German president labels Armenian killings as genocide

AP , Thursday 23 Apr 2015

Germany's president on Thursday described the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks a century ago as genocide, marking a shift in his country's stance after officials previously avoided the term.

President Joachim Gauck said it is clear today that "the fate of the Armenians is exemplary for the history of mass destruction, ethnic cleansing, expulsions and genocides which marks the 20th century in such a terrible way."

Germany's Parliament will debate a motion using the same words on Friday, a formulation that the government has backed after consultations with lawmakers and Gauck's office.

Gauck made a second, more direct, reference to "the genocide against the Armenians."

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I, an event widely viewed by scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey, however, denies that the deaths constituted genocide, saying the toll has been inflated, and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest. It has lobbied fiercely to prevent countries from recognizing the massacres as genocide.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican after Pope Francis described the killings as genocide this month, and said it was recalling its ambassador to Austria after that country's parliament followed suit.

The German government hasn't in the past used the term genocide, but faced increasing pressure from lawmakers and the prospect of Gauck, an outspoken former pastor with no party affiliation, using the word.

On Tuesday, Merkel had what the German government described as a "good conversation" with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the matter.

Davutoglu this week extended condolences to the descendants of the Armenians who were killed, but in his conciliatory message criticized efforts to press Turkey to recognize the slaughter as genocide.

Gauck, speaking at a nondenominational memorial service in Berlin, said it is important "to recognize, lament and mourn the planned destruction of a people in its whole terrible reality."

"In remembering, we are not putting anyone alive today in the dock," he said. "But what the victims' descendants can rightly expect is the recognition of historical facts and also historical guilt."

Gauck noted that Germany, which a century ago didn't want to endanger relations with its Ottoman ally, also must consider what responsibility it shares.

German soldiers were involved in planning and carrying out deportations, he said, adding that "tips from German observers and diplomats who recognized the will to destroy in the action against the Armenians were ignored."

"No one needs to be afraid of the truth," he said.

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