If it is one of the first duties of every government to create confidence, the Turkish administration leaves this task entirely unperformed. Its treatment of the Greeks, its unjust and cruel persecution of the Armenians, those faithful and rich subjects of the Porte, and other violent measures, are so fresh in everyone’s memory that no one is willing to invest his money where it will pay interest only after many years. In a country where industry is without the element on which it thrives, commerce also must largely consist of the exchange of foreign merchandise for raw home products. The Turk actually gives ten occas of his raw silk for one occa of fabricated silk, the material for which is produced on his own soil.
Agriculture is even in a worse state. One often hears the complaint that the cost of all the necessities of life has increased in Constantinople fourfold since the annihilation of the Janizaries, as if heaven had decreed this punishment on those who exterminated the “soldiers of Islam.” The fact, while true, should probably be explained differently, for, since the events referred to, the great granaries of the capital, Moldavia, Wallachia, and Egypt, which formerly had to send half of their harvests to the Bosphorus, have been closed. In the interior nobody will undertake the growing of grain on a large scale, because the government makes its purchases according to prices of its own choosing. The forced purchases by the government are a greater evil for Turkey than her losses by fire and the plague combined. They not only undermine prosperity, but they also cause its springs to dry up. As a result the government must buy its grain in Odessa, while endless stretches of fertile land, under a most benignant sky and at only an hour’s distance from a city of eight hundred thousand people, lie untilled.
The outer members of this once powerful political body have died, and the heart alone has life. A riot in the streets of the capital may be the funeral procession of the Ottoman Empire. The future will show whether it is possible for a State to pause in the middle of its fall and to reorganize itself, or whether fate has decreed that the Mohammedan-Byzantine Empire shall die, like the Christian-Byzantine Empire, of its fiscal administration. The peace of Europe, however, is apparently less menaced by the danger of a foreign conquest of Turkey than by the extreme weakness of this empire, and its threatened collapse within itself.
TRANSLATED BY EDMUND VON MACH, PH.D.
[This is the fourteenth of the Letters Concerning Conditions and Events in Turkey. It is dated from Pera, June 16, 1836.]
Yesterday I returned from a short excursion to Asia, which I really should describe for you in poetry, because I ascended Mount Olympus. But since I did not reach the summit, and did not climb farther than the foot, or more properly speaking the toe, of the giant you will get off with prose.