Source: "Correspondence respecting the Affairs of Turkey, and the Insurrection in Bosnia and the Herzegovina." Parliamentary Papers, 1876, vol.84. The memorandum was handed by Bismarck to Odo Russell on May 3, 1876.


Lord Odo Russell to the Earl of Derby on the Insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 1876


The alarming tidings which come from Turkey are of a nature to impel the three Cabinets to draw closer their intimacy.

The three Imperial Courts have deemed themselves called upon to concert amongst themselves measures for averting the dangers of the situation, with the concurrence of the other Great Christian Powers.

It appears to them that the existing state of affairs in Turkey demands a double series of measures. It seems to them of primary importance that Europe should consider the general means necessary to guard against the recurrence of events similar to those which have recently taken place at Salonica, and the repetition of which is threatened at Smyrna and Constantinople. To effect this the Great Powers should, in their opinion, come to an understanding as to the measures to be taken to insure the safety of their own subjects and of the Christian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, at all points where it may be found to be endangered.

It would appear possible to attain this end by a general agreement concerning the dispatch of vessels of war to the menaced points, and by the adoption of combined instructions to the Commanders of those vessels in cases where circumstances might require armed co-operation on their part with the object of maintaining order and tranquillity.

Nevertheless this end would be but imperfectly attained if the primary cause of those disturbances were not removed by the prompt pacification of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Great Powers have already united in this view upon the initiative taken in the despatch of the 3oth of December last, wkh the object of obtaining an effective amelioration in the condition of the populations of these countries, without interfering with the political status quo.

They demanded of the Porte a programme of reforms destined to answer this double purpose. The Porte, deferring to this demand, declared itself firmly resolved to execute these reforms, and communicated this officially to the Cabinets.

The latter thereby acquire a moral right-that of watching over the accomplishment of this promise, and an obligation, that of insisting that the insurgents and refugees should second this work of pacification by terminating the struggle and returning to their homes.

Nevertheless, this programme of pacification, though it has been adopted in principle by both parties, has encountered a twofold obstacle.

The insurgents have declared that past experience forbids them to trust the promises of the Porte, without a positive material European guarantee.

The Porte, on its side, has declared that, as long as the insurgents were scouring the country in arms, and the refugees did not return to their homes, it was materially impossible for it to proceed to the new organization of the country.

In the meantime hostilities have resumed their course. The agitation engendered by this strife of eight months has extended to other parts of Turkey. The Mussulman populations have been thereby led to conclude that the Porte had only apparently deferred to the diplomatic action of Europe, and that at heart it did not intend seriously to apply the promised reforms. Thence arose a revival of religious and political passions, which has contributed to cause the deplorable events at Salonica and the menacing over-excitement which manifests itself at other points of European Turkey.

Nor is it doubtful that in its turn this explosion of fanaticism reacts on men 5 minds in Bosnia and Herzegovina as in the neighbouring Principalities.

For the Christians in these countries must have been keenly impressed by the fact of the massacre of the European Consuls, in open day, in a peaceful town, under the eyes of powerless authorities; how then can they be induced to trust themselves to the good will of Turks irritated by a protracted and sanguinary struggle?

Were this state of affairs to be prolonged the risk would thus be incurred of seeing that general conflagration kindled which the mediation of the Great Powers was precisely intended to avert.

It is most essential, therefore, to establish certain guarantees of a nature to insure beyond doubt the loyal and full application of the measures agreed upon between the Powers and the Porte. It is more than ever urgent to press the Government of the Sultan to decide on setting itself seriously to work to fulfil the engagements it has contracted towards Europe.

As the first step in this direction the three Imperial Courts propose to insist with the Porte, with all the energy that the united voice of the three Powers should possess, on a suspension of arms being effected for the term of two months.

This interval would enable action to be brought to bear simultaneously on the insurgents and the refugees, to inspire them with confidence in the vigilant solicitude of Europe; on the neighbouring Principalities, to exhort them not to hinder this attempt at conciliation; and finally on the ottoman Government, to place it in a position to carry out its promises. By this means the way might be opened for direct negotiations between the Porte and the Bosnian and Herzegovinian delegates, on the basis of the wishes the latter have formulated, and which have been deemed fit to serve as starting points for a discussion.

These points are as follows:--

  1. That materials for the reconstruction of dwelling-houses and churches should be furnished to the returning refugees, that their subsistence should be assured to them till they could support themselves by their own labour.
  2. In so far as the distribution of help should appertain to the Turkish Commissioner, he should consult as to the measures to be taken with the Mixed Commission, mentioned in the note of the 30th of December, to guarantee the bona fide application of the reforms and control their execution. This Commission should be presided over by a Herzegovinian Christian, and be composed of natives faithfully representing the two religions of the country. They should be elected as soon as the armistice should have suspended hostilities.
  3. In order to avoid any collision, advice should be given at Constantinople to concentrate the Turkish troops, at least until excitement has subsided on some points to be agreed upon.
  4. Christians as well as Mussulmans should retain their arms.
  5. The Consuls or Delegates of the Powers shall keep a watch over the application of the reforms in general, and on the steps relative to the repatriation in particular.

If, with the friendly and cordial support of the great Powers, and by the help of an armistice, an arrangement could be concluded on these bases, and be set in train immediately by the return of the refugees, and the election of the Mixed Commission, a considerable step would be made towards pacification.

If, however, the armistice were to expire without the efforts of the Powers being successful in attaining the end they have in view, the three Imperial Courts are of opinion that it would become necessary to supplement their diplomatic action by the sanction of an agreement with a view to such efficacious measures as might appear to be demanded in the interest of general peace, to check the evil and prevent its development.


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