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Chapter IV The Treatment Of Talaat Bey: A Case Study

Lowry Heath W.*
The Story Behind Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

 .d q@="justify">CHAPTER IV



The principal villain of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, and the subject of its greater invective, is Talaat Bey, the Ottoman Minister of Interior. An examination of the treatment accorded him, therefore, will serve to establish the inexplicably wide discrepancies between events as recorded by Morgenthau in his ‘Diary’ and ‘Letters,’ that is, during his actual sojourn in Constantinople (November, 1913—January, 1916), and inhis 1918 book. While in no way comprehensive, the following examples,

Talaat Bey, Ottoman
Minister of the Interior
This photograph which was presented to Ambassador Morgenthau is preserved in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library, in Hyde Park, N.Y.

[FDR: PHM- Photo Collectionj]

presented in the order in which they appear in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, will serve to illustrate this point:

1) In describing “Talaat, the leading man in this band of usurpers,” Morgenthau states:

“I can personally testify that he cared nothing for Mohammedanism for, like most of the leaders of his party, he scoffed at all religions. ‘I hate all priests, rabbis, and hodjas,’he once told me.”[48]

In point of fact, there is not a single reference in any of Morgenthau’s contemporary Constantinople papers to support this statement. To the contrary, the sole reference to Talaat’s religious attitudes is found in a ‘Diary’ entry for July 10, 1914, where, in describing a small supper party he gave on the previous evening for Talaat
Grand Rabbi Nahoum and his wife, and Schmavonian, Morgenthau recorded:

“Talaat told me the other evening thrit he was the most religious in cabinet; and that Djavit had none and Djemol little.”[49]

Even were it not known that Talaat Bey was indeed the most religious of the Young Turk leadership, Morgenthau’s own ‘Diary’ and ‘Letters’ contain literally dozens of references to the close relationship which existed between Talaat and the Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum, leader of the Ottoman Jewish communities, which make the quote attributed to him in which he allegedly stated to Morgenthau his “hate (of) all Priests, Rabbis, and Hodjas,” extremely unlikely.[50]

Why then did Morgenthau choose to portray Talaat Bey as an atheist, when his own ‘Diary’ gives the lie to his contention? The obvious answer is that he felt it would be useful in generating the desired disgust and revulsion on the part of his intended audience to portray the villain of the piece as a godless atheist rather than as a supporter of religion, even if it were Islam.

2) In a section of his work dealing with the forced return of Greek settlers on the Aegean coast of Anatolia to the islands from which they originated (in late spring and early summer 1914), Morgenthau writes:

“By this time I knew Talaat well; I saw him nearly every day, and he used to discuss practica fry every phase of international relations with me. I objected to his treatment of the Greeks; I told him that it would make the worst possible impression abroad and that it affected American interests.”[51]

Contrary to Morgenthau’s claim of almost daily intimacy with Talaat Bey, a thorough analysis of his ‘Diary’ entries for the period between January 1, 1914 and July 2, 1914, establishes that Morgenthau and Talaat met on a total of only twenty occasions, of which only eight were actual substantiye meetings, the remainder being social events where they happened to be guests at the same dinner parties.[52] Throughout the period in question, Morgenthau saw Talaat for substantive purposes an average of only once every three weeks. Indeed, during the height of the expulsions (Mid-May - June 1914) Talaat and Morgenthau did not meet at all. Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ records meetings only on May 4th and again on July 2, 1914,[53]

Nor does the ‘Diary’ record a single instance, despite Morgenthau’s assertion, in which the Ambassador remonstrated with Talaat Bey over his treatment of the Greeks. To the contrary, it establishes that the matter was the subject of discussion in only one of their meetings, that of July 2, 1914, an occasion on which Morgenthau simply recorded Talaat’s reasoning for relocating the Greeks without any Indication that he objected to it in any manner whatsoever:

“Schmavonian and I called on Talaat. He was very frank... Seems determined to have Greeks of the country, not clues, leave their country; he said the Greeks here pay taxes to Greece Government collected by Metropolitan; he says they want their islands back; admitted Greek superiority in education and mercantile capacities...“[54]

In the weekly letter to his family of July 15, 1914, he records the same conversation as follows:

“In the afternoon, I paid a visit on Talaat. He was extremely frank... They are unquestionably determined to have such Greeks as live out of their cities to part from their country as peaceably and as soon as possible. The thing that seemed to annoy him most was that these very Ottoman Greeks are paying taxes to the Hellenic Government, and some of the very money that is earned on Turkish soil will be used to pay for the ships that Greece has just purchased from us. My secretary [Hagop S. Andonian] just informs me that when he attended Robert College twelve years ago, the Greek students used to pay every week something from their pocket money as a contribution to the Hellenic fleet. Talaat admitted to me that they either want the islands back or the Greeks expelled from the mainland.”[55]

Far from remonstrating with Talaat Bey over the Ottoman treatment of their Greek population, there is not a hint in anything Morgenthau recorded to suggest that he found their policy unacceptable. Why then in 1918 does he claim that “I objected to his treatment of the Greeks,” or that he “saw him [Talaat] nearly every day” and “he used to discuss practically every phase of international relations with me?”[56] Once again, there can be only one reason: he is laying the groundwork for his claim of intimacy with Talaat on one hand, and, on the other, seeking to establish his credentials as a defender of any and all minorities persecuted by the hands of the Moslem Turks.

3) In attempting to describe the motivations impelling Talaat’s treatment of minorities, Morgenthau writes:

“...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.”[57]

This alleged conversation, complete with Talaat’s use of the phrase “Turkey for the Turks,” was, according to Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, part of the same discussion referred to above in which Talaat explained his desire to force the Greek setflers along the Aegean Coast to return to their original homes on the islands. As we have already seen, no reference to anything supporting Talaat’s alleged views on Turkey for the Turks’ was recorded by Morgenthau in either his ‘Diary’ or ‘Letter’ dealing with that meeting.
Why then did Morgenthau put these words into the mouth of Talaat Bey? Again, the answer is simple: he wanted to have the strongest figure among the Young Turk triumvirate embracing verbally what is one of the major leitmotifs of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, namely, it was run—away Turkish nationalism which prompted their attempt to “exterminate” the Armenians. This theme, which does not find a single iota of support in either the ‘Diary’ or the ‘Letters,’ runs throughout his book. Over and over we read statements such as Turkey for the Turks,’[58] ‘In his eyes Turkey was the land exclusively of the Turks; he despised all the other elements in its population,’[59] ‘It was his determination to Turkify the whole Empire,’[60] They decided to establish a country exclusively for Turks,’[61] Their passion for Turkifying the. nation seemed to demand logically the extermination of all Christians,’[62] and, The time had finally come to make Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks.’[63] It is almost as if we are being subjected to some kind of ‘subliminal’ repetition designed to convince us that the Young Turks were racist ideologues. If Morgenthau himself had come to believe this of the Turks in 1918, he had certainly done so after leaving Turkey in 1916, for seemingly nothing he recorded during his sojourn in Constantinople serves to buttress such a view.
4) In describing a meeting with Talaat on October 29, 1914, in which the topic of discussion was the Turkish— German alliance, Morgenthau relates the following discussion:

“At this meeting Talaat frankly told me that Turkey had decided to side with the Germans and to sink or swim with them. He went again over the familiar grounds, and added that if Germany won —and Talaat said that he was convinced that Germany would win— the Kaiser would get his revenge on Turkey if Turkey had not helped him to obtain his victory.”[64]

In other words, Talaat is portrayed here as an individual who has taken a real politik decision and decided to side with Germany on the grounds that in his own opinion she is going to win the war. While no family letter covering this meeting has survived, Morgenthau did record his actual impressions of his October 29, 1914 meeting with Talaat in his ‘Diary,’ presumably within hours of its occurrence. This is what he wrote:

“Called.., on Talaat... We had a most interesting talk; He admitted frankly that they had decided to side with Germans; sink or swim with them; he said they had to have strong country to lean on and if they had not agreed to depend on Germans, they when defeated would have been first to suggest cutting up Turkey; they were prepared to swim or sink with them.”[65]

In the book, Morgenthau has twisted his ‘Diary’ entry to transform a very reluctant Talaat, one who has no opinion as to the likely outcome of the war, one who has simply embraced the lesser of two evils in a hope to stay afloat, into a calculating pro—German, who, having weighed the alternatives, comes down on the German side because of a belief in German invincibility. Why? Because it hardly suits his thesis to have his key villain not firmly committed to the evil German war machine. Once again, Morgenthau has sacrificed any claim to historical accuracy for what can only be termed the short—term propaganda coup.

5) In discussing a late evening visit on the night of November 3, 1914 to Talaat’s home for the purpose of protesting the treatment of English and French civilians, Morgenthau writes:

“‘Well, Talaat,’ I said, realizing that the time had come for plain speaking, ‘don’t you know how foolishly you are acting? You told me a few hours ago that you had decided to treat the French and English decently and you asked me to publish this news in the American and foreign press...

A piece of news which Talaat received at that moment over the wire almost ruined my case... Talaat’s face lost its geniality and became almost savage, he turned to me and said:

The English bombarded the Dardanelles this morning and killed two Turks.’

And then he added:

‘We intend to kill three Christians for every Moslem killed!’

...Finally the train was arranged. Talaat had shown several moods in this interview; he had been by turns sulky, good-natured, savage and complaisant.‘[66]
This account, which covers some six pages in the Morgenthau book, portrays Talaat Bey as some kind of eccentric child, beguiled by the candor of Morgenthau into eventually acceding to his every wish. A good part of it consists of alleged conversations given as direct quotations. Much is made of Talaat Bey, who started life as a telegraphist, “sitting there in his gray pajamas and his red fez, working industriously his own telegraph key,”[67] etc. etc. In point of fact, the entire source for this six page uninterrupted dialogue between Talaat and Morgenthau is the following entry in his ‘Diary’ for November 3, 1914:

“Schmavonian and I went to [Sublime] Porte and then to Talaat’s house, he in pajamas, wife peeping through doors. Bedri appeared phone working. I put it strong that I had spread news all the world and if they balked condemnation follows; he admitted it was general German Chief of Staff who had just returned thought they were too lenient and interfered. There is already conflict between civil and military and Germans and Turks; troubles ahead; Promised to try and let foreigners [stay in] interior unless Beirut, Smyrna, or other unprotected ports were bombarded, then all would be kept as hostages. Syrian Governor would inform our Consul that three Christians be killed for every Moslem that was killed. Dardanelles had been bombarded from 8:30 to 8:40 and two Turks killed. At 7:45 Talaat told us train could go. We returned to station about 8:10 when It was announced it could go. Such joy.”[68]

Here is an almost classic case of the account in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story bearing almost no resemblance to the passage in the ‘Diary’ upon which it should have been based. From the portrayal of Talaat “this huge Turk” hunched over his telegraph machine and “banging the key with increasing irritation,”[69] (when in point of fact he was speaking on the telephone), to his alleged response to the bombing of the Dardanelles which had resulted in two civilian deaths, of promising to ‘kill three Christians for every Moslem killed,”[70] (combining two totally unrelated events out of sequence), that is, from start to finish, the entire section appears to be nothing more real than the rambling of an overactive imagination. Again, the question is why? Here too, it is Morgenthau’s intent to portray Talaat Bey, as his prototypical Turk, as bestial, crude, and vicious in his actions. Only the cajoling influence of the American Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau can stem the unpredictable, dangerous Turk. In reality, the Minister of Interior, and de facto head of government of a state to which Morgenthau was accredited as Ambassador of a foreign country, received him in a crisis situation at home, and spent some time resolving the issue of foreigners who were citizens of belligerent nations wishing to leave the country without exit visas, via a series of phone calls. This act of gracious kindness is twisted into a parody of fact in which Talaat is depicted as an emotionally unstable, petulant schoolboy who can only be controlled by the firm-speaking Henry Morgenthau. While Burton Hendrick could be excused if he had misunderstood the laconic entries in the ‘Diary,’ it appears that all the fictional detail in this section of the book had to have been added in 1918 by Morgenthau himself.
6) Many times it is hard to find any linkage between the passages in the book and the ‘Diary’ references they are obviously supposed to be drawn from. One such example is the following. Morgenthau et al. write:

“I called on Talaat again. The first thing he did was to open his desk and pull out a handful of yellow cablegrams.

‘Why don’t you give this money to us?’ he said, with a grin.

‘What money?’ I asked.

‘Here is a cablegram for you from America, sending you a lot of money for the Armenians. You ought not to use It that way; give it to us Turks, we need it as badly as they do.’

‘I have not yet received any such cablegram,’ I replied.

‘Oh, no, but you will,’ he answered. ‘I always get all your cablegrams first, you know. After I have finished reading them I send them around to you.”[71]

Not only does Talaat Bey read other people’s mail, he brags about it. Not only does he carry out the ‘extermination’ of the Armenians, he is so heartless that he actually dares to ask Morgenthau to give him the money which generous Americans have collected for the relief of these suffering people. It takes a careful reading of the Morgenthau ‘Diary’ to find the entry that served as the source for this statement. It reads:

“He [Talaat] asked me if I would take additional money offered by U.S. to me by cable received today; it was an admission that he had read or knew contents of my telegram.”[72]

There are several problems with the interpretation of this passage given in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story:

a) The ‘Diary’ entry for its source is dated October 14, 1914, a full six months prior to the onset of the Armenian deportations, and at least ten months prior to the arrival of any American aid earmarked for Armenians,

b) The ‘Diary’ entry makes it clear that Morgenthau has already received the telegram in question, i.e., Morgenthau does not suggest that Talaat is referring to a message he has not already seen;

e) Morgenthau only infers from Talaat’s question that he has seen, or has been informed of a cable on the subject of funds; he is not so informed by Talaat himself who, in the book, brags of receiving all cables prior to Morgenthau ever seeing thern.

Clearly, Hendrick, with the tacit approval of Morgenthau, has simply fabricated yet another discussion between Talaat and Morgenthau for the purpose of portraying the Turkish leader as a thoroughly disgusting and inhuman character.

7) On occasion, Morgenthau even goes beyond ‘poetic license’ and literally records alleged conversations which have no foundation whatsoever in either the ‘Diary’ or the ‘Letters.’ In perhaps the most damning indictment of this nature, Morgenthau writes:
“One day Talaat made what was perhaps the most astonishing request I had ever heard. The ‘New York Life Insurance Company’ and the ‘Equitable Life of New York’ had for years done considerable business among the Armenians. The extent to which these people insured their lives was merely another indication of their thrifty habits.

‘I wish,’ Talaat now said, ‘That you would get the American Life Insurance Companies to send us a complete list of Armenian policy holders. They are practically aU dead now and have left no heirs to collect the money. It of course all escheats to the state. The Government is beneficiary now. Will you do so?

This was almost too much, and I lost my temper. ‘You will get no such list from me,’ I said, and I got up and left him.”[73]

Perhaps more than any single incident related in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, this callous disregard for human life and decency etches itself into the reader’s memory. Surely, no one could have invented such a conversation. It must have occurred as related by Morgenthau. But did it? A careful examination of everything written by Morgenthau from the beginning of the Armenian deportations in April of 1915 to the date of his departure, on February 1, 1916, fails to locate a single reference to this alleged conversation. Given the fact that we have hundreds of references in the ‘Diary’ for this period to Talaat and to matters affecting the treatment and mistreatment of Armenians, this lacuna is difficult to explain. Morgenthau, in addition, filed numerous reports to the Department of State relating to Armenians, not one of which makes any reference to this discussion. Finally, for the period in question we have a complete run of ‘Family Letters,’ comprising several hundred pages, which are literally filled with references to meeting with Talaat and discussion of the treatment of Armenians, Their contents refer to every single day during the last twelve months of Morgenthau’s tenure In Turkey, and yet, they too, fail to make any reference to Talaat’s callous request that the Turkish Government be recognized as the beneficiary of the Insurance policies held by the very Armenians whose lives had been lost as a re?ult of the treatment they had been accorded. More telling than this argument by ‘absence’ is the fact that this is the only alleged conversation between Talaat and Morgenthau mentioned in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story for which there is no basis, either in the ‘Diary’ or the ‘Letters.’ In short, this appears to be nothing more than an attempt to further darken the already fully tarnished image Morgenthau has painted of Talaat Bey.

It is upon closer examination of the Morgenthau Papers that an even more disturbing explanation for Morgenthau’s having included this bit of fiction in his book, suggests itself. When one goes back over the ‘Diary’ entries prior to the period of the Armenian deportations, i.e., prior to April 24, 1915, one sees that Morgenthau did in fact discuss the affairs of one the companies named in his book with Talaat Bey. On April 3, 1915 (a full three weeks prior to the beginning of the deportations), we see the following entry:

“Called on Talaat at Minister of Commerce’s Office; spoke to him about ‘New York Life Insurance Company’s funds.”[74]

Can it be that it was this two line entry in Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ which served as the springboard from which Hendrick constructed the alleged conversation discussed above? As in the discussion on Talaat Bey reading Morgenthau’s cables and suggesting that money earmarked for Armenians be given to his government, Is it possible that Hendrick has simply fabricated (presumably with the connivance of Morgenthau) this entire episode? Once again, the answer is, yes. While there was an issue involving funds belonging to the New York Life Insurance Company which had been frozen in Turkey, it had nothing to do with Ottoman Armenians. To the contrary, a series of entries in Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ for the months of March and April 1915 allow us to state categorically that the issue was just the opposite of what was portrayed in the book.

We may summarize the ‘Diary’ entries relative to the ‘New York Life Insurance Company’ issue, as follows:

1) On 24 March, a Mr. Feri, the Constantinople representative of the Insurance Company, paid a visit to Morgenthau and informed him that the Ottoman Government was refusing to release their bank accounts because their company headquarters was in Paris, France (a country with which the Ottoman Empire was then at war);[75]

2) On 29 March, Morgenthau took up the company’s problem in a discussion with Talaat Bey, who informed him of the following: “as to the New York Life funds, the company had never registered and they don’t want them to withdraw their funds, as they fear that they would not pay their losses here;”[76]

3) As noted above, on 3 April, Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ notes that he “called on Talaat at Minister of Commerce’s office; spoke to him about New York Life Insurance Company’s funds;”[77]

This then is the extent of references to the New York Life Insurance Company funds in the Morgenthau papers. The March 29, 1915 entry makes it clear that, far from wanting to serve as the beneficiary of deceased policy holders, Talaat’s and the Turkish Government’s interest was in making sure that the company maintained enough capital in Turkey, so as to guarantee their ability to pay any future claims which might arise under their coverage.

Simple logic tells us Morgenthau’s account must be false, as his ‘Diary’ establishes that throughout his tenure in Constantinople, the New York Life Insurance Co. had its own representative in the Ottoman capital; that is, had Talaat Bey wanted a list of their clients he had only to demand it.[78]

Once again, the question we must ask is: Why does this passage appear in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story in the first place? In addition to the by now obvious aim on the part of Morgenthau, namely, to blacken the reputation of Talaat Bey in every conceivable fashion and whenever possible, there may weft have been an even more venal reason for the inclusion of this passage. A thorough reading of the Morgenthau papers shows that at the very time Morgenthau’s book was being written he was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of New York.[79]In-deed, his ‘Diary’ for the year 1918 shows that on March 21 he attended a meeting of the Equitable Life Assurance Company at 12:00 and then metwith BurtonJ. Hendrick at 2:30[80] (presumably to work on the manuscript). Morgenthau, who had been elected a member of the Society’s board at its December 1, 1915 meeting,[81] was very proud of his being so recognized and even wrote his son Henry Jr. to the effect that: “I think my selection as one of the Trustees of the ‘Equitable Life Assurance Society’ shows that the financial powers are already realizing that my name and advise [sic. advice) will be of some value.”[82] It may well be that the passage in question was nothing more than a ‘plug’ for the life insurance business. By naming the ‘Equitable Life Assurance Society’ and praising Armenians for having the foresight to insure their lives, Morgenthau may simply have been throwing in a free advertisement for his fellow trustees who had the good sense to recognize back in 1915 that, in his words “my name and advise will be of some value.” While there is no way to advance this suggestion beyond the realm of hypothesis, one thing is clear - there is nothing in the Morgenthau papers to suggest that the alleged conversation between Talaat Bey and Morgenthau ever transpired.

8) Not satisfied with relating fictitious conversations between himself and Talaat, Morgenthau also at times simply brings together events which transpired on separate occasions, thereby creating a totally erroneous impression. A case in point of this technique concerns the most serious discussion Morgenthau ever had with Talaat on the treatment of the Armenians. This talk, which occurred on August 8, 1915, took place at the initiative of Talaat who sent word to Morgenthau (through their mutual friend, the Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum) that he wanted to see the American envoy alone, that is, without his Armenian escort—interpreter Arshag K. Schmavonian as he desired to discuss “Armenian matters.”[83]

Morgenthau’s version of this meeting in his ‘Story’ begins as follows:

“In the early of part of August...he sent a personal messenger to me, asking if I could not see him alone —he said that he himself would provide the interpreter. This was the first time that Talaat had admitted that his treatment of the Armenians was a matter with which I had any concern. The interview took place two days afterward. It so happened that since the last time I had visited Talaat I had shaved my beard. As soon as I came in the burly Minister began talking in his customary bantering fashion.

‘You have become a young man again,’ he said: ‘You are so young now that I cannot go to you for advice any more.’

‘I have shaved my beard,’ I replied, ‘because It had become very gray — made gray by your treatment of the Armenians.”[84]

In actual fact, the ‘beard incident’ occurred not in the course of the August 8, 1915 meeting on ‘Armenian matters,’ but rather a month earlier on 3 July when Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ records the following:

“...Talaat teased me about having shaved beard and said I had become young and he would no longer take my advice...I told him I shaved it because It grew gray on account of treatment of Armenians.”[85]

By juxtaposing the banter of the 3 July conversation with the very serious appointment on the “Armenian matters” which occurred a month later, Morgenthau creates the impression that Talaat was not very serious in asking him to come discuss the Armenian Question on 8 August. How could he be serious when he began a talk about life and death matters by joking about Morgenthau’s beard?

It is only when we read the actual ‘Diary’ entry for August 8, 1915, that we realize just how serious the talk actually was:
“I called on Talaat. He had his man there to interpret for me. First he spoke English but as Talaat himself noticed he was very slow, he asked him to try German which worked better. Talaat told me that he greatly preferred that I should always come alone when I had any Armenian matters to discuss with him. By this he admits that he was willing to discuss Armenian affairs with me. He told me that they based their objections to the Armenians on three distinct grounds:

1) that they had enriched themselves at the expense of the Turks;

2) that they wanted to domineer over them and establish a separate state;

3) that they have openly encouraged their enemies, so that they have come to the irrevocable decision to make them powerless before the war is ended.

I argued in all sorts of ways with him but he said that there was no use; that they had already disposed of three—fourths of them, that there were none left in Bitlis, Van, Erzeroum, and that the hatred was intense now that they have to finish it. I spoke to him about the commercial losses, he said that they did not care, that they had figured it out and knew it would not exceed for the banks etc. five million pounds. He said they want to treat the Armenians like we treat the negroes, I think he meant like the Indians. I asked him to make exceptions in some few cases which he promised to do; he also definitely promised that the people living in Constantinople could depart. I asked him about the removal of some sixty people,. he said those are people who have come here from Izmid. It was simply impossible to move him. He said they would take care of the Armenians at Zor and elsewhere but they did not want them in Anatolia. I told him three times that they were making a serious mistake and would regret it. He said, ‘we know we have made mistakes, but we never regret.”[86]

In tone and content that was a far more serious discussion than the account In Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story Implies. There is no. hint of banter In the ‘Diary’ entry; far from it, Talaat emerges as being extremely candid. A close reading of his comments as recorded in Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ suggests that his comparison of their plans for the Armenians with the American treatment of the Negroes may have been, despite Morgenthau’s suggestion, well spoken. It is in fact ‘segregation’ which he is referring to, as is clear from the final statement attributed to Talaat on this matter, to wit, “He said they would take care of the Armenians at Zor and elsewhere but they did not want them in Anatolia.”[87]

Why does Morgenthau not challenge Talaat on this statement? Because it is not out of keeping with what he is hearing at that time from others, including Zenop Bezjian, the ‘vekil’ (representative) of the Armenian Protestants in the Ottoman Empire. A month after the above—mentioned conversation with Talaat, Morgenthau receives a visit from Bezjian, which he records in his ‘Diary’ in the following terms:

“Zenop Bezjian, Vekil of Armenian Protestants, called. Schmavonian introduced him; he was his schoolmate. He told me a great deal about conditions [in the interior]. I was surprised to hear him report that Armenians at Zor were fairly well satisfied; that they have already settled down to business and are earning their livings;
those were the first ones that were sent away and seem to have gotten there without being massacred. He gave me a list where the various camps are and he thinks that over one half million have been displaced. He was most solicitous that they should be helped before winter set in

All comments in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story notwithstanding, as late as September 1915, Morgenthau had not firmly concluded that the Armenians were the subject of an attempted ‘extermination’ by the Young Turk leadership.

9) In addition to inventing conversations, on occasion Morgenthau and Hendrick take unsubstantiated rumor, surround it with quotation marks and put it in Talaat’s mouth as well. One such example is the following passage, which reads:

“Talaat’s attitude toward the Armenians was summed up in the proud boast which he made to his friends: ‘I have accomplished more toward solving the Armenian problem in three months than Abdul Hamid accomplished in thirty years.”[89]

Given the violent means by which Sultan Abdulhamid II responded to the Armenian uprising in 1895—1896, this boast attributed to Talaat can not help but send a chill down the spine of the reader. For what Talaat is implicitly saying is that he has killed more Armenians in three months than Abduihamid did in thirty years. Once again, he has the criminal publicly boasting of his crime. One’s only question can be who are the friends in whom Talaat thus confided, and which of them passed his boast along to Morgenthau?

Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ entry for July 18, 1915 provides us the answer to these queries, he writes:

“Gates told me Talaat had said that he has accomplished more in three months about crushing the Armenians than Abdul Hamid could do in thirty three years.”[90]

About the last person one would expect to see listed among the ‘friends’ of Talaat Bey is Caleb Gates, the former American missionary who served as President of Robert College during Morgenthau’s tenure in Constantinople. Far from being ‘friends’ they were hardly acquainted, as is clear from Gates’ own book: Not To Me Only. Not surprisingly, Gates does not choose to repeat the rumor he mentioned to Morgenthau in his own writing or to record it as fact.[91] Morgenthau suffered from no such inhibition himself. If it served the general purpose of casting Talaat in a negative light it was deemed worthy of inclusion in his book. Even rumor, if dressed up with quotation marks and placed in the mouth of Talaat Bey, found its place in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. Understandably, this Gates—inspired rumor did not find its way into Morgenthau’s weekly ‘Letter’ of July 22, 1915. For Morgenthau’s views of Talaat in 1915 were far different than in 1918 when his book was written.
10) Discussing a chance meeting with the German Ambassador Wangenheim, which occurred on October 15, 1915, Morgenthau states:

“A few days after his [Wangenheim’s] return, I met him on his way to Haskeuy; He said that he was going to the American Embassy and together we walked back to it. I had been recently told by Talaat that he intended to deport all the Armenians who were lejt in Turkey and his statement had induced me to make a final plea to the one man in Constantinople who had the power to end the horrors,”[92]

A close examination of Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ and ‘Letters,’ establishes that, contrary to the claim in this passage, Morgenthau had not seen Talaat Bey at all during the first half of October (nor had he been told anything resembling this during his four previous meetings on September 6, 13, 20 and 30, 19 15).[93] What he had heard was gossip, passed on not by Talaat Bey as he alleges, but rather by his two Armenian staff members, Schmavonian and Andonian. His ‘Diary’ entry for October 7, 1915 includes the following comments:

Schmavonian today received two absurdly contradictory statements, one from an Armenian Deputy who said that Talaat Pasha had stated to him that nothing further would be done against the Armenians, that now they intended to take [up] the question of their Greek subjects; while another man told him that they contemplated to complete matter. Andonian reported to me about Armenian Patriarch’s interview yesterday with Talaat. Talaat’s statements to the Patriarch were not at all reassuring. He had said that all their measures against the Armenians were perfectly justified, had expressed great resentment at Armenians having tried to secure European Intervention to establish a proper government and introduce reforms in Anatolia and had said that they were just waiting for such a chance to punish the Armenians...When Patriarch answered that they ought to punish responsible parties and not women and children, he said these things are inevitable!”[94]

In other words, Morgenthau’s statement in his book relevant to his October 15, 1915 meeting with Wangenheim, should have read, “I had been recently told by Schmavonian that he had been told by an unnamed man that the Turks were contemplating to complete the matter and deport the remaining Armenians,” rather than his claim that: “I had been recently told by Talaat that he intended to deport all the Armenians who, were left in Turkey.” Once again, we see Morgenthau take rumors passed on to him, this time by his Armenian adviser/interpreter as coming from an unnamed source, and credit them to Talaat.

11) Given the consistency with which Morgenthau has misquoted, modified statements of, and simply fabricated most of the remarks he has attributed to Talaat, it seems only fitting that his description of his final meeting prior to his departure from Istanbul with the Turkish leaders should also be noteworthy primarily for its lack of veracity. He begins his account by saying:

“I had my farewell interview with Enver and Talaat on the thirteenth of January.”[95] and even in this short sentence manages to incorporate two falsehoods: a) he did not hold a farewell Interview with Talaat and Enver at all, but met each man separately; and, b) his separate meetings with Talaat and Enver actually occurred on January 29, 1916.[96]

With this less than auspicious beginning, one might weft wonder how Morgenthau is going to record his leave-taking from the Turkish leaders, Talaat Bey and Enver Pasha, with whom his ‘Diary’ and ‘Letters’ show he had enjoyed friendly social and professional relations. He begins with the following statement:

“But we hope you are coming back soon,’ he [Talaat] added, in the polite (and insincere) manner of the oriental.”[97]

The reminder to the reader that Talaat was not even sincere in his leave—taking appears at first glance to be typical Morgenthau—Hendrick invective. However, an examination of other surviving documents relating to the book, establishes that in this instance the slander’s author was none other than the Honorable Robert Lansing, the U.S. Secretary of State. As noted earlier, Morgenthau sent drafts of each section of his ‘Story’ to Lansing, who personally commented on them. Indeed, just prior to the book’s publication, Morgenthau wrote Lansing asking permission to acknowledge the “trouble taken by Secretary of State Robert Lansing in reading the manuscript and of the many valuable and wise suggestions he has made.”[98] Lansing declined the honor with “I’m sure that you will agree with me that on the whole it would be advisable not to mention my name in connection with the book.”[99] Morgenthau agreed, and helped perpetrate an important omission which has lasted until today. For Lansing’s comments (in his own hand), were taken seriously by Morgenthau and the present example illustrates their nature. In the Morgenthau-Hendrick draft of the closing chapters of Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, the passage quoted above actually read:

“But we hope you are coming back soon,’ he [Talaat] added. We feel almost as though you were one of us,”[100]

Lansing’s contribution was to pencil in the phrase: “with the usual insincere oriental politeness,”[101] an emendation which Morgenthau immediately instructed Hendrick to in corporate.[102] Not only was Lansing’s input totally uncalled for, but also a reading of Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ entry relevant to his final meeting with Talaat Bey fully illustrates the real nature of the relationship enjoyed by the two men:

“I also called on Talaat and requested his promise that he would not interfere with any American or other interests entrusted to me or [with] the Jews, He promised to everything except that he wanted to reserve the right to have a little fun with the British and French. He said that his promise only held good if I came back...
I asked Talaat whether I should call on the Sultan to say good-bye and he said that I certainly should and that he would arrange it.”[103]

Anyone reading this passage realizes that, contrary to what Lansing implied, there was a frank and open friendship linking the American Ambassador and the Ottoman Minister of the Interior. Why does Morgenthau allow the inclusion of so much slanderous material regarding Talaat Bey two years after the fact? The answer is simple and relates to the fact that Morgenthau was writing a piece of wartime propaganda with the expressly stated purpose of mobilizing support for President Wilson’s war effort. He consciously downplayed the close relationships he enjoyed with the Young Turk leadership throughout his sojourn in Constantinople and sacrificed truth for the greater good of helping to generate anti—Turkish sentiment which would transform itself into pro—war sentiment.

It is in the final section of Morgenthau’s comments on his farewells with Talaat, that he establishes just how far he is willing to stretch the truth:

“And now for the last time I spoke on the subject that had rested so heavily on my mind for many months. I feared that another appeal would be useless, but I decided to make it.

How about the Armenians?’

Talaat’s geniality disappeared in an instant. His face hardened and the fire of the beast lighted up his eyes once more.
‘What’s the use of speaking about them?’ he said, waving his hand. ‘We are through with them. That’s all over.’

Such was the farewell with Talaat. That’s all over’ were his last words to me.”[104]

As we have seen, Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ contains nothing even vaguely resembling this closing harangue. Only one thing can really be said about the manner in which Morgenthau and Hendrick portrayed Talaat: it was consistent. It moved from slander to slander and when it seemed to lag near the end, Secretary of State Robert Lansing was on hand to pick up the level of the invective once again.


[47] Throughout Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Talaat Bey is vilified in every conceivable fashion. See: AMS — pp. 20—24, 34—40, 50—51, 58, 78, 99—100, 123—1 27, 137—145, 154, 172, 194—95, 198—99, 253—55, 286, 326—342, and 390—392. A grimmer portrait is hard to imagine, nor one less in keeping with what is generally known about Talaat’s character. I have used contemporary English spelling as found in Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, rather than modern Turkish orthography throughout this study. Hence ‘Talaat’ rather than ‘Talat’ and ‘Abdul Hamid’ for ‘Abdülhamid.’
[48] AMS: p.20.
[49] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: ‘Diary’ entry for July 10, 1914. See also: PDR: HMS — Box No.: Morgenthau family ’Letter’ of July 15,1914, pp. 10—11.
[50] LC: PHM—Reel No.5: Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ entries for the entire period of his stay in Turkey, are full of entries dealing with his close social relationship with Talaat Bey and Grand Rabbi Haim Nahoum. Only two examples will suffice to illustrate that relationship: 1) On February 16,1914 Morgenthau’s ‘Diary’ includes the following note: “We dined at Rabbi Nahoum. May, Helen, Ruth, Schmavonian, Talaat and I, and remained until 11, talking”; and, 2) Just three days later on February 19, 1914, the diary includes the following: “Talaat, Nahoum and Schmavonian were here for supper; we had a very intense talk about Turkish conditions.”
[51] AMS: p. 50.
[52] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Entries for the period between January 1, 1914 and July 2, 1914.
[53] LC: PHM—Reel No.5: See the entries for the period between May 4, 1914 and July 2, 1914.
[54] LC: PHM — Reel No. 5: Entry for July 2, 1914.
[55] FDR: HMS — Box No.5: Morgenthau family ‘Letter’ of July 15, 1914, pp.3—4.
[56] AMS: p.50.
[57] AMS: p.51.
[58] AMS: p. 116. Labelled as the “central point of Turkish policy.”
[59] AMS: p. 133. Sentiment attributed to Bedri Bey, the Prefect of the Police in the Capital.
[60] AMS: p. 174. Stated to be the aim of Djemal Pasha.
[61] AMS: pp. 283-84. Stated to be the goal of the Young Turks.
[62] AMS: p. 290. Given as a rationale for wanting to kill non—Turks.
[63] AMS: p. 292. Given as Turkey’s wartime agenda.
[64] AMS p. 124.
[65] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for October 29, 1914.
[66] AMS: pp. 141-146.
[67] AMS: p. 144.
[68] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for November 3, 1914.
[69] AMS p. 144.
[70] AMS: p. 144.
[71] AMS:p.332.
[72] LC:PHM-Reel No.5: Morgenthau 'Diary' entry for October 10,1914.
[73] AMS:p.339.
[74] LC: PHM - Reel No.5: morgenthau 'Diary' entry for April 3, 1915.
[75] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for March 24, 1915.
[76] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for March 29, 1915.
[77] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for April 3, 1915.
[78] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for October 5, 1915, records the following in regard to the status of the ‘New York Life Insurance Company,’ in Istanbul: “Representatives of ilie New York Life Insurance Company and their lawyer called for advice about what steps to take about registering under the new law.” Clearly, with representatives stationed in Istanbul, any and all information which the Government might wish to obtain concerning the business affairs of this company was easily available. That Talaat Bey would ask Morgenthau for information on any matter concerning this Company is unlikely.
[79] Indeed, Morgenthau had a long-time relationship with Equitable, going back at least as far as 1905, when as a member of the ‘policy—holders committee’ he successfully fought to protect the Company from Edward H. Harriman, For a detailed account of his role with Equitable, see: Burton J. Hendrick, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story — Introductory Article,” The World’s Work, April, 1918. pp.620— 637. See: LC: PHM — Reel No. 7 for a letter of December 2, 1915 (while Morgenthau was still Ambassador in Turkey), appointing him a ‘Director of the Society’ of the ‘Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.’
[80] LC: PHM—Reel No.6: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for March 21, 1918.
[81] LC: PHM — Reel No. 7: Equitable Life’s S.5. McCurdy letter to Morgenthau of December 2, 1915.
[82] FDR: HMJ/Gaer — Box Nos. 1—2: In a letter addressed to “My Dear Children,” of June 29,1915, Morgenthau discusses his selection as a ‘Trustee’ of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, suggesting that he may initially have been chosen as a Trustee (prior to June 29,1915), and then, subsequently, elevated on December 1,1915 to the position of’Director’ of the Society.
[83] Although Morgenthau fails to name the messenger in his book, the ‘Diary’ entry for August 5, 1915 makes it clear that, as was often the case, Talaat had chosen to communicate with Morgenthau via their mutual friend, the Grand Rabbi of the Jewish Community, Haim Nahoum: “When I returned I found Mrs. Nahoum who said her husband had a message for me from Talaat. I sent for him and they stayed for supper. Nahoum told me that Talaat wanted me to call on him without Schmavonian as he wanted to talk to me about Armenian matters.” (LC: PHM — Reel No. 5) It may be that Morgenthau’s failure to name Nahoum as the messenger stems from the fact that having systematically portrayed Talaat Bey as a less than desirable character, he did not want to have to answer queries from his co-religionists as to why the leader of the Jewish Community in the Ottoman Empire was on such intimate terms with evil incarnate.
[84] AMS: p. 336.
[85] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for July 3, 1915.
[86] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for August 8, 1915.
[87] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for August 8, 1915.
[88] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for September 26,1915. See also: FDR:HMS—Box No.8:In his family’Letter’ of October 16,1915 (pp. 5-6)Morgenthau adds the phrase: “in the interior” to his comment that Bezjian told him “a great deal about conditions..,” —thereby clarifying the nature of their discussion.
[89] AMS: p. 342.
[90] LC: PHM—Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for July 18, 1915.
[91] Caleb Gates, Not To Me Only. Princeton (Princeton University Press), 1940. See pp. 188— for Gates’ less than flattering portrait of Talaat. However, despite numerous anecdotes about his relations with Talaat during the war years, Gates makes no reference to the ‘gossip’ he passed on to Morgenthau, which the latter chose to present to the world as fact.
[92] AMS: p. 380.
[93] LC: PHM — Reel No. 5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entries for September, 1915. See also: FDR: HMS — Box No. 8: Morgenthau to family ‘Letters’ of September 13, 1915, and October 1, 10, 16, and 25, 1915.
[94] LC: PHM —Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for October 7, 1915.
[95] AMS: p. 390.
[96] LC: PHM — Reel No.5: Morgenthau ‘Diary’ entry for January 29, 1916.
[97] AMS: p.391.
[98] FDR: HMS — Box No. 12: Morgenthau to Lansing letter of September 22, 1918.
[99] FDR: HMS — Box No. 12: Lansing to Morgcnthau letter of October 2, 1918.
[100] FDR: HMS — Box No. 12: Page 6 of ‘Article Nine’ appended to the Lansing to Morgenthau letter of October 2, 1918.
[101] FDR: HMS — Box No. 12: Ibid.
[102] FDR: HMS — Box 12: Morgenthau to Hendrick letter of October 3, 1918 includes the following passages: “Enclosed please find suggestions of the Secretary of State. I have marked the pages upon which they appear in t lie type written article which we sent him. I think most of the suggestions are good... In regard to suggestion 3, I think it would he well to insert at the end of line 13, after the word ‘ADDED,’ ‘WITH THE USUAL INSINCERE ORIENTAL POLITENESS!”
[103] LC: PHM-Reel No.5: Morgenthau 'Diary' entry for January 29,1916.

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