Legations--Germany a stumbling-block to Russia's and England's
supremacy--Sir Arthur Hardinge, British Minister in Teheran--His
talent, tact, and popularity--The British Legation--Summer
quarters--Legation guards--Removal of furniture.
As late as 1872 there were only four Legations in Teheran: the English, French, Russian and Turkish; but since then the Governments of Austria, Belgium, Holland, and the United States have established Legations in the Persian capital. By the Persians themselves only four are considered of first-class importance, viz.: the British, Russian, Turkish and Belgian Legations, as being more closely allied with the interests of the country. The Austrian Legation comes next to these in importance, then the German.
American interests are so far almost a negligible quantity in Persia, but Germany is attempting to force her trade into Persia. In future, if she can realise her railway schemes in Asia Minor, Germany will be a very serious stumbling-block to England's and Russia's supremacy, both in North and Southern Persia. Germany's representative in Teheran is a man of considerable skill and untiring energy. No doubt that when the opportune time comes and Germany is ready to advance commercially in the Persian market, England in particular will be the chief sufferer, as the British manufacturer has already experienced great difficulty in contending with the cheap German goods. Even in India, where transport is comparatively easy, German goods swamp the bazaars in preference to English goods. Much more will this be the case in Persia when the railway comes to the Persian boundary.
The German Minister is certainly sparing no efforts to foster German interests in Persia, and the enterprising Emperor William has shown every possible attention to the Shah on his visit to Berlin, in order that the racial antipathy, which for some reason or other Persians entertain towards Germans, may with all due speed be wiped out.
To us the British Legation is more interesting at present. We may well be proud of our present Minister, Sir Arthur Hardinge, a man of whose like we have few in our diplomatic service. I do not think that a man more fit for Persia than Sir Arthur could be found anywhere in the British Empire. He possesses quite extraordinary talent, with a quick working brain, a marvellous aptitude for languages--in a few months' residence in Persia he had mastered the Persian language, and is able to converse in it fluently--and is endowed with a gift which few Britishers possess, refined tact and a certain amount of thoughtful consideration for other people's feelings.
Nor is this all. Sir Arthur seems to understand Orientals thoroughly, and Persians in particular. He is extremely dignified in his demeanour towards the native officials, yet he is most affable and cheery, with a very taking, charming manner. That goes a much longer way in Persia than the other unfortunate manner by which many of our officials think to show dignity--sheer stiffness, rudeness, bluntness, clumsiness--which offends, offends bitterly, instead of impressing.
A fluent and most graceful speaker, with a strong touch of Oriental flowery forms of speech in his compliments to officials, with an eye that accurately gauges situations--usually in Persia very difficult ones--a man full of resource and absolutely devoid of ridiculous insular notions--a man who studies hard and works harder still--a man with unbounded energy and an enthusiast in his work--a man who knows his subject well, although he has been such a short time in Teheran--this is our British Minister at the Shah's Court.
Nor is this faint praise. Sir Arthur Hardinge has done more in a few months to save British prestige and to safeguard British interests in Persia than the public know, and this he has done merely by his own personal genius and charm, rather than by instructions or help from the home Government.
While in Teheran I had much opportunity of meeting a great many high Persian officials, and all were unanimous in singing the praises of our new Minister. Many of them seemed very bitter against some of his predecessors, but whether the fault was in the predecessors themselves or in the home Government, it is not for me to say. Anyhow, bygones are bygones, and we must make the best of our present opportunities. The staff at our Legation and Consulate is also first-class.
It is to be hoped, now that the South African war is over, that the Government will be able to devote more attention to the Persian Question, a far more serious matter than we imagine; and as extreme ignorance prevails in this country about Persia--even in circles where it should not exist--it would be well, when we have such excellent men as Sir Arthur Hardinge at the helm, in whose intelligence we may confidently and absolutely trust, to give him a little more assistance and freedom of action, so as to allow him a chance of safeguarding our interests properly, and possibly of preventing further disasters.
It is not easy for the uninitiated to realise the value of certain concessions obtained for the British by Sir Arthur Hardinge, such as, for instance, the new land telegraph line via Kerman Beluchistan to India. Of the petroleum concessions, of which one hears a great deal of late, I would prefer not to speak.
The Legation grounds in Teheran itself are extensive and beautiful, with a great many fine trees and shady, cool avenues. The Legation house is handsomely furnished, and dotted all over the gardens are the various other buildings for secretaries, attachés, and interpreters. All the structures are of European architecture--simple, but solid. In summer, however, all the Legations shift their quarters to what is called in Teheran "la campagne de Golahek, de Tejerish, de Zargandeh,"--by which gracefully misleading and misapplied terms are indicated the suburban residences of the Legations, at the foot of the arid, barren, hot, dusty Shamran range of mountains.
Golahek, where the British Legation is to be found, does actually boast of a few green trees in the Legation grounds; and a cluster or two of nominally "green" vegetation--really whitish brown--can be seen at Zargandeh, where the Russian and Belgian Legations are side by side, and Tejerish, where the Persian Foreign Office and many Persian officials have their summer residences.
The drive from Teheran to Golahek--seven miles--is dusty beyond words. There are wretched-looking trees here and there along the road, so dried and white with dust as to excite compassion. Half-way to Golahek the monotony of the journey is broken by a sudden halt at a khafe-khana, into which the coachman rushes, leaving the horses to take care of themselves, while he sips refreshing glasses of tea. When it suits his convenience he returns to splash buckets of water between the horses' legs and under their tails. This, he told me, in all seriousness, was to prevent sunstroke (really, the Persian can be humorous without knowing it), and was a preventive imported with civilised ways from Europe! The ears and manes of the animals are then pulled violently, after which the horses are considered able to proceed.
The Persian Government gives each Legation a guard of soldiers. The British Legation is guarded by infantry soldiers--an untidy, ragged, undisciplined lot, with cylindrical hats worn at all angles on the side of the head, and with uniforms so dirty and torn that it is difficult to discern what they should be like. Nearly all other Legations are provided with soldiers of the (Persian) Cossack regiment, who are infinitely better drilled and clothed than the infantry regiments. They are quite military in appearance. It was believed that these Cossacks, being drilled by Russian military instructors, would not be acceptable at the British Legation, hence the guard of infantry soldiers.
The Russian Legation has two additional Russian cavalry soldiers.
The country residences of all the Legations are quite comfortable, pretty and unpretentious, with the usual complement of furniture of folding pattern, so convenient but so inartistic, and a superabundance of cane chairs. Really good furniture being very expensive in Teheran, a good deal of the upholstery of the Teheran Legations is conveyed to the country residences for the summer months. Perhaps nothing is more amusing to watch than one of these removals to or from the country. Chairs, tables, sofas, and most private effects are tied to pack-saddles on ponies, mules or donkeys, with bundles of mattrasses, blankets, and linen piled anyhow upon them, while the more brittle articles of the household are all amassed into a high pyramid on a gigantic tray and balanced on a man's head. Rows of these equilibrists, with the most precious glass and crockery of the homestead, can be noticed toddling along on the Golahek road, dodging carriages and cavaliers in a most surprising manner. They are said never to break even the smallest and most fragile articles, but such is certainly not the case with the heavily laden donkeys and mules, which often collide or collapse altogether, with most disastrous results to the heavier pieces of furniture.
On my arrival in Teheran I received a most charming invitation to go and stay at the British Legation, but partly owing to the fact that I wished to remain in town and so be more in touch with the natives themselves, partly because I wished to be unbiassed in any opinion that I might form, I decided not to accept anybody's hospitality while in Teheran. This I am very glad I did, for I feel I can now express an opinion which, whether right or wrong, is my own, and has not been in any way influenced by any one.