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The Approach of Germany Towards the Armenian Question During the First World War

Published: 09-13-2017


Ass. Prof. Dr. Barış Özdal

As it is known, Germany became an active party to the Eastern Question, especially with its “Weltpolitik,” after ensuring its national unity on 18 January 1871[1].

During the Bismarck period, Germany did not actively support the Great Powers even though it did not pursue a policy aimed at obstructing the wishes of the Great Powers regarding the Ottoman State either, due to its prioritization of its security concerns. The policies pursued by Germany within the context of the independence demands of the Armenian subjects[2] were based on the principle of “non-intervention” until Wilhelm II came to power in 1888, which was a principle unlike those of the other states.

In addition, Sultan Abdulhamid II recognized very well that Germany became a new world power with its “Welpolitik” under the rule of Wilhelm II and pursued a policy of containing/balancing the imperialist interests of Russia and the British Empire with the interests of this new imperialist state. After the development of the Turkish-German friendship that was wished for within this policy of Sultan Abdulhamid II, Germany changed its attitude-policy in line with its own interests and it started to intervene in the Ottoman-Armenian relations and started to manipulate these relations. After this change, there was an effort to strengthen the Turkish-German friendship by granting economic concessions such as the Baghdad Railway to Germany 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.

Despite the policy of Germany we mentioned above, Germany pursued some strategies geared towards winning the support of the Armenians especially in the Adana and Iskenderun regions during the First World War. The reason for this partial change was to prevent the using of the Armenians of the region by the Russians and the British.

After the start of the First World War, many German officers served in decision-making posts of almost all the Turkish units during the implementation of the Law on Dispatch and Settlement, which was made effective by the Ottoman State on 27 May 1915 due to military security reasons.

For example, in November 1913 the Ottoman State made a five- year agreement with General Otto Liman von Sanders. The General was appointed as the commander of the 1st Army in Istanbul, a member of the National Council, supervisor of all the military schools and educational institutions, organizer of promotion exams and the official in charge of the theoretical training of staff officers. The names and duties of some of the German officers who served in the Ottoman army during the impementation of the Dispatch and Settlement Law are as follows: General Otto Liman von Sanders, Commander of the First Army (later on Commander of the Yildirim Armies in Syria); General Fritz Bronsart von Schellendorf, Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Army; Admiral Souchon and his successor, Commander of the Ottoman Navy; Major Felix Guse, Executive Officer of the Third Army Command (later on Chief of the General Staff); General Otto von Lossow, General Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein and Carl Mühlmann, who acted as the aide-de-camp of General Otto Liman von Sanders when he came to Turkey; General Freiherr Colmar von der Goltz, German Military Attaché Major Human (Yavuz, 2006; Armaoğlu,1993, pp. 101-102; Özyüksel, 2004, pp. 11-14; Sander, 1993, pp. 265-279).

The fact that many German officers were serving in important decision-making posts of the Turkish units during the impelementation of the Dispatch and Settlement Law caused the claims of German manipulation at the massacre that was was claimed to have been committed by the Turks against the Armenians to be seen in the Western press (Ortaylı, 1998, p. 179; Kılıç, 2003, pp. 67-82).

For example, the American Ambassador Morgenthau, who was in Istanbul between the years 1914-1916, claimed that Germany was the primary architect of the dispatch, settlement and massacre of the Armenians. Ambassador Morgenthau wrote in his memoirs that German Admiral Usedom told him personally that the Germans suggested to the Turks that the Armenians be dispatched and settled. American historian and missionary H. A. Gibbons also held the Germans responsible for the “extermination” of the Armenians (Elekdağ, 2005). Therefore, Germany started to defend itself and started to pursue pro-Armenian policies.

As a result of this policy change, Germany began to work to prove that it did not have anything to do with it immediately after the First World War. Within this framework, Dr. Solf, who was the German Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs at that time, wanted Johannes Lepsisus to put forward the attitude of German diplomacy about the Armenian Question by publishing the documents related to the Armenian question in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive in 1919. Lepsius, who reviewed the documents on the Armenian Question in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive and made a selection omitting some documents, published his biased, non-scientific book named “Deutschland und Armenien 1914–1918” in 1919. Lepsius tried to prove that the German government of the time did almost everything in order to improve the situation of the Armenians and to make it easy for them through its consuls and officers in the Ottoman Empire and that therefore, Germany was totally innocent (Lepsius,1986, pp. 7-12, 16; Özgönül, 2006, pp. 115-254; Çalık, 2000; Çolak, “2002, ss. 967-984; Wirth, 2004, pp. 1035-1038).

Explanations

[1] This article was written to upgrade the information in the following work, which was published previously. Özdal, 2009, pp. 295-234; Özdal, 2014, pp. 1184-1196.

[2] For detailed assessments regarding the development of the Turkish-Armenian relations, which we have conveyed in general terms, and the sources we have used for these works please see.: Özdal, August 2006, pp. 109-119; Özdal, December 2006, pp. 173-186; Özdal, 2007, pp. 95-104.

Bibliography

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Çalık, Ramazan (2000), “Armeniermorde im Jahre 1915?”, Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi Dergisi, Cilt XVI, Sayı 46. (http://www.atam.gov.tr/index.php?Page=DergiIcerik&IcerikNo=304 (e.t. 21.08.2014)

Çolak, Mustafa (2002), “Kaynak Kritiği ve Tehcir Olayında Belge Tahrifatı -Johannes Lepsius Örneği-”, Belleten, Cilt: LXVI, Sayı: 247, ss. 967-984.

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