No. 954.
Mr. Wurts to Mr. Bayard.

No. 186.]

Sir: Referring to Mr. Lothrop’s dispatch No. 176 of the 30th of last May, on the subject of the opening of the railway to Samarcand, I have the honor to transmit to you, herewith inclosed, a copy and translation of an article from the Journal de St. Pétersbourg of the 11th instant, giving further information about the construction, advantage, and prospects of this new line of commerce, and touching upon points of interest to a branch of our own trade, the exportation of cotton.

In Mr. Lothrop’s dispatch above mentioned reference is made to the construction of a railway through Siberia to the Pacific Ocean. In connection with this subject I had, a few days ago, a conversation with General Annenkoff, the distinguished officer to whose extraordinary energy this country owes the rapid completion of the line to Samarcand. He was very enthusiastic about this Siberian line, and said that the Emperor was highly favorable to the project and to its execution with the utmost speed. The general wishes to extend this channel of communication even further, and to effect a connection, through the Aleutian Islands, with a line on the American side of the Pacific coast; and I have reason to believe that it is his intention to endeavor to interest American capitalists in this enterprise. The general is a man of great determination of character and he will, doubtless, before a very distant day, accomplish the first part of his scheme.

The chief importance of the road through Siberia, in the eye of a [Page 1408] military government, is that it shall enable Russia to throw a body of troops into her possessions on the Pacific to serve as an offset to the line from the Atlantic to the Pacific on British territory. But this road also can not fail to have considerable commercial advantages. Many products of China and of other Asiatic countries would take that direction instead of following the old beaten tracks by sea to the markets of the west. For the colonization of Siberia, the southern portion of which is rich in its soil and in minerals and only requiring people there to develop its resources, this road would give valuable assistance to the Imperial Government in its efforts to divert its surplus population from seeking fortune abroad.

At present the number of emigrants who yearly go from European Russia to settle in Siberia is about 40,000, but there has been a sensible increase in this number since the completion of the railway to Orenburg on the Siberian frontier; and this new line will draw with it at its different stages towards the end thousands of settlers to the fertile valleys and plains near the Chinese border.

I am, etc.,

George W. Wurts.
[Inclosure in No. 186.—From the Journal de St. Pétersbourg of July 11, 1888.—Translation.]

The Transcaspian Railway.

A Russian writer who knows Central Asia, having given attention to it some years, sends us the following communication:

The event of the 15th of May, 1888, will certainly take a prominent place in the history of the civilization of peoples in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Thanks to the extraordinary energy of General Annenkoff, that day, the anniversary of the coronation of their Imperial Majesties, was solemnly celebrated by the inauguration of a railway of 1,345 versts, binding forever the heart of Central Asia, Samarcand, to Russia. It is truely surprising with what rapidity this line, which extends from the borders of the Caspian to the tomb of Tamerlane, was completed.

Since 1880 all western Europe, and especially England, has followed with an attentive eye our successes in Central Asia. In fact, the events were of a nature to interest all the world. The capture of the fortress of Géok-Tépé (January 12, 1881), which led to the final fall of the barbarous domination of the Turcomans; the peaceful annexation of Merv, that proud city which for centuries has troubled its neighbors of Bokhara and Persia; the defeat of the Afghans, near Kouschk, March 4, 1885; the extension of the Russian protectorate over Bokhara—all these events raised the prestige of the Russian name to a great height among the populations of Central Asia, India, Afghanistan, and Persia.

But how has the importance of the rôle of Russia been increased by the completion of this work, by means of which every learned historian and archaeologist may study at his ease the monuments of Samarcand, the most ancient capital of the province of Sogdiana, erected on the ruins of the monarchy of Alexander, or may undertake archaeological excavations among the ruins of the ancient Merv-Baϊram-Ali! What an immense field is opened to commerce by the new line! Thanks to it, the rich Turcoman carpets, the wool of merinos, the silk of Bokhara, the leather, the silk stuffs of Samarcand, and the products of the minor Industries of those countries can in twelve or thirteen days not only reach the Russian commercial centers, but also those of Paris, Vienna, Berlin, and London.

It is therefore but natural that the solemnity of the 15th of May should have assumed the character of a fete.

The construction of the Trans-Caspian Railway was begun at the close of 1880.

To facilitate the transportation of the food and forage of the troops of General Skobeleff, then on the march from the Gulf Mikhaϊlovsky on Géok-Tépé, a line 22 versts long was built between the gulf and the aoul of Moullahkara. After the capture of Géok-Tépé, in 1881, this line was prolonged to the stronghold of Kizyl Arvat (217 versts). In this state the line was kept up to 1885. When in the month of February of that year alarming news of the situation on the Afghan frontier was spread, it was decided to prolong the railway as a stroke of strategy to the banks of the Amou-Daria. As circumstances required that this work should be completed as soon as possible (the [Page 1409] line between Kizyl-Arvat and Tchardjoui on the Ainou-Daria, was to have a length of 754 versts) its execution was confided to General Annenkoff, who directed the service of the transportation of the troops of the Empire. Facts were not long in showing how well worthy of this confidence was the general. On July 2, 1885, the first rails were placed at Kizyl-Arvat, and from the 29th of November of “the same year the station of Askhabad was open. On July 2, 1886, the line reached the stronghold of Merv, and on November 30 the Bokharan city of Tchardjoui, on the Amou-Daria. At this point the strategic role of the railway ceases.

Nevertheless, the line would certainly not have the importance that it possesses now if it had not been carried on to at least the first convenient center, for instance, the city of Bokhara. Therefore, at the suggestion of the constructor, it was decided the 16th of June, 1887, to build it from Tchardjoui on to Samarcand.

The 16th of January, 1888, the first rails were laid on the right banks of the Amou and the 15th of May the first locomotive came to a stand before the tomb of Tamerlane.

There, in a few words, is the history of the construction of the longest European railway.

We have been particular in stating the precise dates which mark the opening of the different sections of the line, for even on this point the organs of the Russian press do not seem, it appears to us, to be well informed. Have we not seen, as an example, one of the most serious journals affirm lately that the section from the Gulf Mikhaϊloovky to Askhabad was built during the expedition of General Skobeleff? How can it be expected after that, that people should be well informed about this railway?

Without touching upon the strategic nature of the line, we shall concern ourselves only about its value for commerce and industry. It is true that the want of space does not permit us to enter into details.

The writer of these lines has had occasion to visit the Transcaspian territory before and after the construction of the railway. These journeys have enabled him, without in the least being inclined to exaggerate this great undertaking, to see for himself that the railway has animated the desert countries of the Turcomans so that they are now not recognizable. The populations of the cities of Askhabad, Merv, and Tchardjoui have rapidly increased, the sandy island and desert of Ouzoun-Ada is transformed into a bay of the first order, with a town having its streets, squares, bazars, and a church. All these facts confirm the saying of the Yankees that it is not by the populated centers that railways are built, but that it is only necessary for a railway to pass by a desert for it to be transformed into flourishing oasis.

It is entirely owing to a railway that the gigantic undertaking of the restoration of the dike of Sultan-Bent on the Mourgab, destroyed 300 years ago, can be executed and thereby call back into life the ancient granary of Central Asia, If, by the reparation of the dike, the administration of the crown property succeeds in irrigating only one-half of the land which it is expected to reclaim, that is 150,000 instead of 300,000 deciatims (2⅝ acres the déciatim) our spindles can find in Russia one-half of the cotton they need and will no longer have to import it from abroad. Thence it will not be surprising if we see American journals declare that Russia, instead of remaining a consumer of cotton, has become a producer and sends its products to foreign markets.

Let us not, however, be optimists; let us be contented with the prospect of the economy of 90,000,000 of roubles that Russia pays annually for its imports of cotton.

But it is especially the territories of Bokhara, Khiva, and Turkistan that will profit by the building of this line. He who has crossed the superb plain of Zaravschane and has been able to admire the flowers of Samarcand, Katta-Kourgan, Nouveau-Margellan and Taschkent alone can give an account of the importance of this work. If, notwithstanding the entire absence of means of transportation (for one can not consider transportation by camel as a serious thing, the camel supporting a load of from 12 to 16 pouds only (38 pounds the poud), and requiring from two to three months to go from Taschkent to Orenburg) the production of cotton has in 15 years almost doubled in the territories of Khiva, Bokhara, Kokhand, and Turkistan, it is beyond doubt that it will soon be increased tenfold, thanks to the building of the railway.

Moreover, by the finishing of this road, at least half of Iran will pass naturally into the radius of Russian commerce. The economic development will be particularly marked in the rich Persian province of Khorassan, with its holy city of Meshid. Twenty years ago attempts were made on our side to enter into commercial relations with that city, and it was solely on account of the lack of means of communication that they came to nothing. As soon as the carriage road between Askhabad, Koutchan, and Meshid is finished the Transcaspian Railway will receive by this road millions of pounds of merchandise, and the province of Khorassan will again become what it was formerly, the granary of Persia.

A. Rodziévitch.