Anzac and Armenia

As the 25th of April approaches, Australian attention is focused on Anzac Day, the anniversary of the disastrous landings at Gallipoli. But the rest of the world is looking at another, even more horrific, and closely related anniversary. On 24 April 1915, as the invasion fleet of which the Anzacs were part approached, the Turkish government began arresting Armenian leaders and intellectuals, the first step in a genocidal campaign which owuld ultimately claim at least a million lives.

The two events were closely related. Both as Christians and as an ethnic minority with a large population in Russia, the Armenians were seen by the Turkish regime as potential traitors. The genocidal policy aimed to reduce Armenian numbers to a point where they could not pose a threat. The imminence of the Gallipoli landings led the regime to put its plans into action. There’s more detail here

It’s reported that President Biden will use the anniversary to declare the murder of the Armenians as genocide, ending decades of equivocation by the US. Among many other consequences, it seems likely that the 24 April anniversary will be more prominently observed in future, casting a shadow over Anzac Day.

The primary moral responsibility for the Armenian genocide belongs to those who ordered it and carried it out, and further guilty attaches to those who have sought to deny it.

But what of the leaders who started and continued the Great War? The German leaders who induced Turkey to enter the war, and did nothing to stop the genocide have their share of guilt. But so do the Russian rulers who sought for decades to break up the Ottoman empire, in particular by presenting themselves as the protectors of Christianity. And the other Entente powers, Britain and France chose to ally themselves with the Czarist regime (in fact, Britain rejected an offer of alliance made by Turkey a few years before the War broke out).

Choosing to go to war means choosing the consequences. While it’s impossible to know in detail what those consequences will be, they will take the form of death and suffering, both for civilians and for soldiers who bear no responsibility for the decision to send them to war.

As we remember the bravery and sacrifice of the Anzacs, we should also remember the futility of the cause in which they fought, and the disasters that ensued, beginning with the Armenians and extending all the way to the rise of even more genocidal rulers, Hitler and Stalin.

9 thoughts on “Anzac and Armenia

  1. Pr Q said

    On 24 April 1915, as the invasion fleet of which the Anzacs were part approached, the Turkish government began arresting Armenian leaders and intellectuals, the first step in a genocidal campaign which owuld ultimately claim at least a million lives….The imminence of the Gallipoli landings led the regime to put its plans into action.

    Anyone familiar with late-Ottoman history knows that it is obviously false to hold the Anzacs (of all people!) partially responsible for the Armenian genocide. The Armenians themselves date the beginning of their war-time tribulations from 1914, and they should know.

    The “imminence of the Gallipoli landings” did not trigger the “first step in a genocidal campaign” against Ottoman Christians. Their long, drawn out agony is now referred to as the Thirty Year Genocide (1894-1924), an organized attempt by the Turks at ethnic cleansing them from the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians copped the brunt of the genocide, but hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians, Greeks and Assyrian were massacred before, during and after the Great War, though they dont rate a mention in the post. Gladstone, wayback in 1875, denounced the “Unspeakable Turk” for the “Bulgarian Massacres”, death toll running to tens of thousands. This was followed up by the “Hamidian Massacres” in 1895 which targeted Armenians, death toll running to hundreds of thousands. In June 1914 Muslim militias ethnicly cleansed Aegean Littoral Greeks, described as “a trial run for the Armenian genocide”.

    It is true that the Great War speeded up the pace of Armenian genocide, but the war-time crackdown predates the Dardanelles campaign which had little or nothing to do with it. The Turks entered the Great War on the side of the Central Powers in order to recover Caucasian territories lost to the Russians in the Russo-Turko war of 1877-78. The Caucasian campaign started in November 1914 and was fought over a front spanning from the Armenian Highlands to the South Caucasus, which is where, not coincidentally, the first industrial-scale killings took place. The proximate trigger of the Armenian genocide was Russia thrashing the Turks in the Battle of Sarakamish. Turkish officials blamed Armenian treachery for the defeat and scapegoated local Armenians. The government then used this as a pretext to provide the “definitive solution to the Armenian question” across the whole of the Ottoman Empire.

    The Gallipoli landings diverted Turkish troops from the Caucasus front, with less force available this may plausibly have reduced Armenian sufferings there. Although I don’t state that claim as a fact since I don’t study history to re-write it according to my ideological script.

  2. J.Q., actually wrote: “The two events were closely related. ..The imminence of the Gallipoli landings led the regime to put its plans into action.”

    This does not equate to saying, as J.S. alleges, that “the Anzacs … (were) partially responsible (for the Armenian massacre). There is a considerable distance between those sets of statements. IMHO, J.Q.’s statements are factually accurate without imputing blame in the wrong place. The regime had already had detailed plans and brought them forward. The direct planners and direct killers bear all, or by far most, blame for the Armenian genocide.

  3. War graves or possibly no

    Another part of the long shadow cast by WW1 has just come to light. I’d always thought of the Commonwealth (né Imperial) War Graves Commission as an exemplar of a scrupulous respect for diversity. Its beautifully maintained cemeteries in France treat English, Scots, Irish, and Indian was dead the same. Lutyens designed a neutral curved-top headstone, on which the appropriate symbols of religious identity are carved in a cartouche – unlike the US Army’s default crosses, which jarringly mark out the different stones of say Jewish soldiers. Nurses in uniform are included; I’ve not been able to find out about the conscientious objectors serving and in some cases dying in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. The original mission statement, formulated in the Kenyon report of 1919, was admirable:‘all, whatever their military rank or position in civil life, should have equal treatment in their graves’

    I was wrong. Prodded by a Channel 4 TV documentary, the Commission has just released a shocking report about unequal commemoration of Indian, African and other non-white soldiers.

    Click to access report-of-the-special-committee-to-review-historical-inequalities-in-commemoration.pdf

    Outside the European theatre, the well-meaning Commission was up against attitudes of imperial officials like this, from the Governor of the Gold Coast, F.C. Guggisberg:

    “The average native of the Gold Coast would not understand or appreciate a headstone and that the original suggestion of the O.C. Troops, viz:- a central statue of a soldier of the Gold Coast Regiment – was a more reasonable suggestion. Such a memorial would be understood and greatly appreciated by the tribes from whom the majority of the men in the Regiment were recruited.”

    With the backing of Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Empire settled on a racist two-track policy: individual graves for whites, collective memorials for non-whites. Many of the latter failed to record names. The report states (executive summary) that:

    “In conflict with the organisation’s founding principles, it is estimated that between 45,000 and 54,000 casualties (predominantly Indian, East African, West African, Egyptian and Somali personnel) were commemorated unequally. For some, rather than marking their graves individually, as the IWGC would have done in Europe, these men were commemorated collectively on memorials. For others who were missing, their names were recorded in registers rather than in stone.

    A further 116,000 casualties (predominantly, but not exclusively, East African and Egyptian personnel) – but potentially as many as 350,000 – were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all. Most of these men were commemorated by memorials that did not carry their names – in part because the IWGC was never furnished with their names or places of burial by the military or colonial authorities, in part because it chose to diverge from its principles in the belief that the communities these men came from would not recognise or value such individual forms of commemoration.”

    A high proportion of the latter group were non-combatant labourers and porters, conscripted to solve the huge logistical difficulties of wars in these remote theatres. working in unsanitary and otherwise dangerous conditions. In Europe, the distinction between combatants and civilians was clear, and the latter only faced trivial war risks. Not so in East Africa or Iraq.

    The Commission, backed by the governments of the main countries concerned, has vowed to make amends rather than saying it’s too late. Good for them, though the task is now practically impossible.

    Not only Winston was missing in inaction here. Rudyard Kipling was asked to compose wording for collective memorials in Africa, so he knew what was going on and SFIK said nothing. In his defence, Kipling was a Western Front bereaved father, and that was the direction his grief and guilt (he had pulled strings to get his myopic son Jack through the Army medical) took his imagination: see the poem Gethsemane and the short story The Gardener.

    Julian Barnes has another good war memorial story “Evermore “ in his collection Cross Channel (paywalled, so no link).

    No apologies for length on this one.

  4. I guess we simply can’t get over our evolved deep-emotion modes of argumentation. I can’t help thinking that humans argue, not to convince, but to seek like-thinking allies and array them against opponents. People set in their views don’t change. No amount of logic will get them to change their views. Hence, arguing is simply “counting votes” for the already determined sides. I’ve registered my vote but it’s so hard to not vote twice in these forums. isn’t it?

    The deep causes of WW0 [1]. WW1 and WW2 were the continuing competitions for regional and even global empire by the major European Powers. The Entente, in the lead-up to WW1, had been the victors with considerable global empire acquisitions. The major Entente powers and the USA who joined them late were seaboard states advantaged in the acquisition of overseas empire and access to global trade by maritime power. Russia was an exception as a vast land empire able to expand east. The Central Powers were landlocked, in the main, with only access to almost completely land-locked seas (the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Baltic).

    As predominantly land-locked powers the Central Power’s access to rich overseas empire had been relatively limited. They were to a very considerable extent encircled by the Entente and their allies and cut off from significant imperial empire. Encircled groups, not getting as many goodies as their encirclers. tend to try to break out.

    Perhaps it is time to stop pretending Western Imperial Powers, like the Entente, held any moral high ground. Given the mass genocides committed by the Entente nations in their entire history, they cannot be considered good guys. When the Lion fights the boar, who holds the moral high-ground? Answer, neither. They are just doing what they do. There are no good guys. Just our bad guys and their bad guys. I admit, when it becomes a struggle for survival one has to back one’s own bad guys against theirs.

    China and Russia now feel encircled. They also feel powerful enough, combined in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) to take on the rest of the world. The great power struggles continue. Since nuclear war is unthinkable, or it should be, we face a long grinding multi-generational war of attrition by economic struggle, trade war, cyber war, propaganda war, disinformation war, proxy wars, regional wars and probably drone wars. This will all happen to a backdrop of pandemics, droughts, floods, famines, climate change and sea-level rise.

    The West is currently crumbling from the twin afflictions of neoliberal capitalism and COVID-19, China is going gang-busters. China enters this period more powerful than any Western nation in demographic, economic and technological terms. It is ahead in all these categories. China, because of its system, appears far more robust against pandemic pressures. However, it looks likely to suffer as much or more than most from climate change. Climate change is the joker in the pack. Who will it wreck the most. The great nation which declines the least under that pressure becomes the strongest.

    If I were a pure Machiavellian and in power, I would be seeking to weaponize pandemics and climate change. I suspect that is exactly what the great power elites are studying right now. The masses will be expendable. This all occurs unless there is some kind democratic socialist revolution which markedly changes things. Russia and China are totalitarian state capitalists under dictators. There appears to be no hope there. We will have to back our bad guys against their bad guys, reform ourselves at the same time and deal with climate change etc. A tall order. Little chance of survival… for anyone.

    [1] Some historians consider the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 etc. as WW0.

  5. The massacres that have occurred in Anatolia/Ottoman Empire/Turkey over the centuries are truly horrific.
    I wouldn’t trust everything in this Wikipedia list, but if only half of it’s true its horrific.
    The Armenian genocide is at least a million dead over the period 1890 to 1920, and the Greek genocide in the period is over half a million in the period 1913 to 1922 – including the Christians who had survived up until then by retreating to underground cities in Cappadocia for 1800 years, and ‘according to J. Rummel at least 128,000 Muslims were killed by Russian troops and Armenian irregulars during the period between 1915–1916’.
    And that’s not to mention the massacres of the Bulgarians, the Assyrians and the Kurds. (Its not always clear as to whether we are talking massacres or civil war or national war or a combination of all, but whatever way its cut its extremely bloody).

  6. You’re using too much hindsight about the “imminence of the Gallipoli landings” influencing the Turks’ initiatives. Ironically, those operations weren’t anticipated at all (counting them as starting as at the attempt to force the straits by sea). Serendipitously, that was why the Turks had a very good general on the spot; Mustapha Kemal (later Ataturk) wasn’t trusted, so he was posted where nothing was expected – where he was later useful. Of course, the failed naval attempt was a good heads up for imminent landings, but that was barely enough to allow counter-measures, let alone to prompt ethnic cleansing.

    Oh, and the first measure against the Armenians, during that round, was probably conscripting their young men so as to leave the rest without fighting support.

  7. Pr Q said:

    The imminence of the Gallipoli landings led the regime to put its plans into action.

    The theory that the April 1915 Gallipoli landings triggered the full-scale Armenian genocide, attributable to Alan Whitehorn, is already falsified by the timeline evidence. This shows that the pace of the persecution quickened when fighting broke out in November 2014 on the Caucasus front. The killings kicked into high gear in February 1915 after the Turks got thrashed in the Battle of Sarikamish and scapegoated the Armenians as a Fifth Column.

    Solving a crime is always easier when you discover a smoking gun in the hand of a perpetrator. The perpetrator in this case is Talaat Pasha, Turkish Minister of Interior and, according to Whitehorn, “architect of genocide”. It turns out that the German Ambassador got the goods on him first hand on 2 February 1915, before the Dardanelles campaign even started:

    Talaat advises German Ambassador Count Hans von Wangenheim that the war is the only propitious moment to conclude the Armenian Question

    This “warrant for genocide” is equivalent to the minutes from the Wannsee Conference and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Talaat intended to provide “a definitive solution to the Armenian Question” [ominous word italicised] months before the ANZAC landings. The round up of Armenian intellectuals on the eve of the landings was just a coincidence, lots of bad things were happening around that time, there was a war on. Holding the landings at ANZAC repsonsible for triggering the genocide is just another salvo coming from the “plague-on-all-houses” Great War “history warriors”. It beats me how Whitehorn, who wrote a whole book indicting Talaat, can fall for this old chestnut. But then Christopher Clark wrote a best seller arguing that the Great War was just a dreadful misunderstanding, so there is obviously a market for it.

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