Mr. Straus to Mr. Hay.

No. 112.]

Sir: I have the honor to submit a report of what has been done in the indemnity negotiations. * * *

I received Acting Secretary Adee’s cipher telegram of August 15, [Page 769] as confirmed in his instruction of the 18th id., and desire to express my thanks for your approval of the suggestions I had the honor to make with a view of expediting the negotiations.

Upon the receipt of your telegram I sent our interpreter to the palace to say to the Sultan’s first secretary that I desired an audience with His Majesty. His Majesty sent word inquiring about the nature of the communication; which information was given. Upon which he sent reply he would see me shortly, as soon as the matter of the claims were arranged for.

* * * * * * *

My unofficial requests for an audience having been put off under various pleas, I decided to make an official request, and accordingly, on the 24th of August, I sent a note to the minister for foreign affairs, a copy of which is attached. In this note I set out officially and distinctly the promise, so that if there should be any disposition to deny the promise I would immediately hand in my proposal for arbitration. In the meantime I saw the minister for foreign affairs several times, and our interpreter, Mr. Gargiulo, saw the Sultan’s secretary, and they both stated the payment would be made, and that the Sultan was anxious to have the matter settled in advance of an audience so that the audience would be agreeable to us both.

This phase of the negotiations continued for several days, and, not receiving an answer to my note, I addressed, on September 2, a second note to the minister for foreign affairs, directing attention that my former note had not been answered, a copy of which is attached. I also called on the minister for foreign affairs and impressed upon him the gravity of the situation. He said he was aware of it and that the Sultan had directed him to say that he had issued an irade to the minister of marine to purchase a war ship from an American builder, and that the kind of ship was being decided upon from the drawings and catalogues in hand, and that certainly within a month or two the matter would be closed and at the same time our claims paid.

Such being the status, I have not made the proposal for arbitration as originally planned.

The circumstances were different when I first took up the negotiations, as will be seen by reference to the last reply Dr. Angell received from the Porte, which was a categorical denial of all liability on the part of the Ottoman Government and concluded with a refusal to pay (see his dispatch No. 168 of August 4, 1898).

I have pushed the negotiations with all possible energy. I have laid stress on the seriousness of the situation, His Majesty making a promise more than nine months ago, which I reported promptly to my Government, and the fact that this promise still remained unfulfilled.

On Friday, the 15th instant, while at Selamlik, the chamberlain came to convey to me His Majesty’s greetings. His chamberlain reported my message and brought back the Sultan’s answer that he would appoint a day for audience; that his object was to arrange the matter of claims in advance, so the audience would be mutually pleasant; that he had directed the minister for foreign affairs to reply to me, so that at the audience I need not bring up the question. He also sent word through the minister for foreign affairs that he had the highest esteem for me personally and officially, and I should not construe the delay in appointing the day of audience in any other light than a desire on his part to have the claims paid or the payment [Page 770] arranged for, and that at an early day he would be pleased to receive me.

On the 19th instant the minister for foreign affairs informed me His Majesty would receive me in audience on Friday, the 22d instant, after the ceremony of Selamlik.

I accordingly attended on Friday last and had an audience of over an hour’s duration, of which I will briefly give a summary.

He opened the conversation by saying, as the minister for foreign affairs had by his direction informed me, the irade for the purchase of a war ship in America had been sent to the minister of marine, and with the making of the contract the American claims would be paid, or, literally translated, “wiped out,” and that he would request me not to discuss with him this matter further, as it is arranged for. * * *

I did not directly go further into the subject, but asked what answer I should give my Government as to when these claims would be “wiped out” and when the irade for the rebuilding of the Harpoot school buildings would be given. He replied, as soon as the contract for the ship was concluded, which would be done shortly, just as the minister for foreign affairs had stated to me.

The minister had stated a few days previously the contract would be made inside of a month or two. * * *

He said he appreciated my efforts to bring about those good relations between our two countries the same as I had done during my former mission. I replied yes, that was my aim, but I needed his cooperation. He replied he would certainly do all in his power; that as a matter of fact there were only two questions pending, the claims, which would, as he stated, be “wiped out;” that as to the treaty he could not consent to that, which would give the Armenians who were plotting against him protection on their return here. That he had no objection to all Armenians going to America, and in fact if they had not money to pay their passage he would pay the passage for them, but on the condition never to return to Turkey; that he regarded their going to America and returning here, claiming American protection, as a fraud upon his country, and if any of his ministers were weak enough to yield this point he would dismiss them all.

Having referred to this subject, he said immediately following my audience with him * * * he telegraphed to Mecca, it being the time of the annual pilgrimage, his wishes that the Moslems in the Philippines should not war with the Americans, nor side with the insurgents, but should be friendly with our army, and that, as I assured him (the Sultan), the Americans would not interfere with their religion and would be as tolerant toward them as he was toward the Christians in his Empire. He added there was at Mecca at the time he sent that message quite a number of pilgrims from the Pacific Islands, and especially their most prominent general and several other officers, and shortly thereafter they returned to their homes. That he was glad that there had been no conflict between our army and the Moslems, and that he certainly hoped their religion would in no manner be interfered with.

I replied, of this he could certainly feel satisfied, that religious liberty was the chief corner stone of our political institutions. He added he hoped his friendly spirit toward my country would be understood.

I have strong hopes that our indemnity claims will be paid, especially now that we have the Sultan’s promise made and repeatedly confirmed. But when, I am unable to answer. It will require time, patience, and tactful pressure. The other extreme, the show of force, [Page 771] which too often by untoward circumstances leads to the most serious consequences, I certainly would not recommend. Our entire claims growing out of the Armenian troubles, as formulated, are * * * 19,209 Turkish pounds. The principle of our demand has been admitted by the promise to pay, made by the Sultan and repeatedly confirmed. The present state of Turkish finances is deplorable, the salary of civil and military officials are from nine to twelve months in arrears, and nearly all of the tangible sources of revenue have been conceded or pledged for advance loans.

In other words, I think I can say I have succeeded in getting judgment on our claims; the question of waiting until the debtor can pay or of enforcing execution is one I must leave to you for decision.

This much I will add in conclusion: The other countries having like claims, such as England, France, Germany, and Italy, have not yet had their claims in judgment, the Sultan has refused to recognize them, nor has he promised to pay them.

I shall be pleased to receive any instructions you may have to give in this matter, to which I have given my best thought and attention.

The minister for foreign affairs informs me within two months his Government will receive about one-half million liras or pounds upon the conversion of one of her loans, and that part of this money will be applied to the purchase of the ship in question, and for other naval equipments.

I have, etc.,

Oscar S. Straus.
[Inclosure 1.]

Mr. Straus to His Excellency Tewfik Pasha.

Excellency: On Wednesday the 16th instant I received instructions from my Government that the President of the United States desires that I have an audience with His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, in order to convey in person to His Imperial Majesty an important communication from the President. On the same day our interpreter under my instructions went to the palace and communicated my request to His Majesty’s first secretary, His Excellency Tahsin Bey. His Majesty inquired whether the communication the President desired me to deliver was personal or of a governmental nature. Our interpreter referred the inquiry to me, and on the following day our interpreter went to the palace with a written outline of the subject-matter, which he translated to His Excellency Tahsin Bey, to the effect that the subject of the communication refers to the American claims for indemnity and to His Majesty’s promise for payment made in December last, and to the expression of hope on the part of the President that the fulfillment of this promise would not be further postponed, together with other instructions in reference to this subject.

In reply to this statement His Majesty sent word to our interpreter that the matter of our claim for indemnities was in the hands of the council of ministers, and it would submit its report on Sunday the 20th instant, and that a reply would be sent to me by Your Excellency on Monday the 21st instant. On that day I called on Your Excellency and fully explained the circumstances above set forth, and you informed me no directions in the matter had reached you and that you could give me no reply, but that you would report the same to His Majesty and inform me the following day when His Majesty would receive me in audience. The following day being the 22d instant, our interpreter called upon you for the reply, but you were still waiting for His Majesty’s orders.

This being the 24th instant, and eight days having elapsed since I communicated the President’s desire that I should have an audience with His Imperial Majesty, and no answer having reached me, I can not but interpret the action of His Majesty other than as a disposition not to accord me an audience as desired by the [Page 772] President in order to lay fully and in detail before him the communication which I was instructed to deliver in person.

In view of all circumstances I feel constrained to promptly advise my Government of this situation.

Your Excellency, I trust, will agree with me when I state that since my return here as minister I have used every effort consistent with my duties to avoid unpleasant situations and to bring about an harmonious adjustment of the questions menacing the good relations between our two Governments. I certainly expected the desired end had been attained when, in December last, His Majesty made to me the statement that the matter of the indemnity was arranged and that payment would be made, which statement has again and again been repeated in form and in substance on behalf of His Imperial Majesty by his first secretary. During more than eight months my Government, relying on His Majesty’s solemn promise, has been waiting for its fulfillment.

Accept, etc.,

Oscar S. Straus.
[Inclosure 2.]

Mr. Straus to His Excellency Tewfik Pasha.

Excellency: On the 24th of August I addressed a note to Your Excellency that I had on the 16th of August received instructions from my Government that the President of the United States desired that I have an audience with His Imperial Majesty the Sultan to convey in person to His Imperial Majesty an important communication from the President.

I deem it my duty to remind Your Excellency that I have not received a reply to my note.

Accept, etc.,

Oscar S. Straus.