German parliament calls for Turkey to re-examine Armenian killings


June 16, 2005
Source: Associated Press

By Stephen Graham

Germany's parliament on Thursday urged Turkey to examine its role in the killing of an estimated 1 million ethnic Armenians a century ago, an issue that could weigh on Ankara's hopes of joining the European Union.

Lawmakers adopted a cross-party resolution asking the Berlin government to press Turkey to investigate the "organized expulsion and destruction of the Armenians" and foster reconciliation.

"The motion is passed with votes from the whole house," parliamentary vice president Antje Vollmer announced after a show of hands.

Armenia accuses Turkey of genocide in the killings as part of a 1915-23 campaign to force Armenians out of eastern Anatolia. At the time, Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey remains extremely sensitive to the issue. It denies that the killings were genocide and says the death count is inflated and that Armenians were killed or displaced along with others as the empire tried to quell civil unrest.

The motion didn't mention Turkey's bid to join the EU, but said the Armenian issue was an example of how Turkey needs to guarantee freedom of speech - an area where Ankara has been told it must improve if it is to join the 25-nation bloc.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been one of Turkey's strongest backers in its membership bid.

But the conservative opposition - which hopes to win elections this fall - argues that Muslim Turkey should be offered a lesser "privileged partnership."

The German motion noted that "numerous independent historians, parliaments and international organizations" describe the killing as genocide, but stopped short of using that label itself.

While there was no immediate reaction from Turkish officials, the country's foreign minister said in remarks released Wednesday that combating allegations of genocide was a "priority of its foreign policy."

"We strongly challenge those countries whose parliaments have incriminated Turkey and the Turkish people of genocide," Abdullah Gul was quoted as saying on the Web site of Belgium-based Turkish magazine Anadolu. "We are questioning these countries on which criteria and factual documents do they base such decisions."

To answer such questions, the German motion proposed the establishment of a commission of Turkish, Armenian and international historians to examine the killings. It complained that Turkish authorities were stifling debate at home.

It said Germany had a special responsibility to bring Turks and Armenians together because the German Reich turned a blind eye to the actions of its Ottoman ally during World War I, and urged the German Foreign Ministry to release its records from the period.

The motion said parliament was "convinced an honest historical review is needed and represents the most important basis for reconciliation."

"This is particularly true in the framework of a European culture of remembrance which includes openly debating the dark side of each nation's history."