Turkey huffs and puffs at genocide vote, but it's business as usual with Germany

Ankara is angry after Berlin adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide, but Turkey is wary of undermining important ties with Germany.

al-monitor Turkish demonstrators stage a protest against the approval of a resolution by the German parliament that declares the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a "genocide," in front of the German Embassy in Ankara, June 3, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

turkish foreign relations, turkey eu bid, republican people’s party, recep tayyip erdogan, incirlik air base, germany, armenian genocide

Jun 14, 2016

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of dire consequences to Turkish-German relations after the Bundestag adopted its nonbinding resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 as genocide. Ankara says this is a historic calumny against the Turkish nation.

Turkey’s actions so far have been limited. Ankara has recalled its ambassador to Berlin and has issued a litany of counter accusations with obvious references to the Holocaust and the mass killings of the Herero people in Namibia by the German military in the early years of the 20th century.

Notwithstanding these angry remarks, Ankara has refrained from any steps that would seriously undermine Turkish-German ties. The presence of more than 3 million Turks in Germany and the vast economic interests Turkey has in that country clearly tie its hands.

Reports that Ankara and Berlin may have agreed on military facilities for Germany at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, on the other hand, show that it is business as usual between the two countries when it comes to brass tacks issues.

Unable to respond to Berlin in any meaningful manner, a frustrated Ankara appears to be focusing the full weight of its ire on German deputies of Turkish origin who supported the Armenian resolution.

Erdogan is leading the chorus and, starting with Cem Ozdemir, the co-chairman of the Alliance 90/Green Party that co-sponsored the resolution in question, is branding them with insulting adjectives such as “treacherous Turks.” He even asked for blood samples to be taken from the deputies to prove whether or not they were Turkish.

Almost all of the deputies in question are German born and by their own accounts consider themselves as Germans, although they do not deny their Turkish lineage. Protesting to Ankara over the verbal attacks against its deputies, Berlin has also provided extra security for them against possible attacks from radical members of the German Turkish community. The deputies have also been advised not to travel to Turkey.

Norbert Lammert, the president of the Bundestag, was among those who condemned Erdogan over his remarks. “Whosoever tries to pressurize a deputy has to know he is attacking our parliament and democracy. In that case we will show every necessary reaction possible under our laws,” he said, referring to Erdogan’s remarks as “backward.”

Gunter Krings, Germany's parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, warned Turks living in Germany not to act on Erdogan’s remarks. “Those who think and speak [like Erdogan] will show that they have not integrated with Germany and German law. This must, of course, be taken into account in considerations about their residence permits,” Krings warned, according to the German media.

Given these exchanges, it would not appear to be the right moment for a strategic military agreement between the two countries. The German and Turkish media, however, are reporting that an agreement has been concluded in principle between Ankara and Berlin for the construction of facilities for the German air force at Incirlik Air Base at a cost of 65 million euros ($72.8 million).

Germany, which is part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, is planning to construct a fixed location for itself inside Incirlik, with a command post, aviation area, accommodations and a maintenance facility. It already has Tornado jets and an aerial refueling jet, as well as around 200 military personnel deployed at the base.

The opposition in Turkey was quick to hit at the government over the inconsistency these reports reflected against the backdrop of the Armenian resolution.

“The German parliament has adopted a resolution. Everyone in Turkey is talking and blasting away from below the belt. Then we hear that the Incirlik base has been opened to Germany,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said.

Aware of the sensitivity regarding this issue, government spokesman Nurettin Canikli told reporters, following a June 13 Cabinet meeting, that a final decision on the topic had not been reached at yet.

“Germany made a request, but no decision has been taken yet. All our relevant organizations continue work with regard to the unfortunate resolution adopted by the German parliament,” Canikli said.

His remarks appeared to suggest that Ankara might not endorse the Incirlik agreement with Germany. A Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity due to his sensitive position told Al-Monitor that the project was too advanced for this to happen.

“Turkey would lose a lot of credibility among its allies,” the diplomat said. “Turkish officials are aware of the potential for serious negative fallout for Turkey such a drastic step would bring,” he added.

Retired Ambassador Ozdem Sanberk, who heads the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization, believes a serious lack of trust in Turkey is the root cause of the current state of affairs between Ankara and Berlin.

“Turkey’s growing introversion, its angry challenges to the world with remarks that at times amount to insults … all of this backfires in the end,” Sanberk told Al-Monitor. “The doleful state of press freedom and the independence of the judiciary, as well as other similar topics, have placed Turkey in a bad light. This is not only a problem with Germany, but also with the United States, the European Union, Great Britain, France and even Arab countries,” Sanberk said.

“Agreeing with Germany over Incirlik is the consistent thing to do, doing the opposite would be inconsistent,” Sanberk added, going on to indicate that bombastic statements, religion and ideology have no place in foreign policy.

“Every government has its own foreign policy, but if this strays away from basic principles, such as maintaining the country’s territorial integrity and security, and trying to keep pace with the contemporary and modern world, then that country ends up paying a price,” Sanberk said.

He added that it was “also crucial for a country to maintain the right balance between its aims and its capacity to fulfill these aims.”

Sanberk’s words put the basic problem Turkey has with regard to Germany after the adoption of the Armenian genocide resolution into perspective. The bottom line is that Ankara will huff and puff, but it will be business as usual in the end.

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