Merkel Moves to Ease Turkey Tension by Clarifying Genocide Vote

  • Conciliatory tone seeks to smooth relations with Erdogan
  • Merkel spokesman says government defends parliament’s rights

German Chancellor Angela Merkel clarified her government’s position on a three-month-old parliamentary vote recognizing the killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide, a move meant to strike a conciliatory tone and ease tensions with Turkey.

“These resolutions are not legally binding, these are political resolutions,” Merkel told broadcaster RTL on Friday. Her chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said it was important for the government’s relationship with Turkey to clearly explain the resolution passed in June by the lower house on the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 massacre.

“The term ‘genocide’ has a very specific legal definition and this will be considered and determined by the respective courts,” Seibert told reporters in Berlin.

The vote triggered a diplomatic fallout between Germany and Turkey at a time when Merkel is struggling to hold together a refugee deal between the European Union and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. His administration has blasted the resolution, issuing insults against German lawmakers of Turkish origin and preventing German officials from visiting a NATO airbase in Incirlik in southern Turkey.

Merkel in the interview tried to walk a political tightrope, rejecting a report by Spiegel Online that her government would distance itself from the June 2 vote to assuage Erdogan.

Expressing Skepticism

“I explicitly deny this,” Merkel told RTL. “The government is in no way distancing itself from the resolution.”

Merkel’s government expressed skepticism ahead of the Bundestag vote about the benefit of such a move but eventually acceded to pressure from coalition lawmakers. The chancellor’s gesture of reconciliation with Erdogan could risk antagonizing members of her Christian Democratic Union-led bloc who supported the measure.

“The position of our caucus remains unchanged,” CDU lawmaker Stephan Harbarth told reporters earlier Friday in response to the Spiegel report.

The Bundestag was joining other European legislatures, including in France, the Netherlands and Russia, in recognizing the events during World War I, in which hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians were killed and deported, as a deliberate campaign of extermination. Turkey, which has acknowledged the killings that began in April 1915, disputes that it was an act of genocide.

The EU refugee deal, whereby Turkey halts the passage of migrant across the Aegean Sea to Greece in return for funding and the prospect of visa-free travel in the EU, has held so far despite the rhetoric. Compounding the fraught relationship with Germany has been Erdogan’s response to a failed military coup in July, which has involved hundreds of arrests and purging of Turkish institutions.

Merkel has maintained her conciliatory tone throughout, standing by the refugee accord as well as the need to maintain open channels of communication with Ankara. At a party meeting on Monday, she urged critics not to apply a different “standard” on Turkey -- and empathized with Erdogan’s position after the July 15 coup attempt.

“Imagine if all of a sudden part of our army starts bombing the parliament and attempts to stage a coup,” Merkel told CDU party members in the northeastern city of Schwerin. “Then you can well say that it was right that this coup was defeated.”

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