Erdogan Overplays His Hand


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BERLIN — There are good reasons to believe that on June 2, the German Bundestag (Parliament) will vote up a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide. The government coalition parties, Christian Democratic Union and Christian Socialist Union (CDU-CSU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD), plus the Green party, have agreed on a unified text, after intense debate and repeated postponements. The title of the document is “Remembering and Commemorating the Genocide against the Armenians and other Christian Minorities in the Ottoman Empire 101 Years Ago.”

This must have taken Turkish President Erdogan by surprise. Over the past weeks he has acted as though the agreement his government made with the EU over the refugee crisis had given him carte blanche in dictating European policy. According to the deal, Turkish citizens should be able to enter Europe without a visa, on condition Turkey comply with the preconditions, 72 in all. Among the requirements is a reform of Turkey’s notorious anti-terrorist laws, which currently allow the government to jail and maltreat especially journalists and human rights activists who issue critical views of its policies. Erdogan demanded that visa restrictions be lifted by the end of June, and when EU refused, reminding him of the conditions (demanded of any country desiring visa-free privileges), he exploded in a fit of narcissistic rage. In public speeches he railed that if the EU did not capitulate, Turkey would “go its own way” and that the EU could negotiate with someone else.

On May 12 he escalated the rhetoric, claiming the conditions for visa freedom had been cooked up after the fact to sabotage the agreement: “Now they come with 72 criteria!” he complained. Not only; he accused the EU of providing “terrorists” weapons and money to destabilize his country. Referring to the EU’s alleged orders to terrorists, Erdogan stated: “They say: Go and divide Turkey. Do you believe that we don’t know that?” And he flatly refused to make any changes in Turkish anti-terror legislation: “Since when do you tell Turkey what to do? Who gave you this right?”

It appears that Erdogan has grossly miscalculated the relationship of political forces. The genocide resolution which he has feared is now on the agenda in Berlin, and no matter how loud the cries of protest come from Turkey, the politicians pushing it are resolute. “It may well be that there will be anger from Ankara,” Green Party leader Cem Özdemir, one of the initiators, told the tabloid Bild Zeitung on May 15. “But the Bundestag does not let itself be blackmailed by a despot like Mr. Erdogan.” Pointing to the historical documents in the wartime German Foreign Ministry archives, which are irrefutable, Özdemir continued, “After the decision of the Bundestag, it will be much more difficult for Turkey to deny it any longer.”

Indeed, the German role historically considered has been and remains a key factor in the entire process. The leader of the SPD parliamentary faction Thomas Oppermann commented, “Germany, as the former main ally of the Ottoman Empire, bears a special historical responsability. This applies utterly independent of day-to-day political discussion about the refugee crisis. I am opposed,” he concluded, “to a subservient manner with Erdogan.” He advised against making the mistake of taking the wrong precautions. And as for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, its faction leader Volker Kauder highlighted the positive contribution genocide recognition can make to reconciliation: “We want to help [Turkey] work through its past, with the aim of overcoming what divides Armenians and Turkey.”

In response so far Erdogan has reportedly dispatched his ambassador to lodge a protest against this use of the term “genocide.”