American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s Story and Realities

Today, almost all sources written about the Armenian problem, defending the Armenian thesis and describing the events in 1915 as genocide often refer to the work named “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” which was first published in newspapers in the USA in 1916 and then issued as a book. The construction story of this story, used as an inevitable source, holds a characteristic of demonstrating how genocide claims emerged in the First World War.

Henry Morgenthau, coming from a Jewish family from Bayern, got an education in law. As an estate commissioner in New York, he served as Economic Committee Chair of the Democratic Party during the presidency election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912. When Wilson won the election, Morgenthau was rewarded with a political duty and appointed to the Ottoman Empire as ambassador and he came to Istanbul on 27 November 1913 to begin his duty. Morgenthau, who worked in Turkey for 26 months, returned to the United States of America in February of 1916 (Henry, 1922: 1-2). During the First World War, he worked for the protection of British and French citizens and their properties in the Ottoman country and hearing from this country. His basic duty in the Ottoman Empire was to carry out activities for the protection of American citizens, missionary organizations and Jewish interests.

Morgenthau’s memories, which are constituted of the maltreatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the war years, bad governance of Turkish administrators and parts of insults to them, were written two years after the end of his duty as an ambassador and spoke of his activities in diplomacy. Morgenthau’s book, which was one of the principal reasons for Turkish hostility which became one of the apparent characteristics of American public opinion in the 1920s and whose effects are still to be seen today, was one of the main starting points for the belief that the Government of Union and Progress carried out a planned genocide against the Armenian minority by using the First World War as an excuse.

In his letter to Woodrow Wilson on 26 November 1917, Henry Morgenthau mentioned his idea of writing a book and the reasons and goals for this and presented his idea with his opinions for the approval of the President. Morgenthau stated that his only aim was to contribute to the war efforts of the United States of America by writing a propaganda book of German and Turkish hostility, which would bring support to the war policy of the government in terms of public opinion. Also, he said that he was disappointed by the insensitiveness of the American people towards the war and for this reason the hostility against Germans and Ottomans would make the people willing for the war. One year after the letter written to President Wilson by Morgenthau, the work called “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” was eventually written. It was published in The World’s Work, which was one of the most famous journals of America; some parts of it were published in more than a dozen newspapers whose total circulations were 2,630,256 and it was launched to the market as a book by the publisher Doubleday, Page and Co. in 1918. Special showcases were arranged for the book (Lowry, 1991:12-16).

Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, which was printed in 25,000 numbers in one year and was written for making the people of the United States of America willing for the war, is written quite professionally and has psychological instructions. It does not seem possible that this work was constructed only by Morgenthau. The construction team of the work, apart from Morgenthau, is constituted of these people:

Burton J. Hendrick: Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story was written by famous journalist Burton J. Hendrick himself. Hendrick, who was from the USA, was given 40% share of the sales of this book. Hendrick got 3 Pulitzer prizes, one of which was on history and two of which were on biography branches in the following 10 years after the publication of the book.

Agop S. Andonian: Among the people who helped in the preparation of the book, there was Morgenthau’s Armenian scribe Agop S. Andonian who was brought to America by Morgenthau and was present in the preparation period of the book. Morgenthau, who trusted Andonian a lot, was making him write his diaries and even the letters that he was going to send to his family. Andonian, who was a graduate of Robert College, became an American citizen later on and worked in the preparation of the book by going to the USA with Morgenthau.

Arshag K. Schmovian: One of the key people contributing to the preparation of the book is Arshag K. Schmavonia. Schmavonian, who was a Turkish Armenian, was working as the “Foreign Ministry Special Advisor” in Washington in 1928. He had before worked as the translator of Morgenthau in Istanbul and accompanied him in every meeting with Turkish official authorities. As Morgenthau did not know any of the four mostly spoken languages (Turkish, French, Greek, Armenian) in the Ottoman capital starting from the day he stepped in Istanbul, Schmavonian helped him. Schmavonian was appointed to Washington at the end of 1917 and worked as a “Special Advisor” till his death in January 1922.

The main assistant of Morgenthau, both in the period when he was in Turkey and in the months when “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” was written in 1987, was Schmavonian; he was also assigned to the approval of Morgenthau’s text by the Foreign Ministry.

It is an incomprehensible situation that Schomavonian is not mentioned in the book despite his knowledge and contribution. Why didn’t Morgenthau mention Schmavonian at all in his book? Did Morgenthau think that mentioning his depending on his Armenian assistants (the name of Andanian was also not mentioned) in a book partly handling the Armenian problem would be weird? No doubt that the contribution of Armenians to this book was great and Morgenthau did not mention them at all for this reason and tried to minimalize the Armenian contribution, and also succeeded in this.

Another person who read all parts of the book and gave feedback was the American Foreign Minister Robert Lansing. In the letter he sent to Morgenthau on 2 April 1918, Lansing wrote: “I am sending in the attachment proofs of the first part of your book that I read with a special interest. I pointed the parts to make changes in the book or to be removed on margins. I am sure you will also find these appropriate.” When we consider that Morgenthau took the approval of American President Woodrow Wilson before publishing it and all parts of the book were approved by the American Foreign Minister, Robert Lansing, as the studies proceeded, it will not be wrong to say for Morgenthau’s book that it was published with the official approval of the government of the United States of America (Lowry, 1990: 18-20).

This book holds the features of a memorandum prepared by a special institution rather than a memoir book. Firstly, Morgenthau-Andonian and Hendrick did a study on the Istanbul notes constituted of Morgenthau’s diary and his letters to his family; secondly, Schmavonian reviewed this content in the name of Foreign Ministry; thirdly, the Foreign Minister did the finishing touches in the name of the President; and lastly, Burton J. Hendrick wrote it. When the book was published and made a big influence, Morgenthau got an offer of 25,000 dollars from Hollywood for the movie right for this book. When the first excitement went away and he got a letter from President Wilson who clearly stated that he did not approve this study, Morgenthau’s eagerness for the cinema was broken. American President Wilson wrote to Morgenthau as follows:

“I am so glad that you consulted me for whether the book should or should not be made a film. To be honest, I hope that you do not accept this. Personally I believe we have gone far enough on this issue. This is not only a matter of feelings, after all it is a matter of principle to depend on my feelings. At the moment, there is nothing we can do about Armenian problem on practice. The attitude of the country towards Turkey is already determined and there is no need for an extra emphasis on this”

(Lowry, 1990:36).

According to the thinking of Morgenthau, this story was prepared as a war period propaganda which was planned as a contribution to the war struggle of the Allied Powers and the goal was achieved with the intervention of the USA in the war.

Morgenthau’s book can be divided into four main titles: 1) Imperialist goals of Germany drove the inexperienced Union and Progress Government to the war; 2) Unionist leaders, especially Talat Bey and Enver Pasha decided to Turkify the Ottoman Empire by taking the war as an opportunity. To achieve their purpose, they made a plan to wipe out Ottoman Armenians whom they accused of supporting and helping Russians, their enemies and they implemented this plan; 3) The only person who tried a lot without giving up to convince the Unionists to abandon this plan was Morgenthau; 4) His efforts did not give any result because the only person who would be able to convince the Turks was German Ambassador Baron Wangenheim and he had rejected protecting Armenian rights by being unconcerned with the issue.

There is an indisputable reality: none of the remarks attributed to Turkish or German officials and given in quotes in the book are based on records. In any of the resources used in the writing of the book called “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story,” there are no such remarks. In other words, these remarks given in quotes as if they were the own words of the people are nothing else than literary economy adopted by Hendrick while he was writing “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.” The purpose was most probably to make it more credible by giving the words from the mouths of the mentioned people. Even though this does not prove that they were lies, it requires analysing them more carefully than they have been till now. The result emerging from here: The story was written to arouse hostility towards Turks and Germans in the USA and all around the world and did this professionally and as if the lies would have never been discovered.

Due to all these reasons, Morgenthau did not avoid recurrently defining Turks as “murderer,” “psychologically primitive,” “blood-thirsty,” “coward,” “street bully,” “those without an alphabet,” “unable to write poems or books,” “unproductive in terms of arts,” “destroyer of the produced on the contrary,” “unable to found cities,” and “civilization enemies who destroy the founded cities” in various parts of the book. This racist discourse, with lack of a historical basis, was often used by Armenian writers and researchers with religious bigotry in later years. (Morgenthau, Secrets of The Bosphorus, Constantinople 1913-1916, s. 156, 182; Köse, 2013, p. 56.)

The bad man of the story of Ambassador Morgenthau and the person most attacked was Inner Affairs Minister Talat Bey. There is a big difference between his handling Ottoman administrators in the “Story” and the forms of recording of the events taking place during his stay in Istanbul in his diary and letters which are in American archives. This situation shows that the story of Morgenthau was an exact fake story (Lowry, 1991, p. 56-58).

It is seen that Morgenthau played an important role in making the world hear about the troubles of Ottoman Armenians during the war as well as being the Ambassador of the United States of America. Three names actually come across related to the spread of the Armenian gossip during the war. These are Lord Bryce who took attention with his document compilation named “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire,” German Protestant priest Johannes Lepsius who made the rest of Europe hear about the issue with his book called “Le Rapport Secret du Dr. Johannes Lepsius sur les Massacresd’ Armeniei” and Henry Morgenthau with “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” which was published in Europe and America at the same time in 1918. The common person in these three stories is American ambassador Morgenthau.

When Lord Bryce, who was one of the founders and administrators of the Armenian-British Society, informed Morgenthau of his request to benefit from his documents of which effect was very big, his request was accepted and Bryce’s work called “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire” was published in 1916. Morgenthau carried out Lord Bryce’s request without delaying. The fact that the commonality of the documents was not a coincidence, which meant that the British did not obtain such information from another source, was confirmed from an authorized person such as Morgenthau and the ambassador talked about his role in providing document for Bryce in an article he wrote to March 1919 Volume of the Red Cross Magazine:

“I made sure that the records of the statements given to me by the witnesses of genocide were held carefully for the events to be recorded accurately. These statements included the remarks of all kinds of refugees, Christian missionaries and other witnesses. Most of the documents I collected are in the document compilation prepared perfectly by Vikoni Bryce.”

It is understood that these documents, being fundamental for one of the most effective examples of propaganda against Turks during the war period, were provided to British intelligence service by an ambassador of neutral United States of America and these were published as a part of British efforts aiming at including the country in the war by provoking American public opinion as against Turks and Germans (Lowry, 1991, p. 61-62).

Arnold Toynbee, member of Wellington House, introduced as a prominent historian and expert of genocide propagandas in one of the studies about British propaganda during the First World War, dealt with and convicted Turks in his works called “Armenian Atrocities: Murder of a Nation” (London, 1915) and “The Murderous Tyranny of the Turk” (London, 1917). The reality never spoken of is that it is not anybody else but Henry Morgenthau who provided most of the information about the genocide that Toynbee published in 1915 (Lowry, 1991, p. 64).

In emergence of all war period books handling what Turks did to Armenians, it is seen that Morgenthau played a very important role. Henry Morgenthau was very influential in the formation of a public opinion against Turks and Germans by being an agent for providing resource to the writers such as German Lepsius, British Lord Bryce and Arnold Toynbee, long before his application to President Wilson at the end of 1917 about the project of his book to be published with the name “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” later on.

Though there have been ninety-five years since its first publication, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” is still available in the market in 2015 and during negotiations in the American Senate, many kind senators read citations from Morgenthau’s book as evidence of the thesis that the Union and Progress Government planned and implemented genocide on the Armenian minority. Some of the “Genocide and Collective Massacre Analyses Course Books” used in educational institutions in America today show students some parts from the “Story” as an example of how unhealthy brains plan genocide and implement it. In brief, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story,” instead of being already put aside as it deserves, continues to be one of the principal publications showing the Turks as history’s genocide criminals who do not feel remorse.

While the letters of missionaries, stories of suppressed Armenians and the documents of European diplomats are there, the world does not take into account Turkish historians’ history telling based on the documents putting forward the reality, does not find these realistic and define Turkish historians as “official history writers” and “state defenders.” However, the real events of the First World War are available in an objective way in the archives of Europe, Russia, the USA, and the Ottoman Empire.


Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story(1918), New York.

Büyükelçi Morgenthau’nun Öyküsü(2005), Istanbul.

Köse, İsmail (2013), “Amerika’nın İstanbul Büyükelçisi H. Morgenthau’nun Türk Algısı”, Tarih Dergisi, Vol. 56 (2012 / 2), Istanbul p. 56.

Library Of Congress, Henry Morgenthau Papers, 1795-1941.

Lowry, Heath W. (1990) The Story Behind Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Istanbul.

Lowry,Heath W. (1991), Büyükelçi Morgenthau’nun Öyküsü’nün Perde Arkası, Istanbul.

Morgenthau, Henry (1922), In collaboration with French Strother, All in Life Time, Double day, Page and Company, New York.

Morgenthau, Henry, Secret’s of The Bosphorus, Constantinople 1913-1916, Hutchinson and Co Pattern oster Row, London.

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