Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/495

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481
THE CIRCASSIAN SLAVE IN TURKISH HAREMS.
THE CIRCASSIAN SLAVE IN TURKISH HAREMS.

By Mrs. ELLEN BATTELLE DIETRICK.

ONE of the curious anomalies of history is found in the existence of a race whose men are characterized by a passionate love of freedom, equaling that of a William Tell, but whose women habitually accept slavery as the most desirable of earthly conditions. No more thrilling story of spirited resistance to an invader can be found than that of the long struggle of Circassia against the persistently encroaching Slav. After forty years of continual warfare, overwhelmed by Russia's superior wealth and numbers, thousands of Circassians voluntarily chose expatriation rather than abide in their native land under the yoke of the conqueror, and deserted en masse the best part of the country, to take refuge in Turkey. Yet; from the time Circassia was first known to Europe, it has been the regular custom of these independence-loving, self-governing mountaineers to sell the sisters and daughters whose beauty has given chief fame to the name of Circassian; and, difficult as it may be for an American generation reared to abhor slavery to credit the statement, the testimony that these beautiful Circassians gladly accept, and even hasten to meet, their sale is too universal for doubt upon this point. The mystery, however, is largely solved when we learn that to the women of Circassia slavery and marriage are purely synonymous terms. To them slavery has meant an exchange from a laborious life of poverty in the mountains to that of ease and luxury as a wife — either chief or secondary — in a city harem. To the Turk, Circassian slavery has meant purchasing a wife to whom he need not give the name wife unless he choose (the sultans never thus distinguish any woman), and thus obtaining one or more companions who will, almost without doubt, be more obedient and contented in that capacity than any one he might secure from among the women of his own blood and rank in society. A Turkish woman of to-day writes: "Formerly a Turk rarely married his countrywoman; on the principle, I suppose, that 'exchange is no robbery,' he would marry a Circassian slave, and give his sister to a Circassian man slave, or to some penniless Circassian subaltern in the Turkish army. This was caused by the innate love of power existing in both sexes. A Turkish girl wedded to her equal would, by the laws of religion, feel herself obliged to treat her husband with nearly servile respect, while, when wedded to one so decidedly her inferior, she would be mistress in her own house, and, reigning supreme over her husband and slaves, would never fear a rival."

Far from dreading their sale, the girls of Circassia look for-