You are here

Chapter 18

Persia's industrial, mineral and agricultural resources--Climate
of various districts--Ghilan's trade--Teheran and the surrounding
country--Khorassan and Sistan--The Caspian provinces--Mazanderan,
Astrabad and Azerbaijan--Russian activity and concessions in
Azerbaijan--Hamadan--The Malayer and Borujird districts--The
nomads of Kurdistan--Naphtha--The tribes of Pusht-i-kuh--The
pastoral people of
Luristan--Arabistan--Farsistan--Laristan--Shiraz wines--Persian

The geographical situation of Persia, its extent, the altitude of its plateau above the sea level, its vast deserts and its mountain ranges, give the country a good selection of climates, temperatures and vegetation. We have regions of intense tropical heat and of almost arctic cold, we have temperate regions, we have healthy regions, and regions where everybody is fever-stricken. Regions with moist air, plenty of water, and big marshes, and dreary waterless deserts.

Necessarily such natural conditions are bound to give a great variety of resources which show themselves in various guises. A quick survey of the agricultural, industrial and mineral resources of the principal provinces of Persia according to up-to-date information may not be out of place, and will help the reader to appreciate the journey through some of the districts mentioned.

We have already been through Ghilan with its almost temperate climate in the lowlands, but damp in the northern portion, where fever is rampant, but where, at the same time, luxuriant vegetation with thick forests, grass in abundance, paddy fields for the extensive cultivation of rice, olive-groves, vineyards, cotton, wheat, tobacco, sugar-cane, fruit and all kinds of vegetables nourish; while the production of silk for export on a large and fast-increasing scale--it might be increased enormously if more modern methods were adopted--and wool and cotton fabrics, mostly for the Persian market, are manufactured. It exports, mostly to Russia, great quantities of dried fruit, wool, cotton, and tobacco (made into cigarettes), salt fish, caviare and oil.

South-east of Ghilan we find Teheran on a high plateau, its situation giving it a delightful and healthy climate, but very scanty agricultural resources owing to lack of water. In and near the capital city there are good gardens, grown at considerable expense and trouble, but very little other vegetation. We have seen in previous chapters what the industries of the capital, both native and foreign, are, and what they amount to; there is also a manufacture of glazed tiles, quite artistic, but not to be compared in beauty of design, colour and gloss with the ancient ones. Teheran is dependent on the neighbouring provinces and Europe for nearly everything.

This is not, however, the case with Isfahan, the ancient capital, in the province of which cotton, wheat, Indian corn, tobacco and opium are grown in fair quantities, the last-named for export. Mules and horses are reared, and there are several flourishing industries, such as carpet-making, metal work, leather tanneries, gold and silver work, and silk and wool fabrics.

To the east we have Khorassan and Sistan, a great wheat-growing country with some good pastures, and also producing opium, sugar-cane, dates and cotton. In summer the northerly winds sweeping over the desert are unbearable, and the winter is intensely cold. In the northern part of Khorassan snow falls during the coldest months, but in Sistan the winter is temperate. Life is extremely cheap for natives in Sistan, which is a favourite resort for camel men and their beasts, both from Afghanistan and Beluchistan. Northern Khorassan is the great centre of turquoise mining; copper and coal are also found there, but its local trade, now that the export of grain is forbidden, is mostly in opium, worked leather, wool and excellent horses, which can be purchased for very little money. Camels, both loading and riding (or fast-going camels) are also reared here in the southern portion of the province, the northern part being too cold for them in winter.

The handsomest and richest districts of Persia, but not the healthiest, are undoubtedly the northern ones on the Caspian Sea, or bordering on Russian territory, such as Mazanderan, Astrabad, and Azerbaijan. In the first two, rice is grown in large quantities, castor-oil, wheat, cotton and barley; and in Mazanderan extensive pasturages are found on the hills for sheep; but not so in Astrabad, which, owing to its peculiar formation, is exposed to broiling heat on the sandy wastes, and to terrific cold on the mountains, but has a fairly temperate climate in the southern portion of the province. These--if the production of silk is excepted--are mostly agricultural districts. At one time Mazanderan had beautiful forests which are now fast being destroyed. Considerable bartering is carried on between the towns and the nomad tribes, in rugs, carpets, horses and mules, against grain, rice, felts and woollen cloths of local manufacture.

Azerbaijan, the most northern province of Persia, with Tabriz as a centre, is very rich in agricultural products, particularly in rice and wheat. Notwithstanding the severe climate in winter, when the snowfall is rather heavy, and the thermometer down to 20° below zero centigrade in February, there are good vineyards in the neighbourhood of Tabriz, and most excellent vegetables and fruit. Tobacco is successfully grown (and manufactured for the pipe and into cigarettes). The heat in summer is intense, with hot winds and dust storms; but owing to the altitude (4,420 feet at Tabriz) the nights are generally cool. In the spring there are torrential rains, and also towards the end of the autumn, but the months of May, June, October and November are quite pleasant.

The local trade of Azerbaijan is insignificant, but being on the Russian border the transit trade has of late assumed large proportions, and is increasing fast. The importation, for instance, of Turkey-reds by Russia is growing daily, and also the importation of silk, in cocoons and manufactured, velvet, woollen goods, various cotton goods, raw wool, dyes (such as henna, indigo, cochineal and others), and sugar, the principal import of all. With the exception of tea, indigo and cochineal, which come from India, the imports into Azerbaijan come almost altogether from Russia, Turkey, Austria-Hungary and France. The Russian trade in sugar is enormous from this quarter.

The carpet trade, which at one time seemed to be dying out, is now about to enter on a prosperous phase; but not so the wool-weaving, which does not go beyond the local market. Firearms are manufactured and sold to the Kurds, and jewellery is made; but the principal exports are dried fruit, raisins, almonds, pistachios, chiefly to Russia and Turkey; also gum, oils, raw metals (copper, iron), hides, precious stones, alimentary products (honey and dried vegetables), various kinds of wood, live stock (mainly sheep and oxen), tobacco, raw and manufactured, dyes, and raw and manufactured cotton and silk, carpets, rugs, and cloth.

All these exports are to Russia and Turkey, and do not all necessarily come from Azerbaijan. The Russians are displaying great activity in this province, and have established an important branch of their "Banque d'Escompte et de Prêts de Perse." They have obtained road, railway, and mining concessions, and according to the report of our consul in Tabriz, the Russian Bank makes advances, to the extent of fifty per cent., to merchants dealing in Russian goods, especially to native exporters of dried fruit, such advances being repaid in Russia by the sale of such produce, or in Persia by the sale of corresponding imports of manufactured goods.

Tabriz itself, being a centre of export of the produce of Northern Persia, is a promising field for banking enterprise, and will assume greater importance even than it has now when the carriage road scheme, a concession which was granted by the Shah, is completed, and furnishes easier communication for trade and travelling purposes. Russian engineers are said to have surveyed and mapped the country for the establishment of a railway system in Azerbaijan.

The mineral resources of Azerbaijan are said to be considerable, iron being found in rich deposits of hematite; sulphur, copper and arsenical pyrites, bitumen, lignite, salt, mineral, ferruginous and sulphurous springs, and variegated marble. A similar geological formation is found extending to Hamadan, where beds of lignite and anthracite exist, and fine marbles and granites are to be found. Here, too, we have a trifling market for local produce, but a considerable transit trade between the capital and Kermanshah, Bagdad and Tabriz.

Hamadan is mostly famous for its capital tanneries of leather and for its metal work; but its climate is probably the worst in Persia, if the suffocating Gulf coast is excepted--intensely cold in winter and spring, moist and rainy during the rest of the year. This produces good pasturages and gives excellent vegetables, wine of sorts, and a flourishing poppy culture--a speciality of the province.

The same remarks might apply to the adjoining (south) Malayer and Borujird districts, which, however, possess a more temperate climate, although liable to sudden terrific storms accompanied by torrential rains. There is a great deal of waste lands in these regions; but, where irrigated and properly cultivated, wheat flourishes, as well as fruit trees, vines, vegetables, poppies, cotton and tobacco. The people are extremely industrious, being occupied chiefly in carpet-making for foreign export, and preparing opium and dried fruit, as well as dyed cottons. Gold dust is said to be found in beds of streams and traces of copper in quartz.

Other provinces, such as Kurdistan, are inhabited by nomadic peoples, who have a small trade in horses, arms, opium, wool and dates; but the cultivation of land is necessarily much neglected except for the supply of local needs. In many parts it is almost impossible, as for five or six winter months the soil is buried in snow, and the heat of the summer is unbearable. There seem to be no intermediate seasons. The people live mostly on the caravan traffic from Bagdad to various trading centres of Persia, and they manufacture coarse cloths, rugs and earthenware of comparatively little marketable value. Naphtha does exist, as well as other bituminous springs, but it is doubtful whether the quantity is sufficient and whether the naphtha wells are accessible enough to pay for their exploitation.

That naphtha does exist, not only in Kurdistan, but in Pusht-i-kuh, Luristan, and all along the zone extending south of the Caucasus, is possible; but whether those who bore wells for oil in those regions will make fortunes similar to those made in the extraordinarily rich and exceptionally situated Baku region, is a different matter altogether, which only the future can show.

The tribes of Pusht-i-kuh are somewhat wild and unreliable. On the mountain sides are capital pasturages. A certain amount of grain, tobacco and fruit are grown, principally for local consumption.

In Luristan, too, we have partly a nomad pastoral population. Being a mountainous region there are extremes of temperature. In the plains the heat is terrific; but higher up the climate is temperate and conducive to good pasturages and even forests. As in the Pusht-i-kuh mountain district, here, too, wheat, rice and barley are grown successfully in huge quantities, and the vine flourishes at certain altitudes as well as fruit trees. The local commerce consists principally in live stock, the horses being quite good, and there is a brisk trade in arms and ammunition.

There remain now the large districts of Khuzistan, better known as Arabistan, Farsistan and Laristan. The heat in these provinces is terrible during the summer, and the latter district is further exposed to the Scirocco winds of the Gulf, carrying with them suffocating sand clouds. If properly developed, and if the barrage of the Karun river at Ahwaz were put in thorough repair, the plains of Arabistan could be made the richest in Persia. Wheat, rice and forage were grown in enormous quantities at one time, and cotton, tobacco, henna, indigo and sugar-cane. But this region, being of special interest to Britain, a special chapter is devoted to it, as well as to the possibilities of Farsistan and Laristan, to which future reference will be made.

The trade in Shiraz wines is fairly developed, and they are renowned all over Persia. Considering the primitive method in which they are made they are really excellent, especially when properly matured. The better ones resemble rich sherries, Madeira and port wine.

Indigo, horses, mules and carpets form the trade of the province which, they say, possesses undeveloped mineral resources such as sulphur, lead, presumed deposits of coal, mercury, antimony and nickel.

Persian Beluchistan is quite undeveloped so far, and mostly inhabited by nomad tribes, somewhat brigand-like in many parts and difficult to deal with. They manufacture rugs and saddle-bags and breed good horses and sheep. Their trade is insignificant, and a good deal of their country is barren. The climate is very hot, and in many parts most unhealthy.