Ambassador Leishman to the Secretary of State .

No. 31.]

Sir: As an illustration of the numerous cases which are constantly being brought to the attention of the embassy, and which it is often possible to settle with the local authorities without referring to the central government at Constantinople thereby saving much delay and hardship for the interested parties, I have the honor to bring to the notice of the department the copies of a recent exchange of correspondence with the consul at Trebizond, having reference to the attempt made by the customs officials in that port to levy duties on articles intended for the use of missionaries in the interior. As will be seen from inclosure No. 4, the notice of the embassy was likewise called to this by the British consul at Erzeroum, who had in turn been informed by the British vice-consul at Van, both of whom have [Page 1393] charge of American interests in these localities. I merely mention this in order to call attention to the number of occasions arising in which we are indebted to the English consular representatives in default of our own for information and assistance. As will be seen, the stand I took in instructing our consul at Trebizond, who had charge of the affair, was to insist on equality of treatment with the citizens of other nations in the matter of customs immunities for American citizens engaged in missionary work in the Ottoman Empire, and I have expressed my gratification to Mr. Jewett at his successful termination of this incident.

I am, etc.,

John G. A. Leishman.
[Inclosure 1.—Telegram.]

Consul Jewett to Ambassador Leishman .

Donane claims word missionary means a priest, and demands duty on the American missionary women’s clothing and also on personal things not of priestly character. Van boxes detained on that ground.

Jewett.
[Inclosure 2.—Telegram.]

Ambassador Leishman to Consul Jewett .

The embassy can not accept the new interpretation given by the local Douane officials to the word missionary, and you will kindly ask the director of customs to furnish you with his warrant for attempting to change the customs privileges which have been accorded to American missionaries for so many years. All we ask in the way of customs immunities for American citizens engaged in missionary work in the Ottoman Empire is equality of treatment, and while we have no desire to ask for more we can not accept less.

Leishman.
[Inclosure 3.]

Consul Jewett to Ambassador Leishman .

Excellency: I have the honor to confirm my telegram of the 7th instant, as follows: (Supra.)

In explanation I have to say that the custom-house authorities are demanding duty on a number of things destined for the American missionaries at Van, two ladies’ hats, two or three pairs of gloves, some photographs and photographic material, etc., on the assumption that only things suitable for priests are to be admitted free of duty.

We have tried to convince the director and the inspector of the custom-house that such an interpretation of the law is untenable, but having failed I telegraphed to your excellency as above.

It appears that the customs authorities are making trouble for our missionaries in many places. At Van Doctor Usher informs me they demanded a deposit on mission boxes that had passed the custom-house at Trebizond, and now say they have instructions from Erzerum to keep the deposit. They have collected, at Van, duty on drugs for the mission dispensary and hospital, on the hardware for the new mission house, and on a scroll saw for the orphanage. [Page 1394] At Erzerum they have reinspected and injured hams and other food products, opened canned goods, and collected some duties on goods that had passed the custom-house at Trebizond.

At Samsoun the Marsovan missionaries were compelled to pay duty on a gas engine for the use of the industrial department of the college, and duty was demanded last week on carpenters’ tools, chair irons, turning and iron-working tools, etc., all intended for the industrial department of the mission.

Most of these demands are made on the basis of the assumption that only those things that are of a priestly nature are exempted from customs duties.

I hear that the French Sisters of Charity have had some similar trouble recently.

It looks as though the custom-house authorities had recently received some new instructions touching missionary goods.

As this seems to be a matter of principle of some importance and one which we have been unable to settle satisfcatorily here, I referred it to your excellency.

I am, etc.,

Milo A. Jewett.

[Inclosure 4.]

His Majesty’s consul at Erzeroum telegraphs under date of August 14 for the information of the United States embassy that the acting vice-consul at Van has reported that the custom-house there, on pretext that the Turkish Government has not recognized the American dispensary at Van, refuses to allow medicines and goods belonging to the missionaries to pass until duty has been paid on them.

Mr. Shipley has called upon the vice-consul to furnish a report on the subject and suggests that it may be advisable in the meantime to instruct the missionaries to pay the duty under protest if the goods are urgently required.

[Inclosure 5.]

Ambassador Leishman to Consul Jewett .

Sir: I have to confirm my telegram to you of the 9th instant, reading as follows: “The embassy can not accept the new interpretation given by the local Douane officials to the word missionary, and you will kindly ask the director of customs to furnish you with his warrant for attempting to change the customs privileges which have been accorded to American missionaries for so many years. All we ask in the way of customs immunities for American citizens engaged in missionary work in the Ottoman Empire is equality of treatment, and while we have no desire to ask for more we can not accept less.”

If you have been unable to settle this question with the local authorities, it would be best to advise the American dispensary at Van, in case they are in urgent need of the medicines and goods belonging to the missionaries, to pay under protest the customs duties on the same. Should you then not succeed in reaching a satisfactory conclusion with the customs officials you will notify the embassy and I will take up the matter with the Sublime Porte.

I am, etc.,

John G. A. Leishman.
[Inclosure 6.]

Ambassador Leishman to Consul Jewett .

Sir: As on the 16th instant I wrote to confirm my telegram to you of the 9th instant with reference to the difficulties encountered in passing missionary [Page 1395] property through the customs at Trebizond, I will suspend further instructions on this subject until I again hear from you as to the present status of the case and of the success of your efforts to settle the matter in question. In your dispatch of the 8th instant, however, you signal numerous fresh difficulties in connection with the property of our missions. I will ask you to ascertain with reference to the same whether the Turkish authorities object to all articles imported for missionary use or only to certain specified ones and to let me know regarding same.

I am, etc.,

John G. A. Leishman.
[Inclosure 7.]

Consul Jewett to Ambassador Leishman .

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency’s telegram dated August 9, 1906, in regard to difficulties of missionary boxes at the custom-house, also your dispatches No. —, dated August 16, 1906, confirming the above telegram, and No. 9, dated August 20, 1906, on the same subject.

Thanks to your excellency’s telegram and after a series of pourparlers and a great deal of effort I succeeded in having all the missionary boxes pass the custom-house free of duty except five boxes of drugs for the Erzeroum mission that are still detained at the custom-house pending the receipt of instructions asked from Constantinople.

The custom-house authorities here pretend to have received recent instructions from Constantinople not to let anything addressed to the missionaries pass the custom-house free of duty which is not of a character fit for a religious institution and religious people. In the beginning, according to their judgment, gloves, ladies’ hats, photographs, photographic material, and several other articles of the kind were subject to duty.

We have finally arrived to make them understand (I do not know for how long it will last) that our missionaries differ from other religious denominations, that they are with their families and that their way of living does not differ from that of people in civil life, and consequently such articles are necessary for them.

It seems the objection still remains for drugs in quantity and for goods in a certaint quantity, as, for instance, building material, unless there is an official permit for a new building, screws, hinges, tools, etc., for the industrial departments of the mission schools, and any other article that seems to them inappropriate for the personal use of the missionaries.

I am, etc.,

Milo A. Jewett.