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Delayed parliamentary visit to Turkey goes ahead

Swiss President Joseph Deiss (left) met Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a World Economic Forum meeting in January

(Keystone)

A delegation of Swiss parliamentarians heads to Turkey on Monday for a visit that was originally scheduled for November last year.

The Senate foreign affairs committee said the five-day trip was a sign of “improved bilateral relations” between Bern and Ankara.

The committee called off last year’s scheduled trip at short notice after Turkey cancelled a visit by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, amid an escalating diplomatic row.

Turkish sensibilities were offended after two Swiss cantonal parliaments officially recognised the 1915 killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Turkey as genocide. The federal parliament followed suit last December.

But Ankara denied it had withdrawn Calmy-Rey’s invitation, saying it had merely requested that the visit be put back.

“Welcome”

The parliamentary delegation, led by Peter Briner, hopes its visit will contribute to a further easing of tensions between the two countries. Meetings are planned with foreign minister Abdullah Gül and Kurdish human rights activist Leyla Zana.

“A year ago relations were strained. It was doubtful whether we could have had fruitful discussions in Turkey and met the people we wanted to meet,” Briner told swissinfo.

“Today, the situation is better and we will be able to talk to a lot of people. Our partners in the Turkish parliament and the Turkish ambassador have told us that we are welcome in Turkey,” he added.

The delegation leader said the main focus of the meetings would be on economic and technical cooperation and Turkey’s application for European Union membership, as well as the treatment of minorities and human rights questions.

Armenia question

But Briner declined to say whether the question of the treatment of the Armenians would be raised.

“We do not want to make moral judgements ourselves about this terrible time in history - that is a matter for historians,” he commented. “We also believe that every country must evaluate its own past.”

Sarkis Shahinian, co-president of the Switzerland-Armenia Association, welcomed the delegation’s visit to Turkey as a chance to broach the issue of human rights.

“The time is right to raise the question of minorities and human rights with Turkey since its government wants to join the European Union and to act as a bridge between the western world and Islam,” Shahinian told swissinfo.

“This is the moment for Turkey to put its past straight and to respect human rights in line with the membership requirements of the EU,” he said.

swissinfo

Key facts

September 2003 – Ankara withdraws invitation to Swiss foreign minister to visit.
In the same month, a parliamentary committee announces it is postponing a planned visit to Turkey.
December 2003 – Swiss parliament votes to officially recognise as genocide the killing of Armenians in 1915.
August 2004 – Parliamentary committee says “improved bilateral relations” make the trip possible.

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