Impossible to postpone Armenian Genocide bill further, Bundestag VP says

Twice-postponed Armenian Genocide draft will be brought to Bundestag’s agenda on June 2. Green Party member and Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth spoke to Agos. Reminding that Ambassador of Turkey to Germany Hüseyin Avni Karslıoğlu warned Bundestag about the draft, Roth said, “We don’t accept it. I hope the groups in the parliament won’t obey Turkey once again and the draft will be accepted as planned.”

With “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan” video clip and Erdoğan’s lawsuit against comedian Böhmermann, freedom of expression and oppression on press in Turkey came to the fore in German public agenda. Though EU countries, especially Chancellor Merkel, seemingly evaded the responsibility by signing the Readmission Agreement with Turkey, the German public opinion is divided over this issue. While the ruling coalition followers and right-wing support the agreement, liberals and and left-wing criticize it because it is done at the cost of the lives of the refugees and EU connives at the violation of rights in Turkey. In the midst of these discussions, Berlin-based national newspaper Die Tageszeitung issued a special supplement focusing on freedom of press in Turkey on May 3 World Press Freedom Day. In order to prepare this issue, which includes articles from Turkish journalists and published in Turkish-German for the first time in German press history, 2 editors from Turkey, including me, was invited. This 16-paged supplement was published with “Uncensored” title and on the day it was published, a panel discussion on freedom of press in Turkey was held. Die Welt Turkey representative Deniz Yücel and the Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth gave speeches at the session.

It is no coincidence that Green Party member and Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth attended this session. Working for Turkey’s EU membership since 1989, Roth was one of the Bundestag members who brought the grave human rights violations in Turkey during ’90s to the parliamentary agenda. In 2013, during Gezi Park protests, she was subjected to police brutality. During the recent years, she became the leading critics of Turkey’s governmental policies.

We spoke to Claudia Roth about Armenian Genocide draft, Germany’s responsibility in the genocide and the meaning of the Readmission Agreement in terms of German-Turkish relations.

It is announced that the draft concerning the Armenian Genocide will be brought to the parliamentary agenda on June 2. Do you think that it will be accepted this time?

It’s about time. The draft hasn’t been brought to the agenda sooner because of Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU); it is not our fault. We wanted it to be accepted last year, on the centennial of the genocide. On the anniversary of the genocide, President Joachim Gauck and the President of Bundestag Norbert Lammert used the word “genocide”. We said that we will prepare a draft that all parliamentary groups would accept. However, the other groups didn’t do this, they tried to postpone it. And now, CDU leader promised that a common draft will be brought to the agenda on June 2. On the other hand, we saw on the newspapers that Turkey Ambassador to Germany warned our parliament about this draft. He said, “Calling it genocide is not under the authority of a foreign parliament.” I hope the groups in the parliament won’t obey Turkey once again and the draft will be accepted as planned.

What do you think about this warning?

This attitude is incomprehensible for me. An ambassador warns Bundestag openly. We don’t accept it. No embassy and no government can threaten us. What we discuss or how we resolve an issue is at our disposal. I hope CDU and SPD will keep their promise, vote for the draft and define what happened in 1915. And this definition can be nothing but genocide. We are already late; we should have accepted it last year. However, SPD thought that it might constitute an obstacle to the Readmission Agreement. It is impossible to postpone it further.

What will Bundestag’s recognition of the genocide mean?

Recognition will pave the way for discussing our responsibility, because Germany is also responsible for what happened. German Monarchy was an ally of Turkey; they didn’t do anything for preventing the genocide, though they knew everything about it. We have to confront our past.

Germany’s role in the genocide has came to be discussed more and more both in Turkey and Germany. Is this also a topic of public discussions?

Especially on the centennial, this issue was intensely discussed. However, it started long before the centennial. I remember that Hrant Dink came to Germany and attended some panel discussions about 10 years ago. I personally discussed this issue with him. We were talking about whether it is necessary to insist on defining the events as genocide. He said that opening the issue up for discussion is more important. However, 10 years passed and Hrant Dink was murdered. Today, I think that calling it genocide is also our responsibility to Hrant Dink. So, we will discuss this issue and say that what happened is genocide. And there is another reason that makes it so important: the Armenian Genocide is accepted as the first genocide in 20th century, but Germany is responsible for another genocide, which was committed 11 years before the Armenian Genocide. The country that is known as Namibia today was a colony called German South-West Africa. And in1904-1907, Germany carried out a genocide against indigenous Herero and Nama people. We think that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide will enable the discussion of Herero genocide and Germany will also accept its responsibility for it too. As a result of our efforts, German Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognized the Herero Genocide. However, this is not enough, because nothing has been done for reconciliation yet.

Especially in the recent period, human rights violations in Turkey is begun to be discussed in Germany. On the other hand, there are criticisms against EU countries on the ground that they connive at what is happening in Turkey because of the refugee agreement. As a politician, do you think that German Parliament should criticize itself?

Yes, a self-criticism is necessary. When Erdoğan came to power at first, left-wing and liberals in Turkey was supporting him. There was a peace process and we thought that a new period is about to start in Turkey. However, on this point, the self-criticism should be about the EU membership process of Turkey. We, as EU and Germany, haven’t made enough effort for Turkey’s full membership. Such an effort would have led to democratic reforms. We didn’t insist on this process and find the membership convincing and this was a huge mistake in terms of the relations with Turkey. Offering “privileged partnership” instead of full membership doesn’t mean anything. At the end of this process, Turkey became more alienated from the idea of EU membership. Preventing Turkey’s full membership but signing an agreement with it for protecting the “Europe castle” is nothing but hypocrisy. What was our contribution to the escalation of autocracy in Turkey? Did we sell out the democrats, journalists and opponents in Turkey by signing this agreement? Did we sell out democracy? Did we connive at what happened? We should discuss these issues.  

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