In September-October 2018, Dr Stéphanie Prévost, Senior Lecturer in 19th-century British History at Paris Diderot University, spent some time in the UK, both here at the National Library of Wales and in Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, undertaking research into the Gladstone’s Pamphlet Collection on the Gladstones and the Eastern Question, including former Premier William E. Gladstone’s response to the Armenian massacres of the 1890s.
This blog appears on the 2019 anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
‘To serve Armenia is to serve Europe’ was British Liberal Premier W.E. Gladstone’s mot d’ordre to former French Ambassador in London on his last visit to the Grand Old Man, most probably in the winter of 1896-1897. Estimates now indicate that the three waves of the Armenian massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1896, possibly at Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s explicit behest (hence their being referred to as ‘Hamidian massacres’), killed some 200,000 to 300,000 Ottoman Armenians, not to mention other forms of violence. Gladstone’s long-lasting interest in Ottoman Christians, which is traditionally associated with his fiery defence of Ottoman Bulgarians in 1876, was again revived when news of massacres, this time against Ottoman Armenians, first appeared in the British press in late 1894.
Regarding Gladstone’s reading on the Armenian massacres, the Gladstone’s Pamphlet collection at the National Library of Wales, but also at the Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden where the volumes once owned by the Liberal Premier are also now held, partly make up for the silence of the last volume of the Gladstone’s Diaries. His long-standing public interest in the fate of Ottoman Christians, his speech at Chester in 1895 in defence of Ottoman Armenians immediately after the Liberal General Election defeat and his international status as the ‘defender of the oppressed’ account for the inflow of material (foreign or else) published about the Armenian massacres. As such, not only did Father Charmetant, Director of the French Works of Catholic Schools in the East, send him a copy of his original pamphlet Martyrologe arménien: Tableau officiel des massacres d’Arménie (1896), in which he produced an estimate of victims of the Armenian massacres across the Ottoman Empire, but he also made sure that ‘the Grand Old Man’ could read the English version en avant première. That he did shows through the many annotations, absent from the French text.
Deeply stirred by the Armenian massacres, Gladstone translated in his own words Charmetant’s ‘final appeal to dying Armenia of Christian Europe’ in his own forthcoming pamphlet. Penned in Southern France where he was staying at Lord Stuart Rendel’s to restore his declining health, The Eastern Crisis: A Letter to the Duke of Westminster eventually appeared in March 1897 and proposed an assessment of Turkish policy vis-à-vis Ottoman Christians since the 1856 Treaty of Paris, by which European powers protected Ottoman territorial integrity and independence against the promise that reforms (especially regarding the equality and protection of Ottoman non-Muslims) would be fulfilled. Gladstone cited another foreign authority on the Armenian Massacres, this time German missionary in Armenia Dr Lepsius, for his assessment of casualties as evidence of Ottoman misconduct. The copy of the English translation of Dr Lepsius’s Armenia & Europe: An Indictment (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1897) at the Gladstone’s Library is replete with notice lines of different colours and marginal marks, which all give a sense of the intense outrage reading in that case created.
Paris Diderot University