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Steinmeier: Genocide debate 'no help' to reconciliation

German Foreign Minister says reducing Armenian debate to ‘genocide’ label not helping reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.

24.04.2015
Steinmeier: Genocide debate 'no help' to reconciliation

BERLIN 

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned against reducing the debate on the Armenian tragedy to the use of the label “genocide”, saying it would not help reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

His remarks came on Friday after German lawmakers from governing parties and the opposition submitted draft parliamentary motions to parliament which labeled the incidents in 1915 as “genocide”.

Steinmeier said in an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel: "Simply reducing the debate to the question of whether or not using the word 'genocide' is not helping to put an end to the lack of dialogue between Turks and Armenians."

The opposition accused the government of refraining from using the label “genocide” so as not to risk damaging relations with Turkey - an important political and economic partner of Germany.

German President Joachim Gauck referred on Thursday to the 1915 tragedy as “genocide” at a memorial service at the historical Berlin Cathedral. 

Parliament Speaker Norbert Lammert followed the same line in a parliamentary speech on Friday.

Steinmeier dismissed criticism by opposition parties of the refusal by the Foreign Ministry to use the term "genocide" when referring to events of 1915.

“Complex memories can rarely be summarized in a single term,” he said.

He also warned against the tendencies of downplaying the Holocaust, by pointing out to the tragedy of Armenians in 1915.

“We should be careful in Germany, not to end up in our debates, finding ourselves supporting those who follow their particular political agenda and say the following: The Holocaust actually began before 1933,” Steinmeier said.

The joint draft issued by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Foreign Minister Steinmeier this week stated: "The destiny of Armenians during the First World War constitutes an example for the history of mass destructions, ethnic cleansings, forced deportations and yes, genocides in the 20th century."

But the ruling and opposition parties could not agree over a common wording for the motion on Friday, as the opposition Left Party and The Greens argued for a clearer definition of "genocide" and demanded a concrete policy from the German government acknowledging the term.

The fate of the motion is now expected to be decided in the coming week when the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee convenes, announced Parliament Speaker Norbert Lammert, who also described the tragedy of 1915 as “genocide” on Friday.

Germany’s three-million-strong ethnic Turkish community has strongly criticized the parliamentary motion for being one-sided and based on anti-Turkish sentiment.

Bekir Yilmaz, Director of the Turkish Community in Berlin, or the TGB, had warned in a press conference Wednesday that politicizing the 1915 events would harm reconciliation efforts between Turks and Armenians and further alienate Turkish immigrants in German society.

Thousands of Turkish immigrants are expected to rally in Berlin on Saturday to protest against allegations claiming "genocide" was committed against Armenians in 1915.

Turkey has called for the establishment of a joint commission of historians and the opening of archives to study and uncover what happened between the Ottoman Empire and its Armenian citizens.

The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire sided with the invading Russians and revolted.

The relocation by the Ottomans of Armenians in eastern Anatolia following the revolts resulted in numerous casualties.

Turkey does not dispute that there were casualties on both sides, but rejects the definition of "genocide".

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