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Parliament refuses to recognise Armenian "genocide"

Armenians say 1.5 million people died during the Ottoman Empire campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland's House of Representatives has refused to recognise as "genocide" the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the second decade of the 20th century.

The House narrowly rejected a proposal on Tuesday, which called on Switzerland to acknowledge that the slaughter of Armenians between 1915 and 1920 was "genocide".

The House rejected by 73 votes to 70 a proposal put forward by the Swiss parliamentarian, Joseph Zisyadis, who said the Swiss should follow the example of the French parliament, which decided in January that the massacres constituted "genocide".

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, justified the House's decision, saying the government did not want to risk damaging Switzerland's relationship with Turkey.

"Our priority is to focus on increased dialogue with Ankara," Deiss said Deiss after the vote. "This proposal, if accepted, would have jeopardised bilateral relations."

Ruth-Gaby Vermot, a prominent minority rights activist, said she was disappointed with the outcome of the vote. "I'm angry, because I think most people believe economic contacts with Turkey are important," Schlüer told swissinfo.

"Yes, it is important, but the price is too high," she said.

The government is standing by a statement issued in 1995, in which it condemned the "tragic events which led to the death of an extremely large number of Armenians," but stopped short of calling their murder an act of genocide.

Geneva, which has the largest Armenian community in Switzerland, is the only Swiss canton to have recognised the "genocide".

Ulrich Schlüer, of the People's Party, told swissinfo that genocides are "a fact of human history, and I think the task for our generation is to make sure they do not happen again."

"But to accuse a government whose members were not alive at the time this tragedy happened," added Schlüer, "makes no sense".

Before Tuesday's vote, however, a number of Swiss parliamentarians spoke out in favour of the proposal. Franco Cavalli, a parliamentarian from Ticino, accused the government of shying away from using the word "genocide" because it "feared losing out on a number of contracts with Turkey".

Turkey cancelled a number of major contracts with French companies following the vote in the French parliament.

Armenians say as many as 1.5 million of their people died during the Ottoman Empire's campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey.

Ankara argues that the death toll is exaggerated, that the Ottoman Empire was simply trying to quell civil unrest, and that thousands of Turks were also killed by Armenians.

swissinfo with agencies


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