Twenty-five years before Oskar Schindler would save the lives of more than a thousand Jews from Nazi Germany, Cemil Kunneh protected hundreds of Armenians from genocide. Robert Fisk tells his stor
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A French warship rescues Armenian refugees fleeing from the massacre of their people by Turkish forces ( The Life Picture Collection/Getty )
At the height of the war, he was a loyal servant of his brutal government, producing equipment for his country’s army – but at great risk to his own life, he saved hundreds of men and women doomed for mass extermination by employing them in his military factories. And in 1915 – long before the bravery of a man whom every reader is already thinking of – Armenia’s Oskar Schindler proved that good could still exist amid hatred and terror.
He was a quarter of a century before his time. But Ottoman naval lieutenant Cemil Kunneh was worthy of Schindler’s title. He was a patriotic and decorated hero from Turkey’s Balkan wars. Yet as his Turkish masters proceeded with the Armenian Holocaust – the deliberate mass annihilation by Turkey of a million and a half Christian Armenians at the height of the First World War – Kunneh sheltered hundreds of these terrified civilians, men and women, some of them half-starved and en route to the death marches on which they were intended to perish.