Mr. George A. Ferris to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: I am addressing this communication to you at the instance of several Arabic newspapers published in this Country and a number of societies, including the Lebanese League of Progress, which organizations are composed of American citizens of Lebanese and Syrian origin.

The problem discussed hereinafter is of vital importance to American citizens of Syrian and Lebanese origin, as well as their descendents who are native born Americans, and I respectfully request that you give this matter the attention that it deserves in order that these American citizens who number perhaps in excess of 300,000, exclusive of their native born children, should know how to proceed in order to protect, first, their status as American citizens, secondly, their rights as such, when and if they visit their native lands and, thirdly, their property rights in Lebanon and Syria.

According to the reliable information received by me and by those whom I represent, Article 34 of the Treaty of Lausanne2 provides substantially as follows:

“Turkish subjects over 18 years of age, originating from a territory separated from Turkey by virtue of the present treaty, and who, at the time of the enforcement of this treaty, are residents of foreign lands, have the privilege of voting for the nationality in force in their native territory, if they are united through their race, to the majority of the population of this territory, and if their option is accepted by the government of said territory, this privilege of option must be fulfilled within a period of two years from the date of the enforcement of this treaty.”

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This Treaty went into effect on or about the 30th day of August, 1924 and hence, the period of limitation provided for therein expired on the 30th day of August, 1926.

It seems further that by an agreement made in the form of an exchange of letters between the French and the Turkish governments dated May 29th, 1937,3 the following was agreed upon:

“Persons originating from Syria or Lebanon who were residing in a foreign country at the date of August 30, 1924, but who neglected to vote within the specified period stipulated in Article 34 of the Treaty of Lausanne, are authorized to cast their vote within one year from the date on which this agreement was made.”

I am advised that a notice has been sent by the French Consulate General in the City of New York calling attention to the fact that all persons who have not acquired Syrian or Lebanese nationality at the time of the issuance of said notice, including such persons who made a declaration option after August 30th, 1926, or simply had their civil status registered with a French Consulate, or with the civil authorities of their place of birth through the intermediary of relatives residing in Syria or Lebanon, they may now do so by executing a letter in triplicate signed and dated May 29, 1938,—said letter to contain the necessary information as regards their name, first name, date and place of birth, the name and first names, date and place of birth of their parents and signifying their choice of nationality.

The said notice states in conclusion that failing to comply with this procedure before May 29, 1938, Turkish citizens of Syrian or Lebanese origin will be definitely considered as Turks. Said notice further provides that persons who have acquired the nationality of the country of their residence must, in order to obtain recognition in Syria or Lebanon as such nationals, produce the Firman enforced by the Ottoman Law of 1869,4 granting the authorization to renounce the Ottoman nationality, or in the event their naturalization was obtained subsequent to the occupation of their country by the Allies, the authorization for acquisition of a foreign nationality which should have been issued to them by the Allies or the French authorities; and, failing to produce either one of these documents, the naturalized emigrant who would have occasion to institute or to be the object of an action trial or lawsuit in his native land or who would temporarily or definitely return to his native country, will be considered as a Turkish subject in conformity with the Treaty of Lausanne, as well as the Franco-Turkish agreement of May 29th, 1937.

I am enclosing herewith the form5 issued by the French Consulate [Page 925] General headed: “Application for acquisition of Syrian or Lebanese nationality.” An examination of this form demonstrates beyond doubt that any American citizen who executes this document would, in point of fact, be renouncing his American citizenship.

It is evident therefore that American citizens, of either Syrian or Lebanese origin, are faced with one of two alternatives, either to renounce their American citizenship; or to be treated as Turkish subjects with all the consequent disadvantages thereof. In the latter case for instance, I am reliably informed, that under the Turkish law no person of a nationality or citizenship other than Turkish can inherit from a Turkish subject. Assume that a naturalized American citizen who had obtained his naturalization without the Firman required by the Sublime Porte prior to the occupation of the territory in the World War and who did not elect his nationality, pursuant to the notice above referred to, should die in the United States owning real estate and personal property in Syria or Lebanon, he would be deemed a Turkish subject and any descendents born in the United States, hence native Americans, would not be entitled to inherit such property. Many other disabilities of a similar nature would also ensue.

This matter has caused considerable agitation amongst the people affected thereby, as it seems clear that they are impaled on either horn of the dilemma, that is to say, that they must renounce their American citizenship or in the alternative, be deemed Turkish subjects.

It would seem that the only way in which this dubious situation may be cleared up is, by the Department of State taking up for negotiation, a Treaty between the Turkish, French and our Government, having for its object the recognition as American citizens of all persons of Lebanese and Syrian origin who have become naturalized American citizens without the necessity of making any declaration, such as is referred to hereinabove.

The interests of the persons affected are vital and their number are sufficient to justify our Government in taking whatever steps may be necessary to preserve their citizenship status.

I am requested to advise you, Honorable Sir, that this is a burning question with the several hundred thousand American citizens of Lebanese and Syrian origin and that they are prepared to support any move that might be deemed advisable to clear up their status, either through the medium of petitions, publicity or in any other manner that our Government may indicate.

It is respectfully requested that this serious matter be given the earliest consideration and the writer, together with the Arabic press and many representative societies stand ready to do all in our power to assist in the premises.

An early reply will be appreciated.

Respectfully yours,

George A. Ferris
  1. Treaty of Peace signed at Lausanne, July 24, 1923; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xxviii, p. 11.
  2. See despatch No. 278, September 13, from the Consul General at Beirut, infra.
  3. Ottoman Nationality Law of January 19, 1869; for French text, see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxvii, p. 1251.
  4. Not printed.