Prejudice of foreign residents - Origin of the Capitulations - Privilege
of a Greek subject - Codes of law innumerable - Justice defeated - Try
ASK any foreigner resident in Turkey what he thinks of the Capitulations, and you will hear a sermon upon the terrible mal-administration or entire absence of justice amongst the Turks and the impossibility of foreigners remaining in the country if once their palladium, consular jurisdiction, were removed or infringed upon. “As for me," he will tell you, "the day that the Zaptiehs of the infidels have the power to lay a finger upon me I shall quit Turkey, never to return" - which of course would be an immense loss to the Ottoman Empire.
This infatuation in favour of the Capitulations is one of the weak points of the foreign colonies established in Turkey, and, indeed, of all Europeans, who fancy themselves so far superior to the Turks in all points, that it would be an insult and a degradation for one of their number to be judged by a Mussulman tribunal.
Besides, the abolition of the Capitulations would be naturally displeasing to the Consuls, who would thereby not only lose a good deal of their prestige and influence, but also various perquisites and fees to which they attach a good deal of importance. [British Consuls may be excepted from this charge, their fees having been in most instances commuted.]
If we view the Capitulations and their effects by another light than that which filters through the ill-glazed windows of an Eastern Consulate, an analysis based upon common sense, and not upon national prejudices, will show the pernicious influence which they exercise over the relations between Turkey and other nations, and even upon the welfare of foreigners themselves.
Their origin is comparatively ancient; when Mahomet II. conquered Constantinople he granted an “Aman" or Capitulation to the Greeks and Genoese who inhabited his future capital, in order to induce the foreign merchants to remain in it. Soliman I. granted a Capitulation to the subjects of his ally Francois I., and in succeeding reigns the other great Powers obtained similar rights of independent jurisdiction over those of their subjects residing in Turkey.
In the times when these were accorded there was a logical reason for their existence, since the only laws in force in Turkey were those derived from the Koran and its appendices; for this reason, there being no civil tribunals in existence, the Christian Rayahs were permitted to settle their differences and to judge causes amongst themselves; but in our days the laws of the Prophet are no longer the only ones in Turkey, an entire code has been promulgated, and though we may admit that this code is in some points defective, and its administration not all that might be desired, yet such justice as is to be obtained in a consular court is infinitely more faulty and more feeble in its action than that of the worst of the Turkish tribunals.
One question is, whether or no all the nations to whom Capitulations have been granted have themselves good laws and a good method of administering justice.
If the Capitulations were merely an insult to Turkey, whom they virtually, but most falsely, accuse of being a barbarous country in which justice is unknown, or if they were granted only to civilized States possessing laws compatible with justice and a sound morality, the evil would be less.
That Western Europe should enjoy such privileges is tolerable, but when Modern Greece obtains the right of judging her subjects by such laws as are in force at Athens the Capitulations become a premium to dishonesty, and a negation of all justice.
- Let us suppose that his Imperial Majesty the Sultan thought fit to grant Capitulations to the Emperor of Timbuctoo or the King of Dahomey, and that the jurisdiction of these cannibal potentates thereby acquired the force of law in Turkey, what would happen? If a subject or a protege of either of these Powers indulged his taste for human flesh, if Sambo or Chimbo made an African stew of a Rayah Papas, or a fat Cadi, the Turkish Government would be as powerless against them as it is against a Hellene subject. Even if the same gentlemen carried their gastronomical experiments so far as to lunch off slices of English or French missionary, all that the Consuls of the two greatest Powers in the world could do would be to commence a suit against Sambo or Chimbo in the respective Consulates of the anthropophagi; and as the laws of Timbuctoo and the Gaboon permit cannibalism, just as those of Modern Greece tolerate equivocal speculation, Sambo or Chimbo - in spite of the fact that the laws would probably be more strictly interpreted in the black Consulate than in the white - could no more be punished for the homicide committed than Aristides could be made to give up the box which he appropriated by a fraud, or Mr. M. to give up the money due to Messrs K. Brothers.
Sambo and Chimbo are fictitious; but Aristides, and Mr. M., and the Hellenes, and the manner in which we have described the administration of "justice" in Hellene tribunals, are all sad realities. [See the Chapter on Oriental Commerce; and Appendix L.]
We have already given examples of Greek commercial morality and the manner in which it is fostered by the action of the Capitulations; such instances could be multiplied almost ad infinitum, but we will select only one more from the number. A Mr. R., one of the most honest Hellenes in the country, makes a contract with the Varna and Rustchuk Railway Company for 15,000 sleepers; [In this case we are unable to guarantee the exactitude of the figures, although we eau vouch for the accuracy of the main facts.] like all the speculators of this country, he has no capital (or at least owns to none) with which to carry out the undertaking, and on the strength of his fair reputation, succeeds in getting paid in advance by the English Company; shortly afterwards he announces that 6000 sleepers are procured, and agents of the Company are sent to examine them; they arrive, and find a heap of charred and smoking wood. Strong suspicions of incendiarism are entertained, and doubts raised whether the 6000 sleepers ever existed, but the heap of wood is too thoroughly destroyed to allow any decision as to its original constituent parts; the Greek Consulate is referred to, but it is found advisable not to proceed in the matter, and the Company has to put up with the loss of the sum advanced.
The Capitulations granted to Greece not only ruin Turkey, by allowing 200 per cent. to be gained by Hellene merchants upon the exports, and a still greater proportion upon the taxes of the country, but give them a species of monopoly of Eastern commerce, based upon the system of administration of justice by the Greek courts and the impossibility of other nations altering their code in order to fight the Greeks with their own weapons.
Reading the Greek code, you would naturally think that it is worth twenty such as that of the Turks, but you have yet to learn the laxity of interpretation of which it is capable. A Greek cheats you, you apply to his Consulate, which declines to judge the affair, and refers you to Athens, where the case is settled on the broad and convenient principle that a Greek is never in the wrong as regards a foreigner, and you lose your suit; you appeal, and the decision is confirmed, or, if the superior court is intimidated by the remonstrances of your minister or charge d'affaires, the tribunal adjourns your cause - to the Greek Kalends. Hence it follows that no conscientious lawyer will advise you to prosecute for fraud, or even for attempted assassination, any individual who claims Hellenic nationality or protection.
It would seem easy to avoid these difficulties by transacting business only with Turkish subjects or your own countrymen, but besides the impossibility of entirely keeping clear of the ubiquitous Hellene trader there is another stumbling block, which the case of Mr. M., already alluded to under its commercial aspect, clearly exemplifies; any Russian, French, Austrian, or other subject can change his passport and become a Hellene with the same facility as did Mr. M. The Rayahs have their protectorate, and they, as well as foreigners, manage to change their nationality oftener than their shirts, and with at least equal ease.
When a French or English subject is forced to abandon any attempt at obtaining justice against a Greek, it may be imagined how little chance the Turkish subject will have in a Hellene court of law!
There is a severe quarantine against the plague, and Turkey is obliged to conform to sanitary laws; yet she is prevented from putting in force the quarantine of severe laws against the moral contagion daily imported from Greece to her shores.
It is impossible for a legitimate commerce to exist, so long as the Capitulations prevent justice being done in any case where the defendant belongs to that nationality whose subjects can do no wrong, and the administration of justice is rendered impossible by the facility with which false witness is procured and admitted in court.
Even admitting that all the nationalities which exercise the right of independent jurisdiction possess equitable laws administered by just and upright judges, how is it possible to obtain justice or to engage in business without having studied the codes of a dozen different people? Where can we find a Mezzofanti lawyer who has at his fingers' end the codes of all nations; from the hundred volumes of the Russian Zakons to that of San Marino? This alone is a strong argument against the Capitulations, but when we recollect that it is owing to them that fraud is the basis of Oriental commerce, that they are but a “legalization" of dishonesty, that they permit the open use of false weights and measures, and that by their extension to a petty nation whose only strength lies in its absence of conscience they have rendered the trade of Turkey a Greek monopoly - it is impossible not to wonder at their existence being tolerated.
Even the action of the consular courts of the great Powers is tardy and occasionally unjust, and the well-grounded complaint is made that, whilst a foreigner is sure of obtaining justice against a Turkish subject, the Turkish subject is always in the wrong when he ventures to go to consular law with a foreigner.
The following is one of the many methods in which the Capitulations are made to obstruct the path of justice. Three years ago the Pasha of Varna wished to verify the weights and measures of the town, and as most of the traders are foreign subjects or proteges, he applied to the different Consuls for their consent; with one single exception (that of the British Consul) they all refused to permit such an interference with commercial privileges, and the Pasha was in consequence obliged to abandon the project entirely, as to compel the Turkish subjects to sell by the proper standard, whilst authorizing or at least ignoring the frauds practised by foreigners, would have been simply to ruin the former and still further enrich the latter.
As regards public order the Capitulations are as hurtful to the country as they are in point of their encouragement of dishonesty; we have seen a Consul thrashing the police and exacting excuses from the authorities, profiting by the position in which the Capitulations place him to break through the laws of the country with impunity; [See the Chapter on British Consuls and Consular Reports.] let us take another case.
A certain Mr. B. enlisted in one of the (Christian) Cossack regiments of the Sultan, but finding military life not much to his taste, deserted, and escaped to Greece; there he married an old woman with a little money, but the discipline of matrimony proved as unpleasant as that of the Turkish army, and he ran away again, returning to Turkey, a country which, owing to foreign laws, &c., is the fostermother of parasitism; here he contrived to live for some time, though without apparent means, but at last, meeting with some old comrades of the Cossacks, he was arrested as a deserter. His Polish nationality procured him the privilege of remaining a prisoner on parole, but this he broke, and took refuge in the Greek Consulate, which sheltered him from pursuit until means were found to ship him back to Greece.
If the Capitulations did nothing worse than encourage desertion, Turkey would not have much to complain of, for the Christian soldiers of the Sultan are few in number, nor would their loss be a serious one; but they promote the political disorders and discontent with which Europe reproaches the Ottoman Government, and they prepare the way for insurrection and revolt. A foreign Consul in Turkey who furnishes arms to the rebels at Crete, or the brigands of Thessaly, is inviolable and unapproachable by Turkish law; would a Consul (even an American Consul) who was convicted of giving or selling revolvers to Fenians in Ireland be allowed to go unpunished?
America demands payment from England for the depredations committed by the Alabama; dare Turkey send a battalion to Greece? What foreign vessel of war would venture to do in Irish waters half what Russian ships did on the coast and even in the harbours of Crete?
An Englishman who should join the Bourbonist reaction in Southern Italy and fall into the hands of the Italian authorities, would, notwithstanding his quality of civis Romanus, be beyond the reach of official protection from England; in Turkey Russian agents openly preach revolt and its accompaniments of murder and pillage; the Government is well aware of this fact, but owing to the Capitulations, dare not arrest nor even impede them.
Two Servians or Wallachians (it matters little which), agents of the Revolutionary Committee of Bucharest, come to Rustchuk in an Austrian steamer; Mithat Pasha determines to arrest them, and obtains from the Austrian Consul the necessary permission for the police to board the steamer; the two persons in question resist, wound some of the passengers, and are finally shot down by the Zaptiehs, whereupon there is an outcry raised against Mithat Pasha and Turkey, and the Consul (who in behalf of justice relaxed the rigour of the Capitulations) is removed from his post.
As Turkey has granted Capitulations to Greece, why does she not accord them to Servia and Wallachia?
Europe is not yet sufficiently logical to abolish this great source of evil to Turkey, but at least she might consent to the adoption, instead of the dozen now existing, of one general and rational code of laws, such as could be easily understood by the Turks; for whatever right we may nave to think and call Turkey a barbarous country, we certainly are not justified in forbidding it ever to enjoy internal peace or impartial justice. Strangely enough, those who are loudest in their vituperation of Turkish jurisdiction and administration of justice, and who impute as a crime the rejection of Rayah false witness in a Mussulman tribunal, are the very persons who protect with all their power the Capitulations, that is, the negation of all justice.
But even in this plan a local difficulty arises, in the choice of judges and juries; for although the change from a multitude of codes to a single one would be an undoubted benefit, it is to be feared that if the jury were chosen from the divers nationalities which abound in the seaport towns of Turkey, such an equivocal constitution would render justice but little less Hellenic than it is at present.
Supposing the Capitulations to be given up, the application of a general and international code by the Turkish judges becomes simple, and in the case where a foreigner considers himself wronged by an unjust sentence, he appeals to Constantinople, his Embassy takes up the matter, the cause is judged over again by public opinion, and if the Cadi is found to be in the wrong he is in his turn judged by the Turkish Government.
In the days when the Seven Isles were under British protection, an English judge at Constantinople, Sir E. R, dismissed ten Ionian witnesses out of eleven in one cause, telling them that they were all perjuring themselves; even amongst the English Levantines it would be hard to find a jury who would convict a prisoner of forgery or fraud, although on the strongest evidence and from this fact it may be imagined what sort of justice would be administered by a jury composed for the most part of genuine Hellenes.
The only way to establish justice in the East, amongst both foreigners and natives, is to call in the aid of the justice-loving Mussulman element, and to strengthen its hands by the abolition of the Capitulations.
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