Aug 30 2004
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But Ankara denied it had withdrawn Calmy-Rey’s invitation, saying it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.
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.
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
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.