It's not a massacre! It's more like a relocation of immigrants...
June 3, 2016 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Germany recognizes the Armenian Genocide after 101 years. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, and the minister for foreign affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier were not present for the vote. In retaliation Turkey has recalled its ambassador and summoned the German charge d’affaires to its foreign ministry.
posted by Talez (70 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's long overdue, and whatever realpolitik there is in not calling the genocide for what it was, it's a shameful thing that most of the first-world west allows Turkey to downplay the Ottoman murder of over a million Armenians.
posted by chimaera at 1:42 PM on June 3, 2016 [24 favorites]


This is so odd considering that Germany did this just a few weeks ago.

Can anybody explain this seeming about-face w/r/t Turkey?
posted by lattiboy at 1:42 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see every government on Earth call the genocide a genocide at once, so Turkey would have to either go full North Korea isolationist or just suck it up and finally admit that facts exist.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:47 PM on June 3, 2016 [39 favorites]


Somewhere, Serdar Argic is twitching violently.
posted by delfin at 1:47 PM on June 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


this seeming about-face

Perhaps the Germans are capable of being both anti-genocide and anti-comedy.
posted by sfenders at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2016 [17 favorites]


I just finished T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." Lawrence matter-of-factly discusses the Armenian campaign of the Turks and as well documents various atrocities of the retreating Ottoman 4th army in Syria. Why the current government of Turkey, heirs of Ataturk, cannot admit that atrocities were committed by the Ottomans is not clear to me. The actions of a different government, indeed a different country, defending an empire, would seem to little tarnish the current, nominally secular, Turkish nation - except for the steadfast denial.
posted by sudogeek at 1:55 PM on June 3, 2016 [30 favorites]


The EU really doesn't want Turkey to join.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:56 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


The actions of a different government, indeed a different country, defending an empire, would seem to little tarnish the current, nominally secular, Turkish nation.

Except that genocide denial is, in itself, an act of brutality against the victims of the genocide, the descendents of the victims who survived and the Armenian people as a whole. Turkey has perpetrated this brutality, preventing the healing process, for generations, and has leveraged its geopolitical position repeatedly, in order to coerce other nations into supporting its active campaign of denial.
posted by howfar at 2:01 PM on June 3, 2016 [31 favorites]


I usually don't post SOAD links, but this one fits the occasion: P.L.U.C.K.
posted by effbot at 2:03 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


The EU really doesn't want Turkey to join.

That's because in its current state Turkey shouldn't be allowed to join. They have a vain little proto-dictator who's actively engaged in killing minority ethnic sects. Turkey shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the EU until the Erdogan issue is dealt with.
posted by Talez at 2:03 PM on June 3, 2016 [61 favorites]


Yes, but why perpetuate the denial? What political forces in Turkey are served by this?
posted by sudogeek at 2:04 PM on June 3, 2016


Because at this point if Turkey's current leaders admit that long-dead people from a past empire committed a genocide then they must also admit they themselves willfully denied that genocide, as recently as this week.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:08 PM on June 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


The EU really doesn't want Turkey to join.

The parliament has urged Turkey to recognize the genocide for what it is in resolutions from 1987, 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2015 (most recently after the pope pissed off the Turkish government and Erdoğan publicly stated that there's nothing between his ears).
posted by effbot at 2:12 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, but why perpetuate the denial? What political forces in Turkey are served by this?

In part it's to do with the fact that historic (relatively recent history, not the ancient idea of an Armenia from sea to sea) western Armenia is currently Turkish soil. The geopolitics of the region is still contested and complex, although more notably between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A major element is also what HZSF says.

I also think it's that many ordinary Turkish people by and large believe, or probably more accurately want to believe, the lies that they have been fed about the genocide for generations. Discussions I've had with Turkish people about this suggest to me that there is a genuine cultural, as well as a political, denial going on.
posted by howfar at 2:15 PM on June 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


Why doesn't the Turkish government just pay brief lip service to the victims of the genocide, make some minuscule, token reparations, and then brush the whole thing off and never deal with the issue in a meaningful, productive way ever again?

You know, like the United States and the Native Americans?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:19 PM on June 3, 2016 [25 favorites]


Why doesn't the Turkish government just pay brief lip service to the victims of the genocide, make some minuscule, token reparations, and then brush the whole thing off and never deal with the issue in a meaningful, productive way ever again?

You know, like the United States and the Native Americans?


I absolutely get your perspective Faint of Butt. Despite the United States Government not doing as much as they probably should with regards to helping the current generation of First Nations/Indigenous peoples and the lasting legacy of a similar genocide, it does still matter that the United States has recognized that such a thing happened. It matters that it is recognized by history. It matters to many people. I know that a simple acknowledgement is not going to just resolve the pain, suffering, deaths, etc. But it's a start. And one that I hope the Turkish Government would one day acknowledge.
posted by Fizz at 2:31 PM on June 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


Can anybody explain this seeming about-face w/r/t Turkey?

You seem to be asking "why would Germany kowtow to Turkey in one case and not the other". I don't think it's quite that simple. From the link,
Sitting in front of a Turkish flag and a small framed portrait of Erdoğan, Boehmermann recited the poem, which suggested the president had sex with goats and that he also loved to "repress minorities, kick Kurds and beat Christians while watching child porn,"

[...]

Before reading his poem, Boehmermann said that the previous video was defensible under Germany's concept of freedom of speech. Then, as he began to read, he suggested that his own "abusive" poem would not be covered by this concept.
Speech in Germany isn't quite as free as speech in the US, and the comedian in question was well aware that he was at the limits of free expression. Furthermore, it was done with the clear intent to be offensive, and its primary value as satire was its offensiveness. Letting a court answer that question seems to be the right thing to do, if only because it answers the question for the future.
posted by Slothrup at 2:35 PM on June 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


You know, like the United States and the Native Americans?

::resets the Number of Comments Since The US Is Brought Up In A Discusion Of Unrelated Foreign Events Counter to 0::
posted by Sangermaine at 2:38 PM on June 3, 2016 [46 favorites]


The Armenian genocide also targeted various other (Assyrian and Greek) Christian minorities - at the hand of an Ottoman empire allied with the German Kaiser...

This resolution seems to be a return to Merkelian pragmatism, a gesture that will surely count towards reassuring an electorate who had trouble recognising her recent pro-refugee idealism, and then saw her stumble in defending German liberties in the Böhmermann affair (previously). Given Erdoğan's recent unabashed hardlining, a counter-thrust was on the books.

Turkey has been upping the isolationist ante, and these legacy skeletons sadly fit into a useful victimist narrative.

Or else, it's all just proxy wrangling about that planned airbase...
posted by progosk at 2:39 PM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Jan Böhmermann wins! (kinda)
posted by jeffburdges at 2:39 PM on June 3, 2016


Discussions I've had with Turkish people about this suggest to me that there is a genuine cultural, as well as a political, denial going on.

Earlier this year, the vice president of the Turkish National Association in Sweden called for mass slaughter of Armenians during a public rally in Stockholm. This topic is pretty far from something that can be discussed as a distant historical event...

(he later tried to excuse himself with that he got carried away and it wasn't really a speech anyway since he wasn't following a script and it was only a coincidence that he was standing at the podium...)
posted by effbot at 2:43 PM on June 3, 2016 [13 favorites]


Sadly, my country does not recognize the Armenian genocide at a national level. Well done to Germany for doing this.
posted by Emma May Smith at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Armenian Genocide Recognition [Wiki]
Armenian Genocide recognition refers to the formal acceptance that the systematic massacres and forced deportation of Armenians committed by the Ottoman Empire and subsequently the Turkish Republic from 1915 to 1923 constituted genocide. The overwhelming majority of historians as well as academic institutions on Holocaust and Genocide Studies recognize the Armenian Genocide.

As of 2016, governments and parliaments of 29 countries, including Russia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Canada, as well as 45 states of the United States of America, have recognized the events as a genocide. The governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan are the only ones that directly deny the historical factuality of the Armenian Genocide.
With regards to the United States. It's bizarre that individual states recognize the genocide but not the nation as a whole. But I guess that's a geo-political bargaining/negotiating tactics kind of thing. Sigh.
posted by Fizz at 2:49 PM on June 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


Somewhere, Serdar Argic is twitching violently.

ha ha, isn't he always doing that?

[quick google]

ok so that's not the System of a Down guy
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:01 PM on June 3, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure it's necessarily a new thing, but Turkey's recently been pro-active (and really quite petty) about censoring the term genocide in connection with those events - German Orchestra; Swedish TV documentary. The German Euro-MP from the satirical Die PARTEI had a pretty straightforward answer: "OK, we'll just call it Völkermord instead - that's something we Germans know quite a bit about!"
posted by progosk at 3:01 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


And Turkey has a lot of nerve taking great umbrage to this, considering how they're continuously and currently slaughtering Kurds.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:03 PM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


That probably coincides with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan taking office in 2014 and immediately turning the full force and authority of his country against anyone who dares hurt his feelings.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:04 PM on June 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


I guess that's a geo-political bargaining/negotiating tactics kind of thing.

Yes. Both W and Obama were supposedly going to recognise the genocide when they were candidates. In 2000 a floor vote on recognition was pulled when Clinton and Hastert got lobbied too hard. Turkey has, in some ways, ridiculous leverage over the US, due to the stationing of significant air forces and nuclear weapons there.
posted by howfar at 3:06 PM on June 3, 2016 [6 favorites]




" Turkey's recently been pro-active (and really quite petty) about censoring the term genocide in connection with those events"

(Not to US up the thread, but ...) Down to spending actual money lobbying US state governments (45 states, as noted above, call it a genocide and require it be taught as such in schools) and state boards of education in the US and sometimes even lower levels than that. If you lack weirdness in your life, having a Turkish attache come to your local school board meeting to complain bitterly that you're defaming Turkey by teaching the Armenian genocide will weird it right up. But Turkey spends money lobbying pretty much every single year to get that law changed in my state and have the Armenian genocide removed from high school curricula.

(Also recall the Turkish government freak out when the Kardashians went to Armenia.)

There are Turkish groups within Turkey lobbying to recognize the genocide as a genocide, but they face a great deal of silencing and oppression from Erdogan's government and are hardly heard from at this point. The issue is super important to Erdogan, whatever his reasons.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:17 PM on June 3, 2016 [26 favorites]


C Shakdam on Erdoğan's latest: "Insulting women, threatening allies, and much more."

"President Recep Erdogan had a busy week. In the span of a few days our gallant head of state managed to anger women, make a parody of Islam, and threaten a few nations with dire reprisals should they defy his will. Who said it was easy being dictator? I must admit that when it comes to dedication to a job well done – totalitarianism - Erdogan is putting in the extra hours."
posted by progosk at 3:18 PM on June 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Obama, with HRC as his enforcer in Foggy Bottom, has worked hard to ensure bills die in committee and no-one in his admin uses the G-word. Now in his eighth consecutive year of breaking the promise he made in his first campaign. I'm not in a position to evaluate the geopolitical importance of Turkey to BHO's plans in the region, but kowtowing to the Great Asshole Erdogan for whatever reason is too humiliating for words.
posted by the sobsister at 3:25 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


(Meanwhile, R. T. Erdoğan is quietly empire-building in Africa...)
posted by progosk at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, but why perpetuate the denial? What political forces in Turkey are served by this?

Several people have answered this, but part of it is also that after the negotiated population exchange with Greece in the 20s, the official position of the Turkish government was that Turkey was exclusively inhabited by Turks. Until the 60s, they refused to admit that Kurds existed at all. Instead, they were "Mountain Turks". Having formed a nation and established its borders based in part on the idea that you were creating a homeland for Turks and only Turks, if you admit that there had been a couple million Armenians (plus half a million Assyrians and million and a half Pontic Greeks) but then you killed or expelled them all, it starts to raise uncomfortable questions about whether the borders should continue to be the same. Not that I'd hold out much hope for the descendants of the Assyrians or Greeks, but Armenia is right there and would love to have more of what has historically been Armenia. It wouldn't escape the notice of the Kurds, either, especially since an independent Kurdistan is more of a possibility right now than it has been for a very long time.

Also, Erdogan is exactly the sort of haughty asshole who feels like the slightest admission of guilt or weakness is an unacceptable loss of face that must be defended against with the strongest possible measures.
posted by Copronymus at 3:34 PM on June 3, 2016 [23 favorites]


The difference between "genocide" vs. "acts of genocide" vs. "killed a million+ people in an organized way" has always seemed like a surreal and mostly semantic argument to me, and one exclusively used by people who think that confronting your past is an act of weakness.

Having grown up in late 70s/80s Germany (i.e. basically without a national identity) I have to say that the fact that I wasn't taught any revisionist bullshit in school (AFAIK obviously), and overall the way post-war Germany has dealt with the past, is one of my (few and minuscule) sources of national pride. Willy Brandt on his knees in the Warsaw Ghetto is the kind of gesture that Armenians (and Turks) deserve, and will likely never get.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 4:06 PM on June 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'd love to see every government on Earth call the genocide a genocide at once, so Turkey would have to either go full North Korea isolationist or just suck it up and finally admit that facts exist.

Amen to that.

Some (ostensibly Turkish) group took out a bunch of genocide-denial billboards in the Boston area this year. For those who don't know, there's a substantial Armenian population in the area, largely due to genocide refugees immigrating there. Crass and offensive doesn't begin to cover it.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:20 PM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


The issue is super important to Erdogan, whatever his reasons.

He's spent a ton of money just in the past few months on some incomprehensible/idiotic stunts in the US designed (I guess?) to drum up support for Armenian Genocide Denialism. Between skywriting vague slogans over a flash dance mob and an even more vague Wall Street Journal ad, they may have convinced as many as 5 or even 10 Americans to investigate whatever the hell "Truth=Peace" means closely enough to take the Turkish government's position. I also recall hearing something about vans driving around Washington DC blaring Turkish-language propaganda, another move which seems like a completely pointless waste of money.

The school board thing I'm a little less surprised about just because his nemesis, Fethullah Gülen, runs an extensive network of charter schools in the US, so Erdogan's probably already budgeted for a bunch of guys running around to various school boards to try and shut those down if at all possible.
posted by Copronymus at 4:21 PM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


The difference between "genocide" vs. "acts of genocide" vs. "killed a million+ people in an organized way" has always seemed like a surreal and mostly semantic argument to me, and one exclusively used by people who think that confronting your past is an act of weakness.

For me, there's a similar feeling with regards to British history. The question is: 'is there anything to apologize or express remorse for?' If the answer is yes then do so. Leave the semantics to the academics. It may be that any given event was not genocide, but it won't take away that it was bad and wrong.
posted by Emma May Smith at 4:34 PM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Everything is realpolotik.

1) Turkey has demanded Germany prosecute a popular comedian for insulting Erdoğan. Germany was in the very unfortunate position of having to do this under their own laws, intended to stem a hard-right resurgence, just as they're undergoing a hard right resurgence.

2) It's painfully clear Turkey is funding and supplying Daaesh on the sly, while going hard after the very effective Kurds fighting Daaesh.

3) Turkey is deliberately provoking the Russians at a time the Germans would rather they would not, beacuse of the Ukraine and Baltics thing. Also, the Russians pridefully making things worse in Syria is making things worse in Germany, because of the Migrant crisis.

4) Turkey has up until now acted like it didn't know what the rest of NATO was talking about, with the hard-line dictatorship supporting Daaesh and all. Well, now they do. Unequivocally.

5) Merkel is under intense fire for the migrant crisis by the far right. This allows her to appeal to right-leaning parts of her coalition in an "OH SNAP!" kind of way that cuts the legs out from under the resurgent neo-nazis oh I'm sorry hard-right.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:16 PM on June 3, 2016 [13 favorites]


Ha well, if you ask John Oliver (and I don't think he's wrong) the British atrocities in the colonies were at least committed with "that certain gentlemanly swagger," which makes all the difference... If you're going to open fire on large groups of unarmed civilians, do it while holding a gin and tonic (try not to drown it, what?).

And again, semantics provide the reason for saying "at least the nazis were worse," which is universally true (and certainly in this case) but doesn't really excuse anything.

Unless you're Stalin, in which case you were quite possibly worse. But at least it wasn't genocide, because intellectuals and dissenters aren't an ethnic or religious group. And suddenly, whenever there's a public vote on who's the Greatest Russian in History, it's all but impossible to keep him off the top spot...
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 5:29 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I must admit that when it comes to dedication to a job well done – totalitarianism - Erdogan is putting in the extra hours.

And if there's anyone who knows totalitarianism, it's RT.com.
posted by Guy Smiley at 5:39 PM on June 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


Stalin also killed millions of people on the basis of their ethnicity, for example the Ukrainian Holodomor.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:40 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I couldn't help but be curious about which US states did NOT recognize it, and I came across this list, which actually has 49 states listed:

To save time for anyone who is curious, Florida is the missing one.

posted by MysticMCJ at 5:47 PM on June 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Stalin also killed millions of people on the basis of their ethnicity, for example the Ukrainian Holodomor.

Man, of all the words that sound like what they mean... But [quick google] the number of countries recognizing the Holodomor as genocide perpetrated by the soviet union is... 15, including Ukraine. And, no conclusive documentation of the intention to target ethnic Ukrainians. So legally, apparently not genocide. Yay!

To be vaguely fair, it was also part of the much larger 1932/33 famine throughout the southern/eastern USSR, which in turn was caused by stupid-ass policies and economic upheaval. Anyway, definitely a more complicated question than the Armenian genocide.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 6:22 PM on June 3, 2016


Stalin also did deport nearly the entire nation of Chechnya for "collaborating", which was probably just an excuse to get rid of a restive population.

It always confused me because they were ethnically and linguistically closer to him than Russians. You'd think he'd more easily empathize with his ethnolinguistic neighbours than the imperialists who destroyed his home nation.
posted by constantinescharity at 7:22 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes. Both Russia and England were worse than Turkey is now at various parts of their history... as were the Germans, who are in a position to SAY SOMETHING. So they did.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:26 PM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Despite the United States Government not doing as much as they probably should with regards to helping the current generation of First Nations/Indigenous peoples and the lasting legacy of a similar genocide, it does still matter that the United States has recognized that such a thing happened.

The US Government has never recognized the Native American genocide. What was recognized was "the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States".

Hell, a vast majority of Americans, including commenters here probably don't recognize that genocide, it didn't say so in their history books, so it must have never happened. But Turks, oh man, those Turks, they must recognize Armenian genocide!
posted by shala at 8:38 PM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I couldn't help but be curious about which US states did NOT recognize it, and I came across this list, which actually has 49 states listed:
To save time for anyone who is curious, Florida is the missing one.

I was curious too, but it's surprisingly hard to figure out via a simple search. Here's an article from 2013 saying that Florida had just recognized the Armenian genocide.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:01 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wholeheartedly agree that it should be called a "genocide" if that's what it was, and historians consensus seems to be that it was.
I also think that Turkey has utterly failed to own up to its own past in that matter.

That said, I do wonder if it is the German Bundestag's job to call Turkey out for that.
I mean, what business does Germany have with Turkish-Armenian relations? Why a resolution on what word to use to describe something that happened, far away from Germany, 100 years ago?
Or is there going to be a resolution by the Bundestag on every genocide in history now? What's next, a Bundestag resolution on Cambodia? On Hutu and Tutsi? On the aborigines in Australia?

One cannot help to feel that the only reason there is a resolution is that Turkey has failed to own up to its own past, unlike Germany, which is world champion not only in genocide but also in owning up to it. In other words, the resolution is not so much motivated by the genocide itself but by the lack of apology therefor by the Turks. It's basically pointing fingers at the (real or perceived) Turkish inferior morality in dealing with this question.


> This is so odd considering that Germany did this just a few weeks ago.
> Can anybody explain this seeming about-face w/r/t Turkey?

OK, with "this", you mean the fact that Merkel did not stop the Boehmermann case, which is a free speech issue, from going to court. Two things that are often overlooked:

1. By not stopping the case, Merkel actually allowed a court to decide this case. The alternative would have been to effectively decide it herself by putting it to rest. Once again think about the alternatives: a) the head of state (Merkel) deciding a free speech issue and b) the courts deciding a free speech issue.
Now, a) is what Erdogan is doing in Turkey - he is effectively shutting down courts in free speech cases and deciding them (putting journalists in jail) for himself. By going for option b), Merkel actually stuck it to Erdogan, effectively saying: Free speech should be decided by the courts and not (as in semi-dictatorships, like Turkey) by the head of state.

2. The purpose of the relevant statute (insulting foreign heads of state) is to avoid that insults of foreign heads of state may harm Germany as a whole, e.g. by putting the government into a more difficult bargaining position. If you think about it, this is precisely what happened here. By insulting Erdogan, Boehmermann has given Erdogan additional leverage when cutting a deal on the refugee issue. Boehmermann just handed Erdogan an additional bargaining chip in the refugee talks. We don't know how much it cost Germany (or the rest of Europe), but it certainly hasn't helped and I wouldn't be surprised if it effectively resulted in higher payments to Turkey. At the very least, it caused the German government a tremendous headache in how to account for it in the refugee talks with Turkey.

Now, you may not agree that this is something that should be sanctioned and that "free speech, including the right to insult foreign heads of state" should trump everything else, but the law is still there at the moment, even though there is already some movement to repeal it.

In any case, I don't see a contradiction or about-face in the two issues and both can be taken as a big "fuck you - we are morally superior to you" to Erdogan.
posted by sour cream at 2:06 AM on June 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


I mean, what business does Germany have with Turkish-Armenian relations? Why a resolution on what word to use to describe something that happened, far away from Germany, 100 years ago?

Two things:

(1) My understanding is that the Germany-Turkey relationship is similar to the US-Mexico relationship. (Both in the sense that Turkish beach resorts are a wicked popular vacation destination for Germans, and that Germany - for better or for worse - relies on Turkish immgrants for a lot of low-wage work)
(2) Turkey really wants to be in the EU and Germany is has a damn lot of influence over EU membership

I mean, also, Germany has some experience with pretty horrific genocide and dealing with people who deny it ever happened, so they have some perspective there too.

I'm by no means an expert, but this is definitely not just some random Western country weighing in on a far-away genocide; Turkey actually cares what Germany thinks.
posted by olinerd at 2:55 AM on June 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sure.

Let me phrase my question differently: Why a resolution on the Armenian genocide and why not a resolution on the genocide of, say, native Americans (an example that was brought up above)?
Both happened >100 years ago. Both happened far away from Germany. Both were inadequately acknowledged by the countries responsible.

I think the answer is that it is because of a feeling of moral superiority over Turkey that Germany cannot (yet) muster with respect to the US.
posted by sour cream at 3:10 AM on June 4, 2016


I mean, what business does Germany have with Turkish-Armenian relations?

Germany was allied with the Ottoman Empire during the genocide and, due to its role in reorganising the Ottoman military at that time, was complicit to a degree in the genocide. Germany also has a small but identifiable Armenian diasporan population.

Awareness of the facts answers your questions, I think.
posted by howfar at 4:07 AM on June 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


Also, Turkey is engaged, and has been for many years, in an active campaign of genocide denial. Go and look at the revision history of the relevant Wikipedia pages, or just follow some of the links in this comment thread. Genocide recognition matters more when denial is ongoing, because genocide denial is, in itself, an act of violence against the victims.
posted by howfar at 4:55 AM on June 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


My grandmother's sister married an Armenian survivor of the genocide. He was a child and shipped to Italy in a crate: his family was executed. His son, the "uncle" I'm closest too, has dedicated his life to the remembrance and recognition of the genocide. It's grueling emotionally exhausting work, but he's made some real political change (Italy's official recognition, for one, aid to imprisoned journalists and authors in Turkey, to mention another).

I spent my teenage years helping with translations and documentation. Ask me about the hours and hours and hours I spent digitizing images of the marches, the executions, the mass starvation, the dead children.

Yes, it's realpolitik, but good for Germany. I wish the EU would take a stronger stance on all genocide denialism, but one step at a time, one country at a time.
posted by lydhre at 6:50 AM on June 4, 2016 [18 favorites]


"Why a resolution on the Armenian genocide and why not a resolution on the genocide of, say, native Americans (an example that was brought up above)?"

I've rewritten this comment like six times -- I think there are two big reasons. First, the definition of "genocide" in international law is fairly specific in such a way that it doesn't really apply to things before the 20th century (I'll go into why because I think it's really interesting). And second, that the US doesn't really deny it engaged in a "genocide-type thing" w/r/t Native Americans; these condemnations are typically reserved for countries that are actively denying that sort of action (which I'll discuss super-briefly).

Genocide, Industrial Nation-States, and the 20th Century:
One reason Turkey insists the Armenian Genocide wasn't a genocide is that a genocide in international law requires a state-centered "intent to destroy" and not just an "intent to relocate" (which Turkey claims was the goal, sometimes. Or sometimes they claim there were no Armenians there so they couldn't have killed them). Before the 20th century, because governments were constituted differently and states were less powerful and centralized, it's difficult to speak as clearly about genocides as having their center in deliberate and coordinated state action with an "intent to destroy." International law specifically talks about the ability of a state to carry out its plans (as well as intent to do so) as important in defining genocide, which means that prior to the 20th century and the modern state, there are not very many states that have the sort of territorial control, standing army, and organizational ability to carry out a mass genocide.

There's a great deal of debate right now about whether non-state actors -- like say ISIS -- can be said to commit "genocide" against, say, the Yazidi, or whether that's solely a state function. Today it's possible for a non-state terrorist group, using weapons of mass destruction, to target an ethnic group for destruction, but traditionally the applicability of the word has hinged partly on the power of the state. So now we have non-states with the military and organizational power and geographical reach to organize campaigns of total ethnic destruction; prior to the 20th century, we had the states and often the desire/intent, but not often the military and organizational power, or geographical reach.

Anyway, while there are some scholars who call the US's actions against Native Americans a genocide, and others who argue passionately that that's a dilution of the term, it's probably too diffuse a set of actions over too long a period of time by too weak a government with limited geographic reach and ability to achieve its objectives to qualify under modern international law, which is where these interstate disputes of calling something a genocide (or not a genocide) come up. (Colonization itself is also a complicated issue for the legal theory of genocide, since typically during the process of colonization, it's a territorial war or invasion rather than a government exterminating its own people -- so, again, the idea hinges a lot on the idea of the modern states with control of what happens within their borders and responsibility for all the people within them, and international law people like to get super-technical about that sort of thing.)

So trying to label the US's actions towards Native Americans a genocide in international law terms would probably be met with a shrug -- the legal definition doesn't really fit, and people don't really do that with pre-modern (pre-1900) states, and there wouldn't really be any repercussions from it. Labeling it as a genocide for scholarly purposes or more casual discourse would generally be unexceptionable -- like definitely scholars of genocides would want to bicker about which definitions and words to use, but it's not a taboo thing you can't say or do, I imagine almost every reasonably-well-educated American has heard it called a genocide and agrees that, regardless of label chosen, it was a Very Bad Thing. (Obviously there are people wandering around going "no, it was a noble crusade in which everything was awesome!" but for our purposes in this comment we can safely ignore the fringe lunatics.)

I spent a lot of time in college and grad school studying the Holocaust and things related to it (the nexus of religion and politics is sort-of my intellectual wheelhouse), and I really do personally think that there is a line we cross somewhere around the dawn of the 20th century where nation-states finally gained significant control of their entire territories (a great deal of the post-Civil-War railroad and telegraph projects in the US were about gaining actual governing control of the American West, not just theoretically "owning" land within theoretical lines on a map); had much more direct and individual knowledge of their citizens through vastly improved census and tax records and permanent identities, identification papers, and so on -- including direct personal income taxes rather than taxes on land or taxes on goods (tax freedom loons are not entirely crazy; personal income tax is a significant expansion of inescapable government control over individuals -- you can escape land taxes by abandoning the land); acquired modern permanent standing armies; and had access to the overwhelming powers of mass production, mechanization, and industrialization -- in other words, the ingredients for a modern war machine are also the ingredients for a genocide machine. (And this is why Holocaust scholars make a big deal about the fact that IBM punch card tabulators were used in organizing the Holocaust -- it's symbolic of this marriage of modern technology and the coercive power of the modern state, the sudden power to force all citizens to comply with a census and then use a computer to sort those census records into piles of "those we want to kill" and "those we'll let live" and then go out and carry out that plan.) Is the slow-rolling multi-century slaughter of Native Americans in what is now US territory on that same spectrum of horribleness? Absolutely. And if you want to call it a genocide that is fine with me because in a lot of ways it's more important to talk about it than to get bogged down in linguistic details. But I'd also want to make a Venn Diagram of "government-involved mass slaughters of minority ethnic groups" and in one part of the Venn Diagram have "involving modern technology" and in another part maybe "involving colonization." Because they have both important things in common and important differences, and the ongoing aftereffects are fairly different and "one size fits all" would be a bad response to handling ongoing aftereffects, and only talking about them through the lens of what they have in common would obscure some really important differences that should in neither case be obscured.

This idea of genocide and effective state control of territory is actually an interesting and powerful one as we look at modern terrorist movements like ISIS, and as we look at weak and highly nationalistic states -- such as Russia -- that might be interested in genocide but maybe only aren't doing it because of lack of effective state control of backwater territories. Scholars have been talking a lot about Russia's withdrawal from direct governance of a lot of Siberia, where you can rather effectively escape a lot of the apparatus of the modern state because the Russian state has become too weak to maintain strong control there. In parts of South East Asia, minority groups fleeing government oppression flee into the rugged parts of the mountains, where state control is very weak and people can still disappear from the state. In general stronger, more effective states are less violent and corrupt and provide more "modern" avenues for dispute resolution through courts etc., but sometimes states want to get just stronger enough to commit genocide efficiently, and that's something diplomats and foreign aid schemes have to be aware of ... it's super-bad if you're trying to help a government modernize into peace and prosperity and rule of law and it modernizes just enough to get an effective census going, control its backwaters, and slaughter minority ethnic groups now that it has those tools. (This is also something powerful new technologies like Google and Facebook and Twitter have to be aware of -- and I think they're fairly clearly more aware than IBM was of how technology that can be used for tracking and sorting can also be used for genocide and slaughter and targeting dissidents, but probably not aware enough and probably not thinking about it enough.) Pretty clearly one of ISIS's goals in gaining state-like control of territory -- in addition to fulfilling apocalyptic prophecies related to how caliphates function -- is to be able to control the populations in its borders, and to kill groups it has problems with. One of the things that's interesting about ISIS is, how much traditional apparatus of the state do you need to control and kill your citizens, and how much of it can you do with modern technology and Big Data? It's the new frontier of horrifying mass slaughter, and possibly we're going to need a new word for it.

Ongoing Denial:
And, yes, on preview, present, active, ongoing denial is also a big part of it that drives other countries to want to speak out about it. Canada, the US, Australia all could be doing much better jobs dealing with the aftereffects of their interactions with native peoples, but they all pretty clearly admit that, "Yeah, wow, as a government we did a lot of super-bad things there." (There is also no serious movement to disenfranchise or deport native peoples in any of those countries.) So other countries aren't terribly motivated to condemn those past actions because there isn't an ongoing official action of denial. Similarly, South Africa not always doing awesome with its post-apartheid integration efforts, but South Africa is also pretty open and self-reflective about apartheid and its lingering effects, so there's not a big drive to continue to condemn the country for its failings; they're working on it, so it's more like "let's continue support and some friendly pressure" and less like "this needs condemnation because they're ignoring it." (And under Zuma, who's run a somewhat more intolerant and repressive government, there's been more international rumbling about human rights issues in South Africa -- it's the combination of "active problem" and "active denial/repression" that draws the international condemnations.)

On a specific note relevant to this question, there is actually an interest in Germany in Native American tribes, which is partly driven by post-Holocaust awareness of other genocides, and it just hasn't raised any particular problems between the US and Germany (except insofar as periodically tribes go to the US government and say "ask them to culturally appropriate less and return our artifacts to us more, pls," which the US government generally does). Interestingly, the slaughter of Native Americans was used in Nazi propaganda against the United States as an example of how the US was terrible, and Native Americans were awarded the position of being the "volk" of the North American continent. Now Native Americans are understood in Germany as having suffered similar actions to what the Nazis undertook against the Jews and others. But yeah, Germany has a robust and interesting relationship with Native American tribal groups, and that's long been a lens Germans use to understand Germanness and Americanness (although not always Native Americanness terribly well), and German-US relations do already have this dimension of German concern with Native American history and treatment and it, for the most part, goes pretty well.

Combined with, of course, the realpolitik understanding of the situation and whether a denunciation would do any good -- or whether it might be actively harmful. Most of the West could denounce North Korea on various human rights issues six days a week and twice on Sunday and it just wouldn't do any good. And in some cases, it would be actively harmful in a) stirring up the aggression of a militaristic regime and at least kind-of wants an excuse to go to war; b) the North Korean regime doubling down on targeting people the West thinks deserve protection; and c) torturing Western prisoners (and/or tourists) in North Korea. So you save your denunciations for when it's really important and it seems like it will help more than it will hurt either in terms of the politics of the region, or in terms of the human rights of the affected people.

If you were Angela Merkel and you wanted to make a point about the US slaughter of Native Americans, you'd probably go lay a wreath at a memorial while on a state visit to the US as part of your official itinerary. (And I suspect in the US this would be received in the press as respectful and appropriate and she'd be accompanied by a high US official to show the US's agreement with her actions; much like Obama's visit to Hiroshima was widely considered appropriate and respectful by both nations although of course the language everybody used was very carefully circumscribed to avoid stepping on any modern, live issues.) Or if you were Vladimir Putin, you might have a memorial to the US genocide of American Indians constructed right outside the front of the American embassy in Moscow (which is a thing that they are allegedly actually going to do) because -- they put out an actual statement to this effect -- the Russian government has effectively "rehabilitated" all its minority groups after WWII and apologized for and solved all of its prior ethnic cleansing issues, and therefore it is their duty and responsibility to shame the US into doing the same and the international community should feel free to completely ignore the US until it does. (Reaction from Native peoples in the US has been "uhhhhhh ...." especially since proposed sketches of the statue are super, super stereotype-y and not so much with the actual historical correctness and, yeah, I'll just say it -- they read as "painfully racist" to American eyes. But obviously the point of the thing is obviously not actual support of or recognition for Native Americans; the point is political point-scoring against the US. So they are probably not interested in whether the statue is respectful or correct or un-horrible or something Native Americans think is a good idea.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2016 [46 favorites]


That's a good read, McGee.

I'm thinking your Venn diagram may need special branches. But it's difficult to hold some things in one's mind without severe editing--reduction--because the unbearable thought needs somehow to be borne.

A sidebar in the article mentions that a German comedian, giving a presentation that was unflattering to the Turkish premiere, may be charged under a German law for criticizing a foreign head of state--this is at the behest of the Turkish ambassador. He could get three years in jail. Merkle responded, saying that she may have to take the comedian to court. If I may, I would say that this would be like Putin filing a petition with Obama to take me to court for calling him a macho butcher with a Napoleanic complex who likes to have sex with tubular metal objects while riding bareback on a goat. Well, it would be like that if we in America had a law like the one in Germany.

(I think Bohmermann's sketch was more graphic and probably more of an insult than my example: see the link: Jan Böhmermann attacks German chancellor for allowing Ankara to prosecute him over poem about Turkish president...)

Anyhow, that was last week, and it's been driven into the trivia pages by this latest "insult" to the Turks. Do you get the feeling that they are dancing to a different tune than the one we see in the media?

Nothing is focused. This is the land of dog whistles. Everyone has a thumb on the scales except the people trying to escape the....whatever word that applies to ISIS thuggery. When the dust settles, we can only hope that someone will have the wit to wonder what they were talking about before this sidebar of relative shaming came up. It may be a big deal to Merkle, who could lose her job, but it's probably a bigger deal to the people trying to escape, and those who are about to enjoy, the benefits of the ISIS caliphate.

A comparison to various depredations inflicted on native peoples by invaders is not out of order. I agree with the notion that genocide ought to use with respect to a certain technical definition, instead of just being a dog whistle. Certainly our language can come up with terms, say, on a scale of one to ten, that cover the different ways colonial or other governments can abuse or destroy a selected portion of the land's occupants. Maybe we even could get a range of one to one hundred.
posted by mule98J at 10:03 AM on June 4, 2016


I couldn't help but be curious about which US states did NOT recognize it, and I came across this list, which actually has 49 states listed:

To save time for anyone who is curious, Florida is the missing one.


NEWS HEADLINE: Florida Man Who Didn't Believe in Armenian Genocide Eaten by Crocodile.
posted by Fizz at 2:46 PM on June 4, 2016


Back to Lawrence: At the time of the Syrian campaign, the Ottoman Army was mostly Turk but also included substantial Arab and Armenian officers and enlisted men. Further, units of the Wehrmacht were also in Syria fighting Feisel's (Lawrence's spelling) Arab army. In the campaign, many Arab soldiers deserted to the local forces and some Ottoman Arab officers collaborated with the advancing Arab army, surrendering or allowing unopposed occupation of towns and cities - Damascus, for example, fell without a fight.

Lawrence supposes that the loyalty the Armenian officers was because they did not know what had happened and was happening in Armenia or Armenian areas of modern Turkey, but the Syrian campaign was > 2 years later. Lawrence was well aware of it, however he was an intelligence officer; the massacres may not have been well known.

I think, on further consideration, that one major factor in the persistent refusal of the Turkish government to address war crimes and genocide of the era is due to the historical role and political power of the army. Indeed, the Turkish/Ottoman government at the time of the Armenian massacres was a result of a military coup, bringing officers of the so-called Committee of Union and Progress into power. Ataturk, himself an army officer, described the army as the guarantor of the modern secular state, an opposing force to religious parties. Every modern Turkish leader has had to depend on the overt or tacit support of the army which has been willing to take power in several coups over the last 50 years.
posted by sudogeek at 6:26 PM on June 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


That said, I do wonder if it is the German Bundestag's job to call Turkey out for that.
I mean, what business does Germany have with Turkish-Armenian relations? Why a resolution on what word to use to describe something that happened, far away from Germany, 100 years ago?


To add to howfar's reply, Turkey is still in the process of becoming a member of the EU and Turkey's history with minority rights and free speech (Article 301: "a person who publicly insults the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years") has not been stellar.

It's sad to think that when AKP first assumed the government, people were hopeful that breaking the hold of the military in the political life of Turkey would accelerate democratisation and liberalisation in a "live and let live" fashion.
posted by ersatz at 1:44 AM on June 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think, on further consideration, that one major factor in the persistent refusal of the Turkish government to address war crimes and genocide of the era is due to the historical role and political power of the army.

Is this true of Erdogan, though? My understanding is that the army was the major proponent of Kemalism, which Erdogan successfully opposed; and that he forced many Army officers into retirement.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:01 AM on June 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think that Turkey, even in "Islamist" mode, has a complex relationship with Kemalism. As a modern political doctrine, it's had its day, and its authoritarianism has been turned to the service of new goals. But the profound attachment of Turkey to its foundational myth, for so long propagated and reinforced by the Kemalist regime, survives. The Armenian genocide is a particularly difficult event from the Turkish point of view, because it strikes to the heart of both its Ottoman and its Turkish identities, with both aspects of the country's history being indicted by recognition of the genocide.
posted by howfar at 4:17 AM on June 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Some interesting Erdoğan verbatim on the most recent events. (Here's a summary, from the same source.)

Also, Fethullah Gülen, a former ally whom Erdoğan he fell out with after a 2013 corruption probe into his inner circle, will now see his Hizmet organisation declared as "terrorist". Oh, and former Miss Turkey was handed a 14-month (suspended) sentence for reposting a poem (Ustanın şiiri, a parody on the national anthem that alludes to bribes and corruption) on Instagram, which he took offence to.
posted by progosk at 1:47 PM on June 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Last year I saw Ronald Suny give a talk about his recent book, "They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else": A History of the Armenian Genocide. Put very briefly (and I am not doing it justice), he argues that there was a kind of "paranoia" among many Turkish nationalists in regards to the Armenians since the late 1800s, and that this was "activated" during the war, especially as there were Armenians living next door in the rival Russian Empire.

It was an enlightening talk. Then, during Q&A, three or four Turkish folks, including a lawyer and an engineering grad student (who must've come specifically to try to refute Suny) said that "bygones should be bygones" and that while the "deaths" of Armenians were tragic, many more Turkish folks lost their lives during the war. Suny quickly pointed out that comparing dead civilians to Turkish soldiers in uniform was revolting.

Suny also pointed out that some of the people who helped "relocate" Armenians both before WWI and during the genocide were Kurds, and that modern-day Kurdish leadership actually recognizes and has apologized for their forebears' role in those events.

I think that the little showdown shows not only how much the Turkish educational system passes on this line of thinking, but also the intimate connection between war and genocide. After all, war is bloody business, and when you see an ethnic group as part of "the enemy" it becomes almost a patriotic duty to neutralize them. It is no coincidence that Hitler explicitly connected both his eugnenics programs (namely Aktion T4, the murder of those deemed "unfit") and the Holocaust with war safety measures. Goebbels's wartime speeches insinuated that your inoffensive Jewish neighbor had relatives in Washington and London who were plotting the destruction of Germany. This kind of thinking seems to have persisted among many (though certainly not all) Turks: Turkey was in mortal danger, surrounded by enemies, and we had to do something about the fifth column within our midst. The Armenians are lumped in with enemy troops -- and after all, troops die during war -- despite the deaths and forced relocation/assimilation of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including women and children. (And, as someone noted above, the many Armenians serving in the Ottoman army.)
posted by dhens at 7:44 PM on June 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Read this: Erdogan's rage brings death threats to German MPs
German MPs of Turkish origin faced death threats from people loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the weekend after voting to declare Ottoman masacres of Armenians a genocide.
No, seriously, read this:
“Their blood is impure and we know whose spokespeople they are,” Erdogan told a cheering audience at a televised rally on Saturday.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:14 PM on June 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Erdoğan will be speaking at Muhammad Ali's funeral - I wonder if there will be any sign of protest at his presence.
posted by progosk at 1:29 AM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Okay, Erdogan eulogizing the patron saint of trash talk is so hilariously contradictory I almost can't be mad.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:31 AM on June 7, 2016


(I'm not even almost not mad about, though.)
posted by tobascodagama at 7:50 AM on June 7, 2016


Oh, I am in fact quite mad about it, but it's a close call whether I find it more angry-making than it is buffonishly hypocritical.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:16 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Looks like Erdoğan's pretty much given up on the EU as Turkey's future path, eliminating parliamentary immunity by decree (while also establishing army impunity - all in the name of his own personal "war on terrorists").
posted by progosk at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Chalk another one up to the Greatest: Muhammad Ali family rejects Erdogan, Jordan king request to address burial.
posted by progosk at 11:35 PM on June 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


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