Turkey recalls envoy over Germany's Armenian 'genocide' decision

Supporters hold Armenian flags in front of the Reichstag, the seat of the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, on June 2, 2016.
Supporters hold Armenian flags in front of the Reichstag, the seat of the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, on June 2, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - Turkey on Thursday (June 2) recalled its envoy to Germany and threatened consequences, in a furious reaction over the Bundestag's decision to adopt a resolution recognising the World War I massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide.

Only one MP voted against and another abstained, as the German parliament approved overwhelmingly by a show of hands the resolution titled "Remembrance and commemoration of the genocide of Armenians and other Christian minorities in 1915 and 1916".

In the public gallery of the Bundestag, onlookers including members of the Armenian community held up banners saying "thank you" as the parliamentary speaker announced the result of the vote to applause.

Armenia Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian praised the decision as "Germany's valuable contribution not only to the international recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, but also to the universal fight for the prevention of genocides, crimes against humanity."

But Turkey swiftly condemned the resolution, and recalled its ambassador to Germany for consultations. Ankara also summoned the German charge d'affaires to the Turkish foreign ministry later Thursday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also warned "the resolution adopted by the German parliament will seriously affect relations between Germany and Turkey." Erdogan's condemnation came after Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus called the Bundestag recognition a "historic mistake" and dismissed it as "null and void".

The resolution, put forward by the ruling left-right coalition and the opposition Greens, carries the contentious word throughout and also puts partial blame on the German Empire, then allied with the Ottomans and which failed to prevent the atrocities.

The "genocide" recognition comes at a particularly awkward time as Germany and the European Union are relying on Turkey to help stem a record influx of migrants even as tensions are rising between both sides over human rights and other issues.

Yerevan has long sought international recognition of the "genocide", but Ankara rejects using the term to describe the killings more than a century ago and argues that it was a collective tragedy in which equal numbers of Turks and Armenians died.

Acknowledging Turkey's fury over the Bundestag move, political leaders argued however that a clear recognition of historical facts was a key step to healing old wounds.

"We are not looking to put Turkey in the dock. Instead, this is about making clear that taking responsibility for the past is indispensible for reconciliation," said Franz Josef Jung, speaking for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Turkish leaders heaped on the pressure ahead of the vote, with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim saying earlier Thursday that it would "amount to a real test of the friendship" between the two nations.

Erdogan had warned that passing the resolution "would harm our future ties", and telephoned Merkel over the text.

Merkel backed the resolution, her spokeswoman said, even though she did not attend the vote due to other official engagements.

Before now Berlin has not taken a clear position on the WWI massacre, and President Joachim Gauck had been the highest-ranking German official who has called the killings a "genocide".

His speech last year during commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the killings had drawn fire from Turkey, but was also rejected by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

He has said he hoped the Bundestag resolution would not derail efforts to reconcile Turkey and Armenia.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Germany, which has special ties with Ankara not least due to its three-million-strong ethnic Turkish population which settled following a massive "guest worker" programme in the 1960s and 1970s.

Revealing the pressure that lawmakers came under over the vote, parliament speaker Norbert Lammert said that "many threats were sent to colleagues, particularly those with Turkish background, including death threats".

Yerevan and Ankara have long been at loggerheads over the massacre.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart.

But modern Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman empire, says that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

More than 20 nations, including France and Russia, have recognised the Armenian genocide.

Referring to the atrocities against the Armenians, the German resolution says: "Their fate exemplifies the mass exterminations, the ethnic cleansing, the expulsions and indeed the genocides that marked the 20th century in such a terrible way." It also states that the "German Empire bears partial responsibility for the events".