Mr. Bayard to Mr. Wallace.
Washington, March 13, 1885.
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of Mr. Heap’s No. 451, of November 1, 1884. It relates to the claim of Serkis Kurkdjian, an Ottoman subject, against the Rev. George C. Knapp, an American citizen, for the recovery of a dwelling-house in Bitlis, Armenia, which the latter purchased at a Government sale from an insolvent debtor’s estate. Mr. Heap’s dispatch presents the case fully, showing the measures taken by Mr. Knapp to retain possession of his property, the efforts of the Ottoman subject to despoil him of his rights, and the assistance rendered by your legation in behalf of the purchaser. For convenience I shall briefly’ recapitulate the main features of the complaint before proceeding to give the Department’s conclusions respecting it.
In 1859 Mr. Knapp bought the property, which was offered for sale by the Government authorities at Bitlis. As at that time foreigners were forbidden to hold real estate in Turkey, he complied with all the requirements of the law and obtained a full and complete title in the name of an Ottoman subject, father of the present complainant and former owner of the premises. In 1877 a law was enacted allowing foreigners to possess real estate. Thereupon Mr. Knapp had the title-deeds made out in his own name and delivered to him. In 1866, however, Serkis Kurkdjian sought to divest Mr. Knapp of his rights and instituted proceedings to recover possession of the property. The case was successively called up in three different courts. In each the decision was adverse to the Ottoman subject and confirmed Mr. Knapp’s title. The last contest was in the ecclesiastical court, the highest tribunal in matters of real estate in Turkey, and from whose decision there is no appeal. Notwithstanding all this, the complainant, about two years ago, succeeded in obtaining 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 Serkis Kurkdjian a considerable sum for rent, damages, and interest.
It appears that Mr. Heap’s efforts with the Sublime Porte in behalf of Mr. Knapp were without avail, for in a note to your legation of November 18, 1884, the minister for foreign affairs confirms the order of the president of the court at Bitlis and requests Mr. Heap to have its order obeyed. Mr. Heap in his note to that ministry, in reply of November 20, 1884, protests against this action and submits the matter for the Department’s co nsideration. I have accordingly given Mr. Heap’s dispatch careful attention. Mr. Knapp should continue the contest in the Turkish courts to maintain his right to the property; otherwise he will be compelled, under the decision of the court at Bitlis and the order of the minister of foreign affairs, to evacuate the premises and deliver them up. Still if he thinks best to do this, Mr. Knapp has his remedy against the Government of Turkey for the amount of the purchase money and for any expenses he may have necessarily incurred in defending his rights.
The court holds that the sale, in 1859, to Mr. Knapp by the authorities of Bitlis was illegal, and the minister for foreign affairs confirms this view by his note of November 18, above mentioned. If the Ottoman Government is willing to abide by such a decision it is not seen why Mr. Knapp should complain, insomuch as that Government is thereby compelled [Page 844] of necessity to make his advances and necessary expenses under the sale, good. That Government, too, in supporting the decision of the court at Bitlis virtually admits its liability to Mr. Knapp, and is consequently estopped from setting up any defense as against his just demands unless there shall be found some condition in the sale of the property which shall relieve it of such responsibility. Under these circumstances Mr. Knapp should vacate the premises as desired by the minister for foreign affairs and immediately present his claim to the Government of Turkey for the purchase-money delivered to that Government, and also for any sums necessarily expended in the prosecution of his rights. If the property shall have advanced in value he is clearly entitled to the difference, whatever it may be. As he has had the use of the property he has no just claim on account of the ordinary repairs placed upon it; neither has he a claim for interest on the investment. But he is unquestionably entitled to reimbursement by the Government of Turkey for all amounts he may have expended in the defense of his acquired title, in addition to his purchase-money. You will accordingly be governed by this instruction in further treating the matter.
I am, &c.,