November 14, 2006 The issue of German responsibility in the Armenian Genocide has been researched by a number of scholars in the past decades. The Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany during WWI, when up to a million and a half Armenians were uprooted from the Empire and perished in a state-sponsored campaign of mass annihilation.
On June 15, 2005, the German Parliament passed a motion honoring and commemorating “the victims of violence, murder and expulsion among the Armenian people before and during the First World War.” The Bundestag deplored “the deeds of the Young Turkish government in the Ottoman Empire which have resulted in the almost total annihilation of the Armenians in Anatolia.”
The Bundestag also acknowledged and deplored “the inglorious role played by the German Reich which, in spite of a wealth of information on the organized expulsion and annihilation of Armenians, has made no attempt to intervene and stop these atrocities.”
In this interview with Professor Margaret Anderson, conducted by phone from Beirut, we discuss issues related to Germany and the Armenian Genocide.
Margaret Anderson is a professor of history at the University of California in Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University. She has researched electoral politics and political culture in Germany and in a comparative European perspective ; democracy and democratic institutions ; religion and politics ; and religion and society, -especially Catholicism in the 19th century. She is the author of Windthorst : A Political Biography (Oxford University Press, 1981 and , Practicing Democracy : Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Princeton University Press, 2000). Her research has more recently revolved around Germany and the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide.
Khatchig Mouradian : How did you first become interested in the Armenian Genocide ?
Margaret Anderson : It was quite an accident. When I finished my last book, I needed to do something different so that I didn’t get stale. A colleague of mine, who researched Italian history during the same period, said “You should work on the Armenians.” I told him that I can’t work on the Armenians, I don’t read Armenian, I don’t read Turkish. And he said, yes, but you read German and there is a lot of stuff to do on Germany.” He was right. There are 56 volumes in the German Foreign Office devoted to the Armenian persecutions, as well as many more under other titles-like the embassy in Constantinople-that are quite relevant to this horrible story.
I have a colleague, Stephan Astourian, a specialist in Armenian history, without whom I could never have begun this. He was immediately helpful in steering me to the proper Armenian sources and letting me understand the historiography.
K.M. : How thoroughly have these documents been researched ?
M.A. : Vahakn N. Dadrian has used them, most notably in German Responsibility in The Armenian Genocide : A Review of the Historical Evidence of German Complicity (1996), and even before that several other people have done it. Ulrich Trumpener had an excellent chapter in his 1968 book, Germany and the Ottoman Empire 1914-1918. More recently, Rolf Hosfeld’s Operation Nemesis : Die Türkei, Deutschland und der Völkermord an den Armeniern (2005) ; Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction : Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Cornell, Ithaca, 2005) and Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide : Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Armenians (Oxford, 2005) employ these documents to good effect. As far as I know, scholars in Turkey haven’t published anything using these materials ; though when I was in the German Foreign Office Archives in Berlin, it was clear that some Turkish scholars had seen them. When you work in German archives you have to sign a sheet saying you have used these documents. So sometimes you can see who has used them ahead of you. Now, the documents from the German Foreign Office published by Johannes Lepsius in 1919 (under the title Deutschland und Armenien), along with the parts that his edition left out (which are not as significant as some scholars have thought) can be found online, edited by Wolfgang Gust. Gust has inserted in italics the parts that Lepsius’s Deutschland und Armenien left out. Gust was able to do this by comparing Lepsius’s collection with the original documents. These are available online [at www.armenocide.de].
K.M. : In German Responsibility in the Armenian Genocide, Dadrian argues that Lepsius left these sections out on purpose.
M.A. : I think Gust himself has now become a little more moderate on that issue. Most of the phrases and passages left out are completely insignificant from the standpoint of the question, Was there an Armenian Genocide and who was involved ? They do not bear significantly on the question of the Genocide’s character. In some cases, Lepsius-if it was Lepsius who was responsible for the omissions-may have been protecting fellow Germans and Germany’s reputation, but in most of the cases, it seems to me, he was protecting Armenians. That is-and the national school of Turkish historians will be quick to jump on this-he would soften or leave out cases of Armenian revolutionary violence, and cover that up. Lepsius presents a picture of almost complete Armenian victimhood, of a people with no ability to strike back. Well, we know that is not true ; the Armenians struck back when they could. But Lepsius was a churchman, and so disapproved of violence. And he was also trying to protect Armenians against what he had long known was the false charge of the German Turkophiles : that the Armenians were terrorists, that the “deportations” were a security measure against traitors, and that the CUP [Committee of Union and Progress] was only protecting the Ottoman state.
K.M. : Before we discuss Germany and the Ottoman Empire during WWI, can you put the pre-war German-Ottoman relations into perspective ?
M.A. : Twenty years before the war and even right before the war, Germany didn’t have as many interests in the Ottoman Empire as, for example, the French and even the Austrians. It had less economic investment and fewer cultural institutions, but it certainly hoped to have a future there. Until the second Balkan war (1912-13), Germany worked very hard to keep the Ottoman Empire in operation because it was afraid, as many of the great powers were, that if the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, another European power would get it-probably Russia, and maybe even England or France. There was the fear that any country that annexed the Ottoman Empire, or parts of it, would grow too powerful, and the European equilibrium would grow dangerously unbalanced. Germany would suffer in particular, because unlike the others it had no foothold in the Mediterranean. This is why the Germans didn’t want the Ottoman Empire to dissolve.
After 1912, the Ottoman Empire began to look as if it were going to dissolve anyway, whatever Germany or the other European powers did. This feeling that it would soon go into “liquidation,” as the German Foreign Office called it, caused Germany to suddenly support the Armenians in 1913-14 in ways it had not done before. Germany in fact now so supported the reform deal in Eastern Anatolia that the powers finally forced the Ottomans to sign in February 1914, granting the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia a certain parity in public offices with the Muslim population there, and thus a kind of regional autonomy. Germany had not been in favor of insisting on reforms in the past, siding with the Ottoman government in resisting them. But in 1913 and the first half of 1914, seeing that the dissolution of the Empire might be near, it wanted to have friends in what would be the leftover pieces. These friends, they hoped, would be the Armenians.
K.M. : But this was far from materializing into something positive for the Armenians, wasn’t it ? According to Hilmar Kaiser, from 1915-16 a uniform position toward the Ottoman Armenians did not exist.
M.A. : Well, yes. But by 1915-16, Germany was in the midst of a World War, which changed every calculation. And remember, the German government lacked a uniform position on many burning issues : about the future of the Ukraine, which the Germans were occupying in 1915, and the future of Belgium, which they had occupied since August 1914. There was no uniform German position on any of the central questions about the post-war settlement. Rather, there were huge conflicts within the German government itself during WWI as the right-wingers (much of the Army) and the moderates (mostly the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, and the Foreign Office) struggled for control over future policy. So the absence of a uniform position on the Ottoman Armenians is not surprising. However, having said that, I think it is also true that at the higher reaches of the German government, the decision was that they had an ally-the Ottoman government-and they would not do anything that would jeopardize their alliance with it. Although there were many Germans in the Ottoman Empire itself-businessmen, bankers, engineers, diplomats-protesting the Ottoman policy, by the time the issue got to the top in Berlin, the Chancellor’s position was clear : Whatever the Turks may do, they are our allies and not the Armenians.
K.M. : So can we say that there was a policy of denying the extermination of the Armenians.
M.A. : Yes and no. Yes, it was denied to the public at large. This was a policy in which other sections of society were complicit. My work has been on German public opinion, and the elites knew what was going on. Top professors of oriental languages ; some journalists ; at least six superintendents (roughly bishops) in the Protestant church ; certainly the lay leadership among German Catholics (such as the Center Party’s leader in parliament Matthias Erzberger, who was assassinated by Right-wing thugs after the war) ; the pope ; the head of the Deutsche Bank (as Hilmar Kaiser and Gerald D. Felman have shown) ; and other important members of the Reichstag, such as the later winner of the Nobel Peace Price, the liberal Gustav Stresemann, knew. Stresemann decided to keep silent about it. An Armenian-born graduate student in Berlin, Frau Elizabeth Khorikian, did a study of one of the largest circulation (and Left-wing) newspapers in Berlin during 1915, the Berliner Tageblatt. This paper issued sometimes three to four different editions a day, because every time there was war news, they brought another edition. And She looked at every single one. And in all of these issues, she found only five mentions of the Armenians during that whole period. Three were interviews with Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha and Halil Pasha, and two were reproductions of Turkish news releases. That’s it. The newspapers knew very well what was going on. Both the Social Democratic and the Christian press knew it. Christian journals said the most, although they said it carefully and in guarded language. Lepsius gave an interview on the 5th of October, 1915, to a group of newspapermen in Berlin, to tell them what he had learned on his recent trip to Constantinople/Istanbul from late July to early August. An editor of a socialist newspaper wrote : “If one wanted to apply European concepts of morality and politics to Turkish relationships, one would arrive at a completely distorted judgment.” In general, the newspapers were willing to follow the view that, We are in a war and the government thinks this alliance is important to us, so we will continue this alliance.
K.M. : Are you saying that there was no direct censorship ?
M.A. : There was also direct censorship. When Lepsius printed 20,500 copies of his documents, many of them were confiscated by the German General in charge of censorship for the Berlin area before the Turks had even protested. But I think that had the press wanted to break the story, they could have done it. There was so much self-censorship that the government didn’t have to intervene. We will never know what would have happened if the press had tried to distribute Lepsius’s material, but they didn’t try, because they believed that it was more important to have the Turks on their side. The Allied invasion of Gallipoli began in March 1915. The defense of Gallipoli, it was believed, was absolutely central to a German victory, which Germans equated with their survival. And remember : 1,303 German soldiers died, on average, every day between August 1914 and armistice in November 1918. Not surprisingly, Germans were preoccupied by what was happening in Belgium, France, Galicia and the eastern front. They were not thinking that much about Turkey. For me, that is all the more reason to see Lepsius, for all his flaws, as a hero. He didn’t pay attention only to what was best for Germany. Five days after his son was killed on the eastern front, he arrived in Constantinople, and according to him interviewed not just Enver Pasha but also Talaat. In my view, nobody has looked into the genuine mysteries behind Lepsius’s trip to Constantinople/Istanbul enough : Why did the German Foreign Office give him permission to go ? How was he able to get an interview with Enver, and if he was telling the truth, also with Talaat ? An ordinary friend of the Armenians and an ordinary writer and journalist (he wasn’t a pastor anymore since he had been forced to give that up when he refused to stop agitating on behalf of the Armenians in 1896) certainly would not have been able to in wartime talk to the War Minister or the Interior Minister of his own country, much less a foreign one. I believe that he was only able to do that because the German Foreign Office put pressure on the Turks to receive him. Why do you think they would have done that ? Isn’t that a question worth asking ?
K.M. : Why do you think they did that ?
M.A. : In my view, they did it because at that time Lepsius made the German Foreign Office believe that the Armenians were, in fact, militarily important. Lepsius was playing a very dangerous game. He tried to play up the military importance of the Armenians on the Russian side of the border, and argued that they could be rallied to the side of the Central Powers (Germany and Austria), and that if they weren’t rallied behind the German cause-and here was the dangerous corollary-that they could actually hurt the Germans and the Turks in the war. That is, of course, the very excuse the Turkish government uses to justify what happened. But I think that in fact Lepsius was trying to exaggerate the military danger of the Armenian revolutionary movement in order to get Germany to pressure the Turks to stop the deportations and massacres. But by the time he got to Constantinople, by late July or early August 1915, most Armenians had already been deported, and it was clear to the German government that they had nothing to offer the Germans and posed no military threat to the Turks.
K.M. : Are there any documents on this ?
M.A. : Beginning in late May 1915, Lepsius began contacts with the German Foreign Office in connection with the Van massacres and offered himself as a mediator between the Turks and Armenians. He tried to impress the Foreign Office with how important the Armenians could be for Germany. “One cannot treat a nation of four million as a quantité négligeable,” he said. He described the Armenians as a rope stretching from Turkey to Russia, with one half of in Russia and the other in Turkey. “It cannot be to our advantage, if one half, the Russian half, is constantly courted and flattered, while the other, the Turkish half, faces only oppression.” Like a tug-of-war, the advantage would go to whichever side can pull that rope over to its side. “It is impossible to cut that rope. Language, Literature, Church, Customs are an unbreakable band. The extermination policy of Abdul Hamid only wove the rope even tighter.” In early June 1915, the Undersecretary of State at the German Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann, thought that it might be true and asked the German Ambassador to Constantinople, Hans vonWangemheim, to arrange an interview. Wangenheim said that the Turks don’t want to see Lepsius, and advised against any visit. But the Foreign Office insisted, I think, not out of any particular humanitarianism, but because Lepsius had managed to convince it that the Armenians would be helpful to them. Lepsius, of course, knew that they were being victimized. If Lepsius had been able to get to Constantinople right away, maybe in early June, he would not have been able to convince the CUP. But given his Foreign Office backing, he just might have been able to bring more German influence to bear on Turkish policy.
It is not only now that Turkey tries to deny what happened. Even then the CUP tried to keep everything absolutely secret in order to maintain “deniability” at all times. In my view, the major weapon against what was happening was publicity, and that is what the Turkish government, and later Lepsius, understood. But not everyone who supported the Armenians understood that. On the 16th of July, 1915, the U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, wrote to the American State Department that “a campaign of race extermination is in progress,” yet he recommended against any protest, because he thought it would make the situation worse. Morgenthau is a hero among the Armenian-Americans (see, for example, Peter Balakian’s book, Black Dog of Fate), not only because of the efforts he made on behalf of the Armenians while he was in Turkey, but also, probably, because at the end of the war he writes memoirs in which he makes himself look brave and good-and the German diplomatic personnel look all bad. I don’t deny that Morgenthau helped the Armenians, and he gave information to Lepsius to publish. But he was also first and foremost an employee of the American government (just as German diplomats in Turkey were first and foremost employees of their governments). After he left Constantinople in the late winter of 1916, Morgenthau even went around making public appearances with the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. This infuriated an Armenian journal published in the United States. Pro-Armenians in America could not understand how Morgenthau would deign to appear on the same platform with a representative of the murderous Turkish government. They couldn’t understand why Morgenthau would do such a thing. He did it because he was an Ambassador of the USA and the USA was a neutral power interested in good relations with the Turks. In the summer of 1915, he reported everything to the American government, and privately did his best to help Armenians (as did German consuls on the spot). But he also advised his government that protests might only make matters worse, and suggested that it inform missionary groups to do the same, as well.
K.M. : What was the reason he did this ?
M.A. : Well, don’t forget that when diplomatic pressure was brought to bear upon Abdul Hamid in 1896, he responded by massacring the Armenians in Istanbul/Constantinople. People like Morgenthau did not think the Turks were civilized people, for good reason. I’m not saying there weren’t any civilized Turks in the Ottoman Empire, but Turks and Kurds had already behaved so horribly in the 1890s, that some people didn’t think the Ottoman government would respond to something like the pressure of European and American public opinion. Morgenthau didn’t. Noting that even men like Morgenthau believed this, I think, gives a little bit of respectability to other people-like the pope-who believed, however mistakenly, that you could get more accomplished for the Armenians by working behind the scenes to convince Turks to do this or that.
K.M. : Couldn’t the German government interfere in any way to stop the Genocide and the deportations ?
M.A. : German soldiers in the Ottoman Empire were not part of the German Army but were all under Ottoman command-and that includes the worst of them, like the first assistant chief of staff of the Turkish General Staff, Colonel Bronsart von Schellendorf. There was no practical legal way that the German government could have ordered them to intervene. What the German government could have done was to have ordered them to withdraw from Ottoman service and come home. It is also sometimes asked, “Why didn’t the German government threaten to cut off their supplies to the Ottomans ?” That is a good argument. I used to believe it myself before I read the interviews with Zimmermann in 1915-interviews that had nothing, by the way, to do with Armenians-which revealed that he was in constant anxiety because Germany was unable to get supplies to the Ottomans. It was not until mid-January 1916, after Serbia was conquered, that German trains could reach Istanbul. Before then, they could not ship supplies to Turkey (except for money, which was useless), so there were no supplies that they could cut off in 1915. Or at least, so Zimmermann said.
K.M. : What can you say about the Baghdad Railroad ?
M.A. : I have seen documents from the company archives that show \ the company knew what went on. Representatives on the spot did in fact, as Kaiser said, try to hide Armenians and protect them ; they also protested and reported to their home offices. However, the German officer delegated to be the liaison between the German army and the Baghdad railroad, Lt. Col. Böttrich, overrode the Baghdad (Anatolian) railway personnel and signed a deportation order for some of their Armenian workers himself. I’m not trying to say that there weren’t certain Germans in Turkey who clearly adopted the position of CUP.
K.M. : Reading the literature, I didn’t feel there was a concerted policy, and this could have been why some people behaved differently.
M.A. : I haven’t done the kind of intensive research that I would like to on German military behavior ; and most of Germany’s military archives were destroyed by bombing in World War II, so we will never have the kind of certainty that we have with the diplomatic record. But there were two German officers, at least, who behaved differently. Field Marshall Liman von Sanders saved the Armenians in Edirne and Izmir. True, there weren’t many Armenians in those two towns, so they were less important to the CUP than the Armenians in Van or Urfa. In that sense, Liman probably faced less resistance from the Ottoman authorities than he would have had he attempted something similar in Eastern Anatolia. But he did meet resistance, and he absolutely refused to allow them to be deported. (Liman, however, had a personality that everyone disliked, and he disliked everyone, so you can almost predict that he would do the opposite of what other people wanted him to do. Had every German office and diplomatic official behaved like Liman, the results would probably have been terrible for Ottoman-German relations. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire was by then so deeply involved in the war, and had so many enemies in the Entente powers already committed to gaining territory at its expense, that we have to ask, Would it really have left the German-Austrian alliance ? Probably not. But if the Turks had made a separate peace with the Entente, it would have given them an even freer hand with the Armenians. The other German officer who behaved differently was Colonel (later General) Kress von Kressenstein, the chief of staff of Jemal Pasha. He apparently convinced Jemal not to deport 400 Armenian orphans.
In German-occupied territory in the Russian Empire, the German army prevented pogroms against the Jewsby local populations (Ukrainians and Russians, for example), which were incited by the retreating Tsarist armies. There was a very similar hysteria against ethnic minorities throughout Europe during World War I, and specifically Eastern Europe and encouraged by the Tsarist army. In some cases, it was the German minority that was the target ; in others it was the Ukrainians or Poles or Baltic populations. But the targets almost always included the Jews. Wherever it went, the German army protected the Jews. But they had orders to do so from Berlin. And they were occupying territory they had conquered. Berlin couldn’t give orders to German officers who serve in the Ottoman army.
K.M. : Dadrian mentions that these German officers were misguided by information they received from Turkish subordinates. Was this a frequent occurrence ?
M.A. : In some cases that may have been the case. It’s interesting that Wolffskeel von Reichenberg, a Major in Marash, was told that Armenians were massacring Turks. He was there and he saw that the story was not true and quashed that story. Later on, however, under the command of Fakhri pasha, he subdued Zeitun and the Armenians in Urfa, and was there at Mousa Dagh, so I don’t think that the best explanation for their behavior is that German officers were given false information, as much as they adapted and began to see things from the perspective of the people they worked for.
K.M. : Is the word “complicity” appropriate, in your opinion, in describing German involvement in the Armenian Genocide ?
M.A. : In my view it gives a false impression. I think the German historians are harshest in judging the Germans (although Dadrian judges them harshly too), particularly Tessa Hoffman and Wolfgang Gust, as well as Swiss historian Christoph Dinkel. They tend to make these Germans look like early Nazis. That may be true of a few of these officers, but I think in general the Germans did what people in all countries do most of the time, which is to operate on what they think is best for their own country.
For example, the Jews in England were horrified at the treatment of the Jews in Russia before the war ; yet just like the friends of Armenians in Germany with regard to Turkey, they didn’t want England to have an alliance with Russia. They really hated it when the Entente with Russia was established in 1907. Then came the war and England allied with Russia, even though the Russian army “evacuated” three million Jews. (You can call it deportation.) They didn’t usually massacre them, but they did forcibly evacuate them, as a “security measure,” and as a punitive measure, accusing them of collaborating with the Germans. In many cases, the evacuees lost everything they had : homes, furniture, businesses, everything. And the Tsarist armies were complicit in the pogroms that sometimes ensued. Jews in England protested, and they were allowed to protest. That is a difference. But did their protests against Russian treatment of the Jews affect the policy of the British government ? No. And in fact, the British Ambassador to St. Petersburg, Sir George Buchanan, wrote back to his government saying that “There cannot be the slightest doubt that a very large number of Jews in German pay and have acted as spies during the campaigns in Poland.” That is, he believed and transmitted all those lies the Russian army was telling about the Jews. Well, I have to say that the German diplomats in the Ottoman Empire were more objective and honest than that. They carefully looked into the charges the CUP was making against the Armenians. They were convinced that the majority of the Armenians were innocent of the charges against them, that the mass of the Armenian people had not behaved as traitors. And they informed their own government of the truth. I think the term “complicity” sets up a false impression of the behavior of German officials. I don’t want to say the Germans were “good,” but they behaved the way officials of most countries would.
K.M. : What do you think about the view that the Armenian Genocide was a precursor to the Holocaust and that some officers who served in the Ottoman army were later high ranking Nazi officials ?
M.A. : There are certainly some carry-overs, although the fact that men who later served the Nazis also spent time in Turkey is not surprising given the war and given the importance of the Constantinople post and the Ottoman Empire generally. Many of the same people also spent time in Belgium and France. One of the worst Germans, as far as being unwilling to help the Armenians, was Constantin von Neurath. He was chargé d’affairs in the German Embassy at Constantinople and later became the first Foreign Minister under Hitler, though he was not a member of the Nazi Party. He wrote Berlin, in the fall of 1915, that he hoped the friends of the Armenians in Germany [The German-Armenian Society founded by Lepsius] could be made to keep quiet, though he admitted that the German government couldn’t actually shut them down. He thought that the money they were collecting for Armenian relief would be better used for German relief. So he was clearly a heartless guy.
However, I should also mention one of the true ironies. Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter was the vice-consul of Erzerum and an officer in the Bavarian army. He had been sent out to eastern Anatolia to organize Muslim guerrillas behind the Russian lines, much like the way some people have argued the Russians were organizing Armenians. However, when he got there, the consul of Erzerum had just been captured by the Russians, and so Scheubner-Richter was made the vice-counsul in his place. This man constantly protested the treatment of the Armenians to his government. He was also extremely bold in protesting it to the Ottoman government. He got reprimanded by his own government for being too undiplomatic towards the Turks. He took out of his own money to feed some Armenian refugees going through Erzerum. At this stage, he is a true hero. After the war, he became a Nazi and in 1923 was shot down in Munich, marching next to Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch. He was at that time Hitler’s main right-hand man for the party’s finances. Hitler refers to him in letters from the period as “my delegate.” He served as the liaison between the early Nazi movement, the military interests, and the business interests.
The worst person in Germany, as far as the Armenians were concerned, was Ernst Jäckh, a journalist who also had some academic credentials. He founded an important pro-Turkish lobby in Germany, the German-Turkish Union, and advertised himself as close to Enver Pasha. His wartime activities were largely confined to propaganda, but he worked hard to see that a pro-Turkish message was constantly disseminated to the German public. He was practically an employee of the Turkish government, someone who joined the German-Armenian Society in order to spy on them. He also spied on Lepsius and reported on his activities to his government, and was always working to twist information in a pro-Turkish direction. After the war, he became a leading spokesman in Germany for the movement on behalf of the League of Nations. In 1933, he left Germany for New York, and became a professor in Columbia University and a big-time democrat and liberal. In fact, he had always been a liberal. So, I don’t think you can draw any straight line between the perpetrators in WWI and those later on in the Nazi regime.
K.M. : And what is the line that we can draw between the Armenian Genocide and German responsibility ?
M.A. : In that regard, I think the connection is “ethnic cleansing.” The CUP was very influenced by integralist nationalism and-as Sukru Hanioglu has shown-social Darwinism and European racist thought as the basis of a powerful nation-state. German intellectuals were powerful contributors to these currents and German successes seemed to demonstrate the truth of the argument : homogeneous nation, powerful state.
K.M. : There is Marshal Colmar von der Goltz who has proposed something like ethnic cleansing.
M.A. : Some people say that but I haven’t seen the proof. They also say that about the publicist, Paul Rohrbach, which I doubt very much, at least in the sense attributed to him. Rohrbach was certainly a German nationalist and an imperialist-as were most men in the educated classes in those days-although he advocated “peaceful imperialism” : spreading German culture and “ideas” through development help, schools and cultural exchanges. He was actually a friend of Armenians, and on the board of directors of Lepsius’s Geman Armenian Society. People say Rohrbach thought it would be a good idea to remove the Armenians along the route of the prospective Berlin-Baghdad railway and plant Germans there, but I don’t think that can be true. When Rohrbach found out about the deportations he was devastated, and resigned his membership in Jäckh’s German-Turkish Union. I don’t know about von der Goltz ; I’d like to see the hard evidence on that.
The continuity between the two regimes-CUP and Nazi-is in their common desire to create an ethnically homogeneous state. The Young Turks got that idea from Europe, but the Nazis were the first European country to try hard to put it in effect in any consistent and rigorous way. I think the CUP were like the Nazis, but I don’t think they were that way because there were Germans who were allied with the Turks in WW1, and then these Germans did it themselves the second time around. Sukru Hanioglu, of Princeton, has shown in his two volumes on the CUP, that even before 1908 they had adopted Social Darwinist ideas. Rather, the both movements “drank from the same well” of integralist nationalism. I think the CUP was the Turkish version of what would later be called "Fascists."
A colleague of mine who teaches Turkish history in the United States (let us not give his name because I don’t think he could visit his family in Turkey if his name is published) told me that he has no doubt that there was a Genocide. For him, the only question is how far the responsibility goes within the CUP. How many people were involved in the decision ? Because it was a dictatorship. An interesting difference between the CUP Genocide and the Nazi one is that in the Third Reich when the Jews are being killed, there are no protests from German officials ever ! In Turkey, several valis and lower Ottoman officials did protest. And paid the price. In Turkey, also, some Kurds, Arabs and even some Turkish Muslims criticized the policy and rescued Armenians openly. In Germany, those few Germans who did rescue Jews did not do it openly. Unless you count the riot by the Christian wives at the Rosenstrasse Berlin railway station over the deportation of their husbands. And that was unique. Perhaps this difference with Turkey is because Germany was such an "organized" country and it was much harder to get away with behavior that was counter to official policy (or at least, so people may have thought) than it was in Turkey.
K.M. : What about Germany today ? Does it have the moral responsibility to acknowledge the Genocide ?
M.A. : Absolutely ! As does Turkey. However, Turks have been raised on one view of history. If they are told by foreigners that they have to change their view of history, they may end up signing on the dotted line-if, for example, that is the price for entering the EU-but it won’t make them believe it. My hope comes from the fact that there are Turkish historians in Turkey today who absolutely know the truth and don’t dare to, right now, say what it is. But that is changing. As Turkey becomes more democratic and as the army becomes more and more discredited, there will be freedom of debate in Turkey. And I think then historians who want to be credible outside of Turkey will have to look at the evidence the same way we look at it.
Khatchig Mouradian is a Lebanese-Armenian writer, translator, and journalist. He is an editor of the daily newspaper Aztag, published in Beirut. He can be contacted at email@example.com .
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