Berlin - German lawmakers prepared to pass a resolution on Thursday recognising the World War I massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide, as Turkey warned the vote would test the “friendship” between Berlin and Ankara.
Put forward by the ruling left-right coalition and the opposition Greens, the resolution entitled “Remembrance and commemoration of the genocide of Armenians and other Christian minorities in 1915 and 1916” also carries the contentious word throughout the text.
The Bundestag vote comes at a particularly awkward time as Germany and the European Union are relying on Turkey to help stem a record influx of migrants even as tensions are rising between both sides over human rights and other issues.
Yerevan has long sought international recognition of the “genocide”, but Ankara rejects the use of the term to describe the killings more than a century ago and argues that it was a collective tragedy in which equal numbers of Turks and Armenians died.
Turkish leaders have stepped up the pressure to warn that the resolution could hurt relations.
Hours before the Bundestag vote, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said it “will amount to a real test of the friendship” between the two nations.
“Some nations that we consider friends, when they are experiencing trouble in domestic policy, attempt to divert attention from it,” he said at a party meeting. “This resolution is an example of that.”
The Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee also issued a statement overnight calling it “utterly unacceptable”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier warned that passing the resolution “would harm our future ties - the diplomatic, economic, political, commercial and military ties between the two countries.”
“I believe all of these would be reconsidered,” he said, adding that he had also telephoned Chancellor Angela Merkel over the text.
Nevertheless, Merkel backs the resolution, her spokeswoman said, even though the German leader would not attend the vote due to other official engagements.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will also miss the vote due to prior commitments.
Armenia and Turkey have been locked in a bitter row over the massacre.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kin were killed between 1915 and 1917 as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart.
But modern Turkey, the successor state to the Ottomans, says that 300 000 to 500 000 Armenians and as many Turks died in civil strife when Armenians rose up against their Ottoman rulers and sided with invading Russian troops.
More than 20 nations, including France and Russia, have recognised the Armenian genocide.
In direct reference to the atrocities against the Armenians, the resolution says: “Their fate exemplifies the mass exterminations, the ethnic cleansing, the expulsions and indeed the genocides that marked the 20th century in such a terrible way.”
It also states that the “German Empire bears partial responsibility for the events,” a point that German President Joachim Gauck also made last year during commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the killings.
Germany was then allied with the Ottomans, and deployed soldiers who participated in the deportations of Armenians, said Gauck.
The issue is particularly sensitive in Germany, as it has special ties with Ankara not least due to its three-million-strong ethnic Turkish population which settled following a massive “guest worker” programme in the 1960s and 1970s.
Ahead of the vote, Turkish groups organised protests and sent letters to lawmakers to get them to oppose the resolution.
Kurds in Germany launched a counter-campaign, flooding Bundestag lawmakers with emails urging them to withstand Turkish pressure.
Armenia's President Serge Sarkissian also weighed in, calling on German MPs to stand firm.
“It would not be fair to not call the genocide of Armenians genocide just because that makes the head of state of another country angry,” he told Bild daily in an interview.
“I am sure that Bundestag politicians see it this way too and will not be intimidated,” he added.
The vote is also controversial within the coalition and political parties.
The German government's top official in charge of integration, Aydan Ozoguz, warned that it is the “wrong path” to take.
And Steinmeier, who a year ago rejected Gauck's use of the word “genocide”, said on Tuesday he hoped the Bundestag resolution would not derail efforts to reconcile Turkey and Armenia.