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Sara Petrosyan

Germany Still Regards the Armenian Genocide as a “Tragic Chapter of History”

An interview with Jirayr Kocharian, lecturer of Armenian Studies at the Freie Universitat in Berlin In an April 3, 2010 article entitled “Past Evils”, the German magazine “Spiegel” reflected on the events of 1915 and expressed amazement that to date Germany has not officially recognized what took place as “genocide”. How sincere is such amazement on the part of “Spiegel”? “Spiegel”, with a circulation of 3.5 million, is a major player when it comes to shaping public opinion in Germany. On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when the German Bundestag adopted a resolution, many in Armenia, including Vardan Oskanian, the RoA Foreign Minister at the time, and Giro Manoyan, spokesman for the ARF Bureau, declared that it was a positive step and thoroughly elucidated resolution. Despite this, the German-Armenian community voiced their protest over the resolution because it left out two important words – eviction and genocide. These terms carry legal significance. In my opinion, “Spiegel” shouldn’t be surprised that Germany, despite being an ally of Turkey during World War I, has made every effort to keep the German people in the dark regarding what took place in the Ottoman Sultanate. (At the time, Turkey was a ‘sultanate’ and not an empire, as is the common misperception and incorrect appellation employed). Throughout the length and breadth of Turkey there were over 15 German consulates that were collecting information on the eviction and massacres of Armenians and sending the facts back to Berlin. In other words, the German authorities were fully aware as to what was taking place in the Ottoman Sultanate. These materials were compiled into fifty-two volumes and are kept within the document center at the German Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Germany proved to be Turkey’s most stalwart ally during those years. Today, Germany remains a good friend of Turkey and a NATO ally. In 2005, the Bundestag called on Turkey to assume its “historical responsibility”. To date however, Germany itself has failed to describe what took place as ‘genocide’. What, if anything, has changed in this regard since 2005? Can we say that Germany’s failure to recognize the Armenian Genocide is the result of inadequate efforts by the German-Armenian lobby? The process after the 2005 decree has not been in our favor. Many books and publications stopped using the term ‘genocide’, following the example of the German parliament. Up until then, the term ‘genocide’ had been widely used when commemorating the Armenian massacres. In addition, in February of  this year, Gregor Gysi, a key politician of the socialist political party “The Left” (Die Linke), presented a written query to the Bundestag that specifically asked, ‘if the Federal Republic of Germany recognizes the 1915-1916 massacres of Armenians, events that fully correspond to the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, as in fact ‘genocide’? Cornelia Pieper, Germany's Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, offered an answer that, in keeping with the spirit of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols, evaded the meat of the original question. “The German Federation welcomes all initiatives designed to clarify the historical events of 1915-1916. An examination and clarification of these events can only be left to experts. The German Federation believes that the tragic events of 1915-1916 are first and foremost a problem for Turkey and Armenia. Seen from this perspective, the German Federation highly praises both Turkey and Armenia for taking the courageous steps towards normalizing relations. The German Federation encourages both parties to continue the dialogue and proves of rapprochement now underway, that also includes the creation of committee of historians. Personally, I see a similarity between this answer and the “Lepsius House” 2010 program. The German government has been able to influence several organizations, including “Lepsius House”. They don’t hide this fact. In its 2010 annual program, it is noted that, “The Lepsius House is specifically carried out the request of the Bundestag, to have the legacy of Dr. Johannes Lepsius serve the aim of dialogue and reconciliation between Turkey, Armenia and Germany.” Included in the 2010 program of Lepsius House is an event entitled “Journey to Stambul-2010”, an opportunity to participate in the commemorations marking the capture of Constantinople by Mehmed II in 1453. Even though 2010 marks the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, there is no such notation in the program. According to the program, on April 24, 2010, only the “Armenian victims” will be remembered without any mention of those responsible and the criminals. May 29, 1453, is a day of sadness for all Christians, especially Greeks and Armenians, because that day signifies the end of a unique Christian-stamped Byzantine culture. The capture of Constantinople also marks the end of the Orthodox Church’s existence in Asia Minor. This announcement irritated and incensed German-Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and Aramaic-speaking Christians just as much as the meaningless Bundestag resolution of 2005 in which no reference was made to genocide and eviction. We should also note that there is no Armenian lobby in Germany. On the contrary, there exists a Turkish lobby. Today, some three million Turks reside in Germany. They are members of various German political parties and enjoy a great deal of leverage in the country. They pull out all the stops to neutralize any effort to have the Armenian Genocide recognized. For the past 2-3 years the “Talat Pasha” movement has been operating. They want to reopen the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian and vindicate Talat. The movement is demanding that a Berlin street be renamed in Talat’s honor and that permission be granted to erect a statue of the Ottoman leader. Naturally, the Committee for Genocide Recognition, headed by Tessa Hoffman, is leading a struggle in opposition. I should add that Armenians are not able to counter the Turkish lobby because of their large numbers and the fact that the Turkish government and the local Turkish embassy assist their efforts. We should also not forget the large number of Turkish-loving Germans that also help them in their efforts against Armenian issues. There is no traditional Armenian community in Germany to speak of. The small numbers of Armenians from Iran and Turkey, and in recent years, from Armenia are not well organized. Armenians in Germany don’t have the numbers or organization as the Armenian communities in France or the United States. The German-Armenian community receives no government assistance. The Committee for Genocide Recognition has petitioned the courts, demanding that all those who deny the Genocide or undermine its scope and severity be indicted, just as in the case of Switzerland and Belgium. What are the prospects for this to occur in a country that doesn’t even recognize the Genocide? The European Union, as well as several European nations, has recognized the Armenian Genocide. I believe that their decisions can also be put into practice in Germany. An opinion is expressed in the Spiegel article, that the scarcity of visual and photographic materials regarding the “Armenian calamity”, in comparison with the Jewish Holocaust and subsequent genocides, make it that much more difficult to reconstruct what took place. The authors of the article then contradict themselves and state that there is a wealth of archival material on the subject that not even specialists are aware of. How is it that sufficient evidence of the Armenian Genocide does not exist in the German archives? First, let’s talk about the word “calamity”. A few years ago a group of Turkish historians and intellectuals declared that they wanted to apologize for the “calamity’ that befell the Armenian people during WWI. The declaration was translated and circulated in several languages. The word “tragedy/calamity” found wide usage after it was uttered by President Barack Obama. In other words, they are making every effort to avoid using the word “genocide and are looking for a substitute term to express what took place. However, the legal terminology is ‘genocide’. In even Germany today, there are those who want to present the Armenian Genocide as a “tragic chapter of the past”. We, of course, oppose such attempts. In the end, even the Germans will be forced to accept the truth. There were two nations with which Turkey had good relations during WWI and who had a large presence in Turkey. There were 2,000 German military officers and 20,000 soldiers in Turkey at the time. Germany had consuls in fifteen Turkish towns. In addition, there are the memoirs of German and American missionaries from the period, for example Armin Teofil Wegner and Johannes Lepsius, who wrote about and photographed what transpired. The largest archive regarding the Genocide is in Germany and there is a vast amount of material to be researched. In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are the military archives, the archives of the missionaries and other personal eye-witness accounts. There are two major archives in Austria as well. Artyom Ohandjanian has published materials from these archives but this work cannot be undertaken by just one person. This requires government assistance and it is vital work because the most accurate materials are to be found in Germany. Turkey cannot dispel the accuracy of these archives since Berlin was its wartime ally. In addition to the article, Spiegel also published an interview with RoA President Sargsyan in the same edition as the article we’ve been discussing. This was followed by the 90 minute film “Aghet - Ein Völkermord”, a documentary on the Armenian Genocide. The German press reported that many government officials were present at the screening. Should we view these developments in Germanys as part of the general heightened interest in the Armenian Genocide globally or rather should it be explained by a change in the approaches of the German government towards the past? There is little discussion about Armenians in Germany. There have been films and events on the subject in the past as well. Reports have been published and distributed. Germany is a land of many contradictions. Nevertheless, German language books on the Armenian Genocide have been published as well, even though they do not present the full historical truth or reality. Every year there are presentations on the subject and this year will be no exception. Already, three such events have been staged. Tess Hoffman wrote the scripts for one of these and the halls are always packed with spectators. Armenians would strengthen their message if they reached out to other peoples who have been subjected to genocide and waged a joint struggle. There are 150,000 Assyrians living in Germany, Aramaic-speaking Christians and Greeks, that join in Armenian demonstrations. There are also Yezidis from Armenia who support us. The Committee for Genocide Recognition carries out its activities jointly with these peoples since the genocide and eviction of these three Christian peoples in Turkey took place at the same time and in the same country and by the same criminal government. Our struggle would be much more productive if our three peoples coordinated their efforts on this matter.

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