Germany Faces Turkish Wrath After Recognizing Armenian Genocide

  • Erdogan warns of harm to ties, Merkel says they’re strong
  • Parliament passes measure as Germany needs Turkey on refugees

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Photographer: Adam Berry/Getty Images

Germany’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to recognize the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 killings and deportations of Armenians as genocide, prompting Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan to warn that relations between the two countries will suffer.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Berlin after lawmakers in the 630-member lower house, or Bundestag, passed the resolution on Thursday by a show of hands, with one vote against and one abstention. The decision puts Germany in line with countries such as France, Russia, Greece, Sweden and the Netherlands in recognizing the events during World War I as a deliberate campaign of extermination.

The vote “could seriously impact German-Turkish relations,” Erdogan told reporters during a trip to Kenya. “We will discuss measures that can be taken after we return home and then we will take necessary steps accordingly.”

With angry reactions from Turkish officials preceding the Bundestag session, Merkel and Erdogan spoke by phone on Tuesday in an effort to preserve the European Union’s refugee accord with Turkey. That deal is central to Merkel’s effort to stem migration and reverse a poll decline set off by last year’s record influx of asylum seekers to Germany.

Though Merkel skipped the ballot to hold a previously scheduled speech in Berlin, her three-party governing coalition and the opposition Greens joined to sponsor the measure, which her party says is intended to spur reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

“Controversial disputes are a part of democratic culture,” Merkel told reporters after the resolution passed. German-Turkish ties are broad enough, including on security matters, that they can withstand “a difference of opinion on a particular question,” she said.

German Atonement

The measure includes a German expression of regret that its World War I imperial government did nothing to stop the Armenian bloodshed at the hands of its Ottoman allies, despite receiving information about the events. Turkey has acknowledged the killings and deportations that began in April 1915, but has disputed the genocide label.

Underscoring the fragility of the refugee accord, Erdogan last week threatened to scrap Turkey’s pledge to take back migrants seeking passage to Europe unless the EU follows through on visa liberalization for Turks. A day later, Merkel said the EU and Turkey wouldn’t meet a June deadline for a visa deal.

German lawmakers want to commemorate the “genocide of the Armenians and other Christian minorities in 1915 and 1916,” according to the resolution, which cites historians, other parliaments and international organizations that already “describe the deportation and extermination of the Armenians as genocide.”

“Turkey’s current government isn’t responsible for what happened 100 years ago, but it does share responsibility for what happens going forward,” Bundestag President Norbert Lammert said in a speech to the lower house. “A parliament is no commission of historians and it isn’t a court. But the German Bundestag does not want to sidestep uncomfortable questions.”

‘Irresponsible’ Vote

Merkel’s coalition first presented a resolution in April 2015 after German President Joachim Gauck condemned the Armenians’ suffering last year on the 100th anniversary. That led to negotiations with the Greens on a joint motion, even as the refugee crisis and the EU-Turkey accord made the surrounding politics more difficult.

While Erdogan struck a measured tone, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu lashed out in a Twitter posting.

“Irresponsible and unsupported parliamentary decisions that smear other countries’ pasts aren’t the way to close dark chapters in your own history,” he said.

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