Mr. Straus to Mr. Hay.

No. 136.]

Sir: With reference to the indemnity negotiations, I have the honor to submit the following report prior to my departure on leave:

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Before my departure I have deemed it best to address an emphatic note to the Porte to impress the promises of the Sultan, to recount the various delays that have taken place, by bringing to the attention of the minister for foreign affairs and through him to the Sultan that my Government insists upon the fulfillment of the Sultan’s promises for the payment of the indemnities; and at the same time to indicate the gravity of the situation. A copy of the note is attached.

England’s claims for indemnity growing out of the Armenian troubles are three times as large as ours; Italy, France, and Germany also have like claims; none of these claims have been paid, nor have they even obtained a promise for payment.

For several months past my colleagues having similar claims have suspended or abandoned the hope of collecting their claims, but through their sources of information our efforts are watched with a view if we succeed their claims will also have to be paid.

The British ambassador expects to collect his claim through the conversion of the loan covering the Cyprus tribute; the terms of this conversion were practically arranged last spring, but the negotiations fell through because the Sultan refused to allow the British indemnity [Page 773] claims. It is hoped, however, at some distant future the Sultan will consent, in view of his great need for the additional ready cash this conversion will yield in ready money, about £600,000.

The French, so far as I can learn by careful inquiry, are not doing anything in that direction, nor are the Italians.

The German claims are not significant, only £2,000 or £3,000; the ambassador told me recently he refrains from referring to Armenian matters or anything connected therewith. * * *

This fact, together with the belief, held to for some years, that our missionaries were at the bottom of the Armenian troubles, or at any rate indirectly connected with the unrest that brought about the troubles, has rendered my task an exceptionally difficult one. I have again and again argued the matter to disabuse the Sultan’s mind of this belief; I have again and again cautioned the missionaries to guard against giving color to this suspicion, and I have perhaps not argued in vain, as the Sultan’s secretary and the Grand Vizier have shifted their ground, and now say they do not claim the American-born missionaries are guilty of hostility, nor that our Government would permit them to act in a spirit of hostility to Turkey, but that our missionaries have in their employ many Armenian teachers who plot against Turkey.

I feel considerable disappointment that, after having brought the negotiations to the point of obtaining the Sultan’s promises for the payment, not to have closed the matter before my departure. The question is no longer one of international law, nor of disputed liability, but rests upon the Sovereign’s promises to pay. To use the analogy of a civil suit, the situation is, twelve months ago we obtained judgment, but the execution still remains unsatisfied.

It is to be hoped the Sultan will recognize the position, and the necessity of fulfilling his promises.

With that view, and for the purpose of setting forth our position in as emphatic a manner as possible, I sent the note in question, especially as the permit for the reconstruction of the destroyed buildings at Harpoot, after having been definitely promised from day to day, both at the Porte and by the Sultan, through his first secretary, has not yet been given.

There is certainly no excuse for withholding that permission, for which I have been pressing for the past ten months. The matter passed successfully through every stage; first a report from the vali at Harpoot, then through the council of state, then through the council of ministers, then it went to the Sultan. I followed the matter with the utmost persistency through all these stages. About three weeks ago the Sultan made an irade again referring it to the council of ministers for some additional information, and the matter again went to the Sultan. Ten days ago it was definitely stated by the first secretary, speaking for his Sovereign, that the Sultan had decided to issue the irade, and that our interpreter should call at the palace the following day, where it would be given. The irade is still not given.

I wrote the foregoing yesterday, and now add in conclusion: The purpose of my note seems to have the effect intended in order to break through the inertia and present the issue in a forcible light.

I regard it quite probable that the irade for rebuilding will be given either on my departure or shortly thereafter in anticipation of my return.

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[Page 774]

I am again assured by the Porte that a ship will certainly be purchased and the indemnities paid off.

I have, etc.,

Oscar S. Straus.

P. S.—Our interpreter has just returned from the minister for foreign affairs and reports the minister states that the Sultan has granted the irade for the reconstruction of the school and college buildings at Harpoot, which irade will be communicated to the grand vizier to-day or to-morrow; that the Sultan had further directed all outstanding questions regarding American schools to be settled.

The minister further stated the Sultan said he would like very much to see me in audience before my departure, but he has contracted a sore throat, and if I would remain some days longer he would be pleased to see me. Our interpreter explained that as I am traveling with wife and children, and all arrangements had to be made in advance, it would be difficult to postpone my departure to an indefinite time, and the minister stated he appreciated that, and certainly the Sultan would excuse my not delaying my journey.

While writing this I am interrupted by the chamberlain of the Sultan, who comes by His Majesty’s order to express his esteem for me and to bring as a souvenir two vases manufactured at the imperial pottery at the palace. I expressed my high appreciation for this mark of personal esteem, but explained, with all possible delicacy, why, under the regulations, I could not receive them. He expressed the Sultan’s high esteem and personal regard for me, and that the Sultan directed him to convey his great appreciation of my fairness and impartiality in all my diplomatic work, and at the same time his urgent wish that I should soon return. This and much more was said of a like tenor.

I report this in detail so that the entire facts may be before you.

I have, etc.,

Oscar S. Straus.

Mr. Straus to Tewfik Pasha, minister for foreign affairs.

Excellency: In the month of November, 1895, during the conflicts that were taking place in the Empire, which were the cause of so much horror and bloodshed, the American school and college at Harpoot suffered much loss and damage by reason of the burning and destruction of eight separate buildings, with their contents. The subject of this loss and destruction has again and again been presented, under urgent instructions from my Government, by my two predecessors, Judge Terrell and Mr. Angell.

On my arrival here in October, 1898, following the instructions of my Government, I presented the matter anew, and on December 9, 1898, His Majesty promised me to pay or “wipe out” the claim for losses sustained by our citizens at Harpoot, Marash, and Haskeui. This promise was again repeated by His Majesty at the audience granted to me the 22d of September last.

With a view of “wiping out” the claims, I was informed, shortly after the audience aforesaid, by His Majesty’s first secretary, in frequent statements made by him to Mr. Gargiulo, our interpreter, that negotiations were under way at Paris for a loan, out of which His Majesty intended to buy an American-built cruiser, and in connection therewith the indemnity claims would be paid.

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I again and again explained to your excellency, and through our interpreter to [Page 775] His Majesty’s first secretary, that my Government had no concern with such purchases, but certainly relied upon His Majesty’s promises and would insist upon compensation for the losses aforesaid.

The destruction caused at Harpoot was under the very eyes and with the help of the imperial troops.

As I have fully explained in previous communications, cannon shells were fired into the buildings, and certainly the Armenians had no cannons; hence there is but one evident conclusion. Besides, there is ample evidence upon this point.

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I need not say that my Government has been patient. * * * It is not for me to anticipate what action my Government may decide upon in order to safeguard and protect the rights of its citizens in this Empire. I purpose, in accordance with my Government’s wishes, to return home for consultation and to leave here on December 20.

The situation is aggravated by another fact, the refusal to grant the permission to reconstruct the destroyed buildings at Harpoot, after frequent delays and assurances that permission would be given under His Majesty’s irade.

Our interpreter was officially informed by the Sublime Porte that His Majesty would not consent to the rebuilding, as the American missionaries were the cause of the Armenian troubles.

It becomes my imperative duty to emphatically protest against this accusation, and to say that my Government, following its traditional policy, has always kept aloof from political questions in foreign countries and jealously guards against its citizens involving it in such complications.

During my residence here, I have been careful to advise and instruct American citizens in accordance with my Government’s instructions, and I feel justified in stating that His Majesty is grossly misinformed if he believes my Government would permit or consent that its citizens act in a spirit of hostility to the constituted authorities of this Empire.

In view of these false accusations prejudicial to the rights of American citizens in this Empire, and in view of the delay in compensating our citizens for property burned and destroyed, and in view of the Imperial Government profiting by its own wrongs by refusing to permit the reconstruction of the Harpoot buildings, your excellency will doubtless agree with me that the situation is grave, that before my departure the promised irade for rebuilding should be unconditionally issued, and that definite provisions for the payment of the indemnity claims should be made, thereby avoiding a condition which may have serious consequences affecting the good relations of our respective countries.

Accept, etc.,

Oscar S. Straus.