711.672/20: Telegram

The High Commissioner at Constantinople ( Bristol ) to the Secretary of State


91. I venture to offer the following observations in reply to your 45 [49?] of March 23, 7 p.m. The expression of the views of the Department is greatly appreciated. The numbers before the following paragraphs refer to the paragraphs in your telegram under reference.

The vexations reported by me in recent telegrams affect all foreigners. The differences, if any, are in favor of the Americans. …
May I point out that to some extent the present situation is different from that existing from 1914 to 1917. I believe there are two new factors at least: (a) The Turks have become uncompromisingly nationalistic and abnormally jealous for their sovereign rights. This condition has arisen because of ineffectual and shortsighted Allied diplomacy, (b) New elements of confusion and inefficiency have been introduced, at least temporarily, by the democratic regime of the Grand National Assembly.
I think the Department is right in its belief that any formal act giving up our treaty rights which theoretically exist would not strengthen my position in meeting present difficulties. I have been careful to avoid any action which might be interpreted as surrendering such rights. It was simply my contention that every day these rights are being modified by practical adjustments which existing conditions necessitate and that when we do make a treaty it will do little more than recognize formally and officially the sum total of these adjustments. What gave me particular concern was the thought that the scope and importance of this process of change might not be completely understood by the Department.
Before the final form of the Lausanne conventions has been determined it would of course not be possible to give any definite opinion as to whether it will be advisable to adhere to them. However, I offer two tentative observations: (a) Obviously our own negotiations can hardly obtain a regime which will be an improvement on that which these conventions will establish at least in theory. (b) The regime under which American business and interests will live will be much the same whether we adhere to these conventions immediately or wait for a separate treaty, since the Turks will hardly refuse in [Page 1054] practice to apply to our interests what they theoretically grant to the Allies.
The line of reason presented by the Department has been used in some form in practically all oral or written representations which I or members of my staff have made to the Turks, but I do not at present favor any request that the Turks give a general definition of their intentions with regard to our activities in the country. For this I offer three reasons: (a) It is almost impossible to induce a Turkish official to place himself effectively on record as to general principles or intentions. He will either confine himself to pleasant but meaningless verbiage or else put on record much less than in practice he or his subordinates will do in a particular situation. (b) In Turkey when an official definition of views can be secured it does not necessarily have any connection with practices in different sections of the country. Now that the role of local authorities has taken on new importance this is especially true. Examples of this are the statements by Ismet at Lausanne regarding our schools which were of insignificant practical value when applied in particular cases, as for instance in the closing of the schools at Mardin. (c) For an official declaration to be of any value it must be given the approval of the Grand National Assembly. Such an approval could not now be obtained.
In principle I agree with the opinion of the Department. While there is doubtful value in general statements from the Turks the value of precise statements regarding particular cases is still more doubtful. There is a great deal more value in action regarding such cases than in any provisions, however elaborate, in treaties. The only way in which we can obtain a new basis for the functioning of our interests in Turkey is by slowly and patiently building a fabric of custom and precedent from these particular statements and actions. I have been convinced by my observations since returning from Lausanne that while in a limited way treaty provisions are doubtless important they are not half as important as are the small tangible concessions and possibly reluctant assents being obtained in particular cases by American educators and business men.
My conception of the present role of the High Commission is to consult with the leaders of American interests, to give them information, and to assist them in consolidating and extending the results of their contacts with the Turks. Having this in mind, I frequently seek the advice of a small, informal council of leading American educators and business men. I am also seeking to stimulate Chamber of Commerce, particularly in development of connections with the Turks.
Prior to the conclusion of peace I think it would be useless to approach the Turks with respect to American advisers.
The essential feature of the situation at present is that it must be handled locally and that in the first instance it must be handled by private persons. There are two ways, however, in which I think the Department can be of material assistance: (a) by receiving an official nondiplomatic representative of the Turkish Government at Washington, and (b) by stressing the line of argument presented in paragraph 6 of the telegram under reference in press conferences. I propose to send separate telegrams elaborating these recommendations. The realization that the Department supports the policy I am trying to follow is of the greatest help to me.