The atrocities perpetrated on the Armenian people a century ago were genocide, the German Parliament declared on Thursday.
Legislators overwhelmingly approved a resolution recognizing as genocide the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks starting in 1915.
Turkey — which objects to the use of the word “genocide” to refer to the mass killings — responded by withdrawing its ambassador to Germany for “consultations,” The Associated Press reports.
“This decision will seriously impact Turkish-German relations,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, according to the AP.
NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports there are concerns in Berlin that the fallout over the resolution will endanger the already-fragile deal between Turkey and the EU over how to handle the ongoing migrant and refugee crisis.
“Turkey, as the Ottoman Empire’s successor state, denies the events that started in 1915 amounted to genocide, and Ankara has lashed out at countries describing what happened as such,” Soraya reports for our Newscast unit.
“But German officials say their resolution is long overdue, considering Germany was an Ottoman ally and bears some responsibility for the mass killings,” she says.
The massacre of the Armenian people helped inspire the very word “genocide,” as NPR has previously reported. Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin paid close attention to the mass killings as a teenager, wondering why the killing of one person was a crime and killing millions was not. He coined the word “genocide” in 1943 and spent the rest of his life fighting for genocide to be made an international crime.
But the use of the term to describe the atrocities perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians remains a source of international tension.
The Two-Way wrote about the dispute last spring, at the 100th anniversary of the start of the organized mass killings:
“Armenians, along with many historians and European countries, have called it the 20th century’s first genocide. Turkey suppressed accounts of the killings for decades, and to this day staunchly rejects the label of genocide.
“Modern Turkey, which emerged following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, still reacts sharply to countries that say a genocide took place. It recalled its envoy from the Vatican after Pope Francis used the term last Sunday and did the same in Austria after lawmakers spoke the word.
“The U.S. government does not call the events a genocide and neither does Israel. In both countries, this position appears based in part, if not mostly, on a desire not to offend Turkey.”
The AP reports that when Germany’s Parliament approved the resolution on Thursday, speaker Norbert Lammert “acknowledged that addressing historical events can be painful.” The news service adds:
” ‘But we have also seen that an honest and self-critical appraisal of the past does not endanger relations with other countries,’ he said. ‘In fact, it is a precondition for understanding, reconciliation and cooperation.’
He said Turkey’s current government is not responsible for what happened 100 years ago, ‘but it shares responsibility for what happens with it in the future.’ “