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Armenian decries "genocide denial" at Bern trial

Armenians have demanded the massacre be referred to as a genocide


Emotional testimony marked the second day of legal proceedings against representatives of 17 Turkish organisations accused of violating anti-racism laws with regard to the Swiss Armenian community.

"I want the truth to be brought to light," plaintiff Aram Djambazian told the packed cantonal courtroom in Bern. "I want all to recognise that denial of the genocide committed against Armenians should not be tolerated."

Djambazian, along with Sarki Shahinian from the Swiss-Armenian Society, have accused the Turks of denying the massacre of Armenians at the turn of the twentieth century.

"Before leaving, I want the power to bury in a moral sense my father," 85-year-old Djambazian said.

The main charge against the 17 Turks is the breaking of an anti-racism article in the Swiss penal code, which is punishable by fines or imprisonment.

Until now, the legal clause has only been applied to cases relating to denials of the Holocaust, and not to other racially-motivated conflicts.

Testimony: father killed

In a long, moving testimony, Djambazian told of how his father was shot in 1916 by Ottoman troops in front his mother, his brothers and sister.

"I have nothing against the Turks or Turkey. I just hope we can draw lessons from history so that there won't be other genocides," he continued.

The Swiss-Armenian Society has battled for six years to get official recognition of what it calls the "genocide" of between 500,000 and 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the second decade of the twentieth century.

The Society said the massacres occurred between 1915 and 1920.

Accused stand by petition

In 1995, Armenian organisations in Switzerland presented a petition to the Parliament in Bern asking for official recognition of the genocide. Turkish organisations reacted the following year with a petition asking Swiss authorities not to give in to Armenian demands.

The Swiss-Turkish organisations said the Armenian petition distorted historical facts and that the term "genocide" could not be applied because the Ottoman government never attempted to wipe out the Armenian race.

At the bar, eight of the accused brought to testify on Thursday said they stood by their counter-petition saying they wished to "express the position of the 100,000 Turks living in Switzerland." None expressed their regret for the petition.

All told Judge Lienhard Ochsner that they had "nothing against the Armenians", and testified they had Armenian "acquaintances" or "collegues".

Swiss declined "genocide" proposal

The legal proceedings come just six months after Switzerland's House of Representatives refused the Armenian proposal to recognise as "genocide" the Ottoman Empire's treatment of Armenians.

Swiss authorities have instead opted to condemn the "tragic events that lead to the death of an extremely high number of Armenians."

Sarki Shahinian, one of the two Armenian plaintiffs, told swissinfo that the matter was of both personal and international significance.

"My personal human dignity has been attacked in the face of this denial," he says. "The Turkish organisations are trying to minimise and even justify this crime against humanity."

The Turkish embassy in Bern said earlier in the week it was not prepared to comment fully on the trial until a verdict has been reached. However, Levent Shaenkaya, a Turkish diplomat, said he had faith in the Swiss judicial system.

"We hope that common sense will win through and that the court reaches an objective decision," he said.

The trial at the cantonal court is expected to conclude on Friday.

swissinfo with agencies

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