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Crimean War page 2


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The Turks, having no interest in the religious question, proposed various arrangements, which proved agreeable to neither party. When something like the basis of an agreement had been arranged, a strong letter from the Emperor Nicholas to the Sultan forced the Porte to retract it. Learning this, M. do Lavalette said that his Government having embarked in the question, could not stop short under the dictation of Russia. The Russian Emperor would not desist from opposition at the dictation of France. Each presented himself to the Sultan, one with the treaty of 1740, the charter of the Latins; the other with documents, antecedent and subsequent to that date, embodying concessions made to the Greeks. The Porte, desirous of satisfying both the powerful complainants, exhausted its ingenuity in devices, yielding now to Russian, now to French menaces, and looking keenly for assurances of support in the event of danger. The Turks consulted Sir Stratford Canning; but he was powerless to aid them, for his Government had determined to take no part. Nevertheless, he did his utmost to prevent precipitate action on all sides, on a question " involving little more than a religious sentiment, and the application of a treaty permitted to be more or less in abeyance for a century." He was only partially successful, for M. de Lavalette continued to talk of breaking off negotiations unless his demands were complied with, and M. de Titoff stood out against any alteration of the status quo.

And here it may be proper to state in general terms the exact nature of a dispute so " vexatious and uninteresting," yet so dangerous to the Porte, and so full of trouble for Europe. There are at Jerusalem certain holy places - churches, grottoes, tombs, and gardens. Under the vague terms of the treaty of 1740, the French Government claimed at first possession of the greater number of these on behalf of the Latins. Whatever may have been the case in 1740, in 1850 these places were in the hands of the Greeks, whose pilgrims resorted to them in great numbers; whereas, as Count Nesselrode remarked, sarcastically, the Latin pilgrims were represented by "occasional Roman Catholic tourists." The Russian Emperor saw in the demand of France both an attempt to humiliate his co-religionists, and an attempt to diminish his political influence in Turkey. Hence he insisted on the status quo. But while there was a legal right at the back of the French demand, because it rested on an unabrogated treaty, there was only a moral right on the side of Russian resistance, because, though the Greeks had possession and usage, they had no treaty rights in the French sense. Nevertheless, it was impossible that the Porte could ignore its own acts in favour of the Greeks during a whole century, and consequently it would not admit the French claims in their full extent. Indeed, M. de Lavalette, Very eager for the glorification of France, but not burdened with excessive religious zeal, soon saw the propriety of reducing his demands. The Porte applied itself to the investigation of the whole history of the Holy Places, through the medium, first of a mixed, and finally of a Mussulman commission, and on the basis of their reports arrived at what appeared to be a satisfactory decision. The Latins were to have a key of each of the gates of the great church of Bethlehem, " as of old," and they were to be admitted to officiate once a year at the shrine of the Holy Virgin. They were also to be allowed to replace in the sanctuary of the Nativity a silver star, bearing the arms of France, similar to one formerly there. At the same time the Greeks were to be admitted to officiate in the Mosque of the Mount of Olives. And on this basis, at the beginning of 1852, by the exertions of M. de Lavalette, the questions at issue seemed to be settled, and the Porte embodied the whole of the arrangements respecting the Holy Places in an " imperial firman invested with a hatti-scherif." The Turkish Ministers hoped that both parties would be satisfied by concessions.

This was a delusion. M. de Lavalette took umbrage at the firman. To his mind it denied, practically, the right of France to the Holy Places, and made out to be valueless the musty old treaty of 1740, furbished up for the occasion. Fresh mutterings were heard in the embassies. Sir Stratford Canning had come home, but Colonel Rose warned Lord Malmesbury, then Foreign Minister, of the coming storm. M. Drouyn de Lhuys, on the part of France, was willing to accept from the Porte a declaration that it was not intended to say anything in the firman at variance with the promises made to M. de Lavalette. But Lord Malmesbury was warned by Sir Hamilton Seymour, the British envoy at St. Petersburg, that serious consequences would follow such a step, as the Russian Government would uphold the firman, and resent any successful attempt on the part of the French Government to modify or explain away that document. The Emperor Nicholas would not permit his rights to be encroached upon. It was manifest that the strife still preserved its old political character, and that his jealousy of France rendered the Russian Czar as intractable as ever. The Porte did what the French desired, and gave the assurances deemed to be satisfactory; once more the Ministers congratulated each other on the termination of the quarrel, and once more it broke forth again.

For the Porte, in its trepidation, gave conflicting pledges to the fighting embassies. In giving the assurance which calmed for a time the abounding zeal of M. de Lavalette, the Porte promised that the firman should not be publicly read, but simply registered. The Russian charge d'affaires got wind of this, and insisted, with effect, that the firman should be read. M. de Lavalette, hearing probably that the Porte had promised M. de Titoff, months before, that the key of the "great door" of the Church at Bethlehem should not be given to the Latins, became very keen in his instructions to the French Consul to see that it was given up. M. de Lavalette became very violent. "He more than once," wrote Colonel Rose in November, " talked of the appearance of a French fleet off Jaffa (in case the stipulations were not fulfilled), and once he alluded to a French occupation of Jerusalem, 'when,' he said, 'we shall have all the sanctuaries.' " Colonel Rose judged correctly the real character of this nominally religious conflict, when he said it was-" a vital struggle between France and Russia for political influence, at the Porte's cost, in her dominions." And he painted the condition of the Sultan, with great force, when he said, " The Sultan is required to be a judge, and to decide in this dispute; but, so far from having judicial independence and immunity, His Majesty is coerced and humiliated before his subjects by menaces, forced to give contradictory and dishonouring decisions, and then accused of perfidy by those who have driven him into it." Here we have manifestly a true picture of the weakness of the Turk, but we have also a true picture of the insolent ambition of two strong states. The Porte could not serve two masters, each of whom was bent on having his will obeyed, each of whom had fleets and armies, wherewith one could threaten Syria and the whole Levant, but the other could appear off Constantinople itself.

Nevertheless, the Turkish Government tried to appease France without offending Russia. In the autumn of 1852 there was a striking spectacle at Jerusalem. Afif Bey had been sent on a special mission to inform the contending Churches of the decisions arrived at in Constantinople. In the middle of October he went in state to meet the Greek, Latin, and Armenian patriarchs, and under the great dome, in front of the Holy Sepulchre, the whole party refreshed themselves with pipes and sherbet; the French Consul, Botta, and the Russian Consul-General, Basily, being present to watch the proceedings. But Afif Bey did nothing except declare how desirous the Sultan was to gratify all classes of his subjects. Next he invited " all the parties," writes Consul Finn, "to meet him in the Church of the Virgin, near Gethsemane. There he read an order from the Sultan for permitting the Latins to celebrate mass once a year, but requiring the altar and its Ornaments to remain undisturbed." The object of this was to please the Greeks and affront the Latins. "No sooner were these words uttered than the Latins, who had come to receive their triumph over the Orientals, broke out into loud exclamations of the impossibility of celebrating mass upon a schismatic slab of marble, with a covering of silk and gold instead of plain linen, among schismatic vases, and before a crucifix which has the feet separated instead of nailed one over the other." Nor were the Greeks more satisfied. Afif Bey in the tumult had ridden off, but M. Basily pursued him, and demanded the public reading of the firman, which was understood to declare the Latin claims to the shrines null and void. Afif Bey pretended not to know what firman was meant, then said he had no copy of it, then no directions to read it. Thus both parties were angered: the Latins because the key was withheld, the Greeks because the firman was not read; and M. Botta and M. Basily appealed at once, and in haste, to their chiefs at Constantinople. It was these proceedings, arising out of the irreconcilable hostility of Russia and France, which led to fresh threats from their respective envoys at the Porte. Fuad Effendi and the Grand Vizier, driven hither and thither by the violence of the disputants, resolved, come what might, to make an end of the business. They gave up the keys to the Latins, they caused the silver star to be placed in the grotto, not, as has been stated, with much pomp, but quietly, and in a business-like way, and they caused the firman to be read. Had there been sincerity on the part of the French or Russian Governments, here the matter should have ended; but neither had triumphed sufficiently over the other, and the quarrel did not come to an end.

And here, at the beginning of December, 1852, we find the origin of that now famous demand for a protectorate over all the Greek Christians in Turkey, which, when advanced by Prince Menschikoff, led at once to war. The claim purported to be based on the treaty of Kainardji, but that treaty expressly limited the Russian Protectorate to two chapels - one in the Russian Legation, the other a chapel to be built in Galata. This baseless demand irritated the French, frightened the Turks, and filled the English with apprehension. But it was not then pressed. Another incident occurred, showing the critical temper of the time. The Porte was at war with the tribes who inhabit Montenegro, but who live mainly on plunder. Austria, affecting to see danger to herself in the continuance of a contest so near her frontier, sent Count Leiningen to Constantinople, with a peremptory demand for the cessation of the war. It is not improbable that this was a Russian project; for the Czar felt, or affected to feel, that Austria would do all he desired in the Eastern question; and no sooner was the Austrian demand made, than he supported it. But the Porte, beset by enemies, determined wisely to satisfy Austria, and thus to deprive Russia of any pretext for hostilities on that score. Russia was baffled, but not diverted from her purpose; for the Emperor now began to be impassioned, to feel the sting of French rivalry, and to commit himself almost too deeply to recede. In vague, but menacing terms, he declared that the Porte should be required to fulfil its engagements with him, and to that end he set troops in motion. "It was necessary that the diplomacy of Russia should be supported by a demonstration of force," and he prepared for a violent struggle. Two corps d'armée, above 100,000 men, were ordered to march towards the frontier of the Turkish empire.

It was an anxious moment for statesmen; but the attention of the great European public was not turned towards the East. In England, the strife of parties had led to the downfall of the Tories, and to the great joy of the Emperor Nicholas, Lord Aberdeen became the head of a new Cabinet, in which the post of Foreign Minister was filled, not by Lord Palmerston, but by Lord John Russell. The Emperor conceived great hopes of support from the new British Government; the British public looked for social reforms from a composite Cabinet which unquestionably included in itself the ablest servants of the State. If the people thought of danger, it was danger from France, for the Prince President had made himself Emperor; and a desire to see a completion of economical reforms was mingled with a determination to look to the defences of the nation. Mr. Gladstone was meditating a budget which should control the course of our financial and fiscal policy for seven years, and the public shared his anticipations; but side by side with this great peace budget, the causes of a costly war were growing with a rapid growth. Ministers were not, and could not be, blind to the perils which threatened peace; but, as will be seen, they placed an unfounded reliance on the personal honour of the Emperor Nicholas, and they did not appreciate the provocative policy of France. Yet whatever qualms of apprehension they may have felt, they carefully kept to themselves, and even so late as April, 1853, Lord Clarendon assured Parliament that a3 regarded Turkey there was no danger of the peace of Europe being disturbed.

Yet between the 1st of January and the 30th of April the British Government had become possessed of facts which should have clouded their sanguine anticipations - facts which should have revealed to them the intensity of the strife between Russia and France, the insidious conduct of the latter, the fraud and the ambition of the former - the weakness of the Sultan, and the extreme probability that the contending Powers would not rest content without an appeal to arms. Whether the British Government could have prevented the outbreak of war is doubtful, but the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen was justly open to the charge of having failed to comprehend the character of the disputants, and to foresee the consequences of their strife.

For the conflict, hitherto confined to Constantinople, was transferred for a time to Paris, London, and St. Petersburg, and did not improve by its extension. Lord Cowley suggested direct negotiations between France and Russia. The suggestion was adopted, but it only served to embitter the relations between the two Courts, and it was open to the objection, that it took out of the hands of the Porte a question which nearly concerned its sovereignty. This was met by the device of requesting the Porte to sanction such an arrangement as the two Courts might recommend in common. It had no other result than the exchange of sharp observations between Count-Nesselrode and General de Castelbajac. For Russia had determined on a totally different course. The Emperor resolved to treat directly with the Porte, and obtain from the Porte his demands.

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