Danish diplomatic sources on the Armenian genocide: an introduction

Matthias Bjørnlund, September 2010

Early summer 1914, Carl Ellis Wandel (1871-1940) took his position as the newly appointed minister heading the small Danish diplomatic representation in Constantinople (Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). The legation consisted of a secretary, H. F. Ulrichsen (later to become a Conservative MP; replaced as secretary by Børge Hebo in 1916); a dragoman (interpreter), the Armenian Zareh H. Tchopourian; and a kavas (guard/courier), Abdullah Mosri. Furthermore, Dutch-Levantine Alfred van der Zee was representing Denmark and Sweden as consul at Smyrna and wrote important reports on the ethnic cleansing of Greeks in 1914 and on the events in the region during World War One. [See, e.g., 1914-06-19-DK-002, 1914-06-25-DK-001, 1915-06-11-DK-001, 1915-09-02-DK-001; Matthias Bjørnlund, "The 1914 cleansing of Aegean Greeks as a case of violent Turkification," Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2008, pp. 41-58, available for download on www.ermenisoykirimi.net (Danish section)].

Carl Ellis Wandel was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was commercially trained as a merchant in the family wine importing business. When he became head of the Danish legation in Constantinople, he was already an experienced diplomat. While running the family’s wine cork factory in Lisbon, Portugal, he had served as consul general 1904-09. From there he moved to Argentina, within a few years going from consul general in Buenos Aires to minister and full-time diplomat there until he was transferred to the Ottoman Empire. [Kraks Blaa Bog, København: Kraks Legat 1931, p. 1014]. Judging by the hundreds of confidential reports he sent to the Danish Foreign Ministry from 1914 on, he was a thorough, conscientious diplomat who analyzed developments in the Ottoman Empire in an informed, usually detached, and often very detailed way, with a constant eye to the possible effects for Danish trade interests in the region.

80 of these documents written by Wandel or his colleagues are now online on Armenocide, and more will follow, including a section with archival documentation by Scandinavian missionary and relief worker eyewitnesses to the Armenian genocide, like Maria Jacobsen, Karen Jeppe, Norwegian Bodil Biørn, and Swede Alma Johansson. So will a more comprehensive introduction.

Carl Ellis Wandel took over representing official Danish relations from the Swedish Constantinople embassy as part of the drive for Danish trade interests in an area which was gaining increasing significance in Europe as a producer of raw materials, as well as a purchaser of Western products. During World War One and the Armenian genocide, the Danish legation’s status as a diplomatic representation of a small, ‘harmless,’ neutral country without imperialistic ambitions in the region undoubtedly enhanced possibilities of gaining trust from the large number of influential political players Wandel had direct access to. Apart from the obvious huge differences in economic and military strength, and therefore in diplomatic leverage, it was a status somewhat reminiscent of the status of the USA in the Ottoman Empire before 1917. [Rouben Paul Adalian, "American Diplomatic Correspondence in the Age of Mass Murder: The Armenian Genocide in the US Archives," in Jay Winter, ed., America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915, London: Cambridge University Press 2003, pp. 147-148]. Strength and size notwithstanding, however, all neutral countries were becoming increasingly valuable as trading partners to the Central Powers as well as the Entente as the war progressed, and gaining economic, moral, and political support or goodwill from nations like Denmark was considered important for all warring parties.

In general, the hundreds of Danish diplomatic reports, telegrams, and analyses were confidential and drafted in order to give accurate and reliable information to superiors the diplomats were unlikely to have expected would actually be moved to make even a symbolic gesture toward the Ottoman Armenians. Indeed, the pro-German and pragmatic Danish Foreign Minister during both world wars, Erik Scavenius, was not a man to let potentially ‘controversial’ considerations, like the consideration for a persecuted minority in the Ottoman Empire, influence Danish foreign policy. His general stance was that he did not blame anything on any of the warring parties; he saw the war itself as the culprit, an "uncontrollable machine that crushes everything." [Tage Kaarsted, ed., Ministermødeprotokol 1916-18, Kirkeminister Th. Povlsens referater, 14. Meeting, Friday 29 December 1916, Universitetsforlaget i Århus 1973, p. 40].

Neither did Carl Ellis Wandel at any point suggest or, apparently, expect that any action should be taken in such direction. Indeed, at one point he stated in a report: "When the cannons speak, the diplomats must be silent." [1915-09-26-DK-001]. Unlike the legations of other then-neutral nations like USA, Greece, or Bulgaria [1915-06-22-DE-001], the Danish legation does not seem to have been approached in the summer of 1915 by Ottoman Armenian representatives seeking diplomatic intervention on behalf of their fellow Armenians. In any event, it was generally seen by representatives of the minor nations as ‘better for neutrality’ not to participate in such diplomatic actions.

Regarding the Armenian genocide, Wandel was kept informed of the policies of persecution and subsequent destruction by other diplomats; Ottoman officials [e.g., 1917-01-06-DK-001, where Wandel mentions an informant who is member of the Ottoman Senate, and 1917-07-28-DK-001, where he mentions as an informant a "high-ranking Freemason who believes he has Talaat Pashas confidence"]; missionaries and relief workers from Denmark and other countries [e.g., information on the genocide in Harput (Kharpert) and Mezreh (Elazig) received by Wandel from letters written by Danish missionaries and delivered by a German physician: 1917-04-10-DK-001]; and Armenian and other Ottoman Christian circles. He also reported on the persecutions of Armenians in the capital, like in September 1915: "Even here in Constantinople Armenians are kidnapped and sent to Asia, and it is not possible to get information of their whereabouts." [1915-09-04-DK-001].

June 1915, Wandel had reported that the 24 May 1915 Entente Declaration holding the Ottoman civilian and military authorities personally responsible for "crimes against humanity and civilization," i.e., the massacre of Armenians, only led to more anger, chauvinism, and fanaticism. [On the Entente declaration, see also, e.g., Hilmar Kaiser, ed. and intro., Eberhard Wolffskeel Von Reichenberg, Zeitoun, Mousa Dagh, Ourfa: Letters on the Armenian Genocide, Princeton & London: Gomidas Institute 2004, 2. ed., p. ix; Ara Sarafian & Eric Avebury, eds., British Parliamentary Debates on the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918, Gomidas Institute 2003, pp. 59-60.] An immediate reaction to the declaration was the public hanging of 20 leading members of the Armenian Hunchak Party in Constantinople, while 111 allied citizens were used as hostages in Smyrna, and Wandel was certain that the declaration would backfire. [UM, 2-0355, "Konstantinopel/Istanbul, diplomatisk repræsentation", "Kopibog 1914-1921", 1914 06 14 – 1916 03 06, Wandel to Scavenius, No. LVII, 18/6 1915].

27 May 1915, three days after the Entente declaration, the CUP rushed the passing of a law that gave the authorities carte blanche to deport any person they wanted. [e.g., Hilmar Kaiser, At the Crossroads of Der Zor:Death, Survival, and Humanitarian Resistance in Aleppo, 1915-1917, Princeton & London: Gomidas Institute 2002, p. 10]. As Wandel emphasized, they just had to ‘sense’ treason to justify deporting the populations of whole cities. [1915-10-03-DK-001].

4 September 1915 was the day when whatever doubt Wandel had concerning the ultimate goal of the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (CUP; Young Turks) had disappeared, as can be seen in his long and detailed report on "the cruel intent of the Turks, to exterminate the Armenian people." [1915-09-04-DK-001]. 23 September, he analyzed how CUP ideology had evolved from seemingly democratic Ottomanism to the current mix of xenophobia and extreme nationalism, a change he believed was partly ideologically and economically driven, partly dictated by circumstances:

"The CUP took the reins of power with a motto saying ‘equal rights for all Ottoman citizens.’ But to create the unity mentioned in the title of the Committee in the vast and ethnically diverse Empire, there had to be created both a sense of Ottoman solidarity that included all the peoples of the Empire, while simultaneously guarantees had to be created that this new ‘Ottomanism’ would also in the future be led by Young Turk members of the Committee; i.e., at the same time create equal rights for all Ottoman citizens, without regards to nationality and religion (the idealistic demands of the revolution), and make sure that this new Ottomanism would still be a purely Turkish movement. The struggle between these two demands lasted a while, until the Committee immediately after the end of the Balkan War resolutely discarded the first demand (equal rights for all Ottomans), and decided to pursue the road of Turkification, the road characterized by the boycott in the spring of 1914 that struck Greeks who were Ottoman subjects as well as Greek subjects, the simultaneous persecutions of Greeks in Asia Minor and Thrace, and, later that year, favored by the World War and the subsequent annulment of the Capitulations [and] the declaration of Jihad – with German assistance – [this] finally led to the xenophobic and nationalist policy, the recent consequences thereof I have several times closely examined, and which at the moment has as its main purpose the extermination of the Armenian population in the Empire." [1915-09-23-DK-001].

6 December 1915, Wandel elaborated on how the CUP elite and Turkish intellectuals had increasingly become radical nationalists. Apart from pointing to the genocide itself, he exemplified it by mentioning the preceding attempted cleansing of Greeks from the Aegean coastline/Ionia and of Greeks and Armenians from politics and trade; the government-controlled, xenophobic press; the nationalist schools; and the ban on street signs, etc., written in ‘foreign,’ that is, non-Turkish, languages. [See also Ugur Ü. Üngör, 'A Reign of Terror': CUP Rule in Diyarbekir Province, 1913-1923, unpublished MA thesis, University of Amsterdam 2005, pp. 20-21; Erik J. Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History, London & New York: I. B. Tauris 1997, pp. 133-135]. Wandel referred in this report to an article in the Turkish daily, Tesfiri Efkiar, 11 November 1915, where it was emphasized that "the Turkish language is the foundation of our national development. At the moment we are engaged in a war for our very existence, and the first result of this victorious war ought to be that it is confirmed that the Turkish language reigns supreme in Turkey." [1915-12-06-DK-001. See also Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, Wayne State University Press 2003 (1918), pp. 196-197].

Furthermore, in what Wandel dubbed the Germanized-chauvinistic Turkish press, Armenians were often described as "greedy exploiters" by journalists who willingly participated in the forefront of the regime’s xenophobic campaign. All in all, neither he nor his colleagues believed there was much cause for optimism as the war and the persecutions progressed:

Such excerpts are representative of the Danish diplomatic reports on the Armenian genocide and its aftermath, representative of how these and related events, like the persecution and/or destruction of other Ottoman groups - Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, etc. - were documented and perceived. But they still only tell part of the story. The rest, a vital part of the hundreds of relevant documents in the Danish archives, are becoming accessible in full now, here on Armenocide, in the original Danish and in English translation.

A brief note on the translations: I have at all times attempted to translate the Danish documents as literally as possible, even when the English translation may appear less than elegant as a result. It has been a matter of choosing precision over style whenever these considerations have collided. However, at times untranslatable Danish expressions or the most often decidedly departmental style of writing ('officialese') of the Danish diplomats around the WWI period have made approximation or paraphrasing necessary. I have of course aimed at making such approximation or paraphrasing as true to the meaning of the original Danish phrase or sentence as possible. In any case, the Danish text is, as noted, available for reference.

CV. Select list of publications, etc.

Matthias Bjørnlund, historian
Born 1967 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

E-mail: matthiasb@webspeed.dk

Affiliated with the Department for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Copenhagen 2003-2005. MA in history from the University of Copenhagen in 2005. Thesis title: ”Et Folk Myrdes”. Det Armenske Folkemord i Danske Kilder. (”A People is Being Murdered.” The Armenian Genocide in Danish Sources). Freelance researcher.

Forthcoming publications, ongoing research projects:
From Massacre to Genocide and Beyond: Scandinavia, Scandinavians, and the Ottoman Armenians, 1890s to 1920s. 200+ pp. Initial research for the book manuscript is partly funded by a grant from the Danish Ministry of Culture.

Tessa Hofmann, M. Bjørnlund, Vassilios Meichanetsidis, eds., volume on the Greek genocide, i.e. the destruction of the Ottoman Greeks, to be published by Caratzas Publishing Co., New Rochelle, New York 2010/11. 300+ pp.

Articles and book chapters:
“Adana and Beyond: Revolution and massacre in the Ottoman Empire seen through Danish eyes, 1908/9,” Haigazian Armenological Review, Vol. 30, 2010. pp. 125-156.

”’A fate worse than dying’: sexual violence during the Armenian genocide,” in Dagmar Herzog, ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe's Twentieth Century, Palgrave Macmillan 2009, pp. 16-58. http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?PID=283305 (click ‘Download sample chapter’).

”The 1914 Cleansing of Aegean Greeks as a Case of Violent Turkification,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2008, pp. 41-57. Published as a chapter in Dominik J. Schaller & Jürgen Zimmerer, eds., Late Ottoman Genocides: The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and Young Turkish population and extermination policies, London & New York: Routledge 2009, pp. 34-50. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/section?content=a790756230&fulltext=713240928 .

”Karen Jeppe, Aage Meyer Benedictsen, and the Ottoman Armenians: National survival in imperial and colonial settings,” Haigazian Armenological Review, Vol. 28, 2008, pp. 9-43. Available for download at http://www.ermenisoykirimi.net/dansk.htm .

“Scandinavia and the Armenian Genocide,” Armenian Weekly, 24 April 2008 special issue, pp 19-22.

“En Excentrisk Komet” [“An Eccentric Comet” – on Åge Meyer Benedictsen, Danish-Jewish-Icelandic Director of the Danish Friends of Armenians], Goldberg. Magasin om jødisk kunst, kultur, religion, samfund [Goldberg. Magazine on Jewish art, culture, religion, society], Vol. 1, No. 4, October 2004, pp. 12-14. Online version: http://goldberg.t2w.dk/Artikler/?member5id=21 .

”’When the Cannons Talk, the Diplomats Must be Silent’ – A Danish diplomat in Constantinople during the Armenian genocide,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 2006, pp. 197-223.

M. Bjørnlund et al., ”?Que es el Genocidio? En la búsqueda de un denominador común entre definiciones jurídicas y no jurídicas,” [”What is Genocide? A search for common ground between the legal and non-legal definitions”], in Daniel Feierstein, ed., Genocidio: La administración de la muerte en la modernidad, Caseros, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero 2005, pp. 17-48.

M. Bjørnlund & Eric Markusen, ”Utilitarian Genocide,” in Dinah L. Shelton, ed., Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, Thomson Gale 2005. Online version: http://www.enotes.com/genocide-encyclopedia/utilitarian-genocide .

M. Bjørnlund et al., ”The Christian churches and the construction of a genocidal mentality in Rwanda,” in Carol Rittner et al., eds., Genocide in Rwanda: complicity of the churches?, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House 2004, pp. 141-167.

Educational materials:
“Conscientious objection: Protest and intervention during the Armenian genocide,” article prepared for the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) course Holocaust and Genocide: Past, Present and Future Genocides, Copenhagen, Denmark, September 2009. Course instructor: Torben Jørgensen. 14pp.

Recent conferences and workshops (lectures, etc., excluded):
The State of the Art of Armenian Genocide Research: Historiography, Sources, and Future Directions. Workshop at Clark University, Worcester, MA., USA, 9-10 April 2010. Presented the paper “From Massacre to Genocide and Beyond: Scandinavia, Scandinavians, and the Ottoman Armenians, 1890s to 1920.”

Academic Conference on the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Conference organized by the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago, Westin Hotel, Rosemont, Il., USA, 7 November 2009. Presented the paper “The persecution of Greeks and Armenians in Smyrna, 1914-16: A special case in the course of the late Ottoman genocides.”

Genocide: The Future of Prevention. Conference organized by the International Network of Genocide Scholars (INOGS), University of Sheffield, Great Britain, 9-12 January 2009. Presented the paper “Denmark, the ‘Armenian Question,’ and violent Turkification in the late Ottoman Empire.”

Nordic Perspectives on Colonialism. Conference organized by Netværk for Global Kulturhistorie (Network for Global Cultural History), University of Aarhus, in Höör, Sweden, 11-12 January 2007. Presented the paper ” Karen Jeppe, Aage Meyer Benedictsen, and the Ottoman Armenians: National survival in imperial and colonial settings.”

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