat. Tradition says that Kalaa el Bent or in Turkish Kislar Kalassi, (the castle of girls), was formerly a convent; probably of nuns. At Mayshat, a Turkman encampment on the top of a hill, at the foot of which is a large deep well, with a solid wall, I was shewn a subterraneous chamber, about twenty feet long and fifteen in breadth, hewn out of the rock, at the entrance to which are two columns; there are two excavations in the bottom of it, like the sepulchral niches which I saw in the Deir Samaan. I have been told that near Telekberoun, a village situated at the foot of the hills which encircle the plain of Khalaka, there are remains of an ancient causeway elevated two or three feet from the ground, about fifteen feet broad, running in the direction from Aleppo to Antioch; it may be traced for the length of a quarter of an hour. In the plain of the Afrin, about three miles from Mursal Oglu’s residence, and half an hour from the Afrin, stands an insulated hillock in the plain with the ruins of a Saracen castle, called Daoud Pasha; four miles to the N.E. of it is situated another similar hillock, with ruins of a castle, called Tshyie. The sight of these numerous ruins fills the minds of the Turkmans and Kurds with ideas of hidden treasures, and they relate a variety of traditionary tales of Moggrebyn Sheikhs, who have been once on the point of getting out the treasure, when they have been interrupted by the shrieks of a woman, &c. &c. Having provided myself at Aleppo with a small hammer to break off spesimens of rocks, the Turkmans could not be pursuaded that this instrument was not for the purpose of searching for gold. Several Turkmans pressed me to do them the favour of working for a day in their behalf. I endeavoured to persuade them that the hammer was to assist me in procuring medicinal herbs.
1 Tshay is the Chinese word for tea; and our word is corrupted from it. The word Tshay is used all over Tartary and Turkey, where the dried herb, which is brought over land from China, is also well known. In Syria and Egypt, where the word is better known than the herb, real tea is generally distinguished by the name of Tshay Hindy (tea of India). Ed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51