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Erdogan warns over Armenian genocide vote

Chase WinterJune 1, 2016

Turkish President Erdogan has warned Germany of consequences if it passes an Armenian genocide resolution. Berlin and Ankara's deep cultural, economic, political and military ties could sour at a critical time.

Türkei Ankara Präsident Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Germany on Tuesday against labeling the mass death of Armenians during World War I as "genocide," a sensitive move that could damage relations at a critical juncture.

German lawmakers are expected to pass the resolution on Thursday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their coalition partner, the Social Democrats, as well as the Greens backing the measure.

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."

Erdogan also initiated a call with Merkel on Tuesday, Turkish state-run Anatolia Agency reported.

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.

Armenien Völkermord
Armenians were marched from eastern Anatolia to the deserts in SyriaImage: picture-alliance/AP Images

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. It has threatened the US with the closure of critical NATO bases if the US Congress passes a resolution.

The German resolution comes at a time when Merkel is relying on Turkey to implement a migrant deal with the EU. The controversial deal has already faced difficulty over Turkish demands for visa-free travel to the bloc. Erdogan's allies have threatened to unleash a wave of migrants on Europe if the country's demands are not met.

It also comes amid mounting concern over human rights in Turkey, Erdogan's authoritarian bent and spillover from the war in Syria. Domestically, the resolution could stir emotions among Germany's 3 million-strong Turkish minority.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday he didn't believe passing the resolution would cause problems with Germany's Turkish community. However, he did voice popular concern that passing the resolution would trigger an unproductive response from Turkey and hamper efforts at reconciliation with Armenia.

Backing away from passing the resolution could renew criticism that Merkel is appeasing Erdogan. She has already come under criticism for allowing an investigation into a German comedian who insulted the Turkish president in a poem.

Militating against a sharp and sustained Turkish response against a genocide resolution is Germany's position as Ankara's top trading partner.

The resolution and German culpability

The resolution up for vote on Thursday uses the world "genocide" in both the headline and the text.

"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," it reads.

It also notes that Germany, as an ally of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, "bears partial responsibility for the events."

Last April 24, on 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. Yet German President Joachim Gauck used the term, drawing criticism from Turkey.

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

Turkey officially refers to what happened as the "Events of 1915" and denies that the massacres and deportations amounted to genocide. The 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.

Türkei Völermord an den Armeniern
Hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians also died or were expelledImage: picture alliance/CPA Media/A. Wegner

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 prewar 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.

Nearly 30 countries have formally recognized the massacres as genocide. Keen to avoid irking a key ally, the United States has avoided using the term, although more than 40 US state legislatures have passed genocide resolutions.

cw/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)