HL Deb 29 January 1878 vol 237 cc610-8

rose to ask for the production of certain Correspondence relating to Greece. The noble Lord said, he considered it of great importance that their Lordships should receive the fullest information as to the position of the Greek Provinces of Turkey, and what engagements had been entered into by Her Majesty's Government on the subject, so that they might be able to judge whether the peace was likely to be satisfactory; because no peace could be satisfactory which did not contain proper guarantees for the proper treatment of the Christians in Thessaly and Epirus as well as those of the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey. It was most important that their Lordships should know what were the engagements which had been entered into by Her Majesty's Government in relation to this matter. It had been stated on very good authority that before the Conference which took place at Constantinople, engagements had been entered into by the Great Bowers, by which those Greek Provinces were to be placed in the same position as the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey; and it was quite clear, from the terms of a despatch, the authenticity of which had not been questioned, which had been addressed in the month of September by the Greek Minister to the Charge d'Affaires in London, that the very strongest pressure was put by the Foreign Secretary upon the Greek Government to prevent them from interfering in any way in the war that was being waged between Russia and Turkey. He wished to know whether that statement was correct? At all events, it would be only fair and right that the noble Earl should lay the despatches which he had written on the Table of the House, and afford the information on the subject which was in possession of the Foreign Office. The conscience and honour of this country were engaged in this matter, and nothing ought to be done which would prevent the Greek Christians from occupying the same position as the other Christians of Turkey. The next Question he wished to put was, whether the noble Earl could give the House any information as to the ravages which had been made in the Greek Provinces by Circassians and Bashi-Bazouks? He understood that in a despatch of the 4th August, a promise was given by the Turkish Government that no Circassians should be sent into Macedonia; but there could be no doubt that the most horrible ravages had been committed, not only there, but in the three Greek Provinces, and that in Macedonia the character of the country had become changed, and instead of the majority being Christian as before they had become Moslem. The most important point on which he wished to receive information was as to the condition of the Christians in Thessaly, Epirus, and Macedonia. The war had driven a large number of emigrants into those Provinces, the troops were withdrawn, and the whole country had been ravaged by Bashi-Bazouks and Circassians, who had been guilty of murder, robbery, and rape. Prom information he had received from a private source, the outrages were of the most horrible kind; and he wished to know whether the noble Earl had received information of the same kind, and he wished the despatches to be laid on the Table in order to ascertain the character of the information received by the noble Earl. He was informed that in September last 1,200 Zeibeks, commanded by a Bey, were sent to the Christian Provinces by the Turkish Government. Of that number, one-sixth or one-seventh were convicts who had been released on a promise to enlist. On their arrival they immediately began to rob and plunder the Christian inhabitants, whom they subjected to nameless indignities. Amongst the victims were several young girls who drowned themselves in order to save their honour. These were facts which could not by any possibility be disputed. No peace could be satisfactory which did not prevent a recurrence of these things. To those Turkish Provinces of Greece Mahomedan immigrants had been sent, who in some places had changed the character of the population by altering the relative numerical proportion of Christians to Mahomedans. This was in the face of a promise to the contrary made by the Turkish Government. He defied anyone to show an example of a Christian population living happily under Mussulman rule. The whole of these Provinces looked to Greece for the regeneration of the East, and he hoped we should show ourselves their friends. They stretched out their hands and asked us to assist them; and he felt certain that no work that could be undertaken by the Government would be so honourable to this country as that of affording to these Christian Provinces the privileges which were being given by Russia to the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey. The other evening the noble Earl at the head of the Government said there was an objection on the part of foreign Governments to the publication of diplomatic Papers. That argument might be used against his application for information; but he was sure that the Greek Government would not object to the production of the Papers he asked for; and if it did not, let Parliament have the despatches addressed to Greece by the noble Earl. The noble Lord concluded by asking the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he will lay on the Table of the House copies of any Correspondence which has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Turkish and Greek Governments with reference to the maintenance by Greece of neutrality during the war, or with reference to any disturbances in Thessaly and Epirus, or to outrages committed in those Provinces?


expressed his concurrence with the ultimate views enunciated by his noble Friend—namely, that if a partition of European Turkey was to take place under the auspices of Europe, the preference in division should be given to the Greek races. It would be injurious to the political morality of the world if Greece were to suffer for having kept good faith with Turkey. She had, at our instigation, refrained from adding to existing complications, and we were bound to see her interests attended to in the organic change which must shortly take place in that quarter.


My Lords, I do not like to make objections on a mere matter of form; but I think it would have been a more customary and more convenient course if the noble Lord who made this Motion and raised this discussion had announced his intention to call attention to the subject, instead of which he has simply put upon the Notice Paper an announcement of his intention to ask a Question. When I came down to this House I was not in any manner prepared to enter on a general discussion as to the state of the Greek Provinces, and into the relations between Greece and Turkey during the last few months. If we are to speak usefully at all upon such a subject, it is necessary to speak with the greatest accuracy of detail; and it is obvious that it is not very easy to do that if one is called upon at a moment's notice to answer Questions and discuss propositions relating to circumstances some of which are not of very recent date. However, I will, so far as I can do so, satisfy the anxiety and comply with the wishes of the noble Lord and your Lordships. The noble Lord has put various Questions to me, and I will take them in their order. First of all, he asks me what has been done with regard to the promise made by the Turkish Government with respect to the Circassian immigration into Europe? My Lords, a complaint was made by the Greek Government—a complaint which, I am bound to say, was not unreasonable—of the conduct of a good many of those Circassians who had been introduced, and who had settled in the neighbourhood of the Greek Provinces. We thought that the complaint was not ill-founded, and we represented the case to the Turkish Government. It was a matter in respect of which we were not entitled to claim as of right to interfere; because no Government can be denied the right of allowing or encouraging its subjects to migrate from one of its Provinces to another. But we did represent to the Porte the inconvenience felt by the Greek population in those places in which the Circassians had settled; and the Porte promised—I do not carry in my head the date at which the assurance was given—that the immigration should not be continued to any place within a considerable distance of the Greek frontier. I do not believe that at any time the number of immigrants brought in from Asia by the Turkish authorities was considerable; but there was a promise that the immigration should cease. Complaints were subsequently made that in some cases immigrants had come in after that assurance, and I believe they did so, but only in small numbers. Whenever facts of that kind were brought to our notice we represented them to the Porte, and I should very much doubt whether, since the outbreak of the war, any immigration of Circassians has continued to take place. We have had Greek complaints of the conduct of the Porte on other matters; but I do not recollect that any have been made latterly on that subject. Now, my Lords, the noble Lord raised a more important question when he spoke of the atrocities, which in many instances, he said, had been committed on the population by the Turkish irregular troops, who had been left under inadequate control during the last few months. I am afraid there have been a good many cases of outrages and crimes of the kind to which the noble Lord has referred; but the explanation is, I think, to be found in the fact that since this war—one of life and death for Turkey—has been raging, all the Turkish regular troops have been sent to engage the Prussians and Roumanians on the frontier, and their place in the Greek Provinces has been supplied by irregulars, a kind of militia, not under proper discipline, and not originally composed of the best elements; and I am quite prepared to believe that many of the outrages and robberies which have been described have really been committed by those troops. That is all the more possible, because the demand for soldiers has been so great, and the state of the Turkish finances so bad, that many of those irregular troops have of late received little or no pay; and men who are armed and who are unpaid, must always be a source of danger to the population on which they are quartered. When cases of that kind have occurred, they have been pointed out to the Porte; but such has been the state of utter confusion and disorganization to which the Turkish Empire has been reduced by the hostilities that have been going on that I do not believe, whatever may have been the wish of the Turkish Government, that it has been able to control its own irregular troops, or enforce order in a proper manner. I will only add that, though I do not dispute the reality and gravity of many of the crimes that have been referred to, still we must recollect that we get our accounts of them mostly through Greek sources; and, as everyone knows, there is a very strong feeling in Greece against Turkey, and there is a large party in Greece in favour of war, and naturally they will do everything they can to throw discredit on the Turkish Government. While, therefore, I believe a great part of what we hear on this subject, considerable allowance must be made by reason of the channel through which the reports reach us. With regard to the question of engagements entered into with Greece, I am not aware of the nature of the engagements which the noble Lord supposes to have been taken by Her Majesty's Government. I have been more than once requested, both officially and unofficially, to state whether, in the event of a European Conference being held on the Eastern Question, Greece would be admitted to send a Representative. To that I have always given one answer. I said it was too early to speak of the possible composition of such a Conference before we even knew whether a Conference would be held; but I have added, though only as the expression of my personal and private opinion, that if any such Conference did take place, and any besides the Great Powers were represented and admitted to take part in it, then I thought the claim of Greece to admission would be a fair one to consider. More than that I did not feel bound to say, nor should I have been justified in giving a more definite reply. Then my noble Friend who spoke second asked me whether it would be right to allow Greece to suffer in consequence of the good faith she had observed? I think Greece was wise in abstaining from taking part in the war; but I do not think that because the Greeks have wisely abstained from picking an unprovoked quarrel with their neighbour, they have by that circumstance established a right to a share in their neighbour's territory, because that, in point of fact, is what the claim amounts to. Then the noble Lord says—"You put the strongest pressure upon the Greek Government not to take part in the war." We have used no menace; we have put on no pressure; we have not gone beyond giving that friendly advice in the interest and for the benefit of the Greeks themselves, which it is the right and duty of a protecting Power to give. We sought to prevent an extension of the war, and we accordingly advised Greece not to take a part in it. I am glad to say that up to the present time that advice has been listened to. I think that in listening to that advice the Greek Government has acted wisely in its own interests. If the Greeks had joined in the war, while they might have inflicted great injury on Turkey, they would probably have suffered at least as much themselves, Turkey having a considerable fleet and being mistress of the sea, and Greece having a great extent of seaboard, a considerable maritime commerce, and a maritime population open to attack. I think, therefore, it is at least probable that if Greece had engaged in hostilities she would have suffered as much injury as Turkey. I say that, because the noble Lord seemed to look at the matter as if our advice had been dictated solely by regard to Turkey and was against the interests of Greece. I do not see it, and have never seen it, in that light. As to the Papers, the noble Lord made a proposition which I think he scarcely meant in earnest. The noble Lord said —"I don't care about the Turkish Papers, if there is an objection to produce them; all I want are the Greek Papers." That is to say—"We do not care to hear both sides of the question, we only want to hear one side." Now, obviously, both sides do not take the same view, and the Turkish Papers are not likely to set out the matters in dispute in the same light as that in which they are viewed by the Greeks. Your Lordships, I think, will agree with me that if this is a case in which it is important to produce any Papers at all, it is desirable to produce them all. As far as the British Government are concerned, I have not the slightest wish to keep them back; and when they are published I venture to think they will show the thorough impartiality of the Government in the matter—that our desire has been solely, from first to last, to compose the differences which had sprung up between Turkey and Greece, and to prevent the extension of the war. I quite agree with the noble Lord that your Lordships ought to have all the information that can be given whenever the time comes at which the Russian proposals will have to be discussed. I only say that I think the present moment is not the most convenient for its production. Everyone knows that there is a strong war party at Athens. Within the last day or two we have heard of riots and disturbances caused by that party at Athens; and if at this moment we were to lay before the public eye all the details of the difficulties that have arisen between the two Governments in the last 12 'months, I think the effect of that would very possibly be to defeat the object we have had in view, and that we should do a great deal more to inflame than to appease the irritation which now exists. In my opinion we should not be justified in withholding the information now asked for any considerable time, because I quite agree that it relates to what is an important part of the general European question; but I do not think this present moment is the time to produce it.


My Lords, if it were not for the closing portion of the noble Earl's observations, I should not have considered his reply as altogether satisfactory. With regard to the horrible atrocities alleged to have been committed in the Greek Provinces, I think there can be little doubt of them. The noble Earl says that the probability is they have been exaggerated; but it is quite plain that certain facts are clearly true. Here are Provinces in which no disorder exists, and yet, after a promise to Her Majesty's Government and the Greek Government that there should be no further employment of irregular troops, you have armed barbarians sent into the country and left without pay. It is quite clear what the effect of that must be. With regard to the action of Her Majesty's Government in Greece, I very much agree with the noble Earl. I think the noble Earl was quite right and quite justified in giving the advice which he did to Greece. If he used arguments which might be properly used in such a case, and which were legitimate arguments to prevent them from going to war with Turkey against their own interests; if those arguments were based on the disadvantages which might result to Greece, and the injury which might be done to her by the powerful Navy of Turkey, arguments of that character would be perfectly legitimate. But if any menace were used, the case would be different. With regard to the charge which the noble Earl opposite brought against my noble Friend of desiring the production of one set of Papers only, my noble Friend never said that he only wished for the Greek and not for the Turkish Papers. He said he wished for the whole of the Papers; but that if one of the parties objected to their production, he did not think that was a reason why we should be denied all information on the subject. My noble Friend's demand was perfectly fair, and I was glad to hear that the noble Earl closed with an assurance that at the proper time your Lordships shall have the whole of the Papers. I am sure that my noble Friend will not press for the production of the Correspondence at the present moment.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.