The Consul at Beirut ( Knabenshue ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2118

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegram of February 20, 1 [2] p.m., relative to the threat of the rebels to kidnap Consul [Page 143] Keeley and other Americans, and to the Department’s telegram of February 23, 7 p.m., instructing me to bring the matter to the attention of the French High Commissioner.

As the matter involved also a question of principle and policy I deemed it desirable that my representations and the High Commissioner’s reply should be in writing. However, because of the delicacy of the subject and the possible risk of conveying an impression of unfriendliness, it was considered better to present the case in an informal manner instead of by an official communication.

For the Department’s information I enclose a copy of my informal letter of February 25, 1926, to M. de Jouvenel and a copy of his reply. I am very happy to call attention to the fact that in his friendly reply, M. de Jouvenel accepted my representations in the spirit intended. I also enclose a copy of the reply which his letter made necessary.

Reference is made to Consul Keeley’s despatch No. 329 of March 3, 1926, on the same subject.

As a side light on the same subject I enclose a copy of my informal note to Mr. Keeley of March 1, 1926.75

I have [etc.]

P. Knabenshue
[Enclosure 1]

The American Consul at Beirut ( Knabenshue ) to the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon ( De Jouvenel )

My Dear Mr. High Commissioner: I beg to ask that I may be permitted to discuss with you, in a frank but most friendly spirit, certain features of the situation at Damascus in so far as they affect American interests there and the protection of American citizens.

During the past several weeks it seems that armed bands have found it possible to penetrate into practically all quarters of the city of Damascus where they have entered and robbed certain houses and have on a number of occasions kidnapped peaceful residents and held them for ransom.

The McAndrews Forbes Company, an American firm engaged chiefly in the exportation of licorice root, has been obliged to close its factory and discontinue its business in Damascus. Both the Standard Oil Company and the Vacuum Oil Company have received demands for payment of sums of money to the bands with the threat that otherwise their installations will be destroyed.

On the night of February 7th, 1926, an armed band forced its way into the house of Dr. Melikian who resides in the Salhieh quarter. Dr. Melikian is the Dragoman of the American Consulate. This band [Page 144] first seized money and valuables to the amount of Pounds Turkish 3709 (gold) which the doctor had in his possession and then carried him off and held him for ransom. After ten days of captivity in which he suffered both mental and physical discomfort, he was finally released upon the payment by his family of a ransom amounting to Pounds Turkish 320 (gold).

Since this incident, information, which cannot be ignored, has come to my attention, indicating that it is the definite intention of the bands operating in and around Damascus to kidnap American citizens in general and the American Consul at Damascus in particular. It would seem from the information received that the object of the bands is twofold; first, to secure considerable sums of money in the form of ransoms; and second, to involve the United States Government—nursing the vain hope of securing its sympathy toward their rebellious movement.

In addition to this potential danger to American citizens the incidents of last week, which gave rise to a threat on the part of certain Moslems to attack the Christians of the city, have caused considerable uneasiness not only among the native Christians of Damascus but also among the foreigners residing there and it is feared that they might, in consequence of such an attack, be placed in a precarious position.

Very naturally the question arises in my mind whether, because of the circumstances as related and in view of other possible eventualities, it might not be advisable to evacuate all Americans from Damascus, and as a logical consequence thereof to close the American Consulate there. However, for many obvious reasons, such measures are undesirable, and I should hesitate to resort to such expediencies inasmuch as I would fervently wish to avoid causing possible embarrassment to your administration.

It is in a spirit of most friendly co-operation that I bring these facts to your notice, feeling that in so doing I may be of some assistance in the formulation of measures which might be deemed necessary for the protection of American citizens in Damascus. You will of course readily appreciate that in the absence of any disavowal by you of your ability adequately to protect foreigners my Government must hold the Mandatory power responsible for the safety of Americans in the disturbed areas.

Under the circumstances I should like to inquire whether in your opinion American citizens may continue to reside safely in Damascus and whether the appropriate authorities in Damascus will be good enough to extend adequate protection to the American Consul and the Consular premises there.

I am [etc.]

P. Knabenshue
[Page 145]
[Enclosure 2—Translation76]

The French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon ( De Jouvenel ) to the American Consul at Beirut ( Knabenshue )

No. 89/D. C. M.

Your friendly letter of yesterday [sic] touched me very much. I appreciate all the sentiments that dictated it—the desire to avoid an evacuation, which would have a most grievous effect, and the desire, as justifiable as the former, to guarantee the security of American citizens in Damascus.

I received just this morning, almost at the same time as your letter, a report from General Andréa stating that the network for the protection of Damascus had been finished last evening.

If there were an American officer here, I should invite him to go and see for himself that the city will from now on be secure against any infiltration.

Do you wish me to ask the British liaison officer to make this trip? General Andréa will certainly be glad to receive him. He will judge with an impartial eye, and it might be well for both you and me to have his advice.

In any event, I want to tell you that the American Consul at Damascus can go to see M. Pierre Alype who is always at his service. M. Alype will have him provided with means sufficient for his protection, and will frustrate the singular tactics to which your letter justly alludes in so scornful a manner.

On my part, my dear Consul General, I want to thank you for your excellent procedure, and I beg you to believe that under all circumstances I shall facilitate your task.

Sincerely yours,

[Enclosure 3]

The American Consul at Beirut ( Knabenshue ) to the French High Commissioner to the States of Syria and the Lebanon ( De Jouvenel )

My Dear Mr. High Commissioner: I thank you very sincerely for your very kind letter of February 27, 1926, in which you were good enough to inform me that the measures taken by General Andréa for the protection of Damascus have been completed and that the city is henceforth secure against any infiltration of bands, thus guaranteeing the protection of American citizens in Damascus.

I appreciate very much your willingness to have invited an American officer to have visited Damascus were such an officer present here.

[Page 146]

Your very kind offer to ask the British Liaison Officer to examine the situation at Damascus with a view to advising in the matter of the protective measures taken is also much appreciated, but for my part I am very happy to accept the assurances and good judgement of General Andréa.

Following your suggestion I have advised the American Consul at Damascus to see M. Alype and to leave to the discretion of the appropriate authorities such measures for his protection as they may deem necessary.

I wish to thank you for the sympathetic interest you have manifested in this matter and for the friendly co-operation which you have so kindly offered.

I am [etc.]

P. Knabenshue
  1. Not printed.
  2. File translation revised.