Berlin/Ankara, (IANS) The German parliament, despite a barrage of pressure from the Turkish government, on Thursday approved a symbolic resolution that declares the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces a “genocide”. Turkey was equally scathing, calling the resolution a “historic mistake”.
The Germany parliamentary vote was almost unanimous, with just one MP voting against and another abstaining. The resolution was largely expected and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, she had to skip the vote due to prior commitments.
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, said that “Germany was a historical accessory” and has a duty to recognise the mass killings of Armenians in the First World War.
“We need to call this what it was — a genocide,” he told the German parliament. “The Bunderstag should not allow itself to be blackmailed by Turkey’s threats.”
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’s Albert Weiler, Germany had a “historical duty” to recognise 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 recognising the genocide, it will force the Turkish government to take a brave step and look into its own history,” he said.
Representatives from the Turkish and Armenian embassies were present in the German parliament when the vote took place.
The ruling AK Party in Turkey responded to the slur by saying that the decision taken by the German parliament has seriously damaged relations between the two countries.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus called the resolution a “historic mistake”.
Turkey has also recalled its ambassador to Germany after the symbolic resolution was passed.
In one last bid on Thursday to try and sway German opinion, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said it would be “irrational” for the German parliament to approve such a resolution, while it would test the friendship between the two countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had already warned that relations between Ankara and Berlin would suffer if Germany was to recognise the mass killings of Armenians as a genocide.
Ankara launched a high-profile campaign of intimidation in the build-up to the vote, which even included the Turkish community sending out thousands of emails to German MPs. However, some emails crossed a line, intimidating politicians and threatening the lives of journalists.
Sections of the German media were worried about what impact the decision by parliament to recognise the genocide could have on the migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, which has been championed by Merkel.
The bloc says the agreement is necessary to stem the tide of migrants heading towards Europe. Some 1.1 million refugees settled in Germany last year. In return, Ankara will receive billions of euro from the EU, while its citizens would also be given visa-free travel to the Schengen zone, which encompasses most of Europe, even though Turkey is not a member of the EU.
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 mass killings began on April 24, 1915, when 250 Armenian intellectuals were detained by Ottoman authorities and later executed in their capital, Constantinople, present-day Istanbul.
Most of the Ottoman Empire’s Armenians were subsequently displaced, deported or placed in concentration camps, ostensibly for rebelling against the Ottomans and siding with Russia during World War I. This affected up to 1.5 million Armenians.
Turkey — the successor of the Ottoman Empire — concedes that many Armenians were mistreated at the time, but maintains that the number of victims has been grossly exaggerated and that there was no “genocide”.