Books: Armenian race analysis illuminates modern debate
ROME -- With advisors to U.S. President Donald Trump being accused of overt racism, a book about the racial theories of the last century has acquired an unexpected topicality. In the 1930s experts in Germany and Italy debated the racial status of the Armenian people, with potentially disastrous consequences for Armenian exiles struggling to survive in the two countries.
“Race scientists” pondered whether the Armenians should be admitted to the privileges of the “superior” Aryan race, based on their ancient adhesion to Christianity, adoption of an Indo-European language, and physical appearance – of fair hair and blue eyes. Their belonging to a diaspora and success as merchants, however, linked them to Jewish culture and risked tipping them into the cauldron of Nazi and Fascist racial persecution.
The debate over this obscure topic is chronicled by Enrico Ferri, a professor of law at Rome’s Unicusano University, illuminating racial theories that have survived to the present day. Steve Bannon, a trusted aide to President Trump, has cited the Italian Fascist philosopher Julius Evola and the French author Jean Raspail, whose novel “The Camp of the Saints” has been described as “breathtakingly racist”.
Lauro Mainardi, a Fascist race theorist writing in 1939, opted decisively for Armenian Aryanism. “As a beautiful island for the Aryan thought, the Armenian plateau has been for long and troubled centuries the stronghold of Christianity and the Indo-European spirit, bearing heroically the incessant impacts of the barbarian hordes,” Mainardi averred.
As Prof. Ferri points out, Mainardi and fellow Fascist theoreticians were influenced by Armenia’s enmity towards the USSR, a feature shared with Italy, and they went so far as to invent “a fictitious history of the historical and cultural ties between Armenia and Rome that actually never existed”.
In another curious reflection of contemporary tensions, Ferri examines German complicity in Turkey’s 1915 Armenian genocide, seen by many as a precursor of the Jewish Holocaust. “The German expeditionary force in Turkey played a decisive role in the preparation and conduct of the war, and was actively present in all the crucial operative nodes of the Ottoman army and navy command chain,” Ferri writes. There was evidence of direct German involvement in the disastrous deportation of Armenian populations in World War I, Ferri says, citing the actions of General Bronsart von Schellendorf in this respect.
As Ferri makes clear, the co-opting of the Armenians into Aryan culture was dictated by their value as a potential ally against a common enemy, with race theories bent to suit geopolitical conveniences of the moment. 20th century racism emerged as an ideological phenomenon that, “in an attempt to create a credible theoretical base, falsified science, history, anthropology, language, religion, genetics.”
“Armenians-Aryans” suffers from occasional translation hiccups in its exploration of remote and arcane historical episodes, but it provides a useful account of how “fake news” and propaganda were exploited for political gain in the recent past -- a lesson more relevant than ever today, if only it could be learned.
Armenians-Aryans, The “Blood Myth”, the Race Laws of 1938 and the Armenians in Italy
By Enrico Ferri, Nova Publishers, New York, pp. 125.