Near East Relief and the Armenian Genocide

Near East Relief was the name of the American charity specifically organized in response to the Armenian Genocide. At the urging of Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. to prevent the complete destruction of the Armenian population, the US government took a number of steps. Among them was the effort to send humanitarian relief. The Department of State quietly turned to the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions to begin an emergency drive for the collection of funds. Under the leadership of James L. Barton and Cleveland H. Dodge, the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief was founded in 1915. The Committee enjoyed the ardent support of President Woodrow Wilson. Through public rallies, church collections, and with the assistance of charitable organizations and foundations, the Committee raised millions in its campaigns to save "the starving Armenians." The Committee was able to deliver funds through the American Embassy in Constantinople which relied upon the missionaries and its consuls to distribute the aid. While the U.S. entry into war against Germany and Turkey in April 1917 disrupted this critical lifeline, the Committee widened its scope of activities at the end of the war also to include Russian Armenia where hundreds of thousands had taken refuge. Renamed the American Committee for Relief in the Near East in 1918, it was incorporated by an act of Congress in 1919 as Near East Relief (NER). Between 1915 and 1930, when it ended operations, NER administered $117,000,000 of assistance. It delivered food, clothing, and materials for shelter by the shipload from America. It set up refugee camps, clinics, hospitals, orphanages, and centers for vocational training. NER is credited with having cared for 132,000 Armenian orphans scattered across the region from Tbilisi and Yerevan to Constantinople, Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem. Near East Relief was an act of philanthropy, which in the words of the American historian Howard M. Sachar, "quite literally kept an entire nation alive."

--Rouben Paul Adalian