Thursday, June 02, 2016

Throwing Fuel on the Fire

It would be an understatement to say that tensions have been running high between the governments of Turkey and Germany lately. There have been negotiations that some might say border on blackmail for Turkish intervention to stem the flow of refugee/migrants out of Syria. There has been Recep Erdogan's angry demands that German comedians who have mocked him be punished. It's been generally a tense and at moments nasty time.

What an auspicious moment for Germany to poke Erdogan in the eye with a sharp stick. Germany's parliament has chosen this moment to pronounce the Ottoman Turk's slaughter of its Armenian population an act of "genocide."

The Turkish government angrily denounced the vote as "null and void" and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recalled their ambassador back to Ankara for consultations.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, denounced the vote on Twitter, writing, "The way to close the dark pages of your own history is not by defaming the histories of other countries with irresponsible and baseless decisions."

For Turkey, there is scarcely a more sensitive topic than what historians say was the murder of more than 1 million Armenians and other Christian minorities in 1915-16. The Turkish government has long rejected the term genocide, saying that thousands of people, many of them Turks, died in the civil war that destroyed the Ottoman Empire. It also says that the estimates of the number of deaths have been exaggerated.

But the issue is also fraught for Germany. At the time of the killings, Germany, led by Kaiser Wilhelm I, was allied with the Ottomans, fighting alongside the Austro-Hungarian Empire against Britain, France and Russia in World War I. Acceptance of German responsibility for the atrocities of World War II has become an established part of the nation's culture, and historians and activists have said that the Armenian resolution was an important step in acknowledging Germany's indirect involvement in the 1915 killings.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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