Wednesday 13 December 2017

Germany to label 1915 killings of Armenians as genocide

Members of the European Parliament observed a minute of silence to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armenian mass killings Credit: Francois Lenoir
Members of the European Parliament observed a minute of silence to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armenian mass killings Credit: Francois Lenoir

Erik Kirschbaum

The German government is set to use the term "genocide" in a resolution marking the slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks 100 years ago.

In a major reversal of policy, Turkey's top trading partner in the European Union and home to millions of Turks, Germany joins other nations and institutions including France, the European parliament and Pope Francis in using the term condemned by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the government would support a resolution in parliament on Friday declaring it an example of genocide.

Read More: Anger as Pope calls Armenian massacre 'first genocide of 20th century'

"The government backs the draft which the fate of the Armenians during World War One serves as an example of the history of mass murders, ethnic cleansings, expulsions and, yes, the genocides during the 20th century," Seibert said.

Germany had long resisted using the term "genocide" even though France and other nations have. But the coalition government came under pressure from parliamentary deputies in their own ranks planning to use the word in a resolution.

Turkey denies that the killings, at a time when Turkish troops were fighting Russian forces, constituted genocide. It says there was no organised campaign to wipe out Armenians and no evidence of any such orders from the Ottoman authorities.

Read More: Genocide in Armenia and death in the Mediterranean

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had rejected using the word genocide in an ARD TV interview on Sunday, denying any suggestion it was being avoided to avoid upsetting Turkey.

"Responsibility can't be reduced to a single term," he said.

Members of parliament in the conservative Christian Democrats and their Social Democrat (SPD) allies forced the change.

Analysts said that the reluctance until now from Germany, a country that works hard to come to terms with the Holocaust it was responsible for, was due to fears of upsetting Turkey and the 3.5 million Germans of Turkish origin or Turkish nationals living in Germany.

Read More: Turkey will disregard European vote on Armenian killings

The German government also did not want to use the word due to concerns the Herero massacres committed in 1904 and 1905 by German troops in what is now Namibia could also be called genocide -- leading to reparation demands.

"It's a striking contradiction by the German government that Germany is denying the genocide of Armenians," said Ayata Bilgin, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University.

"Research has shown that external pressure on countries can have a considerable influence and Germany could play a very important role in this discussion on Turkey."


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