The War Office wire absolutely forbidding me to go to the Caucasus at the present time, so the Germans will get the Baku oil, the Krasnovodsk cotton, the Astrakhan wheat and the Caspian Sea. It is very hard and disappointing. I am to look after Persia only. I suppose Percy Sykes‘ troubles in Southern Persia make them anxious, then Kuchik Khan at Resht, the Turks in Tabriz, the hopelessness of the civil war in Baku and the financial cost – they cannot produce the money. I wired estimated minimum cost 5 million sterling a month.
* for information about the significance of the Krasnovodsk cotton, the Astrakhan wheat and the Baku oil-fields, see here.
Is this to be another case of “too late”? – if nothing has yet happened I honestly believe it is as much due to my policy of ingratiating myself with the people as anything else, that they are quiet so far – But it is vile being helpless without troops. German and Austrian Agents plot against us, the town is full of Turks, the Bolsheviks or Red Guards have a plot to seize the Bank and I could not stop them with my 40 chauffeurs. It is just all bluff, my 40 Ford cars – which are an appalling element of weakness – strike the inhabitants as death-dealing machines, and my brave chauffeurs, who hardly know one end of a gun from another, look like fine soldiers. But distances are enormous – we are over 300 miles from Baghdad – Persia on the verge of a revolution with the cry “kick out the Europeans” and no troops. I have done my best, in sending fierce cables, and the War Office are at last awake to it, but Baghdad is very lethargic. The War Office want me to obtain command of the Caspian Sea – I’ve thought of that all the time – I could seize the gun-boats with a small force, but can’t they see I must have at least one port? If I can get Bicherakov to capture and hold the Menjil Bridge, Resht and Enzeli I might do something – but he is not up to it.
Heavy snow and everything all buried again in white.
The Enzeli Bolsheviks have come up here to get money from the Bank and other purposes. They are very different people here, the situation being reversed, and they sing very small. They say they love the English and hate the Germans and despise Kuchik Khan. They offer us tons of petrol (which we shall never get) and say that on their return they will insist on Kuchik releasing the Resht Bank Manager (Oakshot) and the Consul (Maclaren) whom he arrested the other day. Mc.Murray says “You allowed Kuchik to loot the bank and now you come to me to cash a cheque. I won’t cash it.” So they are very unhappy as it is a big cheque for 300,000 krans [qirans]. This snow to-day will block the Sultan-Bulak Pass [70 miles/110 km south-west of Qazvin] and they will have a job getting back.
Coming from a Sunni country, India, where the Shiah is a despised worm, it is interesting to live in a Shiah country and see the reverse of the picture. Here they talk of “Mahomedans” meaning Shiahs only – Sunnis are Sunnis and outside the pale of Mahomedanism, the Shiah feeling appears even less tolerant than the Sunni. [Read here about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims]
To Enzeli. We stayed half an hour at Resht to see the consul there. He says the situation is very bad. After all this horrible snow and hills and no trees, we ran 50 miles through the most lovely country, beech forests, chestnut, cyclamen, primrose, scented violets, snowdrops, and strawberries in quantities – a lovely country. Towards the Caspian it gets flat and boggy, and one passes through rice-fields. Enzeli is a port with a huge fishing industry – very interesting freezing works. The town is entirely Bolshevik and they have a very good and orderly organization – but we were prisoners from the moment of our arrival. The Revolutionary Committee sent me a message desiring my presence at 8 p.m. at their meeting. I was dining at that hour with Mme. Hunin, the wife of the Belgian Customs Officer, so I took no notice of it which was the wrong thing to do. At 9 o’clock the President and one Member bearded the lion in his den and turned up at the house insisting on seeing me. I sat in a room with them and they proceeded to cross-examine me as to the meaning of this armed British party suddenly descending on them, my destination, my aims etc. I answered briefly and agreed to meet the full Committee at 11 to-morrow.