Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 7, 1896, and the Annual Report of the Secretary of State
Mr. Riddle to Mr. Olney.
Constantinople , May 14, 1896 . (Received May 29.)
Sir: I have the honor to inclose herewith a narrative which Mr. Knapp has written for your information, at my request, in order that you might receive at first hand a full account of the manner of his deportation and the treatment he was subjected to on his journey.
I have, etc.
Mr. Knapp to Mr. Riddle.
Sir: Previous to giving a sketch of my experiences while being conducted by the Turkish Government from Bitlis to Alexandretta for expulsion from the country, I will briefly review the occurrences leading up to that step:
On Tuesday, February 4, a warrant was issued by the Bitlis authorities for me to appear at court the following Saturday and answer to the charge of being a “disturber of the peace.” I at once communicated by wire with the legation, and on the day I should have appeared at court entered a protest, saying that I could not be present without an American consul or without instructions from the legation, but that with the approval of the latter I was ready to meet my accusers at Constantinople, when I should demand that they receive the proper penalty in case they failed to prove their charges. Later dispatches from the legation instructed me to do practically as I had done; and finally the arrangement was made that I should go with the families via Moosh, with proper guard and consular escort, to Constantinople as soon as the roads were good. We began preparations for the journey in the hope of getting started by the first week in May.
About the 1st of March some sixty leading Armenians who had been imprisoned four and a half months—ever since the massacre—were released. During their imprisonment the Government had tried in vain to get them to sign a statement attaching the blame for all disturbances to some of their own number and to the American missionaries, myself in particular. Already depositions against me had been secured from some of the chief Catholics and Jacobites and a few Gregorians. The release of the prisoners was merely an attempt to secure [Page 908] by another policy signatures against us from the leading Gregorians. During the Bairam calls the vali plainly told some of them in the presence of the fanatical Moslems that it was for the interest of the Armenians to demand the expulsion of the Americans from the country. The idea was sedulously broached for some days. On one occasion the vali said that the Misses Ely since going abroad had showed ingratitude to the Government; that letters of Mr. Cole and Dr. Reynolds had been seized, which showed that they could not be allowed to stay in the country. As for me, there were indubitable proofs that I had furnished the pistol and ordered the shooting of the Armenian who had been shot at several months before.
On Thursday March 19, eight or nine of the leading Armenians with their bishop, and as many of the leading Moslems, were called into the presence of the vali with the object of reconciling the two communities. The condition of a reconciliation was definitely stated to be the willingness of the Armenians to unite with their Moslem fellow-citizens in sending a telegram to the Porte declaring the Americans to be the cause of disturbances, and demanding their expulsion from the country. Insinuations were made by the leading Moslems that it would go bad with the Armenians if they did not comply, and the populace renewed the talk of another massacre. The Armenians asked for a day or two in which to consider the matter, and on Saturday rejected the proposal, saying that they had no part in bringing us into the country; in fact, had been opposed to our coming, but that the evidence against us was in the hands of the Government, not in theirs, and they could not truthfully say that we were at fault.
Meanwhile I thought the matter over; I saw that it was not a personal matter, that the effort was to get all the American missionaries out of the country, and that the method they had used in my case was merely a convenient way of starting the ball a rolling. Moreover, I felt that my presence there with my case undecided was a constant menace to the safety of the city. If I could get away and have proceedings in my case started, it would probably relieve the strain in the city, and doubtless prevent action in reference to other missionaries while my trial was in progress.
Therefore, on Friday, March 20, I sent a telegram to the legation asking that a consul be sent, and that I come at once to Constantinople without my family, and have my trial put through.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 25, all the approaches to our houses were held by police and gendarmes or zabteas; communication was entirely cut off from the town; even our servants were interfered with in attempting to go to market for supplies. The next day officials came on the part of the vali and notified us that orders had been received for us all to leave. We were told to be ready to leave at any time. Mr. Cole called on the governor the next morning to ask for explanations. He was told that for himself and the families there was no special hurry, that he was his friend, and that he might secure permission for him to stay on; but that I must go in any case in three days; that I did not comply with school regulations and made him trouble in other ways. We supposed from this that I was to leave Tuesday and made plans accordingly.
The next morning, Saturday, March 28, the reply to my telegram came, telling me that instructions had been given for me to wait and come at my convenience with my family, and that the local authorities were to let me alone. Mr. Cole was just starting to show this telegram to the vali, when he was met by the chief of police, who handed him a [Page 909] free passport for me to be conducted out of the country, and bade me be ready to start for Alexandretta the next morning (Sunday). This was two days earlier than we had planned. I now addressed a protest to the governor, saying that my request to be allowed to go at once to Constantinople had not been granted by my legation, and that I was therefore not free to go at present; but that if he forced me to go under protest I hoped he would at least not urge me to travel on Sunday, contrary to my usual practice. Mr. Cole took this protest to the governor, but he treated it with contempt. He said that if I acted on the protest he would telegraph to the Porte that I refused to come, whereupon stringent orders would come to take me out with soldiers, in which case it would be very bad for me; I was a criminal. He had not put me in prison but had surrounded our houses instead, out of consideration for our families. As to the time of starting, if I did not go at the set time I must take the consequences.
We deliberated for some time when Mr. Cole returned with the reply. We feared there was some embarrassment at Constantinople which might make my resistance to leave futile in the end, and disastrous as well. It seemed evident that most of the leading Moslems had signed a petition for my expulsion, and there was a report, which I did not have a chance to verify, that the Moslems had agreed to make a disturbance in the city, and perhaps attack my house, if I should refuse to go. Rather than be the cause of precipitating trouble on our families or on the city I thought it was best to yield. I then sent a telegram to the legation saying that I was being sent the next day under protest out of the country via Alexandretta, and asking permission to change my route at Diarbekir and come to Constantinople with the Harpoot Americans.
Early Sunday morning, March 29, the alai bey (commander of gendarmes) came to my house with a number of police and zabteas. In the course of the conversation, while seated in the sitting room, he misunderstood something that was said, and thinking that we were trying to postpone matters, remarked that the people about us were barbarous Koords, and that if they should get the impression that we were resisting the Government it might be impossible to keep them quiet. No stronger threats were needed for such times and such a place; I finished preparations as soon as possible, taking two horses of our own, one for myself, and the other for the baggage, consisting of road equipment, provisions, etc. It was agreed to let two young men accompany me as servants, but after I got started only one was allowed to come, and he was given no road papers. A strong guard accompanied us to the outskirts of the city, where I was left in charge of five mounted zabteas. We had not gone far when the sergeant told me he had instructions to take in charge my revolver, if I had one. I gave it up and it was formally passed with papers from cordon to cordon, emphasizing in an irritating way the fact that I was a prisoner. I was thus forced out of Bitlis at a time and by a road which practically made it impossible to take my family along; and it was a circumstance for which the Turkish Government has no credit, that a fellow-missionary was left to take care of them.
The first night we spent at a khan six hours south of Bitlis. I was in a small room crowded with zabteas, some of whom were smoking and talking or singing most all the night. I was carefully watched when, for any reason, I wished to go outside. My servant looked after the horses and prepared what food I had. As a rule, he was not interfered with all the way. The next day we traveled eleven hours. It was a severe strain on my horse, which, owing to the sudden start, had not [Page 910] been sufficiently exercised after his long confinement during the deep winter snows. I wished to make a shorter stage, but was told that the orders were to reach a certain Koordish village that night. The forenoon of the third day we reached the village of Zoke, whence the five zabteas were to return to Bitlis, It was expected that the alai bey would have sent on instructions by wire for other zabteas to be in readiness to take me on from Zoke, but no orders had been received; evidently it had been his chief concern to get me out of the city as soon as possible. A telegram for instructions was made up, and there was a prospect of my staying in that ruined village two or three days; but finally I was taken to a village an hour or two out of the way and was put in charge of a local zabtea, who was to wait and accompany the post from Sert. The post driver, with another zabtea, did not reach the Koordish village to which we had gone till 10 the next morning, when we traveled on together. In this way we went on to Diarbekir. The last two days but one zabtea, armed only with a sword, accompanied us. Usually two zabteas, armed with rifles, escorted me the rest of the way.
We reached Diarbekir Saturday afternoon April 4. I happened to meet the British vice consul, Mr. Hallward, before entering the city. I had telegraphed him that I was to pass through there, but the operators had made it read “through Mardin” (two days south), so he was not expecting me. He kindly invited me to be his guest, but the police said they must first take me to government quarters. It was not part of their plan to have me see the consul, and they were perplexed at our meeting; but I could truthfully tell them it was purely accidental. I was taken from department to department in the government buildings, and finally, when instructions and passport from Bitlis were looked over, I was lodged in the barracks in an officer’s room. Mr. Hallward’s dragoman spent an hour before he secured permission to see me. The authorities refused to give me up, though Mr. Hallward applied to the vali in person. I was much disappointed not to find permission awaiting me to go to Constantinople via Harpoot. Trouble was made about my sending a telegram to the legation, but finally Mr. Hallward sent it for me in cipher through his embassy. I said that unless the permission was secured I should start for Alexandretta on Monday. “Demand me from that point. Insist on trial. Expulsion or unproved charges should not be tolerated.” The Government was going to send me on the next morning, but at last allowed me to rest over Sunday. There was a glass window between the room I occupied and the corridor. A lamp was kept burning in the room both nights, and a sentinel stood in the hall over me night and day. I did not leave the room without his accompanying me. On Sunday they were not going to let me promenade before the building, but finally I made such a fuss about it that the point was yielded and I had a chance to exercise in the fresh air. Mr. Hallward and his dragoman were allowed to see me at different times during the day, the former accompanied by the commander of zabteas.
I was hurried off in good season Monday morning, being taken around outside the city walls, instead of through the city, to the Aleppo road. My horse having given out, I left it behind and the Government got another animal for me, expecting me to pay the hire. I protested, but when I saw that the alternative was the impressing of poor men’s animals into the service I yielded the point of paying for conveyance the rest of the way, expecting that item to be put in the bill for damages later on. The British consul, Fontana, happened to be at Severek the night I was there, but I was not allowed to see him. We reached Oorfa [Page 911] early in the afternoon two days later. I succeeded in getting word to the American missionary, Mr. Sanders, and after some trouble he got permission from the governor to see me for a short time in the presence of officers, on condition that he would not touch on politics. My usual telegram to Bitlis, simply saying that I was safe, was not accepted here, but finally it was arranged that Mr. Sanders could send a telegram of such import for me. The second Saturday brought us to Berejeck. Before looking my papers over carefully I was taken to a fairly pleasant room upstairs, overlooking the Euphrates, but when the papers were examined I was moved down to a kind of covered alleyway between the prison court and another filthy court inside the gate. After a good deal of difficulty I succeeded in getting an audience with the caimacam, and begged that a place be given me where I would not catch cold. He ordered me to be taken to a room downstairs leading off the filthy court, so small that I on my camp bed, a zabtea, and my servant on the floor could barely crowd in. I preferred to travel six hours on Sunday rather than stay in such sickening quarters. At this place the ill-suppressed feelings of gloating over me galled me most of anywhere. On the road I could usually keep on good terms with the zabteas through the fees which they expected, and which as a rule I gave, but whenever we touched Government quarters I could not help feeling that they were exulting over me as their prisoner. In fairness I should say that there were individuals whose better nature prompted them to treat me with a good deal of consideration. Prominent among such was an Albanian police officer whose room I occupied at Aleppo.
We reached Aleppo Tuesday, April 14, the seventeenth day from Bitlis. A telegram I had sent the previous night to our consul, asking for instructions on arrival, reached him about two hours before I got to town. At first I was to be lodged in a close room leading off one of the prison courts downstairs, but after our consul’s dragoman called my things were taken upstairs, where the air was better, and I was allowed to occupy a small room which was used by a police officer. Mr. Poche himself, though suffering from an abscess, called the next day. The authorities would not give me up, but agreed to let me have a day in which to transact any necessary business, such as selling the horse, before sending me on to Alexandretta. A policeman accompanied me while arranging business which took me to the khan where our consul’s residence and place of business is. The consul invited me to step into his house, or into his office, but the policeman objected, and finally grudgingly allowed us to sit outdoors while we conversed in his presence in our best language of communication—Turkish. A second policeman was on the track of the first, and of course this fact being reported I was subsequently carefully kept from that district when I was allowed under guard to go to the restaurants or to walk about town. Wednesday had not passed when we were told that there were instructions to wait for before I could be sent on. These were formally presented to the consul on Thursday, in which it was agreed to release me if he would give a paper pledging me not to return to Bitlis. Before advising the legation of this proposal I was asked by the consul’s dragoman if I had any message to send, and I sent the following to the legation:
Release on condition of not returning to Bitlis I can not accept, if it means abandonment of trial or nonreturn in case of acquittal.
By Saturday we learned that the legation expected me at Constantinople, and made arrangements to start for Alexandretta on Monday, April 20.[Page 912]
I started that morning, with my servant and baggage, in an ordinary wagon. A policeman, who was also going to Alexandretta, and his companion, engaged passage with us. Two mounted zabteas usually accompanied us from cordon to cordon. Through the friendship of the policeman I was not placed nights in the quarters of the zabteas, but was allowed to take a room with him at the khans. We were out three nights, arriving at Alexandretta about noon Thursday, April 23. Our consular agent, Mr. Walker, was on hand to ask for me, but the caimacam had orders to keep me under arrest and place me on the first vessel bound direct for Europe. I was not allowed to go out to meals with a guard, as at Aleppo. Then followed the telegrams to the legation and to Captain Jewell, of the Marblehead, the latter telegram not reaching him until the Marblehead returned to Mersina from a short cruise. Friday evening instructions came from Aleppo to the caimacam directing him to give me up at once to the United States consul. By 10 o’clock the formalities of giving me over had been made and I was in Mr. Walker’s house. While I was in prison Captain Stopford, of H. M. S. Howe, called on me and kindly asked if there was anything he could do for me, and later came to congratulate me on my release. I felt safe while I was confined within sight of that man-of-war.
The Marblehead came in Monday morning, and it was arranged that she should not leave till I was safely seen aboard the French steamer the next afternoon. An officer with flag in a boat of the Marblehead called for me at the custom-house pier, the chief of police handed me my passport marked “Expelled,” and Mr. Walker accompanied me as I was rowed to the French steamer and saw me aboard. We reached Mersina the next morning, where the Marblehead arrived a few hours later. At Beirut Consul Gobson and other friends called on me aboard the steamer, it not being thought wise for me to land. At Smyrna our consul, Colonel Maddon, called and took me ashore. There was reason to believe that an officer was on my track, such a person preceding him to the steamer, and later asking for my name as we landed at the customhouse pier, but he was put off, and at length I landed safely at Constantinople on May 6.
In conclusion, I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for the ready cheerfulness and interest with which all the representatives of our Government helped me on the way; and I owe a special debt of gratitude to you, on whom the burden of the responsibility has fallen, for the prompt and energetic measures used to secure my release, and to bring me in safety to this place. In such hands I feel confident that so full a measure of justice will be secured me as effectively to prevent the Turkish Government from treating other Americans as they have treated me.
Very respectfully, yours,