Berlin/Ankara, June 2 (IANS) The German parliament, ignoring pressure from the Turkish government, on Thursday approved a symbolic resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Christian Armenians during World War I by Ottoman Turkish forces a “genocide”. Turkey reacted furiously, terming the resolution a “historic mistake” and recalled its envoy to Germany in protest.
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.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara will take retaliatory measures.
Turkish Ambassador Huseyin Avni Karslioglu was to fly back to Turkey on Thursday, according to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Turkey also decided to summon Germany’s charge d’affaires to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara.
Turkey’s new Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the German vote and said that a “racist Armenian lobby” was responsible for the decision.
The ruling AK Party in Turkey responded to the “genocide” slur by saying the move had seriously damaged relations between the two countries, while Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus was equally scathing, calling the resolution a “historic mistake”.
In Istanbul, armed riot police were deployed outside the German consulate, near Taksim square, to guard against likely protests.
German Chancellor Merkel, in an effort to assuage the ruffled diplomatic ties, said that Berlin’s relationship with Ankara was broad and strong.
“There is a lot that binds Germany to Turkey and even if we have a difference of opinion on an individual matter, the breadth of our links, our friendship, our strategic ties, is great,” Merkel said.
Turkey accepts the fact that many Armenians died in the fighting in 1915, during the First World War. However, it disputes that up to 1.5 million were killed and that this constituted an act of genocide by Turkish Ottoman forces.
Gregor Gysi, a politician from the German Left Party who was critical of Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds, 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 Bundestag should not allow itself to be blackmailed by Turkey’s threats.”
The news of the parliamentary resolution was greeted with delight by dozens of Armenian supporters who had gathered outside the Bundestag building carrying banners commemorating the genocide.
According to the ruling 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.
Turkey had made a strong bid on Thursday to try and sway German opinion. Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim had said it would be “irrational” for the German Parliament to approve such a resolution and would “test” the friendship between the two countries.
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 the line, intimidating politicians and threatening the lives of journalists.
Sections of the German media were worried about what impact the decision by the parliament could have on the migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, which has been championed by Merkel.
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 for 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”.