HC Deb 20 August 1860 vol 160 cc1583-9

besought the indulgence of the House while he asked the noble Lord at the head of the Government to give some further explanation of a statement which he made on Friday last in answer to a question which he then put with regard to the affairs of Syria. He (Mr. Monsell) asked the noble Lord on Friday what instructions were given to Lord Dufferin as our Commissioner in Syria, and he pointed out to the House how completely the system of Government carried out in the Lebanon, chiefly through the influence of this country, had failed, the Druse and Maronite chiefs being altogether subject to the influence of the Pasha, as was anticipated at the time by those best acquainted with the country. In reply to that question the noble Lord at the head of the Government stated that Lord Dufferin and the other Commissioners had been instructed to inquire what would be the best system of Government for the future to be established in Syria. The noble Lord went on to state that, in his opinion, the disturbances in the Leba- non were commenced, not by the Druses, but by the Maronites, and made some further observations with a view to exonerate the Turkish Government from blame. He need not point out to the House how important were such observations, falling from the First Minister, or how calculated they were to encourage the most erroneous notions which prevailed in Syria with regard to the views of the British Government as to these unfortunate transactions. It was shown that such erroneous notions did exist by the cries which were beard both in Tripoli and Damascus, "that the English Government would take the part of the Druses;" "that they did not care for France or Russia, because they were quite sure England would be on their side." Of course nothing was more absurd than such notions, but it was most unfortunate that any word should escape the noble Lord in the least calculated to encourage those absurd and erroneous notions. All the documents that had been laid before the House went to show that the Druses had been the real aggressors, that the Turkish authorities and the Turkish soldiers had aided them, and had in many instances even exceeded them in ferocity. He wished, with the permission of the House, to cite three important authorities. The first was Mr. Cyril Graham, of whom Lord Dufferin, in transmitting a most able Report from that gentleman to the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, said— Your Lordship may rely with implicit confidence on the accuracy of all Mr. Graham's statements of fact, as his knowledge of Arabic and his personal acquaintance both with the Druse and Maronite populations, combined with the opportunities he has had of visiting the places where these tragedies have occurred, will have given him peculiar facilities for arriving at the truth. The second was M. Le Normant, who had bestowed a great deal of study upon Eastern questions; and the third was a Protestant missionary, who had written a most interesting letter from Damascus. All three agreed in the statement that the disturbances were commenced by the Druses; that the Turks might have easily prevented what happened had they wished to do so, and that the Turks having had full warning were guilty of complicity. The Protestant missionary said, that throughout the whole of the winter the Druses were allowed to make preparations for the coming war, while the Christians were prevented doing so. M. Le Normant stated that at Beyrout the very day when the outbreak took place, and when the Druses had taken the Maronite villages, Kurschid Pasha went to a camp established near Babdah, and when two guns were fired immediately after his arrival the whole of these villages were instantly set on fire. A village was burnt at two musket shots from the camp, and the Governor forbade the Arabs to carry corn to the mountains where 40,000 Christians had taken refuge, with a view of starving them out. This was not a mere feud between the Druses and the Maronitos; it was a persecution of the Christians of all sects. Protestants, Greeks, and Catholics, were all equally attacked. At Deir-el-Kammarthe Turkish soldiers, in putting some Christians to death, said, "Call upon your God, and see whether he will give you any help!" and at Beyrout crosses were thrown down to make the Christians trample them under their feet. Mr. Graham stated distinctly that if the Turkish Government had used the slightest exertions it might have prevented the feud from spreading. He then went on to describe the massacre at Hasbeya. The Maronites were induced by the Turkish Governor to give up their arms, and to go into the Serai Palace, used as a barrack. This was on the 29th of May, and on the 6th of June many of the soldiers were seen to be leaving, and then: Mr. Graham said— The unfortunate people, when it was too late, saw clearly how treacherously they had been deceived. They rushed into the outer court and entreated to be let out. The signal was then given, the gates thrown open, and in rushed the Druses, armed with any weapon they could seize, and then commenced an indiscriminate slaughter of all the males. Some, indeed, made their way through the door to the outer gate, only to be seized by the Turkish soldiery; nor were these passive only in the transaction. Many Christians whom I have examined have sworn to mo that they saw the soldiers themselves taking part in the slaughter, and the subsequent behaviour of these brutal troops to the women was savage in the extreme. From the wounds I have seen, both on the living and the dead, it would appear that they went to work with the most systematic cruelty; ten, twelve, and fourteen deep cuts on the body of one person is not unfrequent; some of the wounds show that they were made with blunt instruments. In short, everything was used which came to hand, and, according to the nature of the weapon, hands and limbs were cut off, or brains dashed out, or bodies mangled. … Women the Druses did not slaughter, nor, for the most part, I believe, illuse; that was left for Turks and Moslems to do, and they did it. Little boys of four and five years old were not safe; these would be seized from the mother and dashed on the ground, or torn to pieces before her face; or, if her grasp was too tight, they would kill it on her lap; and in some cases, to save further trouble, mother and child were cut down together. Many women have assured me that the Turkish soldiers have taken their children one leg in each hand and torn them in two. At Deir-el-Kammar and at other places he also mentioned that the Turkish troops were seen assisting in the massacre. From these statements it appeared to be perfectly clear that the Turkish Government had anticipated this outbreak during the winter, that they had endeavoured to prepare the Druses for the work in which they were to be engaged, and to put the Maronites in a position in which they could offer no resistance. He trusted that the noble Lord, however desirous he might be to maintain the Sultan on his throne, would not allow it to be understood that the influence of this country would be exerted to preserve any system under which such abominations could take place. He now looked back with pain on the part which in common with the great majority of that House he had taken in 1855 and 1856 in supporting a war undertaken for the purpose of maintaining the Turkish Empire. It was useless to attempt to bind the Turks by any laws; there was in them an ineffaceable cruelty and treachery which no efforts could subdue. No doubt the noble Lord justly considered it was of great importance to the balance of power in Europe that the Turks should be preserved as long as possible at Constantinople; but that object might be too dearly purchased. He hoped the noble Lord would not allow that object to influence him, so far as to prevent these Christians throwing off that abominable yoke. He hoped the noble Lord, while preaching the principle of nationality in one part of Europe, would not allow it to he put down in that country where the Christians were oppressed by the Turks. He earnestly entreated the noble Lord to state now what he meant in stating that it was the Maronites and not the Druses who had commenced those atrocities, and also how he thought it possible to exonerate the Turkish authorities.


I confess I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has thought it advisable to transfer to this House the dispute which has unfortunately taken place between the Druses and the Maronites. He has quoted passages from the papers which have been laid before Parliament, which have been read before two or three times, and which, though they must always be heard with regret and in- dignation, have really nothing to do with the question which he has put to me. I have also to regret that the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to become the advocate of the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire. He omitted, however, to state which was the foreign Power to which he was desirous of transferring Syria. I suppose it would not he England, and he will allow that it would not be for the interests of this country or for the general interests of Europe that other foreign Powers should divide the Turkish Empire between them. No doubt, there are great and just complaints made against the Turkish rule. It is not from any predilection for the Turkish race that I think it desirable to maintain that empire; but any man who has paid the slightest attention to the matter must know that the Turkish Empire could not be partitioned without involving a general European conflict, or, at all events, in its results, without adding to other Powers positions of great military and naval importance, to the serious detriment of the interests of this country. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have given us his opinion on this subject without telling us candidly to what foreign Power he thought it desirable to give Syria; and probably he might also have favoured us by informing us what other foreign Power he would wish to see at Constantinople. My right hon. Friend said that by the arrangement made for the internal administration of Syria, by which the Maronite districts were administered by Maronite Chiefs, and the Druse districts by Druse chiefs, both became easily subservient to the Turkish Pasha. He is totally mistaken. It is in consequence of the weakness of the Turkish authority in Syria that from time to time these deplorable animosities of race between the Druses and the Maronites have burst out. I do not dispute, what is proved by these papers, that the Turkish authorities in Syria—my right hon. Friend talks of the Turkish Government, but that is a misnomer—that the Turkish authorities in Syria have be-behaved infamously ill—infamously ill; that some of the Turkish soldiers have behaved abominably ill. But, so far from the Turkish Government sheltering or protecting those miscreants, Fuad Pasha, who has been despatched to Syria with a large military and naval force, immediately on his arrival proceeded to arrest 400 of the principal offenders, and sent Osman Bey and Kurschid Pasha to Constantinople to be tried. It was felt that their trial would be better conducted on the spot than at Constantinople, and after having been degraded in the presence of all the military—after having had their orders and military insignia stripped from them, they were sent back to Beyrout in order to be tried, condemned, as I believe, and severely punished, as I trust, for their infamous crimes. My right hon. Friend's question had very little to do with the greater part of his observations. He wants to know why I stated that I had reason to believe that the Maronites were the first aggressors. I am very reluctant to advert to these things, because I think it of no use to inquire who struck the first blow. I was sorry when he forced from me my opinion the other evening, but I cannot now refrain from answering his question. The facts of the case are these:—For several months before the outbreak there certainly were among all the Christian communities in Turkey and other parts of Europe rumours that such an outbreak would take place in Syria in the spring. It is well known that large supplies of arms were furnished to the Maronites—European arms, coming from Europe—I cannot tell whence they came—some of them were sold openly in Beyrout, and beyond those I have reason to believe great numbers were supplied to the Maronite population. If my right hon. Friend will refer to the papers presented he will see in a despatch of Mr. Moore, Her Majesty's Consul at Beyrout, that the war began with an attack by the Maronites on four or five villages in which there was a mixed population of Druses and Maronites, for the purpose of expelling the Druses. It was also currently believed that there was a Maronite committee sitting at Beyrout, of which Bishop Tubia was the directing agent, and that the object of their deliberations was to excite the Maronites to take advantage of this opportunity of expelling the Druses at all events from the mixed districts. My right hon. Friend says that reports prevailed in places he mentioned that the British Government would bear the Druses harmless for any atrocities they committed. I do not know whence he gathered his information. I never heard of it, and it must be the invention of those from whom he received it. Such a report is totally baseless; it has no foundation whatever, and can only be circulated by persons who wish to serve their own purposes by doing so. The British Government has had no more intimate communications with the Druses than with the Maronites. Having stated thus much, I am at liberty to add that not long ago Lord Cowley, in conversation with M. de Thouvenel on the subject, expressed the opinion that the Maronites had been the first aggressors, and M. de Thouvenel said he believed so too; that he believed the Maronite priests had excited their flocks to commit acts of aggression against the Druses. At the same time that is no excuse for the Druses; it is no palliation for the enormities they have committed. I dare say that if the advantage had been on the side of the Maronites they also might have been guilty of some excesses; but I do not believe they could have been capable of anything like the atrocities of the Druses. The answer, therefore, which I have to give to my right hon. Friend is, that he will find at page 6 of the Papers presented to Parliament an account of the attack by the Maronites upon the mixed Christian and Druse villages, and that, in the opinion even of the French Government, the Maronites were the first aggressors. No doubt there had been from time to time border feuds between the two hostile races, and therefore it is very easy, by holding up single cases of outrage, to make either party the aggressors; but the question is, who began the war? Individual outrages, I fear, were too common on both sides; and it is impossible to say that either the one or the other began those attacks. The question is who commenced what may fairly be considered a war between race and race, and that question I have already answered.