HL Deb 14 August 1860 vol 160 cc1238-55

My Lords, I have given private notice to my noble Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs of certain Questions which I wish to put to him before your Lordships proceed to the business of the day. The first relates to the state of affairs in Syria. I wish to ask my noble Friend whether any orders have been given directing one of the armed vessels belonging to Her Majesty's squadron in the Mediterranean to proceed to Smyrna, and other large towns on the coast of the Archipelago, for the protection of British subjects and property during the present disturbed state of Syria, and during the apprehended danger of other outbreaks in other districts of that country. I received only yesterday a letter from Smyrna which, although it is of a private kind, goes so much to the point that in justification of my question I will venture to read it to your Lordships. My correspondent, residing in Smyrna, writes in these terms:—

"Smyrna, August 3.

"The alarm here is still great, and I should be glad to see a vessel of war. I have no fear of the Mahomedan residents of Smyrna taking the initiative in any move against the Christians, for they are in a minority. What we have to fear is a fire, or any dispute between Turks and Greeks, in which eventually there might be fearful results. We have also another cause for alarm. The migratory races in the interior amount in all within the pashalick to 110,000. Throughout the Mahomedan population in the interior there is much discontent against the Turkish Government. Should any move take place, it is impossible to say whether a spirit of fanaticism or jealousy might not lead them against the Christians. The consequence of the alarm is a very great check to trade, and the fear which is felt at Constantinople does not improve matters. I hope the storm will blow over; still, I cannot refrain from repeating that I should he most happy to see a vessel of war here, not only for the protection of the interests of nearly 5,000 under British protection in and near Smyrna, but also as a check upon the evil-disposed. When the outbreak in Syria was first known vessels of war should have been sent to all the principal ports in Turkey. At all events, one should have been sent here, where there is so large an amount of British interest at stake."

It is not at Smyrna, alone that alarm is expressed. In a letter which I have received to-day from Constantinople, dated the 1st of August, there occur these expressions, which I have extracted as briefly as possible:— Another cause of mischief here is the strong impression that Europe will never unite together against the mismanagement of Turkish Administration. But if the Turkish Ministers were once to see at least England and France agree together on this point, you would see them act quite differently… There could not, I believe, be a better or more justifiable opportunity for making a last effort to save this country, which is sure otherwise to perish, than since the last awful occurrences in Syria have fixed public attention to such an extent. Any attempt again to patch up things in the usual diplomatic way will, you may rest assured, end in no practical result, and only postpone the evil moment.… The public mind has been very much excited of late by passing events, and strong apprehensions are still entertained of some eventual outbreak in the capital. Poverty and discontent prevail more or less almost among every class and community. One cannot tell what may be the result of all this without some prompt and efficient change.

I think that the language of these letters, which come from persons of respectability and much experience, justifies me in attaching importance to the answer which I may receive from my noble Friend. It also justifies the opinion which I have already expressed, that these disturbances in Syria are not referable to local causes alone, but are immediately connected with the general condition of the Turkish empire, the state of the public mind, and the weakness of the policy of the Government, arising from a long habit of vicious administration. And I cannot refrain from saying that a very serious responsibility will devolve upon Her Majesty's Government if occasion is not taken to press upon the Turkish Government the adoption of that system of reforms to which they are pledged in every possible manner—pledged in honour as well as by interest—and to their own subjects as well as to Europe at large. I have already expressed my firm conviction that, unless some stringent measures, such at least as are within the law of nations and the limits of moral and diplomatic action, are adopted with more vigour than has hitherto been shown, it will be impossible for the Turkish Government to preserve its authority so as to prevent the recurrence of such disturturbances as those in Syria, or of events still more important, not only to Turkey, but to Europe. I do hope that when the measures which are now being taken for restoring tranquillity in Syria have had their effect, they will extend to the prevention of a repetition of such occurrences as have recently taken place. I hope measures will be adopted which will interpose a barrier between the races, the contention between whom has in part given rise to these events, and which will at the same time prove beneficial to the general interests of the Turkish Empire. I do not hesitate to express my opinion that, if circumstances appear favourable to the measure, it would be very desirable that the contending tribes should no longer be allowed to occupy, in the form of a mixed population, the same villages where, from their constant proximity, feuds are engendered, and the Turkish officers have opportunities for interference or non-interference, both of which are equally disastrous. It is satisfactory to observe that measures, apparently of an efficient kind, have been adopted at Damascus; but there are circumstances which make mo apprehend that if care is not taken those measures will stop with the mere repression of the local disturbances. In the letter from Smyrna from which I read an extract, it is stated that Kurschid Pasha had arrived there, not, as one would have expected after misconduct which had been so favourable to the extension of these atrocities, under arrest or in any disgrace, but in possession of all his honours, and with his flag flying on the boat which took him on shore, and that he was passing his time apparently without the slightest anxiety or any apprehension of punishment for his misconduct. One cannot help seeing in that a mirror of the state of the ministerial mind at Constantinople; and I must say that it seems to me to be a reason why Her Majesty's Government, and the other Powers who are taking part in the suppression of these disturbances, should be careful not only to put them down for the present, but to adopt comprehensive measures to prevent their recurrence. This is not the occasion on which to go further into the subject; but the circumstances are so important that I should have failed in my duty if I had not addressed these few words to your Lordships.


I am not able to state that positive instructions have been sent to the Admiral in command in the Mediterranean to despatch a vessel to Smyrna. It is true that at that place, as at a great number of other towns through- out the Turkish Empire, there was and still is great apprehension. What has been done has been to send Admiral Martin with a strong squadron to the Syrian coast with instructions to give all the assistance in his power to the efforts made for the protection of life and the restoration of tranquillity. He will naturally direct his ships to those points where they are most required, and any order to send a vessel to a particular place might disorganize plans which will be better formed and carried out by him on the spot than they could be by orders from home. At the same time I quite admit the importance of keeping a watch upon what may take place at Smyrna; because that town is a very important one, and from the number of Christians it contains, and the agitation which prevails among the neighbouring-population, is in a peculiar position. I may take this opportunity of stating that my noble Friend at the head of the Admiralty has informed mo that the squadron which is now actually upon the coast of Syria consists of the Exmouth, the Marl-borough, the Victor Emmanuel, and the Neptune, line-of-battle-ships; the Ganges and the Liffey, frigates; and the Hawke, Racoon, and Caradoc, corvettes. My noble Friend having alluded to Kurschid Pasha, I may state that the most recent intelligence which we have received leads us to think that Fuad Pasha has taken measures for causing an inquiry to be made into his conduct. He would not allow him to land at Beyrout, and Kurschid was, as we understand, about to be sent to Constantinople under arrest. No doubt, the conduct of Kurschid Pasha was more than suspicious, and requires strict investigation; and, if it should turn out that he is guilty of those acts of which he is accused, severe punishment. As regards the general state of Syria, and the measures to be adopted, at present all the energies of the Turkish authorities and of the Allies of the Porte must be directed to the restoration of tranquillity. When peace has been restored it will be the proper time for considering the various plans to which my noble Friend has referred for settling affairs upon a better basis. With respect to the reforms which both the present and previous Governments have pressed upon the Porte, what we want is not only that they should be conceded on paper by the Sultan's Ministers, but that some vigorous and energetic measures should be adopted of a kind calculated to restore confidence in the public mind and to produce a better state of finance. Until more vigour and determination of purpose is shown by the Turkish Government, the concessions, valuable as they may appear, will not produce the results which are desired.


said, their Lordships were much indebted to his noble Friend (Lord Stratford de Redcliffe) for keeping their attention alive to a subject of such profound interest, and one with regard to which nobody could speak with greater authority. On a recent occasion, when this matter was referred to in that House in his absence, a disposition seemed to have been evinced rather to view the affairs of Syria in a sectarian spirit. Nothing could be more unfortunate, both for the result that we all desired and for our own character throughout the world, than that we should appear to consider these most grievous events with any sectarian partiality or political jealousy.


I have to thank my noble Friend for the candid manner in which he has answered my first question. But I must be allowed to say that I think attention ought to be paid, not only to the requirements of Syria, but also to the protection needed for other parts of the Archipelago. If I may take the liberty of offering a remark on the Convention which has been laid on the table, I cannot but express the regret I personally feel that more care was not taken to combine the two objects which Her Majesty's Government and others must desire to see accomplished—namely, that the Turks themselves should he obliged to put down the disturbances in the first instance, and should have a sufficient opportunity for doing so. For, although I for one, do think that European troops might be trusted in Syria on this occasion if necessary, and hope that a sentiment of sound judgment and true honours may direct their operations, yet every one is aware that this is a necessity which ought, if possible, to be avoided. I am of opinion that additional chances might have been given in favour of avoiding that necessity if at the outset the Turks had been called upon to put down the outbreak and to punish its authors. A short time might have been granted for that purpose, and in the event of their failing to carry out the requisite measures, then European troops might have come in with greater effect and greater propriety. Even in that case a risk might still have accompanied the intervention, owing to the delicate nature of the emergency, and the chances that other circumstances may arise to alter the position of an army of occupation. I must say I think it would have been better if that course had been adopted. However, it is very satisfactory to find that progress has been made, and that a degree of energy and efficient action has been employed to put an end to these disturbances.

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