Monday, 6 May 2019

The strange death of the Armenians

There were twelve Russo-Turkish wars between the ages of Ivan the Terrible and Lenin. Turkey won two, the second being the Crimean War which was 'won' for the Turks by Britain and France, one was a draw and both countries lost the First World War. Eight were victories for Russia.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Turkey lost North Africa to the European powers and most of the Balkans to nationalists. Russians and others expected that one day Mass would be celebrated again in Hagia Sofia in Constantinople. It was Catherine the Great's dream and had always been Britain's fear that Russia would take Constantinople and command the straits. In 1915 Britain made a volte face and agreed that her ally Russia could have Constantinople.

Turkey's catastrophic mistake was attacking British ships in 1914 and entering the First World War on Germany's side. Had she not done so the Middle East would probably belong to a democratic, federal Turkey now, Turkey would have the oil and would be very rich and powerful. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Syria, etc etc would not exist. 

In this alternative history the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians would not have been ethnically cleansed and would have helped run the country. Of course, the Sultan in Constantinople, surrounded by wives and catamites, would be the Caliph and there would be no need for ISIS or Al Qaeda to restore the Caliphate.

Russia was always the friend of the Christians under Turkish rule, from Belgrade to Armenia, for strategic reasons. This policy was the reason for the Crimean War, which broke out over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but almost broke out over Romania. Defending Middle Eastern Christians is part of why Russia is fighting in Syria today. 

Armenians' hopes for a Greater Armenia was very useful to Russia in the Great War, as were the Greeks' hope for a Greater Greece. Had Russia won the war, a Greater Armenia and a greater Greece could have been a Christian land bridge leading to the Lebanon and the Holy Land.

Had this happened the Turks would have been confined to a part of Anatolia. Tsarist Russia would have dominated the Eastern Mediterranean.

Instead Russia is in Syria fighting for her one Mediterranean ally and seaport. 

Bolshevism was a disaster almost everywhere, but the Bolsheviks saved Turkey by ceasing to fight.

In 1914 
Greeks and Armenians in total, în Greece, Turkey and Russia, numbered about ten million, while Turks numbered 11.7 million. In the Turkish capital Constantinople (historically a Greek city) Greeks and Armenians outnumbered Turks.

Today there are 80 million Turks, 10 million Greeks and 3 million Armenians, not counting the diasporas. There are 15 million Turks in Istanbul (Constantinople) alone.

The reason for the Armenian genocide is clear.  In the modern world, where people expect national self-determination, genocide and ethnic cleansing create facts on the ground. 

So it will be again.

This week's Spectator contains a very interesting review by James Robins of The Thirty-Year Genocide, by Israeli historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, which covers the massacres of the Armenians in 1894–96 under Sultan Abdulhamid II, the annihilation of the Armenians by the liberals in the Committee of Union and Progress during the Great War and Mustafa Kemal's ethnic cleansing campaigns during and after the war with Greece in the early 1920s.

I quote from it:

They are right to draw a link between all three in the sense that, no matter the ideological motive, the result was the same: a complete eradication of ethnic and religious minorities, leading to a death toll that approaches two million. But it is the ideological motives that the authors encounter trouble with. To their credit, they admit that ‘the bouts of atrocity were committed under three different ideological umbrellas’. Yet for their thesis to work, there must be unity of purpose. And they’ve picked the wrong one.
They find an ‘overarching… banner’ in Islam, which, they say, ‘played a cardinal role throughout the process’. Partly, their misreading is down to relying extensively on the accounts of Allied officers or western missionaries quick to attribute bouts of savagery to ‘fanatical Mohammedanism’. This skips over the fact that ‘Christians lived in relative security under Ottoman rule for centuries’. What changed?
The only theory that could explain all three fits of carnage is this: a siege mentality. Abdulhamid II, the Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turks)  and Mustafa Kemal (also a CUP member) were all gripped by a fear of the state’s disfigurement and collapse, and they directed apocalyptic violence against those they perceived as traitors or fifth columnists.
It is important to remember that the CUP were progressives and liberals. They were modernisers and not drawn to kill the Armenians for religious or atavistic reasons but for geo-strategic ones. 

They had nothing in common with Islamists or jihadis, although jihadis existed then as now (read Greenmantle).

Most non-Turkish historians agree that the wartime Armenian killings were planned by the Turkish government.  In 2009 Turkish-German historian Taner Akcam claimed to have found certain proof in the form of a telegram from a senior Turkish government member discussing the killings, though other Turkish historians do not accept this.

Kurds participated gleefully in the killing. Armenians were their ancestral enemies. Jews were not involved, despite anti-semitic conspiracy theories to be found on the net, but they kept quiet either out of loyalty to Turkey or fearing that they would suffer the same fate as the Armenians.

Whether it was a conscious attempt to wipe out the Armenians completely is much harder to prove. Armenians were considered potential fifth columnists who sympathised with Armenians fighting for the Tsar, which was one motivation for the murders. 

In fact, the question is not even very important, any more than the same question asked about the millions of Ukrainians killed in the artificial famines under Stalin. 

What is important is the question of whether these massacres were deliberate murders organised by the state. In the eyes of non-Turkish historians they were.

In any case, killing millions of non-combatants in order to wipe out a race is murder and so is killing the same number because they are kulaks, prosperous peasants, or because they are Christians.

Kemal, later Ataturk, was not in power or to blame for the 1915 killings - his government later replaced the Committee of Union and Progress - but the genocide and his expulsion of the Greeks and his later massacres made his idea of Turkey as an ethnic nation state feasible.

In Germany public opinion largely approved of the genocide of the Armenians. 
This is explained in Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismark to Hitler by Stefan Ihrig. A German writer referred to the Armenians as "the Jews of the orient".

Hitler considered the Armenians a lesser race. In a speech in 1927 he said of the Armenians and Greeks,
"Indeed these people have come so far that they are able to defeat even the Jew. However by doing this they have become Jews themselves."
The Armenians speak an Indo-European language and are therefore Aryans. Many volunteered to fight with the Germans against the Bolsheviks, but Hitler would not let them see front line service. He described them in 1942 as “unreliable and dangerous”.

The Turks were Germany's allies and Russia her enemy in the Great War, but German enthusiasm for killing Armenians precedes 1914. Germany had turned a blind eye to the massacres of twenty years earlier. 

Adolf Hitler said that the Turks chose to rid themselves of a troublesome problem under the secrecy which the fog of war creates. He did the same with the Jews and, had he defeated Russia as he almost did, he would have done the same with the Soviet Slavs whom he intended to starve to death in the winter of 1941-42. The Jewish Holocaust was easier to hide because Britain was at war with Germany and France was defeated.

Hitler gave a speech to Wehrmacht commanders at his Obersalzberg home on 22 August 1939, a week before the German invasion of Poland in which he may have referred to the genocide of the Armenians. The words in question are:

Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It's a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilisation will say about me. I have issued the command – and I'll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad – that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?
Many historians believe that the last sentence referring to the Armenians is an interpolation. Incidentally, Hitler is talking in this speech about the annihilation of the Poles, not the Jews.

They didn't talk about genocide in 1939 but now everyone talks about the subject every day. Governments feel it necessary to condemn the Armenian genocide. I am very much in favour of speaking about and condemning the Armenian genocide and all genocides, but I issue the caveat that historians are usually partial and biassed in the conclusions they reach and politicians discussing history are more so. 

Politicians call the Armenian massacre genocide depending on whether or not they care about annoying Turkey. (Netanyahu and Obama did not call it genocide.)

The Turks point out that the Russians were responsible for the genocide of between 400,000 and 1.5 million Circassians in the Caucasus from 1864-67.

Hitler, in the passage I quoted above, drew attention to the deaths for which Genghis Khan with happy heart was responsible. Some historians put the number or people killed in the Mongol invasions as somewhere around 40 million, 10% of the world's population. 

I could also mention the massacre of millions of Gauls by Julius Caesar. 

Andrew Jackson annihilated the Cherokee nation. 

Two million died in a famine in Bengal in 1943 and some people blame this on the British because they did not send food, but this takes us away from genocide and into the area of such things as the Irish famine. There is an important moral and legal distinction between not sending food to a man who is starving and murdering him.

In my day, my country shamefully stood by and watched the Rwandan genocide which a battalion of troops could have prevented - shortly after British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd had made a speech about the need for 'a new imperialism' whereby the Western powers should assume responsibility for the welfare of poor countries. 

He and we equally shamefully did nothing when Muslims were massacred by Christians at Srebrenica. 

And so it goes.

With luck, politicians will now do their job and try to prevent future holocausts. I have to say that I see no sign whatever that this is likely to happen. On the contrary, they are making future genocides and ethnic wars more likely to happen.


  1. It was not "just" the Armenians - other groups of Christians were slaughtered by the Islamic Ottomans during the First World War - and it was not "just" a matter of attacking British ships, ships under the Ottoman flag (although manned by Germans) had also shelled Russian towns. Even in the 19th century the Ottomans had slaughtered Christian civilians - Disraeli was wrong, and Gladstone was right about the eastern question. Britain should have allowed Imperial Russia (a very different entity from Putin's Russia) to end the Ottoman Empire.

    1. The control of the Straits ceased to be important after the Suez canal was built. The Treaty of San Stefano created a Greater Bulgaria and paradoxically Bulgaria fought against Russia and England in both world wars. The Ottoman empire prevented ethnic wars as well as being guilty of ethnic cleansing in her last years. This was her attempt to come up to date in the age of nationalism. Nicolae Iorga, the great Romanian liberal historian and quondam Prime Minister, described the Ottoman Empire as Byzantium after Byzantium.

  2. Just heard that Constantinople will re-run a vote on Ottoman revival.

    I am interested by the running views of Islam as a polity & the form of power it may contain; I trust the saying below is worth keeping in mind:

  3. In the 1914 census there were 14 million Muslims in the Ottoman empire but 2.3 million were Arabs and a million were Kurds. The number of Turks was around 11.7 million.

    Turkey was also home to between 1.6 and 2 million Armenians, around 1.5 million Greeks and around a quarter of a million Jews, including the ones in the Holy Land.

    In the Russian empire there were 1.2 million Armenians in 1897. Possibly there were 1.6 million of them by 1914.

    There were 5 million Greeks in Greece in the 1913 census.

    Greeks and Armenians in total therefore came to about ten million, while Turks came to 11.7 million. In the Turkish capital Constantinople (historically a Greek city) Greeks and Armenians outnumbered Turks.

    Today there are 80 million Turks, 10 million Greeks and 3 million Armenians. There are 15 million Turks in Istanbul (Constantinople) alone.

    I owe most of these statistics to Anatoly Karlin though I checked and revised his figures slightly.

    1. Then, the diaspora is larger than the country... & Orthodox.

      I would be curious if life were better.

    2. The Armenian Apostolic Church is very old indeed and not Orthodox.

    3. I ought to have known as they were neighbours, if only the walls were left.

  4. I wrote this about the German attitude to the Armenian genocide.

  5. Very good. There are things in this that are new to me. Today's politicians almost all claim to believe in stopping genocides, but really they aren't much interested in that, as was shown by Rwanda. They like to be seen virtue-signalling, but most are quite oblivious to what makes the world dangerous and leads to civil wars.

    1. Exactly - the forced movements of peoples after 1945 led to many deaths and happened because the Allies at Potsdam wanted to prevent ethnic mosaics leading to more wars.

  6. @Paul
    Super post!
    Its very well written and seems to have been inspired by your recent visit to Armenia.
    I haven't yet followed all the links you have included but the AH quote one is very interesting.
    It appears to be something that AH should have said but probably didn't.
    A few asides:

    "In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Turkey lost North Africa to the European powers and most of the Balkans to nationalists. Russians and others expected that one day Mass would be celebrated again in Hagia Sofia in Constantinople."
    Of the European powers only Germany did not have designs on Turkish possessions. It was the only viable ally for Turkey.

    the Turkish participation in WWI was a jihad:

    "In my day, my country shamefully stood by and watched the Rwandan genocide which a battalion of troops could have prevented"
    Really Paul? Who is virtue signalling now?
    Rwanda was first a German and then a Belgian colony. What legal grounds and what strategic interest, would the British government have had for intervening? And how practically could it have done so?
    The massacre of Tutsi started without prior warning in early April 1994 and was virtually complete within three months:

    1. Thanks for liking what I wrote. The Turkish government played the jihad card - as described in that book I love from childhood Greenmantle, which was based on fact but the CUP (The Committee of Union and Progress CUP, later the Party of Union and Progress, a.k.a. the Young Turks) were not motivated by religion. They wanted to build a strong Ottoman empire. They were modernisers, as was Kemal after 1918. The difference was that Kemal abolished the monarchy and Ottoman ascendancy and created a Turkish nation state instead of reforming the multi-national empire.

      We had no strategic or legal reasons for intervening in Rwanda but the UK Belgium and France should have done so on humanitarian grounds since we had the strength to do so. I also at the time favoured interventions in Croatia Bosnia and Kosovo though I no longer think intervening in Kosovo was necessarily a good idea and I accept that the wars of intervention in the Middle East were unjust and disastrous. I was against them though I was in two minds over Libya.

      I blame Major and Hurd for sending British UN observers who were in effect hostages to the 'Bosnian Serbs' (really Bosnian Orthodox) and this was what they were intended to be. However you know far more about Bosnia than me. What should have happened in Bosnia?

  7. @Paul
    "shortly after British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd had made a speech about the need for 'a new imperialism'"

    Like Iraq, Libya and Syria? Ha, ha, ha ….

    "With luck, politicians will now do their job and try to prevent future holocausts."

    That's not their job. Their job at home is to promote the interests and welfare of their constituents and abroad, the interests of their country. This most definitely does not include taking up the white mans burden! IMO :).

  8. I meant that it is their job to prevent future ethnic wars and holocausts in their own countries, by limiting immigration.

    1. You have a knack for the limits/-es of empire.

    2. Thank you. Willis McBriar said the same thing.