Are related to Armenians and Kurds

Eastern Anatolia - until the 20th century, almost only Kurds and Armenians lived in this area. However, the common settlement area caused many problems during the genocide.

In the genocide documents, the Kurds are often portrayed as marauding groups, the worst enemies of the deported Armenians. But as is so often the case in history, the black and white thinking does not come true on closer inspection.

from Babs

You are actually to blame for the Armenian affair! ”. The Turkish MP Yusuf Halaçoğlu made a statement in the direction of the Kurds in 2013, thus presenting a new way of suppressing responsibility for the genocide of the Armenians. And yet: In an official statement in 2014, the Kurdish community in Germany apologized for what Kurds did to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Other Kurdish groups - such as the PKK in 1997 - had taken this step a long time ago, but Ferhad Seyder, professor of Kurdish studies at the University of Erfurt, rejects these excuses: it is ahistorical that the Kurds are responsible for the genocide of the Armenians to blame. “The Kurds”, as an ethnic unit, did not even exist at the time of the Ottoman Empire. Some were loyal and loyal to the government, while others were very skeptical of the Young Turkish movement. A look at history reveals the influence this diversity had on the behavior of the Kurds during the genocide.

Cavalrymen on behalf of the Sultan

There were hardly any Turks in Eastern Anatolia at the end of the 19th century. Rather, this part of the Ottoman Empire was populated by Kurds and Armenians, most of whom were organized there in feudal agriculture. The Christian Armenians, who were not allowed to carry weapons, were often subordinate to Kurdish tribal leaders as vassals. In order to secure the borders after the war with Russia in 1878 and at the same time to strengthen the loyalty of the Kurds who had settled in the east, Sultan Abdülhamid II founded the so-called Hamidiye in 1891, a cavalry whose soldiers were granted impunity for looting. The regiments were equipped with modern weapons and were therefore considered an elite military unit. The tribes from which the soldiers were recruited were privileged: they enjoyed tax exemption and their relatives were exempt from conscription. However, only thirteen of the 35 Kurdish tribes of Eastern Anatolia benefited from these advantages. They used their newly won power to carry out raids and wars against the rest of the population. At the same time, the Armenians in Eastern Anatolia began to oppose the double tax payments - to their Kurdish liege lords and to the Ottoman state. These uprisings were brutally suppressed by the Hamidiye units. Even before the genocide, relations between the inhabitants were tense; the formerly clear feudal structures became blurred.

Kurds define themselves by their ethnicity, but are predominantly Sunni Muslims. For a long time these were allies of the Ottoman Empire; in contrast to the Alevis who live there. A religion-independent national feeling only developed at the end of the First World War. Today they are the largest with a population of 18 percent
Minority of Turkey.

As a result, the Young Turkish regime, which had ruled since 1908, was itself hardly in a position to overlook the complex power structures in the eastern part of their empire. In order to be able to act on the ground, the Hamidiye, loyal to the government, which had previously been disbanded, were reactivated as cavalry units under a new name. During the genocide in 1915, these paramilitary commandos formed part of the special forces tasked with murdering the deportees. How important these predominantly Kurdish units were in carrying out the genocide can be seen in the example of the Diyabakir area. In this city, almost half of the Armenian population before 1915, many of the massacres were probably carried out by the Hamidiye veterans - the units had only been brought into the city for this purpose. In the process of reappraisal, it is assumed to this day that these pro-government groups have been acting on the instructions of the local authorities for decades. Minorities also participated in the deportations of the Armenians from 1915 onwards: These marches, which often ended fatally, were accompanied by the Ottoman gendarmerie. Wolfgang Gust, an expert on the Armenian genocide, emphasizes, however, that these were not trained workers. Regular soldiers were sent to the Eastern Front at the beginning of the First World War to defend the border with Russia. In order to find personnel to accompany them, the Ottoman state promised an amnesty to all prisoners who joined the gendarmerie. However, these “protection troops” did not only consist of convicts - Circassians expelled from Russia also guarded the deportation trains.

Kurds - enemy and helper

These escort troops often turned out to be the worst enemies of the guarded: either they allowed attacks on the deportees to take place during the marches - some surviving Armenians reported that they were attacked by Kurds; or they sold the deportees to Kurdish tribes who first killed their victims and then plundered them. Often the women had hidden valuables on their bodies or swallowed them - individual corpses, explains Wolfgang Gust, were burned to find gold. In these cases, several experts assume that it was either targeted instrumentalization of the Kurdish tribes loyal to the government or pure greed and opportunism. Ferhad Seyder takes the view that in these cases of collaboration, political motives hardly played a role. The importance of religion for participation in the genocide, however, is controversial: Even if the nationalism of the ruling Young Turks was not primarily based on Islam, religion played a role in some cases. The religious intolerance propagated by the authorities is also given as a reason for the participation of some Kurds.

The Yazidis are one of the few non-Islamic Kurdish groups. Their monotheistic and orally transmitted religion is one of the oldest in the world. They have always suffered from persecution and therefore largely live in the diaspora. The common history of suffering with the Armenians during the First World War provided a basis for living together in Armenia.

The conviction that Muslims are worth more than Christians may have been a reason for Kurdish clerical dignitaries to participate in the genocide, according to Hamit Borzarslan, historian at the EHESS University in Paris. However, this is denied by Uğur Üngör from the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam: Many spiritual leaders would have considered the genocide to be a disgrace that ran counter to religion. The theologian Said Nursî helped Armenian women and children to flee across the border into Russia. The Kurdish clergyman, Sheikh Said, imposed a religious ban on all those involved in the massacres. Both clergymen are likely to have saved many lives. But Üngör adds that some killings could well have been accompanied by a promise to go to heaven to kill an unbeliever. In some cases, and here most researchers agree, sheer fear was also a motivation for collaboration: Those who helped Armenians or hid them were also killed. Not all of them were deterred by this threat, however. In particular, those Kurdish groups who also suffered from the repression of the Young Turks became the saviors of the Armenians. For example the small group of Yazidis, whose share in the total population of the Ottoman Empire was negligible. This Kurdish population group was supposed to be Islamized and those who resisted were marginalized. Nevertheless, they offered refuge to the persecuted Armenians during the massacres. The Alevi Kurds from the region around Dersim also distinguished themselves as helpers to the Armenians. The Alevis, who had been discriminated against because of their religion in the 1890s, initially placed great hope in Young Turkish laicism. However, their aspirations for autonomy ran counter to the new government's urge to centralize. The Dersim region has always been populated by both Armenians and Kurds. Sometimes their families were married to one another. When the genocide began, the Alevi Kurds offered their Armenian neighbors refuge or organized smuggling services that brought the persecuted to the Russian front.

Denial, Apology, and Reconciliation

One of the reasons for the active support may have been a shared religious experience - Alevis and Armenians shared many places of pilgrimage in Dersim. In order to protect themselves from the massacres, Armenian women more often married an Alevis after they converted. After the genocide, these marriages were usually covered with a cloak of silence. So there were many children in the following years who did not know about their Armenian roots for a long time. With the help of their neighbors, many Armenians managed to escape the atrocities of the Young Turkish state. This affront to the Ottoman Empire carried the seeds of hatred into the young Turkish republic. Kemal Ataturk, for example, saw Dersim, which also tried to evade state control in the following years, as one of the most pressing problems facing the new Turkey. The later massacre of the Dersim Kurds in 1938 is unanimously described by all the scientists surveyed as a belated retaliation for the protective campaigns. Up until then, a common Kurdish-Armenian memory of the genocide had been kept alive in the region. So there is hardly any motive of “the Kurds” for participating in the genocide. Much more decisive than ethnicity is the relationship that the population groups already had with one another before the genocide. Wolfgang Gust differentiates: “Kurds helped murder and Kurds were also the most important helpers of the Armenians. Quite a few Armenians survived because Kurds hid them. "

The Alevis are a socio-religious community that formed in Anatolia in the Middle Ages. They count themselves among the Shiites and therefore suffered persecution as alleged heretics in the early days of the Ottoman Empire. To this day they are remote from the state and are still discriminated against.

Madlen Vartian, Deputy Chairwoman of the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD), emphasizes that many Kurds have shown solidarity with the Armenians for a long time - and not just since the official apology of the Kurdish community in Germany in 2014. Relationships between the Armenians and the Armenians have existed for a long time Kurds, especially those of the Alevi faith. Traditionally left Kurdish parties and publications have been dealing with the issue for several years and have apologized to the Armenians. Raffi Kantian, chairman of the German-Armenian Society, makes a differentiation: the Kurds' apologies are a relatively new phenomenon. A first scientific conference on the subject did not take place in Germany until May 2014. As a result, there is hardly any research into the motives and forms of involvement in the genocide. "The relationship between Armenians and Kurds is still ambivalent today," Madlen Vartian points out. “There is a majority of Kurds who recognize the genocide of the Armenians and the Kurdish involvement. However, there are also Kurds who have benefited from the extermination and have appropriated Armenian property and land through murder and robbery. The descendants of these beneficiaries vehemently support the policy of denial. ”But Turkey's denial of the genocide also prevents a more detailed discussion of the issue. “Research on the Armenian genocide is nowhere near as advanced as, for example, on the Shoah,” explains cultural historian Rolf Hosfeld. He heads the Lepsiushaus in Potsdam, a research and meeting place on the history of violence in the 20th century. "The detailed mechanisms and responsibilities, including the participation of the population in the whole thing - there is no broad agreement, only individual research contributions."

AGHET 1915-2015: The Kurds and the genocide | memorique: Genocide and History Lessons | The German Reich and the Baghdad Railway | classic: The Forty Days of Musa Dagh | Cultural processing of the genocide

Editorial addendum (October 10, 2015):
After Ms. Madlen Vartian, who was the representative of the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD), vilified Sunni Muslims as a “pack” on her private Facebook page at the end of September 2015, we asked the ZAD board for a statement. We were told that the association is distancing itself from the posting and that it is made clear that "Ms. Vartian does not speak for the ZAD in this matter and also not for the Armenian community in Germany". Ms. Vartian was advised to resign from her position on the board. A decision is still pending.

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