The Russo-turkish Frontier-trouble Brewing
( Originally Published 1923 )
'Visit from General Beach Interview with Kiazim Karabekir Pasha Plans for repair of railway Our supplies looted Start for Trebizond Beautiful camp Our reinforcements Return to Erzeroum 'sick' Our party augmented -- Plans for removing armament Arrival of Mustapha Kemal Reports of trouble on frontier Leave for the frontier Railway blocked Night journey on a trolley Armenian Generals at Kars Leave for the South Hussein, the Kurdish Mountain Chief -- The race down the pass
ON June 1st I went again to the Russian frontier on the road to Kars to meet General Beach, Chief of Intelligence at Tiflis, under whose direct orders I was acting. There had been, as is usual in the spring, some bad landslides in the upper pass, above the frontier, on the Armenian side, and the railway was reported impassable on both sides of the frontier. The country had now at last begun to dry, and we had no trouble in covering the 100 miles from Erzeroum in the day, camping ten miles beyond the frontier, opposite the landslip, three parts of the way up the pass, before dark.
Here General Beach met me the next morning, coming by train from Tiflis via Kars, and after inspecting the damage and discussing the possibilities, he came back to Erzeroum with me, reaching there on the night of the 3rd. Next day we went together to visit Kiazim Karabekir Pasha, and discussed the methods to be pursued in the actual disarmament. The Pasha proved very affable and appeared quite prepared to carry out any proposals we put forward, with the result that General Beach returned to Tiflis next day, leaving one engineer and one intelligence officer to assist me, and undertook himself to see to the repair of the rail-way on the Armenian side of the frontier, and to send me from Tiflis a railway officer to assist me on the Turkish side.
It was the greatest possible pleasure to see him, as I had known him a long time, having first met him in Baghdad. He was, as usual, a mine of information, and being an extremely able man, as well as a most experienced one, his deductions with respect to the general situation in this most disturbed and unsatisfactory part of the world were full of interest to me. After being so long alone, it was indeed a welcome change to be able to discuss the position from our own point of view, and to get news of the outside world again. I now also discovered the reason of our having received none of the supplies which it had been agreed should be forwarded to us from Tiflis.
It appeared that, although I had specially stipulated that our supplies should always be sent 'under escort', the gentleman at Tiflis, being imbued with entirely European ideas, did not consider this necessary, and had therefore sent off several lots without a British guard. The result was as I expected; and the supplies had all duly disappeared whilst passing over the portion of the line then in Armenian hands, so that nothing had ever reached the frontier, where I had already twice sent cars to meet and fetch in our long-expected and sadly-needed stores. However, as the General had brought a certain amount with him from Tiflis, we had a very enjoyable dinner together on his arrival, and, after remaining two nights at Erzeroum, he returned to Tiflis.
On the 7th, at daybreak, I started for Trebizond, with two cars and three men only, hoping, with these very light loads and a road which I expected now to find dry, to do the 20o miles in two days. Crossing the Erzeroum Plain the road was dry and good but the foot-hills of the Khop were deep in mud, though the pass itself was dry and fairly clear of snow; so, in spite of deep mud again in the Baiburt Plain, we were able to camp for the night in a beautiful orchard on the banks of the Kharshut River, eight miles east of Gumush Khaneh and 120 miles west of Erzeroum. This camp was in such a really beautiful spot that it has lived in my memory ever since, and it was pure chance that enabled us to find it.
We spent a most delightful evening amongst the flowers and grass, the air heavy with scent of apple-blossom and two torrents roaring one on either side of us.
I fancy anyone would have appreciated the beauty of this spot, but to us, after so many months of snow and ice, without ever a shrub or tree, or even a green blade of grass, to gladden our eyes, the contrast here was restful beyond expression, and we dreamed we were in England far away, and woke next morning with the same idea. That one lovely summer evening still remains in my recollection as just one beautiful dream amidst a long succession of nightmares.
Next day we met with a certain amount of bad road and mud in ascending the Zigana Pass, which caused us some delay; but the summit was clear of snow and, driving very fast down the steep gradient, we reached Trebizond by 4 p.m., receiving a hearty welcome from our reinforcements, who were there awaiting us. This party had come from Constant, and consisted of two intelligence officers, two interpreters, eight horses, two mules (for the interpreters), a perfectly invaluable medical officer (with a hospital orderly and outfit of medical stores), two N.C.O.S, and twenty men the whole under command of Captain Fletcher, R.F.A. and with them they brought stores of many kinds to which we had long been strangers.
Having checked the lists of the Trebizond armament prepared during my absence, and made all arrangements for the subsequent march of the reinforcing party to Erzeroum, we got off on our return journey at daylight on the 11th, but, hard as we drove, were unable to reach our ideal orchard camp before dark, for there is a difference of many miles between a day's drive up a steep gradient and the same drive in the opposite direction, and we were eventually obliged to camp fourteen miles short of our lovely orchard, although we kept going till long after dark in the hope of reaching it. This left us 136 miles next day to Erzeroum a very arduous undertaking indeed, and I eventually arrived there with one car only, at 3 a.m. on the 13th, worn completely out and with a bad attack of fever, which, indeed, we all had, as the result of crossing the marsh after nightfall in spring. The other car broke a front spring on the Khop, which necessitated a delay, to fit the yoke of an ox-cart as a substitute, after which my car rapidly left the crippled one behind, and it arrived sixteen hours after us, with both its occupants also badly sick with fever.
I now began to receive constant complaints from the Pasha as to attacks being made upon Moslems by the Armenians all along the frontier, and it became evident that I should soon have to go and see and report what was really going on amongst the frontier Kurds and Tartars. In the meanwhile a railway officer joined us from Tiflis and others from Constant, so that our little mess rapidly grew, and we soon arrived at a total of ten British officers.
There now arrived at Erzeroum. the Inspector-General of the Turkish Eastern armies, who has since become famous as Mustapha Kemal Pasha, a great Turk, the remarkable nature of whose striking personality never fails to impress itself on all who are brought into contact with him.
European rather than Asiatic in type, with fair hair and blue eyes, Kemal is more Teutonic than Turkish in appearance. He has read much and travelled widely, and is thoroughly competent to give a considered opinion on all subjects of general interest either at the present day or in the history of the past. A man of great strength of character and very definite and practical views as to the rightful position of his race in the comity of nations, he is no seeker after personal fame or advancement, but is imbued with a deep sense of duty, which causes him to place his country's interest before all others, and to labour unceasingly towards those ends which he considers to be most to her advantage.
This is the secret of his remarkable success in the creation of the Turkish National Party, of which he himself is the moving and controlling spirit. It is by means of the undoubted earnestness and loyalty of his patriotism that he has been able to weld together the many divergent interests of his countrymen, and to lay the foundations of a Turkish democratic power which cannot fail to dominate the field of Eastern politics in the near future.
His military training is of German origin, but it is more than doubtful whether his sympathies to-day have any inclination to-wards either Germany or Russia, except in so far as the support of those countries may be made to serve in the forwarding of Turkish interests. Many scurrilous reports have been circulated from time to time with regard to his private life, but I have never observed the slightest foundation for them, though I have had every opportunity of doing so had any such existed. His general bearing, though invariably courteous, is not such as to encourage social intercourse, but it is impossible to doubt either the sincerity of his convictions or the tenacity with which he is prepared to support what he considers to be the legitimate aims of his country.
During the month of June, when at Erzeroum occupying the post of Inspector-General, Kemal Pasha was recalled to Constant by the Sultan (I concluded at the request of the Allies), and, on his refusing to go, he was deprived of his military rank, thus being left free to devote his activities to politics, in which, although a lifelong enemy of Enver, he was already deeply committed to the support of what had previously been known as the Young Turk Party. I frequently saw and had long talks with him at this time, and was well aware of his political aspirations and also of the difficulties he was meeting with in their prosecution, and of the objects of the Conference which he was then arranging to hold at Erzeroum in July.
On July 3rd I started for the frontier yet once more, but by the Decauville train this time, in order to see for myself what was happening on the actual railway-line in the Turks' country, before going on to the frontier districts, ordering three cars and a picked party of men to proceed by road and to meet us at Zivin, the Turkish Eastern frontier post.
Kiazim Pasha having placed a small Decauville train at our disposal for our journey, I foresaw it would have to become our headquarters for a considerable time, and therefore went to some trouble to make it habitable. We had a most peculiar little locomotive, originally built in America for the Russian Government, adapted to burn either wood or oil; one covered truck as men's quarters; one similar, which I fitted up for myself and a railway officer; and also a truck to carry wood, three cars being the utmost our small engine could pull. With this small outfit we started, rumours of all kinds reaching us before our departure indicating that the whole situation was rapidly coming to a head, it being evident that the Turks were becoming more and more restive in the face of the inexplicable delay of the Allies in reaching any definite decision with regard to the future.
Travelling on this little 'war-time' railway was indeed an experience, and it was necessary to carry a 'gauge', and to test the rails with it frequently, for in many places, owing to the sinking of the embankments and the washing away of the ballast, the rails required rectification before we were able to get our train over, even at a foot pace; each bridge also required elaborate examination before adventuring the train upon it, and eventually
we were obliged to carry large baulks of timber temporarily to shore up many of the bridges and culverts whilst we passed over them.
Under these circumstances our progress was by no means rapid, and as we had frequently to halt also to replenish our supply of wood fuel, we considered we had achieved wonders when, on the evening of the second day, sixty hours and seventy miles out from Erzeroum, we finally entered the gorge of the mountains where we understood our worst troubles to lie.
Soon after entering the gorge, we were confronted by the first serious fall of rock about 2,000 tons having fallen from the cliff face and entirely obliterated the railway track.
It was evident that it would take months, even if an adequate supply of labour had been available, to open the line, and that, therefore, any munitions or armament which had to be transported by rail would have to be unloaded at the spot where we had left our train and carried to another train farther up the valley, if we could succeed in bringing one down the Armenian end of the pass to Zivin. I therefore wrote to Kiazim Pasha at Erzeroum advising him of the situation, and asking him to forward the trains already loaded with armament, and to provide troops to execute the 'portage', whilst I continued on over the frontier to examine into the many complaints he had brought to my notice of the persecution of Moslems beyond the frontier.
I entertained great hopes that by these means we should be able to bring about the position, so difficult to achieve and so much to be desired, where the Turks would be obliged either to surrender their armament or formally to refuse to do so, which latter course I was by this time convinced it was their intention eventually to adopt, though they were evidently desirous of postponing such a far-reaching decision till the last possible moment. Having forwarded my letter to Kiazim, I left my railway officer in charge of oui train, with orders to superintend the work and to take charge of the armament trains when they arrived, and moved up myself to the Turkish post at Zivin, to see how matters progressed in the upper pass across the frontier, pitching my camp close to the last Turkish post in the valley by the side of the railway.
The work on the railway beyond the frontier was, of course, in Armenian hands, and I found the progress which had been made was very unsatisfactory, chiefly on account of difficulty it obtaining Armenian labour. It therefore became necessary to go on at once to the Armenian headquarters, now at Kars, to induce the Armenian general there to detail some of hi! troops to carry out the necessary work.
Whilst returning to our camp at Zivin, after inspecting the line in the upper and Armenian end of the pass, we had the misfortune to break a wheel of our car.
Our wheel broke in the worst part of the pass, about twenty-five miles above the frontier, late in the evening, and it appeared impossible to reach our camp below that night. However, whilst seeking a spot to bivouac, we came across a small four-wheeled hand-trolley, used by the men working on the railway, and I determined to endeavour to 'coast' down the railway on that. We were well aware that the gradient was both severe and continuous, but we, of course, paid no heed to the terror of the Armenians, who endeavoured to dissuade us from essaying the trip, saying that we should certainly be killed (which in itself really did not worry them at all), and that they would certainly be accused afterwards of having made away with us. This last possibility, however, reduced them to a state of abject terror. Having first cut poles and fitted them to the trolley as brakes on the wheels, we started soon after midnight upon what proved to be a really glorious and wonderful trip, with just that amount of uncertainty about its successful achievement which was required to lend it the best 'thrill' of the many it was destined to afford us.
Our altitude at starting was 6,700 feet, and we knew we had to descend more than 3,000 feet in about thirty miles or less. There were four of us on the trolley, and none of us had been down the line before, nor had any of us previously undertaken any trip of the kind. We, however, knew the line had been certified by the engineers as Unsafe for the little train to go over carrying the labour-parties, and we were profoundly ignorant as to the actual efficiency of the pole-brakes which we had improvised. However, at the same time, in case it be thought that the whole affair was a foolhardy undertaking, we also knew, first, that a truck loaded with wood had got away by itself the day before and had reached the bottom safely, though at a terrifying speed, although its brakes had been fixed 'hard on' all the time; and, secondly, that the worst construction would certainly be put on our absence by the Turks, and a very awkward situation would most likely be created between the Turkish and Armenian posts on the frontier in the event of our not turning up by daybreak.
The scene was one of entrancing beauty. A beautiful warm summer's night, with the wildest of rugged mountains and rocky precipices on all sides of us; foaming waterfalls descending from the slopes above, and a boiling torrent ever roaring far below; whilst over all hung a bright full moon, causing each rock to stand out in bold relief, and showing clearly every detail of what seemed to be a fairy valley lying far beneath us in the peaceful silvery moonlight.
As may be imagined, we started very slowly, amidst the audible prayers of the Armenians; but finding our brakes seemed very efficient, we soon 'let her go' a little, and on checking the speed got our first emotion, as our wooden brakes promptly took fire and commenced to burn up a most unpleasant situation, especially for the two men sitting immediately over them, for whom the scenery instantly lost all attraction. This necessitated a compulsory stop at the first waterfall. In spite, however, of all our efforts, it was at the second stream, about a mile and half farther on, that we at last succeeded in bringing our 'vehicle' to a standstill. Then followed a very animated discussion, for we found that our two poles, which had originally been about fifteen feet long, were now burnt down to about six feet, and it would evidently be necessary to carry a stock of spare poles with us. By great good fortune, in the valley of the little stream, where we had at last stopped, some small trees were growing and of these we proceeded to lay in an ample supply, arranging now to apply them to all four wheels instead of to two only, and soaking them all well in the stream before starting.
Profiting by our previous experience, we then used them alternately, and, having no further trouble, were able to enjoy the beauty of our novel form of locomotion amongst surroundings the beauty of which it would be impossible to describe. We finally arrived safely at our camp as the first grey of dawn was showing in the eastern sky, to find all in commotion there, and the Turk Commander mustering his men, whilst awaiting orders from the Pasha at Erzeroum, to whom he had already telegraphed as to our having been detained by the Armenians. For this action I expressed our thanks in suitable terms, and, being well aware of the urgent desire of the Turks to take advantage of any excuse for launching an attack upon the Armenian posts, arranged to strike camp forthwith and proceed to the Armenian headquarters at Kars. On my arrival I immediately obtained an interview with the Armenian Army Commander, and laid before him in detail all the complaints made by the Turks as to the treatment the Moslems were receiving at the hands of the Armenian soldiery.
I also announced that I would travel along the frontier districts myself and judge what the real state of affairs was by personal investigation before making any official report, provided that he would in the meanwhile give our railway engineer all possible assistance in completing the repair of the railway. This proposal, having for its object, as they well knew, the immediate reduction of the Turkish armament, they very readily agreed to, and we were thus able to leave Kars again by midday, now following a new Russian strategical military road which led south into the Aras Valley, through a district from which many reports of trouble had been lately received.
Crossing Kars Plain towards the south, about thirty miles of open and now deserted country is traversed, rising gradually all the way, till suddenly the edge of the plain is reached at nearly 8,000 feet, and from that point the ground descends steeply for about fifteen miles to the Aras Valley, some 3,000 feet below. A beautiful view is obtained from this ridge, terminated only by the summit of the great mountain range of the Ak Dagh, which forms the frontier-line between Russia and Turkey, some seventy miles distant to the south. This high range, under snow even in late July, commences at its western extremity, at a peculiar conical isolated peak, known as the Keusse Dagh, 14,000 feet high, and continues due east, with but few practicable passes, for 170 miles till it culminates in the historic peak of Mount Ararat, just visible on the eastern horizon from where we left the plain. This massive giant rises to a total height of 18,000 feet, is capped by 5,000 feet of everlasting snow, and dominates the whole of this rugged and intricate mountain system, from whence flow all the great rivers of which the patriarchs of early Biblical days had any accurate knowledge.
Our road, descending through the foot-hills which lay spread out as a map below us, was visible from the edge of the plateau for at least ten miles, twisting and winding in all directions in its descent. Although night was fast coming on, we had no thought of camping where we were, but made haste to descend and seek shelter from the icy wind, then blowing over the plain, by camping in one of the sheltered valleys far below, where we might expect to be much warmer and more comfortable.
We had descended only two miles, and not more than 500 feet in altitude, when we suddenly found ourselves in the presence of a strong detachment of several companies of Armenian infantry, drawn up on parade, evidently awaiting our arrival, having apparently been warned of our departure and intended route by telephone from Kars. The commanding officer intercepted us in the road and informed me that he had quarters and a good dinner prepared for us, and counted upon our stopping for the night at his post, as he declared the hills below to be entirely unsafe for us to camp in.
This, however, was exactly what we were there to find out, and I was in no way desirous of appearing to be more friendly with one side than with the other, which would have been the impression infallibly produced among the Kurds by our remaining for the night at an Armenian post. I therefore thanked him civilly, and told him that our orders did not permit of our accepting his invitation, but that we should camp below and take our chance; and we forthwith kept on another six or eight miles, finally camping on a beautiful carpet of wild flowers, in a valley by the side of a roaring torrent, by moonlight some time after night had fallen.
Next morning, at daybreak, I sent our interpreter in a car down the pass to a Kurdish village, to say I wished to see, and talk to, the chief of those parts, and to ask if he would come up the pass in the car. I received a reply, within an hour, that the chief was in the higher mountains, about ten miles away, but that a mounted messenger had been dispatched to him, and if I would send the car in the afternoon he would doubtless come up in it to see me. We had a quiet morning, and had our camp most imposingly arranged, the grass having been cut in front of my tent and our machine-guns set out there, and also some good carpets which I had brought to give a 'tone' to the outfit; so that, with a car on each side of the tent and the little British flag flying over all, we undoubtedly presented an effective contrast to any small travelling party which had ever been seen in those wild mountains before.
It will not be out of place here to give a short description of the kind of people these true mountain Kurds are, as, though their name is well known, yet few people have any intimate acquaintance with them, and they are constantly being confused with the Turks, whom they do not in the least resemble, and whom in their hearts they hate, although they have long been nominally under Turkish rule.
As a race the true Kurds of the Anatolian Mountains are physically the finest men it has ever been my privilege to meet. They are to this ancient and inaccessible country what the Bedouin Arab is to the desert that is to say, they have been in occupation of the land since prehistoric times. They are divided into various distinct tribes, which have for many centuries each occupied certain well-defined districts in the mountains. These tribes were already ancient in their occupation long before the first Turks appeared on their gradual migration westward from their original home in Central Asia. The Kurdish chiefs, who rule their tribesmen with the absolute authority of the patriarchs of old, trace back their descent unbroken to the days when England was still a wild country of forest and marsh, the home of barbarians of whom the first facts that were known centuries later, were that they had fair hair, worshipped the sun, mined tin, painted their naked bodies with woad, and fought like the devil.
These Kurds both look and behave as one might expect such men to do, for, though they are brigands by descent as well as by inclination and training, once their confidence is gained their word can be relied on with absolute confidence. They are, however, both wary and suspicious, and it is to be feared that the policy, or rather the want of it, which distinguished the Allies' actions subsequent to the Armistice has tended to destroy what little confidence the Kurds might previously have acquired in the justice and reliability of the Western Powers.
Under these circumstances I was well aware that I was taking a great chance in presenting myself, with a small party, uninvited in the very heart of their wildest fastnesses, and should have been in no way surprised if trouble had arisen, the least of which would have been our being 'run' quickly out of the country.
The Kurd, on the other hand, fearing nothing on earth himself, might, I considered, possibly appreciate the confidence shown in his hospitality by the visit of a small party in quite a different spirit from that with which he would have viewed the arrival of any considerable force; and especially was I certain that they would have been instantly informed of our refusal the night before to camp with the Armenians. From this they would certainly deduce two things: first that we were no allies of their enemies, the Armenians; and secondly that we came into their country with confidence, relying on their traditional hospitality to give us a friendly reception. Also, be it not forgotten, I was well aware that they knew there were then large bodies of British troops not very far off !
About 3 p.m. we observed a great cloud of dust in the pass below us, and finally the car arrived with Hussein Bey, the principal Chief of those parts, seated in it in great state, with a dozen or so of his principal supporters riding as escort. He was, as are all the Kurdish chiefs, a splendid man, and presented a truly magnificent appearance. Although it was a hot summer's day, he wore splendid furs, and was hung all over with silver-mounted pistols, purses, and boxes, as well as many ivory daggers, gold chains, and other ornaments, and was altogether horribly reminiscent to me of the general appearance of a pawnbroker's shop-window in London. However, he was excessively affable, and 'tickled to death' (as they would say in America) at his first ride in a motor car; also he had been intensely entertained by the efforts of his kinsmen on horseback to keep up with the car, so that he was in a specially good temper; and having presented me in turn to each of his escort, we sat down on the best carpet and had a long and most interesting talk.
It appeared he owned thirty-eight villages in the mountains between the Aras River and Kars Plain, and held the sole right to the yailas, or upland pastures, all through these mountains north of the Aras River, a tract about forty miles by fifteen. It being summer-time, all his people had left the villages, which lie in the deep valleys and are only inhabited in winter, and were now camped with their flocks and herds on the upper slopes, or yailas, where the pasture is excellent as soon as the snow has melted there. He told me he could muster 1,200 mounted men, all well armed, within two days, and had latterly been obliged to do so, as the Armenians had advanced into his country with the intention of carrying out a general disarmament of his people, against which he and all his tribe were prepared to fight to the last man; and that, in the face of his attitude, the Armenians (at whose name he spat) had, as usual, found discretion more in their line than valour, and had cleared off, having only succeeded in catching the few old Kurdish men and women remaining in the villages, who had been too infirm to reach the upper yailas. These, of course, had been subjected to the usual horrors, which, although they appear ghastly to Europeans, did not appear to Hussein to be worth talking about, and I rather thought he seemed to imply that his tribe was well rid of the 'old uns', who were of no further service, he considered, but had become a general charge on the community!
He announced that his people would be quite prepared to submit to. the government of any European Power, preferably the English; but if it was decided to endeavour to put them under Armenian government, and if European troops were to support the Armenians, they would evacuate their country with all their goods and herds, and go bodily over to their kinsmen beyond the Turkish frontier. For the moment, however, he had no complaint to make, and was quite confident of his ability to hold his country against all the Armenians in the world for ever.
I thought this Hussein a fine fellow, perfectly fearless, surprisingly well-informed, and very intelligent, and I did not doubt for a moment his and his fellow-chiefs' ability to look after them-selves. This ability the Turks have long ago discovered, for, as in the case of all these Kurdish frontier tribes, the Turks, after many ineffectual efforts to rule them, have definitely given up that idea, and are content to allow them to rule themselves, exacting only a nominal allegiance, which in reality amounts to leaving them to all intents and purposes independent.
After about an hour's most interesting conversation, I told him his views should be reported in the proper quarter, and that I now intended going on to Khagizman, across the Aras River, which town had lately been occupied by Armenian troops, as to whose position and behaviour I was anxious to obtain information, and I concluded by an invitation to him to come down the pass with me in the car as far as the last of his villages five miles below. At this he was delighted, and we struck camp forthwith and started.
It is impossible, I think, for an Englishman not to feel a certain sympathy with these high-class Kurds when they are met with in their own country; for, though robbers all, yet they are real 'sports', and ready at any moment for any kind of game which has a spice of danger in it, and the greater the danger the better they like it. Of course, they love a real good 'fight' best of all, though the only fight that appears to them to be a really serious one is an intertribal battle with a neighbouring tribe. This may seem strange to us at first, but is not really hard to understand, for, being all robbers, and there being rarely anyone else to rob, each tribe has robbed its neighbour for generations; therefore, when a tribal fight does eventually come off, it becomes a serious affair, as there are many old scores to settle, and it really does then entail a genuine fight to a finish, when few are ever left on either side to carry on the race.
On this occasion Hussein, who had never been in a car before in his life, confided to me that he wanted to go 'fast', as he had taunted his mounted relations by telling them they were no horsemen and would never be able to keep up with the car and that he would certainly reach the valley before them. The pass in front looked to me a pretty bad place for a race, especially as I did not know the road at all, and there was every kind of zig-zag down precipices with many hairpin turns, all to be done on a very steep down gradient and on an absolutely strange road. I have had the good fortune to enjoy a good deal of road motor-racing in the past twenty years, since the days of the early Gordon-Bennett races, and have raced over many of the most difficult courses in Europe, but they were all of them child's play to this proposition; and I could not help thinking that many more experienced friends of mine in England, France, and the United States, would have hesitated considerably before urging me to excessive speed on such a road in the way this unsophisticated 'hero' did.
Anyway, we drew up in line, one Ford motor car and six picked Kurdish horsemen, that being already about three times as many as there was room for on the road, and then away we went. All the world knows, I imagine, that the Kurd is a born horseman and lives his life in the saddle and in the mountains; also, these fellows knew every rock and pebble of the road and were full of confidence, so that it was not the one-sided competition which at first sight it might appear to us, and, in addition, they, as horsemen always can, were able to get away a few yards quicker than the car, and so got an excellent start.
The first 200 yards of the race took place in the more open part of the valley, and then came a sharp turn to the right, under a steep wall of rock, the road then descending steeply, following a ledge cut in the face of the perpendicular cliff, with the river roaring through its rocky gorge in the valley far below. Luckily for us, the road did not go quite straight, and our friends left it to take a short cut, which allowed the car to get up its speed unhampered by the galloping horses, so that it then became a race as to who should reach the entrance to the ledge first. They did, but, as I expected, they were by that time going too fast to be able to take the turn safely, and two of them bumped into the face of the rocky cliff, with what result I do not know, but at any rate we saw them no more, and I was then committed to trying to pass these wild riders on the ledge of rock; this I did not intend to adventure, as I was confident the next turn would be sure to be in the opposite direction, so that I could imagine them, if they kept up the rate of speed at which they were then going, shooting clear off the road into space at the turn and hitting the river-bed some hundreds of feet below with a sickening squelch. I therefore kept behind them, and so enjoyed a wonderful exhibition of hair-raising horsemanship which I wouldn't have missed for worlds.
All this time we were doing some pretty 'tall skids' round the bends ourselves, and Hussein had to hold on with both hands to keep his seat. One would have expected him under these circumstances, being an absolute novice, to keep pretty quiet; but not at all! I stole a glance at him, for one moment only, between the turns, and saw he was yelling with sheer delight, and screaming at his pals by name, letting out a shriek of joy every time a horse slipped (which was pretty often), till at last one of them took a real beauty, clean heels over head. At that Hussein as nearly as possible fell out of the car, for he let go his hold in order to clap his hands with delight, and as at that moment we had to swerve to avoid the fallen horse still rolling in the road, he was thrown clean out of his seat and only saved from going overboard by my having the luck to catch a firm hold of the tail of his long coat, and, holding on to it like grim death, being just able to pull him back into his seat. I think this really only increased his enjoyment, and he kept crying 'Faster! faster!' whilst the slope got 'steeper' and 'steeper', and the turns 'sharper' and 'sharper', till suddenly there were only two horses left in front, instead of three, though I never saw the other one disappear, having enough to do to mind my own job.
The road got worse and the surface became loose and bad as we got lower down, and although the horses in front were getting pretty well beat, yet we were unable to catch them, and eventually, when the village appeared in sight, at the bottom of the last zigzag, they were still ten yards ahead. We therefore did the last turn a little 'extra', and with a loud 'bang' away went one back tyre, clean off the rim, with the other following it a moment later, and we did the last fifty yards on the rims only; for any attempt to put on a brake at that pace, without tyres, would have skidded us over the edge in a moment so we all arrived pretty well together, amidst an indescribable ovation from the whole population of the surrounding country, who had all come down from the upper yailas to the village for the occasion, and had been watching us in great excitement all the way down the face of the cliff.
My first action, when we finally stopped, was to jump out of the car and to go and congratulate the two now dismounted and somewhat exhausted horsemen on their magnificent and most daring horsemanship, which commanded my most hearty and cordial admiration; and I next congratulated Hussein also on both his men and horses. After that, the latter were attended to, as they always are amongst the Kurds, with the very greatest care, and, the other car shortly afterwards arriving, with news that no one had been seriously hurt, Hussein then dragged me into a hovel to give me the best entertainment he could, which consisted of fine curdled milk, the true mountain drink, the same being provided outside for my men, who were then busy putting on new tyres and a new wheel, some of our spokes having been badly sprung in our last effort.
This over, we bid good-bye to Hussein and his wild mountain sportsmen, in the midst of great cheering, with the certainty that we should all of us at any time be safe in his country, if we got into any trouble farther on a state of affairs which seemed to be far from improbable.
Adventures In The Near East:
The Russo-turkish Frontier-trouble Brewing
The Russo-turkish Frontier - Kurds And Armenians
Turkish Armistice A Fiasco Foundation Of The Nationalist Party
In Kemalist Turkey (november, 1919, To November, 1921)
London And Constantinople
Anatolia In Winter
Erzeroum In 1920
Exchange And Home
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