German lawmakers passed a symbolic resolution on Thursday which declared the incidents concerning Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 a "genocide." The motion risks harming relations with Ankara just as Berlin and its European partners need its help in tackling the refugee crisis.
Ankara immediately recalled its ambassador to Germany after the vote, Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu Agency reported while Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) said the vote had "seriously damaged" relations between Ankara and Berlin.
Turkey has consistently rejected that a genocide took place in 1915 during the World War I.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey’s ties with Germany will be affected following the German parliament’s approval of a resolution terming the 1915 events as “genocide.”
Addressing a joint press conference alongside his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday, Erdogan said, "The decision taken in the German parliament will seriously affect our relationship."
The president said once the ambassador returns, "We will sit and discuss these issues, and decide on the future steps that we will take. We will sit and elaborate on this."
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also condemned the motion as "irrational" and said it will test the friendship between the NATO partners.
"We wish Germany would not allow such an irrational issue," Yildirim told governing party members on Thursday, hours before the vote.
On Wednesday, a day before the vote, he called the resolution "ridiculous." He said at a news conference, "It was an ordinary event that occurred during wartime conditions in 1915."
During the World War I, Armenian separatists allied themselves with the Russians in a bid to establish an independent state in what is today eastern Turkey.
Turkey claims the incidents of 1915 developed during the Russian attack on the Ottomans’ eastern front with the support of Armenian separatists.
Germany at the time was an ally of the Ottoman Empire and raised no concerns about the incidents.
The timing could not be worse for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has championed a deal with Turkey under which Ankara agreed to stem the flow of refugees to Europe in return for cash, visa-free travel rights and accelerated talks on European Union membership.
Merkel was powerless to stop the symbolic resolution, which was initiated by the opposition Greens and was also backed by lawmakers in her conservative bloc.
"With one vote against and one abstention, this resolution has been passed by a remarkable majority of the German Bundestag," said Norbert Lammert, the president of the lower house of parliament.
Merkel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel were not present for the vote. However, Merkel did back the resolution in an internal party straw poll this week.
Nearly a dozen other EU countries, including France, have passed similar resolutions in the past.
The resolution could also raise tensions with Germany's roughly 3.5 million-strong Turkish community. Over a thousand Turks demonstrated against the resolution on Saturday in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin.
"I don't think this is the right step," said Murat Kayman of Germany's DITIB Turkish-Islamic group before the vote. He said a European "blind spot" could explain the vehemence of the Turkish reaction to the accusation of genocide.