Swiss Senate Washes Hands of Genocide Question

(Swissinfo)–Turkey’s massacre of Armenia’s in 1915 will never be an issue for the Swiss Senate–according to the president of the Senate foreign-affairs committee.

Peter Briner said other countries had no business pointing the finger at Turkey 90 years after the disputed events.

Briner said the committee had decided that the death or deportation of 800,000-1.8 million Armenia’s between 1915 and 1919 would not be the subject of a plenary session.

He said the committee agreed with the government that it was not parliament’s job to decide whether the killings constituted genocide. They have been recognized as such by the parliamen’s of several countries including France–Russia and Italy.

The Swiss House of Representatives recognized the genocide in 2003. The Swiss government–however–does not officially speak of "genocide" but of "mass deportation" and "massacre."

Briner said the committee believed that it was up to the parties involved–namely Turkey and Armenia–to reach an agreement.

Briner said a commission of historians had to "work through the terrible events"–just as Switzerland had reappraised its history during the Second World War.

At the end of July the Swiss ambassador to Ankara had to deflect a barrage of diplomatic criticism concerning the Swiss investigation of a Turkish politician who had proffered revisionist views about the Armenian genocide in 1915.

Then on August 5 the Turkish authorities postponed indefinitely a visit to Turkey in September by Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss–citing agenda problems of his Turkish counterpart.

Few in Switzerland believe an inability to use a diary was the reason for the cancellation.

"That’s a typical diplomatic excuse if you can’t think of a better one," said Briner.

"The important thing is that we now show some guts," he said. "I get the impression that the Turkish government wants to placate its people with this sabre-rattling."

"After all–books like that are available for sale in Armenia," one of his Armenian attorneys–Vartuhi Elbakian said.

"Yektan bought them without violating the law," argued the other lawyer–Hrair Ghukasian.

Individuals detained while trying to smuggle cultural treasures have rarely been imprisoned in Armenia. Such cases usually end in heavy fines and the confiscation of those artifacts.

In a separate message to President Kocharian last week–Duke University president Richard Brodhead said–"As the leader of a great country–you have the ability to intervene in this matter and to determine the appropriateness of the actions of your government and the Armenian prosecutors and police."

Adding his voice on August 2 was former US Senate majority leader Bob Dole–known for his staunch advocacy of Armenian issues. In a strongly-worded letter to Kocharian posted on–he demanded that Turkyilmaz be released "at once," saying that the Criminal Code article used against him is "unique in the community of free nations."

Dole warned that failure to release Turkyilmaz would further tarnish Yerevan’s already negative image in the West. "Your detention of Yektan for seven weeks on any grounds would draw attention to failings in Armenia’s democratic evolution," he said. "To detain him on grounds as dubious as these calls into question Armenia’s commitment to democracy in the first place."

"Your treatment of Yektan makes Armenia look bad –with good reason," he added. "Armenia has many friends in the United States–but we cannot and will not defend the indefensible."

The academic’s mother–Gulsin Turkyilmaz–pleaded with the authorities in Yerevan on August 8 to set him free and end his controversial prosecution.

After visiting her 33-year-old son in a maximum security prison in Yerevan where he has been kept since his arrest on June 17–she said–"I hope that they won’t imprison him…if he knew that [he is violating Armenian laws] he wouldn’t do that."

"Yektan would never do any harm to this country," she added.

Turkyilmaz was allowed to see his mother the day before the start of his trial–which is expected to be attended by representatives of Duke University in North Carolina where he is pursuing a PhD in Ottoman history.

Turkey’s government has still not officially commented on the prosecution of the Turkish national. Turkyilmaz is among few Turks who have publicly challenged Ankara’s vehement denial of the Armenian genocide. n.


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