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Germany recognizes Armenian genocide, angering Turkey

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Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

(Read caption) Supporters wave Armenian and German flags in front of the Reichstag in Berlin on June 2. Germany's parliament has voted to recognize a massacre of Armenians as a 'genocide.'

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The German Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution recognizing the mass murder of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 as a genocide, settling, at least in Germany, a debate that has continuously escalated tensions between that nation and Turkey.

Germany's Armenian resolution comes at a delicate time as the continent works to address the waves of Syrian migrants straining at its borders. Germany needs help from Turkey to close a deal with the European Union in regard to the refugee crisis, even as Turkey seeks admittance as a full-fledged member of the EU.

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Germany joins nearly a dozen other EU countries that have passed similar resolutions recognizing the Armenian genocide. France officially recognized the Armenian massacre as a genocide in 2001, infuriating Turkey. President Obama has cautiously danced around the phrase, choosing to refer to the events during World War I as "the first mass atrocity of the 20th century," in efforts to appease the key NATO ally. 

The Armenian Genocide has long been a sensitive topic for Turkey ever since the United Nations adopted the Convention On the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, as Arthur Bright reported for The Christian Science Monitor

The convention declared that genocide, attempts to commit genocide, and being complicit in genocide were all crimes. The definition is not contentious; 146 countries have signed on to the treaty.

The Armenians were clearly a national, ethnic group, and there is ample documentation of the mass deaths they suffered under Ottoman control during World War I. So how does Turkey argue that the Armenian massacres do not fall within the UN definition?

The key element that is missing, they say, is evidence that the Ottoman Empire had 'intent to destroy' the Armenians.

The Turkish government does not use the term "genocide" to describe the killings of more than 1 million Armenians and other Christian minorities by the Ottoman government, which is now modern-day Turkey, from 1915 to 1916 during World War I. The Turkish government claims the number of deaths is in fact lower than what is commonly thought, describing the event as the deaths of thousands of people, including many Turks, during the Ottoman Civil War that eventually led the Empire's demise.

The Turkish government called the German vote on Thursday "null and void," while Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, denounced the resolution on Twitter. "The way to close the dark pages of your own history is not by defaming the histories of other countries with irresponsible and baseless decisions," Mr. Cavusoglu wrote.

Turkey's ambassador in Germany has been summoned by to Ankara to consult with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her Christian Democratic Union, and its coalition supported the resolution, and are under pressure to not cave to external pressure from Turkey. Although Ms. Merkel did not participate in the vote, citing "public engagements," she later placed emphasis on the strong ties between the two nations.

"Even if we have a difference of opinion on an individual matter, the breadth of our links, our friendship, our strategic ties, is great," Merkel said, according Reuters.

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Material from Reuters was used in this report.