by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
the Armenian Mirror Spectator
JANUARY 8, 2024 — As the fireworks rang in the New Year 2024, few people thought there was much to celebrate anywhere in the world. But in the German city of Cologne, there was indeed: the memorial stele that honors the victims of the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians was not going to disappear, as had been planned by the city authorities, but would stay put in its place along the Rhine river, not far from a statue of Germany’s last emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The good news was reported in the Armenian language edition of Civilnet on December 28, 2023 and confirmed days later by photographs taken at the site. Civilnet cited several news outlets which had incorrectly reported that the monument had been removed but these misleading reports had apparently relied on old press accounts of a City Council order issued earlier, not to any documented facts on the ground. One wire service published a photo of bulldozers removing the monument – a photo referring to earlier events in 2018 and 2022.
The Armenian Mirror-Spectator carried the story of the fight around the monument last summer and again in mid-December. As detailed in those articles, the Remember Genocide civil society group had initiated the project, and the monument was erected in April 2018. It has been contested by the influential Turkish community ever since; it has been removed, then put up again for a limited period, then removed again. A political fight emerged, with debate in the City Council and Mayor’s office. The latest “decision” in December, was to tear it down by the end of 2023. Early in the new year, a dialogue process was to come into being, to discuss a new monument, this time, “commemorating the victims of repression, racism, violence, and human rights violations,” not better identified.
Happily, Civilnet announced the survival of the document. Tessa Hofmann, the co-founder and chairwoman of the human rights groups Against Genocide, for International Understanding (AGA), which has been a leading force in the campaign for the monument, posted the Civilnet update on her Facebook page, and congratulations came streaming in. On New Year’s Eve, Remember Genocide posted the story, this time with a fresh photo of the memorial, in which a copy of that day’s issue of the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag was visibly placed at the foot of the stele, thus documenting the date.
Hofmann, when asked to explain the reason behind the surprising development, said she thought Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker “wanted to give in to pressure from Turkish nationalists and argued that the erection of the memorial had not been agreed to by the administration. But apparently,” she continued, “the protest of the numerous ‘monument defenders’ was strong enough to prevent the dismantling announced for the end of 2023.” Hofmann also recalled her appeal to Reker last spring, in which she reminded her “that it was also the Turkish people from Cologne, such as the author Dogan Akhanlı, who sadly died in 2021, who initiated this memorial.” Reker, she concluded, “must therefore decide which Turkish citizens of Cologne she will listen to.”