In the latest round of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s milking of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, the Turkish President has now threatened Berlin over the Bundestag’s motion to declare the 1915 killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks a “genocide.”
Erdogan said the vote would damage relations between the two countries. The fear is that Turkey might abandon the already shaky EU-Turkey deal, in which the EU has agreed to pay Turkey €6 billion (about $6.7 billion), and in return Turkey keeps hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East out of Europe.
German lawmakers are expected to approve the resolution to call the killings a genocide on Thursday. The denomination is one that Turkey strongly rejects.
The massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians, the vast majority of whom were Christian, by the Ottoman Turks is widely recognised as a genocide by historians throughout the world. The mass killings started on April 24, 1915, when about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were rounded up in Constantinople by authorities, most of whom were then deported and murdered. To those who see the killings as a genocide, this is when the systematic killing of all Armenians in Turkey began under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. The origin of the enmity between the Turks and the Armenians is long and complicated. Basically, the Ottoman Empire went into decline at the beginning of the 20th Century and lost 85% of its territory by about 1912. A flood of Muslim refugees from the lost Balkan territories entered Turkey, and that provoked an ultranationalist backlash against the Armenians who lived there. The Ottoman government painted the Armenians as an internal security threat. Rouben Paul Adalian, an American historian, and director of the Armenian National Institute wrote in the Encyclopedia of Genocide:
In April 1915 the Ottoman government embarked upon the systematic decimation of its civilian Armenian population. The persecutions continued with varying intensity until 1923 when the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist and was replaced by the Republic of Turkey. The Armenian population of the Ottoman state was reported at about two million in 1915. An estimated one million had perished by 1918, while hundreds of thousands had become homeless and stateless refugees. By 1923 virtually the entire Armenian population of Anatolian Turkey had disappeared.
To the Armenians, having the mass-scale killing of their ancestors recognised as a genocide is very important and April 24, known as “Red Sunday,” is commemorated every year by Armenians around the world.
Turkey, however, refuses to recognise the mass killings as a genocide, saying that it was during a time of war and that the Armenian people presented a threat the Ottoman Turks because most of the Armenians had sided with Russia during World War I when the Ottoman Empire was an ally of Germany and Austro-Hungary.
Turkey’s longstanding position is that that the reported number of people killed is exaggerated; there was no organised campaign to wipe out the Armenians; and that there is no evidence of such orders from the Ottoman authorities of the day.
Adalian concludes that Turkey succeeded in i plan:
Triumphant in its total annihilation of the Armenians and relieved of any obligations to the victims and survivors, the Turkish Republic adopted a policy of dismissing the charge of genocide and denying that the deportations and atrocities had constituted part of a deliberate plan to exterminate the Armenians. When the Red Army sovietized what remained of Russian Armenia in 1920, the Armenians had been compressed into an area amounting to no more than ten per cent of the territories of their historic homeland.
Last year, 100 years after the start of the massacre, a slew of European nations passed motions that officially recognised the killing of the Armenians as a genocide.
Germany, where the issue is more sensitive than in other nations due to the high number of Turks living there, passed a first reading in April 2015 but the second and third readings needed to make it official have been pushed back ever since. According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the government wanted to avoid “needlessly provoking” Ankara when their aid is so desperately needed to tackle the refugee crisis.
The United Kingdom and the United States do not officially recognise the massacre as a genocide.
Erdogan lashed out at those who he said were trying to “deceive” Germany over the 1915 massacres, and said, according to Reuters, that “If Germany is to be deceived by this, then bilateral diplomatic, economic, trade, political, and military ties — we are both NATO countries — will be damaged.”
German politicians and journalists covering the event have since then received threats. Journalists who use the word “genocide” in their reporting have reported receiving emails that included death threats. Der Spiegel reports that one particular email to a journalist said, “Your end will be the same as Hrant Dink’s.” Dink was an Armenian-Turkish journalist who was murdered in Istanbul in 2007 by a far-right Turkish youth.
More than 500 Turkish organisations have also put together a text they are urging Turks living in Germany to send to politicians. They write that over 90% of the Turkish population does not accept that the massacres amount to genocide and that passing the readings would be “poison for the peaceful coexistence between Germans and Turks in this country, but also in Turkey,” according to Der Spiegel.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan urged German lawmakers to not bow to Turkish pressure in an interview with German newspaper Bild. “I am sure: the politicians in the Bundestag see it the same way and will not allow themselves to be intimidated,” he said, “If one makes compromises for short-term political interests, then one ends up doing so again and again. And that is bad for Germany, that is bad for Europe and the world.”
The Greens, who have pushed for the resolution, have done so at a very bad time for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is struggling to keep the EU-Turkey deal afloat. The task was made significantly harder since the dismissal last week of her staunchest ally in Turkey, Prime Minister Davotuglo.
Cem Oezdemir, a leader of the Green Party who has Turkish roots, told Reuters: “It wasn’t our goal to hold this vote now, but the timing is not that important. The Bundestag is doing this because this is also a part of German history. The Ottoman and German empires were essentially brothers in arms.”
The resolution also aims to address the role of Germany during the killings but starts by condemned the massacre as genocide: “The fate of the Armenians is exemplary in the history of mass exterminations, ethnic cleansing, deportations and yes, genocide, which marked the 20th century in such a terrible way.”
Merkel, who last month was heavily criticised after she authorised the prosecution of a German comedian who had insulted Erdogan, is expected to vote for the resolution, gambling on the deal that is keeping a potential 3 million refugees living in Turkey out of Europe.
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