Georgia in the Caucasus
Russian and Ottoman Supremacy
Georgia (Batumi, Kutais, Akhaltsikhe, Mtskheta, Bojormi, Tbilisi), Ottoman Empire (Trazbon, Giresun, Ünye, Samsun, Istanbul in present-day Turkey), 29 September – 31 October 1895. Manuscript fair copy travellogue featuring firsthand observations of Russian-ruled Georgia, followed by a disconcerting voyage to various coastal cities of the Ottoman Empire at the time of the Hamidian massacres with primary source accounts of the state of the Armenian society, concluding with a delightful and highly detailed account of Constantinople. 8vo. 96 pages in manuscript with 25 ink drawings. Red calf over black boards. A uniquely formatted volume with manuscript alphabetic index to front pastedown and front endpaper, carbon endpaper and pastedown at rear, leafs made of tissue writing paper with printed lines and pagination. Wear to boards, some age-toning throughout, otherwise in very good condition, a generously detailed primary source account in a neat hand.
Adverse relations between the Ottoman and Russian empires, control of the Georgians and oppression of the Armenians – these conditions come into light as the writer travels to regions not frequently visited by foreigners at the time.
A summary of the journal:
The first half of this journal describes an adventurous journey by rail and by horse-drawn carriage into the innermost mountainous reaches of Russian-ruled Georgia twenty-five years before independence was acknowledged by the Treaty of Moscow, and prior to the subsequent Red Army Invasion.
With keen observations of the inhabitants, entertaining and empathetic accounts of travelling through impoverished villages, and detailed descriptions of historic monuments, this account is both uncommon and memorable. Beginning 29 September 1895 at the harbour of Sevastopol, from there the writer departs for a tour of the Caucasus, mainly to tour Georgia. Sailing along the Crimean Black Sea coast past Theodosia [Feodosia], he quickly reached Batoum [Batumi] on the Black Sea coast. A visit to Kutaisi in the Imereti region of western Georgia provided a tour of the medieval Gelati Monastery complex. Following a stop at Akhaltsikhe, he proceeds to Mtskheta and visits the tomb of Sidonia. He enjoys some time at Tiflis, before returning through the lush forests and rugged hills all the way to Batoum on the coast.
The writer’s arrival at Trebizond on 18 October 1895, and subsequent stops in the Ottoman Empire, are contemporary to the Hamidian massacres, his diary being an exceedingly scarce contemporary account to survive the era. The massacres had begun only three weeks before in Trebizond, on September 26th.
[Known in present-day as Trazbon, in northeastern Turkey, it is estimated the 1,000 – 2,000 Armenians were killed just in the Trebizond vilajet alone, during the Hamidian massacres of 1895.]
The first mention of Trebizond [Trazbon] concerns these riots. From there he proceeds to Kerrasunede [Giresun], Ouneh [Ünye] and Samsouhn [Samsun] where further Armenian massacres had occurred and tensions remained extremely high. At two ports passengers were forbidden to disembark; at one they were warned that doing so was to risk their lives, and at the fourth, they were able to make a brief visit to a bazaar. The writer met one Armenian whom he refers to as his “informant” and who provides firsthand accounts of the victimization by the Ottoman police and the then-alleged involvement of the Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. Wealthy Armenian refugees embarked the vessel to make their escape. Some twelve pages are devoted to these perilous travels, with much of it concentrating on the Armenian plight.
With a great sense of relief, after crossing the Bosphorus strait, he arrives in Constantinople [Istanbul] to enjoy the sights of an exquisite city, from ancient monuments to busy markets, lively celebrations, and a formal procession for the notorious Sultan, providing some 27 pages of well written and again detailed observations.
Travels in Georgia – the first half of the volume:
Surviving accounts from this period of Russian-ruled Georgia are extremely scarce. The present volume commits a substantial 48 pages, very near to half of the journal, to describe it. An imposing Russian presence is observed throughout, as well as conflicting nationalities attempting to co-exist.
His especially descriptive firsthand observations of the people include their traditional dress and the minor differences between the Russians and the Georgians. He also remarks on how daily labour is performed. As he learns of them, he recounts local folklore and ancient Georgian and Russian legends concerning castles, ruined towns, and past monarchs. His visit of Tbilisi predates the presence of the cathedral by two years – it was completed in 1897, only to be demolished in 1930. The blatant gap between rich and poor seems to teach him a lesson in grace. The mode of travel, through the Caucasus mountains to Tbilisi and back, is somewhat of an achievement in and of itself. All in all, his tour of pre-independence Georgia is a most fascinating one!
Excerpts from the text concerning Georgia:
“The harbour of Sevastopol contained several ships of war during our short stay. About 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29th 1895, we steamed away in the ‘Pushkin’… passed the monastery of St. George [Yuriev] the oldest in Russia, hanging on the face of the cliff in a garden of its own.”
“… The Georgians and Caucasies into whose country we were going are a fine race of men, very handsome… with fur caps, black grey or red tunics; cartridge on the chest, silver gilt belts, sword knives & kustols [chokha ?]. The Turks too were good specimens of humanity“
“We reached Batoum [Batumi, Georgia_] about 7 AM Wednesday 2nd Oct.  a rough, scrambling town in a beautiful narrow gulf, surrounded by vivid green hills, backed by mountains covered with oak forests.”
“… to the railway station, which was swarming with Georgians, Turks & Russians… passed through a tunnel… The interviewing stations are a quaint sight… with now & then a great Georgian with a hunting hawk on his wrist… fields of maize… plantations of tea… children run to sell figs and grapes… Georgians stalk about or drive off on donkeys with a handsome Jewish wife in vivid yellows.”
“At Rion where we changed for Kutais the platform was crowded with all sorts & classes… chiefly poor… a beautiful place… a public garden and the Old Town, dating from the days of the old Georgian monarchy, which ended in 1801.”
“… Thursday we chartered a big doojky [troika] with four horses abreast and drove rapidly into the country… grand forest, field & mountain scenery, to a monastery set on the topmost slope… overlooking the hills with the old castle of Kutais in the distance… The monastery of Gelat… date back to the 10th century… old Byzantine style…”
“The best view of Kutais however is from the site of the old castle… ruins of the old cathedral… built by King Roustan III in 1100 A.D… the carvings on the walls, tombstones, & fallen capitols within the ruined walls is most delicate…”
[Geguti Palace, on the bank of the Rioni River, 7 km south of Kutaisi]
“This is the ancient Colchis… the old dominions of old kings of Georgia… full of old Christian legends, monasteries, ruins of churches castles etc… Here & around dwell various races: Circassians on the Sea Board, who are Mahometans; Georgians & Armenians, inland, Kians, and many others. There are some 36 dialects spoken & Russian is not understood in many villages…. women are fond of bright colours, the Georgians also wearing white lace veils over the head.”
[Colchis was an ancient Georgian kingdom, described in modern scholarship as “the earliest Georgian formation” and was populated by Colchians, an early Kartvelian-speaking tribe, ancestral to the contemporary Western Georgians, namely Svans and Mingrelians, as well as the related Lazs.]
“… across the lesser Caucasus… to a village called Bagdad [Baghdati] a long street of low stone, flat roofed open shops… watched the poorer class natives working or chatting around us… we lunched a bottle of vin du pays and some small biscuits then drove out to commence the ascent through the high hills… at dusk we reached the post house, where is a spring, ad a wooden shanty containing a bakery… a small half empty store with some bottles, and two small utterly unfurnished rooms with plank beds and fleas… candles stuck in their own grease on the rough wooden table… the extremes of poverty… the poor folk of the place did their best…”
“… we reached the summit some 6000 feet… imposing grandeur… the protected and forested Valley of Abbas Tuman [Abastumani] far below… the descent continued… forever… Suddenly a truculent, blue uniformed, Russian armed to the teeth with knife & rifle, burst from the hill side and charged at us. He was however homeless and only desired a lift… reached the pretty little watering grounds, passing the lovely grounds of the simple little balconied palace of the Tzar’s brother, Grand Duke George an invalid with weak lungs… to the very decent Hotel Mirakova… with a handsome bath house, residence, barracks,” and small river…
[Abastumani is a small town and climatic spa in Adigeni Municipality. Its development as a resort is chiefly associated with Grand Duke George Alexandrovich who had a winter and a summer mansion there.]
“… set off in another phaeton… for Borjomi, 50 miles away… the villages are curious, some being of small square houses, three sides built into a small hill and a stone front, with flat turf roof tops… eight men drawing huge wooden ploughs, stare at us… great castles tower suddenly over us… the great ruined Georgian castle stretching… over nearly half a mile into the old town of Akhaltsikhe, Georgian, Turkish and Russian…. one side of the river… the Russians have filled the ruins… and opposite… Russian villas of the military people…“
“… the Turkish… huge men… pursued their open air habits around their roughly built stone cottages… long, brass bound old muskets still seen in the hands of the rough countrymen… others engaged in the prosaic work of breaking stones by the very side for road mending.”
“At the tall house we paid only 1.8d for the use of 50 miles of good road in this far away land…”
“Borjomi… the residence of Grand Duke George, the Governor of the Caucasus… a pretty little villa… on the banks of the river Kur… Russian hotel waiters must never be hurried…”
“… the train (a new line of last year) which conveyed us along the rivr Kur… to Tiflis [Tbilisi] the old Georgian capital…”
“At Tiflis we found the most comfortable and best managed hotel in Russia… (Hotel d’Orient). It is a new hotel… having seen few English people…”
“Tuesday 8th Oct. 1895 At Tiflis we took a well earned rest… before learning of troubles in Constantinople, we called on the Turkish Consul to have our passports ‘visaed’…”
“On Friday Oct 11th we drove over to Mtskheta in a phaeton… saw many funny things… a troop of Cossacks with different uniforms, black, grey or orange tunics… horses tethered in a long line, several waggons with hoop covering hung with carpets etc, containing Armenian women, drawn by buffaloes or oxen… flocks of geese or turkeys driven by ragged peasants… But little remains of the once powerful & splendid city of Mtskheta: only the cathedral, a church or two, and the wall around the former,but what there is, is very fine… old stone & brick battlemented walls with towers… in fairly good preservation… many of the frescoes have been destroyed…”
“Under a great canopy is the tomb of Sidonia… with old damaged frescoes of sacred history… also the tombs of the old Byzantine kings in marble and brass, with names inscribed in Georgian characters.”
“In Tiflis… the Armenian Bazaar is interesting… narrow cobbled streets up & down hill, past the open shops, with crowds of Russians, Tartars, Armenians… reputation of being liars, cheats, & thieves, while the Tartars will murder one for a rouble note, nor dare the police look for them among their fellow Russians… the place is bright with silver work & fancy stuffs… huge bullock-skins full of wine… The Tartars are looked on as Turkish spies, & the Armenians as worse than Jews for chicannery.Such a district should be avoided after dusk… buying things off these stalls & shops, it is only a question of haggling…”
“The Russian quarter is on the right bank overlooking in font and on either side various Quarters of Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Persians, Tartars… Each nationality hates another…”
“Tuesday, Oct. 15th 1895. With great regret we finally left our comfortable Quarters… and commenced a twelve hour journey to Batoum [Batumi]… made final arrangements… permission to leave Russia and also concerning our sea voyage to Constantinople…_”
The Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) during the Hamidian massacres:
As the writer sailed to Trebizond [Trazbon], then Kerrasunede [Giresun], Ouneh [Ünye] and Samsouhn [Samsun], the Hamidian massacres are repeatedly discussed in his journal entries, this part of his journey described over a dozen pages.
The atrocities made quite an impact on the voyage; preventing the passengers from disembarking at three of the aforementioned port towns, and also bringing onboard some Armenian refugees and one Armenian with whom he was able to speak and glean firsthand details.
Excerpts from the text concerning the Hamidian Massacres and the voyage along the Black Sea Coast of the Ottoman Empire:
“Thursday, 17th Oct. 1895… the riots at Trezibond delaying cargo… The [ship] Armenia was so delayed that she was unable to start till the evening… we kicked our heels as we best could at Batoum [Batumi]… a fine long beach… encamped a large number of soldiers in rough tents… We could get no information on the state of affairs in Constantinople… Finding that we were the only passengers onboard we were able to get separate cabins… on a French boat, we parted company… with Russia…”
“The early morning found us off Trezibond [Trazbon], a beautiful white & red town, sprinkled with trees… a great cliff… Far away to the N.E. stretched another line of snow covered mountains; and anchored off the center of town lay a Russian war ship, threatening the central fort… Many gailey coloured boats came off with cargo… Turkish Armenians bringing long horned long haired fat tailed sheep on board… we lay all the day while cargo dribbled on board & Armenian labourers worked… Some approached us to sell knives…”
“… we learned how about a fortnight before, five hundred Armenian Christians had been massacred by the irate Turks. The place looked peaceful and quiet enough now, and the Russian warship suggested the reason why.”
“We left Trezibond in the night and reached Kerrasunede [Giresun] early next morning… being so close to the places where the massacres took place… a very decent Armenian came onboard from whom we got some information. The belief among the Armenians was that these massacres were authorized from Constantinople by the Sultan himself… a telegram from the Sultan was afterwards found at Sassun authorizing the massacres… many months ago. At Trezibond about the 8th Oct. the Turks armed themselves with pistols & knives, burst into the shops & houses killing from 500 to 1000 of the Armenians… Many also are still shut up in prison, as the Armenians can send no news out of the town. If the Turks can understand the telegrams, even from the British Consul, they might be forbidden to be despatched.”
“At Kerrasunede [Giresun], where the Turks about the 14th prepared for a massacre, the Governor of the town, ‘being a good man,’ forbade & prevented them from doing so. We were told it would be safe for us to land at the various ports if we pleased, but that nothing would please the Turks better than to kill us as Giaours or Christians, if they dared to do so.”
“… along to Ouneh [Ünye] another picturesque white and red town… no passengers were permitted to land… although no massacres had as yet taken place… Armenians were shut up in their houses, in deadly fear of murder… such massacres are not only religious but also accompanied by plunder, the Armenians being frequently jewellers & goldsmiths… men, women, and children alike share the same fate.”
“At daylight we reached… Samsouhn [Samsun] in a most beautiful bay… went ashore for a few minutes… to the bazaar… women walk about hooded from head to foot, with dark close-fitting veils to hide their faces.”
“At Samsouhn [Samsun] too we were joined on board by a family of Armenians… well dressed… The Captain told us they were moving away… in fear of being massacred. These were wealthy ones particularly in dread of trouble…”
“After Samsouhn [Samsun] we sailed strait for Constantinople in hope to arrive Tuesday morning 22nd Oct… In the far distance beyond the waters of the westward turning Golden Horn in seen the true city, Stamboul, a mass of mingling houses crowned by the great domed mosques & sprinkled with graceful minarets…”
The writer arrived at Constantinople on 22 October 1895, where only three weeks earlier on 30 September the Armenian Hunchakian Party created a demonstration to pressure the Ottoman government and European Powers for speedy implementation of the promised reforms, which resulted in an attack on Christian neighbourhoods and general chaos requiring police response. During his seven-day tour however, safety for all in the city appears to have been maintained with vigilant patrols.
A scant few excerpts from the text concerning the tour of Constantinople [Istanbul]:
“The town of Scutari [Üsküdar]. The harbour is full of ships… Turkish soldiers patrolling the streets… the straight Grande Rue de Pera… a four horse Tramway runs by us… beautiful hill gardens of Pera… street porters who crowd around one are apparently Herculean. Three large trunks are nothing on their backs…”
“… We crossed to Stamboul and visited a mosque celebrated for its beautiful blue tiles… At Scutari on our drive we passed through a Turkish cemetery… went to the service of the whirling Drevishes… Afterwards the children lie on the floor and the chief dervish walks over them: this does not harm them we are told & is supposed to give them immunity from children’s diseases.”
“… Many very smart pashas and officers of all ranks rode up, the sultan’s mother came in a closed carriage & white horses… officers & princes came on foot, & finally attended by his guard, the Sultan in an open landau, with saddle horses in the rear… got a glimpse of the Sheik-al-Islam…”
A most splendid and thorough description continues, of Constantinople’s treasured antiquity, exquisite architecture, the city’s multi-ethnic population and local customs, as well as a celebratory procession with Abdul Hamid II the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
On 29 October, the second last page of the journal, the writer is departing for Greece and subsequently arrives at the port of Piraeus. The journal ends on 31 October as he begins a tour of Athens.
By the 18th century, Russia had emerged as the new imperial power over various fragmented Georgian kingdoms and principalities. The country of Georgia became part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, beginning with the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti which was annexed in 1801, reducing it to the status of a Russian region (Georgia Governorate). In 1810, the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed as well. Russian rule over Georgia was eventually acknowledged in various peace treaties with Persia and the Ottomans, and the remaining Georgian territories were absorbed by the Russian Empire in a piecemeal fashion in the course of the 19th century. Russian rule offered the Georgians security from external threats, but it was also often heavy-handed and insensitive to locals. By the late 19th century, discontent with the Russian authorities led to a growing national movement. The Russian Imperial period, however, brought unprecedented social and economic change to Georgia, with new social classes emerging: the emancipation of the serfs freed many peasants but did little to alleviate their poverty; the growth of capitalism created an urban working class in Georgia. Both peasants and workers found expression for their discontent through revolts and strikes, culminating in the Revolution of 1905. Georgia would be part of the Russian Empire until 1918.
The Hamidian massacres, also referred to as the Armenian Massacres of 1894-1896, was the massacring of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, with estimates of the dead ranging from 80,000 to 300,000, and at least 50,000 orphans as a result.The massacres are named for Abdul Hamid II, whose efforts to reinforce the territorial integrity of the embattled Ottoman Empire reasserted Pan-Islamism as a state ideology. Abdul Hamid believed that the woes of the Ottoman Empire stemmed from “the endless persecutions and hostilities of the Christian world.” He perceived the Ottoman Armenians to be an extension of foreign hostility, a means by which Europe could “get at our most vital places and tear out our very guts.” One of the most serious incidents occurred in Armenian populated parts of Anatolia. Although the Ottomans had prevented other revolts in the past, the harshest measures were directed against the Armenian community. They observed no distinction between the nationalist dissidents and the Armenian population at large, and massacred them with brutal force. This occurred in the 1890s, at a time when the telegraph could spread news around the world and when the European powers were vastly more powerful than the weakening Ottoman state. The massacres received extensive coverage in the media of Western Europe and the United States.