Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Karagoz - The Tarnished Jewel of the East

If the ‘Eternal Empire’ of Balkrunia is seen to be progressive, dynamic and forward thinking then that of Karagoz would probably be described as the exact opposite. Although at various points in her long and turbulent history Karagoz was a major power, those halcyon days are now but a dim and distant memory. Years of internal strife and corruption, weak and vacillating rulers, expensive and pointless foreign wars and economic mismanagement have all taken their toll. The empire is still large in terms of geographical area but that is simply because most of what is Karagozian territory is largely undeveloped. The areas that had been developed had been poorly served by the creaking and inefficient bureaucracy that bedeviled most aspects of Karagozian life. For example, the agricultural heartland, when properly managed, was more than sufficient for the empire’s needs but after years of abuse, corrupt officialdom and the use of outdated farming methods operates at a fraction of its potential capacity. As a result of this chronic mismanagement the empire was forced to look to its provinces to compensate for the shortfall in domestic agricultural production. The Karagozian Balkrunian provinces were (and still are) agriculturally efficient and so inevitably an ever increasing burden of production was placed upon them. As produce quotas became ever more demanding so the resentment of the Balkrunian population festered. The local Karagozian provincial governors were, for the most part, indifferent to the plight of the locals and indeed, the entire region was seen as little more than an opportunity for self aggrandisement and exploitation. Backed by well equipped garrisons to enforce the law, the Karagozian local government quickly became a source of oppression and in doing so became to a large degree, the author of its own destruction. The preliminary protests against the continual raising of produce quotas were brutally suppressed and a spate of show trials resulted in wholesale imprisonment and even executions. The story of the Balkrunian War of Independence from 1889 to 1894 is well known and need not be repeated here. It is sufficient to note that as a result of the Treaty of Berne the Karagozian Empire was forced to cede all of its Eurpean Balkrunian provinces and to recognise the independence of the newly established nations of Balkrunia, Serotia, Grebania and Albengro. However, the treaty was slightly less satisfactory from the Balkrunian perspective as the territorial demarcation line markingt he border with Karagoz was set much further west than the Balkrunian Duma wanted. In any event though the treaty was nothing less than a catastrophe for Karagoz as almost overnight the empire had lost its most agriculturally productive region and so was then faced with a large scale food shortage. As food supplies dwindled so widespread rioting and civil unrest flared up across the length and breadth of the empire. The Sultan was powerless to intervene in the crisis (the usual banner headline of the state controlled press was that ‘The Sultan took tea as usual’) as the treasury was depleted and further financial credit from the international community was not forthcoming. Inevitably, given their traditional role in Karagozian daily life, the military stepped in to assume control and restore a semblance of order and so within days the Sultan and his closest advisers were placed under house arrest and martial law declared.

The military revolution under the leadership of Mustapha Kanca was the short, sharp shock the empire needed to stabilise the economy and restore order and although not a long term solution it provided a valuable breathing space whilst political, economic and social bridges were rebuilt after years of wanton abuse. The reforms were many and far reaching. To begin with, a large amount of bureaucracy was removed and government processes streamlined. A system of checks and balances was installed with recognised levels of accountability and clearly defined levels of responsibility established. The civil service became organised and based on a meritocracy rather than the old system of patronage. A ‘charm offensive’ was undertaken on the international stage with the obvious intention of encouraging investment in the empire. With typical Eastern diplomatic adroitness the advantages of supporting the Karagozians based upon their geographic location was offered as both a carrot and a stick in their dealings with the international community. The Russians, the British, the Austrians and the French were all courted at some stage and the hopes and fears of each were used as the music in the diplomatic dance. The Karagozians are masters of subterfuge and so more and more requests were made - more in hope than expectation usually – of the international community and were usually granted on the back of the these hopes and fears. In the Machiavellian world of international diplomacy as long as the status quo is maintained then everyone is content. The Karagozians were masters in ensuring that they set the status quo and that everyone else needed to maintain it. The irony of all these political machinations is that for the most part the international community were well aware that they were being manipulated but were content to allow this as long as their own agenda was being serviced. The Karagozians preferred to see their standing on the world stage as being a result of their own efforts rather than the reality of being supported for reasons beneath their consideration.

After a brief period of house arrest the Sultan was retained as a constitutional figurehead and the National Assembly ensured that that his remaining power was carefully controlled and above all, limited. Gone were the days of the Sultan’s whim being taken as law and of the intrigues of the Seraglio – the so called ‘harem politics’ so beloved of the ill informed but sensationalist western ‘yellow press’. To the international community the Sultan and all the trappings of Eastern opulence were exactly how the exotic East was imagined to be and so the illusion was maintained upon the world stage – cynically so, in order to project the image of continuity and age old ceremonial tradition. The real power though, existed with the new National Assembly.

To their credit, the military handed the reins of power back to the newly formed National Assembly as soon as stability in the region was assured. There was a sting in the tail though as before doing so a series of laws were introduced to safeguard the strength and position of the military under the new regime. This was the final contribution to the reformation of the Karagozian government by Mustapha Kanca before his assassination whilst on an inspection of the new rail terminus at Edirne. The perpetrator of this heinous crime was never caught although rumours persist that the Sultan or his former Grand Vizier, Kerim Dohnat, were behind the assassination, presumably in an attempt to bring about the restoration of the old order.

The new National Assembly has achieved much in the short time it has been active but there are many obstacles still to be tackled. The economy is weak and the treasury is reliant on the good auspices of the international community for its continued support. Foreign bankers largely manage the countries finances and understandably, the government behind these organisations wants to ensure that their interests are both protected and promoted. In respect of the military this means that a veritable army of ‘advisers’, experts and salesmen are to be found in the capital of Istantinople – each championing their own particular tactics or equipment. Despite this apparent wealth of material being touted at extremely competitive rates the traditional Karagozian skills of haggling, nurtured through the centuries in countless bazaars, the army is very selective on the equipment it procures as is the navy and many are the salesmen that have been given short shrift whilst attempting to peddle inferior merchandise. The downside of this active equipment procurement policy is that the variety of material in use is large with all the associated problems of, for example, ammunition supply. Under the guidance of predominately German advisers, strenuous efforts have been made to standardise equipment where possible. For the most part this has been achieved by ensuring that the three main divisions of the army – the Guards Army (Muhafiz Ordu), the Regular Army (Duzenli Ordu) and the reservists or Part Time Army (Yari Zamali Ordu) are uniformly equipped as far as possible. The best equipment tends to be concentrated in the Guards Army whilst the reservists usually have to make do with the oldest and most random selection of kit.

For the most part the Zaragozian Army (Zaragoz Ordu) is organised along similar lines to that of Balkrunia but with the constituent units when at full strength usually some twenty five percent smaller than the Balkrunian equivalent. Higher level formations, divisions and corps, are similar in content to that of Balkrunia i.e. three brigades, but never with more than a single brigade of reservists. On the subject of the reservists it should be emphasised that these formations may be poorly equipped in comparison with the rest of the army but they are by no means inferior in respect of fighting ability. The Guards Army exists at roughly corps strength and only takes the field under a full mobilisation. A single mixed brigade of Guard infantry, cavalry and artillery is permanently deployed in Istantinople as a ceremonial escort for the Sultan although the cynics have observed that their presence in the capital may be to ensure the Sultan’s continued good behaviour!

At the present time the Karagozian Empire stands very much at a crossroads in terms of its national identity. The days when the Empire ruled supreme across much of the Middle Sea have long gone but the importance of her geographical position ensures that she will continue to be courted by a succession of suitors. She will have to negotiate her way carefully through many diplomatic machinations and be mindful of her reduced position on the world stage. That she will be capable of achieving this there is no doubt; however, her relationship with her Balkrunian neighbours is a very delicate one and requires extremely careful handling. The peace that exists at present suits both sides as each party is endeavouring to stabilise their respective economies and build up their standing within the larger international community and so the prospect of any military action in the short term is remote. There is no doubt though that the Berne Treaty was unsatisfactory to both sides and so the appropriate remedial action will not be long deferred. The situation of the so called ‘Eastern Question’ is one that the international community is watching, albeit uneasily.

No comments:

Post a Comment