The Dutch parliament passed a motion on Thursday recognizing that the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I was a “genocide,” a move that is likely to further test ties between The Hague and Ankara. “The motion is accepted that parliament in no uncertain terms speak about the Armenian genocide,” said parliamentary speaker Khadija Arib, after it passed in the lower house with an overwhelming majority of 142 votes to 3. It also decided to send a cabinet representative to attend Armenia’s formal genocide remembrance day on April 24, and every five years afterwards.
Nevertheless, the government has stressed that the results of the vote will not become official policy in the Netherlands. “The government will not follow the judgement of the parliament,” said Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag before the vote. She urged the need for “utmost caution when applying the term ‘genocide’ to past events,” especially as “this cabinet wants to be very careful about it relations with Turkey, which have been better.” Turkey has responded negatively to the move – condemning the vote and asserting it as being neither valid nor legally binding. “Turkey’s attitude towards the events of 1915 is based on historical facts and legal norms,” said a spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry. “The politicization of 1915 events by taking them out of historical context is unacceptable.”
It seems that despite the efforts of the government, the move is likely to heighten Dutch-Turkish tensions at a time when relations between the two countries are already strained. The NATO allies fell out last year after the Dutch decided to bar the entry of Turkish officials that were seeking to campaign in the Netherlands ahead of a referendum in Turkey that would expand the president’s powers. Since then, relations between the pair have deteriorated, with the Netherlands formally withdrawing their ambassador to Turkey earlier this month. Still, the Netherlands is just the latest to join the list of more than 20 nations that have tabled similar motions in order to recognize the massacre of Armenians during World War I as genocide.
Armenians have long pursued international recognition for the 1915–1917 killings as “genocide,” which they claim saw 1.5 million people die, but have confronted consistent denial from Turkey. Many of victims were deported to barren desert regions where they perished due to starvation and thirst, and thousands of others died in massacres. While accepting that many Christian Armenians that lived in the Ottoman Empire were killed during World War II, Turkey argues that the death toll was much smaller and rejects the term “genocide” being used in that context. This is because Turkey denies that the deaths were in any way a product of systemic orchestration by the government at the time, and instead claims that the casualties were a consequence of usual conflict during the war.
There remains no international consensus, but most scholars outside of Turkey judge the killings to constitute genocide – or an attempt to destroy a people in whole or in part. It is, therefore, important to recognize the Armenian genocide so as not to undermine the experiences of survivors and the claims of their descendants, as well as to learn and prevent the repetition of harm. The motion passed by the Dutch parliament may cause temporary strain to its relations with Turkey but Erik-Jan Zürcher, professor of Turkish studies at Leiden University, has said it would not “break fundamental ties between the two countries.”