MENA Research Center already reported in its Europe Monitoring about the memorial for the genocide of the Armenians in Cologne and how the city leaders want to deal with it.
The memorial for the genocide of the Armenians is now to be removed again. In April 2018 it was inaugurated by the “Remember Genocide” initiative at the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne. A rust-red stele with a slit pomegranate on top, bearing the title “This Pain Affects Us All”, is within sight of the equestrian statue of German Emperor Wilhelm II. After all, the German Empire was an ally of the Ottoman Empire during World War I and sent German military attachés who not only watched the genocide, but also took part in it. So the empire shares responsibility for the crimes.
But the city of Cologne doesn’t seem to want to know much about that. First of all, the memorial was to be removed “due to a lack of official approval”, that has now been clarified, there is even a unanimous decision by the district council. Now suddenly there is talk of a cycle path that has not yet been approved, but must lead right there in the distant future. It is more than a mystery why both cannot find a place there.
The memorial does not please the Turkish nationalists in particular. After all, denying the existence of a genocide against the Armenians is a central part of Turkey’s historical policy. Since the Armenian community of Cologne erected the stele for the first time in 2018, the Turkish state and its local followers have been urging Cologne’s mayor not to tolerate the memorial.
And with that they seem to be successful with the non-party mayor Henriette Reker. She is not impressed by the tireless campaigning of the Armenians, human rights activists and historians for the memorial. Reker’s city administration has now ordered its dismantling. Such a decision would result in encouragement for Turkish nationalists and, on the other hand, in a break with the supposedly unbreakable principles of the German culture of remembrance, above all with the declared will to learn by confronting the darker parts of history.
As early as 2018, the initiative set up the memorial in a night and fog campaign. Since then, the battle between the initiative and Cologne’s administration has been raging. With lawsuits, promises, disappointments and the repeated dismantling and rebuilding of the memorial. The last time there was a conversation between Reker and the initiative was in 2022. The mayor was full of benevolent words for a memorial, they quote participants in the conversation, only Reker asserted that neither she nor the city council were responsible for the approval. That is the responsibility of the district council. This view surprised even the parliamentary groups in the city parliament.
The memorial supporters were also sobered by the changing justifications given by the administration. Sometimes it wasn’t convinced of the historical correctness of the inscription, then it demanded permission, and finally it announced that a path near the memorial would be widened, which is why there was no space for the stele. The city council is also irritated by Reker’s course, since all factions are campaigning for the memorial.
Apparently, Reker is afraid of conflict with people of Turkish origin. Already in the proceedings before the administrative court, her administration justified the rejection of the memorial with the fact that “in view of the large number of Turkish citizens in Cologne” this is a “very sensitive topic”. Genocide remembrance harbors “high potential for conflict”. In fact, the city of Cologne has over 53,000 Turkish residents and around 50,000 people of Turkish origin. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened. In 2005, Brandenburg removed the genocide from the curriculum because of the intervention of Turkish diplomats – it was later reversed. In 2011, the University of Stuttgart did not allow a lecture on the genocide to take place due to Turkish “protest from Berlin” – the university announced that it wanted to “remain neutral”. In 2014, due to protests against a production of Edgar Hilsenrath’s “The Fairy Tale of the Last Thought”, which is about genocide, the poster for the event was taken down at the Konstanz Theater and a statement by the Turkish Consul was read out before each performance. The premiere had to take place under police protection.
In Cologne, 58 Turkish associations have joined forces under the name “InitativTürk” and committed themselves to fighting the memorial. Among them are notorious Islamist and right-wing extremist mosque associations such as DITIB and ATIB, as well as sports and cultural associations. The IG Keupstraße is also part of the campaign. The association whose chairperson has already been honored as an ambassador for democracy and tolerance and is tirelessly committed to a memorial to the NSU attacks, but also against any commemoration of the genocide of the Armenians. As early as 2017, the association signed a letter of protest against the memorial. It threatened to use all legal means to prevent him. Above all, it repeatedly articulates a concern that is reminiscent of earlier domestic German debates about Holocaust commemoration: the concern that Turks should be “brought up in such a way that they detest their history or are ashamed of their history”. But there is also pressure from abroad. According to the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the Turkish state is trying to “interfere in political debates” in the municipalities, especially “when it comes to the Armenian conflict”. All of this apparently has an effect on Reker, her critics sigh in the “Genocide Remembering” initiative.
It is one thing that genocide deniers are banding together in clubs, that wolves are howling on the cathedral square. The other is: why is Cologne giving in? But a city where Erdogan was allowed to open his mega-mosque is probably beyond help. A little tip for local politicians: You can also drink tea elsewhere. It tastes better anyway when it’s not being served by genocide deniers.
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