By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
DRESDEN — Germans celebrated national unity on October 3, not only in Dresden but also in Yerevan. Most appropriately at the center of the festivities was the presentation of a new publication detailing the history of German-Armenian relations. Entitled Between the Rhine and the Arax: 900 Years of German-Armenian Relations, the volume published by TIGRAN METS in Yerevan, is the Armenian translation of a work issued in German in 1988, by Enno Meyer and Ara J. Berkian. Lisa Berkian-Abrahamian fulfilled her late husband’s desire by translating it into Armenian.
The aim of the authors was to provide new insights into the almost one thousand years of relations so as to deepen reciprocal understanding and remove prejudices. Especially in the second part of the book which deals with the modern era, significant source material from German archives appears for the first time in print.
The relations, though intense, have not always been easy, and the role of the Great Powers in determining the fate of the Armenians – that “betrayed people” as Fridjof Nansen put it — has been complex and problematic, especially in the course of the two world wars that scarred the 20th century.
Part one traces relations from ancient times to 1922 and part two covers the turbulent years thereafter up to 1988. The story begins in 1071, when Armenian Archbishop Gregor was given refuge in Passau, as he fled Seljuk persecution. The account references the fact that the wife of Otto I, Empress Theophanu (955-991) was Armenian, and that Armenian architecture left its mark in Germany and Europe more broadly. In the Crusades, relations reached a highpoint, and Armenians were rewarded for their service by Emperors Frederick I Barbarossa and Henry VI with the elevation of their barony in Cilicia to a kingdom. Levon received his crown as King of Armenia, “by the grace of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic Nation” at the hands of Archbishop Conrad von Wittelsbach. Later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Armenians again served German interests, functioning as secret agents for the Austrian general staff during the siege of Vienna. There were plots to enlist German aid to liberate Armenia from Asiatic rulers that came to naught, but Armenians fleeing from the Turks did receive help from Emperor Leopold I and Empress Maria-Theresia to settle in Transylvania.