Armenian News Network / Groong


Armenian News Network / Groong
March 22, 2010

By Kay Mouradian, EdD

February 1914

Row upon row of carriages and automobiles lined the street by the American embassy. Foreign ambassadors and ministers in full regalia walked up the marble stairs to the embassy's entrance. Accompanied by their wives who normally don't appear in public, Turkish leaders arrived as their bodyguards stood by, watching.

Feeling dapper in a new tuxedo, Henry Morgenthau personally introduced his wife, Josie, the new Ambassadress to each guest. After the last visitor was greeted, the pair walked hand in had into the dining room where a long elaborate table was set for thirty-eight people. Fresh flowers and flickering light from candles set in multi-tiered silver candelabra gave the room a warm and inviting feeling.

The American Ambassador stood at the center of the table and watched his staff seat the Turkish officials according to strict protocol, starting with the Grand Vizier, Halim Pasha, the Oxford educated Egyptian prince. Halim was a handsome, slightly built man of sixty, notably the most refined Ottoman leader, and many expected him to the most powerful. Generalissimo Enver Pasha, the Minister of War....young, dashing, delicately handsome and suave...his gait suggesting arrogance and pride. Jemal Pasha, Minister of Marine, his un groomed beard not quite covering pocks, was in a friendly and cheerful mood. His eyes were small and dark, and something about them made Henry Morgenthau uneasy. And Talaat, the real power in Turkey, was the last of the four to be seated.

Morgenthau noted an unhappy Limon von Sanders hesitating to be seated. The German General assigned to train the Turkish army was in an animated disagreement with Schmavonian and Mr. Phillip. Finally, Phillip coaxed the General to take the last seat, the least important one at the table.

Raising a glass of champagne Morgenthau said, `As the personal representative of President Wilson, I welcome you to the American Embassy.' He took a sip and everyone followed. When he sat down an army of waiters paraded into the room and served each guest a bowl of steaming asparagus soup. He watched as his wife, sandwiched between Jemal Pasha and Sir Louis Mallet, the British Ambassador, tried to converse with Jemal in her limited French. Watching Ambassador Mallet continually putting down spoonfuls of soup to interpret for her, he thought, `poor Mallet. His musing broke when Halim Pasha, sitting to his right asked, `When are you leaving for Egypt?'

`Perhaps the first week in April,' Morgenthau answered. `Maybe earlier. It depends upon when the repairs for our ship are completed. The work is being done in Athens.'

`I will send a letter of introduction to my cousin, the Khedive,' the Grand Vizier said, his cultured speech ringing through his aristocratic background. `Thank you. Introductions always ease the required formality.' Morgenthau hesitated and said, `Ambassador Mallet said he will also alert the British Resident, Lord Kitchener, of my arrival.' Halim did not immediately respond and Morgenthau realized he should have followed his intuition and not mentioned Kitchener.

`Mr. Ambassador, I have strong feelings about the British,' Halim's voice somewhat tepid. `They came to Egypt, put down a rebellion and never left. They have assumed the role as protectorate.' His tone became unusually cool. `But remember, Egypt is still part of the Ottoman Empire.'

`Yes, of course,' Morgenthau quickly responded as he remembered an earlier conversation when Mallet revealed his suspicion that Halim's greatest ambition was to become Khedive. `I, too, look forward to the day when your country is no longer dependent upon the Europeans,' Morgenthau said. `I understand the immensity of your task and want to be helpful whenever I can.'

`We appreciate your efforts,' a recollected and poised Halim said.

Morgenthau was anxious to change the subject. He did not fully understand the composition of the Ottoman Empire. It was fragmented. Yemen acted as if it were autonomous. Likewise, the Jews in Palestine longed for that same autonomy. Lebanon was autonomous, had a Christian governor and was ruled by the six European powers. Armenia was making demands, and Syria and other Arab countries, with their numerous and dissident tribes, had no aspirations for independence. All were non assimilated nations within the empire.

Morgenthau noticed that his daughter Helen was chatting in German with Enver, the Minister of War. He suppressed a smile. If he didn't know better he would have thought his daughter was flirting with the handsome Young Turk. Good thing her husband was sailing the Atlantic on his way to New York and didn't see her behavior!

Several courses later dessert arrived. Hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream. And American coffee. Morgenthau was not terribly fond of the strong Turkish coffee.

Meanwhile another ninety guests, mostly high ranking embassy officials and prominent businessmen had gathered in the ballroom for a post-dinner dance with the expectation of a midnight buffet. Most were standing, chatting and drinking fine French champagne. A few danced to the orchestra's music.

After dinner Ambassador Morgenthau escorted his wife into the crowded ballroom. He raised his arms high and the music stopped. `Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce my wife Jose, the American Ambassadress.'

There was applause, the music picked up a fox trot beat, and Morgenthau and Josie moved smoothly across the dance floor, showing everyone their classy style. Still holding Josie in a dance position as the music ended, he noticed Talaat walking toward them, his huge bushy mustache and congenial lips widening into a smile.

`I enjoyed watching you move across the floor so gracefully, Talaat said. He tilted his chin up. `Me, I'm clumsy on the dance floor.' He looked into Mrs. Morgenthau's soft blue eyes and said, `I hope you will enjoy your stay in our charming city.'

`I am already!'

`We are indebted to your husband.' He turned to Morgenthau and said, `I have good news. France agreed to the loan.'

Morgenthau smiled. `I'm glad I could help.' He had advised Talaat on some negotiating strategies.

`I want your husband to become part of our Cabinet,' Talaat said to Josie. `To be our agricultural minister!'

`He told me of your offer.' She laughed. `Our friends at home are calling him, Henry, the Pasha!'

Talaat gave Morgenthau a friendly slap on his back. `I can relax around Morgenthau Pasha. I trust him.' Noticing the German ambassador motioning to him, Talaat bowed his head to Josie, `I am always at your service, Mrs. Ambassador.' With a self-assured stride he walked over to the German ambassador.

`Talaat is huge!' Josie said. `I see why people think he's intimidating.'

`Mrs. Morgenthau,' a feminine voice called out. Two women, wives of Russian diplomats, approached.

'You're in demand,' Morgenthau whispered to his wife. Introducing the women to Josie, he said, `Mrs. Giers and Mrs. Ponafidine are prominent members of the committee to abolish the white slave traffic in Constantinople.' He left them to their conversation and guessed that before the evening was over Josie would be asked to join the distinguished committee. Constantinople was the center for the trafficking.

`Ambassador!' It was Mr. Phillip rapidly approaching. `We have a problem, Sir. General von Sanders was not pleased with his seat assignment.'

`I wondered,' Morgenthau said. `I thought he looked upset.'

`Yes, he was, to put it mildly. He felt his rank is higher than those of the Ministers.'

`Thanks, Phillip. I will talk to him.' Morgenthau quickly glanced around the room. The German General was nowhere in sight. The reception had broken up into small intimate groups, standing and socializing or sitting on the gilt chairs in cozy corners. His eyes fell on his daughter chatting with Ambassador Mallet and he walked over to join them. `Have you seen General von Sanders?'

`I saw him earlier,' his daughter replied.

`Is there a problem?' Mallet asked, his subtle smile suggesting he knew there was. `I suspected as much,' the middle aged and balding Mallet said and laughed. `If this had happened at my embassy the headlines in tomorrow's papers would claim strained relations between Britain and Germany!'

`I'm not used to such inflexible protocol,' Morgenthau said.

`The General is in the card room,' Mallet said and with another subtle smile said, `Good luck.'

Just as he was to leave, Morgenthau heard Enver Pasha call to him.

`Ambassador, the Turkish General said as he approached the trio. `I so enjoyed talking with your daughter at dinner.'

`General, my daughter is the one who usually does the talking!' he said and heard Helen giggle. `I finally have an opportunity to tell you how much my family enjoyed your wedding.' Enver had married one of the Sultan's nieces three weeks earlier.

`Ah, yes,' Mallet added. `Congratulations again on your marriage. Your wife is lovely and charming.'

`Thank you.' Enver turned to Morgenthau and said, `May I have a dance with your daughter?'

Helen jumped up from her chair. `I would love to dance, General. Is that a waltz I hear? I love the waltz.'

Enver said with a warm smile, `I learned to waltz in Berlin.'

Morgenthau grinned as he watched Enver take his daughter to the dance floor. `I need to find von Sanders,' he said to Mallet and hastily left. He went to the smoke filled room where several guests were playing bridge. The General was sitting at the chess table, alone, smoking a cigar. He walked up behind him and asked, `Care for a game of chess?'

The General turned toward the American ambassador and said, `Why not?'

Sitting opposite the blue eyed fiftyish German General, Morgenthau moved the white ivory king's pawn forward two squares. `I observed some confusion when my staff seated you. What happened?'

Von Sanders, reluctant to speak, made the same chess move with his black pawn.

Morgenthau moved a knight, slowly raised his eyes from the chess board, looked directly at the General and waited.

Von Sanders pushed his chair back, crossed his legs, took a long puff on his cigar and said, `Do you have any idea how important my task is?'

Morgenthau continued his look, still waiting.

`Kaiser Wilhelm spent hours convincing me to take this assignment. Me, a successful career general, and tonight I am made to feel subordinate to this youngster who is wet behind his ears. Enver has never even won a battle!' Von Sanders face was turning red and he slapped his hands on the table. `And he thinks of himself as another Napoleon! Have you been in his office? He doesn't have a picture of the Sultan on his wall. Only Napoleon and Frederick the Great! The only thing he has in common with those conquerors is that he is built like them. He's a runt!' The General squashed his cigar, rose from his chair and stalked off.

Morgenthau rushed after him and caught up with him in the foyer. `General,' he said and put his hand on the General's shoulder. `I think you should know we were advised about the formality of rank by the Austrian Ambassador. I personally apologize if you were slighted. Your position here has confused the diplomatic corps. I will suggest that your rank be considered higher than those of the Ministers and more in line with the Turkish Cabinet.'

The General put on his hat and clicked his heels. `Good night,' he said and hurriedly walked down the stairs and entered a waiting automobile. He did not look back.

`The problems of a diplomat,' Morgenthau said to himself shaking his head as he reentered the ballroom. The gala event ended at 3 a.m. Morgenthau was exhausted, his wife did volunteer to work toward abolishing the white slave trade, and it was his daughter's last party. She and her children were leaving for New York at the end of the week to join her husband.

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.
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