[December 8, 2017] In 1784, Robert Burns wrote in a poem1 that “Man’s inhumanity to man causes countless thousands to mourn.” His inspiration was based on his own poverty in which he lived. It is poetic, in a sense, that we use his words to describe the horrific genocide perpetrated against the Armenian peoples in the early 20th Century and first documented by Armin T. Wegner. So … who was Armin Wegner?
Wegner was a German who enrolled as a medic during World War I and served in what is now the country of Turkey. In the winter of 1914-15 he took hundreds of photographs of Armenians being deported and starving in northern Syrian camps, in the deserts of Deir-er-Zor, and other nearby parts of the region.
“I venture to claim the right of setting before you these pictures of misery and terror which passed before my eyes during nearly two years, and which will never be obliterated from my mind.” – Armin T. Wegner, German soldier
Because his photos strained the already weak German-Turkish alliance (one which was already being torn apart due to the sensitivity of the Armenian issue), Wegner was arrested by the Germans and recalled to Germany. He was warned not to risk the alliance. Failing to gain cooperation from his own government, Wegner protested against the atrocities in an open letter to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
In 1919, Wegner published Der Weg ohne Heimkehr (The Road of No Return), a collection of letters he had written during, what he deemed, the “martyrdom of the Armenians.2 A summary version of these can be found in a search of the web (see link for Armin T Wegners Letters and Diary of 1915-1916). It is indeed an awakening to the plight of those caught in the crossfire of the failed Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey.
It is interesting to note the continued sensitivity of this issue. Although the term “genocide” did not exist at that time, recently U.S. President Barack Obama avoided using the proper terminology of genocide during his eight years in office when referring to the Armenians. Interestingly, the Armenian genocide has been called the first holocaust.
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