Armenians – Aryans: Helping to understand anti-Semitic racism in Germany and Italy
Armenians – Aryans is a study on the debate that flared up in Germany and Italy in the 1930s when the race laws were passed. The enforcement of race-based legislation prompted the need to clarify whether the Armenians belonged or not to the presumed Aryan race, with all the consequences this would have entailed.
Presented as “laws in the defence of the race”, they were to all effects racist laws aimed initially at identifying and successively discriminating against those who, even if long-time residents in Germany and Italy, did not belong to the presumed ‘Aryan race’. Such laws for the defence of the Aryan race were essentially laws against Semites, considered as a white-raced people who were the most distant from and the most hostile to the Aryan or Indo-European races.
It should be pointed out that among the Semitic peoples those who bore the brunt of discrimination and persecution were the Jews, who were not a race but, at best, a linguistic family. The Arabs who also belonged to the Semitic group of peoples were not persecuted, but on the contrary considered as potential allies in the fight against the British, especially in Palestine.
The Jews were the principal victims of the racism of the Nazis and their allies. They were the principal victims but not the only ones. Inmates in Nazi concentration camps ranged from Jehovah Witnesses to petty criminals, from ‘antisocial elements’ to homosexuals, from Roma to Jews.
Nevertheless, those who were persecuted on exclusively racial grounds were the Jews and the ‘gypsies’. The latter were classified in various and often ambiguous ways. Citing public order, Gypsies were often considered as being antisocial and persecuted as such, while in strictly racial terms, the ‘pure Gypsies’ were exempted from persecution and sterilization. While the ‘good’ Mischlinge (mestizos) were similarly not targeted, the antisocial Mischlinge were persecuted, sterilized and eliminated by the hundreds of thousands.
As for the Roma, some scholars have spoken about genocide while other like Guenter Lewy believe they were only persecuted. I remember that in December 2006, Simone Veil was invited by my friend, the late Franco Salerno, to receive an honorary degree in law at Cassino University. Following the ceremony, we went for lunch and in conversation I told her from across the table that I was reading The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies by Guenter Lewy who believes that genocide does not really apply to the Gypsies. I clearly remember that Madame Veil, without lifting her gaze from the dish she was eating said: “At Auschwitz they were held in the pavilion opposite ours”.
The race laws in Germany as well as in Italy divided the population into two different categories: Aryans and non-Aryans. Many German citizens of the Jewish religion who had lived in the country for generations were discriminated and at best expelled. To be classified as a non-Aryan meant losing citizenship and work in all public sector departments. Being a Jew not only meant that you could no longer be in the army or work in ministries, schools or banks, but also that you could no longer be employed in a range of professions or carry out private activities in numerous sectors. The separation of Aryans and Non-Aryans was more poignant than the division between citizens and non-citizens: Citizenship depended on the race you belonged to and not the other way around.
Consequently, Non-Aryans who were at the same time also non-citizens would lose their right to live both in Germany and Italy. It was even prohibited for Aryan citizens to have a sentimental or sexual relationship with a non-Aryan.
This series of discriminations, exclusions and prohibitions were particularly severe against a segment of the population considered as being of Semitic origins, the Jews. Discrimination and persecution against the Non-Aryans in Germany as well as in Italy essentially targeted the Jews, who were presented in the government press as a threat but also derided and lampooned. Jews were pictured with thick eyebrows and crooked noses. The few thousand Armenians who lived in Italy and the few hundred in Germany suddenly found themselves sub judice, on trial, awaiting sentence. The Armenians had to prove to which race they belonged, the Aryan or the Non-Aryan. They had to show they were different from the Semitic Jews to whom race experts had been gradually assimilating them, pointing out the Armenians’ diasporic condition and the position they held in many European countries as bankers and tradesmen.
The racists’ definition of Aryan was based on very dubious criteria especially when white-raced peoples were involved. While Nazi-fascists sustained that race could be defined on strictly biological grounds, when they had to establish the overriding characteristic feature of the Jews the best they could muster was to point to their religious creed, which had hardly anything to do with biology.
In Italy and then in Germany there developed a debate with regard to the race of the Armenians that was nevertheless quite limited in scope. Several intellectuals and influential figures who were closely connected to the two regimes were well acquainted with the culture of the Armenians and were sympathetic to their situation. A debate did develop around this issue but it never found significant echo in the press and media of the two regimes, substantially escaping public attention. On the one hand, however, the new race laws required documents and arguments that vouchsafed the Armenians’ full kinship with the so-called Aryan races. In other words, the political authorities were called on to officially establish the Armenians’ Aryan descent. At the same time, though, there was the desire to avoid an unnecessary public debate, considering that those who were against the Armenians were few and far between and had not really developed a racial profiling of the Armenians as they had done with the Jews.
In Germany, the key publication in defence of the Aryan origin of the Armenians was ‘Armenians-Aryans’ which collected several essays aimed at supporting what was expressed in the title. This book was successively translated and published in Italy with the same title.
At this point, we have come to the core of the whole race question. Looking closer at it will help us to understand the basic tenets and postulates of the racist phenomenon, and to shed light on the criteria that were used to profile the ‘Armenian race’ and how the vaporous principles of Nazi and Fascist racism were applied to the Armenians. The consequence was that the Armenians came to be considered in Germany as well as in Italy an Aryan people, starting with the language they spoke, which belonged to the Indo-European family of languages. But as we shall see other factors, too, came into play.
In Italy, for example, two arguments emerged, pertaining respectively to the sphere of religion and international policy. A key issue was most certainly the fact that the Armenians were the first people in history to have adopted Christianity as the religion of the state and nation, unfalteringly upholding this choice over the centuries despite extreme difficulties. Another important factor was the role played by the Armenians in the First World War. Although they were subjects of the Sublime Porte, the Armenians were for various reason considered as de facto allies of the Triple Entente and therefore of Italy.
The massacre of the Armenians received wide coverage in Italy. The mass killings took place in the Ottoman Empire and were perpetrated by the Turkish Army which relied strongly on German officials for military training and expertise.
Armenians often self-styled themselves as ‘Europeans of the Middle East’: A Christian people, culturally and religiously close to Europe and constantly at odds with the Turks, who were Asians and Muslim. The Armenians could claim that over the course of history they had often found themselves on the side of the European nations against their neighbours, be they Mazdaean Persians or Muslim Arabs and Turks. It should be recalled, for example, that the Armenians openly assisted the crusades launched by Christian kings and nations.
The arguments that in Italy were considered as crucial factors in favour of the Armenians were viewed differently in Germany. The Armenians’ Christian faith was of relative value because National Socialism was substantially antichristian. Racism too was essentially an antichristian doctrine that placed the race of a people before their choice in religious matters. There was a strong antichristian and pagan component within the Nazi party – especially among such elite corps such as the SS – that over the years had grown to include millions of members.
The other question, the one concerning the Armenians’ pro-western and anti-Turkish position during the Great War, was even more illuminating in understanding the Germans’ attitude with regard to the Armenians. In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was the most important ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary so that the Armenians, inasmuch as they were enemies of the Turkish, were the de facto enemies of Germany.
The reasons behind Germany’s decision to acknowledge the Aryan origin of the Armenians had little to do with their religion and even less with their role in the international political scenario. And what the Armenians did in the international scene could not really have been a factor in defining their racial profile.
The reasons that the Armenians who resided in Germany were granted the Aryan licence were essentially two. The first was that there was no Armenian question as such, considering that Armenians in Germany numbered but a few hundred, mostly students or temporary residents. The other reason was that Germany did not want to raise an international fracas with unpleasant repercussions in countries like France and the USA where there were significant and influential Armenian communities.
To sum up, Germany and Italy used different criteria to assess the presumed race of the Armenians – criteria unrelated to the scientific and biological parameters on which racism was supposed to be based.
Even in the case of the Armenians, racist theories showed contradiction and inconsistency, lack of cogency and the absence of scientific principles and methods that could be universally applied and verified. As had occurred with the Jews, key factors in defining the race of the Armenians were their religion and their place in the international scenario.
I’m glad to have the opportunity to publish this work in France, which had already been released in English-speaking countries. France is home to a consistent and flourishing Armenian community that, although perfectly integrated into French socio-economic contexts, continues nevertheless to maintain strong ties with its ancestral homeland.
Contents and Abstract
To The Reader >> pag. 5
Introduction – Framework of reference and research method >> pag. 7
1.1 Ethnocentrism, racism, anti-Semitism >> pag. 12
1.2 Master and slave races >> pag. 19
1.3 The Aryan and the Semite >> pag. 25
1.4 Armenians in Italy in the early 1900’s >> pag. 46
1.5 Armenians – Semites >> pag. 55
1.6 On the presumed “Semite” characteristics of the Armenians >> pag. 61
1.7 Armenians – Aryans >> pag. 74
1.8 Final remarks >> pag. 114
Index >> pag. 118
Several laws “in defense of the race” were enacted in Germany (1935) and successively in Italy (1938). The hypothesis of the existence of a primeval Indo-European language was assumed to be associated with a similar ancestral Aryan race. Its psycho-physical traits and characteristic vision of the world were typical of the warrior race; sense of honor, penchant for risk, willingness to emerge and respect for hierarchy were highly valued. Those were the traits that identified with the race’s primacy. While the Aryan race split up in various ethnic groups, its constituent characteristics continue to be visible in most European populations today. In the 1930s under these somewhat frail bases, besides a number of pseudo-sciences, such as phrenology and physiognomy, and other ill-conceived theories on race, contributed to establish the criteria according to which peoples were considered or not considered Aryans or Semites. These doctrines formed the ideological background for the discrimination, segregation and persecution of entire populations and communities, like the Jews and the Roma people. The following study traces the complex framework within which the Armenian community developed in Italy and Europe, highlighting the various arguments that emerged in favor or against the inclusion of the Armenian people in the Aryan family and the historical milieu in which the debate took place.
The racism of the white man
What is racism? It is a question that is relatively easy to answer: Racism is the theory according to which human beings belong to different races. But if you ask what race is, the answer becomes less straightforward, and for a number of reasons. Races do not exist and consequently it is no easy task to define something that doesn’t exist. Racists, though, maintain that races are expressions of the multiplicity of the human character, of the diversity of existing human types. But what is this diversity? In other words, which criteria are used to classify and distinguish the different ‘races’? Clearly, for many racists there are at least three principal races depending on skin colour and other physical features like the colour of the eyes or type of hair. For the racist there are essentially three races: the white, the black and the ‘yellow’.
Any race type classification is always evaluative and selective. Although a classification of this kind sets up a hierarchy based on a range of parameters, it is nevertheless a classification that invariably refers to a value scale where the aesthetic consideration is uppermost. These values justify the primacy of one race and the subordination of another.
This basic summary classification served to justify the colonialism of the ‘great nations of the white race’ over, initially, Africans but also of peoples in other continents and territories: from Asia to Australia, from the Americas to New Zealand. The conquest and the placing under servitude of entire populations has often been presented as a ‘civilizing mission’, as the right/duty to extend the civilization of the white man to these peoples. Colonialism has been presented as an act of civilization aimed at improving and developing humanity. Now, if these had been the true intentions of the ‘great nations of the white race’ their initial task would have been to civilize first and foremost the poorest and those who were most backward in terms of technological and scientific progress. In reality, colonizers preferred to ‘civilize’ the territories that were most endowed with resources and, for geopolitical reasons, most suitable to European interests. This led to an all-out colonial ‘scramble’ among European nations that started with the discovery/conquest of America and ended in the 1960s.
“The Pigmy Earthmen at the royal Acquarium” with Farini, Londres 1884
The presumed civilizing intentions of European nations, to which colonialism was often functional to the creation of an empire, can easily be rejected, based on the fact that no colonized nation has achieved true progress in terms of technological, industrial, scientific and economic development. But whatever the case may be, it is undeniable that the most-colonized continent, Africa, especially its Sub-Saharan portion, continues to this very day to be among the most impoverished in the world.
The inconsistency and the exquisitely rhetorical character of the civilizing project which the white man addressed to African peoples can be rejected by other arguments as well. Whites, both European and of European descent, have cohabited with blacks in colonial settings such as Africa and the Middle East and in post-colonial ones such as southern Africa in the 20th century. And, of course, they have lived in the USA with the blacks who were deported from Africa and enslaved. In such contexts, the rhetoric of the integration-civilization of the ‘primitive’ combined with and/or was replaced by the policy and social practice of apartheid, of the separation/exclusion of the non-whites, of ‘coloureds’, or, more simply, ‘blacks’.
The main argument behind apartheid was the substantial difference/incompatibility between the white man of European descent and the black man originating in Africa. There was no reference to a convergence occurring at the same level, occurring symmetrically, that is; what occurred instead was a convergence between two realities considered to be dissimilar and placed vertically and hierarchically. On the one hand, there was the white man who represented an aesthetic/moral/psychological and functional model of a superior kind and on the other there was African man who was presented as the expression of sub-humanity. The presumed alienness and subalternity of the black with regard to the white man – that very same white man Tocqueville in his Democracy in America called ‘man par excellence’ – has been used to justify the former’s reduction to a state of servitude. Domination over someone who is by nature subaltern would not thus appear to be an abuse but a natural requirement, even useful to the person who is enslaved. What we have here is but a representation and popularization of the old Aristotelian argument that established the ‘natural’ primacy of man over woman and the Greek over the Barbarian – that is, of the (presumed) rationality of Greek man over the (presumed) weak rationality of woman and of the non-Greek, who is incapable of self-government.
It is through these differences considered as natural and, therefore, insuperable, that racism established a scale of values and justified discrimination and separation, that is, apartheid. For the union between a superior model of man, culture, morals, etc., with one that was much lower would have undermined and compromised the former, leading to the ‘mongrelisation of the race.’
It was for this reason that in all colonial settings where a race-based legislation was enforced, all sexual relations and marriage between people of different ‘races’ were forbidden. Apartheid and discrimination measures that were applied in the colonies through laws that prohibited personal or other relations between the colonizers and colonized were used as the basic models of the racist laws that were enacted in Europe in the 1930s. From separation and discrimination came persecution and, eventually, extermination.
The Aryan race
The notion that there are at least three races, the white, the black and the ‘yellow’, is connected to the conviction of the supremacy of the white man, on which is founded his claim to rule the world. Consequently, it would be no exaggeration to state that racism is based on the conviction that, strictly speaking, there is only one man and race, the European and the white.
For the racist, not belonging to this category is tantamount to not being fully a man; it means belonging to a race with resultant shortcomings, both physical and intellectual.
This kind of racism, while serving above all to justify colonialism, imperialism and the large-scale deportation of African peoples reduced to slavery, has also, starting from the 18th century, been associated with other forms of racisms. Indeed, this classic tri-partite division of race successively developed additional distinctions and selections.
Berlin 1939, celebration of the Summer solstice
In his famous Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855), Arthur de Gobineau for example claimed that alongside the tripartite division of race, which went back to ideas put forward by Linnaeus in 1735, there was a new racial type, the Aryan, who stood at the pinnacle of the white race. For Gobineau, the Germans where the finest expression of this presumed race. It was a theory further developed by Houston Chamberlain in Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century), which in turn inspired Estonian-born Alfred Rosenberg to write Die Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jarhunderts, one of the key texts of German national socialism.
A Frenchman, an Englishman and an Estonian thus provided the groundwork for Nazi racism which, based on the figure of the Aryan, would successively be taken up by Italian fascism. At the root of this doctrine (an ambiguous term of Latin origin that implies not only knowledge but also personal choice) only one element is objectively beyond any doubt: the existence in European languages of similar lemmas, suffixes and verbal forms. This initial discovery, made by Filippo Sassetti in the 16th century, provided the cue for many linguists to observe these similarities closer and widen the scope of what would later come to be known as a ‘linguistic family’. Some linguists, like Friedrich Schlegel, sustained that these concordances, which were recurrent in various languages, were explicable only if they somehow all descended from a ‘common’ mother tongue. This was tantamount to an epistemological and metalogic leap, implying the creation ex novo of a language, without providing proof or evidence of its existence. There is no document on papyrus or parchment, no etching on stone, no funerary inscription that can be traced back to such a language. But which language are we talking about; do we even have a name for it? The answer is “no” and the lack of even these basic facts is explained by the argument that the people who spoke that language had no written form of it.
Once the existence of such a European protolanguage had been established, albeit arbitrarily, another metalogic leap similarly claimed that there must have been peoples who spoke it. Yet no concrete evidence exists of these peoples, just as none exists of the language they spoke. No account has been found of diplomatic or trade relations or war involving these peoples, who in modern times have variously been called Indo-Aryans or Aryans. It should also be observed that in some languages, like the Persian spoken in the Achaemenid Empire, the term is synonymous with noble, with someone of high birth, and does not indicate mythical progenitors.
Once an original language had been constructed out of nothing – a language spoken by a mysterious people who, however, did not write it down– the picture had to be completed and the fallacious sequence of syllogisms concluded. The Indo-Aryan peoples who spoke this archetypical language, of course, must have had a mother land, an original place of origin, complete with cities, roads, fortified settlements, artefacts, vases, weapons… nothing whatsoever has ever been found, while ‘doctrines’ and myths abound, attributing to these legendary peoples the most disparate origins: Northern India, the Danube Valley, Greenland, Northern Germany, Atlantis, Northern Europe and so on and so forth. No writing, not even a fragment, can be attributed to the Indo-Aryans, just as nothing has ever been brought to the surface of any construction, private or collective, of these elusive peoples.
From what has been thus far outlined, these peoples had no written language nor did they leave behind a trace, no matter how faint, of the cities and towns where they resided. As they did not appear to have lived in urban settlements, these peoples were probably nomadic, moving from one place to the other, with no permanent home, akin to those peoples like the Jews that German Nazis and other racists loathed.
Although nothing is known of their language or their geographic origin, German and Italian racists were convinced that these peoples reached Europe in successive waves, but when exactly is not known. Before long, German and Italian racists believed the Indo-Aryans initially dominated the autochthonous populations before merging with them. As a result, what emerged in Europe was a new Indo-European human type, the synthesis between the conquerors and the conquered, in turn creating a series of new Indo-European languages, the outcome of the merger between the European peoples and the conquerors. Of this legendary invasion of Europe, of its conquest, of the merger between diverse peoples there is again no trace nor any documented account. Yet many scholars continue to this day to consider such an invasion as an event that occurred and the ensuing merger between the invading Indo-Aryans and the local European populations as also true. Out of the merger came the Indo-Europeans, who were also defined as Aryans.
But why did Indo-Europeans attract attention at the time as they continue to do now? I believe for two main reasons. The initial and most widespread theory on the origins of Indo-Aryans identified their place of origin as Northern India, sustaining that Sanskrit was the Ursprache, the most likely ‘mother tongue’. However, it would not be long before comparative linguistics proved the unsustainability of such theses.
This scientific evidence was connected to another, of a more ideological form which, though less
important, nevertheless had a significant impact in milieus where the racist theories of the 19th and 20th centuries were emerging, namely in Germany and among European nationalist and fascist movements. The Indian-man type was not compatible with the Aryan prototype as was presented at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries in European racist circles – the Aryan prototype which in Northern Europe was exemplified in the man with fair skin, eyes and hair.
Some went as far as to sustain that those who arrived in Europe from India were in reality peoples that had come to India as conquerors, but who hailed, of course, from the north. Because as Julius Evola, one of the principal racist ideologues of the fascist regime, claimed ‘ex Nord Lux’ – from the north comes civilization, therein lies the kingdom of light. And it also went without saying that identifying Aryans as peoples hailing from the north of India meant attributing to these conquerors who successively came to Europe Tibetan or Chinese origins, which, of course, was simply outrageous.
But why then do we continue talking about ‘Indo-European’ languages, peoples, customs, etc., when we know for certain that these presumed invaders were not of Indian origin? What is the point of talking about ‘Indo-Europeans’ when it is an accepted fact that Indian populations never invaded Europe? A plausible explanation was that even after the initial theory according to which Aryans came from India had been discredited, such a theory continued to survive because there was no other place they could have come from. To explain the similarities in the languages of peoples who lived in the Mediterranean basin and within the same continental context, scholars initially came up with the theory of the mother language of a people who had travelled the nearly 7,000 kilometres separating Delhi and Madrid on rudimentary means of transport, before successively developing other theories. An alternative possibility, for example, was that the Aryans originated from the Danube valley. However, this would mean accepting the notion of European peoples constantly being on the move to conquer other peoples within Europe. In other words, it would mean accepting that the Aryan conquest was an intra-European affair. But it would also mean that all the other previous questions concerning the Indo-Aryan conquest would remain unanswered: What common language did the Aryans speak, where did they live, why is there no trace of their dwellings, weapons, handicraft, places of worship and burial, no record of their continental conquests?
From a chain of fallacious syllogisms, starting from a number of common linguistic traits among European peoples, a new language was created – a language of which there is no trace – a people that have no place of origin was identified and a continental conquest imagined. These elements provided the frail bases of a racist theory that put down roots in Germany and Italy – a racist theory at the centre of which was the Aryan, to whom racist theorists even attributed precise physical and psychological features. Nazis and fascists would enact race laws for the defence of this human type, so that non-conformity/compatibility to the Aryan would initially lead to the discrimination and successively to the segregation and physical elimination of non-Aryans, such as Semites and Jews.
The Armenians and the racial laws in Germany and Italy
Racism is based on the conviction that men are not equal but distinguished by races, which in turn feature differing biological and natural traits. Races, according to this view, are not similar physically, nor in terms of culture and psychology. Racists were thus convinced that races were not just different but also classifiable according to a hierarchy. The fascist Manifesto della razza (‘The Race Manifesto’) of 14 July 1938, for example, established that there existed ‘Great’ and ‘Small’ races, which was like saying the master and subordinate races. Racism was the invention of European man, and so it was not difficult to imagine that the doctrines developed by European thinkers and in various milieus in Europe envisaged a model of man that reflected the human types most recurrent in Europe.
One should remember that the most widespread racist theory in Europe between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries maintained that Europe was inhabited by Indo-European peoples who in their diversity shared various common features, starting with language. There was also much talk about various other strands of the Indo-European people, like the Indo-Germanic or the Indo-Europeans of ‘Italian’ or ‘Latin’ stock. Until the 1930s, these race theories were indeed just theories that spread above all in nationalist circles or among political parties and movements of the extreme right. Racism and Antisemitism featured prominently in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, the ideological manifesto of national socialism.
In those years, racism, from being a doctrine, theory and ‘myth’, became state law, initially in Germany and Italy and, successively in the form of specific anti-Semitic legislation, in other European countries as well, especially Poland. Racist legislation was often ambiguous or expressed as ‘Laws for the defence of the race’. Even in Hitlerian Germany, the purpose of the racist laws was to protect the Aryan race and, therefore, the identity of the German people, against racial contamination and mongrelisation. In other words, racist laws were designed to preserve the purity of the race by preventing any alteration of its essential nature.
Defending the Indo-European races was tantamount to protecting their biological and cultural identity. The physical union between an Aryan and non-Aryan would lead to miscegenation, to the reproduction, that is, of hybrids, of mestizos, of half-breeds, who watered down or changed the characteristic features of the Aryan race. Therefore, the immediate effect of these race laws was apartheid, the separation of Aryans and non-Aryans to prevent any form of pernicious encounter or engagement.
However, in Europe, against whom would the Aryan human type have to defend him/herself? Clearly, the Indo-Europeans had to defend themselves against the non-Aryans – against those whose language, physical features, culture and psychology were different from theirs. While all non-Europeans, like the Africans and the Asians, were considered non-Aryans, men and women of the white race and Aryans were not synonymous. Jews, for example, were considered non-Aryans because they spoke and belonged to a Semitic language and race.
Societies in European nations at the beginning of the 20th century were substantially homogenous. They were not multi-cultural or multi-ethnic societies which included significant and integrated immigrant communities. In most European countries there were basically only two ‘typologies’ of ‘aliens’, that is, of communities that did not historically originate in those territories: the Jews and the Roma, a diasporic and a nomadic people, respectively. From the racist viewpoint being diasporic or leading a nomadic life were self-evident sins, proof that such peoples had been uprooted and therefore had no ties. Having no bonds, they were shifting, duplicitous, submissive and opportunistic in nature. And it mattered little that the theory the racists propounded was founded on the superiority of a hypothetical people originating from the union of a nomadic-diasporic people, the Aryans, with the Europeans, the autochthonous inhabitants of the lands they arrived in. And still less that the foundational myths of Rome and the Roman Empire that the Fascists wanted to emulate developed around a legendary figure, Aeneas the Trojan hero, who landed in Latium as a refugee.
In several parts of the Italian territory, in the north as well as in the south, often for many centuries, there had lived small communities that spoke non-Italian languages. Ladino, Occitan and Albanian communities were well-integrated within the local social fabric and considered as Aryans both in language and race. Race legislation did not apply to them, for the race-based laws purported to ‘defend’ the racial purity of Italians. The racist legal system in Italy as well as in Germany depended first and foremost on singling out the ‘non-Aryans’ and then in discriminating against them – in depriving them, that is, not only of their civil rights but also of all opportunities of making a livelihood. This led to the de facto loss of nationality for non-Aryans who no longer could work in the public sector and in most private enterprises. The ultimate aim of the race laws was to force the non-Aryans – the ‘Semite’ Jews before anyone else – to leave Italy and Germany.
It ensued that the question of race – of whether resident but non-autochthonous communities belonged or did not belong to the Aryan race – was by no means academic or secondary. The laws established their right to live and work in the two countries. If applicable, those laws could lead to expulsion or to very difficult conditions of life. But even worse, as most non-Aryans quickly understood, not belonging to the Aryan race, especially if aggravated by the condition of being Semitic, meant that before long they would be discriminated against, persecuted and physically eliminated. As it turned out, to be considered non-Aryans or, worse, Semitic, meant being subjected to a persecutory process that led, within a few years, to places like Dachau and Auschwitz.
In the immediate aftermath of the enactment of the racial laws, the members of the two small Armenian communities in Germany and Italy – a few hundred in the former and a few thousand in the latter – were placed in the situation where they had to prove they were unblemished Aryans or lose their citizenship and all civil and social rights.
The position of German and Italian Armenians was somewhat different. The Armenian community in Germany was predominantly made up of students or temporary residents on study or work permits. Germans viewed the Armenians differently following the first world war when Germany and the Ottoman Empire were allies and German troops took up active combat duties alongside the Turks. During the Great War, German officers were involved in the General Staff of the army of the Sublime Porte and provided military training and logistics to the Turkish army. Following the victory of the Triple Alliance (England, France and Italy), the Germans were held complicit in the extermination by the Turks of over one million Armenians in what was called the “first genocide of the 20th century”. When, following the promulgation of the race laws in Nazi Germany, the identity of the Armenians had to be established, the minister of internal affairs of the Reich issued a decree on 3 July 1933 according to which, in view of the restatement by career bureaucrats that “Armenians are to be considered Aryans”, the German Reich had no intention of provoking an international uproar, considering the presence of large, influential and well-organized Armenian diasporas in countries like France and the USA. These well-connected communities could have acted as a powerful mouthpiece for the discontent of the Armenians who lived in Germany had the latter been declared non-Aryans and expelled from the country. Most likely, the decision also had to do with the entity of the Armenian community, which in Germany in the 1930s consisted of barely a few hundred individuals.
The situation of the Armenians in Italy was different in those years. The Armenian population was made up of few thousand living across various regions, with significant communities in Lombardy, in Veneto and in Rome. In these places, the Armenian presence went back many centuries. Here, Armenian communities were well-integrated and respected, as was the case with the Mekhitarists on San Lazzaro island in Venice. In Italy, the Armenians, following the German example, were declared as belonging to the Aryan race. But unlike what occurred in Germany, a debate took place in Italy involving Fascist intellectuals and high-ranking party officials or influential figures of society who expressed their position in favor of the full Aryan status of the Armenians, therefore safeguarding the small but not insignificant diaspora community who had been living in the peninsula for centuries.
This small but combative pro-Armenian ‘lobby’ was very active in promoting a series of initiatives backing Armenian claims to full Aryan status by bringing forward historical, linguistic, religious and anthropological evidence proving that Armenians belonged to the larger Indo-European family. The arguments that were put forward deserve to be dealt with separately, if anything for the sheer inconsistency of the basic assumptions of racist ideology, starting with the very notion of the existence of races that can be clearly identified biologically. The debate highlighted that racism was an ideological construction, that could be filled on demand with contents that were often conflicting and mutually self-excluding.
Final remarks (From Armenians-Aryans, pp. 121-125)
The analysis we have made thus far has allowed us to highlight the well-known limits of the racist vision of life and history – limits that emerged in all their glaring superficiality and contradictoriness when set against the backdrop of what was known in Germany and Italy in the 1930s as the question concerning the race of the Armenians. The crux of the matter was whether the Armenians belonged, or did not belong, to the Indo-European race, a race whose existence was exclusively inferred, in what is a unique case in history, through linguistics. A “language that has not been attested as the foundational core of a specific language family” was taken as proof of the existence of an Urvolk, of an original people who spoke that language. The existence of this Urvolk was not corroborated by documentary or archeological proof but by “isolated shreds of language”. Suppositions thus led to other suppositions leading ultimately to the identification of an original homeland, a Urheimat, located across a wide spectrum of places, from the Siberian steppes to the North Pole, from Northern Europe to Eastern Anatolia, from India to Germany.
We are dealing with a theory postulating the existence of a presumed ancestral Indo-European language of which, however, not a single text has survived. A theory suggesting the existence of a people that at the dawn of time spoke this language. The presumed existence of this people, of which we know nothing, led to the postulation of an original homeland, the geographical location of which is difficult to pinpoint considering that no archeological evidence – traces of cities, buildings, artifacts, handcrafts, etc. – has ever been found.
This Urvolk – this “people of masters” (i.e. Aryans) – according to the older versions of these theories came from Northern India (thus, the name “Indo”) and conquered and, effectively, assimilated nearly all European peoples to whom they handed down their “racial” character, i.e. their physical, linguistic and cultural features. With regard to these presumed historical dynamics, racists spoke of Indo-European peoples, relying on a formula that postulated the existence of two peoples (Indians and Europeans) that would ultimately fuse. Racists also spoke of Europeans as being synonymous with Aryans, the intention being to highlight the final outcome of the encounter between Indo-Aryans and the autochthonous peoples of Europe, which, as a consequence, were “Aryanized” and became “Aryans.”
Armenians San Lazzaro Island in Venice
As for the language of the various Indo-European populations, it changed from people to people as a consequence of the encounter between the different local languages and the language of the conquerors. This common matrix – i.e. the Aryan heritage, which was present also in the cultural and ethnical fields – led racists to conjecture the existence of Indo-European peoples, i.e. of peoples sharing a common language-culture-ethnicity. For this reason, at least going by these dubious theories, peoples like the Italian and the German, though they may have different languages (due to the autochthonous components) were, nevertheless, similar, because of their common Aryan code.
In reality, what these peoples seemed to have in common were a number of linguistic affinities. From these similarities in language a “racial” affinity was inappropriately deducted. Two peoples who speak the same language do not necessarily share similar physical features or belong to the same “race”. “When two peoples mix, the resulting language is not always that spoken by the majority. It often occurs that the language imposed to the mixed population is that spoken by the minority component”. In this light, colonialism is a clear case in point, with the conquerors imposing their languages on entire continents, as the Spanish did in Southern America. “When racial mixing takes place between two numerically unequal peoples, one can be certain that among the ensuing mestizos the types bearing the characteristics of the majority population will be more numerous”.
The racist theory founded on the “racial” primacy of the Aryans was, therefore, a “doctrine” that emerged from a number of weak and controversial elements, successively developed in an arbitrary way to sustain theories that were ideological and unsustainable.
When racist ideology gained a firm foothold in Germany and Italy becoming a foundational tenet of the State’s legislative policy, what exactly were the Armenians called to prove? Against what were they called to defend themselves? And what defense strategy did they leverage?
They had to prove they were Aryans, highlighting, above all, their conformity, in terms of culture, history and ways of life, to the model represented by the European man, white and Christian, considered as the quintessential expression of Western civilization.
And in this light what were the truly insidious accusations that casted doubts on the Armenians’ belonging to the elected people? There was basically one overriding accusation: the Armenians were accused of being like the Jews, a nomadic population, without a home, without bonds, without a “land”. The Armenian were accused of being a “diasporic” people.
Even the most refined versions of anti-Semitism – or, better, the most ambiguous and mystifying versions of it – singled out the “diasporic dimension” as the distinctive trait of the Jews; to indicate their being “with no roots” and ties with the land, with definite values and with a recognizable identity.
What kind of defense strategy did the Armenians, or those who out of sympathy or interest took their side, applied? Without considering the pathetic if not grotesque insistence – especially in the German milieu – on the frequency of blond and blue-eyed individuals among the Armenian rural population, the advocates of the “Aryan” nature of the Armenians essentially stressed the propinquity of the Armenian people to the history, culture, religion and policies of Christian Europe; of a Christian Europe that over the centuries had clashed, in the East as well as in the Mediterranean, with enemies that were also the enemies of the Armenians. The Armenians presented themselves, and were presented, as Aryans inasmuch as they were Christians, that is bearers of the same culture and religion that had dominated Europe for centuries. The identification between Aryans and Christians, however, made no sense, even if we were to admit the existence of an original Aryan people, we would have to consider such people as being very distant from the Christian Religion. Emile Benveniste, in his Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes pointed out in the chapter dedicated to “Religion and Superstition”, that “there is […] not one single common term for religion”, while the “father” of German racists, H. Günther, sustained unhesitatingly and in no half-terms that Christianity was alien to the Indo-European world, basically underlining that it was a “non-Aryan faith”.
In Italy, however, Catholicism was a state religion, and neo-pagan and anti-Christian positions, such as those expressed in Imperialismo pagano by Julius Evola, were not mainstream cultural or political currents but the isolated ideas of small groups.
The Armenians, albeit by proxy, put forward a variant to their traditional position. They claimed to be the “Europeans of the East”, the Christians of the Middle East, the Western people of Asia, highlighting their being Christians and their history within the fold of Christianity. They could have pursued another approach, highlighting, for example, certain traits of their mythology and polytheistic religion, putting the spotlight on some of their warrior gods, such as Vahagn. But it would have been an elitist discourse with little evidence to go by in terms of solid evidence and also quite alien to a tradition strongly rooted in Christianity. Even the response against the accusation of being a diasporic nation relied on the argument that their escape was dictated by the need to preserve their Christian identity. They could have referred to their history citing that the Armenian diaspora over the centuries had always been a phenomenon affecting small elites that became, only after the 1915 genocide, a mass phenomenon involving a number of people that was higher than that residing in the historical territories.
Going in favor of the Armenians’ were also a number of key historical and political factors. They had been the victims of a state – Ottoman Turkey – that was an enemy Italy had fought against in a war that had caused 700,000 victims. On the other hand, Armenian presence was marginal in Europe, at least in Germany and Italy, while in their historical territories they were ruled by a regime that, although resented and from which they would have wished to break free, was nevertheless seen as a potential ally. It was the aggregation of these factors that ultimately contributed to save the Armenians against discrimination and persecution. To save them from what such discrimination and persecution could have meant.
The racism phenomenon - the Armenian case - Sicilia Libertaria Interview
Enrico Ferri’s new book Armenians-Aryans. The ‘Blood Myth’, the race Laws of 1938 and the Armenians in Italy was published by Nova Publishers of New York , in its series ‘Focus on Civilizations and Cultures’.
Professor Ferri teaches Philosophy of Law and History of Islamic Countries at the Unicusano University of Rome. Professor Ferri in this book describes racism in a new light. Here is the interview with the author.
Q: In his review, the renowned political philosopher David McLellan is of the opinion that the book provided new insight on the phenomenon of racism.
A: David McLellan is an international personality and a dear friend. It is true, in my book I tried to shed new light on the phenomenon of racism by studying the Armenian case.
Q: But weren’t the race laws levelled against the Jews?
A: The race laws were actually designed in defence of the ‘Aryan race’. The main scope of the racist legislation of 1938 was to protect Aryans (German and Italians) from the non-Aryan peoples.
Q: The Jews, inasmuch as Semites were considered non-Aryans.
A: The main issue was to define criteria to distinguish Aryans from non-Aryans. And the racist laws were an attempt – a failed attempt – to provide just those criteria. In defining the Jewish race, for example, the law linked it to Judaism, so that a Jew was somebody who practiced Judaism.
Q: In the first part of the book, you describe the phenomenon of racism as well underway in the 18th century, when several theories on race and their hierarchy in terms of importance were developed. How did the Nazis and Fascists elaborate these theories?
A: The existing theories on race were marshalled into a comprehensive system in the attempt to provide scientific bases to the classification of race. However, they failed, and for various reasons. Racism has no scientific foundation. Prominent racists like Rosenberg and Evola as a matter of fact often spoke about the ‘Myth of Blood’, the ‘Doctrine of Race’, but never about the Science of Race. Racism is an ideology that can be described in many ways. But what was of the uppermost concern for race theorists was the claim that all races carried specific psycho-physical features.
Q: The race laws were aimed at identifying and separating Aryans from non-Aryans. But, who exactly were the Aryans according to racists?
A: The issue is very complex indeed. There were several theories. Some race experts believed that in a remote past Aryan populations invaded Europe and then mixed with the local peoples following a process of cultural integration.
Q: That sounds a bit vague. Who were the Aryans, then? Where did they come from? Which cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics did they have?
A: According to some racists, the Aryans came from the northern region of India. The merger between peoples generated the Indo-European race. Others believed they came from elsewhere: the region of the Caucasus, the area north of the Danube, the North Pole and even Atlantis. Clearly, baseless speculations devoid of any historical or scientific evidence.
Q: How was it possible to prove the existence of the Aryan people when even where they came from was not known?
A: During the 18th century, several linguists realized that many Europeans languages bore common features. This fact led to the conclusion that there must have been an original language from which all the others derived. Similarly, if such a language existed there must have been an original people who spoke it and who came from an ancestral place of origin. However, there is no trace of an original language, no historical data exists. If we were to set up a museum dedicated to Aryan peoples and history we would have nothing to show to prove their existence. All we would have are the bizarre theories of self-styled experts such as Rosenberg and Evola.
Q: How do the Armenians fit into this discussion?
A: The racist laws passed in Germany and Italy in the 1930s were aimed at defending the ‘purity’ of Germans and Italians so that they wouldn’t be contaminated by inferior races. It was an attempt to avoid the mongrelisation of the race. This notion became an obsession with all racists. De Gobineau, in his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, foreshadowed a tragic fate for humanity as a consequence of the intermingling of the superior races with the inferior. Like Jews, Armenians were present, albeit to a lesser degree, in many European countries, including Italy. With the introduction of the race laws, Armenians were required to prove they were Aryans to be able to continue living, working, and studying in our country. If unable to do so, they would have faced discrimination, seizures of their property and, ultimately, expulsion. A fate similar to that reserved for the Jews.
Q: How exactly were Armenians classified?
A: Some racists assimilated them to the Jews. Not unlike the Jews, they were a diasporic people; they could count on a religious order that played a significant role, often wielding political power especially in the long period of foreign domination or during the diaspora. Other racists, on the other hand, believed the Armenians were Aryans, for several reasons. Their language had significant similarities with Indo-European and they were the first population to adopt the Christian religion, in 301 AD. Historically, Armenians have always held pro-Western views, showing distance from and often hostility to their closest neighbours, Persia and Turkey.
Q: Was their Christianity an important factor?
A: For many in Italy it was a positive factor. But according to German racists, Christianity was nothing but a Jewish cult and Jesus a Jewish rabbi, and they proposed in lieu of Christianity a neo-pagan and anti-Christian religion. Even in Italy, Julius Evola, in his book Pagan Imperialism, tried to support these ideas, but was soon discouraged by high-ranking party officials eager to maintain good relations with the Vatican.
Q: In the end, were the Armenians considered Aryans?
A: Yes, and for reasons that had little to do with the notion of race. A key factor was linked to the international political order and the sympathy for a population that suffered a genocide perpetrated in 1916 by the Turks against whom Italy had fought in the Great War. The 2,000 Armenians living in Italy were not discriminated against and did not risk deportation. They did not share the fate that befell the Jews.