19th century sources

website of Jelle Verheij, historian

J.G. Taylor is not a well-known traveller. He was British "Consul for Kurdistan"* in the 1860s, alternately based in Erzurum and Diyarbakır. He made extensive travels in his consular area, which included large parts of the current Eastern Turkish provinces. It seems that only three of his travel reports were published, all of them in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society in London.

The lengthy report reproduced here is an account of a long route from Erzurum to Şebinkarahisar, and then on to the eastern districts of Sivas vilayet. His description of Dersim (renamed Tunceli in the late 1930s) is undoubtedly the most interesting part of this travel report. Dersim was in this period almost independent and had rarely been visited by outsiders. According to his own saying only his predecessor Dalyell visited this area before him. After passing through Arapkir and Çemişgezek he entered the Dersim area from the southwest. Taylor made use of the services of a revered religious man to secure his safety on his passage through the tribal area.

In Dersim Taylor visited [with their current names] the districts of Çemişgezek, Ovacık, Hozat, Pertek, Mazgirt and the central district of Tunceli. He did not enter however what he calls "the proper Dersim", that is the northern part of Tunceli, and the districts of Pülümür and Nazımiye. Taylor passed over the Munzur mountains two times, and left Dersim for the south, travelling to Diyarbakır via Harput. He was the first one to discover that the area could be easily passed from north to south, through an area that was believed to be impassable. In a presentation of Taylor's explorations in the Royal Geographical Society it was said that this route "never ... since the days of the Seleucids, traversed by civilized beings [sic, JV], and which the jealousy of the Kurds has hitherto concealed from foreigners, for the obvious reason that the former do not wish it known that so easy a route exists through their formidable mountains." (**)

This report also contains some short reports on the consul's travels from Diyarbekır to districts of Mardin and Urfa provinces.

The presentation of Taylor's exploration in the Dersim area in the Royal Geographical Society in 1868 was received with great enthusiasm, the President of the Society calling it "one of the most elaborate and valuable communications on comparative geography that had ever been made to the Royal Geographical Society" (***)

Taylor was a true discoverer. He rarely travelled over main routes, but preferred strange sideways. His interests seem unbounded, varying from antiquities, history, religion, ethnography, geography, politics, and geology to botany. His observations are moreover an important source for the local history of the period. Like many official British travellers before and after him he was also actively engaged in mapping the areas he visited, taking coordinates and correcting errors on previous maps.

Despite Taylor's detailed route map (not reproduced here), it is quite difficult to trace his routes on modern maps. Although he seems to have known some of the local languages, his spelling of place names is often quite weird.

The topography of the eastern provinces of Turkey was radically changed by Turkey's move, in 1959-1963, to replace all "non-Turkish" names with new Turkish names. Without a guide it would be almost impossible to trace Taylor's route. In the annotations an attempt has been made to give as much as possible the modern Turkish names of the places mentioned by Taylor, together with the current district and province they belong too. Some places could not be identified.

Clicking on the province names mentioned will bring you to the corresponding page of the place name index.

notes

*"Kurdistan" was the official Ottoman name for the province of Diyarbekir in Taylor's time. The British continued  to use this name for their consular district until the mid 1890s, although the Ottomans by that time had already dropped it.

** Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 12/5 (1867-1868) pp.302-305 (p. 303) ***idem, p.304