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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Soviet World War II hero dies in Chicago at age 94

Stepan-Borozenets

The only Hero of the Soviet Union living in the United States has died at age 94.

Stepan Borozenets, born in what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan in 1922, flew more than 100 missions during World War II, or, as it is known in Russia, the Great Patriotic War.

Flying an Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik, a ground-attack aircraft, he was shot down at least once and wounded on at least two different occasions.

Borozenets is credited with destroying great quantities of enemy equipment, as his unit destroyed tanks, locomotives, rail cars and vehicles, suppressed fire from dozens of antiaircraft and field artillery batteries, demolished warehouses and fuel and ammo dumps, and was credited with killing more than 1,200 Germans.

He was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union on Aug. 18, 1945, for “exemplary performance of combat missions and for their heroism and courage,” according to the Russian news agency TASS.

Il-2 Sturmovik, similar to what Stepan Borozenets flew during World War II.

Il-2 Sturmovik, the model Stepan Borozenets flew during World War II.

Borozenets came to the US in 1995 for medical treatment and opted to remain in the States afterward, settling in Chicago, where he died this past Friday.

Despite spending more than 20 years in the US, Borozenets retained his Russian citizenship, according to TASS.

Borozenets was called up by the Red Army in April 1941, shortly before the Nazis began Operation Barbarossa – their invasion of the Soviet Union. After graduating from flight school, he was sent to the 2nd Belorussian Front in the fall of 1943.

The following July, Borozenets’ plane was shot down, but he managed to land the burning aircraft despite suffering serious injuries. In February 1945, while over Poland returning from a combat sortie, Borozenets was attacked by a group of German fighters and again wounded, but later returned to service.

Among other honors Borozenets received was the medal for the Capture of Königsberg, in recognition of participation in the battle to capture the East Prussian city of Königsberg from the Nazis in 1945.

Borozenets remained in the military service after the war, rising to the rank of colonel.

The US-Canadian Association of Veterans of the Airborne Troops of the Former USSR Countries has begun collecting funds for the erection of a monument to Borozenets in Chicago.

(Top: Stepan Borozenets in recent years, in a uniform with his many decorations.)

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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Mother, daughter reunited after being split up during WWII

 margot bachmann

After more than 70 years, Margot Bachmann, born in the midst of World War II, finally got to meet her mother, ending a lifetime of questions and uncertainty.

Bachmann’s mother had been recruited to work in Nazi Germany during World War II while Italy and Germany were still allied. When Italy switched sides following its capitulation to the Allies, her status became that of forced laborer.

She fell in love with a German soldier, became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Margot in October 1944. In late 1944, the Nazi “Welfare and Juvenile Office” denied the 20-year-old mother her right as guardian, and Margot was taken to a children’s home, according to the International Tracing Service. The ITS’s mission includes tracing the fate of family members persecuted by the Nazis and their allies.

At war’s end in 1945 the mother returned to Italy under the assumption that her daughter and the father had died in the conflict’s waning months.

What Bachmann’s mother didn’t know is that the German soldier was already married. He not only survived the war but his family took Margot out of the children’s home.

Margot would grow up with seven half-brothers and sisters. Questions about Bachmann’s biological mother were strictly forbidden by her father, who wanted her to believe that her mother had died.

Although Bachmann suspected that the facts didn’t add up, it was only after her father died two years ago that she gathered the courage to try to find out what happened to her mother.

With the help of her own daughter, Bachmann found her baptismal certificate, which included the name of her mother. They then inquired at the German Red Cross, which passed her inquiry on to the International Tracing Service, where staff members were able to find information in its archives that made it possible to locate her mother, now 91 and living in Novellara, a small town in northern Italy.

Bachmann then wrote a letter to her mother:

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Mussolini’s bid to recreate empire had fateful results for Italy

March_on_Rome

Of the three most infamous dictators from World War II, Benito Mussolini definitely takes a backseat to his more merciless fellow despots, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Mussolini, in fact, comes across like a bit of a buffoon, given his fateful decision to side with the Nazis, his nation’s performance during the conflict and his ultimate fate (captured trying to escape to Switzerland, executed by firing squad and then hung upside down in a town square where his body was pelted with stones by his fellow Italians).

Il Duce dreamed of recreating a Roman empire reminiscent of the great Caesars, to the point of enacting ancient laws totally out of step with the 20th century.

He went so far as to revive the Code of Diocletian, writes Rebecca West in her masterful 1941 work Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which recounts her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s.

“(Mussolini) retrieved, whether from the half-comprehended talk of a clever comrade or by skimming a volume in the threepenny box outside the bookshop, the Code of Diocletian; and being either unaware or careless that Diocletian had perished of despair in his palace at Split, because he had failed to check the descent of ruin on the Roman earth, he enforced that Code on his country,” West writes. “This was a comical venture.”

She adds that Diocletian had “some excuse for seeking to stabilize by edict the institutions of an empire that had lasted for over a thousand years,” but it was idiotic for Mussolini “to attempt to fix the forms of a country that had been unified for less than a century and was deeply involved in a world economic system which was no older than the industrial revolution.”

Ultimately, Mussolini’s reign would be an even greater failure than Diocletian’s (284-305 AD).

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Stupidity: A never-changing constant throughout history

southern 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotive

Among history’s reassuring staples is man’s ability to act like an idiot.

We’re not talking about odious acts or abhorrent misconduct – though there has been that aplenty over the millenia. I’m referring to the garden-variety foolishness that seems rampant today thanks to the Internet and social media. We may be better able to track today’s idiocy than in the past, but it’s unlikely the spirit behind such inanity is different from that of yesteryear.

Consider a story that appeared in the Spartanburg (SC) Herald in the late summer of 1939.

Under the headline “’Borrowed’ Locomotive Wrecks and Two Union Men Land in Jail Cells,” the paper detailed an incident in which a couple of (figurative) clowns went for a joyride on a 284,000-pound steam engine, with the locomotive ending up in a ravine in Union, SC.

The unnamed pair – it doesn’t mention just how liquored up they might have been – were walking across the Upstate South Carolina town at night looking for something to do when they noticed a Southern Railway locomotive sitting on a track at the rear of a water works plant.

One of the two decided he wanted to blow the train’s horn.

The duo climbed into the engine’s cab and pulled a lever, but instead of sounding the horn, the train, which likely had been left idling so that it would be ready to go the following morning, began moving backward.

The pair, unable to stop the locomotive, jumped from engine, which continued moving backward, picking up speed. It eventually travelled 600 yards to the end of the spur, near the old Union Mills warehouse.

It then left the tracks and plunged into an earthen embankment.

It took approximately 24 hours for railroad workers to get the engine up and back on the tracks.

The two men were confined to the hoosegow – one in the county jail, the other in the city jail – while Union police officers conferred with railway police to determine what charges to lodge against the duo.

They were eventually fined an undisclosed amount.

What may have helped lessen the severity of their penalty was that the incident took place on Aug. 31, 1939, and made the papers the following day. Attention was likely drawn away from the two knuckleheads shortly thereafter by events in Europe, as Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially initiating World War II.

(Top: A Southern Railway 2-8-2 locomotive, likely similar to what a pair of lugnuts inadvertently drove off the rails in the late summer of 1939 in Union, SC.)