HL Deb 10 February 1881 vol 258 cc472-6

, in rising to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If he has any objection to state to what extent England and the other Bowers entered into engagements at the Berlin Conference to secure to Greece the increase of territory as defined by the frontier line in the Blue Book (Greece, No. 3.); and to ask if any additional Papers can be laid on the Table of the House relating to this subject, said, he hoped the noble Earl (Earl Granville) would not think that he was bringing this question under their Lordships' notice at an inopportune moment. He was induced to do so, because recent events had shown that there was considerable divergence of opinion as regarded the interpretation of documents with reference to the question now pending between Turkey and Greece as to the engagements into which the Powers had entered with regard to the Greek Frontier; and it was desirable that any doubts that were entertained on the subject should be removed as far as possible. He alluded especially to the Conference of Berlin and the clause of the Treaty of Berlin which was the basis of that Conference. Now, the 24th Article of the Treaty of Berlin ran thus— In the event of the Sublime Porte and Greece being unable to agree upon the rectification of Frontier suggested in the 13th Protocol of the Congress of Berlin, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia reserve to themselves to offer their mediation to the two parties to facilitate negotiations. The suggestion in the Protocol referred to was that this rectification of Frontier should follow the Valley of the Salamyrias on the side of the Egean Sea, and that of the Calamas on the side of the Ionian Sea. This would include Janina, and, he (Earl de la Warr) thought, also Met-zovo, which was, in a great measure, the Frontier line desired by Greece, but to which Turkey objected as giving important mountain passes to Greece, independently of so large a portion of valuable territory. He came now to the Conference of Berlin, which, he presumed, was intended to carry out what was intimated in the Treaty, as stated in the letter of Earl Granville to Lord Odo Russell (June 9, 1880), where it was described as relating to the rectification of the Frontier of Greece. But it seemed now to be questioned to what limit the mediating powers of the Conference were extended, and how far its decisions were at first intended to be binding. The recent publication, however, of documents had clearly, as it seemed to him, established the fact that its conclusions were intended to be final decisions which could not be re-opened. He might, perhaps, be allowed to read a document annexed to a despatch of M. Tissot, the French Ambassador at Constantinople. He found in The Livre Jaune, the Parliamentary Book of France, the following Collective Note, which was forwarded by all the Signatory Powers of the Berlin Conference on the 25th of August to Abeddin Pasha, the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs:— The Governments of the undersigned have examined the reply made by the Sublime Porto on July 26 last to the Collective Note, dated the loth of the same month, communicating the final act of the Berlin Conference with reference to the rectification of the Greek Frontier. After setting forth in the same reply its objections to the conclusions of the final act of the said Conference, the Sublime Porte expressed a desire that the mediating Powers should authorize their Representatives at Constantinople to enter into negotiations with it with a view to arriving at an understanding respecting the definitive settlement of the outline of the Frontier and the points of detail and secondary moment connected with the question. The undersigned, by order of their Governments, have the honour to make known to his Excellency Abeddin Pasha that the decision of the Conference of Berlin, having been taken after mature deliberation, and after an attentive examination of the different tracings successively proposed by the Ottoman and Greek Governments, the mediating Powers cannot consent to the re-opening of the negotiations on the subject. They cannot but abide by the decision of the Conference which they have approved, and recommend it afresh to the Sublime Porte as in conformity with the Treaty and Protocol of Berlin. The Governments of Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Russia find themselves consequently unable to authorize the undersigned to accept any discussion as to the delimitation of the Frontier. They can only leave them the faculty of examining any proposal the Porte may have to make as regards the best mode of effecting the evacuation by the Ottoman authorities of the territories specified in the decision of the Conference, and the transfer of the same to the Hellenic Government.— HATZFELD, CALICE, TISSOT, GEORGE GOSCHES, J. L. CORTI, NOVIKOFF. That Collective Note was, it appeared, forwarded at once to Athens; and he would ask, whether it could have been understood in any other way by the Greek Government than as expressing the decision and award of the Powers with regard to the Frontier? It was in conformity with the Treaty and Protocol of Berlin; no further discussion was to be allowed, but only as to the best mode of effecting the evacuation of the territories by the Ottoman authorities; and what had been the consequence of that —the natural consequence? Ever since that time Greece had been arming, relying on the support of England and the other Powers; and the Army, which usually consisted of about 12,000 men, had assumed the vast proportion of upwards of 60,000. The population, which was not unmindful of its ancient traditions, was excited and eager for war; and it was a question whether, if the Government desired it, the national and popular feeling could be repressed. After referring to this document, it was, perhaps, unnecessary for him to ask attention to the Blue Book relative to the Conference. But there he found the same thing. The Frontier line, after much deliberation, was drawn, giving Janina and Metzovo to Greece; and in the despatch of Lord Odo Russell to Earl Granville, dated July 1, 1880, it was described as the "award" of the Conference. Also, in a despatch of Lord Odo Russell to Earl Granville, dated June 29, 1880, he spoke of an Identic Note to be addressed to the Governments of Turkey and Greece, when notifying to them the final award of the Conference. Now, the words "final award" were a somewhat strong expression, if they wore only intended to mean suggestions in the light of mediation; and it was hardly possible to suppose that Greece should not regard these decisions as conclusive, and indicating the intentions of (he Powers. He could also refer to the language used by the French Plenipotentiary at the Congress of Berlin. M. Waddington said— With regard to Greece, it is not, of course, the object of the Congress to afford satisfaction to the extravagant aspirations of certain organs of Hellenic opinion; but he thought that it would be an equitable and politic act to annex to her populations which would be for her a source of strength while they are but one of weakness to Turkey. And it was certainly with some surprise that he (Earl de la Warr) had heard statements of a very different kind recently put forward, especially by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the effect that it was only advice which was given by the Conference, and that it had no other force; and, further, what was very remarkable, that the Powers would not reject a compromise under which Janina and Metzovo should remain Turkish, and that, as he understood, after having deliberately affirmed that they could not re-open the question. These statements, so far as he was aware, had not been contradicted. He might say they were rather confirmed by the project which had been put forward of a new Conference; and he trusted the noble Earl would be able to give some explanation to their Lordships, and to lay further Papers on the Table of the House.


My Lords, I trust the noble Earl (Earl de la Warr) will not think that it is duo to any want of respect on my part if I ask him not to press me to give a categorical answer to the Question which he has put to me. The settlement of the Greek Frontier Question is one of paramount importance; but, owing to its difficulty, its solution has been in abeyance for nearly three years, and I am very sensible of the absence in this House of any pressure for information on the subject, which I attribute to a desire not to add to its difficulties. I am afraid that if I made a positive declaration in relation to it, it might increase the risk of war between Turkey and Greece. My hope that that war may be averted rests, firstly, on my knowledge that all the Powers are most anxious in their desire that that war should be averted; and, secondly, on my ignorance that any important differences of opinion exist between them as to the best mode of arriving at that result. Papers will be laid on the Table this evening, and other Papers will follow very soon.