The Agony of Armenia

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					                                                  power has no right to interfere in their
THE BLACKEST PAGE                                 internal affairs, and as I receive report after
                                                  report of the inhuman treatment that the
OF HISTORY                                        Armenians are receiving, it makes me feel
By Yair Auron                                     most sad. Their lot seems to be very much
                                                  the same as that of the Jews in Russia, and
United States Diplomacy on the                    belonging to a persecuted race myself, I
Bosphorus: The Diaries of Ambassador              have all the more sympathy with them.”
Henry Morgenthau, 1913-1916, Gomidas                Almost 30 years later, on January 16,
Institute, Princeton & London, 500 pages          1944, Henry Morgenthau, the son, U.S.
                                                  secretary of the treasury during World War
United States Official Records on the             II, met with President Roosevelt to discuss
Armenian Genocide, 1915-1917, edited by           “the problem of the remaining Jews in
Ara Sarafian, Gomidas Institute,                  Europe.” Not only was the State Department
Princeton & London, 706 pages                     ineffectual in its treatment of the problem,
                                                  said Morgenthau, but it was “actually taking
Lawyer, Ambassador, Statesman: The                action to prevent the rescue of the Jews.” He
Memoirs of Abram I. Elkus, edited by              was convinced that “affective action” could
Hilmar Kaiser, Gomidas Institute,                 be taken, citing the success of his father,
Princeton & London, 122 pages                     Henry Morgenthau, Sr., in saving the lives
                                                  of Armenians when he was ambassador to
For more information please contact               Turkey. or write to Garod                  These brief quotes from the protocol of
Books, 42 Blythe Rd., London, W14 0HA,            the meeting between Morgenthau, Jr. and
ENGLAND                                           Roosevelt illustrate how important it is that
                                                  these diaries are finally being published
On June 19, 1915, as the genocide of the          today, 90 years after the genocide. How the
Armenians reached a peak, Henry                   world acted before and after the massacre of
Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to                the Armenians in Turkey is critical for our
Turkey, penned a letter to his son: “The ruin     understanding of the circumstances that
and devastation that is being wrought here is     enable genocide to happen. We need
heart-rending. The government is using its        reminding that genocide is possible only
present opportunity while all other countries     when the balance of power between the
are at war, to obliterate the Armenian race,      victims and the murderers is such that the
and the worst of it is that it is impossible to   murderers enjoy absolute superiority. And
stop it. ... The United States as a neutral       this depends to a large extent on the actions
of the “third party,” by which we mean the       one end of the Empire to the other,
rest of the world.                               accompanied by frequent instances of rape,
  This third party can be schematically          pillage and murder, turning into massacre, to
divided into three groups: those who help        bring destruction and destitution on them.”
the murderers, those who help the victims
and those who stand on the sidelines and do                      Personal shock
nothing. Morgenthau, Sr. was the man who           Morgenthau writes of many talks with the
urged the U.S. not to stand there and gape,      grand vizier, Said Halim Pasha, his interior
but to do all it could to contribute to the      minister, Talat Pasha, and his war minister,
rescue effort. Morgenthau tried to talk to the   Anwar Pasha, but these came to nothing.
Turkish rulers, but never got very far           Morgenthau was convinced that the only
because a neutral power like the U.S. had no     country that might assist in lessening these
right to intervene in another country’s          atrocities was Turkey’s ally, Germany. He
internal affairs, as he explained to his son.    approached the German ambassador in
  It is worth pointing out that formally, at     Turkey, but was under no illusions. “I
least, this state of affairs has changed since   believe [the embassy] will simply content
the Holocaust, thanks to the Convention on       itself with giving advice and formal protest
the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime       probably intended for the record, to cover
of Genocide adopted by the United Nations        itself from future responsibility,” he wrote.
in 1948. According to this convention,             Morgenthau was clearly the driving spirit
intervention in cases of genocide is not only    behind the rescue effort, but his writings
a right, but a duty. But this has not kept       also provide vital source material for
genocide from happening, because the world       documenting and tudying the Armenian
is still reluctant to intervene.                 genocide, which the Turks, until today, deny
  While the genocide was going on,               ever happened. To our great shame, Israel
Morgenthau wrote in his diary, and in            has helped them in this act of denial, as have
numerous memos submitted to the U.S.             academics around the world, including
Secretary of State, Robert Lansing - some of     several Israelis. Morgenthau knew what was
which have now been made public for the          happening from thousands of reports filed
first time - that the “persecution of            by American consuls and missionaries
Armenians is assuming unprecedented              working in various parts of the Ottoman
roportions. Reports from widely scattered        Empire, and he documented and passed on
districts indicate a systematic attempt to       this information in real time, out of a deep
uproot peaceful Armenian populations and         sense of personal shock and horror.
through arbitrary efforts, terrible tortures,      Arriving in Constantinople in November
wholesale expulsions and deportations from       1913, Morgenthau kept a diary that he filled
with accounts of his official duties, his       libraries in Israel contain very few volumes
social life as an ambassador, his personal      on the history of the Armenian genocide,
affairs, his humanitarian endeavors on          and those available are chiefly books by
behalf of Turkish soldiers and citizens         Turks who deny that it happened. These new
wounded in the war, and his efforts to stop     publications help somewhat to set the record
the brutal attacks on the Armenians. Some       straight.
of this material is incorporated in a book        Worthy of mention here is the Gomidas
published in 1918, “Ambassador                  Institute, cofounded by the young British-
Morgenthau’s Story,” where he portrays the      Armenian historian Ara Sarafian, which
Armenian genocide as “the greatest crime in     specializes in publishing collections of
modern history” and observes that “among        documents, meticulously edited, with an
the blackest pages of modern history, this is   introduction and annotations that make the
the blackest of them all.” “I am confident      work accessible to contemporary readers. To
that the whole history of the human race        date, the institute has managed to scrape
contains no such horrible episodes as this,”    together funding to publish 10 volumes - a
he writes in hindsight.                         very important contribution to the desperate
  Morgenthau’s diaries, however, are a          and sometimes frustrating battle of the
valuable source of firsthand information        Armenians and their friends to win
composed in real time. Together with the        recognition of their national tragedy.
recently published United States Official
Records on the Armenian Genocide, 1915-                         `Never again’
1917, they offer a clear picture of what the    One sad example: During the same week
U.S. government knew. Hence their               that the world marked the 60th anniversary
importance for understanding genocide in        of the liberation of Auschwitz, constantly
general, and the circumstances that would       repeating the refrain “never again,” and “we
enable such a thing to happen. The “Official    have learned our lesson,” the state of
Records on the Armenian Genocide”               Brandenburg in Germany caved in to
consists of memos filed on a daily basis,       Turkish pressure and deleted half a sentence
informing the U.S. Secretary of State and       about the Armenian genocide from a 10th-
President Woodrow Wilson of the efforts to      grade textbook on the history of World War
rescue as many Armenians as possible and        I. It was the only textbook in Germany that
the obstacles that faced the rescuers along     even mentioned the genocide.
the way. These books should be required           Morgenthau’s diaries have now been
reading for anyone researching World War        joined by another memoir. This one is by
I, American diplomacy, the Ottoman Empire       Abram I. Elkus, who succeeded Morgenthau
and the Armenian genocide. The university       as U.S. ambassador to Turkey in 1916-1917.
Elkus was also Jewish, and he made no            Organization such as Victor Jacobson and
effort to hide it. He, too, worked tirelessly    Richard Lichtheim. He helped Hashomer
on behalf of the Armenians, possibly             leaders Manya and Israel Shochat, who were
identifying with their suffering because he      arrested and exiled to Turkey by the
knew, as a Jew, what it was like to be an        Ottomans. Morgenthau intervened to keep
underdog.                                        them from being sent to east Turkey. He
  Morganthau and Elkus, as we see from           ordered the U.S. consul to visit them every
their books, were of great assistance to the     Sunday and send him a report on how they
Yishuv - the pre-state Jewish community in       were faring.
Palestine - which found itself in dire straits     “The local authorities and top echelons in
during World War I. What saved the Jews in       Constantinople knew about the consul’s
Palestine from a fate similar to that of the     visits to us,” wrote Israel Shochat in his
Armenians is very much a matter of debate.       memoirs, “and I am convinced that this is
Was it the intervention of the U.S., largely     what saved us from torture, harassment and
through the auspices of Morgenthau and           possibly even death.” Ambassador Elkus
Elkus? The actions taken by Germany? The         continued in this vein.
public outcry that the Jews managed to
arouse? Was it the docile behavior of the                       Yishuv connection
Jews, as opposed to what the Turks               The comments made about them by
perceived as Armenian rebelliousness?            members of the Yishuv during World War I
Maybe the Turks had no intention of wiping       are enlightening. Avshalom Feinberg of the
out the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine, or maybe     intelligence ring, Nili, wrote about the
they wanted to, toward the end of the war,       Armenian genocide in a letter to Henrietta
but by that time, they couldn’t.                 Szold, secretary of the Experimental Station
  The work of the two American                   in Atlit, headed by Nili chief Aaron
ambassadors on behalf of the Yishuv has not      Aaronsohn, in October 1915. In this letter,
been sufficiently studied, perhaps because       he also mentions Morgenthau:
Morgenthau was not a Zionist and did not           “Allow me at this point to pay honor to
regard Zionism as a solution to the Jewish       your country. I must say that without
problem. Nevertheless, he was instrumental       American Jewry we would not have been
in arranging passage for refugees on             able now to survive in Palestine. Both the
American ships that sailed between Beirut,       U.S. and our people were represented in
Jaffa, Alexandria and Constantinople.            these dark days - decisive days, I would say
Morgenthau maintained close ties with the        - in the most glorious and valuable manner
Jewish community in Turkey and                   by Ambassador Morgenthau. Does it not
representatives of the World Zionist             seem that Divine Providence has helped us,
this time, by placing this man in this
position at this moment? He knew brilliantly
how to bring honor to his country and to his
origins, and it goes without saying that he
will forever deserve the thanks of his people.
It is fair to say that this man has entered
human history through the front door, by
virtue of his approach to the defense of the
Armenians. In his defense of the Armenians
he acted not only as a brave American and
the valuable ambassador of a great nation.
He also gave of himself.”
  Feinberg goes on to say that the Egyptian
newspapers announced Morgenthau’s
commitment of $2 million to aid the
Armenians. “This constitutes a rousing
rebuttal of the petty aphorism that ‘charity
begins at home,’” he writes. “We can only
support and applaud these millions, which
will ease the suffering of the Armenian
victims whose plight may become ours
tomorrow. ... It is a touching and uplifting
sight, that a son of such an impoverished
people should be the first to offer aid to
another wretched people, with whom we
have no ties of blood, faith or tradition. Is
not the nobility here even greater?”

Prof. Yair Auron is the author of The
Banality of Indifference: Zionism and the
Armenian Genocide and The Banality of
Denial: Israel and the Armenian Genocide,
both published by Transaction. His new
book, The Pain of Knowledge: Holocaust
and Genocide Issues in Education, will be
coming out this month.

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