Norbert Lammert, voorzitter van de Duitse Bondsdag
[24 april 2015]
Introductory statement to the debate on the deportation and massacre of the Armenian people 100 years ago.
The next item on the agenda deals with a highly significant historical event with lasting consequences, not only for relations between the neighbouring countries of Turkey and Armenia. Our debate today in the Bundestag has already attracted a great deal of public attention through its inclusion on the agenda.
Genocide is a crime defined under international law as acts committed with the intent to “destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such”. What happened in the midst of the First World War in the Ottoman Empire, before the eyes of the world, was a genocide. It was not to be the last of the 20th century. This makes our obligation all the greater, out of respect for the victims and due to the responsibility we bear for the causes and effects, to neither suppress the memory of, nor play down, these crimes.
We Germans are in no position to lecture anyone about how they should deal with their past. Yet due to our own experiences, we can encourage others to face their history, even when it is painful: self-critical commitment to the truth is essential for reconciliation. This involves admitting the shared responsibility of the German Reich for the crimes committed a century ago. Although the leaders of the Reich were fully informed, they did not exert their influence; the military alliance with the Ottoman Empire was more important to them than intervening to save people's lives.
The recognition of this shared guilt is vital for our credibility in the eyes of both Armenia and Turkey.
Beyond the facts, history demands interpretation, making it inevitably political. This conflict may be seen as lamentable, but it is unavoidable – and it needs to take place in Parliament. The unparalleled experiences of violence in the 20th century have ensured that we know there can be no real peace until the victims, their relatives and descendants experience justice: through remembrance of the events.
Today, too, people are the victims of persecution for political, ethnic and religious reasons, including thousands of Christians. By accepting well over a million refugees, Turkey is providing huge humanitarian assistance, which is too seldom honoured and puts some in Europe to shame. In no way whatsoever do we forget this willingness to take responsibility in the present when we call for an awareness of also taking responsibility for the country's own past.
The current Turkish government is not responsible for what happened over 100 years ago, but it is responsible for what happens next. We pay tribute to the fact that they are endeavouring to reach out to descendants and neighbours at their own ceremony, and in particular we pay tribute to the many courageous Turks and Kurds who for many years have been working alongside Armenians towards addressing this dark chapter of their shared history in an honest way: writers, journalists, mayors, religious leaders. I am thinking of the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature Orhan Pamuk, of the journalist Hrant Dink, who paid for his commitment to historical truth with his life. They deserve our support. And they need it. Our debate today is intended to contribute to this.