How a forgotten American diplomat resisted the Armenian Genocide.
Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.
Brief though it was, Henry Morgenthau’s career as U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire marked one of the most astonishing chapters in American overseas diplomacy. In January 1916, he left Constantinople having served for little more than two years and headed home to New York, determined to help Woodrow Wilson win a second term. “I could imagine no greater calamity,” he later recollected, “for the U.S. and the world than that the American nation should fail to heartily endorse this great statesman.”
Morgenthau was convinced that Wilson was the best candidate to reshape an international order that had descended into savagery. In the preceding nine months, he had seen it with his own eyes, as the Ottoman government carried out an unspeakable offense against its people, slaughtering more than a million ethnic Armenians. Protected by American neutrality during the first three years of World War I, Morgenthau was the fulcrum of a network of American diplomats, missionaries, and businesspeople who gained an eyewitness perspective of the massacres. Their testimony constitutes a compelling body of evidence about what happened to the Armenians: an outrage for which the term genocide was invented.
News of the massacres reached Washington through Morgenthau, but it was U.S. consulate officials in more remote regions who saw up close what’s known in Armenian as Medz Yeghern, “the Great Crime.” Leslie Davis was U.S. consul in the province of Harput, an area of Turkey in which Armenians accounted for about a third of the population. Seated amid the Anatolian highlands, Harput was roughly seven hundred miles from the capital, necessitating a twenty-one-day journey: eighteen on horseback to a railway station, then three on a train. Davis himself described the Harput consulate as “one of the most remote and inaccessible in the world”; the urban splendor of Constantinople seemed as distant as the moon. Read More