Armenian News Network / Groong


MORGENTHAU'S FIRST DAY IN CONSTANTINOPLE

Armenian News Network / Groong
February 22, 2010

By Kay Mouradian, EdD

CHAPTER TWO


After a hearty breakfast of omelets smothered with herbs and a variety of breads, cheeses, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and yogurt, the new ambassador made arrangements for his family to tour the city while he went to work. Entering his office he left the door open, walked across the thick Persian rug to the window and observed the bustling activity on the bay. Small steamers taking commuters back and forth were just as packed as the New York ferries on which he had traveled. He admired the vibrant deep maroon colors in the rug as he approached his desk. Sitting in the brand new black leather chair, he ran his hand along the grain of the handsome oak desk and smiled thinking he would never see it so uncluttered again.

`Mr. Ambassador.' Phillip entered and stood at the foot of the desk. It was nine o'clock. `I need to brief you.'

'Sit down.' Morgenthau pointed to a carved wooden chair.

`We have a staff of 45 persons,' Phillip began. `They do their work well, and I will take care of problems that arise. In fact, Sir, we career diplomats normally undertake the responsibility of running the embassies.'

`Mr. Phillip, I am sure you are quite capable, but I want you to know that I normally take charge. I will be a working ambassador, not one who merely attends formal functions.'

The First Secretary's face remained expressionless.

`My effectiveness as Ambassador is only as good as those of you who support me. I know I can depend upon you.' Morgenthau gave him a disarming and genuine smile.

Phillip could not help but respond in kind. His new boss did not become wealthy by letting others do his work, but the first secretary knew he needed to prepare the new ambassador. `Sir, are you familiar with Capitulations?'

`It means foreigners in Turkey live by the rules of their country, does it not?'

`Yes, this law gives our citizens a strong sense of security. We control the American interests in the Turkish Empire. It was back in the 1400's,' Phillip continued, `when the Turks devised this contract with foreign governments to exempt their citizens from Ottoman taxes and the Ottoman Judicial system. That contract is still in effect today.'

Morgenthau smiled as he thought about the longevity and effectiveness of such a contract. `I presume its intent is to attract foreign capital?'

`Yes, but also, to allow a foreigner arrested in Turkey to be tried under their own country's judicial system, in the citizen's own Consular Courts. Turkish law is founded on the Koran and under these laws the testimony of a Christian is not admissible against that of a Moslem. The great majority of Turkish judges are clergy, Imams and Muftis, who adhere strictly to the laws of the Koran.'

`Has the embassy undertaken many of these infractions?'

`Almost none. Most recently a drunken sailor, a man of questionable character. He claimed to be an American citizen, but I learned he was not. Most of our citizens in Turkey are missionaries. As you can imagine they are highly educated and have great influence here as well as at home. I have some figures that may surprise you.' Phillip pulled a paper from one of his folders and read the embassy's statistics. `The missionaries administer more than a thousand American primary schools in the Ottoman Empire, 41 high schools, six theological seminaries, six colleges, one university and 13 hospitals.'

`I was surprised to learn that they have such a strong foothold in Turkey,' Morgenthau responded. `I met several heads of the Foreign Board of Missionaries on their way to the Hague to attend a conference, and we had many long talks together as we crossed the Atlantic. I was also surprised to find that their educational work is confined to the non-Moslem communities,'

`Yes. Apostasy is a capital crime in Islam punishable by death,' Phillip said as a matter of fact and continued on with his litany of vital information as he pulled out another paper. `The other Americans in Turkey mostly have business interests. Standard Oil, the American Trade Corporation, the Sailor's Club, the U.S .Shipping Board, MacAndrews and Forbes licorice root dealers, and the American Chamber of Commerce are all based here in Constantinople.'

Morgenthau suppressed a smile at the earnest, if humorless efficiency of his First Secretary. `How many Americans are in Constantinople?'

`I don't know for sure. We have never gathered together as a group. I'll ask Dr. Mary Patrick, president of Constantinople College for Girls. She knows everyone. You will enjoy her wit and intellect. Even Turkish men respect her.'

`I think a reception for the American community is in order,' Morgenthau responded. `It will be an easy way for me to meet them. Will you plan the event?'

`Of course, Sir.'

Morgenthau reached for a cigar in the ivory inlaid humidor someone had been thoughtful enough to set out for him. The box smelled of fine Turkish tobacco. He rolled a thick dark cigar between his thumb and forefinger, passed it beneath his nose, snipped the end with a small gold knife attached to his watch chain, lit it and had a look of pleasure as he blew out the smoke. He reached for the humidor to offer Phillip a cigar.

Phillip raised his palm. `No thank you, Sir.'

`Today, I'll make my introduction to the American consulate generals by letter, but I would like to meet them personally. What do you think of my visiting the thirteen consulates?'

`I'm sure the consuls would be delighted, `Phillip said. `However, you must realize the distances are great and transportation often is primitive. You should discuss the idea with Schmavonian. He is a native and knows the best way to travel.

`Phillip rose to leave. `I'll send in Mr. Andonian, your personal secretary. He has an excellent command of the English language and is a very good typist.

`Good.' Morgenthau took some paper from the top drawer of his desk, took another drag from the cigar and started to draft his letter.

Later that afternoon Morgenthau met with Schmavonian. Morgenthau spoke German fluently, but spoke no French, the common language of the diplomats. Schmavonian would be his Turkish-French tongue. `I want to familiarize myself with this country and to personally meet the thirteen American consulars. Phillip suggested I discuss with you the best methods of travel.'

Schmavonian, eager to assist, chose his words carefully. `Ambassador Morgenthau, many of the American consulates are located near seaports and the best way to reach them is by boat. A small launch is attached to the embassy, but it is not adequate for such a lengthy trip. You need at least a fifty-foot steamer.

`Can we rent one?'

`Ambassador, this is Constantinople, and the importance of the political arena cannot be underestimated. All the embassies representing powerful countries have such boats manned by their navies. If you want to be looked upon with high regard by the Turkish hierarchy I suggest you consider the idea. It is unfortunate but this image is important. An American ambassador in Turkey is still relatively new, and the assignment of a steamer would be dramatic and give you the same status as that of the European ambassadors.'

Morgenthau began to understand the underlying message this portly white haired man was communicating.

`Remember Oscar Strauss?' Schmavonian asked.

`Yes, I know him.'

`Well, when he was Minister of the American Legation, his requests for interview with the Sultan were continually denied. If he had had the status of an ambassador those requests would have been filled.'

`I see,' Morgenthau responded. `Let me think about the idea.'

Later that evening Ambassador Morgenthau wrote a personal letter to the US Secretary of the Navy, Joseph Daniels, and requested the assignment of a fifty-foot steamer to the Constantinople post.

--
Professor Kay Mouradian is a health and physical education specialist
retired from the Los Angeles Community Colleges. Her publications
include Reflective Meditation: a Mind Calming Technique, A Guide for
Those Teaching Yoga in the Community Colleges, and she has also
contributed publications in several magazines and newspapers. Her
first novel, "A Gift In The Sunlight: An Armenian Story", now in its
second edition, was inspired by her mother's remarkable survival of
the Armenian Genocide. http://www.aGiftInTheSunlight.com/
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