National Geographic : 1909 Feb
THE MOUNTAINEERS OF THE EUPHRATES* By ELLSWORTH HUNTINGTON THREE thousand years ago the proud kings of Assyria led their trained armies northwestward into the mountainous region of the upper Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The turbu lent mountaineers against whom they ad vanced fled before the civilized soldiers of the Mesopotamian plain and took ref uge in inaccessible heights, leaving their rude villages of mud and stones to be destroyed. Invariably the kings claimed to have defeated the wild upland tribes, as boast ful inscriptions carved in the living rock still prove; but the defeat was never per manent. As soon as the soldiers retired the mountaineers reoccupied their vil lages, and soon began to plunder the low lands as lawlessly as ever. Centuries later, when Xenophon led his ten thousand Greeks from the lower Euphrates northward across the Arme nian plateau to Trebizond, the mountain eers were still untamed. All night they rolled stones down the mountain-side upon Xenophon's army, and were only vanquished by a stratagem. Today the, great empires of Mesopo tamia have fallen; the power of Greece has passed away; but still, as of old, the mountains breed lawlessness, and the mountaineers are the unsubdued scourge of the people of the plains. The lineal descendants of the Carduchi who opposed the march of Xenophon are the Kurds-a sturdy, strong-featured race of Mohammedan Aryans, allied to the Persians on the one hand and to the Armenians on the other. Their home is in the southern part of the Armenian plateau, among the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and in the Zagros Mountains, which run southeast ward from Lake Van to the Persian Gulf and form the boundary between Turkey and Persia. There they tend their flocks ; for the majority are primarily shepherds, although they cultivate the soil so far as possible. Although most of the Kurds possess villages, composed of clusters of low, flat-roofed houses of stone or mud, all the tribes are more or less nomadic. The majority live in dark-brown, many-peaked tents of goats' hair during the summer, not wandering far from home, but merely going up into the high mountains, where it is too cold and snowy to dwell in winter. A considerable number, however, live a purely nomadic life, wandering hundreds of miles along regular routes between the warm plains of Mesopotamia in, win ter and the cool, grassy uplands in sum mer. Among the pure nomads society is organized upon a half-tribal, half-patri archal system, while the semi-nomadic Kurds are either divided into tribes or clans, like those of medieval Scotland, or are ruled by feudal lords, whose power is often absolute. Poverty is the rule among the Kurds; their mountain fastnesses are difficult of access, and they themselves are strong and hardy by reason of their life of exertion. The people of the neighboring fertile lowlands, on the other hand, are relatively well-to-do, and are also com paratively unprotected and averse to war. All these factors combine to make the Kurds a race of plunderers. "No race," says the famous geographer Reclus, "nei ther Baluch, Bedouin, nor Apache, has developed the marauding instinct to a higher degree than have the warlike Kurd tribes." One-of the places where they are most lawless is Dersim, a highly mountainous district lying between the two main branches of the Euphrates River. For scores of years the Turkish authorities, like their ancient Assyrian predecessors, have been vainly trying to bring the Kuzzilbash Kurds of this region into subjection. , Last summer a new oppor tunity seemed to offer itself. The rainfall of the winter of 1907-08 was unpropi tious, and the Kurds succeeded in raising * This is the first of several articles by Mr Huntington describing little known regions of Asia which will be published in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE during 1909.