861.48 Refugees 67/78

The Ambassador in Turkey (Grew) to the Secretary of State

No. 639

Sir: With reference to my despatch No. 489 of September 11, 1928, I have the honor to inform the Department that in an interview with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on January 5, I took occasion to ask him if he would tell me in a personal way and, if he so desired, in strict confidence, what he intended to do with the Russian refugees who remained in Turkey after February 6, 1929, the last date given for their evacuation. I said that I was interested in the matter not only from the humanitarian point of view but that I also had a legitimate interest in it on account of the large donations given by American citizens to assist the evacuation; that the Committee in Constantinople had done its best to get these Russians out, but that lack of visaes and contracts had made the work very difficult and slow and that some eighteen hundred of these unfortunate people still remained in Turkey. I said that most of these Russians were engaged in useful occupations, were regularly paying their Turkish taxes, and although not actually citizens of the country, were nevertheless leading lives useful to the State, and I said that I made this statement from personal contacts and knowledge. It would be the greatest possible hardship to these people to uproot them. I reminded the Minister of our conversation last year, in which be had said that most of these Russians could obtain Turkish nationality if they so desired, and I said that I was aware of the fact that over a thousand petitions for Turkish nationality had been filed, but that only seven had been granted. The Minister immediately replied, “Fifteen”, indicating that he was fully familiar with the situation. I added that any wholesale uprooting of these Russians could not fail to make a most unfortunate impression on the world at large, and I begged the Minister to consider this fact in connection with any plans that might be contemplated.

[Page 986]

The Minister listened courteously to my presentation of the case, and then replied that he himself was between two fires. On the one hand, he fully appreciated the humanitarian aspect of the situation and was most anxious as a humanitarian himself to avoid inflicting unnecessary hardships. On the other hand he had definite information that many of these Russians were steadily engaged in propaganda against the Soviet régime; some being associated with the Anti-Communistic Committees of the Caucasus and others with the Committees in Paris and elsewhere. Turkey would not tolerate groups of Turkish communistic propagandists in Russia, and therefore Russia was in a perfectly sound position to demand that Turkey should not tolerate groups of Anti-Soviet propagandists in Turkey. He himself was not in a position to decline to listen to the representations of the Soviet Government in this matter, and this was the entire explanation of the attitude of the Turkish Government towards the White Russians within its borders. Those Russians who were found to be guilty of propaganda must be definitely disposed of.

I replied that I very much doubted if more than a small percentage of the remaining Russians were conducting any propaganda at all, and I hoped that the matter would be carefully sifted in order to avoid injustice to individuals. The Minister said that this was very difficult to do, but that every effort would nevertheless be made to dislodge the propagandists and to separate them from the others. He asked me how many Russians were left in Turkey. I replied about eighteen hundred. He said: “Why, there were eighteen hundred last year; that means there were none evacuated.” I said that, on the contrary, there were nearly three thousand last year and a considerable number were evacuated, although I did not have the exact figures before me. He replied that the Committee in Constantinople was an appendage of “Nansen and Company” and acting under the instructions of the High Commission in Geneva. I said that, on the contrary, the Committee in Constantinople regarded itself as independent, and that it had agreed to continue to function only on the understanding that it would make all decisions as to evacuations itself, and not on instructions from Geneva. He asked me who had appointed the Committee, I replied that as a matter of fact I had appointed part of it myself, as it was composed largely of Americans representing American organizations, such as the Near East Relief, the Jewish Welfare, the American Red Cross, etc.

The matter was left with the understanding that the Minister would examine it sympathetically and would make every effort to separate the alleged propagandists from those who were innocent of such activities and to deal with them accordingly.

On January 10, having obtained the exact figures from the Committee in Constantinople, I informed the Minister that three hundred [Page 987]and four Russian refugees were evacuated from Turkey in 1927 and one thousand and thirteen during 1928. I added that the Committee in Constantinople was sparing no effort to complete its task and that it hoped to be able to evacuate at least one hundred and fifty further refugees during the present month.

At this moment it is impossible to predict what action the Turkish Government will take with regard to the Russian refugees on February 6, 1929. Whatever is done, it may be said that I have left no proper step untaken in their interest.

I have [etc.]

Joseph C. Grew