Switzerland urges historians to deal with "Armenian genocide" allegations

Switzerland urges historians to deal with "Armenian genocide" allegations

Swiss foreign minister has urged Turkish and Armenian historians to investigate events earlier last century that have been primary cause of tensions between the two nations for decades, Today's Zaman reported.

Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is also the president of the Swiss Confederation, told Turkish ambassadors in her keynote speech at Ambassadors Conference in Ankara on Monday that historians from both sides should investigate the "Armenian genocide" allegations.

"The historians would then contribute to discussions with their findings," Calmy-Rey. Calmy-Rey stressed that there is not any law in her country that acknowledges a certain incident as genocide, like in France.

Armenia, backed by some historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.

Successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks feel the charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues that there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the area.

She said Switzerland had mediated between Turkey and Armenia between 2007 and October 2009 to enable the two countries to establish diplomatic relations, open their borders and set up sub-committees to investigate 1915 events.

Turkey and Armenia signed twin protocols in 2009 to bury a century of hostilities on establishment of diplomatic relations and normalizing ties but the protocols failed after the two countries failed to ratify the documents.

The foreign minister said Switzerland's official mediation role ended when the protocols were signed in Zurich on October 10, 2009.

Calmy-Rey said Swiss penal code punished discourses and propaganda including racism, and the Swiss government had many times condemned the "tragic incidents of 1915." She added that the Swiss government had clearly expressed its formal position about this issue in 2003, and there had been no change in Switzerland's stance.

French lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks constitute genocide.

Turkey was already frustrated by French opposition to its stalled European Union bid, and hopes for Western-backed rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia seem ever more distant ahead of 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian killings.

The bill strikes at the heart of national honor in Turkey, which maintains there was no systematic campaign to kill Armenians and that many Turks also died during the chaotic disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

The French bill still needs Senate approval, but after it passed the lower house, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan halted bilateral political and economic contacts, suspended military cooperation and ordered his country's ambassador home for consultations.

France formally recognized the Armenian killings as genocide in 2001, but had previously provided no penalty for anyone refuting that. The bill sets a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euro ($59,000) for those who deny or "outrageously minimize" the killings, putting such action on par with denial of the Holocaust.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told ambassadors on Monday during a session that Turkey is ready to confront its history but said this history must be handled with objective and just memory, referring to tragic losses in both sides during the World War I. He urged that historians should discuss Turkish-Armenian history in an intellectual environment with open archives. He said Turkey's reaction to France is because the European Union member state even made it impossible for such an intellectual atmosphere to take place.

Davutoglu said he hopes France will fulfill its mission in Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, a body that is assigned to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Turkey's key ally Azerbaijan, and that France will contribute to restore peace in the South Caucasus.

Davutoglu said solution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will also unblock normalization process between Turkey and Armenia and will result in enduring peace.

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