1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Åland Islands
ÅLAND ISLANDS, an archipelago at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, about 25 m. from the coast of Sweden, and 15 from that of Finland. The group, which forms part of the Finnish province of Åbo-Björneborg, consists of nearly three hundred islands, of which about eighty are inhabited, the remainder being desolate rocks. These islands form a continuation of a dangerous granite reef extending along the south coast of Finland. They formerly belonged to Sweden, and in the neighbourhood the first victory of the Russian fleet Over the Swedes was gained by Peter the Great in 1714. They were ceded to Russia in 1809. They occupy a total area of 1426 sq. km., and their present population is estimated at about 19,000. The majority of these occupy the island of Åland, upon which is situated the town of Mariehamn with a population of 1171. The inhabitants are mostly of Swedish descent, and are hardy seamen and fishermen. The surface of the islands is generally sandy, the soil thin and the climate keen; yet Scotch fir, spruce and birch are grown; and rye, barley, flax and vegetables are produced in sufficient quantity for the wants of the people. Great numbers of cattle are reared; and cheese, butter and hides, as well as salted meat and fish, are exported. There are several excellent harbours (notably that of Ytternäs), which were at one time of great importance to Russia from the fact that they are frozen up for a much briefer period than those on the coast of Finland.
The Åland Islands occupy a position of the greatest strategic importance, commanding as they do both the entrance to the port of Stockholm and the approaches to the Gulf of Bothnia, through which the greater part of the trade of Sweden is carried on. When, by the 4th article of the treaty of Fredrikshavn (Friedrichshamn), 5/17 September 1809, the islands were ceded to Russia, together with the territories forming the grand-duchy of Finland on the mainland, the Swedes were unable to secure a provision that the islands should not be fortified. The question was, however, a vital one not only for Sweden but for Great Britain, whose trade in the Baltic was threatened. In 1854, accordingly, during the Crimean War, an Anglo-French force attacked and destroyed the fortress of Bomersund, against the erection of which Palmerston had protested without effect some twenty years previously. By the "Åland Convention," concluded between Great Britain, France and Russia on the 30th of March 1856, it was stipulated that "the Åland Islands shall not be fortified, and that no military or naval establishments shall be maintained or created on them." By the 33rd article of the treaty of Paris (1856) this convention, annexed to the final act, was given "the same force and validity as if it formed part thereof," Palmerston declaring in the House of Commons (May 6) that it had "placed a barrier between Russia and the north of Europe." Some attention was attracted to this arrangement when in 1906 it was asserted that Russia, under pretext of stopping the smuggling of arms into Finland, was massing considerable naval and military forces at the islands. The question of the Åland Islands created some discussion in 1907 and 1908 in connexion with the new North Sea agreements, and undoubtedly Russia considered the convention of 1856 as rather humiliating. But it was plainly shown by other powers that they did not propose to regard it as modified or open to question, and the point was not definitely and officially raised.