Eberhard Count Wolffskeel Von Reichenberg, Zeitoun, Mousa Dagh, Ourfa: Letters on the Armenian Genocide

Eberhard Count Wolffskeel Von Reichenberg, Zeitoun, Mousa Dagh, Ourfa: Letters on the Armenian Genocide

comp. ed. with introduction by Hilmar Kaiser
London: Gomidas Institute, 2004 (second ed.)
xxvi + 64 pp, maps,
ISBN 1-903656-43-5, paperback,
UK£8.00 / US$14.00
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"Introduction by Kaiser Challenges Conventional Notions of a German Role in the Armenian Genocide."

In his introduction to an important new documentary publication on the Armenian Genocide, historian Hilmar Kaiser argues that our understanding of the German role during the Genocide is tinged by speculative sources and Allied wartime propaganda. He calls for a distinction to be made between creditable sources from the period and less than creditable ones, suggesting caution when using such materials.

Kaiser points out that since much German evidence on the Armenian Genocide was lost during World War II (following Allied raids on Germany), this lack of source materials has allowed speculation regarding an Ottoman-German conspiracy against Armenians in 1915; such theories, Kaiser argues, have not been substantiated by evidence.

According to Kaiser’s introduction, a more realistic understanding of the German involvement in the Armenian Genocide is nevertheless possible through the critical analysis of existing materials, such as diaries, letters, and fragments of official correspondence.

No single German position

After providing an outline of the Armenian Genocide and German policy, Kaiser argues that there was no single German position on Armenians in 1915. Quite to the contrary, he provides evidence that German diplomats, military personnel, and businesspeople (such as the directors of the Baghdad Railway Company) disagreed over how their government should react to the annihilation of Armenians.

In Kaiser’s view, the German government simply pursued its own national interests by trying to keep Ottoman Turks on Germany’s side during World War I. Kaiser’s position is drawn in sharp contrast to that of authors who claim that Germany was actively involved in the organization and execution of the Armenian Genocide.

Kaiser brings to light some of the internal disagreements within the German government. When the German Foreign Office suggested a public condemnation of any German involvement in the Armenian Genocide, the German Chancellor responded: "The suggested public condemnation of an ally during the present war would be a measure unlike any in history. Our sole objective is to keep Turkey on our side until the end of the war, no matter if Armenians perish over that or not. In the face of a longer continuing war we will still need the Turks very much" (p. x).

Eberhard Count Wolffskeel

Having provided this context, Kaiser introduces the letters of Eberhard Count Wolffskeel Von Reichenberg, chief of staff to Fakhri Pasha, Ottoman Fourth Army, Syria. Welffskeel wrote the letters to his wife and father. The letters, which are reproduced in the book, give invaluable insights into Ottoman military operations in 1915. They show the nature of Armenian resistance against Ottoman authorities in Zeitoun (April 1915), Mousa Dagh (September 1915), and Ourfa (October 1915), as well as the Ottoman use of force against them.

Wolffskeel is the only German officer who served in Ottoman uniform known to have been directly involved in the killing of Armenians. He personally led the attack on the Armenian quarter of Ourfa, and showed exceptional zeal when doing so. He comes across as a callous man, and a racist, who takes great pride in his military prowess and his lack of compassion for Armenian victims. His involvement in crushing the Armenian resistance in Ourfa--when this community's turn came to be deported and destroyed--makes particularly disturbing reading.

Eberhard Count Wolffskeel Von Reichenberg, Zeitoun, Mousa Dagh, Ourfa: Letters on the Armenian Genocide is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Armenian Genocide and German policy in 1915. The work is the latest addition to the Gomidas Institute Armenian Genocide Documentation series.

About the Author

Hilmar Kaiser is a historian specializing in late Ottoman social and economic history and the Armenian Genocide of 1915. He has worked in German, American, as well as Ottoman archives in Turkey, and has a prolific output of academic work. His studies include Imperialism, Racism, and Development Theories: The Construction of a Dominant Paradigm on Ottoman Armenians and  (At the Crossroads of Der Zor: Death, Survival and Humanitarian Resistance in Aleppo, 1915–1917.
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