Berlin-Ankara row escalates over Armenian genocide resolution

Erdogan rails against MPs of Turkish descent with ‘tainted blood’ who backed resolution

Turkish demonstrators stage a protest outside the German Embassy in Ankara against approval of a resolution by Germany’s parliament declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a “genocide”. Photograph: Reuters

Turkish demonstrators stage a protest outside the German Embassy in Ankara against approval of a resolution by Germany’s parliament declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a “genocide”. Photograph: Reuters

 

Berlin’s diplomatic row with Ankara has escalated after the Bundestag condemned claims by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that German MPs of Turkish descent had “tainted blood” for backing a resolution recognising as genocide the Ottoman killing of over one million Armenians starting in 1915.

In a hard-hitting address to Germany’s lower house of parliament, Bundestag president Norbert Lammert – the second-most senior figure in the German state – warned that attacks on individual MPs constituted attacks on the entire Bundestag.

“I would not have thought it possible that a democratically-elected president in the 21st century could link criticism of democratically-elected members of the German Bundestag to their Turkish descent (and) describe their blood as ‘tainted’,” said Mr Lammert, to applause from Bundestag deputies including German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Turkey has announced it is preparing an unspecified package of “measures” against Germany after the Bundestag last week almost unanimously recognised the 101-year-old massacre of Armenians as genocide. Before the vote Ankara had warned repeatedly of consequences and, after the resolution passed, recalled its ambassador.

In subsequent addresses Mr Erdogan accused MPs of Turkish origin of being the extended arm of the PKK, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party seeking an independent Kurdish state. He also suggested they undergo blood tests to see “what kind of Turks they are”. One Turkish newspaper described as a “German achievement” the attack in Istanbul last week that claimed 11 lives.

Dr Merkel excused herself from last week’s Bundestag vote, but has subsequently defend it as an independent decision by the German parliament. On Wednesday she criticised the Turkish reaction as “incomprehensible”.

While her choice of words has been criticised as overly restrained by some MPs, the row has put the German leader in a difficult position. She is dependent on Turkey’s goodwill to secure a migrant-swap deal, spearheaded by Berlin, to reduce pressure on  Germany and other EU members under strain by the continent’s migration crisis.

Death threats

Some 11 MPs of Turkish descent sit in the German Bundestag and, though not participated in last week’s Armenian vote, all of them now feature - with pictures - on lists circulating on Turkish websites.

Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir, who voted for the resolution, is under police protection after receiving death threats. Fellow Green MP Özcan Mutlu, who was not in the chamber for the vote, said he was worried that “some crazy person” will take it upon themselves to realise the threats against them online.

“So many people in Turkey had died that way,” said Mr Mutlu.

In an open letter to Mr Erdogan, European Parliament president Martin Schulz condemned “as strongly as possible” his insinuation that German MPs had terrorist sympathies.

Turkish media have reported that a national lawyers’ association is already planning legal action against the 11 MPs for insulting the Turkish state. If convicted the politicians could face up to two years in prison if they enter Turkey – effectively barring them from visiting family and friends in the country.

Widespread western historical consensus is that the Ottoman empire – precursor to the modern Turkish state – massacred an estimated 1.5 million Armenians starting in 1915 to wipe them from Anatolia.

Turkey insists that similar numbers of Muslims and Armenians were killed during wartime conflict, triggered by Armenians who supported invading Russian troops to secure their own state.

Turkey’s new prime minister Binali Yildirim blamed “the racist Armenian lobby” for the passing of the resolution. Armenia’s foreign minister Edward Nalbandian praised the German vote as a “valuable contribution” to recognising the Armenian genocide and to fight such crimes in the future.