Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says Turkey is recalling its ambassador to Germany for consultations after what he calls a “historic error” by the German parliament to recognize the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide.The vote heightened tensions between Germany and Turkey at a time Ankara is playing a key role in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe.
Yildirim said Turkish people take pride in their past and that “there is no event in our past that would cause us to bow down our heads in embarrassment.”
The German Parliament overwhelmingly approved a motion labeling the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide. The resolution, which was put forward by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition of right and left and the opposition Greens, passed Thursday with support from all the parties in Parliament. In a show of hands, there was one abstention and one vote against.
Yildirim said the vote was a “true test of friendship.” Armenia’s foreign minister welcomed the vote.
Merkel was not present, with officials citing scheduling reasons, though spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz has made clear that the chancellor supported the motion. Her foreign minister, who also backed it, was on a trip to Latin America.
Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks at the time of the First World War, an event viewed by many scholars as the 20th century’s first genocide.
Turkey denies that the killings that started in 1915 were genocide and contends the dead were victims of civil war and unrest. Ankara also insists the death toll has been inflated.
Opening Thursday’s debate, Parliament speaker Norbert Lammert acknowledged that addressing historical events can be painful.
“But we have also seen that an honest and self-critical appraisal of the past does not endanger relations with other countries,” he said. “In fact, it is a precondition for understanding, reconciliation and co-operation.”
He said Turkey’s current government is not responsible for what happened 100 years ago, “but it shares responsibility for what happens with it in the future.”
When other countries have called the killings genocide it has led to diplomatic strife with Turkey, but not lasting damage.
Last year, for example, Turkey temporarily recalled its ambassadors to Vienna and the Vatican after Austria and Pope Francis described the killings as genocide.
The German motion says that the Armenians’ fate “is exemplary for the history of mass destruction, ethnic cleansing, expulsions and genocides which marks the 20th century in such a terrible way.”
That echoes the words German President Joachim Gauck used in a speech in April last year. His comments marked a shift in Germany’s stance after officials previously avoided the term.
Turkey was irked by Gauck’s words, which were supported by the German government, but there were no serious consequences for German-Turkish relations.
The motion stresses that Germany is aware of the “uniqueness” of the Nazi Holocaust and it “regrets the inglorious role” of Germany, the Ottoman Turks’ main military ally at the time of the Armenians’ killings, of failing to stop the “crime against humanity.”
It also urges the German government to “encourage” Turkey to “deal openly with the expulsions and massacres” in order to “lay the necessary foundation stone for a reconciliation with the Armenian people.”
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said that Germany had made a “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.”
In February, as the EU prepared for a summit with Turkey, the Greens agreed to withdraw a motion on the killings in exchange for assurances from the governing parties that they would draw up a joint resolution. While it is symbolically significant, it has no legal effect.
Thursday’s vote comes amid tension between Turkey and the European Union over the EU’s conditions for granting visa-free entry for Turks. Speeding that up was one of the incentives for Turkey to accept a deal with the EU, championed by Merkel, on curbing migrant flows to Europe.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian behaviour is also causing concern in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Yildirim on Thursday accused the German Parliament of using the vote to distract from unspecified domestic issues.
“At times countries that we consider to be friends come up with these bright ideas to distract attention when they fall into despair with their domestic policy,” he said. “This is one of them.”
In Berlin, centre-left lawmaker Rolf Muetzenich said that “the motion is not an indictment.”
“We as lawmakers will not let ourselves be intimidated . . . by whatever side,” he said.