>ARD, Germany’s “first” national television station, aired an extraordinary documentary last night about the Armenian Genocide. It mixed rare photos and film footage with “clips” of “interviews” — using well-known German actors portraying contemporary witnesses, their lines from those witnesses’ actual reports. The figures included American diplomats and journalists abroad as well as Germans, Swiss, and other Europeans working in Turkey at the time. The actors, all delivering respectfully understated performances, give you the impression that you’re watching actually memories coming to the fore.
The details of the atrocities, culled from collections of reports in the German Archives, are overwhelming in their multitude. The western foreign representatives don’t come off very well either, the implication being that looking away in disapproval was no less than complicity (which is an old story, and probably a very human one, as these things — the crimes and the looking on — are still going on today, aren’t they?)
The documentary makes clear that the Nazis picked up a few things about extermination from the Turk’s actions, like putting deportees into cattle cars (and making them pay for their fares), inventing conspiracy plots in order to brand an entire people “traitors”, executing their own soldiers who did not show enough “mercilessness”, and sending their victims off to some unknown fate with vague words of “resettlement” (death marches into the Syrian steppes), making government seizure of “abandoned property” legal. Hitler’s own word’s, “Who speaks today of the Armenian extermination?”, makes it clear how easy they thought they’d have it, treating their own “undesirables” in the same way (and, later, much worse, when they realized that they could.)
The documentary also discusses how the German government assisted in the flight of the leaders responsible for the genocide, with Grand Vizier Mehmed Talat (Talat Pasha) ending up living comfortably in Berlin until his assassination in 1921. Buried in Berlin, his body was exhumed in 1943 and transferred, with full pomp and ceremony, to Istanbul.
Interestingly, the Turkish courts-martial of 1919-1920 brought death sentences (in absentia) for those responsible, specifically mentioning the Armenian deportations. The new question is why, today, so many Turks experience rage and indignation at the mere mention of the word “genocide”. It’s not universal, of course. After the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink by a Turkish nationalist, over a hundred thousand people marched on Istanbul, carrying signs that read “We Are All Armenian”. Dink’s murderer was following the nationalist line, that even speaking of what happened then is an insult to Turkishness. It would be interesting to know how they got that far away from being able to look at things objectively.