1917-05-09-DE-001
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Source: DE/PA-AA/R14096
Publication: DuA Dok. 300 (re. gk.)
Central register: 1917-A-15098
Edition: Genocide 1915/16
Date of entry in central register: 05/09/1917
Embassy/consular serial number:
Translated by: Linda Struck (Translation sponsored by Zoryan Institute)
Last updated: 04/22/2012


Notes by the Secretary of State of the Foreign Office (Zimmermann) for the Reichstag





To my utmost regret, the member of the Reichstag, Ledebour [The Social Democratic member of the Reichstag Georg Ledebour] has today brought up the Armenian question again. Gentlemen, you all know with what clever means of distortion and exaggeration our enemies have exploited this issue to instigate a slanderous campaign against us and our Turkish ally. I fear that what was said about it here today, will provide our enemies with new ammunition for their libelling. As regards the reasons and the course of the events which we too deeply lament, I must refrain from going into details at this point. During a meeting of the commission at the end of September last year, I gave exhaustive clarifications to which I may refer. I would just like to take up one point of my explanations of that time: It is our enemies themselves who are mainly to blame for the tragedy of the Armenian people. Long before the outbreak of the war through unscrupulous agitation, they stirred up the Armenians against the Turkish government and misused them as tools for their selfish political plans. As I also already reported in September, the Armenian question has repeatedly been the subject of thorough discussion with the allied Turkish government, both here and in Constantinople. I am prepared to give those gentlemen who wish to learn more about this matter, any information they require in a closed session.


86th Meeting of the Budget Committee of the Reichstag, held on 29th September 1916 [Comment by Rosenberg: Presented to his Excellency. Enclosure Part I is a protocol of your Excellency's statements to the Committee. Enclosure II is a record which was used for the Grand Duchess of Baden. (Rosenberg wrote this memo on 6 September 1916 (A 24118) in answer to a letter from Luise, Grand Duchess of Baden.)]

I.


Mr. Deputy Ledebour also suggested a discussion on the Armenian question. This is an extremely sad issue and you know that we have often emphasised and admitted this fact in earlier deliberations of the Commission. When the Hamidian regime was overthrown and the Young Turks came into power, the Armenians took the side of the Young Turks. They put their revolutionary organisation at the disposal of the Young Turkish regime and produced even some ministers too. When the war broke out, the old mistrust of the Turks towards the Armenians flared up again. Of course, since the establishment of the new regime, the Armenians had been strongly influenced by London, Paris and in particular by Russia. The Russian Armenians were the actual connecting link with the Turkish Armenians. Attempts had been made at making the Turkish Armenians disloyal by means of money, spying and other methods. Shortly after Turkey had entered the war on our side, in October 1914, we already received the news from the Consul in Aleppo that the military conscription of the Armenians would be subject to great difficulties and that a considerable hatred of the Germans was apparent in the Armenians. We received similar news from Trebizond and Erzurum. In December 1914 there were already riots on the part of the Turks against the Armenians in Erzurum. We gave the matter our immediate attention and ordered our Ambassador to protest at the Porte and to point out the dangers that could arise for Turkey from the repetition of such occurrences. At the same time we instructed him to meet with the Armenian patriarch and to personally point out to him how important it was that Armenia took loyal sides with Turkey and fought for their common cause. From Berlin, an Armenian was finally sent by the German-Armenian Society, to Turkey who, with our support, was commissioned to negotiate with the patriarch and the leaders of the Armenian movement and to persuade them that they should stand loyally on the side of the Turks and thus procure for themselves the gratitude of the Turks and their own safety from now on. The gold and the subversive actions of our enemies are to blame that the Armenians turned a deaf ear to our well-meant advice and themselves released the storm, under which their people were to suffer so wretchedly. The Turks, who, according to the unanimous judgement of our representatives had behaved quite correctly towards the Armenian during the first months of the war, were made suspicious by the agitations of the Armenians. The revolution against the Turks was keenly preached by those Armenians who were living in neutral and hostile foreign countries. The result was revolts. The complaints lodged about desertions and switching of numerous Armenians to the Russian side were ever increasing. There was one serious incident near Zeitun. Here Armenian deserters had barricaded themselves and for a very long time had defended themselves vigorously against the Turkish gendarmes who were pursuing. Similar incidents were repeated near Bitlis, Marash and in other places. Regretfully a general Armenian rebellion finally broke out in Van in the rear of Turkish troops who were advancing against Azerbaijan. The Turkish troops were at first unable to suppress the revolution and it actually happened that Russian troops and Russian Armenians joined forces with Armenian deserters near Van. All these circumstances caused Turkey to take serious steps from a military point of view. Anyone will find it comprehensible that the Turks, in view of their difficult position at that time - the battles in the Dardanelles were at their apogee - then decided to evacuate the area, which was being plagued by the Armenian revolution. The severe, but militarily comprehensible measure of deporting the Armenian people out of the operations and manoeuvres area began in May 1915, in summer, the evacuation took on an even larger dimension and finally spread to the whole of Anatolia as far as the coast and the gates of Smyrna. We are convinced that the Turks originally acted quite loyally and did not intend to destroy the Armenians. The fact that the evacuation did not proceed as well as would have been possible in other countries, is quite understandable. The whole of the internal organisation failed. There were not enough roads, means of transport, money and in particular food. In addition there was of course the fanaticism of the Turks and their hatred, which to a certain degree was justified by the acts of treason and the disloyalty of the Armenians. The re-settlement was originally supposed to take place in the nearer parts of Syria such as Huma and Damascus, followed by places in the Euphrates valley and finally Ras-ul-Ain and Mosul. The deportations took a deplorable course.

The sad events are generally well-known. But the Entente, England, France and Russia are mainly to blame for this. At this point I remember an article in the Daily Chronicle in September 1915, that was full of praise and recognition of the fact that the Armenian people, from the beginning of the war onwards, had accepted the matter of the Entente as their own, from the very beginning had fought on the side of the Entente uncompromisingly and had a right to be considered as the seventh ally of the Entente. The article is signed: The seventh Ally!

In the Armenian question, from the very beginning, we have lodged forceful protests with the Sublime Porte. Perhaps later, after the war, when our position is no longer as delicate as it is today, we will publish our negotiations in a white book. I can tell you in confidence that our Ambassador has gone as far as to incur the direct displeasure of the Grand Vizier and the Minister of the Interior. After the first three months of his office, the ministers concerned said that the Ambassador appeared to have nothing better to do than to annoy them with the Armenian issue.

The latest complaints, that the Armenian orphanages have been dissolved, the Armenian girls put into harems and the boys in Turkish orphanages and forced to become Muslims, have prompted me to personally lodge serious representations with the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is currently in Berlin. I have pointed out that these events are extremely embarrassing not only for the Turks but also for us and that we must urgently request him to find means and ways for remedy.

I can only say that we have done everything we could. The only other extreme thing left for us would be to terminate our alliance with Turkey. You will understand that under no circumstances can we reach such a decision. Higher than the Armenians in our list of priorities, no matter how much we regret their fate from a purely humane point of view, are our sons and brothers who must shed their precious blood in the most dreadful battles and who are also dependent on the support of Turkey. After all, the Turks are doing us significant and great services in covering the south-east flank. You will agree with me that we cannot go so far as to break off our alliance with the Turks whom we have indeed upset with our continual protests about the Armenian question.


II.

When the Porte joined the war in Autumn 1914 on the side of the Central Powers, the situation of the Armenian people in Turkey was relatively favourable. The Armenians had fought on the side of the Young Turks against the Hamidian regime. The Young Turkish government was therefore not unfriendly towards them. On the other hand, the fact that a considerable number of the Turkish Armenians were tending with their sympathies towards the Western Allies and Russia, which was confirmed to us by our long years of experience, was causing us worry. This apprehension led the Foreign Office, soon after the commencement of Turkey’s hostilities, to arrange for the Imperial Ambassador at that time, Freiherr von Wangenheim, to point out urgently in the course of several confidential meetings with the Armenian Patriarch in Constantinople that the time had now come when the Armenians could prove their often affirmed loyalty towards the Turkish state and establish for themselves a basis for a secure future. With the permission of the Foreign Office, the German-Armenian Society, headed by Dr. Johannes Lepsius, at the same time delegated an Armenian intermediary to Turkey with instructions to influence the Armenian patriarch and the political leaders of the Armenians in Constantinople ”in such a way that the Armenian people, in close collaboration with Turkey, should mobilise its national strength for the victory of the Ottoman forces and in wise recognition of its own interest, should support to the best of their ability the Turkish government in the execution of all measures and war operations in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians.” The intermediary received support of every kind from the Foreign Office and the Imperial representatives in Turkey in carrying out this task. The gold and the subversive activities of our enemies are to blame that the Armenians did not heed our well-meant advice and themselves unleashed the storm under which their people were to suffer so terribly.

According to the unanimous judgement of our representatives, the Turkish government behaved quite correctly towards the Armenian element during the first months of the war. The first signs of storm brewing up involved an incident at Zeitun. In this small town in South Armenia, which was almost exclusively inhabited by Armenians and built like a fortress, a group of Armenian deserters had gone into hiding in March 1915 and put up desperate resistance to their Turkish military pursuers. This led to a siege and storming of the town, whereby considerable stores of modern weapons were found. As a part of the population had made common cause with the revolutionaries, under martial law a regime of a strict criminal prosecution was imposed on the town. The incident in Zeitun was not the only one. Following it, similar rioting and fighting followed in several towns in the province, which led to the beginning of the evacuation of the heavily compromised Armenian population. The measures were limited at first to a relatively small area and had only local character. But still the mistrust of the government towards the Armenians had been aroused. Things took a disastrous turn the following month, in April 1915, when in Upper Armenia, in particular in the area around Van, in the rear of the Turkish troops who were advancing against Azerbaijan, a general Armenian revolt broke out which cost the lives of thousands of Muslims within only a few days. For obvious reasons very little or even nothing was published in any press, which was hostile to Turkey or Germany about this bloodbath which was to have such sad consequences for the Armenians. By way of mobilising superior forces and with considerable losses, the Turks succeeded in suppressing the revolt in the rear of their front. It is understandable that they then decided to make such occurrence impossible in future. Moreover an Armenian plot directed at the lives of the Turkish potentates, was discovered in the capital and also there were other signs that some of the Armenians were in secret contact with Turkey’s enemies. In view of the critical position of Turkey at that time - the battles in the Dardanelles were at their climax - the Turkish government was compelled to restore the threatened internal security in the heart of the country with all means available to them. The hard, from a military standpoint understandable solution of deportation of the Armenian people from the regions affected by the war, due to their significance as operational and transport and communication areas, was declared. In the northern part of Mesopotamia, far from the militarily threatened borders, the Armenians were supposed to be allocated to new settlements. The fact that the execution of these deportation orders were bound to the destruction of a large proportion of the Armenian population, was originally most certainly neither intended nor foreseen by the Turkish rulers. The deplorable development of affairs appears to a certain degree to be understandable if on the one hand one takes into consideration the not unjustified anger of the Muslim population, on the other hand the primitive character of the internal Turkish conditions and the slight influence that the Central Administration in Constantinople was able to exercise in the more distant provinces. For a relocation of a population on such a large scale, which even in times of peace would have required years of preparation, nothing at all had been planned. There was a lack of everything, a suitable organisation, roads, means of transport, money and especially of food. The base instincts whipped up by the war, the old racial and religious conflicts did the rest. That the course of things, which could no longer be curbed, did not seem unwelcome to some of the Young Turkish rulers as a radical solution to the Armenian question, is unfortunately not improbable. This would not have happened if the Armenians themselves had not provided an opportunity. The moral blame for the events lies not only with the Armenians themselves but with their instigators in London, Petersburg and Paris. An article in the ”Daily Chronicle” dated 23 September 1915, entitled ”Our seventh Ally” was typical of this. It was full of praise and recognition of the fact that the Armenian people, from the beginning of the war onwards, had adopted the cause of the Entente as their own, from the very beginning had fought on the side of the Entente without hesitation and thereby had acquired a right to be considered as the seventh ally.

The Foreign Office and the Imperial representatives in Turkey have, from the beginning of the Armenian crisis, done everything possible with diplomatic instruments to alleviate the fate of the Armenians. This is a fact which is unknown to the public and for the time being should remain unknown, the Imperial government has gone to the utmost limit with its pressure on the Turkish government. The Imperial government did and does not feel justified to break with the alliance on account of the Armenian question. Because, although it is most regrettable from a Christian and from a generally humane point of view that, apart from the guilty, also hundreds of thousands of innocent people are having to perish under the Turkish hand, more important to the German government than the Armenians are the sons of Germany, whose sacrificial and bloody battle in the west, east and south is considerably facilitated with the help of the weapons of the Turkish allies. The responsibility for weakening the south-east flank of our position arising from our global conflict by breaking with Turkey on the grounds of the Armenian question, could not be borne by any German government and the less so since the Armenians would not save themselves from further persecution through taking this step, but would be particularly delivered up to Turkish acts of revenge.



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