Germans Say It Was Genocide


President Joachim Gauck

President Joachim Gauck

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BERLIN — On Friday, April 24, when this issue of the Mirror-Spectator appears, the German parliament will be holding a session to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. And, according to late news reports on April 20, they will name it by its proper name. As Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert announced, the final text that party leaders had presented their parliamentarians for the Bundestag debate would say that a hundred years ago the Turkish regime in Ottoman Constantinople began the planned expulsion and mass murder of over one million Armenians. Their fate serves as an example of the history of mass murders, ethnic cleansing, expulsions and genocides which has marked the 20th century in such a horrible manner.” He added that the government stood behind the coalition factions, that is, that government and parliament agreed on the position.

The pressure was simply too great: after the intervention of Pope Francis, the political conflict over the issue heated up. While Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) cautioned against recognition on grounds it would hinder than help the Turkish-Armenian dialogue, and would of course escalate tensions with Turkey, and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) shared his caution, leading members of both coalition parties, the SPD and CDU, openly called for acknowledging it was genocide. These included the head of the foreign policy committee Norbert Röttgen, who recalled Germany’s “special responsibility.”

Franz Jung, deputy chairman of the CDU faction, demanded that “what has been known for a long time must also be named.” The opposition parties have been lobbying energetically for recognizing the genocide.

What may have tipped the balance was the expectation that President Joachim Gauck would denounce the genocide in those terms in remarks he was scheduled to make at an ecumenical church service in Berlin on April 23, attended by all church leaders. The position of the Catholic Church was of course not in question, following the Pope’s mass, and the Protestant Church leadership came out explicitly calling for acknowledging it as genocide, which was crucial. Martin Schafer, foreign ministry spokesman, confirmed that there had been an exchange between the government and the Presidency “precisely on this issue” and that there were “impulses from the Presidency.” (Gauck, in fact, is known not to mince words.) And asked if they expected tensions with Turkey, Schafer replied, “Let’s wait and see.”