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Turkey concerned at Swiss stance on Armenian killings

Pascal Couchepin (left) held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit Keystone

The Turkish government has voiced concern over moves by the Swiss parliament to recognise as genocide the killings of Armenians in 1915.

This content was published on March 26, 2002 - 18:39

A senior government minister, Tuncay Toskay, urged the Swiss government to help maintain "the good relations between the two countries".

Last week more than 100 Swiss parliamentarians launched a new bid to formally acknowledge the massacre of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians during the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Speaking after a meeting with the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, on Tuesday, Toskay said it was up to historians, not today's politicians, to judge the events.

Couchepin, on a two-day visit to Turkey to discuss closer economic ties, said he agreed with this view and downplayed parliament's call as non-binding.

He added he was not particularly pleased with parliament in view of Turkey's sensitivities over the subject.

Turkish protests

The Turkish government recently summoned the Swiss ambassador in Ankara, and the Turkish ambassador to Switzerland expressed Ankara's concern about the steps taken by parliament.

Bilateral relations cooled in the mid 1990s after the killing of a Kurdish demonstrator outside the Turkish embassy in Switzerland, but they have since improved.

New tensions emerged when the Swiss parliament last year discussed a proposal calling for the official recognition of the 1915 massacres during the Ottoman Empire. The proposal was eventually rejected.

The Swiss government, in line with the official Turkish position, has refused to describe the killings and deportations as genocide. It refers to them as "tragic incidents".

However, several parliaments, notably in France, Italy, and Sweden, as well as the European Union, have recognised the massacres as genocide.

Trade relations

Couchepin, who wrapped up his visit on Tuesday, also said Turkey could become an important partner for Switzerland.

He praised the country's economic potential, but emphasised that Ankara would have to push its reform programmes to get out of a severe economic and financial crisis.

Turkey's economy is plagued by high inflation and a low rate of foreign investment. It has also been criticised for widespread corruption and bureaucracy.

Couchepin urged Turkey to initiate reforms to help its bid to join the European union - something he said Switzerland would help with.

"Europe is, and will always be, Turkey's most important trading partner," Couchepin said.

"Switzerland will follow Turkey on its path to Europe, albeit with a gap of a few years," he said.

Switzerland is among the biggest foreign investor in Turkey with more than $2 billion (SFr3.4 billion) invested, according to figures by the Turkish central bank. Swiss companies, mainly in the energy sector, benefit from an export risk guarantee by the Swiss government.

swissinfo with agencies

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