HC Deb 03 August 1860 vol 160 cc632-8

rose, pursuant to notice, to call attention to the Papers respecting the disturbances in Syria, and more especially to the Telegraphic Despatch (No. 20) of the Consul at Smyrna, of the 11th July; and also to the Despatch from the Admiralty (No. 21), covering the Reports of Captain Paynter, of Her Majesty's ship Exmouth, off Beyrout; and to ask a question thereon of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The country had a right to expect that some expression of opinion should take place with respect to the deplorable and flagrant outrages on humanity which had recently occurred in Syria, and especially before Parliament separated, there should be some more explicit declaration from the Government as to the course which they might be prepared to adopt. Indeed he felt convinced that unless strong measures were at once taken with a high hand, the tranquillity of Turkey would be seriously shaken, and serious consequences would follow to Europe in general. In a despatch addressed to the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary on the 27th of June, Sir Henry Bulwer stated, that with deep regret he had to observe the Ottoman Government were the more to blame for what had occurred in Syria, since a week had not passed during the last year in which he had not brought the state of that province under the notice of the Turkish Ministers. It appeared from the first despatch of Mr. Consul Moore, dated the 18th of May, that even at that early period he considered an outbreak imminent. He had to report, he said, a marked increase within the last fortnight of agitation and insecurity in the Druse district of the Lebanon. Assassinations and reprisals were of almost daily occurrence between the Christians and the Druses. The last took place two days before. A party of Christians on their way to Deir-el-Kammar were attacked by the Druses, and four of them were killed, including a Maronite priest. This, he added, would probably provoke retaliation on the part of the Christians, if it did not lead to a general rising of both sects, of which there were many symptoms. About the same period the Christians, seeing the imminence of the danger which threatened them, addressed Kurschid Pasha in a memorial setting forth the assassinations perpetrated upon them by the Druses, and the absolute impunity with which the assassins escaped. The reply was one of those stereotyped answers promising protection and doing nothing. On the same day the Consular body at Beyrout, at the request of the merchants residing there, waited on Kurschid Pasha, and requested him to take steps for averting the impending horrors. They too were assured that proper measures would be taken for the protection of all parties and the suppression of all violence; but, while this answer was being given, the outbreak which the Pasha told the Consular body should be prevented was actually taking place. Mr. Moore wrote to Sir Henry Bulwer that the Druses had attacked some villages in the Lebanon, and had killed several of the inhabitants; that it was reported the Turkish irregular troops fired upon the Christians; that after the flight of the Christians their houses were pillaged and burnt; and that the Bashi-Bazouks had cut the throat of the ex-Governor of Mount Lebanon, a man eighty-five years of ago, and quite blind. This outrage was followed by an attack upon Deir-el-Kammar, the Christian capital of the Lebanon, of which a report was made to Mr. Moore by Mr. Burn, an American missionary. The greatest atrocities were perpetrated upon the inhabitants, and Mr. Burn distinctly stated that the Druses were the aggressors, and that the Christians there had received letters from the Pasha praising their forbearance. Mr. Burn asked for succour both in men and provisions. These were as usual promised by Kurschid Pasha, upon an application from Mr. Moore, but its fulfilment is illustrated by a despatch of Mr. Moore, written a few days later, reporting that Deir-el-Kammar had been surrendered unconditionally to the Druses; and that the Turkish garrison had joined in the attack upon the inhabitants; that after the surrender the Druses plundered and burned down 150 of the houses, and then withdrew. It was thus that the pledge given by the Pasha to relieve the Christians had not been redeemed. Three days later he wrote to say that the Mahomedans were rising against the Christians at Beyrout; hut the unexpected arrival of a Russian frigate had checked the outbreak. The Consul then spoke of Damascus as early as the 4th of June, where a spirit was described as arising which was of a menacing character to the lives and property of the Christians. During the whole of this time Sir Henry Bulwer was representing at the Porte, week by week, the imminence of the danger which overwhelmed the Christian population of Syria. The Co I ml and European inhabitants petitioned the Pasha to protect their lives and property, and received promises of support which were treacherously falsified. Warning had been given, and protection asked and promised; but none was sent till the town had been sacked and destroyed. Mr. Moore stated that the Turkish troops,' reported as having been sent by the Pasha to save one town, left it to its fate, although they were encamped at a place only two miles distant. He cited six or seven more instances in which this Pasha promised protection, but withheld it, leaving the Christians to be murdered by the Druses. Then came the assault on the Christian capital of Lebanon. Mr. Moore reported the inhabitants were induced by the Turkish authorities to give up their arms, and were then basely slaughtered. Their dead bodies showed numerous sword wounds about the arms and wrists, evidently arising from the vain attempts of these defenceless men to parry the blows aimed at their heads. There were 2,000 thus treated. Mr. Paynter, of Her Majesty's ship Exmouth, described the horrid scene. He states that all the male inhabitants were murdered. On Wednesday, the 10th of June, the Druses began to plunder, assisted by the Turkish troops; after this the town was fired in several places, and the massacre of the men took place, while all the women who did not fly were violated. In the midst of the massacre Kurschid Pasha, the Governor General and promiser of protection arrived, but calmly passed on to a station which overlooked the town, whence he issued an order to stay the slaughter, which he took no steps to arrest. When Mr. Paynter's letter was written, 1,500 males were lying unburied in the ruins; and the women who had fled from the scene of slaughter were making their escape to the European ships on the coast, hunted like wild beasts. The treachery of Osman Bey the perpetrator, and of Kurschid Pasha, the secret abettor of the atrocities, appeared in the present age without a parallel. He first induced the Christians to surrender their arms. They then crowded the poor creatures into the Court of the Serail, with only sufficient food to keep them alive; and, when their strength had vanished, flung open the gates for the Druses to rush in and consummate the cowardly massacre. Other papers had since confirmed these atrocious details. On the 9th of June, the storm which had been gathering over Damascus drew to a head. It was shown that the Governor of Damascus had 5,000 troops under his command. But in the face of these troops, or rather in concert with them, a rabble of half that number destroyed the whole of the Christian quarter, and put to death from 2,000 to 4,000 persons, including the Dutch Consul. The slaughter would have been still worse but for the conduct of one noble man, and he an exile—Abd-el-Kader,—who, with a truly humane spirit, irrespective of creed, had afforded an asylum in his own house to the proscribed Christians. With these details before them, the House had a right to demand what was to be done to those treacherous wrongdoers and to prevent the recurrence of like outrages. It appeared that Turkey, making a virtue of necessity, had consented to join in a convention for inquiry and redress. For diplomacy's sake he supposed that this wicked and effete empire, which had wallowed in blood, treachery, and corruption for the last fifty years, would be allowed thus to conceal its connivance. He trusted, however, that the petty jealousies of European States would for once be buried in the graves of the poor Christians who had suffered within the last few months in Syria, and that the Great Powers would join with one heart in hanging up on gallows high as Haman's the Turkish pashas and rulers who had permitted and, indeed, connived at these atrocities. He recollected the massacres of Chios and the atrocities in the Morea, which had in like manner led to a European intervention to rescue the Greeks from the abominable rule of Turkey, and he should rejoice to see a similar result in Syria. The hon. Gentleman concluded by asking the Foreign Secretary what course he was prepared to take in the present emergency.


said, before the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary rose to reply, he wished to make a few remarks, as he took a great interest in the subject. He believed Her Majesty's Government were addressing themselves to the task of putting an end to the unhappy state of affairs in Syria. He thought misapprehension might occur if the deductions which had been drawn by the hon. Member were supposed to give a correct account of all that had taken place in Syria. He (Sir James Fergusson) had received from an intelligent English gentleman, living in the part of the Lebanon in which these disturbances had been most prevalent, carefully written journals, dating from the end of May down to the end of the first week in July. He had also had a conversation with a Beyrout merchant of great respectability, who left the country a little before the outbreak took place. With regard to the blue-book from which the hon. Member had quoted, a more unprofitable one was never issued, for, while it gave painful details of the occurrences in the Lebanon, it furnished no information either as to the circumstances which had led to the outbreak or the state of politics in that part of the world. From information on which he could rely he believed that the Christians were in the first place entirely in the wrong, that the Druses were most reluctant to fight at all; and that for some time previous to the disturbances, which began about the 27th of May, great excitement prevailed among them from an impression not wholly without foundation, that the Christians of the Mountain—the Maronites—would attempt to sweep them from that part of the country. He was told by the gentleman with whom he had conversed that several Druses in his service, who lived some miles from Beyrout, and who had to pass through Christian villages on their way home at night, found it necessary to make a circuit in order to avoid these Christians and to escape from insult, their lives, in point of fact, being in danger. About the end of May these disturbances began by the assembling of a large Christian force, consisting of from 1,000 to 3,000 men at a village situate a few miles from Beyrout. The Pasha of the city sent out troops, who dispersed the Christians, and had he followed the same course with regard to the Druses these calamities might have been avoided. When, however, the Druses came down to avenge the insult which had been offered them the Pasha took no steps to disperse them, but, on the contrary, his troops stood by while the Christian villages were acked and burnt. Prior to this, the Druse chiefs had urged upon the Maronites the expediency of not beginning the war until the silk harvest was over. There had been bad harvests, and the Druses represented that if the crops were again spoiled by the destruction of the mulberry trees great misery would ensue. The Maronites, urged on by their priests, paid no attention to this re- monstrance, and the outbreak began. From that time the Druses behaved in a way deserving the greatest condemnation; but it should be remembered that when Asiatics went to war they did not observe the niceties of European warfare—that when these tribes, which had an hereditary hatred of each other, engaged in war, their doctrine was to destroy their enemies root and branch wherever they could find them. It should also be recollected that Syria virtually had no Government, or one that was worse than none at all, and that this war brought together a great number of the Bedouins and wild tribes from the surrounding country, who assembled like vultures, eager for the prey, and committed many outrages for which the Druses were in no way responsible, but which were attributed to them. Putting aside these considerations, however, the question then was what was to be done, and he thought it a wise course to send out a Commission, and he hoped that the Government would in this way prevent the dangerous step which seemed imminent—the despatch of French troops into Syria. He would say nothing about the alleged great cause of the outbreaks; but it would be most unfortunate if that event for which the Ma-ronites had long been looking, and which was so much dreaded by those interested in the maintenance of English influence in the Mediterranean, should now take place, and the French troops should enter Syria. He hoped that the Commission would not interfere with the Turkish Government, or all the blood and treasure which we had expended a few years since would be wasted if we allowed any European Power to interfere with the Turkish Government. At the same time the Turkish authorities in Syria had shown themselves so unworthy of unrestricted power, and European intervention had been so long recognized in the affairs of the Lebanon, that it would be well not to allow them to act alone in future, As the hon. Member for Richmond had stated, the Turkish authorities at Beyrout had shown, if not complicity, at least culpable negligence. When our Consul (Mr. Moore) addressed himself to the chief of the Druses, with whom he had deservedly great influence, he was answered that the Pasha had taken steps to protect the Christians; but it seemed that after the Christians, relying upon that protection, were all disarmed, the Pasha, having in the meanwhile received a higher bribe from the Druses, admitted them into the seraglio, where the Christians had taken refuge, and where they wore slaughtered. It further appeared that this same Pasha prevented Yusuf Bey, who was prepared with a strong force, from interfering on their behalf by assuring him that the Serail was taken care of. There was no doubt, however, that the Serail fell in consequence of the interference of Yusuf Bey being prevented by the Pasha, and it was also, he believed, notorious that it fell by the connivance of the Turkish troops. But notwithstanding the atrocities that had been committed, the Western Powers would commit a great error if they permitted the Druses to be given up to the tender mercies of the Turks. The Christians were, for the present, put down, but if the Druses also were put down, there would be nothing to prevent the Turkish Pashas from oppressing people generally, for the purpose of enriching themselves. Neither would it be just that those who had looked on while these atrocities were being committed should be allowed to escape without notice, and he hoped the Western Powers would insist upon a searching investigation being made into all these occurrences. They should also find out who furnished the arms. Yusuf Bey brought 1,000 rifles from Tripoli, and arms were freely distributed in the mountains, and he hoped that the Commission would draw up a plan for the future better government of that district. It had been attempted to have a Christian Kaimakan and a Druse Kaimakan, but the result had been that each screened offenders against the other, and did not at all act together. There would never be good government until the power of one able man was substituted for the present unsatisfactory form of Government. The recent events read almost like a chapter out of the Old Testament, so little had the country changed in character. When there was a weak Government disorders were prevalent, but when there was a strong Government people could travel with safety, as in the time of Mehemet Ali. He thought the plan which had been found so effectual in India should be adopted in Syria, and that no man should be allowed to have arms unless he was the personal attendant of a chief. If some such step were not taken there would be a recurrence of these outrages, which would afford an excuse to some European Power to interfere for its own selfish objects, and thus our influence in that part of the world would be seriously affected.