Time in Yerevan: 11:07:36,   19 October

Return of ruins of Ani and of Mount Ararat could be considered as convincing gesture of Turkey’s apologies: Tessa Hofmann


YEREVAN, APRIL 16, ARMENPRESS. It is difficult to determine the reasons for Germany’s evasive, half-hearted approach in memory politics beyond the commemoration of the Holocaust. I cannot believe that this is all Turkey’s influence, for Germany is a powerful, free democracy, not at all economically dependent from Turkey. From the correspondence and statements of German parliamentarians of previous years – of they are outspoken at all - I gather that some fear the loss of votes of Turkey born voters. The prominent German expert on genocide studies Dr. Tessa Hofmann stated this in an interview to “Armenpress” News Agency.

- How would you assess the official position of Germany on the Armenian Genocide issue?

- The governmental position is evasive. In its official statements, the Federal Government, represented by the Foreign Office has repeatedly declined any legally qualified opinion whether the Ottoman ‘expulsions and massacres’ of 1915 are a genocide or not. In addition, the Federal Government announced that it is the task of the two countries concerned – Armenia and Turkey – to start a dialogue to establish the historic truth about the ‘expulsions and massacres’. In this way, Germany not only ‘outsources’ the responsibility to have a clear position on a case of genocide that empirically forms the base of the UN definition of genocide (together with the destruction of the European Jewry during WW2), but avoids a clear own position. Furthermore, the official German paraphrase of ‘expulsion’ does not fully correspond with the legal term of ‘deportation’ or ‘forcible transfer of population’, as defined in the Rome Statute (1998) of the International Criminal Court as a ‘crime against humanity’. In other words: Deportation or forcible transfers are crimes against humanity, whereas expulsion is not, at least not necessarily.  The Armenian nationals of the Ottoman Empire were not just uprooted and chased across the nearest borders, but were deported into the interior under armed guard; they were driven into areas of massive starvation; the circumstances of the forcible transfer indicate that the survival of the deportees was not intended.

Second, the Federal Government pretends that there is still a demand for academic clarification whether the alleged expulsion and massacres were genocide. It thus purposely ignores the remarkably intense scientific achievements of genocide studies and historiography of at least three decades. In these studies Armenian and Turkish scholars were and are involved, as well as scholars of other nationalities or ethnicities.

Third, in the same way the Federal Government purposely and continuously ignores the achievements of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC, 2001-2004) which had commissioned an independent expert opinion by the International Center of Transitional Justice (ICTJ); in its report, the ICTJ established the applicability of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on the ‘events’ of 1915. Subsequently, the Federal Government’s pretention of necessary further academic research and bilateral dialogue considerably distorts the existing state of art.

- German government up to now continues to regret officially calling the events of 1915 as genocide. What do you think, what is the reason of this kind of position of the country which also had genocide in its history, but had courage to face the truth and to apologize for Holocaust?

- As mentioned above, the Federal Government – and also the German legislator – has never applied the term genocide to the ‘expulsions and massacres’. Just recently the Foreign Office and the leaders of the ruling Conservative-Social Democrat coalition cancelled the term genocide in a motion that will be discussed in the German Bundestag on 24 April 2015. In a previous non-legislative resolution of 2005 the German lawmakers announced compassion for the Armenian and other victims of Ottoman expulsion and massacres’ and acknowledged German co-responsibility; however, the term genocide was avoided.

Germany is responsible not only for the Holocaust, but also for the first genocide of the 20th century, committed during 1904-1908 in Namibia. This genocide against the tribes Hereros and Nama bears many parallels with the Armenian genocide: The defeated by the German colonial forces Hereros were driven into the Omaheke desert where ten-thousands perished from starvation and thirst. Herero men died in German concentration camps from slave labor and brutal treatment. So far, only one member of the Federal Government, Mrs. Heide Wieczorek-Zeul, apologized at the occasion of the centenary in 2004 for the Herero and Namaqua Genocide. Neither the German legislator, nor the Federal Government ever accepted the Herero claims for compensation for the land and cattle that were taken by German colonists in the early 20th century and were never returned by their descendants.  The official German Historic Museum describes the ‘events’ not as a genocide, but as an armed uprising against the German colonial authorities and as a war.

In a very similar way Turkey until today refuses to acknowledge the genocidal intent of the Ottoman massacres and death marches, relying to the ‘Van uprising’. In 1915, Germany was not only an all too well informed bystander of the nation-wide massive killings of its Turkish ally, but benefitted from the unpaid slave labor of Armenian men, women and even children at the construction sites of the Baghdad Railway. Survivors of the Armenian genocide such as Archbishop Grigoris Palakyan (Balakian) in their memoirs accused certain Germans for stimulating the idea of deportation among their Young Turkish allies. The German Imperial Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg refused to distance Germany from the Ottoman policies against the Armenians, arguing that the military alliance with the CUP regime was of highest priority, “even if Armenians perish”.

If there is any need for further research left than it would be research on the precise German share in the Armenian genocide. But so far the German government has never encouraged corresponding research at university level.

It is difficult to determine the reasons for Germany’s evasive, half-hearted approach in memory politics beyond the commemoration of the Holocaust. I cannot believe that this is all Turkey’s influence, for Germany is a powerful, free democracy, not at all economically dependent from Turkey. From the correspondence and statements of German parliamentarians of previous years – of they are outspoken at all - I gather that some fear the loss of votes of Turkey born voters. But German MPs must be aware that their evasiveness and half-heartedness causes not only persistent pain among the Armenian community of Germany, but betrays the increasing number of residents of Turkish ethnicity who acknowledge the historic truth.

- The issue of compensation places an essential role in international law. What steps should take Turkey to bear its responsibility for the Armenian Genocide?

- I am not a jurist to answer this question in all competence. But let me start with three basic demands, deriving from my human rights practice: First, since 2011, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee has repeatedly called on Turkey to return the confiscated church properties of the Armenian-Orthodox, Greek-Orthodox and Syriac Churches, which are still hold by Turkish ministries. Second, the further neglect or deliberate destruction of church and secular architectural Armenian heritage must immediately be stopped, and the restoration of Armenian architectural heritage must be conducted according to internationally accepted standards and not as an attempt to extinguish the Armenian identity of monuments. Third, it is shameful that despite years of international and internal criticism and warnings Turkey’s history textbooks and curricula of the 9th up to the 11th grade provided for the school year 2014/5 do not bear any revision or improvement, but still contain various versions of historic falsification, including denial and minimization of the Armenian genocide. But worst of all, Armenians are perceived as the largest threat for Turkish state security. This hate education puts the tiny Armenian community of approximately 50,000 people plus 15,000 labor migrants from the Republic of Armenian into immediate danger.

The loss of the historic Homeland, called ‘patricide’ by Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan, is considered in Armenia and her Diaspora as the sustained grievous effect of the genocide against their ancestors. The individual right to homeland is an internationally accepted and unbreakable elementary right. Armenians of all nationalities must be able to exercise this right in freedom and security. In addition, the return of the ruins of Ani and of Mount Ararat, both in the immediate border area could be considered as a convincing gesture of Turkey’s apologies and will for reconciliation. The encouraging re-establishment of Armenian place-names, as recently introduced in the Van area, should be continued in other parts of the historic area of Armenian settlement.

At places of massive killings the erection of memorials must start, combined with the erection educational centers of information. The nation-wide cult of genocide perpetrators such as Talat, Enver or the local veneration of Osman Ağa Feridunoğlu (Topal Osman) of Giresun must immediately be stopped and replaced by the commemoration of those who saved or tried to save the lives of Armenians. In future Turkish genocide awareness education, such personalities can serve as positive role models. 

In its modern history, Turkey has used genocide and in particular deportation as a systematic tool of her demographic policy. Its implementation involved large parts of the Muslim, in particular Sunnite population, resulting in a high degree of societal brutalization. Societal brutalization, combined with organized massive violence was mobilized in 1895/6, 1909, 1912-1922 and in 1955. Political decision-makers and opinion-leaders of Turkey must realize that every society and every state that relies repeatedly on such methods weakens civilization, humanity and also stability.

- What is your call to international community and Turkey ahead of the 100th anniversary of the biggest crime against humanity?

- The refusal of acknowledgement of grave cases of inhumanity increases the danger of their repetition. In this context we have to recall Hitler’s cynic question: “Who after all is today speaking about the destruction of the Armenians”? Hitler asked his rhetorical question only 24 years after the genocide of 1915, when he prepared for the attack on Poland and wanted to convince German military leaders not to fear international justice or revenge. One hundred years later we face the following situation: Due to Armenian persistence in human rights demands, the Armenian genocide of 1915 is not forgotten at all, but on the contrary internationally well remembered. At the same time we are confronted with politicians whose stubborn evasiveness ruins the positive effects of genocide remembrance. Can three million people be killed and the perpetrators get away with it? In the case of the three million Ottoman Christians, who were murdered during 1912-1922, most perpetrators ended their lives without being ever called to justice. But their crimes can and must be evaluated by politicians and statesmen of today. In the context of genocide, evasiveness transforms into the encouragement of further crimes.

- As a scholar how will you contribute to raising awareness about the Armenian Genocide for future generations?

- As mentioned before, the Armenian genocide is a well-researched case. However, it was also a case with very distinct gender features. It is indicative that the female aspects of the Armenian genocide are much less realized and subsequently much less addressed to.  The time has come to fill this gap, and to do so in a comparative way. For a start, we recently hold an international workshop ‘Gender, Violence, Genocide’ in Berlin, which dealt with the Armenian and Bosnian cases, with the recent case of Yezidi under the terror regime of ISIS and with the fate of German women and girls in the end of WW2.

As a German scholar, I feel obliged to contribute to the study of the German role and position during the WW1 genocide against the Armenians.

- Are you planning to visit Armenia in future?

- I had to decline an invitation for the centenary events around 24 April in Yerevan, due to my many commitments here in Berlin, but I shall participate in a meeting of the International Association of Genocide Scholars in mid-July in Yerevan.

Interview by Araks Kasyan




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