428 PICTURESQUE PALESTINE.
The government at Constantinople is supposed to bear the expense of the yearly present
to Mecca; but urgent calls for money in other directions have thrown the burden largely upon
Damascus. The yearly cost to Damascus of the caravan is about ,£40,000. In 1876 it was
,£42,575; and in 1877 £o9>°91- Isaiah spoke of " the burden of Damascus" (xvii. 1). This
language would be appropriate if used with reference to the present financial condition of this
ancient city. The expenses connected with the Haj form only one of its burdens. In 1873
and 1874 the fifth army corps, numbering twenty-two thousand men, was quartered in Syria,
and had to be provided for entirely by this district. This is mentioned as a sample, since it
bears a similar burden continuously. It supports also a police force of four thousand men.
Furthermore, there is an army of officials employed in the civil branches of the government
who have in some way to be supported. To crown all, the home government sometimes
demands more money than the entire revenue of the'city. An illustration of the management
of affairs in Syria is furnished by the official estimate for the revenue of the Damascus district
in the year 1873, which was £"2,381,255, while the actual amount received was only ,£629,337.
Considering all the facts, the statement will occasion no surprise that the debt of the city
increases year by year. In 1872 the debt of Damascus was ,£350,000, which amount, in two
years from that date, or in 1874, had actually doubled, all of which bore a compound interest of
18 per cent.
In this district agriculture is the chief source of revenue ; but those who have watched the
progress of affairs under the present government for a series of years testify that " not only is
the zone of agriculture in the valleys of the Anti-Lebanon yearly contracting to a most alarming
extent, but the inhabitants are also fast disappearing." The farmer is pressed for taxes
until he is obliged to mortgage his crops or his land for money, on which he pays an exorbitant
interest. When the year comes round he has obtained no relief, and is in no better
condition to meet the inevitable and inexorable demands of the government. A new loan
is effected, but on more ruinous terms than before. At last, in despair, he takes refuge in
flight. In this manner, and on this account, the inhabitants of an entire village sometimes
disappear in a single night. Such cases are not unfrequent. One sees north and south of
Damascus, and elsewhere in Syria as well, many abandoned villages; but unless one is
familiar with the facts, he might not perhaps suspect that this depopulation was due far more
to the usurer and tax-gatherer than to the wild Arabs to whom it is usually attributed. It
may be of interest to mention further that all such accounts, especially arrears of taxes, are
kept open, and even if the land should be tilled by strangers, the fruits of their labour
would be seized to fulfil obligations said to have been incurred by the soil in times past.
If the Turkish Government, instead of practically robbing its own people, would help
them to develop the resources of the country, the revenues would soon be more than ample
for all its needs. Thus, while Damascus has an antiquity before which we stand amazedj
and a long history that is at once thrilling and brilliant, the present condition of the city
and its inhabitants is such as to call forth the deepest sympathy from the civilised world.