Germany Bears Responsibility for Armenian Genocide, Says President

By Deborah Cole

BERLIN (AFP)—Germany condemns the massacre a century ago of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces as a “genocide,” President Joachim Gauck said Thursday, adding that Germany bore partial blame for the bloodletting.

Gauck’s speech at an event commemorating the centenary marked the first time that Berlin has officially used the word “genocide” to describe the killings, and an unusually strong acknowledgement of the then German empire’s role in them.

“In this case we Germans must come to terms with the past regarding our shared responsibility, possibly shared guilt, for the genocide against the Armenians,” he said at the ecumenical service in Berlin.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart and have long sought to win international recognition of the massacres as genocide.

Modern Turkey, the successor state to the Ottomans, rejects the claim, arguing that 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.

Gauck’s statement was expected to draw an angry reaction from Ankara, which has close defense and trade ties with Berlin.

Germany also has a 3-million-strong ethnic Turkish population deriving from a massive “guest worker” program in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier Thursday that a decision by Austrian lawmakers this week to condemn the massacre as “genocide” would have “unfavorable repercussions” for bilateral ties.

Gauck, a Protestant pastor and former East German dissident, is the head of state and serves as a kind of moral arbiter for the nation.

 

Nazis banned book

In his speech at Berlin Cathedral, Gauck said that particularly given Nazi Germany’s slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II, for which Berlin has publicly atoned for decades, it must also own up to its historical guilt in the Armenian mass murders.

“Woman and men, children and the elderly were indiscriminately sent on death marches, banished without any protection or food to the steppe and the desert, burned alive, chased, beaten, and shot to death,” he said.

“This planned and calculated criminal act targeted the Armenians for a sole reason: because they were Armenians.”

Gauck said that the German empire, then allied with the Ottomans, deployed soldiers who took part in “planning and, in part, carrying out the deportations.”

German diplomats and observers who reported back to Berlin the atrocities they witnessed were “ignored” for fear of jeopardizing relations with the Ottomans, he said.

Gauck said that the Nazis even banned an Austrian novel about the mass murders, but that the book was read in Jewish ghettos in the 1930’s “as a harbinger of what was to come for the Jews.”

He said it was impossible to walk away from guilt through “denial, repression, or trivialization” of history.

“We in Germany learned the hard way, in part by shameful procrastination, to remember the crimes of the Nazi era, above all the persecution and extermination of European Jews,” he said.

The presidents of Russia and France—two of nearly two dozen countries to formally recognize the genocide—are to join a handful of world leaders attending a commemoration of the massacre in Yerevan on Friday.

Germany plans to send a junior foreign minister to the event.

While Gauck clearly labelled the mass murders a genocide, the German government has backed a compromise resolution to be debated on Friday in parliament.

“Their fate exemplifies the history of the mass murders, ethnic cleansing campaigns, expulsions, indeed the genocides that marked the 20th century in such a horrible way,” reads the draft text obtained by AFP on Monday.

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15 Comments

  1. “In this case we Germans must come to terms with the past regarding our shared responsibility, possibly shared guilt, for the genocide against the Armenians.”

    Three things:

    1: Germany is admitting to their role in what they call a genocide, which is much more significant, to me, than a random country recognizing the Armenian genocide.

    2: Germany is one of those rare countries in Europe that has done its best, and gone above and beyond to make up for the sins of its past (while most whitewash their history). This makes any potential reactionist claims by Turkish officials that “Germany should face its own history first” fall flat.

    3. This is the kind of recognition that holds value for me. It’s not a calculated political move against Turkey, it’s sincere, genuine, and honest. Thank you President Gauck. I hope one day Turkey can have a leader who doesn’t back away from the dark chapters in our history.

    • Good point on number 2, it is interesting both Ottoman Turkey’s allies, Germany and Austria now have recognized an inconvenient truth which makes the official Turkish position on the Armenian Genocide (and perhaps the others of WWI) no longer tenable from a denialist perspective, the number one reason being Germany was the leading force in the Central Powers (WWI German alliance).

      Germany may not have the clout of the USA, but this was a significant blow to Turkey’s Genocide Denial.

    • “Germany is admitting to their role in what they call a genocide, which is much more significant, to me, than a random country recognizing the Armenian genocide. […] This is the kind of recognition that holds value for me. It’s not a calculated political move against Turkey; it’s sincere, genuine, and honest.”

      There is no “random” country that recognized the Armenian genocide. Just because Germany had a role in the AG and others didn’t doesn’t make these countries “random” ones. All countries that recognized the Armenian genocide were sincere, genuine, and honest and not driven by “calculated political moves against Turkey”. What “calculated political move against Turkey” could, for example, Uruguay possibly have in 1965 or Bolivia in 2014? Don’t be ridiculous…

    • Hagop,

      Actually, Germany has just proven that her political clout, as well as her national courage, overshadows that of the USA. Compare President Gauck’s statement with the ridiculous statement of President Obama. Mind you, Germany is also Turkey’s NATO ally, a moniker so cherished and so frequently repeated by the gutless American administration. Moreover, Germany is the home of about 4 mln ethnic Turks. Yet their president had courage, COURAGE, to admit part of the guilt and call the crime against the Armenians by an appropriate name.

      Now, which country has more clout?

    • Great points RVDV. I agree with all of them.

      Modern Germany is truly an exemplary country. Did you know that not only has she apologized for the Holocaust and now the Armenian Genocide, but also for the true *first* genocide of the 20th century, the one carried out by colonial German forces in Namibia against the Herero peoples:
      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/aug/16/germany.andrewmeldrum

      My mother was born in Dikranagerd and attended the German high school in Istanbul. I am proud that she did.

    • {“I hope one day Turkey can have a leader who doesn’t back away from the dark chapters in our history.”}

      Don’t lose your hope, friend.
      But don’t hold your breath.

    • John:

      Uruguay and Bolivia qualify as random compared to Germany which played a direct role. Good for them and all that, but the recognition by two small South American nations means less than recognition by Germany. It just does, for a variety of reasons.

      “All countries that recognized the Armenian genocide were sincere, genuine, and honest and not driven by “calculated political moves against Turkey”.

      If you don’t think Cyprus and Syria’s recognition didn’t have an element of a political move against Turkey you need a reality check. You think it’s some great coincidence that Egypt and Israel discussed the issue in their parliaments as soon a their relations with Turkey soured? The large majority do it for the right reasons but if you don’t think Cyprus recognizing the Armenian genocide one year after Turkish invasion is a political move than I don’t know what else to say.

    • RVDV,

      Definition of ‘random’ in English Oxford Dictionary: adjective. 1 made, done, happening, or chosen without method or conscious decision.

      We need to be careful not to classify countries that recognized the AG as random, more significant or less significant. You wrote: “Germany is admitting to their role in […] genocide, which is much more significant to me, than a random country recognizing the Armenian genocide.” Do you mean to say that all countries other than Germany recognized without method or conscious decision (definition of ‘random’)? You added: “Uruguay and Bolivia qualify as random compared to Germany”. Do you mean to say that Uruguay recognized the genocide without method or conscious decision? How does the fact that Uruguay became the first nation-state to recognize back in 1965 qualify it as random or being less significant country than Germany? Other countries—Russia, France, Austria, etc.—played a role – direct, indirect or just participatory. Were these countries random or less significant than Germany when they recognized the genocide? Vatican played no role at all. Is Vatican random or less significant state than Germany?

      Cyprus might have its own motives or, as you said, an “element of a political move against Turkey” in 1975. The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus might have triggered the recognition, but I don’t think Cypriot Greeks were not sincere, genuine, and honest in adopting the resolution given their own sufferings under the Seljuk and Ottoman rules and their traditionally friendly disposition towards the Armenians.

      I would agree that recognition trends must reach their ‘boiling point’, so to say, but that doesn’t mean that when they do, it necessarily means that it’s a “calculated political move against Turkey” and not a sincere, genuine, and honest move.

      I hope I made myself clear.

    • John:

      I think you’re taking the “random” country comment more literally than I intended. Let’s say Uruguay didn’t recognize the Armenian genocide, and on April 24th the President publicly recognized it on its 100th anniversary. A significant move that would’ve made drawn attention. But let’s say Germany formally recognized the Armenian genocide for the first time on the same day. Which one makes world headlines? Which one infuriates Turkey more? Against whom is Turkey’s tantrum directed towards? Which country’s recognition is more damaging to genocide denial? Germany, right? Does that not make Germany’s recognition, especially considering the role they played, more significant. Significant on political terms to be specific, because that’s what this issue has become. It’s not a “battle over history or truth,” Turkey has lost that, decisively. Since more powerful countries have more political clout, that makes German recognition more significant that Uruguay’s recognition. I don’t see how that’s a remotely controversial statement. Similarly, why does President Obama’s lack of recognition make headlines and draw such outrage while Ireland and Portugal’s lack of recognition not merit a mention? Because American recognition and pressure on Turkey could lead to results, while Ireland and Portugal, well, what can they do to Turkey really? I’m not trying to disparage Ireland, Portugal, or Uruguay here but in terms of power and politics they, on a global scale, are virtually irrelevant. Germany and the US are not.

      “but I don’t think Cypriot Greeks were not sincere, genuine, and honest in adopting the resolution..”

      I can’t make guesses into what was in the hearts of the Cypriot lawmakers who passed the resolution but the timing raises red flags for me. The timing of the resolution, at least for me, appears to have been a middle finger to Turkey for the invasion of Cyprus. They probably were sincere, genuine, and honest in their feelings about what happened to the Armenians, but what weighed more: their sincere feelings for the plight of the Armenians in 1915, or their hatred for Turkey invading their country in 1974? Like I said, I can’t make any guesses as to what was in the hearts of the lawmakers in Cyprus at the time, so I’ll leave it at that.

    • RVDV,

      You in a way concurred, at least I sense so, that, like I said, we need to be careful not to classify countries as “random” and their actions only as “calculated political moves against Turkey”.

      I take the “random” country comment in the true sense of the word, not literally, i.e. “made without method or conscious decision”. I don’t think that only Germany’s recognition was made with conscious decision, while other countries’ recognitions were made without it, only as “calculated political moves against Turkey”. What is controversial in your statement is not which country’s recognition has more political clout on the global scale. Needless to say that Germany’s recognition is more heavyweight than Bolivia’s. But I specifically oppose the usage of the word “random” with regard to the countries other than Germany and that only Germany’s recognition was sincere, genuine, and honest, while other countries’ recognitions, it is so implied in your comment, were just “calculated political moves”. Again, what calculated political move could Uruguay possibly have back in 1965, for Christ’s sake?

      In terms of power and politics, countries differ. No doubt about it. Ireland, Portugal, or Uruguay have less clout. Agreed. But then you have Vatican, France, Russia and Turkey’s wartime ally Austria. I just don’t see how these countries could be classified as “random”. Sorry. What more, I don’t see how their actions were all “calculated political moves against Turkey”, but only Germany’s recognition was “sincere, genuine, and honest”. I think it was just a bad choice of words in your comment, unless you really meant it.

      On Cyprus, I agreed that their recognition might have been triggered by the Turkish Invasion. But the timing of the resolution doesn’t mean that had Cyprus been vehemently opposed to the AG recognition as a matter of national policy or had Greek Cypriots not have friendly feelings towards the similar plight of the Armenians, they would have waited until the island is occupied to show a middle finger to Turkey. The invasion triggered the recognition, but not miraculously changed the Cypriots’ posture from rigid denialism to wholehearted welcome.

      I hope I made myself clear.

  2. Bravo to Germany and this President!
    An honest man.
    (Especially since Germany has a large Turkish Muslim community.)
    I have the utmost respect for Germany now that they have publicly taken responsibility.

  3. This is an amazing statement to make on the part of the German President. He may not be the Chancellor nor the rest of the German government, but he publicly wen beyond the simple affirmation of genocide.

    I think a lot of people getting to know the Armenian Genocide will scratch their heads thinking “Wait what? Germans? But in happened in Turkey.”

  4. How truly noble the president of Germany has shown himself to be by acknowledging his country’s responsibility in the Ottoman Turkish Empire’s annihilation of its Armenian population. This is so unlike all of the crooked, coward American presidents up to now, who’ve never acknowledged the atrocities that the U.S. imperialistic empire has committed in the past, such as against the citizens of Korea, the citizens of Japan, the citizens of Vietnam, the citizens of Afghanistan, the citizens of Iraq, as well as the thousands of innocent Arab children that are getting blown up in the Middle East today by those U.S. drones. Therefore, bombarding foreign countries from top to bottom, which obviously results in the murder of so many innocent civilians, is always an option that American presidents use whenever they feel like it. And, according to their extremely perverse beliefs, they always believe that they bear no responsibility whatsoever for any of their terrorist actions.

  5. “Now, which country has more clout?”… Re: Germany and USA.

    John,
    Perhaps you misunderstood what I meant, so just to be more clear… when I was talking about influence, I meant regarding world affairs, and in this domain, the US reigns supreme. And there is one important detail: Germany is still under occupation by the USA. Has been since the end of WWII. True, Germany showed more courage than the cowards of the USA currently in power, but these are the facts, Germany is not yet a truly sovereign nation since losing WWII and both Germany and the rest of NATO are for all intents and purposes, extensions of the US military (of course militarily speaking with regards to power).

    Now where recognition of the Genocide is concerned, when the time comes where Turkey will be made to answer for her crimes against humanity, what Germany can provide for our case perhaps can be more damaging for Turkish denial than any other country, since Germany was Ottoman Turkey’s host, ally and enabler in the war. But I don’t see this going anywhere without the US giving the green light, which is why recognition of the Genocide by the USA is perhaps the most important of all. Once the US recognizes the Genocide, Turkey’s entire denial mechanism will come tumbling down like a house of cards. The same cannot be said for any other country, because in our time, the US has replaced Germany as Turkey’s host and enabler.

    And let’s also not forget, the “USA” also means the UK by extension. Which controls which is an open question.

  6. If you have read Grigoris Balakian’s book “Armenian Golgotha”, and or his grandson, Peter Balakian’s books about the Armenian Genocide, you know how involved, cooperative, and complicit the German government, armed forces, and corporations were with the “Young Turks” plot to destroy the Armenian population and culture within the Ottoman Empire. Germany needs to open it’s books and confess. If you haven’t read these books, you should!

    http://wordswithoutborders.org/book-review/grigoris-balakians-armenian-golgotha

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