Minister Leishman to the Secretary of State.
Constantinople, October 9, 1905.
Sir: I have delayed answering your No. 855 [dated July 13, 1905],a inclosing copy of the letter to the Department by the American Bible Society concerning colportage of Bibles in Turkey, hoping to have been able ere this to have reached a definite understanding with the Porte, but despite the efforts of the British ambassador and myself it seems impossible to secure action on this, or in fact any other matter, as business at both the palace and Porte appears to be suspended since the attempt upon the life of the Sultan, and the officials seem to be devoting their entire time discussing the outrage and taking steps to find out the perpetrators and, what is a much more serious problem, to quell the Armenian revolutionary movement, which has been shown to be of wide dimensions.
If the legation’s previous dispatches on this subject have led the Department to believe that full liberty has been formally secured, the wording of the dispatches has been interpreted more strongly than intended, for, while the vigorous representations made by the British ambassador and myself have had the effect of restraining the Ottoman Government from making any further efforts to enforce the restricting order issued by the grand vizier, we have not as yet been successful in securing an official reply to our identique notes, and the embargo placed upon several colporteurs has not been officially raised.
If the colporteurs were English or American it would be a comparatively easy matter for the English ambassador and myself to force the issue, even if it were found necessary to temporarily extend the support of a consular kavass, but as the class of men employed by the Bible societies as colporteurs are native Ottoman subjects, neither my British colleague nor myself have felt warranted in affording arbitrary [Page 908] assistance to an Ottoman subject that might be permissible in the case of an English subject or an American citizen.
This view of the case is not, however, held by Doctor Bowen, the representative of the American Bible Society in the Orient, who seems to think that an Ottoman subject in the employ of an American institution is entitled to the same treatment as an American citizen, and this opinion, judging from the letter addressed to the Department by the Reverend Doctor Haven, is also shared by the corresponding secretary of the American board.
When Doctor Bowen approached me some weeks ago upon the subject of official intervention in the case of the colporteurs at Trebizond, I informed him very politely that I would not consider it good policy to stir up the local issue at Trebizond pending the adjustment of the main question, which involved not only the question of the unrestricted sale of the Bible in Turkey, but also the general question of colportage, and that, while the legation would insist upon the rescinding of the objectionable orders restraining the free and unrestricted sale of the Bible and take every proper measure to protect the legitimate interests of the American Bible Society in Turkey, I could not assume the responsibility of treating Ottoman subjects who happened to be in the employ of an American institution on the same basis as American citizens unless specially instructed to do so by the Department. * * *
Ottoman subjects, both Mussulman and Christian, are not permitted to travel, even from one village to another, without a permit, and this regulation is rigorously enforced everywhere and particularly in the Armenian districts. As colporteurs employed by the American Bible Society are recruited exclusively from the ranks of the native Christian population, who are generally in a semistate of revolution, difficulties are frequently raised upon the ground that certain individuals of above-mentioned class are suspected of circulating seditious literature, etc., under the guise of colporteurs or agents of foreign companies, or that their presence in disturbed districts is apt to cause trouble.
Although such a thing is always possible, charges of this kind are not, as a rule, very well founded, generally the result of the lively imagination of an over zealous official, not infrequently one of their race, and during the past few years I have been able to adjust the majority of such cases without much difficulty.
The recent attempt upon the life of the Sultan is quite sure to result in the issuance of still more restrictive orders, as it appears to be very well established that the Armenian revolutionists were at the bottom of it.
Outside of the two points mentioned, i. e., Trebizond and Konia, the American Bible Society is not meeting with any difficulties, the English Bible Society, with which they work very closely, being in about the same condition or possibly a little worse, as they have about 6 or 7 cases, and as no fresh troubles have presented themselves I have not deemed it wise to attempt to force matters beyond a certain point, merely contenting myself with pressing the matter steadily with the Sublime Porte in conjunction with my British colleague, as the English Government is equally interested in this matter.
I shall continue to press the Porte for a settlement, and as the minister for foreign affairs has repeatedly given me assurances that [Page 909] the matter would receive favorable attention, I am in hopes of being able to shortly report a satisfactory settlement.
I have, etc.,
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