Armenia massacre: Too much regard for Turkey?

The timing is provocative: Just two weeks before the EU-Turkey summit, the Green Party is putting before parliament a resolution which describes the massacre of the Armenian people 100 years ago as genocide.

February 26, 2016 (released February 26, 2016)

For the governing coalition, the timing of the Greens' resolution couldn't be worse. Because of the refugee crisis, the government is trying to avoid being too hard on Turkey and referring to the mass murder of Armenians a century ago as "genocide."

The government is under pressure to noticeably reduce the number of refugees coming to Germany. In Chancellor Angela Merkel's strategy, Turkey has a special role as the most significant transit country for migrants.

On March 7, important negotiations with Ankara at the EU-Turkey summit are set to take place. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered to be an irritable negotiating partner and Germany does not want to get his back up.

According to Armenian accounts, some 1.5 million members of the Armenian minority community were killed between April 1915 and 1917 at the hands of their Ottoman rulers in what is present-day Turkey. For its part, Turkey maintains that between 300,000 and 500,000 Armenians were killed, and that just as many Turks died during the same period. Ankara speaks of an atmosphere of civil war and famine. To this day, the Turkish government reacts with hostility whenever the term genocide is used to describe the killings.

Everyone on the same page

The governing coalition takes the same view on the issue as the Greens. At a parliamentary debate in April 2015, parliamentarians were unanimous in their opinion that the massacre of the Armenian people a century ago was genocide. German President Joachim Gauck and Bundestag President Norbert Lammert both used the term to describe the killings.

But what was missing was the passing of a parliamentary resolution that included the term "genocide." In October, the CDU/CSU, SPD, and the Green Party finally agreed on its adoption. But the resolution was brought before parliament as being solely from the Greens. The draft text says that the fate of the murdered Armenians "stands as an example of the mass extermination, ethnic cleansing, expulsion, and even genocide that has so terribly marked the history of the 20th century." The text also refers to the "uniqueness of the Holocaust" as well as the "inglorious role of the German Reich" in the massacre of the Armenian people.

Criticism from the Greens

Green Party leader Cem Özdemir has accused the governing coalition of deferring too much to Turkey and pulling back from the common resolution.

The resolution consciously stops short of asking the federal government to recognize the genocide in order not to make a big deal of this now," Özdemir told DW. "You could have easily said, well it's the parliament, it's not the government."

CDU member of parliament Christoph Bergner clearly stated his opinion during the debate in April. "I really doubt that we can present ourselves in a convincing way and take a clear position in this discussion if we shy away from using the term ‘genocide'," Bergner said. Despite this, he's against the Greens' resolution. "Our objections refer to the process, not the content," Bergner told DW. "When you're in negotiations with a partner, you try not to burden those negotiations," he said with regard to Turkey. He accuses the Greens of using the genocide issue for a partisan maneuver.

'There is never going to be a right time'

The right resolution at the wrong time? Özdemir rejects that idea. "There's never going to be a right time for this issue. It's been the wrong time for a hundred years now. It's just an excuse."

Even though it's likely that the resolution from the Greens will fail, Bergner says that doesn't mean the discussion about the Armenian genocide is over. "I hope that we'll find a better time during this coalition to agree on a formulation."