BERLIN (Deutsche Welle) — When German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, May 23, she presumably had to deal with his anger at plans by a broad Bundestag coalition to describe the crimes of the Ottoman Empire against ethnic Armenians as “genocide.” For the first time, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) parties and center-left Social Democrats and Greens look set to make the nomenclature official.
There have been debates on the subject for years, and those ratcheted up in the context of last year’s centenary of the events that left more than a million Armenians dead or deported from the land that would become Turkey. Bundestag President Norbert Lammert and German President Joachim Gauck have already used the term “genocide,” which provoked protests from Ankara. However, several attempts to reach consensus on how to officially refer to the tragedy have been put off.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier remains skeptical as to whether the Bundestag’s likely position will be helpful in regards to coming to terms with the past. A resolution that the Greens had wanted to put forward back in February was postponed in order not to sabotage negotiations as the European Union sought a controversial deportation deal with Turkey when refugees continued to arrive in large numbers. In return, Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of the CDU-CSU bloc, shook hands with Greens co-chair Cem Özdemir and promised that a joint resolution would move forward in the first half of 2016. Though critics said Germany was caving on the issue once again, Kauder appears to have kept his word.
“I’m going by the Bundestag’s published timetable,” Raffi Kantian, the chairman of the Hanover-based German-Armenian Society said.
And, indeed, the Bundestag website indicates that an hour has been set aside on June 2 for agenda item No. 5: “Remembrance and Commemoration of the Genocide of Armenians and Other Christian Minorities 101 Years Ago.” A CDU-CSU parliamentary spokeswoman confirmed that the session would go ahead. After all, she said, the text of the resolution is ready, having been prepared by no less than three parliamentary working groups. However, there will not be a roll-call vote on the declaration on June 2. This means that members of parliament will not be obliged to attend. The resolution will be voted on by a show of hands.
The majority of foreign policy specialists from the relevant parties have given a clear signal that they will support the resolution. “There may well be trouble with Ankara,” Özdemir told the Sunday edition of the mass-circulation broadsheet Bild. “But the Bundestag does not allow itself to be blackmailed by a despot like Mr. Erdogan.” 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 historical responsibility in the matter.
In 1915, the German Reich, a predecessor to the modern state, was military protecting the Ottoman Empire in accordance with a strategic wartime alliance. The German side received numerous indications of atrocities and ethnic cleansing by the Young Turk government of the day. According to scholarly estimates, as many as 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were deported and killed. The German Reich did not intervene; furthermore, it guaranteed postwar asylum for the responsible parties after they had been stripped of their power.
Germany now intends officially to apologize for this. Kantian, of the German-Armenian Society, hopes that this apology will be part of the final text to be approved on June 2. That much isn’t certain yet, but the Left party and the Greens have both demanded not only that the term “genocide” be used but that Germany apologize.
The Greens even put as much in writing back in February: “The German Bundestag regrets the inglorious role of the German Reich, which, despite unequivocal information, including from German diplomats and missionaries, about the organized expulsion and extermination of the Armenians, did not attempt to stop these crimes against humanity.”