File No. 840.48/1613
The Ambassador in Turkey (Morgenthau) to the Secretary of State
[Received August 25.]
Sir: I have the honor to report as follows in regard to the movements of the American cruisers along the Syrian coast and the extensive and humanitarian services which they have been able to render in the very special circumstances which now exist.
The Italian steamship service was the only one which continued in a regular fashion after the commencement of the war, although some vessels of the Archipelago American Steamship Company and a few other coasting steamers maintained irregular sailings along the Syrian coast. When, therefore, the Italian line ceased calling at Syrian ports in May, and for a number of weeks all departures from Turkey save via Vurla and by rail from Constantinople were prohibited by the military authorities, the Americans and other foreigners in Syria began to grow very nervous and anxious to find a means to leave the country. The number of Americans who wanted to get away was large, as many of the missionaries at Beirut and in the interior were planning to take vacations or furloughs.
In this situation the American war vessels stationed at Beirut offered the best means of reaching the outside world. Negotiations lasting several weeks, which often threatened to go wrong, were [Page 956] required to secure the consent of the authorities to the departure, not only of the Americans, but of other neutral consuls and nationals. By persistent and steady efforts the required arrangements were finally completed, so that I was able to telegraph to the Department on June 27 (No. 811) that the Tennessee had left Beirut on the 26th for Alexandria via Jaffa, having on board some 550 passengers—many Americans, some 200 Italians besides Italian consuls of Palestine and Syria, and many Greek subjects. Mehmed Vejihi Effendi and his two attendants, referred to in my telegrams 787 of June 21 and 820 of June 30, were also among the passengers on the Tennessee.1
At Jaffa this vessel took on board about forty Americans, fifty Italians and forty other refugees, according to a telegram from the Consul at Jerusalem dated June 28.
Prior to the departure of the Tennessee from Beirut, the Des Moines had called at Mersina and at Alexandretta. On June 22 a party of Americans, including Mrs. Edward I. Nathan and others, together with the Italian Consul, left that place by this latter vessel. Mr. Nathan had secured permission for an elderly naturalized American citizen named Garabedian to leave at that time, but for personal reasons this man chose to remain at Mersina. Italian subjects other than the Italian Consul were not allowed to leave from Mersina.
At Alexandretta the American party consisted of Mrs. Jackson and child from Aleppo, Consular Agent and Mrs. Bishop, Miss Evangeline Metheny, etc. No Italians, not even the Consul, were allowed to leave Alexandretta at that time.
These passengers on the Des Moines were taken to Beirut and there transferred to the Tennessee.
On June 28 the Sublime Porte officially notified this Embassy that the ports of Constantinople, Vurla, and Beirut had been designated as the only places from which neutral or friendly subjects could leave the Ottoman Empire. But the fact that all regular steamship lines to the Syrian coast had been stopped by the practical blockade there maintained by the Anglo-French fleet did not leave any chance to such neutrals to get away. Negotiations were accordingly started with a view to having the Chester proceed to Beirut, Mersina, and Alexandretta, and there take away the Italians and others who diesired to go to Rhodes, afterwards continuing to Vurla to take Italians and others to Rhodes. A telegram to this effect was sent to the Consul General at Beirut on July 7.
There was a large and worthy class of persons who desired to leave Beirut by the Tennessee, but for whom permission could not be obtained in time. These were the women and children of the Jews of belligerent nationality whose male relatives had been forced to leave Palestine last winter. It was therefore proposed to have them go by the Chester.
On July 7 the Consul at Jerusalem telegraphed that while 131 Americans, Italians, and Russians had embarked the week before on the Tennessee, many more were awaiting transportation, especially in view of the fact that the period allowed to those foreign Jews who would be expelled if they did not adopt Ottoman nationality would end on July 14. After a number of telegrams had been exchanged [Page 957] in the matter, on July 14 I telegraphed to Beirut, requesting the captain of the Chester to take the above-mentioned Jews from Beirut and then proceed to Alexandria, stopping for other Israelites at Haifa and at Jaffa. The captain of the Des Moines was requested to make the trip to the north, calling at Alexandretta, Mersina, Vurla, etc. At Alexandretta permission for only the departure of the Italian Consul and his family was granted by the War Office, while the departure of some seventy-four men, women, and children from Mersina was at first authorized, only to have this permission later canceled.
On July 18 the Consul General at Beirut telegraphed that permission for the various departures from that port had arrived, and that the Caesar would take on a full passenger list of the Jews, sailing directly for Alexandria and then returning to call at Haifa and at Jaffa. The Chester was considered unsuitable for such traffic and remained at Beirut. The Des Moines would sail on the 20th on the northward journey.
This arrangement was carried out, and the Des Moines left Beirut with 140 persons on board, of whom 3 were Americans, 110 Italians, 14 Greeks, 12 Russians, and one each Roumanian, French and British. Dr. Bliss, the president of the Syrian Protestant College, and Mr. Hoskins, the Syrian treasurer of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, were passengers on board bound to Vurla and thence to Constantinople. This information was telegraphically reported to the Department in my telegram No. 874 of July 24.1
At Alexandretta the Italian Consul and family left, but no other neutrals were allowed to embark on the Des Moines, and the same situation prevailed at Mersina, the permission formerly granted having been rescinded. This vessel was due at Rhodes on the 24th instant and at Vurla on the following day.
The Caesar sailed July 21, according to a telegram received from the Consul General at Beirut, with a passenger list of 310, of whom 95 per cent were Israelites. All but six of those desiring to go were able to get away, these latter being held up by the authorities at the last moment. Its second trip is planned to start about August 1.
On July 24 the Consul General at Smyrna telegraphed that a few Americans, some three hundred Italians, and belligerent women were ready to leave that place, and that other Italians would be prepared to go in a few days. The Embassy has not yet received information as to how many have left from Vurla for Rhodes, but is awaiting a telegram from the Consul General.
Some of the actual details of the embarkation and transportation of all these people were reported to the Department by the Consul General at Beirut in his despatch No. 1126 of June 28.1 He and his staff, as well as all the other consular officers concerned in Syria and Palestine seem to have undertaken the extra work thus imposed upon them in a very ready and willing spirit, and their arrangements were successfully carried out. The brunt of conducting all the necessary negotiations with the Ottoman War Office has, of course, fallen on this Embassy, even in the case of securing permission for other [Page 958] neutrals to depart. Since the vessels used were American, this Embassy was obliged to take the lead and, in reality, to obtain the assent of the military authorities to their touching at ports which had been declared closed to all neutral navigation. The Minister of War manifested a very friendly and accommodating attitude, so that all the Americans who desired to leave were able to get away, with the exception of a few who have since come from the interior and will have to wait for later sailings.
In this connection I also wish to speak in the highest terms of the services rendered earlier in the year by the Tennessee to the Jewish and other refugees which it transported from Jaffa to Alexandria. Many expressions of grateful appreciation of what was done for these people have since reached me, and I cannot speak too highly of the kindly assistance given them by Capt. Benton C. Decker and his officers and men. The use of our cruisers for this purpose has meant much extra work and inconvenience for their officers and crews. But they have satisfied an urgent need, and in their ready and gracious help to those in anxiety and distress will long be remembered by their grateful beneficiaries.
I have [etc.]