By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, April 23 (Reuters) – German President Joachim Gauck
on Thursday condemned the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by
Ottoman Turkish forces a century ago as “genocide”, a term that
the Berlin government had long rejected.

Gauck used the word in a speech to mark the 100th
anniversary of what most Western scholars and two dozen
governments regard as a genocide against an Armenian population
that flourished in what is now modern Turkey. Turkey vehemently
denies the charge.

Gauck, a former East German pastor with a penchant for
defying convention, also suggested Germany itself might bear
some of the blame because of its actions during World War One.

“In this case, we Germans must still come to terms with the
past, as to whether there is in fact a shared responsibility,
possibly even complicity, in the genocide of the Armenians,”
said Gauck, adding that German armed forces were involved in
planning and even implementing deportations.

His determination to use the controversial word prompted
members of parliament to overcome long-held resistance from
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which until Monday had
steadfastly refused to use the term.

In his speech, Gauck quoted a phrase from a resolution which
lawmakers will debate in parliament on Friday and are expected
to endorse overwhelmingly: “The fate of the Armenians is
exemplary for the history of mass destructions, ethnic
cleansings, expulsions and, yes, the genocides during the 20th

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The term ‘genocide’ has special resonance for Germany, which
has worked hard to come to terms with its responsibility for the
murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.

Analysts say it was previously reluctant to apply the
description in the case of Turkey for fear of upsetting Ankara
and the 3.5 million people in Germany who are Turkish nationals
or of Turkish origin.

There are also concerns in Germany that massacres committed
in 1904 and 1905 by German troops in what is now Namibia could
also be designated genocide, leading to reparation demands.

The reversal of Germany’s stance is significant because it
is Turkey’s top trading partner in the European Union. France,
the European Parliament and Pope Francis are among others who
have used the term, condemned by Turkish President Tayyip

Turkey denies that the killings, at a time when Ottoman
troops were fighting Russian forces, constituted genocide. It
says there was no organised campaign to wipe out Armenians and
no evidence of any such orders from the Ottoman authorities.

“Questioning these claims is not up to parliaments or
politicians, but rather to historians,” Erdogan said on
Thursday, before Gauck’s speech.

“The Armenian diaspora should ask the 40,000 Armenians who
are citizens of our country whether they face any persecution,”
he told a peace conference in Istanbul, organised as part of the
centenary of the Gallipoli campaign during World War One.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told parliament:
“Those who develop hateful sayings against Turkey will feel
ashamed and be held accountable in front of history and

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by
Erik Kirschbaum and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark

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