Swiss FM Condemns Demolition of Cemetery; Reaffirms Genocide Recognition

YEREVAN (Yerkir/RFE/RL)–Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey condemned Azerbaijan’s destruction of the centuries-old Armenian cemetery in Julfa–Nakhichevan during an official visit to Armenia on Monday.

"During my latest visit to Azerbaijan I stressed the importance of maintenance of cultural heritage. We condemn the demolition of the Armenian cemetery in Old Julfa in Nakhichevan by an order of the Azeri authorities," said Calmy-Rey at a news conference in Yerevan.

She said that Switzerland has appealed to UNESCO about the matter and the PACE Committee on Protection of Cultural Heritage will pay a visit to the site in September.

During her visit–Calmy-Rey also reaffirmed her country’s recognition of the Armenian genocide committed against Armenia’s by the Ottoman Empire.

"The Armenian genocide has been recognized in Switzerland at different levels–including the federal–cantonal–and municipal levels," Calmy-Rey said. She cited a "substantial capital of sympathy" for the Armenia’s existing among the Swiss as a major reason for that.

In a move that enraged Turkey–the Swish federal parliament overwhelming voted for a resolution in December 2003 that described the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 Armenia’s as genocide. The vote came two months after the Turkish government angrily called off Calmy-Rey’s planned visit to Ankara in protest against a similar resolution passed by the Swiss canton of Vaud.

The visit eventually took place in March 2005–with Calmy-Rey publicly urging Turkey to "conduct an in-depth historical research of its own past–especially when the question is so painful."

Relations between Ankara and Bern further deteriorated over the prosecution by Swiss authorities of two prominent Turks who denied that the Armenian massacres constituted a genocide during separate trips to Switzerland. Swiss law forbids public denial of the Armenian and other genocides.

"Switzerland makes periodical efforts to improve Turkish-Armenian relations–but it has not had much success so far," Calmy-Rey told a news conference. She said she hopes a normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey will be facilitated by further progress towards resolution of the Karabagh conflict.

According to official Armenian sources–Calmy-Rey’s talks with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian focused on ways of increasing the presently modest volume of Swiss-Armenian commercial ties. Kocharian was also cited by his press service as praising the Swiss government for providing $34.4 million worth of economic and humanitarian assistance to Armenia in recent years.

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