Must-See Exhibit on Near East Relief at Genocide Centennial in DC

A fascinating exhibition entitled, “They Shall Not Perish: The Story of the Near East Relief,” at the Marriott Marquis Hotel will be one of the not-to-miss events taking place during the three-day Genocide Centennial in Washington, D.C., from May 7-9.

This traveling exhibition with 27 panels has already been displayed in Los Angeles and Boston, and will feature the origins and dedicated work of the Near East Relief in aiding 1 million refugees during and after World War I, 80 percent of which were Armenians, with the rest being Greeks, Assyrians, and other minorities.

(L-R) NEF Chairman Shant Mardirossian, Vice Chairman Johnson Garrett, and President Charles Benjamin
(L-R) NEF Chairman Shant Mardirossian, Vice Chairman Johnson Garrett, and President Charles Benjamin

This remarkable endeavor, explained Shant Mardirossian, the dedicated chairman (a volunteer position) of the Near East Foundation Board, began on July 16, 1915, when the American ambassador in Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., sent a cable to the U.S. State Department: “Deportations and excesses against peaceful Armenians are increasing, and from harrowing reports of eye witnesses, it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under the pretext of reprisal against rebellion,” he wrote.

In another cable a few weeks later, Ambassador Morgenthau declared that “the destruction of the Armenian race in Turkey is rapidly progressing,” and urged Secretary of State Robert Lansing to form a committee “to raise funds and provide means to save some of the Armenians and assist the poorer ones to emigrate.”


Birth of ‘citizen philanthropy’

The heroes called upon in this pioneering endeavor included industrialists and philanthropists Cleveland H. Dodge; Charles Crane; YMCA head John R. Mott; the Armenian-speaking and long-time missionary in Harpoot, James L. Barton, who was the Foreign Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Boston; and the head of the Reformed Zionist Movement in New York, Rabbi Stephen Wise.

Within two weeks of Morgenthau’s telegram, Cleveland Dodge, who was a Princeton University classmate and friend of President Woodrow Wilson, convened a meeting in his office, and the Committee on Armenian Atrocities was born.

In 1919, the organization named the Near East Relief was incorporated by an act of Congress. “The initial objective was to raise $100,000 which would be sent to Morgenthau to help some of the refugees to come to the United States,” related Mardirossian. Almost immediately, the Rockefeller Foundation funded half the amount, while the committee members provided the rest.

“It was the birth of Citizen Philanthropy, with citizens coming to the aid of the victims,” said Mardirossian. “A sophisticated national fundraising campaign was implemented across hundreds of communities in America. An unprecedented $117 million in funds and supplies were raised during the 1915-30 period, which in today’s standards would represent over $2 billion.”


Countless Armenians Saved

A 1922 New York Times article cited a Near East Relief report to Congress that at least 1 million lives had been saved, with 132,000 orphaned children rescued, fed, clothed, and housed throughout the organization’s vast network of schools, orphanages, and vocational training centers across the Middle East.

In 1925, 400 girls from the Ghazir Orphanage in Lebanon wove a thank you carpet that was presented as a Christmas gift to President Calvin Coolidge, which was recently put on view at the White House for a brief period.

“Countless Armenians can trace their lives or those of their parents and grandparents back to Near East Relief orphanages and camps,” said Mardirossian, who lost immediate family members on both his mother’s and father’s sides to the genocide. His paternal grandmother and her siblings, however, were saved in one of the Near East Relief orphanages, where they lived for four years.

“The Near East Relief, believing that its relief work ended in 1930, changed its name and mission to the Near East Foundation, and since then has worked in more than 40 countries, assisting millions of people in the Middle East and Africa,” Mardirossian reported. Today, it has projects in nine countries, including Armenia.

Shant Mardirossian also revealed that the Near East Foundation is about to launch the website, which will contain digital images from the archives at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Tarrytown, N.Y.

“Part of the reason that the Near East Relief is so important to me,” he declared, “is because it reflects an American tradition of humanitarianism which we as Armenians benefitted from during the darkest time of our history. We of all people should reflect on this and consider the suffering of others today, and how we might alleviate it. This is the essence of the mission of the Near East Foundation.”


  1. Thank you for providing this important information to us. I am looking forward to seeing the website.

    Mr. Shant Mardirossian, Congratulations on your selfless work and all the best to you.

    Ani Hotoyan-Joly

  2. Thank you for this wonderful article! The Near East Foundation is thrilled to be participating in the commemoration events in Washington, D.C. in May. We will be offering guided tours of the exhibition and Q&A sessions with the curator. We hope to see you there.

  3. Will this exhibit be coming to greater-Detroit? My grandmother, as a survivor of the Genocide along with her 2 sons, worked for 5 years in the orphanages of NER, first in Marsovan then in Athens.

  4. Morgenthau’s Genes
    Continue Seeding Humanity

    Morgenthau’s* phrases are still alive ~
    Will remain alive
    Like any mastermind poet, who felt with pains of every race.
    Those mercilessly slayed, without rationale, betraying them,
    Those build artfully Ottoman’s glory.

    Morgenthau’s name can never vanish
    By illiterate criminal hands, as they will remain illiterates,
    Their stolen alphabet first from Arabic Holy Qur’an
    Later from ancient respectful Latin
    Would never be easy teaching them.
    A race that lost even minute feelings
    Slaying without regrets.

    However Morgenthau’s cohorts are still feeling
    With their grandfather’s internal sufferings
    As if his soul is still alive in spite of almost a century elapsed.
    Rehearsing his book, that was written with injured hands.

    Inherited genes of a real man are born to serve humanity
    Such genes will continue to race
    To abolish inhumanitarian savageness
    That birthed in creatures, which are born barbarous.

    Those should not breathe with any humanitarian race.
    Those, who still pursue spreading venomous phrases,
    And still try slaying sufferers’ vocal cords and pens;
    Infuriating bribing trustful races, want to live in peace
    With every religion with their prayers and grace.

    “Let us praise for those who helped and still are helping us.
    And neglect whoever intentionally wants to abolish
    Memories of our slaughtered orphans.

    Morgenthau and Lemkin were born of Jewish DNA
    Without theirs published books,
    We might never prove our Genocide.
    In spite of many conscientious authors like them
    Still some faithless beings raise, and endless doubts!

    From my Book “My Son My Sun…” 2011

    April 30, 2010

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