Moments ago, in a move that will infuriate Turkey, the German parliament withstood a barrage of pressure from the Turkish government, and approved a symbolic resolution that declares the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a ‘genocide’, a step widely viewed as a tacit escalation against Turkey. The vote was almost unanimous in supporting the resolution with just one MP voting against and another abstaining. The move was largely expected and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. That said, the German leader was “forced” to skip the vote due to prior commitments.
The parliamentary vote was originally scheduled to take place a year ago to mark the centenary of the genocide, but due to concerns over the fallout with Turkey, Merkel’s allies postponed the move.
The news was greeted with delight by dozens of Armenian supporters who had gathered outside the parliament building carrying banners commemorating the genocide.
According to the Christian Democratic Union’ Albert Weiler, Germany had a “historical duty” to recognize the mass killings of Armenians. “Without this admission there cannot be forgiveness and reconciliation. Suffering does not know temporary boundaries. Genocide will never remain in the past. By recognizing the genocide, it will force the Turkish government to take a brave step and look into its own history,” he said.
Gregor Gysi, a politician from The Left Party who was critical of Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds who were doing an excellent job in fighting Islamic State, was quoted by RT in saying that that “Germany was a historical accessory” and has a duty to recognize the mass killings of Armenians in the First World War. “We need to call this what it was – a genocide,” he told the parliament. “The Bunderstag should not allow itself to be blackmailed by Turkey’s threats.”
Meanwhile, as expected Turkey responded in an angry fashion: the ruling AK Party in Turkey responded by saying that the decision taken by the German parliament has seriously damaged relations between the two countries. The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus was equally scathing, calling the resolution a “historic mistake.”
Turkey’s prime minister has condemned the motion as “irrational” and said it will test the friendship between the NATO partners. As Reuters notes, the timing could not be worse for Merkel, who has championed a deal with Turkey under which Ankara has agreed to stem the flow of refugees to Europe in return for cash, visa-free travel rights and accelerated talks on European Union membership.
However, Merkel was powerless to stop the symbolic resolution, which was initiated by the opposition Greens and was also backed by lawmakers in her conservative bloc and the Social Democrats.
“With one vote against and one abstention, this resolution has been passed by a remarkable majority of the German Bundestag,” said Norbert Lammert, the president of the lower house of parliament. In a sign of the sensitivities, neither Merkel, her foreign minister nor her vice chancellor took part in the vote, although she did back it in an internal party straw poll this week. Nearly a dozen other EU countries, including France, have passed similar resolutions.
Berlin has already had a taste of the expected backlash from Ankara
“We wish Germany would not allow such an irrational issue,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told ruling party members on Thursday, hours before the vote. On Wednesday he described the vote as “ridiculous”. “It was an ordinary event that occurred during wartime conditions in 1915,” he said at a news conference.
The nature and scale of the killings remain highly contentious. Turkey accepts that many Armenians died in partisan fighting beginning in 1915, but denies that up to 1.5 million were killed and that this constituted an act of genocide, a term used by many Western historians and foreign parliaments.
German officials hope the vote will not scupper the EU-Turkey migrant deal, which has been under a cloud since Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pushed out his prime minister last month and began questioning parts of the agreement. They say Erdogan has a strong interest in making the migrants deal work and will not allow this to get in the way.
Addressing parliament before the votes, several lawmakers stressed they did not want to point a finger at the current Turkish government but rather wanted to bolster reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia. “We know from our own experience how difficult and painful it is to work through the past … but only in this way can human trust and strength grow,” said Social Democrat Rolf Muetzenich.
Armenia welcomed the resolution. The foreign ministry said Turkish authorities “are continuing to obstinately reject the undeniable fact of genocide”.
The resolution could also raise tensions with Germany’s roughly 3.5 million-strong Turkish community. Over a thousand Turks demonstrated against the resolution on Saturday in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin. “I don’t think this is the right step,” said Murat Kayman of Germany’s DITIB Turkish-Islamic group before the vote. He said a European “blind spot” could explains the vehemence of the Turkish reaction to the accusation of genocide.
The resolution says the Armenians’ fate exemplified “the history of mass exterminations, ethnic cleansing, deportations and yes, genocide, which marked the 20th century in such a terrible way.”
It also acknowledges that the German Empire, then a military ally of the Ottomans, did nothing to stop the killings.
“That we were complicit in this terrible crime does not mean that today we will be complicit in denying it,” said opposition Greens co-leader Cem Oezdemir.
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