From Samsun to Cappadocia and Beyond with Henry Fanshawe Tozer. Part 1
Muslim refugees had flooded in from the Balkans and Caucasus, victims of the expansionist policies of imperialist Russia. Their arrival upset the natural balance of the longer-established Anatolian people -- Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Kurds and other ethno-religious groups. In 1874 a major famine had decimated the population, state taxes went uncollected.
The sultanate was in disarray with Abdul Aziz forced to step down in 1876. His successor, Murad V, had a nervous breakdown and was deposed later the same year, paving the way for the paranoid Abdul Hamid II to take over the ailing empire. The war with Russia, which began in 1877, was to have disastrous consequences as well. Faced with the loss of vast swathes of territory, the Ottomans had no choice but to accept the help of Britain, who in 1878 obtained the island of Cyprus in return. The sultan also agreed to respect the rights of the empire's substantial Christian population and British officials penetrated the remotest parts of Anatolia to supervise the implementation of the agreement.
Amasya’s famous apples (Photo: Cihan)
Over the mountains from Samsun to Amasya
Given the parlous state of Anatolia in the 1870s, it's no wonder that Tozer cancelled his original trip, scheduled for 1874, and waited until the final year of the decade to set out into Anatolia. Like so many travellers' before him, he made the first part of the journey -- from Constantinople (İstanbul) to Samsun -- by boat. Tozer's travelling companions were TM Crowder, the bursar of Corpus Christi, Oxford, and a Greek dragoman whom Tozer noted with faint praise as “a rough and far from first-rate travelling servant, but hardy and healthy, and possessing a thorough knowledge of Turkey.”
Tozer was less than enthusiastic about the Black Sea port of city Samsun when his ship docked, writing: “Samsun is inconsiderable in size and by no means imposing in appearance. … There are few minarets and the most conspicuous building is a church of recent construction.” Rather like a backpacker today setting off for some less visited part of Turkey, Tozer sought information about the lay of the land from other foreigners who had been there before, in his case the French consul in Samsun. His words were a stark warning: “You must not think of starting for several days; you must wait until a caravan is formed. … The roads are thoroughly unsafe owing to Circassians and other brigands.”
Undeterred, Tozer eventually managed to scrape together five horses for the journey and set-off at three o'clock that afternoon. “Fortified by a firman from the sultan,” Tozer and his companions were officially sanctioned to roam across Anatolia and were able to enlist a couple of military guards, one Turk and one Circassian to accompany them. A “post boy” also accompanied them to care for the steeds as Tozer had persuaded the official postmaster in town to provide him with horses -- Samsun then being the last stop before Constantinople on the postal route between the Baghdad and the Ottoman capital.
Four mountain chains and one “verminous inn” later the party reached Amasya. They stayed in a caravanserai right by the turbid Yesilırmak river, opposite the chief draw of the town even today, the “famous ‘Tombs of the Kings,' which were the principal object of our visit.” Equally exciting to the Oxford-educated geographer Tozer was that he was now in the birthplace of one of the most famous geographers in antiquity, Strabo (63 BC-AD 24), “to whom everyone who is interested in ancient geography is so much indebted.”
En route to visit another foreign consul stationed in Anatolia high up above the river, Tozer “stopped to admire the magnificent view… the town lying beneath you, with its trees and minarets, the river spanned by several bridges, the rocky heights on both sides.” For the British academic this was heady prose and praise indeed, as rarely did the phlegmatic Tozer allow romance to colour his descriptions.
From the land of the Hittites to Kayseri
Next the party rode across yet more mountains to Çorum and then onto Alaca. Today the impressive pair of Hittite-era sphinxes flanking a gateway there are replicas, while the originals are on display in Ankara's splendid and recently renovated Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. Tozer was privileged to see the originals still in situ, noting, “It was impossible not to feel astonishment at these strange objects lying in such a remote place.” Archaeology was very much in the embryonic stage at the time of Tozer's travels, so it is not surprising that at the party's next goal, Boğazkale, there is virtually no description of the extensive remains of the former Hittite capital of Hattuşa. It had simply not been uncovered. Tozer did manage, however, to view the delightful relief-carved scenes of Hittite warriors and deities at nearby Yazılıkaya.
Continuing their journey southward, the party reached Yozgat, then a settlement of “3,000 families, 50 of whom are Greek, 1,000 Armenian, the rest Turkish” and were struck by “the unusual cleanness of the town.” Tozer attributed this to the wealth generated by Yozgat's principal product -- Angora wool. Their next destination was Kayseri, a four days ride away. There they lodged in the Armenian quarter, hosted by Kerope Yakobian, a protestant pastor who had spent two years undergoing training for his ministry in Scotland. Today booming Kayseri has a population of well over 1 million. According to Tozer, in 1879 it comprised just 60,000 souls of which 16,000 of were Armenian, 4,000 Greek and the remainder Turkish.
Like many visitors to Kayseri both before and after him, Tozer was fascinated by the spectacular volcanic peak of Mount Erciyes, rising above the city in unearthly, snow-capped splendour. Unlike the vast majority of travellers, however, Tozer was determined to climb this 3,916 meter high-peak. Guided by an elderly Armenian called Stephan the party camped at 2,700 meters. The next day they rose at 2 a.m. and carrying only “a piece of meat and some bread each” made their way up a snow-filled gully to the summit ridge, which they reached at 6 a.m. They reached the actual summit well ahead of their guide, who struggled up manfully behind them. The spectacular views were “as wonderful a sight as can be conceived,” allowed the normally guarded geographer.
Cappadocia (Photo: DHA)
From Cappadocia to Sivas
The next day they headed west to Cappadocia. Today this unique and beautiful region is so rammed with boutique cave hotels and overflown by squadrons of hot-air balloons that it's hard to imagine it as the little-visited backwater it was at the time of Tozer's expedition. They lodged in Ürgüp with a Greek called “Capitan Oglu” who took them to Göreme the next day. Tozer described the area as “a valley, perhaps three-quarters of a mile in length, which has been scooped out to a depth of five hundred feet. … The cliffs fall steeply on both sides, sometimes with sheer descent, sometimes in a succession of terraces… and about these terraces… were pinnacles, obelisks, pyramids and broken towers of tufa, presenting the wildest scene of confusion.” At least Cappadocia's topography has changed but little since Tozer's day.
The party returned to Kayseri before setting out on the four day ride northeast to Sivas. En route they visited the Armenian monastery of Surp Garabed, passed a salt lake and explored the famous caravanserai at Sultanhanı. The village surrounding it is still a scruffy sort of place, out of keeping with the grandness of the remains of the caravanserai. Even back then it was “a small, poverty-stricken village.” Of Sivas itself Tozer had little to say, but he used the time he spent there to talk to the locals and reflect on what they thought of the current state of affairs in Anatolia. “The opinion prevailed that the present regime was intolerable. On this subject there was no difference; Mahometans and Christians, natives and foreign residents, all thought alike.”
Çifte minareli medrese, Sivas (Photo: DHA)
Across the Euphrates to Harput
Tozer and his entourage left Sivas on Aug. 12 and after a further four days riding they reached the Euphrates, always a thrilling moment for the traveller, especially a geographer. The famed river presented “a wild but most impressive scene” being “about 300 feet wide…the current strong.” Tozer wasn't so impressed by the craft that would take them to the eastern shores of the biblical river for “it was of extremely crude and primitive construction… 30 feet long by 15 feet wide, flat bottomed…had it been roofed over, it would not have made a bad Noah's Ark.”
They overnighted at Keban, today best known for its dam. Even then the silver mines, which had previously brought much prosperity to the settlement, were exhausted. They lodged at the house of a wealthy Armenian before riding on to Harput. Today a rather forlorn collection of ruins outside Elazığ, Harput was then a flourishing Armenian town and a centre of American protestant missionary activity in Eastern Anatolia, well-known for its theological seminary and English language school (renamed Euphrates College not long after Tozer's visit), but is now completely destroyed.
Tozer was enchanted by Harput, writing of the panorama from the ruined castle at its heart. “After the dreary scenery of the Anti-Taurus, I hailed with delight the change to bold, sharply cut mountain outlines and brighter colouring… we now seem to have reached a new and more romantic land.”
For Tozer, the real adventure was about to begin.
Henry Fanshawe Tozer's “Turkish Armenia and Eastern Asia Minor” can be read online at https://archive.org/details/turkisharmeniaea00tozeuoft.