Sophie Kyriakou was only four years old when her father was killed and her mother died. Young Sophie found herself in a Near East Relief orphanage in Athens, where she devoted herself to learning. Sophie graduated from the Home Economics School in Athens and joined the Near East Foundation in Greek Macedonia as a home economics instructor.
Sophie’s taught basic skills like cooking and sewing. She also educated women and girls about sanitation in the home as a way to avoid illness. Sophie was working in Greek Macedonia when the Italian army invaded Greece in 1940, sparking Greece’s involvement in World War II. Greece suffered heavy damage under Axis occupation.
The Near East Foundation organized centers called “Eagle’s Nests” to care for children from 1700 destroyed villages. The Eagle’s Nests provided food, clothing, medical care, and education. Sophie Kyriakou found her calling as the director of the Eagle’s Nest at Agrinion, where she supervised 200 children.
The Board appointed a Survey Commission to identify locations in need of continued assistance. The orphans that were small children when Near East Relief began its work were now young adults seeking a livelihood. Upon the Survey Commission’s recommendation, Near East Relief began to focus on practical education in an effort to create sustainable societies.
Greek Macedonia was a natural laboratory for Near East Relief’s transitional projects. Nearly two thirds of the 1.1 million ethnic Greeks that had left Asia Minor had settled in Macedonia. By 1929, approximately 9,000 former Near East Relief orphans had been “out-placed” to farming communities in rural Greek Macedonia. Using the former orphan population as a nucleus, Near East Relief implemented a rural education program that grew to include refugees and native populations.
Annie T. Allen was born to pioneering missionaries in Harput, Turkey, in 1868. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1890, she began her own mission work in Brousa, Turkey, in 1903. Her fluency in several languages allowed her to establish a connection with the refugees she served, and to communicate with local political leaders.
In 1921, Miss Allen transferred from Brousa to Konia, a refugee center and orphanage in the war-torn Turkish interior. She traveled the surrounding areas and drafted reports on the dire living conditions she witnessed. Miss Allen also visited Near East Relief stations to document the organization’s accomplishments and challenges.
During the bitter winter of 1922, Miss Allen set out for Harput on horseback to investigate the conditions among Armenian and Greek deportees as they were being forced to march through the interior. When she was injured in a fall from a carriage during her travels, her doctors discovered she was also seriously ill with typhus. Annie T. Allen died in Sivas on February 2, 1922, and was buried with full Turkish military honors.
Most Ottoman Armenians lived in Central and Eastern Anatolia. The Armenian population was largest in the Vilayet closest to the Russian and Persian borders, including Van, Erzurum, and Bitlis.
The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire went to war repeatedly in the 1800s. As a Christian Empire, Russia felt a kinship with the Christians living under Ottoman Rule. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 was a mission to liberate Russia’s Christian counterparts from Ottoman rule while expanding Russian territories.
Scholars estimate that 2 million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire when World War I began in 1914. The war brought the Armenian Question, as it was known, to the international stage.
The Armenian literary tradition began in the early 400s with the recording of traditional folk stories in the Armenian alphabet. Ottoman Armenians had a rich and ancient visual culture consisting of mosaics, frescoes, textiles, and carved stone sculptures. Most artwork was religious in nature and included Christian iconography. Women produced elaborate woven carpets and lace that were both decorative and functional. Ottoman Armenian folk musicians used woodwind and string instruments to produce a distinctive sound to accompany traditional Armenian dances. The Ottoman Armenians valued education. Many young Ottoman Armenians were educated in missionary schools.
Most Ottoman Armenians followed the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia adopted Christianity as its official religion in the 4th century; it was the first country to do so. The Armenian Apostolic Church traces its lineage to the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. It is governed by the Catholicos in Etchmiadzin. The Armenian Apostolic Church is distinct from other branches of Christianity. Some Ottoman Armenians were Protestant or Roman Catholic.
Cleveland Hoadley Dodge was an official of the Phelps Dodge Corporation, an American copper mining company. Dodge was connected with the Near East by way of academics: he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Robert College in Constantinople. Dodge’s son Bayard was active in the American University of Beirut, later serving as its President.
Cleveland H. Dodge and President Woodrow Wilson had been friends since their days at Princeton University. It was natural that the President would contact Dodge with Morgenthau’s request. Dodge called the first meeting of the group that would become Near East Relief in his office in Lower Manhattan on September 16, 1915. Dodge was chosen as Treasurer. He informed Secretary Samuel T. Dutton that Dodge would cover all Committee operating expenses. Every dollar raised would go to direct relief.
Dr. James L. Barton was a missionary and educator with firsthand knowledge of the Near East. Barton had spent eight years supervising missionary-run schools in Harput, Turkey. He also brought years of experience at the Boston office of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, where he worked as Foreign Secretary.
The original Committee also included Rabbi Stephen Wise, a progressive voice in the Reform Judaism movement and founder of the Free Synagogue. Dr. Samuel T. Dutton was a former school superintendent and Columbia University professor. He offered his office at 70 Fifth Avenue as headquarters. Charles R. Crane would later investigate the disposition of non-Turkish Ottoman lands as part of President Wilson’s 1919 King-Crane Commission to Turkey.
Henry Morgenthau, Sr., U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1914 – 1916, initially turned down the appointment because he had hoped to serve in President Wilson’s cabinet. Once he arrived in Constantinople, Morgenthau quickly established himself as an advocate for the 2.5 million Armenians living under oppressive Ottoman rule.
When he received word of the deportations of Armenians from the Turkish interior, Morgenthau exhausted diplomatic channels to avoid further casualties. He met with Ottoman officials, but made no progress. On Sept. 3, 1915, Morgenthau sent a telegram to the U.S. State Department requesting that the Secretary of State ask several prominent American men to form a committee to raise funds for Armenian refugees. This telegram launched the committee that would become Near East Relief.
While still in Constantinople, Ambassador Morgenthau was responsible for distributing the funds raised by Near East Relief. Morgenthau returned to the United States in 1916. He continued to speak openly about the plight of minorities in Ottoman Turkey.