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GERMANY AND THE ARMENIAN ATROCITIES
CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE [NOV. 1917]
(Published by New York Times Company, Times Square, New York)
Cowardice of the Policy That Permitted and Abetted the Crime Denounced by a German
Dr. Harry Sturmer, a former German army officer and war correspondent, has written a book entitled "Two Years in Constantinople," in which he describes the cruelties with which the Turks almost exterminated the Armenians, while German diplomats and military leaders looked on without a protest. Writing from Switzersight of the Armenians' sufferings changed his life.
I HAVE spoken to Armenians who said to me: "Formerly Sultan Abdul Hamid massacred us from time to time by thousands. At stated intervals, in regular pogroms, we were turned over to the knives of the Kurds, and certainly suffered terribly. After that the Young Turks, at Adana, in 1909, showed they, too, could shed the blood of thousands of us. But since our present sufferings, rest assured we look with longing back upon the massacres perpetrated under the old regime. Now we have to complain not of a definite number of murdered people; now our whole race is slowly but surely being exterminated by the chauvinistic hatred of an apparently civilized, apparently modern, but, for that very reason, terribly dangerous Government. Now they are taking our women and children, who die on those long wearisome trips on foot that they have to make while being deported, or in the concentration camps without anything to eat. The few pitiful survivors of our people in the villages and cities of the interior, where the local authorities eagerly carry out the Central Government's orders, are then forcibly converted to Islamism, and our young girls are put into harems and houses of prostitution.
"Now that the Young Turks find themselves bleeding white in a disastrous war, they are trying to right the balance of the races and permanently establish themselves as the predominant element in the country. That is why these are not merely abortive outbreaks, but calculated political measures against our people; and therefore we can hope for no mercy. Since Germany, weak and conscienceless, permits our extermination, if the war lasts mush longer the Armenian people will simply cease to exist. And so we now look back with regret to Abdul Hamid's times, terrible as they were."
Was there ever any more terrific tragedy in the history of a race? And this was a race quite free of all illusions of nationalism, cognizant that it would be helpless crowded in between two great nations. The Armenians had felt no real impulse toward Russia until the Young Turks, whose comrades they had been in revolt against Abdul Hamid, Foully betrayed them. They had been completely loyal to their Osmanli citizenship, more so than any other element of the empire, with the exception of the Turks themselves.
Torture of a Victim
I believe I have in these few paragraphs sufficiently characterized the spirit animating this policy of extermination, as well as its results. I only wish to put in evidence one more incident, which affected me most because it was a matter of personal experience.
One Summer's day in 1916, at about noon, my wife went alone to the Grand Rue de Pera to do some shopping. We lived only a few steps from Galata Serai, and daily could see the troops of unhappy Armenians enter the police of unhappy Armenians enter the police station under escort of the gendarmes. Eventually you get hardened even to such sad sights and come to regard them not as individual but as political misfortunes. But this time my wife returned after a few minuets, all a-tremble. She hadn't been able to go on. As she passed the "Caracol" she heard the sound of some one being tortured, muffled groans as of some animal in agony, half dead of pain. "An Armenian," was what a person standing at the entrance of the building told her.
At that moment the crowd was driven away by a policeman.
"If such things can be done in the bright light of day in the busiest part of the European city of Pera, then I wonder what they do to the poor Armenians in the uncivilized districts of the interior?" asked my wife. "If the Turks behave like wild beasts here in the capital, so that a woman can't go into the main street without meeting with this kind of terrible shock, then I can't go on living in this fearsome country."
Then she gave utterance to her boundless indignation at what, for more than a year, she had seen whenever we went out on to the streets: "You are brutes, contemptible brutes, you Germans, to allow the Turks to do this. You have the country absolutely in hand. Cowardly brutes you are. and I'm never going to set foot in your accursed land again."
At the moment when my wife, in her sorrow, indignation, and disgust at such cowardice, broke out into tears and flung at me her curse against my country, at that moment I mentally tore the ties that bound me to Germany. Truly, I had known enough for a long time.
German Assurances Distrusted
I remembered the conversations I had had with gentlemen from the German Embassy in Constantinople, and also with the American Ambassador, Morgenthay, about the Armenian question. I had never believed in the assurances, given out by the German Embassy, that it, the German Embassy, had done everything possible to stop the murderous persecutions of harmless Armenians, a long distance away from the front, who, from their very nature and social position, were in no position to meddle with political matters. I equally distrusted the German Embassy's assertion that it had done all it could to prevent the deported women and children -- deported, no doubt, for that very purpose -- from being allowed to perish. On the contrary, I gathered the impression that the German Government's conduct in the Armenian matter was controlled by a mixture of motives -- on the one hand, cowardice and lack of conscience; on the other, by shortsighted stupidity.
The American Ambassador, who warmly espoused the Armenian case, naturally preserved a good deal of reserve when talking to a German journalists like myself, and would not give his real opinion of the conduct of his German colleague. Nevertheless, in my many conversations with this sympathetic person, who has done so much for humanity in Turkey, I heard nothing which would tend to destroy my impression of the German Embassy's conduct, and yet I gave some indication of my impression during my conversations with Mr. Morgenthau.
Germany's attitude have evidence of the most shameless cowardice, I have said. We certainly had sufficient control of the Turkish Government in military, financial, and political matters to be able at least to force it to observe the most elementary rules of humanity. Enver, no less than Talaat, chiefly responsible for the Armenian persecutions in his capacity as Minister of the Interior and practical dictator, would have had no choice but to follow Germany unconditionally, once the alliance and war were entered into. They would have accepted an order to stop the Armenian massacres with gnashing of teeth, but unquestioningly, nevertheless. * * * I had been witness of the plight of a German lady married to an Armenian deported embolic with many others, who came daily to the embassy antechamber, weeping and asking for help. Yet the embassy always turned a deaf ear to her plea.
Even the Turks laughed at us for this boundless exhibition of cowardice; they said that the Russian Government, in spite of the abrogation of the capitulation would, in Germany's position, surely have made happened to a poor Russian Jew. Turks generally, in spite of their accustomed formal amiability, let me feel their contempt for our boundless lack of backbone.
German Diplomats Blamed
I can't help imagining that, in spite of pretty official speeches, which I often heard at the German Embassy about the Armenian problem, the diplomats at bottom had very little interest in the salvation of this people. How do I come to make such a frightful charge? I was often at the German Embassy when the Armenian Patriarch, after some particularly terrible attack upon his people, came with tears in his eyes, and begged for help. And I never could discern anything in the exited hurrying hither and thither of our diplomats except anxiety to preserve German prestige and wounded vanity, but never a worry for the fate of the Armenia people. I time and again hears from German lips from all sorts of individuals, from the lowest to the highest, expressions of hatred, based on absolute misunderstanding of the facts, against the Armenians, unconsidered repatriations.
And, unfortunately, the fact has been established by nurses and doctors returning from the interior that German officers, more eager than some of the Turkish officials of local districts, who hated to carry out the institutions of the Committee of Union and Progress, lightheartedly took part in the extermination and expulsion of the Armenians. A well known instance, and one sufficiently established German officers who came to a little village in further Asia Minor, where some Armenians had taken refuge in the interior of a house, refusing to be driven away like animals. Guns had been placed in position to drive them out of their shelter. But no Turks were to be found with the courage to carry out orders and fire on women and children. These German officers, then, without any orders, took up the matter as a sporting affair, and seized the occasion to show their skill in artillery practice. Certainly such shameful occurrences were not talking place daily, but they exactly fit in with the spirit which inspired the utterances of dozens of highly educated, highly placed Germans -- not military people -- with regard to the Armenians.
Just such a case, however, of criminal interference by military persons, in the interior of Anatolia, was officially brought to the attention of the embassy. At that time Count wolff-Metternich happened to be the German Ambassador, a man who, in spite of his years, and in contrast to Freiherr von Wangenheim, victim of a weak and criminal optimism and pro-Turk blindness, now and then dared to oppose the Turkish Government. In the present instance he reported the matter to Germany; whereupon this very crime which he reported was made the pretext for his dismissal. * * *
Policy Called Stupid
And, finally, it was a shortsighted piece of stupidity on the part of our officials to stand by and witness the extermination of the Armenians without raising a finger to interfere. For the rising tide of Turkish chauvinism eventually had to be faced by our Government. Nobody with any foresight at all could have had a moment's doubt, after the summer of 1915, that Turkey would only stick to us as long as she absolutely needed our military and financial help; that were would be no room for us in a completely victorious entirely Turkish Turkey; that we wouldn't even have a commercial chance. Nevertheless, we allowed a large element of the population, 1,500,000 souls, to be wiped out; an element which was progressive, possessed of a European outlook, intellectually adaptable, without a spark of chauvinism or fanaticism, disposed to be our friend. We simply didn't worry at all about this people, which is bound, eventually, to recover from its fearful misfortunes, and will hereafter be our deadliest in sympathy with German aims.
The mixture of "consciencelessness," cowardice, and blindness displayed by our Government in the Armenian matter, alone would suffice to undermine the loyalty of any thinking human being who believes in humanity and civilization. Not every German will light-heatedly, like those diplomats of Pera, face the shame of having history note that the refinedly cruel extermination of a civilized and worthy people coincided with the period of Germany's hegemony in Turkey.
I frequently reported home to my newspaper matter concerning the Armenians persecutions and the fact that they were due to a guiding spirit of bestial Young Turk chauvinism. The Foreign Office followed these reports with interest. But I never saw any evidence in my newspaper that my expositions of the situation were bearing fruit.
Finally, at the time my wife, in such dramatic fashion, flung her curse in Germany's teeth, I resolved no longer to represent my newspaper. I have to thank the sufferings of those poor massacred and tortured Armenians for my spiritual and moral-political enfranchisement.
A hard copy of this article or hundreds of others from the time of the Armenian Genocide can be found in The Armenian Genocide: News Accounts From The American Press: 1915-1922