1824) ‘Turks And Armenians Should Try To Understand Each Other’ : Interview with Pamela Steiner, The Great-Granddaughter Of Ambassador Morgenthau

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site ©  He was the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1915, during the troubles with the Armenians.

He witnessed how the Turks, desperately hoping to stop further losses, and even regain some of their territory and prior prestige, finally succumbed to German influence and were dragged to collapse. . .

The ambassador’s name was Henry Morgenthau.

He was a German Jew, who arrived in New York as an immigrant when he was 10. He was successful in the new country, and through his eventual rise in prominence, he gained President Woodrow Wilson’s trust and respect. This ability to gain the confidence of others was characteristic of Ambassador Morgenthau, and greatly contributed to his experience as an ambassador in Turkey.

Despite his ties with Turkish leaders, though, his experiences, recorded first in his diary and then in his book, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story,” regarding the political environment and the tense situation with Armenia, led him to change his opinion of his Young Turk associates.

The ambassador’s book became a key source for those who acknowledge an Armenian “genocide,” as it indicated that the government, hiding behind World War I, had planned and carried out an elimination of the Armenian minority. Ambassador Morgenthau’s book was published in Turkish for the first time in 2005 by Belge Publishing Co. Turkish readers can now judge his words for themselves.

Many things have been written about the book from different points of view. Professor H. Lowry in his book “The Story Behind Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” (1990), stated that some of the explanations and arguments in the ambassador’s book were inconsistent with the official reports and telegrams that the ambassador sent to the US secretary of state, and inconsistent with entries in the diary that he wrote during the 26 months he spent in Turkey. Lowry also claimed that US journalist Burton J. Hendrick wrote the book.

Approximately half Ambassador Morgenthau’s book focuses on the relationships the ambassador developed during his time in İstanbul. This includes his record of how the Ittihat Terakki government became engaged with that of the Germans as, at that time, each believed that their own imperialist aims would be supported by joining forces with the other. The other half of the book contains details of events around the time of the Armenian controversy that Ambassador Morgenthau personally witnessed or that were reported to him from his consuls, Christian missionaries and others in different parts of Turkey.

We talked with Dr. Pamela Steiner, great grandchild of Ambassador Morgenthau, about the memoirs and her approach regarding the current Turkish/Armenian relationship, at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative of Harvard University, where she is a senior fellow.

Can you please tell us about your family roots?

My mother’s parents were Maurice Wertheim and Alma Morgenthau. Alma was one of Ambassador Morgenthau’s three daughters and the sister of Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who became secretary of the treasury under President Franklin Roosevelt. Alma’s (first) husband, Maurice Wertheim, was a banker, art collector, chess player, sportsman and remarkable philanthropist. Alma and Maurice had three daughters. The eldest, Josephine, was my mother. She worked to ban the testing of nuclear weapons and halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons. My father, Ralph Pomerance, a second generation Polish/Lithuanian Jew, was a fine architect.

Can you tell us about yourself? What do you do at Harvard?

As a senior fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, I direct the fledgling project, “Inter-Communal Violence and Reconciliation.” Primarily my work aims to contribute to improving the relationship between the Turkish and Armenian societies. My background includes prior work on the relationships between Germans and Jews, and Israelis and Palestinians. I have a psychotherapy practice, which is private, not connected to Harvard -- I specialize in seeing people with psychological trauma

How are you carrying out this work with Turks and Armenians?

My colleagues and I -- people rarely do this work alone -- invite individuals who are influential members of both Turkish and Armenian civil societies to participate in confidential dialogue workshops. We structure the workshops to enable participants to learn about each other’s perspectives and hear about each other’s experiences regarding the relationship of the two communities. After the workshops are over, participants may talk publicly about what they learned, but they have agreed not to reveal the identities of the other participants even then. But, sometimes, at the end of a workshop, participants decide to collaborate on a joint statement or some other project.

Facilitators for these dialogue workshops, such as myself, do not state historical facts or offer opinions about facts. The job of facilitators is to enable participants to talk productively about their communities’ history of hurts and losses and their communities’ basic needs, fears, concerns and hopes in relation to the community with which they are in conflict. The next step in the workshop is for participants to see if they can contrive a solution that addresses the basic needs, fears, concerns and hopes of both communities.

The participants, not the facilitators, do state the facts, and the characterizations and meaning of those facts, as they know and understand them. I have an educated lay person’s opinion about the issues in the Turkish/Armenian relationship, but it is unimportant in this context. What does matter very much is that, while facilitating, I am even-handed and am perceived by participants to be so.

I am well aware, of course, that the use of “genocide” in the context of the Armenian/Turkish relationship has an enormous but different meaning to each community and different meanings to different sub-groups within each community. I might ask participants in a workshop to discuss the importance of these different meanings with each other.

But your great-grand father did not use the term ‘genocide’ in his book, right?

Yes, that’s true. The word “genocide” did not exist when my great grandfather wrote his book. He wrote some now famous descriptions of what he witnessed and learned. Here are two examples from his book that we are discussing, “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story”:

“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!’” (p. 234)

“From him (Dr. Lepsius, a German missionary) Enver scarcely concealed the official purpose. Dr. Lepsius was simply staggered by his frankness, for Enver told him in so many words that they at last had an opportunity to rid themselves of the Armenians and that they proposed to use it.” (p. 235).

What is your impression about the book generally?

It’s such an extraordinary close up history about a fascinating period. It’s the sum of the many aspects of the book that I find so remarkable. He knew everybody and was an acute observer. There’s a tremendous amount of detail about his relations with the diplomatic community and the Young Turks. He did not go to İstanbul aiming to do something in particular for the Turks or Armenians over and above what an ambassador does. He did not arrive with a personal interest in the Armenians. He got along very well with the Turks and talks about what he admired in them. He stresses how sincere the Young Turks were initially in their aim to put Turkey on a democratic path. He notes how they failed at this and how this failure partly led these leaders to revert to what he characterized as much more “primitive” governance.

As one of the top people, he bore witness to the fate of the Armenians, and protested about it widely. It was also emotionally painful for both him and his wife to witness. He records his efforts to stop the killings of Armenians and how his failure led him to leave İstanbul.

Yet, at the same time, he conveyed a deep understanding of the Turks’ struggles. He understood how the Turkish leaders felt humiliated by their losses of territory. He saw and was horrified by the suffering of ordinary Turks during this period, as a result of their leaders’ attempts to regain by going to war that lost territory and prestige. He reported in detail all he learned about how the Germans manipulated and drew the Turks into the war. However, I understand that contemporary historians consider that he overrated the influence of the Germans, though I believe that most agree that German influence was great.

So why then does nobody mention the responsibility Germany bears for the incidents that took place in 1915?

This is a very important question, as is the question of responsibility more generally, though the word would need to be defined first. It would be interesting to discuss this question with historians, which of course I am not, but also with group psychologists, which I am. But it isn’t true that no one mentions German responsibility if “responsibility” is understood as Germany’s exercising influence on and acting in complicity with the commitment of certain acts. For example, Taner Akcam’s “A Shameful Act” and Donald Bloxham’s “The Great Game of Genocide” both discuss Germany’s role. And one of my great grandfather’s book’s chapters is actually entitled “Germany forces Turkey into War.” Whatever German responsibility was, though, does not ease the responsibilities of the Ittihat Terakki Party.

It has been claimed that the book was not written by your great grand-grandfather, but by Burton J. Hendrick, the famous journalist of the time. Is that real?

I don’t know that. But I know that Hendrick stayed at my grandfather’s house and they worked together on the book. My grandfather had a diary. In the book he mentions when he is quoting from the diary. My grandfather was not a trained writer. So it is very natural to get some professional support, a ghost writer. But you very easily notice his “voice” while reading the book.

Is Armenian identity constructed on hostility towards Turks? Is this something healthy?

Some Armenians feel hostile to Turks as a whole. Some Armenians feel hostile not only to the Turks of that time, but also to Turks today who do not know and do not acknowledge what the Turks did to the Armenians in those years. But not all Armenians today feel the same about all Turks, although for perhaps all Armenians the memories of the past are very painful. Their pain increases when people minimize those hurts.

So what do you think should be done?

I think 1915-23 were particularly terrible years and there has been an important gap between the two sets of communities since then. My understanding is that most members of these two sets of communities don’t now know each other. They need to know each other. What happened in 1915-1923 should be discussed today, and they all should gain greater understanding of each other.

What else?

We have already been talking about conflict resolution and reconciliation processes. One element in the process is the creation of public knowledge of what happened. The past must be dealt with. This includes, of course, the historical facts and the different narratives incorporating those facts, the different meanings of those facts to the different communities. There must be greater such knowledge and understanding of each other.

A second element is public acknowledgment of those facts and perspectives. Not only do both communities need to tell what happened, and how they understand it, but each party must acknowledge the other’s narrative -- assuming they believe that the other is being sincere. Such a process can lead to deep understanding and empathy, and eventually to solutions.

I believe that the achievement of these two elements, truth and acknowledgment … would make an enormous, positive difference in the Armenian/Turkish relationship.



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