Gauck has never attacked Turkey, but Erdoğan has been fiercely attacking Germany for years

A comment by Thomas Schirrmacher

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has wrongly accused Germany and German Federal President Joachim Gauck of having attacked Turkey, since Gauck has said nothing about Turkey. Erdoğan, however, has claimed for himself the right to criticize Germany (and every other country) for years and has now again fiercely criticized Germany according to the principle: Other presidents are far from being allowed to do what he may.

But let us take this one step at a time: At a meeting of the Turkish business people’s association MÜSIAD in Istanbul, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented on Germany’s reaction after a speech by the German Federal President and a debate in the German Bundestag regarding the 100-year commemoration of the beginning of the genocide of Armenians and Syro-Armenians.

Erdoğan said the following in his address:

“While we send messages of peace to the world, there are some countries like Russia, Germany, and France that support Armenian falsehoods and criticize us. What happened 100 years ago is a mutually painful experience. Those who support the accusations against us should first clean up their own past. Those who condemn us for the forced resettlement of Armenians should first pay the bill for their own injustices. They should clean up the trail of blood that they have left over the centuries. In this connection, Germany is the last country that can allow itself an opinion. Russia and France should take a look at their own history. You trot off from France to Algeria and Rwanda. What the hell have you French lost in Africa?”

Erdoğan later says that Europeans will not be able to hinder Turkey in its economic and political goals for 2023.

The beginning and end are strange enough. Erdoğan is sending messages of peace? Which messages would that be? Who wants to “hinder” Turkey? And what does the question of genocide have to do with Turkey’s economic development?

But now to the core, the charge that Germany, due to its past, has no right to condemn Turkey, indeed it is “the last country” which should be allowed to have “an opinion” about others.

1. Gauck did not accuse Turkey.

German Federal President Joachim Gauck has never once accused Turkey or the Turkish government. At the central point of his speech, in which he uses the word “genocide,” Gauck does not speak of Turkey but of Germany! He says:

“Overall, this is where we Germans also still have something to process, provided that it is a matter of joint responsibility, under certain circumstances even joint guilt, for the genocide committed against Armenians.”

Here is the problem: In order for Erdoğan to not become angry, we should not only not speak of genocide in relation to Turkey, but also not in relation to ourselves.

Gauck quoted the German Reich Chancellor as justification, not a Turkish politician:

“Reich Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, who had been informed in great detail by a special envoy about the persecution of Armenians, remarked tersely in December 1915: ‘Our only goal is to keep Turkey on our side until the end of the war, regardless of whether Armenians perish or not.’”

Indeed, Gauck talks about “The Young Turks ideology …” He says:

“In the Ottoman Empire, this developed into a genocidal dynamic to which the Armenian people fell victim.”

Gauck twice mentions “Turks” living today, both times not critically, but with the desire for reconciliation between Turks and Armenians:

“I am especially happy about every encouraging sign of understanding and rapprochement between Turks and Armenians”; “There are descendants of Armenians and Turks living among us, each with their own history. In order for there to be peaceful coexistence …”

2. Germany is ashamed, while Turkey has not conceded the least amount of joint responsibility for what happened.

Anyone like me who attended Gauck’s speech, the debate in the Bundestag, the light march, and other events, knows that the focus was on shame about the role of the German Reich and that there was an obvious effort not to attack the Turkey of today. In no other country on earth was Turkey so spared in the commemoration ceremonies as in Germany.

However, one must also learn this lesson: It’s not enough to avoid the word ‘genocide,’ as President Obama did. You have to absolve Turkey directly of all complicity. There is a conspicuous reluctance to reproach the Turkey of today. Turkey feels attacked if one does not mention it at all (Gauck) and if one avoids the term ‘genocide’ (Steinmeier, Obama). And it is Turkey that takes each criticism of the Turkish government before establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey as a personal criticism of today’s government, while Gauck and others stressed again and again that Turks living today and today’s Turkey do not have any personal guilt. Rather, this should only have to do with how one deals with the past. At this point, Erdoğan takes a giant magnifying glass with respect to others and darkened eyeglasses with respect to himself.


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