Osman Orsal/ Reuters Turkish ultra-nationalists shout slogans in front of the German Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, during a protest against a resolution by Germany's parliament that declares the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a "genocide", June 2016.

Germany and the Armenian Genocide

Berlin's Response to Erdogan?

On June 2, Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, voted to declare the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 a genocide. The move, which came one year after the centenary of the Armenian genocide, caught most onlookers by surprise, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who quickly denounced the resolution and recalled his ambassador from Berlin. Judging from past examples, however, the vote is unlikely to seriously disrupt Turkish–German relations.

The Germans are not the first to take this step and they will not be the last. In Europe, they are following the example of Austria, France, Sweden, and several other countries that have recognized the Armenian genocide in the past few years. Almost all historians of the period agree that the mass killing of the Armenians was an act of genocide, although the term is vague and was devised 30 years later.

But the location and timing of this genocide resolution distinguish it. When the Ottomans began to deport Armenians during World War I, Germany was their closest ally. German officers and soldiers had no direct role in the deportations, which wiped out almost the entire Armenian population of the empire, but they did nothing to stop them. 

In 1921, the German general Liman van Sanders, who had commanded the German forces in Turkey during the war, offered the first major apology when he testified in the trial of the young Armenian who assassinated Talat Pasha, the Ottoman minister of the interior and the architect of the genocide. The Bundestag resolution picks up where Sanders left off, by talking of the “historical responsibility of Germany” for the massacres.

When the Ottomans began to deport Armenians during World War I, Germany was their closest ally.

The German resolution is also significant because of the shadow of the Holocaust. In the 1940s, the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” chiefly to describe the Holocaust of the Jews. The term’s close association with the Holocaust leaves the other examples of genocide

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