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Turkey And Crete—Question
28 March 1867
Volume 186
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rose for the purpose of inquiring whether Her Majesty's Government had been invited to join with France, Austria, and Russia in a simultaneous note to the Sublime Porte recommending the cession of Candia to Greece. The noble Earl said, he wished to explain briefly his reason for asking the question. In common with many others he had watched with considerable anxiety and no little apprehension, the course of policy pursued of late in the East, and the systematic disintegration—he might almost say spoliation—of the Ottoman Empire upon different pretexts, one being the doing justice to the Christian subjects of the Porte. By the Treaty of Paris it was provided that the Ottoman Empire should be preserved in its integrity, and one of its provisions was that the Hospodar of the Danubian Principalities should be a native. That provision, however, had been violated, when, through the machinations of certain foreign emissaries, the Native Prince was driven from his throne, and there was substituted for him a foreign Prince of that family whose dominions were now of such vast extent as to threaten to disturb the balance of power in Europe. When a treaty could be violated in this way without protest, there was no reason why it should not become waste paper. The next point he wished to refer to was the action of the Protecting Powers with regard to the fortresses in Servia. It was said that the Servians had a continual sore rankling in their minds caused by seeing an infidel flag floating over their fortresses. Now, according to the theory of nationality, it was admitted by our Government that it was a grievous thing for a foreign flag to float over a fortress. We had already given up the Ionian Islands, and on that theory there was no reason why we should not also cede Gibraltar and Malta. There could be no doubt that it was weakening the Ottoman Empire to take away its point d'appui in case of any attack from the Servian frontier upon its provinces of Bosnia and the Herzegovine, from which it would have its communications completely severed. And now he came to the question of Candia. It seemed to be now admitted that the insurrection had been chiefly fomented by foreign emissaries, and kept up by filibusters from Greece. Indeed, the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government, in the discussion the other evening, had said there was no adequate cause for the Candian insurrection. And here he could not refrain from remarking that the tone of some of the despatches of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs might be parodied by some foreign Powers, such, for example, as France and America, if they took Ireland for their theme, in a way very far from palatable to us. Then, he would ask their Lordships to consider who were the parties to this policy in the East. First there was Russia. He did not wish to use unkind expressions towards a country with whom we were, and he hoped would continue to be, on friendly terms; but he believed it to be allowable to direct attention to her political action as it regarded this country, and, if necessary, to point out its immorality. The geographical position of Russia had, no doubt, an important bearing on this question. Russia had only three outlets for her commerce—the Sound, the Dardanelles, and the White Sea. It was of the utmost importance to Russia to have these outlets at all times free to her, and her conduct must have been remarked in reference to the ultimate succession to the Danish Crown, and the marriage of the Czarewitch to a Danish Princess. As to the Dardanelles, it was no secret that Russia had been doing all she could to weaken the Turkish Empire, in order, ultimately, to obtain Constantinople. Russia was not in a position, financially or socially, to go to war; but she had means of attaining her end without drawing the sword, and, indeed, she had gained more by the pen than the sword. She was not very scrupulous in her efforts, but pursued her objects per fas aut nefas. Then, too, she had a wonderful instinct in choosing her agents, and persuading them that they were only serving their own interests when they were in reality serving hers. She was indifferent whether they wore the Prussian uniform or the red shirt of the Garibaldians. He was not aware that Russia had any pre-eminent claim to be considered a Christian Power. Certainly if, as the apostle indicates, charity is the basis of Christianity, her conduct to her Polish subjects had not entitled her to it. Her Christianity was but a political engine, and her love for the Christians was something like the love the cuckoo bore the hedge-sparrow, that she might lay her egg in her nest, and in due time eject the original proprietor. The next Power concerned in the matter was Austria; but, beaten down as she had recently been, she scarcely could be called a free agent. She required quiet and time to staunch her wounds and recover what she had lost; but, in the meantime, if the accounts which appeared in the papers were correct, forces were gradually being collected on her frontier. There seemed to be a pressure put on her, in order that she might support the views of Russia, and it was significant that Austria was about to propose the revision of the Treaties of 1856, by which Russia was prevented from rebuilding Sebastopol and maintaining a fleet in the Black Sea. It was not necessary for him to attempt to account for French policy in the question; but it appeared to him that to encourage Russian designs on Turkey would be a policy suicidal to our interests, commercial and political. If Russia got to Constantinople, the balance of power in Europe—which was the only security for the liberty of the States of which it is composed—would immediately be destroyed. This opinion was supported by a much higher authority than his, because M. Thiers, referring to the pre-eminence of Russia, had expressed the views which he (the Earl of Denbigh) had now repeated. It was suicidal commercially to neglect the interests of Turkey; and on reference to the reports of the Board of Trade, showing the value of Turkey to England, he found that the articles of export from Turkey were raw cotton and corn, and by far the most important articles imported into Turkey were manufactured cotton and cotton yarn. In the last thirty years the exports from this country for Turkey had increased 850 per cent, and the imports from Turkey had doubled since 1858. The total of imports to, and exports from, the whole Ottoman Empire, exclusive of the Danubian Principalities, was, in 1858, £13,057,552. In 1864 it had risen to £35,208,017, having nearly tripled in eight years. Mr. Farley, an authority on the subject, stated in his book that the debt of Turkey was only equal to three years of her revenue, and that the whole of it might be cleared off in thirty-seven years by a sinking fund. There were not many countries of which so favourable a financial account could be given. He had heard with much pain the noble Earl at the head of the Government say on a recent occasion that, while it was no part of our duty to accelerate the fall of Turkey, yet, if her destruction was inevitable, it was our duty to assist in making it as gradual as possible. Now, he did not think we should be looking forward to the ruin of Turkey, nor could he see what cause we had for such an anticipation. There was a limit to what was called non-intervention. If we enjoyed the advantages of being a first-rate Power, we must take the responsibilities of that position; and if we had valuable allies, we ought to be prepared to support them. With nations, as with individuals, noblesse oblige; and we should not shrink from maintaining that support, even though it should cost us active intervention.

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My Lords, from the Notice placed on the paper by the noble Earl (the Earl of Denbigh) I hardly thought it was his intention to enter into the question of the commercial importance of Turkey to this country, to comment on the intentions, or supposed intentions, of all the Powers of Europe, and to go into a general discussion of what is generally known as the Eastern Question, or into a general discussion of the affairs of Europe such as the noble Earl has introduced to your Lordships. I came down prepared to answer what I thought was the very simple question about to be put by my noble Friend; but not, certainly, to go into the Eastern Question. I shall not therefore follow the noble Earl through all the topics which he has brought under your Lordships' notice. In all the language I have ever held with regard to Turkey, I have always considered that it was a country with which we were on the most friendly relations, and to which it was desirable we should give every support in our power. On the occasion referred to by my noble Friend, what I said was, that it was no part of our duty to accelerate the ruin of Turkey; but that if her ruin was inevitable, it was our duty to use means to prevent the disruption from being sudden and violent, and to make it as gradual and as little felt as possible. Now, I cannot agree with the noble Earl that the course at present taken by foreign nations tends towards the disinte- gration of the Turkish Empire—generally it tends, I believe, to the maintenance and security of Turkey. And though I think the appointment of a foreign Prince to govern the Moldavian-Wallachian Provinces was contrary to the arrangement previously made by the European Powers, yet we did not consent to the departure from that arrangement until it had obtained the sanction of the Turkish Government. They sanctioned the proposed appointment because it was represented to them, and they believed, that it would be a source of strength instead of weakness to Turkey to have those Provinces united as quasi-independent Principalities, acknowledging the suzerainty of the Ottoman Porte. The same thing applies still more strongly to Servia. My noble Friend has spoken of a foreign flag floating over the fortress of Belgrade. He has taken an unlucky point with regard to that. It was not the Turkish flag floating over it that was considered an insult to Servia, but it was the Turkish garrison holding the fortress of Servia. That fortress, as was proved in former wars, could be of no possible use for the defence of Turkey against foreign Powers, but was a mark of subjection and constant source of irritation to Servia. The Servians desired that the garrison should be withdrawn, or the fortress itself should be demolished. That fortress is connected with all the most glorious recollections of Turkish history; but now, so far from being of any use to them, it is a constant source of expense, annoyance, and ill will to Servia. It is suggested that the fortress is now to be abandoned from compulsion or dictation. So far from that, my noble Relative at the head of the Foreign Office has sedulously and absolutely repudiated any such interference on the part of the British Government; but he has not hesitated to intimate his own opinion—and very truly and very wisely as I think—that the interests of Turkey lay in making a friend rather than an opponent of Servia, and I am happy to add that an arrangement in this spirit has been entered into; while Turkey still holds the fortress of which she is justly proud, the Turkish garrisons will be withdrawn, to be replaced by a Servian garrison, thereby removing occasion for ill will and earning the honourable and cordial sympathy and goodwill of the Servian Provinces. The Prince of Servia has proceeded to Constantinople to settle the terms on which Servia is in future to maintain its relations with Turkey; and the only condition made as to the fortress is that the flag of the Sovereign Power shall float upon the fortress in common with the Servian flag. By this means additional contentment, additional security, and additional strength have, I believe, been added to the Turkish Empire. My noble Friend then proceeded to deal with the case of Crete, detailing the views of Austria, Russia, and France, with which I do not pretend to be acquainted. He says, "I can understand the policy of those three Powers; but that England should consent to the disintegration of the Turkish Empire and the annexation of Crete to Greece is a matter that I cannot understand."

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I merely asked the question. I did not venture to suppose that England had yet consented.

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Then if my noble Friend asks me whether, seeing what has been done by the Porte for Moldavia and Servia, the Porte will not extend the same advantages to Crete, all I can say is that if a foreign Prince were appointed there under the same circumstances as those to which I have alluded, whatever Her Majesty's Government might think of the wisdom or otherwise of that step, it would not feel called upon to raise any serious obstacle in the way of such an arrangement. The matter concerns Turkey herself; but I am not sure, except for the great difficulty of dealing with a mixed population of Mussulmans and Christians, that autonomy conceded to the Crete subjects might not be a source of weakness rather than of strength. My noble Friend, after talking of the disintegration of the Turkish Empire, and after giving us the views of Europe, says it is suicidal to the commercial relations of England with Turkey; but that appears to me something like an assumption on the part of the noble Earl that England has adopted some policy at the suggestion of Foreign Powers. My noble Friend asked me, have Austria, Russia, and France addressed any invitation to this country to join them in a simultaneous, as he calls it, or, as it is more commonly called, an identic note, calling on Turkey to annex Crete to the Kingdom of Greece? My answer simply is that no such proposition has been made to Her Majesty's Government—that we have never been invited to join in any identic note, nor have any propositions of the kind supposed by my noble Friend been made to Turkey on behalf of this country. This is what has taken place:—The French Ambassador in this country called on my noble Relative at the head of the Foreign Office, and stated that the French Government either had or were about to instruct their Ambassador at Constantinople to advise Turkey to cease from the struggle in Crete, and consent to the annexation of Crete to Greece, and he asked whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared to issue similar instructions. My noble Relative expressed great regret, because Her Majesty's Government did not feel themselves justified in issuing similar instructions to their Ambassador at Constantinople; but he added that if the Turkish Government thought fit voluntarily to surrender the island of Crete to Greece, Her Majesty's Government, whatever they might think of such a transaction, would not feel it their duty to throw difficulties in the way. Since my noble Friend gave notice of his Question a similar proposition has been made, not by despatch, but in conversation, on behalf of Russia; to this my noble Relative gave the same answer which had been already given to the Ambassador of France; and so the matter stands at present. I know not what course has been taken by the Austrian Government; but if Russia and France either have advised or intend to advise Turkey, by a voluntary act of its own, to permit the annexation of Crete to Greece, Her Majesty's Government decline to be any party to offering such advice. In the first place, my belief is that the advice, if given and not supported, as I trust it will not be supported, by any stronger measures, is not likely to be taken. And I must confess that I entertain very grave doubt whether, if it was taken, the proposed transfer from the Turkish Government to the Greek dominion would be favourable either to the prosperity or contentment of the Cretan population. The policy of this country has ever been, while giving to Turkey any advice which it may think beneficial or advantageous for that country itself, to refrain from pursuing any policy or advising any act inconsistent with the independent jurisdiction of Turkey over its own provinces. I certainly shall not join in pressing upon her any policy contrary to that which she, herself, would be disposed to adopt in reference to matters as to which we acknowledge her own sovereign rights to deal with as she thinks proper.

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expressed his I entire satisfaction with the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government, and, after what had fallen from the noble Earl, would not propose the Motion of which he had given notice.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till tomorrow, half past Ten o'clock.