The fuss (or even hysteria) around Garegin Ter-Harutyunyan’s (Nzhdeh) personality and activity fails to subside among certain Russian circles. They have even started a petition in the country to urge Armenian authorities to remove the statue of Nzhdeh.
In his petition called “Stop the glorification of fascism in the post-Soviet space”, Alexander Perenjiev notes that “A monument to the fascist Garegin Nzhdeh was erected in Armenia in 2016”. According to him, during the years of Great Patriotic War, ARF leader Nzhdeh appealed to the minister of eastern occupied regions Alfred Rosenberg to make Armenia a German colony, announcing that “he who dies for Germany, dies for Armenia.” Then he speaks about the ties between Nzhdeh and Reichfuhrer Himmler. The author even claims that Nzhdeh led the Armenian Legion in SS, which killed about 20.000 people, mostly civilians.
Perhaps it is natural that hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition against glorification of people who have killed thousands of civilians. However, let us try to reveal the extent to which the information about the Armenian Legion and Garegin Nzhdeh is accurate.
Wehrmacht and not SS
First of all, we should note that the Armenian Legion was part of Wehrmacht, and not SS, as the initiator of the petition claims. Thus, the Armenian Legion was part of the German Armed Forces, rather than SS (or Waffen-SS), the militarized branch of the Fascist Party.
Most of the crimes against humanity during war were committed by SS, and not Wehrmacht. In contrast to SS, the Wehrmacht was not recognized as a criminal organization during the Nuremberg Trials. Membership in SS itself was qualified a crime, but this was not true in case of the Wehrmacht. We will not try to justify the crimes committed by the Wehrmacht. We should note, however, that the UN Commission on Human Rights has registered the instances of glorification of SS officers and erection of monuments to them. However, it has not done the same in case of the Wehrmacht.
The Turkish Factor
Few people know that the aim of the creation of the Armenian Legion in the Wehrmacht was mitigation of the Turkish threat. In 1939, Turkey introduced the Armenian issue as one of the preconditions for signing a treaty with the Third Reich. Knowing that the Nazis were pursuing a policy of extermination of Jews, they required that the same be done to Armenians since according to their excuse Armenians have Jewish origin. Even Benito Mussolini intervened and invited a number of Armenian Studies experts to Italy. The latter wrote the work “Armenians – Aryans” in an attempt to raise Armenians’ reputation in the eyes of Fascist authorities. The same principle was promoted by Artashes Abeghyan in Germany. The latter cooperated with Garegin Nzhdeh and Drastamat Kanayan in their attempts to save Armenians.
In 1941, upon Hitler’s order, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian legions were formed within the Wehrmacht. Dro (Drastamat Kanayan) started and led the organization and formation works of the Armenian Legion. He was assisted by Rosenberg. Dro personally traveled to prisoner camps and selected the legionnaires. According to the leaders of the legion, it was formed specifically for the purpose of leaving to the Caucasian Front and saving Armenians from the prospect of final extermination by the Turks in case of possible developments.
However, Garegin Nzhdeh refused to participate in the final stage of the formation of the Armenian Legion, claiming that the legion would be fighting in the German-Soviet Front battles, rather than against the Turks.
In total, the number of Armenians fighting in the German army reached 25,000. Major General Vardan Sargsyan was the commander of the legion. Misak Torlakyan led the intelligence and reconnaissance units of the Armenian Legion.
Herman Goring did not believe in the Armenian Legion either in his “Green Folder” either. And he was right to do so. Not only did the Armenian legion fighters not kill civilians, but they also surrendered to Soviet troops at first opportunity. This circumstance made the German leadership use these forces in the rear operations.
In 1943, the bulk of the Armenian legion moved to the Netherlands and France. The Armenian battalions that had moved to France surrendered to American forces at first opportunity. There is no information about war crimes or massacres of civilians in locations where the Armenian Legion battalions were deployed.