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Berlin won't yield on genocide resolution

Richard Connor
September 2, 2016

A German government spokesman denied claims made in a news report that Berlin was going to tone down a resolution calling the murder of Armenians a genocide. Leaders pointed out, however, that it is not legally binding.

Armenian refugees who fled Ottoman troops
Some 1.5 million Armenians and other Christians were slaughtered by the Ottomans, with many others driven awayImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Library of Congress/dpa

The German news magazine "Der Spiegel" had reported on Friday that Berlin planned a gesture to appease Turkish government anger over the Bundestag's Armenia resolution. That report, however, was denied by German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

He said there could be no talk of Germany distancing itself from the parliamentary resolution.

The report in "Der Spiegel" said Chancellor Angela Merkel's government hoped to resolve a dispute that has seen German parliamentarians barred from visiting Bundeswehr troops stationed at the Incirlik airbase in eastern Turkey.

Germany's lower house unanimously backed a resolution in early June that explicitly declared the ethnic slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman regime during World War I to have been a genocide.

Merkel and Steinmeier
Merkel and Steinmeier are both reported to have supported the resolutionImage: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

In response, Ankara blocked German parliamentarians from visiting German troops stations at Incirlik, where the Bundeswehr is engaged in operations against "Islamic State" (IS). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the vote, recalled his ambassador to Berlin for consultations and threatened further action.

The head of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in parliament said the chancellor would not distance herself from the resolution. Volker Kauder told a committee meeting on Friday that she had called him personally to make it known that she was in favor of the resolution.

Diplomatic hot potato

Germany's Foreign Ministry has sought to resolve the dispute in recent weeks, with officials reportedly being told that Ankara wanted the German government to distance itself from the legislature's vote. According to "Der Spiegel," a spokesman would reiterate that the resolution had no legal effect on the actions of the German government.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed out on Friday that the Bundestag resolution was non-binding.

"The German Bundestag naturally has every right and the freedom to express itself on political issues," Steinmeier said. "But the Bundestag itself said that there is not a legally binding basis for every resolution."

Why this distinction could be so significant?

Even when it passed the Bundestag, it was clear to lawmakers that the resolution was non-binding.

Both Steinmeier and Merkel are reported to privately support the parliament's position.

Seibert said on Friday, however, that there could not be any talk of Germany distancing itself from the Armenia resolution.

Call for redeployment

Steinmeier is a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has said Germany should redeploy its troops to another support base in the Middle East, should German parliamentarians continue to be barred from visiting personnel.

Although Germany is not directly engaged in combat operations against IS, it has deployed a number of surveillance aircraft to assist the US-led coalition. The German parliament is scheduled to decide on a mandate to extend the mission in December.

The topic of the murder of some 1.5 million Armenians and other Christians by the Ottomans during 1915-16 is a particularly sensitive one in Turkey, which claims the figures are inflated and that the killings do not constitute genocide.

Ethnic Armenians lived across much of central and eastern Turkey
At the time of the Otttoman Empire, ethnic Armenians lived across much of central and eastern Turkey
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