Karl Marx in New-York Herald Tribune 1854

Declaration of War. – On the History of the Eastern Question

Written: on March 28, 1854;
First published: in the New-York Daily Tribune, April 15;
Signed: Karl Marx;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;

London, Tuesday, March 28, 1854

War has at length been declared. The Royal Message was read yesterday in both Houses of Parliament; by Lord Aberdeen in the Lords, and by Lord J. Russell in the Commons. It describes the measures about to be taken as “active steps to oppose the encroachments of Russia upon Turkey.” To-morrow The London Gazette will publish the official notification of war, and on Friday the address in reply to the message will become the subject of the Parliamentary debates.

Simultaneously with the English declaration, Louis Napoleon has communicated a similar message to his Senate and Corps Législatif.

The declaration of war against Russia could no longer be delayed, after Captain Blackwood, the bearer of the Anglo-French ultimatissimum to the Czar, had returned, on Saturday last, with the answer that Russia would give to that paper no answer at all. The mission of Capt. Blackwood, however, has not been altogether a gratuitous one. It has afforded to Russia the month of March, that most dangerous epoch of the year, to Russian arms.

The publication of the secret correspondence between the Czar and the English Government, instead of provoking a burst of public indignation against the latter, has – incredibile dictu – the signal for the press, both weekly and daily, for congratulating England on the possession of so truly national a Ministry. I understand, however, that a meeting will be called together for the purpose of opening the eyes of a blinded British public on the real conduct of the Government. It is to be held on Thursday next in the Music Hall, Store-st.; and Lord Ponsonby, Mr. Layard, Mr. Urquhart, etc., are expected to take part in the proceedings.

The Hamburger Correspondent has the following:

“According to advices from St. Petersburg, which arrived here on the 16th inst., the Russian Government proposes to publish various other documents on the Eastern question. Among the documents destined for publication are some letters written by Prince Albert.”

It is a curious fact that the same evening on which the Royal Message was delivered in the Commons, the Government suffered their first defeat in the present session; the second reading of the Poor-Settlement and Removal bill having, notwithstanding the efforts of the Government, been adjourned to the 28th of April, by a division of 209 to 183. The person to whom the Government is indebted for this defeat, is no other than my Lord Palmerston.

“His lordship,” says The Times of this day, “has managed to put himself and his colleagues between two fires (the Tories and the Irish party) without much prospect of leaving them to settle it between themselves.”

We are informed that on the 12th inst. a treaty of triple alliance was signed between France, England and Turkey, but that, notwithstanding the personal application of the Sultan to the Grand Mufti, the latter supported by the corps of the Ulemas, refused to issue his fetva sanctioning the stipulation about the changes in the situation of the Christians in Turkey, as being in contradiction with the precepts of the Koran. This intelligence must be looked upon as being the more important, as it caused Lord Derby to make the following observation:

“I will only express my earnest anxiety that the Government will state whether there is any truth in the report that has been circulated during the last few days that in this convention entered into between England, France and Turkey, there are articles which will be of a nature to establish a protectorate on our part as objectionable at least, as that which, on the part of Russia, we have protested against.”

The Times of to-day, while declaring that the policy of the Government is directly opposed to that of Lord Derby adds:

“We should deeply regret if the bigotry of the Mufti or the Ulemas succeeded in opposing any serious resistance to this policy.”

In order to understand both the nature of the relations between the Turkish Government and the spiritual authorities of Turkey, and the difficulties in which the former is at present involved, with respect to the question of a protectorate over the Christian subjects of the Porte, that question which ostensibly lies at the bottom of all the actual complications in the East, it is necessary to cast a retrospective glance at its past history and development.

The Koran and the Mussulman legislation emanating from it reduce the geography and ethnography of the various people to the simple and convenient distinction of two nations and of two countries; those of the Faithful and of the Infidels. The Infidel is “harby,” i.e. the enemy. Islamism proscribes the nation of the Infidels, constituting a state of permanent hostility between the Mussulman and the unbeliever. In that sense the corsair-ships of the Berber States were the holy fleet of Islam. How, then, is the existence of Christian subjects of the Porte to be reconciled with the Koran?

“If a town,” says the Mussulman legislation, “surrenders by capitulation, and its habitants consent to become rayahs, that is, subjects of a Mussulman prince without abandoning their creed, they have to pay the kharatch (capitation tax), when they obtain a truce with the faithful, and it is not permitted any more to confiscate their estates than to take away their houses.... In this case their old churches form part of their property, with permission to worship therein. But they are not allowed to erect new ones. They have only authority for repairing them, and to reconstruct their decayed portions. At certain epochs commissaries delegated by the provincial governors are to visit the churches and sanctuaries of the Christians, in order to ascertain that no new buildings have been added under pretext of repairs. If a town is conquered by force, the inhabitants retain their churches, but only as places of abode or refuge, without permission to worship.”

Constantinople having surrendered by capitulation, as in like manner has the greater portion of European Turkey, the Christians there enjoy the privilege of living as rayahs, under the Turkish Government. This privilege they have exclusively by virtue of their agreeing to accept the Mussulman protection. It is, therefore, owing to this circumstance alone, that the Christians submit to be governed by the Mussulmans according to Mussulman law, that the patriarch of Constantinople, their spiritual chief, is at the same time their political representative and their Chief Justice. Wherever, in the Ottoman Empire, we find an agglomeration of Greek rayahs; the Archbishops and Bishops are by law members of the Municipal Councils, and, under the direction of the patriarch, [watch] over the repartition of the taxes imposed upon the Greeks. The patriarch is responsible to the Porte as to the conduct of his co-religionists. Invested with the right of judging the rayahs of his Church, he delegates this right to the metropolitans and bishops, in the limits of their dioceses, their sentences being obligatory for the executive officers, kadis, etc., of the Porte to carry out. The punishments which they have the right to pronounce are fines, imprisonment, the bastinade, and exile. Besides, their own church gives them the power of excommunication. Independent of the produce of the fines, they receive variable taxes on the civil and commercial law-suits. Every hierarchic scale among the clergy has its moneyed price. The patriarch pays to the Divan a heavy tribute in order to obtain his investiture, but he sells, in his turn, the archbishoprics and bishoprics to the clergy of his worship. The latter indemnify themselves by the sale of subaltern dignities and the tribute exacted from the popes. These, again, sell by retail the power they have bought from their superiors, and traffic in all acts of their ministry, such as baptisms, marriages, divorces, and testaments.

It is evident from this exposé that this fabric of theocracy over the Greek Christians of Turkey, and the whole structure of their society, has its keystone in the subjection of the rayah under the Koran, which, in its turn, by treating them as infidels – i.e., as a nation only in a religious sense – sanctioned the combined spiritual and temporal power of their priests. Then, if you abolish their subjection under the Koran by a civil emancipation, you cancel at the same time their subjection to the clergy, and provoke a revolution in their social, political and religious relations, which, in the first instance, must inevitably hand them over to Russia. If you supplant the Koran by a code civil, you must occidentalize the entire structure of Byzantine society.

Having described the relations between the Mussulman and his Christian subject, the question arises, what are the relations between the Mussulman and the unbelieving foreigner?

As the Koran treats all foreigners as foes, nobody will dare to present himself in a Mussulman country without having taken his precautions. The first European merchants, therefore, who risked the chances of commerce with such a people, contrived to secure themselves an exceptional treatment and privileges originally personal, but afterward extended to their whole nation. Hence the origin of capitulations. Capitulations are imperial diplomas, letters of privilege, octroyed by the Porte to different European nations, and authorizing their subjects to freely enter Mohammedan countries, and there to pursue in tranquillity their affairs, and to practice their worship. They differ from treaties in this essential point, that they are not reciprocal acts contradictorily debated between the contracting parties, and accepted by them on the condition of mutual advantages and concessions. On the contrary, the capitulations are one-sided concessions on the part of the Government granting them, in consequence of which they may be revoked at its pleasure. The Porte has, indeed, at several times nullified the privileges granted to one nation, by extending them to others; or repealed them altogether by refusing to continue their application. This precarious character of the capitulations made them an eternal source of disputes, of complaints on the part of Embassadors, and of a prodigious exchange of contradictory notes and firmans revived at the commencement of every new reign.

It was from these capitulations that arose the right of a protectorate of foreign powers, not over the Christian subjects of the Porte – the rayahs – but over their co-religionists visiting Turkey or residing there as foreigners. The first power that obtained such a protectorate was France. The capitulations between France and the Ottoman Porte made in 1535, under Soliman the Great and Francis I; in 1604 under Ahmed I and Henry IV; and in 1673 under Mohammed IV and Louis XIV, were renewed, confirmed, recapitulated, and augmented in the compilation of 1740, called “ancient and recent capitulations and treaties between the Court of France and the Ottoman Porte, renewed and augmented in the year 1740, A.D., and 1153 of the Hegira, translated (the first official translation sanctioned by the Porte) at Constantinople by M. Deval; Secretary Interpreter of the King, and his first Dragoman at the Ottoman Porte.” Art. 32 of this agreement constitutes the right of France to a protectorate over all monasteries professing the Frank religion to whatever nation they may belong, and of the Frank visitors of the Holy Places.

Russia was the first power that, in 1774, inserted the capitulation, imitated after the example of France, into a treaty – the treaty of Kainardji. Thus, in 1802, Napoleon thought fit to make the existence and maintenance of the capitulation the subject of an article of treaty, and to give it the character of synallagmatic contract.

In what relation then does the question of the Holy Places stand with the protectorate?

The question of the Holy Shrines is the question of a protectorate over the religious Greek Christian communities settled at Jerusalem, and over the buildings possessed by them on the holy ground, and especially over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is to be understood that possession here does not mean proprietorship, which is denied to the Christians by the Koran, but only the right of usufruct. This right of usufruct excludes by no means the other communities from worshipping in the same place; the possessors having no other privilege besides that of keeping the keys, of repairing and entering the edifices, of kindling the holy lamp, of cleaning the rooms with the broom, and of spreading the carpets, which is an Oriental symbol of possession. In the same manner now, in which Christianity culminates at the Holy Place, the question of the protectorate is there found to have its highest ascension.

Parts of the Holy Places and of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are possessed by the Latins, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Abyssinians, the Syrians, and the Copts. Between all these diverse pretendents there originated a conflict. The sovereigns of Europe who saw, in this religious quarrel, a question of their respective influences in the Orient, addressed themselves in the first instance to the masters of the soil, to fanatic and greedy Pashas, who abused their position. The Ottoman Porte and its agents adopting a most troublesome système de basculea gave judgment in turns favorable to the Latins, Greeks, and Armenians, asking and receiving gold from all hands, and laughing at each of them. Hardly had the Turks granted a firman, acknowledging the right of the Latins to the possession of a contested place, when the Armenians presented themselves with a heavier purse, and instantly obtained a contradictory firman. Same tactics with respect to the Greeks, who knew, besides, as officially recorded in different firmans of the Porte and “hudjets” (judgments) of its agents, how to procure false and apocryph titles. On other occasions the decisions of the Sultan’s Government were frustrated by the cupidity and ill-will of the Pashas and subaltern agents in Syria. Then it became necessary to resume negotiations, to appoint fresh commissaries, and to make new sacrifices of money. What the Porte formerly did from pecuniary considerations, in our days it has done from fear, with a view to obtain protection and favor. Having done justice to the reclamations of France and the Latins, it hastened to make the same conditions to Russia and the Greeks, thus attempting to escape from a storm which it felt powerless to encounter. There is no sanctuary, no chapel, no stone of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, that had been left unturned for the purpose of constituting a quarrel between the different Christian communities.

Around the Holy Sepulcher we find an assemblage of all the various sects of Christianity, behind the religious pretensions of whom are concealed as many political and national rivalries.

Jerusalem and the Holy Places are inhabited by nations professing religions: the Latins, the Greeks, Armenians, Copts, Abyssinians, and Syrians. There are 2,000 Greeks, 1,000 Latins, 350 Armenians, 100 Copts, 20 Syrians, and 20 Abyssinians = 3,490. In the Ottoman Empire we find 13,730,000 Greeks, 2,400,000 Armenians, and 900,000 Latins. Each of these is again subdivided. The Greek Church, of which I treated above, the one acknowledging the Patriarch of Constantinople, essentially differs from the Greco-Russian, whose chief spiritual authority is the Czar; and from the Hellens, of whom the King and the Synod of Athens are the chief authorities. Similarly, the Latins are subdivided into the Roman Catholics, United Greeks, and Maronites; and the Armenians into Gregorian and Latin Armenians – the same distinctions holding good with the Copts and Abyssinians. The three prevailing religious nationalities at the Holy Places are the Greeks, the Latins, and the Armenians. The Latin Church may be said to represent principally Latin races, the Greek Church, Slav, Turko-Slav, and Hellenic races; and the other churches, Asiatic and African races.

Imagine all these conflicting peoples beleaguering the Holy Sepulcher, the battle conducted by the monks, and the ostensible object of their rivalry being a star from the grotto of Bethlehem, a tapestry, a key of a sanctuary, an altar, a shrine, a chair, a cushion – any ridiculous precedence!

In order to understand such a monastical crusade it is indispensable to consider firstly the manner of their living, and secondly, the mode of their habitation.

“All the religious rubbish of the different nations,” says a recent traveler, “live at Jerusalem separated from each other, hostile and jealous, a nomade population, incessantly recruited by pilgrimage or decimated by the plague and oppressions. The European dies or returns to Europe after some years; the pashas and their guards go to Damascus or Constantinople; and the Arabs fly to the desert. Jerusalem is but a place where every one arrives to pitch his tent and where nobody remains. Everybody in the holy city gets his livelihood from his religion – the Greeks or Armenians from the 12,000 or 13,000 pilgrims who yearly visit Jerusalem, and the Latins from the subsidies and aims of their co-religionists of France, Italy, etc.”

Besides their monasteries and sanctuaries, the Christian nations possess at Jerusalem small habitations or cells, annexed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and occupied by the monks, who have to watch day and night that holy abode. At certain periods these monks are relieved in their duty by their brethren. These cells have but one door, opening into the interior of the Temple, while the monk guardians receive their food from without, through some wicket. The doors of the Church are closed, and guarded by Turks, who don’t open them except for money, and close it according to their caprice or cupidity.

The quarrels between churchmen are the most venomous, said Mazarin. Now fancy these churchmen, who not only have to live upon, but live in, these sanctuaries together!

To finish the picture, be it remembered that the fathers of the Latin Church, almost exclusively composed of Romans, Sardinians, Neapolitans, Spaniards and Austrians, are all of them jealous of the French protectorate, and would like to substitute that of Austria, Sardinia or Naples, the Kings of the two latter countries both assuming the title of King of Jerusalem; and that the sedentary population of Jerusalem numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 are Mussulmans and 8,000 Jews. The Mussulmans, forming about a fourth part of the whole, and consisting of Turks, Arabs and Moors, are, of course, the masters in every respect, as they are in no way affected with the weakness of their Government at Constantinople. Nothing equals the misery and the sufferings of the Jews at Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town, called hareth-el-yahoud, the quarter of dirt, between the Zion and the Moriah, where their synagogues are situated – the constant objects of Mussulman oppression and intolerance, insulted by the Greeks, persecuted by the Latins, and living only upon the scanty alms transmitted by their European brethren. The Jews, however, are not natives, but from different and distant countries, and are only attracted to Jerusalem by the desire of inhabiting the Valley of Jehosaphat, and to die in the very places where the redemptor is to be expected.

“Attending their death,” says a French author, “they suffer and pray. Their regards turned to that mountain of Moriah, where once rose the temple of Solomon, and which they dare not approach, they shed tears on the misfortunes of Zion, and their dispersion over the world.”

To make these Jews more miserable, England and Prussia appointed, in 1840, an Anglican bishop at Jerusalem, whose avowed object is their conversion. He was dreadfully thrashed in 1845, and sneered at alike by Jews, Christians and Turks. He may, in fact, be stated to have been the first and only cause of a union between all the religions at Jerusalem.

It will now be understood why the common worship of the Christians at the Holy Places resolves itself into a continuance of desperate Irish rows between the diverse sections of the faithful; but that, on the other hand, these sacred rows merely conceal a profane battle, not only of nations but of races; and that the Protectorate of the Holy Places which appears ridiculous to the Occident but all important to the Orientals is one of the phases of the Oriental question incessantly reproduced, constantly stifled, but never solved.