Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

head was sent to the Palace, so that there should be no doubt about his death. The Sultan had rid himself of all the chief friends of liberty immediately after his accession to the throne, but, cautious and fearful by nature, he took no further immediate steps to impose absolute despotism upon his people. Mainly with the object of hoodwinking England and winning her good-will at the critical period preceding the outbreak of the war with Russia, he proclaimed the Constitution of Midhat Pasha, and a Turkish Parliament was allowed to meet. The Sultan imposed his will upon the Parliament and reduced it to impotence; but there were many patriotic deputies who spoke their minds freely and defied the monarch's wrath. At last, in February 1878, shortly before the conclusion of the treaty of peace with Russia at St. Stephano, the Sultan dissolved both Houses, and, with pretended reluctance, suspended the Constitution. He next proceeded to deprive the Sublime Porte of all power and to make the Palace supreme. The ministers became mere puppets, whose submission was bought by the licence that was allowed to them to embezzle the public funds. The control of the army and navy, of foreign affairs, of the finances of the Empire, every branch of the administration, the appointment of every official were in the hands of the Sovereign and his corrupt Camarilla. Having a pampered Praetorian Guard to

enforce his will, he held Constantinople under martial law. It was a reign of terror; he spared none who were not for him. From the dissolution of Turkey's first Parliament in 1878 until the proclamation of the Constitution in 1908, Turkey was oppressed by one of the most demoralising and destructive tyrannies that the world has known. For the Ottoman Empire those thirty years were the most unhappy and disastrous of its long history.

CHAPTER IV

The Sultan's policy—The decay of the Empire—The Camarilla —The spread of corruption—The isolation of Turkey— The oppression of the Moslem Turks—The espionage— The tabooed British—The sufferings of the army.

THE Sultan's policy was directed by a narrow fanaticism. It is possible that he sincerely believed that a cruel despotism was the best rule for Turkey. He hated the Christians, and it was his ambition to realise the dream of the PanIslamites, to gather together round himself as the Caliph all the followers of the faith of whatever race, so as to form a strong political-religious confederation of Moslems that should keep in check the aggressions of Europe and liberate Mussulman peoples now subject to the Christians. It was his aim, too, to withdraw all such rights as his predecessors had granted to the Christian subjects of Turkey and to revoke the irritating privileges which the Capitulations had given to foreigners within Turkish territory—not in themselves ignoble designs, but which were prosecuted by such ignoble methods as to nearly destroy instead of strengthening the Moslem supremacy

in Turkey.

It is not necessary here to follow the history of Turkey under the Hamidian régime. How, defeated in war, she was bereft of vast and rich territories; how the splendid navy, created by Abd-ul-Aziz, was allowed to fall into decay, so that when Turkey was at war with Greece in 1897, she found herself with not a single ship that could be made fit to put to sea; how her fine army was starved and neglected, so that it became demoralised and helpless to defend her against her foes; how corruption and the wholesale appropriation of public moneys by the creatures of the Palace brought her finances into so hopeless a condition that she was tied hand and foot by her foreign creditors, and had therefore to submit to the control of several departments of her internal administration by commissions appointed by the Christian Powers; how justice was bought and sold, and promotion in all the services was awarded to the parasite or the highest bidder; how, in consequence of the massacres of Christians and the impotence of her Government to maintain order, Turkish patriots were humiliated by seeing a foreign gendarmerie forced upon her by the Powers; how, in short, Turkey became so weak and effete that even to her friends her disintegration appeared to be the inevitable end, delayed only by the jealousy of the rival Powers, who, fearing for what is called “the balance of Power" in Europe, bolstered up the “Sick Man” and professed a desire to preserve the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. All these things were regarded with dismay by the Turks, and precipitated the revolution against the Government responsible for the rapid decay of the nation; but in this chapter I will confine myself to an account of the particular forms which the despotic oppression of the Mussulman Turks assumed, until at last that oppression became so insupportable as to goad into rebellion not only the upper classes, but even the ignorant Turkish peasants, who, serving so patiently and bravely in the army, had hitherto been ever faithful with the faithfulness of a dog to the Sultan's person. The Sultan has proved himself to be in many respects a man of great strength of character and of exceptional ability; a subtle diplomatist, he was able to play the European Powers against each other; and he succeeded in the main object of his life, centralising all authority in himself at the cost of indefatigable personal labour, and making himself the supreme master of his country. He might indeed, with his sagacity, have been an excellent monarch of the despotic Oriental type, working for the good of his people, had it not been for one failing which grew into an obsession and brought much woe to Turkey, and this failing was fear. Abdul Hamid was haunted by a perpetual fear of assassination; he had no trusted friends, and suspected all men; and therefore

« AnteriorContinuar »