Armenian News Network / Groong


Armenian News Network / Groong
March 8, 2010

By Kay Mouradian, EdD

November, 1914

Having had a reception and a Christmas party for the American colony, Ambassador Morgenthau was glad the holiday season was over. Intermittent rain and a bitter cold spell greeted the New Year and the embassy was back on a full work schedule.

Arshag Schmavonian, wearing a wool grey sweater under his grey suit jacket, walked into the ambassador's office and stood by the brick hearth warming himself at the crackling fire. He briskly rubbed the palms of his hands together and said, `Talaat called. He wants to have dinner with you this evening at the Cercle d' Orient.'

Morgenthau raised his head, thinking about his day's schedule. `I can be there around eight or eight-thirty. Are you available this evening?'

Still rubbing his hands Schmavonian said, `Yes.'

`By the way how did he sound?'

`His voice is still heavy.'

Talaat, the most powerful Young Turk leader had earlier expressed feelings of hopelessness to the American Ambassador and was depressed. Turkey had lost two-fifths of her empire under Abdul Hamid's reign. Another fifth was now lost in the recent struggles against Italy, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Three wars in the last three years had ruined Turkey's finances and its industries and agriculture were at a standstill.

In the past weeks Ambassador Morgenthau had developed a warm personal relationship with several of the Young Turk leaders and his doubts about these inexperienced politicians had somewhat eased. They sought out his advice, probing his knowledge and understanding of American techniques. They were in awe of America and at that moment Henry Morgenthau was becoming a Turkophile.

That evening the ambassador gave his chauffeur the night off and drove Schmavonian in the embassy's Ford Town car to the Cercle d' Orient, Constantinople's most elite private club. A blue canopy extended out above the club's entrance.

Schmavonian said to the doorman in Turkish, `This is the American Ambassador. Talaat Pasha is expecting us.'

`Welcome to the Cercle d' Orient,' the doorman said and opened the door. His nose was red from the cold.

An attendant approached. `Ambassador Morgenthau, please let me take your coat.'

Morgenthau and Schmavonian slipped off and handed him their woolen coats. Another man, in a blackish-bluejacket, a white shirt and a bow tie, presumably the maitre d' approached and said, `Talaat Pasha is in the card room Please follow me.'

They passed the elegant dining room where two impressive rose-colored chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Morgenthau sensed someone watching him and looked into the room. A rather stout Turk sitting at one of the tables was smiling at him. It was Bedri Bey, the chief of the Turkish Gendarmerie. Morgenthau grinned and waved as he followed the maitre d' to the card room.

`I will let him know you are here,' the man said and walked ahead into the smoke filled room. Ambassador Morgenthau stood by the open door and noted the huge sweeping back of Talaat watching a card game. Talaat had a powerful frame, massive shoulders, a thick neck and was a striking figure, even from the rear.

When Talaat was alerted he took one last puff, crushed out is cigarette and walked over to Morgenthau. Nodding to Schmavonian, Talaat addressed Morgenthau in French. `Nice to see you Mr. Ambassador. I was watching the poker hands. Do you play?'

`No. Bridge is my game,' Morgenthau responded in his beginner's French.

`What a pity. Otherwise, I would have engaged you in a game this evening. Come, let us eat.'

They walked side by side and the six foot physically fit American Ambassador felt dwarfed by the 250 pound Turk.

The dining area was filled with important people, but on one was more important than Talaat. His title read Minister of the Interior, but Talaat was, in reality, the boss of Turkey.

All eyes fell on him as the maitre d' seated the three men at a conspicuous table. Immediately a waiter appeared with a bottle of raki and set it in front of Talaat, who poured himself a straight shot. He passed the bottle to Schmavonian.

Morgenthau watched the Turkish anise liquor turn to a milky color as his dragoman, Schmavonian, added water to his drink. `Raki looks just like pernod,' he said. The American Ambassador did not like alcohol, but he did not want to appear ungracious. This was his first social evening with Talaat. `If you don't mind, I'll just have water.'

`You don't drink?'


`What a shame,' Talaat said as he poured himself another shot.'

Morgenthau thought it odd that Talaat relished drink since the Koran preached against imbibing, but then Talaat was not your ordinary Islamic leader. He, on the other hand, decided long ago that alcohol would hinder his mental capabilities. Stretching and expanding his mind was a major goal in his life.

`Ambassador Morgenthau, it is a pleasure to be in your company,' Talaat said. `Are you aware you are the only foreigner I trust?' He did not give the ambassador a chance to answer. `I am grateful that America does not have ulterior motives toward our country.'

Talaat sat straight up and looked directly at the American ambassador. `I wish I could say the same for others. Do you know that Russia for more than a hundred fifty years has wanted sovereignty of the Bosporus so her ships can have easy access to the Mediterranean? What that really means is that she wants Constantinople and Russia is not the only country waiting to pounce upon our capital. Bulgaria and Greece both dream of restoring Aya Sophia back to its Christian heritage.'

The waiter reappeared and Talaat placed the dinner orders.

`Talaat, you are correct that America is only interested in helping your country become stronger. You must be patient.'

Schmavonian stood ready to interpret if necessary, but he found it interesting that the men communicated so well with each other without his help.

`The reconstruction of my country after our civil war did not occur overnight,' Morgenthau continued. `Likewise, it will take time to rebuild your country.'

Talaat responded, `It is disheartening that Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro chose to go to war to become independent rather than become an integral part of our Ottoman state. And now Armenia is demanding reform and that probably means Armenia also wants independence.'

`I've been told that Armenian Parliamentarians have asked European leaders to inspect conditions in Armenia,' Morgenthau responded.

`We are tired of Europeans telling us how to run our country!' Talaat slapped the table with his huge fist and his sterling silver utensils bounced. `Their countries have problems too. Ha! Britain is nervous over Germany's dreadnought buildup, afraid of losing her supremacy of the seas.' He poured himself another drink. `I will be happy when our dreadnoughts arrive from Britain.'

Morgenthau watched Talaat drink the liquor and thought how different he and Talaat were, like an odd couple fate had brought together. `You must be proud that so many of your citizens donated their own money to order the two battleships.'

`Very proud.'

Turkish politicians each had donated a month's salary and those in more humble circumstances, including students, collected and donated money for the purchase of the modern English made ships.

`I do not want to talk politics anymore.' Talaat planted his big hands on the table.

Morgenthau felt his touchy response. Europe was buzzing with talk of war and Talaat knew Turkey was not prepared.

The food arrived and the tension was broken. Large plates filled with charcoaled shish kabob, roasted tomatoes, peppers, onions, and rice pilaf were placed in front of each man. Talaat cut into one of the cubes of meat and with barely a chew swallowed it almost whole. `When will your wife arrive?'

`Next month. I plan to meet her in soon as the train enters Turkey. I am anxious to be with her. She is my best friend.'

Talaat seemed bewildered but said, `I will arrange for the Governor General and his staff to assist you.

Morgenthau hesitated and said, `She has not been enthusiastic about living here. Some of our friends tried to discourage me from accepting this post saying that Turkey would be pushed out of Europe and back into Asia. They said we would be attending Turkey's funeral.'

`That's what I like about you, Mr. Morgenthau. You are honest. We will turn that funeral into a celebration!' Talaat laughed loudly and banged his fist down again. `And; you Mr. American Ambassador are helping us bring this corpse back to life.' His rollicking laugh lasted almost a full minute.

Talaat was a complicated man of great contrasts. He had grown up in a poor family who ate meals without utensils, but the politician Talaat could display a formality equal to the most cultured of diplomats when it pleased him.

`You, Mr. American Ambassador, have been so optimistic toward our reconstruction,' he continued, `And I am very appreciative. I want you to join our Turkish cabinet.

`You can't be serious.'

`Of course I am,' Talaat replied in his affable manner. `You should be our Minister of Agriculture.'

`But I'm an American citizen!'

`We will not object to you keeping your American Citizenship and you can still be the American Ambassador. You will be known as Morgenthau Pasha!'

Morgenthau was bewildered by the offer. Was this a sign of Talaat's inexperience and his misunderstanding of a leader's use of power?

Talaat had little formal schooling and had risen to power through his extraordinary native ability. He had great force, a lively sense of humor, managed men well and had a superhuman ability to see into their motives.

And Morgenthau noted that Talaat also had a dark harsh side.

Professor Kay Mouradian is a health and physical education specialist
retired from the Los Angeles Community Colleges. Her publications
include Reflective Meditation: a Mind Calming Technique, A Guide for
Those Teaching Yoga in the Community Colleges, and she has also
contributed publications in several magazines and newspapers. Her
first novel, "A Gift In The Sunlight: An Armenian Story", now in its
second edition, was inspired by her mother's remarkable survival of
the Armenian Genocide.
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