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Germany votes on Armenian genocide bill

Kate BradyJune 2, 2016

German lawmakers are to debate a resolution that would see the mass deaths of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 referred to as "genocide." Turkey has warned Berlin of consequences if it supports the wording.

Armenian massacre
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

Thursday's vote in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, comes at a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel is relying on Turkey to implement a migrant deal with the EU. Germany also has extensive ties with Turkey, including roughly 1.5 million Turkish residents and more of Turkish origin, dating back to a "guest worker" scheme in the 1960s and 70s.

As the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey officially denies that the events that started in 1915 amounted to genocide and has lashed out at countries that have officially recognized the term.

When France formally called the displacements and killings genocide in 2011, Turkey temporarily recalled its ambassador; it did the same thing to Austria last year. Keen to avoid irking a key ally, the US has so far has avoided using the term, although more than 40 US state legislatures have passed genocide resolutions.

Turkey's official line is that ethnic Armenians represented a fifth column backed by Russia during World War I, and that the mass deportation and accompanying Armenian deaths were not premeditated or intentional - a key requirement in the legal definition of genocide.

Warning from Ankara

Ahead of the vote, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Germany against changing the terminology used to refer to the Armenian massacre. Before heading on a trip to Africa on Tuesday, Erdogan told reporters the resolution's passage would "naturally damage future diplomatic, economic, business, political and military relations between the two countries - and we are both also NATO countries."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Germany of repercussions if the resolution is passedImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan

Reiterating Erdogan's stance on Wednesday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim described Thursday's pending Bundestag motion as "absurd."

"History should be left to historians," Yildirim told journalists in Ankara.

Armenia's president, Serzh Sargsyan, told German daily "Bild," however, that he was sure German lawmakers would adopt the wording.

"I am sure the politicians in the Bundestag see it the same way and will not allow themselves to be intimidated," Sargsyan said.

The resolution, submitted by the Greens, is entitled "Remembrance and commemoration of the genocide of Armenians and other Christian minorities in 1915 and 1916" and carries the contested word throughout the text.

Serzh Sargsyan
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is confident the resolution will go throughImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Postponed vote

On April 24, 2015 - the 100th anniversary of what Armenians call the Great Crime - the Bundestag postponed voting on a similar resolution to classify the mass killings as "genocide." German President Joachim Gauck used the term, however, drawing criticism from Turkey.

At the time, the governing coalition opted not to vote on the resolution, but the Greens led by Cem Özdemir, an ethnic Turk, forced a vote this year.

Officials in Turkey put the number of Armenians who died at around 500,000, while Armenia puts the number at about 1.5 million - out of a pre-war population of some 2 million.

Turkish officials also point out that hundreds of thousands of Muslims died from combat, starvation, cold and disease in eastern Anatolia during the war. Armenians have documented systematic mass murder, organized banditry, raping of women, pillaging of property and other atrocities.

Karte Siedlungsgebiete der Armenier 1915 Englisch