Just when you thought advertising executives couldn’t get any more crass, along comes proof that there is no limit to their insensitivity.
In this Turkish ad, Hitler berates a crowd for using women’s shampoo.
If you’re not wearing women’s clothes, you shouldn’t be using women’s shampoo either, he shouts. Here it is. A real man’s shampoo. Biomen. Real men use Biomen.
Hitler on hair.
What next — Stalin on styling mousse? Mao-Tse Tung on moisturiser?
It beggars belief, especially when we remember that Turkey inflicted its own genocide on the Armenians between 1913 and 1918, and the Turkish government continues to deny the historical reality of that crime. When the Turks carried out that genocide, they employed techniques that would be replicated on a larger scale a quarter century later. They employed mass deportations using railway cattle-wagons, concentration of people in death camps, mass shootings and burnings. It was no coincidence that the methods used by the Turks came to be used for the same purpose against the Jews and gypsies throughout central Europe — after all, Turkey and Germany were allies in the First World War, and many German military officers were on hand to observe and report on the First Holocaust.
Just like the Germans, the Turks hid behind the pretence of resettlement, although the mask occasionally slipped. In 1915, in a chilling precursor to the instructions emanating from the Wannsee conference, the Turkish interior minister, Talaat Pasha, cabled his prefect in Aleppo as follows:
You have already been informed that the government has decided to destroy completely all the indicated persons living in Turkey. Their existence must be terminated, however tragic the measures taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to any scruples of conscience.
The prefect of Aleppo took his instructions to heart and today the Syrian desert is full of hills comprising the mortal remains of the people he enthusiastically murdered, but that’s not all it contains, for in the same desert there is a cave into which the Turks drove 5,000 people before lighting a huge fire at its mouth, killing all five thousand by poisoning and asphyxiation. The Turks had created the first gas chamber, and Germans were on hand taking note. Officers from the army of the Kaiser, seconded to the Turkish forces to advise on reorganisation, saw at first hand what was happening, though in fairness to their memory, not all of them approved. Indeed, the photographic images of Armin Wegner, an army medic, form the basis for the incontrovertible case against Turkey.
Unlike the later genocide inflicted by the Nazis, the Armenian genocide took place in full view of the world. European and American newspapers daily chronicled what was happening: the mass slaughters, the rapes, the expulsions. Ten thousand people drowned in one single act of murder, so many corpses that the Tigris river was temporarily diverted by the blockage. Furthermore, and perhaps most telling, the First Holocaust took place in plain view of the Turkish people, and while many of them showed extraordinary kindness to the Armenians, many others took a full and active part in the slaughter. This is a shame that all Turks have, and that none will acknowledge. It was not a remote historical bogeyman who did these things: it was their grandparents.
However crass advertising executives might be, nobody can deny their ability to take the temperature of the public mood and to gauge what is acceptable to the public mind. Therefore, if they think that the Turkish people will accept something as vile as Hitler in an advertisement, we can’t read that in isolation. We must also take into account that the current Turkish government actively opposes any suggestion that a genocide occurred, planned and executed by the Turkish people.
Turkey is applying for membership of the European Union, and let’s not forget what the genesis of the union was: two world wars. At heart, the EU exists to ensure that Europe will never again engage in the internal savagery that destroyed it and that almost eradicated an entire race of people from the earth.
Germany went through decades of self-flagellation and acknowledgement of its crimes following WWII. It instituted a gigantic education programme for its young people and made Holocaust denial a grave crime under the law.
Turkey, meanwhile, has done nothing about the fact that it provided the twentieth century model for genocide. It continues to deny that the genocide occurred, while at the same time engaging in an exquisitely ironic pas-de-deux with Israel over the treatment of the Palestinians. Jews are quite properly utraged at the ad, but while Turkey sends ships to break the Gaza blockade and denounces — rightly — the way Israel is treating the Palestinians, it shares a common goal with Israel in regard to the Armenians. Both countries wish to deny the Armenian Holocaust. Turkey, because it won’t confront its guilt, and Israel because it believes that the only Holocaust that matters is the genocide of the Jews.
The advertising executives, in their infinite shallowness, may have inadvertently mined something very deep indeed. They may well have exposed to the world the darkness at the heart of a country that wishes to become a member of the European Union while refusing to recognise its part in genocide.
That doesn’t work on any level.
Also on this site: A tale of two holocausts