Justifying Genocide –
Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler
By Stefan Ihrig
Harvard University Press – £25.95
In this book’s third chapter (‘The Triumph of German Anti-Armenianism’) under the sub-heading ‘The Cure That Kills,’ Polonsky Fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Stefan Ihrig contends: ”In the Turkish Empire there is a word that has a dangerous sound, a word like powder and explosive fuse…Whenever the sick man calls for a doctor, the latter prescribes ”reforms.” The sick man senses that he cannot stomach the medicine. He says, ”Yes, doctor!,” but then pours the Occidental drops into the Bosporus.”
Given that ”Turkey’s parliament has informed the Council of Europe of its intention to partially withdraw from the European convention on human rights in the aftermath of last weekend’s failed coup attempt” (The Guardian – 22 July 2016), this altogether brittle, but in a way, brilliant book, couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although when approached from a slightly different angle, many might contend that it should also come as no surprise that there’s such a large influx of Turkish people living throughout much of today’s Germany. And has been ever since the nineteen-fifties. Berlin especially, where I myself spent the best part of three years living in an area called Wedding, formerly known as Red Wedding (due to the countless street battles which took place during the twenties – between predominantly Communist and other revolutionary factions). To this day, the up-and-coming area remains one of the city’s quintessential Turkish hot-spots, where it has to be said, relations are more than amicable and accepted to say the least.
There again, there is an inherent, historical linearity between Germany and Turkey, which Justifying Genocide – Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler more than testifies: ”Yet another excellent book by Stefan Ihrig about the uncanny German-Turkish connection. The story of the Armenian Genocide and its reception in post-World War I Germany thus becomes a German, not a Turkish or Armenian, story about racism and the road taken by Germany toward the Holocaust” (Moshe Zimmermann, Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
Indeed, this eye-opening, rather revelatory book, is the first comprehensive study of its kind – wherein author Ihrig, highlights how most Germans were more prone to view Armenians through a prism of racial inequality rather than that of a clear-cut religious tonality. Hence Armenians at the time, oft referred to as ‘the Jews of the Orient.’
Excluding Notes and Index, these 371 pages do much to illuminate a well analysed, albeit perplexing period in German-Turkish relations, where, before the First World War, may Germans ”sympathized with the Ottomons’ long-standing repression of the Armenians and would go on to defend vigorously the Turks’ wartime program of extermination.”
To be sure, after the war, in what Ihrig terms ”the great genocide debate,” German nationalists first denied and then ultimately justified genocide in rather flippant, if not fraught, grandiose terminology.
Such is touched upon throughout this most readable of books, which, apart from being cloyingly compelling, is altogether resolute in it’s devout need to truly tell it as it must have surely been: ”Anyone who is familiar with the circumstances knows sufficiently well that it is the agents of the Triple Entente, especially those of Russia and England, who are using any opportunity to stir up the Armenians to rebellion against the imperial government. These incessant machinations have intensified since the outbreak of hostilities between the Ottomon Empire and the above mentioned governments… In light of these facts, it was the duty of the imperial government to use all the means in its legal powers to suppress the revolution. The imperial government thus saw itself forced to seek the military suppression on the one hand, and on the other to arrest revolutionary Armenians (Chapter Eight – ‘What Germany Could Have Known’).
Again, sound familiar?
Does the above not have varying echoes of the current-day ”machinations” of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government?
And does not history simply insist on repeating itself – again and again and again and again?
For just a smidgen of confirmation, most definitely read this book.