HL Deb 13 May 1889 vol 335 cc1809-12

My Lords, I wish to ask my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary a question of which I have already given him private notice. There appear in the newspapers to-day serious statements in regard to the state of affairs in Armenia. Those statements are the sequel to many other statements that have been made from time to time of a similar kind; and so far as any contradiction of them on the part of the Turkish Authorities is concerned the denial has been one of a very feeble character. If my noble Friend can give a strong and unqualified denial to the alleged facts, I and everybody else, I am sure, will be satisfied. If, on the other hand, he cannot give that denial, then I hope he will give instructions—as I have no doubt he has already done to some extent—to the British Ambassador at Constantinople to ascertain what are the facts of the case, and to report to the authorities. The British Ambassador at Constantinople both can, and ought, to know what truth there is in these statements. My noble Friend, perhaps, will remember that a great many years ago a very similar case to this occurred when Lord Stratford de Redcliffe was British Ambassador at Constantinople. That was not in regard to the Armenians, but in regard to a people resident very near, the Nestorians; and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe not only ascertained the facts, but he knew by his great personal influence how to restrain the oppressions of the Pashas and the cruelties of the Kurdish tribes. I have no doubt that Sir William White has every desire to do the same, and also every ability to do it. My noble Friend will remember that in this matter there are both general and special obligations; and certainly any one who looks to the state of the East must know very well what a dangerous thing it is to leave a large district of territory such as Armenia, seething as it now is, under these cruelties and oppressions. I would remind my noble Friend that it is now a good many years since any proposal on the subject was laid before Parliament. It is a matter which concerns not only Europe, but this country in particular.


My Lords, we have no information with respect to the particular matters which appear in the newspapers of to-day. I quite sympathize with the feelings of my noble Friend; and I quite understand the motives which induced him to press Her Majesty's Government upon the matter. I need hardly assure him that if there is suffering among this ancient race Her Majesty's Government would gladly do anything that lay in their power to abate that suffering. Whether the stories that are told are accurate is not so easy to say. My noble Friend talks of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe's having obtained information with reference to the Nestorians. We are not precisely in the days of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe; matters are much changed; and I do not think it is quite so easy to obtain absolutely accurate information as to what goes on. But perhaps I may be allowed to say what the Turkish Ambassador has stated to me; although it is not official, I think I can do no wrong in speaking of it. He entirely disbelieves these stories, so far as the responsibility of the Turkish Government is concerned. He said that what is called Armenia is a country inhabited by various races and various creeds, separated from each other by long traditional antagonism; that Kurdish tribes, a pastoral and nomad people, residing near the Persian border from time to time commit atrocities which the authorities deeply lament and do all in their power to prevent, and when the outrages are committed these pastoral tribes pass over the border the next day and are entirely out of the reach of the Turkish Authorities. We know something even in this country of the difficulty of absolutely preventing in Ireland cruel outrages, resulting from the existence of divisions of race and creed and long traditional antagonisms, but we experience it in a very slight degree, and we cannot be surprised that in a country where the power of the Government is less than it is here, on account of the vast distances, the fewer opportunities, and the smaller resources, that such raids as those of the Kurdish tribes, moving rapidly from one country to another, should be difficult always to prevent. My Lords, I entirely sympathize with the feelings of my noble Friend, and think he was within his right in putting this question, and I agree that England is under considerable responsibilities, in consequence of the engagements that have been entered into; but I do not think that these considerations should prevent us from looking upon the matter with prudence. It must be remembered that remonstrance is a double-edged weapon. If there is any power behind it to give effect to it, it may have effect upon the local authorities of the raided country. Nevertheless, when we know that what we are saying here may have effect rather in aggravating the treatment of the Armenians, those who wish them well will at least refrain from saying anything which may diminish the activity and zeal of the authorities on their behalf. Therefore, without in the slightest degree wishing to complain of or deprecate such action as that of my noble Friend, I would earnestly press upon the friends of the Armenians to consider these matters with care and prudence, and not to press the Government, or to put pressure through the Government upon the Ottoman Authorities, unless they are certain that there is a strong case for doing so, and unless they have a strong conviction that the remonstrances they ask for will have the effect which they very laudably desire. I will only assure my noble Friend that the Ottoman Government earnestly desires —has every reason that prudence and common-sense could dictate for desiring —to govern these people with justice, and to maintain order; and, further, that when we can exert any influence we shall always do our utmost to give effect to that desire.