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THE HOLOCAUST AND ARMENIAN CASE: HIGHLIGTING THE MAIN DIFFERENCES - I

İbrahim KAYA
04 December 2006 - Turkish Weekly
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.uW€Ò0="justify">Similarities do not make two things same. However, if two things are so similar they can be grouped in the same category. Common rules would apply to all the things in the same category. Therefore, similarities and abstraction are extremely important not only from academic but also from legal point of view. Surely if the things had nothing in common, or similarities are very low, they are different. Different things do not fall within the same category and are subject to different treatment and rules.

" the world, the concept of Holocaust gained currency as a most horrendous crime. Therefore, the charge of Holocaust became a weapon and many have tried to draw some parallels between the Holocaust and their cases.[1] The supporters of the so-called Armenian genocide are no exception, frequently using the term “Armenian Holocaust”. The efforts for drawing some, considerable, parallels between the fates of the European Jews and Armenians of the Ottoman Empire aim to expand the recognition of the 1915 incidents as genocide. Because the Holocaust is the most inhuman treatment of man to man and anything similar, or the same, deserves to be condemned and, consequently, punished. However, the calamity befell upon the Jews is so grave and it is not easy to call every instance of great human losses the Holocaust. Therefore, it is worth noting that Armenian historians tend to distinguish both the Armenian experience and the Holocaust from all other instances of great human losses. If they manage to make the 1915 incidents recognized as Holocaust, first simply to the public and later to the legislatures of various countries, laws of these countries prohibiting even academic criticism of the Holocaust would also apply to the Armenian case.

A significant portion of Armenian efforts has been devoted to establishing a linkage between their own historical experiences and those of European Jewry during the World War II. The cornerstone in these efforts has long been the infamous Hitler quote: “Who, after all, speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?”. The aim is to prove that Hitler was encouraged by the lack of reaction to the fate of the Armenians.[2] As examined in great detail and convincingly proved by Lowry, there is no historical basis for attributing such a statement to Hitler.[3] Yet, a comparative analysis of the Holocaust and Armenian case is worthwhile.

The aim of this paper is to examine the Holocaust and 1915 incidents with a view  exploring the differences, and of course similarities, between the two. If they have much in common, both deserves to be treated same. If not, the categorization applicable to one would not fit the other one. Firstly brief features of the Holocaust will be given to the attention of the reader. This will be followed by a comparative analysis of the Holocaust and 1915 incidents. Since the author comes from a legal profession, analysis of the legal elements of both incidents will also be emphasized throughout the paper. The sources on the 1915 incidents used in this article will be the sources of Armenian origin and official legal material the authenticity of which cannot be denied. To give a full record of 1915 incidents is clearly out of scope of this work which will only make an attempt to analyze the differences and similarities between the Holocaust and what the Armenians experienced in and around 1915.

The Holocaust:[4]  Evil for the Evil’s Sake[5]

There has been so much cruelty, hatred, and killing in the history of mankind.  It is also a fact that various communities have tried to exterminate other communities which were different from theirs in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, language. The most recent examples of this are obviously the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia cases. However, none of previous campaigns is in a position to challenge the uniqueness of the Nazi Holocaust. It is significant not merely because its victims were the Jews. Throughout the history the Jews were made the victims of mass murder campaigns, but none of them was called the Holocaust.[6]

The Holocaust is generally regarded as the systematic slaughter of not only 6 million Jews, (two-thirds of the total European Jewish population), the primary victims, but also 5 million others, wiped off the Earth by the Nazis and their collaborators. 11 million people  were killed because of racism and hate, all in a period of 11 years between 1933-1945.

The most important feature of the Holocaust is, possibly, that it is evil for the evil’s sake. In this respect it differs from all other mass murder incidents. There is no ground upon which the conditions imposed upon the Jews of Europe by the Nazis could be explained. The Jews neither cooperated with Russians against Germany nor stabbed the German army from the back. They even did not form any armed organization to defend themselves, let alone terrorist groups to rebel against the legitimate government of the country where they live.

The Holocaust was brought into being because it had meaning to its perpetrators. Anti-Semitism is the key point. It had its roots in the Middle Ages. According to the Christian belief of the Middle Ages, it was the Jews who killed Jesus Christ. Therefore, they were to be hated and punished. Every Jew was individually responsible for this crime and sin. On their way to Jerusalem, the Crusaders slaughtered the ‘infidel’ irrespective whether he was a Muslim or Jew. The Jews were required to live in the ghettos in the Middle Ages of Europe. They were also subject to some discriminative procedures like bearing certain signs and following certain dress code in many places. Thereby the Jews were differenced from the rest of the society, becoming the ‘other’. It is also a fact that with the Enlightenment an amelioration of the situation of the Jews was seen, since the equality of all mankind was a pillar of the Enlightenment. While the Napoleonic armies marched in Europe, the more Jews became free as the equalitarian principles spread. The hard-working and talented Jews became part and often the leading part of the social, cultural, economic, and scientific life of Europe in the end of the nineteenth century. Their success was also partly because of the solidarity among the Jews. On the other hand, the anti-Semitism was not buried, but this time instead of religious intolerance it was grounded on the so-called scientific knowledge. Nazi propaganda identified them as a "race" and an inferior one. To create a powerful nation inferior ones should be eliminated according to the Nazi scientists.

The Nazis picked out and specifically targeted the Jews, and they did this from the very beginning -- the Nazi Party Program of February 1920 to the very end Hitler's Testament of April 29, 1945.

The Nazis harassed and brutalized the Jews throughout the 1920s during the "struggle for power." Speech after speech painted the Jews as Germany's "misfortune" and prophesied a time of reckoning.

The Nazis came to power in 1933 and the Jews were their very first target. The infamous boycott against Jewish businesses took place in April 1933 and the first laws against the Jews were enacted on 7 April 1933. Jews were progressively erased from almost every facet of German life. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in 1935, deprived the Jews of almost every remaining right and freedom. The "Nuremberg Laws" proclaimed Jews second-class citizens. Furthermore one's Jewishness, according to the Nuremberg Laws, was dependent on that of a person's grandparents, not that person's beliefs or identity. More laws passed between 1937 and 1939 exacerbated the problem further: Jews were more and more segregated and life was made much harder. Jews could not go to public schools, theaters, cinemas, or resorts, and furthermore, they were banned from living, or sometimes even walking, in certain parts of Germany. This culminated in the bloodiest pogrom to date the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938. Over 100 Jews were murdered and a "fine" was levied against the Jews in excess of 1 billion Mark.

Approximately half the Jewish population of Germany fled along with more than two thirds of the Austrian Jewry. Emigration took them to Palestine, the United States, Latin America, along with eastern and western Europe. The Jews who remained in Nazi Germany were either unwilling to leave or unable to obtain visas. Some could not get sponsors in host countries, or were simply too poor to be able to afford the trip. Many foreign countries made it even harder to get out due to strict emigration policies designed to thwart large amounts of refugees from entering, particularly in the wake of the Depression. The United States, Britain, Canada, and France were among these. Thirty eight countries met at Evian, France to discuss the treatment of the Jews in Germany, but no real help was offered.

By the outbreak of World War II, actions taken against the Jews included marking them and ghettoizing them. Jews were forced to label all exterior clothing with a yellow Star of David with the word Jude (Jew). By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the decision had been taken to kill the eastern European Jews by shooting them where they were found and by the end of that year, the decision was taken to kill all European Jews.

Communists, homosexuals, Gypsies, prisoners of war, Russians, Poles, Catholic priests, Jehovah's Witnesses and others were more or less systematically murdered as the Holocaust continued. By the end of the war, as many as 6 million of these people had been killed, along with between 5 and 6 million Jews.

Einsatzgruppen carried out these murders at improvised sites throughout the Soviet Union, following behind the advancing German army. It was between 1942 and 1944 that the Germans decided to eliminate the ghettos and deport the ghetto populations to "extermination camps," killing centers equipped with gassing facilities in Poland. This was known as "the final solution to the Jewish question," implemented after a meeting of senior German officials in late January 1942 at a villa in Wannsee (a suburb of Berlin). It was official state policy, the first ever to advocate the murder of an entire people.

Six killing sites were chosen according to their closeness to rail lines (essential for shipping the victims) and for their location in semi-rural areas. The locations were: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The SS operated the killing centers, and their methods were similar in each location. Railroad freight cars and passenger trains would bring in victims. Men were immediately separated from women. Prisoners were stripped and their valuables confiscated. They then were forced naked into the gas chambers, disguised as showers, where carbon monoxide or Zyklon B asphyxiated them. The bodies were then stripped of hair, gold fillings and teeth, and burned in crematoria, or buried in enormous mass graves. They also were often used for medical experiments and subject to extreme brutality on the part of the guards. Many died as a result.

With the tide of the war turned and the Allied armies liberated the German occupied soil an international tribunal for the prosecution of those who were responsible for the Holocaust was formed. the Nuremberg Tribunal condemned twelve to death by hanging.

The Turks and Armenians

Having briefly reviewed the Jewish question in Europe and the constituent elements of the Holocaust, now its time to turn to the comparative analysis of this with the Turkish-Armenian relations, including and especially what the Armenians experienced in 1915 under the World War I circumstances.

Status of the Jews of Europe and Armenians of the  Ottoman Empire

It has been clear from the above examination that the Jews of Europe had lived in unfavorable, at best, conditions in Middle ages and the Nazi period in Europe, in terms of social and legal status as a predictable result of anti-Semitism. It would be wise to examine the legal status of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire to reach a sound conclusion on the comparison.

The principles upon which non-Muslims were governed have their roots in the earlier traditions of Persian and Roman rule and Islamic norms. Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians had a special place in Islam. They are  all called “People of Book” and allowed to live in a country governed by Muslims as long as they accepted the Muslim rule and paid special taxes. There are two important categories of taxes that must be agreed to be paid by non-Muslims living under Islamic rule: namely cizye, a special pool tax and harac, the land tribute.[7]

The Ottoman society, being a multi ethnic and religious entity, was divided into various communities along religious lines. Each group or individual belonged to one or the other millet according to religious affiliation. Each millet established and maintained its own laws and institutions to regulate conduct and conflict under its own leaders. The leader of each millet was called millet bashi (head of millet). The Greek and Armenian millets were each headed by a patriarch and the Jews by a grand rabbi. In addition to their spiritual authority over their own ecclesiastical subordinates and coreligionists the millet bashis had a fairly extensive civil authority in the internal administration of their millets. Some taxes also collected by the heads of the millets. [8] In the fifteenth century Sultan Mehmet II established the millet system to facilitate coexistence between the different ethnic and religious groups. After his conquest of Istanbul (Constantinople) in 1453, Mehmet II vested the new Greek patriarch, Gennadius, with ecclesiastical and civil authority over his coreligionists of the Empire and invited Bishop Yovakim, the Armenian primate of Bursa, to Istanbul in 1461 and conferred upon the title of  “patrik” , thus placing him on the same footing as the patriarch of the Greek community. The authority of the Greek patriarch extended over the Serbs, Bulgarians, Wallachians, Moldavians and Melkites while the non-Orthodox Christian subjects, comprising the Syrian Jacobite, Ethiopian, Georgian, Chaldean and the Coptic communities were placed under the authority of the Armenian patriarch.[9]  This shows that the millet system was based on the religious affiliation not that of ethnical. By implementing the millet system, the Ottomans restored peace and order in the classical period.

The Ottoman Empire reached its height in the sixteenth century. The decline also started in this century, becoming more apparent in the following centuries. The Ottoman Empire did not fully experience the Renaissance. The decline of the Empire brought corruption and oppression to all subjects, irrespective whether they were Muslims and non-Muslims. Most striking of all was the armed forces. In some provinces they became oppressive, taking without payment whatever they wanted from the population, again notwithstanding whether it was Muslim and non-Muslim. The Ottoman system still included some men of integrity and of ability who proposed reforms for the survival of the country. In 1839 a reform edict was issued in Gülhane in the name of the sultan. The principle of equality of persons of all religions is recognized by the edict. However, in practice, it is not to be supposed that the immediate equality for all Ottoman subject was to be secured, for mainly two reasons. Firstly the transformation of traditional structure of any society takes some, important, time and secondly the state had not enough power to implement this policy. Therefore, in 1856 another reform edict renewed the commitments of 1839; guaranteeing free exercise of religion, charge of their own belongings, access to public employment, equal taxation and equality before the law. In 1876, constitutional monarchy was proclaimed and the parliament convened. The constitution granted all subjects equal  rights and liberties.[10] As a result, between 1876-1915 twenty nine Armenians served in the highest governmental rank of pasha; twenty two served as ministers, including the ministers of foreign affairs, finance, trade and post; thirty three served as members of the parliament; seven served as ambassadors; eleven served as consuls-general, eleven served as university professors; and forty one served as other officials of high ranks.[11]

To conclude this part, it could be conveniently suggested that the legal status of Armenians under the Ottoman rule does not accept any kind of comparison to that of the European Jewry. It is equally clear that the anti-Armenianism, as the counterpart of the anti-Semitism- the motive behind the Holocaust, has never existed among the Turks.

Genesis of the Armenian Question

The Jews of Europe had never tried to get sovereignty over a certain part of the European territory, never got armed and committed attacks against government officials and civilians of other ethnicities and religions. No foreign state intervened the affairs of a Jewish population living under the jurisdiction of any other state and no state tried to rescue the European Jews from prosecution, with the exception of the Turks who welcomed the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and the Republic of Turkey provided a safe haven for the Jews who had to flee from the Nazis.[12]

Without adequately examining the roots and nature of the Armenian question, dealing only with the 1915 events from only one point of view would lead illusions. Therefore, being a part of the continuous process of the Armenian question the 1915 events would only the examined adequately by going to the roots of the Armenian question. This examination would also provide material that makes things easier in the comparison of the Holocaust and Armenian issue.

The Armenian issue goes as back as the Eastern Question. Unity in the Ottoman Empire deteriorated as nationalism spread to the Empire.[13] Many Christian nations of the Ottoman Empire gained their independence in the following years of the Great French Revolution, as a result of the nationalist philosophies inspired from the Revolution. Among them were the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs. It must be noted that the Western Powers helped these nations to gain their independence. However, the Armenian nation which was widely dispersed geographically did not form majority in any place.[14] The Great Powers perceived themselves as the protectors of the non-Muslims living in the Ottoman territory. Therefore, the Great Powers had a free hand to intervene the domestic matters of the Empire. Russia became the protectorate of the Armenians by an international treaty, the Treaty of St. Stefanos of 1878. Other Great Powers also gained the same status with respect to the Armenians by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, signed on 13 July 1878, provided:

The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the amelioration and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will make known periodically the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.[15]

With these treaties the Ottomans had to accept the international dimension of the Armenian issue officially. The Ottomans promised some reforms for the Armenians by the Tanzimat and Islahat edicts in 1839 and 1856 respectively and an Armenian National Constitution was approved in 1863.[16] These efforts never satisfied the revolutionary fractions within the Armenian community.

There are also internal reasons for the Armenian issue to rise. Wealthy Armenians sent their sons to Europe for education. The first Ottoman Armenians who received advanced western education were sent to Italy.[17] Others went to various European capitals. In Europe most of these young men were given the opportunity to acquaint themselves with constitutional political systems and progressive ideas, including positivism and materialism. Many Turkish Ottoman students in Europe experienced the same. They compared their falling country’s conditions with those of European ones and came to the conclusion that nationalism was the essential element for development. The first Armenian societies were non-political, aiming at especially expanding education among the members of the Armenian millet. For example, on 27 April 1849 the Young Armenians formed the Ararat Society in Paris, which brought together almost all the Armenian students in the French capital. They declared that “... the happiness of a nation can only come through education...[The Ararat Society] is to bring progress to the Armenian nation and to provide for all its needs” in their society’s program. Most of the European-educated students took important posts in the civil service of the Ottomans.[18]  However, not all Armenian organizations had this kind of innocent aims. Especially towards end of the nineteenth century, many revolutionary organizations with armed sections were formed. The Union of Salvation and the Black Cross were created in Van in 1872 and 1878 respectively. The Protectors of Fatherland was formed in Erzurum in 1881. The first non-local Armenian revolutionary party was the Armenekan, founded in Van in 1885. The Armenekan expanded to Mu?, Bitlis, Trabzon, Istanbul and even Russia and Iran. The Armenekan bought and smuggled arms and engaged terrorist activities. This was followed by the Revolutionary Hunchak Party, created in 1887 in Geneva, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (commonly called by the name of the Dashnak Party) formed in 1890 in Tiflis. Although all were called parties, what they had common was their military wings which carried out many armed activities, or as called today terrorist activities. The flag of the Dashnaks which had on one side five stars encircling the number sixty one and on the other side the slogan “vengeance, vengeance” and a skeleton makes the aim and the method of the ‘party’ clear.[19]

As most of the Armenian organizations formed outside of the Ottoman territory, their leadership took decisions on the activities, including rioting, in the European capitals. To cite an example, when the Armenian committees which had their leadership in Brussels, Paris and London prepared for battle in July 1996, Theodor Herzl, in the words of Yair Auron “the founder of political Zionism and “prophet” of the modern Jewish state”, tried to organize a ceasefire and persuade them to delay this for a month.[20]

Since the places where the Armenian committees claimed independence were inhabited overwhelmingly in numbers by Muslims from different ethnic origins, including the Kurds and  Circassians who were expelled from their historical homeland in the Caucasus where the Armenians were settled by the Russians, the activities of the Armenian independence caused a civil disturbance and clashes between Muslims and the Armenians, harming many civilians alongside with the fighting elements. These intercommunal clashes were presented as the slaughter of the Armenians by the Muslims in the European press with the influence of the Armenian leadership based in the European capitals. Again Theodor Herzl points out on this as follows:

I did not visit Constantinapole without investigating the question of the subject peoples of the Turkish Empire, and I truly believe that people in England have not been entirely fair toward the Sultan. He personally abhors brutality, and he honestly yearns to live in peace with all of his subjects. In a recent discussion of this question, he made a particularly apt comment. ‘My subjects’ he said, ‘are like the children of different wives. They argue amongst themselves but they can have no quarrel with me because I am their father’.[21]

The scope of the this work does not permit a detailed discussion of the activities carried out by the terrorist groups organized by the Armenians. Yet, it seems that one difference between the Jewish case and Armenian issue is that the Jewish case had one side full of power, Nazis, to carry out whatever they wanted to do and defenseless civilian victims, whereas in the Armenian issue some heavily armed Armenian terrorist bands were in an armed conflict with the official state forces and Muslim civilian elements.

The Jews in WWII and Armenians in WWI

The Jewish Holocaust is a result of  an intended and well planned state activity carried out by the Nazi officials as explained above. Anti-Semitism and Nazism provided an ideological base for the annihilation of the European Jewry during the World War II. The innocent, defenseless and unarmed civilian Jews were the victims. In this part of the paper the Armenians in the World War I and especially the 1915 relocation of the Armenians will be examined to find out the differences and similarities of the Holocaust and what the Armenians experienced  in the World War I. To this end, the most important material is the legal documents of the Ottoman archives that help us to reach sound conclusions on the perception of the relocation by the Ottoman state.

 

It is clearly accepted even by the Armenian nationalist historians that the Armenians tried to use the entry of the Ottoman Empire in the World War I. For example Nalbandian pointed out that this was regarded by the Armenian revolutionary committees as “the most opportune time to begin a general uprising to achieve their goals”.[22] Apart from a general uprising, it must also be pointed out that with the start of the World War I some Armenians fought for the Allies, in particular for the Russians, against the Ottoman Empire. French Premier Clemenceaus’s letter of 14 July 1918 to an Armenian leader points out this fact in saying:

The spirit of self-abnegation of the Armenians, their loyalty towards the Allies, their contributions to the Foreign Legion, to the Caucasus front, to the Legion d’Orient, have strengthened the ties that connect them with France.[23]

On the one hand, the Ottoman army fought against the Allied forces supported also by the Ottoman Armenians and, on the other,  the Armenians revolted, posing threat to the domestic order of the Ottomans in many provinces. In Van province, for example, although initially local Van Armenians, especially those who lived in urban areas, had no intention of rebelling, as a result of the activities of revolutionary committees  with the help of the Russians, the Armenians were armed in anticipation of a widespread rebellion. In early April 1915 the Armenian uprising began. Coupled with the Russian advance, the government ordered their own Muslim population to evacuate the city. Many Muslims suffered and lost their lives during the process of evacuation. It is clear that it was the bloody Armenian rebellion in Van that left no alternative to the Ottoman government but relocate those citizens deemed disloyal and rebellious in other parts of the Ottoman territory. Enver Pasa, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, send the following dispatch to the Interior Minister Talat Bey (later Pasa) on 2 May 1915:

According to information provided by the Commander of the Third Army, the Russians, on April the 20th, began expelling their Muslim population, by pushing them without their belongings across our borders. It is necessary, in response to this action…either to expel the Armenians in question to Russia or to relocate them and their families in other regions of Anatolia. I request that the most suitable of these alternatives be chosen and implemented. If there is no objection, I would prefer to expel the creators of these centers of rebellion and their families outside our borders, and to replace them with the Muslim refugees pushed across our borders.[24]

To comment on the dispatch, it is obvious that there was no intent to annihilate the Armenian population of Anatolia and it was the security needs of the Empire that dictated to taking measures. Moreover, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief’s dispatch suggested two alternatives of which the expulsion of the Armenians from Anatolia to Russia was favored by the Deputy.  Obviously suggesting some alternatives other than the extermination of the population shows the absence of any intention to annihilate the Armenians. After giving a full consideration the Interior Ministry chosen the alternative of the relocation of the local Armenian population in other parts of the country. Although the Interior Ministry did not give reasons why the Ministry preferred this to the expulsion of the Armenians, it could be suggested that the expulsion would have caused detrimental harm to the Armenian population. Because they would have passed through a war zone between the Ottoman and Russian armies and the soldiers on both sides would have attacked the relocated for various reasons like vengeance and looting. Moreover, they would have been attacked by the Muslim population expelled from the Caucausus by the Russians when their contact on their route was inevitable.

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