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Armenian massacre remembrance sparks rift between Turkey and Europe

Events held to remember the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago have caused a rift between Turkey and Europe. Ankara rejects that the killings were genocide, reports Thomas Seibert from Istanbul.

In recent weeks, Turkey has had to accept numerous decisions by important leaders in Europe to ignore Ankara's demands to leave assessments of the 1915-1917 deportations of Armenians to the historians.

First, Pope Francis described the mass murders as "genocide" - a term that Ankara has steadfastly rejected.

Then, the term was used again in resolutions in the EU parliament, in the Austrian parliament, and in remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Friday, German President Joachim Gauck and the German parliament also spoke of a genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire.

"Diplomatic disgrace"

Armenien Völkermord Messe in Eriwan

A large outdoor mass remembering the genocide was held in the Armenian capital, Yerevan

For Turkey, it's unacceptable. Nationalist politician Ümit Özdag said it was a "diplomatic disgrace" that Germany, of all countries, wanted to advise Turkey on the matter of genocide.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Yalyin Akdogan said that all countries which recognize the mass killings of the Armenians as genocide should take a look in their own backyards first to see what they've done to their own citizens in the course of history.

The Turkish foreign ministry on Friday used similar language when rejecting Putin's remarks. Russia should know a thing or two about genocide given its many acts of aggression in the Caucasus and other regions, the ministry said.

No reaction to Gauck from Turkish government

Putin's remarks and Gauck's speech were roundly criticized in the Turkish media. The German president spoke "ugly words" about the Ottomans, wrote the "Sabah" newspaper. "Milliyet" spoke of Gauck's "scandal."

But unlike its reaction to Putin, the Turkish government did not immediately respond to Gauck's speech and the deliberations in the Bundestag. Only a few days ago, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu personally contacted the chancellor to warn her about using the term genocide.

Türkei Völkermord an Armenier Gegendemo der Nationalisten in Istanbul

Turkish nationalists in Istanbul demonstrated against the decision to call the massacre genocide

Yet Ankara has remained silent. It appeared that the government did not want to distract public attention away from the event President Recep Tayyip Erdogan scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The Turkish president is hosting several dozen state guests to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

Davutoglu appealing to nationalistic voters

The absence of an immediate reaction to Gauck's speech doesn't mean that Ankara will go back to business as usual. With just weeks to go before Turkey's parliamentary elections on June 7, the government can't be expected to let the matter go, a diplomat told DW, especially since Davutoglu's party is counting on support from right-wing voters.

International pressure has so far not brought about any change in Turkey's position. However, the Turkish government sent EU Minister Volkan Bozkir as the first cabinet member to a memorial service for victims of the massacre in the Armenian patriarchate in Istanbul on Friday. And in a message to the Armenian people, Erdogan said that he shared the pain of the victims.

"Deep fear"

But that is still not an admission of guilt. In his message, Erdogan stated that every ethnic group in the Ottoman Empire lost millions of people during World War I.

Human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz told DW that behind Turkey's refusal to admit the genocide lies a "deep fear." Modern Turkey was created on the basis of excluding all non-Muslim minorities, he said, adding that it's a fact recognized by only select intellectuals - and not the general public or politics.

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