HL Deb 16 July 1913 vol 14 cc1071-7

LORD LAMINGTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, by means of an International Commission or otherwise, they will secure to Mahomedans the continued use of their lands, or that compensation should be given wherever Mahomedans have been deprived of their lands.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, owing to the reported advance of the Turkish Army I thought it might be necessary to postpone the Question which I have put on the Paper, but as I understand that that advance is only going up to the Enos-Midia line and is solely for the purpose of occupying the territory that remains to Turkey under the provisional Treaty, it seems a very opportune moment. It to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would not consider the desirability of inviting the other Great Powers to take concerted action so that the Moslem population who have been deprived of their lands or have fled from Macedonia, Thrace, Albania, or wherever it may be, should have some security that they might return and settle again on the lands that once held their homes. The Great Powers throughout this terrible war have exercised a considerable bearing upon its different phases, and only the day before yesterday Sir Edward Grey mentioned how it was by keeping in close touch with one another they were able to prevent the spreading of the war and also exercise considerable influence upon the various Balkan States. We all hope that the end of this terrible war is now in sight, and when we remember that at the inception of the war the Great Powers declared that the various Balkan States would not be allowed to acquire any Turkish territory—a declaration which has been signally departed from—there still remains the chance of allowing those who were the inhabitants of the country to continue to remain under the new conditions in what were their previous homes. I can assure your Lordships that this is only what is usually observed in these days under modern warfare—that the inhabitants of the country, except for some particular reasons, are not dispossessed of their lands but are allowed to remain.

At the present time, as I understand, there are about 150,000 or 200,000 refugees in Constantinople and in the adjacent portions of Asia Minor. There are numbers of refugees in Adrianople, and in other parts further west in Albania they are still collected together not venturing to return to their homes. I think, after the terrible atrocities and cruelties which have taken place during this war—which so far as I can learn have been given much greater publicity to in the French Press than in the Press of this country—that the other Great Powers would be willing to co-operate in this matter of giving security to the Mahomedans to go back and settle on their own lands, and perhaps even give them the means of doing so. There can be no question of any congestion of population at the present time owing to the dreadful massacres which have taken place. Therefore there would be plenty of room for them to return. It would have a humane advantage, advantage of removing the pressure from Asia Minor where these refugees are streaming over all parts. I dare say the noble Viscount opposite is aware that it might lead to considerable complications if these refugees went further east into Armenia. I claim that in the interests of humanity some request might be made to the Great Powers that they should represent to the various Balkan States who are going to benefit territorially by the recent war that they should replace or allow to return in perfect security and unmolested those who were the original holders of the land.

Owing to three different documents which have come into my hands to-day, I will go a step beyond my Question as it appears on the Paper. From Constantinople, and also, I understand, from General Broadwood, who has been looking after the interests of the Red Cross in Adrianople, and also from a reliable authority in Servia. come representations of the terror and distress and suffering of the Moslem population at the present time, and the still more terrible distress that awaits them in the coming winter. Their homes have been probably burned and devastated, their means taken from them, their implements for tilling the land destroyed or confiscated, and therefore even if they returned to their own lands they would be in need of some outside support. At the present time various societies are administering relief to the best of their power, but still that is only a drop in the ocean, and I would ask, Is it not possible for His Majesty's Government to show the way by advancing money or means to these people to return to their homes? It is not very long ago that Sir Edward Grey in another place, did not treat unsympathetically such a suggestion, and I think that it is still more urgent at the present time. However, that is only a rider to my original Question, which I think is a very fit and proper one—that the Great Powers in combination should manage to get sonic security for the Musulmans to return to their lands and settle there once again.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount replies perhaps I may be allowed to support the proposal which has been made by my noble friend. I do not think that people in this country adequately realise the extremely disadvantageous position which Musulmans occupy as compared with Christians in matters of tins kind. The Christian populations have any number of organisations and people who are prepared to take up their cause. There are Consuls to look after their interests where there are Consuls and probably missionaries where there are no Consuls; there are travellers who take up their cause; there are the Balkan Committees over here; and, finally, there is the Press. The Musulmans are entirely devoid of any advantages of the kind. There can be no doubt whatever as to what is actually going on at. the present moment. I do not think that anybody has ever cast the smallest doubt on the figures quoted by my noble friend and the fact remains that there are a vast number of these people who have lost. practically everything which they had, and it is extremely problematical whether they will ever recover anything. This is one of those cases in which it is not the business of any one particular Power to take steps in favour of these unfortunate people. It is a common duty which devolves upon the Powers, and really I cannot see that my noble friend and the Musulmans themselves are asking for anything unreasonable when they suggest that at all events an International Commission of some kind should inquire into the matter and report upon it. It would be perfectly useless for the Turkish Government, unless I am much mistaken, to apply for redress to any of the Governments concerned. If any good is to be done at all it will have to be done by other Powers—that is to say, by the European Powers. I trust that His Majesty's Government will be able to return a favourable reply to the proposal which has been made by my noble friend. I would remind the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that at a much earlier period of this session I put a Question of very much the same kind to him myself and he undertook to give it favourable consideration.


My Lords, I am sure that everybody in this House and in tins country, and in some other countries too, are fully alive to the desperate tragedy to which both the noble Lords have drawn our attention to-night. Of course, everybody knew before the Balkan war broke out that it would not be the least like an ordinary war. Lord Lamington said that certain things had been done which were against modern practices of war. We all knew that that lamentable condition of things would inevitably attend such a war as was going to take place in that Peninsula among these exasperated races, full of passionate animosities of every kind. We knew that the overt non-political effects would be of the most horrifying description, and so they have been. Whether the noble Lord's figures of refugees, Mahomedan or otherwise, from one part or another of the Balkan Peninsula are strictly accurate I cannot say, but be that as it may there is no doubt that there is an enormous number, especially of Musulmans, in whom we are in a sense particularly interested having regard to our own enormous Mahomedan connections.

But I would put to the two noble Lords this point, that they should ask themselves whether there is any kind of precedent where the British (government have done what they now ask us to do—namely, endeavour to get security that these unfortunate beings shall be restored to their former lands and possessions, and not only that, but that we should out of our own revenues contribute sums of money in one shape or another for their reinstatement. I do not like to speak quite positively, but I doubt very much whether there is a single instance of the Government of Great Britain—and we have often had tides of compassion sweeping over our population—contributing sums of money for a purpose of this kind. Lord Lamington must be alive to the difficulties that would attend any operation such as he expects from an International Commission so appointed. The Concert of Europe and the Ambassadorial re-union have been a most powerful—and I hope for so long as is necessary will continue to be—a most powerful instrument for good in these unfortunate affairs, but it might, perhaps, be straining the conditions under which the Ambassadors meet to discuss questions of the delimitation of boundaries, and the like, if you were to ask all the Great Powers to take part in a Commission with a view to this special and comparatively narrow end. There is an enormous need of humanity, I admit, but that is a different thing from the objects and purposes which the Ambassadors and those who send them instructions now have in their minds and which animate their purpose.

I should like to tell the noble Lord exactly what has been done. There is, as far as we know, no present reason to suppose that any action of the kind indicated by my noble friend is likely to be necessary. The Foreign Office received last May a complaint from the Turkish Government that the Bulgarian Government had issued a decree confiscating and appropriating to the Bulgarian State the property abandoned by Musulmans who had fled in consequence of the war, but it appeared afterwards upon inquiry that no such decree had been issued. On the contrary, measures had been taken to cultivate the lands of those Musulmans during their absence, and to restore—those were the instructions—to restore those lands to their proprietors as and when they returned. Orders had been given by the Bulgarian State to preserve all movable property left behind with a view to its restitution to those who had formerly been its rightful owners. We have received since May no further complaint on that subject. If the question should arise again, supposing there should be complaints from these unfortunate beings—we hope there may not be—it appears to: His Majesty's Government that the question is one which ought to be and might be most conveniently settled between Turkey and the Governments of the recently allied Balkan States, rather than by an International Commission. For the reason which I have just hinted at it would be doubtful whether you would get such a Commission satisfactorily constituted, and even then its work would be far more tardy probably and less direct and immediate than if the matter was dealt with by other agencies. Let me add that we have received no recent complaints of what are called atrocities and the various kinds of ill-treatment suffered by non-Musulmans. As a matter of fact, going back to the Musulmans, we have made representations on behalf of the Musulman population to an extent that we have not done in any other case during the continuance of the war with Turkey. We did that because so long as that war was in progress we did not believe that there was any one who could on behalf of the Powers as a whole speak on their behalf. That may seem disappointing to those who think that the Concert of the Powers is omnipotent. That, unluckily, is by no means the case, and the action of the Government has been what I have described.


MY Lords, may I say a few words in connection with the reply of the noble Viscount? It is, of course, eminently satisfactory to learn of that declaration made by the Bulgarian Government as regards the Musulmans, but still the map of the country is rapidly changing—perhaps not so much in the case of Bulgaria as in the cases of Servia and Greece. The noble Viscount says that the more convenient form, rather than an International Commission, would be for the Turkish Government to deal with the matter. I do not know exactly what power the Turkish Government have at the present time to deal with such a matter, but perhaps in that case it would be pointed out to the Turkish Government that they have a locus and a right to ask that these tens of thousands of refugees should be given some security and some hope of going back to their old lands. The noble Viscount said there was no precedent for the Great Powers of Europe taking any action in this matter.


No; I did not go as far as that. I said there was certainly no precedent that I know of for this country contributing funds—and they would have to be large funds—towards the reinstatement of dispossessed people such as these.


I misunderstood the noble Viscount. I thought he meant that there was no precedent for intervention in such a matter of replacing the population. But we are advancing in humanity, I hope, and in consideration and mercifulness, and it would be a splendid act and would be creating a good precedent in a case like this of a distressed, impoverished, and helpless population, if the Great Powers could come together and say, "We will contribute a certain sum to send these people back rather than let them starve throughout the winter without any means." I consider that the declaration of the Great Powers before the war formed a very strong precedent—I do not know that such a thing has ever happened before in the history of the world. They declared that those who were going to fight should not occupy any of the territory of the enemy. The Great Powers took strong united action then, and it is because they have already done that that I think they might go a step further and try and act in the humane and merciful manner I suggest.


I can assure the two noble Lords that this painful matter is, as I have already said, receiving the attentive consideration of the Foreign Office.