THE JEWISH HOLOCAUST AND THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
By Jiri Valenta and Leni Valenta
This simply was destiny. In our research trips to Europe my wife, Leni, and I sought only to address the issues of anti-Semitism and the holocaust as it affected our own families. We toured synagogues, death camps and memorials in numerous countries attesting to the slaughter of six million Jews. But in 2009, the unexpected happened. We visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex in Yerevan and came face to face with the history of a million and a half Christian people who, primarily in 1915 perished in a Turkish genocide. What is also chilling is that the Armenian genocide and the murder of six million Jews in Europe turned out to be in some ways linked. The Armenian genocide, as Vahakn Dadrian has pointed out, was the first genocide of the 20th century, As he also states, “The Armenian genocide’s relevance to the Holocaust derives from the fact that the concept of “crimes against humanity” in international law was first introduced publicly, explicitly, and formally by the World War I Allies --- namely Great Britain, France, and Russia. The occasion for this bold venture was the Ottoman Turkish authorities World War I genocide against Turkey’s Armenian population.”
Despite the condemnation and declaration that they would hold the Ottoman authorities responsible, the lesson of the genocide was soon forgotten – a fact not lost on Hitler. Before the 1939 invasion of Poland he told his Nazi commanders, “Only thus shall we gain the living space [Lebensraum] which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Heinrich Vierbucher author of Armenia 1915, Dadrian, author of German Responsibility in the Armenian genocide, and other scholars have asserted that despite the outcry of some German officials, Germany was not just funding the Turkish war machine. Some of its military advisers actively helped to carry out the Armenian genocide. At the very least, as Helen Fein has written, “The only government with any potential means of sanctioning Turkey to stop its killing was Germany, but German officials made no general attempt to forbid the extermination of the Armenians…“ We do know that after the war, the key trio of new Turkish leaders, Talat Bey, Enver and Ahmed Djemal, who presided over the Armenian genocide, escaped to Germany in 1918 aboard a German ship.
The ashes of the brilliant, long forgotten, German poet, Theophil Wegner, buried at the Tsitsrnakaverd memorial, cried out to us. It was Wegner who in 1919, having gathered extensive documentary evidence of the Armenian genocide by the Turks, wrote a letter to President Woodrow Wilson. Sadly, America made outraged sounds but dealt no fury. Other war concerns and oil were viewed as more important. In 1933, foreseeing a new holocaust rising in Germany, Wegner published an open letter to Adolf Hitler protesting the state-organized boycott of the Jews. But plans for the holocaust would proceed as America, until 1944, virtually ignored the plight of the Jews. The U.S., as Fein has pointed out, even suppressed news of the holocaust.
Escaping to Italy, Wegner also foretold the rise of Stalinism in Russia, with its own genocides of social classes that Stalin viewed as “enemies“ of state. Among these were millions of peasants known as kulaks.
Wegner clearly understood the portents that signaled genocide, the most crucial for the Jews and Armenians, being their mutual lack of independent states as homelands. The six million Jews who died were dispersed throughout Europe, seeking a return to ancient Israel. The Armenians, having, undergone their own diaspora, still view their original homeland as an area that extended east from the Euphrates to eastern Anatolia, including Mt. Ararat, the refuge of Noah. Present-day Armenia represents only the small, eastern fringe of that region, absorbed centuries ago by the Ottoman Empire and Russia. Like the Jews, the Armenians were homeless and vulnerable; neither having another state eager to protect them.
Both the Nazi’s and the Turks justified the annihilation of their victims based on a theory of racial superiority. The Germans cited Aryan superiority; the Turks, Moslem pan-Turanianism. In both cases the targets were chosen because of xenophobic hatred of a different racial and religious group. Both aggressors launched the assaults by denying their victims civil and human rights.
Far from being inferior, however both the Jews and the Armenians boasted many brilliant intellectuals and furnished among the best teachers, doctors, scientists, financiers and sales people of the countries in which they lived. Yet, because of their visible success, Armenians, like Jews, were accused of being disloyal and clannish, of not only being parasites, but actively plotting against the state. Filling the role of scapegoats, the Armenians were thus as useful to the Turkish regime as the Jews were later to the Reich. As Vierbucher also noted, it was akin to the situation in Russia where pogroms were useful in distracting people from political and economic demands.
Quite possibly, the three Turks involved in the genocide of the Armenians were partly motivated by their fears of Armenian irredentism in Russia. For centuries Russia was the traditional enemy of Turkey. One of the major goals of Russia was to occupy and control the Straits of Bosporus in what is now Istanbul, and to revive the Christian-Byzantine Empire overthrown by the Turks in 1455. During WWI, Germany was arming Turkey to counter the deployment of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, a measure undertaken by Russia to protect the Ukraine. The Reich was also inciting the Moslem tribes against the Russians. In 1913, partly for this reason, Russia responded to an Armenian petition to guarantee Armenian civil rights in the Western part of Turkey. The Turks, however, viewed this as the first step towards making Turkey a Russian protectorate. Thus, although they signed a 1914 treaty with Russia granting those rights, as with similar treaties in the past, they completely failed to implement it.
The actual mechanics of the both the Jewish holocaust and Armenian genocide both involved organized state murder; the intention being not to subjugate the victim group, but its deliberate, premeditated elimination. Armenian genocide expert Dadrian introduced the term “utilitarian genocide,” to describe genocide motivated by the desire for land or wealth; something surely applicable to both genocides. Nevertheless, adopting a Jewish child and making him a German was not an option in the holocaust, whereas some Turks did adopt Armenian children. Hence, the German genocide was not only utilitarian but also what Dadrian termed “optimal,” i.e. aimed at total obliteration.
The Turkish genocide was nevertheless more brutal, often involving savage torture and mutilation and conducted without the diabolic technology of the Germans. There was no sophisticated registration of the victim population and no building of ghettoes to isolate the Armenians. There were no trucks with gas, deadly “showers” with Cyclone B, and furnaces to incinerate the dead. There were no inhuman biological experiments a la Dr. Mengele.
Yet, the Germans, like the Turks, did at times engage in massive, bloody killing binges. In Kiev in 2009, we visited Babi Yar, a memorial to thousands of Jews but also gypsies and Soviet POW’s, who were bludgeoned, raped, battered and slaughtered in a massive Nazi killing spree. Searching for Leni’s ancestor’s, the large Lubarsky family, in the Odessa and Kiev archives, we were able to find the name of only one.
Differences between the two genocides include their organization, scope and methodology. The genocide of the Jews happened gradually over a period of six years and included all the European countries occupied or invaded by Germany. As confirmed by historical sources and interviews with family members, the German holocaust in occupied Bohemia proceeded in stages from 1939-45. Those who had intermarried with Christians, including my mother, were to be killed last. I recall my grandfather’s words, “If your mother had not been pregnant with you, you wouldn’t be here.” Jews and those of mixed race, as my uncle, Lada, explained, were normally gathered in ghettoes and sent by train to concentration camps to perform slave labor.
In Turkey, on the other hand, at least a million Armenians were killed in 1915 alone. Under Djemal’s oversight, many of those who survived the massacres were sent to concentration camps in Syria. Like the Jews, they worked as slave laborers while slowly being starved to death.
As we learned at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial, the Armenian genocide also occurred in specific stages. First the intellectuals were rounded up and murdered. Then the able Armenian men were drafted and slaughtered. The remaining men were then rounded up and shot, while their defenseless women and children, driven out to the wilds of Anatolia, were subjected to robbery, rape, starvation, typhus, torture, kidnapping and murder by both Kurds and Turks.
In 1918, the eastern corner of Armenia became an independent, democratic republic for two years, but lost half of its land in a 1920 war with Turkey. The remainder was absorbed by the Soviet empire. In 1991, Armenia became independent, but remains poor and largely under Russian control. The Jews also received a promise of their own state in 1918, but did not receive it until 1948.
The justice given to each victim group was also different. For the Jews, an international tribunal was held at Nuremberg which condemned the German perpetrators of the holocaust even years after the event and oversaw their execution. As noted earlier, there was no widely publicized “Nuremberg’” for the Armenians, although in 1919, the three genocide perpetrators were convicted of war crimes in absentia and sentenced to death by an Istanbul court. It was left to the Armenians, however, to wreak justice on their own. The man who signed the orders for the elimination of the Armenians, Interior Minister Talat Bey, was killed in 1921 by an Armenian assassin in Germany. A member of an Armenian revolutionary group, the assassin was then completely acquitted by a German court. Talat’s colleague, Enver, was killed by two other Armenian assassins a year later in Tblisi.
Today there are few states which deny the Jewish holocaust actually happened. Yet to this day, any mention of the Armenian genocide on the arena of world politics has always been vehemently denied by Ankara. Moreover, for the most blatant political reasons, the NATO allies still fear to tread on the sensibilities of the Turks. Even the government of the United States has yet to condemn the Armenian genocide although many individual states have done so. In an attempt at rapprochement, new protocols between Armenia and Turkey were signed in the fall of 2009 under the aegis of Switzerland. They are still awaiting ratification. The U.S., Russia and other states are hoping the two sides can set aside “preconditions” and open their borders to each other. The Obama administration even threatened to “recognize” the 1915 holocaust by April 24, 2010, unless the protocols were approved by Turkey. But it did not do so. Many Armenians, having received no apology from the Turks for the 1915 genocide, were and are opposed to the protocols. Nor are they willing to codify state boundaries they believe should be extended.
As the experience of Jews, Armenians and other victim groups clearly prove, whenever the world refuses to remember, whenever it turns its back on the victims and whenever it denies the victims justice, it fuels and fires further genocides. Unfortunately, economic interests and the fear of antagonizing allies have often trumped the necessity of upholding moral law.
The frequently quoted Pastor Martin Neimoller (1892–1984) about the rise of the Nazis is once more very apropos:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a communist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew; then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
PRISONER OF THE CAUCASUS
Nagorno-Karabakh: a clash of civilizations?
Published February 16, 2017 in The National Interest
TUCKED IN the borderland between Europe and Asia sits a nation-state recognized by seven American states, New South Wales, the Basque parliament, Abkhazia, Ossetia and Transnistria, but by no country—its chief financier and defender, Armenia, included. Six hours’ drive southeast of Yerevan, you reach it through a series of dry ochre canyons that give way to rolling green steppe. At the immense skyline of the Lesser Caucasus, you cross a passport control governing no official border and a time-zone change that goes unacknowledged. You drive up the most expensive strip of pavement in Transcaucasia, joining a winding trickle of minibuses and T-72 tanks chained to the beds of semitrucks. Between mountaintops stretch nets raised to ensnare attacking helicopters. Billboards claim that the crimes of 1915 may yet be avenged. A giant statue of a grandfather and grandmother hewn out of volcanic tufa is captioned with the motto of the republic: “We Are Our Mountains.” Descending into Stepanakert, the capital, you check in with authorities and observe the trappings of statehood—parliament, police force, postal system—developed over more than two decades of sitting within Grad rocket range of Azerbaijani forces, which make regular claims that they can capture Stepanakert in four days and threaten to shoot down any planes, commercial or military, that attempt to use its airport.
Comparable to the wars of Yugoslav disintegration in terms of fatalities and military expenditure, the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the “black garden in the mountains,” is among the world’s longest ongoing conflicts—and perhaps the least reported. Each year, Armenia and Azerbaijan—the former Europe’s third most impoverished nation; the latter the world’s fastest-growing economy for most of the 2000s—allocate some 6 billion euros to its upkeep. It is responsible for a generation of Armenians and Azeris having never entered one another’s countries. Separating them is a one-hundred-kilometer-long dead zone composed of gutted villages and roaming cattle. The “self-regulating” peace over Nagorno-Karabakh is a lie posing as euphemism. Since the end of the war’s main phase in 1994, the seventy thousand troops entrenched on each side have engaged in steady, low-simmering conflict, primarily through snipers. READ MORE
UNLIKE OBAMA, PUTIN CALLS THE ARMENIAN TRAGEDY “GENOCIDE,”
By Jiri & Leni Friedman Valenta, 4/25/15
April 25, 2015
April 24 had two meanings for us; the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, but also the 90th birthday of my Jewish mother who lived through the Holocaust. Unable to marry, she carried this mischling [mixed race Jew] in her womb from July 1944 (a few days after D-day) to April 9, 1945. And only because I had a Christian father, did she survive. The Nazis catalogued degrees of Jewish blood and killed the full blooded Jews first.
Searching for my wife, Leni’s Jewish ancestor’s, the large Lubarsky family, in the Odessa and Kiev archives, we found a single name. Only those who emigrated to America escaped the Nazis.
Sadly, the suffering reaches down through the generations as the children of survivors remain deeply affected by the torment of their parents and grandparents. Thus, in 2009, when we visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex in Yerevan, we were deeply moved to learn the history of a million and a half Christian people who, primarily perished in a 1915 Turkish genocide. Considering that Germany has apologized for the holocaust, we cannot but agree with those who disparage Turkey for refusing to call the mass killings of the Armenians by the “g” word-- “genocide.”
Unfortunately, that seems not to be a sentiment felt in the White House. There are now two MIA´s to Obama´s discredit; the first in Paris where he refused to march against Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism; the second in Yerevan where he failed to participate in the commemoration of the Islamic Ottoman´s genocide against the Christian Armenians, even though 43 American states have recognized the genocide as such by legislation or proclamation. Sadly, our president is reluctant to utter the word genocide. Nor can he bring himself to call the present Muslim killers “Islamic terrorists.” Imagine FDR and Churchill speaking about atrocities and not identifying the brutal killers as Nazis.
Meanwhile the reluctance of Turkey, a NATO Country, to use the “g” word is really embodied in Turkey´s president, Tayip Erdogan. He even organized a commemoration of the April 25th 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, to steal thunder from the Armenians. But what is there to commemorate? The senseless slaughter of ten thousand soldiers of the British Empire by the Ottomans? Or young Winston Churchill’s terrific blunder that haunted him all his life? Fortunately, as we found out on two trips to Turkey, a lot of Turks disagree with their president.
Unlike Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin was present in Yerevan at the Armenian Genocide Memorial, along with French president Hollande. Not only was he present; he used the “g” word. Of course, democratic Armenia is an old military and religious ally of Russia; a tiny, yet important geopolitical piece at Russia’s periphery in the Caucasus, and one of the few former Soviet republics to join Putin´s Customs Union. But Turkey is a large and important energy partner and energy transfer state, where, as in, Iran the Russians plan to build a nuclear power plant. Moreover, Putin is a personal friend of Erdogan.
Turkey´s response was swift – the Russian president was denounced in Ankara. Mr. Putin, no matter what his transgressions in the Ukraine, has the courage of his post-KGB, Christian convictions. He’s not afraid to antagonize Turkey for a cause in which he believes. A supporter of rapprochement between Eastern and Western Christians, the Christian autocrat has repeatedly backed the Pope´s call to oppose the emerging genocide of Middle East Christians. He seems more aware than our president, that after the 20th century Armenian genocide and Jewish holocaust, the 21st century killing of Middle East Christians by Islamic fascists is, in the Pope´s words, “becoming a new genocide,” one “created by general and collective indifference.”
Like the Nazis, who took photos of their victims decades earlier, the Islamic cutthroats take pleasure in making sophisticated videos of their butchery, while recruiting hundreds of Muslims around the world. Unfortunately, the Western public is even becoming somewhat desensitized by the ever growing number of ISIS and Al Qaeda atrocities – crucifixions, beheadings, rapes, mass murders nd enslavement of women reported by eager, news-hungry commentators.
Before the onslaught on Poland and kick-off of the holocaust in 1939 Poland, Hitler pointed out, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” In the 21st century, we have had not only new genocides, but the rise of new fanatics who believe they are the master religion. Commenting on the Paris massacres, my mother, who still hides her Jewishness, and my uncle, a camp survivor, think the “Nazis” are coming back. Former Texas governor-turned presidential candidate Rick Perry seems to agree. He is calling for the U.S. To “stand up to anti-Semitism in Europe,” where remaining Jews are again persecuted, but also notes that Christians are being killed in the Middle East.
Consequently, to answer the Russian International Affairs Council´s [RIAC´s] Director General, Andrey Kortunov´s profound question, “Shall the West give up on Putin?” our answer is a qualified “no.” Putin’s daring acknowledgement of Muslim Turkey´s genocide of the Armenians is an important signal to the West. It comes on the heels of his other comments that he wants to find some sort of rapprochement with us. Of course, we must test his sincerity. As we suggested twice in the Kyiv Post, the ragged Ukrainian army should be supplied with our defensive arms. However, as we also posited in The National Interest, we should persistently try to negotiate with Putin a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis.
If he is prepared to resume genuine negotiations going beyond the ambiguous Minsk agreements, not only will the sanctions be lifted, but he could eventually become our strategic partner in establishing a bulwark against the metastasizing threat of ISIS and Al Qaeda.
If our own president now shows real leadership in this area, it would be the best assurance of preventing what is increasingly becoming a new genocide, this time of Christians in the Middle East.
Our essay, “The Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, “ was published in English, Russian, Armenian and Hebrew in cooperation with Professor Stepan Grigoryan´s Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation [ACGRC], Yerevan, Armenia. Dr. and Mrs. Valenta are Trustees of ACGRC.
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Map showing Nagorny Karabach Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan,.