In a move welcomed by Armenia but condemned by Turkey, Germany’s parliament overwhelmingly passed on Thursday a resolution recognizing the 1915 massacres of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide.
"With one vote against and one abstention, this resolution has been passed by a remarkable majority of the German Bundestag," Norbert Lammert, the speaker of the German lower house of parliament, declared after the vote, according to Reuters.
The resolution was drafted by lawmakers representing the main parliamentary factions, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). It says the Armenians' fate exemplified "the history of mass exterminations, ethnic cleansing, deportations and yes, genocide, which marked the 20th century in such a terrible way."
It also acknowledges that the German Empire, then a military ally of the Ottomans, did nothing to stop the killings.
"That we were complicit in this terrible crime does not mean that today we will be complicit in denying it," said Cem Ozdemir, the ethnic Turkish leader of the opposition Green Party and a stronger backer of Armenian genocide recognition.
"Only those who recognize the past can take part in shaping the future," Deutsche Welle quoted Franz Josef Jung, a former German defense minister and a senior CDU lawmaker, as saying. "We want this resolution to revive the process of reconciliation [between Turkey and Armenia]."
Turkey’s AK Party responded swiftly to the vote, saying it has "seriously damaged" Turkish-German relations.
Armenia, by contrast, hailed the Bundestag resolution, with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian praising “Germany’s valuable contribution” to international recognition of the Armenian genocide and global efforts to prevent more crimes against humanity.
In a written statement, Nalbandian also said that the Turkish authorities “are continuing to obstinately reject the undeniable fact of genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire.” “For 101 years, the international community has been waiting for Turkey to face up to its past,” he added.
Although Merkel did not take part in the vote, she did back the genocide resolution in an internal party straw poll earlier this week. “She told me this morning that she sides with her parliamentary group,” a spokeswoman for the chancellor reportedly said on Wednesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Merkel on Tuesday to warn that Germany will seriously damage its “diplomatic, economic, trade, political, and military ties” with Turkey if it does recognize the Armenian genocide.
The German resolution might also jeopardize the European Union’s agreement with Turkey aimed at stemming a massive flow of refugees from the Middle East to Germany and other EU states. Even before the Bundestag vote, the controversial deal hung in the balance due to Turkish demands for visa-free travel to the EU.
German officials hope, however, that the non-binding resolution will not scupper the migrant deal or seriously harm ties between Berlin and Ankara.
"I can't imagine that Turkey, which is currently finding itself isolated in its foreign policies in the face of mounting pressure from IS and the PKK, could afford to sever its ties with Germany - one of its most reliable partners," said Michael Brand, the head of the Bundestag committee on human rights.
"This isn't about embarrassing Turkey but about articulating a historical truth. We cannot apply tact when it comes to the truth," Brand told reporters, according to Deutsche Welle.
Germany is home to an estimated 3.5 million Turks. More a thousand of them demonstrated against the resolution on Saturday in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin, reported Reuters.
Successive Turkish governments have claimed that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and as a result of war and turmoil, rather than a premeditated Ottoman government policy. In an April 2015 speech, Erdogan defended “the relocation of the Armenian population in Anatolia to southern lands” during the First World War.
Erdogan referred to a Syrian desert where hundreds of thousands of Armenians -- mostly women, children and elderly people -- were killed or starved to death. Scores of others died on their way to the Deir ez-Zor camps.
Most Western historians specializing in research of crimes against humanity have dismissed the official Turkish position. “The historical record on the Armenian Genocide is unambiguous and documented by overwhelming evidence,” the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) said in a 2007 statement.
The Armenian genocide has also been recognized by two dozen other nations, including France, Italy, Canada and Russia.