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THE ASIAN

MYSTERY.

CHAPTER I.

GEOGRAPHY AND DESCRIPTION OF THE ANSAIREE COUNTRY.

If the reader will take any map of Syria which has some pretensions to accuracy, and will look at the sea-coast, he will find in the parallel of latitude 35° 30' the town of Ladikeeh, the Laodicea of Seleucus Nicator, now known through the tobacco exported from it; which tobacco is grown in the neighbouring mountains.

These mountains, which are the special abode of the $ Ansaireeh*, he will find to the east of Ladikeeh, stretching from north to south, and called by names as various as the different maps which he may consult.

The Ansairee mountains are separated on the south from the Lebanon range, by the entrance into Hamath, a valley through which run the roads from Tripoli to Hamah, and from Tartoos to Hums, and also flows the ancient Eleutherus, the Nahr-il-Chebeer of to-day. To the north they are separated from the mountains, of which Mount Cassius forms the conspicuous western termination,

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*

By Arab writers they are called An-Nusaireeyah. I have written Ansaireeh as the nearest English imitation of the pronunciation of the people themselves, when they speak of themselves by that name. They usually style themselves Fellaheen, that is, peasantry,

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by a pass and valley, over and through which runs the road from Ladikeeh to Aleppo.

But though these mountains are so almost exclusively inhabited by the Ansaireeh as to be called by their name, and in them is found the nucleus of the Ansairee nation, and though in them and the neighbouring plains alone are they governed by their own chiefs, and hold their lands directly from government, yet the Ansairee population of Syria is by no means confined to them.

They are the chief cultivators of the plain, which stretches on the west of the mountains, from Wady Kandeel, about four hours, or twelve miles, to the north of · Ladikeeh (where the ground begins to swell into the range of Cassius), to the district of Safeetah and the Nahr-ilChebeer, twenty-two hours, or sixty-six miles to the south. On the east the narrow strip of ground between the mountains and the Orontes, stretching to the south from Djisr-ish-Shogher on the Aleppo road to the distance of about thirty miles, belongs to them, and they possess villages in the wide plain which stretches east to Hums and Hamah, in which last is a miserable quarter inhabited by them.

To the south of the Eleutherus or Nahr-il-Chebeer, considerable numbers are to be found in the district of Kulaat-il-Husn, and in the more southerly district of Akkar.

To the north of Wady Kandeel they form part of the peasantry of the range of mountains which are bounded on the west by Mount Cassius, and by the Orontes on the east and north. Along the valley of the Orontes, in the plains of Antioch, they are to be found in great numbers, from Suadeiah, on the sea-coast, near the ancient Seleucia, fifteen miles to the west of Antioch, to the Djisril-Hhadeed, twelve miles to the east, where the road from Antioch to Aleppo crosses the Orontes. Three hours, or nine miles further on, on the east of the Orontes, and on the right hand of the road to Aleppo, is to be seen the castle of Harim. In the mountains which stretch from it towards the south is found a group of Ansairee villages, as also in the district of Il Roodj, hard by to the east.

In Antioch itself they form a large element of the population, and are to be found along the sea-coast from it to Scanderoon, especially in the neighbourhood of Arsoos, the Rhosus of Ptolemy.*

Leaving Syria for a moment, and crossing the ancient bay of Issus, they abound in the districts of Adana and Tarsoos, the ancient Tarsus. In Syria, far away to the south, in the lower extremity of the Wady-il-Taym, near Banias, the ancient Cæsarea Philippi, are the three Ansaireeh villages of Anfeet, Zaoorah, and El Ghudjr.f

To conclude: in that east country which was the cradle of their religion, remnants of them still exist. An Ansairee sheikh from Bagdad, who spent two days in my house in the Ansairee mountains, assured me that there were some five hundred Ansaireehs in Bagdad, and declared that there was a town in Persia exclusively inhabited by them.

Before proceeding to give the estimated number of this people, I will attempt to give some idea of the geography, physical and otherwise, of the Ansairee mountains and the country adjacent.

Mount Cassius rises to the north of Ladikeeh and near the mouth of the Orontes, in a magnificent cone of some

* The parts about Rhosus are described by Carl Ritter, Erdkunde, Theil xvii. Kap. 27.

+ I was once prevented from visiting these villages when on my way to them, I will, therefore, give here the information I have been able to procure from my friend, Rev. J. E. Ford, American missionary at Sidon, being obtained by him from various sources. Anfeet, population 320 souls, mostly Kumreeh ; Zaoorah, 150 souls, mostly Kumrech ; ElGhudjr, 250 souls, mostly Shemseeh. The villages are within a half an hour of Banias, W. and N.W. It is to be doubted, adds Mr. Ford, whether their distinctions as Shemseeh and Kumreeh are correctly ascertained by the people who go among them. I myself was once informed that they were all Shemseeh, and in the latest maps the positions of the villages is given as south of Banias.

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