Mr. Hirsch to Mr. Blaine.

No. 104.]

Sir: Within the last 3 years the restrictions placed upon the book trade of the American missionaries have from time to time been increased until now they have become very severe and almost threaten its very existence. The missionaries, conforming to the laws of the Empire, publish only such books as are authorized by the public censor; they print the authorization on the title-page of each volume and cause [Page 753] one copy of each edition to be sealed by the minister of public instruction, which is retained by the missionaries as proof of the genuineness of the book.

It would seem that the exhaustive examination to which it is subjected before authorization is given and the care bestowed upon it, as above shown, to prevent fraud, ought to insure the book against undue and vexatious interference on the part of subordinates. Such, however, is not the case. Seizures have been made in Erzerum last autumn of books destined to the mission stations at Bitlis and Van. In this case the books were shipped from here in cases which were sealed with leaden seals of the custom-house and should not have been disturbed until they arrived at their destination.

Within a few weeks a box for Rev. G. C. Raynolds, at Van, which had been passed and sealed by the custom-house here, was opened at Trebi-zonde and some of the books taken and sent back here for examination, and then on reaching Erzerum was again opened and more books sent back here for examination. Other similar cases might be mentioned.

It is a serious loss and hardship to have the contents of boxes handled en route by inexperienced as well as irresponsible parties; moreover, there is no valid reason why the seal of the custom-house should not protect the boxes and contents while en route to their destination.

It was claimed by subordinate censors in the interior that, inasmuch as it had at one time happened that publications had been circulated with fraudulent authorizations printed on them, they were unable to determine which were genuine without a reexamination, and hence these seizures.

The missionaries have never claimed or circulated an unauthorized publication as authorized and are not open to any such suspicion.

Very recent seizures at the custom-house here of authorized books destined for other points plainly indicate that there is a deeper significance to be attached to them than would appear from the excuses made by censors in the interior, and that the reasons given by the latter are not the real ones, for here, where the officially sealed copy of each authorized publication is kept, there is no ground for claiming that the books might possibly be unauthorized, notwithstanding the printed authorization on the title-page.

I have within the last few weeks had very frequent interviews with H. H., the Grand Vizier on this subject, and have strongly protested against these unnecessary annoyances and the losses arising therefrom. I found him personally very desirous of adopting some method by which further troubles of the kind might be avoided, but I thought best finally to observe to him that no method could be successful in stopping these seizures unless the principle is first laid down that an authorization once made by the proper authorities shall not be revised or revoked, for I have satisfied myself that the contents of the books form the real grounds for the seizures. Unless this is conceded by the Turkish authorities, we may be prepared for endless vexation and annoyance, for every time there is a change in the office of censor a new modification may be expected.

The matter is of the greatest importance to the missionaries, as the existence of their book trade seems to be depending upon the result. I will give it the close and constant attention which its importance merits.

A statement on the subject, made by Rev. H. O. Dwight, is herewith inclosed for the information of the Department.

I have, etc.,

Soloman Hirsch.
[Page 754]
[Inclosure in No. 104.]

Memorandum of interferences with the book trade of Americans in Turkey.

The American societies engaged in the hook trade in Turkey are the American Bible Society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (Boston), and the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions (New York). The American Tract Society also makes grants of funds for the missionaries for the publication of tracts. These societies have carried on the book business in the Turkish Empire since the year 1834, when the first named of the two missionary societies tranferred to Beirut the printing press which it had established at Malta in 1822. Their publishing houses are now situated at Constantinople and at Beirut. The value of the stock and manufacturing plant of these societies in Turkey is estimated at about $500,000.

The American Bible Society prints the Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments in all of the various languages of the Empire, and keeps on sale, also, a stock of the same in all European languages. The publishing committee of the mission of the American board, established at the Bible House, in Constantinople, prints the Turkish, Armeno-Turkish, Græco-Turkish, Armenian, Greek, and Bulgarian religious and devotional books and tracts and text books for schools. The American press at Beirut, under the charge of the missionaries of the Presbyterian Board of Missions, prints in Arabic religious and devotional books and tracts, school books and scientific works, and general literature of a high class. Both of the missionary societies also publish religious family newspapers with extensive subscription lists.

The books published are transported at the expense of the societies to the various parts of the Empire, so that they are sold everywhere by agents of the societies at the catalogue price of each work.

At the beginning of this book trade no specific law regulated the publication of books in Turkey. In fact, at that time books were rarely published, unless by the Government itself. All books were, however, subjected to examination at customhouses, and were authorized for publication by the seal of the custom-house censor. In 1874 a law of the press was put in force, under which no book can be published in Turkey without the authorization of the ministry of public instruction. This authorization is obtained by submission of the manuscript with a request for permission to print it. After the book is printed it can not be published without a second examination for the purpose of verifying its conformity to the manuscript as authorized. Every book is required to bear on its title-page a statement of the fact that it is authorized; and, under a regulation issued in 1882, this statement must give the date and number of the permit of the department of public instruction. A regulation was adopted in 1883 expressly applying to the books issued by the American societies, by which all books from their presses must indicate on the title-page the fact that they are published by a Bible or missionary society, as the case may be. The works issued from these presses have always conformed to the laws in force at the time of issue. Nevertheless, the trade of the American societies has long been subjected to vexatious and destructive interference (1) by the arrest, long detention, or confiscation of authorized books, and (2) by the restriction of liberty to choose the market in which the books are to be sold.

(1) The seizure of authorized books:

Within the last 3 years there has been a marked increase of restrictions upon the book trade. Book censors have been appointed in all the provinces, whose duty it is to prevent the circulation of dangerous books. These censors have their attention chiefly directed to the books offered for sale among the Christian populations of the Empire, and especially (as some of them have been frank enough to say) to those books which encourage the people to think. The power of these book censors to injure the business of dealers in books, as well as the injustice actually suffered at their hands, will be readily understood by a few illustrations of their narrowness, ignorance, and incompetence as a class.

One of these, a Mohammedan passing upon a Christian book written in a language that Mohammedan in Turkey can not read, condemned it on the ground that he had already permitted the Bible, and that is as much as any man ought to ask. Another in similar circumstances condemned a work which treated of Christian doctrine as calculated to stir up strife, for a Mohammedan might perhaps see it and be stirred thereby to attack the Christian for believing such things. Another objects to the Christian hymn “Am I a soldier of the Cross?” as revolutionary, and so suppresses in his province the hymn book used by all the Protestant churches in the Empire. Another objects to a Sunday-school book that it contains the word Fatherland, which word will recall to Armenians the name of Armenia, and that name is a forbidden one. Another for the same reason condemns a physical geography which gives the name Armenia in a list of copper mines mentioned by Strabo as worked in his time. Another suppresses a child’s book of Bible pictures because it contains a picture of Mt. Ararat. Another has confiscated a part of a shipment of Bibles as dangerous and has released the remainder as innocuous, not being able to perceive that all the copies are identical.

[Page 755]

The results of the incompetence of these censors are no less extraordinary. In many cases they pass without question the nauseous mass of immoral French romances which are issued in translations by the native publishing houses, but regard as necessarily dangerous schoolbooks, religious books, and other works of a more or less solid character. Hence, as a purely precautionary measure, they will arrest the whole stock of an agent of the American societies while they send on to Constantinople to learn if the authorization of the department is really intended to permit the circulation of the books. This involves long delay. In one such case, where books of one of the American societies were seized by the censor in 1889 at Erzerum, they are still in custody at the time of this writing, 7 months later, the censor not having been able as yet to learn whether the authorization printed on the title page is authentic. Yet the time usually occupied by the post in the journey from Erzerum to Constantinople is from 8 to 10 days. Similar cases of arbitrary interruption of our business are frequent.

The department of public instruction condones such interferences with the trade of the American societies by claiming that the provincial officials can not certainly know, without sending the books to Constantinople, that their authorization is genuine.

The fallacy of such an argument is evident when it is remembered that the books are carefully examined by the censor in the custom-house in Constantinople before shipment; and that the boxes are there securely sealed for the express purpose that provincial censors may, on seeing the seal of the custom-house intact, be assured that the books in the box are authentically authorized books. But more than this, the American societies are publishing houses long established in Turkey and having permanent investments of a considerable amount within the Turkish Empire. The Ottoman Government has therefore the power to hold them rigidly to account, were they to issue illegal publications. When these societies publish a book stating on the title-page over their Own imprint that for this publication they hold a permit of a given date and number, they offer for the truth of the statement a guaranty commensurate in value with the value of their investments in Turkey; for those investments must necessarily be sacrificed if they were to publish a single unauthorized book with forgery of the authorization of the department of public instruction. The official who feels anxiety concerning the authenticity of the authorization of a book published by one of the American societies can allay all reasonable doubt by requiring the local agent of the society to certify that the book is one for which the society is actually responsible. Such a certificate might to secure the books from arrest, for under the circumstances the probabilities are overwhelmingly against the supposition that the printed declaration in the books will turn out to be unauthentic. At the same time, if the official still doubts, he can send a copy of the book to the department for verification, sure that if the permit be not authentic the parties responsible are always at hand for punishment.

This being the case, the course now pursued by the officials of the department of public instruction has the effect on the mind of being based on a will to hamper the Americans in their book trade rather than upon any necessity of police administration.

Furthermore, these censors claim the right, each for himself, to revise, and, if he sees fit, revoke the authorization given by the central Government and to confiscate the books belonging to the American societies exactly as if they were printed without permission. The assertion of such a claim results in such abuses as the following:

Books of the American societies duly authorized and sold freely in all parts of Constantinople have been seized on being taken into the custom-house in that city for shipment to other parts of the Empire or to foreign lands. The reason of this is simply that the officials in the custom-house do not care to observe the authorization that is respected on the outside of the custom-house. Books sold freely in one province of the Empire are instantly confiscated on being taken into the adjoining province, because the censor in that province differs in view from his colleague. And, books that have passed the ordeal of the Constantinople custom-house, and have been packed in boxes sealed with the official leaden seal, and have been shipped to a distant inland city have been opened and overhauled by any censor that felt a curiosity to see the contents of the boxes, although they were destined for a city entirely outside of his jurisdiction. And in some such cases these amateur censors by the wayside have taken the liberty to confiscate books that seemed dangerous to their refined tastes. Again, other censors, not deeming it needful to inquire into the authenticity of the permits of the books of the American societies, have torn out some pages of whose contents they did not approve, and then have suffered the mutilated and ruined books to go free. And in one place the local dignitaries, to emphasize their right of revising the action of the ministry at Constantinople, have torn out the title-page containing the official authorization, and have then confiscated the books as unauthorized, or at least improper in their view to be allowed circulation.

[Page 756]

The department of public instruction at Constantinople gives encouragement to these acts of spoliation upon the property of the American societies by refusing to order that its own authorizations be regarded, by taking into serious consideration the proposals of the petty censors of the provinces for the suppression of our authorized books, and by actually claiming for itself the right to establish from time to time new canons of censorship and then to confiscate all books which it had authorized before the new standard was devised. A notable instance of the latter class of wrongs is the case of the primary geography published by the American mission at Constantinople in 1881 with the authorization of the department. This book has the name Armenia in one of its maps, and the department now claims that it has decided not to authorize the use of this name, and that it may therefore confiscate the books, although it is admitted that the use of the name was authorized when the maps were made. Its seizure of these books wherever found, whether in the hands of private persons or in the hands of the book agents, has destroyed the value of the geography as an article of merchandise. In other cases its officials delay for months to order the release of books illegally seized while it considers the question of entirely suppressing the sale of the books. In one case the delay extended to the period of 9 months during all of which time the agent of the society was under arrest at a remote town in Asia Minor waiting to learn whether, besides the loss of his books, he was to suffer punishment for having been found selling them, although published under the authorization of the department.

(2) Restrictions of the right to choose the market in which the books of the societies are to be sold:

The usage of these societies is to establish book depots at central points and thence to send out traveling agents to offer the books for sale in the country districts. This practice has been followed for years without evidence of any injury to any legitimate interest of the Ottoman Government. But in many parts of the Empire the book agents are arrested whenever they appear in villages or country districts. In the course of the last month (February) an American missionary was thus arrested for having in his possession twelve copies of books authorized by the Government, and which it was supposed that he might try to sell. He was held in arrest for 4 days in violation of the law and of the treaties, and although finally released with an apology, he was informed that the books could be sold only in towns, not in country districts. In the province of Erzroom the customers on whom depends the sale of the books most in demand live principally in the large villages. But the authorities undertake to hold the position that they have a right to restrict sales in these villages notwithstanding the authorization of the books.

From what has been said it will be seen that the interference complained of is due to the adoption by the authorities of the following principles of action in regard to the books of the American societies:

Any official who doubts the authenticity of the authorization of a book may provisionally confiscate it,
Books authorized by the department of public instruction may at any time be confiscated by a censor who chooses to revoke or ignore the authorization.
The department of public instruction may confiscate books which it has itself authorized.
Officials may designate the localities where authorized books are to be sold, or may entirely prohibit sales.

These principles, of the working of which examples have been given above, we hold to be contrary to good sense and to equity, to be demanded by no legitimate interest of the Ottoman Empire, and to threaten the extinction of the long-established book trade of those American societies. It is therefore hoped that the United States Government will take such measures as may seem fit to bring about an amelioration of the conditions under which these societies suffer needless and heavy losses every year. Perhaps the admission by the Ottoman Government of the following principles would cover the needs of the case:

Books authorized by the department of public instruction are everywhere free from seizure.
Books published by a responsible publishing house and bearing on the title-page the statement of the number and date of authorization are free from arrest or confiscation, unless the statement has been proved to be false.
No restrictions other than those placed on other traffic are to be placed on the traffic in authorized books.

Without the intervention of the United States Government to secure some relief, the American societies may be expected to lose their business as book publishers and a great part of the capital invested in this business in Turkey.

Henry O. Dwight,
Missionary of the American Board.