The Armenian Genocide 1915

The following article is translated from Sozialismus oder Barbarei, the publication of our German sister group, the Gruppe Internationaler Sozialistinnen in 2010 and was published in Revolutionary Perpectives 54 (Series 3). For some technical reasons we did not put it up on our site then but we are making amends for that omission on this 100 year anniversary of the event. Genocide, and so-called ethnic cleansing etc., is part of the history of capitalist imperialism. The Armenian Massacres are not only officially denied by the modern Turkish state but as we have seen in the last few days all talk of a geneocide is forbidden. The more they have to hide the more we have to denounce. Our comrades however, following the steps of Karl Liebknecht, were not content merely with telling a story of Turkish brutality but also of exposing the role of the supposedly civilised German state. There is not a single modern state which can escape the same accusation. This is in the best traditions of revolutionary defeatism and we thus support it and give it a wider airing.


April 2015

The Genocide against the Armenians and German Participation

“Who talks about the extermination of the Armenians today?”, Hitler asked a few days before the German attack on Poland, in a speech where, amongst other things, he made clear the harsh conduct to be adopted by the SS Death’s Head gangs against the civilian population. A notable quote which shows that, even then, the genocide against the Armenians was widely known, and also served fanatical nationalists, like Hitler, as an example to be followed. Nevertheless, the events of 95 years ago are sometimes denied, or, at least, discussed as if they were extremely controversial. The historical facts on this topic have been and are still denied, the history books remain falsified and whoever, as a journalist, for example, even merely mentions the genocide, is exposed to severe repression. Very often, even this does not happen, as the liberal press daily reinforces the denial of history.

In Germany on the other hand, it is not so much the genocide against the Armenians that is denied, but the most widespread silence over the role of the Germany military is observed — for good reasons, as we shall see. In general, the dominant tendency here is to shrug off the Armenian genocide, like the Holocaust, as a regrettable historical episode.

The most popular basis for this evasion of the facts was delivered by Stephane Courtois in his consciously “random” ordering of human suffering in the introduction to his “The Black Book of Communism”:

“The Ottoman Empire allowed itself to be swept into the genocide of the Armenians, and Germany to that against the Jews, Roma and Sinti. Mussolini’s Italy massacred the Ethiopians. The Czechs find it difficult to admit that their behaviour towards the Sudeten Germans in the years 1945-6 was not above all suspicion…”

Instead of clarifying the connection between the massacres of the Jews and the Armenians or even mentioning the German participation in the latter, in this manner, at best, the putting of all “human catastrophes” onto the same level can be further propagated.

Germany and the Genocide of 1915

In January 1916, according to an enquiry by Karl Liebknecht addressed to the German Reichstag, "in our ally, the Turkish Empire, the Armenian population in hundreds of thousands have been driven out of their houses and butchered", and he asked about the consequences.

The reply of the leader of the Political Department of the Foreign Ministry and Delegate of the Kaiser, Dr. von Stumm:

"The Reich Chancellery is aware that the seditious activities of our enemies have caused the Turkish court to resettle the Armenian population of certain areas of the Turkish Empire and to send them to new living quarters. Because of certain repercussions of these measures, there has been an exchange of views between the German and Turkish governments. Further details cannot be communicated."

In World War I, Germany and Turkey were allies. At the time of the genocide many Germans were staying in Turkey and were eye-witnesses or heard comments. Some also became perpetrators. Here, we only give here a few examples. The deportation plans for the Armenians originated with Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, who had been working since 1883 as a military trainer and organiser in the Turkish Empire, where he was addressed as a Turkish Field Marshall exclusively as “Golz-Pasha”.The German commentator Paul Rohrbach proposed a deportation of the Armenians as early as 1913 to solve the “Armenian question”.

In 1913, about 800 German officers under General Liman came to Istanbul, in order to militarily prepare their future alliance partner. A few of these officers took part in the planning and execution of the deportations.

The German General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorf, the Chief of the General Staff of the Ottoman army justified his criminal actions against the Armenians even after the war and wrote in 1919:

"The Armenian is like the Jew, a parasite when outside his homeland, who sucks up the health of other country in which he settles. Thence comes the hate which was discharged in a mediaeval fashion against them as an undesirable people and which led to their murder." [1]

The Young Turks

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 led to the dismissal of Abdul Hamid II and severely restricted the rights of the Sultanate, without abolishing it in principle. Under Abdul Hamid, the Armenian population suffered extremely harsh pogroms. Between 1894 and 1896 thousands of Armenians were murdered in these. At this time, the Ottoman Empire consisted extensively of peasants and a huge army of soldiers. The proletariat was extremely small, but the Revolution brought about their first significant strikes. The “Revolution”, however, was mainly carried out by groups of officers. The “Committee for Unity and Progress” (ITC — Itihat ve Terakki Cemiyet), founded in the 1890s, was politically involved in it. The Young Turks’ dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, Abdul Hamid primarily fed upon military defeats and loss of territory, mainly in the Balkans but also vis-à-vis Russia. The Ottoman Empire had declared state bankruptcy as early as 1875. The Russian-Turkish War of 1877-8 led to territorial losses in Armenia and the Balkans. With the decay of the Empire and the economic collapse, Turkey’s dependence on foreign support grew, above all in respect to Germany. In January, the ITC prevailed over other opposition parties and in the wake of a heavy defeat in the Balkan War, seized exclusive power through a coup. Talaat became Minister of the Interior, Enver, Minister of War and Kemal, Navy Minister. These three constituted a triumvirate and remained at the head of the state until 1918. Turkey’s entry into the World War on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary was practically provoked by the triumvirate, as the basis for their domination over the population, which was already thin, and further eroded in the wake of famine. The Christian population of the Ottoman Empire in any case could expect nothing but persecution and massacres. Their early hopes in the Young Turk Revolution were rapidly shattered with the pogroms which had been raging long before 1915. Inside the ITC, Pan-Turkism prevailed more and more against traditional Ottomanism, which regarded Islam as the ruling religion in the Ottoman Empire, while other religions were exposed to repressive laws like, for example, an exceptional tax. Non-Moslems, up until just before the 1915 genocide, were not allowed to enter military service and were excluded from related key positions in the state apparatus. Thus, they remained isolated to a great extent, and, insofar as they had not armed and organised themselves for self-defence, they were exposed to pogroms without any protection.

Pan-Turkism differed from Ottomanism in that it merged the hegemony of Islam with the nation. The evil of all the misery and defeats should be sought in the Christians, in the Greeks, the Armenians and the Aramaeans. “Turkdom” should be perpetuated across the world. Enver expressed himself in 1915 to the chairman of the German mission to the East, Dr. Lepsius:

"Consider that the Turkish people numbers 40 million. If they were constituted into an empire, then they would have the same importance in Asia as Germany does in Europe." [2]

At that time, about 9 million Turks lived in the Ottoman Empire. In order to constitute this empire, the Armenians needed to be “stamped out”, as they represented a strategic obstacle to this nationalist project for expansion. It is true that pogroms against Christians in the Ottoman Empire were not rare, but in 1915 everything that had gone before was exceeded: even in 1914, starting in Western Anatolia, pogroms mainly against Greeks were perpetrated, which were largely carried out by the Teskalit-i Mahsura special units, supported by the Ministry of War. By 1916, about 500,000 people were murdered in this area alone, and thousands of others driven away. The “success” in Western Anatolia now encouraged the ruling class’s murderers to commit genocide against the Armenians too. Entry into the World War meant that people could be killed “in peace”. At last, no deference needed to be paid to anyone, and everyone could be depicted as a victim of war. First, on 25 February 1915, Enver Pasha ordered Armenian soldiers to disarm, and they were organised into work-battalions. Many died in these work-battalions, or were shot by the dozen. On 24 April, 600 Armenian intellectuals were deported from Istanbul and killed. Now the real “deportation” could begin. First, in the main, the men were led off from the localities, and then the women and children. As a rule, nothing could be taken with them. They were merged into long treks and sent on a long march, at whose end death almost always awaited them. Turks, Kurds and Circassians who encountered these treks, attacked them, raping and killing. Others tried to help, and were executed. The treks ended in the Syrian or Iraqi deserts where illness, hunger and thirst killed off the people.

"At the Kemach gorge, near Erzurum City, where the river Euphrates cuts into the mountain terrain, people were tied into groups of five and thrown down. In spring the meltwater carried the corpses onto the plain, where they became the booty of the miserable and always hungry village curs. In Trabzent (Trabzon), they only deported some of the Armenians. They drowned the rest, together with some Greeks. They were loaded onto boats and these were dragged out to sea. There the boats were simply sunk. Land, animals, houses, shops and all the goods left behind were transferred to the ownership of their Islamic neighbours and the officials." [3]

The number of victims of the genocide was possibly 1.5 or perhaps even 2 million people. Most of the murderers walked free after the trials in Istanbul immediately after the World War. The trials were held after “pressure” by the British. Even in this connection, Germany thoroughly distinguished itself by sheltering wanted murderers. For example, Talaat Pasha, who was living in Berlin in 1921 as a respected citizen. Later he was shot by the Armenian student Salomon Teilirian, whose family had been victims of the genocide.

Kemalist Myths and Imperialist Interests

But the Entente Powers also had no real interest in bringing the genocide to light. The British imperialists were only concerned with breaking off as much as was possible of the cake of the collapsing Ottoman Empire for themselves. For this they needed justification. It was similar with the other imperialist states. Their imperialist interests released the Turkish rulers from the burden of the genocide. At the latest, after the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923, there was no more talk of genocide. The victorious powers were more interested in a strong Turkey as a “bulwark against communism”. Nevertheless, the “liberation struggle” under Ataturk’s leadership against the occupation powers after the World War depended to a significant extent on the very Teskilat-i Mahusa units, whose organisation of the genocide was decisive. Ataturk himself took care of their release from prison (insofar as they were taken into custody at all), and many, who had taken over Armenian property were anxious that survivors could return. Hence, they supported Ataturk and the “liberation struggle” all the more vehemently. The Turkish ruling class reacts with extreme sensitivity to accusations in connection with the genocide, as its domination rests precisely on the myth of the “liberation struggle”. Addressing the genocide means questioning Ataturk and his Republic, which rests on the expulsion or annihilation of other peoples, and combatting Kemalism, which is dominant in broad swathes of the Turkish Left. As mentioned, Turkish historiography knows no genocide against the Armenians. The overwhelming majority of Turkish authors and commentators have developed various “lines of argument”. A popular argument goes along these lines: it was war and therefore there were deaths on both sides. Others claim that the Armenians were deported because the collaborated with the Russians in World War I. Yet others calculate how many Turks gave their life on the various fronts and compare the figures. The most widespread legend makes the victims the perpetrators. Even the debate on the diplomatic level over the Armenian genocide which has emerged in recent years is less about clarification but about winning political positions between competing national states. In this cynical power game the representatives of the ruling classes try to interpret and exploit the events of 95 years ago in the sense of their own imperialist interests. The Armenian genocide was the result of a nationalist drive to expand which is typical of the age of imperialism. Only when the rule of imperialism is broken worldwide and the dictatorship of capital is finally lifted, will the victims of this mass murder see justice done to them.


[1] Alsan, F., Bozay K. u.a.: Die Grauen Wölfe heulen wieder [The Grey Wolves Still Howl], Münster 1997, p30

[2] Seidel-Pielen, Eberhard: Unsere Türken [Our Turks], Berlin 1995, p51

[3] Aslan, F., Bozay K. u.a.: Die Grauen Wölfe heulen wieder, Münster 1997, p32

Tuesday, April 28, 2015