1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bagdad (vilayet)

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BAGDAD, or Baghdad, a vilayet of Asiatic Turkey, situated between Persia and the Syrian desert, and including the greater part of ancient Babylonia. The original vilayet extended from Mardin on the N. to the Persian Gulf on the S., and from the river Khabor on the W. to the Persian frontier on the E. From the middle of the 17th century, when this region was annexed by the Turks, until about the middle of the 19th century, the vilayet of Bagdad was the largest province of the Turkish empire, constituting at times an almost independent principality. Since then, however, it has lost much of its importance and all of its independence. The first reduction in size occurred in 1857, when some of the western portion of the vilayet was added to the newly created sanjak of Zor. In 1878 the Mosul vilayet was created out of its northern, and in 1884 the Basra vilayet out of its southern sanjaks. At the present time it extends from a point just below Kut el-Amara to a point somewhat above Tekrit on the Tigris, and from a point somewhat below Samawa to a point a little above Anah on the Euphrates. It is still, territorially, the largest province of the empire, and includes some of the most fertile lands in the Euphrates-Tigris valleys; but while possessing great possibilities for fertility, by far the larger portion of the vilayet is to-day a desert, owing to the neglect of the irrigation canals on which the fertility of the valley depends. From the latitude of Bagdad northward the region between the two rivers is an arid, waterless, limestone steppe, inhabited only by roving Arabs. From the latitude of Bagdad southward the country is entirely alluvial soil, deposited by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, possessing great possibilities of fertility, but absolutely flat and subject to inundations at the time of flood of the two rivers. At that season much of the country, including the immediate surroundings of Bagdad, is under water. During the rest of the year a large part of the country is a parched and barren desert, and much of the remainder swamps and lagoons. Wherever there is any pretence at irrigation, along the banks of the two great rivers and by the few canals which are still in existence, the yield is enormous, and the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates in the neighbourhood of Bagdad and Hilla seem to be one great palm garden. Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid II. personally acquired large tracts of land in various parts of the vilayet. These so-called senniehs are well farmed and managed, in conspicuous contrast with the surrounding territory. Canals and dikes have been constructed to control and distribute the much-needed water, and the officials are housed in new buildings of substantial appearance. Indeed, wherever one finds a new and prosperous-looking village, it may be assumed to belong to the sultan. These senniehs are an advantage to the country in that they give security to their immediate region and certain employment to some part of its population. On the other hand, they withdrew large tracts of fertile and productive land from taxation (one-half of the cultivated land of the vilayet was said to be administered for the sultan's privy purse), and thus greatly reduced the revenue of the vilayet.

The chief city of the vilayet is its capital, Bagdad. Between the Euphrates and the Arabian plateau lie the sacred cities of Kerbela or Meshed-Hosain, and Nejef or Meshed Ali, with a population of 20,000 to 60,000 each, while a number of towns, varying in population from 3000 to 10,000, are found along the Euphrates (Anah, Hit, Ramadieh, Musseyib, Hilla, Diwanieh and Samawa) and the Tigris (Tekrit, Samarra and Kut el-Amara). The settled population lies entirely along the banks of these streams and the canals and lagoons westward of the Euphrates, between Kerbela and Nejef. Away from the banks of the rivers, between the Euphrates and the Tigris and between the latter and the Persian mountains, are tribes of wandering Arabs, some of whom possess great herds of horses, sheep, goats, asses and camels, while in and by the marshes other tribes, in the transition stage from the nomadic to the settled life, own great herds of buffaloes. Of the wandering Arab tribes, the most powerful is the great tribe of Shammar, which ranges over all Mesopotamia. In January and February they descend as low as the neighbourhood of Diwanieh in such numbers that even Bagdad is afraid. Here and there are regions occupied by a semi-sedentary population, called Madan, occupying reed huts huddled around mud castles, called meftul. These, like the Bedouin Arabs, are practically independent, waging constant warfare among themselves and paying an uncertain tribute to the Turkish government. In general, Turkish rule is confined to the villages, towns and cities along the river banks, in and by which garrisons are located. Since the time (1868-1872) of Midhat Pasha, who did much to bring the independent Arab tribes under control, the Turkish government has been, however, gradually strengthening its grip on the country and extending the area of conscription and taxation. But from both the racial and religious standpoint, the Arab and Persian Shi‛as, who constitute the vast bulk of the population, regard the Turks as foreigners and tyrants.

Of crops the vilayet produces wheat (which is indigenous), rice, barley (which takes the place of oats as food for horses), durra (a coarse, maize-like grain), sesame, cotton and tobacco; of fruits, the date, orange, lemon, fig, banana and pomegranate. The country is naturally treeless, except for the tamarisk, which grows by the swamps and along the river-beds. Here and there one sees a solitary sifsaf tree, or a small plantation of poplars or white mulberries, which trees, with the date-palm, constitute the only timber of the country. The willows reported by some travellers are in reality a narrow-leaved variety of poplar.

Besides the buffaloes and a few humped Indian oxen, there are no cattle in the country. Of wild animals, the pig, hyena, jackal, antelope and hare are extremely numerous; lions are still found, and wolves and foxes are not uncommon. Snipe and various species of wild fowl are found in the marshes, and pelicans and storks abound along the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris. Fish are caught in great numbers in the rivers and marshes, chiefly barbel and carp, and the latter attain so great a size that one is a sufficient load for an ass. The principal exports of the province are coarse wool, hides, dates and horses. At various points, especially at Hit, and from Hit southward along the edge of the Arabian plateau occur bitumen, naphtha and white petroleum springs, all of which remain undeveloped. The climate is very hot in summer, with a mean temperature of 97° F. From April to November no rain falls; in November the rains commence, and during the winter the thermometer falls to 46° F.

Cholera is endemic in some parts of the vilayet, and before 1875 the same was true of the bubonic plague. At that date this disease was stamped out by energetic measures on the part of the government, but it has reappeared again in recent years, introduced apparently from India or Persia by pilgrims. There are four great centres of pilgrimage for Shi‛ite Moslems in the vilayet, Samarra, Kazemain, a suburb of Bagdad, Kerbela and Nejef. These are visited annually by tens of thousands of pilgrims, not only from the surrounding regions, but also from Persia and India; many of whom bring their dead to be buried in the neighbourhood of the sacred tombs.

Unpleasant, but not dangerous, is another disease, the so-called "Bagdad date-mark," known elsewhere as the "Aleppo button," &c. This disease extends along the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and the country adjacent from Aleppo and Diarbekr to the Persian Gulf, although there are individual towns and regions in this territory which seem to be exempt. It shows itself as a boil, attacking the face and extremities. It appears in two forms, known to the natives as male and female respectively. The former is a dry scaly sore, and the latter a running, open boil. It is not painful but leaves ugly scars. The natives all carry somewhere on their face, neck, hands, arms or feet the scars of these boils which they have had as children. European children born in the country are apt to be seriously disfigured, as in their case the boils almost invariably appear on the face, and whereas native children have as a rule but one boil, those born of European parents will have several. Adult foreigners visiting the country are also liable to be attacked, and women, especially, rarely escape disfigurement if they stay in the country for any length of time. The boils last for about a year, after which there is no more likelihood of a recurrence of the trouble than in the case of smallpox.

The area of the vilayet is 54,480 sq. m. The population is estimated at 852,000; Christians, 8000, principally Nestorians or Chaldaeans; Jews, 54,000; Moslems, 790,000, of whom the larger part are Shi‛as.

See[edit]

  • G. le Strange, Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate (1901); The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate (Cambridge, 1905).
  • V. Cuinet, La Turquie d'Asie (Paris, 1890).
  • J. P. Peters, Nippur (New York and London, 1897).
  • Ed. Sachau, Am Euphrat und Tigris (Leipzig, 1900).
  • A. V. Geere, By Nile and Euphrates (Edinburgh, 1904).
(J. P. Pe.)