from ‘the War Illustrated Deluxe’ volume III page 930
by John Foster Fraser
Author of 'the Land of Veiled Women'

A Bad Case of Counting Chickens Before They are Hatched

Turkish warships on the Golden Horn - painting by German artist Amandus Faure


There will be no pelting of Constantinople with hall-ton shells, flung from ironclads so far away that they look like a pat of smoke on the skyline. The Turk is too sensible for that. He hates the dog of a Christian, but he accepts kismet and loves Stamboul.

It is the most beautiful city in the world—if you don't visit it. If our Jack Tars see it on a sunny afternoon, they will think it much better than the grand Bagdad scene in the Portsmouth pantomime. For it will be a heave of creamy white domes and slim minarets, and mysterious blank walls, and shuttered casements. It will be the enchanted city, laved by a sea that is blue and canopied by a sky that is bluer still. It will be so exquisite that middies will forget the glorious banging through the Dardanelles, and think of Oriental houris, and wonder about the charmers of the harem.


Where Distance Lends Enchantment

But if the British sailors want to have an abiding love for Constantinople, they had better not land; in the interests of poetry, shore leave should be prohibited. For the capital of the Caliphs—the Sultan is Caliph, and therefore a sort of monarchial hereditary archbishop of the entire Mohammedan world—is smelly; the streets are mean and unclean, and though you will meet folk who are simply enraptured with the quaintness of the East, you may take it as a pose, and that they are exercising the rhapsody with which they hope to make untravelled friends jealous when they return home.

Yet it is interesting, fascinatingly interesting, because it is an extraordinary jumble of East and West. There are bits of Asia and bits of Europe, and the whole thing is jumbled up like a broken kaleidoscope. The modern Turk, while he wears a red fez, also wears a frock-coat. He goes to music-halls and drinks beer. The modern Turkish lady likes to dress in Parisian gowns—or perhaps just now they are Berlin gowns—and she reads French novels. The rules of the harem still hold. According to the Prophet, women must hide their faces from strange men. In Constantinople the wealthier ladies obey in the letter only, for their veil is nothing but thin gauze stretched across the face below the lustrous eyes, and so piquancy is added to the features. The middle-class women rarely bother with a veil; their costume in the street is quakerishly demure, and, rain or shine, they all carry a cheap Austrian umbrella, as a shield against inquisitive male eyes.

Constantinople ought to be Eastern; but it is in Europe, and has got contaminated. It is not European and not Asiatic, but a bad blend of both. You will get a better idea of an Oriental market-place in the play "Kismet" than you will get in Stamboul, which is the Turkish name—its customary name being in commemoration of Constantine the Great. It has had lots of buffeting during the ages, and a catalogue of the sieges to which it has been subjected would fill half a column. But, up to the hour of writing, it has fallen only twice—in the fifteenth century, when the Turks got it, and in the thirteenth century, when the Crusaders got it. The place is full of mosques, three hundred of them. The most interesting is that of S. Sophia. I shall never forget attending the midday prayer, when there was a mighty congregation of Moslems, and they all knelt with foreheads on the ground and gave thanks to Allah. High on the walls of S. Sophia you see the cross, relic of the time when the Crusaders were here, and it was a Christian church. After being Mohammedan for five hundred years, will it revert to the Christian faith, I wonder?

Fair Without, but Foul Within

The notorious Constantinople dogs have been got rid of. Generations of particular dogs lived in particular streets, and terrible was the uproar when any adventurous mongrel from a neighbouring lane strayed into a forbidden area. The dogs were scavengers, grew fat and presumptuous, refused to move, and bit humans who attempted persuasion. So most of them were put on board ship, taken to an island in the Sea of Marmora—and that closed the chapter. The folk who have the cleansing of the Constantinople streets will never get a diploma from an international health exhibition. There is ever a pervading odour of defective cesspool, garlic, and decayed Turk. Much of the city has crumbled to actual disappearance; huge uneven walls tell of its greater dimensions; up weird alleys are the ancient - type buildings, and behind the latticed windows you may be sure are peering eyes of the womenfolk.

Now and then you will meet the old Turk, bearded, tulbanned—a green turban if he has made the pilgrimage to Mecca—strict in religious observances, sitting on his haunches twirling amber beads and spitting on the ground when you pass, for your infidel presence pollutes the air.

The End of a Long Story

He is the relic of the old regime, and who when the Turk, officially rather than individually, is cleared "bag and baggage" out of Europe, will take his way to Brussa, the real Turkish capital, in Asia Minor. And that will be the end of a long story—for you remember that in the Middle Ages Turkish dominion extended right up to the Danube. For the last hundred years she has been pushed back, out of Serbia, out of Bulgaria, out of Macedonia, and now everything indicates she will be pushed out of the continent altogether.

That will be terrible to the Young Turks, who have come too late to regenerate their native country. Many of them were educated in Vienna Berlin, and Paris. They imbibed European ideas.

They deposed Abdul Hamid from the Sultanate — he had the most tragically unhappy face of any man have ever seen—and they adopted that final evidence of advanced civilisation, a parliament. And wanting to be modern, Germany lent them its kindest aid, until Turkey got tied up in the German mesh, had to come into the war when the Turks did not want, and now the price will have to be paid. I can remember as a little fellow hearing the popular song, "The Russians shall not have Constantinople." Things have altered somewhat since then.

Fair Women —Veiled and Unveiled

Of course, the seizure of Constantinople does not mean the clearing out of all Mohammedans. Russia has millions of Mohammedan subjects. But the changes which some of us have noticed during the last twenty years will be accentuated.

Already motor - cars meet the Orient Express to whiz you to your hotel — although, you understand, there has been no Orient Express from Paris to Stamboul since the war began. On the Galata side, where the Europeans live, there are as many uncovered ladies as there are those who are veiled. The gossamer-veiled ladies lrom the harem of a pasha, and in charge of flabby negro eunuchs, drive along the Grande Rue de Pera, and no doubt envy their infidel sisters who can go where they like. And these Turkish ladies, when they visit Europe—Vienna. Paris, London—cast their Orientalism behind them, and their enlightened husbands expect them to conform to custom.

I have sat next to a Turkish lady at a London dinner-party, and a week before she was in the harem at Constantinople.

How Constantinople Will Change

When the fall of the city comes, without any destruction of property, and the inhabitants have got over their fright, the life of Constantinople will be resumed—with changes. The Turkish Government will have gone, and soldiers of Russia, France, and Britain will be in possession. The lovely palaces along the Bosphorus, including the Yildiz Kiosk, the residence of the Sultan, will become museums.

Other flags than that with the crescent will flaunt. Other sacred buildings besides mosques will lift their heads. The transformation of Constantinople into a European city will grow apace. The veiled women and the shutters of the harem will be matters left to story-books. Some of us who liked to roam the uneven causeways of old Stamboul may have a few regrets. We will have many regrets if the romantic view from the Sea of Marmora is destroyed— and that must never be.


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