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Berlin-Baghdad Bahn / Berlin-Baghdad Railway

Berlin to Baghdad mapJohann Georg von Siemens was one of the founders of the largest German bank institutions, the Deutsche Bank. He was a member of the family which has given the German electrical industry international fame. The new bank became not only a pioneer of German industries, but also an important factor in the foreign relations of the Empire, which it helped by the introduction of German capital to Turkey in Asia Minor, thereby securing the German Government a much more influential position with the Porte than it ever held before. He secured the concession for the Anatolian railways in 1888, which were to blaze the way for German supremacy in what now remains of the Turkish Empire. In 1889 von Siemens proposed an "Imperial Ottoman Baghdad Railway" [a BBB line — Berlin, Byzantium, Bagdad] following a Berlin-Byzantium-Baghdad route, initially extending the existing Anatolian Railway to Ankara. French and English financiers were approached, but they declined to participate.

As an industrial enterprise, the project of a railway through a most notable historic region, and passing along a route which had resounded to the tread of armies thousands of years ago, was fraught with great possibilities of usefulness in opening up the nearer East to brisk trade with Europe that would follow in the wake of the locomotive, and in infusing the young Western spirit into the old East, carrying western ideas, western modes of education, and western science to the mother-lands of civilization. The railway would also prove to be a short cut to India and the farther East, and as such the undertaking was on a plane of importance with the cutting of the Suez Canal.

In 1895 Germny obtained the enormous concessions that were bound up with what is known as the "Baghdad Railway Scheme," designed to bring the Persian Gulf into direct communication with Berlin. The Berlin to Baghdad railroad would be the link to the east to offset the Suez Canal and there began actual increase of German influence and pressure in the Balkans and in Turkey. It was further intended, by reason of the kilometer guarantees, the forestry, mining and other rights, which appertain to the concessions, to eventually bring the bankrupt Ottoman Empire completely under the sway of Germany. So great a triumph for Prussian Diplomacy required a special visit from the Kaiser himself, who made his famous journey to Palestine in October 1898 and eventually his declaration at the Tomb of Saladin, where he declared himself the "Protector of Islam."

The Anatolian Railway and the Bagdad Railway, when finished, would be monuments to Herr von Siemens's activity, a fact which was appreciated by the Emperor when he raised the financier to the Prussian nobility. But by 1900 the negotiations carried on by the Anatolian Railway Company in reference to the extension of their lines to Bagdad and the Persian Gulf had progressed slowly. After the return of the expedition sent to make the necessary surveys, the actual route to be followed had been agreed upon with the Turkish Government. The construction of the line remained, however, dependent upon the provision of a suitable guarantee by the Ottoman Government. In consequence of better crops having been harvested in the districts served by the Anatolian lines, a satisfactory improvement had taken place in the traffic receipts. Arthur Gwinner was the pupil and understudy of Johann Georg von Siemens. Soon after Siemens died on 23 October 1901, Gwinner became his successor.

Since the political aspect of affairs in the Near East is always unsettled, and German supremacy depends very largely upon the life of Abdul Hamid, it has been the aim of German policy to engineer an international combination which, while protecting her specific interests in the Baghdad Railway, would introduce the co-operation of other great powers—Great Britain, France, and Austria, but particularly Great Britain. Inspired by this view, almost before the terms were agreed upon in 1902, the interests of the Deutsche Bank were discreetly testing the feeling of financial circles in London and Paris as to the joint construction of the proposed line. From these preliminary overtures, matters passed, in the spring of 1903, to direct proposals that Great Britain and France should co-operate in the construction of the Baghdad Railway.

The original plan had been to carry on the transcontinental line, not from Konia, but from Angora, the northern extension of the Anatolian Railway system, through Sivas and Diarbekir to the Tigris. The Sultan had from the first strongly favored that plan, as it presented great strategical advantages from the Turkish point of view, enabling troops to be moved up rapidly in case of need all along the line from Baghdad towards the Russian frontier beyond Erzeroum. But the Germans, who had doubtless received some intimation of the views held in St. Petersburg, which subsequently found diplomatic expression in the "Black Sea Basin" agreement of March, 1900, decided to reject the northern route in favour of the southern one. From Konia the first section of the new railway as far as Eregli presents no serious difficulties. It continues to run so far over the Anatolian plateau at an altitude of about 3,000 feet.

But, after reaching Eregli, it is immediately confronted by the great mountain barrier which separates the Anatolian plateau from the plains of Mesopotamia. Advantage was to be taken first of the wild canon of the Chakit Su, which cleaves the Taurus range in twain, and then of the historic pass known as the Cilician Gates, through which the path of conquest has been trod in turn by many an invading army, from the days of Xerxes and Darius down to those of the great Egyptian, Ibrahim Pasha. Thence the railway will cross the small and fertile plain of Adana, before scaling the second but less formidable rampart which falls away in easier slopes towards the basin of the Euphrates and the Tigris. The two sections from Eregli to Adana, and from Adana to Tell-Habesh, where the branch line would diverge to Aleppo and Northern Syria, would certainly prove the most difficult and costly of all, as they would necessitate altogether nearly a hundred miles of blasting and tunnelling.

In March 1903, Gwinner obtained the Baghdad Railway concession from Sultan Abdul Hamid, and, in the capacity of President of the Anatolian and Baghdad Railway Companies, assumed supreme control of both properties. The trade was issued on 16 January 1902, and the final form of the convention was signed on 05 March 1903, at Constantinople. The terms of the concession were exceedingly onesided, and imposed upon Turkey the penalty of an unusually heavy kilometric guarantee, aggregating, when the contribution to the working expenses of the completed sections is combined with the payments on behalf of further construction, but little less than a million sterling a year, when due allowance is made for probable revenue.

Although promises of limited French support were forthcoming at once, the proposals put forward in London were of an impossible character, and were finally declined. In April 1903 British Prime Minister Balfour declined to participate in the proposals for the international construction of the Baghdad Railway, which were put forward by German interests. British oil interests would have benefited, but the British would have only a 25% interest in the enterprise versus a 35% German share. The right-wing press quickly registered their opposition.

With regard to the construction of the line, as of 1908 it was planned that the gauge was to be 1.435-1.455 metres inside the rails; and in connection with the train service, there was to be a daily service of ordinary trains, a weekly express between Haidar Pasha and Aleppo, and a fortnightly service to the Gulf. For the first five years speed was to be restricted to 45 kilometres per hour, which would make the journey between Constantinople and the Gulf a matter of three days. Later it was proposed to accelerate the service and reduce the time to fifty-four hours. The initial capital was fixed at 15,000,000 francs, but 15,000,000 sterling would not improbably be required before the venture was completed. Of the sum mentioned, the parent company must subscribe ten percent, while the Ottoman Government may contribute an equal sum, the affairs of the company being administered by a council of eleven members, three of whom are to be nominated by the Anatolian Company, three by the Turkish Government, leaving five seats for all other interests.

Berlin to Baghdad mapImportant features of the concession were the minor rights which accompanied it; embracing mining, agricultural, quarrying, and timber rights within a zone 20 kilometres wide from either side of the railway, they were capable of furnishing important supplementary revenues. Further, the company was exempt from taxation, and all material and everything in connection with the construction was free from customs duty, while it had been granted the right to found ports on the Tigris at Baghdad, at Basra, and at the future terminus on the Gulf, as well as unrestricted liberty of navigation on the Tigris and Euphrates, thus acquiring potential control over the inland waterways of Mesopotamia.

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Page last modified: 15-11-2011 18:54:33 ZULU