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The Armenian Genocide is still a topic that brings deep emotional feelings as well as hotly debated subjects, one of the more provocative subjects that have continued to be debated is in what role if any, Germany, who was the Ottomans ally at the time, played in the Armenian Genocide; with either the deportations or the massacres itself. It is a question that continues to be brought up, how is it that the Genocide was able to occur without Germany being involved or at least an accessory to the genocide of millions, with Germany’s influence over the Ottomans. Did Germany try and stop the Ottomans from killing millions of Armenians or did they do like many historians have begun to suggest and partnered with the Ottoman Empire to commit the first genocide in the 20th-century?
Those questions cannot be answered until it has been again noted of the multitude of Germany’s civilians and military personnel who bore witness to the death marches, whose positions in society is the one outlying factor for how they reacted and responded to the atrocities wrought upon the Armenians. With the Turkish governments continuing denials of the acts done by the Committee of Union and Progress upon the Armenian people as their subjects, it makes the task for historians nearly impossible to be able to gain the access that is needed to do be able to connect Germany or absolve them. For the historians who endured and endeavored to find and discover the facts have been unable to reach a mutual unanimity on the subject. The groupings of Germans who witnessed the death marches and the acts against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire can be broken down into three groups: German Military Officers, German Diplomatic Corps, and German Civilians (mostly missionary’s).
The German Military Officers are the group that has traditionally been accused of connivance, as they were allowed leave from their German post while in the Ottomans, as well as a rank increase. Both the military officers and the envoy of the Germans that had been stationed in the Ottomans are often denunciated of having been complacent during the Genocides, many historians see them as Germany’s sanctioned delegates and thus should have been able to shift a change in the German foreign policy. As Rouben Paul Adalian talks about in his chapter: “Chapter 2| The Armenian Genocide” in Century of Genocide, one of the main problems with this theory is that Germany’s Military Officials and Germany’s Envoys did not often see eye to eye on what was best for the country.
There is some research that is ongoing that appears to link various members of Germany’s premier Military Officers, these military officers were part of the German Military Mission into the Ottoman Empire. There is evidence that suggests it was these German Military Officers who first brought up the idea of deporting the Armenians after the defeat of Turkey in Sarikamish, the German Military Officers were under the belief that the Armenians in the area had been working with the Russians. In the latter part of 1914 reports of Turkish insecurity and anxiety were being given to Germany in their Diplomatic reports, the communication on November 17, 1914, from Trebizond, had not only given the idea that a Russian flotilla had attacked a Black Sea Port but that soon after that Armenians had soon started to seek refuge in the German consulate.
Adalian talks about Germany’s Diplomatic Corps in his chapter The Armenian Genocide, in the book Century of Genocide, these are the second group in the Ottoman Empire during the genocide of the Armenian people, this is also Germany’s second group of officials who were present during this period. The most notable and influential individual of this group was Baron Han Freiherr von Wangenheim who was the ambassador for Germany to the Ottoman Empire. It was Wangenheim who helped to secure the secret alliance by negotiating and helping to bring the Ottomans into Germany’s war.
The German ambassador knew of the atrocities of the genocides with firsthand knowledge as well as having an influential standing with many key members of the Ottomans Committee of Union and Progress, the new Minister of war Enver Pasha and Talaat Pasha the Minister of the Interior were the two in particular. Wangenheim did not intervein on the Armenians behalf until quite late, and even then, it is often regarded as doing too little, as can be seen in Trumpener’s Germany and the Ottoman Empire. While the Ambassador had no wishes or plans to lose the war, his number one concern was always going to be Germany, and in this case Germany’s reputation. Wangenheim hoped to avoid giving the Allies more than they could use against Germany and the acts of cruelty against the Armenians would help them to bring in countries that had been neutral until then, giving Germany and the Central Powers more forces, they would need to fight off.
The third and final group of German’s who had been witness to the Ottoman Empires attacks on the Armenians and the death marches that followed were the civilians of Germany, many of these had been German missionaries. It was after they first started to witness the atrocities of the Ottoman on the Armenians that they immediately began to overwhelm both the German Ambassador and Germany’s Foreign Office with their news and firsthand accounts.
It was the Young Turks actions that they were most upset over and the most vocal about, however, they did not stop at just using their voice as they had taken great risk to their own lives by trying to give aid to the Armenians. The civilian group protested the German/Ottoman alliance and even tried to get the German people support by informing them of the happenings in the Ottoman Empire. Adalian discusses the foreign missionaries and civilians in the Ottoman Empire at the start of the Armenian Genocide and their reactions in “Chapter 2| The Armenian Genocide” in the book Century of Genocide.
In his memoirs Talaat took the opportunity after the war to write how it was the Chief of Staff of the Ottoman General Headquarters Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorff, who had first brought up the idea of the Young Turks deporting Armenians; he argued that Bronsart had a meeting in December of 1914 in secret to inform them of this. Both Talaat and Enver attended this meeting as well as Bronsart himself, and Military General Liman von Sanders and the Field Marshall Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz. In the film “Genocide Denied” Halil Berktay and Matthew Carney both touch on it being Talaat and Enver’s group making this order. This would match the theory that Bronsart had claimed Germany’s military had uncovered the Armenians acting in treasonous activity; with that information and Bronsart pushing for deportation, the Turkish government would have needed to do it, less it destabilizes their war efforts.
Neither Talaat nor Bronsart’s claims and accusations are seen as highly credible as they are themselves thought to be behind the Genocide and would thus try to move the blame on to another, for Bronsart, documents found with his signature from July of 1915 ordering Armenian deportation had been discovered as well.
Bronsart continued to claim that during the early part of 1915 that the German military found proof of Armenian subterfuge with the Russians and that it was the Armenians who were planning great violence, not the Turks. His reasoning for the death of so many Armenians during the marches was not due to violence or murder, but lack of necessities like shelter, transportation, food, water, and medicine. In the film “Genocide Denied” Mathew Carney talks with survivors and families of the survivors of the death marches who all have the same theme, and in a way Bronsart was right, many did die from the lack of necessities, but the majority were killed. Bronsart argued that the Ottomans never had a plan to murder all of their Armenian population.
The reports from more modern eras have a more mixed look at the situation that occurred from 1914-1915. Many point to early Winter of 1914 with the Turkish Party: Ittihad and their Turkish Irregulars wondering around Armenian towns and villages causing problems. The Military and Police ran by the regular Turks and on orders from the higher authorities had started to carry out the arrest and home searches by Spring of 1915, this was mainly aimed at the Armenians. In Adalian’s “Chapter 2| The Armenian Genocide” within the book Century of Genocide, he interviews Helen Tatarian who had been in school when they started collecting the Armenians, her story like the ones in Genocide Denied tells of violence that had occurred and the death that surrounds them.
After Wangenheim’s retirement and death, he was replaced with Count Paul von Wolff-Metternich who had a very strong stance on the Armenian issue, this stance made him disliked quickly with the Ottoman government. In early winter of 1915, Metternich sent Berlin a report that stressed the atrocities the Armenians were facing and how he had brought it up with Enver, Halil, and Djemal Pasha but that they ignored him. His idea was that, only by making them fear Germany’s actions to these atrocities would they stop them, but that for military reasons Germany would never be able to do this.
After failing to reach his goal with Enver, the Foreign Minister Halil, and Djemal- Metternich decided to try with Talaat who was known as the head of the operation. Much to his surprise, Talaat seemed on board and even commented that the Armenians had suffered enough, but just five days after he got a letter with rebuke informing him that Germany and Turkey were military allies and that was all that he should keep out of Turkeys affairs. The new Ambassador, however, kept trying to get the Ottoman Government to publicly announce Germany’s innocence in the Armenian Genocide.
In the Spring of 1916, the Ottomans announce the Verité sur le mouvement revolutionnaire arménien et les mesures gouvernmentales, which, much to the new Ambassadors glee stated that Germany did not approve of or take part in the Armenian deportation. While he did achieve in getting Germany’s part of his goal done, he failed in his goal of stopping the CUP Armenian deportation policy, the Young Turks had Germany call him back home due to his continued protest. With his recall, Germany’s diplomatic stance and attempted blockade against the Armenian massacres ended, mainly due to that fact they got their announcement of innocence and the massacres had mostly come to an end by 1916; though some would continue throughout the end of the war.
The question of rather Germany could have stopped the Armenian Genocide and save the Turkish Armenian remains. With the information that is available today, and the interviews left behind from survivors, it does not seem likely. The German people while compassionate towards the situation happening in the Ottomans, would not have been expected to sacrifice their national safety, this does not, however, mean they were accomplices in the Armenian Genocide. There were many of Germany’s diplomats, civilians and even military officers who tried to help the Armenians and tried to stop the Young Turks, just as there were clearly a number of high-ranking German military officers who were involved; but the actions of certain individuals should not condemn the whole nation, nor should the actions of their future condemn the nation of the past.
This was tragedy filled with atrocities and horrors for which over one million women, children, and men needlessly lost their lives and were made to suffer. For the victims of the Armenian Genocide and their descendant’s justice has not come, instead, Turkey’s government and many others around the world have only made it worse by denying what has happened to their people. While the Armenian Genocide was and is an abhorrent injustice, many from Germany did try to interfere and stop the Ottomans; to say that Germany itself contributed or aided for an offense that had distinctly and with evidence been done by only select people, would only add to this unjust situation, not help bring it the justice it deserves.
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