Proof of Turkish complicity in Armenian genocide revealed

Genocide stains the annals of the 20th century like a macabre decoration – from the Holocaust to Stalin’s forced starvation of Ukrainians to Pol Pot’s killing fields to slaughter in Rwanda.

The first official genocide of the last century began with the organized killing of Armenians by the then Ottoman Empire in 1915, an event that claimed as many as 1.5 million Armenians, or about 75 percent of all Armenians in what is today Turkey.

The liquidation – carried out under the cover of World War I – was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied males through massacre and forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and the infirm on death marches to the Syrian desert in which victims were deprived of food and water, and subjected to robbery, rape and massacre.

Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman perpetrators, has long denied a state role in the killing of Armenians. Despite the testimony of thousands of Armenian survivors, it has resisted the word genocide, saying that the suffering of the Armenians occurred during the chaos of a world war in which Turkish Muslims faced hardship, too.

Turkey also claimed that the Armenians were traitors, and had been planning to join with Russia, then an enemy of the Ottoman Empire. That position is deeply ingrained in Turkish culture with a majority of Turks sharing the government’s position.

Recently, however, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said he has discovered a “smoking gun” that implicates the Turks, an original telegram introduced as evidenced in the 1919-20 trials connected to the deaths of the Armenians, in an archive held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, according to the New York Times.

Akcam, who has studied the genocide for decades by piecing together documents from around the world to establish state complicity in the killings, said he hoped the evidence would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.”

“The story begins in 1915 in an office in the Turkish city of Erzurum, when a high-level official of the Ottoman Empire punched out a telegram in secret code to a colleague in the field, asking for details about the deportations and killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia, the easternmost part of contemporary Turkey,” according to the Times.

A deciphered copy of the telegram was used to help convict the official, Behaeddin Shakir, for planning the organized killing of Armenians in trials held shortly after the end of World War I.

Turkish officials attempted – successfully – to place blame during the trials on a small number of officials, rather than the deaths being correctly expressed as a statewide effort. Those found guilty were either in hiding or given light sentences.

Soon after the trial most of the original documents and sworn testimony disappeared, leaving researchers to rely mostly on summaries from the official Ottoman newspaper. Turkey has been able to deny the genocide partly because so many of the records of the court proceedings were destroyed or somehow vanished, leaving only historians’ accounts and journalists’ accounts, which could be dismissed as biased.

“What we were missing in Armenian genocide is the so-called smoking gun because all relevant documents were taken out from Ottoman archive or all these materials – telegrams, eyewitness accounts, they were all gone,” Akcam told National Public Radio. “We didn’t know whereabouts of all these documents. And mainly, the denial strategy was ‘show us the originals.’ So I discovered in a private archive this telegram.”

The telegram would likely have remained forever lost were it not for Akcam’s sleuthing.

As Turkish nationalists were about to seize the country in 1922, the Armenian leadership in Istanbul shipped 24 boxes of court records to England for safekeeping, according to the Times.

“The records were kept there by a bishop, then taken to France and, later, to Jerusalem. They have remained there since the 1930s, part of a huge archive that has mostly been inaccessible to scholars, for reasons that are not entirely clear,” the publication added. “Mr. Akcam said he had tried for years to gain access to the archive, with no luck.”

He did, though, find a photographic record of the Jerusalem archive in New York, held by the nephew of an Armenian monk, now dead, who was a survivor of the genocide.

“The telegram was written under Ottoman letterhead and coded in Arabic lettering; four-digit numbers denoted words. When Mr. Akcam compared it with the known Ottoman Interior Ministry codes from the time, found in an official archive in Istanbul, he found a match, raising the likelihood that many other telegrams used in the postwar trials could one day be verified in the same way,” the Times wrote.

For historians, the court cases were one piece of a mountain of evidence that emerged over the years – including reports in several languages from diplomats, missionaries and journalists who witnessed the events as they happened – that established the historical fact of the killings and qualified them as genocide.

While many countries, including France, Germany, Greece and the Vatican, have recognized what happened to the Armenians in 1915 as genocide, the United States has refrained from using that term, not wishing to alienate Turkey, a NATO ally and a partner in its fight against terrorism in the Middle East.

Akcam told NPR that the Turkish government must now develop new strategies to deny the Armenian genocide.

“They cannot deny as they have been denying over the years,” he said. “It is over now. There is no way to escape. They have to face this reality. This is a telegram with an Ottoman letterhead and we with the Ottoman coding system.”

(Top: Armenian mother kneeling beside her dead child near Aleppo, Syria, one of many who died crossing the Syrian desert during the Armenian genocide.) 

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Romania: Trying to recover from bad luck, bad choices

antonescu and hitler

The 20th century was, to be blunt, pretty crappy for citizens of many countries. Those of the Soviet Union, who were forced to endure two world wars, civil war, the onset of communism and Stalin’s murderous regime, had it particularly bad, for example.

Other nations that had a rather rough go of it during the 20th century include:

  • Poland (the loss of 450,000 men in World War I even though it was not independent at that point, a war with the Soviets from 1918-1921, invaded and decimated by Nazi Germany with a huge loss of life – estimated at more than 6 million, including 3 million Jews – then placed under Soviet hegemony for 45 years);
  • Korea (annexed and brutally subjugated by Japan from 1910 to 1945, divided and then involved in a ruthless civil war from 1950-53, and both North Korea and South Korea still at daggers with one another); and
  • The former Yugoslav republics (cobbled together in part through Woodrow Wilson’s machinations after World War I, invaded by the Nazis – who set up a brutal puppet state – commandeered by Tito after the war, and finally rent asunder by brutal internecine conflict in the 1990s).

Another country that would probably like a do-over for the 20th century is Romania, which didn’t acquit itself very well in either world war and suffered under the whip of two particularly odious dictators during the Cold War.

Romania chose to remain neutral for the first two years of World War I before joining with the Entente Powers in the summer of 1916. Unfortunately,  Romania then quickly found itself overwhelmed by the Central Powers, which occupied two-thirds of the country.

When Russia capitulated to Germany following the Russian Revolution, Romania found itself surrounded and was forced to sign a harsh peace treaty. Although it was ultimately able to acquire territory under the Treaties of Saint Germain, Trianon and Paris, total Romanian military and civilian losses between 1916 and 1918 were estimated at nearly 750,000.

Things turned out even worse in the Second World War for Romania. Originally loosely affiliated with Great Britain and France, Romania opted to align itself with Nazi Germany after the start of World War II when the Nazis made quick work of most of Western Europe.

Seventy-five years ago this week, the Romanian government, under the control of fascist Ion Antonescu, officially threw its lot in with the Axis Powers, signing the Tripartite Pact.

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Reports of Nazi train buried in southern Poland appear true

gold train map

It now appears that, unlike many other accounts of Nazi-era loot uncovered inside mountains or deep in alpine lakes, last month’s report about the discovery of a World War II German military train, possibly buried with gold, gems and guns, may be true.

A Polish official said recently that ground-penetrating radar images have left him “99 percent convinced” that a World War II German military train is buried near the southwestern city of Walbrzych.

According to local legend, a Nazi train filled with gold, gems and guns went missing near the city in 1945, the BBC reports.

Poland’s Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski said radar images appeared to show a train equipped with gun turrets.

In addition, specialists at the Ksiaz castle, the nearby Polish fortress that Hitler intended to become his base of operations in Eastern Europe, believe at least two further undiscovered Nazi trains were in the area carrying unknown treasures.

Zuchowski did not reveal the location of the find but reiterated warnings to treasure hunters that the site may be booby-trapped.

Last month, a Pole and a German told authorities in Walbrzych that they knew the location of the armored train.

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Mossad took out Nazi collaborator 50 years ago

bigriga03

In the 1950s and ‘60s one of the tasks of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, was to track down high-level Nazis and Nazi collaborators who had eluded justice. The Mossad’s best-known success, of course, was the capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major architects of the Holocaust, in Argentina in 1960 and whisking him back to Israel, where he stood trial.

Less well known is the case of Herberts Cukurs, a noted Latvian who gained fame in the 1930 for his aviation skills, but who went on to aid the Germans in the efforts to rid the Baltic region of Jews and earned the nickname the Butcher of Riga.

Fifty years ago, Cukurs was killed outside of Montevideo, Uruguay, by Mossad agents for his role in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.

Cukurs, born in 1900, was the Latvian equivalent of Charles Lindbergh. He was acclaimed for long-distance solo flights, flying from Latvia to Gambia and Latvia to Japan during the 1930s.

He also constructed at least three aircraft of his own design, one of which he took on a 24,000-mile tour that included visits to Japan, China, India and Russia.

However, Cukurs had a much darker side that came out with the advent of World War II.

Just before war erupted in 1939, the Germans and Soviets had secretly divided up Europe. The Baltic states were to fall under Soviet hegemony.

When the Nazis turned on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Cukurs and many other Latvians saw an opportunity to throw off the Soviet yoke and were only too eager to work with Germans, no matter what the task.

The Germans quickly invaded and occupied Latvia, and Cukurs became a member of the notorious Arajs Kommando, or the Latvian Auxiliary Police, which answered to the intelligence arm of the Nazi SS. The Arajs Kommando was one of the more notorious killing units during the Holocaust and was responsible for many war crimes in Latvia.

Cukurs volunteered to serve as deputy commander of the Arajs Kommando, which actively participated in the murder of at least 30,000 Jews in Latvia and many thousands more in neighboring Belarus.

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Happy New Year; the blessings of being alive in today’s world

German_soldiers_in_a_railroad_car_on_the_way_to_the_front_during_early_World_War_I,_taken_in_1914__Taken_from_greatwar_nl_site

To those crusaders of the keyboard who take the time to visit this site – whether by chance or on purpose (Hi, Mom!) – we here at the Cotton Boll Conspiracy would like to wish you a Happy New Year.

Regular readers – all six of you – may have noted this blog’s fascination with history. As much as today’s media would like us to stay glued to our television sets, Twitter feeds, and anything else through which they can pour out bad news or, more often, dress up mediocre news so that it looks really, really scary and thereby keeps us in a fear-induced trance, the world today is perhaps safer than it’s ever been.

No, it’s not perfectly safe and never will be. Anyone who expects that is a fool.

However, consider what was going on 100 years ago today, on Jan. 1, 1915:

Most of the world’s great powers were a few months into what would become one of the worst wars in history.

At this point a century ago, more than a million men had already died in what would eventually be known as World War I, and another 10 million or so would lose their lives before the fighting ended in November 1918.

However, even with the end of the Great War, other conflicts spurred by WWI would continue across Eastern Europe into the 1920s, costing millions more lives.

World War I also magnified one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history, the 1918 flu pandemic that claimed between 50 million and 100 million lives worldwide.

It sparked the Bolshevik Revolution, which led to the rise of Lenin and Stalin, and claimed tens of millions of more lives, not to mention decades of misery for hundreds of millions.

It led to the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, the subsequent collapse of the League of Nations and the rise of the Axis Powers. That brought World War II, the Holocaust, atomic warfare, the deaths of somewhere between 60 million and 70 million individuals, and the onset of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

And those are just the high points.

We’d all do well to head to the local library once in a while, check out a roll of microfilm from a 70 or 100 years ago, and see what real crises looked like.

Are there problems today? Yes. Are they anywhere near what the world face 100 years ago? No, thank goodness.

So get out there and enjoy a wonderful 2015. And thanks for stopping by.

(Top: German soldiers on the way to the front in the late summer of 1914. Many of these men would be dead by Jan. 1, 1915, and few survived World War I.)

Monet discovered among art hoard collected during Nazi era

vue de sainte-adresse

A German art collector who came about his works partly through his father’s questionable dealings during World War II managed to smuggle a Monet with him into a hospital where he was admitted earlier this year.

The hospital sent the suitcase containing the work by the famed French Impressionist to the executor of Cornelius Gurlitt’s estate on Sept. 2 after having kept it in storage for several months following Gurlitt’s death, according to The Art Newspaper.

Gurlitt had some 1,400 paintings, drawings and sketches – believed to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and including masterpieces by Picasso and Chagall – in his apartment in Munich for decades.

During the Nazi era, Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand was tasked with selling works taken or bought under duress from Jewish families, and avant-garde art seized from German museums that the Hitler regime deemed “degenerate,” according to Agence France-Presse.

In the final days of World War II, Hildebrand Gurlitt had loaded his family and the artworks into a truck to flee Allied bombing, ending up at a baron’s castle in Bavaria, according to the Wall Street Journal.

After the elder Gurlitt died in 1956, his son assumed the collection.

Gurlitt apparently brought the Monet to the hospital in southern Germany as his health worsened earlier this year. Gurlitt went home shortly before he died on May 6, but the work was left at the hospital, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Experts have determined that around 450 works in the Gurlitt collection are suspected of being looted art, while another 380 may have been confiscated “degenerate” works, Agence France-Presse added.

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Bidding adieu to the last of the original Ramones

It was rocker Neil Young who sang the lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away,” but few groups embodied that concept better than the Ramones.

They played fast – very fast, almost too fast – and eschewed musical luxuries for the basics of two guitars, drums and a vocalist.

The last original member of the Ramones, Tommy Ramone, died Friday at age 65, essentially closing the book on a remarkable bit of rock history.

Despite their stripped-down style, anti-establishment look and the fact that to the untrained ear the Ramones’ sound, described as a “wall of noise,” could come across as little more than a jumble of yelling and musical anarchy, they influenced not only a generation of musicians, but of music aficionados, even as mainstream radio ignored them for decades.

The group was formed in the New York City neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens, in 1974. All four members adopted pseudonyms ending with the surname “Ramone,” although none were related. They took the name Ramone from an alias Paul McCartney used to check into hotels.

They group wore ripped jeans, black leather and bad haircuts, and came to embody American punk rock with tunes such as “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Tommy Ramone, 65, was born Thomas Erdelyi in Budapest, Hungary, to Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust by being hidden by neighbors. He died of bile duct cancer.

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