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German Lawmakers Recognize Ottoman Killings Of Armenians As A Genocide

  • RFE/RL

Germany's lower house of parliament has approved a resolution recognizing the mass killings of Armenians during World War I by Ottoman forces as a "genocide," unleashing a furious reaction from Ottoman successor state Turkey.

The five-page, symbolic resolution passed in the Bundestag on June 2 calls for a "commemoration of the genocide of Armenian and other Christian minorities in the years 1915 and 1916," when up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians are thought to have been massacred.

Turkey adamantly opposes the characterization of the killings as a genocide.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the resolution "will seriously affect relations between Germany and Turkey," and Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus called it a "historic mistake."

Erdogan said Ankara recalled its ambassador to Germany, Huseyin Avni Karslioglu, for consultations.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry also summoned the German charge d'affaires to discuss how the resolution could impact ties.

In a reference to the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu angrily suggested via Twitter that Germans were seeking to bury guilt over "dark pages" in their own history.

"The way to close the dark pages in your own history is not to besmirch the history of other countries with irresponsible and groundless parliamentary decisions," he tweeted.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus called it a "historic mistake."

WATCH: Bundestag Declares 1915 Mass Killings Of Armenians 'Genocide'

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry later issued a statement accusing the Bundestag of trying to alienate millions of Turkish citizens who live in Germany from their national history.

Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian praised the vote, saying Germany was making 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."

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Kurtulmus called the resolution "null and void."

"The German parliament's recognition of 'distorted and groundless' allegations as 'genocide' is a historic mistake," he said on Twitter.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel brushed aside the storm of criticism from Ankara and questioned Erdogan's assertion that it would hurt German-Turkish ties. She said Germany's relations with Turkey remain "broad and strong."

Merkel said that "there is a lot that binds Germany to Turkey. And even if we have a difference of opinion on an individual matter, the breadth of our links, our friendship, our strategic ties, is vast -- starting with defense issues and many other issues, and last but not least the 3 million Turkish citizens living in our country."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said later on June 2 during a visit to Buenos Aires that “as expected, Turkey has reacted” and that he hopes the two countries “will succeed in the next days and weeks to avoid any overreaction.”

Franz Josef Jung, a politician who is in charge of the foreign policy portfolio of Merkel's Christian Democrats, acknowledged Turkey's fury but said that recognition of historical facts and "taking responsibility for the past is indispensable for reconciliation" between Turkey and Armenia.

A dispute between Turkey and Germany over the resolution could further strain implementation of an agreement on the return and hosting of migrants between the European Union and Turkey amid the continent's most serious refugee flow since World War II.

Merkel has staked her political fortunes on the deal as part of a solution to the humanitarian crisis as millions of Syrians and other non-Europeans have risked their lives to flee conflict and other sources of hardship.

Under the terms of the March agreement, Ankara agreed to stem the flow of refugees to Europe in exchange for cash, visa-free travel rights, and accelerated talks on European Union membership.

German officials have expressed hope the genocide vote doesn't doom the EU-Turkey migrant deal, but they are bracing for that possibility.

German lawmakers noted the resolution acknowledges that the German Empire during World War I, then a military ally of the Ottoman Empire, did nothing to stop the killings.

It says Germany is aware of the "uniqueness" of the Nazi Holocaust and it "regrets the inglorious role" of Germany for failing to stop the "crime against humanity."

The resolution 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."

Volker Kauder, Merkel's conservative ally and the parliamentary faction leader of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union alliance, stressed that the resolution did not condemn the Turkish people or the current Turkish government.

Speaking on Germany's ARD television, Kauder said Germany wants to work with Turkey and recognizes that "Turkey is making an incredible contribution to the migrant issue as it has taken in 2 million people and looked after them."

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the resolution shows that Merkel’s government is attempting “to divert attention from” a situation where “they are experiencing trouble in domestic policy.”

Tensions between Berlin and Ankara also flared in April over Erdogan's demand that a German satirist be prosecuted under a rarely applied section of the German penal code that threatens offenders with up to five years in prison for insulting foreign leaders.

The United Nations defines a genocide as an action that intend “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.”

But since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, each successive government in Turkey has historically rejected the notion that the killings constituted genocide.

Ankara continues to argue that Armenians died because of civil strife related to the war rather than an organized campaign by Ottoman rulers to annihilate the Christian minority.

Turkey's government also points out that many Turkish civilians died in the disorder that accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

On June 1, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian urged German lawmakers to ignore the warnings from Erdogan and Yildirim.

"It's not fair that you cannot call the genocide of the Armenians genocide just because the head of state of another country is angry about it," Sarkisian told the German daily Bild.

Advocates in Germany's parliament for the resolution have included the opposition Greens party as well as lawmakers from Merkel's conservative bloc and the center-left Social Democrats.

More than 20 countries -- including France, Russia, Italy, Brazil, and Canada -- recognize the killings and deportations of the Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a form of genocide.

The European Parliament and 44 states of the United States also have recognized the killings as genocide, along with an overwhelming majority of historians around the world who are not Turkish.

Tensions between Berlin and Ankara also flared in April over Erdogan's demand that a German satirist be prosecuted under a rarely applied section of the German Penal Code that threatens offenders with up to five years in prison for insulting foreign leaders.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Bild, ARD-TV, BBC, Hurriyet, 24 TV, and Anadolu