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Chapter 38

Yezd--Water supply--Climate--Cultivation--Products--Exports and
children--Public schools--The Mushir school--The Parsee
school--C.M.S. mission school--The medical mission--The
hospital--Christianizing difficult--European ladies in
Persia--Tolerance of race religions.

Yezd is the most central city of Persia, but from a pictorial point of view the least interesting city in the Shah's empire. There are a great many mosques--it is said about fifty--but none very beautiful. The streets are narrow and tortuous, with high walls on either side and nothing particularly attractive about them. Curious narrow arches are frequently to be noticed overhead in the streets, and it is supposed that they are to support the side walls against collapse.

There is not, at least I could not find, a single building of note in the city except the principal and very ancient mosque,--a building in the last degree of decay, but which must have formerly been adorned with a handsome frontage. There is a very extensive but tumbling-down wall around the city, and a wide moat, reminding one of a once strongly fortified place.

To-day the greater portion of Yezd is in ruins. The water supply is unfortunately very defective and irregular. There are no perennial streams of any importance, and all the irrigation works are dependent on artificial subterranean canals and kanats, and these in their turn are mostly subject to the rain and snow fall on the hills surrounding Yezd. Unluckily, the rains are now neither frequent nor abundant, and the land has in consequence been suffering severely from want of water. Snow falls in winter and to a great extent feeds the whole water supply of Yezd and its neighbourhood. It is not surprising, therefore, that more than three-quarters of the province of Yezd is barren land, cultivation being under the circumstances absolutely out of the question. Some portions of the province, however, where water is obtainable are quite fertile.

Towards the west the hills show some signs of vegetation, mainly fruit trees. But nothing larger than a bush grows wild, if we except occasional stunted fig-trees. Surrounded by mountains as Yezd is, there are two different climates close at hand: that of the "Kohestan" or hills, temperate in summer but piercing cold in winter, and the other, much warmer, of the low-lying land. In the eastern lowlands the summer heat is excessive, in autumn just bearable, and in the spring the climate is quite delightful. In all seasons, however, with few exceptions, it is generally dry and always healthy and pure.

Where some moisture is obtainable the soil is very fertile and is cultivated by the natives. The chief cultivated products are wheat, barley, and other cereals, cotton, opium, and tobacco. The vine flourishes near Yezd, and the wines used by the Parsees are not unpalatable. Mulberries are cultivated in large quantities. Silk is probably the most important product of the Yezd district. Wild game is said to be plentiful on the mountains. With the exception of salt, the mineral products of the district are insignificant.

Yezd is a great trading centre, partly owing to its geographical position, partly because its inhabitants are very go-ahead and enterprising. Yezd men are great travellers and possess good business heads. They go across the salt desert to Khorassan and Afghanistan, and they trade, with India principally, via Kerman, Bandar Abbas, and Lingah, and also to a small extent via Sistan. Previously the trade went entirely by Shiraz and Bushire, but now that road is very unsafe, owing to robbers. Yezd traders travel even much further afield, as far as China, India, Java. During my short stay I met quite a number of people who had visited Bombay, Calcutta, Russia, Bokhara, and Turkestan.

The settled population of Yezd consists mostly of Shia Mahommedans, the descendants of the ancient Persian race, with an intermixture of foreign blood; the Parsees or Zoroastrians, who still retain their purity of race and religious faith, and who are principally engaged in agriculture and commerce; a very small community of European Christians, including a few Armenian natives of Julfa (Isfahan). Then there are about one thousand Jews, who live mostly in abject poverty.

The Mahommedan population of the town may be approximately estimated at sixty thousand. Here, even more noticeably than in any other Persian town, there is very little outward show in the buildings, which are of earth and mud and appear contemptible, but the interiors of houses of the rich are pleasant and well-cared for. The miserable look of the town, however, is greatly redeemed by the beauty of the gardens which surround it.

It is to be regretted that the roads in and around Yezd are in a wretched condition, being absolutely neglected, for were there safer and more practicable roads trade would be facilitated and encouraged to no mean degree. As things stand now, indigenous trade is increasing slowly, but foreign trade is making no headway. The silk and opium trades, which were formerly the most profitable, have of late declined. Cottons and woollens, silk, the Kasb and Aluhi of very finest quality, shawls, cotton carpets and noted felts equal if not superior to the best of Kum, are manufactured both for home use and for export.

The exports mainly consist of almonds and nuts, tobacco, opium (to China), colouring matters, walnut-wood, silk, wool, cotton carpets, felts, skins, assafoetida, shoes, copper pots, country loaf-sugar, sweetmeats, for which Yezd is celebrated, etc. Henna is brought to Yezd from Minab and Bandar Abbas to be ground and prepared for the Persian market, being used with rang as a dye for the hair.

The chief imports are spices, cotton goods, yarn, prints, copper sheeting, tin slabs, Indian tea, broadcloth, jewellery, arms, cutlery, watches, earthenware, glass and enamel wares, iron, loaf-sugar, powdered sugar, etc.

The Government of Yezd, as of other cities of Persia, is purely despotic, limited only by the power and influence of the Mahommedan priests, the Mullahs, and by the dread of private vengeance or an occasional insurrection. It is true that the actions of Hakims and Governors and their deputies are liable to revision from the Teheran authorities, but this does not prevent exactions and extortions being carried on quite openly and on a large scale.

The present Governor, Salal-ud-dauleh--"Glory of the state,"--eldest son of Zil-es-Sultan, is an intelligent and well-to-do young man, sensibly educated, who tries his best to be fair to everybody; but it is very difficult for him to run alone against the strong tide of corruption which swamps everything in Persia. He is not in good health, and spends much of his time hunting wild game at his country place in the hills near Yezd. His town residence is a kind of citadel--not particularly impressive, nor clean--inside the city wall. The Naib-ul-Kukumat was the Deputy-Governor at the time of my visit. He seemed quite an affable and intelligent man.

Near the Palace in the heart of the city are the covered bazaars, old and new, and well stocked with goods, but they are in character so exactly like those of Teheran and Isfahan, already described in previous chapters, that a repetition is quite unnecessary. The streets are irregularly planned, and the older ones are very dark and dingy, but the newer arcades are lofty and handsome. The merchants seem--for Persia--quite active and business-like.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the population of Yezd is said to have been one hundred thousand souls, and to have dwindled down to less than thirty thousand in 1868-1870 during the terrific famine which took place at that time. Whether this is correct or not, it is difficult to ascertain, but to-day the city is on the increase again, and the population, as already stated, is certainly not less than sixty thousand. There are numerous Mahommedan hammams (baths)--some 65 or more--in Yezd, but Europeans are not allowed to enter them.

The Yezd people are very forward in educational matters. I inspected some of the schools and colleges, and was much impressed by the matter-of-fact, sensible way in which some of the more modern institutions were conducted. They would indeed put to shame a great many of our schools in England, and as for the talent of children, as compared with English children of the same age, one had better say nothing at all. With no exaggeration, children aged six analysed and reasoned out problems placed before them in a way that would in this country baffle men of six times that age. The quickness of the Persian child's brain is well-nigh astounding, and as for their goodness and diligence, there is only one word that fits them: they are simply "angelic." Their intense reverence for the teachers, their eagerness really to learn, and their quiet, attentive behaviour were indeed worthy of admiration. But it must be well understood that these angelic traits are confined to the school-days only. When they leave school the "angelic" wears off very soon, and the boys, unluckily, drift into the old and demoralized ways with which Persia is reeking.

There are about a dozen public schools in Yezd, but the one conducted on most modern lines is the new school started by the Mushir. If I understood aright, the Mushir provided the buildings and money to work the school for a period of time, after which if successful it will be handed over to be supported by the city or by private enterprise.

The school was excellent. There were a hundred pupils from the ages of six to fifteen, and they were taught Arabic, Persian, English, French, geography, arithmetic, &c. There was a Mudir or head master who spoke French quite fluently, and separate teachers for the other various matters. The school was admirably conducted, with quite a military discipline mingled with extreme kindness and thoughtfulness on the part of the teachers towards the pupils. By the sound of a bell the boys were collected by the Mudir in the court-yard, round which on two floors were the schoolrooms, specklessly clean and well-aired.

While I was being entertained to tea, sherbet, and coffee, on a high platform, I was politely requested to ascertain for myself the knowledge of the boys--most of whom had only been in the school less than a year. It was rather interesting to hear little chaps of six or eight rattle off, in a language foreign to them and without making a single mistake, all the capitals of the principal countries in the world, and the largest rivers, the highest mountains, the biggest oceans, and so on. And other little chaps--no taller than three feet--summed up and subtracted and divided and multiplied figures with an assurance, quickness and accuracy which I, personally, very much envied. Then they wrote English and French sentences on the slate, and Persian and Arabic, and I came out of the school fully convinced that whatever was taught in that school was certainly taught well. These were not special pupils, but any pupil I chose to pick out from the lot.

I visited another excellent institution, the Parsee school--one of several teaching institutions that have been established in Yezd by the Bombay Society for the amelioration of Persian Zoroastrians,--in a most beautiful building internally, with large courts and a lofty vaulted hall wherein the classes are held. The boys, from the ages of six to fifteen, lined the walls, sitting cross-legged on mats, their notebooks, inkstands, and slate by their side. At the time of my visit there were as many as 230 pupils, and they received a similar education, but not quite so high, as in the Mushir school. In the Parsee school less time was devoted to foreign languages.

Ustad Javan Mard, a most venerable old man, was the head-master, and Ustad Baharam his assistant. The school seemed most flourishing, and the pupils very well-behaved. Although the stocks for punishing bad children were very prominent under the teacher's table, the head-master assured me that they were seldom required.

Another little but most interesting school is the one in connection with the clerical work done by the Rev. Napier Malcolm. It is attended principally by the sons of well-to-do Mussulmans and by a few Parsees, who take this excellent opportunity of learning English thoroughly. Most of the teaching is done by an Armenian assistant trained at the C. M. S. of Julfa. Here, too, I was delightfully surprised to notice how intelligent the boys were, and Mr. Malcolm himself spoke in high terms of the work done by the students. They showed a great facility for learning languages, and I was shown a boy who, in a few months, had picked up sufficient English to converse quite fluently. The boys, I was glad to see, are taught in a very sensible manner, and what they are made to learn will be of permanent use to them.

The Church Missionary Society is to be thanked, not only for this good educational work which it supplies in Yezd to children of all creeds, but for the well-appointed hospital for men and women. A large and handsome caravanserai was presented to the Medical Mission by Mr. Godarz Mihri-ban-i-Irani, one of the leading Parsees of Yezd, and the building was adapted and converted by the Church Missionary Society into a hospital, with a permanent staff in the men's hospital of an English doctor and three Armenian assistants. There is also a smaller women's hospital with an English lady doctor, who in 1901 was aided by two ladies and by an Armenian assistant trained at Julfa.

There are properly disinfected wards in both these hospitals, with good beds, a well appointed dispensary, and dissecting room.

The natives have of late availed themselves considerably of the opportunity to get good medical assistance, but few except the very poorest, it seems, care actually to remain in the hospital wards. They prefer to take the medicine and go to their respective houses. A special dark room has been constructed for the operation and cure of cataract, which is a common complaint in Yezd.

The health of Yezd is uncommonly good, and were it not that the people ruin their digestive organs by excessive and injudicious eating, the ailments of Yezd would be very few. The population is, without exception, most favourable to the work of the Medical Mission, and all classes seem to be grateful for the institution in the town.

The school work of the Mission necessarily appeals to a much smaller circle, but there is no doubt whatever about its being appreciated, and, further, there seems to be exceedingly little hostility to such religious inquiry and teaching as does not altogether collide with or appear to tend to severance from the Mussulman or Parsee communities. This is very likely due to the fast extending influence of the Behai sect, the members of which regard favourably an acquaintance with other non-idolatrous religions. These people, notwithstanding their being outside of official protection and in collision with the Mullahs, form to-day a large proportion of the population of Yezd, and exercise an influence on public opinion considerably wider than the boundaries of their sect. As for actual Missionary work of Christianization going beyond this point, the difficulties encountered and the risks of a catastrophe are too great at present for any sensible man to attempt it.

The European staff of the C.M.S. Mission, employed entirely in educational and medical work in Yezd, consists of the Rev. Napier Malcolm, M.A., a most sensible and able man, and Mrs. Malcolm, who is of great help to her husband; George Day Esq., L.R.C.P. & S., and Mrs. Day; Miss Taylor, L.R.C.P. & S., Miss Stirling, Miss Brighty.

The work for ladies is somewhat uphill and not always pleasant, for in Mussulman countries women, if not veiled, are constantly exposed to the insults of roughs; but people are beginning to get reconciled to what appeared to them at first the very strange habits of European women, and no doubt in time it will be less unpleasant for ladies to work among the natives. So far the few English ladies who have braved the consequences of undertaking work in Persia are greatly to be admired for their pluck, patience, and tact.

The Yezd C.M.S. Mission was started in May, 1898, by Dr. Henry White, who had a year's previous experience of medical work at Julfa and Isfahan. He was then joined in December of the same year by the Rev. Napier Malcolm, who had just come out from England. The European community of Yezd is very small. Besides the above mentioned people--who do not always reside in Yezd--there are two Englishmen of the Bank of Persia, and a Swiss employed by the firm of Ziegler & Co. That is all.

The fact that the Persian Government recognizes the "race religions," such as those of Armenians, Parsees and Jews, has led many to believe that religious liberty exists in Persia. There is a relative tolerance, but nothing more, and even the Parsees and Jews have had until quite lately--and occasionally even now have--to submit to considerable indignities on the part of the Mullahs. For new sects like the Behai, however, who abandon the Mussulman faith, there is absolutely no official protection. Great secrecy has to be maintained to avoid persecution. There seems, nevertheless, to be a disposition on the part of the Government to go considerably beyond this point of sufferance, but wider toleration does not exist at present, nor is it perfectly clear to what length the Government of the country would be prepared to go.