HL Deb 19 February 1913 vol 13 cc1429-39

LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government what replies they have received to any representations they have made as to the treatment that the Mahomedan inhabitants of Macedonia and Thrace have received at the hands of the Forces of the Allied Balkan States.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am rather surprised that there has been no Question asked with reference to this subject already in this House. Without doubt there have been great atrocities perpetrated during the war in the Balkan Peninsula. At first it was thought that they were merely stories on the Turkish side, but there has been much independent evidence brought forward to show that there have been the grossest cruelties perpetrated from time to time. I will not weary your Lordships with any lengthy quotations, but I may quote from one newspaper which is not at all partial towards Turkey, in which it is said— From many sources the rumours are confirmed, all being to the effect that in numerous districts not a living soul has been left. All have been wiped off the face of the earth, occasionally women and children being spared to destitution and starvation, but mostly massacred with the rest. In some places men have been butchered like cattle. Just before coming down to your Lordships' House this afternoon I received a letter, quite unasked for, from Constantinople, from a person who is doing a great work there in the relief of distress. He writes— We are working hard—17,000 souls to help, if you in England grant that a Mussulman has a soul. Some little time ago another letter came from a lady in charge of a hospital there, whose work amongst the poor and suffering in Bombay I knew and witnessed for a number of years. In this letter she says— The worst of it is that all these terrible stories of rape and murder in the interior are true. While a portion of a family escape, the remainder fall victims to the Greeks and Bulgars. It may be difficult to stir up public feeling at home on behalf of the sufferers, but if it were the other way round and Turks were murdering Christians, there would be an outburst of indignation throughout Europe. But nobody will believe ill of the Allies. I think I have said enough to show that there has been a great amount of cruel oppression taking place during this war.

It will be remembered that when the war commenced the Allies declared that they undertook the war on behalf of their co-religionists in the various States under Turkish rule, but that plea was soon put on one side, notably by the War Correspondent of The Times, who said it was evident that that was mere pretence and that the real object of the war was to acquire territory. At the same time it will be remembered that the great Powers of Europe made a formal declaration that in any circumstances the territorial status quo would be maintained in the Balkan States. They have not played a very shining part, and as soon as it was obvious who were going to be the victors one great Power after another hastily declared that it was very natural and proper that the Balkan States should reap the fruits of their victories; and so a war undertaken for the sake of oppressed co-religionists develops into a war for the acquisition of territory, and not only the acquisition of territory but the extermination of those who have been living in those territories.

I dare say it will be said of the people living there that it is a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other, but I maintain that Christian people ought to show a higher example than that in conducting war. But I do not believe that to be an accurate description. I have never been in those parts of Europe myself, but almost every traveller who has been there maintains that the ordinary Turkish peasant is a quiet, inoffensive and well behaved person. Then it may be said that it is due to Turkish officials. Well, for a few years past I am certain that very few Turkish officials have ventured to connive at any oppression or unfair treatment of the Christian population. They would know that there would at once be a storm of indignation which would re-echo through Europe, that there would be inquiries and so on, and that the officers concerned would lose their positions. I think for these reasons that it would be much more desirable that the Government should publish the Consular Reports. This Sir Edward Grey has stedfastly refused to do. He says it is fairer to both sides that these Reports should not be made known. I venture to think it would be a wise policy to publish the Consular Reports, because these stories have got so far abroad—in many cases I dare say they are exaggerated—that the truth would be better than what is fiction in some cases at all events.

There is one other aspect of the question with which I think we are immediately concerned, apart from feelings of humanity. This war of extermination has led to at least 200,000 refugees going out of Turkey in Europe into Asia Minor. That, I think, may lead to very serious difficulties in Asia Minor. For a country to take up that large number of people in a destitute condition is a very difficult matter, and it is quite possible that they may wend their way further East. Then there will be a recrudescence of declared misbehaviour and cruelty on the part of these people, and the Powers may then claim that they cannot have such a state of disorder going on and therefore must take some means to put down anarchy and cruelty. And by the Turco-British Convention of 1878 we are called upon to see that no Turkish territory in Asia Minor is taken from her, but is kept in its entirety. Therefore I think in our own interests we should take some step, either to prevent, if it is not too late, this great exodus of the Mahomedan population from Turkey in Europe, or take sonic means to see whether these people who have gone across the Bosphorus can be settled peacefully and quietly in Asia Minor.

But my object in bringing forward this question is the bad effect the whole of these proceedings have had on the mind of the Mussulman population in India. A little time ago Sir Edward Grey in another place, rather ungenerously I think, said that his questioners in the House of Commons had perhaps rather influenced and stimulated this disappointed feeling on behalf of the Mussulmans of India by having put Questions in the House of Commons. I do not share that view at all. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs must know that for the last four or five years Mussulman opinion in India has been much concerned, first of all at what the Mussulmans consider to be the neglect of the interests of Persians in Persia, then with the Tripoli War, and finally with regard to what has been going on in the Balkan States, and I consider that the Questions which have been asked in the House of Commons have done a public service to the Empire. They have shown our Indian Mahomedan population that they have friends in this country, and also that those deeds which would be called crimes if perpetrated by Mahomedans are not necessarily heroic acts when clone by Christians. Continually it is a theme of our public speakers to boast of the fact that our Sovereign rules over a greater number of Mahomedans—one hundred millions or thereabouts—than any other Monarch in the world. If we have this number of Mahomedan fellow-subjects we also have great responsibilities, and I think it is a pity that our public leaders have, on no occasion that I have seen, expressed any feeling for the Turks in their dark hours of the present time.

The members of the Government may say that they are not responsible for what the Press say, but the Press in this case, as in other instances, follow the Government most obediently, and in a most remarkable fashion take their cue from the Government, and I have seen repeatedly in the Press statements that must wound the feelings of our Mahomedan subjects. The Turks are taunted, they are jeered at, because they continue the war. Not a word is said in admiration of their courage at Adrianople and Scutari. There is no word of commendation for the bravery of that defence. Not only have they had to sacrifice what the victors have obtained, but they are reproached because they do not surrender what they have not lost. Therefore I put this Question hoping that I shall obtain an answer which will show that His Majesty's Government have some sympathy with those who were our allies in the past and whom we supported at San Stefano, and will do their utmost to secure for them treatment in accordance with the ordinary recognised rules of civilised warfare.


My Lords, the noble Lord has travelled rather widely from the comparatively narrow ground of the Question on the Paper. I hope my noble friend will not suspect me of any coldness or indifference as to these hateful atrocities if and when it is shown with due evidence that this or that given atrocity has been committed. But my noble friend will see that it is not very easy to judge how far the rumours to which he refers, and of which I do not want to speak too lightly, are well founded; and I am bound to say that, judging from the specimens which the noble Lord gave us, his standard of evidence or proof is lower than I have ever come in contact with in my whole life.


I asked for the Consular Reports; that is the whole object of my Question.


But the noble Lord, in grounding his request for the Consular Reports, gave one or two illustrations of opinion and report which struck me, if he will pardon me for saying so, as really nothing short of worthless. It is not easy to judge these stories. It is impossible to imagine that it could be otherwise. We cannot suppose that what we rightly call hateful atrocities have been committed. A Government must consider these things rather seriously. Rumour not based on first hand knowledge may deserve inquiry, but it is not in itself enough to justify such action and such violent expressions of opinion as the noble Lord seems to demand. It is impossible for any foreign Government to go into the Balkans or into Tripoli and investigate the truth of these rumours. The utmost they can do is to make representations in full and firm but courteous language to the Governments concerned. As to what the noble Lord said as to there having been no expressions of sympathy on the part of any leading member of His Majesty's Government with the sufferings of the Turks, surely, with the complete approval of this Rouse and of the other House and of the public, we are committed to a policy of neutrality. In these circumstances how could leading members of the Govermnent make it their business either to applaud or denounce? I am sure that on a little reflection the noble Lord will see that his demand is an unreasonable one.

Then he referred, properly enough, to, the fact that the Mussulman population of India is concerned, and he said that we appeared to be indifferent to that concern. We know perfectly well, and we certainly cannot complain of it, that the Mussulman population of India is and has been watching the war in Tripoli, affairs in Morocco, and affairs in the Balkans with the greatest concern and the liveliest interest and with the profoundest sympathy with the peoples of their own faith. We could not be ignorant of that. But what follows from that? The noble Lord has shown no connection between that state of feeling in India on the part of the Mussulman population and any failure of action on the part of His Majesty's Government. My noble friend took an opportunity to quarrel with language used by Sir Edward Grey in the other House early this month. For my part, apart from my being a colleague, I thought that that language and that attitude were admirable. I wish I had Sir Edward Grey's language here. He was asked to produce the Consular Reports, and his reply was something like this: What would be the effect—and I wish the noble Lord would ask himself this—what would be the effect in view of the desire we all have for a peaceful and settled future in the Balkans, of raking up and doing all we could to publish stories even though they may be true? The effect would only be mischievous and disadvantageous.

I turn to the noble Lord's Question. He wants to know whether any representations have been made by his Majesty's Government as to the treatment that the Mahomedan inhabitants of Macedonia and Thrace have received at the hands of the forces of the Allied Balkan States. Unofficial representations were made to two of the Powers concerned—Servia and Bulgaria. The Servian Government in reply stated that if any isolated cases did occur in which soldiers in the excitement of battle committed a crime the offenders have always been punished to the full extent of the military law. In the same manner in the case of all offences committed by the members of scattered voluntary bands which could not be controlled by the military authorities, the Servian authorities have severely punished all attempts at personal revenge. The Bulgarian Prime Minister has stated that no outrages have been committed by the Bulgarian regular troops and that any action by the Bulgarian bands has been directly opposed to the orders issued from headquarters. The most stringent orders have been issued from the Bulgarian headquarters for the prevention of all excesses and for the punishment of all persons guilty of them. All grades are instructed to employ the utmost rigour for this purpose and strong measures are being taken for the maintenance of order and for the protection of the population of the occupied districts. General Savof further states that he has instructed the courts-martial to deal with the utmost despatch with the cases before them, and to punish exemplarily those guilty in the above mentioned respects. Those are the answers we have received to our unofficial representations to two of the most important of the Governments concerned.


My Lords, although the information is imperfect, I fear there can be no doubt whatever of one thing, and that is that the Macedonian question, with, if not all, nearly all its attendant difficulties, still remains with us. It certainly had been hoped by all who were interested in this question that when once the Turkish domination ceased we should hear the last of these massacres. That has not been the case, and I must confess it is a great disappointment to those who think that the cause of Christianity is identified with that of progress and humanity: As regards the question of indifference, I entirely acquit His Majesty's Government of any sort of indifference in the matter, but I do so far agree with my noble friend that I cannot help contrasting the extreme indignation shown by certain classes in this country when it has been a question of Turks massacring Christians with the apparent apathy which is shown on the other side when it is a question of Christians massacring Turks. I remember a case that came before my notice when I was in Cairo, when very strong but unsuccessful representations were made to me by a large number of the Christian population to save from death an Armenian who had been convicted of murdering a Turk, the ground of their representation being the somewhat inconclusive one that because a number of inoffensive Armenians had been killed by Turks in Armenia therefore that it was quite just and natural that an inoffensive Turk should be murdered by a Christian in Cairo.

It was not, however, principally to urge these considerations that I rose to address your Lordships. I trust that as the affairs of Turkey are under consideration it will not be thought that I am wandering too far from the immediate question which my noble friend has brought to your Lordships' attention if I make a very few observations of a more general character. I wish more especially to allude to the great loss which not only the people of Turkey, but all those who are interested in the affairs of Turkey have sustained by the death of the late Nazim Pasha. I was not personally acquainted with him; I never met him, but I knew him well by repute, and from time to time I have been brought a good deal into contact with his friends and associates, who more or less shared his political opinions, and whom I consider the best type of Near Eastern politicians. Many of them were disciples of the late Midhat Pasha, whose name must be familiar to all who have paid attention to the affairs of the East.

Nazim Pasha was an earnest and sincere Liberal, and showed the strength and sincerity of his convictions by the fact that not only was he condemned to exile under the rule of the late Sultan, but I believe he was kept in close confinement for a great many years. But although an earnest Liberal he was not in any way associated or identified with what is called the Young Turkish Party whose aim, or perhaps I should more correctly say whose methods he thought were detrimental to the true interests of his country. Apart from his political opinions, Nazim Pasha was a thoroughly honest man with the courage of his convictions, and what the East requires more than anything else just now is honest men who have the courage of their convictions. He was for many years Governor, or Vali, of the province of Busra with the two adjoining districts, which I believe he administered with great success, and I have been informed on excellent authority that when he retired from office he could boast, as was the case with Vespasian before he was Emperor of Rome, that he was a poorer man than when he was appointed. For any one who knows the East it would be impossible to pay a more eloquent tribute to this distinguished officer's merits.

With regard to courage, while he had a full share of that physical courage which is the birthright his fellow-countrymen, he had a large share of a quality less common—moral courage. He showed his moral courage when he adopted an attitude which must have been very distasteful to a soldier. When he saw that further resistance was hopeless he advocated peace, and it was his advocacy of peace that brought about his death. It is pitiful to think that a man of the really eminent qualities of this distinguished officer should not have met with a soldier's death on the battlefield, but should have been foully assassinated by a few infatuated and misguided co-religionists and fellow-countrymen. Nazim Pasha is dead, but I earnestly hope that his friends and associates will not be discouraged and will not allow the political system with which his name is associated to die. I hope that it is not premature to allude to this subject now, but it is most earnestly to be hoped that immediately after this unfortunate war is over the Ottoman Government will take in hand the reform and regeneration of the Asiatic provinces which still remain to them. It is hoped they will do this in the interests of the provinces themselves and of the peace of Europe. Unless that is done, and unless the subject is taken up in a very different spirit from that employed in European Turkey, there will be serious troubles ahead. There will be serious risk that Europe, which for years has been oppressed by a European Eastern question, will find itself face to face with an Asiatic Eastern question which will not be inferior in magnitude and will be no less difficult of solution.

I have lived too long in the East to have very great confidence in a Moslem country being regenerated by its own unaided efforts. At the same time the Turks are a fine manly race, and anybody who has lived amongst them can testify that they have many qualities which deserve esteem and admiration. I am loth to believe that a nation possessed of such qualities cannot undertake their own regeneration, aided possibly to some slight extent by Europeans whose assistance should be given to them in the form least distasteful to themselves. Of this, however, I am well assured, that the hopes of all reformers in Turkey must centre round men of the Nazim Pasha type. They are a small body of men they will be surrounded by hostilities and intrigues of every description, and may not be able to do much; but many of them are honest and capable men; they know their country and understand its requirements, and they are not likely to make the fatal error of endeavouring to make too servile a copy of Western institutions. These are the men who really deserve all the support which they can receive from British public opinion, and when the proper time comes—it has not come yet, I think—from the united Powers of. Europe. I have made these remarks, perhaps somewhat irrelevant, because I believe that, in spite of contrary opinions which are sometimes expressed, the best class of Turkish politicians attach great importance to the public opinion of this country and because I hope it may be some encouragement and consolation to the friends and associates of Nazim Pasha to know that the really sterling worth of their deceased comrade is recognised at all events by some people in this country.


My Lords, unlike the noble Earl who has just spoken, I was acquainted with the late Nazim Pasha; but having a stronger sense of order than my noble friend, I do not propose to say anything on that subject, but shall direct attention for a moment to a matter, which appears to me somewhat more relevant, arising out of the Question of my noble friend Lord Lamington. If I were him, I should not be disposed to quarrel with the answer which he has received from the noble Viscount opposite. Everybody knows—I know it well enough from private information—that a great number of what are called atrocities have been committed; but, on the other hand, I know perfectly well that in present circumstances it is almost, if not literally, impossible to obtain accurate information on the subject. What is undoubtedly the case, in addition to the fact that atrocities have been committed, is that there are at this moment vast numbers of Mussulman refugees who have either left for Asia Minor or are now in Salonica or Constantinople. Any one whose memory carries him back to the time of the last Russo-Turkish war will remember that the same thing occurred then. Hundreds of thousands of similarly unfortunate people were driven out of Bulgaria, and, like the present refugees, I believe, lost everything and received no compensation. I do not think it would be out of place if the noble Viscount, as representing His Majesty's Government, would give us an assurance, however vague, that when hostilities cease some effort will be made to secure what. I maintain is only bare justice for the unfortunate people to whom I refer. That is a thing one is entitled to ask irrespective of one's personal sympathy, for it would be a crying instance of international injustice and a shame and disgrace to the civilised Powers if these unfortunate people are allowed to be treated in the way in which the Mussulman refugees of 1878 were treated.


My Lords, the noble Lord may be quite sure that when the time comes, if representations are made in the direction indicated, they will undoubtedly command the attention of His Majesty's Government. But I submit that to-day it would be premature for the Government to make any declaration on that point.