Armenian News Network / Groong


Armenian News Network / Groong
May 9, 2010

By Kay Mouradian, EdD

May 29, 1914

`A telegram from the consulate at Smyrna just arrived,' Phillip said as he entered Morgenthau's office. `They are requesting a war ship or the SCORPION to anchor by their coast in case Americans need protection.'

Morgenthau recalled his recent conversation with the attorney from the American licorice root dealers in Smyrna. There was a possibility they would be forced to discharge thousands of Greeks in their employ. The Turks were boycotting the American company. `I knew the pending sale of the dreadnoughts to Greece would create problems.'

`The Scorpion is out to sea,' Phillip said. `Should I radio and tell the Captain to go to Smyrna?'

`Yes.' Tapping his teeth with a pencil, Morgenthau studied his First Secretary. `Can you go to Smyrna? I'd like your grasp of the situation.'

`Of course. I'll take the evening train.' Phillip quickly left.

Morgenthau immediately telephoned Talaat. He hoped his cordial relations with the Minister of Interior would be influential in protecting the Americans in Turkey from growing danger.

Later that afternoon in Talaat's office, Morgenthau smelled the stale smoke that permeated the room. A lighted cigarette rested on butts in a dirty ashtray on Talaat's desk.

Sitting across from the huge Turk, Morgenthau waited for a response.

`Is there something special you want to talk about?'

`Yes. There are problems in Smyrna.'

`I know. But it's the Greeks who are the problem.'

`That antagonism is spilling over onto the Americans.'

The expression in Talaat's eyes changed. He banged his fist on the desk. `You should not have sold the boats to Greece!'

`Talaat, I did not sell the boats to Greece.'

`Yes, I know.' Regaining his composure, Talaat said, `I ought to thank you for your attempts to block the sale.' He leaned forward. `It's your President I blame. Tell him the Greeks must guarantee they will not use the dreadnoughts for war against us!'

Morgenthau spoke carefully, measuring his words. `Your ambassador in Washington should express that stipulation to President Wilson directly. The situation is serious. I've heard reports Greeks are being forced out of Smyrna.'

`Why should that concern you?' Talaat crushed out his cigarette.

`Some Greeks have been killed!' Morgenthau responded.

`Not so many. Only forty, I believe. It's better they leave peacefully.' He reached for another cigarette and lit it, blowing out the smoke, some of it seeping through his nose. `We prefer the coasts of the Aegean and the Dardanelles be populated with Turks.' He took another long drag. Not able to hold back his anger, Talaat's voice grew louder. `Ottoman Greeks donated money made on Turkish soil for the purchase of those American ships. I find that intolerable!' He stood and raised his hands in the air. `Let them go to their homeland!' Then, almost as a matter of fact, he said, `You know, the Greek government is encouraging them to emigrate.'

`I'd like to give you a bit of advice, if I may,' Morgenthau said.

Talaat sat down again. `You know I trust what you say, Morgenthau Pasha!'

`Talaat, I am a Jew, so when I tell you it is better the world not see this as the triggering of an anti-Christian movement, you know I am being purely objective. Such a campaign will hurt Turkey.'


Morgenthau was dumbfounded. Was Talaat wearing blinders? Did he not see the long range effects? `The European Christian countries will not take the antagonisms lightly,' Morgenthau responded. `And America will back them.'

When the American ambassador left the office of Turkey's Minister of Interior, he knew that Talaat desperately wanted America's support, but he agonized that his efforts may not have been sufficient to change Talaat's mind. He soon learned his apprehension was accurate.

Talaat made no effort to stop the boycott in Smyrna. In addition, he decreed that all foreign companies, even those in Constantinople, had to replace Christian employees with Moslems.

The tension against Americans did wane, but Turkey did not hide from the world her animosity toward the Ottoman Greeks. More than one hundred thousand were forced out of Smyrna and its surrounding coast. Plans were also in progress to attack Greece as soon as their British built dreadnoughts arrived in Turkey.

But President Wilson anticipated that the sale of two American battleships to Greece would defuse Turkey's aggressive war stance. It did.

June 29, 1914

Morgenthau placed the newspaper on his desk `Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were shot in Sarajevo,' he said to his first secretary, Mr. Phillip.

`After this nothing will be the same,' Phillip responded as he sat in a chair by Morgenthau's desk. `I just got off the phone with the Austrian charge d'affairs. They say it was a cowardly act and they are wildly upset.'

`They have good reason to be. They've just lost their heir to their throne.'

`There will be a high mass in the city for the Archduke on the 4th,' Phillip said.

`Where does this leave our July 4th celebration?'

`The mass is scheduled for 9 in the morning. We can still schedule the celebration later that afternoon.'

`Good. I'll go to the Austrian embassy and offer America's condolences to their ambassador. Call and tell them I'm on my way.'

* * *

When Morgenthau and his wife arrived at the Austrian Catholic Church in Constantinople, hundreds of onlookers gathered in front of the neoclassic building. Austrian flags waving in a gentle breeze marked the entrance.

Two Austrian attaches escorted the American ambassador and his wife from street level to the portals, down 50 steps lined with taut faced Austrian soldiers and sailors who were smartly dressed, displaying their gold braids and multi colored ribbons. The atmosphere was somber.

They were brought to the front pews, where other foreign ambassadors were already seated. Morgenthau, in a plain black suit, was the only one among them not wearing an elegantly decorated uniform.

Performing the requiem mass was a robust archbishop wearing a rich black robe inlaid with gold threads. Bishops and monsignors, in colorful purple and white robes, sat together and joined the monks singing Gregorian chants. Every Catholic priest in Constantinople was present for the somber memorial service.

Morgenthau noticed that the Austrian ambassador appeared to be crippled with grief, the very picture of loss, deep and wrenching. Had he been that close to the archduke and his wife? And then he understood. The ambassador, in this moment, wasn't a person. He was Austria mourning the loss of its son to a Serbian assassin.

In August Austria declared war on Serbia, a prelude to the world disasters that were about to unfold as European leaders fanned their national pride.

It was the beginning of the Great War.


This is the last in the series of the Morgenthau novelizations. I've often heard writers say that the best part of writing is the research and I must admit I got `hooked.' I spent several years researching and reading about events that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 20th century for my novel, A GIFT IN THE SUNLIGHT. That's how I came to came to know Ambassador Morgenthau so well. He was a great human being with a compassionate heart, and I wanted to share what I knew of him. For those of you who want more I suggest you read or reread "Ambassador Morgenthau's Story". You may be surprised how much deeper his story will now resonate.

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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