Ambassador Straus to the Secretary of State.
Constantinople, May 16, 1910.
Sir: In my dispatch No. 141, of April 12, last,1 I gave you a brief outline of the status of the negotiations respecting American educational and missionary institutions, referring to the obstacles interposed by the Ottoman Government in respect to taxation and the correction of the register of the land titles.
In 1907 the embassy, under the authority of the department, agreed to the increase of the Ottoman customs dues from 8 per cent to 11 per cent; at the same time an understanding was arrived at between my predecessor, Mr. Leishman, and the minister for foreign affairs “reaffirming the imperial decree issued in 1904 recognizing the legal standing of existing American religious, educational, and charitable institutions established in the Ottoman Empire, as indicated in the list filed with the Sublime Porte in February, 1903.”2 It was further understood that the Ottoman Government would consent to the correction of the registers of titles of properties owned and occupied by such institutions, namely, the correction of the registers from the name of the individual holding such property in trust to that of the institution or corporation for which such property was so held; and, further, that such institutions or corporations should enjoy all the privileges, exemptions, immunities, and rights enjoyed by similar religious, educational, and charitable institutions of the most-favored nation.
Under and by virtue of this understanding, upon the presentation of the title deeds, the register of some 30 or more of these institutions was corrected. Shortly after my arrival here in September last, I discovered that the Porte was not carrying out its agreement as understood by the embassy, but was raising various obstacles and legal quibbles to the making of the transfers.
The American institutions above referred to are located in about 140 different localities throughout the Empire, and in many of these localities there are three or four different institutions, such as schools, churches, orphanages, and hospitals. The objections to the transfer come under two specific heads. In three of the cases the objection is made that the property is recorded in the name of a Turkish subject; in the remainder of the cases the objection is made that the real owners, such as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign [Page 858] Missions and the American Presbyterian Board, etc., are corporations, and that in order that the transfer of real property may be made to such bodies, they must comply with and come under the Ottoman law of association of August (1325), 1909.
I carefully examined this law and have conferred with the representatives of the missionaries here, and they agree with me that it would be most unwise to consent to come under the provisions of this law, as under this law the Ottoman authorities, civil and judicial could without much stretch of authority practically impede, if not arrest, the work of these various American institutions. For your fuller information I append a translation of the “law on associations.”1
The dragomans of the embassy since May, 1907, and before then, have on repeated occasions discussed the various phases of the subject with the legal advisers of the Porte. In April last I had a careful discussion with the minister for foreign affairs and plainly showed my impatience with the objections that had been raised as being contrary to the definite understanding between the Porte and the embassy to which I have referred. Following that conference—namely, on the 16th of April last—I addressed a letter to the minister for foreign affairs, accompanied by a memorandum of the various cases that were presented for transfer and which had been held up for one reason or another. For the information of the department I inclose a copy of said letter with the accompanying memorandum.
I have had conferences with several of my colleagues who are equally interested in this subject and who have made application for the correction of the registers of real property of their respective religious, educational, and charitable institutions—namely, with the French, British, Italian, and Austrian ambassadors. Up to the present time they have not been as successful as we have been in the number of transfers that have been perfected. They all have encountered the same obstacles and agree with me that it would be impractical and unwise to consent to come under the law of associations. In fact all of the foreign powers represented here have encountered the same obstacles, and in April last sent a practically identical note to the Porte, which I did also, protesting against the application of the said law of associations to foreign corporations. A copy of my note of April 26th I inclose herewith for your fuller information.
In your instruction No. 84, of March 171 last, you instruct me to bring the matter of the land purchased in Jerusalem by the Archeological Institute of America to be registered in the corporate name of the institute, again to the attention of the Turkish minister for foreign affairs. This I did both specifically and in connection with the general subject, and this is embraced in the memorandum attached to my letter of April 16, above referred to.
On the 11th instant I discussed the subject matter affecting all these institutions with the grand vizier, and stated in most emphatic terms my objections to the law of associations as being contrary not only to the acquired rights of the institutions which have for many years been recognized, but pointed out to him section by section the practical inapplicability of such a law to such associations and corporations [Page 859] to which the American religious, charitable, and educational institutions belong. The grand vizier finally agreed with me that the law was inapplicable to such foreign corporations, and that as the legal existence of these institutions had been recognized by the Ottoman Government the objections that had been raised to the correcting of the registers should not be made to apply to said institutions. He promised me that the whole subject would within a few days be brought before the council of ministers, and further stated that he felt convinced that the council would agree with him that the correction of the registers of the institutions referred to should be made, and that the said law on associations could not apply to institutions that have already been recognized.
I have not heretofore troubled you with an account of the many difficult and intricate negotiations that this subject has entailed. I shall continue pressing the matter until these long-spending and troublesome questions affecting all American institutions are brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
I have, etc.,