Friday 6 May 2016

"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"


This week's political scandal about antisemitism in the British Labour Party has put the Holocaust in the news, but then the Holocaust is always in the news (very much more so than in the 1970s or 1980s). I think it wise not to wade into the discussion about what the malign Ken Livingstone (a man I detest) said about the Haavath Agreement. If you want to know about it, Andrew Roberts assails Ken here, though my views are different from Andrew's. But I have already stirred the waters in this article and, anyway, the story bores me. 

However, surfing the net (my besotting vice), I came across this interesting synopsis by Stefan Ihrig of his book Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to
Hitler, that shows how Germans came to terms with genocide via the Armenian genocide. 
Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?
Hitler is supposed to have asked rhetorically in September 1939. The quotation is probably spurious but, although the word genocide had not been coined, many Germans in the 1920s admired the elimination of the Armenians by Enver Pasha's Turkey during the Great War

Hitler in the 1920s described the Armenians and Greeks as lesser races. At a meeting in 1927 he said 
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.
Only in Weimar Germany were the facts of the disappearance of the Armenians discussed at length. The conservative press at first denied that the Armenians had been murdered, was then forced to accept that the killings had taken place and found excuses for them. Not very surprisingly, as Turkey and Germany has been allies at the time and Armenians, because Christians, were accused of being sympathetic to Tsarist Russia. 
A genocide debate had not only taken place, but had ended in justifications for genocide. Even then, the true saliency of the topic lay in the racial and national view of the Armenians held by many of the German commentators: they were seen as the (true) “Jews of the Orient,” either as equivalent to the Jews of Europe or even “worse.”
A decade before the Nazis came to power one German writer had used the fate of the Armenians as an argument for an 'ethnic surgeon' to remove the Jews from Germany and his views were shared by many.
So, who was still talking about the Armenians in the Third Reich? Surprisingly, almost nobody. The Nazis were remarkably silent on the topic, but were very vocal on what had followed the Armenian Genocide. The rise of the New Turkey and all the accomplishments of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk were important ingredients in the Nazi political imagination. In the German interwar and Nazi discourses on the New Turkey, one finds a chilling propagation of what a post-genocidal country, one cleansed of its minorities, could achieve: To the Nazis, the New Turkey was something of a post-genocidal wonderland, something that Germany would have to emulate. 
Ataturk played no part in the Armenian genocide (that was the work of Enver Pasha and the Young Turks) but it has always slightly surprised me that Ataturk is the one dictator who is generally admired in the West and considered the father of his country. It's interesting to know that the Nazis shared this admiration. 


  1. Peoples have been annihilated since the dawn of time. Christians seem particularly good at it. Jamil

  2. Compare the consensus of opinion on Ataturk with that on Pinochet, a very brutal dictator who nevertheless was arguably the saviour of his country.