Adolf Hitler, when planning the Holocaust, is said to have rationalised his acts by stating: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
While evidence for this quote is scant, it cannot be doubted that the Nazis’ fascination with cleansing ethnic or religious minorities was stimulated in part by the example of Kemal Atatürk, with the early Nazis and other right-wing ideologues paralleling the fate of Turkey with that of Germany.
In a chilling study entitled ‘Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination’, Stefan Ihrig presents two decades of research into mainstream, right-wing and Nazi publications in Germany following World War I. He goes on to demonstrate how the founder of the modern state of Turkey served as a model of emulation for the Nazis and Hitler.
Considering that Hitler himself called Atatürk “a star in the darkness”, it is not a difficult case to prove as Ihrig states: “For the Nazis [in the aftermath of the World War] Turkey was not the old East, but the standard bearer for the modern nationalist and totalitarian politics that they wished to bring to Germany.”
In particular, the Nazis were interested in two aspects of Kemalist Turkey which they considered were worthy of emulation: its active resistance against the Entente countries, including its ability to resist the dismemberment of the heartland of the Ottoman Empire, its ability to secure a homeland, and to revise a post-war peace treaty imposed on it by the victors as well as its elimination of the opposition and minorities.
This makes sense. A number of early members of the Nazi movement such as Han Trobst had previously served in the Turkish military in an advisory capacity. Some of these had even witnessed the genocide of the native Christian minorities by the Ottomans and noted their approval of such a policy in writing. A Nazi analysis of the Kemalist movement replete with the racial politics that characterised the movement is evident in Froembgen’s popular book Kemal Atatürk: Soldier and Führer, which was published in 1935. He wrote: “Turkendom was dying slowly but surely of the poison that pours out of the racial mishmash of the subdued peoples, this famous sputum of peoples of the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, of the Levantines, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Arabs, and the Jews, who like the resistant weed cover the ground [everywhere].” According to him “sneaky, parasitic and unworthy” Armenians were seen as the “Jews of the Orient” who had “stabbed the Turks in the back” during the war. Even as early as 1924, it was suggested by the abovementioned Trobst on the front page of the Völkischer Kurier that “what had happened to the Armenians might very well happen to the Jews in a future Germany”. Going back to the source, Hitler himself paralleled the Christian minorities of Turkey with his own pet hatred of the Jews, stating at a party meeting in 1927 that Greeks “have these specific, disgraceful characteristics we condemn in the Jews”.
Thus the genocide of these populations was considered by the Nazis to be admirable because, as Ihrig states, it provided the harmonisation and standardisation of their populations. “Only through the annihilation of the Greek and the Armenian tribes in Anatolia were the creation of a Turkish national state and the formation of an unflawed Turkish body of society within one state possible.”
Such was the Nazi admiration of Turkey that Nazi racial theory, incomprehensible and inconsistent as the best of times, that the Turks themselves were included as part of the racial fold. In 1936 the Nazi office for Racial Policy announced that “the Turks are Aryans!”. As seen earlier, the minorities that were cleansed, had their ‘Aryaness’ stripped from them.
Kemal Atatürk’s rise to power also seems to have been closely studied by the Nazis, and Ihrig mounts an effective argument that his rise formed the inspiration for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Just as Atatürk abandoned corrupt and subjugated Constantinople for Samsounta, where he formulated the national movement that took over the country and cleansed it of its minorities so too, did Hitler seek from provincial Munich, to form a movement that would march on Berlin. As such, Kemal was the perfect Führer. According to Hitler, no salvation could come from Constantinople because “the city was, just as in our case, contaminated by democratic-pacifistic, internationalised people, who were no longer able to do what is necessary. It could only come from the farmer’s country”. As Goebbels’ teacher, F. Hussong wrote, Kemal was “the man who transformed a helpless and unstable, disoriented and faltering mass into a unified nation; a will rises and creates ascent from doom; a Führer rises and shows the way … where once one saw only abyss and doom.” The modelling of the Nazi movement upon Kemal becomes even more evident during Hitler’s own speeches when on trial of mounting the Munich Putsch. He argued that the German recovery “could only come from a relatively healthy part of Germany, and that was Bavaria” just as Ankara ‘saved’ the Turkish nation. He went on to state: “If we ask ourselves: What has legaliszed Kemal Pasha’s deed in the end? The gaining of liberty for his nation.”
Hitler’s ascent to power did not diminish his use of the Kemalist movement as a guide. In 1928, addressing a gathering in Nuremberg on the topic of the German defeat in World War I, he had this to say about Atatürk: “The inner strength [of the Turkish State] had remained and the man came who managed to remind his people of its great tradition and who led them forward. That is what was different with us Germans.”
By 1933, Nazi publications constantly equated Kemalism with Nazism. Kemalism was described as “Turkish National Socialism” in Hamburger Nachrichten while the Völkischer Beobachter attributed the ascent of the Turkish nation to the “deed of this one single man, who with iron will and undiminished determination leads his nation to independence.” In the Kreuzzeitung, it was stated that “the German National Socialism of Adolf Hitler and Turkish Kemalism are closely related”.
It is important to note that Kemalist Turkey, while it enjoyed amicable ties with Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II, was not influenced by the Nazi regime. Instead, the infatuated Nazis considered Kemalism to have reached the endpoint of the journey that they had embarked upon – that is, a situation where the country, having been cleansed of its minorities, and the people having already given their blind obedience to their leader, had no more need for fanfare, parades and fancy speeches. For them, Kemal, moreso than Mussolini or Franco was what a leader should be.
It is this rationale that justified, in the minds of the Nazis at least, that the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia and the Jewish Holocaust, at least ideologically, should be seen as a logical progression of this nuanced yet essentially ‘copy-cat’ aspirational parallelisation of Nazism with Kemalism.
In this sense, Ihrig’s research is of paramount importance, as it establishes a continuum of genocidal ideology that the world would do well to study.
* Dean Kalymniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.