Chargé Jay to the Secretary of State.

No. 969.]

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.,

Peter Augustus Jay.
[Inclosure 1.—Translation.]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs to Minister Leishman.

note verbale.

The agents of the American Bible Society indulge in Turkey in the spreading of religious books by selling them by means of persuasion in the streets and public places at very low prices (prix dérisoire) and even giving them away gratis.

As colportage with the object of religious propaganda can not be permitted, the Imperial Government has decided to prohibit it in the future.

Having the honor of bringing this decision to the attention of the United States legation, the ministry for foreign affairs requests that it will be good enough to so inform those interested.

[Inclosure 2.—Translation.]

Minister Leishman to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

note verbale.

The American legation has received the note verbale No. 18, of the 26 July, 1904, which the department of foreign affairs has done the honor to forward, informing the legation that the agents of the American society try to propagate religious books in streets and public places at derisory prices or giving them away gratis; that as religious propaganda through colportage can not be allowed, the Imperial Government had decided to forbid it, and therefore the department for foreign affairs asks the legation to inform of this those who are interested.

The American legation did not fail to communicate the contents of the said note to the Levant agency of the American Bible Society, whose agent informs the legation that the work of the American Bible Society is the distribution exclusively of the Bible or its parts, a book considered divine and sacred not only by all Christians, but by adherents of other religions also. The American Bible Society, as its name well indicates, does not distribute other religious books, and is an undenominational society whose purpose is not and can not be religious propaganda. Its colporteurs are not authorized to sell in streets or public places any other religious books except the Bible or its parts. Moreover, the colporteurs of the said society have been instructed to conform to the above-mentioned principles.

While bringing to the knowledge of the department of foreign affairs the above facts, the American legation would like to point out that the American Bible Society, which is one of the first and best-known benevolent institutions in America, has carried on its peaceful work in Turkey without interference for the last sixty years, and this legation can not see any reason why its benevolent work should in any way be limited. The legation is not aware that the Imperial Ottoman Government has taken any measures in limiting the work of any similar society belonging to or protected by any other nation, and it trusts that, notwithstanding the reports of some local officials, the Sublime Porte, after hearing the full explanation of the agent of the Bible Society as embodied in this note verbale, will abstain from [Page 904]taking any discriminating measures against an American society, will raise any interdiction that may have been decided, and will allow it to carry on its benevolent work in the same way as it has done for the last sixty years.

[Inclosure 3.]

Chargé Jay to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Your Excellency: Referring to the several notes of this legation in regard to the benevolent and legitimate work of the American Bible Society carried on in Turkey for the last sixty years, I have the honor to inform your excellency that notwithstanding the formal promises made to me by the Imperial Government to the effect that immediate telegraphic orders would be sent putting an end to the vexatious interference on the part of the local authorities in the vilayets of Trebizond and Angora, it has come to the knowledge of this legation that the said authorities are still continuing their interference. I therefore find myself obliged to protest against this action of the said provincial authorities, and leave the responsibility of the consequences, if any, on the Imperial Ottoman Government.

I take, etc.,

Peter Augustus Jay.
[Inclosure 4.]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs to Minister Leishman.

note verbale.

The ministry for foreign affairs has had the honor of receiving the note verbale which the United States legation was good enough to address it September 27 ultimo, No. 456, concerning the colportage of religious books.

In answer the imperial ministry hastens to inform the United States legation that according to the advices given by the imperial authorities the colporteurs concerned do not limit themselves to the sale pure and simple of religious books, but that they indulge in religious propaganda of a most pronounced nature under the pretext of explaining the utility of and method of using of the said books.

Now, it is not necessary to recall that in principle all propaganda is formally forbidden in the Empire, with all that pertains to it, and that the trade (métier) of colporteurs falling under the application of the police regulations, the imperial authorities can not deny themselves a surveillance as necessary as important in regard to colportage in view of the general tranquillity of the country they traverse.

The best thing under these circumstances is to permit in future the sale of the books in question only in depots and shops at fixed places, and such has been the decision recently taken by the Imperial Government, which the imperial ministry has the honor to bring to the attention of the United States legation for the information of those interested in the subject in question.

[Inclosure 5.]

Chargé Jay to Consul Sullivan.

Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch No. 15, of December 26, 1904. I have also to confirm my telegram of yesterday’s date, reading as follows:

“American Consul, Trebizond. The sale of Bibles can not be prohibited. Demand formally and officially immediate unconditional surrender of seized Bibles which are American property.”

The general question of Bible colportage in now being fought out with the Turkish Government, this legation and the British embassy having refused to accept the prohibition of Bible colportage in street and country pending the receipt of instructions from home.

[Page 905]

Nevertheless, the seizure of Bibles belonging to the American Bible Society, thereby constituting them American property, can not be tolerated. The grand vizier yesterday telegraphed in my presence to the governor-general of Trebizond instructing him to release the said books.

While I can not accede to the Bible Society’s representatives’ request, pending the receipt of instructions from the Department of State, that you be instructed to fully protect these colporteurs of Ottoman nationality in the pursuance of their work against the direct orders of the Turkish authorities, yet you may use your good offices with the vali, requesting him to allow colportage at least in the streets of Trebizond pending the settlement at Constantinople of the general question.

I am, etc.,

Peter Augustus Jay.