There was something especially obscene about Turkish president Erdogan’s comparison of Angela Merkel’s Germany with the Nazis. “Nazi practices” were going on in Germany, he said, after Berlin banned Turkish political demonstrations – something which Erdogan does regularly. It’s not just that Germany daily repents its destruction of Europe’s Jews in the Second World War. Nor that Merkel’s extraordinary and humane – and, for her, politically damaging — decision to allow the Middle East’s refugees to enter her country was the greatest act of contrition for Hitler’s crimes. It’s that Erdogan’s own nation stayed heroically neutral in World War Two.
Even though the Brits helped to train Turkish pilots in 1940, Ismet Inonu, Erdogan’s more diplomatic predecessor at the time, actually sent Turkish officers to occupied Europe as guests of the Nazi Reich to tour the Eastern Front and the Atlantic Wall opposite Britain – a happy trip during which, so the Turkish visitors later reported, they were treated with much respect and given unexpected access to Wehrmacht military planners. Thank heavens Turkey still has historians to expose such little nuggets of history, if they are not locked up today in Erdogan’s prisons.
The Nazis, whom Erdogan pretends to hate so much, rather liked Turkey. Not only did Turkey stay neutral in the war, but the Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachter and other Reich dailies had, since the early 1930s, devotedly praised the "Turkified" state which had emerged from the ruins of the First World War. This was a thinly-layered reference to Ottoman Turkey’s "racial purity" after the genocide of one and a half million of its minority Christians in 1915 – a holocaust which deeply influenced Hitler in his own decision to destroy the Jews of Europe.
In several newspaper interviews before the war, Hitler referred to Europe’s own forgetfulness of the Armenian massacres. He even asked who “now remembers” them, in a meeting with his generals before invading Poland in 1939 – an open invitation to kill Jews, who then constituted 30 per cent of the population of Warsaw alone.
Several of Hitler’s diplomats and Wehrmacht officers had earlier been advisers to the Ottoman Turks and actually witnessed the Armenian killings in 1915. They later turned up in the occupied Soviet Union as German officers after June of 1941, where the Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews by the tens of thousands.
And while Merkel’s Germany has constantly expressed its remorse for the Jewish Holocaust, Erdogan will not even admit to Turkey’s Holocaust of its Armenian citizens in 1915. Modern day Turks who have mentioned this terrible precedent in genocide have been threatened with imprisonment by the Turkish state. Even today, the great Armenian cathedral of Gaziantep is used as a mosque – I saw part of its "Islamic" restoration a few weeks ago – yet Merkel’s Germany has restored the Jewish synagogues which the Nazis destroyed on Kristallnacht in November 1938.
Quite coincidentally, a remarkable book is to be published in the United States this summer with the hitherto unheard story of a young Armenian who served in the Turkish army while its soldiers were slaughtering his own people – indeed, his own family. Forced into Genocide is Yervant Alexanian’s own frightful account of his people’s suffering, with unimpeachable documentation – in vast enough amounts to prevent the usual Turkish ‘genocide deniers’ (twins of the European ‘deniers’ of the Jewish Holocaust) of denouncing the book as a forgery. It has a generous foreward by Israel Charny, Israel’s own principal genocide scholar, and is edited by Adrianne Alexanian, the daughter of Yervant, who died in 1983.
It is a story which Erdogan should be reading – and publicising – right now, for it involves more “Nazi practices” than the new Sultan of Istanbul would ever want to acknowledge. Yervant, who would survive to emigrate to the US and later campaign in a series of letters to American congressmen at Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the assassination of his people.
His own story, told in his own words, is both heroic and deeply moving. Armenians were weeded out of the Turkish army and themselves butchered in 1915, but a few survived in the ranks, with the help of friends and occasionally by honourable Turkish officers. Even Yervant eventually had to convert to Islam to survive. The book contains all his military documentation, but what ultimately enabled him to survive was his ability to play the bugle. He was the only man in his Turkish army unit who could play the instrument. There is even a photograph of Yervant in full Turkish Ottoman uniform holding his precious bugle. But it is his account of the Armenian Holocaust which should shame Sultan Erdogan.
His family agreed that if he could survive by avoiding the death march on which the Turks were to send them, he should stay behind alone in the Turkish city of Sipas. Here is his description of the last day:
“The worst day of my life was 3 July 1915 when I watched 51 members of my family disappear over the hill. I remember it as if it was yesterday – after spending the night on the banks of the Halys River, the grisly caravan that included my family was woken and driven up the Kartashlar Yokush Hill. They were scaling the Armenian Golgotha. I stood there and watched my mother and entire extended family climb over that hill never to be seen again. In total, I lost 51 members of my family that day.”
Most of the Armenian men of Yervant’s city of Sipas were executed by rifle or, Isis-style, with knives. The women and children were driven into the deserts to be raped and murdered.
(c) 2017 The Independent