Imagens das páginas

any words; but such a tale is worth repeating, however inadequately. And whatever may be our future relations with Russia, or however I myself may one day fare at her hands, I am still glad to remember that I have had so many friends among the men who did these things, and among the nation which produced them.



My story draws to a close; but before concluding, I must say a few words respecting the present attitude of Russia in Central Asia, and the results which that attitude is likely to produce. My opinions must be taken for what they are worth, as the fruit of a necessarily hasty and superficial survey of a region into which no Englishman is ever admitted ; but the subject is worth venturing upon, even at the risk of failure. The Khiva Expedition marks the point at which the action of conflicting forces in Central Asia ceases to be purely internal, and becomes complicated by influences from without; and the importance of the events which the next few years may witness, can hardly be exaggerated.

In the first place, then, it is worth while to remember what many of us seem rather apt to forget, that, in Central Asia as it now exists, Russia is met by no counterpoise whatever. One by one, the independent powers of the East have fallen beneath her blows, till she now stands idle from sheer lack of antagonists. The campaign of 1865 broke the power of Kokan; the campaign of 1868 overthrew Bokhara; the campaign of 1871 annihilated Kouldja; and all three (though the two former are still permitted to keep up the farce of an independent sovereignty) are in reality mere vassals of the Czar. One truly independent power still survived— the little oasis of Khiva, the acknowledged centre of the desert guerillas, the last stronghold of Mussulman fanaticism, the rallying point of all that still preached and battled against the "Western unbeliever." Khiva has now fallen in its turn; and, from the shores of the Caspian Sea to the borders of China, there is but one Governor-General, and the Turkestan News is his prophet.

But conquest is not always subjugation; and the Russians are established in Central Asia merely as the Normans were in England after Hastings, It has been repeatedly asserted by Russian journalists, and believed by many who ought to know better, that the Russian rule has been accepted in the East not merely with submission, but with absolute joy. Few statements have ever been wider of the truth. The real feeling of the Asiatic tribes to their new masters may best be gathered from a brief glance at recent events:

1870. —Secret agreement set on foot between the Ameer of Bokhara and the Afghans, by which the latter pledges himself to dismiss the Russian Ambassador on condition of the support of ten thousand Afghan troops in the event of a war. (This compact fell to the ground only through the timidity of the Ameer himself.)

1871. —Khan Zadeh, Crown Prince of Kokan, while on a visit to Tashkent, secretly distributes large sums among the Mussulman priesthood, and foments AntiRussian intrigues. Later on in the same year, dangerous riots occur at Khodjent and Kette-Kourgan, in which a Russian doctor is killed, and several officials seriously hurt. About the same time, several hundred native families desert their homes in Russian Turkestan, and emigrate to Bokhara.

1872. —The Ameer of Bokhara agrees to admit the Afghans into the town of Koolab and the fortress of Kerki (the key of Southern Bokhara), in order to strengthen himself against an expected attack on the part of the Russians. In the autumn of the same year several Russian posts are attacked and plundered.

1873. —In February, several hundred Kirghiz families migrate from the Mangishlak Peninsula to Khiva; and prayers are offered up in Tashkent itself for the success of the Khivans against the Russian expedition. A month later, the Yamouds settled along the right bank of the Attreck migrate en masse to the Persian side.

From all this it will be seen, that Russia's "march of civilisation" in the East is merely a path over cooled lava, and that any strong impulse from without would suffice to rekindle the flame. In this respect, her position is curiously analogous to our own. To the south of the Himalaya stands British India, with her heel upon the throat of the Sepoy; to the north of it stands Asiatic Russia, with her heel upon the throat of the Turkoman. One blow, dealt well home by either conqueror upon the other, would free the fallen adversary, and change the fortune of the day; but, for the present, we can no more get at Russia than Russia can get at us. Which will be the first to begin?

But before considering this phase of the coming struggle, it is worth while to consider the alternative.

It may safely be assumed that nations do not, like individuals, single out the strongest of their opponents in order to test their own prowess. On the contrary, the game of annexation, when systematically played, is always played by choice with antagonists of inferior calibre ; and it needs but a glance at India and China to discern which of the two is the stronger. In the one scale lies a living and progressive civilisation, walled in by mighty ranges of mountains, guarded by the men before whom Russia fled eighteen years ago, and girt about with a vast belt of neutral territory, any invasion of which would at once arm against the invader the whole strength of Mussulman fanaticism; in the other lies a huge mass of torpid semi-barbarism, helpless from ignorance, festering with corruption, bled to death by intestine warfare, cut down (according to reliable estimates) to one-half its former population within the last twenty years. It surely needs no shrewd Bassanio to " choose the right" in such a case as this.

Granting, then, that Russia's true policy in the East is to plant a firm grasp on Western China before striking at us, how is this object to be attained? Clearly by establishing herself in force on the borders of the moribund empire, and skilfully availing herself of its growing weakness and unending dissensions. This is precisely what she has already done, and is still doing,

« AnteriorContinuar »