BY VANNA T. KITSINIAN, ESQ.
LOS ANGELES—The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) announced that it will recognize three individual champions of human rights – U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Cleveland H. Dodge, and Jackie Coogan — who, in working with the Near East Relief, were instrumental in bringing worldwide attention and rendering aid to the orphans and refugees during and in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide from 1915 through 1930.
Ambassador Henry Morgenthau
Perhaps the most vocal American political figure in history to speak on behalf of the Armenian people was Henry Morgenthau. Morgenthau was born in Mannheim, Grand Duchy of Baden in 1856 into an Ashkenazi Jewish family of twelve children. He was a lawyer, businessman, and United States Ambassador, most famous as the American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913 through 1916. As an early Woodrow Wilson supporter, Morgenthau, like other prominent Jewish Americans, was posted as the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire under an assumption operating at the time that Jews somehow represented a bridge between Muslim Turks and Christian Americans. Although the safety of American citizens in the Ottoman Empire—mostly Christian missionaries and Jews—was a major concern during his ambassadorship, Morgenthau stated that the one issue he was most preoccupied with was the Armenian Question, meaning the protection and the freedom of Armenians from their neighboring communities in the Ottoman Empire.
As Ottoman authorities began the extermination campaign of the Armenians in 1914-1915, it is reported that Morgenthau’s desk was flooded with reports nearly every hour by the American consuls residing in different parts of the Empire, documenting the massacres and deportation marches that were taking place. Faced with overwhelming evidence of genocide, and having witnessed the atrocities first-hand, Morgenthau sparked the American, and thereafter, international, relief effort for the Armenians by sending a cablegram to the Secretary of State in Washington DC on September 6, 1915, stating, “ Destruction of [the] Armenian race in Turkey is progressing rapidly…” Meanwhile, Morgenthau held high-level meetings with leaders of the Ottoman Empire, including Talaat and Enver Pasha, to help alleviate the suffering of the Armenians, but his protestations were blatantly ignored. As a result, Morgenthau famously admonished the country’s Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, stating, “Our people will never forget these massacres.”
As the Genocide continued, Morgenthau and several other American leaders decided to form a committee to lead the relief efforts. This committee later came to be known as the Near East Relief. Through his personal friendship with Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, Morgenthau ensured that the massacres of the Armenians continued to receive prominent coverage, with 145 published in The New York Times in 1915 alone. Exasperated with his relationship with the Ottoman government, he resigned from the ambassadorship in 1916. Looking back on that decision in his report concerning the annihilation of the Armenian people, “The Murder of a Nation,” Morgenthau wrote that he had come to see Turkey as “a place of horror.” He stated, “I had reached the end of my resources. I found intolerable my further daily association with men, however gracious and accommodating . . . who were still reeking with the blood of nearly a million human beings.” Later, his conversation with Ottoman leaders and his account of the Armenian Genocide was published in 1918 under the title Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.
The Armenian National Committee of America WR (ANCA-WR) is proud to recognize U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s efforts to draw international attention the Armenian Genocide and for organizing private and public relief efforts to save the Armenian people. Accepting the posthumous recognition on the Ambassador’s behalf is his great-grandson, Henry Ben Morgenthau IV, MD, a pediatrician based in San Francisco, California. Dr. Morgenthau is also the grandson of Henry Morgenthau Jr., who was Secretary of the Treasury during President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Dr. Morgenthau IV has maintained strong ties to the Armenian community and its most important causes throughout his life. In 1999, he traveled to Armenia where he met with the President in Yerevan, the Catholicos at Etchmiadzin, and visited the National Genocide Memorial and other important cultural sites.
In receiving this honor, Dr. Ben Morgenthau stated, “I would like to thank the Armenian National Committee WR for singling out the heroic work of the Near East Relief and the Near East Foundation. My great grandfather, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, was a founder of the Committee on Armenian Atrocities, which later became the Near East Relief. He was one of just a few heroes in positions of power willing to call attention to the horrific Genocide taking place in Armenia in 1915. We need more heroes.”
Following the Ambassador’s pivotal initial steps to bring international attention to this unimpeachable crime against humanity, several prominent Americans joined the Ambassador’s efforts to mobilize aid to the desolate Armenians who managed to survive the massacres. The aid that was rendered would not have been possible had it not been for the steadfast altruism of New York based philanthropist Cleveland H. Dodge.
Just ten days after Ambassador Morgenthau sent his famous cablegram with a plea seeking urgent assistance for the refugees, the Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief’s (later named Near East Relief) first meeting took place in Cleveland Dodge’s office on September 16, 1915. At the initial meeting, Dodge, along with a small group of friends, each pledged the first $60,000, which was cabled immediately for relief of the orphans and refugees. Not only was Dodge one of the organizers and founding members of NER, but was also, for several years, a personal funder of campaign and administrative expenses enabling NER to advertise that, “100 cents of every dollar go for relief – none for expenses, which are met privately.”
In 1919, when the war had left the entire Armenian population practically exiled from their homeland, stranded in the impoverished, famine-stricken regions of Southern Russia without food, clothing, or shelter, Armenians were dying of starvation at a rate of 1,000 per day. A million lives were at stake and a minimum of $15,000,000 was required to see them through the winter. Of course, as generous as Dodge had been in providing campaign and administrative expenses, $15 million could not have been raised without a larger campaign organization. At that stage, no one dreamed of asking Cleveland Dodge to do more than he had already done in spearheading and funding the relief campaign and administrative expenses. When Dodge learned that individuals other than himself would be asked to supplement what he was already doing to raise the additional funds, he requested from the Committee not to ask anyone else for additional campaign money and again generously donated an additional $100,000, and whatever else was necessary to see the winter through.
Moreover, through the years of NER’s existence, Dodge personally corresponded with President Woodrow Wilson, providing both emotional support for the challenging times which he and the rest of the world were navigating, as well as the financial backing of NER to help bring to fruition the much needed aid for refugees in the Near East, who the President so firmly believed needed aid. Thousands of committeemen and friends throughout United States and the Near East expressed their feelings of appreciation to Cleveland Dodge for all he did to make the mission of NER a reality.
It has been widely reported that the NER would not have existed had it not been for Cleveland Dodge, and there certainly would not have been such a rapid and far-reaching development of the organization, administering a total of $117 million of relief funds, had it not been for his inspiring leadership and generosity.
Accepting the recognition on behalf of Cleveland H. Dodge is his great-grandson Johnson Garrett, currently the Vice-Chairman of the Near East Foundation (NEF) and a Board Member of the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation. He is also a member of the executive committee for both organizations. Garrett has worked as a digital media executive for 15 years, previously working for AOL, Viacom, Excite@Home, Ask Jeeves, and most recently, IAC/InterActive Corp. Garrett was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a founding member of Network 20-20, a New York based foreign policy group. He graduated with a B.A. from Princeton University and a MBA from Columbia School of Business.
In response to the recognition, Garrett stated, “On behalf of the Dodge family, I am deeply grateful for this honor being bestowed upon my great-grandfather Cleveland H. Dodge. His philanthropic legacy was extraordinary, but no more evident and impactful than in helping to found Near East Relief which aided so many Armenians in their darkest hour.”
Recognizing the immense influence of media, NER enlisted the “world’s best known boy” and most prominent child star in Hollywood at the time to carry the NER message to the masses. In the early 1920’s, child actor Jackie Coogan—later widely known as Uncle Fester on The Addams Family—lent his star power to the worthy cause of relief efforts to the starving children in the Near East.
Coogan launched “Jackie Coogan’s Circus” in Hollywood with the mission of obtaining food and clothing to donate to the dependent children of the Near East. With the aid of his side shows, band, bareback riders, acrobats, clowns, camels, lions, and everything in between, Jackie raised $3,500 by charging an admission in the form of a bundle of clothing or shoes or two cans of condensed milk. More than 7,500 people attended Jackie’s circus.
Most significantly, Jackie Coogan embarked on a tour of the United States and a four-month trip to Europe on behalf of the starving children of the Near East. In the U.S., Coogan visited 25 American cities in just August of 1924 in the interest of the relief fund, including Albuquerque, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburg, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark and New York, to name a few. Every school child in the U.S. was asked to bring contributions to the collection stations. Boy Scouts, milk companies, and various organizations helped collect the supplies under the direction of the NER. Following his American tour, he then set sail for Europe, commanding a voyage to Greece, Syria, Armenia, and the Holy Land.
Thereafter, Coogan led a “Children’s Crusade of Mercy,” and with the help of his star power, successfully raised and sent a million dollar shipload of provisions to aid the orphans of the Near East. He personally set sail from New York City to Greece and made the presentation of the $1,000,000 worth of supplies to the representatives of the NER and the orphans themselves. At the time, a benefit performance of the latest Coogan film, “Little Robinson Crusoe,” preceded his departure. The Los Angeles Times reported that more than 3,500 cans of condensed milk were received, two from each Boy Scout who attended. Numerous articles were published in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, reporting on Coogan’s Children’s Crusade, with headlines that read “Jackie’s Circus is Great Hit,” “Master Coogan Does Good Work for Starved Tots of Armenia,” “Jackie Begins Relief Tour,” “Coogan given send-off as He Starters Long Trip in Interest of Starving Armenians”, “Child Film Star Will Lead ‘Children’s Crusade’ and Go With Ship to Near East,” “Boy Actor Back from Near East,” etc. Coogan was described as a leader of a crusade of mercy to the Bible Lands. Before his tour of the Near East, tag sales that took place in Hollywood and downtown streets aided the Jackie Coogan Near East Relief Condensed Milk Fund, with The Kiwanis Club tendering Coogan a farewell luncheon.
In 1924, Jackie Coogan was decorated by the Greek government with the medal of an Office of the Order of George, given in recognition of his humanitarian work. The decoration ceremony took place in the Acropolis in the presence of the American Minister, government and civil officials, and 7,000 NER orphans. At that time, The New York Times reported that it was the first time this medal had ever been given to a child.
Accepting the recognition posthumously on Jackie Coogan’s behalf is his grandson, Keith Coogan. On this occasion, Keith stated, “Jackie Coogan played a very small part and was a very young man who turned to his father at the time and said, ‘Daddy, we need to do something to help.’ And his father believed that as a young boy of privilege, it was important that Jackie see what was happening in the world. And in a few short years, Hollywood came together and raised millions. It was really the children that came together, as Jackie led the Children’s Crusade of Care with his milk trains and the steam barges he took overseas via the establishment of the Near East Relief. I thank you for honoring him, California, and all of Hollywood.” Keith Coogan was born on January 13, 1970 in Palm Springs, California. Following in the footsteps of his legendary grandfather, Keith began his acting career in TV commercials, as well various TV shows and made-for-TV movies. He played the smitten Brad Anderson in the delightful teen comedy cult favorite “Adventures in Babysitting” and gave an engaging performance as Christina Applegate’s brother Kenny in “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.” He has made guest appearances on “Toy Soldiers,” “The Love Boat,” “Eight Is Enough,” “Knight Rider,” “CHiPS,” “Starman,” “21 Jumpstreet,” to name a few. Keith graduated from Santa Monica High School and attended Santa Monica College and Los Angeles City College, majoring in Drama. Coogan resides in Los Angeles and continues to act and runs blogs in his spare time.
The ANCA-WR is proud to recognize the humanitarian spirit of Henry Morgenthau, Cleveland H. Dodge, and Jackie Coogan, who embarked on one of the greatest international humanitarian efforts launched in the history of the American people. In addition to recognizing these three individuals, accepting the “Humanitarian Award” on behalf of the Near East Foundation will be Shant Mardirossian, Chairman of the Near East Foundation (NEF) and Charles Benjamin, President of NEF.
Mardirossian is the Chairman of the Near East Foundation (“NEF”), an international development organization founded in 1915. NEF is affiliated with Syracuse University, where its headquarters are located and operates in seven countries, which include Egypt, Jordon, Morocco, the West Bank, Sudan, Mali and Armenia. Mardirossian most recently led NEF’s effort to establish micro-economic development projects in rural Armenian villages. In his professional life, Mardirossian is a Partner and the Chief Operating Officer at Kohlberg & Company, L.L.C., a leading U.S. middle-market private equity firm. He is a graduate of the Lubin School of Business at Pace University and holds a B.B.A. in Public Accounting and an M.B.A. with dual concentration in Investment Management and Strategic Management.
Charles Benjamin has over 20 years of experience in international development, with extensive experience in community development and natural resource management throughout the Middle East and Africa. He has been involved with NEF since 1993, when he began a five-year assignment as Country Director in Morocco. Prior to becoming President of NEF in January 2010, he was a Senior Manager with the International Resources Group, an international development-consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., where he managed USAID-funded development projects in the Middle East and Africa. He holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and environment from the University of Michigan, with a focus on decentralization and local institutional development in West Africa.
The legacy of the Near East Relief and all of the selfless individuals who exemplified true humanitarian spirit reflect the deep bonds that have long existed between the American and Armenian people. The Armenian National Committee of America WR is proud to honor and recognize their work and their memory.