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Conquest of Syria - 1831

Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman officer who had been designated pasha of Egypt by the sultan in 1805, had given substantial aid to the Ottoman cause in the Greek war. When he was not rewarded as promised for his assistance, he invaded Syria in 1831 and pursued the retreating Ottoman army deep into Anatolia. In desperation, the Porte appealed to Russia for support. Britain then intervened, constraining Muhammad Ali to withdraw from Anatolia to Syria. The price the sultan paid Russia for its assistance was the Treaty of Hünkar Iskelesi of 1833. Under this treaty, the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits were to be closed on Russian demand to naval vessels of other powers.

Egypt had a well-disciplined army, and a numerous fleet at command. The opportunity was ripe. The satrap of Cairo broke into open rebellion, and sent his warlike son to conquer the provinces of Asia. In 1831 Ibrahim Pasha undertook the conquest of Syria for his father, Mohammed Ali, the famous Albanian Pasha of Egypt. Ibrahim performed with exactitude the task assigned. He routed the Ottoman army at Koniya, and in the following year Syria was ceded to Mohammed Ali, on condition of tribute. Syria submitted, and the chief towns of Asia Minor received, like a kind host, the invader and his powers. Hussien risked the existence of the empire in a pitched battle near Aidos. His forces were defeated, and the vizier himself made prisoner. All further resistance was in vain.

Ibrahim Pasha achieved the conquest of Syria by the encouragement of France, apart from the Concert of Europe, and immediately undertook the removal of disabilities from the Christian rayalis. The fiercest resistance was offered to his reforms by the Muslims, but a few official heads were struck off, and the emancipation of the Christians was achieved. They were allowed to dress as they pleased. They were elected to act as councillors, and were eligible to serve as officers in all departments of the State, civil and military. Their evidence became as valid as that of Mnhammedans, and the most absolute equality between Muslim and Christian was established.

Such a sudden change was received by the ascendency party as such changes are received in more civilised lands, but the strong hand of Ibrahim Pasha kept down open rebellion. A great deputation of Muhammedans one day waited on his Excellency to urge a return to "the good old ways." They began by complaining that Christians had taken to riding on horses in the sacred streets of Damascus. Ibrahim Pasha, with a cheery voice, suggested that the deputation should ride on camels, and then they would still be higher than the Christians. The deputation sullenly withdrew to plot and bide their time; but the Christians freed from cruel exactions, and the badge of degradation, crept forth from the dens and hovels to which they had retreated. They entered eagerly into commercial pursuits. " A brisk trade with European merchants was quickly opened, and the harbour of Beyrout. in particular, soon became thronged with the shipping of London and Marseilles."

The Sultan had no hope of saving the throne but in foreign assistance. The high powers were separately invited to come forward. An ambassador was appointed to the court of St. James's, but the Porto asked in vain for support from its ancient ally. France seemed to be as undecided as England was indifferent. Her individual interests encouraged a close alliance with Egypt; her European policy demanded the integrity of Turkey. She hesitated which side to adopt, and lost the opportunity of befriending either. She professed generous intentions at Alexandria, used violent language at the Porte, and ended by being distrusted at both. The apathy of England, and uncertainty of France, drove the sultan to adopt the last and most humiliating course.

The Sultan called on his late enemy for help, and his late enemy answered the appeal. Russia flew to his assistance, and Turkey obtained at the hands of her natural rival the aid she had been denied by her ancient allies. A Russian fleet cast anchor in the Bosphorus, and a Russian army landed near Scutari. The great game of diplomacy was played. England, France, and Russia, were the parties engaged ; the existence and alliance of Turkey the stakes they played for.

Russia rose the winner. Nicolas gained more by mediation than he had obtained by arms. Turkey was delivered from the influence of France and England, and henceforth must depend solely on Russia. The policy of the latter is clear and easily understood. Had Mahomet Ali completed his conquest, he would probably have placed his son on the throne of the sultans, and reorganized the Ottoman empire. Turkey and Egypt combined, would have formed a formidable neighbour to Russia. With a new dynasty would have begun new relations with foreigu powers. Russia would have lost her influence at Constantinople, and England and France been once more the two favoured nations. Such would have been the probable results of Mahomet Ali's conquest. The cabinet of Petersburgh foresaw the consequences, and, by a timely interference, forestalled them. Too weak to be a dangerous enemy, Turkey has become the useful friend of Russia. A treaty offensive and defensive makes the former an impregnable defence to the southern frontier of the latter. In case of a rupture with either of the maritime powers, the 6ultan closes the Dardanells, and the Black Sea is inaccessible. Satisfied with these advantages, Russia foregoes her claim to an indemnity for the expenses of her expedition. Such are the results of Count Orloff's mission.

Mahomet Ali, in the meanwhile, signs a glorious peace. In return for a nominal allegiance, he obtains the independent sovereignty of the conquered provinces. Syria and Adana, Candia and Cyprus, are wrested from the dominion of the Porte, and added to the viceroyalty of Egypt. A new Mahometan kingdom is called into existence. The provinces which languished under the rule of Turkish emissaries, may rise into a powerful nation, when concentrated under the immediate government of an active prince. Mahomet Ali, who rose from spy to pasha, erects a new throne, and founds a new dynasty. Mahmoud, at once his sovereign and his rival, yields, for the first time to a rebellious vassal. He, who swept from the earth the entire family of Ali Pasha, clads in a pelisse of authority the ambitious son of Mahomet Ali. Nothing but stern necessity could bow that haughty mind to such a humiliating course.



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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:53 ZULU