Eric Friedler’s Aghet – Ein Völkermord, a German documentary on the Armenian Genocide, which brings the words of diplomats, engineers, and missionaries to life, will be screened at the Glendale public library on Saturday, September 25, at 4 p.m.. The 90-minute documentary features an ensemble of 23 German actors narrating the original texts in simple interviews that derive their effectiveness from the selection of texts and the presentation rather than a dramatization of history.
Below is a translated excerpt of the documentary:
Why does the world acknowledge the Genocide in Darfur or Rwanda, but hesitates to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide? Why is the world so reluctant to acknowledge the suffering of the Armenian people? This documentary not only explains the politics behind these questions, but also sheds light on documents that have been kept from the world. Documents, that prove the horrific suffering and unimaginable wrongdoing of the Ottoman Empire.
The great taboo of the Turkish government is the Armenian genocide.
The pointless murder of Hrant Ding, an Armenian minority journalist in Turkey is a reminder of the resistance many are faced with, who would like to have an open and honest discussion about the Armenian Genocide. January 19, 2007 was the day were Hrant Ding was killed in cold blood. The assassin was a 17 year old teenager. His justification for the brutal murder was that Hrant had disrespected the honor of the Turkish nation. To this day the assassin awaits trial. A fellow colleague of the dead journalist, Aydin Engin, believed in Hrant’s courage and determination to speak about the Genocide. Hrant repeatedly brought greater awareness to the event of 1915, which has been denied by the Turkish nation for the past 95 years. Whose reference is subject to penalties and punishments. Even Hrant had to justify his actions repeatedly before the courts in Turkey. Delal Dink, his daughter, remembers her father as a man whose mission was to educate not just the politicians but also the people of Turkey. In a recent interview she says: “My dad said they are not denying the facts, but things of which they know nothing about. He would always say, ‘I want the entire population to know what took place, not just the government. And I want to make sure it will not happen again’.”
Many are demanding an open discussion of the Genocide, since this murder. However, the opinion of the vast majority of the population is shaped by the official Turkish historiography.
Politicians like Cemil Cicek (Prime Minister of Turkey) completely denied the occurrence of such an event. “We the Turkish People will never accept such allegations. We have the purist history. No one has the right to allege us of such things. “
This is an opinion which many Turks in Germany share. They demonstrate against any attempt to call the Genocide as what it is. Genocide. France, Germany, and Switzerland have accepted the Genocide for what it is. Many Turks living in those counties feel offended by this. Nevertheless, the voices asking for an explanation can no longer be ignored.
Cem Ozdemir a Turkish Politician for the Green Party in Germany agrees, saying: “This process will not move past Turkey without an imprint. At the end, Turkey will have to make radical changes to its version of history. I want them to know about what took place. I want every Turkish TV channel, every Turkish newspaper to lead discussions about the Genocide. I am confident that once we reach that point, the government itself will accept the events as Genocide.”
For a long time now, Turkey has held its believes about the events in 1915 and for many western states is the country to important to force it into an acknowledgement of a Genocide. A disagreement with an economical and military alliance, who serves as an arch to the near and middle east is not something most western governments, including the US want to risk. Turkey repeatedly uses its political position to avoid the discussions of the Genocide and threatens to abort any diplomatic relations, and it’s availability for military positioning. The western world therefore gives in.
Hundred thousands of Armenian pillage every year on April 24 to Yerevan. The 24 of April 1915 marks the day, where the attempt of an extinction of the Armenian People began. The Armenians, the oldest Christian nation, call this Genocide “Aghet”. They mourn the victims at a Monument that is not far from the Land where their ancestors were citizens of, and where the Genocide took place. Many Armenians feel grief and anger when speaking about the Genocide. For many the time has come to acknowledge the truth. This includes boxing World champion Arthur Abraham, who dedicated his boxing match to the victims of the horrific event.
Armenians all over the world still cannot comprehend the reason, why Turkey is to this day denying the events that took place all these years ago. They feel betrayed by the world, alone, and subject to the Turkish interpretation of history. In the political archives in Berlin are over 1000 Reports, Letters, Notes, and Essays which the German Reich had collected in those years. These documents have been kept hidden for all these years to prevent any harm to Turkey. They leave no doubt that a horrific Genocide had taken place. These are reports from German and American diplomats, doctors, teachers, and nurses, who lived in Turkey and were able to capture their observations.
Henry Morgenthau an American ambassador wrote: “These people were ripped from their homes, without any reason, and were sent on a march through the dessert. Thousands of women and children died on this journey, not only because of hunger and exhaustion, but because of the cruelty of those who were watching over them.”
A Swedish missionary nurse named Alma Johansson wrote: “Can you comprehend what it means to witness such things and not be able to do anything?”
These are just a few fragments of documentation that are now shedding light on the untold stories of witnesses. There are other archives all over the world, like the once in Sweden, Denmark, and even America with testimonials such as these, which have been ignored for all these years. All of these reports describe in great details the horrific Genocide of the Armenians. They show the gruesome path and document a chronological and unimaginable crime.
Leslie A. Davis an American consul in Harput at that time wrote: “It was no secret that the Armenians were being killed. But the measures were more horrendous than I had imagined. The streets were filled with dead bodies. The cities were like morgues, or rather, like slaughter houses. When one sees the killing of innocent children, mothers, newborns, old men and women, then it is impossible to find a plausible reason that would justify such measures.”
In the 16 century, Turkey was spreading over many continents. During its own history, the Armenian people were divided between three empires: Persia, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire, where Armenian will have six sectors. Armenia, the first Christian nation, lived peacefully amongst the Turks. As a religious minority they had some rights, however, had to pay high taxes and had to tolerate discrimination. The Armenians repeatedly asked for equality and political rights; however, they were turned down by the Muslim government. Most Armenians were sellers or farmers. However, a growing wealthier class of Armenians was emerging. Although the government repeatedly promised the Armenians equality, its results were never seen. Any resistance was subject to killings. In 1895 200 Armenians lost their lives, because they protested against tax increases.
It wasn’t until WWI, where Turkey felt surrounded and threatened by a Christian Europe. It looked to the German Reich as an ally. Turkey wanted to create a racially clean Turkey. Tacy Atkinson, an American Nurse wrote: “The German Reich, Turkey, and the devil himself created a tripartite agreement.”
Germany was seeking an alliance with Turkey as well, and promised in return to modernize its military. The destiny of the Armenians was not a subject needing discussion. Turkey was certain, that Germany would win the war and protect them. The systematical killings of the Armenians began. The Turks used misleading information to kill hundreds of Armenian Soldiers. Russian resistance was blamed for that. However, more and more Armenians found aid with the Russian armies who were invading Turkey, which for many was a blessing. Since the world was at war, no attention was being paid to the treatment of the Armenians. The Turkish government believed that the only solution to a successful war against a Christian world would be a cleansing of their own country from the Christians living in it. Armenians had to be displaced and removed from Turkish soil. The Turkish government held the entire Armenian population responsible for it’s loses against the Russians. Other Measurements had to be created to be implemented to expedite the removal of the Armenian people. Armenian Families were told to move to Syria, where a new home was awaiting. These families were sent on a journey that would lead them to their deaths.
Soon after this, massive arrests where made all over Turkey, including in Constantinople. On April 24 and 25 the orders were given to arrest all Armenians. 1850 people were arrested and removed from Constantinople alone.
The mass killings began shortly thereafter. Women and children were separated. Men were put in wooden cages. Later they were hung upside down from their feet, which were nailed to the wood. Their beards, hair, and eyelashes ripped off. Many died, but some survived. It’s through these survivors, who ended up with nurses like Alma Johansson that the stories were passed on. Nurses of all nations were witnesses to these horrific conditions, and were able to document them.
On June 18th 1915 the order was given to all Armenians to evacuate the region. They had five days. A massacre would have been more humane than the mass evacuations. In a massacre people manage to escape and survive, but a mass evacuation under Turkish supervision meant undoubtedly only one thing, death. Hambardzoum Sahakian, a survivor of the Genocide remembers being driven like sheep.
These days were proclaimed as a crime against humanity by France and Russia. The US stayed neutral to this, since they were not at war with Turkey. Turkish leaders explained to the US ambassador that the reasoning of this mass killing was based on three things only. The first was that Armenians had enriched themselves at the expenses of Turkey. Turkey believed that the Armenians were determined to rule over them, and that they had helped the Russians in the Caucasus.
Armenians out of all six sectors were deported. The empty homes were broken into by Turkish men and women, who like starving vultures, took what others had left behind. The Armenians knew that they were walking into their deaths. The true reasons of this deportation, the robberies, the devastation, the imminent death was very clear to them.
Germany did not ask its ally for explanations. They did not step in either, which was no surprise to the Turkish government. However, Germans like Paul Graf Wolff Metternich believed that what the Turks were doing was due to the Germans. He wrote: “These are our weapons, our generals. We should have shown greater authority towards the Turks.”
Armenians had to marsh for hundreds of days. People who fell behind died. They were driven to the cities of Aleppo and Urfu. From their into the Syrian dessert or passed Deir Zor. The so called resettlement was a death marsh into nothing. Since food was not provided, Armenians had to eat what they found. Grass, dirt, dead animals. On the journey many were killed. Some by the hands of Kurds, others by ex convicts, who were released for the sole purpose of killing Armenians.
Women were raped, men shot, children left to die. Hambardzoum Sahakian, a survivor remembers: “My stepmother was pregnant. They killed her. They ripped through her stomach with a sword, pulled the unborn child out, and started to laugh because it was a boy. Then they threw him on the ground. I can never forget those images.”
The Turks; however, had explanations for everything. Men, who were killed, were enemies and resisted direct orders. They supposable attacked Turkish soldiers and had to be shot. The raping of women was blamed on the Kurds, and the fact that the Turkish soldiers could not control them.
Tagouhi Antonian also a survivor remembers leaving her little brother under a tree. He was sick and dieing. She remembers young girls being raped. They then would drown themselves in the nearby river. Tagouhi, however, did not drown herself. “The sun was going down. I was still lying on the ground. He left, thinking night is falling and the wolfs would come and find me. That’s were I got back up on my feet. And I started walking.”
The Armenian persecution was coming to its final stages in July of 1916. A railroad was build from Constantinople to Baghdad. This was done under German supervision. Armenians were placed into cages like animals and transported. This railroad became for over hundred thousand of Armenians a transport to their deaths. Corpses were simply thrown out. The corpses of naked women, old men, and children lined the sides of the rails. A few German soldiers managed to take pictures of these horrific things. The taking of pictures was illegal and subject to a death sentences by the Turkish government. These show poignant scenes of what took place. They are evidence of the first Genocide of the 20th century.
What was left from the population were children. These children were the survivors of an entire nation. The future of the Armenian civilization was in the hands of the nurses and missionaries who tried to help these orphans. They often risked their own lives to save children. Their lives could end as quickly as the children’s by the hand of the Turkish government. The American authorities wanted to save these children. They offered to use American ships, and provide American workers; however, Turkey denied them access. Since the extinction of the Armenian people was the highest priority of the Turks, the order was given to abduct 1000 children.
At this point in history, the trains were simply filled with children and women. Women were begging for poison instead of bread, because they knew what was awaiting them. Some mothers killed their own children and then themselves, before the Turks could put a hand on them.
For the few that survived all these horrific things, their journey would not end in piece, but in the Syrian dessert. A concentration camp was built there, where 60.000 Armenians were walking like skeletons, inhuman creatures. Most of the survivors were children. Missionaries tried to save what was left of the Armenian Nation.
Jakob Künzler, a German doctor and his wife were under those who came to help. “After the war, it became possible for me and my wife to bring 8000 children to Lebanon.” It’s due to people like him, that half a million of Armenians survived the Genocide.
The Allies of WWI finally occupied Constantinople in 1918. Germany had lost, and so did Turkey. The Regime was replaced and the verdict was made to prosecute those responsible for the Genocide. However, they had already escaped. The old Regime had fled to Berlin with the help of Germany and their naval vessels.
On March 15, 1921 was the assassination of Talad Pasha, a Turkish Regime leader. He was shot and killed in the streets of Berlin. The Assassin was arrested immediately, and explained, that he killed a man but that he wasn’t a murder. The death of Talad Pasha wrought up international discussions. It was during the trial, as it became clear, that the suspect belonged to a secret Armenian group. This secret group had one purpose only: to kill the leading organizers of the Genocide. Salomon Tellirian brought by his assassination of Talad Pasha awareness into the German Reich. Awareness, that the Genocide took place, and that it can no longer be ignored. During his process in the city of Jena, any diplomatic notes or statements were forbidden. After three days, he was proclaimed innocent and was set free. His verdict had world historical relevance. The Germans indirectly acknowledged the Genocide by proclaiming him innocent. Germany could not risk being held jointly responsible for the horrific event. However, no prosecutions were done towards other Turks living in Germany. Of the Genocide was never spoken again.
Many of the people surviving the Genocide are now over 100 years old. They made new homes for themselves and their families, in France, Lebanon, and the US. In Turkey they are only 60.000 Armenians left.
The German government used what they had learned to massacre another minority. After a few days after the invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler gave the order to kill all women, men, and children of polish descent. He added: “Who talks these days about the extinction of the Armenians?” This shows that it is possible to commit an unthinkable crime against an entire nation, without ever being held responsible by the international world.
The killing of the Armenians is acknowledged as Genocide by many nations. However, Turkey has yet to acknowledge it. Instead they have monuments remembering the Regime of that era. The streets are named after the generals, and the leaders of the Ottoman Empire. How would a young Jew feel, if a street in Germany was named after Adolf Hitler?
Then and now, Turkey is still a great ally to the US. The US is a leader in the world, yet they avoid this subject. Adam Schiff himself states: “If the most powerful country in the world doesn’t want to talk about the Genocide, why should Turkey?” In 2007 the attempt was made to pass the acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide through congress. The Turkish government immediately threatened with the breach in diplomatic discussions and ordered the removal of American vessels and aircrafts. Since the Iraq war, Turkey’s role has become more important than ever before to the US.
The discussions in Turkey about the past have; however, increased. The government response is, that historians should re-examine the past and find more facts. And as the Turkish Prime minister in 2008 went to Armenian for the first time, the word Genocide was never mentioned. Diplomatic talks about opening up borders were the only thing he discussed. There was no discussion about the past.
It is intellectual and open discussions that Hrant Ding was hoping for. Those discussions are what we all are hoping for. Unfortunately, it was his assassination that started the debates in Turkey. The topic of the Armenian Genocide was never openly discussed before. 100.000 Turks went on a demonstration after his death. The streets were filled with Turks and Armenians, who walked together in solidarity.
It is to be hoped that Turkey comes to terms with its own past and accepts the reality of what has happened.