2016: The significance of the First World War
A series of panel discussions recorded before an audience at the Auckland Museum
April 24th is the date that the Armenians recall the Armenian Genocide, when a million and a half children, women, elderly and sick, were set for annihilation by the Turkish Government. And it was sparked, according to WW1 historian Dr Maria Armoudian, in part by the Anzac landings at Gallipoli.
The day before what would come to be known as Anzac Day, the leaders of the Armenian community – including intellectuals, artists, and religious – were rounded up and killed. When the Turks got news of the Anzacs’ imminent arrival, the response, Dr Amoudian says, was to “hurry up and get rid of this population that might side with them, the Russians and other enemies.”
This particular genocide became the blueprint for the Nazis to carry out the Holocaust. “Sometimes when we think about people being crammed into cattle cars, taken to the concentration camps, we think of Jews. But the Armenians were the first. When we think about people being gassed, the Armenians were first. Or doctors getting involved in killing people. Or intentionally injecting them with typhoid. These were all done before the Nazi Holocaust to the Armenian population.”
Armoudian sees a foreshadowing of the later crimes against humanity in the Turkish use of propaganda creating an enemy from within. The infidels – not Muslim but Christian – became identified as the dirty ‘other’ to be cleansed ethnically. The resulting Islamified pan-Turkish identity exemplified the motto that Turkey was for the Turks.
Hitler was very interested in this genocide, which he would use as a model for his own purposes decades later.
Armoudian considers that part of the reason for this is the lack of punishment meted out to the Turkish leaders who had instigated the genocide. Hitler said in 1939 before he invaded Poland, “ ‘Kill every man, woman and child’ because after all, who remembers the Armenians?” He thought that he too could get away with it.
Dr Felicity Barnes suspects that the combatants in the First World War would be surprised by how their experience has been commandeered to tell a nationalistic history of New Zealand.
Especially when it comes to Gallipoli.
“Soldiers at the time felt that they belonged to this thing called the British Empire,” she comments, “and it would be condescending of us to overlook the fact that that actually mattered to them.” She believes that there’s a tendency for us now to overplay this nationalistic theme.
Associate Professor Maartje Abbenhuis suggests that the shape of the world today has its origins in the catastrophe of the First World War. The Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Romanov, and German Empires collapsed. The British and French Empires faltered.
The Japanese Empire went to war and saw an opportunity to expand, and the American empire grew. The Soviet Union came into being, and the seeds of the Cold War were planted to bear fruit in later years.
The very conflicts besetting the Middle East today are an outcome of the inability to reshape the area in a stable form after World War One. “It created the modern world,” she concludes, “and those legacies are still with us today.”
These three historians from the University of Auckland discuss the matter in detail in a special edition of Smart Talk at the Auckland Museum recorded in the week of Anzac Day 2016.
About the participants
Associate Professor Maartje Abbenhuis, History, Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland
Maartje Abbenhuis is a historian of neutrality and internationalism, particularly in Europe in the period 1815 - 1919. She has published a book on the maintenance of neutrality by the Netherlands in the First World War, entitled The Art of Staying Neutral. The Netherlands in the First World War, 1914 - 1918 (Amsterdam University Press, 2006). Her latest book, An Age of Neutrals. Great Power Politics 1815 - 1914 was released by Cambridge University Press in 2014 and won a Choice Outstanding Academic Title award.
At present she is working on the global history of the two Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, research for which she was awarded a Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Grant. She has also worked on the history of borderlands and popular representations of Nazism and war and is in the process of writing two books for Bloomsbury publishing: The Nineteenth-Century World. The First Age of Globalisation and Global War, Global Catastrophe. Neutrals, Belligerents and the Transformation of the First World War.
Dr Maria Armoudian, Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland
Dr Armoudian is the author of Kill the Messenger: The Media's Role in the Fate of the World, and the host and producer of the syndicated radio programme, The Scholars' Circle. She served as a commissioner for the city of Los Angeles for six years and in the California State Legislature for eight years. In addition to her academic publications, her articles have been published by the Columbia Journalism Review, New York Times Syndicate and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, The New Zealand Herald, the Los Angeles Daily News, The Progressive, Salon.com, Truthout, Alternet, Inc., Daily Variety and Billboard. She has just completed her second book, Reporting from the Danger Zone: Frontline Journalists, Their Jobs and an Increasingly Perilous Future.
Dr. Armoudian has taught at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she was a research fellow for two years (including one year as the Center for International Studies Fellow), and California State University in Los Angeles.
Dr Felicity Barnes, History, Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland
Dr Felicity Barnes is a New Zealand historian with a particular interest in imperial connections and settler cultures. Her book New Zealand’s London: A Colony and its Metropolis, published by Auckland University Press, explores London’s role in New Zealand’s culture, from around the end of what we often think of as the colonial period - around the close of the nineteenth century - up until the 1980s.
She is now working on a wider project which will reconsider issues of culture and identity across the former white settler colonies of New Zealand, Australia and Canada.