Musa Dagh, the Magic Mountain – II

The Germans

Hundreds of years of Ottoman rule in the Balkans ended with massacres and millions of refugees slogging through mud in the cold without food or shelter.

When World War I broke out, Turkey was a quasi-military dictatorship, ruled by the young officers who has seized power in 1913 after the British-backed Kamil Pasha government, itself installed by military putschists, humiliatingly lost the Balkan Wars, the Bulgarian cannons being heard even in the chic quarters of Istanbul. Millions of Turks were massacred or driven out of their ancestral lands in utter destitution [1], causing an immense trauma among the Muslim Ottoman population, not just from the physical hardship but from the shock of coming up against the violent nationalist hatred of former Christian Ottoman subjects.

Greeks and Turks celebrating the 1908 constitution in Monastir, just 4 years before that Macedonian city would be ransacked by invading Serbs who ethnically cleansed it of all Muslims.

The First Balkan War was the final straw for any hope that the Young Turk reformers of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) may have still entertained of creating an Ottoman union, based on equal citizenship, of the disparate etnicities and religions of the failing Ottoman state. They had hoped, along with their many and influent Armenian and Jewish supporters, to turn a new page with the 1908 constitution, hailed all over the the Ottoman lands as the dawn of freedom. The Balkan Wars, sparked by Russian and British fears that the Kaiser and his Ottoman understudies would form a strong union via the Berlin-Baghdad railway that was being built through the Balkans, snuffed out all the hopes and dreams of 1908 revolution.

Field Marshall Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, or “Goltz Pasha” as the Turks called him, shaped the minds of all the officers who took over the Ottoman state and fought in World War I.

Since the beginning of the century, when Kaiser Wilhelm II took over the reins of the young German state from its founder Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Germany was engaged in a Drang nach Osten – an eastward impetus – as a result of which its economic and military relations with the Ottoman state were steadily developing. Ever since the Ottomans abolished, or rather slaughtered, their retrograde Janissaries in 1826, forming a modern army to replace them had been a seemingly unattainable top priority. The Prussian officers that Wilhelm sent to Turkey made sure it got done. Foremost among them was Colmar von der Goltz, who took a shine to the Turks, learned fluent Turkish, and trained an entire generation of officers, who worshipped the ground he stood on.

The British put over 100,000 civilians in death camps during the Boer War and killed 28,000 of them, 80 % being children. During the Nuremberg trials, Hermann Goering responded to accusations that he had set up the death camps by pointing out that it was Great Britain that had invented them.

Goltz didn’t confine himself to strictly military matters but also taught his students about politics. He praised the 1908 constitutional revolution that made all Ottoman citizens equal under the law and represented in parliament but he also warned them that in a world of nationalisms, it was impossible for the Muslim Ottoman majority to coexist with the “foreign elements” who were the Armenians, who felt allegiance not to the Ottoman state but to Russia. He proposed to expulse all the Armenians to “the deserts of Mesopotamia,”[2] just as German Schutztruppen had driven the Herero and Nama people of Namibia into the Omaheke Desert, where they perished. [3] Goltz and his students the CUP officers were highly receptive to the lessons of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) where Great Britain in the person of Cecil Rhodes, seeking to capture the Transvaal diamond fields from the Dutch colonists living on top of them, managed to defeat the formidable Boer guerrilas by destroying their towns, farms, and fields, locking up all their families in death camps and starving them to death until the guerrillas surrendered. [4] Germany repeated the experiment in Namibia, where it killed off a portion of the Hereros and Namas in the Swakopmund, Windhoek, and Shark Island death camps. [5]

Goltz’s views, inculcated in his Otoman cadets for over a decade, were shared by all the German staff officers stationed on Ottoman soil in World War I, and by some of the diplomatic staff as well. Vahakn Dadrian, who is widely regarded as the foremost world authority on the Armenian Genocide, states quite unequivocally that the decision to exterminate the Armenians was a Turco-German one:

“As has been explained throughout this work the decision to deport the Armenians originated from the Ottoman General Headquar­ters whose Chief of Staff was German General Bronsart von Schellendorf; the entire enterprise bore a military imprint.” [6]
– Vahakn N. Dadrian. German Responsibility in the Armenian Genocide:A Review of the Historical Evidence of German Complicity

Dadrian notes that various Ottoman officials declared in their memoirs or conversations that the genocide  was decided on the insistence of, and according to Rauf Orbay, with “collective urgings amounting to an ultimatum” from, the German staff officers. There is of course a possibility that this was their cover story to shift the blame on the Germans but Dadrian has also found direct deportation orders, demanding “severe treatment” of non-combatant Armenians, issued by General von Schellendorf. The general also instructed the German consul of Erzurum, whose sole function ordinarily would be to defend the rights of Christian minorities, not to do so for Armenians. [7]

The U.S. genocide between 1899-1902 in the Philippines caused at least a million deaths

Admiral Guido von Usedom, who prepared the Turkish shore and sea defenses at Gallipoli and shared the credit for that great victory with General Otto Liman von Sanders, had a conversation with U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau where he openly admitted that “the Germans had suggested to the Turks the deportation of 100,000 Greeks” and that the Armenians were likewised “removed” because they constituted an obstacle. [8]  Usedom may have thought that Morgenthau could not possibly be shocked by these revelations as his own government had barely finished massacring, torturing, and starving to death over one million Filipinos who were resisting the U.S. colonisation of their country [9], to loud cries of protest from anti-imperialists like Mark Twain, who advocated replacing the stars in the U.S. flag with a skull and crossbones.

“The Germans to the Front,” a painting depicting British Admiral Seymour ordering Usedom’s marines to lead the assault on a Chinese fort during their abortive attempt to capture Beijing.

Usedom, a purebred Prussian officer unfamiliar with the perfidy and hypocrisy of Great Power diplomacy, spoke with the frankness of a commander who just 15 years earlier had helped save the bacon of the Great Powers in China, where the British and the smaller American expeditionary forces invading and plundering the country had been routed by the imperial army and the Boxer insurgents. Usedom’s Kaiserlischer Marine troops had prevented the failed assault on Beijing commanded by the inept British Admiral Edward Seymour from being encircled and annihilated, while  Field-Marshall von Waldersee, unders orders from the Kaiser to emulate the carnage of Attila, [10] had laid waste to the country after the capture of Beijing. The missionary Arthur Smith commented: “It has seemed as if the foreign troops had come to northern China for the express purpose of committing within the shortest time as many violations as possible of the sixth, the seventh, and the eighth Commandments.” [11] As the Great Powers’ missionaries and troops went on an orgy of looting and murder and rivers became awash with corpses, journalist E. Dillon describing the holocaust could not suppress a moment of pathos: “I saw two bodies on a low-lying ledge of the shore. . . A father and his boy of eight had been shot down in the name of civilization while holding each other’s hands and praying for mercy. And there they lay, hand still holding hand, while a brown dog was slowly eating one of the arms of the father.” [12]

According to Peter Balkakian’s book The Burning Tigris, Ambassador Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim told an American journalist “I do not blame the Turks for what they are doing to the Armenians…They are entirely justified”

The Germans had, in effect, kicked in China’s door in service of the U.S.’s “Open Door policy,” all participants of the multinational invasion of China during one of its most severe famines and epidemics having jointly committed the genocidal massacre of hundreds of thousands of Chinese, while indirectly causing the additional deaths from famine, exposure, and disease, of millions, so the last thing that Usedom, a man of honor if not of mercy, had expected was for the U.S. ambassador to use his words to spin a pretext for his country to go to war against Germany.

Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, commander of the Ottoman navy and the man who as skipper of the heavy cruiser Goeben, dragged the Ottoman state into World War I by hoisting an Ottoman flag and bombarding Sevastapol, was far more circumspect in public but he did write in his diary: “It will be salvation for Turkey when it has done away with the last Armenian; it will be rid then of subversive bloodsuckers.”

The German Ambassador Wangenheim was, surprisingly enough, almost as naïve as Admiral von Usedom, when he attempted to bargain with Morgenthau, whose government was technically still “neutral” in the war, for the cessation of U.S. military aid to the Allies in exchange for Germany saving the Armenians from destruction. Boasting “We now control both the Turkish army and navy,” Wangenheim called the Armenians “traitorious vermin” and said “nothing could be guaranteed” if Britain attacked the Dardanelles, urging Morgenthau, whose close relations with President Wilson were well known, to obtain the cessation of ammunition deliveries to Great Britain if he wanted to save the Armenians. “I will help the Zionists,” he said (Morgenthau was one), “but I shall do nothing for the Armenians.” [13]

[1] Justin McCarthy. Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman
Muslims, 1821-1922. Darwin Press, 1995. pp. 139-151 Back

[2] Wolfgang Gust, ed. (2014). The Armenian Genocide: Evidence from the German Foreign Office Archives, 1915-1916, p.XXI Back

[3] David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen. The Kaiser’s Holocaust. Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism. Faber and Faber, 2010.  pp. 144-148 Back

[4] Gregory Fremont-Barnes. The Boer War, 1899-1902. Osprey Publishing, 2003. pp. 60, 61, 63, 77, 79 Back

[5] Olusoga, David and Erichsen, Casper W. op. cit., pp.162-171 Back

[6] Vahakn N. Dadrian. German Responsibility in the Armenian Genocide:A Review of the Historical Evidence of German Complicity. Blue Crane Books, 1996. p.90 Back

[7] Ibid, pp. 117-118 Back

[8] Ibid, pp. 133-134 Back

[9] Mike Davis. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso, 2002. pp.198-200 “American officers acknowledged openly in correspondence that starvation had become official military strategy.” Back

[10] “No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you…”
Kaiser Wilhelm II’s “Hun Speech” Back

[11] Mike Davis. op. cit. p. 187 Back

[12] Ibid, pp. 187-188 Back

[13] Dadrian, op. cit. p.144 Back


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