HL Deb 03 July 1877 vol 235 cc681-3

rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for information as to the boundary line between Turkey and Persia which was laid down by scientific officers under the auspices of the British Government some years ago; whether it has been formally agreed to; and, if not, for what reason it has not been called into operation? The noble Earl said that, although the Question stood in his own name, he had been requested to place it upon the Paper by his noble Friend (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe), whose authority upon the Eastern Question was supreme, and whose interest in what was going on was undiminished by the weight of 90 years. He believed that there would be no difficulty on the part of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) in answering the Question—although he did not know whether the reply might be altogether satisfactory to the interests concerned. He understood from his noble Friend (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) that the advance of the Russian forces into Asia Minor and their approach to the Persian frontier, gave more than usual interest to the diplomatic relations between Persia and Turkey. War between those two countries was averted many years ago by the joint mediation of England and Russia. The immediate case of quarrel was a disputed frontier. The negotiation which ensued terminated in a Treaty. But fresh differences arose on drawing the boundary line. It was then agreed that a map of the whole frontier country should be made on scientific principles with the view of removing all uncertainty from the points in dispute. Much time was required for this operation; but finally all difficulties were overcome by the skill and perseverance of agents employed by the mediating Powers, and the result was a map from which no appeal could reasonably be made. On an average breadth of about 50 miles, with a length of more than 700, it presented the local details of the whole region traversed by the boundary line. It was, however, desirable to know from Her Majesty's Government whether the Turko-Persian boundary had ever been laid down in a settled and binding form in conformity with the map or even otherwise; and, if not, for what reasons the omission had been allowed to occur?


My Lords, as my noble Friend anticipates, I shall have no difficulty in giving him an Answer to the Question he has put to me. The best way of doing so is by laying before your Lordships in the fewest possible words a recapitulation of what has passed in connection with this matter. There is a slight verbal inaccuracy in the statement implied in the Question my noble Friend has put to me. It is not correct to say that any boundary line has been laid down by scientific officers under the auspices of the British Government. What has happened was this—As long ago as the year 1843 the British and Russian Governments engaged to use their good offices in bringing about a settlement of the boundary dispute which existed between Persia and Turkey, and which at that time had very nearly led to war. In May, 1847, a Treaty was signed at Erzeroum between the Persian and Turkish Governments. The effect was to provide for the appointment by those two Governments of Commissioners by whom the boundary was to be defined. We, the British Government, were not parties to that Treaty, although we had a good deal to do with its conclusion. We agreed with the Russian Government to give our assistance in settling the boundaries, and we engaged to act as mediators in case of any dispute. In pursuance of that understanding, after the Treaty was concluded, English and Russian officers were employed in preparing maps of the country through which the boundary line had to pass. There were delays and difficulties of various kinds, with the cause of which I am not well acquainted; but the result was that those maps were not completed until 1869. In that year they were handed in. A Convention was then signed between Persia and Turkey, by which it was agreed to maintain the status quo pending the final settlement of the boundary. The arrangement at that time stood as follows:—The mediating Powers, England and Russia, agreed that the boundary line ought to pass within the limits of the map so prepared. It included a considerable extent of country, but the fixing of the precise boundary itself was not undertaken by the English and Russian officers—that was left to the Turkish and Persian Governments to settle between them. But a proposal was added by the two mediating Powers that if any difference should arise the point in dispute should be referred to them for their joint decision. In January, 1875, we received for the first time an official intimation that the Turkish and Persian Governments had found themselves unable to agree upon a boundary line. Thereupon Sir Arnold Kemball was appointed on behalf of the British Government, and a Russian delegate was appointed by his own Government, to attend a Conference which was to be held on the subject. The Commissioners met and transacted some business; but the difference of opinion between the two principal parties concerned was such that no understanding was arrived at; and I am sorry to say that from that time to the present it has not been found possible to induce them either to agree between themselves to settle a boundary line or to refer the question to the decision of any other Power. Neither side—I say it with all impartiality—has shown the slightest disposition to make any concession. They both seem to have acted upon the Oriental principle of doing nothing to-day which it is possible to put off—I will not say till to-morrow, but till next month or next year. Since the outbreak of the war the question has necessarily been hung up. The Russian Commissioner has been recalled, and Sir Arnold Kemball, as your Lordships are aware, is employed upon other duties. But although there have been excessive and vexatious delays, and though I am bound to say neither party has shown any great willingness to come to an understanding, still the negotiation is not broken off—only suspended—and there is no reason why it should not be resumed when a favourable opportunity presents itself. I can assure my noble Friend and your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government are fully aware of the extreme importance of preventing the outbreak of war between Persia and Turkey, and that they will lose no available opportunity of endeavouring to avert such a public misfortune.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.