HL Deb 29 May 1879 vol 246 cc1408-12

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If Her Majesty's Government have any information as to the truth of the reported dis- turbances in the Island of Crete? Since he gave Notice of his Question, he had seen, by the usual sources of information, that Papers had been promised in "another place" relative to the affairs of Crete, since the termination of the Correspondence now before Parliament. In asking at that moment what foundation existed for the statements in some of the public journals concerning a serious, if partial, insurrection against the order of things now established in Crete, an order of things which that Correspondence gave some hope would be at length accepted by the people of that long-distracted Island, he trusted that the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) might be able to state that they were either wholly or in a great measure incorrect, and had no other foundation than those partial disorders which, perhaps, could not at once be expected to disappear. He hoped that it might be so, not only for the sake of the tranquillity of Crete, or of the importance which it derived from its geographical position with regard to the interests of the Powers of Europe in the Mediterranean; but because it was the ground on which the first essay was being carried on of the reformed organization proposed to be carried out in other Provinces of European Turkey, and its success or failure in Crete could hardly fail to be taken as an augury of the prospects of similar reform elsewhere. Those of their Lordships who had at all followed this subject would remember that the Constitution established after the revolt and civil war of 1867–8, though offering many of the elements of good government, failed to command confidence and produce contentment—partly, perhaps, because it was not fully carried out, partly because it gave a share in the General Assembly to the Christian majority which, though far from insignificant, fell short of that to which they thought that their numbers entitled them, and which was requisite to protect their interests. Then, it appeared from the Papers before their Lordships that after that conflict and bloodshed of which the Island was the scene during the last year, the indefatigable exertions of the British Agents, and particularly of Consul Sandwith, seemed to have brought about the acceptance on both parts of a reformed organization, securing the essential liberties of both creeds and races, and giving a decided predominance to the Christian majority in the representation of the Island, while insuring a full and generous recognition to the Mussulman minority, a recognition important not only for their due protection, but because an organization that overlooked the rights of the most warlike and hitherto dominant part of the population could hardly be lasting in itself, nor be accepted by the Porte in good faith. The Native Mussulmans, indeed, seemed, as it were, not altogether satisfied. Consul Sandwith, who stated that, observed in the same letter (November 4, 1878) that the great bulk of the Christians were well contented with the present arrangement, provided it were guaranteed by Her Majesty's Government that it should henceforth be a more difficult task for Greek committees to stir up the Island to a fresh revolt, and that if time were allowed for the growth of material prosperity, the motives impelling to revolution would gradually cease. Unfortunately, some discontent appeared to have arisen from the change of intention relative to the appointment of a Governor. The Christians had desired that Costaki Pasha, who had previously discharged his functions to the satisfaction of all parties, might be allowed to remain as the first Vali under the new system; but they were well contented by the appointment of Caratheodori Pasha. This appointment, however, was suddenly cancelled, and the substitution of Photiades Pasha, who ultimately was appointed to the office, seemed to have caused much distrust and dissatisfaction. It was evident that any person intrusted by the Turkish Government with the working of the new organization must have a difficult task, seeing that not only the reality, but the appearance, of any injustice or want of fidelity in executing what had been promised might have disastrous consequences; and it was to be hoped that no such imprudence would mar the prospect of better things which seemed at last secured to the Cretan people. Some of their Lordships might have noticed that the supposed seat of disorder was said to be the district of Sphakia, a report which, if true, was in one sense a hopeful sign, as the position of that district was altogether peculiar. Claiming certain special privileges, it stood to the rest of Crete somewhat as Crete had stood to the rest of the Empire, unwilling to be absorbed in a general organization as the Cretans were to accept for themselves a share in the Constitution set up by Midhat Pasha. He hoped they might hear from the noble Marquess that the tranquillity of the Island under its organic statute was not seriously menaced, though the smouldering fires of antagonism and animosity engendered by long years, partly of mis-rule and partly of anarchy, could not altogether be extinguished in a moment even by a reform so full of promise for the future as the one now granted appeared to be.


My Lords, I received yesterday a despatch from Consul Sandwith, whom my noble Friend (Lord Colchester) has mentioned in terms of just commendation, and there was nothing in the language he used to lead me to believe that any disturbances were going on in Crete. My information does not confirm the statement of my noble Friend that there is any want of confidence felt in the new Governor, Photiades Pasha. There is no doubt the people were at first a little disappointed at the sudden change, when Caratheodori Pasha was summoned to be Foreign Minister at Constantinople; but they have not shown any want of trust in the present Governor, who is a man of distinction, has served in high diplomatic posts, and is very highly valued by his Christian fellow-subjects. There have been some differences of opinion. My noble Friend has alluded to the discontent of the people at Sphakia. Their discontent is a species of Home Rule feeling; they want the capital to be in their district, and the capital is really somewhere else; and that was a grievance which at one time they were much inclined to make a subject of armed resistance, but happily they were influened by better counsels. There has also been some difference of opinion with the Porte upon a subject which I am sorry to say gives a great deal of perplexity and trouble to the Porte at the present moment—I mean the subject of finance. There was a promise on the part of the Porte that certain customs and revenues should be paid to the people of Crete, and orders arrived from Constantinople that the accumulated result of those revenues should be duly paid over; but when they came to examine into the matter, somehow it turned out there was no accumulation at all, and no one exactly knows what has become of the money. That circumstance produced a little embarrassment and discontent. The real truth is that this is a very warlike population, amongst whom there have been disturbances for many years. There are causes of deep-seated animosity, owing to the long contest between Mussulmans and Christians, and what is wanted in the Island is a very strong and effective gendarmerie to keep order. Unfortunately, this strong and effective gendarmerie requires money for its sustenance. It is true the Albanians have refused to serve, or give their valuable assistance, and the result is that undoubtedly there are some occasional crimes of violence committed which may be very easily exaggerated and treated as popular disorders; but anything indicating discontent on the part of the people with the Constitution recently granted, as far as my information goes, does not exist.