Chargé Jay to the Secretary of State.
Constantinople, January 5, 1905.
Sir: Referring to my previous dispatches upon the subject of Bible colportage in Turkey, I have the honor to inclose herewith copy of a note identique received by both this legation and the British embassy in which it is stated that colportage or religious books has been prohibited throughout the Empire, owing to the propaganda carried on by the colporteurs, and that the sale of these books is henceforth restricted to shops and depots at fixed places.
As will have been seen in my previous dispatch upon this subject, this action on the part of the Turkish Government is in direct violation of the definite statement made by the grand vizier to the British chargé d’affaires and myself that colportage was to be permitted in the streets of towns, and in their neighboring villages; which statement was duly reported by us to our respective governments.
After consulting with my British colleague, who had previously called upon the grand vizier immediately following the receipt of this note, and after ascertaining the attitude he had assumed, as well as that adopted by the grand vizier, I to-day had a long interview with his highness upon this subject.
I reminded him that on June 22, 1882, the American minister, General Wallace, had notified the Sublime Porte (Note No. 118) that he had been authorized by his government to withdraw a large indemnity claim for seizure of Bibles and interference with colporteurs on condition that the Turkish Government apologized for its action and undertook that there be no further interference with this work; that on March 22, 1883, the Sublime Porte had replied to this note, expressing regret at these incidents, and agreeing that in consideration of the withdrawal of this indemnity claim no interference would occur in the future, to which note the legation replied in its No. 156 of March 30, 1883, withdrawing the claim upon the above distinct understanding.
I further reminded his highness, that at the suggestion of the American legation and British embassy the Turkish Government had in 1888 drawn up regulations governing colportage. These regulations having been carefully observed by the American Bible Society’s agents, the present decision to stop colportage violated the Turkish Government’s own laws upon the subject. I reiterated my previous statements that these colporteurs had been strictly enjoined to confine themselves to the mere sale of the Bible, and I desired to be shown a single case by which the assertions of the Turkish Government that these men indulged in propaganda while selling their books could be proved to be founded on fact and not on fiction.
The grand vizier has evidently somewhat weakened, as his attitude is less firm than that he assumed with the British chargé d’affaires [Page 902] immediately after the dispatch of the note, since he informed me that it was now intended to soften (adoucir) the decision embodied in the note identique. He stated that, nevertheless, it was impossible for the Imperial Government to allow colporteurs to wander freely over the countryside, as the government was convinced that in many cases these colporteurs were also acting as revolutionary agents. He informed me that among the books of a colporteur arrested yesterday, near Monastir, were found many seditious pamphlets. * * * Also that within the past few days a notorious Armenian revolutionary agent had been arrested at Moush having in his possession papers showing him to be in active correspondence with the head of the American school at Van or Bitlis, his highness could not remember which. He begged me to ask my government how it was possible for the Imperial Government, which is having the utmost difficulty in keeping its subjects of various creeds from flying at each others’ throats, to allow irresponsible colporteurs to circulate unwatched throughout the country, especially the disturbed districts.
I replied that I understand it to be the intention of the British Government to tacitly consent to the temporary prohibition of colportage throughout seriously disturbed districts, and that I felt inclined to believe that the American Government, being animated by the broadest and highest sense of justice, would favorably consider my suggestion that a similar course be adopted. I reminded his highness, however, that all our recent cases of interference had occurred in districts officially as well as actually peaceful, and that in this respect our society’s position differed from that of the British society, whose principal field of activity lay in the Macedonian vilayets.
After taking leave of the grand vizier I had a prolonged discussion on this matter with the minister for foreign affairs and the legal adviser of the Sublime Porte, but have nothing further to report as the minister’s personal views must necessarily be subservient to those of the grand vizier. My object was to convince him of the necessity of impressing upon the grand vizier that the religious tolerance in Turkey so much vaunted by the Imperial Government would seem a farce to the American and British public should these measures against the sale of the Bible be actually put into force.
I have informed both the grand vizier and the minister for foreign affairs, that it is quite impossible for me to accept the decision contained in the note without the permission of my government, to whom I had referred it; this being the precise course taken by my British colleague.
I shall to-morrow address a note to the Sublime Porte confirming my conversation of to-day.
Doctor Bowen, the able agent of the Bible Society in the Levant, is much stirred up over this matter and is requesting me to demand an indemnity for the various cases of seizures of Bibles and other interference. I do not feel justified in so doing without the Department’s approval, and I therefore beg to be instructed upon this point.
Doctor Bowen also insists that I should authorize the colporteurs at Trebizond, etc., who have been distinctly forbidden by the local authorities to colporter under pain of imprisonment, to proceed with their work, and to instruct the consuls to protect them against the authorities by means of consular kavasses, if necessary. These colporteurs being all Ottoman subjects, such protection would probably [Page 903] cause very serious complications; the British embassy has refused to protect their society’s Ottoman colporteurs in this manner, and I have also been unable to comply with Doctor Bowen’s request, pending the receipt of instructions upon this point which I now solicit you.
Such a high-handed action as the forcible protection of purely Ottoman subjects in the execution of work expressly and personally forbidden them by their own authorities, however unjust and wrong such prohibition may seem to some, would appear to be too grave a matter for me to carry out without the explicit approval of the Department. I inclose copy of my instructions to the consul at Trebizond, in which I authorize him to use his good offices on behalf of these Ottoman colporteurs. * * *
I have, etc.,