In Justifying Genocide, Stefan Ihrig provides the most detailed and wide ranging analysis to date of the evolution of German representations of the Armenians and responses to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. At the core of his analysis is an examination of the legacies of these responses and their implications for our understanding of the Holocaust. Ihrig’s analysis is divided into four sections. The first examines German perceptions of Armenians from the response to the ‘hamidian’ massacres of the late nineteenth century to the eve of the First World War. The second provides clear evidence of the extent of German knowledge of the Genocide and accounts for the reasons for Germany’s failure to intervene decisively. The third section shifts the focus to the post-genocide period, challenging notions of straightforward ‘forgetting’ by charting a shift from denial, through acceptance, to ‘justificationalism’ (Ihrig’s own term for development and popularisation of the thesis that that the Armenians were a real threat to the future of the Empire, and the Young Turks had no choice but to act as they did). In doing so, he highlights the surprising effects of the 1921 trial of Soghomon Tehlirian for the murder of Talat Pasha on German society. Finally, Ihrig considers the impact of the Armenian Genocide on the Nazis and its possible relationship to their development of Genocidal policies during the Second World War. As Ihrig points out, the story he tells here is first and foremost a ‘German story’. Nonetheless, it provides an important reminder of the importance of examining the intersections between histories which are most often bracketed off into the separate fields of ‘Ottoman’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ and ‘European’ studies. This book is part of a generation of scholarship on the Armenian Genocide which frames the treatment of the Ottoman Armenians not only as a national tragedy but as a significant event in modern European and world history. Like the earlier work of Donald Bloxham and others, this book effectively underscores the importance of paying attention to the dynamics of European imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century and not just circumstances within the Ottoman Empire, for understanding both the causes and consequences of the Armenian Genocide. This book rightly highlights the specificity of the German response to the ‘Armenian Question’, but there are parallels with the ambiguities of representations of Armenians and failures to intervene on their behalf on the part of other European states which could perhaps have been addressed further. It is important to note that Ihrig definitively does not suggest that Germany was responsible for the Armenian Genocide as a ‘co-perpetrator’, though by drawing on press reports and the evidence of various German witnesses, he clearly demonstrates the extent of German knowledge of what was occurring. Nor does Ihrig suggest that there is a direct causal chain from the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust, or that Germany modelled its treatment of the Jews directly on the Ottoman treatment of the Armenians. Rather, he provides a nuanced analysis which effectively traces the evolution of a climate in which it became possible, or even desirable, to justify Ottoman mass violence and ultimately genocidal policies against the Armenian population. Only in chapter thirteen, in the brief discussion of whether or not there may have been a deliberate policy among the Nazis to ‘not mention’ the Armenian Genocide does this analysis start to feel a little too speculative or stretched. Ihrig’s research shows the complexity and ambiguity of representations of the Armenians and demonstrates the ways they were shaped by Imperial Germany’s entanglement with the Ottoman Empire, racial and cultural stereotypes and, in the post-war period, a growing admiration for Ataturk’s construction of a new Turkish Republic among the German far right. However, Ihrig also shows that anti-Armenians among the press and political elites did not have a monopoly. This book also pays attention to pro-Armenian actors, notably Johannes Lepsius and Armin Wegner. It contextualises the now-familiar stories of their activities within the broader landscape of German interactions with Armenians and, importantly, explains why, (despite the evidence they had gathered) theirs did not come to be the dominant perspectives during the inter-war period. There are one or two aspects of the argument which would have benefited from further contextualisation. For example, the place of Armenians in twentieth century racial theories is addressed in some depth towards the end of the book, demonstrating how Armenians and Jews were frequently treated as the same ‘type’. However, in the earlier sections of the book, which also address the transfer of anti-Semitic discourses onto the Armenians, contextualisation of the Armenian case within the evolution of nineteenth century German racial thought and its connections to the development of colonialism would have been helpful. More generally, the issue of German colonialism and colonial violence (for example the Genocide of the Herero and Nama) recurs several times in this book, raising a number of interesting questions which warrant further investigation. Ihrig connects the justification of the Armenian Genocide to Isabel Hull’s arguments regarding the evolution of a distinctive German military culture which, by the time of the First World War had rendered some ‘enemy’ civilian populations legitimate targets of violence. Nonetheless, there remains space perhaps for a fuller contextualisation of German responses to the Armenian Genocide within wider German colonial discourse and practice. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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