Swiss Turks found not guilty of violating anti-racism laws

The Turks had been accused of denying the massacre of Armenians at the turn of the 20th century

Twelve Turks accused of violating anti-racism laws by members of the Swiss Armenian community were acquitted by a district court in Bern on Friday.

This content was published on September 14, 2001 - 12:14

The representatives of Turkish organisations in Switzerland first appeared in court on September 4, when they were accused of denying the massacre of Armenians at the turn of the 20th century.

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

In 1996, the group of Turks wrote a petition to the government in which they denied that the killing of Armenians by the then Ottoman Empire constituted "genocide".

"It would distort the facts massively to call what happened genocide," the group wrote in its petition.

Swiss-Turkish organisations said the term "genocide" could not be applied because the Ottoman government never attempted to wipe out the Armenian race.

Accused not guilty

The presiding judge, Lienhard Ochsner, said the accused were not guilty of violating the country's laws against racism.

During his summing up, Ochsner said the Turks in question were not in possession of the facts concerning the events of 1915. He argued that their knowledge had been coloured by the one-sided account of the massacre they had learnt in Turkey.

Lawyers representing the Armenians have rejected the judge's decision and say they will appeal against the verdict.

The trial is the latest event in a long battle between Turkish and Armenian organisations for official backing for this period in history.

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

swissinfo with agencies

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