What is the origin of the Ottoman relocations of the Armenians of Eastern Anatolia, which Armenian campaigners describe as the centrepiece of the “Armenian Genocide”?
In recent years there has been much focus on the German connection, for obvious reasons. Successfully associating a historical event with Hitler and the Nazis/Fascists is the ultimate objective of all who wish to damn an enemy. The Nazis, after all, constitute the bench mark in evil for the Western World, handily drawing attention away from other evils like the industrial slave trade which built the economies of Europe and colonialist Imperialism and its vast ethnic cleansing and extirpations of peoples across the world done in the name of Christian civilising. Little surprise then that Herr Hitler and his few years of mayhem dominate the school curriculums when the centuries of things which inspired him in his mission are kept from the minds of the young.
From the time when the Ottomans were forced into the Great War of 1914 there were attempts at associating them with Germany. A popular theme of the peace loving English Liberals, in their quest to salve their guilty consciences at having become ferocious war mongers, was that it was a war of “civilisation against the barbarian” in which the German barbarians of the west, which the Romans had failed to civilise, had been joined by the Turkish barbarians of the east, who had always been massacring and ravishing poor Christians. It was the stuff that the propagandists of Wellington House took up and Armenian revolutionaries responded to by constructing their narratives around what was required to incite hatred against the Turk in the West.
Guilty Germans and academics
However, there has been a recent revival of this theme, now conducted largely by guilt-ridden Anglophile German academics. What their motivation is one can only speculate. Perhaps these right-thinking Germans are so appalled at their country’s history, mystified by the Churchillian narrative, and wish to cleanse themselves of all evil in the world. Perhaps they wish to share their guilt with others, and the Turks are useful targets, since they were for long the object of Christian prejudice, and the traditional scapegoats – the Jews – are just not available anymore to any right-thinking German. Whatever the reason the German academics have combined with the Armenian lobby in just the same way as the British propagandists did a century ago, to do down the Turk in the common interests of humanity. They are fighting the good fight at last, in the ranks of the progressive forces, having learned their lesson and abandoned the sonderweg.
But we have to give credit to this recent movement, no matter how ill-informed and misplaced it is, for drawing attention to one of the most substantial links in the German/ Armenian/ Ottoman connection – Paul Rohrbach. This is because Herr Rohrbach unlocks the origin of the Armenian relocations and much of the inspiration for this event, which was unprecedented in Ottoman history and which therefore deserves full investigation.
There is a historical problem for anyone attempting to associate the actions of the Ottoman government, in suddenly attempting to relocate the entire Armenian population of Eastern Anatolia, with previous Ottoman/Armenian relations. 1915 is such an extraordinary event, without precedence, and conducted in the most extraordinary of circumstances of world war that establishing continuity is deeply problematic for anyone with a regard for historical method. Some do attempt this by putting 1915 as the culmination of Ottoman oppression of the Armenians, as a kind of “Final Solution” to the “Armenian Question” that had existed at least since the 1890s. But that is something which cannot be plausibly argued outside the confines of Armenian propaganda. After all, without 1915, whatever happened in the 1890s involving the Armenian revolutionary groups attempting to secure Western military intervention by armed risings, in order to replicate the “Bulgarian Horrors”, would only be a footnote in history.
So a different argument has been advanced for 1915.
This focusses on recognition that the Ottoman Empire did indeed change with its new Young Turk leadership at the helm. European notions of nationalism were employed in a nation building process in which non-Turks, Armenians and Greeks, were the victims as the modern state of Turkey emerged. The German connection assisted this process in modernising the archaic Ottoman structures, providing greater organisation and the ability to transform the state in a way that was impossible for the Sultanate.
Now, that is certainly an improvement in explanation about what happened, over the crudities of the Armenian narrative, but it is also problematic on a number of counts. It begs the question of whether the importation of nationalism into the region by the Imperial Powers was the thing that did for the Armenians and that is a dangerous notion indeed, if full responsibility needs to be laid at the door of the Turks.
So, the way out of this problem is to accuse one Imperial Power, namely Germany, of full responsibility for inspiring the Turks to the depths of depravity, and to portray Imperial Germany as a proto-Nazi state in the making.
Who was Paul Rohrbach?
Paul Rohrbach is central to all this, so it is worth describing who he actually was. Rohrbach was a highly educated Baltic German Lutheran Minister, born in 1869. In 1903 he became head of the Settlement Commission in the German Imperial adventure in South West Africa where he attempted to settle 2 million German colonists. He participated actively in operations against the Herero people (which has recently been termed “the first genocide of the 20th Century”).
Rohrbach joined the German counter-insurgency campaign that would kill tens of thousands of natives. Rohrbach volunteered and participated in several patrols of the Schutztruppe. By his own admission, these were often arbitrary killing sprees, targeting natives with little concern whether they were insurgents or not. General Lothar von Trotha was ordered to drive the Herero deep into the Kalahari and then to cordon off the desert. Tens of thousands of Herero died of thirst or exposure in the desert. The surviving Herero and Nama people, were interned in concentration camps, modelled on the British ones used against the Boers. In these camps, as in South Africa, malnutrition, hard labour, disease and exposure killed thousands more. It is estimated that by the end of the operation, some 60,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama had perished.
After returning to Berlin in 1906, Rohrbach worked with the Foreign Office and Imperial Colonial Office. He accepted a lectureship in colonial economy at the Handelshochschule Berlin and wrote prolifically to encourage and popularise German colonialism, which was very much a minority interest in the country.
According to his English translator Rohrbach was the most widely read German on politics and economics in 1912 with his Der Deutsche Gedanke in der Welt (The German Idea in the World) selling 150,000 copies. His popular writings were said to have inspired more Germans than any other since the formation of the German State in 1871. His other book that was translated into English was Der Krieg und die Deutsche Politik (The War and German Policy but translated as Germany’s Isolation: An exposition of the Economic Causes of the War) which was written just before the Great War but published as it started.
Rohrbach was an Anglophile German Liberal Imperialist. That is to say he admired the British Empire and England’s “civilising mission” in the world and wanted Germany to follow in her footsteps. Rohrbach was one of those Germans who came to believe that Bismarck’s German Empire, which was an empire of Germans rather than of subject races, could not continue to stand aloof from the general Imperialism of Europe and survive.
As Rohrbach noted: “Bismarck kept Germany’s world policies within the limits which… were prescribed by her continental policies. He placed the continental policy in every detail above the world policy, and granted to the first no more than the interest of the second permitted.” (Germany’s Isolation: An exposition of the Economic Causes of the War, p.112)
Rohrbach believed that Bismarck’s wise policy was no longer adequate to its situation because German economic growth had made a world policy essential to break free of its continental isolation, among the globalised Powers of Imperialist capitalism.
After Germany became a unified state in 1871, in response to French invasion, it found itself a Power in the era of Imperialist capitalism. In this era it became apparent to Rohrbach and other Germans that a traditional mode of life was impossible, so a course of development was entered upon with such success that Germany became a competitor to Britain. Would Britain allow an increasingly successful rival to flourish indefinitely in a world market which was its creation, and which it policed through its Royal Navy? Rohrbach thought not. He concluded that in order to survive in the world Britain made, Germany had to shape up to defend its developing interests. A naval force that was as powerful as its army had to be built so that others (particularly Britain) would be deterred in attacking Germany.
For Rohrbach German national expansion was an imperative for viability as a World People. The quality of German culture and its economic ability made it the duty of Germans to expand their influence in the World as a civilising force, alongside England’s. He propagandised the view that Germany, in order to become a normal European state, had to leave aside its isolation and become an Imperialist oppressor and exploiter of “inferior” peoples. He sought, therefore, to develop among Germans a sense of racial superiority pioneered by the English and widely held by that time among other Western Europeans. Rohrbach, impressed by German development, understandably believed that Germany was actually a superior version of Britain, its Anglo-Saxon cousin, and had more to offer the World than England, particularly in culture. He concurred with the British Imperialists that the expansion of the white race was essential to progress in the world and barbaric, primitive peoples, who contributed little to humanity, had the destiny of moving aside, or being exterminated in the process if they stood in the way.
Rohrbach as a German colonial Imperialist was not very representative of Germans generally. Germans, before and after unification, showed little interest in the progressive modernising activity of other European states in plundering Africa and Asia and subverting traditional cultures. The Nazis, later on, were not interested in Rohrbach’s colonial projects and wanted to leave this kind of activity to the British, who they believed excelled at this aspect. They saw Rohrbach as a kind of liberal residue of a half-baked redundant and fatal German attempt to compete with Britain in the World. Living space would be attained in Eastern Europe where Britain had no interests and where its most hated enemy ruled, Bolshevik Russia. But, of course, the Nazis miscalculated just as Rohrbach did. A strong Germany was the problem.
Rohrbach was Anglophile in his African colonialist aspect. But he also promoted another feature of German development that really disturbed Britain. This was the policy aimed at preserving the existing state structure in the Middle East. The German policy was to support existing states and assist in their evolution to make them functional against the destructive influence of European Imperialism. It was this aspect of German foreign policy, and not the petty attempts at colonialism, that really aggravated Britain. The renovation of the Ottoman State, which Germany began to engage thoroughly in from the turn of the century, came up against Britain’s plans to whittle away its territory. This was a serious matter and it ultimately led to World War.
Rohrbach and the Ottoman Armenians
Rohrbach was a great and long-standing admirer of the Armenian element of the Ottoman Empire. His interest in them continued over a period of 40 years. Rohrbach wrote 2 books about them: ‘In Turan und Armenien auf den Pfaden russischer Weltpolitik’ (1898), and ‘Armenien: Beiträge zur armenischen Landes-und Volkskunde’ (1919). He saw them as an indispensable part of Ottoman life and the economy of the state. Like other elements of the Ottoman state he was intent on preserving them. His main worry was that those Armenians in the Southern Caucasus might act against the Ottoman state encouraging the Ottoman Armenians into becoming a subversive element in the interests of Russian expansion.
In 1914 Rohrbach founded the German-Armenian Society (Deutsch-Armenische Gesellschaft) with Johannes Lepsius, a fellow Protestant missionary, and its first Chairman. Rohrbach became Lepsius’s deputy in the German-Armenian Society. Lepsius has become one of the great heroes of Armenia for his work in Germany on behalf of the Armenians during the War. His book, “Report on the situation of the Armenian people in Turkey“, was distributed throughout Germany in 1915/16 before censorship was enforced upon it. Both Lepsius and Rohrbach are regularly cited by Armenians to this day as supporters and great allies of the Armenian cause.
In 1924, the United States challenged the citizenship of Tatos Cartozian, an Oregan carpet dealer who had gained US citizenship in 1923, seventeen years after his emigration from Armenia. The prosecuting attorney, argued that Armenians could not be considered part of the White Race and entitled to US Citizenship. The defence provided scientific evidence by Race Scientists and the German, Paul Rohrbach’s personal testimony was marshalled in support of Cartozian’s case. In the end, the judge agreed with the defence that Armenians were part of the White Master Race, and not inferior breeds like Red Indians, Yellow Asians or Black Negroes.
The United States’ Racial Order was the main inspiration for the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Rohrbach fought the racial battle for the Armenians in Nazi Germany. The Armenian publication, ‘Dro’ Drastamat Kanayan: Armenia’s First Defence Minister of the Modern Era‘ by Antranig Chalabian reveals that Dr Paul Rohrbach and Artashes Abeghian published a book in 1934 called ‘Armenian-Aryan’ in collaboration with a number of Nazi intellectuals which “strove to prove that Armenians belong to the Aryan race and the Armenian language to the Indo-European family of languages.” (p.234) The year before, in 1933, “Goebbels had formally declared that the Armenians were Aryan.” (p.248). These decisions provided the ideological cover for General Dro and other Dashnak leaders, along with the large Armenian Legion, to fight alongside the Nazis on the Eastern Front and put their experience in depopulating Azerbaijani settlements to good effect against the Jews and other non-Aryans.
This is Paul Rohrbach, the good German, for the Armenians.
However, this is where things become strange, because some Armenian writers had noticed another aspect to Paul Rohrbach, which is not so appealing. This is the rather inconvenient fact that he may well have been the originator of the idea for relocating the Armenians to Syria and Iraq. There are, as a consequence, two Paul Rohrbach’s in the Armenian narrative – Rohrbach the great friend of Armenians and exposer of the “Genocide” and Rohrbach the inspiration for the Ottoman relocation of the Armenians, the main event of the “Genocide”. How could this be? How could these two Paul Rohrbachs exist side by side?
The explanation lies in the partial nature of the Armenian narrative, which is basically a propagandist/social science construct. To understand Rohrbach one has to be a historian and attempt to actually understand events rather than just marshalling them as disconnected assertions for a cause.
Rohrbach – Inspirer of the Armenian Relocations
Vakahn Dadrian in his ‘History of the Armenian Genocide’ reveals the other Paul Rohrbach. Dadrian calls Rohrbach the “theoretician who implanted in the Turkish minds the idea of the expediency of the evacuation of the Armenians from their ancestral territories in eastern Turkey and their relocation in Mesopotamia for the purposes of populating and cultivating the areas through which Baghdad Railway system was to be established.” (p.254)
Dadrian then notes the evidence for Rohrbach, friend of Armenia, being the inspirer of the relocations/”Genocide”. He cites the French writer, Rene Pirion (La suppression des Armeniens Methode Allemande-travail Turc, 1916, pp.12-13) who claimed that Rohrbach advanced this proposal as a solution to the Ottoman’s Armenian problem, which had been made acute by the Dashnak/Hunchak risings of the 1890s. He did so both for German and Ottoman interests. But more of that later.
Ambassador Morganthau, another pillar of the “Genocide” narrative, made the same claim:
“Certain German writers have even advocated the application of this policy to the Armenians. According to the Paris Temps, Paul Rohrbach “in a conference held at Berlin, some time ago, recommended that Armenia should be evacuated of the Armenians. They should be dispersed in the direction of Mesopotamia and their places should be taken by Turks, in such a fashion that Armenia should be freed of all Russian influence and that Mesopotamia might be provided with farmers which it now lacked.” The purpose of all this was evident enough. Germany was building the Bagdad railroad across the Mesopotamian desert. This was an essential detail in the achievement of the great new German Empire, extending from Hamburg to the Persian Gulf. But this railroad could never succeed unless there should develop a thrifty and industrious population to feed it. The lazy Turk would never become such a colonist. But the Armenian was made of just the kind of stuff which this enterprise needed. It was entirely in accordance with the German conception of statesmanship to seize these people in the lands where they had lived for ages and transport them violently to this dreary, hot desert. The mere fact that they had always lived in a temperate climate would furnish no impediment in Pan-German eyes. I found that Germany had been sowing those ideas broadcast for several years; I even found that German savants had been lecturing on this subject in the East. “I remember attending a lecture by a well-known German professor,” an Armenian tells me. “His main point was that throughout their history the Turks had made a great mistake in being too merciful toward the non-Turkish population. The only way to insure the prosperity of the empire, according to this speaker, was to act without any sentimentality toward all the subject nationalities and races in Turkey who did not fall in with the plans of the Turks.” (Ambassador Morganthau’s Story, Chapter XXVII, p. 367)
It has been suggested that Rohrbach made the suggestion that the Ottomans relocate the Armenians in a lecture to the German Geographic Society – a Berlin institution which aped the original British Empire version, in which geographers from august academic institutions in Britain served the cause of Imperial expansion. The relocation proposal was termed the “Rohrbach Plan” according to one senior Armenian cleric ( Zaren Archbishop, ‘My Patriarchal Memoirs, Documents and Testimonies’, 1947, p.104).
Arnold Toynbee, the famous English historian and Wellington House war propagandist, wrote in ‘Turkey: A Past and A Future’ in The Armenian Herald p.198:
“A month or two before the outbreak of war Dr. Rohrbacb stated, in a public lecture, that “Germany has an important interest in effecting and maintaining contact with the Armenian nation. We have set before ourselves the necessary and legitimate aim of spreading and enrooting German influence in Turkey, not only by military missions and the construction of railways, but also by the establishment of intellectual relations, by the work of German Kultur—in a word, by moral conquests; and we are determined, by pacific means, to reach an amicable understanding with the Turks and the other nations in the Turkish Empire. Our ulterior object in this is to strengthen the Turkish Empire internally with the aid of German science, education, and training, and for this work the Armenians are indispensable.” A few months later Germany, as part price of Turkey’s intervention in the War, had to leave the Young Turks a “free hand” to exterminate the nation which was the indispensable instrument of her Turkish policy.”
General von der Goltz is credited by Dadrian to have taken up Professor Rohrbach’s plan and proposed it at a public lecture, sponsored by the Deutsch-Turkishe Vereiningung, in Berlin in February 1914 (AA Turkei 183/39, A28384, Enclosure No.2, August 5 1915). The argument was that since Tsarist Russia was interfering in the internal affairs of the Ottomans under the pretext of protecting Christians this had led to the Balkan assault on the Ottoman Empire and its drastic shrinkage. The same model of Tsarist/Christian advance which drove Muslims in their millions out of the Balkans during 1912-13 was now being applied in Eastern Anatolia. In order to spare the Ottomans a similar disaster in 1914-15 the roughly half million Armenians of Eastern Anatolia who inhabited the provinces of Van, Bitlis and Erzurum, which the Tsar coveted, should be resettled in areas around Aleppo and Mesopotamia, where they could no longer serve as an instrument or fifth column for Russian expansion (Dadrian, p.255).
Dadrian then makes the case for the Germans pressurising the reluctant Ottomans into the relocation operation as a necessity of the military situation in 1915. He notes Talaat Pasha’s interview with Aubrey Herbert in which the Ottoman leader confirmed that it was the Germans who pressed for anti-Armenian measures. Said Halim, the Grand Vizier, also suggested that the relocations came about after “months of pressure from the military authorities” who were German (p.257). He includes more evidence to back up his argument.
In essence, then, Dadrian argues that the Germans pushed the reluctant Ottomans toward seeing the Armenians as a mortal threat and relocating them.
It should also be noted that the Armenian’s great hero, Johannes Lepsius, was another believer in the relocation of the Armenians. Lepsius stressed to the German Foreign Office that the Armenians were extremely militarily important. That is all in his papers. Lepsius argued that the Russian Armenians could be potentially rallied to the side of Germany and Austria, and that if they weren’t rallied, and instead became allies of Russia, they would actually be very dangerous to the Germans and the Ottoman Turks in the war. That is, of course, the very thing the Turkish government attempted at the Dashnaks Conference at Erzurum in August 1914.
In late May 1915, Lepsius made contact with the German Foreign Office in connection with the Armenian insurrection at Van and offered himself as a mediator between the Turks and Armenians. The Armenians had captured the city of Van and put the Muslim population to the sword, later handing the city over to the advancing Russian invaders. Lepsius tried to impress the German Foreign Office with how important the Armenians could be for Germany. “One cannot treat a nation of four million as a quantité négligeable,” he said. He described the Armenians as a rope stretching from Turkey to Russia, with one half of in Russia and the other in Turkey. But it was the Ottoman disaster at Van, brought about by the Armenian insurrection, that finally prompted the relocation policy.
There are no modern Armenian or German accounts which can explain the totality of Paul Rohrbach – friend of the Armenian people and advocate of their forced migration by the Ottomans. Why? Because he does not fit the formulaic narrative demanded by the social science “historians”. But he is explicable within the context of real historical understanding which investigates continuity and cause and effect in history. So let us look at what he wrote just prior to the Great War about the Ottomans and Armenians in the context of Great Power politics. It is immensely interesting and informative.
Rohrbach had a very astute and accurate view of what had taken place in the decade prior to the Great War. In response to Germany’s rise as a commercial power, Britain had re-orientated its Balance of Power policy in Europe. Making arrangements and informal alliances with its traditional enemies, France (1904) and Russia (1907), Britain had decided to provoke and join in a future European war against Germany to smash her commercial development. Rohrbach even predicted that it was never Britain’s intention to destroy Germany, as the Germania Delenda Est people proclaimed, but simply to reduce her to a future pawn in a renewed Balance of Power. That proved a remarkably accurate prediction. The new understanding with the Tsar, in which Russia’s military forces were to be used against Germany, necessitated a change in the British policy with regard to the Ottoman Empire. No longer would Britain guarantee the Ottoman integrity against the Tsar’s ambitions but collaborate in its destruction. When the Anglophile/Francophile Young Turks came to power in Istanbul they attempted to distance themselves from previous fraternal relations with Germany but found it impossible given the predatory intentions of those they wished to ameliorate relations with. They were driven back into Germany’s arms by the mutual need to avoid destruction.
Rohrbach journeyed extensively in the eastern Ottoman provinces from 1898 to 1907 and wrote about his experiences in the Preussische Jahrbucher and Die Hilfe. He was the most popular enthusiast for the Berlin-Baghdad Railway in Germany. Rohrbach’s 1902 book Die Bagdadbahn, which contained material from his articles, brought him national recognition in Germany and corresponding notoriety in England. His book was a realistic assessment of the railway and its economic and strategic prospects. Despite being a colonialist himself he warned against anyone who proposed such a thing in the Ottoman territories. Rohrbach saw the strongest possible Ottoman state in the Middle East as being in Germany’s interests and the Bagdadbahn as the major instrument for its defence, regeneration and the future development of the entire region. He noted that Ottoman reinforcements to counter a Russian invasion would take between 6 weeks and 3 months to arrive in eastern Anatolia without improved railway infrastructure.
Germany had annoyed Britain in its economic relations with the Ottoman Empire, which threatened to rejuvenate the “Sick Man of Europe” whose territory Britain had finally agreed to carve up with its rivals. The German Berlin-Baghdad Railway was a particular affront to Britain as it trumped a previous proposal from the famous English engineer, Sir William Willcocks, who had proposed a British cross-rail scheme, along with a large plantation of Indians in Mesopotamia, to enhance British hegemony from an extended Indian Empire across Southern Persia, Mesopotamia and Syria to the Mediterranean. The ultimate aim was to sever this belt of land, including the Arabian Peninsular to the south, from the Ottoman Empire, as Egypt had been detached in the previous decades, making it a protectorate of the British Empire.
Rohrbach understood that the Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907 placed the Ottomans in dire peril, along with developing German interests. The Ottomans’ British “protector” had been removed and was now prepared to countenance a Russian advance into Anatolia. Rohrbach correctly predicted that whilst Russia was going to be permitted to grab eastern Anatolia (“Armenia”) and perhaps Constantinople/Istanbul itself, Britain would take Mesopotamia, Palestine and Arabia itself, leaving France with Northern Syria and Lebanon. All this was remarkably accurate in what subsequently was arranged (before it began falling apart for the Tsarist part of the territorial grab during the test of war).
The Tsar had attempted to move into Eastern Anatolia, taking advantage of Ottoman difficulty during the Balkan wars during 1912-13. Rohrbach related how in 1913 Germany was compelled to warn Russia off from an invasion of Eastern Anatolia on the threat of war, to protect the independence of the Ottoman Empire:
“Exactly twenty-five years after Bismarck had voiced his opposition to the Battenberg marriage, with a view of preventing a clash with Russia in matters pertaining to the Orient, Germany was compelled to interfere, with the full weight of her armed forces, in a question which was destined to lead her infinitely farther into the Orient than her previous policy had kept her from entering it. Early in 1913, Russia threatened to send her troops into Turkish Armenia in order to bring Turkey to terms regarding the demands of the allied Balkans. Geographically as well as topographically Armenia is the key to the Anatolian peninsula and the lowlands of Mesopotamia. In the hands of Russia, that key would have shut out Turkey from the possibility of maintaining her independence. Germany, being greatly interested in the continued independence of the Turkish empire, notified Russia that the peace of Europe was endangered if Russian troops crossed the Armenian frontiers. There could be no doubt as to the meaning of Germany’s message. The Russian invasion of Armenia was not carried out, the Turkish catastrophe thus being averted.” (Germany’s Isolation, pp.14-15)
It is clear in the following passage how important Rohrbach considered the areas of eastern Anatolia which the Armenians inhabited, to both Ottoman Turkey and Germany:
“Armenia’s geographical location and physical contours are of such a character that Turkey’s political and military existence is at an end if she loses Armenia, and irretrievably at an end if she loses it to Russia. Armenia gives to its owner an immediate and absolute control of eastern Asia Minor and upper Mesopotamia… All of anterior Asia, from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea, would be like an enormous glacis commanded by Russia’s military power. The unification of Armenia, Transcaucasia, and northern Persia by the hand of Russia are a menace to the entire western Asia, formidable beyond the power of comprehension. If, therefore, the Turkish empire is to be preserved, Armenia must necessarily remain a part of it. Any attempt by Russia to annex that territory must be resisted by Germany, as long as it is possible for Germany to support the Ottoman empire. In the light of these facts, it is plain why Germany notified Russia that the peace of Europe was endangered if she carried out the invasion of Armenia, which she had planned early in 1913.” (pp. 85-7)
The strategic imperative of the Ottomans holding onto eastern Anatolia against Russian designs would have been why Rohrbach considered the Armenian presence there a vital threat to the Empire and why he would have favoured a relocation of the population, despite his sympathy with the Armenians. That such a friend and supporter of the Armenians could see how they would be a threat to the integrity of the Ottoman Empire in a war situation and would be employed as a Russian fifth column is of some significance. It is, however, an area which Armenian historians, who are very thorough in their research, have decided to leave alone and unknown. Armenian historians who explore this aspect have been warned they are intruding into very dangerous territory indeed for the effectiveness of the Genocide narrative.
Another important aspect of this is how Rohrbach viewed the “character of Turkish Islam” and how he saw the Ottoman Turks to be the only functional rulers of the region. No other people were capable of building a state or forming an authority over the various peoples there. Without the Ottomans would come chaos and the deluge:
“Mohammedanism in Turkey is not nearly so fanatical as in the (Arabian) territories where it is at home. The way in which the modern and better educated Turk approaches Islam is rational and practical. His religion offers him a certain general turn of mind, and a simple and commonplace morality which is well adapted to the needs of his everyday life, and more, a valuable discipline and if need be patriotic devotion. The Turk possesses strong military instincts and a soldierly mind, both of which would be impossible without a fund of moral qualities. If we remember, as we have already said, that fanaticism is not natural to him, we readily comprehend that the new state of the Young Turks enjoys forces of order and statesmanship which may permit them to maintain themselves in office and thus to preserve their state, provided they proceed to a rigorous reorganisation of their army and make use of every possible available resource to accomplish this end. It is quite possible that the existing political conditions will be disturbed by inner dissensions or other crises, but no other people but the Turks will be lastingly in the ascendency in Asia Minor. If the English plans should materialize, such as the establishment of an Egyptian or an Arabic caliphate under British suzerainty, and the direct or indirect incorporation of the Arabian territories belonging to Turkey into the British spheres of influence, a great war would have to follow…
We are not aiming to Germanize Turkey politically or economically or to colonise it here or there, but to introduce the German spirit into the great national process of development through which that oriental nation happens to be passing which has a future and which will continue to hold political sway over the lands from the Persian gulf to the Mediterranean.” (The German Idea in the World, pp. 227-31)
Paul Rohrbach’s view that, on the eve of the Great War, there were only 2 courses open for the region, Ottoman development under German assistance or destruction under British geopolitical meddling proved to an accurate estimation of things. And this had immense implications for the Ottoman Armenians. The Genocide lobbyists have no interest in this aspect of things i.e. they have no interest in accounting for why what befell the Armenians happened to them. The only objective is to shoehorn what happened into a Genocide Studies narrative suitable for political and academic patronage purposes.
The Problem of the Reluctant Ottoman Relocators
The Armenian quoted in Ambassador Morganthau’s Diary who suggested the Germans thought the Ottomans too merciful to the Armenians certainly had a point. That is a fact no one can deny. The Ottomans certainly refused to see the danger of the Armenians to their Empire in 1913/14 that was pointed out by German professors and military men. They continued to hope against hope that the Armenians would somehow see sense and return to their position as “the loyal community” of the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks continued to work with the Dashnaks in the hope that their participation in the Ottoman parliament would bear fruit. This proved to be wishful thinking, although the Ottomans can hardly be criticised for not acting earlier or more forcefully. If the Ottomans had taken German advice and relocated the Armenians outside the catastrophe of war it is certain that the vast bulk of Armenians would have survived such an operation but the Germans/Ottomans would hardly have been given credit for it.
The Ottomans refused to uproot the Armenian community of Eastern Anatolia in 1913 or 1914, despite being warned by the Germans that they posed a serious security threat, as part of a planned and coming Tsarist invasion. The Ottoman intelligence agencies and sources within the Dashnaks told them that the Germans were right, and extensive arming and organising for insurrection was taking place, but they waited until the Dashnaks actually went into insurrection against the Ottoman State in late 1914/early 1915 to move against the Armenian community in the war zone and implement the German security advice. In fact, they waited for 8 whole months of war to do so, until a serious assault was mounted in the Van region by Dashnak revolutionists, which massacred the Muslim population and handed the key strategic city over to the Russian invaders!
What must the Germans have thought about these delusional and reluctant Ottomans who could not see the danger for their state from the Armenian revolutionists and waited until it was far too late to act with purpose? Why were they so soft that only an existential crisis that threatened to annihilate them prompted them to take action to defend their state and citizens?
The Ottoman relocation policy is the centrepiece of the “Genocide” allegation against the Turks. Prof. Edward Erickson in his book ‘Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency’ examines the relocation of a section of the Armenian populace and comes to the conclusion that it was primarily a military measure made necessary by an existential crisis involving a simultaneous 4 front invasion by Russian, British and French military and naval forces with co-ordinated internal risings by Armenian insurrectionists. He describes it as relocation rather than exile, deportation or ethnic cleansing, because there is nothing to suggest the Ottomans had any intention of permanently moving the Armenians and there is evidence, both from Ottoman and Armenian sources that there was every intention of returning them after the war emergency.
As Erickson notes, the Armenian relocations, although mainly conducted where the Russian threat was, were not instituted until mid-1915 when the situation became extremely serious due to almost complete encirclement. Tens of thousands of Armenian young men had joined armed bands or had deserted the Ottoman Army and gone over to the Russians. The Ottomans were aware that the general Armenian populace were not participating in these activities and did not take action against them but the Armenian rising in Van, in April 1915, was an important trigger for the relocations. This was orchestrated by Armenian revolutionaries in conjunction with a simultaneous offensive by the Russians. It resulted in a massacre of Turks and Kurds and the handing of the city over to the Russian Army.
The Ottomans had seen a serious threat developing to their lines of communication by early 1915. Armenian irregulars were ambushing Ottoman reinforcements, attacking military supply columns, cutting important telegraph communications to the rear of the lines and killing Muslims in undefended villages. These were not sporadic risings of ordinary Armenians. They were well-planned sabotage operations targeted to disrupt the Ottoman armies. They occurred at strategic points on the supply lines to the Ottoman Third army in the Caucasus, Sixth army in Mesopotamia and Fourth Army in Palestine. They cut these armies off from their vital supplies of ammunition, food, fodder, medical supplies, fuel, animals, spare parts and reinforcements.
The Great War context and the 4 front assault meant a new strategy had to be adopted by the Ottomans which was completely unprecedented. in their previous counter-insurgency measures against insurrections in the Balkans and Anatolia the Ottomans had used tradition methods of military suppression to overcome insurrectionary outbreaks. However, because the over-stretched military lacked the ability to carry out such traditional measures of internal security they had to resort, apparently, to the scheme that the Germans had urged on them before the War to deal with the Armenians.
This new strategy was inspired by such events as the English Parliament’s relocations of the Irish (1650s), the Acadian Removal of French settlers in Nova Scotia to Louisiana by Britain (1755), the relocation of the Navaho, forced to walk from New Mexico to reservations by US forces (1865), Spanish action in Cuba (1896), US “zones of protection” in the Philippines under General Smith (1901) and British concentration camps against the Boers in South Africa (1901).
What can be seen by these examples is that this form of warfare was pioneered by the English and was largely conducted by the Anglosphere in its expansionary Imperialist wars.
Isn’t it interesting that when Germany first used this method of counter-insurgency it was used by Anglophile German Imperialists in German South West Africa (1904), a territory adjacent to that in which the British used it against the Boers during the years before, and Paul Rohrbach was one of its chief exponents?
What can be said in the Ottoman’s favour is that when a relocation policy was finally used against the Armenians, in 1915, it was most reluctantly employed as a measure of last resort, during an actual crisis of existence in which the actual Ottoman State was threatened. It was not an operation employed in a far-flung Imperialist war of expansion but employed in self-defence to protect its citizens as a survival mechanism.
The Ottomans found themselves with only 2 alternatives if they were to free the war zones of people: The Anglo relocation strategy of temporary resettlement in areas the war could not reach (with the Ottoman promise of return when the emergency was passed) or else the Russian method of herding the population toward enemy lines.
A fuller understanding of what actually happened in 1915 can now be had with historical knowledge, separated from the misinformation and disinformation promoted by the Armenian lobby and the social science academics.
The Ottomans relocated the Armenian population of Eastern Anatolia in a situation of extreme war-time emergency and existential crisis of the state. It was a scheme unprecedented in Ottoman history and seems to have been advocated prior to the war by Anglophile German Imperialists impressed at the results the Anglosphere had achieved using such methods in warfare against native populations. It was part of what was understood to be the necessary work of liberal progress in the world conducted by the advance guard of Christian civilisation. Despite warnings from the Anglophile Germans that they were risking the continued existence and viability of their state by not recognising the Armenian population as a potentially serious threat, given Tsarist intentions to invade the area they inhabited, the Ottomans refused to relocate them until it became almost too late. The Ottomans hesitated to employ such thoroughgoing methods against the Armenian population during peacetime and only implemented the relocation strategy as a counter-insurgency response to multi-front invasion in the supreme moment of crisis in the war-zone, with an extensive Armenian insurrection taking place.
Out of the catastrophe of the Great War came a catastrophe for the people of Eastern Anatolia, Muslim and Armenian, in fairly even measure. The long-term consequences of this were, however, greater for the Armenian population, because the Ottomans remained in control of the state, despite everything that was thrown against them by the Imperialist Powers and those who attempted to avail of the world crisis to overturn the existing order and stability. If the Armenians had won in conjunction with the powerful forces of Russia, Britain and France, as the Dashnaks expected, the situation would have been, most probably reversed with the Muslim populace receiving little quarter. Armenian relations with the Azerbaijanis – who had nothing to do with the events of 1915 – suggest that an Armenian state, not fiercely curtailed by someone like Stalin, would have been both genocidal in instinct and practice. Armenian nationalism is simply a programme for Genocide in that it wants to recreate its vision of the world of the 5th Century BC within the modern context. Only vast ethnic cleansing and genocide would make such a thing possible.
Paul Rohrbach and the German connection to the Ottomans and Armenians has been presented in a formulaic social science narrative. But the truth of the matter is much more interesting, but also subversive, therefore, of the Armenian version of history.