The War that Did Not End All Wars

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In the aftermath of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson was wearing the mantle of peacemaker. It was in that role that he proclaimed World War I was the war to end all wars. Unfortunately, subsequent events came to disprove him and made his prediction one mocked by history.

As one of the speakers during the recent commemoration ceremonies mentioned on November 11, that 222 conflicts are raging around the world currently, affecting the lives of one billion human beings.

As 84 heads of state gathered in Paris to mark the centennial of the armistice that officially ended World War I in 1918, on the eleventh’s month’s eleventh day at eleven a.m., certainly, the atrocities of the above-mentioned conflicts weighed heavily on their minds.

However, right there and then, the uneasy political currants were very visible, pulling apart the world powers aligned on one side with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who are advocating patriotism versus nationalism, and on the other, nationalism advocated by US President Donald Trump, Russian’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a host of right-wing regimes currently taking office in Eastern Europe.

The speeches were stirring and the ceremonies were moving. Messages for a peaceful world were proclaimed from all quarters.

Many speakers cited different figures about the loss of human life during World War I. Figures mentioned ranged between 17 million to 20 million. We are not sure if these figures included the 1.5 Armenian martyrs. The war resulted in the demise of the Ottoman, Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires. Ironically, Armenians living in the warring Ottoman and Russian empires were drafted into opposing armies and as a consequence, suffered doubly.

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The reason the Wilson’s predictions were erroneous was that the peace treaty resulted in the humiliation of the German government and people, as it imposed crippling sanctions and heavy taxes on the country, weakening it tremendously. Adolf Hitler later capitalized on simmering anger and humiliation among the population to propel his evil campaign and eventually pushed the country into an even bigger global conflagration which sacrificed an even greater number of civilians. He launched the Holocaust which led to the extermination of eight million, including six million Jews, and hundreds of thousands of Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally or physically handicapped people as well as those who espoused other political viewpoints. In the Soviet Union alone, the casualties rose to 25 million, among them 300,000 Armenians.

Until today, Turkey, Germany’s ally during World War I, is visited by the Sevres Syndrome every time the end of World War I is mentioned. Although President Erdogan attended the Paris commemorations, the occasion was a somber day for his country because the Sevres Treaty of 1920, which followed the Armistice, dismembered the Ottoman Empire and were it not for the treachery of the Great Powers, Armenia would have a larger territory, covering most of the historic perimeters of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 wrested by the Kemalists ended up delineating today’s Turkish border.

The centennial ceremonies only served as a veneer of unity while undercurrents were very visible, as President Macron blamed nationalism as the root cause of conflicts. Thus chastised, President Trump skipped most of the activities to attend a ceremony in Suresnes, where US war victims were buried and paid tribute only to them and he publicly rebuked President Macron’s statement that nationalism ran counter to patriotism.

Macron and Merkel were hopelessly promoting multilateralism in their speeches, while Trump and right-wing leaders of the former Soviet bloc were pulling apart the world with their populism and unbridled nationalism.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was making amends for German atrocities against the Jews by mentioning the Shoah and Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 and stating, “In our actions, we must prove that we Germans have truly learned from the past and truly become more vigilant because of our history.”

In her turn, Chancellor Merkel blamed “German arrogance” for causing both wars. While these two leaders were bending over backwards to apologize for their nation’s dark history, President Macron chose an opposite path when he stated that it is “legitimate to pay tribute to Gen. Philippe Petain, the victor of Verdun of 1916,” who later became a Nazi collaborator and sent many Jews to concentration camps.

Armenia also rightly participated in those centennial ceremonies, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated, “Indeed, we are unable to change that history, and we do not need to. But history is able to change us to make our future better.”

Armenians had made tremendous sacrifices during World War I, to the point of near extinction. Pashinyan outlined the Armenian Genocide and the Karabakh conflict.

The year 1914 was one of the most fortunate periods of Armenian history, as the Ottoman Commitments of 1878 (“Berlin Treaty”) were about to come to fruition, as the promised reforms in the Armenians provinces had begun. But the Ittihadist leaders foresaw the dangers of an Armenia being created and they decided to deal a mortal blow. One can only imagine the potential of the dismemberment of present-day Turkey with the Kurds and Armenians vying for their independence.

But despite the Genocide with its awful human toll, Armenians mustered enough forces to wage two wars: on the east, in the Battle of Sardarabad, which gave birth to independent Armenia, in May 1918, and the other at the Battle of Arara, in Palestine, by the Armenian Legion fighting under the Allied flag. Five thousand Armenian combatants who were promised home rule in Cilicia, fought gloriously to break the Ottoman-German fortifications in Arara, which was the beginning of the end of the Ottoman and German empires.

Unfortunately, the centennial of the Battle of Arara (September 19, 2018) was hardly mentioned in the press and in public discourse for a variety of reasons, but had the Allies made good on their promises, today we would have a more viable Armenia with a seaport on the Mediterranean.

The Armistice of 1918 was a telling lesson for mankind and a historic missed opportunity for Armenians.

 

 

 

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