Turkey recalls ambassador after German MPs' Armenian genocide vote
Turkish president says decision to approve motion describing 1915-16 massacre as genocide will ‘seriously affect’ relations
Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Berlin after German MPs approved a motion describing the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a century ago as genocide – a decision that the Turkish president said would “seriously affect” relations between the two countries.
The five-page paper, co-written by parliamentarians from the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Green party, calls for a “commemoration of the genocide of Armenian and other Christian minorities in the years 1915 and 1916”. It passed with support from all the parties in parliament. In a show of hands, there was one abstention and one vote against.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had voted in favour of the resolution during a test vote at a party meeting on Tuesday, but was absent from the actual vote on Thursday, as were the deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, and the minister for foreign affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Gregor Gysi of the Left party described Merkel’s absence as “not very brave”.
Turkish governments have always rejected the use of the term genocide to describe the massacre and expulsion of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians and members of Christian minorities in the Ottoman empire.
The Turkish government, bitterly opposed to labelling the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, has said the German parliament’s approval of the Armenian genocide bill was “null and void”.
Speaking on a visit to Kenya, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said the German vote would “seriously affect” ties between the two countries, and confirmed that Ankara has recalled its ambassador to Germany for consultations. Ankara also summoned Germany’s charge d’affaires to the foreign ministry.
Earlier, in the first official reaction to the vote, the deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, said: “Turkey will give the necessary response to Germany. We consider this decision null and void. This is not a decision that should be made by politicians or parliaments; it is a decision that has to be made by historians.” On Twitter Kurtulmuş called the decision a “historic mistake”.
The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, harshly condemned the decision as “irrational” and said it would put the friendship between the two countries to a serious test.
The foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, currently in Africa with Erdoğan, tweeted:
“The way to close one’s own dark pages of history is not by maligning another country’s history.”
Turkish media reported that the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) was preparing a written rebuke in parliament. In a statement, members of the Turkish parliament’s foreign relations commission said they “strongly condemn and reject this bill falsifying historical facts about 1915 events”, arguing it was “contrary to international and European case-law”.
“It is utterly unacceptable that the events, which took place under the special conditions of WWI 101 years ago and caused heartbreaking suffering for both Turks and Armenians, be introduced as ‘genocide’ based on biased, distorted and various subjective political motives,” said the statement.
A spokesman for Erdoğan later said: “Having committed the largest genocide in modern history, Germany resorts to lies about Ottoman Armenians to relieve itself of guilt.“In recent years, Armenia and supporters of the genocide claims failed to accept the president’s repeated offers to establish a joint commission to study the 1915 events based on archival materials.
“Nor have they joined Turkey’s efforts to promote lasting peace in the region by sharing the pain of Ottoman Armenians.”
The agreement to return migrants arriving on the Greek islands to Turkey has in recent months reduced the number of refugees arriving in central Europe, easing pressure on Merkel. But Erdoğan has since repeatedly questioned the conditions of the deal, with members of his party threatening to cancel the agreement altogether.
Opening Thursday’s debate, Germany parliament speaker Norbert Lammert acknowledged that addressing historical events can be painful. “But we have also seen that an honest and self-critical appraisal of the past does not endanger relations with other countries,” he said. “In fact, it is a precondition for understanding, reconciliation and cooperation.”
He said Turkey’s current government is not responsible for what happened 100 years ago, “but it shares responsibility for what happens with it in the future”.
Some historians have argued that Germany, a close ally of the Ottoman empire during the first world war, was aware of the massacre at the time and supported it politically. The Bundestag’s resolution contains a passage acknowledging “the German Reich’s complicity in the events”, as well as six references to the Holocaust.
Over the course of the one-hour debate, the German Green party’s Turkish-German co-chair, Cem Özdemir, argued that the resolution was “not about pointing fingers or claiming the moral high ground”, but came from “a historic duty to encourage Turkish-Armenian reconciliation in friendship”.
Both members of the Turkish and the Armenian embassy in Germany were present during the vote, with the latter group holding up signs reading “Recognition now – thank you” at the end of the session.
Twenty governments, including those of France, Italy and Russia, have in the past described the mass killings of Armenians as a genocide, and Pope Francis referred to the killings as “the first genocide of the 20th century” in 2015. The German president, Joachim Gauck, also used the phrase in a speech in April last year.
Thursday’s vote was originally scheduled for last year, but was put on ice due to pressure from Germany’s governing coalition, reportedly for fear of destabilising Turkish-German relations.