“Who, after all, today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?” is the question Adolf Hitler put to the world to cover his own intentions to annihilate chosen victims. A century ago, in the course of the First World War, the Ottoman Turks massacred about a million and a half Armenians, driving into exile and dispossessing what was left of the community. Whether Christian or oppressed, a minority of Armenians had taken up arms against their Muslim overlords, which is why successive Turkish regimes have invariably pretended that they had been facing a fifth column whose suppression couldn’t be considered the genocide it so obviously was.
The German parliament has just passed a motion recognizing that genocide is what the Armenians suffered. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan had recently agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel a deal whereby he delivers selected refugees in return for billions of euros — a sort of bribe, really, that gives him a hold over Merkel whose policy of welcoming refugees has lost her popular support and threatens her office. Not very brave, she pleaded that she was so busy that she had to stay away from parliament.
A furious Erdogan has recalled the Turkish ambassador and says the vote “will seriously affect Germany-Turkey relations.” According to the newly appointed Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, “There is no shameful incident in our past.” And there you have the core of this issue. The national culture obliges Germans to examine their past and if necessary to admit guilt in respect of crime. National culture obliges Turks to close their eyes to the past and claim honour in respect of crime.