HC Deb 31 March 1862 vol 166 cc299-302

said, he wished to put a question to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs with reference to the interests and independence of the Turkish Empire. It related to an act of armed intervention on the part of Austria which took place in the Sutorina on the 1st of last December. The Sutorina was a tongue of land which ran down from the Herzegovina to the Adriatic, and divided the Austrian territory of Ragusa from the Turkish dominions. He would describe the act of which he complained in the language of the official report as it appeared in the Wiener Zeitung, and as it was given in the Viennese correspondence of The Times of the 7th of December— Not long since the civil and military governor in Dalmatia made known to the Imperial Government that the insurgents in the Herzegovina had, in two different parts of the Sutorina, constructed batteries which commanded the Imperial Royal military road across that Turkish strip of land (enclave), and also the waters of the Gulf of Cattaro. In virtue of a convention between Austria and the Porte no change can be made in the status quo in the Sutorina except by mutual consent. As the batteries in question interfered with the security of the communication between the territory of Ragusa and the district of Cattaro, the Imperial Royal Government was necessitated to summon Luka Vucalovitch, the leader of the insurgents, to remove them, and that within a given period. At the same time it stated that if the above-mentioned chief of the insurgents did not do what was required of him, the Imperial (Austrian) troops would not fail to take the matter in hand. As Luka Vucalovitch did not attend to the summons within the period fixed, which was at the end of the 30th of November, the commander of the Imperial Royal brigade lying at Ragusa received orders to destroy the two batteries, and, when he had done so, to return with the troops employed to the Austrian territory. The correspondent of The Times added— By a telegram of the 2nd inst. from Castel-nuovo, a fortified town at no great distance from the present entrance to the war port of Cattaro, we learn that a body of Austrian troops under General Von Rodich entered the Sutorina yesterday, and' without having fired a single shot,' demolished the two batteries which were between Svinje and Lucich. He was not desirous of attaching too much importance to an isolated act, but considering the unsettled state of the border territories of Turkey and Austria, considering the policy of non-intervention, which was as much a matter of interest as of duty, and considering the treaty stipulations by which we were bound to prevent as far as possible any such interference as had taken place, he thought it would be admitted that such an act deserved the zealous regard of the Government of this country, and some steps ought to be taken to prevent it from being turned into a precedent. In stating so much, he did but echo the opinion and policy laid down as binding the great Powers of Europe by the Treaty of Paris; for, by the 7th Article, "Their Majesties engage each on his part to respect the independence and the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire, guarantee in common the strict observance of that engagement, and will in consequence consider any act tending to its violation as a question of general interest." The report to which he had alluded spoke of France and Russia having thought fit, in some way, to enter a protest against that act of aggression being construed into a precedent for the future; and he had therefore to ask, whether his hon. Friend was prepared to lay any papers on the table, or to give an assurance that the Government would act, if they had not already acted, in the manner in which France and Russia were supposed to have done.


said, that in order to explain the answer he had to give to his hon. Friend, he would remind the House of the exact position of the Sutorina. When the Republic of Ragusa was an independent State, she was surrounded by Venetian dominions; and not finding the Venetians very pleasant neighbours, and in order to cut off her territory from theirs, she gave to Turkey two strips of land, one to the north and the other to the south, running down from the Turkish province of the Herzegovina to the sea. In that way she completely isolated herself from the Venetians. When Austria came into possession of Dalmatia and Ragusa, the two strips of land remained in the possession of Turkey; and if some arrangement had not been come to between Turkey and Austria, all access by land to Ragusa, now forming part of the Austrian territory, would have been cut off, had the Turks chosen to prevent a passage through their territories. Accordingly, an engagement was entered into by Turkey with Austria—Turkey refusing to cede these two strips of land to Austria—that a road between Ragusa and the Austrian territory should be always kept open, and should not be interfered with in any manner whatever Recently there had broken out in the Herzegovina an insurrection, which was still going on. One of the chiefs of the insurrection, Luka Vucalovitch, descended into the Sutorina, and erected a battery upon the strip of land. It was evident the battery was not intended for any defensive purpose against the Turks, The Turkish troops had not been there, and there was no ground for believing that they intended to attack the insurgents in that place; consequently the battery was raised for some purpose foreign to the insurrection. The Austrians, naturally anxious that the communications between the territory of Ragusa and the district of Cattaro should not be interfered with, gave notice to Luka Vuoalovitch, the leader of the insurgents, that if the batteries were not removed within a certain time specified, the Imperial troops would take the matter in hand. They were not removed, and accordingly the Austrians, with the cognizance of the Turkish Government, entered the strip of land and destroyed the battery without resistance, no impediment being offered to the removal of the two small guns of which the battery consisted. The article quoted from the Treaty of Paris provided for the independence of the Turkish Empire, and guaranteed its territory against any violation by a foreign Power; but the act in question could not be considered a violation of its territory. It was no act of aggression. As soon as the object was accomplished, the Austrian troops were withdrawn, and the territory had remained in the possession of the Turks. As soon as the circumstances of the case were known, various Governments, including those of Russia and France, remonstrated with the Austrian Government. Full explanations were, however, given; and the Powers, including the British Government, being satisfied that the Turkish Government did not make the act of Austria the ground of any complaint, nor consider it any violation of its independence, they allowed the matter to drop. No one looked upon it as an absolute precedent which might authorize any other power, without the sanction of Turkey, entering its territory. It was an act arising out of extraordinary circumstances; but still he hoped that the necessity for such interference, which might be accepted as a precedent, might not occur again. There were no papers on the subject which he could present to the House.