HL Deb 06 August 1860 vol 160 cc689-95

said: My Lords, this morning I wrote to the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, intimating that I should take the liberty of putting to him a Question relative to the state of things now existing in Syria, and I forwarded a copy of the Question which I shall now read to the House:— Is it to be understood that the force sent to Syria on the present occasion is to be employed solely for the purpose of maintaining the peace of the country, and that the authorities in command are not to interfere directly or indirectly in the administration of the civil and religious affairs, affecting either Moslems or Christians, of the Turkish Government. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to assign one or two reasons why I have thought it necessary to ask this question. I will not disguise that my desire to obtain an answer arises from the insuperable distrust I feel towards His Majesty the Emperor of the French, and from the great fear which I and others entertain that the wise and vigorous policy in the mat- ter of religious liberty, instituted by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe through his influence over the Ottoman Porte, might be disturbed at the present moment. Your Lordships are, no doubt, aware that, acting under the influence of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, at that time Minister at Constantinople, the Sultan made very large concessions to the Christians—and indeed to the Turks—in the matter of religious liberty; and there are now in the Turkish Empire large numbers of persons falling away from the Greek and Latin Churches, and some even from the body of Moslems. These persons, who are called Seceders, and are also known by the name of Proselytes, are acquiring very considerable influence and power; the Sultan has conferred on them very great privileges; they have a recognized status, and are considered one of the denominations under the protection of his Government. They have likewise a representative, with free access to the person of the Governor, to complain of any grievances they may experience. This has operated so largely, particularly in Constantinople, that religious liberty is making very considerable progress. I was in conversation, not long ago, with the son of a man, a converted ^Moslem, who has in Constantinople a large chapel where between 300 and 400 worshippers attend every Sunday, principally Mussulmans who have embraced the Christian religion. As contrasted with the old condition of Constantinople this is a considerable change. An American missionary, the Rev. Mr. Dickenson, writes;—"The Bible is sold openly in the streets and in their mosques side by side with their Koran." There have been established in Syria a great many congregations of a similar description, and I believe your Lordships I will perceive, on examination, that the ! Turkish Government, though weak, is not I insincere, and that the Turkish Central Government does desire that reforms, and particularly religious reforms, should be carried into effect. But there is a large reactionary party—the old Mussulman party—who are, in a great measure, the authors of the present disturbances. That reactionary party must be overthrown, and must not receive any extraneous assistance arising out of the peculiar difficulties of the present time, and the agency now employed to put down those outrages. A very curious fact is this, that the Druses, although in hostility to the Maronites, are not hostile to them as Christians. They are hostile to the Maronites as neighbours with whom for a long time they have had grievances and quarrels; hut it is a remarkable fact that the Druses show no opposition to Christians as such. Although when their blood is up and they are in conflict they do not draw distinctions between different sects, yet to the Christians, as such, they have no hostility. In proof of that I will read a letter from one of the most eminent American missionaries, who writing in February from the now famous Deir-el-Kammar, says:— The Druses appear immovable, but very useful, in the Providence of God, on account of their opening the door for Christian schools, and blunting the edge of persecution. It is very dim-cult to effect an entrance where they do not form a portion of the population. They are the instruments of good to others, often screening protestants and defending their doctrines. I am satisfied that we must do nothing and allow nothing to be clone that will in any way disturb the great progress which the principle of religious liberty, and more particularly the advancement of pure Christianity, are now making through those vast regions. Depend upon it the proper solution of that great Turkish Question is this, that the people should be civilized under the operation of the Christian faith, and made qualified to carry on their own Government independent of any external pressure or assistance. But, this being' my decided opinion, I do not believe that the policy which will be maintained in those regions by the Emperor of the French will be the policy inaugurated by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe; and I ground my belief entirely on the fact that we know that for many years the activity of the French agents has been singularly great. I have it upon the testimony of several gentlemen of great experience who have just come from those parts. One gentleman, who resided more than twenty years in the north of Syria, told me that the French agents in great numbers have been openly declaring that if the Mussulmans and members of the Greek Church would fall oil' to the Latin Church they should receive full and ample protection in person and property from His Majesty the Emperor of the French. Your Lordships must have seen six or seven months ago a remarkable account of what took place in the island of Candia, where nearly 40,000 persons fell away to the Latin Church, and it was broadly stated, and it has never been contradicted, that it was entirely owing to the solicitations and promises of the French agents. When these promises are made so largely—when is openly said that all who fall off to the Latin Church shall receive full protection for their persons and property from the Emperor of the French, and when 6,000 French troops go alone, unattended by the troops of any other Power—when French troops appear to be the sole instrument for the maintenance of peace and order, and the only means of protecting person and property in those parts. I maintain that much is done to establish French influence hi the East, and to convince the people that the French Emperor, though a unit in creation, is equal to the whole creation. The people will fall off by hundreds and by thousands to the Latin Church, and I believe a policy will be inaugurated which will lead not only to the confirmation of the French power in those parts, but, it may be, to the complete suppression—knowing how these things are done in an underhand and sinister way—of that religious liberty which is now beginning to dawn so happily in all parts of the Turkish Empire. I do not wish to express any opinion whether intervention be right or wrong. Certain it is that intervention must take place if these atrocities were to continue. It would be contrary to every principle of humanity and religion for us to stand by and allow these people to tear each other to pieces; but all I hope is, that in carrying out our intervention due precautions will be taken to guard against the consequences of a restless and intriguing policy. The noble Earl then put his Question.


said, that the best explanation of the objects with which this intervention was undertaken was to read the 1st Article of the Protocol just drawn up at Paris, and which provided that "a body of European troops, which may be increased to 12,000, shall be sent to Syria to contribute to the reestablishment of tranquillity." That was the object of sending those troops; and he could assure the noble Earl that, except so far as might be absolutely necessary in order to carry out that object, there was not the slightest intention of interfering with the civil or religious administration of the province. A Commission was to proceed to Syria, and would receive instructions as to the inquiry to be instituted with regard to the crimes and outrages which had been committed, and the punishment of those guilty of thorn. But those iustruc- tions had not been finally agreed upon, and therefore he could not give the noble Earl a distinct answer. The noble Earl had made a variety of remarks about religious liberty in the Turkish Empire, and the jealousy with which we ought to regard the French influence in those parts of the world. Now, without denying the effect which the peculiar religious influences exercised by France and Russia might have in creating a political influence, lie (Lord Wodehouse) could not help remarking that it would not be presenting to the Turks a very creditable specimen of our Christianity, if the Christian Powers were to allow their jealousy of each other to interfere with any proceedings they might adopt, in the present condition of Syria, to restore peace and order, and to promote the civilization of that country. With regard to Candia, it was unfortunately true that the population there and throughout the Levant generally, whatever their religious forms, regarded their religion more as a means of obtaining political protection than as a religion to be cultivated for its own sake. And although it was also true that there had been a considerable increase of Protestants throughout the Turkish Empire, yet they too might, in some cases, have been actuated by the desire of obtaining similar advantages. With regard to the object of the present intervention in Syria, and the mode of carrying that object into effect, he trusted his noble Friend would be satisfied with the assurance that there was no intention to interfere with the civil and religious administrations. He did not mean to say that in no possible case would anything be done which could have the appearance, when strictly considered, of interfering in the civil and religious affairs of the country; because, with a body of foreign troops in the country, it would be difficult to give such a pledge; but the object of sending these troops was truthfully defined in the paragraph of the protocol he had read—to contribute to the re-establishment of tranquillity in the province.


said, he should feel deep and sincere regret if he could believe that it was the final determination of the Government to limit our intervention to the restoration of immediate tranquillity and the mere punishment of a few individuals. He asked what there was to prevent the interference of the European Powers in a way that would tend to civilize that country—what was there to prevent it, except those very jealousies, which it would be absurd for us to shrink from avowing that we, as well as others, felt? The first step had indeed been taken by the convention and meeting of Plenipotentiaries at Paris, and it would be impossible for the great Powers of Europe to be content with limiting their intervention to the object that had now been stated. He had often heard in that House and elsewhere, extreme horror expressed at violent acts of revolutionists; and he always lamented the occurrence of I outrages or of civil wars; but what were all such deeds in a country undergoing a revolution compared with the massacres i that had taken place in Syria? He ventured to say that in the Reign of Terror, during the French Revolution, so many persons were nut put to death by the revolutionary rulers or mobs in any two years in Paris, as there appeared to have been in Syria in two weeks, according to the accounts in the newspapers. After their diplomatists had interfered in every way with the Government of Turkey—after they had engageh in a sanguinary war in its defence—the European Powers would, if they limited their intervention to the purposes that had been mentioned, be abdicating the high position they hold in this I world, and would violate the duties which I they owed to mankind and the Creator.; He did think that the English Parliament before it separated ought to make it known to Europe that it was prepared to look the difficulty in the face, and that while it would uphold the suzerainty of the Sultan, it, at the same time, would insist upon; having real securities and effectual guarantees against the recurrence of such horrible events. It was absurd to talk of the necessity of respecting the independence of the Porto. The Sultan was now avowedly unable to maintain peace and order among his own subjects, and had, as appeared by the protocol, appealed to us for assistance. I It was vain, therefore, to talk of respecting his independence, and if the other Powers interfered, they had a right to demand that precautions should be taken, and guarantees given against the peace of the world being endangered year after year by these occurrences. If they did not do that, the next outbreak might take place at a more inopportune moment, and we might be called upon either to surrender all our influence in the East, or to under take some desperate and calamitous war. He bad read in a newspaper that the Sultan had consented to a joint intervention, because of the fear of otherwise exciting war between France and England. Now, did any one suppose that France and England would go to war for the sake of Turkey; or for the sake of upholding the Mahomedan power in the East? If we went to war about Turkey it would be because of our jealousy of some great Power. It would be a disgrace to us, if, after sending a Commissioner to Syria, we allowed such scenes as had been described again to take place there, especially as what we had already done was utterly inconsistent with our considering Turkey a great Power, or the Sultan a really independent Sovereign. The best plan would be for the European Powers to come to an understanding among themselves and settle how Turkey should be treated, not perhaps with a view to its partition, but with the object of preventing a recurrence of events the repetition of which would be a disgrace to the Powers which had interfered in the affairs of that country. House adjourned at Half past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, Half past Ten o'clock.