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:
Vice-Consul Scheubner-Richter speaks in a report of the
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:
Vice-Consul Hoffmann reports from Alexandrette, known today as Iskenderun:
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: