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Turkey page 2


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"Until lately, English statesmen have attached a high value to the maintenance of what was called a balance of power among European states. It is now generally acknowledged that any such arrangement is purely fanciful, and that any attempt to frame and uphold an artificial equipoise of forces is vain. But England fought many wars and shed oceans of human blood in this visionary enterprise. On her principles it was clear that the possession of Turkey would endow Russia with an undue and dangerous ascendency among European nations. Later on she entertained the belief that her own interests were specially involved. It was desirable that a weak power rather than a strong one should possess the eastern shores of the Mediterranean; otherwise free communication with India would be put in danger. Under the influence of these motives, it became the traditional aim of English foreign policy to preserve the Turkish government. England laboured, often by diplomacy, and sometimes even by arms, to uphold the most unjustifiable despotism which modern Europe ever endured. Her efforts have preserved to one million of Turks (Fifty years ago it was estimated that there were 2,700,000 Turks in Europe. That number has now dwindled to 1,150,000. The Eastern Question would, in course of ages be helped to its solution by the extinction of the unwelcome intruders who have vexed Europe during the last four or five centuries) absolute power, brutally abused, over the lives and property of eight million men of different race, and for the most part of different religion. In maintaining the Turks, she has prolonged the misery of a nation and the desolation of vast tracts of fertile land capable of high usefulness to man. It is, beyond dispute, a singular infelicity that a great Christian state should feel herself impelled by any consideration of her own advantage to the performance of a task which involves consequences so lamentable (Sir Henry Elliot, the English ambassador to Turkey, defends the hereditary policy" in a letter addressed to Lord Derby, dated 4th September 1876:- We have been upholding what we know to be a semi-civilized nation, liable under certain circumstances to be carried into fearful excesses; but the fact of this having just now been strikingly brought home to all of us "[by the Bulgarian massacres] cannot be a sufficient reason for abandoning a policy which is the only one that can be followed with due regard to our own interests." In other words, we are entitled to protect a horde of murderous savages because it appears to be for our advantage to do so. It is probable the judgment of posterity will not approve the wisdom which regards such a course as advantageous, any more than it will approve the morality which feels at liberty to acquire advantages at such a price).

Once there occurred an important deviation from the established course of English policy. It arose, unexpectedly, during the war which the heroic little state of Greece waged for her independence of the Turks.

Turkish rule had been for ages intolerably bitter to the Greeks. During the eighteenth century insurrections had occurred under the fostering care of the Russian government. These were suppressed with barbarous severity, deepening constantly the hatred with which the tyrants were regarded. At length the Greeks burst into inextinguishable revolt. For years they maintained a heroic and moderately successful resistance to their oppressors. Europe looked on with enthusiastic approval, but her governments long maintained a neutrality which was little in harmony with the wishes of her people. The Turks butchered without mercy or sold into slavery all the captives who fell into their hands. So extreme was their cruelty that the population of Greece was diminished by one-half, and many portions of the country were changed into desert. At length, when the war had continued for nearly seven years, the English, French, and Russian, governments agreed, by formal treaty, that it must now cease, and that Turkey must be contented in the future with a tribute and a nominal sovereignty over Greece. The sultan indignantly refused to suffer the interference of foreign powers in his questions with revolted subjects. The allies intimated their purpose of compelling instant peace, and their fleets entered the Bay of Navarino to give effect to the decision which they announced. The Ottoman squadron, of superior strength, rode at anchor there under the guns of certain formidable batteries. The allied fleets passed quietly into the bay, and dropped their anchors opposite the Turkish ships. On both sides every preparation for battle had been made, but there was yet no fixed intention to fight, and no war had been declared. A Turkish ship fired with musketry upon some English boats, and slew an officer bearing a flag of truce. One or two English ships returned the fire without orders. The battle, opened in this random way, soon raged along the whole line. For four hours the Turks fought bravely against enemies with whom, as it quickly appeared, they were utterly unable to cope. When the battle closed the Turkish fleet was extinct. Fifty-two ships and seven thousand men had perished (The king, in his speech at the opening of Parliament, referred to the battle of Navarino as "an untoward event." The Duke of Wellington was then the head of the government, and no man had firmer faith than he in the necessity of Turkey to the political balance of Europe). Greece was free, and Europe rejoiced with a great joy over the discomfiture of the Mohammedan oppressor.

From the exasperations of this struggle there resulted instantly an invasion of Turkey by the Russians. The czar marched an army of one hundred and fifty thousand men to attack his ancient foe. The Turks offered an obstinate but fruitless resistance. The invaders defeated their armies, stormed their fortresses, forced the passes of the Balkans, and stood at length unopposed within eighty miles of Constantinople.

But here the western powers caught alarm. England and Austria hastened to interpose, lest the balance of power should be overthrown. Russia was invited to negotiate, and an English admiral was ready to seize her fleet if she had chosen to push her advantage farther. But Russia had done enough for that time, and she consented to peace. The humbled sultan assented with tears in his eyes to a treaty which despoiled him of territory, and laid upon his impoverished treasury burdensome pecuniary indemnities. Russian subjects resident in Turkey were exempted from the jurisdiction of Turkish authorities - a provision which furnished inexhaustible opportunity for vexatious and humiliating interference. The virtual independence of the Servians, who had been for many years in arms against their oppressors, was finally secured at this time.

The process of decay now became more rapid. Egypt asserted her independence, stimulated thereto by the secret encouragement which Russia for her own purposes afforded. A great army was sent to reclaim the revolted vassal, but the Egyptians inflicted upon it a defeat from which there could be no recovery. A great fleet was despatched on the same errand. But the admiral, intent, like other Turkish officials, upon his own advantage, sailed to Alexandria, and handed over his ships to the enemy whom it was his duty to subdue. Egypt was from that day virtually independent.

It was hoped, after the Crimean war, that the influence of the allies, to whom it owed so much, would lead the Turkish government into the path of reform, and make its continued existence tolerable by its neighbours. England demanded complete religious equality of Mohammedans and Christians, and the Turks, with grave courtesy, yielded immediate compliance. It was discovered afterwards that they did not construe the agreement as England did. But this difference need not concern us, as no attempt whatever was made to give effect to either construction. Various important reforms were promised, and large reductions in the profligate expenditure of the administration. No single promise then made was ever sought to be fulfilled. Our alliance with the Turks in the dangers and sacrifices of a great war was naturally the origin of a friendly regard, and an unreasoning expectation that a better future was in store for them. These favourable impressions created an opportunity of which the Turks were not slow to avail themselves. Their government attempted to borrow money of the English people. Unexpected success induced frequent renewal of such applications. The honest earnings of credulous Englishmen were squandered on the filthy pleasures of Turkish savages. The tempting interest promised to the earlier dupes was paid from sums yielded by the later. Not till a debt of one hundred and forty million had been incurred did the simple Christians discover that they were being plundered by the cunning misbelievers. So soon as it ceased to be possible for them to borrow, the Turks began to apply to the enormous debt which they had contracted the easy and comfortable process of repudiation.

While the English people were realizing the hopeless loss inflicted upon them, the Turkish difficulty once more became acute. The Christians in Bosnia and the Herzegovina were driven to take up arms against their oppressors, and the Turks proved unable to suppress the insurrection. The great powers, anxious always to postpone the inevitable settlement, required that the Turks should pledge themselves to such reforms as might be expected to satisfy the insurgents. Religious equality was again demanded, and again promised. The farming of taxes was to be discontinued. Taxes levied in the revolted provinces were to be expended there. A commission, composed of Mohammedans and Christians, was charged with the execution of these reforms - the announcement of which, it was vainly hoped, would disarm the revolted provinces, and restore tranquillity.

The desired postponement was not gained. The overtures of the embarrassed and faithless Porte were unheeded by the insurgents. And soon the disturbance was intensified by a declaration of war by Servia, which professed to be moved by sympathy with the revolted provinces to a course which threatened to procure her own ruin.

During the spring a rising of trivial importance occurred in Bulgaria. The Turks were urged by the English government to be prompt in restoring order throughout the disturbed territories. Bulgaria was chosen for the premeditated exhibition of Turkish vigour and Turkish justice, A force sufficient to overbear any possibility of resistance occupied the unhappy state, which was now the victim of atrocities scarcely paralleled in modern Europe. Christian villages were plundered and burned down. Their inhabitants, by thousands, were slaughtered without mercy. "Women, little children, unoffending old men, perished under nameless torture. The dead lay in heaps in the churches, to which they had vainly fled for shelter, and the dogs tore their unburied flesh as they rotted by the wayside.

By the noble efforts of an English newspaper - the Daily News - details of these infamies reached London, and were revealed to the world. Unworthy attempts were made by the friends of the Turks - for even in England they had friends - to deny and then to soften the appalling facts. But these were frustrated without difficulty. The British people read in the Bulgarian atrocities the true character of the savage power which they had so long upheld. Their indignant horror made a sudden breach in the "hereditary policy" of the government, and for the time saved the nation from the shame of protecting the Turks against the vengeance which their iniquities had provoked.

The Emperor of Russia availed himself of the opportunity created by the revulsion of English sentiment. He proposed that Turkish misrule should be forcibly terminated, and intimated that if Europe failed to join him in this urgent work he was prepared to act independently. A vain attempt was made by a conference of the great powers to bring the disturber of the public peace to reason. The stubborn Turk would not yield to the counsel and entreaty of Europe. The great powers desisted from their efforts, and ceased to interpose between Turkey and the measureless calamities which impended. In due time Russia declared war, and moved her armies to the frontier.

Two great natural lines of defence - the Danube and the Balkan Mountains - lie between Turkey and her assailant. Efficiently held, these would have long delayed the Russian advance, and could not have been forced without a large expenditure of life. But the supine commander of the Turks allowed the river to be crossed without firing a shot. The passes of the Balkans were not held more firmly. The Shipka Pass was seized almost without fighting, and Russian troops in force occupied the northern parts of Roumelia.

But now the Turks roused themselves from this fatal lethargy. The weak old man who had led their armies to so little purpose was displaced, and successors were appointed on whom was laid the obligation to immediate battle. The Russians, scorning an enemy who seemed incapable of resistance, had ventured too far, and lay exposed to the blows which an enterprising commander might direct against them. General Gourko was driven back into the Balkans by a rapid concentration of Turkish forces, and for a little it seemed as if he might be compelled to surrender. Osman Pasha led an army to Plevna, a Roumelian town lying in a valley commanded by a series of ridges on which he hastily constructed intrenchments and redoubts.

For five months the interest of the contest centred in this little town. The Turkish general was resolute, full of resource, and utterly regardless of life. His soldiers, splendidly armed, were brave, submissive, enduring. The Russians, impatient of the obstacle, dashed themselves against Osman's earthworks, and were slaughtered in thousands by the terrible musketry of his soldiers. When the unexpected difficulty of the enterprise was at length understood, General Todleben, who held Sebas-topol against the English, was placed in command. Heavy masses of troops were drawn around Plevna, and communication with the outside world was completely barred. Hunger would, in time, quell the defence of the Turks. Osman endured till Plevna was a charnel-house, filled with wounded and imburied dead. Then he attempted to break through the encircling lines. But his strength was gone. Surrounded and overmatched, he laid down his arms, after many hours' fighting. The flower of the Turkish army had perished or been made captive at Plevna, and it now became evident that the Turkish power to resist was approaching exhaustion.

During all these months a Russian force had held a position in the Shipka Pass in spite of desperate efforts made by the Turks to dislodge them. A few weeks after the fall of Plevna three Russian armies were led across the Balkans. The difficulty of the march was extreme. The roads were slippery with ice, often almost impassable from deep snow. Many men perished under the intense cold. But the Russians were now animated by a spirit before which difficulty vanished. They made their way into Roumelia, and striking on the rear of the Turkish army which guarded the outlet from the Shipka Pass, compelled its surrender. Twenty thousand men laid down their arms. The victorious Russians advanced quickly to Adrianople, and the vanquished Turks begged for terms of peace.

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