The High Commissioner at Constantinople ( Bristol ) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 20.]
My Dear Mr. Secretary: I am writing this personal letter in order to describe in the fewest possible words the essential features of the present situation in Constantinople as it affects American interests. The despatches which we send the Department are more often than not necessarily concerned with the details of some particular question, and, unless read all together and consecutively, it is difficult to get a picture of the situation as a whole.
The fact that I want especially to emphasize is that whatever the theoretical state of our treaty rights in Turkey may be, these rights are gradually but surely being worn away in the course of the adjustments and compromises which Americans have been compelled to make in order to continue their business or their schools in the face of the application of Turkish laws and regulations. The Turkish authorities consistently act on the theory that the Capitulations are entirely a thing of the past. In other words, they set the pace, and the foreigners have to conform more or less completely, while the High Commissions can only repeat that the game is not being played according to the rules and frequently do not even protest for fear of [Page 1050] bringing down more troubles upon the heads of their schoolmasters or business men. Everybody recognizes that the cause of the Capitulations is lost since no Power will take any radical action to insure their retention even in modified form, but at the same time the fiction of the existence of the Capitulations still has a considerable effect upon the situation, not upon the Turks certainly, but upon the efficiency of the High Commissions in dealing with the difficult problems that come up every day. Paradoxical as it may appear, the Capitulations have become more of a hindrance than a help. Experience of the past six months has amply proved that to argue with the Turks in a given case on the basis of Capitulations is the very best way of inviting an unqualified negative stand; experience has likewise proved that to inform a business man who applies to the High Commission for advice and assistance concerning some obviously un-Capitulatory tax or regulation that the Capitulations are still in effect and binding upon the Turkish Government is certain to convince the business man that the High Commission is to be classified upon [among] the fossils or at least is making a bad joke at his expense. Nevertheless, the Capitulations are still theoretically in existence and official action is often embarrassed by having to recognize this theory at least negatively.
In the face of the entirely anomalous situation which I have tried to describe above I have told our business men and the leaders of our educational and philanthropic institutions that our Government considers the Capitulations still in force and our treaty rights intact; I have refrained, however, from giving advice as to conforming or not conforming with a given law or regulation not in accordance with our treaty rights and I have said that the individual or company directly affected must decide for itself. I have, however, constantly endeavored to place before the person or persons making this decision the best and most accurate information I could secure. In cases where the law or regulation was manifestly unreasonable and unjust I have made both oral and written representations to the Turks resting my case upon good sense and sound economic reasoning rather than upon the letter of the Capitulations. Nobody realizes more clearly than I do the unsatisfactoriness of such methods. The best that can be said for them is that they are adapted to the present situation and I venture to say that they are the only methods that have much chance of appealing to the Turk in his present mood.
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I am [etc.]