Several German MPs have faced death threats in recent days, as Turkish social media seethes following the German parliament’s official recognition last week that the Armenian massacres constituted the first genocide of the 20th century. President Erdogan, who maintains that Turkey’s Ottoman forerunners did not commit genocide against the Armenians, had the following to say, Handelsblatt reports:
Mr. Erdogan has lashed out at the parliamentarians, especially those with Turkish roots, claiming “their blood is impure” and demanding blood tests. He has defamed them as mouthpieces of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, calling them “the long arm of the separatist terrorists placed in Germany.”
His rage has brought death threats to several of the lawmakers, including German Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir, one of the initiators of the resolution.
Yes, you read that right: one of Germany’s leading proponents of Armenian Genocide recognition is of Turkish descent. Özdemir, the son of Turkish guest workers or gastarbeiters, gave an eloquent speech last week urging reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. Now he requires increased police protection as he weathers a storm of death threats, mainly from Turkish social media users.
Sensitivity to genocide, it should be noted, is a sign of just how much Özdemir has assimilated to German political culture. Atonement for the Holocaust has been a pillar of German politics since the end of World War II, and much of the recent conversation about recognizing the Armenian genocide has focused on Germany’s World War I-era complicity with the Ottoman regime that perpetrated the atrocities against the Armenians.
Despite Özdemir’s advocacy, the genocide resolution’s reception has met with a mixed reception among Germany’s significant Turkish minority (about 3.5 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, mostly the children and grandchildren of Turks who immigrated in a 1960s-era guest worker program). On the one hand, hundreds of Turkish Germans gathered by the Brandenburg Gate last week, waving Turkish flags and chanting slogans in protest against the measure. On the other, Deutsche Welle reports that the head of Germany’s Turkish community had sharp words for Erdogan. “We find death threats and blood tests abhorrent,” he said, adding, “I thought that defining people by blood stopped in 1945.”
Germany’s Armenia resolution has also electrified Turkey’s internal politics, resulting in the sort of nationalistic surges Erdogan has been able to capitalize on in the past. Widespread Turkish outrage at Germany gives Erdogan more leverage to resist the terms of the refugee deal the EU negotiated with Turkey last year. For example, Erdogan will almost certainly stand firm on Turkey’s terrorism laws, which the EU had demanded be reformed on human rights grounds as a condition of granting visa-free travel to Turks (indeed, after today’s attack in Istanbul, even more stringent anti-terrorism policies could be put in place).
Germans also have their concerns about the deal, especially that the relaxed requirements for travel to the EU will lead to thousands of Turkish visitors overstaying with their relatives in Germany. With both Turkey and Germany showing signs of digging in, full compliance with the deal’s timetable looks less and less certain. Failure on the part of either party to abide by deadlines will only add to the growing distrust between Turkey and Europe. Stay tuned as the tensions mount.