Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Bundestag vote

The German parliament’s decision to recognise as genocide the massacres of Armenians during the waning of the Ottoman Empire has put Turkey’s Erdogan on a collision course with Europe, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Another wave of controversy has washed across ancient Anatolia. Statements and proclamations ring in the air, some fiery, others anxious and fearful of something rash that could jeopardise the historic relations between Turkey and Germany where the Bundestag passed a bill recognising the massacres of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as “genocide”. The bill, passed by the lower house of the German parliament by a nearly unanimous majority last Thursday, was greeted with widespread approval in Germany.

The same cannot be said of Turkey. The Islamist-oriented Yeni Safak expressed its condemnation of the “appalling” German action while its website was sprinkled with articles and photos underscoring the reasons that Turks had to be proud. These apparently included Turkish touches on the longest tunnel in the world that was inaugurated 10 days ago, as though to say, “Regardless of your false and baseless claims regarding the systematic murder of thousands of innocent Armenians, we are there in the Alps contributing to the development of human civilisation.”

Still it was difficult to conceal the sting felt in Turkey, which has been striving to become a part of official Europe. True, German recognition of the tragedies that centred around the foothills of Mt Ararat just over a century ago was ultimately of symbolic of value. It did not seek to commit Ankara to any particular stance or action. Yet, it certainly added to the seemingly endless complications that hamper Turkey’s entrance into the EU club. In fact, it may well have put paid to its hopes in this regard. Paradoxically, the broadening and deepening gap comes at a time when millions of Turks still entertain hopes of relatively hassle-free entry into EU countries, if only for temporary purposes.

In fact, the anticipated outpouring of anger in Turkey was relatively subdued. Three of the four political parties in the Turkish parliament  the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)  collectively condemned the resolution adopted by the German parliament. The fourth parliamentary bloc, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) did not join in, primarily because HDP leaders believe that Kurds in Turkey today are in the process of going the same way the Armenians did 101 years ago.

Yet, on the whole, official reactions have been relatively cautious. “No one should expect a full worsening of our relationship with Germany because of that kind of a decision,” said Binali Yildirim, Erdogan’s latest prime minister. Apart from denunciation, some in Ankara find it rather difficult to figure out how to act in response to “that kind of a decision” taken by a country with a genuine democracy, and not just a facade.

Interestingly, Erdogan’s denunciations at one point took a sarcastic turn, targeting Angela Merkel. “When I talked to her [Merkel], do you know what she said to me three or four days before that incident? She said: ‘I will do my best.’ Is it your best not to attend the vote in parliament?”

Not surprisingly, his remarks elicited some sarcasm among his adversaries who observed that Merkel’s CDU should not be compared to the AKP and its culture of kowtowing and unquestioning obedience to the supreme leader in the Ak Saray Presidential Palace.

Even at the level of the general public, the Bundestag resolution did not precipitate as strong a reaction as similar occasions had in the past. This is not necessarily a sign of a creeping recognition at home of the guilt of Ottoman ancestors. Rather, it is probably because, with every passing year, people are growing used to another country here or there producing a similar classification of the events that occurred during World War I in which many of their ancestors also suffered brutal deaths.

Still, the Bundestag vote took many in Turkey by surprise. Germany occupies a special place in the Turkish collective conscience. It is home to more than three million of their kin who had migrated from the Anatolian plateau to Germany across the decades and who have become an economic force and voting bloc that cannot be ignored. Also, inside Turkey, you cannot miss the hundreds of thousands of objects that bear the “made-in-Germany” stamp. It is sufficient here to note that 90 per cent of all land transport runs on German-manufactured motors. In addition, people argue that Germany could have passed such a resolution a long time ago, following the cue of some of its European neighbours. But it had not. So why now, all of a sudden?

Naturally, such answers are difficult to answer definitively. However, recent developments, especially during the past six months, must certainly have a played a part. Not least would have been what prominent German politicians term the Erdogan “blackmail” factor over the refugee crisis.

After a boom in progress and democratic life that solicited worldwide awe and admiration at the time of Erdogan’s and his AKP’s meteoric political rise, Turkey began an alarming descent. Since Erdogan became president in August 2014, the plunge accelerated back into the Third World and the practices of an epoch that all believed Turkey had left behind forever. Walls closed in relentlessly on freedoms of expression and the press; more and more journalists, writers and academics were tossed into jail on the basis of vague and loosely worded laws; and judicial autonomy crumbled in tandem with the increasing authoritarianism of the leader. It was only a question of time before Erdogan’s supporters in Germany, not least of all Merkel herself, would turn against him, testimony to which were the harsh criticisms she aired during the humanitarian summit in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May. It is little wonder, therefore, that many in Istanbul and Ankara suspect that the German slap was directed against Erdogan in particular, rather than Turkey as a whole.

Of course, Erdogan is no mean hand at deflecting blame from himself and using his demogogic flare to turn situations in his personal advantage. He spoke, on this occasion, of the “Islamophobia” in Germany and accused the German parliament of trying to teach the Turkish community in Germany a “falsified history”. On the subject of Cem Özdemir, the Bundestag deputy of Turkish origin who initiated the bill and the 10 other MPs of Turkish origin who voted in favour of it, Erdogan was apoplectic. These were not Turks! Their blood had become corrupted! They are agents for the Kurdish separatist PKK!

Nor did he hesitate to pull out the refugee “blackmail” card again. Speaking at a Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) award ceremony in Istanbul last Saturday, Erdogan warned: “I want to give Germany and all Europe this message from here. Either we find a solution to the problems on our agenda fairly, or Turkey will remove itself as a dam to curb Europe’s problems and let you handle your troubles on your own.”

It is difficult to know what precisely Erdogan hopes to gain from this tactic. Will he succeed in whatever he is scheming? The forthcoming days hold the answer to that.

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