Mr. Heap to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Constantinople, November 21, 1884. (Received Dec. 10.)
Sir: I respectfully submit for your information copies, with translations, of three notes from this legation to the minister of foreign affairs relative to the claim of an Ottoman subject, Serkis Kurkdjian, against the Rev. George C. Knapp, an American citizen.
The case briefly stated is as follows:
Mr. Knapp purchased in 1859 a dwelling-house in Bitlis, Armenia, belonging to an insolvent debtor of the Ottoman Government, and which [Page 816] was offered for sale by the Imperial authorities of that place. Mr. Knapp having complied with all the requirements of the law, obtained a full and complete title to the property in the name of an Ottoman subject, as foreigners were not at that time allowed to hold real estate in Turkey. Subsequently, in 1877, when the law was enacted enabling foreigners to own real property the title deeds were made out in his name and delivered to him.
In 1866, however, Serkis Kurkdjian, the son of the former owner of the property, commenced proceedings to recover possession, and the case was called up successively before three different courts, the last one being the cheri-ecclesiastical court—the highest tribunal in matters of real estate, whose decisions are without appeal and their findings were in each case adverse to Kurkdjian and confirmed Mr. Knapp’s title. Kurkdjian persevered, however, and two years ago obtained from the president of the court of first instance at Bitlis a decision declaring the sale illegal and sentencing Mr. Knapp to restore the property and pay to Kurkdjian a considerable sum for rent, damages, and interest.
I endeavored, as the inclosed correspondence will show, when I was in charge of the legation, to obtain an order from the Porte to stop these proceedings, but my remonstrances were of no avail, and I received on the 18th instant a note from the ministry of foreign affairs requesting me to order Mr. Knapp to restore the property in question to Kurkdjian. I inclose copies of this note and my answer, with translation.
Mr. Knapp was with Mr. Reynolds in their unfortunate encounter with Moussa Bey, and has left for the United States. I have advised him to call at the Department to give such further explanations as might be required both in regard to the Moussa Bey affair and this attempt at spoliation.
It seems evident that if the Government was at fault in selling the property at Bitlis, it is not Mr. Knapp who should be made to suffer for the error, and if he should eventually be compelled to surrender the property it should not be done until the amount paid for it, the sums expended for repairs and improvements, and the interest of the money has been refunded.
I am, &c.,
Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.