No. 1058.
Mr. Straus to Mr. Bayard.

No. 49.]

Sir: I have the honor to make a report of the status of the closed schools of the American missionaries in Syria and in the vilayet of Adana. To the schools of the American missionaries I have found it necessary to devote much time, care, and study since my arrival at this post.

The dispatches of my predecessors, as well as the communications by the representatives of the missionaries, have heretofore frequently advised the Department of State that for the past few years the officials of the Empire have grown more and more jealous of foreign influence, and that this is constantly reflected in the tendency of the Government to restrict the privileges of missionaries and to hinder them in the continuance of their schools.

I have again and again brought to the attention of ministers of the Porte and the Grand Vizier the fact that the thirty schools in Syria which were closed by the authorities, mostly in the winter of 1885, should no longer be restrained from performing their functions pursuant to the understanding had between Mr. King, then chargé d’affaires ad interim, and the minister of public instruction, whereby it was agreed that the managers of said schools should submit to the local authorities for examination the programmes of studies, the text-books, and the certificates of the teachers, as reported by Mr. King, in his dispatch No. 276, of 11th January, 1887.

On the 19th July last I arrived at a definite understanding with the Grand Vizier, which resulted in his sending a telegram to the Vali of Syria, instructing him that no obstacles be placed in the way of these schools upon the managers complying with the conditions named; that it had been definitely arranged between him and myself that upon the managers complying with the requirements above set forth, these schools should be allowed to resume their functions.

To my surprise, I learned by the dispatch of Consul-General Pringle, No. 37, of September 9, that the managers of said schools had neglected to comply with such requirements because of certain alleged irregularities in the constitution of the examining board.

I inclose a copy of such portions of said dispatch as bear upon this question for your information.

[Page 1554]

Thereupon the consul-general instructed Consul Bissinger, at Beirut, to advise the managers to comply with the requirements and not stand on technicalities, which would serve only to obstruct, delay, and defeat the efforts of the legation in their behalf. From the last information received from Consul Bissinger on this subject, under date of 15th November last, a copy of which dispatch (No. 51) is inclosed, it will appear that the matter is in fair progress. The fact as stated by Mr. Bissinger, that all the teachers and pupils in the thirty closed schools are natives and Ottoman subjects, complicates the situation very much.

If my efforts and those of our consul, Mr. Bissinger, are properly supported by the managers of these schools, I have every hope that they will be permitted to re-open, as I have the definite and distinct promise of the Grand Vizier to that effect.

By a dispatch from Mr. Bissinger, of November 19, information is given that the authorities in the Vilayet of Adana have closed three schools (under the management of Dr. Metheny, the agent of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, located respectively in Tarsus, Mersine, and Adana) for the alleged reason of their not having been duly authorized, although it appears that Dr. Metheny had complied with all the conditions on his part. Upon receipt of this information I called upon the Grand Vizier and requested that these schools be allowed to be re-opened at once; that pending the question of the re-opening of the Syrian schools I considered this new encroachment a violation of the assurances he had given me.

He accordingly sent a telegram to the governor-general of Adana directing the re-opening of said schools and forbidding any interference by the local authorities with American schools. I instructed the consul-general, Mr. Pringle, to telegraph our consular agent, Dawson, at Mersine, advising him of the instructions given by the Porte to the governor-general.

I also directed the consul-general to advise by telegraph our consul at Beirut, instructing him to report by telegraph, to avoid delay, any threatened action against the schools. The consul-general received reply from Mr. Dawson dated Mersine, December 18, saying: “Vali has given necessary orders accordance with telegram.” I have every confidence that this prompt check by the Porte given to the governor-general will bring about the immediate re-opening of these schools. I have found it of great utility to advise the use of the telegraph by our consuls in all such matters, thereby insuring prompt action.

In this connection 1 would suggest that, if it meet your approval, permission be given me in my discretion to go to Syria, to Adana, and to such other portions of the Empire as I may desire to visit, for the purpose of thoroughly studying the situation and of conferring with our consuls. I believe that a tour would have good results and would enable me better to understand the conditions I have to contend against.

I should expect to defray my own expenses.

I have, etc.,

O. S. Straus.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 49.]

Mr. Pringle to Mr. Straus.

No. 37.]

Sir: I beg leave to inclose a copy of a dispatch received from Mr. Bissinger on the subject of the Syrian mission school question. It appears from the statement made [Page 1555] by Mr. Bissinger that up to the date of his writing the managers of the schools had not complied with the requirements of the school law, inasmuch as they had not submitted the text-books, programmes of studies, etc.

In a conference with the Rev. Mr. Dwight, who is thoroughly posted on the school question, he assured me that he saw no reason why the schools should not be opened, as those in Stamboul and Scutari are all in operation.

It is to be regretted that technicalities should be allowed to stand in the way of accomplishing the object in view. Mr. Bissinger has been informed by me that he has nothing to do with the formation of the academical board, as he only communicates directly upon this matter with the Vali. Were the question of the legality of the academical board to be brought up it would result in the schools remaining closed indefinitely, pending the discussion of the question. Mr. Bissinger refers also to a dispatch, No. 8, of May 14, to me, in which he advises that the school question be made an international one. I have informed him that, in my opinion, this would be a very disastrous issue for the schools, for reasons which I do not care to discuss with him.

I have, etc.,

D. Lynch Pringle.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 49.]

Mr. Bissinger to Mr. Pringle.

No. 51.]

Sir: In response to your No. 43 of the 2d instant, I have the honor to bring to your notice, for the information of the minister, that the formalities incumbent upon the American missionaries under the agreement between the United States legation and the Sublime Porte for the re-opening of their closed schools have, after many delays, just been observed, as per copy of letter from Rev. Dr. Henry H. Jessup, stated clerk of the Syria mission, in answer to one from me, herewith transmitted, marked inclosure No. 1 (with an answer).

It is deemed but just and proper that a reasonable time should be allowed the Turkish authorities within which to examine, first, the text-books in use in the mission schools; second, the programmes of studies; and, third, the diplomas or certificates of teachers just placed into the hands of his excellency the governor-general of Syria by the American missionaries, in compliance with a request from the consulate, dated August 11,1887, a copy of which is herewith inclosed (inclosure No. 2), before issuing instructions to the responsible heads of the various missions to resume their laudable work in their suppressed schools. Simultaneously with this request to Dr. Henry H. Jessup, the stated clerk of the Syria mission (of the Presbyterian Board for Foreign Missions), identical instructions were also issued to Rev. Henry Easson, the responsible head of the schools of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, located in the Latakia consular district, and these have likewise recently been obeyed.

The precise status of all these mission schools forced to cease their functions has been presented to your honored predecessor in an elaborate statement accompanying dispatch No. 55, of September 4, 1886, to both of which you will permit me to invite your attention.

In this connection it occurs to me that it would perhaps be wise to have some understanding as to the steps or measures to be instituted by this consulate should the closed schools, after being re-opened without having secured the sanction of the local authorities, be prohibited again from pursuing their studies—an event not without the realm of possibilities, but one that is even quite probable.

My apprehensions of such a contingency are based upon the experience of the past and upon the well-known adverseness of the Turkish authorities to all foreign missionaries and their commendable work. The disinclination overtly shown in the past by all the local authorities to facilitate and promote the re-opening of our mission schools goes far to prove this, and the studied indifference which his excellency the governor-general of Syria has thought proper to exhibit towards two communications from this consulate, copies of which are herewith inclosed, marked respectively, inclosures 3 and 4, upon the subject of mission schools, by replying to the former in an evasive manner, and treating with absolute silence the other, might be cited in further support of what precedes—all the more conspicuous by the fact that his excellency the Vali has always manifested the most friendly spirit and disposition in all matters disconnected with religion or education, has shown a most commendable promptness in the expedition of all business communications from this office, and given many proofs of his warm and cordial friendship for the head of this consulate personally.

[Page 1556]

These two letters to the Vali, perused in connection with the numerous and exhaustive dispatches which it has been necessary to address you and your respected predecessor, will give a complete and comprehensive history of the school question and fully demonstrate that the dilatory proceedings of the Ottoman officials has occasioned the delay in placing the text-books, the diplomas, and the programmes of studies in the hands of the academical council.

I venture to give expression to my apprehensions, which are shared in and supported by those who have devoted a life-time to mission work in Turkey and whose opinions would therefore seem entitled to consideration, that unless specific orders are issued from Constantinople to the provincial governors, to permit our closed schools to be reopened and allow those now peacefully following their vocation to enjoy perfect future immunity, no action is likely to be taken by the local authorities to restore to us the rights assured to us under the recent agreement with the minister of public instruction.

And here it is perhaps well to remember that at the time of the closing of the different mission schools many of the teachers were arrested and threatened with imprisonment should they ever be found teaching again, while parents were menaced with fine and imprisonment if they persisted in continuing to send their children to the American schools.

It will be observed by a glance over tables I to V inclusive of the statement transmitted with dispatch No. 55 of September 4, 1886, that ail the teachers and pupils in the thirty closed schools are natives and Ottoman subjects, and should, therefore, the academical council procrastinate or finally entirely decline to sanction the diplomas or certificates of the teachers (those of the schools in the Latakia district have remained in possession of this council since last spring unnoticed), and the local authorities carry out the threats above referred to, it would make the re-opening of our schools and the successful continuance of our mission work practically impossible.

The question then naturally presents itself, how are the American missionaries to maintain their schools since they can not lawfully compel the attendance of children of Ottoman subjects, and if the buildings, the property of Ottoman subjects (see statement transmitted with dispatch No. 55), in which these children are taught, may be entered with perfect impunity for the purpose of arresting and harassing the teachers.

It will be readily conceded that this question presents difficulties involving grave responsibilities, which I did not deem judicious to assume without conferring with my superiors and soliciting from them such instructions for my future guidance as may be judged necessary before issuing instructions to the different mission boards for the re-opening of their closed schools with such strong probabilities in favor of their being immediately closed again, and thus inviting upon our Government and its representatives an embarrassing, complicated, and unenviable position, which it is greatly to be desired should be avoided.

I have thought it proper to go into the subject at some length to enable you and our honored minister to arrive at a just appreciation of all the difficulties surrounding the question, and it is hoped that nothing suggested or submitted in this or any of my previous dispatches upon this subject may be construed as an intention on my part to encroach upon the official prerogatives of my superiors. I am merely actuated by an earnest and sincere desire to discharge conscientiously what I conceive to be the obligations incumbent upon me in the maintenance of our rights and privileges and the advancement and promotion of American educational interests.

I am, etc.,

Erhard Bissinger.