Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
ORIENTAL QUESTION, The. By this, or by the equivalent term, Eastern Question, is usually understood the political complications which are ever on the point of arising, in the Ottoman empire, in consequence of the mutual antagonism of the Christian and Mussulman populations which inhabit that country, on the one part, and of the prevision of the conquest of Turkey by the Russians, on the other.
—The extreme diversity of the nations occupying the vast territory subject to the porte, and the bonds, ethnographic or religious, which unite the greater number of them to Russia, constantly imperil the integrity of the Turkish monarchy, and threaten, at any moment, to cause fresh revolutions in that country, the consequences of which would be felt immediately all over Europe; for the possession of Constantinople would give the czars an increase of power which would destroy at a blow the foundation on which the balance of power in Europe rests. Said Napoleon, in an address to the French senate, dated Jan. 29, 1807: "Who can calculate the length of the wars and the number of campaigns it would be necessary to enter on, some day, to repair the evils which would result from the loss of Constantinople, if the love of cowardly case and the seductions of the great city should prevail over the counsels of a wise foresight? We should leave our posterity a long inheritance of wars and misfortunes. The Greek cross being triumphant from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, we should, in our own day, see our provinces overrun by a swarm of fanatics and barbarians; and if in this too tardy struggle civilized Europe should perish, our guilty indifference would justly excite the complaints of posterity, and would be a title of opprobrium to us in history."*15 Napoleon, however, foresaw all the dangers which threaten the existence of Turkey when he wrote: "The patriotism of the peoples and the policy of the courts of Europe would not prevent the downfall of the Ottoman empire."
—The origin of these dangers, and of all the political complications connected with the serious problem called the Eastern or Oriental question, goes back to the reign of Othman I., who, at the head of numerous Asiatic hordes, occupied several provinces of Asia Minor, and thus laid the foundations of an empire which was destined to find its chief power in the subjection of Greek peoples. The taking of Constantinople during the reign of the sultan Mohammed II. definitively marked the establishment of the Turks in Europe, who thenceforth planned the subjection of the principal neighboring states and the extermination of the Christians.
—To these religious and ethnographic causes must be added the tendencies of Russian policy to pursue its work of universal domination by the conquest of the Ottoman empire. The remarkable testament of Peter I. left by that prince to his successors, and deposited among the archives at Peterhof (near St. Petersburg), tells what should be and what are the political views of Russia in this regard. In this document, whose length does not allow its reproduction here, in extenso, the czar declares that he considers the Russian people called by Providence to universal domination; that the "Russia which he had found a rivulet and intended to leave a mighty stream, would, under his successors, become a great sea, destined to fertilize impoverished Europe, and that its waters would overflow spite of all the dikes which weakened hands would oppose to them, if his descendants knew how to direct their course." It was to teach the czars, his successors, how to direct that course, that he thought it expedient to leave them his counsels or instructions. After having explained the necessity of certain conquests which have been accomplished since his time, he continues: "§ ix. Get just as near as possible to Constantinople and the Indies. The prince who reigns there trill be the real sovereign of the world. To this end, excite continual wars now in Turkey and now in Persia; establish ship builders' yards on the Black sea; get control by degrees of that sea, as well as of the Baltic, two points necessary for the success of the project; hasten the decay of Persia: penetrate as far as the Persian gulf; restore, if possible, by way of Syria, the old commerce of the Levant, and advance to India, which is the great emporium of the world. Once there, it will be possible to do without England's gold. § xi. Induce the house of Austria to drive the Turk from Europe, and on the occasion of the conquest of Constantinople calm its jealousy, either by exciting a war between it and the old states of Europe, or by giving it a part of the conquest which is subsequently to be taken from it. § xii. Attach to and gather about you all the disunited or schismatic Greeks spread through Turkey; become their centre and support, and establish in advance universal predominance by a species of sacerdotal royalty or of sacerdotal supremacy: this will give you so many friends among your enemies."
—It is well known how religiously this testament has been followed to the letter, and how consistent the politics of Russia have been with the doctrine laid down in it. The Crimean war (1855-6) was the consequence of a premature endeavor to establish the suzerainty of the czar, not precisely over Ottoman territory, but over all subjects of the sultan who belonged to the Greek church whose pope and head is at St. Petersburg. The sympathy of the Hellenic populations with the Russian government betrayed itself at that period, and was all the more keen as there exists among them a profound hatred for the Ottoman element. The treaty of Paris, by taking away from Russia the right to maintain a war fleet in the Black sea, only postponed the time when the czar would descend on Turkey anew. But only a moment was needed for that stipulation to become illusory. That moment came in 1870, on the occasion of the Franco-Prussian war, when Russia asked and obtained in its favor a revision of the treaty of 1856 on this point.*16
—We shall not try to foresee what shall one day be the solution of the Eastern question. That problem, which presents itself periodically to European cabinets, with new corollaries, is so complex that it is unreasonable to predict what may be in store in relation to it. The powerlessness of Turkey in Syria and Lebanon, and the perpetual antagonism of the Maronite Christians and the Druses create, in Asia Minor, motives for the intervention of France and England similar in character to those which Russia finds for intervention in European Turkey, in which Christians of the Greek rite utter incessant complaints against the Mussulman authorities and claim the protection of the head of their religion. A perceptible improvement in the internal organization of the Ottoman empire can not be denied. Still it is doubtful whether it can early enough make the progress which it remains for it to make in order to put itself in a condition to meet the storms which sooner or later will break upon it.
LEON DE ROSNY
Notes for this chapter
Who would write history after civilized Europe had perished? We are not so sure that the conquest of Turkey by Russia would add to the power of the latter.—MAURICE BLOCK.
Russia's ambitions designs found expression again in the last Russo-Turkish war. The insurrections which took place in Herzegovina, Servia and Montenegro, in 1876 and 1877, not without being produced by Russian influence, caused new controversies between Russia and Turkey, after the latter had refused the guarantees desired by the great powers for the security of the Christians, in the conference which met at Constantinople in November, 1876, and which continued in session till January, 1877. These controversies led to a declaration of war by the czar against the porte, April 24, 1877. This was the fifth Russo-Turkish war. On March 3, 1878, a treaty of peace, called the peace of San Stefano, was signed, by which the war was ended. But the congress of Berlin materially changed its provisions in favor of Turkey. This congress met at Berlin, June 13, 1878, under the presidency of the German chancellor, Prince Bismarck. It was called to examine the result of the Russo-Turkish war (1877-8) created by the peace of San Stefano, and to make it harmonize with the interests of the other powers, especially of England and Austria. The result of the transactions and celebrations of this congress was the peace of Berlin, which provided for the independence of Rumania, Servia and Montenegro, and established two new independent states, Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelis. The immediate gain to Russia by this war was not great considering the sacrifice it had made in it. It cost 500,000,000 roubles, and 172,000 men on the European theatre of the war. On the other hand, the war greatly increased the influence of Russia, as a great Slavic power on the Balkan peninsula, and afforded it an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of that peninsula at any time.
End of Notes
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