THREE YEARS OF PROGRESS (1888)
Oscar Straus - St. Paul's Institute – Bakir - Map making – Jedaan - Kamil.
DURING this year, we were kept busy by the Ottoman government because of a series of orders closing our schools on the ground of illegality that they had no permits, and then refusing to grant them permits; demanding diplomas of our teachers and lists of our text-books and courses of study, when no such demands were made upon other foreign schools. Consul Bissinger at Beirut and Minister Oscar Straus at the Porte fought the battle out and obtained finally an order from Munif Pasha, Minister of Public Instruction, that all the old established schools of the Americans in the empire be recognized by the government as though they had official firmans. This gave us rest for a time. But the new Waly of Beirut, Ali Riza Pasha, who reached Beirut March 8th, after a long interview with Mr. Bissinger, agreed to order the reopening of all our recently closed schools on condition that only Christian children be recieved. Mr. Bissinger and Minister Straus absolutely refused to accept such an odious condition, and finally the schools were reopened without conditions. Much has been published since that time and much has been done in the way of securing recognition of the American schools. The medical college in Beirut is visited every year by an imperial medical commission, who, in connection with the American faculty, examine the students and confer upon the worthy the imperial medical diploma.
Various questions with regard to the American institutions remain unsettled, but, as a rule, the established day-schools, boarding-schools, and colleges are not interfered with. Where the government refuses a permit, it is generally through fear that a school or hospital with a permit may refuse to pay taxes. In this respect, the Americans would cheerfully pay taxes if the institutions of other nationalities did the same. But to be asked to do what no one else does, and to bear, burdens which the Sultan has excused others from bearing, savours too strongly of injustice and partiality to be meekly endured by an American official.
In April, 1888, Minister Oscar Straus visited Beirut. All were impressed with his intellectual ability, suavity of manner, high-toned patriotism, legal knowledge, and consummate tact. Our government was never better represented than by this American Israelite, who was, as he said, "first an American and second a Jew." He was "suaviter in modo, fortiter in re." His removal was a blunder and an injury to American interests. I have never ceased to respect him as a man and to esteem him as a friend. No one could charge him with being prejudiced in favour of Protestant Missions, yet Protestant Missions in the East never had a more energetic, discreet, or efficient defender. His convictions in favour of religious liberty are set forth in his fine book on the life of Roger Williams. The vicious and shiftless spoils system of political appointment to our foreign diplomatic service, which prevailed in those days and has only now in the days of Secretaries Hay and Root been radically changed, sacrificed Mr. Straus just when he was on the eve of negotiating a naturalization treaty with the Sublime Porte which would have saved both governments infinite annoyance and constant friction and misunderstanding.
In May Mr. William Bird accompanied his daughter, Mrs. Alice Greenlee, to America, and I was placed in charge of Abeih station. I made frequent trips on horseback through Southern Lebanon, examining schools, visiting the churches, and administering the ordinances.
As Colonel Shepard had appointed brother Samuel Jessup and myself members of the Advisory Board of St. Paul's Institute at Tarsus, I went to Tarsus and Adana in May with Mrs. Jessup to
attend the first annual meeting. Rev. Messrs. McLachlan and Jenanyan were the faculty, and already there were indications of an incompatibility which almost invariably develops itself where any institution in the East is placed under the dual control of an Oriental and an Occidental. Both of these teachers were strong,
able men, but somehow they could not work harmoniously. Where
Eastern ideas differ from ours. re Eastern men, with funds raised from Orientals, manage Oriental institutions and enterprises, they generally succeed. But the East cannot understand the West in the matter of managing Western funds. Years after this, when matters had twice come to a rupture, Mr. Jenanyan came to Beirut and laid the whole case before us. I saw that the trouble was not in the American nor in the Armenian, but in that mixture of Occidental alkali with Oriental acid, which always produces effervescence.
I then wrote a long document to the New York Board of Trustees, which I read to Mr. Jenanyan, and which he approved, advising that hereafter St. Paul's Institute be made either wholly Armenian with Mr. Jenanyan at its head, or wholly American with an American at its head. The latter plan was adopted and the school is a success. Mr. Jenanyan has opened another school in Iconium (Konieh) and we hear no more of friction and misunderstanding.
While in Tarsus, we visited the reputed tomb of Sardanapalus, the falls of the river Cydnus, where Alexander the Great came near drowning while bathing; then to the old Western Gate, the Protestant and Armenian Churches, and the so-called tomb of Daniel
In the luxuriant gardens watered by streams of living water from the Cydus, we ate for the first time the luscious fruit of the Akedunya or Medlar, which grows much larger there than in more southerly climes.
Mr. Montgomery of the American Board in Adana asked me to address the Wednesday evening meeting. It was a scene long to be remembered. About one thousand men and women were assembled in the large church, all seated on the floor on mats. When no more could wedge their way in, the pastor asked all to rise and close up ranks, and then all sit down together. The mass was thus contracted in superficial area and more could find sitting room. As the people speak only Turkish, I could not use my Arabic, but I spoke in English and Mr. Montgomery translated. I never saw a more attentive audience.
In the Adana congregation, I was introduced to a sprightly man, who claimed to be one hundred and thirteen years old. He went every year out to the great wheat field in the Adana plain to help in the harvest, but this year, owing to the weakness of his limbs, the church had bought him a donkey on which he rode out every morning to the reapers. His memory of the days of Sultan Mahmoud II, and other notables of the last seventy and eighty years, led the missionaries to believe his claim to be correct.
Dr. Metheny lived at that time in Mersina. For years he had lived in Latakia working among the pagan Nusairiyeh and removed to Mersina to labour for tribes of the same people on the plain of Tarsus and Adana. He was a skillful surgeon and a tender-hearted, sympathizing man.
In June two men interested in work among the Arab tribes of Syria and Arabia visited Beirut, Mr. Von Tassel, an American, and Bishop Thomas Valpy French, late Bishop of Lahore and now resolved to give the last of his life to Arabia. He made an address at the house of Mrs. A. Mentor Mott and interested us all greatly in the zeal of a man, who, after forty years of labour in North India, was going to Muscat on the Persian Gulf to end his days. Dr. Zwemer describes him in his "Arabia, the Cradle of Islam," and truly his zeal for the salvation of the Arabs devoured him. Mr. Von Tassel came out in youthful zeal and enthusiasm, set about learning Arabic and afterwards brought out a large camp equipment, intending to go into the desert and dwell among the Aneyzy Arabs, live their nomad life summer and winter, and identify himself with them. Under any other government he might have succeeded, or had he come twenty
years sooner' before the Ottoman government had begun to suspect every traveller among the Bedawin of being a military spy, or a European agent to distribute arms among the Arabs and raise them to revolt. But Hassan Bey's filibustering fiasco a few years before, and a growing idea that the British-are in league with the Arabs, made Mr. Von Tassel's scheme an impossibility. When he landed at the port of Tripoli, fifty miles north of Beirut, his tents and equipage were stopped and only released after long delay. A description of the man and all his baggage was telegraphed to Constantinople. On reaching Hums, he set up his tents outside the walls, one of them a large triple tent of green water-proof canvas. Crowds assembled to see the sight, but least welcome of all was a guard of Turkish soldiers ordered to watch Mr. Von Tassel's every movement and prevent his having any communication with Arabs of any tribe in the region. He was thus thoroughly quarantined, and soon orders came from the Waly of Damascus forbidding him to travel to any point east of Hamath, Hums and Damascus. Othello's occupation was now gone. He had not been sent out to labour among towns and cities but only to the wandering tribes of the desert who number hundreds of thousands. After waiting until patience ceased to be a virtue, he returned to Beirut, sold out his tents, beds, and equipage, and left the country in 18gz. Dr. Ford has to this day (1908) the triple tent and others have mementoes of this illustration of governmental persecution and repression.
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