« PreviousContinue »
Revolution was necessary to the salvation of the Ottoman Empire, and that it ought, at any cost, to be attempted. The mere arriving at such a conviction was itself a great stride away from the old, bad, traditions of the Turkish occupant of the Throne of Constantine the Great and Constantine Palaaologus. VVhether a Constitution, as such, can ever, even imperfectly, be worked successfully either in the European or Asiatic dominions remaining under the Sceptre of the Shadow of God upon Earth, is a question which the future alone can answer. That such an experiment would have the best chance of success if carried out by Christian administrators foreign to the soil, and strangers to its Palace intrigues, and its acknowledged official corruption, we are quite willing to admit. How this is to be done consistently with maintaining “the integrity of the Ottoman Empire," and under reserve of the local allegiance to the Sublime Porte, by foreigners who must be Ottoman governors, administering Ottoman law among a mixed population of Levantine Christians and Mohammedans, through officers principally British, is a riddle too dark for us to read—a problem too hard for us to solve.
But to Her Britannic Majesty’s Government the Cyprus problem would appear to present no such difficulties as we experience, endeavouring, as we do, to look at it from a purely juridical point of view. We have had an “ Order in Council,” given at the Court at Balmoral, reciting the expediency of making “provision for the exercise of the power and jurisdiction vested by treaty in Her Majesty the Queen in and over the island of Cyprus ; ” and proceeding to declare that Her Majesty, “by virtue of the powers in this behalf by the Foreign jurisdiction Acts, 1843 to 1878, or otherwise in her vested, is pleased by and with the advice of Her Privy Council, to order, and it is ordered,” &c. Of the orders following this preamble, the pith seems to lie in the constitution of a Legislative Council, which, curiously enough, is created in far fewer words than are allotted to the High Commissioner's “ official seal.” Of the powers in virtue of which both the “official seal” and the “Legislative Council” of Cyprus are created, we cannot but think, failing adequate information in the text of the order itself, that the pith is to be found in the somewhat vague source, “otherwise," appended to the mention of the Foreign Jurisdiction Acts. For, it being a principle of International Law that all States are equal and sovereign, no such Acts as those cited could or did pretend to give Her Britannic Majesty jurisdiction within the dominions of a foreign State, over the subjects of a foreign State, such as the Cypriots are. And Cyprus is clearly still, in the eye of International Law, a portion of the Ottoman Empire; else it would be unnecessary to invoke any “ Foreign jurisdiction Acts.” But how, then, is the British Government to legislate for a portion of the dominions of a friendly sovereign? And why should fresh legislation be undertaken when there is already in existence, under the Ottoman Constitution of I876, a special law for the administration of the Provinces? The British flagin Cyprus is the flag of the administrator; but, ex hypothesi, he is an Ottoman administrator. The “Order in Council” of the 14th September, I878, constitutes in Cyprus a Legislative Council, with whose “advice” the High Commissioner is to “make all such Laws and Ordinances as may from time to time be necessary for the peace, order, and good government of the said island.” But it has already been laid down by Art. I09 of the Ottoman Constitution that “ a Special Law shall regulate on the broadest basis the election of the Administrative Councils of the Provinces (Vilaiet), Districts (Sandjak), and Cantons (Caza), as well as of the General Council which is to assemble annually in the chief town of each Province.” By Art. 110, the powers of the General Administrative Council are thus defined; they embrace, “the power of deliberating on matters of public utility, such as the creation of means of communication, the organisation of Agricultural Credit Banks* (Caisses de Crédit Agricole), the development of industry, commerce, and agriculture, and the spreading of public instruction.” With regard to one very important factor in the condition of the populations under Ottoman rule, the Provincial General Council is unfortunately very restricted in its powers. The Article (I10) from which we have already cited, goes on to enumerate among those powers, “the right to bring complaints before the competent authority in order to obtain the redress of acts done in contravention of laws and regulations, either in the assessment or gathering of taxes, or in any other matters.” Hitherto, of course, this right of complaint by the Council General to the competent authorities has meant a report sent up by some daring Council to Constantinople, and the receipt of some stereotyped official formula, if anything, to the effect that the complaint forwarded by the Council had been “laid before the proper authority.”
There is nothing to show whether the existing “ paper” organisation of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire is to be respected and carried into effect by the British High Commissioner. If it is, we presume that he will become the “proper authority" to whom the General Council in the Province of Cyprus will in future present any complaints. Besides the General Council, however, provision is made for Cantonal and Municipal Councils, the former of which is charged with the administration of the revenues of its community arising from church lands and pious bequests (Vakouf), charitable bequests, and orphan funds. The Cantonal Councils appear from the text of the Constitution to be intended as confessional bodies, administering the revenues of their respective religions. Thus Mohammedan Councils would administer Mohammedan revenues, “Orthodox” Councils those of the “Orthodox,” jewish those of the jews, &c. It would seem that in accordance with this provision, British Cantonal Councils ought to be created as soon as there are any British church lands, or charitable funds, the revenues of which require to be administered. On Municipal Councils very little is said in Art. 112, but the principle is distinctly laid down that “municipal affairs are to be administered, both in Constantinople and in the Provinces, by Elective Municipal Councils." The organisation and powers of these Councils, it is stated, are to be “fully determined by a special law.” W'hether this law has yet been passed we are not at the present moment informed.
* The necessity for such institutions has been urged by British correspondents from Cyprus, who were apparently unaware that powers had existed for them on paper, under the Ottoman Constitution, since 1876. \'Ve fear this is but a typical example of the fate of paper legislation throughout the Ottoman Empire.
On the assumption that it is the Law of the Ottoman Empire which the British Administrator of the Government of Cyprus will have to administer, it should be noticed that by Art. I17 of the Constitution, the interpretation of the Laws of the Empire belongs to the following authorities: “ In the case of Penal Law, to the Court of Cassation ; in the case of Administrative Law, to the Council of State; in the case of the provisions of the Constitution, to the Senate.” It is difficult to see how the British Administrators are to escape from the necessity for carrying out this elaborately-arranged and carefully-graduated system of Appeals to the various authorities at Constantinople. If the system is carried out, we can scarcely suppose that it will be conducive either to cheap or speedy justice—two cries very much in vogue in the present day. If it is not carried out, then the High Commissioner must be either mam motu, or “ in virtue of the Foreign jurisdiction Acts," or “otherwise,” constituted into a Final Court of Appeal in his own most excellent person, a dignity which may indeed exalt his position, but which can hardly fail to make his head lie as uneasy as though it wore a crown. It has been asked, and not without serious reason, “ \Vho are Her Majesty’s subjects in Cyprus?” Thequestion is a serious one, whether from the point of view of Constitutional or of International Law ; and it was well worthy of being put by one who had held the exalted ofiice of Lord High Chancellor of England. We must confess that we do not think Lord Selborne’s question has yet been answered. \/Ve read in the daily press many ambiguous and even conflicting statements as to the British position in Cyprus. We are told that we “occupy it as a friendly power,” though it may be questioned how far such “ occupation” would be likely in most cases to cement the friendship of the “occupying ” and “ occupied” Powers. We are also told, and that with most patent truthfulness, that harm is being done by the “ uncertain position occupied by the English Government towards the Sultan and the Porte.” We can well believe that such is the case, but it is easier to state the difiiculty than to suggest the solution. Who is the owner of the waste lands of Cyprus? Is it the State, and if so, what State? Is it Great Britain, or the Ottoman Porte? Has the Sultan any private property in the island, whether of ancient right, or by modern acquisition, and in either case is such property Crown land, or the‘ Sultan’s personal property? If the latter, is it subject to taxation ? \Ve have already pointed out possible difficulties regarding the allegiance of our new island police force. They are a part of the illustration of the difiiculties involved in the question : “ Who are Her Majesty’s subjects in Cyprus?” The question of the waste lands is one of great importance as regards the development of the mineral wealth of the island, which has been so loudly vaunted. If this wealth belongs to the lord of the soil, it is all important to know cujus est solum. In the early days of Her Majesty’s Administrator, now named High Commissioner, there was a curious piece of news wafted to English shores to the effect that, His Excellency had issued a regulation forbidding persons to land in Cyprus without a passport; and in addition, if we mistake not, a personal recommendation from two house