The American Commissioner on the Turkish-American Claims Commission (Nielsen) to the Secretary of State

Sir: At a session of the Committee yesterday lasting four hours there were developments which prompt me to furnish the Department a little information as soon as possible. I will merely roughly sketch some of the occurrences, in order that I may mail this communication in the pouch which closes today.

After we had made a summary examination of all the cases filed, I apprehended that that procedure and future activities meant nothing but useful delay to the Turks. I therefore carefully made a statement suggesting that perhaps at that stage the Turkish delegation might be in a position to make a better offer than that which the United States had rejected. Essat Bey promptly replied that the Turkish delegation had no instructions except to insist on the sum of $500,000 previously offered. Since that time there has been some oral discussion, and we have furnished analyses of cases with figures and suggestions as to a computation of a reasonable lump sum settlement on the basis of percentages on such figures. Neither the figures nor any arguments which I have used have been attacked, except by meaningless generalities.

At a meeting a few days ago, I furnished Essat Bey a carefully prepared statement, and the meeting adjourned with a declaration by him that he would give the statement consideration. When we met yesterday, he sat silent and immobile as usual and said nothing. Finally he inquired, as he customarily does, if I had anything to say. I observed that, when we adjourned our last meeting he had stated that he would take under consideration my statement; I had assumed that he intended to comment on it at our present meeting. He replied that he had nothing to say; that the statement had been referred to the Foreign Office. Considering that the time had come to take an attitude somewhat more aggressive than I had previously assumed, I made some observations in the sense of the following:

His explanation raised in my mind an interesting question as to the interpretation of the Agreements under which we were functioning. I construed those Agreements to impose certain duties on the Commissioners. I called attention to provisions of the second paragraph of the Agreement of December 24, 1923; to the Turkish Government’s proposal of February 8, 1934, initiating a resumption of the meetings of the Committee to examine cases in a summary manner “and to propose by common accord to the two parties a lump sum [Page 926]settlement”; and to the third paragraph of the Turkish Government’s note number 55772/11 of March . . , 1934,33 reiterating its proposal of February 8th. I stated that I considered that under these agreements certain duties were entrusted to the Committee to settle claims or at least, as urged by the Turkish Government in its note of February 8th, to agree on a lump sum which could be recommended to the two Governments. When we had finished the summary survey, and I asked the Turkish delegation whether it might not be in a position to make a proposal for an expeditious, amiable settlement, Essat Bey merely stated that he had no instructions other than to insist on a $500,000 settlement. It therefore seemed that all the work which had been done up to date had been useless. I briefly indicated what the American delegation had done with a view to contributing to an amiable adjustment, and I pointed out that, since Essat Bey explained that he could do nothing but insist on a lump sum settlement as directed by the Foreign Office and could only transmit my proposals to the Foreign Office, it would seem that perhaps we might as well have remained in Washington, since the Turkish Government, being without any information concerning the cases, could of course uncompromisingly insist on its small offer by direct communication to Washington as well as by the use of the Turkish delegation as a means of communication. I further observed that, in view of the attitude taken by the Turkish delegation, I naturally had in mind the second stage of the work which, according to the Turkish Government’s proposal of February 8th, should be taken up if no lump sum settlement should be reached. The examination of cases individually would certainly require action by Turkish Commissioners.

Essat Bey … employs the old expedient used at international conferences of stating, rather than committing himself to anything, that the matter must be referred to his Government. But perhaps he overplayed it a little, as he seemed to realize when I pointed out that in my opinion the Committee has certain duties to endeavor to reach an agreement as to a lump sum to be recommended to the two Governments. He hedged and explained that he also considered the Committee had certain functions and, although he had said that he could only act under instructions, he had formed some judgment. He said that figures presented by the claimants were exaggerated and my suggestion—I had ventured a possible compromise less than that insisted on by the Department—was also exaggerated. I observed that, generally speaking, it was admitted that the figures presented by claimants were undoubtedly for the most part exaggerated. I had stated at our first meeting that I had no doubt on that point. The American delegation had taken account of that fact, and in its estimates [Page 927]had deflated amounts approximately 80%. I could not agree that the sum of $2,500,000 which I had stated that I would send to Washington was exaggerated. I observed that it seemed to me that, if Essat Bey considered it to be so, it would be desirable that he should indicate the reason for his views and attack the figures which I had produced and the reasons given to support them.

Toward the close of the meeting, Essat Bey harped [harked?] back to the three largest claims which had previously been mentioned and said that it would be useful to examine them further. This undoubtedly was merely for purposes of further delay. A similar suggestion had previously been made. However, I stated that, if the Turkish delegation desired to give particular attention to these cases, the American delegation was willing to cooperate with the Turkish delegation for that purpose and to exchange views with respect to the amounts of those claims. Even though conclusions with respect to all cases could of course not be made in the light of an examination of two or three cases, such an examination might have a useful bearing in considering the propriety of the offer made by the Turkish delegation. This would certainly be so, if it should be shown, for example, that the Turkish offer would not even cover just compensation in one or any of these cases, or shown that, if that amount should be spread over all just claims, nothing that could properly be called compensation would be afforded—not to speak of the cost of distribution.

Very little objection had been made to the cases when they were summarily examined, and I therefore hoped, I observed, that, when they were again challenged, some concrete objections would be made to them by the Turkish delegation in connection with this new examination; we could then make an answer. Essat Bey promptly stated that he could make no examination; that he had not examined any cases; that he was extremely occupied with his assignment on the Mixed Commission for the Exchange of Populations. I further pressed the idea that it would be desirable to have some cooperation from the Turkish delegation which attacked our arguments and figures but did not furnish any concrete objections based on any investigation of cases.

I have merely sketched enough of what took place to indicate, as other things sent to the Department must do, the situation here, and to indicate the Turkish Government’s attitude in the matter of carrying out its own proposal with respect to an agreement concerning a lump sum settlement to be recommended to the two Governments. Since we arrived here, the Turkish Government has done nothing to carry out that agreement. As the Department is aware, its principal Commissioner34 was sent to Sofia, and the Commissioner here in Istanbul35 [Page 928]is engaged on another Commission and has emphatically volunteered the information that he has not examined a single case. Not only has the Turkish Government therefore done nothing to carry out the agreement, but it is accurate, I think, to say that it has exerted itself considerably through its functionaries to block the execution of the agreement. It is this situation which I feel should be concretely brought to the Department’s attention.

Although Essat Bey has now admitted he is charged with the duty of attempting to agree with us on a lump sum settlement, he used only the most equivocal language when he intimated that a sum of $700,000 might be offered. I presume that an offer of $1,000,000 could be obtained, but I stated on one occasion that I would not send any such offer to Washington. It is the opinion of those of us who have examined the cases that $1,500,000 would pay a respectable percentage on claims. I have not the time at this moment to furnish detailed information in support of that view.

Essat Bey has frequently referred to the subject of the capacity of Turkey, or, as he sometimes says, “the debtor”, to pay. I have noted that, since my Government has taken account of that question, naturally I must do so also. I added yesterday, however, that some proper consideration must also be given to the rights of the creditor.

I think that I have substantially exhausted my stock of expedients to press for action. I was of the opinion, as I previously informed the Department, that it would have been advisable shortly after negotiations for an arbitration of cases concerning which the Commissioners could not agree had been initiated, to press for that arrangement. The Department has now authorized negotiations to that end, but at this date, I am not sure that anything could be gained by renewing negotiations. If the Turkish Government should treat those negotiations, or an agreement that might result from them, in the same manner in which they have acted with respect to the existing arrangements, new arrangements would of course be of little or no value. Furthermore, as the Department is aware, the Embassy opposed the plan to press for a definite agreement with respect to arbitration which I suggested to the Department in April; and while authority for negotiating it has in terms been given to me, it would of course be necessary that the Embassy should have definite instructions, and that action if taken along those lines should be effectively pressed.

Negotiations in the Committee have always been cordial, and Essat Bey has expressed the opinion, with some sincerity, perhaps, that he relied on my judgment and my fairness. If the Department desires action of a more vigorous nature, I am willing to do whatever I can do with the assurance that I will receive the Department’s support. I [Page 929]have deemed it to be advisable that the Department should have definite information respecting the Turkish Government’s failure to do its part to give effect to existing agreements.

Very respectfully,

Fred K. Nielsen
  1. Not printed.
  2. Sevki Bey.
  3. Essat Bey.