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Conquest of Syria - 1840

War with Muhammad Ali resumed in 1839, and Ottoman forces were again defeated. Russia waived its rights under the 1833 treaty and aligned itself with British efforts to support the Ottoman Empire militarily and diplomatically. Under the London Convention of 1840, Muhammad Ali was forced to abandon his claim to Syria, but he was recognized as hereditary ruler of Egypt under nominal Ottoman suzerainty. Under an additional protocol, in 1841 the Porte undertook to close the straits to warships of all powers.

In 1840 the Concert of Europe was to some extent restored. The allied fleets of England, Austria, and Turkey, appeared off the coast of Syria, intent on placing the province once more under the Ottoman yoke. The French, unable to cope with the allies, abandoned Ibrahim Pasha and the Christians to the Concert of Europe. The English bombarded Akka, and a shell falling into the powder magazine, an explosion occurred which rent the stronghold, and created an impression of English prowess not yet forgotten in Syria. A few brilliant skirmishes by the English under Sir Charles Napier, aided by an insurrection fomented among the Maronites "by Turkish agents, some of whom were Englishmen," according to Colonel Churchill, and Syria was once more restored to the Ottoman Empire, and the doom of the Christians sealed.

What followed will be best told in the words of an illustrious Englishman who was an eye-witness of the events to which he refers. "The Turks returned like screeching vultures to their baffled prey. Every kind of appointment was openly put up to auction. All places of trust were filled up with men notorious for their cupidity and fanaticism. Justice, which during the Egyptian rule had been purified of her defilements, became again contaminated with the offal of corruption. The Christians were everywhere reviled and insulted ; in many places were assaulted in the bazaars; had their turbans torn off their heads, and compelled to resume their old distinctive garb of degradation. Emissaries were sent into the mountains to excite dissensions and religious antipathies, lest the heavy and unwonted custom-house duties, exacted from the peasantry at the entrance of the towns, might create a spirit of union and resistance. A general panic seized the rayahs, and all commercial transactions were temporarily paralysed. Fortunately there were British officers stationed throughout the country, whose reports on these proceedings were forwarded to Constantinople ; and there the energetic interference of Lord Stratford de Redclifle at once checked the retrograde movement."

The English Government were pledged to see just government established in Syria, in the place of that which they had overthrown, and for a time earnest efforts were made to protect the Christians, but the more the English interfered on their behalf the more bitter did their lot become, and with the departure of Lord Stratford de Kedcliffe from Constantinople, matters were allowed to drift as before. On the restoration of Syria to the Porte, Nejib Pasha became Governor of the Pashalik of Damascus. He entered on his office with a simple and clearly denned policy. According to Colonel Churchill, he " declared to a confidential agent of the British Consul in that city, not knowing, however, the character of the person- he was addressing, ' The Turkish Government can only maintain its supremacy in Syria by cutting doicn tlw Christian sects'"

The rule of Ibrahim Pasha had to some extent indirectly prepared the way for this diabolical policy. In his just and impartial rule, of nearly ten years, he had tranquilised the desert, emancipated the Christians, curbed the ascendency party ; but in doing so he had weakened the power of the feudal Emirs. They were no longer able to resist the encroachments of the Turks upon themselves, or to protect the Christian serfs from their rapacity. Whatever may be said of feudalism, it was a check to tyranny, and, with its destruction in Syria, the Christians were a helpless flock, absolutely at the mercy of the Turks.

In another matter the rule of Ibrahim Pasha had altered the condition of the Christians. They had breathed the air of freemen, and felt its sweetness, and, during a decade of energetic industry and commercial enterprise, some of them had grown rich and influential, and had betaken themselves to the protection of the different European Consulates. The consuls did not altogether fill the places that had been occupied by the Emirs, but, with their gaudy and well-armed Dragomans, they were local and visible signs of almighty empires that existed somewhere beyond the horizon of Syria. The Crimean war was a demonstration of the greatness of the big world beyond. Had not England driven back the irresistible Muscovite into the northern snows? And, although the Christians heard that their would-be deliverers had been vanquished, they were not without hope that the Powers which had sacrificed so much to maintain the " integrity of the Ottoman Empire" would stipulate for the just treatment of those who lived under its rule. And, as a matter of fact, England, as doyen of the Allies, did exact from the Turks the Haiti-Schercriff, and Hatti-Humaiyoun, and other promises on paper, with high-sounding proclamations of civil and religious liberty, which buoyed up for a time the unfortunate rayas with hope and confidence.

All these considerations were so many additional reasons with the Turks for persevering in the policy of "cutting down the Christian sects." The success of the Allies in the Crimea imposed an intolerable obligation on the Porte. It was bad enough for the Turks to owe the continuance of their empire to the infidels, but that they should be obliged to violate the common law of Islam by putting infidels on a footing with believers, was intolerable. It was legal to give the promise, in the face of external pressure, but to put it in force, without pressure, would be an act of apostacy, the subversion of the fundamental doctrine of the theocratic State. These rayahs, with their consular friends, Hatti-Schereriffs, Hatti-Humaiyouns, and aspirations after civil and religious freedom, had become a danger to the Muhammedan State, and, in accordance with Turkish prudence and the laws of self-preservation, must be cut down.

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