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Ankara Haunted by Armenian Massacre

DW staff (jp)
June 17, 2005

When the German parliament condemned the mass killing of Armenians by Turks 90 years ago, it sparked angry protest from Ankara. But if it wants to be taken seriously by the EU, it needs to face up to its past.

Armenians honor the 1.5 million victims of Turkish violenceImage: AP

In a vote Thursday, Germany's main parliamentary parties joined forces to deplore the systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1916. Berlin is now urging Turkey to set up an independent committee of Turkish, Armenian and international historians to document what happened.

The resolution looks set to test relations between Ankara and Berlin. So far, the German government has been a key supporter of Turkish EU aspirations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul described the resolution as one-sided and "provocative," and said German lawmakers had ignored repeated warnings of the harm the resolution would do to bilateral ties.

Time for reconciliation

Faruk Sen is the director of the center for Turkish studies in Essen in Germany. He feels disapointed by the Turkish Foreign Minister's harsh criticism of the resolution, and says Turkey has to look forward.

Jahrestag Völkermord an den Armeniern - Augenzeuge
Image: AP

"80,000 Armenians live in Turkey," he told DW Radio. "Each year, more than 100,000 come to Turkey to work there. It is time for reconciliation. I think to look back on 90 years of history doesn't help at all. Turkey and Armenia need good relations today."


Turkey is worried that it will come under mounting pressure to recognize the killings as "genocide" after it starts EU entry talks in October. Other European nations, including Poland and Greece, have also passed resolutions condemning the genocide.

Völkermord an den Armeniern
Image: dpa

President Jacques Chirac of France, home to Europe's largest Armenian diaspora, said failure by Turkey to recognize the genocide could harm the country's EU bid.

Faruk Sen, however, is critical of the EU's stance.

"If that's the opinion of the EU, it is a shame," he insisted. "Because then, Turkey and the EU cannot negotiate anymore. The EU would have to do without Turkey."

Turkey gets impatient

The German resolution comes at a time when the EU is already displeased with Turkey over its dragging human rights and judicial reform.

Faruk Sen says the EU has tested Turkey's patience.

EU Türkei Plakat in Ankara
Image: AP

"People in Turkey are increasingly against the EU and now the Armenia debate has been added to Turkey's obligations to join the EU. I think if the EU-membership fails because of the Armenia-issue, the people in Turkey won't be too sad."

Turkey denies the claims that 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered in a systematic genocide between 1915 and 1923 as the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire collapsed. It accepts that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed, but says even more Turks died in a partisan conflict in which many Armenians backed invading Russian troops.

Ignorance and taboos

But political theorist Ahmet Insel pointed out that the reason so many Turks deny the extent of the massacre has nothing to do with nationalistic or racist sentiment -- it's simply ignorance.

Straßenszene in Istanbul
Istanbul residents, many of them new arrivals in this 10-million city which gets 200,000 migrants from the countryside annually, crowd a street lined with street vendors in downtown Eminonu on May 19, 1996. The United Nations conference on world's cities, Habitat II, will begin in Istanbul on June 3 to discuss problems of cities like Istanbul. More than 20,000 people are expected to convene in Istanbul for the summit, adding to its chaos on the streets and traffic jams. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)Image: AP

"Generations of Turks have grown up never learning about this tragedy," he said. "Now that it's being discussed, they're realizing how little they actually know. At the moment, we're experiencing a time of complete confusion."

He explained that much of the population is appalled by the wave of recent media reports depicting the crimes perpetrated by their forefathers.

"The cat is out of the bag," he said. "Turkish society is finally beginning to talk about these matters. We have to come to terms with our past, and the first step is to face up to our history."

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