Wednesday 23 August 2017 Last Update: 01:51 PM

The Role of Germany in the Development of the Armenian Question in the Period Before the First World War

Published: 08-06-2017

Ass. Prof. Dr. Barış Özdal

The Turkish-Armenian relations, which started with the raids organized by the Seljuks into Eastern Anatolia at the beginning of the 11th century, developed after the founding of the Ottoman State such that Armenians were called “Millet-i Sadiqah,” i.e. the Loyal Nation, and these relations continued without any problems from the 14th century until the beginning of the 19th century.

“The Eastern Question,” which came to the agenda for the first time at the Vienna Congress, which was held in 1815, and which was a problem created artificially by the states defined as the Great Powers with regards to the sharing of the territories of the Ottoman State, became a factor on the breaking of these relations. This is because “the Armenian Question” emerged as a lower struggle and intervention are of “the Eastern Question.”

After the establishment of national unity on 18 January 1871 under the leadership of Prussia, Germany became an active party of the Eastern Question with its policy of “Welpolitik.” If we emphasize this with a more comprehensive expression, Germany under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck was basically wary about the European great powers reaching an agreement against itself even though it was worried about the cooperation of the British and the Russians in the Eastern Question. Bismarck saw the basic interest of Germany as reaching a unanmous opinion between Austria and Russia and the preservation of the Three Emperors League. Within this context, Germany tried to cause a disagreement among the Great Powers regarding the Eastern Question in line with its strategic priorities by partially intervening in the sharing of those territories of the Ottoman State that remained in the Balkans. The famous sentence by Bismarck, “all of the problems of the East are not worth the life of a single Pomeranian soldier” summarizes very clearly how Germany viewed the Eastern Question.

Although Germany did not follow a policy that prevented the realization of the aspirations of the Great Powers pertaining to the Ottoman State since it prioritized its own security concerns, it did not actively support them either. Another matter that needs to be noted regarding this flexible policy of Bismarck is the thought that one could appeal to the military power of the Ottoman State if Germany had to get  into war with Russia. Within this context, dispatching a German miltary delegation for the reforms that Sultan Abdulhamid II wanted to implement in the Ottoman army was accepted. Starting in 1882, the military delegation headed by Colonel von Kähler began the reform work in the Ottoman army and then German weapon firms started selling weapons to the Ottoman Empire, which was partly due to the impact of the 1877-78 Ottoman-Russian War.

The policies followed by Germany within the context of the independence demands of the Armenian subjects were based on the principle of “non-intervention” until Wilhelm II came to power in 1888, which was a principle unlike that of the other states. To put it more generally, since Germany established national unity later than the other states and it had become a strong actor in the international system in general and in the Eastern Question, which was the the struggle to divide up the territories of the Ottoman State, in particular, there was no non-Muslim community on which Germany could be influential. Within the development process of the Eastern Question, France undertook the role of patron for the Catholic community, the British Empire acted as the patron of the Protestants and the Russians undertook the role of patron for the Orthodox community. Therefore, Germany pursued a policy of supporting the unity of territories of the Ottoman State (Ortaylı, 1998, pp.173-176.; Armaoğlu, 2003, pp. 566-567).

What was influential on Germany pursuing such a policy was the policy of balance followed by the Ottoman State under the rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II, as well as the internal factors we mentioned above because Sultan Abdulhamid II no longer trusted the USA, France, Russia and the Biritish Empire with regards to the Armenian Question. Therefore, the Sultan pursued policies that would prevent the domestic chaos that might emerge since he worried that the Armenians would be used by Russia and the British Empire especially. On the other hand, he ensured the neutrality of Germany, which was waging a battle of sovereignty with the British Empire, on this issue.

Germany did not support the secessionist demands of the Armenian subjects of the Ottoman State both during the Sultan Abdulhamid II period and during the rule of the Union and Progress party. Within this context, the fact that Germany did not participate in the dividing up of the territories of the Ottoman Empire when the British Empire and Russia were deciding the future of the territories of the Ottoman State at the Reval meeting in June 1908 led to the Jeune Turk government (“Jeune Turk” or “Union and Progress”?) to see that state as an ally. The domestic and foreing political problems that the Ottoman State experienced within the process caused the Jeune Turk government to be a stronger friend of the Germans than Abdulhamid II. After 1912, Enver, Jamal and Talat Pashas became the top decision-makers and then the German influence turned into admiration of the Germans in the Ottoman Empire (See Hanioğlu, 2004, pp.57-81; Saupp, 1990, p. 75; Avcıoğlu, 1974, p.1075; Ortaylı, 1998, pp.197-204).

In addition, Sultan Abdulhamid II saw that Germany under the rule of Wilhelm II was a new world power with “Weltpolitik” after the Berlin Agreement within the same conjuncture and pursued a strategy of containing/balancing the imperialist interests of Russia and the British Empire with the interests of this new imperialist state. As it is known, the Ottoman Empire used the support of France until 1871 and the support of Russia for a short time and then the support of the British Empire more intensively. After the Berlin Agreement, Germany was seen as a balancing state in the relations with the other states.

After the development of the Turkish-German friendship that was desired within the context of this policy of Sultan Abdulhamid II after the year 1890, Germany started to change its attitude and policy in line with its own interests and it started to intervene in the Ottoman-Armenian relations and it tried to manipulate these relations. After this change of policy, an effort was made to strengthen the Turkish-German friendship by granting various economic concessions such as the Baghdad Railway concession on the one hand, and the reform demands of the British Empire, France and Russia within the context of the Armenian question were left pending during the process until the First World War by giving duties to many German soldiers in the modernization and training of the Ottoman army on the other.


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