and the Plight of Statelessness
Orphanage of the German Relief Society, Urmia 1899
The massacres against Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire during the years 1894-1896 left many children orphaned. In this period, humanitarian aid was mainly provided by Protestant or Catholic institutions. This picture shows an orphanage in Urmia, Northern Persia, built by the German Relief Society for Armenia.
German Relief Society School, Urfa 1898
In the facilities of the German Relief Society for Armenia, the orphans were not only provided with clothing and food, but they were also given access to education. Volunteer teachers from the German Empire were sent to various regions of the Near East for this purpose. Besides their commitment to Christian charity, these numerous volunteers were also motivated by their love of travel or their quest for adventure. This picture shows the teacher Bruno Eckart who later became a witness of the Armenian Genocide.
The Danish humanitarian Karen Jeppe (1876-1935) was one of the most renowned figures who worked with Armenian refugees and survivors. During the interwar period, she worked in Aleppo as the director of the Commission for the Protection of Women and Children in the Near East, under the auspices of the League of Nations. The picture shows her (top row first person on the left) with Armenian widows in Aleppo who tried to build an economic existence through needlework.
Near East Relief
The Near East Relief was founded as the Near East Foundation in 1915. It was a nonsectarian international development organization . Campaigning intensively through different medias, it took humanitarian campaigning to an unprecedented professional level. The picture shows the Lest we perish campaign to raise 30,000,000 $.
Red Cross Refugee Camp, Samara 1921
The International Committee of the Red Cross, founded in 1863, was another major humanitarian player during the interwar period. During the Russian famine in 1921-22, an estimate 5 million people died from hunger. This picture shows a refugee camp in Samara, established by the Swedish Red Cross.
Food unloading of the SS Wandeggen Red Cross, 1922
Transporting food was a major challenge during the Russian famine. Ships could deliver up to 600 tonnes of relief supplies. At the same time, fundraising for the famine relief operation began in Europe, with all the elements of a modern emergency relief operation: full-page newspaper advertisements, local fundraising and a film shoot in the famine area. The picture shows the unloading of food in Novorossiysk, the largest port on the Black Sea.
Famine Relief Truck Hoover Boys, 1921/1922
During the Russian famine, US President Herbert Hoover was the head of the American Relief Administration (ARA). The U.S. Congress attributed $20,000,000 for relief under the Russian Famine Relief Act of late 1921. Over 300 relief workers, called the “Hoover Boys,” arrived in the Soviet Union to assess the food needs and logistical challenges. By August 1922, the ARA and its “Hoover Boys” were feeding nearly 11 million Russians a day in 19,000 food kitchens. The ARA also hired 120,000 Soviet citizens to help distribute the food.
Fridtjof Nansen, Saratov 1922
Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) was one of the central figures associated with the League of Nations during the interwar period. Already renowned as an explorer and a scientist, he organised humanitarian aid and the repatriation of European refugees in the last decade of his life. He is well known for the creation of the Nansen-passport which made it possible for hundreds of thousands of stateless refugees to get an official document to travel one way and get settled in different European countries. The picture shows him inspecting the quality of imported grain during the Russian famine 1921-22.
The Nansen Passport
One of the main problem in the humanitarian efforts for refugees was the lack of a legal status for refugees. Before 1914, traveling across Europe was relatively free of constraints. World War 1 changed this free and open circulation of people dramatically. Restrictive legislation were implemented, requiring passports and visas. Nansen discussed this issue with diplomats and legal scholars on a few international conferences and introduced in 1922 a simple and efficient solution for the status of refugees, known as the “Nansen passport”. This internationally recognized identity paper (56 countries in 1926) allowed refugees to travel from one point to another. Initially issued only for Russian refugees it was extended to Armenian refugees in 1924 and Assyrians in 1928.
and the Quest for Justice
Paris Peace Conference, 1919
For six months, in 1919, the Allies negotiated the Treaty of Versailles in Paris until its ratification on June 28. Their intention was to punish the defeated nations, compensate the winners and design a new, lasting world order. It was a diplomatic undertaking of unprecedented proportions. In the end, it only succeeded in dividing Europe even more deeply.
Official Opening of the League of Nation
During the Paris Peace conference, it was decided to implement an idea that can be traced back to the time of the Enlightenment: founding an intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain peace in the world. The League of Nations (Société des Nations) tried to settle disputes between countries by any means other than outright war. The start of the Second World War buried this project, leaving many disillusioned.
The Treaty of Sèvres, 1920
The Treaty of Sèvres signed in 1920 between the Allies of World War I and the Ottoman Empire started the process of dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Sèvres recognised an independent state of Armenia, imposed strict military restrictions on Turkey, established international control over the Straits and awarded spheres of influence in Anatolia to Italy and France, whilst Greece was given most of Thrace and the opportunity to govern Izmir for five years before a plebiscite decided its fate. Italy was confirmed in the possession of the Dodecanese Islands. The Turkish national movement under Mustafa Kemal did not want to put up with these restrictions and started the Greco-Turkish War which led to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. This latter revised the territorial landscape in a positive way for Turkey and endorsed comprehensive policies of expulsion and extermination against ethnic groups.
The Armenia commission of the League of Nations
In August 1923, Gabriel Noradounghian, president of the Armenian National Delegation, addressed two letters to the League’s Council, reporting the conditions of post-genocide Armenians and asking for the extension of Nansen’s mandate to this group. Nansen formulated two plans for the settlement of Armenian refugees to Soviet Armenia and Syria. On 25 September 1924, the Council passed a resolution asking the High Commissioner and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to make a formal enquiry into the possibilities of creating an Armenian settlement plan in the Caucasus. Two days later Nansen convened a conference in Geneva where it was stated that 300,000 Russian and 200,000 Armenian refugees still needed to be settled. Although repatriation was considered to be the best solution, the opposition of Soviet and Turkish authorities made it almost impossible. When it became evident that the Caucasian settlement scheme could not be implemented, Nansen managed to settle 10,000 Armenians in Yerevan and 40,000 Armenian in Lebanon.
Soghomon Tehlirian (1896-1960) was an Armenian revolutionary and soldier who assassinated Mehmet Talaat, the former Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, in Berlin on March 15, 1921. This assassination was a part of “Operation Nemesis”, a top-secret revenge plan by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation against members of the Ottoman Imperial Government responsible for the Armenian genocide during World War I.
The Soghomon Tehlirian Trial, Berlin 1921
Tehlirian was tried for murder, but was eventually acquitted by the twelve members of the jury. The trial took place in Berlin in June 1921 and attracted world attention. It examined not only Tehlirian's actions but also Tehlirian's conviction that Talaat was the main author of the Armenian deportation and mass killings. Furthermore, the role of the German Empire during the Armenian Genocide was publicly discussed and paved the way for a lingering debate in the Weimar Republic.
Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) coined the term genocide (from γένος génos, "family, clan, tribe, race, stock, kin” and -cidere, Latin for “killing”) in a publication of 1944 about the authoritarian legal system of the Nazis and their collaborators. This paved the way for the foundation of the UN-Genocide Convention in 1948 and the International Criminal Court as we know it today. Lemkin always referred to the Armenian Genocide and the Trial against Soghomon Tehlirian as an inspiration for thinking about international legal law in the context of mass violence.
Armin T. Wegner
Armin T. Wegner (1886-1978) was a German medic during World War 1. He was a witness to the Armenian Genocide and the photographs he took documenting the murder and destruction of the Armenian people are the largest coherent collection today. During the interwar period, Wegner was one of the most outspoken voices in favor of the Armenians, always committed to tell the truth on the Armenian Genocide and warn against any form of injustice and discrimination.
Johannes Lepsius, 1924
Johannes Lepsius (1858-1926) was a humanitarian at the German Centre of the pan-European pro-Armenian movement since the 1896’s. He founded several orphanages and spoke out early on about the massacres of Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire. During the Armenian Genocide, he thoroughly documented the annihilation of the Armenians and condemned the German indulgence towards the Young Turks regime.
Women and Children
German Relief Society Workshop, Urfa 1898
In the early days of humanitarian work, efforts were also made to enable the survivors of massacres to build an economic existence. These efforts were the precursors of “capacity building” measures, which are still widely used today by NGOs. The picture shows a carpet factory in Urfa.
Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928) was one of the world’s most charismatic, fiercely intelligent and influential champions of human rights in the interwar period. She was driven by the belief that all children – whoever they are, wherever they are – have the right to a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.
Save the Children Fund, 1921
The origins of “Save the Children” goes back to the “Fight the Famine Council”, founded at the end of 1918. After the end of hostilities, the fund campaigned for the lifting of the blockade against the German Reich. While the figurehead of “Save the Children”, Eglantyne Jebb, represented the classical model of charity of the British upper classes, her sister and co-founder Dorothy Buxton, a socialist and radical pacifist, stood for a different, more comprehensive understanding of the meaning and purpose of humanitarian aid: she wanted to use famine relief as an entry point into a broader discussion about a just peace order based on understanding.
Feeding children, Saratov 1921/1922
By August 1921, the Britain branch of “Save the Children” had raised over £1,000,000 for children in Central Europe to improve their living conditions. During the Russian famine, Eglantyne Jebb realised that children's rights constantly need to be protected. This was the starting point for voicing her support for an international declaration that would establish universal rights for children. The “Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child” was adopted by the League of Nations in 1924.
The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian relief used photos and life stories of children to create empathy and mobilise potential donators.
Fridtjof Nansen, Gyumri
In 1925, during a visit to one of the orphanages in Alexandropol (Gyumri) in Soviet Armenia, Norwegian humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen became acquainted with the conditions of child care. The picture shows Nansen checking the quality of the food, tasting the soup that was given to the children.