Germany’s acknowledgement of genocide a response to Ankara’s forceful rhetoric
Germany becoming the latest country to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman-Turkish forces a century ago as “genocide,” is a response to the Turkish government’s consistently blistering rhetoric.
“What is happening between [Germany and Turkey] is the work of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan,” said Cem Özdemir, head of the German Green Party, in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, referencing Erdoğan’s refusal to open borders between Turkey and Armenia, and his threats to deport Armenians living in Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey retains the right to deport the roughly 100,000 Armenian citizens of who live and work in Turkey, at a time when the European Parliament (EP) was set to vote to recognize the killings and deportations of Armenians during World War I under Ottoman rule as genocide.
“We can deport them, even if we haven’t yet,” Erdoğan said on April 15. Paying no mind to the importance of the EP’s vote, Erdoğan also said that regardless of the outcome, Turkey will not take it seriously, that the EP’s decision will go “in one ear and out the other” for Turkey and that it is not possible for Turkey to accept responsibility for such a crime.
“Erdoğan’s harsh criticism is out of turn,” Özdemir stated, adding that if anything is to be criticized, it is the collection opportunities of Ankara has missed to normalize relations with Armenia. “There were many missed opportunities, such as [the refusal to] open the border to Armenians. If, after all of this, Turkey is still disturbed by [the attitude of Germany], it should do some self-reflection,” Özdemir said.
Despite an initial offer to open the Turkish-Armenian borders under the Zurich protocols signed on Oct. 10, 2009, the gesture was later rescinded after Erdoğan made the opening of the border contingent on a resolution of the dispute surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Turkey’s ally, Azerbaijan. Since then, Erdoğan has regularly reiterated that Turkey will not open its borders with Armenia until it withdraws from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, including Nagorno-Karabakh.
Despite harsh criticisms, accusing German politicians of pitch-hitting for historians regarding the events of 1915, Germany has recently acknowledged the events as genocide, using a term now used by many nations. Following Pope Francis and the EP, German President Joachim Gauck used the term genocide to describe the killing and displacement of Ottoman Armenians in a speech delivered at a ceremony marking the centenary of the events in Berlin Cathedral late on April 23.
Slamming Gauck’s remarks, the Turkish government released a statement on April 24, arguing that Gauck didn’t have “the right to attribute to the Turkish people a crime that they have not committed.” Ankara also issued a warning, saying that the Turkish population “will not forgive and forget President Gauck’s statements.”
“What does it mean when Turkey says it won’t forgive and forget — is Turkey a victim? What exactly is the crime that it won’t forgive and forget?” Bilgin Ayata, a professor of political sciences at Freie Universität Berlin asked in response to the questions of Sunday’s Zaman, adding that she is not surprised at Turkey’s reaction because it has reacted similarly when foreign governments have made statements in the past regarding the treatment of Kurds or Armenians in Turkey.
Ankara’s reaction to Pope Francis’s earlier acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide was also forceful. Calling the killings, “the first genocide of the 20th century,” the pope sparked anger in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accusing him of speaking “nonsense” and warning him not to make a “similar mistake again.”
“Still, most of [the references to genocide] are political rhetoric caused by Turkey’s resistance to chance its official view,” Ayata maintained, adding that instead of being in defiance of international opinion, Turkey should finally give up its politics of denial, acknowledge what happened in 1915 and take responsibility.
This year Germany joined the governments of 25 countries, including major international powers such as Russia and France, as well as 43 states in the US, in recognizing the events of 1915 as genocide.
Germany, which is home to millions of citizens of Turkish origin and has major trading ties with Turkey, had, until this year, evaded the use of term. Its official recognition of genocide came with the genocide motion discussed in the German Parliament on the centennial, which aroused the anger of much of the country’s population of Turkish origin, who tend to share the official viewpoint of Ankara. Many poured onto the streets of Berlin from different corners of the country on April 25 to express outrage at what they consider to be Germany’s “wrong” attitude.
Pointing to the international pressure on Turkey to acknowledge the genocide on the centenary, Özdemir said, the ball was in Ankara’s court, and all it would have taken to gain favor from the international community would have been to demonstrate a different attitude toward the events, after a debate that has been deadlocked for a century. “With [the current] attitude,” Özdemir continued, “you cannot win friendship but you will lose friendship.”
Armenians and most historians have estimated that 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered under the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian population during World War I. Contemporary Turkey, the successor of the Ottoman Empire, vehemently rejects the term “genocide” and argues that the death tolls have been inflated. Ankara says that the majority of those killed in 1915 were victims of civil strife and general unrest, a number that included Turks as well.
Genocide acknowledgement will hardly damage ties with Germany
Ayata has dismissed claims that the acknowledgment of genocide will significantly affect German-Turkish ties, as she believes that political and economic ties are strong between the two countries, and that ties are strong due to the large population of Germans of Turkish origin. Germany is Turkey’s largest trading partner with an annual trade volume of approximately $38 billion in the last 10 years. The volume was recorded as $34 billion in the first 11 months of 2014. According to the latest data from the statistics agency of the Turkish government, Germany has become the main recipient of Turkish exports, with exports in March 2015 topping $1 billion. It was followed by England ($1.031 billion 31 billion), Iraq ($745 million) and the UAE ($597 million). Nearly 3 million Turks are living in Germany, one-third of them are German citizens, taking 75 percent of the German Muslim population.