239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

June 29, 1912
Morristown, NJ
Storify Feature

Speaking Persian in America

MR. TOPAKYAN DIDN’T NEED A TRANSLATOR to understand ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. He already spoke Persian. He had invited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his attendants to his home in Morristown, New Jersey, on June 30, 1912, for a barbecue. They chatted away without pause. Topakyan sported a Western suit with a jacket that draped past his belly. He didn’t wear a fez, unlike the Persians who joined him, but kept an imperial mustache that curled slightly upwards.

Mr. Topakyan, the Persian Consul of New York and the Shah’s representative, was “one of the ablest and most distinguished foreigners that has ever chosen [New York] for his adopted home,” the New York Times said. Born in Turkey to one of the oldest families of the Armenian aristocracy, he was known to refuse to dine unless entirely satisfied with the arrangements. In July, 1910, at the Hotel Astor, he noticed that a place had been set for the Turkish Ambassador among the guests of honor, but not for himself. He “considered it an affront to the Shah of Persia” and promptly left.

As a young man Topakyan made a business trip to the United States and fell in love with the country. So much so, that he decided to move there and start a business importing Turkish, Persian, and Indian rugs. Before he became the Consul-General, Topakyan had organized the Persian exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair.

He reproduced the Shah’s palace, displaying the lavish lifestyle of the Persian royal family and the finest Persian rugs, silks, metals, and jewelry.

Topakyan first met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at a meeting of the New York Peace Society on May 13, 1912, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá shared the stage with Rabbi Stephen Wise and Percy Stickney Grant. He had called ‘Abdu’l-Bahá “the Glory of Persia,” a notable remark seeing as how Topakyan represented the country responsible for much of the suffering of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and his family.

On Sunday, June 30, 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá traveled by car through the countryside to Morristown, New Jersey. Mr. Topakyan had invited him and his attendants for a barbecue. He was known for his “Oriental barbecues,” as The New York Times called them, at which an entire lamb was roasted and served on a bronze and gold table.

The consul was gracious when he thought it was warranted. On June 30 he refused to sit without ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s permission. Topakyan had invited several reporters to come and speak with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. After they had eaten lunch, a photographer came and took ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s picture.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá kept in touch with Topakyan for years after the meeting. One of his letters reads: “I will pray for you and Madame so that the Doors of the Kingdom of God, be always open before your faces and the Infinite Divine bestowals may descend upon you uninterruptedly so that according to the statement of Christ you may be of those who are chosen and not of those who are called.”


  • http://www.facebook.com/joanne.jones.58173 Joanne Jones

    The second photograph looks very much like the one that appears in many Baha’i homes, but it’s difficult to be certain because of the size.  I had never read this account before; thanks for sharing it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicola.g.daniels Nicola Gaye Daniels

    Joanne I see what you are saying – yes, it does look familiar. Very nice photos here!

  • Pace9

    Wonderful story!

    I was wondering, what do people think is the difference between “those who are chosen” and “those who are called”?

    • Linasmithson

      Would someone have an answer? Thanks!

    • nickie

      I’m guessing …  but I think it means those who are called are those who believe in the Manifestation of God for this day, and those who are chosen are those who have rid themselves of self and passion and have arisen to serve.

    • Cassandra

      I too am interested by this phrase ” so that according to the statement of Christ you may be of those who are chosen and not of those who are called.”   More thoughts anyone???

    • http://jmenon.com/ Jonathan Menon

      “For many are called but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)

      The phrase is the moral of Jesus’s Parable of the Wedding Feast: 

      “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,

      And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.”

      And so he sent out more servants to tell everyone to come to the dinner that was all prepared for them. “But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise.” And some killed the king’s servants.

      So many are called in the sense that all are invited to the banquet table of the Lord, but most are preoccupied with their worldly pursuits or simply hostile. Only a few actually respond.

      • Pace9

         Thank you so much for that clarification!

  • Maria

    About that incident in 1910 at the Hotel Astor where Topakyan left because a place had been set for the Turkish ambassador to dine, but not for him … no doubt the decades-long Turkish massacres of the Armenian people were on Topakyan’s mind as well.