Swiss President: Genocide Row Should be Settled by Historians

BERNE (Turkish Daily News)–Pascal Couchepin, the president of the Swiss Confederation, Friday said historians should settle the issue of the Armenian Genocide, endorsing recent efforts by Turkey to pressure landlocked Armenia to endorse a Turkish proposed commission to “investigate” the Armenian Genocide.

The lower house of the Swiss Parliament recognized the genocide in a 2003 vote, causing strain in bilateral relations with Turkey. Last year, a politician of Turkish descent was charged with denying the genocide under legislation passed to punish denial of the Armenian Genocide, angering Turkey, which says it is a restriction on the freedom of expression and debate. In Turkey it is a crime to discuss the Armenian Genocide.

But Couchepin, who is preparing to visit Turkey next month, appeared to take a conciliatory tone, saying he agreed that historical matters should be left to historians at a press conference with Turkish journalists in Berne. "The concerned parties should try to find a definition for the tragic events that happened," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency yesterday.

Asked to comment on charges against Turks who deny the genocide, Couchepin said this should no longer be a matter of discussion. "We should look to the future," he said, praising Turkish President Abdullah Gul for a recent visit to Armenia, with which Turkey has no formal ties. Gul visited Yerevan on Sept. 6 to watch a World Cup qualifying game between the national teams of the two countries, becoming the first Turkish president to visit Armenia’since it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Couchepin, whose country is not a member of the EU, also insisted that Turkey was a part of Europe and definitely a part of the West. "I feel I am in Europe when I am in Istanbul. You may think that you are in the East if you go further east in Turkey but you may not feel in Europe in certain parts of eastern Europe either," said Couchepin. "Turkey should be a part of Europe."

The overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey has been a member of NATO for decades and aspires to join the European Union. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has carried out sweeping economic and political reforms to start accession talks with the EU but Brussels complains there has been a slowdown in reform efforts over the past two years. Switzerland is not in the 27-nation EU.

Couchepin commented on AK Party policies as well. Citing a non-Muslim cleric in Turkey whom he met last year in Istanbul, Couchepin said the cleric had told him that he would vote for the AK Party. He also quoted a North African Muslim leader as describing the AK Party as a Muslim version of the Christian Democratic movement in Europe.

Responding to Turkish complaints that Switzerland does not extradite terror suspects wanted by Interpol to Turkey, Couchepin said he would not comment on judicial matters. He condemned terror attacks on Turkey but added: "We don’t have a list of terrorist organizations. ; We do everything in line with the laws in effect."

Couchepin dismissed suggestions that his country is a safe haven for members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and said the Swiss police would take every measure to combat illegal activities.

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