Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story by Henry Morgenthau

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Henry Morgenthau (1856-1946) was United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1913 and 1916. He witnessed the Ottoman entry into World War I and the genocide of the Empire’s Armenian, Aramaean/Assyrian and Greek population. “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” was published in 1918 and deals largely with the plight of Armenians in the Empire. However, sections of the books relevant to the Greek Genocide and the Greeks in the Ottoman Empire are presented below:

Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story by Henry Morgenthau

(Chapter III; page 48-51)

In June the relations between Greece and Turkey approached the breaking-point. The Treaty of London (May 30, 1913) had left Greece in possession of the islands of Chios and Mitylene. A reference to the map discloses the strategic importance of these islands. They stand there in the Aegean Sea like guardians controlling the bay and the great port of Smyrna, and it is quite apparent that any strong military nation which permanently held these vantage points would ultimately control Smyrna and the whole Aegean coast of Asia Minor. The racial situation made the continued retention of these islands by Greece a constant military danger to Turkey. Their population was Greek and had been Greek since the days of Homer; the coast of Asia Minor itself was also Greek; more than half the population of Smyrna, Turkey’s greatest Mediterranean seaport, was Greek; in its industries, its commerce, and its culture the city was so predominantly Greek that the Turks usually referred to it as giaour Ismir — “infidel Smyrna.” Though this Greek population was nominally Ottoman in nationality it did not conceal its affection for the Greek fatherland, these Asiatic Greeks even making contributions to promote Greek national aims. The Aegean islands and the mainland, in fact, constituted Graecia Irredenta; and that Greece was determined to redeem them, precisely as she had recently redeemed Crete, was no diplomatic secret. Should the Greeks ever land an army on this Asia Minor coast, there was little question that the native Greek population would welcome it enthusiastically and cooperate with it.

Since Germany, however, had her own plans for Asia Minor, inevitably the Greeks in this region formed a barrier to Pan-German aspirations. As long as this region remained Greek, it formed a natural obstacle to Germany’s road to the Persian Gulf, precisely as did Serbia. Any one who has read even cursorily the literature of Pan-Germania is familiar with the peculiar method which German publicists have advocated for dealing with populations that stand in Germany’s way. That is by deportation. The violent shifting of whole peoples from one part of Europe to another, as though they were so many herds of cattle, has for years been part of the Kaiser’s plans for German expansion. This is the treatment which, since the war began, she has applied to Belgium, to Poland, to Serbia; its most hideous manifestation, as I shall show, has been to Armenia. Acting under Germany’s prompting, Turkey now began to apply this principle of deportation to her Greek subjects in Asia Minor. Three years afterward the German admiral, Usedom, who had been stationed in the Dardanelles during the bombardment, told me that it was the Germans “who urgently made the suggestion that the Greeks be moved from the seashore.” The German motive, Admiral Usedom said, was purely military. Whether Talaat and his associates realized that they were playing the German game I am not sure, but there is no doubt that the Germans were constantly instigating them in this congenial task.

The events that followed foreshadowed the policy adopted in the Armenian massacres. The Turkish officials pounced upon the Greeks, herded them in groups and marched them toward the ships. They gave them no time to settle their private affairs, and they took no pains to keep families together. The plan was to transport the Greeks to the wholly Greek islands in the Aegean. Naturally the Greeks rebelled against such treatment, and occasional massacres were the result, especially in Phocaea, where more than fifty people were murdered. The Turks demanded that all foreign establishments in Smyrna dismiss their Greek employees and replace them with Moslems… An official boycott was established against all Christians, not only in Asia Minor, but in Constantinople, but this boycott did not discriminate against the Jews, who have always been more popular with the Turks than have the Christians…

This procedure against the Greeks not improperly aroused my indignation. I did not have the slightest suspicion at that time that the Germans had instigated these deportations, but I looked upon them merely as an outburst of Turkish ferocity and chauvinism. By this time I knew Talaat well; I saw him nearly every day, and he used to discuss practically every phase of international relations with me. I objected vigorously to his treatment of the Greeks; I told him that it would make the worst possible impression abroad and that it affected American interests. Talaat explained his national policy: these different blocs in the Turkish Empire, he said, had always conspired against Turkey; because of the hostility of these native populations, Turkey had lost province after province—Greece, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Egypt, and Tripoli. In this way the Turkish Empire had dwindled almost to the vanishing point. If what was left of Turkey was to survive, added Talaat, he must get rid of these alien peoples. “Turkey for the Turks ” was now Talaat’s controlling idea. Therefore he proposed to Turkify Smyrna and the adjoining islands. Already 40,000 Greeks had left, and he asked me again to urge American business houses to employ only Turks. He said that the accounts of violence and murder had been greatly exaggerated and suggested that a commission be sent to investigate. “They want a commission to whitewash Turkey,” Sir Louis Mallet, the British Ambassador, told me. True enough, when this commission did bring in its report, it exculpated Turkey.

The Greeks in Turkey had one great advantage over the Armenians, for there was such a thing as a Greek government, which naturally has a protecting interest in them. The Turks knew that these deportations would precipitate a war with Greece; in fact, they welcomed such a war and were preparing for it.

(Chapter XV; page 174)

The fact was that Djemal represented that tendency which was rapidly gaining the ascendancy in Turkish policy—Pan-Turkism. He despised the subject peoples of the Ottoman country— Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Circassians, Jews; it was his determination to Turkify the whole empire. 

(Chapter XXII; page 278-80)

Constantinople’s finest architectural monument, the Mosque of St. Sophia, was originally a Christian church, and all so-called Turkish architecture is derived from the Byzantine. The mechanism of business and industry has always rested in the hands of the subject peoples, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and Arabs. The Turks have learned little of European art or science, they have established very few educational institutions, and illiteracy is the prevailing rule…

It became a common saying with them that a horse or a camel was far more valuable than a man; these animals cost money, whereas “infidel Christians” were plentiful in the Ottoman countries and could easily be forced to labour. It is true that the early Sultans gave the subject peoples and the Europeans in the empire certain rights, but these in themselves really reflected the contempt in which all non-Moslems were held. I have already described the “Capitulations,” under which foreigners in Turkey had their own courts, prisons, post offices, and other institutions. Yet the early sultans gave these privileges not from a spirit of tolerance, but merely because they looked upon the Christian nations as unclean and therefore unfit to have any contact with the Ottoman administrative and judicial system. The sultans similarly erected the several peoples, such as the Greeks and the Armenians, into separate “millets,” or nations, not because they desired to promote their independence and welfare, but because they regarded them as vermin, and therefore disqualified for membership in the Ottoman state. The attitude of the Government toward their Christian subjects was illustrated by certain regulations which limited their freedom of action. The buildings in which Christians lived should not be conspicuous and their churches should have no belfry. Christians could not ride a horse in the city, for that was the exclusive right of the noble Moslem. The Turk had the right to test the sharpness of his sword upon the neck of any Christian.

(Chapter XXII, page 283-86)

These leaders not only reverted to the barbaric conceptions of their ancestors, but they went to extremes that had never entered the minds of the early sultans. Their fifteenth and sixteenth century predecessors treated the subject peoples as dirt under their feet, yet they believed that they had a certain usefulness and did not disdain to make them their slaves. But this Committee of Union and Progress, led by Talaat and Enver, now decided to do away with them altogether. The old conquering Turks had made the Christians their servants, but their parvenu descendants bettered their instruction, for they determined to exterminate them wholesale and Turkify the empire by massacring the non-Moslem elements.

(Chapter XXII, page 290-91)

And now the Young Turks, who had adopted so many of Abdul Hamid’s ideas, also made his Armenian policy their own. Their passion for Turkifying the nation seemed to demand logically the extermination of all Christians—Greeks, Syrians, and Armenians. Much as they admired the Mohammedan conquerors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they stupidly believed that these great warriors had made one fatal mistake, for they had had it in their power completely to obliterate the Christian populations and had neglected to do so. This policy in their opinion was a fatal error of statesmanship and explained all the woes from which Turkey has suffered in modern times. Had these old Moslem chieftains, when they conquered Bulgaria, put, all the Bulgarians to the sword, and peopled the Bulgarian country with Moslem Turks, there would never have been any modern Bulgarian problem and Turkey would never have lost this part of her empire. Similarly, had they destroyed all the Rumanians, Serbians, and Greeks, the provinces which are now occupied by these races would still have remained integral parts of the Sultan’s domain. They felt that the mistake had been a terrible one, but that something might be saved from the ruin. They would destroy all Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, and other Christians, move Moslem families into their homes and into their farms, and so make sure that these territories would not similarly be taken away from Turkey.

(Chapter XXIV; page 323-325)

The Armenians are not the only subject people in Turkey which have suffered from this policy of making Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks. The story which I have told about the Armenians I could also tell with certain modifications about the Greeks and the Syrians. Indeed the Greeks were the first victims of this nationalizing idea. I have already described how, in the few months preceding the European War, the Ottoman Government began deporting its Greek subjects along the coast of Asia Minor. These outrages aroused little interest in Europe or the United States, yet in the space of three or four months more than 100,000 Greeks were taken from their age-long homes in the Mediterranean littoral and removed to the Greek Islands and the interior. For the larger part these were bona-fide deportations; that is, the Greek inhabitants were actually removed to new places and were not subjected to wholesale massacre. it was probably for the reason that the civilized world did not protest against these deportations that the Turks afterward decided to apply the same methods on a larger scale not only to the Greeks but to the Armenians, Syrians, Nestorians, and others of its subject peoples. In fact, Bedri Bey, the Prefect of Police at Constantinople, himself told one of my secretaries that the Turks had expelled the Greeks so successfully that they had decided to apply the same method to all the other races in the empire.

The martyrdom of the Greeks, therefore, comprised two periods: that antedating the war, and that which began in the early part of 1915. The first affected chiefly the Greeks on the seacoast of Asia Minor. The second affected those living in Thrace and in the territories surrounding the Sea of Marmora, the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus, and the coast of the Black Sea. These latter, to the extent of several hundred thousand, were sent to the interior of Asia Minor. The Turks adopted almost identically the same procedure against the Greeks as that which they had adopted against the Armenians. They began by incorporating the Greeks into the Ottoman army and then transforming them into labour battalions, using them to build roads in the Caucasus and other scenes of action. These Greek soldiers, just like the Armenians, died by thousands from cold, hunger, and other privations. The same house-to-house searches for hidden weapons took place in the Greek villages, and Greek men and women were beaten and tortured just as were their fellow Armenians. The Greeks had to submit to the same forced requisitions, which amounted in their case, as in the case of the Armenians, merely to plundering on a wholesale scale. The Turks attempted to force the Greek subjects to become Mohammedans; Greek girls, just like Armenian girls, were stolen and taken to Turkish harems and Greek boys were kidnapped and placed in Moslem households. The Greeks, just like the Armenians, were accused of disloyalty to the Ottoman Government; the Turks accused them of furnishing supplies to the English submarines in the Marmora and also of acting as spies. The Turks also declared that the Greeks were not loyal to the Ottoman Government, and that they also looked forward to the day when the Greeks inside of Turkey would become part of Greece. These latter charges were unquestionably true; that the Greeks, after suffering for five centuries the most unspeakable outrages at the hands of the Turks, should look longingly to the day when their territory should be part of the fatherland, was to be expected. The Turks, as in the case of the Armenians, seized upon this as an excuse for a violent onslaught on the whole race. Everywhere the Greeks were gathered in groups and, under the so-called protection of Turkish gendarmes, they were transported, the larger part on foot, into the interior. Just how many were scattered in this fashion is not definitely known, the estimates varying anywhere from 200,000 up to 1,000,000. These caravans suffered great privations, but they were not submitted to general massacre as were the Armenians, and this is probably the reason why the outside world has not heard so much about them. The Turks showed them this greater consideration not from any motive of pity. The Greeks, unlike the Armenians, had a government which was vitally interested in their welfare. At this time there was a general apprehension among the Teutonic Allies that Greece would enter the war on the side of the Entente, and a wholesale massacre of Greeks in Asia Minor would unquestionably have produced such a state of mind in Greece that its pro-German king would have been unable longer to keep his country out of the war. It was only a matter of state policy, therefore, that saved these Greek subjects of Turkey from all the horrors that befell the Armenians. But their sufferings are still terrible, and constitute another chapter in the long story of crimes for which civilization will hold the Turk responsible.

(Chapter XXVIII; page 386)

When Turkey decided on the deportation and massacre of her subject peoples, especially the Armenians and Greeks, she had signed her own economic death warrant. These were the people, as I have already said, who controlled her industries and her finances and developed her agriculture, and the material consequences of this great national crime now began to be everywhere apparent. The farms were lying uncultivated and daily thousands of peasants were dying of starvation. As the Armenians and Greeks were the largest taxpayers, their annihilation greatly reduced the state revenues, and the fact that practically all Turkish ports were blockaded had shut off customs collections.


Source: Morgenthau, Henry, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1919.