The parliament of Germany (the Bundestag) has approved a resolution which declares a mass killing of Armenians to be genocide. The killings in question were carried out during the First World War by Ottoman Turkish forces, with up to 1.5 million Armenians being left dead. The approval of the resolution coincides with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of these killings.
For some years now, Armenian’s have been campaigning internationally to have the global community acknowledge these mass killings as a case of genocide. Turkey opposed the idea that its First World War actions extended to the point of genocide, disputing the claimed numbers of dead and saying that much of the blame for the killings lay at the feet of a civil war that erupted following the Ottoman Empire’s fall.
Prosecutions against individuals who denied that the killings constituted a genocide led to further controversy, with a European Court of Human Rights ruling in December 2009 deciding that these prosecutions infringed upon freedom of expression. However, 2009 was also the year that saw Turkey and Armenia overcome their bitterness sufficiently to sign an accord in Switzerland which opened their borders and helped to establish better relations between the two countries.
The President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert led the drive to have the resolution approved. Lammert is of the opinion that Germany and Turkey should join together in attempts to confront past acts of genocide and reconcile with the world.
Regarding this concept of shared national reconciliation, Lammert said: “the unparalleled experiences of violence in the 20th century have ensured that we know there can be no real peace until the victims, their relatives and descendants experience justice: through remembrance of the events.”
The Bundestag as a whole also took the opportunity to highlight issues of violence and discrimination against various groups in the modern age. The legislative body pointed to instances of persecution on ethnic, religious and political grounds against groups across the globe, saying that humanity as a whole must strive to combat these kinds of actions if it is to ensure that the mistakes of the past go unrepeated.
In 2010, it was reported by a US State Department spokesperson that the Obama administration was opposed to a vote on a similar resolution stating that the killings were a genocide. More recently, Greece lent support to this definition of the incident when, in September last year, the country’s parliament approved a bill that criminalises denial of the genocide.