§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
Perhaps I ought to apologise to the House for turning from the subject now under discussion to an altogether different topic. It is not a subject which so nearly touches our interest as the occupation of the Ruhr, but it is a subject which very nearly touches our honour and pledges. It must be quite 42 years since I heard my late friend, Lord Bryce, call attention from the Opposition bench to the treatment of the Armenians. He then was forced to make the avowal that it was "A tale of little meaning, though the words he strong." Ever since that period certain gentlemen have made the futile attempt to arouse not merely the sympathy—that the Armenians have— but the action and the intervention of the world for their relief. Some of our best hopes of the rescue of the Armenians have been falsified by the events at Lausanne. What are the facts? My charge against the world, against the Christian countries of the world, America included, is that the story of the treatment of the Armenians culminated practically in their desertion at Lausanne. It is a, tale of perfidy. Let us trace what happened to the Armenians during the War. Turkey was in a. tight place. She made every effort to obtain the support, or at least the quiescence, of the Armenians. She offered them autonomy when assembled at a National Congress in 1914. She applied the condition that the Armenians should join Turkey in carrying on the War against the Allies. The offer of autonomy was, of course, very attractive, but the Armenians declined to accept it. The result—and they must have anticipated it—of the refusal of the Armenians to fight for the Turks and against the Allies, ourselves included, was the greatest and the most systematic massacre of the Armenians even in their bloodstained history. Two-thirds of the population of the Armenians in Asia Minor were destroyed—about 700,000 people in all, men, women, and children. There were a great many Armenians under the dominion of Russia, who, with 631 all her faults (and she had many faults under the late Czarist system), at least preserved the property and lives of her Armenian subjects.
An effort was again made by Turkey to win the Armenians to their side, and they proposed to the Armenians that they should help to create an insurrection in the Caucasus, which, of course, would have been a tremendous weakening of the Russian front. Not only did the Armenians refuse this insidious offer, but they actually sent 200,000 Armenian soldiers to fight the battle of Russia, then one of our Allies, and it was their splendid resistance, when The Russian army broke down, to the Turks in the Caucasus which helped us finally to win the War. I believe I am right in saying that nearly 200,000 Armenian soldiers lost their lives fighting for the Allies during the War. If it makes no appeal to our humanity. I think that enormous sacrifice in face of immense temptations gives the Armenians a supreme right to our gratitude.
While the War was still going on, the statesmen of the different Powers were giving to the public declarations of the aims for which they were fighting the War, and continuing the War. In every one of those declarations, whether it was by the late Prime Minister of this country, or by the present President of the French Republic, or by the present Premier of the French Republic, or by the late Premier M. Briand, or by any other statesman of any of the Allies, there was not a single statement that did not lay down the liberation of the Armenians, and the other Christian races of the East, from the domination of the Turks. I will not make more than a quotation or two from these declarations in favour of the liberation of the Armenians, as I know there are other hon. Members who desire to speak on other subjects, but I have here a declaration of M. Poinearé which begins with words which are almost tragically ironical to-day. He says:The Armenians know us, and we know the Armenians. The Armenians trust us, and we trust the Armenians.[An HON. MEMBER: "God help them!"] My hon. Friend has put in very terse language what is my own view. President Wilson, when he was laying down the principles on which the future 632 Treaty should be made and the peace of the world secured, said:The Turkish portions of the present Turkish Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should he assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.N. Clemenceau, who, I think, at that time was Prime Minister of France, wrote:The Government of the Republic, like that of the United Kingdom, has not ceased to include the Armenian nation among the peoples whose fate the Allies count on determining according to the supreme laws of Humanity and justice.In 1918, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reaffirmed the British Government'sdetermination that wrongs such as Armenia has suffered shall be brought to an end, and their recurrence made impossible.Lord Crawford said the same thing, when he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the House of Lords on the 13th November, 1918. On the 18th November, 1918, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said this in the House of Commons:As far as I am concerned—and I believe in this matter I am speaking for the Government—I should he deeply disappointed if any shred or shadow of Turkish Government were left in Armenia.The Allied and Associated Powers made the same declaration, giving it the greater solemnity of a joint action:It cannot admit that among the qualities of the Turkish people is to be counted capacity to rule over alien races. The experiment has been tried too long and too often for there to he the least doubt as to its result.In 1920, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said this:It is true that the French are anxious, not unnaturally, to limit their engagements in that part of Turkey (Cilicia); but let it he remembered that they have entered into definite obligations to protect the Armenians there, and that obligation I am certain they have not the slightest intention of evading; and I think we may hope that this which is our main object—namely, the security of those minorities in that part of the world —in future will be undertaken by them. The principles upon which we are acting are these. We want to create an Armenia in those parts where there is a distinct predominance of the Armenian population where we can provide them with a defensible frontier, where they will have the possibilities of economic development and an access to the sea.633 The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) spoke in the same terms:If the United States of America feel that they cannot take direct responsibility, we shall have to reconsider the whole position, and will undoubtedly take our share in the matter of helping the Armenian community to equip themselves for their very difficult and perilous task.M Millerand said:Not only has the Turkish Government failed to protect its subjects of other races from pillage, outrage and murder, hut there is abundant evidence that it has been responsible for directing and organising savagery against people to whom it owned protection. It would neither be just nor world it conduce to lasting peace in the Near and Middle East that large masses of non-Turkish nationalities should be forced to remain under Turkish rule.The Treaty of Sèvres was passed by the Allied and Associated Powers. One of the first Articles declares that Armenia shall be constituted into an independent and separate nation, and there is the consent of the Turkish representatives, and they promised by that Article that Armenia should be a free and independent nation. Again, this was agreed to by the Powers at a Conference in 1921:In regard to Armenia, the present stipulations might ho adopted on condition of Turkey recognising the rights of Turkish Armenians to a national home on the Eastern frontiers of Turkey in Asia, and agreeing to accept the decision of a Commission appointed by the Council of the League of Nations to examine on the spot the question of the territory equitably to be transferred for this purpose to Armenia.It is an extraordinary thing about the whole transaction, that the more protests there are made in favour of Armenia, the narrower become the limits of Armenia, until Armenia has practically disappeared from Turkish Asia Minor. For instance, M. Picot on behalf of the French Government, and Sir Mark Sykes on behalf of the English Government, were asked to draw a line which would mark the frontier of the Armenians. President Wilson was also asked to arbitrate on the frontier between Armenia and Turkey. He did so and made the line not quite so far as the Sykes-Picot. The Sykes-Picot line was here, and the Wilson line was there. What has happened? There is not an Armenian left, except perhaps a few old men and women and a few young women in Turkish harems, in the district which was allotted to Armenia by Picot and Sykes and Wilson. There is no autonomy 634 in that part of the ancient land of the Armenians, because the Armenians have been driven out.
In meeting after meeting of the League of Nations, the demand has been made that the Armenians shall have proper frontiers, and shall have what is called a national home. What does a national home mean? Before I deal further with this point, however, I want just to relate one episode. The French troops and our troops were in joint occupation of Cilicia, which had 150,000 to 200,000 Armenians within its borders at the time. It is one of the most ancient of all their lands, and was practically the centre of the Armenians' force in the days of their past greatness. The French asked us to leave. We consented, but we consented on the condition that the French should remain and do the work of protecting the Armenians there—which we were willing to do, but which they requested us to leave to them. What was the result? After the French had got us out, they resolved to go out themselves, and they left the Armenians without any protection against the Turks. A lot of smooth-tongued gentlemen declared that if the Armenians remained in Cilicia they would be perfectly safe under the paternal Government of that country, but with 700,000 of their people killed two or three years before, and with their knowledge of the Turkish atrocities and centuries of oppression and bloodshed, and knowing the possibilities before them, the Armenians fled from Cilicia, and Cilicia, the old Armenian home, is to-day without an Armenian population. Meeting after meeting of the Council and of the League of Nations have demanded that the Armenians should have their home. Meeting after meeting of the Council and the League have demanded that they should have autonomy. Let me read what Lord Curzon said on the 12th December, 1922:One of the objects which the Allies set before themselves when they were in the War was the liberation of the Christian minorities in Asia Minor. Particularly was this the case with regard to Armenia, the pledges about which have been often repeated and are well known. Indeed, these pledges may he said to have dated from lie Berlin Treaty of nearly half a century ago.I took some little part at that time in going to Hyde Park to demonstrate in favour of Gladstone and the Christians 635 of the Near East, and I know even then there were supposed to have been declarations made on behalf of the Armenians and other Christian minorities. Lord Curzon says:Their case is deserving of special consideration, not merely because of the cruel sufferings they had endured for generations, and which have excited the sympathy and horror of the civilised world, hut because of the special pledges which have been made with regard to their future. There only remains a total population of about 130,000 Armenians in Turkish Armenian territory out of a population that once numbered over 3,000,000.He goes on to speak of the Armenian national home. Ismett Pasha had said at the Lausanne Conference that the Armenians would be perfectly safe to live under Turkish rule and that happy relations had always existed between the peoples. Lord Curzon says:If such happy relations have always existed between the two peoples how is it that of the 3,000,000 Armenians formerly in Asia Minor there remain now only 130,000? Had they killed themselves or voluntarily run away? When the French troops recently left Cilicia 60,000 to 80.000 of these people fled to live in misery elsewhere, leaving their homes and families behind. Why were hundreds and thousands of Armenians in all parts of the world, if they had to do was to return to the embraces of the Turkish Government?I will make no more quotations. Armenia has the sympathy, at least the lip sympathy, of every country in the world. I was in America for 13 months during the War, and I knew no sentiment which appealed more forcibly and which got more assistance from the American people than that of the Armenians. There was not a little Sunday school up and down that immense country where the little boys and girls did not carry round their subscription lists every week to get money to relieve the Armenians. A friend of mine undertook to pay out of his own pocket all the administrative expenses of the Armenian Committee. It amounted to £2,000 a month, £24,000 a year, and for four, five or six years this generous American has been paying that money for the relief of the Armenians and the administration of the Armenian Committee. I believe I am not wrong in saying that between £10,000,000 and £11,000,000 sterling of American money has been sent by that noble and generous people to the relief of the Armenians.I 636 have taken part in half-a-dozen campaigns in this country on behalf of Armenia, and never did I see meetings that did greater credit to the generosity and good will of our people. How has it all ended? They ask for a national home. Is that an unnatural request? Those parts of Asia Minor were in the hands of the Armenians centuries before the Turks invaded Asia Minor. There are 400,000 of them refugees in all parts of the world; 50,000 or 60,000, I believe, are in the United States. A large number are crowded in the Caucasus, where they are perishing of hunger and disease, and many are in Persia, but they all want to go back to their national home. Not even the abounding prosperity and freedom and security which the flag of the United States offers to its emigrants are sufficient to tempt these people from their duty to their native land and fellow countrymen. One of the things that most impressed me in reading of the massacres of 1915 and 1916 was that among the list of professors, male and female, massacred by the Turks were men and women who had gone to the United States, who had gone through the American schools and American universities and who, with all the magnificent prospects of a teaching career which lay before them in that great and wealthy land, left all behind them and went back to the schools of their native villages, where they died in the end by the bloody hand of massacre.
The Armenians have their critics. I never knew an oppressed race that was not talked about and criticised by the Phillistines, the concessionaires and all the rest of the base and heartless snobbery of the world. I have heard my own race roughly dealt with by their critics. I have heard the Jews roughly dealt with, I have heard the Armenians roughly dealt with by their critics, but the Armenians are one of the most cultured races in the world. A son of a friend of mine who was fighting came to an Armenian house which had been destroyed by the Turks, the dwellers in which had been murdered, and what did he find amid the ruins? He found a translation of Homer which had been made by an Armenian. The Armenians have been a cultured and civilised race for centuries. Every one of them to-day could become prosperous and safe on the one condition that they foreswore the gospel of Christ and took up the 637 Crescent. I am proud to have lived still to say a word for the protection of this noble, this fine race.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
I rather understood earlier today that this Debate was likely to range over a number of subjects, with which I would be particularly concerned, but we have gone considerably through the evening and the only subject besides the one of the occupation of the Ruhr was that which my hon. Friend who has just sat down has brought to our notice in a characteristically eloquent speech. It is not the first time that my hon. Friend and myself have debated in public and sometimes in private, the matter which he has just been discussing. The difficulty I feel myself in is that I find it impossible to deny practically any of the facts which he has brought to the attention of the House, while on the other hand I do not quite understand what conclusion he intended the House to draw, or to what conclusion he directed my attention. He went on to use a very strong expression when, after tracing the history of this unfortunate people, he said they had been deserted at Lausanne.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I agree that this in a sense is true. My hon. Friend then quoted a number of declarations made at the time the War was going on. He pointed out the very great claim the Armenians had upon all the Allies, not more upon us than upon any of the other Allied Powers. I admit all that, and I would say that the result which had accrued, so far as the Armenians are concerned, is one of the disappointments, perhaps the greatest disappointment, which has followed the War. But there is one thing my hon. Friend did not attempt to do. He did not attempt to suggest what particular course the British or any of the other Allied Governments could have taken at Lausanne to avoid that desertion he attributes to them.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Had I been in the position of the British Foreign Minister, whatever any other Power might have done, I would have left the Conference.
§ Mr. McNEILL
My hon. Friend, in answer to my challenge, says that had he been in the position of the Foreign Secretary he would have left the Conference. I do not think the House will consider that a very practical suggestion, if the House realises what it would have meant and what would have been the consequences of such an action. My hon.. Friend in that case would have sacrificed the peace of Europe and involved this country, if necessary, in a war in order to make good the declarations which had been given. Of course, that is a very splendid and honourable course for any individual or any nation to contemplate.
§ Mr. McNEILL
My suggestion to the House is that no matter how sincerely or how honestly nations may desire to carry out pledges which have been given, circumstances are sometimes too strong for them. What would have been the position with regard to these pledges supposing the Allies to have been the acknowledged losers in the War? No one in these circumstances could possibly have thrown any stone at the Allied Powers if they failed to carry out pledges which had been given on the assumption that they were going to be victorious. So far as the War in that particular part of the world is concerned, owing to recent history which I need not go over again, it can hardly be said that in Asia Minor the Allied Powers were ultimately in a position in dictate terms as if they had been as victorious as they were on the Western front in Europe. Consequently we were not completely our own masters in this respect, and my hon. Friend has acknowledged that our obligation was only the same as that of our Allies. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend read from the account of the proceedings at Lausanne some words which, I think he will admit, are the best possible evidence that so far as the Foreign Secretary was concerned he, certainly, short of leaving the Conference as my hon. Friend would have done, exerted all the influence and power he could on the side of the Armenians. He fought as long as it was possible to do so, in support of the plea that they should be given a separate territorial home, and then when it was found that in no circumstances would the Turks admit such a. solution of the ques- 639 tion, he pleaded and contended with, I think, matchless skill and patience in order to provide that the Peace Treaty, when ultimately signed, should contain, as far as it was possible, guarantees for the remnant of this unfortunate people for whom he has done so much. I am not going to pretend that the minority Clauses in the Treaty are all we should desire. As an old advocate of these minorities with my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, I would have been glad to see something more far-reaching and tangible in the way of guarantees inserted in the Treaty. That I think was impracticable, arid the only reply I would make to my hon. Friend is, that the House should at least acknowledge that we have not wilfully abandoned any pledge which we gave, and so far as our influence went in the framing of the Treaty, which we hope will be signed, we have secured for the remnant of these people that they shall live under the protection of fundamental laws accepted for that purpose.
As I am addressing the House, I think I should refer to the question which Was raised first in this Debate, because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while laying before the House the position and the immediate policy of the Government, specifically left it to me to deal with some of the points raised by speakers during the Debate. There were very few with which I think it necessary for me to deal, but I shall refer to one or two, although the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who spoke upon them are no longer in their places. I will first refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans), in which he said that at the present time the attitude of friendliness towards this country which earlier had been expressed in the French Press and by certain well-known French writers, was growing less and less and that these writers were becoming suspicious of the British Government and the British policy. I have followed the French Press and the precis which we get, as closely as I can, and I believe exactly the opposite to he the case. I think up to the end of last year—during the Autumn—there was a growing body of French distrust of the British policy and the British Government, and that distrust—I am sorry the right hon. Gentle- 640 man is not in his place when I say so—very largely centred round the policy and the methods of the late Prime Minister.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I say that there are unmistakable signs and also specific statements by French writers which go to show that there is a change. Although, as everyone knows, there are many Members of the present Government, who were also Members of the last Government, French writers and the French Press freely acknowledge that there has been a change in the direction of straightforward friendship with France, and although there has been, quite naturally, a parting, which did not come before, between the policies of the two countries—to use an expression which found its way into the French Press at the time, a rupture cordiale—they recognise the cordiality of the disagreement in a way in which they did not recognise it earlier in the autumn. All the information which I possess goes to show that it was very fortunate indeed for this country and for the Entente, when it was necessary to have a divergence such as has occurred, that it should have been when the Government of this country was under the present Prime Minister and not under the last. One thing has struck me in listening to this Debate and also to the last Debate on this subject. We have had speeches from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), and the Leader of the Opposition, and although making very eloquent and pointed complaints of things as they are, bringing out very strongly what they believe to be the faults of the French Government, and complaining in general terms of the policy, or want of policy, of this Government, not one of them has made any practical suggestion as to what this Government ought to do or what this Government ought to leave undone which it is doing. The 641 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester opened a rather elaborate criticism of the Government; and what is his policy? His policy is to lay Papers on the Table of the House. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, it will be considered whether that can be done. But does anybody suggest that the laying of Papers with regard to what took place in August of last year is going, in itself, to exercise any commanding influence on the course of events in Europe. That is not going to alter the present state of affairs, and it really is not a practical suggestion as an alternative for any policy which the Government is pursuing.
What did the right hon. Member for Paisley suggest? His suggestion was that you might have an International Commission, such as has been suggested several times before. What to do? I do not think the right hon. Member very clearly specified what such a Commission would do, nor did the Leader of the Labour party. He referred to the same thing, and he particularly asked me with regard to the statement that was made yesterday by the Foreign Minister in Berlin, who has again put forward the suggestion, for it is no more, that an International Commission of experts might be useful under the present circumstances. After all, what he suggested was exactly the same thing as was suggested several months ago by the Secretary of State in the United States of America in the speech which he made at Newhaven, namely, that a Committee of business experts, international business men, might get together and determine, after examination, three things—what Germany has paid, what she can pay, and what would be the best method for such payments to be made. The right hon. Member for Paisley brought that out and said that that constituted a very important step forward, but either because he had not a complete report of the German Minister's speech, or because he appears to have missed its importance, he did not mention a very important qualification, and shat is that the German Government have distinctly stated—and I think it was repeated in terms in that speech—that a condition precedent to any useful advance of this sort must be the complete evacuation of the Ruhr by France.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Everyone knows, however little they may approve of it, that the French have not the slightest intention of completely evacuating the Ruhr as a condition precedent to any examination of the reparation question such as has been suggested. Therefore, it does not really appear to me that there is any advance whatever in the speech that was made Berlin yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition asked me whether the Government did not know that this suggestion was coming. I can answer that certainly in the affirmative. It is quite true that the Government knew that some such suggestion as that was likely to be made by the German Government, and the German Government was there and then warned that unless it went a good deal further than the outline that was laid before us, His Majesty's Government did not think it likely that it would prove a very hopeful or helpful suggestion at the present time, Therefore, none of these things have really altered the situation, and there is not one single hon. or right hon. Gentleman to-night who, in criticising the present state of affairs, serious as it undeniably is, has really put forward anything that the Government could do or leave undone which is likely to better the situation. Thu Leader of the Opposition said several times over that an attitude of benevolent neutrality is no attitude at all, or that it is a futile attitude, or that it means nothing. Very respectfully, I venture to differ very strongly from that. Surely neutrality is a very definite attitude indeed. When there is war going on in the world, a declaration of neutrality by various States is just as important an attitude as a declaration of belligerency, and very often when war is going on the position of neutrality is not only a very definite one but a very difficult one to maintain.
My view is that the benevolent neutrality, if that be a proper description, which this country is at present maintaining, only as regards the Ruhr policy, and not in any other respect, is a very definite attitude, not at all to be blown aside as a futility, but one which definitely gives expression to the true attitude and belief of a majority of this country, and certainly of this House. The Prime Minister described it at the 643 very outset as amounting to this, that while we cannot endorse the methods by which the French are attempting to recover what is their right under the Treaty we do sympathise with the failure of the French people to realise what they have had a right to expect; that while we hope that more will result from their policy than we have the least reason to expect, we are certainly not going to do more than we can help to put obstacles in their way; and that while keeping ourselves free from any action which would compromise ourselves or make us in any way, morally or otherwise, responsible for a policy of which we cannot approve, at the same time we are determined, as we always have been, that we will do nothing which will frustrate unnecessarily the policy of our own Allies, who remain our Allies, who remain our friends, whom we hope, when the right time comes, to be able to assist to the best of our ability; and with whom, whatever may be the immediate occasion of a temporary quarrel, and whatever may be the result of the immediate policy which they are now pursuing, we have the fullest hope and intention of maintaining for the future our international friendship and our close alliance, as the best possible guarantee for the future of Europe and the peace of the world.