Chapter 3: Pretexts for the Genocide and Defences

Even in the relatively closed off Ottoman Empire, it was hardly possible to openly propagate the genocide of Christian minorities, in particular the Armenians, as a political goal. Thus, the government had to give both its own people and its allies real or supposed reasons which seemed to justify the strict measures taken against the Armenians. And the Armenians’ obvious defences had to be reinterpreted as revolts in order to give proof later for the Armenians’ supposedly traiterous attitude.

(I) The Pretexts

The Turkish accusations concerning treason followed two lines of argumentation: on the one hand, the Armenians had shown sympathy for the enemy Entente; on the other hand they had planned and carried out a conspiracy against the state. The Young Turk regime attempted to establish a causality between the two lines.

(1) Sympathy for the Entente

The majority of the Armenians – and the German diplomats were also of this opinion – had much more sympathy for the countries which made up the Entente (England, France and Russia), i.e. the war-time enemies of Turkey and Germany, than for the authoritarian regimes with which Turkey was allied. There were a number of historical reasons for this, but especially, of course, the fact that England and France symbolised a democracy which was very popular with the Armenians, but which the Germans despised. There is a reference in the files which is almost amusing.

In a long report, Ambassador Wolff-Metternich describes how the Armenian Great National Council functions and remarks on its constitution:


In accordance with the situation in the empire at that time, the title ” ultra-democratic“ was meant in an extremely critical way. The Germans compared this characteristic trait of the Gregorian Armenians with the laudable features of those Armenians whom they had converted to Protestantism and Catholicism and who were very obedient to authority, as is right and proper. For this reason Wolff-Metternich also established in the following passages:
The source of the support of the Porte, the Ottoman government, lay in the Young Turks, who, as ardent followers of the French Revolution, once set out to introduce a democracy of a Western calibre in Turkey. Based on the French model, the Young Turks named their united party the “Union for Unity and Progress”; it was organised in “committees” in which French was often spoken. The Young Turks shared this sympathy with the majority of the Armenians. Scheubner-Richter, the German Vice-Consul in Erzerum, also ascertained a French influence, particularly in the educational system:
While the Armenians continued to hold fast to their pro-French sympathies, the pro-French views of the Young Turk committee members now at war with the former ideological mother country led to some problems, and this was one of the causes for their contempt towards the German Empire , a fact which has also been determined by the German observers.

Vice-Consul Scheubner-Richter speaks in a report of the


The director and deputy chairman of the German Christian Charity-Organisation for the Orient, Friedrich Schuchardt, writes:
Even if the Young Turks and Francophile Armenians pursued similar political goals for a certain period, the Young Turks used the Armenians’ preference for the Entente against them during the war. Armenian partners at the discussions attempted to play this down, especially towards the Germans. The Armenian Patriarch, Zaven, spoke to the German ambassador in Constantinople, Hans Baron von Wangenheim, on the Armenians’ attitude to the Entente powers. Von Wangenheim reports:
According to Wangenheim’s report, Consul Buege from Adana even showed understanding for the Armenians and estimated that
Patriarch Zaven attempted to differentiate and interpret the influence of the Entente powers. Wangenheim on his discussion with him:
Consul Roessler reported from Aleppo that Djelal Bey, the Wali from Aleppo, had informed him
Vice-Consul Scheubner-Richter judged such sympathy less dramatically when he writes that the Turkish Armenians have always regarded Russia as “their natural protector”. In addition, Russia had
Consul Bergfeld reports from Trapezunt:
Naturally, sympathies do not yet mean secession. The German journalist, von Tyszka:
These matter-of-fact assessments on the part of the German diplomats and observers are in contrast to the explanations given by the head of the German Foreign Office – although admittedly these are meant more for public use – to the parliamentary committee in which only money and espionage were accepted as motives by German policitians, although this was by no means untypical for that time. At the 86th session of the Imperial Budget Committee on 29 September 1916, Undersecretary of State Zimmermann argued before the German parliamentarians:
(2) Accusation of Treason against the Armenians

Zimmermann’s statements showed the direction in which the Young Turks, but also Germany in its official position, attempted to justify the deportations: Turkish Armenians had hatched plans for revolt, acquired weapons, cut telegraph wires and sided with the enemy – in short: they had betrayed their native country and risen against the Ottoman Empire. Soon there was no longer talk of rebellious Armenians, but of the entire Armenian people having risen against the Turks. But what is most conspicuous is that these accusations of treason were made almost solely by official Turkish and German sides, while generally the observers on the spot reached completely different conclusions. In the beginning, German consuls were also among those giving warnings, but their statements show that they produced hardly any evidence, merely passing on Turkish accusations.

There were reports or fears of revolts even before the events in Wan. After the bombardment of Trapezunt by the Russian fleet, Consul Bergfeldt reports:


Without basing this on the reports of his consuls, Ambassador Wangenheim reports to Berlin:
In his next report on revolts Wangenheim openly names his sources:
Some months later and obviously based only on Turkish sources, Wangenheim again reports that the Armenians were
Furthermore, according to Ambassador Wangenheim, it was being said
Scheubner-Richter reports from Erzerum, clearly stating his sources, that the Wali believes
Wangenheim reports, although not on the basis of German, but obviously Turkish or party statements, that
Only in one report does Scheubner-Richter speak of an accumulation of weapons which could have been used in a revolt:
Two reports from the embassy in Constantinople confirm that the reports on imminent revolts and acts of treason by the Armenians definitely come from the Turkish side. Consul General Mordtmann, responsible for Armenian affairs at the German embassy, noted after a discussion with the Minister of the Interior, Talaat:
Enver, the Minister of War, made the same accusations to Wangenheim, who reported to the German Foreign Office:
Official Turkish sources obviously spread this version throughout the country. Germany’s representative, Kuckhoff, an elected vice-consul who mastered the rules of his trade only in a very unsatisfactory manner, reports from Samsun without having made any observations at all in his administrative district, i.e. purely from hearsay:
Wangenheim then tones down his consul’s report and concludes from it, that
Just how far the phantasies of the Turkish informers went and the willingness of the Germans to take them seriously – or their being accomplices – is demonstrated by the German naval attaché, Hans Humann, who reports after a conversation with his close friend, Enver:
Only once does a German officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stange, report on cases of espionage which, however, he himself had not experienced either:
Ambassador Paul Count Wolff-Metternich reports for the first time at the end of 1915 that the Turkish government definitely intends to “punish” all the Armenians, i.e. to deport and annihilate them, and not just the truly or supposedly guilty. He also quotes his source, the Grand Vizier, who told him:
Wolff-Metternich repeats statements made by the Minister of the Interior, Talaat Pascha, which had the same drift:
Consul Roessler reports that the Mutessarif of Marash said to a German nun:
Dazu erklärt Rößler, in Aleppo
Not surprisingly, at the 86th session of the Imperial Budget Committee on 29 September 1916, the highest representative of the German Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann, repeats the quasi-official version:
Finally, it was again one of the Young Turk statesmen, Djemal Pascha, who affirmed in a conversation with representatives of German Christians in Berlin that with regard to the Armenians,
None of these Turkish-German statements on an Armenian endangering of the Ottoman nation is confirmed by the German observers on the spot. Their statements are clear: In each administrative district of the German consuls there was no Armenian revolt against the Ottoman Empire worthy of the name. If there was talk of revolt, or more especially of one revolt, it was of the one in Van which no German diplomat had observed himself and, thus, could testify to, because there was no consul there. And this also held for Bitlis and Musch, which are cited in some documents as towns of revolt. The observers’ statements are based on general assessments due to their intimate knowledge and go as far as detailed investigations, insofar as local accusations are concerned.

Vice-Consul Hoffmann reports from Alexandrette, known today as Iskenderun:


On the basis of the reports by his consuls, Ambassador Wangenheim writes:
Johann Mordtmann, who was responsible for the Armenian matters, gives a report on a discussion with General Posseldt, who is stationed in Erzerum and who
Vice-Consul Scheubner-Richter reports from Erzerum on the deportations:
The head of the orphanage, Johannes Ehmann, reports from Kharput (in the absence of a German consul) on the situation and determines that
According to Ehmann, the Wali of Mamuret ul Aziz was
In a further letter Scheubner-Richter notes
In the same report Scheubner-Richter writes:
And one day later the Vice-Consul gives his impression from Erzerum:
Three months later, Scheubner-Richter writes that in his administrative district
Lieutenant Colonel Stange, stationed in Erzerum, backs him up.
Discoveries of bombs are also used again and again as proof of Armenian conspiracies. Scheubner-Richter passes on a report which does not, however, come from his administrative district:
Wangenheim also refers to Turkish sources which report from Van:
After a conversation with the Armenian Patriarch, Mordtmann made a note concerning the discovery of bombs, that in Everek, near Kaisarie,
Based on Turkish sources, Wangenheim reports:
And two days later:
At the end of May, Wangenheim reports to Berlin:
His consul in Erzerum was able to verify this statement and reports:
Some Armenians had obviously also hidden bombs, but these were of little use for a revolt. In general, the discovery of weapons among the Armenians proves very little. After investigations in Constantinople, von Tyszka, the German journalist, writes:
Ambassador Kuehlmann in a later report on the discovery of bombs:
The German consuls were able to investigate accusations of conspiracy whenever such accusations referred to events that happened in their administrative districts. Roessler did so in a case where the Turks claimed there was a connection between the Armenians in Dörtyol and in Zeitun:
Vice-Consul Hoffmann, who resided in Alexandrette, was able to clear up another case:
Many of the impressions of the German diplomats and observers on the spot as well as their experience with the Turkish ally then led to their reaching a fairly unanimous conclusion in their summaries , namely, that there was very little or nothing at all to the Turkish theories on a conspiracy. Scheubner-Richter writes:
The German Protestant Christians in a petition to the Imperial Chancellor:
Vice-Consul Hoffmann:
(II) The Defences

Whenever German observers thought of actual or supposed revolts, they always spoke only of the case in Van which they could not investigate (no doubt the success of the Turkish powers of persuasion), but they also realised that, generally, the Armenians were merely using armed clashes to try and protect themselves against their imminent annihilation. Scheubner-Richter:


Well over a year later, during a ride through eastern Anatolia as leader of a military convoy which included both German and Turkish officers as well as men, the German Vice-Consul had personally experienced how uprisings did, in fact, arise. Scheubner-Richter reports on an order
Correctly recognising cause and effect, Wangenheim’s deputy and the Ambassador on Extraordinary Mission, Prince Hohenlohe-Langenburg, also reports on military acts by Armenians:
Roessler and Hoffmann report from their fields of work on the supposed uprisings by the Armenians. Roessler:
There is hardly any information on Fundadyak in the documents selected by Lepsius and even these references had been deleted in the publication. The only report is that of the German nun, Paula Schaefer, who was working in Marash and reported from there:
Roessler himself writes about Suediye , the defence of which animated the German author, Franz Werfel, to write his novel on Armenia, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh”:
Of the three defences, the events in Urfa are best verified by German files. Vice-Consul Hoffmann reports:
A short while later Roessler describes the course of events in Urfa in detail and comments:
Roessler was particularly outraged at the report by the ”Norddeutsche Allgemeine” which printed the Turkish version of the revolt in Urfa and partly contained completely untrue statements. According to Roessler, the decisive factor in favour of the battle was that the Armenians
The “Norddeutsche Zeitung“ was the semi-official organ of the German government and reflected rather exactly the policy Germany officially took. In the documents selected by Lepsius, this policy is especially apparent in the statement of account by Zimmermann, the head of the German Foreign Office. In a memo he wrote for a discussion with the Grand Duchess of Baden at the end of September 1916, he noted:
This opinion could not be substantiated by the reports from the German representatives in the province; however, it was by the reports from a bird of paradise, a resident minister who was only tolerantly smiled at by his fellow consuls in Turkey, and head of the “News Agency for the Middle East”, Baron Max von Oppenheim . He had as little knowledge of the Middle East as he had great influence in Berlin, especially with the emperor. Sometimes, however, the ambassadors in Constantinople repeated his opinion. This was the case for Wangenheim’s successor, Baron von Neurath. He had reported:
It was Oppenheim who made three traitors out of the Armenian Torosoglu Agop, who had been branded as a traitor: Toros, Oglu and Agop. And it was he who maintained that Armenian traitors had caused trains to derail in Alexandrette, although this had, in fact, been done by a British cruiser without any assistance from the Armenians at all. "Without doubt, in the course of a temporary enemy landing which led to the destruction of the railway line from Alexandrette, espionage and other services were carried out," Oppenheimer had reported, whereupon Consul Hoffmann derisively remarked:
Vice-Consul Hoffmann further on the baron's skills of fantasy:
While Oppenheim drew his information from extremely dubious sources, Consul Roessler was very well informed on the events in Urfa, particularly through information he received from the Swiss deacon working in Urfa, Kuenzler, which he includes in one of his letters:
Vice-Consul Hoffmann from Alexandrette gives a closing comment on the supposed conspiracies in the Mediterranean region:


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