Minister Leishman to the Secretary of State.
Constantinople, February 7, 1906.
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch No. 979 of January 18, 1906, inclosing copy of a communication addressed to the department by Mr. Morris K. Jesup in reference to the demand made upon the Ottoman Government that American religious, benevolent, and educational institutions in Turkey shall receive the same privileges and immunities as are accorded by the Turkish Government to similar institutions of other nations.
As the department is aware, while the Sublime Porte has acknowledged the right of the American Government to demand equality of treatment for such institutions and has repeatedly assured the legation of its intention to put its numerous promises into execution, the matter continues to drag along, despite the earnest and constant efforts of the legation.
The fault, however, does not lie entirely with the Porte, as the missionary boards have been equally slow in submitting the information which the legation requested the missions to furnish over eighteen months ago, as certain data concerning ownership of property, character of institutions, etc., is absolutely necessary in order to enable the Porte to complete the necessary details.
The list submitted to the Porte outlined close on to 300 institutions of various characters, scattered throughout the Empire, belonging to a number of different societies, and out of this number the legation has only received up to date the detailed information concerning 7 or 8.[Page 1381]
This list was furnished by the local missionary board at Constantinople, and as the legation had no time to verify the correctness of the statement the list was simply submitted to the Porte as received, with the understanding that any institution included in the list that might afterwards be found not to be strictly American institution in character would be withdrawn. (See legation’s dispatch to department of September 15, 1904, No. 889.)
In order to verify the list, and at the same time secure the information which was necessary to enable the Porte to register the properties and make the desired transfer of titles into the name of the institutions, I requested Mr. Peet to send a circular letter to all the institutions requesting them to furnish the legation with copies of their title deeds, etc. (See inclosures in legation’s dispatch of September 30, 1904.a
The department will readily understand that even admitting the very best intentions upon the part of the Ottoman Government it would be unreasonable to expect the Porte to exempt certain properties from taxation without the proof that such properties belonged to a bona fide American charitable institution and that the property was used for strictly charitable purposes.
Over a year ago I called the attention of Mr. Peet to a statement made by the grand vizier that upon examining the list they found quite a large number of schools included that could be only viewed as native Protestant institutions, and that quite a percentage, especially those in the Syrian district, had been closed for a number of years, and that consequently the list could not be acted upon as a whole, and Mr. Peet admitted that he feared the Presbyterian mission in Syria has erroneously included certain schools.
The legation has been unceasing in its efforts to secure a satisfactory adjustment of these matters, which have been very much complicated by the failure of the missionaries to furnish necessary data, and the department will appreciate the difficulties encountered by the legation in attempting to transact business with an impuissant government, whose head, in which all power is centered, is invisible to anyone not bearing an ambassadorial rank.
In conclusion I might add that with a view of hastening action upon our matters, I have notified the minister of foreign affairs that although the American Government was not opposed in principle to giving its consent to a reasonable increase in the rates of taxation, that the legation must decline to accept the proposed increase of 3 per cent in the customs dues and also new stamp act until such time as all our matters were definitely adjusted, as I could not consistently recommend to my Government the granting of favors while our rights were being withheld.
I have, etc,
- Printed in Foreign Relations, 1904, page 832.↩