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the guardianship of the Straits and of the Holy
Places. The perpetual strife that divides the people
of Em-ope on this subject meets but in this cir-
cumstance its short periods of truce. The conflict


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is the more intense today in that the only free
and natural highway between Europe and Asia
has been doubled, in 1869, by the canal of de Lesseps.
The commerce of the world hurled itself into this
narrow pass. The regions that suiroimd it, how-
ever, which have been the cradle of civilisation,
remain a still imdivided spoil, defended by Turkish
arms alone against Eiu'opean enterprise.

The Eastern Mediterranean, at Constantinople,
the Straits, the Archipelago, in Asia Minor, in
Sjnia, in the Suez Canal, in Egypt, offers the great
problem of the passages, land-roads and sea-roads ;
the Indian route, and route of the Pacific.

What would be decided in Berlin as to this ?

The three imperial Powers, Russia, Germany and
Great Britain, stood face to face ; the Mediterranean
Powers, France and Italy, rather in the back-
ground, watched the game ; while the new nation-
alities — Greece, Bulgaria, Roumania — stood waiting
to pick up the crumbs from the table.

Great Britain was the most energetic of the
Powers. It was she who had '* kindled '* the
flame. The Mediterranean, by reason of its import-
ance as a highway to India, she looked on as her
own affair. She had tried to regain control of the
land-road by the clause debarring Russia from the \^
sources of the Euphrates ; there now remained but
the sea-ways.

As to navigation in the Straits, in 1856 two or
three arrangements had been made which had not
appeared satisfactory. The Mediterranean Powers
desired by means of the key of the Straits retained by
Turkey, to block Russia in the Black Sea ; — whereas
Russia, on her part, wished to close the Black Sea
to the Powers, while leaving its gates open to her


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own warships. Turkey desired to make use of her
position for the purpose of gaining allies and pro-
tecting herself against her adversaries. These were
conflicting interests that no formula could reconcile.

In principle, by agreements made before the
Congress, the idea adopted by the Powers was the
closing of the Straits to ships of war.

The treaty of March 30th, 1856, had, however,
authorised each of the Powers to maintain a per-
manent fleet in the Black Sea. This agreement
had been annulled in London, 1871. During the
preliminary arrangements at San Stefano, Russia,
following up this advantage, had declared that the
Bosphorus and the Dardanelles should remain
open, in time of war as in time of peace, to the
merchant ships of neutral states passing to or
from the Russian ^^orts ; and had forbidden the
Sultan to establish any means of blockading the
ports of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. This
meant the door aj ar . Russia had, however, recognised
that the question of the Straits was a matter of
European interest.

There was much embarrassment through this in
Berlin ; these excessive alterations had still further
obscm-ed the very obscure outlook. At the sitting
of July nth. Lord Salisbury made the following
declaration : —

I declare, on the part of England, that the obligations of Her
Britannic Majesty concerning the closing of the Straits are con-
fined to an engagement towards the Sultan to respect on this
point any determinations independent of Her Majesty in con-
formity with the spirit of existing treaties.

This meant, apparently, that the Sultan would
be free to do as he pleased, and able, consequently,
to open the Straits to his friends, and shut them,


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if need be, to his enemies. Count Schouwalof!
immediately replied : —

That the plenipotentiaries of Russia, without being able to
take exact account of the British proposition, requested on their
own part, the insertion in the protocol : That in their opinion
the principle of the closing of the Straits was a European principle,
that former stipulations were not abrogated and remained obli-
gatory for the Sultan as well as for the other Powers.

Neither one nor the other proposition was voted ; 7
by the Congress, and no opinion expressed. It 1
was merely admitted that all previous stipulations \\ i>
not abrogated were maintained ; a conclusion i
which appeared to favour the Russian propositions. 1
TheArchi- Th^ British proposal was, however, not
peiagoand without effect. In claiming liberty of

theConven- . , .- r^i, -r^tiiv,

tionof action for the Sultan, England had but

Cyprus ^^^ immediate, though considerable, fact
in view, which, on the whole, explains her attitude
towards the question.

Since June 4th, quite openly, but with no single
mention of it in the discussions and protocols of
the Congress, England had, or thought she had,
armed herself with regard to the balance of the sea.
She had contracted a defensive alliance with the
Sultan, as a certain set-off to the treaty of Unkiar-
Skelessi, and as a territorial surety for the prominent
position she acquired in the Levant, she had gained
from the Sultan the right of occupying and ad- \
ministering the island of Cyprus.

Thus guaranteed by this imforeseen combination,
the English believed themselves masters of the situa-
tion and were persuaded that they had counter-
balanced for their country the advantages obtained
by the other Powers.

The idea was Lord Beaconsfield's. Already in \


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1847, he had written in his Tancred that ** The Eng-
lish have need of Cyprus and will acquire it as com-
pensation. They will not do the business of Turkey
again for nothing. They require a new market for
their cottons. England will never be satisfied until
the people in Jerusalem wear calico turbans." This
was claiming the inheritance of both Cjrprus and
Palestine. Since 1847 France had particularly af-
fected the question of Lebanon and of the Holy
Places ; M. Waddington's " reservations " had pre-
vented this matter being dealt with by the Congress.
There remained, therefore, Cyprus.

Such was the origin of the taking of the island ;
it was explained and justified for the benefit of the
gallery by a Note from the Foreign Ofl&ce, dated
May 30th, 1878, which mentioned the agreement
relating to Cyprus as a precautionary arrangement.

The only measure that can afford substantial guarantee lor
the Ottoman dominion in Turkey in Asia ... is an engagement
on the part of a Power strong enough to carry it out, that any
new encroachment of Russia on Turkish territory in Asia will be
prevented by force of arms. Such an engagement, if contracted
fully and without reserves, will prevent the realisation of such
an eventuality, and will give, at the same time, to the peoples
of the Asiatic provinces the necessary confidence for Turkish
dominion in Asia not to meet with speedy overthrow.

( The two " precautions " taken by England against
the Slav expansion on the Sultan's domains appear
in full Ught In Europe and on land, it was the
constitution of Eastern Roumelia detached from
Great Bulgaria, with military defence by Turkey
of the Balkan range ; in Asia and on sea, it was a
defensive treaty between England and the Sultan,
implying for the latter **the disposition of the
Straits" (which meant the eventual occupation of


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the Straits by an English iSeet), and all this was
supported by her occupation of Cyprus.

For both these advantages England had obtained
the recognition of Germany by a preUminary negotia-
tion at the Congress, at the price of giving support to
Austria-Hungary in her claim for the administration
of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
All is thus simultaneously explained.*
Amidst so much bargaining the real origin of the

* No one has better understood and better explained the drift
of this Convention of June 4th, which bound all the parties engaged
before the Congress, than has Carath^odory Pacha. It was
he who suffered first and most cruelly, for the secret agreement
impeded all his movements in advance. " The Anglo-Turkish
agreement and the cession of Cyprus, which had just been
divulged, contributed to excite the envy of the Austrians. They
had early gained knowledge of the arrangement secretly con-
cluded between England and Turkey ; there is no room for doubt-
ing that M. von Bismarck had been admitted into the secret, as
Count Andrassy would not have ventured to keep him uninformed
on such an important matter, and while the English, in possession
of Cyprus, found it quite natural to support the Austrians in their
occupation of Bosnia, the latter, on their side, redoubled their
efforts towards not leaving the Congress with less profit than
did England.

" On July 4th, a telegram from the Porte to the Ottoman
plenipotentiaries affirmed the existence of an agreement signed
between England and Turkey on the subject of Asia Minor and
Cyprus. They were most annoyed at not having been sooner
informed of such an important fact (as they alone, therefore,
were not in the secret), as if it had been known in time, it would
have enabled them to exercise more pressure on the British dele-
gates than had been the case. On July 7th, the agreement was
rumoured, and probably published, in London. The fact became
at once known in Berlin, and from this moment the Austrians,
profiting by the perplexity in the ranks of those who had not
known of it in advance (which means, of course, everyone but
England, Germany and Austria itself), became more intractable
than before in their demands.''


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war had been lost sight of to some extent, viz., " the
amelioration of the circmnstances of the Christians
of the East." It must not be imagined, however,
that the Congress was not occupied with such a noble
cause. The president, Prince Bismarck, never failed
to insist on the " high civilising mission " which
belonged, on this head, to the Powers. Russia was
watching it, of course ; and France, who had set
herself to maintain what remained to her in the East
of the influence of her traditional labours, both re-

initiative Ugious and Liberal, took the line of helping
of France ^^q secondary Powers as much as possible,
defender as she is of tolerance and religious liberty.
At the same time she supported the bearers of the
Ottoman debt — France does much to promulgate
both principles and capital.

They were French plenipotentiaries who submitted
to the Congress an article (later Article LXII of the
Treaty) assuring to members of all religions liberty,
equality before the law, and right to employment
and to honours. These measures, applicable even
in countries detached from the Ottoman empire or
obtaining autonomic administration, met with some
difficulty, especially as regarded the Jews of Rou-
mania, and the French motion here encoimtered
Uvely opposition from the Russian delegates ;
England, however, was entirely favourable to the
proposition, which was also supported by Prince

The equality of cults became, for the first time,
a recognised law for the East.

It was again France who brought before the

Congress the territorial claims of Roumania and

"^53^ Greece. The struggle was as ardent as the interests

were complex, and though the Congress did not


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entirely ratify her proposals, they were certainly con- j'
sidered, since Roumania was accorded a further
extent of territory from Rassova to SiUstria, as well
as the delta of the Danube with the Isle of Serpents ;
further also, in accordance with the French proposi-
tion, Greece was allowed an important rectification
of frontier in Epirus and Thessaly (Article XXIV),
the Powers acting as mediators between Greece and
Turkey should difficulties arise.

In extension of Article XXII of the Treaty of San
Stefano, France proposed the right of ofl&cial pro-
tection by the embassies for ecclesiastics, pilgrims
and monks travelling in Eiu-opean Turkey and Asia-
tic Tiu-key, as well as for religious institutions in the
Holy Places and elsewhere (Article LXII).

Her plenipotentiaries, who had joined the Congress
with such carefulness and hesitation, had grown
more confident, carried forward, to some degree, by
the force of their position. They were met with
much consideration, their slightest opinions taken
into accoimt, the most delicate tasks of mediation
and expression confided to them. And no one en-
deavoiu'ed to facilitate and ennoble their task more
than did Prince Bismarck. A change indeed ! But
no one better than the prince imderstood the im-
portance of the French support for the labours of .
the Congress. Had France stood aloof or made
objections, the unanimity would have been threatened
on which everything depended.
Italy dis- Italy was not well satisfied. The vague
satisfied opinions in favour of Russia which she
had pronounced at the b^inning (through fear of
the growing influence of Austria-Himgary in the
Adriatic zone) had not brought her much advantage.
Her presence had been to some extent overlooked,


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and her First Plenipotentiary, Count Corti, com-
plained of having been mistaken in Prince Bismarck.
The Prince probably tried to make the Italians see
the advantage they might gain in sheltering hence-
forth beneath the wing of Germany.

However it may have been, Italy, alone, was not
in a position to act ; but although she had confided
her grievances to France, although both nations,
asserting before the Congress their role as Mediter-
ranean and balancing Powers, had placed themselves
resolutely between the two groups, Russia had been
able to manoeuvre.

The advantage that a more supple and detached
attitude would have given France, was felt by the
leaders of tlje Congress. They took the initiative
for her so adroitly that she found herself in a better
position than her representatives and Government
had hoped for. It was thus that, despite the famous
'* reservations," the French plenipotentiaries were
to some extent obliged to seize an occasion for bring-
ing to acknowledgment by the Congress the tradi-
tional policy of France in the Holy Places, and, in a
general way, what is termed the " Catholic protector-
ate," in the East. The Congress recognised on this
account '* the rights acquired by France," namely,
a valuable influence throughout the extent of the
empire, and especially in the important lands of
Palestine and Syria.

Another circumstance soon arose to the further
profit of France. It was French initiative that
decided the future direction of Emropean policy, it
was then that France reverted to her Mectter-
ranean interests. New horizons, therefore, opened
out ; the Powers rushed towards " colonial expan-



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jhg Amid the eloquent silences, which maybe
Egyptian said to form the secret framework of the
Congress of Berlin, there was one which
was not once broken, but which nevertheless much
exercised men's minds. This was the Egyptian ques-

Eg3^t — par excellence — ^is the road to India.
Since the day of Aboukir, England has never lost
sight of the land of the Pharaohs. The Suez Canal
piierced by de Lesseps, increased her vigilance. The
financial follies of Ismafl gave her a hold on it.
The buying of the Canal shares announced her

The diplomatic situation of Egypt was singular
enough. Still belonging to the Tufkish Empire,
she claimed, since the days of Mehemet Ali, a cer-
tain liberty of action which many Powers, France
especially, had admitted and encouraged. She no
longer followed entirely the fate of the empire. In
1877, during the negotiations previous to the war,
this situation had been further complicated. Eng-
land had stipulated that Egypt and the Suez Canal
should be outside the sphere of hostilities, and yet
the troops of the Khedive had valiantly fought at
Plevna for the Turk.

When the hour for negotiation struck at BerUn,
the precautions taken by England gained strength
from France's *' reservations." England had freed
Egypt from the consequences of the war ; France
claimed to free her from the consequences of the
peace. Egypt was mentioned by name in the French
Note as among the regions not to be dealt with by
the Congress.

It is a matter of consideration as to whether it
would not have been wiser to leave Europe, who


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then seemed to wish to consolidate what remained
of the Turkish Empire, the possibility of extending
along the African coast the guarantees she was taking
so solemnly for the European and Asiatic provinces.
But French policy was then under diverse influences.
At all events the " Egyptian question '* had arisen,
and was developing simultaneously with the question
of the East. If may be said to have ripened at
Plevna. The financial crisis had come about through
the expense of mobilising, equipping and maintain-
ing the 30,000 men sent out to Macedonia.

Some time previously, in the latter part of 1875,
the British Government had authorised an inquiry
as to the Egyptian funds and had favoured the estab-
lishment, through the intermediary of the Anglo-
Egyptiaji Bank (February, 1876), of a national bank
intended to control the affairs of the Khedive.

France had intervened in the name of her own
creditors. From this moment it was the bond-
holders who became the instruments of the two
policies in Egj^t.

France was rapidly distanced ; in May, 1876, the
Caisse de la Dette publique was established imder
European control. In December, 1876, came the
Dual Control, the origin of the condominium) the
general controllers were a Frenchman and an English-
man, one responsible for the receipts, the other for
the accoimts of the Public Debt ; in brief, they i.
assumed entire responsibility for the financial
administration in Egj^t, without, however, having
the necessary authority for controlling the expenses.

At the close of the costly Turkish war the treasury
was empty. A new inquiry was instituted by decrees
from the Khedive on January 27th and March 30th,
1878. An international commission, in which a


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Frenchman, M, de Lesseps, had the nominal presi-
dency, and an Englishman, Sir Rivers Wilson, the
practical leadership, was given the most extensive
powers. It was then that the hand of England,
stronger than ever, began to press its weight on
Egyptian affairs. Things were rapidly developed.
The French agent in Cairo writes : —

I remembered then all the phases of the period just past,
and all the o£fers made so boldly to the English by the Khedive
of a Governor-General or a preponderating ministry. These
proposals were, no doubt, declined in London as inopportune
or premature, but they raised neither astonishment nor indigna-
tion. . . . These symptoms made me strangely suspicious of
our allies. From henceforth not the interests of the creditors
and financial liquidation were to be in question, but the fate of ^
Egypt itself (Baron des Michel's Souvenirs de Carriire, p. i8i).

It was indeed the fate of Egj^t that was hanging
in the balance. The two Powers facing each other
on the banks of the Nile were also being represented
at the Congress of Berlin. It was the right moment
for consolidation, innovation or bargaining.

England was openly manoeuvring to detach
Egyptian affairs from the Eastern question to her ^
own advantage. She wished to have her hands
free, though not inactive. The sea and the Straits
were her constant preoccupation. This explains her
cautious attitude as regards maritime Bulgaria, the
Straits, Greece, and Turkey itself ; she stood quiet,
negotiating in silence. This also explains the sur-
prising Convention of Cyprus, the profound mystery j
in which it was enveloped — so profound that the |
Turkish plenipotentiaries in Berlin knew nothing of /

it. From the heights of Cyprus all these different /
shores could be surveyed.

To conclude, however, France could not be dis-


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pensed with. Without France, whom Italy would
doubtless follow, the formidable machinery opposed
to Russia would not work. Yet what was to be
done ? Egypt was specially mentioned in M. Wad-
dington's " reservations " : its name could not be
pronounced. The problem, however, was ^ved
none the less.

Since it was written in the books of Destiny that
the vital questions of the Congress should be passed
by pretermission before that august assembly, it was
discussed behind the scenes. On July 7th, 1878 — five
days before the close of the Congress — Lord Salisbury
communicated to M. Waddington the agreement as
to Cyprus. The blow struck at the face of France
and Italy, both Mediterranean Powers.

M. Waddington was both annoyed and perplexed.
He was one of the most correct and straightforward
of men, with little experience or resource, trembling
before all these other mighty men, and inadequately
supported by his French colleagues. With his well-
known English tendencies, he had taken willing refuge
in an obscure r61e, while agreeing to perform certain
difficult commissions — how rude was therefore his
awakening ! He sought out Lord Beaconsfield and
addressed him with unaccustomed vigour — France
had nothing more to do but leave the Congress.

Tunis ^^* ^^^^ Salisbury was in no wise taken
oflferedto aback. The time had come to examine

^^^ the Mediterranean questions. Despite the
" reservations " of France, all was submitted to
inspection. Egypt was first debated, then came
Syria — ^and then, to give himself more elbow-room,
the English Minister judged it expedient to drop a
hint as to Tunis.

With r^ard to Egypt, although the position of


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France was very strong, her " reservations " em-
barrassed her and proved her embarrassment. M.
Waddington was taken at a disadvantage. His
tactics lay in the system which under pressure of the
financiers had been that of France in the time of the
Due Decazes ; France was persuaded that her in-
terests lay in a tete d tete with England on the banks
of the Nile. M. Waddington contented himself with
declarations establishing the equality of situation and
influence for the two Powers. As to Lebanon, Eng-
land expressed herself most clearly ; her Ministers
recognised the rights and duties acquired by France
in this district : '* England had no prejudice con-
cerning this."

Yet why Tunis ? As has been seen, it was Lord
Salisbury who made the first overtures. He said
that England had resolved to offer no difficulty to
French policy in this country. " Do as you please
there," he added, " it does not affect us." In point
of fact, he invited France to look here for compen-
sations which would have been hardly afforded her
elsewhere. This was the necessary ballast, enough
to give appreciation to the peculiar influence of
France in Berlin. This sacrifice had evidently been
deliberated in the Royal G>uncils and Prince Bis-
marck kept informed of it. What was thereby
risked ? The immediate help of France was thus
assured, help that was indispensable, without which
the work of the Congress could not be completed,
in exchange for very vague concessions which had
also the advantage — in the present conjunctmre — of
setting the two Mediterranean Powers, France and
Italy, at loggerheads. England, in return for an :
immediate gain — the possession of Cyprus — proffered
a burdensome, perhaps impracticable benefit — the


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concession of rights over Tunis. Before this offer, —
call it, perhaps, temptation, — ^the French representa-
tives showed hesitation. France was suffering for
lack of courage in adventures. They feared to be
entrapped and compromised. However, after much
consideration, MM. Waddington, de Saint- Vallier,
and Despres, decided to seize the opportunity ; they
realised the advantage to be gained by ratifying
during Congress the different proposals of Lord Salis-
bury, and they were apparently not sorry to have
the chance of bringing back *' something " in their turn
from the international gathering. They accordingly
drew up a motion to be placed before the Congress,
and despatched it to Paris by a Secretary in order to

Online LibraryGabriel HanotauxContemporary France → online text (page 28 of 48)