Chargé Jay to the Secretary of State.
Constantinople, December 13, 1904.
Sir: Referring further to my dispatch No. 950, of November 29, 1904, on the subject of recent interference with the colportage of Bibles by native agents of the American Bible Society in Turkey, I regret to have to report as follows:
It has developed that in the cases of both the American and British Bible societies, though orders were sent to release the seized Bibles, additional orders were also sent absolutely prohibiting the colportage of these books, their sale to be strictly confined to the societies’ shop or depot in each town.[Page 900]
I had to-day a long interview with the grand vizier on this subject, this being the first possible occasion of seeing him after the Bairam festivities. By mutual arrangement the British chargé d’affaires saw him upon the same subject immediately after me.
I thanked his highness for sending the promised orders, but informed him that the local authorities seemed unable to fully understand them, since though they had released the books they nevertheless confined their sale to the shop. I further informed his highness that’ the matter was of a far more serious nature than it might appear at first sight—that such a step meant the total suppression of the Bible’s colportage, an innocent oeuvre which has existed unmolested for over sixty years in Turkey; that public feeling had been thoroughly aroused in both America and England by the attitude recently adopted by the Imperial Government, and that I sincerely trusted he would at once telegraph the local authorities more explicit orders to abandon the attitude they had so unwarrantably assumed.
The grand vizier then, notwithstanding the fact that both this legation and the British embassy had been semiofficially informed that the Turkish Government had determined to put an entire stop to colportage, dictated in my presence telegraphic orders permitting the colportage of Bibles in the streets of cities and towns.
On my promptly informing him that this was not enough, that he must revert to the status quo ante, by which their sale took place unhampered throughout the country districts, I was met with a firm refusal. He informed me that His Imperial Majesty’s Government could no longer permit indiscriminate colportage by Armenians and Bulgars throughout country districts beyond the reach of police supervision, owing to various reasons, amongst others the difficulty of protecting them from the constantly increasing hostility of the Mussulmans against the Christians and (which is probably the real reason) the possibility of their spreading seditious ideas among the peasant population, and even acting as secret agents of the various revolutionary societies.
I did not fail to call his attention to the fact that for over sixty years this colportage had existed without causing reasons for complaint, that these colporteurs were selected and trusted men, absolutely forbidden to proselytize or harangue the people, and that I could not accept such a decision without the permission of my government.
The British chargé d’affaires had about the same experience, though he agreed not to press the matter in regard to colportage in disturbed districts, but, like myself, refused to accept its prohibition in principle. * * *
I have, etc.,