by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
the Armenian Mirror Spectator
AUGUST 22, 2023 – A century ago, when the Young Turk regime committed genocide against the Armenians and other Christian minorities, Germany, its wartime ally, could have intervened, but did not. Single individuals, like Johannes Lepsius, Consul Walter Rössler, and General Liman von Sanders, to name a few, did what they could to protect the targeted groups. When the German Ambassador in Constantinople in late 1915 wrote to Berlin urging government action to stop the persecution and massacres, Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg replied, “Our only aim is to keep Turkey on our side until the end of the war, no matter whether as a result Armenians do perish or not.” In 2016 the German Bundestag (Parliament) passed a resolution on genocide recognition, and the issue of historical responsibility pervaded the debate. Several members quoted Bethmann Hollweg’s infamous remark, to warn against repetition of such complicity by inaction.
Now, as the Azerbaijani blockade threatens genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh, the question is again on the agenda: where does Germany stand? Now, as then, prominent individuals, human rights lawyers, civil society groups, historians, and some press organs are speaking out, organizing demonstrations, and issuing calls to the government to act before it is too late. The government in Berlin, to date, has not gone beyond expressions of concern and support for negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Informing the Public
Throughout July, coverage of the Karabakh crisis in Germany’s major press was generally scanty and non-committal, presenting “both sides” of the conflict, and carefully avoiding any reference to genocide. Some national media acknowledged the gravity of the crisis; on August 10, Die Zeit ran a piece, “Forgotten by the World,” and Junge Welt reported about an “Exclave Starved.” As soon as the expert opinion of former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was released on August 9, the international press picked up the news of a genocide threat. In Germany, most national newspapers and media reported it objectively.
Human rights advocate and genocide scholar Tessa Hofmann, whose interview with Orbeli Analytical Research Center was published in the Mirror-Spectator last week, was called on for her analysis. Neues Deutschland carried a major article on August 18 entitled, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Genocide in the Caucasus,” which began with a straightforward characterization of Ocampo’s conclusions: “The Dictator of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, is acting with genocidal intentions.”
Speaking to author Melanie M. Klimmer, Eastern Europe expert Hofmann provided statistics of malnutrition among pregnant women, deaths of premature babies, as well as details on lack of fuel. Despite the appeals by Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan, who characterized the situation as a “concentration camp,” Hofmann went on, there are no sanctions threatening the Baku regime, “since the country has become more important than ever for the EU as energy provider in the shadow of the Ukraine war.” Dr. Gerayer Koutcharian, co-founder with Hofmann of the human rights group AGA, was also asked for comment and called for EU sanctions against Azerbaijan as well as an ICC investigation of the matter.
Significantly, the article deals with the precedent in the 1915 genocide, when Germany stood by as the Young Turk regime used hunger as well as massacres to kill. “I expect from the German government, therefore,” Koutcharian continued, “that it not passively look on, once again, when Armenians are to be eliminated.” Hofmann added that the “first step towards a peaceful solution in the South Caucasus” would be recognition of the genocide on the part of Turkey, which persists in denial. Further indications of genocidal intentions can be seen in warnings issued last August by the Lemkin Institute and the International Association of Genocide Scholars; Hofmann said the genocide has been in preparation in Azerbaijan’s schools and press for decades, dissidents are politically persecuted while killers of Armenians are hailed as heroes.
And the role of Russia? Hofmann’s assessment is sober. The fact that Azerbaijani sharpshooters have been killing Armenian farmers in their fields “sometimes in the presence of Russian peacekeepers,” she sees as indication that they “cannot, and apparently do not want to protect them.” If Russia were to leave the November 2020 truce deal, that would be “a paradigm shift in its South Caucasus policy.” Koutcharian’s view is that Russia must at least guarantee free passage of persons and goods.
On August 22, the Tagesspiegel carried a lengthy OpEd by Hofmann, entitled, “Is Genocide against the Armenians Taking Place in Nagorno-Karabakh?”, which presented the current situation on the ground, the political background, and the economic-geopolitical context measures in detail.
And the Government?
As of this writing, the German government has taken no visible measures. However, among press organs, the Deutschlandfunk (DLF: Radio Germany), the national public broadcasting service, has increasingly dealt with the accelerating crisis. On August 17, DLF broadcast a story, “Threat of Genocide on Europe’s Borders?” Correspondent Marianna Deinyan reported in detail on the catastrophic food, medicine, and fuel shortages, citing cases of families scraping by on bread. She quoted Karabakh Armenians who said their greatest fear was that if their government capitulated to Baku’s demands, there would be genocide. “If our government accepted Azerbaijan’s demands and gave up Nagorno-Karabakh, I fear that we will be killed in our houses by Azerbaijan – as was the case in 1915,” were the words of 23-year-old Shogher Sargsyan in Stepanakert.
This “tough term” was not only used by Armenians, DHL reported, but also by Ocampo. As to forecasts for future developments, the message was that, though the UN Security Council called for opening the Lachin Corridor, it must be remembered that Azerbaijan had rejected previous demands from international authorities.
Less than a week later, on August 22, DLF broadcast a report on the “horrifying news” from the region. East Europe expert Gesine Dornblut, who had visited the region in early June and witnessed the difficulties, was asked why there is so little coverage and discussion of the crisis. She answered that experts on the region are concerned with Ukraine, and that since 2020, there has been no independent press and no access for journalists, except for those invited by the Baku government to visit the liberated regions. She stressed the huge gap between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as far as free press is concerned. She went on to elaborate on the political and military dimensions to the conflict. As to the future, she said, it was difficult; Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is ready to acknowledge Azerbaijani sovereignty over Karabakh if Armenian rights are protected, but this is a condition Aliyev refuses. She concluded that given the deep mistrust, she sees no chances for peace.
Increasing press coverage is vital to informing the general public of the danger of genocide in Artsakh, but more will be required before the German government takes action. Members of the Armenian community in Germany are called on to organize public protest actions, and to escalate political pressure through letters to the press and government officials. On August 23, the Society for Threatened Peoples is organizing a vigil in front of the German Chancellor’s office in Berlin, to demand the following: “Prevent Genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, Mr. Scholz! Azerbaijan Must End Hunger Blockade!” Together with Armenians from the capital, they will present Chancellor Olaf Scholz with the demand to prevent a genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh.
At the same time, the Central Council of Armenians in Germany (ZAD) has issued a press release calling on the German political leadership to rethink its relations to Azerbaijan in view of the current crisis. Citing the genocide alert issued by the Lemkin Institute, the first reported case of death by starvation in Artsakh, and the lack of food, fuel, and medical aid, the ZAD stresses the “genocidal intention” of the Azerbaijani regime. In this situation, the ZAD calls for a critical rethinking of relations, as current “precarious conditions make upholding the status quo untenable. Innocent lives are at stake and the danger of a serious crime of genocide cannot be ignored.” Thus, it demands the government take concrete steps to overcome this crisis.