The 1915 Armenian Genocide wasn’t carried out behind closed doors. Surely, WWI was in the center of the world’s attention, but the news of mass killings and deportations soon became known by the world community nonetheless. The world found out and reacted. And since then, this reaction became the basis for the international humanitarian movement.
The first humanitarian organization had been the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief that was later renamed the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, Near East Relief, and, lastly, Near East Foundation. The Foundation was established in 1915 at the initiative of the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau Sr. Morgenthau is now identified as the most prominent American to speak about the Genocide.
Having carried out its mission in the years of WWI, the Foundation continued to take care of orphans in Syria, Lebanon, Greece, and even in the territory of the Soviet Union until 1930. Over this period, the budget of the Foundation has amounted to mindboggling $117 million. The efforts of the Foundation have allowed for the salvation of at least 1 million people. About 132 thousand Armenian orphans have been provided with dwelling, food, and clothes. One could confidently say that the Foundation helped to literally save a nation.
The activity of the Foundation resulted in the first national-level humanitarian charity tour. American actor Jackie Coogan, a kid-star of the 1920s, was one of the first celebrities to join in the fund-raising. Within the scope of the 1924 “Children’s Crusade”, he toured across the US and Europe and even had an audience with Pope Pius XI. This particular campaign provided orphans in Athens with more than $1 million in clothing, food, and other contributions.
The Near East Foundation wasn’t the only humanitarian project. More and more countries joined in to the Armenian relief campaign. The Armenian Relief Fund of Australia was established in 1915. In 1922, the Fund financed an orphanage in Lebanon that would shelter 1,500 orphans.
The efforts of Scandinavians are also remarkable. One of them was a prominent Norwegian humanitarian, explorer, diplomat, Noble Peace Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen, whose activity under the auspices of the UN provided colossal aid to the refugees in those times.
Among renown Scandinavian humanitarians also are a missionary and a key witness to the Armenian Genocide Maria Jacobsen, as well as missionary and social worker Karen Jeppe. Both of them were from Denmark and both of them devoted their lives to the survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
References and other sources
1. Peter Balakian. The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response. Harper Perennial, 2004
2. Armenian National Institute. “Near East Relief and the Armenian Genocide”
3. Near East Foundation. “Who We Are: History”
4. Armenian Genocide Education Australia. “Australia’s Response”
5. Vicken Babkenian. “Hollywood’s First Celebrity Humanitarian that America Forgot”, The Armenian Weekly, January 7, 2011
6. Karekin Dickran. “Maria Jacobsen and the Genocide in Armenia”. The Danish Peace Academy, 2004
7. Eva Lous. “Karen Jeppe: Denmark’s First Peace Philosopher”. The Danish Peace Academy, 2003
8. The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. “The International Conference – ‘The Armenian Genocide and the Scandinavian Response’”