|August 11, 2005 | swissinfo | Interview: Thomas Stephens
Briner sets record straight over Turkey debate
[Picture] Peter Briner (right) explains his views on the controversial issue
(Keystone)Peter Briner, president of the Senate foreign-affairs
committee, has denied stating Turkey's massacre of Armenians will
never be debated in the Senate.
The Senate member was reported at the beginning of August as saying
countries had no business pointing the finger at Turkey 90 years after
the disputed events.
Briner, a member of the centre-right Radical Party, maintains the
Senate's position is that a committee of historians from the two
countries involved should investigate the events of 1915.
The Swiss House of Representatives recognised the death of up to 1.8
million Armenians as genocide in 2003. But unlike many western
governments, the Swiss government does not officially speak of
"genocide" but of "mass deportation" and "massacre".
The Turkish government rejects that it was genocide, claiming that the
Armenian deaths as a result of mass evacuation and starvation were not
a result of a state-sponsored plan of extermination.
swissinfo: You say reports are false which claim you said the Senate
will never recognise the Turkish massacre of Armenians 90 years ago as
genocide. What is the Senate's position regarding those events?
Peter Briner: Those reports are based on either a misquote or a
misunderstanding - and this is of course most regrettable. What I did
say was that when the Swiss House of Representatives had [voted to]
recognise the genocide, this was not an issue in the Senate.
The policy of our government - and the Senate foreign-affairs
committee - is that the two countries involved, Turkey and Armenia,
should investigate the terrible events of 1915 with a committee of
historians from both sides.
swissinfo: Two years ago the House of Representatives recognised the
massacre as genocide. Why did the debate not pass to the Senate?
P.B.: The House of Representatives vote was only [in response to] a
motion and not on the parliament's agenda. We discussed this and we
felt that the policy of our government was the wiser course.
swissinfo: So the Armenian question is still a topic of discussion for
P.B.: I can never be sure what will be on the Senate's agenda, of
course, but right now the postponement of Economics Minister Joseph
Deiss' invitation to Turkey will certainly be discussed during our
next committee meeting on August 23.
swissinfo: Morally, shouldn't the Senate recognise the Armenian deaths
as genocide like other western countries?
P.B.: I think that the position of our government is the better one. I
don't feel comfortable being the judge of the whole world and of
something that happened a long time ago.
These are evidently terrible events and I think that they should be
investigated, but they should be primarily investigated by the parties
swissinfo: How would you describe Swiss-Turkish relations at the
P.B.: They are normally good - we felt this when a delegation of the
Senate foreign-affairs committee visited the Turkish parliament last
September. Then a Turkish delegation visited us this summer and we
talked about these things in a friendly way.
Relations have of course been strained by recent events but I think in
the long run good relations will prevail. I think relations between
the two countries will remain good and prosper as they have done in