Monday, March 31, 2008

Salute to a Rights Campaigner Who Gave Genocide Its Name

Salute to a Rights Campaigner Who Gave Genocide Its Name

By Barabara Crossette

New York Times

June 13, 2001

One hundred years after his birth, a largely forgotten immigrant from Poland who coined the word genocide and pushed a convention outlawing it through the General Assembly is being honored here, thanks to a small human rights institute in New York campaigning to keep his story alive.
The immigrant, Raphael Lemkin, a legal expert and linguist who died in 1959 at 58, had fought since 1933 to make genocide, which he first labeled a "crime of barbarity," a recognized and punishable international offense. The convention, adopted in December 1948, came into force in 1951. The United States did not ratify it until 1988, in the waning days of the second Reagan administration.
Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, the organization honoring Mr. Lemkin, said that although 132 countries had now ratified the convention, and genocide is regarded universally as the worst of offenses, a number of countries where mass crimes against ethnic or religious groups have been committed in recent decades have not adhered to the agreement. Among them are Indonesia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan. Overall, most African countries and more than half a dozen Latin American and Caribbean nations have not ratified the convention.
On Wednesday at the United Nations, the Clinton administration's ambassador for war crimes, David Scheffer, and Secretary General Kofi Annan's wife, Nane Annan, are to speak at the event focusing on Mr. Lemkin's legacy. (Mr. Annan left Monday night for the Middle East.) Mr. Scheffer was the chief American negotiator in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which will give a legal home for prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The treaty establishing the court was signed by Mr. Scheffer on behalf of the United States on Dec. 31, but the Clinton White House did not try to fight for its adoption in a hostile Congress and against the strong objections of the Pentagon, which wants a guarantee that no American will ever be tried.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said here after a meeting with Mr. Annan earlier this year that the Bush administration would never support the court. United Nations officials say the administration has quietly asked the United Nations whether it can rescind Washington's signature.
Mr. Lemkin first took up the cause of endangered minorities as a child in Poland, where he read "Quo Vadis" and became obsessed with images of early Christians being torn to death by lions in Rome as the crowds cheered, according to a new biography by William Korey, a writer on human rights topics. Dr. Korey is on the board of the Blaustein institute, part of the American Jewish Committee, which paid for Mr. Lemkin's burial in Queens, where he died after a heart attack.
By 1933, before the world's attention ≈ and Mr. Lemkin's ≈ turned to Nazi Germany, he was known internationally for his battle as a Polish prosecutor to codify crimes against humanity and against cultural and artistic works of ethnic groups, among them the Armenians who were the victims of the Ottoman Turks. He fled Poland for Sweden in 1939 after the German invasion. His parents died in the Holocaust nearly a decade later, though he did not know their fate for several years.
By the end of World War II, and with the establishment of the United Nations, Mr. Lemkin moved to New York to begin his campaign for a genocide convention. Writing and teaching law intermittently at Duke University and Yale, he lobbied endlessly and often annoyingly, according to Dr. Korey, until the Genocide Convention won a place on the United Nations' agenda.
"Genocide" first appeared in 1944, the Oxford English Dictionary says, in a book by Mr. Lemkin, "Axis Rule in Occupied Europe," which was published in the United States by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He told his contemporaries that he had stumbled on the idea while reading Plato, who used the Greek word genos to describe a clan or ethnic group.

*The word "genocide" was first coined in 1943 by Lemkin, using the Latin roots geno- (from gens, or "tribe") and -cide (as in "homicide" or "patricide").



Issuing Organization: International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS)
Date: December 26, 2007

The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) has voted overwhelmingly to recognize the genocides inflicted on Assyrian, Greek, Armenian and other Christian and religious minority populations of the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1923.

The resolution passed with the support of over eighty percent of IAGS members who voted. The resolution (full text below) declares that "it is the conviction of the International Association of Genocide Scholars that the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks." It "calls upon the government of Turkey to acknowledge the genocides against these populations, to issue a formal apology, and to take prompt and meaningful steps toward restitution."

"This resolution," stated IAGS President Gregory Stanton. "is one more repudiation by the world's leading genocide scholars of the Turkish government's ninety year denial of the Ottoman Empire's genocides against its Christian populations, including Assyrians, Greeks, and Armenians. The history of these genocides is clear, and there is no more excuse for the current Turkish government, which did not itself commit the crimes, to deny the facts. The current German government has forthrightly acknowledged the facts of the Holocaust. The Turkish government should learn from the German government's exemplary acknowledgment of Germany's past, so that Turkey can move forward to reconciliation with its neighbors."

The resolution noted that while activist and scholarly efforts have resulted in widespread acceptance of the Armenian genocide, there has been "little recognition of the qualitatively similar genocides against other Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire." Assyrians, along with Pontian and Anatolian Greeks, were killed on a scale equivalent in per capita terms to the catastrophe inflicted on the Armenian population of the empire -- and by much the same methods, including mass executions, death marches, and starvation. In 1997, the IAGS officially recognized the Armenian genocide.

The resolution stated that "the denial of genocide is widely recognized as the final stage of genocide, enshrining impunity for the perpetrators of genocide, and demonstrably paving the way for future genocides." The Assyrian population of Iraq, for example, remains highly vulnerable to genocidal attack. Since 2003, Iraqi Assyrians have been exposed to severe persecution and massacres; it is believed that up to half the Assyrian population has fled the country.

For further information, please contact:
Professor Gregory Stanton, IAGS President (
Telephone: 1-703-448-0222

Resolution on genocides committed by the Ottoman Empire

WHEREAS the denial of genocide is widely recognized as the final stage ofgenocide, enshrining impunity for the perpetrators of genocide, anddemonstrably paving the way for future genocides;

WHEREAS the Ottoman genocide against minority populations during and following the First World War is usually depicted as a genocide against Armenians alone, with little recognition of the qualitatively similar genocides against other Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire;

BE IT RESOLVED that it is the conviction of the International Association ofGenocide Scholars that the Ottoman campaign against Christianminorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Association calls upon the governmentof Turkey to acknowledge the genocides against these populations, to issue a formal apology, and to take prompt and meaningful steps toward restitution.

Sunday, March 30, 2008



The French College in Aintoura, Lebanon or Jemal Pasha's orphanage where Armenian children were to be turkified

ARTICLE BY: Nora Parseghian


The Armenian nation lived the most horrible phase of its history in 1915. The Ottoman authorities executed the Genocide which resulted in the killing of over 1 million Armenians, while most of the Armenians remaining on the western parts of historic Armenia were compelled to leave there cities and villages and deported, marched towards the deserts of Iraq and Syria.Parts of the deported Armenians reached Lebanon where they believed that they were left in peace without realizing that in one of the not-so-far villages of Lebanon, namely Aintoura, near Zouk, Keserwan, which is about half an hour drive from the capital city Beirut, a plan of Turkification of Armenian orphans had been put in motion in 1915.

Such a new page in the history of the Armenian Genocide was recently discovered by Missak Keleshian, who is an avid collector of all kinds of photos of the Armenian Genocide. This is how he speaks about this most recent discovery: „A few months ago I was reading a book entitled "The Lions of Marash" by Stanley E. Kerr, (President of the American Univerity of Beirut) who tells about his personal experiences with Near East Relief during the years 1919-1922. In the book I came across a shocking photo with the following caption: „Jemal Pasha...on the steps of the French College at Aintoura, Lebanon. Jemal Pasha had established an orphanage for Armenian children in the college building and had appointed Halide Edib to be its directress‰. Halide Edib Hanum was a famous Turkish feminist and very well known for her efforts to turkify Armenian orphans. Beside being shocking, the photo was the first step that lead to a new discovery.„On December 8, 2005 I visited the village of Aintoura and located the school where the photo was taken. It‚s a famous French College and it was established by the Jesuit priests 1657-1783 and Lazarist priests 1783-1834. I met with the school principal Superior Lazarist Father Jean Sfeir and after showing him the photo, I asked for his permission to research the school‚s archives for additional information about it and reveal its entire history. He was also amazed by the photo and asked the archivist of the school to assist me.‰

The archivist of the school Mr. Jean Sebastian Arhan, a Frenchman who came to Lebanon 43 years ago and has been since working in the archive of the French College in Aintoura. I showed him the photo and explained to him what I was looking for. To my amazement he was not only well aware of that part of the school's history that I was interested in but he had also gathered all the archival material pertaining to that period in a separate file which he gave to me.‰

According to Missak Keleshian, the most important revelation of the photo is the presence of Jemal Pasha and Halide Hanum beside Armenian orphans. Halide Hanum (Halide Edib Adivar 1884-1964) was one of the world renowned feminists of her times. She had received higher education American College for Women in1901. Best known for her novels criticizing the low social status of Turkish women; her first novel Seviye Talip, was published in 1909, Her first husband, Salih Zeki, then she remarried Dr. Adnan Adivar in 1917.

She served as a sergeant in Turkey's nationalist military. Lived in UK, France, and as one of the early feminists met with Gandhi and visited the United States of America for meeting with the leaders of the feminist movement there. She fell in love with Kemal Atatourk but the latter rejected her. Halide Hanum was a strong supporter of the pashas who planned, organized and executed the Armenian Genocide and played a crucial role in the efforts to turkify the remnants of the Armenians and was one of the leaders of that effort with Nigar Hanum.

Halide Adivar was Member of Parliament 1950-1954.On October 29, 1914 the Ottoman Empire declared war against France, Great Britain and Russia. Therefore the agreement signed between the great powers and the Ottomans giving Mount Lebanon special status on June 9, 1861 was voided. The last christian governor of Lebanon, Ohannes Kouyoumdjian Pasha, is replaced by Ali Mounif Bey, during whose reign Lebanon lived horrible condition including hunger, very harsh economic conditions and a surge in the number of executions.

At the end of 1915, the kaymakam (district governor) of Jounieh informs the responsible of the Aintoura College that they must close it down. The clergy are compelled to leave to another monastery on a higher altitude, others are taken to Anatolia and Ourfa while a few older priests, who are unable to travel, remain in Aintoura.

Following the expulsion of the Lazarist priests the school is transformed into an orphanage for Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish children. In 1915 the school housed 800 orphans and 30 soldiers who guarded the school. The staff consisted of 10 Lebanese and the director was Nebih Bey. This is when efforts to turkify the Armenian orphans start to be implemented. The boys are circumcised and they are given Arabic and Turkish names by keeping the first letters of their Armenian names. This is how Haroutiun Najarian becomes Hamid Nazim, Boghos Merdanian becomes Bekim Mohammed, Sarkis Sarafian becomes Safwad Suleyman. Poor sanitary conditions, lack of nourishment and diseases prevail in the school and as a result a big number of children die. Turkish responsibles visiting the school blame Nebih Bey and accuse him of incompetence. In 1916, the commander of the Fourth Turkish Army Jemal Pasha decides to visit the orphanage. Upon being informed that the official who had appointed him to his position and charged him with the responsibility of turkifying the orphans is planning a visit, Nebih Bey orders the statues of St. Joseph and the statue of father Saliege removed from the school‚s entrance. Jemal Pasha arrives at the school accompanied by feminist Halide Hanum, who is immediately appointed to replace Nebih Bey as the principal of the orphanage. Halide Hanum is assisted by five Lebanese nuns from the Sacred Heart Order, who are responsible of the sanitation and nutrition of the orphans and other chores. Beside the Aintoura orphanage, Halide Hanum is also responsible of the Sister Nazareth school in Beirut, which is closed down in 1917.

400 new orphans between the ages 3-15 are brought to Aintoura with Jemal Pasha. They are accompanied by 15 young women from Turkish elite families, who join the team of 40 people working towards the islamization and turkification of the orphans. Halide Hanum, the principal of the school, was the highest authority and was supervising all the activities aiming at the full turkification of the orphans in the shortest possible interval. Her goal was to transform the Aintoura College into an idea Turkish institution.While famine was prevailing in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon and the Turkish plan to exterminate the Armenians by the sword and the Arabs by famine was being carried on, cows, sheep and flour were abundant in the Aintoura orphanage. The goal was to have well fed and healthy newly turkified children. Lebanese outside the compound walls used to gather and beg for food.

Teaching at the orphanage was in Turkish. Older orphans were trained in trades ˆ shoemaking, carpentry and others and the mullah assigned to the schools called the children to prayer five times a day. Every night the band used to play „Long live Jemal Pasha‰.

In the summer of 1916 leprosy starts spreading within the orphanage while the Ottoman Armies start loosing on the fronts in the Balkans and in Palestine. Lutfy Bey, Rashid Bey and Halide Hanum abandon the school and the orphanage starts falling into chaos. Students start leaving the school compound and disorderly conduct leads to fights between the Turkish and Kurdish students on one side and the Armenian orphans ˆ who were blaming the parents of the Turkish and Kurdish students of having killed their parents ˆ on the other. It is only through the interference of the Turkish soldiers stationed at the school that killings are avoided.

From the 1200 orphans kept at the Aintoura orphanage one thousand are Armenians and the remaining 200 are Turkish and Kurdish. The Armenian orphans used to keep forks and other sharp objects to defend themselves. When the Ottomans retreat and the French and British arrive in the region, accompanied by members of the clergy, they find a chaotic situation in the school. One of the Lazarist leaders approaches Bayard Dodge, an officer of the American University of Beirut for assistance, who immediately complies with the request and arrange for shipments of food through the American Red Cross.

On October 1, 1918 the Turkish Army abandons Lebanon. On October 7 Father Sarlout returns to Aintoura and realizes that the situation is untenable. He arranges for the Turkish and Kurdish orphans to be transported to Damascus to ease the tension within the orphanage. He then gathers the Armenian orphans and starts working with them to remember their Armenian names and tries to explain to them that the turkification process they were going through is no longer in force. Once convinced, the Armenian orphans start calling each other by their original names then they gather all the forks and sharp items they were hiding and „surrender‰ them to the school officials. The statue of St. Joseph is returned to its podium and the French flag flies over the school. But father Sarlout realizes that his resources are limited and he cannot support that many orphans. He calls upon Bayard Dodge and the American Red Cross to support the school and the orphans. Mr. Crawford is then appointed principal of the Aintoura school, the staff of the school is replaced by Armenian teachers and the orphans are offered lessons in Armenian and English. Later „Near East Relief‰ takes over the school and keeps it until the fall of 1919, when the male orphans are sent to Aleppo and the females to the Armenian orphanage in the village of Ghazir, Lebanon.

While the school was under Turkish control, as a result of malnourishment, lack of sanitary conditions and diseases (mainly typhus), 300 Armenian orphans die. They are buried during 1916 in the backyard of the school. In 1993 the school directors decide to build an extension in that same backyard. When they start digging the ground they come across human remains which they gather and rebury in a few joint graves in the cemetery belonging to the Aintoura priests.

When the Turks leave and Father Sarlout returns to the school, he finds there 670 orphans ˆ 470 boys and 200 girls.

"Wondering in the different parts of the school, one corner looked very familiar to me. At a first glance I couldn‚t remember where or how I had seen that spot but I was sure that this was not new to me. When I returned home I started working in my collection of photographs and after three hours I found what I was looking for: it was the photo of a young orphan, which was actually taken in the same corner of the Aintoura school that looked familiar to me. The original of the photo was in the archives of the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, in the documents and photos belonging to Maria Jacobson. The writing on the side of the photo notes: „Armenian orphan, clean-cut and bright‰. The seal of „Near East Relief‰ is still visible at the bottom-left of the photo. At the time, the photo in question did not seem that important but toady, following the newly discovered facts about the Aintoura college, it was another piece of the puzzle I was faced with‰,- says Keleshian.

By putting the photos side by side and researching the archives of the Aintoura College, Missak Keleshian succeeded in reconstructing one of the most horrifying phases in the life of the orphans of the Armenian Genocide ˆ Turkification, which was nothing else but another portion of the general plan of annihilating the Armenian nation.

Kemal Yalcin speaks in Glendale

Author chronicles the hidden story of Turkey's Armenian remnants

* Kemal Yalcin speaks in Glendale

GLENDALE, Calif.-- On March 16, the Glendale Public Libraryauditorium was filled with an audience anxiously waiting to hearTurkish author Kemal Yalcin talk about his book-'You Rejoice My Heart'.

Recently translated into English by Paul Bessemer and published fort he Tekeyan Cultural Association by the Gomidas Institute, the booktells the seldom-discussed story of Armenian remnants, the so-calledsecret or hidden Armenians, who still live in the provinces of Turkey.

These survivors, along with the scant ruins of churches and otherlandmarks of their communities, are the last reminders of Armenian civilization, which has thrived on the lands of Western Armenia for thousands of years before being decimated by Turkish repression andgenocide.

As if frozen in time, the small numbers of Armenian remnantscontinue to live on the soil of their ancestors, secretly holding onto their Armenian heritage and sometimes even their religion.

In his opening remarks, Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute cast abrief look at the Turkish treatment of minorities that remained inTurkey after 1915. In light of the prejudice and hostility to whichthese minorities continue to be subjected, Mr. Sarafian described 'You Rejoice My Heart' as a "seminal work" which is "opening a new chapter of understanding Armenian history." "The Armenian Genocide didn't finish in 1915," Mr. Sarafian said. "Turkish nationalism has become institutionalized."

Mr. Sarafian explained that concerted efforts to repress ethnicminorities persevered throughout modern Turkish history. By the 1950s,many Greeks, Jews, and Armenians who still lived in Turkey fled thecountry, and the few who remained, especially in the provinces, were assimilated by converting to Islam.

Armenians survived by adopting Turkish names, no longer speakingArmenian, and not telling their children about their ethnic origins.Children usually found out that they were Armenian much later in life.

While traveling throughout the eastern provinces of Turkey, Mr.Sarafian has come across Armenians who have assumed Muslim identity.But "they are Armenians," he said. "They will let you know if theychoose to let you know. They all have Genocide stories [to tell]. They all had horrible experiences."

Part memoir, part travelogue, You Rejoice My Heart peers into the world of Turkey's secret Armenians. "For the first time we haveinsight into their lives," Mr. Sarafian said. "As Yalcin collects allthese biographies, we get a more coherent picture of Armenianhistory,... a sense of what it means to be a Turkish-Armenian over thepast 90 years."

* The author

Mr. Yalcin began his address by welcoming the audience in Armenian.Afterward he spoke in Turkish, with an Armenian translator relayinghis words to the audience. With a personable style that captivated hislisteners, the author focused on his personal journey of uncoveringthe hidden links of a shared past that hold the keys to many unanswered questions.

Born in the Honaz subdistrict of Turkey's southwestern Denizilprovince, Mr. Yalcin was a product of the Turkish educational system,which reinforces the notion of an ethnically and religiouslyhomogeneous Turkish society and teaches little about minorities -- let alone the Armenian Genocide. After earning degrees in education andphilosophy, Mr. Yalcin went on to become a journalist and anaward-winning author. He moved to Germany in the 1980s.

Mr. Yalcin recalled that there were about 1,000 Greeks in Honazduring the years he grew up there. His grandparents were neverprejudiced against their Greek neighbors. In fact, they agreed to holdon to a Greek family's dowry for safekeeping. The Greek family nevercame to retrieve their belongings. Mr. Yalcin recalled his grandfather saying, "Whether it's 40 days or 40 years, we will hold on to this dowry until we return it to their family."

Mr. Yalcin's family stayed true to their promise until, decades later, Yalcin himself handed the dowry over to the Greek family's grandchildren in Greece. It was there that he learned about theArmenian Genocide and began what would become the journey of alifetime. "If you think what they did to the Greeks was bad, listen towhat they did to the Armenians in other parts of Turkey," the Greek family told him.

Mr. Yalcin then began meeting with Armenians. He took time tonurture relationships and gain trust in order to get the secretArmenians to tell their often unbearably painful stories -- whichwould eventually be included in his book.

* The book

You Rejoice My Heart opens in Germany, where Mr. Yalcin, working as aTurkish instructor, befriended an Armenian cultural-immersion teacher named Meline. Through her guidance, Mr. Yalcin eventually embarked ona project to seek out Armenians living in Turkey as Muslims or Turks.

His journey took him on a trajectory that started with his native Honaz and included Amasya, Erzurum, Askale, and Kars, and ended in theancient city of Ani.

One example of the secret Armenians whom Mr. Yalcin met is MadameSafiye. In the book, she tells her story with the effervescence of aperson who has waited 70 years to speak. She is one of the last remaining Armenians of Amasya. Born in 1931, she ran away from home to marry a Turkish man. Through her conversation with Mr. Yalcin, she opens up, for the first time since she was 15, about her Armenianpast. She reveals that her real name is Zaruhi, after an aunt who had perished during what she calls "the Deportations."

Safiye's mother, Zeytimya, was the sole survivor of "the Deportations." As Safiye remembers her parents, her memory drifts away, Mr. Yalcin explains. Her own children and grandchildren never knew about their Armenian past until Yalcin's arrival.

Through her story, we learn about the lives of other Armeniansliving in Amasya after 1915. Amasya once had a thriving Armenian population. The community, along with its churches and schools, was utterly devastated during the Genocide. After 1915, only about 60 Armenian families remained. All they knew was that they were Armenian and their religion was different. "We didn't let a lot of people know about it," Madame Safiye says. "Even so, we were so afraid!"

Armenians tried their best to marry within their tiny community.They prayed in secret and adopted Armenian orphans who had survivedthe massacres. While some Armenians eventually fled, most of those who remained stopped speaking their native tongue and denied ever being Armenian.

"These are hard things to talk about!" Madame Safiye tells Mr.Yalcin. "If you think about all the things that happened to us, youcan't believe how we managed to make it till now...."

* The aftermath

Mr. Yalcin has been living in Germany for years and speaks freelyabout this topic, though he is aware that he might be the target ofTurkish retribution. "I'm scared," he said. "But the reality is more important."

"There is big work to do," Mr. Yalcin added. "As humans we have to address and expose this inhumanity." He went on to stress that hiswork is about promoting communication between Turks and Armenians."Researchers deal with the archives, but my job is working with survivors and their grandchildren," he said.

When asked about Turkish public opinion and whether the Turkisheducational system will ever allow future generations to learn about what really happened prior to 1923, Yalcin answered optimistically,"Today what we see in Turkey was unimaginable 30 years ago."

"Things are changing in Turkey regarding this matter," he continued,referring to the recent wave of Turkish intellectuals and authorswriting about the Armenian Genocide. "Dividing is easy; coming together is hard," he stressed. "Always live with hope."

You Rejoice My Heart has been published in Italian, Armenian,Spanish, and French, in addition to Turkish. After the destruction ofthe entire first Turkish edition in Istanbul on June 21, 2002, the book is now once again in print and widely read in Turkey.

Mr. Yalcin has dedicated the English translation of the book to thememory of "his dear brother," Hrant Dink.

The English translation of You Rejoice My Heart is available at AbrilBookstore (818-243-4221).

Armenian Genocide Photos by Armin T.Wegner

Armenian Genocide Photos by J.Nazer

Turkish hangmen and their victims in Aleppo, 1915

Armenian Genocide Photos by J.Nazer

Armenians from Kesaria in front of jail one hour before all were killed

The First Genocide of the 20th Century: The story of the Armenian Massacres in text and pictures

The First Genocide of the 20th Century: The story of the Armenian Massacres in text and pictures

The images are found in the book.

In April 1915, the Armenian people experienced their way to calvary. Since then many books have been written about that tragic event.
This work is a compilation of what has been written thus far in books and other publications.

Armenian Genocide Photos.Armenian Kids


Armenian Genocide Photos.Armenian Kids

6,000 Orphans form star for "Near East Relief" aid organization

Armenian Genocide Photos.Armenian Kids

"This group of human wreckage represents tens of thousands when first approached with aid"

Armenian Genocide Photos

Armenian Genocide Photos

Armenians being marched out of Harput. Red Cross/Burning Tigris

Pictures come from the following sources unless otherwise indicated:

James Nazer's book, "The First Genocide of the 20th Century: The story of the Armenian Massacres in text and pictures"

"The Armenian Genocide as reported in the press" by Richard Kloian.

Armin T. Wegner © Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen.

Armin T. Wegner

Armin Theophil Wegner was born in Wuppertal (Westfalia) on 16 October 1886, and died in Rome on 17 May 1978. Doctor in Law, writer, poet, and deeply moved by the tragedy of the Armenian people to which he had been eye-witness in Ottoman Turkey, Wegner dedicated a great part of his existence to the fight for human rights, and his literary and poetic output to the search for the truth about himself and his fellow men.

Armin T. Wegner, intellectual and refugee
by Anna Maria Samuelli

The story of Armin T. Wegner is indeed a remarkable one: an intellectual brought up on his father's side deep in the authoritarian Prussian tradition, true patriot and soldier, but also writer and poet, enriched with that indestructible power that prevented him from falling in with the status quo, but instead exposed him to the fury of the ruling classes.

In Germany, the consolidation of National Socialism after the Thirties, was accompanied by the suppression of all avant-garde artistic expression and all that was out of step with the official line. This explains the emigration of over half a million German intellectuals after 1933.

Many were the places Wegner chose to live out his voluntary exile; many his attempts beyond the German border to carve out a space for himself in which he could write and express himself. As with other intellectuals, Italy was his final destination. This was not a safe choice as there the Fascist regime held sway. Neither could this choice bring serenity, given the inevitable nostalgia that accompanies the exiled. He could expect no more than a "precarious shelter" to which he added his own heavy load. His was a "journey of no return", caused by internal pressures. It was a restless journey of which he was more or less aware. It was to evolve into the testimony of and opposition to a regime insensitive to both human and cultural values.

It is not easy to speak of an intellectual whose song slowly died away in a foreign land, suffocated by memories of excruciating pain, of innocent and useless suffering. The experience of the genocide, as Varlam Salamov has written , no longer allowed literary production. But the real question was : what literature?

On 29 March 1916, as eye-witness to the genocide of the Armenian people, he wrote to his mother from Baghdad: "Can I still live? Do I still have the right to breathe, to make plans for a future which seems so insubstantial, when all about me lies an abyss filled with the eyes of the dead?".
Yet only the year before, on 2 November 1915 at his arrival in Constantinople, the tone had been that of a traveller impatient to set out and discover the world: "Now I hold the helm of my life in my own hands. I shall see Baghdad, the Tigris, Mossul, Babylon. I am fully aware of the choice I have made. ... I have become a soldier ... I have put my life at stake for my soul's sake." Not for fatherland, nor for mankind, but for himself alone did he set out to discover himself, to understand, to continue to nourish that vocation to art that from adolescence had driven him to observe the world with restless eyes, and to throw himself into ever new undertakings. The terrible experience on the Middle Eastern Front, followed by that of Nazi violence, forever marked the direction his life and work would take: "From time to time I fall back to sleep and sink into the depths of my dreams, and then, in a terrible and violent manner, in front of me looms up a work so dreadful that it must surely be the most pitiless ever written about human misery, and for all time."

Thus, Wegner, voluntary exile, intellectual betrayed by his discovery of the existence of Total Evil within the human heart, evil made more absurd and incomprehensible in its repetition, became a prisoner of a memory which did not fade with the years. The creative drive, the poetic vocation evolved into a need to bear witness. The survivors of the massacres and eye-witnesses hand on the memory of what really happened. They keep it alive in the hope of overcoming the ill of indifference, preventing the formation of new "grey zones", but at a very high price.

In 1916, back in Germany, Wegner "screamed" the Armenian tragedy to men unable to hear, marked as they were by the wounds of war. A drama had taken place and been consumed in silence. Each one was taken up by his own sorrow, unable to absorb the message of a common responsibility. Armin T. Wegner did not give in; he was sustained by lofty and noble sentiments; perhaps it was still possible to construct a world without evil from these wounds.

But these very wounds had put an end to any hope of change. The effects of the war swept away the fragile German democracy, and revolutions fuelled fear and advanced the unequivocal signs of the increasing barbarization of European civilization. The death wish which Wegner perceived as the end of any creative possibility, became widespread and penetrated deep into the secret corners of history. Where was man while these crimes were being committed? Even though historical memory is the duty of all and not the privilege of the few, it is not a safeguard; there is no guarantee for the future.

Wegner did not wish to witness another tragedy: if a genocide is liturgy, then there was nothing else to do but flee into exile and seek asylum elsewhere. Like many other intellectuals in exile, he had to face the consequences: not only, or, not so much because of the anxiety of nights fraught with horrors, but more for a soul irreparably divided between the banks of the Oder and the desert of the Middle East, between Armenia and Israel.

Only at the end of his life did he become aware of the value of this division, accepting it as his destiny.: " ... And even though I have lost much - and I am thinking of the many friends who disappeared during the course of my life and under dreadful circumstances - in recompense I gained something very precious, something which I had already perceived as an adolescent during my youthful wanderings. It is that in actual fact I no longer had a fatherland, but could feel at home anywhere. In Israel I lived in a wood in which a tree had been planted and given my name. In the Armenian capital, a street has been called after me, and at Stromboli on the ceiling of my study in the tower, there is a comforting phrase that goes: 'We have been assigned a task, but not allowed to complete it' ...".

Did the voice of the sea which Wegner heard from his tower at the foot of Stromboli free the voice of the poet, release the grip of memory, bestow calm to his spirit and have him feel, even a bit, at home?

Family and Upbringing

Armin's father, Gustav Wegner, came from a family of rigid Prussian traditions. His mother, Marie Wegner, née Witt, became involved in the feminist and pacifist movements of the end of the century. In his autobiographical writings, Wegner recalled three episodes that left a mark on his life: his father's reading to him an account of the 1895 Armenian massacres in Turkey; his friendship with a Jewish school friend who, like him, felt different from the others; his throwing himself heroically into the Rhine to save a drowning girl. In his early years, the basic elements of his ethical code took form: the drive to independence in rebellion against paternal authoritarianism, social involvement as the discovery of others, and his civic courage.

His precocious work experience, (from 1903 to 1909 he temporarily abandoned his studies to live as a peasant), his wanderings around Europe (in 1913 he worked as docker in Marseilles), and his patronizing of literary cafés, liberal circles, and left-wing dissenters must be seen in this light. After his baccalaureate, he studied law and political science in Zurich, Paris, Berlin and Breslau where in 1914 he took his degree with the dissertation "The strike in criminal law".

The Experience of the War in the Middle East
The Tragedy of the Armenian People

At the outbreak of the First World War, Wegner enrolled as a voluntary nurse in Poland during the winter of 1914-1915, and was decorated with the Iron Cross. In April 1915, following the military alliance of Germany and Turkey, he was sent to the Middle East as member of the German Sanitary Corps. Between July and August, he used his leave to investigate the rumours about the Armenian massacres that had reached him from several sources. In the autumn of the same year, with the rank of second-lieutenant in the retinue of Field Marshal Von der Goltz, commander of the 6th Ottoman army in Turkey, he travelled through Asia Minor.

From the letters written between 1915 and 1916, a dramatic diary on the "way of no return" travelled by the Armenian people, the various stages of his movements in the Middle East can be traced: Constantinople, Ras el Ain, Mossul, Baghdad, Babylon, Rakim Pasha, Kalikie, Abu Herrera, Abu Kemal, Der es Zor, Rakka, Meskene, Aleppo, Konya, and back to Constantinople. Eluding the strict orders of the Turkish and German authorities (intended to prevent the spread of news, information, correspondence, visual evidence), the officer collected notes, annotations, documents, letters and took hundreds of photographs in the Armenian deportation camps. With the help of foreign consulates and embassies of other countries, he was able to send some of this material to Germany and the United States.

His clandestine mail routes were discovered, and Wegner was arrested by the Germans at the request of the Turkish Command. A letter to his mother of May 1916, describing the atrocities of the massacres, was intercepted, and he was put to serve in the cholera wards: "Armin T. Wegner must be utilized in such a way so as to do away with any desire of his to wander around Baghdad".

Having fallen seriously ill, he left Baghdad for Constantinople in November 1916. Hidden in his belt were his photographic plates and those of other German officers with images of the Armenian genocide to which he had been a powerless witness. In December of the same year he was recalled to Germany.

Civic and Literary Commitments

During a leave of absence, but even more so after his final return home, Wegner met several times with the pastor Johannes Lepsius, founder of the "Deutsche Orient Mission", to whom he entrusted much of his photographic material. To spread knowledge of the Armenian tragedy, he made other contacts, such as Walter Rathenau, future Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic, the publisher Helmut Gerlach, journalists and dissenters.

Between 1918 and 1921, he became an active member of pacifist and anti-military movements while continuing his literary and poetic activity. In January 1919, the first edition (numbered and signed) of his "Der Weg ohne Heimkehr: Ein Martyrium in Briefen" (The way of no return : a martyrdom in letters"), a collection of his letters from Turkey, was published in Berlin. It was a dramatic and firsthand account of the Armenian genocide and his tragic experiences in the Middle East.

On 23 February 1919, in the climate of hope generated by the political position of President Wilson, defender of minorities, Wegner's "Open letter to President Wilson" was published in "Berliner Tageblatt". This remains one of the most important documents of the sum total of publications dedicated to the Armenian Question. Wegner's appeal for the creation of an independent Armenian state came to nothing.

In 1920, Wegner married the Jewish writer Lola Landau, and in 1923 his daughter Sibylle was born.

In 1921 in Berlin, during the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian, (a young Armenian student who had lost all his family in the 1915 massacres, and wanted to avenge his relatives and his people by killing Tal'at Pasha, Minister of the Interior under the Young Turks and responsible for the genocide), Wegner testified without equivocating about the tragic events of which he had had direct experience. Thanks also to the evidence of other non-Armenians (Lepsius and Nansen) Tehlirian was acquitted. The documents of the trial have been collected in the book "Justicier du génocide armènien : le procès de Tehlirian". The preface is by Armin T. Wegner. Here he makes the distinction, as he does in the letter to Wilson, between the responsibility of the Turkish government and that of the Turkish people, who "would never have stained themselves with a similar crime". To prove this, Wegner cited cases of disobedience (today in the West called "civil") of Turkish officials who refused to carry out the orders of extermination.

In 1922 he published an important appeal for the rights of the Armenians entitled "Der Schrei vom Ararat" (The scream from Ararat), and in 1924 he began a novel based on the Armenian tragedy and on twentieth century Armenia which was to be entitled "The expulsion", but which was never completed. For this reason, he would claim the right to precedence in subject matter over Franz Werfel, author of "The forty days of Mussa Dagh". (cf.. Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Letter from Wegner to Werfel, 14.12.1932)

Imprisonment and Escape

Wegner's activity as writer and civil rights militant became more intense with popular novels, stories, articles, lessons in European pacifist circles, travels. In 1927 he was invited to Moscow and, for the first time, visited Armenia which in 1922 had become one of the Soviet Socialist Republics.

In Germany, the rise of National Socialism revealed his human and intellectual isolation. He was classified as "Bolschevik intellectual", traitor to the ideals of German nationalism, and with other seventy-one writers was put on the black list under the category "Belle Lettres", compiled by the Ministry of Education and Propaganda of the Reich.

On 11 April 1933, immediately after the Nazi raid against the Jews, Wegner wrote an open letter to Adolf Hitler and had it delivered to the Braune Haus in Münich. It contained a clear protest against the inhuman and anti-Semitic behaviour of the Regime. For this courageous act, but especially because he had been labelled "fanatic pacifist" and German "left-wing sympathizer", he was arrested by the Gestapo, thrown into the basement at Columbia Haus, beaten and imprisoned. Transferred to three different concentration camps, Oranienburg, Börgermoor and Lichtenberg, he was finally released in the spring of 1934 after five months detention. He joined his first wife in London, and then in Palestine where she had emigrated with the daughter. They divorced in 1939 by common consent. Wegner was to write later about this period, "Germany took every thing from me, my home, success, freedom, work, friends, family, home and all that was dear to me. In the end, Germany took away even my wife. Yet this is the country I continue to love in spite of everything.!

Exile in Italy

Between 1936 and 1937 he moved to Italy, first to Vietri where he met an artist of Jewish origin, Irene Kowaliska whom he had already known in Berlin. In 1945, she becomes his wife and they moved to Positano. With the racial laws of 1938, the climate of relative tolerance in Italy began to deteriorate. For security reasons on the occasion of Hitler's visit to Italy, Wegner was arrested with other refugee intellectuals, though for only a few weeks. A period of depression began at this time. The traumas from the period of his detention began to re-emerge, and the burden of isolation was experienced as the loss of his identity as a writer.

The day after Italy entered the war, Herbert Kappler ordered Wegner's arrest and he was confined in the camp in Potenza. He succeeded in reaching Rome, and because of his German citizenship went directly to the German Embassy. The order of arrest was withdrawn.

In 1941, a son Misha was born. From 1941 to 1943 Wegner taught German language and literature at the German Academy in Padua. He was listed as A. Theo Wegner in the faculty files and this prevented him, paradoxically, from being identified. With the liberation of 1943, Wegner returned to Positano where he remained until 1955 except for short periods in Stromboli and Rome. To make ends meet, he sold some of his possessions.

In spite of his cosmopolitan spirit, so deep were his German roots that he never fully succeeded in adapting to the life of exile, and for a long time he was unable to carry out his literary projects. He returned to Germany for the first time in 1952, but felt estranged in his native country which made a definite return impossible.

In 1956 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the press discovered his photographic documentation. The images that "unite dignity and suffering" caused a considerable stir for their intensity of expression and artistic quality. On this occasion Wegner published his essay "Parì luis : Das gute Licht" on the events of 1915.


His role as eye-witness to the Armenian Genocide and defender of the rights of the Armenians and Jews finally received international recognition. Besides the honours conferred on him by his native town in the German Federal Republic, in 1968 he was decorated with the title "Righteous Gentile" by the Yad Vashem in Israel and the Order of Saint Gregory in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, where a street was named after him.

On 28 April 1968 Armin T. Wegner was invited to the Casa Armena in Milan where he shed new light on the first genocide of the twentieth century. Episodes hitherto unknown, and especially the images from his photographic archive left indelible memories.

The remainder of his life was divided between his literary activity and giving evidence at various international centres in Europe and the United States. In the poem "Der alte Mann" (The old man) he wrote: "My conscience calls me to bear witness. I am the voice of the exiled who scream in the desert". Before his death, he arranged the transfer of his entire literary production to the Archives of German Literature in Marbach in the German Federal Republic.

Armin Wegner died in Rome at the age of ninety-two on 17 May 1978. At Stromboli, on the ceiling of his study in the tower, the following words are carved: "We have been assigned a task, but not allowed to complete it".

Sources for the reconstruction of a biography of Armin T. Wegner

The Misha Wegner Archives. Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach• Armin T. Wegner Gesellschaft, President: Dr. Martin Rooney, Berlin

• Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, co-ordinators: by Dr. Tessa Hofmann and Dr. Gerayer Koutcharian, Berlin

• S. Milton, "Armin T. Wegner, Polemicist for Armenian and Jewish Human Rights", in Genocide and Human Rights, NAASR, Vol. IV (1992)

• M. Rooney, Weg ohne Heimkehr: Armin T. Wegner zum 100. Geburtstag, Bremen, 1986

• K. Voigt, Il rifugio precario: Gli esuli in Italia dal 1933 al 1945, Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1993

• W. Killy, Literatur Lexicon, München: Bertelsmann Lexicon Verlag, 1992

• M. Kindler, Kindlers Neues Literatur Lexicon, München: Kindler, 1992

• F.A. Brockhaus, Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, Mannheim 1994[text from: Anna Maria Samuelli, Armin T. Wegner and the Armenians in Anatolia, 1915, Milano: Guerini & Associati, 1996]

Voices of the Great War

Armin Wegner

Armin Wegner, a German medic stationed in Turkey in 1915, smuggled his camera into an Armenia refugee camp.

"In the last few days, I have taken numerous photographs... on penalty of death. I do not doubt for a moment that I am committing a treasonable act. And yet I am inspired by the knowledge that I have helped these poor people in some small way. ...Hunger, death, disease, despair shout at me from all sides. Wretched me, for I carried neither bandages nor medications... I was seized by terror and hurried out of the camp, my heart pounding. I was overcome by dizziness, as if the earth were collapsing on both sides of me into an abyss...-- Armin Wegner, diary entry

The very same night that Allied troops landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, the Turkish authorities began a process of repression of those whom they saw as internal enemies - the Armenian communities. Over the next two years the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey was uprooted and expelled to the desert regions of Mesopotamia. In the process between 500,000 to one million Armenians where killed or died of exposure or disease. In the midst of the Great War, substantial parts of a long-established and prosperous civilian community with identifiable religious and cultural characteristics were wiped out.

Armin Wegner was a young German medic who visited an Armenian refugee camp, smuggling in his camera against orders. What he captured on film was a visual record of the first genocide of the 20th century. Years later, Wegner would send a letter to Adolph Hitler in defense of the Jewish people. It was a plea that fell on deaf ears, for Hitler would remark to his inner circle: "Who remembers the Armenia massacres today?"

Voices of the Great War

Historian Commentary

Jay Winter

"The presence in the northeast of the country of a thriving cultured and relatively wealthy community of Armenians was a difficulty to Turks long before the First World War.

"It became a political and strategic threat when the war broke out because of the place of Armenians in the Russian Empire. However, most Armenians, two million of them living in the Turkish Empire, were no threat whatsoever.

"In many ways, it shows that the old idea that war is politics by other means is outdated in the 20th century. War is hatred by other means. And in this case, hatred means extermination. The First World War was the biggest war ever to date. The Second World War was bigger still. It's not accident on my mind that both of them were marked by genocide. This is the logic of the brutalization of total war."


New York Times


Men, women, and Children Fought with Knives, Scythes, and Stones
Women Who Had Plunged Knives Into Turks Afterward Killed Themselves
---Bryce Gets Report ,
LONDON, Nov. 26.--
Viscount Bryce tonight made public the details of further Armenian massacres, which, in a letter accompanying them, he says, "surpass in horror, if that were possible, what has been published already."
"I feel," his letter continues, "that such crimes ought to be exposed to the utmost, and that the charity of other nations will more than ever be drawn to the unhappy refugees when it is known what their friends and fellow-countrymen have suffered."
Describing a last stand of Armenian in the hill country of Samsun, a report received by Lord Bryce says:
"The surviving warriors found themselves surrounded at close quarters by 30,000 Turks and Kurds. Then followed one of those desperate, heroic struggles for life which have always been the pride of the mountaineers. Men, women, and Children fought with knives, scythes, and stones, and anything else they could handle. They rolled blocks of stone down the steep slopes, killing many of their enemies. In the frightful hand-to -hand combats women were seen thrusting their knives into the throats of Turks. "When every warrior had fallen, several of the younger women who were in danger of falling into the hands of the Turks threw themselves from the rocks, some of them with infants in their arms."

Lord Bryce's Letter
Lord Bryce says the details confirm and amplify the ghastly history of deportations by which Armenians in Northern and Eastern Anatolia were driven to a death of fiendish cruelty. The first part of the evidence, he says, was received by the Committee of Inquiry in the United States, and the second part comes from an Armenian gentleman at Tiflis, who received it from refugees who escaped from regions where the events happened. "The sufferings of the peasants and the mountaineers in the regions of Van, Mush, and Samsun," Lord Bryce says, "seem to have been even more terrible than were those of the peaceful town folk described in Part I of the report. Every successive piece of evidence increases the horror of the story and confirmes the dreadful certainly of its truth. "
These atrocities were not produced by imagination. Many of them are vouched for by several coincident testimonies. They all are in keeping, and the evidence is most complete, and some of it most terrible. At this present phase of events the civilized world is powerless to intervene, but we must bear these unspeakable crimes in constant memory against the day of reckoning."


After giving the parts of the evidence received from the United States, Lord Bryce says that the following extracts were taken from his correspondent at Tiflis:
"Toward the end of May Djevdet Bey, the Military Governor, was expelled from Van. Djevdet fled southward and entered Sairt with some 8,000 soldiers, whom he called 'Butcher Battalions. He massacred most of the Christians of Sairt, as to the details of which nothing is known. On the best of authority, however it is reported that he ordered his soldiers to burn in the public squares the Armenian Bishop, Eglise Vartaved, and the Chaldean Bishop, Addai Sher.
"On June 25 the Turks surrounded the Town of Bitlis and cut its communications with neighboring Armenian villagers. Then most of the able-bodied men were taken away from their women by domiciliary visits. During the following few days all the men under arrest were shot outside the town and buried in deep trenches dug by the victims themselves. The young women and children were distributed among the rabble. The remainder, the useless lot were driven to the south and are believed to have been drowned in the Tigris.
"Any attempts at resistance, however brave, were quelled by the regular troops. Many Armenians, after firing their last cartridge, either took poison by whole families or killed themselves in their homes in order not to fall into the hands of the Turks.

Armenians Tortured to Death.

It is such a fashion that the Turks disposed of about fifteen thousand Armenians at Bitlis. At Mush early in July the authorities demanded arms from the Armenians and a large sum in ransom of notables of the town. The head men of the village were subjected to revolting tortures. Their finger nails and then their toe nails were forcibly extracted; teeth were knocked out, and in some cases noses were whittled down the victims thus being done to death under shocking, lingering agony.
"The female relatives of victims who came to the rescue were assaulted in public before the very eyes of their mutilated men. The shrieks and death cries of the victims filled the air, yet they did not move the Turkish beast. "In the Town of Mush itself the Armenians, under the leadership Gotoyan and others, entrenched themselves in churches and stone-built houses and fought for four days in self-defense, but Turkish artillery, manned by German officers, made short work of all the Armenian positions, and all the Armenian leaders, as well as their men were killed in the fighting.
"When they were dead and silence reigned over the ruins of the churches and houses the rest of the Moslem rabble descended upon the women and children and drove them out of town and into large camps, which already had been prepared for the peasant women and children.

Women and Children Burned

"The ghastly scenes which followed may seem incredible, yet these reports have been confirmed beyond all doubt. The shortest means employed for disposing of the women and children in the various camps was by burning. Fire was set to the large wooden sheds in Alijan, Mograkom, Khasjogh, and other Armenian Villages, and these absolutely helpless women and children were roasted to death.
"Many women went mad and threw away their children. Some women knelt down and prayed amid the flames which were burning their bodies. Others shrieked for help, which came from nowhere, and the executioners, who seemed unmoved by this unparalleled savagery, grasped infants by one leg and hurried them into the fire, calling out to the burning mothers. Here are your lions.
"Turkish prisoners who apparently witnessed some of these scenes were horrified and maddened at remembering the sight. The odor of burning flesh, they say, permeated the air for many days."

For a hard copy of this article or hundreds of others from the time of the Armenian Genocide, get a copy of The Armenian Genocide - News Accounts from the American Press: 1915-1922