Did the Netherlands recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide?

Editioin 22 March 2018, by Juan Álvarez Umbarila

Well, yes and no. Last February 22nd, the House of representatives (the lower house of the bicameral parliament known as “Tweede Kamer”) voted almost unanimously that the parliament should speak “in no uncertain terms” about “the Armenian Genocide”, as opposed to how it has traditionally been called: “the question of the Armenian Genocide”. The vote was 142 to 3, only opposed by the members of the immigrant-oriented party Denk, largely represented by Turkish-Dutch. Furthermore, the parliament voted to appoint a member of the cabinet to represent the Netherlands in the commemorations of the 1915 massacre to be held this April in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. This will be the first time such a high-ranked government member will attend the event, which is usually done by the ambassador or a Parliament member.

However, the government chose not to follow the House of Representatives on the “genocide” status of the massacre. On the same day the voting was held, acting Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag stated that the government would not formally recognize this decision, and would continue to call the massacre “the question of the Armenian Genocide”. In doing so, the official position of the Dutch government remains ambiguous, not recognizing nor denying the status of “genocide”, but acknowledging emphatically that “a large-scale massacre took place”. According to Kaag, in order for the government to recognize it as such, a binding resolution of the UN Security Council, or a ruling by an international court would be necessary.

The government will, nevertheless, appoint a cabinet member to attend the commemorations in April. The Armenian Genocide took place during World War I. The Ottoman Empire, of which its successor state is the Republic of Turkey, then systematically exiled and exterminated what is thought to be around 1.5 millions Armenians under Ottoman rule. While the Turkish government today rejects the term “genocide” to name what they call “the Armenian issue”, outside of Turkey it is mostly accepted by historians and genocide scholars alike. In fact, Raphael Lemkin, who in 1943 coined the term “genocide” for the first time, did it having in mind the massacre of Armenians in WWI, as a precursor of the Holocaust in WWII. Today, 29 countries have officially accepted the status of the Armenian massacre as “genocide”. But officially recognizing it as such would be costly today for the relations between The Netherlands and Turkey, amid a most delicate diplomatic crisis started in March 2017, when the Dutch cabinet refused entry to Turkish officials seeking to promote their constitutional referendum in The Netherlands. Since then, relationships have been at a low point, and by today, neither Turkey nor The Netherlands have their ambassadors based in the other country. Although both Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have showed shy intentions of renewing relationships, the House of Representatives decision comes at a time of bilateral fragility; hence the extreme cautious attitude by the Dutch government regarding the Armenian Genocide’s precise definition.

Erdogan’s regime, known for its strong diplomatic reactions against countries officially accepting the Armenian massacre as genocide, took a rather mild position regarding Dutch Parliament’s decision by condemning it, but at the same time acknowledging the government’s position not to follow it. It seems that both countries are being cautious with their actions during these times of crisis. Thus, it is not likely that the Dutch government shall change its official position about the Armenian Genocide in the near future.

After publishing this article we got the following reaction of the Turkish Ambassy, sent to our representative for Ambassies, Mrs. Nanda Jagusiak:

Dear Ms. Jagusiak,

I am writing to bring to your kind attention our views on the article titled “Did the Netherlands recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide?” published in your magazine’s April issue.
The article gives information on the decisions taken by the House of Representatives of the Netherlands last February on the events of 1915 as well as the stance of the Dutch Government which stated that it would not formally recognize the decision of the House of Representatives and would continue to call events of 1915 “the question of the Armenian genocide”.
However, after explaining the developments in the Netherlands, the author of the article, Mr. Juan Alvarez Umbarila, takes a biased stance and distorts historical facts in the third paragraph of his article. The author claims that “Armenian genocide” is mostly accepted by historians and genocide scholars alike which is misleading. I would like to stress that there is no political or scholarly consensus to define the events of 1915 as “genocide”. There is no legal judgment made by a competent court which describes them as “genocide” either, whereas such international court decisions exist for the Holocaust on for Rwanda or for Srebrenica genocides.
We understand the suffering of the Armenians and we respect their sorrow. What we oppose is presenting the tragic events of 1915 as a genocide. The reality is more complex. The final years of the Ottoman Empire were a tragic period for the people that made up the Empire. Turks, Armenians and many others suffered immensely. The tragic consequences of the World War I still remain to be relevant today as a matter of historical controversy between Turks and some circles of Armenians, who have lived together in peace for centuries. Therefore, we believe that the reality should come out in its entirety, not only based on the views of one side.
I am of the conviction that the Holland Times readers have the right to form their opinion against this backdrop. Hence, I kindly urge you to publish this communication in your next issue.
Looking forward to your positive cooperation.
Yours sincerely,
Özge Demirkurt Atahan