SYRIA THE LAND LINK OF HISTORY'S CHAIN
MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS
The National Geographic Magazine
What is Syria of the future most lacks is a past - some crucible of events that would have served to fuse her many races and religions. Various parts of Syria have had noble moments, but as a whole it has never been more than a subject land, without the unity or nationalism which once burned so brightly in the breasts of Phoneticians and Israelites, Hittites and Amorites.
Syria, unlike Poland and Czechoslovakia, now rehabilitated, must test the practicability of a self-determination of peoples, not because of an unwillingness on the part of the world to recognise her rights, but because of an inability on the part of the varying factions in Syria to assert them.
Syria needs good government, now that the power of the hated Turk is curtailed, in order that this oppressed land of latent wealth and might promise may realise its twentieth-century destiny.
Outside powers seek direction in Syrian affairs not solely from selfish motives. The growing demand of world commerce are lifting this land into a position of paramount importance and good government, security and favourable considerations for economic development are necessary to the new world.
TWIN GATEWAYS TO SYRIA'S FUTURE
Syria closes the east end of the Mediterranean and is bounded on the north by the Taurus Mountains. The Syrian and Arabian deserts limit further settlement to the east and south. But in connection with world commerce it has always been closely related to the fertile valleys of the Nile and twin Mesopotamian rivers, and its commercial life of tomorrow cannot be divorced from that of Mesopotamia.
The future of Syria depends upon the development of two ports and upon who control these strategic centres of politics and commerce. Alexandretta and Haifa will attain new importance as soon as the Dardanelles are internationalised and free passage, open to all nations, cuts across what Germany was forging as a Berlin-to-Bagdad route, all but 300 miles of which, between Xisibin and Tekrit, a few miles above Samarra, is now complete.
The new line of traffic from Alexandretta past Aleppo to the Euphrates River at Jerablus, connecting the oldest routes of international commerce, also separates two important lingual groups, for Turkish is generally spoken to the north of the railway and Arabic to the south.
WHERE ARGOSY MET CARAVAN HUGE LINER SOON WILL DOCK
Whatever political adjustment is made between England and France, Italy and Greece, Arabia and Syria, conservative Mecca and liberal Beirut, Zionist and Greek Orthodox, Christian and Moslem, Maronite and Druise, the line of division between the Turkish and Arabic tongues will be significant, for language differences as well as those of race exert a profound effect on political life in the Levant.
The Haifa Railway separates northern Syria from the southern part, which has long been called Palestine. Haifa is of importance because it is the southern-most Syrian harbour capable of large development and is the terminus of the railway which is becoming the key to Jerusalem as well as the more important line Damascus and Mesopotamia. It is the regal pride of the Near East, for once more it is the become the greatest port of the eastern Mediterranean littoral, as it was when it served as the chief landing place of the Crusaders and the transhipment point of the Venetian, Pissan and Genoese trade from argosy to caravan.
WHERE ARABIC IS WORTH TEN CENTS A WORD
Great breakwaters more than four miles in length will run out from Haifa and it sister city, Acre, across the Bay of Acre, to enclose the finest harbour on the Syrian coast. That this harbour need improvement if it is to become a port of world trade was made plain to me on my first visit there.
We had been delayed in Haifa until late afternoon and the usual evening breeze had begun to pile up the waves in what was to my Syrian companions a most alarming fashion. On leaving the steamer, we had made a bargain with the boatman that the round trip would cost us ten cents. The $1.50 difference between this charge and the two medjidis which a tourist must pay was due to the fact that we could all talk more or less Arabic. I could say. “Thy day be happy!” “How much?” and “God grant that all will be well with you!” but that was enough to make the difference.
Ten cents a passenger was quite enough for the half-mile row in clam weather, but one could see that, with the high waves making ten oarsmen necessary for handling the big boat, an additional payment of ten cents would probably be appreciated, if not demanded.
Once, we left the protection of the tiny pier, the heavy boat began to dance and a Syrian priest, who was our fellow passenger began to pray. My Syrian friends were unaccustomed to the sea, and by way of strengthening their courage, like a boy whistling in the dark, they began to praise the efforts of the sturdy pirates who were rowing us.
Led by the lusty song of the stroke oar, these men boomed out a picturesque rowing song, tuned, like the chant of the Vikings, to the rolling rhythm of the dashing waves. Our bow would sink into a trough of the sea and the leader would sing one lone of the song. Then a huge wave would crash against the boat and nine lusty voices would answer the challenge of Neptune. The effect was dramatic, if not exciting.
A NAUTICAL STAGE MANAGER'S SCENIC EFFECTS
When the leader saw the pale faces of his passengers, he produced to amass the evidence why he should be accorded a negotiable substitute for a Carnegie medal. He went out of his way to meet waves at their mightiest, so that the thud of the water would inspire a corresponding thud in our hearts, which would in turn result in a heavier thud at the base of his coin pocket. He ignored ten-cent waves and bucked dollar ones.
As we came alongside, but before we could catch the gang-plank, a wave lifted and hurled our boat against the side of the ship, leaving us just in time to have the boat rail catch against the plating on the ship's side and almost upset us. That settled it. The boatman received a mejidie from each of his eleven passengers in return for his skill as a stage manager, although he had to wait to make his collection from the Syrian monk until that worthy had completed a little private Thanksgiving service.
Out there in Haifa is a boatman who is getting rich on account of the sea breeze that springs up each evening in the broad Bay of Acre. He is a sturdy, good-looking fellow, with his moustaches neatly waxed and his red tarboosh worn at a rakish angle, like the cap of a certain British admiral. His baggy Turkish trousers are held up by a broad sash of the finest silk and his heelless slippers, with their upturned points, are of the softest leather. His stroke oarsman has strangely bent toes where his naked foot brace against the seat for the thrust of the boom-like oar, and with a moving voice he leads a most dramatic rowing chorus, with Neptune's choir for antiphonal effects. Those loveable pirates are going to resent the building of a sea wall that will transform their surging deep into a peaceful millpond, where huge liners can tie up to the docks and discharge prosaic cargoes for the poetic East.
They will regret, as others will, the dehumanising process of modern commerce when applied to the most human of lands. But their days, like those of the camel-driver and the philosophical cabbie, are numbered. The unchanging East is yawning before a great awakening to its commercial value in a workaday world.
Give the Turk credit for something. When he smashed his way to the gates of Vienna he started European greatness. When he spread unrest in Syria he drove Columbus across the Atlantic and Vasco da Gama around the Cape.
The Turk robbed Syria of greatness for three hundred years. Then came de Lesseps. When he opened the Suez Canal the world though that Syria would henceforth be a wallflower among the nations.
But, while the world ignored her and the Turk plundered her, Syria knew that there day of glory was sure to come. East and West called to each other across the land link of history's chain and the Germans started the railway that was as inevitable as fate, following as it does the greatest trade route the world has ever known. How Germany overreached herself and how her dream of Pan-Germanism, built around this railway, was finally smashed in the Argonne and on the field or Armageddon is now familiar to all.
THE GEOGRPHAGHICAL DILEMMA OF A VALLEY PLATUEAU
Various factors delayed the inevitable reopening of the historic trade route across Syria and Mesopotamia. The advance of the Turk threw Europe back upon itself to develop internally, and the discovery of America turned the attention of its peoples away from the spices and wealth of the East to the boundless resources and rich prizes of the West. The discovery of the sea route around Africa made available a safer passage to opulent India.
Mesopotamia is a fertile today as when it was the birthplace of human history and when the civilisation that developed there had only the Nile Valley as a competitive field. But, like many parts of the earth once populous and now almost deserted, Mesopotamia is no halfway land. Such regions must either be the uncultivated roaming places of nomadic tribes or the seats of settled government and a centralised state. The inhabitants must either be few enough and mobile enough to seek through migration the food upon which the flocks depend or stable enough to keep in repair vast irrigation systems which cause heavy crops to follow one another with assuring regularity.
Good government and the nomad are mutual enemies. Each has its day in districts whose poverty or prosperity depends upon whether water, which the abundant crops of the most fertile valleys must have, is utilised or goes to waste.
GEOGRAPHY - COQUETTE AND DICTATOR
The Greeks were coaxed to become navigators by the thickly scatters islands - stepping-stones to Empire - which tempted them, as the flowers of the field tempted Prosperpina, farther and farther away. The Phoneticians were forced to sea by the inhospitable slopes of an unbroken mountain chain, but there stretched along the sea the strikingly fertile plain which to this day constitutes the garden land of Syria.
This rich plain made possible great fortunes, and Tyrian purple, obtained from the murex, became the badge of Phoenician aristocracy. As successive fields of this shell-fish became exhausted by the demand of fashion, the murex hunters, like the fur trappers of the frozen north sere driven farther farther afield in search of the rear colour which fashion decreed.
The tradition for travel which began in Phoenicia has come down to the Lebanon throughout the centuries, and when the massacre of 1860 occurred, Syrians from the persecuted land fled to America, where more the 400,000 are now residing.
FORGETTING BYGONES IN A VISION OF FUTURE GREATNESS
For them the future seemed to lie beneath the setting sun. But Syria is in Asia and its life will be wrapped up with the East of which it is a part.
Soon heavy trains, fired with oil from the Persian fields, will thunder along trade routes which plodding camels marked out when the world was young. Already, one may dine in Cairo and have luncheon the following day in Jerusalem. The step to Aleppo, Mosul, and Baghdad is short and all but 300 miles of the line is now open to traffic. However popular the route through central Europe along the famous Berlin-to-Bagdad line becomes, the safety of the British empire demands the the railroad which follows the old line of communication between the valley of the Nile and the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris shall be kept in a state of perfection. There will be no Amanus or Taurus tunnels on this trails of the modern caravan, and an absence of heavy grades throughout a large part of the right of way will make it possible for the Cairo-to-Calcutta express to beat the fastest sea route by several days.
BY DE LUXE EXPRESS FROM THE TABLE MOUNTAIN TO
THE GREAT WALL
Slowly but surely the iron rails are reaching out to bind Cape Town to Cairo and Suez to Shanghai by way of Persia, India, Burma, and the Yangtze Valley. The path of empire in the future will not alone be traced by the wakes of passing streamers, but also by bold bands of shinning steel. The supreme strategy of railway that will connect the valley of the Nile, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the Indus, the Ganges, the Irriwaddy, and the Yangtze lies in the fact that it will be flanked by the most thickly settled portions of the world's surface and can, from the first, have commercial as well as strategic value.
Syria is the hub of the Afro-Eurasian continents, and with every railway that reaches out to Bremen, Baku, Bokara, Burma, or Bloemfontein the central region of the world's greatest land-mass achieves new significance.
Aside from its importance as a trade route, Syria will find its greatest future as an agricultural nation, and has extensive regions which can be made to produce large crops. The Hauran, south of Damascus, has long been a granary and the massive ruins of Baalbek dominate a plain whose fertility was once sufficient to make possible lavish local expenditures and at the same time return large taxes to imperial Rome, which used Syria not as a sinking place for public funds, but as a source of revenue for the treasury on the Tiber. When Rome ruled, this remote province had enough and to spare; but not for long did golden eggs from Syria enrich the greedy Turk.
SYRIAN ART THREATENED BY EFFICIENCY AND SPEED
As an industrial land, Syria faces two possibilities. The co-operation between different parts of the country, which good government will make possible and which good communications will foster, will tend toward an expansion of industry and the establishment of factories to take the place of the household production which has hitherto been the rule.
But this very development may rob the larger output of that individuality which has made the rugs, the brasswork, the silk and linen products of Syria much desired by those who appreciate originality to design and perfection to finish. There is today one fair large brasswork factory in Damascus, where tiny children hammer silver or copper wire into the engraved designs on the pitchers, basins and trays of Damascene ware, but in almost no other case has the industry risen above the stage of family production, which, though slow, insures distinctive products.
THE APPRECIATION OF WATER IN A DRY LAND
Water holds a high place, not only in the view of the abstemious Mohammedan, but of the Syrian Christian as well. The main attraction of the Damascus cafe is a tiny fountain, whose sight and sound delight the son of the desert vacationing in the urban oasis, or the Sart of Samarkand, wearied by his desert march to Mecca, who stops here and dreams of his distant Zerafshan.
Dan and Beersheba are popularly considered the termini of Palestine, as they formerly were of Hebrew territory. One grew up around a source of the Jordan, the other owed its existence to the age old wells whose limestone rims have been grooved and polished by a million bucket ropes. No hotel register attests so long and distinguished a line of guests.
From Abraham to Allenby, the rope worn signatures that rim Beersheba's seven wells bespeak romance and passions broad as human life. Here Abraham arrived with Sarah, his wife, and being unused to town ways and fearing harm, they registered as brother and sister. Later Sarah induced Abraham to drive Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert to die. Evidently cross-roads life did not improve Sarah's character.
A PECULIAR AUTHOGRAPH ALBUM FULL OF FAMOUS NAMES
Here Abraham, the father of his race, received a message to kill his only son Isaac, and from this spot he set out with heavy heart to accomplish the task which he was saved from completing. Here Jacob robbed Esau of his birthright by methods that remind one of Launcelot Gobbo, and here he later stopped when as an old man he was on his way to visit his famous son, Joseph, in Egypt.
Here Samuel's sons practised the profession of their distinguished father and here Elijah took refuge from the original Jezebel. All in all, Beersheba was as melodramatic as any frontier town and nightly gatherings beside those famous wells have discussed the rise and fall of nations since the world began.
A single spring determined the site of Nazareth, and Jacop's well still provides water in an otherwise thirsty land. To the tired traveller from the hills of Moab, the dirty Jordan seems a blessed refreshment after the dry ride; but Naaman, the leper, because he was accustomed to the crystal streams of his native city, scorned the coffee-coloured flood which had been recommended to him as a cleansing agent. In Jerusalem, I was seldom able to withstand the tempting clatter of the drinking bowls of the seller of cooling drinks, but in the Lebanon, where cold, clear springs abound, one never seems to thirst.
THE BROOKS AND STILL WATERS OF SYRIA
Water bounds Syria on the west. The lack of it defines the eastern and southern boundaries. Many of the most pleasing pages of the Bible ripple with the songs of running brooks or praise the “still waters” of wells which have long marked the resting places of weary flocks and heavy-laden caravans.
In the Lebanon there are scores of springs or rivers gushing forth direct from the rock. The whole countryside facing the Mediterranean suggests the passage of a miracle-working Moses, practising in these glorious dells the more difficult feat he was to perform in parched Sinai.
When the early inhabitants of Syria wanted to express gustatory delight, they could not speak of ambrosia and nectar, for their God was free from sensual appetites; but the chose two article of human diet and expressed deliciousness by saying that a land flowed with milk and honey. That was in the days when been, rather than beets, furnished the sweetening. In the Lebanon, two springs, the Honey Spring and the Milk Spring, are the sources of Dog River, from whose clear, cold waters busy Beirut is now refreshed.
Even on the hot plain between Mount Hermon and the Lake of Huleh the water which bubbles up fro subterranean sources is very cold. At Shiba, high up on the sides of Mount Hermon, the water emerges from the rock with a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and at Banias, where a temple to Pan once stood, and where Herod the Great erected a temple over the spring in honour of Augustus, the sparkling water has a temperature of 42 degrees. In summer, after a long hot walk across the plain, it is most refreshing to sit in the shade of Honey Valley and eat luscious Lebanon grapes, cooled by dipping them in the living water of the stream.
Judea is not well supplied with springs, and even a tiny trickle is sufficient to gain a name for the place. When the carriages between Jerusalem and Nablus dropped from the barren Jundean plateau at the first of the broad Samarian valleys, everyone used to get out to drink from the spring at Khan el Lubban.
DEAD-SEA BATHING ANY ORDEAL WHICH ALL TOURISTS UNDERGO
The Jericho region is supplied with three kinds of water, and this prodigality, coupled with the historic fame of the Jordan Valley, has furnished a regular formula of bathing for pilgrims to this hot depression, nearly a quarter of a mile below the level of the sea.
Of course, every tourist has to bathe in the Dead Sea; it is the thing to do. Lucky is the man whose skin does not crack in the heat of the valley, for Dead Sea water on a cracked skin or the film of the eye reminds one of boiling oil and the Spanish Inquisition. Having performed the necessary rite and dutifully completed the experience which can be recorded in the diary of the trip, the poor pilgrim, laved with a tenacious fluid that seems to be composed of salt, kerosene, and lye, drives off to the Jordan and seeks relief in the muddy waters of that river. Then, as night rapidly settles in the deepest wrinkle on the face of Mother Earth, the tired traveller rides between the miserable hovels which constitute modern Jericho and dismounts at the sultan's Spring, once sweetened by Elisha.
Here the water is collected in a large pool, both cold and clear, and few indeed resist the temptation to plunge into it and remove forever any lingering signs of the holy but muddy water of the Jordan.
The traveller who is wise will not try to sleep in the hot hotel, whose confining walls seem to radiate discomfort, but will stretch his bed beside the still waters of Sultan's Pool.
Water or the lack of it must always affect the development of Syria, but the supreme value of the land as a link between the production centres of Europe and the population centres of Asia must always make trade routes and cross-roads of traffic the locations for the largest growth.
No amount of commercial travel, however, can cloud the importance of the heights where Judaism rose and declined and where Christ lived, taught, healed, and died.
Jerusalem at Easter time will long be a centre of intense interest, and amid the many ceremonies that begin with a re-enacting of the washing of the feet and conclude with tearful gladness in the procession to the Risen Christ, there is no more wonderful and moving, yet revolting, spectacle than the Holy Fire celebration in the huge Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where ecclesiastical tradition has gathered together almost every spot connected with the life of Christ except Nazareth and the path of the flight into Egypt.
UNHOLY RITES IN THE HOLY CITY AT EASTER TIME
At this ceremony God is supposed by the ignorant pilgrims to send down a flame from heaven which bursts from the walls of the ornate sepulchre itself.
I was one of a party which saw the supposed divine event from the second gallery of the high rotunda, commanding a view of both sides of the sepulchre Below us, covering the floor of the rotunda and huddled around the traditional tomb, were the pilgrims, thousands of them. Many of them had slept there all night or had at least held their places near the sacred spot To the left were the Greeks - restless, voluble, inclined to dispute with the Moslem soldiers. To the right were the Armenian’s - quiet, patient, self-controlled.
Directly beneath us was the little Coptic chapel at the rear of the sepulchre We were sixty feet above the surging crowd and the marble floor below. It was 11 o'clock - two hours before the holy fire would descend from heaven.
Forming a circle around the sepulchre, half way between the supposed place of burial and the outer columns, were companies of Moslem soldiers - privates in ill-fitting costumes; officers in many kind of shoulder-straps and caps, who seemed to lack authority over their men.
Then followed a pitiful scene. The soldiers found that there were too many pilgrims near the Chapel of the Angels, so they began to drag men and women out of places which they had held all night. White-haired, honest-faced Russians in tight-fitting jackets and black boots were dragged protesting from the crowd. There were babies there. One woman had stepped aside to nurse her little one and she was seized upon and thrust out into the dark recesses, outside the circle of massive columns. Protests, entreaties - all were useless. Gradually the struggling pilgrims were passed out through a fissure in the crowd.
The balconies are filled with visitors and celebrities - curiosity - seekers attracted by the spectacle and paying dearly for a cramped place from which they can see the show.
PATIENT PILGRIMS AND SKEPTICAL SIGHTEERS
Gradually the temporary platforms in the archways just above the heads of the crowd become filled with visitors from the four corners of the earth. Spectacled American women, almost mannish, can be seen here and there. A young American beauty climbs a ladder to a place on one of the platforms. English women, French women, Moslems in their black veils - all are there. The wide-awake curiosity of the foreign tourists, secure on their platforms, contrasts with the quiet patience of the sombre pilgrims huddled below.
Canvasses, resplendent in gold lace, guide parties here and there, rapping with their silver-topped pikes on the marble pavement in order to make a way through the crowds. The Russian dragoman, a bluff figure in white serge and a jaunty cap, who might have stepped over the footlights from the Merry Widow chorus, comes in with a slender girl in a tailored suit, with a white hat and veil and ruby lips. She climbs a ladder above the heads of the crowd and secures a place of vantage on one of the platforms.
Gradually every place becomes filled. Down on the floor each pilgrim is clasping a bunch of 33 wax candles to his throbbing heart. Those candles, one for each year in the life of Christ, will be carried far back to the homeland and distributed as blessed mementoes among the less fortunate people who will never see the walls of Jerusalem. Every minutes the situation becomes more tense.
The Armenian runners, strong giants, naked to the waist and wearing white caps, burst through the crowd and take their places near one of the two holes where the fire is to appear. A little later the Greek runners appear near their fire-hole - an ill-assorted lot in Kaffiyehs and tarbooshes. When the fire appears, these men will fight their way out through that insane crowd and carry the fire, like Paul Revere's night-call, to the villages around Jerusalem.
Now the Moslem soldiers shove the crowds back on either side, forcing those on the outside into the dark aisles, compressing those near the sepulchre into a solid, but restless, mass of heads and shoulders. The Greek Patriarch, in the midst of his magnificently gowned priests, parades around the sepulchre Three time he circles the rotunda. As he passes the south fire-hole, the Armenian prelate joins him and they enter the sepulchre itself.
THE DELIRIUM OF UNQUESTIONING FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE
The bells begin a noisy jangle. Shouts arise from the crowd “Oh, Jews, your feast is that of the devil; but ours is that of Christ, who has bought us with His blood. Therefore we are happy today and you, O Jews, are said.”
The noise of the bells increases. An air of excitement, more intense than highterto, pervades the vast dome. From every balcony the people lean forward expectantly. All are gazing at those two black holes, one on each side of the sepulchre The bells still further increase their noisy ringing and a great flame shoots out on each side of the tomb.
Chaos is let loose in an insane mob!
The runners catch the fire in large wads of cotton and fight their way out through a sea of hands, each clutching a bunch of candles. The soldiers are not submerged in the sea of humanity, all struggling for the first blessing of the holy fire. A Copt, carrying a burning mass of cotton, fights, shoves, burns his way through the crowd. He dashes inside the barred chapel and clangs the door shut. A thousand candles are already alight; flickering flames multiply all over the great floor; smoke and smell begin to rise from countless candles.
The lamps on the sepulchre itself are lighted. The dark recesses of the church have become caverns of flitting ghost flames. A bunch of candles has been let down from the upper balcony and is drawn up to the point of the dome already smoky and hot. The Greek chapel has become a sea of fire. Still the bells ring wildly. The whole church is in flames and the very air quivers with the heat.
The holy fire disappears; the bells cease ringing. The crowds press toward the one entrance, where in former years so many have been crushed to death. The grey old church belches forth madmen, madmen bathing themselves in hot was, scorching their hair and chests with the flickering candles. The Armenian procession has already cleared a path around the sepulchre and is majestically circling the sacred tomb. The tourists in the galleries light their candles to be carried back to Canterbury or Kokomo, Inverness or Cape Town, as souvenirs of a passion play in which thousands of misguided actors fill an heroic stage. This is the garden of Nero revised; a gigantic spectacle where Christians again become living candlesticks
There is no comedy in such a display. To the ignorant, this is the fire from God Himself, sent done as a heavenly blessing.
The tired faces of the women as they crush the spluttering wax in their fevered hands, the triumphant look of the solemn pilgrims almost make one cry out in anger at the awful hoax. To these pilgrims, however, it is the El Dorado of countless dreams and years of toil and saving. To them it is real; they live it; they believe.
But climbing down form the platform, and showing incongruous silk hose and dainty slippers as she slowly descends, is our typical tourist. Her hat is awry. A triumphant smile in her eyes. She is the picture of amused curiosity In one hand she holds a bent and twisted candle. The painted flowers which once decorated it are now gone and its end is blackened with the holy fire. This is the irreverent side of the spectacle.
The honest-faced pilgrim clutches his candles to his breast and a look of “peace that passeth all understanding” covers his wrinkled face. Beside him is the amused sightseer, who draws aside her narrow skirts in passing. This Jerusalem at Easter time.
The railway which formerly carried Christian tourists from Jaffa to Jerusalem had other significance than as a pilgrim line, but the unique railway of the Near East is the Hejaz Railway, which was built stubbornly opposed by the desert Arabs because they feared it would rob them a chance of robbing.
BEIRUT, THE HOME OF AN AMERICAN COLLEGE
Beirut is of great interest to Americans for it is in this city that the Syrian Protestant College is situated. This great institution ranks with Robert College, on the Bosporus, and these two American schools have had a tremendous leavening power throughout the Near Eastern situation was never borne in on me as strongly as when I taught a course in universal history in that cosmopolitan university of 1,100 students, representing a dozen races and a half dozen religion. When the class was studying Egyptian history, there were three or four Egyptian members who had devoted the best years of their early life to memorising the feats of the Pharaohs. By the time the lesson turned to Greek history the eight or nine Greeks in the class saw this as their grand opportunity to dazzle the others with the splendour of the age of Pericles, and those who were interested in athletics introduced the name of the original Marathon runner in order to impress the non-Greeks and embarrass their teacher.
Mohammedan history divided the class into two factions, Christian and Moslem, and, although the Christians were a unit when it came to showing how unimportant Mohammedan was, when it came to a history of the Inquisition, several weeks later, this not only gave the Moslem students a chance to develop strange coughing fits, but divided the Christians themselves into factions of Greek, Gregorian, Abyssinian and Protestant, not to mention Copt, Maronite, and infidel.
The striking fact about that heterogeneous class was that they differed on details, but that they differed on details, but that they agreed on principles, and no one can say how much democracy a son of a Turkish pasha is getting until the son of a poor Armenian widow discusses with him the fall of Abdul Hamid. Beirut is the centre of modern Arabic literature effect on the thought life of Arabic-speaking lands.
ANOTHER STONE PAGE IN HISTORY'S RECORD BOOK
The cosmopolitan make-up of the student body at the Syrian Protestant College only serves to remind one that this part of the coast has been traversed for many centuries by the peoples and armies of many nations.
A few miles north of Beirut, at the point were Dog River enters the sea, the foothills of the Lebanon come down to the very shore of the Mediterranean, and since soldiers and armies have always sought to travel on the level whether they have fought that way or not, the passage of this point where sea and mountain meet was always a difficult feat.
One army after another cut its path along the towering cliffs, and when the passage of this narrow defile was thus insured, the commanders left the record of their passing. Who the first men were no one knows, for the troops of Napoleon III, in passing this point, were too lazy to turn over a new leaf they simply inscribed their record on a limestone page from which the record of some ancient Egyptian had been erased by the hand of time.
But the first record that still stands was left by the armies of the most favours of the Pharaohs, Rameses the Great, when they were on their way northward to wage war against the Kheta or Hittities.
The great Assyrian, Ashurnasirpal, left his record here and his successors, Shalmaneser and Adadnirari, did the same. Then there was a lapse of more than a century, from 812 to 705 B.C., when Sennacherib and his son Esarhaddon had their names chiselled in this stone book of history.
WHERE AN ALIEN PRINCE OF MECCA LEARNED TO HANDLE MEN
Although the Egyptian records testify of the glory of the Hittites, it was not until a year before the outbreak of the World War that any orderly evidence about this people came to light. One of the two archaeologists who found the key to the Hittite mysteries was T.E. Lawrence, now colonel in the English army, major-general of the Arab forces, champion of Arabian rights in Syria and alien Prince of Mecca.
The story of how a tow-headed, anaemic youth, once forced by invalidism to leave the halls of Magdalene College. Oxford, and seek health in tramping through Syria, later won over the Arabs to the Allied cause and enabled General Allenby to win a decisive victory in Palestine, is replete with romance.
This brilliant and modest young scholar first won fame as an archaeologist at Carchemish, where the Baghdad Railway bridges the Euphrates, and, in view of the success he has since attained in dealing with Orientals, it may be permissible to quote from my article about him and his colleague, Mr. C. Leonard wooley, which was published in 1913.
“Both Wooley and Lawrence are disappointing archaeologists I expected to find grey-haired old men with spectacles and a scholarly stoop., Lawrence is apparently in his early twenties, a clean-cut blond with peaches and cream complexion which the dry heat of the Euphrates Valley seemed powerless to spoil.
“He wore a wide-brimmed Panama, a soft white shirt open at the throat, and Oxford blazer bearing the Magdalene College emblem on the pocket, short white flannel “knickers”, partly obscured by Scotch decoration hanging from the belt, which did not, however, obscure his bare knees, below which he wore heavy grey hose and red Arab slippers.
“Woolley is hopeless as an archaeologist. He is young and friendly and as companionable as a college chum. Surely not the stuff of which archeologiests are made.
“But I fancy these two young men are competent to hold down the Carchemist 'digs' for a while at least; for better than their years of excavating and their skill in using French, German, ancient and modern Greek, Turkish and Arabic, is their remarkable knowledge of men.
“I cannot give a correct estimate of their worth as archeologiests, but I do say that they know more about handling Orientals than any man I have met during my two years in Syria.”
ANCIENT RULES AT A CROSS-ROADS OF FUTURE EMPIRE
Yet in the year that passed before I was again their guest, these two youths firmly established their claim to the title of archaeologists of the first rank, and Lawrence's power to handle men has since proved the deciding factor in swinging the Arabs from loyalty to Turkey, as the head of Mohammedanism, to the whole-hearted co-operation with Christian forces in the capture of Jerusalem and Damascus.
Carchemish in those spring days of 1914 was more interesting than we then realised; for there Britisher and German were working side by side, the one to establish another intellectual link with the past, the other to weld a new material link for a future empire.
But for the friendly intervention of the Kaiser, whose later disregard for the plans of world power, the Baghdad Railway would have furrowed its path through the incomparable treasures of Carchemish, and priceless examples of ancient art might have been ground to dust beneath the iron chariot of modern commerce.
But for the aid that Wooley and Lawrence gave to the German empire-builders when the rising Euphrates clutched jealously at the piles of the temporary bridge, their second structure would have been carried away by the flood as was their first.
Lawrence, who later aided in Germany's downfall, then succeeded in introducing the Kurds, Arabs, and Syrians, whom the Germans had offended to return to their tasks and save the bridge, which was a thorn in the side of British pride and an important step in the challenging advance of Germany toward the coveted gates of India.
The excavators had built an unimposing but comfortable hut, the floor of which was of Roman mosaic that had been brought thither from a group of ruins several miles away. Lawrence and Wooley regarded Roman ruins as quite modern and common. They took much more pride in the unglazed Hittite cups, 4,000 years old, from which we sipped our Turkish coffee.
A KURDISH GLEE CLUB WITH COLLEGE TRIMMINGS
Our entertainer one evening was a Kurd singer. In order to reach the hut, I had walked for miles through the darkness of a thunderstorm, in the midst of which a flash of lightening showed me that I was standing on the brink of a test shaft 20 feet deep, and I was glad when I reached the cosy residence of the amiable excavators.
My friends welcomed me most heartily, and soon my football sweater, with its big orange K, took its place with the white blazer trimmed with red, worn by Lawrence, and Wooley's of bright green, trimmed with white. It was, it one overlooked the Kurdish musicians huddled at the far end of the room, a most “collegey” - looking group. The air was thick with smoke from Hogarth's pipe and Wooley's cigar, and the wind outside could whistle chilling tunes without detracting from the cosiness of the low room and its dark, rich hangings.
The grizzled Kurd who was to sing sat quietly awaiting his turn, in his deep-set eyes a far-away look, and with his shepherd's pipe across his lap. Beside him was a Kurd who could well pose as a model man of the desert - swarthy of skin and clear of eyes, this thin lips compressed to a narrow line, his sun scarf draped gracefully around his head and neck.
MUD WALLS OBLITERATED BY THE POWER OF THE SONG
The accompanist had a peculiar musical instrument, whose counterpart can be seen in the Hittite carving of three thousand years ago. Perhaps the skill of a hundred generations animated his fingers. Certainly it was no modern music that came from the mandolin-like affair with the long neck and the small body. It was a spirit of the ancient days returned to play for the men who had rediscovered the site of the brilliant Hittite capital.
Hogarth rapped the ashes from his pipe and threw his leg over the arm of the easy chair. Lawrence, the blond Oxonian, curled down into the throne-like seat, in which his white suit stood out from the soft-toned background of a Persian rug. Wooley motioned the musicians to begin. The accompaniment seemed to be the who of the winds that swept across the Euphrates and moaned as they passed on across the city of ruins.
But it was something different when the old singer blew a few notes on his pipe. The windy wastes were now inhabited. The spirit of man animated the scene with the sad, shrill cry of a creature in pain. The figures of the room were blotted out. This was no concert music, designed for bright lights and well-dressed audiences. A soul was stirring in that flute, an out-of-door spirit communing with its God across vast distances, but with a sense of sympathetic nearness.
He began to sing. I started at the first note. It was a protest against the wrongs of the Angel of Death, a plea for mercy at the hands of a determined despot. Each note was wrung from the heart of a despondent soul, fearing, pleading, crying out for a relief that would never come.
The eyes of the singer were fixed; the cords of his throat were visible under his swarthy skin. The veins of his forehead stood out under his dark kaffiyeh, and with each line he seemed to swallow, to choke back a sob that was springing to his lips. For some time I could not turn my head. I had forgotten the others. I could not understand the words of the singer, but the music wrenched my heart. I turned to Wooley and asked what the man was singing. It was the lament of a Kurdish woman whose husband, Said Ahmed, the greatest of warriors, had been brought home dead. I understood the sorrow of the song, its harrowing complaint against an unkind Fate.
REVENGE SET TO KURDISH MUSIC
Then, in an instant, the music changed. The notes were the same; the rhythm was unaltered. The singer was as still as if he were carved out of rock, but the soul-stirring complaint of the bereaved wife at the death of her loved one was changing to the cunning, low, tense song of a Jael at the side of Sisera. Revenge was taking place of despair. Hatred was blotting out womanly love. The funeral chant was fast becoming a battle-song, in which the hatred of a race was stirring murder in the hearts of her hearers. This woman, after kneeling by the side of her husband's dead body, had raised herself to a proud height, and with outflung arms like Davidson's “France” was praying that his tribe would avenge her husband's death. A Fury, with ghastly face and disordered hair, was hurling Death back upon itself, was already sucking sweetness from the thought of pillage and bloodshed. A note of victory crept into the awful chant. Then Deborah's song of conquest and thankfulness burst forth - cruel, menacing, exultant.
In a moment it was over. Only the shrill sound of the pipes remained. The woman, having seen her tribe depart on its mission of revenge, was once more at the side of her loved one, whose cold lips would not respond to her long, passionate kiss.
WHERE THE BAGDAD RAILWWAY CROSSES THE MESOPOTAMIAN RUBICON
Just south of the Hittite ruins at Carchemish the Baghdad Railway crosses the muddy Euphrates and enters Mesopotamia. For the present the line to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf will monopolise the attention of the road-builders; but slowly and surely the iron pathways of commerce will extend north to the copper fields of Asia Minor and the rich plains where Turkish tobacco is grown, up through Armenia to the Caucasus, across Persia to Turkestan, and across Afghanistan or Baluchistan to the gates of India.
Through communication with central Asia may rob the wharf at Beirut of many colourful groups of Mecca pilgrims from both Turkestans, and soon even the Peking Mohammedan may take a pilgrimage to Mecca by rail; but this improvement of communication will induce stability and make less likely another destructive migration by the free-ranging Central Asian nomads, who are an anachronism in a crowded world.
War may not be entirely a thing of the past, but the Syrian and Mesopotamian routes are essential to the commercial and industrial development of Europe and the cultural development of Asia. While wars may come and while Syria is sure to be deeply affected by every conflict in which in which European or Asiatic nations are involved, the downfall of Turkish control in this region is likely to do away with such disastrous street fighting as has for centuries discouraged traffic along the world's greatest historic highway.