By Edmond Y. Azadian
Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, thus anointing Chancellor Angela Merkel as the de facto leader of the European Union. For a long time, the EU leadership was shared in tandem with France. But France’s economic decline and its awkward grappling with the issue of terrorism have relegated the country to the level of an ordinary member of the EU.
France’s 10-percent unemployment rate and its struggle to maintain its generous entitlements regime have almost sealed President Francois Hollande’s fate as a one-term president.
Germany’s Iron Lady has been leading EU single-handedly. Germany’s stature has empowered her to behave like an emperor, especially in her deals with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which had thus far been accepted uniformly throughout the EU. Her agreement with President Erdogan to staunch the flow of Middle Eastern refugees was hailed as a success story, because the alternative would have been the destruction of visa-free Europe (Schengen).
In her quest for political expediency, she made too many concessions to Turkey, beginning with the reversal of her position on the latter’s admission as an EU member, along with six billion euros as compensation to Ankara to care for the refugees. She even compromised Germany’s right to free speech, giving the green light to Erdogan to sue a German comedian making fun of him, dusting off an antiquated law.
Chancellor Merkel’s deals with Turkey were based on false premises; she, like many European leaders, shies away from the root causes of the refugee problem, choosing to put a Band-Aid on the wound rather than treat it.
The flow of refugees is triggered by the war in Syria, whose main culprit is Turkey. Instead of holding Ankara accountable, Europe is rewarding it with compensation, encouraging Turkish leaders in their mischievous role in creating more refugees.
It looks like tolerance to Merkel’s unilateral decisions has hit its limits in Germany as well as in Europe.
In these complex relationships between Berlin and Ankara, as well as in interparty domestic relations within Germany, the issue of the Armenian Genocide has sprung up. We have to be mindful that the Genocide will never feature on any political agenda on its own merit, or because of the good-heartedness of politicians. Instead, it is used to serve some party’s interests whenever it is resurrected and defended. That being the nature of politics, we have to accept it and play by its cynical rules.
“After shepherding through a deal with Turkey over migrants and selling it to her constituents as Germany’s best bet for stemming the tide of refugees flowing into the country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suffered setback after setback. The latest one? Allies and enemies alike are banding together to force through a symbolic vote explicitly naming Turkey’s massacre of as many as 1.5 millions as Genocide,” reports Reuters.
It is indeed an unbelievable prospect that such a resolution will be passed in the German Bundestag, given the fact that almost four million Turks call Germany home, versus several thousand Armenians scattered throughout the country. The ratio of respective minorities rules out the possibility that German-Armenian community could have influenced the measure.
It is plausible that the division among Turkish immigrants and the powerful movement of Kurdish groups may have played a decisive role. It is also ironic that the Genocide resolution is spearheaded by an ethnic Turkish legislator, Cem Ozdemir, the leader of the opposition Green Party, in the German Parliament.
Reuters’ story continues, “Merkel’s domestic antagonists are now clearly looking to upset the applecart after their chancellor has repeatedly failed to stand up to an increasingly colicky Erdogan.”
The resolution was extensively debated during the Genocide centennial in the Bundestag, but because sensitive negotiations over the refugee problem were underway, it was decided to postpone the resolution until June 2016. Even opposition leader Ozdemir supported the move of the chancellor to bring the deal to fruition. At that time, there was a handshake between Ozdemir and Volker Kauder from Merkel’s party that in 2016 a draft would be finalized to be presented to the parliament. The vote is scheduled for June 2; the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Socialist Union (CDU-CSU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) plus the Green Party have all agreed on a unified text, whose title will be “Remembering and Commemorating the Genocide against the Armenians and Other Christian Minorities in the Ottoman Empire 101 Years Ago.”
Although the resolution is of a commemorative nature and does not carry any legal weight, it certainly will provoke a temporary crisis between the two countries. We can probably guess the scenario between Ankara and countries recognizing the Armenian Genocide will follow other instances such as Switzerland, when Ankara will resume business as usual after recalling its ambassador back for “consultations.”
Ozedmir has warned that the Bundestag will not bow down to pressure from the “despot Erdogan.” Manfred Weber, a member of the European Parliament from Bavaria with the Christian Social Union, added, “If President Erdogan continues to threaten us and bombard us with insults, then we will find ourselves at a dead end. Europe is not dependent on Turkey.”
Erdogan himself has exacerbated the situation by not coming through with his end of the bargain. Turkish-German relations soured when Erdogan found out that visa-free travel for Turkish citizens would not be implemented by June as it was agreed in the Turkey-EU refugee deal, to which the chancellor had tied her political survival.
European Parliament President Martin Schultz outspokenly declared that unless Turkey met the 72 criteria for fulfillment of visa-free travel, the EU would not place the issue on its agenda. Turkey has met 65 of the 72 criteria, but the remaining seven are thorny for Ankara, particularly the anti-terror law, which is used to stifle dissent domestically. The Turkish Parliament added another measure recently by lifting the immunity of the Kurdish members of the legislature.
Will the resolution on the Armenian Genocide be ratified on June 2 in the Bundestag? It is anyone’s guess. The chancellor and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, are opposed to it. Recently, Prof. Gerair Kocharian, from the Free University in Germany, expressed doubt during a visit to Yerevan.
However, many German legislators, including Ozdemir, are hopeful. They are even looking beyond the passage of the bill to tie in also German culpability.
Ozdemir announced in the Bundestag: “I made a deal with the Christian Democrats that we put it as a joint motion to the floor. And on June 2, after 101 years of neglecting the Armenian Genocide, the German Bundestag will make the decision that it was genocide, that Germany had a responsibility because we were an ally of the Ottoman Empire.”
CDU-CSU foreign policy spokesman Franz-Josef Jung and Bernd Fabritius, who represents the CSU in the human rights committee, both noted that Germany had a historical responsibility in the matter. The German Reich did not intervene; as well, it guaranteed post-war asylum for the responsible parties after they had been stripped of their power.
Adding the element of German complicity on the resolution will prove to be the icing on the cake, but the bill as it stands will still mark a victory for the cause of the Armenian Genocide if it survives on June 2.
Chancellor Merkel played her diplomatic game too boldly. Her playmate has been equally arrogant and reckless. Her kowtowing to Erdogan has proved to be a boomerang which may hound her until the end of her political career.