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BAGHDAD RAILWAY / ANATOLIAN RAILWAY: يولجى رهبرى [Passenger Guide].



A highly attractive and informative ‘Passenger’s Guide’ for Turkey’s Anatolian Railway, which was in the process of being extended to finally complete the Baghdad Railway, running from Istanbul to the Iraqi capital, a project that had been viewed for decades as of the upmost geopolitical importance; published by the Anatolian-Baghdad Railway Company on the eve of its nationalization by President Atatürk; written entirely in Ottoman Turkish, containing a history of the railway project, plus information on current operations; illustrated with attractive vignettes imbedded within the text and a fine folding map.

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Small 8° (17 x 12 cm) Pamphlet: 65 pp., plus folding colour printed railway map of Turkey (25 x 32.5 cm), bound in original colour printed boards (Very Good, overall clean and crisp, old minuscule repairs to gutter of final leaf and hinge of map but not affecting map proper; covers with minor shelf wear and slight stains).


This is a highly attractive ‘Passenger’s Guide’ to the Anatolian-Baghdad Railway system that had for almost four decades been a lighting rod of geopolitics, while a major driver of economic development in Turkey.  In the mid-19th Century, the Ottoman Empire had dreamed of creating the first railway across Anatolia, the heartland of the Turkish people.  Economic and political upheaval meant that this project got off to a slow start, and it was only in 1890s, with German investment and technical support, that the railway crossed up into the Anatolian Plateau, reaching Ankara and Konya.  In 1903, Germany endeavoured to complete the line to Baghdad, in order to create the Berlin-Baghdad Express (Bagdadbahn), which if realized would make Berlin the dominant power in the Middle East (at the expense of Britain and France).  However, the herculean project could not be finished in time for World War I and was left to be completed by Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s new republican regime and the nominally independent Kingdom of Iraq; the line was finally opened form Istanbul to Baghdad in 1940.

The present work is beautifully designed and features the history and contemporary operations (with train schedules) of the Anatolian and Baghdad railway system, with the lengthy text published entirely in Ottoman Turkish (Turkey would not switch to using a Latin alphabet until 1928), embellished with numerous pictorial vignettes.  It notablly features a fine custom folding map depicting not only the Anatolian-Baghdad lines, but the entire railway system of Turkey.  The works was published in 1926 by the Chemins de Fer d’Anatolie Baghdad (CFAD, Turkish: T.C. Anadolu Bağdad Demiryollari) that operated the lines on the eve of their nationalization, the following year. 


The Nearly Impossible Dream of the Baghdad Railway

During the mid-19th Century building a railway from Istanbul across Anatolia (and beyond) became a passion for the Sublime Porte.  Anatolia was the cultural heartland of the Turkish people, yet the interior of the peninsula, while rich in natural resources and agricultural bounty, was universally recognized to be performing far below its economic potential.  This was largely since travel through the incredibly rugged, vast terrain was nightmarishly difficult.  This had negative effects not only upon local economies, but also upon the general welfare of the empire.  For instance, while the area around Ankara could produce vast quantities of wheat cereals that could feed Constantinople, the brutal overland trek between the cities took on average 16 to 18 days, making the journey unprofitable.  Moreover, the great difficulty of moving troops quickly into the interior left Anatolia vulnerable to revolution and foreign invasion (namely from Russia).  The Sublime Porte’s ambition of transforming the Ottoman Empire into a modern state was being undermined by a lack of good transport and communication links. 

Sultan Abdulaziz was enthusiastic about building an Anatolian Railway, founding the Ottoman Government Railways Company for that purpose in 1871.  The enterprise was directly funded by the Ottoman Treasury and the initial plan was to build a line from Constantinople to Ankara, and then, hopefully, beyond across Anatolia towards Iraq.  The project was directed by the legendary German engineer Wilhelm Pressel.

The Constantinople terminus of the railway was established at Haydarpaşa and the first leg to Pendik was completed on September 22, 1872.  The line was further extended to Gebze (by the beginning of 1873) and Izmit by August 1873.  While this route serviced the densely populated Marmara region, it amounted to only 92 km, and was considered the ‘easy part’, for constructing the long-distance track across the Anatolian Plateau to Ankara promised to be immensely expensive and technically challenging. 

The sultan asked Grand Vizier Izzet Pasha to draft a proposal to continue the railway to Ankara on August 1, 1875.  However, the Empire’s default on its foreign debt froze these plans, while the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 furthered the delay.

After many false starts due to economic and political challenges, in 1888, a French-led international consortium applied to gain the concession to complete and operate the Anatolian Railway.  However, Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876 – 1909) had grown weary of this group of inventors who likewise controlled the Empire’s public debt, imposing severe conditions upon the Sublime Porte.  Moreover, he was disenchanted with the Anglo-French compact that had long manipulated his country and he sought a new international partner – Germany.

In what can be seen as a geopolitical turning point, marking the Ottoman Empire’s pivot to Berlin, and to the utter shock of the French-led investors, the Sultan awarded the Anatolian Railway concession to a group of German investors led by Deutsche Bank.

Importantly, Deutsche Bank’s ‘coup’ was deeply political.  It represented the newly enthroned Kaiser Wilhelm II’s first bold move against British and French domination in the Near and Middle East.  In truth, the Germans had only limited interest in building a railway merely across Anatolia – they really wanted to build the line all the way form Istanbul to Baghdad, a distance of 2,300 km; and perhaps even further to Basra, a port with access the Persian Gulf.  While it was assured to be one of the most difficult feats of engineering ever undertaken, it promised to utterly transform geopolitics in Berlin’s favour. 

Accordingly, the Germans pledged to underwrite 30 million Gold Marks in Ottoman industrial debt and to assume most of the construction costs of the Anatolian Railway.  Deutsche Bank incorporated the Anatolian concession into the Société du Chemin de fer Ottoman d’Anatolie (CFOA) on October 4, 1888.  While the railway enterprise was subject to Germany’s national interest, to give the project legal cover, the CFOA was placed under the technical auspices of a Swiss holding company, the Bank für Orientalische Eisenbahnen.

Deutsche Bank subcontracted the building of the CFOA to the firm of Philipp Holzmann.  Construction commenced forwards from Adapazarı in May 1889 and the line to Ankara was opened on December 31, 1892.  The Ankara route was to be a spur line, as the main line of the Anatolian Railway was to run through Konya, the connection to which was completed on July 25, 1896.

The completed lines of the CFOA succeed in dramatically advancing the economy of West-central Anatolia, raising tax revenues and improving the living standards of its residents.  The value of the tithes along the railway route rose from TL 145,378 in 1889 to TL 215,470 in 1898.

In 1903, the CFOA was finally able to formally reorient the ultimate destination of Anatolian Railway, giving birth to the Berlin-Baghdad Express (Bagdadbahn).  This became nothing short of an obsession for Germany all the way up into World War I. 

The construction of the Bagdadbahn continued into the conflict but was not finished during the wartime period.  The sections through the Tauris and Nur (Amanus) Mountains proved to be far too difficult to complete under the circumstances.  While the partially-finished line permitted Ottoman troops to arrive in Baghdad from Istanbul in 21 days, at a speed much shorter than the British had expected, it is generally regarded that Germany’s inability to finish the line was a one of the decisive factors in the Central Powers losing the war.

Upon the end of World War I, the Baghdad Railway had been completed to Nusaybin, 1,237 km east-southeast of Istanbul, but still approximately 480 km short of Baghdad (while a short line of track had been completed in Iraq running north from the capital). 

In 1924, CFOA was reconfigured as the Chemins de fer d’Anatolie Baghdad (CFAB, the sponsor of the present ‘Passenger’s Guide’).  On June 1, 1927, President Atatürk nationalized the CFAB as part of his great nationalist-economic agenda.  In 1929, it was soon merged into the newly founded State Railways of the Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları, TCDD) which would eventually become a national monopoly.

Construction of the Baghdad Railway continued until it was completed in 1940.

References: Özege, no. 23489.

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