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OUR PERSIAN POLICY
I have a sort of suspicion that we are drifting into dark and perilous paths in our Persian policy, and it may even happen that Persian independence will vanish while we are discussing by what methods it may be maintained.-LORD CURZON in the House of Lords, 7th of December 1911.
WHATEVER may be the result of the recent crisis in Persia, it cannot be said that the part played by the Government of Great Britain was a very heroic or creditable one. To watch an ancient and friendly nation, with whom we are bound by so many ties, and against whom we have no sort of quarrel, punished and humiliated for offences which so far as they have been disclosed were utterly undeserving of such treatment; to see her territory invaded by hostile forces, and her Constitution threatened or destroyed, would in itself be sufficiently serious. But when it is remembered that the Russian Government has acted throughout with the diplomatic support of Great Britain, so that we are partners, however reluctant, in all that has occurred, there is no wonder that public opinion in this country is puzzled and alarmed.
Of course, there may be good reasons which cannot now be disclosed. The Persian question, we are frequently told, must not be considered alone. The exigencies of the Triple Entente, our own strained relations with Germany, the danger of Russia being drawn within that orbit of diplomacy-all these, it is said, must be borne in mind if the Persian question is to be usefully discussed.
Such considerations as these would be beyond the scope of this article, even if there were sufficient material for discussing them. But it may still be worth while to consider, in the light of our public engagements, the events of the last two months-to try and estimate, apart from the European situation, what the crisis in Persia has cost us.
THE AGREEMENT OF 1907
The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 was based upon the principle of Persian independence, which for nearly a hundred years it has been the aim of British policy to maintain. The Agreement opened with a solemn recital that the two Govern
ments had mutually engaged to 'respect the integrity and independence of Persia.' The 'spheres of influence' which it created were of a commercial character only. They were intended to put an end to the rivalries of British and Russian concession hunters,' and to the friction to which such rivalries had led; ' to prevent,' as Sir Edward Grey expressed it, the two nations mining and counter-mining against each other in the somewhat squalid diplomatic struggle which had gone on for years—one trying to gain an advantage at the expense of the other.' Within the Russian sphere Great Britain undertook not to seek for herself, and not to support in favour of British subjects, any concessions of a commercial or political nature, such as concessions for banks, railways, telegraphs, roads, transport, insurance, &c., and the Russian Government gave a similar undertaking as regards the British sphere. So anxious indeed was Sir Edward Grey to prevent misunderstanding on this point, that at the end of the speech which he made explaining the Convention, he went out of his way to assure the House of Commons that his use of the term 'British and Russian spheres must not be taken in any wider sense. 'I have used,' he said, 'the term "British and Russian spheres." I trust that it will be noted and understood that I have used it solely in the sense in which it is used in this Agreement, and not in the sense of the political partition of Persia. Under the Agreement we bind ourselves not to seek certain concessions of a certain kind in certain spheres. But these are only British and Russian spheres in a sense which is in no way derogatory to the independence and sovereignty of Persia.' (House of Commons, the 17th of February 1908.)
But the Convention did not stand alone. It was accompanied by a solemn Declaration contained in a written memorandum, and presented in the name of both Governments by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, our Minister at Teheran, to the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs. This Declaration, which was afterwards published in the Persian Press, was intended to allay the discontent and anxiety to which the Convention had given rise; to assure Persia, as Sir Edward Grey expressed it, that it was not the object of the AngloRussian Agreement to threaten Persian independence or to embark on any policy which would partition Persia. What the two Powers desired was to prevent difficulties by guaranteeing that neither Power should aim at acquiring influence in the parts of Persia adjacent to the frontier of the other; that they should not allow one another to intervene on the pretext of safeguarding their interests, but should give to Persia a fair opportunity of building up again her own fortunes. And in a well-known passage it continued :
This Agreement between the two European Powers which have the greatest interests in Persia, based as it is on a guarantee of her independence and integrity, can only serve to further and promote Persian interests, for
henceforth Persia, aided and assisted by these two powerful neighbouring States, can employ all her powers in internal reforms.
Such were the solemn professions made to the Persian people only four years ago. In what way have they been fulfilled? The events that led to the recent crisis give only too clear an answer.
The Persians had taken the two Powers at their word. After deposing a corrupt and tyrannical ruler, they were engaged— slowly it is true, but with great courage and persistence-in endeavouring to build up the fortunes of their country. There were enormous difficulties to contend with the bankruptcy of their Treasury, the weakness of their police, the long tradition of corruption and blackmail, besides the continual plots and counterrevolutions from the friends and adherents of the deposed Shah. During the last four years, as Lord Curzon has said, the Persian Government have had to create a parliament, to evolve a constitution, to suppress rebels, to depose a tyrant, and to expel him when he returned.'
But a new national spirit had arisen. In spite of all the difficulties, the situation was steadily improving. Under the able direction of Mr. Shuster1 and other foreign advisers whom, following the example of Japan, the Government had called in to assist them, a new administration was being established. Even the finances were recovering. As regards police, although there was still disorder and insecurity, it is a remarkable fact that during all the disturbances not a single European had been injured. With sufficient time and freedom from outside interference, there seemed nothing to prevent the Persian question being settled with the full consent of the Persian people in a permanent and satisfactory
Unfortunately these conditions were not secured. For nearly three years past, from one cause or another, the Government had found itself in continual disagreement with its two powerful neighbours, and especially with the representatives of Russia. The more steadily it set itself to internal reforms' the more dangerous the external situation grew.
On the 10th of November these difficulties came to a head. A dispute had occurred in consequence of an attempt to levy taxation on the property of the brother of the deposed Shah, a protégé of the Russian Government. I take from The Times of the 13th of November a description of what happened:
Teheran, Nov. 12th.
Russia has presented a Note renewing her demand for the withdrawal of the Treasury gendarmes from the property of Shua-es-Sultaneh and for an apology by the Foreign Minister at the Legation. The Note was accom
Mr. Morgan Shuster, an American citizen, appointed in May 1911 on the recommendation of the President of the U.S.A. to take charge of the finances as Treasurer-General.
panied by a verbal statement that unless immediate satisfaction were forthcoming diplomatic relations would be broken off, and Russia would take other measures.
The whole Ministry has resigned and the Regent also. No Minister is likely to be found willing to go to the Legation and apologise..
The action of St. Petersburg throughout causes unbounded surprise here.
In their extremity the Persian authorities applied to this country for advice; and on the 20th of November the Foreign Office telegraphed, advising them to yield unconditionally to both the Russian demands. They told them that if they did so the British Government had every reason to believe' that the Russian troops, who had already entered or were entering Persia, would be withdrawn. The next day (the 21st of November) the Persian Government decided to act on this advice. Three days later (the 24th of November) they had actually complied with both demands.
Again I extract from the report of The Times correspondent an account of what happened:
Teheran, Nov. 24th. Mr. Cairnes, Director of Taxation, last night withdrew Mr. Shuster's gendarmes and handed Shua-es-Sultaneh's property over.
Simultaneously Vosak-ed-Dowleh went to the Russian Legation, speaking thus: 'I come to apologise on behalf of the Persian Government for the unmannerliness of officials towards the Russian Consul-General on the property of Shua-es-Sultaneh. I am very sorry it has occurred,' &c.
Sir George Barclay, the British Minister, assisted the reconciliation by convincing the Persians that the Russian troops would be withdrawn if an acceptable apology were tendered.
It might well have seemed-as it seemed, in fact, to The Times correspondent-that the 'reconciliation' was complete. Russia had exacted the full measure of her demands. She had saved the property of her adherents. She had secured for herself an apology made in the most public way. What remained but to consider the incident closed and to see that the Russian troops were immediately withdrawn in accordance with the promises made?
But Russian honour was not so easily satisfied. Not only was it said that there had been undue delay in complying with her demands, but a fresh offence had been discovered. A letter had been written by Mr. Shuster to The Times, in which, in reply to some criticisms of that journal, he had reflected on the Governments both of Great Britain and Russia; and it was now alleged that a translation of this letter had been circulated as a pamphlet in Persia. Such an offence as that could not be overlooked.
On the 29th of November, within five days of the compliance with the first ultimatum, the Government of Russia had presented a second ultimatum, adding, on this occasion, a fixed time limit. Three peremptory demands were made: (1) The instant dismissal of Mr. Shuster from the service of the Persian Government, (2) the
right of veto for Russia and Great Britain on all future appointments of foreign advisers, and (3) the payment of an indemnity. An interval of forty-eight hours was allowed for compliance.
It was plain that no Government with a shred of independence or self-respect could have yielded to such demands, presented in such a way. But the Persian Government did not entirely refuse to consider them. They appealed once more to the good offices of Great Britain. They asked for a fair investigation of the whole matter. They stated they were quite willing to discuss the terms of the ultimatum if reasonable time were given.
To all such appeals the British Government were deaf. They had indeed already consented to the action that Russia was taking. The terms of the ultimatum had been formally submitted to them before it was presented to Persia, and except in two details they made no objection. With regard to the proposed indemnity, they pointed out that, as 'Persia is very short of money,' the exaction of any indemnity might be disadvantageous to other interests, and they expressed the hope that the Russian Government would ' after the crisis is over find some way of avoiding this difficulty '; in other words, that they would take a 'concession' instead of hard cash. They also trusted that the Russian Government would not add to the embarrassments of the situation by allowing the restoration of the deposed Shah. But that was all the protest that they made. With these two reservations the British Government became parties to the whole proceeding. The demands of Russia were to be met. Persia must be left to her fate. All the professions of four years ago-the desire to safeguard Persian independence, to give her a fair chance of reform-were utterly disregarded.
EFFECT ON MOHAMMEDAN OPINION
How seriously the part taken by the British Government in these events had affected the good name of our country at once. became clear. From Egypt, from India, from Turkey, from all parts of the Moslem world messages of indignant protest were received. At Bombay a mass meeting of the different Moslem communities' of that town passed a resolution calling attention to the bond of Islamic brotherhood which unites the Moslems of this country with those of Persia,' and begging the Foreign Office to use their influence in preserving Persian liberty.
Of course, there were the usual official assurances. Russia, we are told, had despatched her troops owing to force of circumstances,' and' without the least intention of violating the integrity or independence of Persia.' So runs the semi-official statement from St. Petersburg, as quoted by the Foreign Office. The last thing we wish to do,' added Sir Edward Grey, 'is to pursue, or be