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Edwin Munsell Bliss

TURKEY AND THE ARMENIAN ATROCITIES


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[page 225]

CHAPTER XIII.

REFORMS AND PROGRESS.

Reign of Abd-ul-Medjid — Influence of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe — English Policy in Turkey — Hatti Sherif of Gulhane — A Remarkable Document — Equal Rights for all Subjects of the Sultan — Land Tax and Judicial Reform — General Situation of the Country — Application of the Reforms.

ABD-UL-MEDJID was a man of entirely different type from his father. He had little of that clear foresight and determined will which made Mahmud throw aside turban and kaftan, and assume the European dress, retaining only the fez as the distinguishing mark of his Turkish race; study a French book of tactics and learn to ride his horse like an English dragoon instead of a Tartar courier. He had, however, what Mahmud lacked, able assistants. Under the general instruction of Mahmud there had grown up some young men who realized as he did the absolute necessity of change in the conduct of the Turkish Government, if it was to hope for strength in comparison with the European forces, and Abd-ul-Medjid had the judgment and tact to call them into his councils. He was fortunate, too, in having through a considerable part of his reign, the presence and counsel of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, and the famous Englishman threw himself heart and soul into the effort to establish the Turkish Empire upon such a basis of reform as should make it an

[page 226] THE TURKISH PROBLEM.

efficient ally of Western Europe in its effort to resist the aggressions of the tremendous power of Russia, which was not only menacing more and more the peace of Europe, but threatening to spread over it the pall of its own barbarism. Lord Stratford recognized very clearly the nature of the men he had to deal with and the problem which faced him. In a private letter he wrote: “ Very false notions are entertained in England of the Turkish nation. You know much better than I do the mighty resources and native wealth which this enormous empire possesses. I am myself a daily witness of the personal qualities of the inhabitants, qualities which if properly directed are capable of sustaining them against a world of enemies. But the government is radically bad, and its members, who are all alive to its defects, have neither the wisdom nor the courage to reform it. The few who have courage equal to the task know not how to reconcile reformation with the prejudices of the people. And without this, nothing can be effected.” Therefore he set himself, with all his skill and energy, to the work of reconciling the needed reformation with the prejudices of the people. The diplomatic course of England has been singularly ill-advised, even though perfectly natural. Realizing the nature of the terrible oppression of the Turkish Government, especially as manifested in the condition of the Greeks, but blind to the scarcely, if any, less terrible oppression of the Russian Government, as manifested in those interior provinces, which were later to be photographed to the world by Eugene Schuyler, Macdonald and George Kennan, she and France joined hands with Russia in such a way as to give Russian influence an enormous prestige. The result was that the genuine enthusiasm for reform which filled Mahmud’s mind was chilled, and more

[page 227] RUSSIAN OR TURKISH TYRANNY.

than that, he was discredited among his own people. Another blunder was the yielding to French influence in permitting the power of Mehemet Ali to increase in Egypt, so that he could overrun Syria and Asia Minor. Against both of them Lord Stratford had protested; not because he lacked sympathy for the Greeks, but because he saw more clearly than others that to weaken Mahmud was to weaken the only available means of checking that Russian aggression and tyranny which threatened to crush out all idea of development. Turkish tyranny was bad, but Russian tyranny was worse in his eyes; because in the Sultan he saw indications of a real sympathy with the best life of the nation, while in the Czar he found nothing but a fierce, unalterable determination to secure personal aggrandizement at whatever cost to anybody else. In accordance with this he outlined the foundation of his policy as early as 1832, in a despatch to Lord Palmerston, as follows:

“The great question to be resolved is this: How far is it possible to introduce into the present system of administration those improvements without which the army and finances of the country must be equally inefficient ? * * * More than five years have elapsed since the Janissaries were destroyed, and, although some regulations of a better kind have been adopted, and the Sultan’s policy is in general of a milder and more protecting character, no beneficial results, except that of a diminished animosity between Turks and Christians, are yet visible. The regular army is not more numerous now, and scarcely better disciplined, than it was before the war with Russia. The financial embarrassments increase, and commerce is still depressed by a pernicious system of monopoly. * * * I think the time is near at handy

[page 228] HUNKIAR ISKELLESSI.

or perhaps already come, when it is necessary that a decided line of policy should be adopted and steadily pursued with respect to this country. The Turkish Empire is evidently hastening to its dissolution, and an approach to the civilization of Christendom affords the only chance of keeping it together for any length of time. That chance is a very precarious one at best, and should it unfortunately not be realized, the dismemberment which would ensue could hardly fail of disturbing the peace of Europe through a long series of years. ”

Here we have the germ of Lord Stratford’s policy, and just in proportion as that policy was carried out by the Turkish Government was there peace in Europe and prosperity in the Turkish Empire. It is to the neglect of that policy by Abd-ul-Aziz, and its reversal by Abd-ul-Hamid, combined with the inertness of Lord Stratford’s successors in the English Embassy at Constantinople, and the determined hostility of Russia, that have been due the terrible events of the past two years. It was most unfortunate that for ten years, 1832-1841, Lord Stratford had no voice in Turkish matters. During that period came the treaty of Hunkiar Iskellessi, when the Russian fleet, anchored in the Bosporus, made the Sultan a vassal of the Czar, and the great advance of Mehemet Ali, all resulting in the discouragement of the most courageous and progressive Sultan Turkey has ever had, and a situation at his death which would have appalled an ordinary man.

Abd-ul-Medjid’s first step was one which presaged good. Scarcely had he ascended his throne when he promulgated the Hatti Sherif of Gulhane. In some respects this is one of the most remarkable documents in history. In a sense it is surpassed by the more famous Hatti Humayoun issued by the same Sultan some years later, but that was after he

[page 229] HATTI SHERIF.

had been under Lord Stratford’s influence, and was in the flush of victory in the Crimean War. This was at a time when discouragement was on every side, and all European ideas were looked upon as thoroughly anti-Islam. In view of its historical value, we give the text in full.

HATTI SHERIF OF GULHANE.

“ All the world knows that, in the first days of the Ottoman monarchy, the glorious precepts of the Koran and the laws of the empire were always honored.

“ The empire in consequence increased in strength and greatness, and all its subjects, without exception, had risen in the highest degree to ease and prosperity. In the last one hundred and fifty years a succession of accidents and divers causes have arisen which have brought about a disregard for the sacred code of laws and the regulations flowing therefrom, and the former strength and prosperity have changed into weakness and poverty; an empire in fact loses all its stability so soon as it ceases to observe its laws.

“ These considerations are ever present to our mind, and ever since the day of our advent to the throne the thought of the public weal, of the improvement of the state of the provinces, and of relief to the (subject) peoples, has not ceased to engage it. If, therefore, the geographical position of the Ottoman provinces, the fertility of the soil, the aptitude and intelligence of the inhabitants, are considered, the conviction will remain that by striving to find efficacious means, the result, which by the help of God we hope to attain, can be obtained within a few years. Full of confidence, therefore, in the help of the Most High, and certain of the support of our Prophet, we deem it right to try by new institutions to give to the provinces composing the Ottoman Empire the benefit of a good administration.

“ These institutions must be principally carried out under three heads, which are:

“ 1. The guaranteeing and insuring to our subjects perfect security for life, honor, and fortune.

“ 2. A regular system of assessing and levying taxes.

“ 3. An equally regular system for the levying of troops and the duration of their service.

“ And, in fact, are not life and honor the most precious gifts to mankind?

[page 230] VENALITY.

What man, however much his character may be against violence, can prevent himself from having recourse to it, and thereby injure the government and the country, if his life and honor are endangered ? If, on the contrary, he enjoys in that respect perfect security, he will not depart from the ways of loyalty, and all his actions will contribute to the good of the government and of his brothers.

“ If there is an absence of security as to one’s fortune, everyone remains insensible to the voice of the Prince and the country; no one interests himself in the progress of public good, absorbed as he is in his own troubles. If, on the contrary, the citizen keeps possession in all confidence of all his goods, then, full of ardor in his affairs, which he seeks to enlarge in order to increase his comforts, he feels daily growing and doubling in his heart not only his love for the Prince and country, but also his devotion to his native land.

“ These feelings become in him the source of the most praiseworthy actions.

“ As to the regular and fixed assessment of the taxes, it is very important that it be regulated; for the state which is forced to incur many expenses for the defense of its territory cannot obtain the money necessary for its armies and other services except by means of contributions levied on its subjects. Although, thanks be to God, our empire has for some time past been delivered from the scourge of monopolies, falsely considered in times of war as a source of revenue, a fatal custom still exists, although it can only have disastrous consequences; it is that of venal cessions, known under the name of ‘Iltizam.’

“ Under that name the civil and financial administration of a locality is delivered over to the passions of a single man; that is to say, sometimes to the iron grasp of the most violent and avaricious passions; for if that contractor is not a good man, he will only look to his own advantage.

“ It is therefore necessary that henceforth each member of Ottoman society should be taxed for a quota of a fixed tax according to his fortune and means, and that it should be impossible that anything more could be exacted from him. It is also necessary that special laws should fix and limit the expenses of our land and sea forces.

“ Although, as we have said, the defense of the country is an important matter, and it is the duty of, all the inhabitants to furnish soldiers for that object, it has become necessary to establish laws to regulate the con-

[page 231] RIGHTS OF PROPERTY.

tingent to be furnished by each locality according to the necessity of the time, and to reduce the term of military service to four or five years. For it is at the same time doing an injustice and giving a mortal blow to agriculture and to industry to take, without consideration to the respective population of the localities, in the one more, in the other less, men than they can furnish; it is also reducing the soldiers to despair and contributing to the depopulation of the country by keeping them all their lives in the service.

“ In short, without the several laws, the necessity for which has just been described, there can be neither strength, nor riches, nor happiness, nor tranquillity for the empire; it must, on the contrary, look for them in the existence of these new laws.

“ From henceforth, therefore, the cause of every accused person shall be publicly judged, as the divine law requires, after inquiry and examination, and so long as a regular judgment shall not have been pronounced, no one can secretly or publicly put another to death by poison or in any other manner.

“ No one shall be allowed to attach the honor of any other person whatever.

“ Each one shall possess his property of every kind, and shall dispose of it in all freedom, without let or hindrance from any person whatever; thus, for example, the innocent heirs of a criminal shall not be deprived of their legal rights, and the property of the criminal shall not be confiscated. These imperial concessions shall extend to all our subjects, of whatever religion or sect they may be; they shall enjoy them without exception. We therefore grant perfect security to the inhabitants of our empire in their lives, their honor, and their fortunes, as they are secured to them by the sacred text of the law.

“ As for the other points, as they must be settled with the assistance of enlightened opinions, our council of justice (increased by new members as shall be found necessary), to whom shall be joined, on certain days which we shall determine, our ministers and the notabilities of the empire, shall assemble in order to frame laws regulating the security of life and fortune and the assessment of the taxes. Each one in those assemblies shall freely express his ideas and give his advice.

“ The laws regulating the military service shall be discussed by a military council holding its sittings at the palace of Seraskier. As soon as a 14

[page 232] REGULAR SALARIES.

law shall be passed, in order to be forever valid, it shall be presented to us; we shall give it our approval, which we will write with our imperial sign-manual.

“ As the object of these institutions is solely to revivify religion, government, the nation, and the empire, we engage not to do anything which is contrary thereto.

“ In testimony of our promise we will, after having deposited these presents in the hall containing the glorious mantle of the prophet, in the presence of all the ulemas and the grandees of the empire, make oath thereto in the name of God, and shall afterwards cause the oath to be taken by the ulemas and the grandees of the empire.

“ After that, those from among the ulemas and the grandees of the empire, or any other persons whatsoever, who shall infringe these institutions, shall undergo, without respect of rank, position, and influence, the punishment corresponding to his crime, after having been well authenticated.

“ A penal code shall be compiled to that effect. As all the public servants of the empire receive a suitable salary, and as the salaries of those whose duties have not up to the present time been sufficiently remunerated are to be fixed, a rigorous law shall be passed against the traffic of favoritism and bribery, which the Divine law reprobates, and which is one of the principal causes of the decay of the empire.

“ The above dispositions being a thorough alliteration and renewal of ancient customs, this imperial rescript shall be published at Constantinople and in all places of our empire, and shall be officially communicated to all the ambassadors of the friendly powers resident at Constantinople, that they may be witnesses to the granting of these institutions, which, should it please God, shall last forever. Wherein may the Most High have us in His holy keeping. May those who shall commit an act contrary to the present regulations be the object of Divine malediction, and be deprived forever of every kind of (protection) happiness.

“ Read at Gulhane, November 3, 1839. ”

Through the peculiar Oriental verbiage it will be seen that this famous charter (1) Guaranteed to all subjects of the empire, without distinction, their life, their honor and their fortune; (2) Re-established a uniform and regular mode of assessing and subsequently levying the taxes; (3) Regulated,

[page 233] REFORM AND REACTION.

by legal powers, the levy of soldiers and the duration of military service; (4) Suppressed monopolies; (5) Ordered that the taxes should be levied in proportion to the fortune of each; (6) Promised laws that should fix the expenses of the land and sea forces with the contingent of each locality; (7) Ordered that every cause should be tried publicly according to the civil and religious laws; (8) that every subject should possess his property with all the rights of ownership, and might sell it; and finally, (9) that the heirs of a criminal should not be deprived of their claims to his estate.

Such reforms were far-reaching and it is scarcely surprising that their promulgation stirred a dangerous reaction, or that for a time the government was practically in the hands of the reactionary party, which aimed at a return to the system overturned by Mahmud, or at least to weaken the force of the privileges granted to the Christians as much as possible. In this they were assisted by the general conditions of the country, already referred to as disorganized, but more completely described by Lord Stratford’s biographer as follows:

“ The general state of the empire was such as might be expected after the late troubles and under the existing rulers. Disorder reigned in the provinces. The misgovernment of Wallachia offered an opportunity for Russian intrigues; Bulgaria had caught the fever of disquiet, Albania soon broke into revolt, and in 1843 Servia rose against her prince. The local pashas did as they pleased. At Scutari, three Christian peasants were executed without trial; at Trebizond, the pasha cut the throats of two criminals in the public street; the governor of Mosul rushed out one night, mad with drink, to murder at pleasure; two towns were razed to the ground by

[page 234] GENERAL DEMORALIZATION.

the troops in Albania; the soldiers mutinied for their pay at Salonica, tried to kill their colonel, and then burnt the stores in a caravanserai, while the pasha looked on; unequal and cruel taxation was driving the people to despair; the ministers of the Porte used their official authority in favor of their private trading, and invited presents of hush-money from offending pashas. Fanaticism against Christians was increasing, and Pera was placarded with threats of burning the Frank quarter. ‘There is no such thing as system in Turkey,’ wrote the ambassador. ‘Every man according to his means and opportunities gets what he can, commands what he dares, and submits when he must.’ Financial embarrassment, public and individual, prevailed to an alarming extent. The only active trade was the traffic in lucrative posts in the public service; but salaries were in arrears; commerce languished; the currency was ruinously debased; forests and mines and other resources were neglected; communications were bad — no roads or mere tracks; good land on the coast within 50 miles of Constantinople was to be bought for two shillings an acre, while Russian grain was sold at a comfortable profit hard by. Ignorance and corruption prevailed in every department of the state; brutal violence and torture were employed in the law courts; Christian evidence was not accepted against Moslems; Christians were annoyed if they entered the Turkish quarters of the capital; constant cases occurred of fraud and outrage against them; yet in spite of these disabilities the rayahs were slowly advancing in wealth, education and independence, whilst the Turks were losing ground. ”

Into this condition of things Lord Stratford injected his own fierce zeal, determined to carry through his point if possible,

[page 235] EFFORTS AT REFORM.

and, as is so often the case, his very indomitableness was the occasion for a large degree of success. One of his chief points was the carrying out of reforms with regard to the Christians, not because he wanted to help the Christians at the expense of the Moslems, for he appreciated the situation of the latter thoroughly, but because he recognized that the development of the empire rested more with the Christians than with the Turks, and also that that development could not be hoped for until there was political equality. Hence it was fully as much with a desire to help the Turks themselves as the Christians that he set himself to oppose the reign of fanaticism which threatened to swamp the best efforts of the Sultan. Among the various points which he carried were the abolition of religious executions and of the use of torture in trials. Several instances occurred of the former, one of an Armenian and another of a Greek, both of whom had accepted Mohammedanism and then sought to return to their Christian faith, which second apostasy the Moslem ferocity had visited with death. This he carried by his own personal influence with the Sultan. In other reforms he had the cordial support of the famous Reshid Pasha, one of the noblest men that Turkey had ever produced. Lord Stratford also carried in 1845 a long-contested point, the right to establish a Protestant Church at Jerusalem for the British and Prussian subjects, and in 1846 mediated in behalf of the Protestant Armenians, exposed both to the persecution of the Porte and the hostility of their former ecclesiastical leaders. A few years later came the imperial firman recognizing Protestants as a distinct civil community.

Aside from these the Sultan pressed forward in the general elevation of his empire. He sought to organize public

[page 236] REFORMS URGED FORWARD.

instruction, declared the Ottoman University an institution of the state and inaugurated the division of the general education into the primary, secondary and superior grades. The first of these had already existed in a measure, but in the most primitive form, being scarcely more than instruction in the reading of the Koran; the secondary and superior grades had to be created entirely. Then came the publication of an administrative code regulating the duties and obligations of officers of the government and the institution of mixed tribunals of commerce. The first trial was held at Constantinople, in 1846, the different legations nominating ten prominent merchants to fill in turn the office of judge, while the Porte in turn nominated ten noted Mussulmans. There was an earnest effort to reform the system of taxation, and a decree in 1850 ordered that the personal tax should be collected in each province by the recognized head men of the communities, and they were to forward the money thus received to their patriarchate, from which it was to be passed over into the imperial treasury. Thus the whole system of these laws was applied little by little to every province of the empire in succession. In some it met with reasonable success; in others it called out the bitterest opposition. Mehemet Ali, of Egypt, died in 1849, and was succeeded by Abbas Pasha, one of the worst princes that Egypt ever knew. Order came to him to apply the same system of reforms in Egypt. He was shrewd enough not to make positive refusal, but disputed over its details, and especially over the clause which took from him the right to pronounce sentence of death. At last, however, he yielded and the reforms were enforced. In 1851 another innovation was made. Commissioners were appointed to visit different provinces of the empire, examine carefully into

[page 237] GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT.

the condition of each, collect any complaints of the authorities or of the inhabitants and transmit them to the Sultan. Hitherto the government had scarcely allowed the right even of petition, and while this was carried out in no very effective way, and in not a few respects it seemed very weak, still the fact that commissions were sent at all marked a great advance in the conduct of the empire for the comfort and interest of the people. In the same year there was another step forward taken in education, and an academy of sciences and letters was established at Constantinople. In all this the moving spirit was Reshid Pasha. He made no attempt to secure absolute success at first, but steadily persevered in the course of reform wherever an opportunity offered.

 


Table of Contents | The Cover, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright Notice, etc.
Introduction | Preface | Turkey in Asia (map) | Table of Contents (as in the book)
List of Illustrations | 1. The Turkish Empire | 2. Population and Languages | 3. Religions
4. The Turks | 5. The Kurds | 6. The Armenians | 7. The Greeks | 8. Other Oriental Churches
9. Rise and Decline of Ottoman Power | 10. Turkey and Europe | 11. Russia and Turkey
12. Mahmud II | 13. Reform and Progress | 14. Treaties of Paris and Berlin
15. Condition of the Christians | 16. The Turkish Government | 17. Protestant Missions in Turkey
18. The Armenian Question | 19. General Situation in 1894 | 20. The Sassun Massacre
21. Politics and Massacre at Constantinople | 22. Massacres at Trebizond and Erzrum
23. Massacres in Harput District | 24. Aintab, Marash and Urfa | 25. Character of the Massacres
26. Religious Persecution | 27. Relief Work | 28. Partition of Turkey | 29. America and Turkey
30. General Survey | Alphabetical Index

Acknowledgements:

Source: Bliss, Rev. Edwin Munsell . Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities. Edgewood Publishing Company , 1896
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Irina Minasyan

See also:

J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris, Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia
Helen Davenport Gibbons, The Red Rugs of Tarsus
Maj. General James G. Harbord Conditions in the Near East: Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia

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