Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 9, 1891
Mr. MacNutt to Mr. Blaine.
Constantinople, October 28, 1891. (Received November 18.)
Sir: In the case of Mr. Richardson, of Erzerum, I have been asked by Bible House to forward to the Department the statement of that gentleman, which I now have the honor to inclose.
I have, etc.,
Chargé d’ Affaires ad interim.
Mr. Richardson to Mr. Blaine.
Dear Sir: As is well known to you there are, in most of the important cities of the Ottoman Empire, American citizens engaged as missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. As they are much scattered, and their aggregate number is not large, the United States Government has never deemed it necessary to have consular officers in the interior cities for their protection. Indeed until recently, during the past decade, it has been, unnecessary for two reasons:
- The Ottoman officers in general in the interior of this country have not clearly understood the difference between an official and a nonofficial foreigner, between a consul and a missionary. On this account often, and sometimes through the politeness of officials, the missionaries have often been received on the same footing or even more favorably than consuls.
- In addition to this, the uniform courtesy of the British Government has always enabled its consuls to act unofficially for citizens of the United States where we have no consular representative. Formerly this was all that was needed anywhere, the Turkish mind not comprehending the difference between official and unofficial representation.
Now, however, this free and easy method has been changed. Especially is this the case in the province of Erzerum, where the nearness of the Russian frontier and the prominence of the so-called Armenian question make the officials and the general government policy very jealous of foreigners. This necessitates the utmost care in all our dealings with the local authorities, and the British consular officers have the strictest limitations put upon their interference in behalf of Americans to “good offices in cases of unmerited violence or oppression by the local authorities” (see instructions to consular officers, January 30, 1882). These limitations were more clearly defined in instructions issued to Acting Consul Hampson the past spring. He communicated this decision to me in a letter dated April 8, 1891, as follows:
“I beg to inform you that I have this day received a dispatch from his excellency the ambassador, with reference to recent occurrences at Mardin and the position to be taken by the British acting vice-consul toward the American missionaries. As I presume that the position of this consulate is defined by the same instructions, I [Page 763] quote the following paragraph for your information: ‘You will inform Mr. Boyajian that if official recognition and protection are required by the American missionaries in his district, he is not empowered to afford such without express authority from this embassy being previously given him to do so, and application being made to the Sublime Porte by the United States legation here.”
I have, etc.,
Chas. S. Hampson,
These instructions, strictly considered, shirt the consulate off from any work on our behalf, as any intervention to be effectual must be regarded as official, and the most common interventions of the consul in our relations with the Government are in the applications for road permits without which it is impossible for us to leave the city. However, Acting Consul Hampson has strained his instructions to the utmost in obtaining for me road papers, etc. This has been especially convenient, as the local government declines to recognize any communication from us except through the consulate. The British embassy in Constantinople stands perfectly ready to allow its consulates to act for us officially if our legation takes the proper steps in the matter. These steps are the following: The United States minister in London, on instructions from Washington or request from the legation in Constantinople, requests the British foreign office to allow the British consular officer in Erzerum to act as American representative, the British foreign office to accede and issue instructions accordingly. The United States legation in Constantinople applies to the Porte, and receives a letter from the Turkish premier accepting such intervention by the consul. This must be transmitted to the British embassy for its sanction and transmission to the consul, by him to be presented to the local government.
The British embassy in Constantinople declines to accept less than this, which has never been done here in our case. Until this is done our relations must remain in their present state, which is very unsatisfactory both to us and the consulate. We are never sure of what rights we have; the consulate is always afraid of doing something unauthorized which will be disowned by his embassy. In analagous cases here the Russian consul-general acts for all Greeks precisely as for Russians, and the French vice-consul for Austrians.
Minister Hirsch applied for last year and obtained the vizieral letter accepting such intervention, but did this before obtaining the consent of the British Government. He sent it also direct to the consulate here, not to the embassy to be forwarded, and this consulate, not recognizing Minister Hirsch’s authority, did not recognize it but sent it to the embassy.
Mr. Hirsch has repeatedly spoken to Sir William White, the British ambassador, in the matter. The latter has always manifested his willingness for the consulate to act for us, but here Mr. Hirsch always has stopped.
Recently I have had a most unpleasant experience, much of which might have been obviated if our consular relations were in proper condition. Some three months since, while traveling, I was arrested by the governor of a sub district and brought to Erzerum as a prisoner, although my passport and road papers were strictly en regle. My private papers and letters were seized and on my return to Erzerum were examined by order of the governor-general. On my arrival here my passport and road permits were seized by the governor-general, who has never returned them to me, although he claims to have done so. Leaving out this question of fact, however, it remains certain that I had no passport. On this account I was kept a virtual prisoner in the city until the current Tuesday, October 13, when, after much correspondence, finally by telegraph, at an expense of $20, a duplicate passport arrived.
In the meantime my associate Rev. F. W. Macallum, was taken violently ill in a village 60 miles away, and it became imperatively necessary for me as the only available person to go to him. Notwithstanding, our most urgent solicitations the governor-general declined to allow me to leave the city, as I had no passport. In the providence of God Mr. Macallum’s life has been spared, but it might easily have been sacrificed.
A duplicate passport which, if we had had a proper consular officer, could have been issued to me in ten minutes has taken three months to obtain at serious inconvenience, loss of prestige, unnecessary expense, and at a possible cost of human life.
In view of these representations I wish to beg the State Department to take one or other of the subjoined means for relieving this difficulty, or any other which may occur to you, but by no means to leave us with no protection in our exposed position.
The following are submitted in the order of their seeming feasibility and advisability:
- That the proper steps be taken at once to induce the British Government to allow its consul in Erzerum to act as American vice-consul.
- That: the United States Government send a regularly authorized consul here, as it has to Sivas, to protect American citizens in all this section of country. We would specially request that this officer he an American citizen, specially sent out for this purpose as a native consular agent, such as is found in some seaports of the Empire, is worse than no representative.
- If neither of the above-mentioned plans are deemed practicable, we would then beg that an American citizen already on the ground be appointed vice-consul without salary with permission to continue his present occupation. As this position would devolve upon myself, I should regret exceedingly the necessity of adopting it, and it would be accepted only as a last resort. However, even this would be better than the present method, which often compels me to try to do the work of a consul at the risk of serious disaster.
In conclusion, let me call your attention to the amount of American interests involved in this corner of Turkey which would be under the protection of the proposed consulate:
In the three cities and provinces of Erzerum, Van, and Bitlis are nearly twenty American citizens, with over $40,000 invested in real estate, and expending in missionary and philanthropic work annually fully $15,000. Great Britain has not half a dozen subjects in the same region, yet has here one full consul, often employing a secretary, and one vice-consul, at a total annual expense of almost $10,000.
We would beg that nothing in the above be regarded as any reflection upon the present British acting consul in Erzerum, who has acted to the utmost extent of his instructions in protecting and assisting us.
Nor do I wish to reflect upon our United States legation. I fear I may not have made the situation [clear] to it, though I have endeavored to do so before the difficulty assumed its acute form. This communication is forwarded through it.
Yours, very truly,
Missionary of the American Board of Foreign Missions.